On this day in 2000, the writer and actor Mark Burgess performed a one man show about James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming in Brighton called ‘Fleming’s Bond’. It was well received and toured the UK between 2001 ans 2003, but Mr. Burgess decided to give up acting to concentrate on writing and the play was retired.
Fast forward 15 years and fellow actor Michael Chance, an established stage actor and friend of Mr. Burgess, asked about resurrecting the play with himself playing the Commander. In the years since the first outing, there has been a renewed interest in Ian Fleming, helped by the reboot of the film franchise in 2006 and four James Bond continuation novels. Add to this several non-fiction books about the life of Ian Fleming, it was a well-timed return.
In the retro confines of The Nightingale Room in Brighton, with an almost Vaudevillian feel to it (they host cabaret nights too), Fleming himself would have felt at home. Mr. Chance strutted onto stage in a dressing gown as the play opens in 1952, as Fleming was preparing to write ‘the spy story to end all spy stories’ – Casino Royale. Aged 42, he is fretting about his impending marriage to Ann Charteris we witness Fleming developing his creation with a Gordon’s pink Gin in one hand and his iconic Asprey cigarette holder in the other. Under the direction of Louise Jameson, we also have James Bond almost in the room as Fleming talks to his creation off stage, which gives the feel of Fleming being haunted somewhat by his creation.
The script is economical and funny but manages to be rich in factual detail without sounding like a biography. Mr. Burgess has done a wonderful job of touching on the salient points of Fleming’s life, particularly his romantic and familial life, including his son Caspar, old girlfriends such as Muriel Wright, even Ann Fleming’s ex-husbands as Mr. Chance’s Fleming sardonically says “Awkward though, playing cards as a marriage crumbled over the green baize.” Mr. Chance also does well to lines packed with details that even Fleming aficionados would have a hard time keeping straight in their minds.
Ian had, for want of a better description, an “Eton drawl” and while Mr. Chance does not completely capture his exact intonation, he does manage to express some of the melancholy in the face and the rather patrician nature of Fleming. The play is nicely interspersed with voice over clips from the novels including Casino Royale in Act one and in Act two we hear clips from Moonraker, Dr No, For Your Eyes Only, Quantum of Solace, Thunderball & You Only Live Twice. This helps connect the play with Fleming a bit more and to remind the audience of the sheer brilliance of the words.
Act two is particularly entertaining as we are now in 1962 just after the success of the film Dr. No and Fleming has sold enough books “to keep Ann in asparagus at least over Coronation week.” By this time, despite all his success, he is tired of Bond; his drinking has increased and his marriage to Ann is disintegrating. Here, Mr. Chance is able to show a range of more complex emotions as Fleming deals with success and failure in equal measure while the script provides enough humour to keep the audience’s spirits up such as anecdote about Noel Coward farcically being asked to play the evil ‘Dr. No’ by Fleming.
The ‘Man with the Golden Pen’ will be back next year, for another short run, so stay tuned on Artistic Licence Renewed for updates..
Visit Michael Chance’s website