Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, to host a world premiere on the life of Wilko Johnson.
Bringing to life the true story, words and music of Wilko Johnson, the world premiere of a new biographic play by Jonathan Maitland, is a tribute to a man who left an indelible mark on the music scene. A name that resonates with rock music enthusiasts and beyond, Wilko Johnson, the iconic rock star and co-founder of legendary band Dr Feelgood, was told he had one year to live in 2012. Refusing all treatment, he decided to spend his last months living meaningfully: seeing the people, places and things which meant most to him during his remarkable life…until a miracle happened.
Actor and musician Johnson Willis (Return To The Forbidden Planet, Amelie The Musical) will play the role of Wilko in a kindred performance having spent many years in the music industry and on the rock scene himself in the 1970s. Delving deep into the life and times of this rock ‘n’ roll maverick, from his time with Dr Feelgood and Ian Dury’s The Blockheads as one of the godfathers of the punk movement, to his acting career in Game of Thrones as Ser Ilyn Payne, the play blends live music, storytelling, and words from the Canvey Island legend himself, in a lesson in how to live life to the fullest.
On playing the role of Wilko Johnson, actor Johnson Willis said, “Being Wilko Johnson is the most extraordinary journey I have ever ventured on as an actor and finding the similarities of experience in rock and roll, family and travels, has been surprising and illuminating. As someone who likes to only look forward, connecting both with Wilko’s and my own fallibility and follies of the past is hugely humbling. His star is out there and I will get as close to it as I can.”
Writer Jonathan Maitland said, “Wilko was unique and an Essex man through and through, so it’s wonderful the play is being staged at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. He was funny, uncompromising and exciting, and our cast and crew are determined to do him justice. I have been a huge fan of Wilko and Dr Feelgood since I first saw him careering across the stage like a madman in 1974. He was an amazing showman and songwriter and his music still sounds amazingly fresh and vivid today. I first met Wilko via Zoom during the pandemic when he graciously agreed to let me tell his remarkable story. A year later I spent a memorable, nerve-wracking day at his house in Southend reading him the first draft, doing all voices myself. His only criticism was that I’d got the details of his 1970s and 80s drug taking wrong! During this time,he recorded a message for the audience in the event of him not being there on opening night – which of course, sadly, he won’t be – which is funny, moving and very Wilko-esque. There’s a good reason why the Guardian described Wilko as “A 20-1 shot to be voted our Greatest Living Englishman”, and I hope this play shows everyone why.”
Jonathan Maitland is a playwright and former journalist having worked for the BBC across Radio 4, BBC News and presenting and producing shows for BBC 1. Maitland’s debut stage play Dead Sheep (2015) produced at Park Theatre became the most successful production in the theatre’s history. This record was broken by his second play also staged at Park Theatre An Audience With Jimmy Saville (2015), which went on to transfer to Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Further works at Park Theatre include Deny Deny Deny (2016) and the box office record breaking The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson (2019) which went on to complete an eight-week national tour in 2020. Most recently, Maitland presented the premiere of his new play The Interview at Park Theatre and his BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Wasps in a Jam Jar in 2023.
Johnson Willis is a musician and actor who has spent many years in the music industry playing and recording with bands. His credits include Return to the Forbidden Planet in 1999, the West End premiere of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Gillian Lynne Theatre, 2022), Amelie The Musical (National Tour, 2019, (National tour, The Other Palace and W.E Criterion) as well as productions with Theatre Clwyd Cymru, The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Newbury Watermill Theatre and The New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich.
Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch is a vibrant producing theatre, working in Outer East London, Essex and beyond. As a cultural hub, over 210,000 people enjoy the programme each year. Audiences are guaranteed a warm welcome from a three-year winner of UK Theatre’s Most Welcoming Theatre (2016 – 2018) and London Theatre of the Year 2020 (The Stage Awards), the first Outer London theatre to receive this prestigious award.
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