John Tams' work for the stage is slightly wreathed in mystery to the non theatre goer. Not many plays are recorded or filmed, and a lot of the work he does is as a "jobbing writer" which doesn't produce the sort of lasting effect you will find much on the internet about. But at the bottom of this page is a fairly extensive list of work; why is he so attracted to the theatre? "The great thing about the theatre is that you can do a detail, and just small sections of work that may not exist in a grander scale, because you can't hold the process of the play up for very long. You've got maybe a couple of minutes to make your point, or even less. So you can write in miniature but it has to tell, and I quite like that discipline. It's a good thing to be problemed by and it's an interesting struggle." John Tams
I've included radio work here, it seems to fit better.
From Here to Eternity
A serial adaptation broadcast on BBC Radio 4, starting on 16th June 2002. Here is what the BBC information department had to say about the production:
"The Classic Serial presents a radio adaptation of "From Here To Eternity", James Jones's best-selling novel about life in Schofield Barracks at the time of Pearl Harbour. The story centres on the friendship between Private Robert E Lee Prewitt and Private Angelo Maggio - men who refuse to conform and find themselves on the wrong side of the company commander. Prewitt refuses to box in the outfit's boxing team and Maggio is thrown into the stockade for "rolling queers". Private Bloom, the company's Jewish boxing champion, picks a fight with Prewitt and loses. Bloom's despair and feelings of inadequacy, lead him to take his life. Prewitt, now also in the stockade and shocked by this news, plays taps (The Last Post) for him in tribute. Sergeant Milton Warden's attempts to keep Prewitt and Maggio out of trouble are played out against the background of his love affair with the company commander's wife, Karen. Prewitt, meanwhile, has fallen in love with one of the hostesses of the New Congress Brothel, Lorene. The adaptor, playwright and screenwriter, Michael Hastings, explores themes in James Jones's book that were not tackled in the classic film, due to the prevailing climate of prurience in Hollywood. Ken Cranham (Sergeant Milton Warden), Elizabeth McGovern (Karen), Kevin McNally (Maggio) and James Callis (Prewitt) lead a distinguished cast in this adaptation. Producer Nicholas Newton says: "James Jones's widow has heard this production and says it's the best dramatisation of her husband's novel." "
Nicholas Newton also produced the CD's of the Mysteries mentioned below, and the director is Bill Bryden who has worked with John Tams many times in the past. John Tams also appears as Jack Molloy. He got a post-production credit, though recent BBC Radio policy means that post production credits will soon be a thing of the past, so you might never have known. Apparently the audience don't want to hear about the people who do the hard work of getting the finished article ready for broadcast. Annoyed about this? Please tell the BBC.
The Charge of the Light Brigade
This was recently broadcast on BBC Radio 4, having been waiting for a couple of years for a slot. According to the BBC:
"A radio production of [John] Osborne's 1968 screenplay, completed but not used for the film. It takes a revisionist view of the military and political blundering that surrounded the British involvement in the Crimean War, culminating in the Battle of Balaklava, in 1854. With Michael Feast, Charles Dance, Jasper Britton, Joseph Fiennes, Trevor Ray, Lynne Miller, Guy Lankester, Angela Douglas, Charlotte Emmerson, Geoffrey Palmer, Alec McCowen, James Ellis, John Tams, William MacBain, Donald Sinden, Robert Oates and Sebastian Graham Jones. Singer Michael Waterson. Music and lyrics by John Tams and Michael Waterson. Producer Nicholas Newton. Director Bill Bryden."
Despite the credits, John also sang some of the songs including a new verse to the song "Love Farewell", the previous version of which appeared on the Sharpe album.
The Good Hope
John Tams was heavily involved this play directed by Bill Bryden. "I'd done it in Rotterdam, in Holland - because it's a Dutch play - about twelve or fifteen years ago, and fell in love with it there. We needed to get an English translation of it and eventually Lee Hall who wrote Billy Elliot - Oscar nominated movie - came in and wrote it, and we re-located it to Whitby... It's a celebration, an affirmation of mutuality and support that a community can give one another" John Tams
The Good Hope ran at the Cottesloe from November 2001 to February 2002, then went on tour of selected regional theatres until March 23rd 2002. "Wonderful folk music from the great John Tams... Tams' folk music is as potent and poignant as ever" said The Telegraph, adding "Lovers of committed, deeply felt-drama should waste no time in booking their passage aboard The Good Hope." More reviews can be found at londontheatre.co.uk.
For further information look at the National Theatre page.
The music from the play is now available! See the Merchandise page.
A good source of information on these plays, based on mediaeval mystery plays, can be found at the National Theatre archive pages Nativity Passion Doomsday The music from the 1980's run was released on CD (see Recordings page). They were also filmed for Channel Four, but don't seem to be available any more except at Online Classics (see Pictures page...) In 1999/2000 the plays were restaged with some changes in personnel, and were recorded for the BBC. A CD of the Nativity is available from Promenade Productions, they can also supply The Passion and Doomsday but these are not commercially available and are in plain covers. The website also has information about The Mysteries.
Now, I've seen the plays on video, listened to them as radio plays on CD and got the Home Service album of the music! I'm no theatre critic (yes I know, no music critic either.) What can I say about them? They're a completely different thing to listening to JT's music on somethng like Unity, obviously. The language is a somewhat archaic Northern dialect, very alliterative and rhythmic, but wholly effective in getting over the passion of the stories. He pops up here and there as a shepherd or Thomas, and the music is in gem-like snippets. On the whole, recommended.
Other work: this list mainly came from the programme of The Good Hope. I have added a few pieces of information but the ongoing project now is to find out more than just these bare details.
Provided music and acted in Pickwick Papers, produced for BBC Radio 4, Christmas 2004.
Provided the music for Arthur Miller's play The Crucible which ran at the Birmingham Rep and on tour in 2004.
Provided the music (at short notice!) for Through a Cloud, a play by Jack Shepherd about a meeting between Oliver Cromwell and the blind poet Milton. Ran at Plymouth's Theatre Royal and the Birmingham Rep, late 2004
Played Brother Gimblett and provided the music for a radio adaptation of Charles Dickens' last work "George Silverman's Explanation". Broadcast May 1st 2003 on Radio 4. The music included songs by the Rolling Stock Choir, founded by John Tams and Jim Boyes in 1990 and directed on this occasion by Barry Coope.
Played the innkeeper in Michael Eaton's adaptation of the Dickens story "The Bride's Chamber". Broadcast July 2004 on Radio 4.
Worked on 7:84's TUC sponsored tour of The Six Men of Dorset during the 1984 miners strike. It was during this tour that the song Unity, which recently resurfaced on John Tams' album of the same name, was adopted by the picket lines.
Worked with Bill Bryden and William Dudley on The Ship for the 1990 European City of Culture Festival in Glasgow, and more recently The Big Picnic. Both of these were filmed for the BBC. The Ship ran to a full house of 1200 people for 12 weeks during Glasgow's year as European City of Culture, and it was for this play that the song "Hold Back the Tide" was written. This song now appears on the 2000 album Unity.
Worked with Bill Bryden's company whose productions include Larkrise, The World Turned Upside Down, Dispatches, The Long Voyage Home, The Iceman Cometh, Hughie, Candleford, The Crucible, Cinderella, Golden Boy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Don Quixote, Glengarry Glen Ross (in which he played the detective, Baylen), The Mysteries.
As Associate Director at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield he adapted and codirected with Mike Kay, The Northern Mysteries. Was involved with the 1987 production of Cider With Rosie, for which the song Rolling Home was written.
As Associate Director of The Building Company, he codirected Trevor Griffiths first stage play for 17 years, The Gulf Between Them.
Some time in the early eighties, worked on Sergeant Musgrave's Dance with Albert Finney at the Old Vic.
As Musical Director/Composer he worked on The Crucible for a Birmingham/Salisbury Playhouse co-production, Son of Man for the RSC, Uncle Vanya in the West End, The Three Sisters (1998, starred Charles Dance) and Of Mice and Men for the Birmingham Rep. The latter featured the song "I'll Fly Away" which later appeared on the Hokey Pokey album Circle Dance, and was fondly recalled by the actress Sue Johnstone when she presented John with his Best Album award at the 2001 BBC folk awards.
HMS Ulysses, directed by Bill Bryden, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 14th June 1997. John Tams played Spicer and is also credited with Studio Presentation
Credited for Music on the Bill Bryden directed radio plays Daisy Miller, Sacco and Vanzetti, (broadcast 1998) and Volunteers.
The Plutocrat was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and John Tams shares the Technical Presentation, Music and Editing credit with Sebastian Graham Jones and Ray Wiliams.