Setting the Scene

Act 1

Opens in New York City in 1912.

We are in a nickelodeon watching a one-reel movie made by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. Among the audience are Mrs Mary Robinson Gish and her daughters, Lillian and Dorothy. They see their old friend Gladys Smith on the screen and go to the headquarters of the Biograph Company to find her.

There they learn that Gladys has changed her name to Mary Pickford and is known as “The Biograph Girl”. They watch her working for director D.W. Griffith whose busy staff take the pressure off the creative artist. But creative work at the studio is constantly interrupted by agents from the combine which owns the basic patents for film making and is trying to put the Biograph Company out of business.

To get away from this harassment, Griffith moves his studio to the West Coast and takes Mary with him together with Lillian and Dorothy who, by this time, have become film actresses. Lillian is deeply under the spell of Griffith’s creative genius but has sympathy to spare for the young comic who fails his audition.

Lillian appears in Griffith’s great film Birth of a Nation, while Mary advances her career and leaving Griffith and working for Adolph Zukor at a hugely increased salary. However, the price of this success is that she has to hide her increasing sophistication behind the facade of childish innocence which is her public image. For Griffith, the penalty of success is that Birth of a Nation causes race riots and brings demands for censorship. He is determined to protest by making one epic film which will speak to people around the world of peace and universal tolerance.

Act 2

Opens at the premiere of Griffith’s movie Intolerance.

It is an artistic triumph by a financial disaster. Mary advises Lillian to leave Griffith and pursue her career elsewhere but Lillian is still artistically bound to him. As Griffith’s financial troubles increase Zukor thinks that he is finished; but Mary decides to leave Zukor and form a new company in partnership with Griffith, Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. Zukor is dismayed but congratulates her on her understanding of the movie business. However, even with his new partners, Griffith still fails to make money and tells Lillian to leave his studio and accept one of the better offers from his rivals. Reluctantly she agrees and their long enduring professional partnership is broken.

Time moves on. It is 1925 then 1926. Mary is firmly established as one of the greatest stars of the silent screen but talking pictures are just around the corner. Griffith feels his career is ended, that he is a forgotten man. Lillian tells him he will always be remembered as one of the pioneers of film.

In 1927 the screen finds its voice and the silent stars realise their careers are behind them. For Lillian it has been an art; for Mary it has made a fortune; for Zukor it has been a business; for Griffith it has been a dream. But the dream is not over. Out of the ashes arises the Phoenix of the talkies. Hundreds of new stars emerge. Bigger studios are built. The work of the pioneers has created the most popular entertainment force the world has ever known.

The Production team

  • Stage Director – David Arrnitt
  • Musical Director – Anthony Morris
  • Choreographer – Sarah Redmond
  • Stage Manager – Alan Carlile
  • Assisted by – Peter Smith
  • Sets – Charlie Seagroatt / Richard Seagroatt and Company
  • Costumes – Geoff Keep / Tracey Smith & Company
  • Box Office – Brian Farley
  • Front of House – Brian Farley & Friends of Phoenix
  • Prompt – Mike Stevens
  • Photography – Andy Strivens / Ian Caldecourt & South London Press
  • Accompanist at Rehearsal – Anthony Calnan
  • Printing – Mayday Printing

Songs

Act 1

The Moving Picture Show – Company

Work in’ in Flickers – Mary

The Moment I Close My Eyes – Griffith

Workin’ in Flickers (Reprise) – Mary & Company

Sennett’s Mime – Sennett

Every Lady – Lillian / Griffith & Bitzer

I Just Wanted to Make Him Laugh – Sennett and Lillian

They Called ‘Em Flickers – Company

I Like to be the Way I am in My own Front Parlour – Mary

Act 2

A David Griffth Show – Company

More Than a Man – Lillian

The Industry – Rose & Company

Gentle Fade – Griffith

One Long Party – Rose & Company

The Biograph Girl – Mary & Company

One of the Pioneers – Griffith

Put It In The Tissue Paper – Sennett, Mary & Lillian

The Cast

  • Lillian Gish – Karen Flynn
  • Dorothy Gish – Emma Weeks
  • Momma – Nan Arnott
  • Mary Pickford – Julia Stevens
  • D W Griffith – Geoff Keep
  • Epping – Trefor Davies
  • Rose Smith – Katherine Bottomley
  • Billy Bitzer – Cliff Neal
  • Adolph Zukor – Richard Seagroatt
  • Mack Sennett – Ian Caldecourt
  • Spec – Edward Seagroatt
  • Chorus of Stagehands & Actors – Nan Arnott
  • Pressmen & Newsboy – Ian Caldecourt
  • Studio Publicists & Gangster – Sue Hake
  • Dancers – Jeannie Hossell / Claire Lee / Doris Porter / Alice Redmond / Edward Seagroatt / Richard Seagroatt / Tracey Smith / Emma Weeks.
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