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Summer in London, Rikki Beadle-Blair Interview: “Now feels like a perfect storm; there’s never been a more inspiring and exciting time to be an artist.”

Rikki Beadle-Blair
Rikki Beadle-Blair

Rikki Beadle-Blair

It’s mid-morning on a hot summer’s day in Stratford. I am sitting in on rehearsals for Rikki Beadle-Blair’s new play ‘Summer in London’ at Theatre Royal Stratford East. The cast are in the middle of a Skype call with a leading trans awareness charity and the conversation is geared around identifying micro aggression and confirming pronouns. To the uninformed, it may not be easily understood that there are still multiple difficulties for trans people, binary and non-binary who are seeking access to a society on the same terms as everyone else.

Beadle-Blair is a writer, director, composer, choreographer, designer, producer and performer. He has won several awards including the Sony Award, the Los Angeles Outfest Screenwriting and was ranked forth on the Rainbow list of the UK’s hundred most influential LGBT+ people. What star sign is he? “I’m a Leo. I would say I am a template Leo,” he smiles. “Leos like bright colours and are summery creatures. They have lots of friends. They like being at home and are very bold. I think Leo’s struggle to keep their egos in check – but if someone else is a good leader – then they are the first to admit it.”

We are talking at lunch between rehearsals ahead of the Queen’s Speech, a week on from the Grenfell Tower fire and on the same day that Donald Trump has blamed his predecessor Barack Obama over the death of Otto Warmbier, 22, the US student who died after being imprisoned for 17 months in North Korea. Beadle Blair smiles patiently when considering the long and slow decline of the Western World and says: “None of it surprises me but all of it is quite shocking. A lot of the things that I think of as really very terrible are really good. These are crazy and politically turbulent times, where you just don’t know what’s going to happen next, people are clinging to their jobs and are promoted beyond their capabilities. Now feels like a perfect storm; there’s never been a more inspiring and exciting time to be an artist,” says Beadle-Blair.

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CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR SUMMER IN LONDON

Rikki has written 28 plays in the last decade that have been performed at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Bush TheatreSoho Theatre, Tristan Bates Theatre and Contact Theatre in Manchester. What, I wonder, does success look like to him? “I know when a show is successful when I watch it and think: ‘who wrote that?’ Then I realise it was me,” he nods. “I feel something is successful when I’ve stepped out of my own limitations and done something I haven’t done before something that challenges me. If I can test my humanity, prejudice, ego and philosophy then I have succeeded.”

The aim – and Rikki seems to have adopted this as his mission – is to make theatre and art for everyone. “What Summer in London is and what my work is – the revolution for which it is calling for is not a revolution in where anyone is deposed but where everyone is valued,” he adds, quickly. “So that we are all elevated. All of us can be elevated by one another, that’s my job, my life’s work and that’s what I’m offering the audience… Along with the standard expectation of high entertainment.”

‘Summer in London is billed as a cross between “a modern Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Inbetweenerswith an all-transgender cast.” So, what else can audiences expect from this play? “An astonishing cast who are full of vibrancy and humanity,” he says. “I tend to do very funny plays around very heavy subjects. I wanted to make something set in London that was uplifting, vivid and inspiring. I think I live in the most romantic and inspiring cities in the world. I want to capture what it’s like to be part of that culture and the home of so many talented people who come here to get the urban grit. Theatre Royal Stratford East is the perfect delivery room for this play; this is Stratford international!”” he beams.

“This theatre is one of the most revolutionary theatres in the world.”

Summer in London is at Theatre Royal Stratford East on 13 July, with previews from 8 July, and runs until 29 July.

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Charlie Fink, Cover My Tracks Interview: “There is a lot of things in the realm of gig-theatre, but I feel like we’ve made something truly unique.”

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Interview: Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Gareth O’Connor: “People either laugh from start to finish or they are very quiet.”

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
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Anthony Biggs, Artistic Director Jermyn St Theatre: “Much though I hate to admit it, I would say Trump and Brexit are indirectly a good thing for the arts, or more specifically the making of us. It challenges us to respond.”

Anthony Biggs
Anthony Biggs

Anthony Biggs

Anthony Biggs’ is well into his final season as Artistic Director of Jermyn Street Theatre. He has been in charge at the venue since 2013, and has produced work by British authors such as JB Priestley, Terence Rattigan and A.A. Milne, as well as musicals including See What I Wanna See, Closer Than Ever and I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road.

Anthony, it turned out, fancied doing an interview about Gorky, Jermyn St Theatre and more.

Modern drama owes a huge debt to Maxim Gorky. (See: Eugene O’Neill’, Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter). The Last Ones by Maxim Gorky is a strikingly relevant and vivid portrayal of a family and a country in the grip of revolution. Biggs’ farewell production is the UK premiere of Maxim Gorky’s The Last Ones, which is set in 1908 in a Russia following the October Revolution and has been translated by Cathy Porter. The 1907 play has a bullying Russian patriarch at its centre and there is certainly a timeliness about it. “The striking thing about Gorky’s work is that he started writing relatively late in life having had a pretty tough childhood – he famously walked over a 1000 miles from his home along the river Volga to go the university in Kazan – Lenin went there – and having walked all the way there they told him to bugger off,” he says. “He became a beacon of the anti-establishment. In the play, there is this remarkable Donald Trump parallel – it’s clear that the main character Ivan, a retired Police Chief, believes in alternative facts – everything he says is fiction. He states at the end: “We must fight against our enemies”, like a mobster out of the Sopranos.”

The tiny Jermyn Street Theatre succeeds in its mission to revive classics and develop new musical theatre work with big ambition. But does he ever worry he’ll run out of quality old plays? And where does he start to look for the hidden gems? “I usually find these plays by searching through public libraries, trying to find work that provokes me,” he says. “When I read O’Neill’s The First Man they were about to do his famous play The Hairy Ape at the Old Vic which was written at the same time. I thought that was interesting – here was this other play that had been forgotten about, but felt equally relevant, and I had to do it.”

Rather excitingly, Biggs will soon be co-artistic director of The Playground Theatre, London. A new space with a seating capacity of up to 200 with a flexible stage and two dressing rooms. “The Playground Theatre is a huge space which used to be a bus garage. It’s a completely immersive space so it could be transformative,” he says. “The West End has its bonuses but it is like a goldfish bowl. We are in discussion with European companies who are making theatre that is so far away from anything going on in this country at the moment. And the foreign productions we do see here are usually don’t represent the level of experimentation that is happening abroad, or are watered down versions of what is going on elsewhere.”

Does he think Trump and Brexit are good thing for art and culture?

“I was a teenager under Thatcher and I know how awful it was then for the Arts community,” says Biggs. “I couldn’t afford to go to drama school in the late 80’s –there were hardly any grants then. But a lot of talent emerged in the eighties and early nineties that came out of a period of appalling arts funding. Maybe because those artists felt they had something important to say. Under Blair’s Labour we had the Lottery which changed everything – suddenly we had all these new buildings and literary and education departments – but I’m not sure the work improved. Much though I hate to admit it, I would say Trump and Brexit are indirectly a good thing for the arts, or more specifically the making of us. It challenges us to respond.”

The Last Ones is at Jermyn Street theatre, London, until 1 July. Box office: 020-7287 2875.

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I went along to the unveiling of LAMDA’S new building and had a chat with Joanna Read and Rory Kinnear

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Random Theatre Thoughts & Lyn Gardner: “I’m delighted that the blog has found a home at the Stage where it will reach a wide audience.”

Lyn Gardner
Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner

I haven’t mentioned it much over the last couple of years but when all’s said and done I’m pretty keen on the output of Lyn Gardner. Sadly, theatre criticism is on the decline. Increasing numbers of aspiring arts journalists are writing for free on a long-term basis – with no end in sight. It doesn’t help that mainstream media’s obsession with celebrity and whacky politics has hijacked the discussion of the theatrical craft and process.

If we are honest, the thumbs up emoji is hardly a good indicator by which a member of the public can get to grips with the work that they are watching. As a direct consequence, the artists and cultural history to which they contribute are largely left out of the public discussion. (“Who is Laurence Olivier?” a student in one of my classes asked me recently.)

Nowadays, when we go and see a show it’s *mostly* in the context of no context and this has left little room for sensibility. The more we know about our artists, writers, directors and creatives, the more we appreciate their art. If we need better work on our stages then we need better audiences in our stalls. In a time of terror, the theatre takes on a significant social appeal. Society may be dividing and imploding from within but now, more than ever, it is not only a demonstration of courage but an engineer of it. I know theatre is not easy to get right. That’s why I get excited by the successes, find myself amazed by the triumphs, am dismayed by the fiascos and get angry with anyone who underestimates the medium and its enthusiasts so much that they exploit theatre by trying to get away with what they know is drivel.

Anyway, back in March, The Guardian cut its contract with theatre critic Lyn Gardner for 150 blogs a year. She will continue to write features and reviews. The reaction across the industry was one of regret and writers, directors and creative practitioners called for the decision to be reversed. They didn’t reverse the decision.

Fast forward 8 weeks and rather brilliantly, the Stage announced yesterday that Lyn will be joining the newspaper as associate editor. Gardner will also join the judging panels for The Stage’s numerous awards, namely The Stage 100, The Stage Awards and The Stage Debut Awards. This is fantastic; I think it will work well for both parties. At least The Stage has a business model that means they can pay for the journalism etc, etc and so on.

Today Lyn has been announced as a new Master on the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins.

I caught up with Lyn and asked her how she was doing: “I was astonished and touched by the response of the theatre community to the axing of my contracted 150 blog contributions to the Guardian Stage online. So, I’m delighted that the blog has found a home at the Stage where it will reach a wide audience,” she tells me.

What’s the plan going forward? “I will be continuing to review and write for the Guardian which remains committed to quality theatre coverage, but it’s lovely to also have a new platform where I can think out loud about the challenges facing theatre and develop a dialogue with both the industry and theatre-goers,” she says.

So there we have it. ‘Journalism’.

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Liverpool Everyman, Director Nick Bagnall: “I had a woman sharply point at me and decry: ‘There’s no room for rock and roll in Shakespeare’”

Nick Bagnall

Nick Bagnall

We are all familiar with Romeo and Juliet. The Everyman Company and actors from Liverpool’s Young Everyman Playhouse are uniting to celebrate Shakespeare’s brutal tale of love and family. Director, Nick Bagnall has come out of rehearsals and is in a buoyant mood. “Rehearsals are going fantastically well. I’ve done a big edit of the play and made bold decisions with the casting,” he says. “Time is short, so I’m filling the production with ensemble and song.”

George Caple and Elliot Kingsley play the star-crossed lovers, in a conceptual reimagining involving a gender switch of Romeo and Julius. There has been a lot of gender-blind casting in Shakespeare over the past year or so – Tamsin Greig played Malvolia at the National, The all-female trilogy at the Donmar; Glenda Jackson’s King Lear  at the Old Vic and many more. This contemporary view of the play will be applied to Bagnall’s fast paced production where bloodshed on the streets and arranged marriage are common place.

Romeo & Juliet

Romeo & Juliet

Is Bagnall prepared for backlash from traditionalists? “I’m never surprised by the purists. They always say something that is slightly rigid. Ultimately, when I’m making work I like to be anarchic and playful,” he says defiantly. “The young people who are in the company – of which there are over forty – are incredible and they are blown away by the gender swap. It’s rather beautiful and its given it a vitality that I really hoped it would. I relocated Shakespeare to the swinging 60’s in my recent production of Two Gentlemen of Verona at The Globe,” he laughs. “I had a woman sharply point at me and decry: ‘There’s no room for rock and roll in Shakespeare’ – I’m totally prepared for backlash!”

What is fantastic about this production is that it is made with and for young people. The Liverpool Everyman’s children, and young people are at the heart of the show’s process. “Young Everyman Playhouse (YEP) are the best youth theatre in the land”, he says. “They are an incredible bunch of young people. I have to say that, for them, just being in a room with professional actors, it’s very clear how much they are learning; they bring a unique energy to proceedings. My biggest aim with this is about demystifying Shakespeare for young people and to create something that they can relate to when it comes to living in Liverpool in 2017.”

We’ve all seen the story of Juliet and Romeo test the patience of audiences more than perhaps any other Shakespeare play. So why is Bagnall’s any different, why should we come along? “Because its open-hearted, sexy and vital storytelling,” he says. “I have a fantastic cast and an electric bunch of young people. It’s rock and roll… Oh and there’s even a bit of Indian dub-step.”

Romeo and Juliet runs Saturday 27 May to Wednesday 7 June at Liverpool Everyman

Rehearsal images Gallery below. Photographs by Brian Roberts

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Maria Friedman: “I want to fill my life with creativity, family and friends and make the most of each day.”

Maria Friedman
Maria Friedman

Maria Friedman

Maria Friedman is a musical theatre goddess—straight off the top of Mt. Olympus— who never seems to run short of energy or surprise with her artistic endeavours.

Friedman is a FOUR time Olivier Award winning, NINE TIME NOMINATED, West End and Broadway luminary and is right in the middle of her exclusive SOLD OUT THREE WEEK RESIDENCY at Brasserie Zedel. Tickets are understandably like gold dust. We are talking ahead of her critically acclaimed concert coming to The Capitol in Horsham later this month.

So, if I was to come to a Maria Friedman concert what would I expect? “I know that you would experience excellent music and wonderful lyrics,” she says. “Best of all, I am accompanied by my good friend, the renowned musical director and Tony Award nominee Jason Carr. He is a genius; he makes orchestrations that are dazzling. We breathe together, we think together, we make music as one.”

What makes her get out of bed in the morning? “I feel that as I get older I want to take every opportunity that comes my way,” she says. “I just want to fill my life with creativity, family and friends and make the most of each day.”

Her career is quite extraordinary, but if someone had told her at 16 that she’d be doing this as a living now, would she have believed them? “No! I would have hoped they were telling the truth…” she pauses. “But I wouldn’t have believed them for one second. I was very bewildered at 16. I hadn’t got a clue.”

After three decades as one of Britain’s most renowned actresses, Friedman moved into directing them. In recent years she has gained a highly respected reputation as a theatre director, most notably for the Olivier-winning production of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and of Cole Porter’s High Society at The Old Vic, both received fantastic reviews.

Friedman’s feel-good production of Richard Harris’ play Stepping Out is currently playing at the Vaudeville Theatre and stars Amanda Holden. I tell her that I haven’t seen it yet as Amanda Holden makes me feel anxious. “She’s genuinely funny – I wouldn’t be anxious, Carl,” she tells me firmly. “As a director I look to cast slightly older women, because life gets much harder for middle aged actresses. You’ve got a bunch of hilarious and talented people on stage. We are one of the few shows in the West End getting a standing ovation night after night.”

We duly talk about what to expect from one of her concerts. “I hope you would laugh a lot. I can guarantee that you will have an enormous amount of fun. We navigate our way around the bigger emotions: happiness, sadness, love and loss. It’s a real potent mix.”

I ask what, in 2017, a Maria Friedman fan looks like? “Well, it’s really very mixed – because of Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat film I get a lot of young people who are/were fans and those kids grew up,” she says. “I guess there are the real passionate theatre goers and of course the EastEnders lot! It’s so lovely that I get them all in a room together. It feels very much like coming around to my house for a sing song.”

Maria’s concert explores the work of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, comparing and contrasting songs from their catalogues, as well as their masterpiece West Side Story. Songs include ‘New York, New York’, ‘I Can Cook Too’, ‘Losing My Mind’ and ‘Send In The Clowns’. On May 28 she will be making a very special appearance in Horsham, for one night only.

“I’d like to encourage people to come and see me perform in Horsham and make music with me. Please come so that other artists like me want to perform there,” she says. “Take a leap of faith.”

Maria Friedman is at the Capitol in Horsham on May 28.

Stepping Out runs at the Vaudeville Theatre until 17 June.

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Guest Blog: Leon Fleming: “It’s about making noise and raising cash and doing whatever we can to help a persecuted people in Chechnya while the majority of our media and politicians turn their faces away.”

Click on the image to book your tickets now!

This week for three nights only we’re putting on a double-bill of short plays and a panel discussion in response to horrific reports which have been leaked out of Chechnya regarding the rounding-up, imprisonment, humiliation, torture, and murder of gay and bisexual men in the region. Thursday to Saturday, 11-13 May at the Theatre Delicatessen Old Library in Elephant and Castle.

And you have to come. It’s imperative that you come. This is going to be a fantastic entertaining, informative, important, visceral, empowering, encompassing event. But more than that, it’s about making noise and raising cash and doing whatever we can to help a persecuted people in Chechnya while the majority of our media and politicians turn their faces away.

Around a month ago we first started hearing the stories. At first only the LGBT press were even remotely interested. Gradually other mainstream news sources started carrying the story, and looking further into it. We already know the whole of Russia have for the last few years being exercising a programme of pushing LGBT people further into the margins of society.

Rehearsal Images

Rehearsal Images

But for the first time since the rise of Nazism in Germany have gay men being actually rounded-up by authorities and placed into prison camps where they are being tortured with electricity, beatings, starvation. And those that are let go, are taken to their families who are intrusted to kill their own children in order to restore family honour.

What world is this?

And in Europe?  And only seventy years since the last time it happened!

So, we’re putting on plays; because we don’t know what else to do. I wrote Boris Got Buggered in 2013 when Putin ratified his gay-propaganda law federally; it’s a satire on the way governments use the machinery of the civil service in order to remove humanity from statute, and how this particular law silences LGBT people. The second play, Ramzanland is Freedomland has been written in the last two weeks in direct response to the reports which have come out of Chechnya. Again it involves satire, because I felt that only through satire could I even begin to demonstrate the horror. We’ve even got Ian McKellen in on the act, lending us his voice.

It’s all down to director Scott Le Crass really; from the minute I said I wanted to write a rapid-response piece, he’s been on it. On top of the plays, there will also be a panel discussion each night. Because we need to talk about what is going on, and how we can keep the noise going, the pressure up, and how we can help. And we need to raise cash; in this case for Amnesty International UK. This year marks 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, and our authorities have been guilty of some of the same things as the Chechen authorities. That can’t be ignored. We, and our government have a responsibility to our dark recent history to do something.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS  

Thursday 11 – Saturday 13 May 7:30pm

Theatre Delicatessen Old Library, 39 Wells Way, London, SE5 0PX

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Interview: Clod Ensemble, Latitude Festival: ‘There is a real variety of performance work and lots to choose from, and then there are the pink sheep, which we are looking forward to.’

Clod Ensemble On The High Road
Clod Ensemble On The High Road

Clod Ensemble On The High Road

Clod Ensemble are one of the UK’s most prominent interdisciplinary performance companies. For over two decades, director Suzy Willson and composer Paul Clark have developed an original performance language, creating provocative, finely crafted work, ambitious in scale and concept. The company works at the intersection of different forms and disciplines – at the point where they meet, transform and challenge each other to become something new. Clod Ensemble collaborate with dancers, actors, musicians, medics, architects and orchestras. The Company has been presented in London, across the UK and internationally in theatres, dance houses, galleries and public spaces including Sadler’s Wells, Tate Modern, The Lowry Salford, Wales Millennium Centre, Serralves Museum Porto and Public Theater New York.

Clod Ensemble will be in the Latitude Festival theatre line-up with ‘On The High Road’ and this will be the first time they have appeared at Latitude so it’s a really exciting moment for them, apparently.
I asked the company some questions, which you can read — with responses, arranged in the format of what one might vaguely term ‘Q&A’— below. You know the drill.

Hello! You guys must be thrilled to be part of the Latitude theatre line-up. What a momentous day this is for everyone involved!
It’s our first time at Latitude and we have created a special festival edit of a new show called On the High Road that we are really excited to be sharing with the audiences here.

On The High Road sounds like it could be inspired by the present day society.
We first started thinking about the piece nearly ten years ago – it was a very different time politically. We were really keen to get the piece made this year, as, you’re right, it is thematically addressing a lot of the fears we are seeing at the moment, both here and in other parts of the world.

Which other theatre company’s fanbase would most neatly transition to Clod Ensemble fans if that other company dramatically called it a day or were in a severe but non-lethal accident?
There are many companies and artists we admire and perhaps people who like their work would like ours – it’s a long list …. Boris Charmatz, Meg Stuart, Rosas, Tanztheatre Wuppertal – Pina BauschMichael Clark Company, Heiner Goebbels, Ligia Lewis, Split BritchesWooster Group, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, William Forsythe, Manchester Camerata, Sheila Ghelani, SunRa Arkestra …

What makes Latitude so special?
It’s a great mix of music, a theatre and dance. There is a real variety of performance work and lots to choose from, and then there are the pink sheep, which we are looking forward to.

Would it be fair to say that Clod Ensemble are not like other theatre companies?
Yes

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen on the internet?
The readers’ comment section on Breitbart News is pretty depressing.

Clod Ensemble strike me as quite a unique and experiential theatre company. Is that a fair assessment?
It’s quite unusual to have a 20 year collaboration between an musician/ composer and a choreographer/ director.

What do you think of the other acts on the Latitude theatre and dance line-up?
Fantastic.

Right you are. Have you read any good books lately? 
We both read Maggie Nelson’s brilliant book The Art of Cruelty – about how violence is dealt with in visual art, cinema, theatre.

Interesting. There is certainly no shortage of diversity at Latitude is there?
Its brilliant to see such a mix of work in one festival.

How important is spectacle in performance?
It depends what you mean by ‘spectacle’ – there is certainly a lot to look at in our shows.

When you’re touring and promoting a show for years do you lose track of what the fun bit of it was when you were making it in the first place?
No