Robots of Death

Matthew Badham talks to Garath Kavanagh about adapting a classic Doctor Who story for stage

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Fans of cult science fiction television show Blake’s 7 are in for a treat if they head to Fab Café in Manchester on 1 July. Paul Darrow – who played resistance fighter Kerr Avon in that series – is making a one-off appearance there in Robots of Death. This is a stage version of a classic Doctor Who serial – a murder mystery set on a futuristic mining vessel.

“How can you not get excited about that?” says Gareth Kavanagh, the self-confessed cult television junkie who has produced the show. “It’s the British equivalent of William Shatner [aka Captain Kirk] dropping by to read a Star Trek script.”

But although Robots of Death was originally a Doctor Who story, this new version will not feature the Doctor or his then-companion Leela.

“It’s not the first time I’ve tackled this issue,” explains Kavanagh, “Back in January, [writer/producer] Russell T. Davies was kind enough to allow me to stage an adaptation of Midnight, his 2008 episode of Doctor Who. However, neither Russell or I own the copyright to the character of the Doctor, so that part had to be substituted with a suitably enigmatic ‘stranger’.”

“This time,” he continues, “the solution came by replacing the Doctor and Leela with Iago and Blayes. These are two security agents from a Doctor-less spin-off series of audio sequels to the original 1977 Robots of Death. Imagine taking a Roger Moore Bond movie and replacing Bond with Jason Bourne within the narrative and you’re pretty much there.”

Robots of Death will continue beyond 1 July, but with another actor stepping into Paul Darrow’s shoes. The production is the debut show of The Greater Manchester Fringe, a new festival of theatre and comedy running across various venues in the city. For Kavanagh, involvement with the Fringe comes after years of staging similar events at the Lass O’Gowrie, the Manchester pub he co-owns.

“Fringe, and theatre generally, suffers from (a largely unjustified) reputation for being up itself”

“We started in 2007 with a modest programme of live music, quizzes, a retro video gaming night, comedy and small drama one and two-handers.”

The pub’s involvement with the local arts scene grew and grew until they were staging the bi-annual, month-long Lassfest, a mixture of theatre, music, comedy and cult television events.

“In theory we could have just sat on Lassfest and kept it all to ourselves, but that would have been both selfish and short-sighted.”

This publican turned producer hopes that the new festival will introduce a fresh audience to the delights of Manchester’s thriving fringe theatre scene. To this end, its programme is a mixture of original drama and comedy alongside ‘brand names’ such as Porridge and Robots of Death.

“I have a theory that fringe, and theatre generally, suffers from (a largely unjustified) reputation for being up itself.”

Kavanagh thinks that productions like Robots of Death bring in those members of the public who do not normally see themselves as natural theatre-goers.

“This more accessible fare is a pain-free introduction into the rich world of the fringe. It’s a tried and tested formula for me, as the Lass has had success in the past with stage adaptations of television classics such as Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads and Coronation Street.”

Kavanagh is hopeful that the Fringe will bring an increased footfall to those venues that are involved. This isn’t his only reason for organising the festival, however. He also wants to give performers such as comedian and actor Sean Mason – who appeared in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? and has taken a role in the forthcoming stage adaptation of Porridge – a chance to showcase their talents.

“Manchester is an incredibly exciting place to be right now,” says Mason.

“Ironically, the opportunities to develop your own voice and talents seem to have increased since all the arts funding got cut. This is because people are having to be creative about their use of spaces and supportive of each other.”

The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival runs over nine venues throughout July. See 

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Robots of Death

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