Fans of R&B and gospel can enjoy an edgy new musical comedy at Brighton’s Rialto Theatre until April 25.
Sin & Salvation is the latest offering from Burgess Hill-based playwrights The Heather Brothers – Neil, Lea, John and Charles – and tells the tale of Britain’s first pay-to-view religious channel.
It’s the story of an American preacher, Reverend Bobby Del La Ray, who persuades a British pop star and Christian, Rex Bedderman, to co-host his channel.
However, it’s soon revealed that the venture has been funded by the Mafia and, in a desperate attempt to save it, Bobby adds sex into the program with hilarious and earth-shattering results.
John Heather explains how this tale should strike a chord with modern audiences.
“We thought it was very appropriate with what’s happening in the world,” he says. “People are taking over different institutions like religion and using them as a kind of weapon for their own motivations and we felt that it had a resonance with today.”
Without giving too much away, the production aims to explore how a charismatic person in a position of power can do a lot of damage.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. As John says, the show partly grew out of a love for gospel and soul music. “It’s just full-on, you know?” says John. “And it’s just a funny take on American evangelists.”
The Heather Brothers first came to prominence with A Slice Of Saturday Night, an early ’90s hit that was Brighton’s most successful home-grown show ever.
This ’60s pastiche musical began at the Nightingale Theatre, Brighton, and eventually transferred to the Arts Theatre in London’s West End. It then went on to complete four national tours of the UK, two European tours and two tours of Japan, before returning to the West End for a run at the Strand Theatre.
“We feel this has got the same sort of legs to it,” John continues, explaining that Sin & Salvation could break into the West End as well.
“So the opportunity now is for anybody to come and see it at a much cheaper price,” he laughs.
John isn’t just optimistic about the show’s prospects. He’s very upbeat about being at the Rialto Theatre in Dyke Road, Brighton, the production’s current venue.
“It really is a wonderful little theatre,” he enthuses. “There aren’t enough of these venues opening to tell you the truth. There’s a handful in the whole Sussex area that are putting on new work, so we’re very lucky. In fact, we know the artistic director, a guy called Mark Brailsford who’s directing this piece for us. We’ve known him a long, long time, so when the opportunity came up for us to work together we jumped at it.”
Dave Mayberry from Peacehaven, who plays Mafia member Vinny Ginelli in the show, says that all the show’s elements put together – the dialogue, music, songs and lyrics – mean it’s a rather big production, but everyone involved has worked hard to make it as good as possible.
“I think it’s a great show, he says. “It’s very, very funny. It’s got a great script, the music’s great, the lyrics are fantastic. The whole thing is a great theatrical experience in terms of its feel-good factor.”
Nowadays, The Heather Brothers are well-known for their careers as playwrights, but lovers of ’60s and ’70s rock music may remember their earlier work.
“We we’re Londoners, born in London, and we grew up, from about six years old in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe,” John says.
“Rock ’n’ roll happened and we just wanted to be in that, so we formed a band. We ended up touring around southern Africa, South Africa and that, and then we tried our luck in England.”
The musicians eventually formed Quiet World and recorded The Road in 1970 with their lead guitarist Steve Hackett, who later became famous for his work with a certain prog rock act.
“He left us to join Genesis,” John laughs.
John doesn’t play in a rock band anymore but instead finds himself writing shows five days a week.
So, why did John and his brothers turn to writing musical instead of pursuing the rock band route?
“We come from a theatre family,” John explains. “Our great grandfather was on the first board of equity. He was an actor manager so we’ve always kind of had theatre running in our blood.
“When we came over here, we made a number of albums and we were writing the kind of albums with a story – concept albums. From that it led to actually writing show.”
It seems like a natural progression but John’s present career is definitely challenging. I ask what the toughest obstacle to overcome is on the path to creating a musical hit.
“Well, initially it’s writing it to tell the honest truth,” John states. “That’s always difficult, sitting in front of a white piece of paper and knowing that you’ve got to fill it with, not only words, but with music and songs...”
“You never know how it’s going to turn out,” he admits. “But this one is turning out really well.”
Tickets cost £10 (£8 concessions). The show starts at 8pm with matinees on April 24 and 25 at 5pm.
Call the box office on 01273 725230 or visit www.rialtotheatre.co.uk.