CentreStage – the 1812 Theatre Youth Group – presents Neil Simon's coming of age comedy, Brighton Beach Memoirs
Young actor Daniel McCullough plays Eugene Morris Jerome in Simon's famous semi-autobiographical work. "Brighton Beach Memoirs is primarily a story about growing up and the loss of innocence," says McCullough. "Full of questions and childlike wonder, Eugene finds himself in an adult’s world that he doesn’t understand. The idealised, peaceful surroundings of his childhood are torn down and Eugene is confronted with the realities of a harsh adult world on the edge of World War II. At the beginning of the play, Eugene selfishly takes delight in the conflicts that take place in his family, enjoying their excitement and dramatic theatricality. However, it is only after Eugene suffers himself when he starts to show more concern for others. Other themes covered in the play include the importance of family, not judging others by generalisations or stereotypes and to always stand up for your principles."
Brighton Beach Memoirs is the first of a trilogy of plays (Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound follow) and is a Tony and Drama Desk Award winning play. Simon has been writing award winning plays for over 50 years and, it would seem, a new generation of fans is emerging. McCulloch tells me he was unaware of Simon before he read the script but would now be very interested in reading more.
McCullogh first became involved in the project when he heard about a script reading while working backstage for CentreStage’s Hometown. "The reading was held long before auditions for the play began and was open to anyone who was interested, he says." Impressed by the script I then attended the auditions, which consisted of readings of script excerpts labelled for each character. As there were no lines to memorise and I had already read the script, the audition process was quite easy and relaxed."
Centrestage is the Youth Theatre arm of 1812 Theatre and caters for ages 14 – 25 with its aim being to teach an understanding of theatre-craft and develop the confidence, skills and experience required make the transition into adult theatre. Centrestage productions are based on plays which are relevant to today’s audience’s and have meaning for the young performers, allowing them to relate to the subject matter and thus obtain the maximum benefit from the learning experience.
Simon is a native of New York and all of his plays, bar two, have been set there. He is famous for writing what he knows and has been quoted as saying: "When I was writing plays, I was almost always (with some exceptions) writing a drama that was funny … I wanted to tell a story about real people." As an actor, McCullough has had to dig deep to find Simon's reality.
"One of the challenging aspects of playing Eugene was the broad range of contrasting emotions that the character expresses throughout the play, McCullough admits. "There were moments in the play when Eugene switches to an opposite mood very quickly, and this could be difficult. To immerse myself in the character’s emotions I had to deeply concentrate and consider the importance of each character’s relationship to mine."
Simon has written over 30 plays and almost as many screenplays. He has received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer and McCullough is absolutely spot on when he says Brighton Beach Memoirs is a great play. "Hilarious in equal measure as it is heart-warming and sad. The cast and crew here at the Youth Theatre have been putting in a great deal of effort into making this play as good as we can and we hope that you enjoy it."
July 23 – 26