Written and directed by Christopher Saul
Produced by Christopher Saul in association with Kick In The Head
It's 1969 and a woman looks back on her life in London. From the Boer War to The Summer of Love, Flo Smith, daughter, sister, wife, mother, widow and grandmother recalls with horror, humour, tears and joy those turbulent times at home and in the world beyond her front door.
29 Mar 2020 The Astor, Deal, Kent
5 April 2020 Cryer Arts Centre, Carshalton, Surrey
10 May 2020 South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell, Berks
30 Apr 2017 Union Church, Crouch End, London (First Public Reading)
25 Feb 2018 The Bear Pit, Stratford upon Avon
8 Apr 2018 Union Church, Crouch End, London
26 Aug 2018 Camden Festival, The Gatehouse, Highgate, London
16 Sept 2018, The Bear Pit, Stratford upon Avon
14 April 2019 Vera Fletcher Hall, Thames Ditton, Surrey
18 May 2019 Friends of English Theatre, Cordes-Sur-Ciel
23 June 2019 Theatre Upstairs, Clapham, London
1 Sept 2019 Drayton Arms, Old Brompton Road, London
2 Sept 2019 Drayton Arms, Old Brompton Road, London
15 Sept 2019 The Tower Theatre, Stoke Newington, London
It was 1969. I was a drama student in my final year, casting around for a subject for my dissertation. I hit on the idea of interviewing and recording the reminiscences of Florence Smith, my paternal grandmother. "Nanny Smith" was happy to oblige and so, for several days in the Spring of 1969, I sat in her cosy living room at number 36 Richie House, Hazelville Road, North London, drinking copious amounts of tea and listening avidly while spool after spool of my tape recorder was filled with her recollections.
Florence told me of her Victorian childhood, her marriage to a young man who was later seriously wounded in the First World War (my grandfather), her struggle to put food on the table for her hungry children in the 1930s, and her harrowing experiences of the London Blitz.
For the times, it was a common enough story and yet, for all that, a unique one too,
as unique as any human being's life.
Using the original transcripts, and working closely with actress Ursula Mohan,
a first draft of the play was formed in 2017. It has been worked on continuously since,
into the now highly acclaimed production touring the UK.
Florence 'Flo' Smith - Ursula Mohan
Ursula started her career aged 15 at Wimbledon Theatre before winning a scholarship to train at The Webber Douglas and she has been a working actress ever since! This February (2019), she appeared at The Vaults Festival in GIRLS, a new production which joins the award winning BOYS and will tour in various venues including the Latitude Festival.
Last year, she was Ellen in There or Here (Park Theatre) and before that, Lily in a tour of You Forgot the Mince at The Edinburgh Festival, in London, and inside several prisons! In 2016, she was a female King Lear (Tristan Bates Theatre) in a revival of the award winning and acclaimed 2014 production. Other recent work includes Hecuba (Scoop), Sarah in Horniman’s Choice (Finborough), Nancy in Elegies (Criterion), Mrs Goulding in The Veil (National Theatre) and Mrs Fox in Dads Army (UK Tour).
Her many past theatre credits include Ala in Tango directed by Trevor Nunn and Peter Brook's US for the RSC, Emilia in Othello (Regent’s Park), Mitzi in A Murder is Announced (Vaudeville), Liz in Revenge (Royal Court), Lucretia The Cenci (Almeida), the title role in The Good Woman of Setzuan (Hampstead), Sandy Beige in Making Tracks (Greenwich - written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn) and in leading roles in most regional theatres.
Her many radio, film and television performances include most recently Doctors and - in the distant past - Joyce the cockney clippie in many episodes of On the Buses.
She lives in South London with her husband, theatre and opera director Ian Watt-Smith. Their daughter, Tiffany, an academic at University of London, has recently published her third book, Schadenfreude, and has reached well over a million viewers with her TED talk on emotions. Their son Tom, a documentary maker, recently wrote and directed Drowning in Plastics for the BBC. Ursula also has four wonderful grandchildren aged 5 and under!
Author and director - Christopher Saul
Christopher Saul trained at The Rose Bruford College. Theatre productions include over 20 productions with The Royal Shakespeare Company including the recent production of Imperium at Stratford-upon-Avon and in the West End. Parts have ranged from Ebenezer Scrooge to King Lear. TV includes Emmerdale, Doctors, Dr Who, The Professionals, One Foot in the Grave and in 2 series of the BBC soap, Triangle. Films include Wilt and Sahara. Christopher is a Helen Hayes Award winner 2013 for his roles in The Shakespeare Globe's touring production of Hamlet.
There’s been much talk of time travel of late. Various ‘time travellers’ have made increasingly bizarre claims in the press, and the top summer read was Matt Haig’s brilliant How to Stop Time.
But the time-travelling encounter I experienced through Florence Smith: Now and Again was by far the most prescient.
It perhaps doesn’t sound much on paper: an elderly lady is in her living room, she talks about her memories for 80 minutes. But this performance was definitely more than the sum of its parts.
Both the one-woman play, and the story behind its creation, start in 1969. Drama student Christopher Saul, as part of his dissertation, uses his new Grundig reel-to-reel to record his grandmother, Florence Smith, telling her life story. She is feisty, funny and frank – a working-class London girl who has endured poverty, injustice, a troubled upbringing, love and loss. Her reminisces intermingle with world events, and it is this intimate biographical detail framed against the background politics that give her gossipy ramblings a historical importance and unique insightfulness.
In real life, actor Christopher dutifully wrote up the recordings of his paternal grandmother, earning him a distinction for his efforts… and time passed.
Florence died in 1989, aged 96. Chris, in the meantime, became a successful actor, settled in Stratford — his most recent role was in Imperium at the RSC. But Chris had always remembered Florence’s recordings, and while the tapes had got lost in the mists of time, he still had her written words. These were turned into this one-woman show, in collaboration with its star Ursula Mohan — also a well-known actress, who has played everything from a female Lear to a ‘hottie’ in On The Buses.
It is only the show’s second outing, and I worried about the intensity of witnessing a solo performance, but Ursula is at ease as Flo, and entirely convincing (even the odd line slip became part of her enthusiastic delivery!) as a spunky old dear who has seen it all.
The stories she retells are incredibly vivid, and transport the audience magically back to those moments in time: the horror the Zeppelins dropping their bombs during the First World War; the traumatic asthma-related death of her husband who had suffered a mustard gas attacked during the war… The stories are human and relatable. Florence represents the body politic – our shared experiences throughout time. And she is one time traveller that’s certainly worth listening to.
Hopefully she will visit us again soon!
Bear Pit Theatre, 25th February
“A moving, humorous and compelling survival story. Fantastic performance. Wonderful play. And sound effects that instantly draw you to another time and another place…”
Michelle Magorian, author of “Goodnight Mr Tom” 01.09.19
"Not to be missed"
Hugh Stephenson, British Journalist and Professor 28.06.19
"Funny, poignant, often both at once, Flo is both an engaging personal story and the best kind of history lesson."
Harriett Gilbert (BBC R4 'A Good Read') 27.06.19
"Very good. Very moving. This turned out to be a lesson in resilience. It should be viewed by the pampered youngsters of today because they really don't realise how lucky they are. In fact, it made me realise how lucky we all are - things seemed so hard back then. And yet people just got on with it without making a fuss. Great performer - audience members stood for her at the end!"
Chrissie Vaughan The Audience Club 2.09.19
"A tremendous engaging and personal performance from beginning to end punctuated with both humour and sadness during a lifetime of family relationships against the backdrop through wartimes and beyond. Thoroughly recommended, and maybe a good lesson to 'tune in' with our elders life experiences before it is too late."
Joe Nolan The Audience Club 1.02.19
"Flo's observations are fascinating and her authentic voice resonates throughout the transcript. Her insights, descriptions and explanations are incisive, at times witty and always full of interest. Her comments are particularly pertinent to understanding the role of women as daughters, wives and workers during that era. This book is an absolute gem for anyone with an interest in family memoirs and the social history of the twentieth century."
Cathy Amazon Review 14.07.13