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Interview Director Bruce Guthrie: “Shows like RENT and Angels in America allow us to look at this time period subjectively and have become like Brechtian theatre as they hold a mirror up to our own time while depicting events from the past.”

Bruce Guthrie
Bruce Guthrie

Bruce Guthrie credit Dan Wooller

Bruce Guthrie is the director of the 20th Anniversary production of Jonathan Larson’s award-winning musical RENT. Guthrie is a professional theatre and film director from Scotland now based in London, who has worked with multi award-winning artists in the UK and internationally since 2005.

RENT is inspired by Puccini’s opera La Bohème, won four Tony Awards, six Drama Desk Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1996. The show ran on Broadway for 12 years, from 1996 to 2008. The show premiered in London’s West End in 1998 at the Shaftesbury Theatre, where it ran for 18 months. It was adapted into a film in 2005. This production is currently near the end of a huge U.K. Tour.

Like Tony Kushner’s ‘Angels in America,  Jonathan Larson’s momentous musical about the AIDS/HIV crisis, proves Broadway’s enduring approach at tackling important issues head-on.

I thought it would be a good idea to have a chat with Bruce on the telephone.

I was right it was quite good.

Here is what we discussed…

Hi Bruce. How is the U.K. tour of RENT going?
It has been amazing. We’ve had a standing ovation at pretty much every performance. Audiences have been so responsive the production wherever we have gone and it’s a privilege to have directed a show that is so important to so many people. An entire generation have never seen it live are coming to it with a fresh perspective and loving it while those more familiar with it are coming to see it and falling in love with it all over again.”

I had never seen RENT before, it was a show that I knew of but had never seen it live, I’d never watched the movie either. I think that was a good thing as it allowed me to be able to treat it like a brand-new musical.

Why do you think Rent has never been on a proper U.K tour?
There is definitely an appetite for this show When we’ve been somewhere for a few days, the word of mouth gets out and people come in their droves to see the show by the end of the week. The musical has a bit for a reputation of being the AIDS musical (see TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE) but It’s about so much more than that. The show is about what it means to be present and live in the moment: to embrace life and the choices of others rather than judge them. It’s a story about love and family. It’s full of fun, energy and incredible characters. The music is superb and it’s a celebration of what it is to be alive. Perhaps we were not ready for the show 20 years ago and now we can look back on that period of history we can be more objective about it. Perhaps we are exposed to much more American culture now thanks to T.V and film as well as transatlantic travel becoming more easy. It might be a combination of all these things. What I do know is the U.K audiences have been incredible in their response and attendance.”

Angels in America

Angels in America -Cast Portrait

You must be encouraged to see Angels in America at the National getting such an electric response. Kushner and Larson’s legacies live far beyond the original production’s success, don’t they?
RENT has become a historical piece and we are able to look at how we did or didn’t deal with situations at that time. Our characters are post-Vietnam and they are finding their way as their own individuals. It’s a real snapshot and celebration of American creativity amidst the devastation of this incurable plague that creates a climate of fear for our characters to rise up against. Shows like RENT and Angels in America allow us to look at this time period subjectively and have become like Brechtian theatre as they hold a mirror up to our own time while depicting events from the past. The first line of the song RENT is “How do you document real life when real life is getting like fiction every day.” That could have been written about Trump’s America.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR RENT

Well, quite. Right, easy question what are the top 3 Musicals of all time?
Well, Les Miserable is a very special show. I love how it deals with themes that are bigger than any individual character: it has beautiful music, incredible spectacle, grandness and yet a realness to it. I saw Hamilton on Broadway last year while I was researching RENT. It is such a game-changer: it truly is THE RENT of today in terms of the reaction to it and that is not coincidence – Lin Manuel Miranda is a massive fan of RENT and it was produced by Jeffery Seller, who produced the original version of RENT.  Hamilton takes a combination of things and puts them together in a way that nobody has ever seen or heard before in musical theatre. Finally, I’d go for Sweeny Todd by Stephen Sondheim. It’s a wonderfully funny and dark musical. Incredible music, great characters and a great story. What more do you need?

Terrific choices! This production has had amazing feedback from audiences and some solid reviews. What are your hopes for the future?
We hope there will be a future life for RENT. Our cast are truly spectacular and the production has been so well received by audiences and critics that we feel there is a life in the show, but nothing is certain until it’s certain. Next, I’m directing a play called Man to Man by Manfred Karge with Frantic Assembly’s Artistic Director Scott Graham, which will tour the UK and play in London at the beautiful Wilton’s Music Hall. The production played the Edinburgh Festival in 2015 and was a huge hit. I’m pleased we are getting a chance to revisit it. I’ve got quite a few things planned for 2017 already. I like to keep my work varied and always want to learn something new with every production.

As someone who is Scottish how important are the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Edinburgh International Festival for artist’s development?
Edinburgh in August is one of the most exciting places to be anywhere in the world – the energy and vibrancy of the festival is really terrific and they are really good opportunities to flex muscles and learn which is excellent. The energy and buzz of creativity is wonderful. With more than 6,500 productions to choose from, there’s something for everyone. My advice to young directors and performers is you have to decide what you want to gain from it. For me, whenever I’ve done a festival each time it’s been about putting on a great show. It’s lovely to have a few nights out on the town but in the end, it’s all about the quality of the work.

You are coming to Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts next week, aren’t you?
We are looking forward to coming to the Lighthouse in Poole.  We’ve tried to take RENT to places you wouldn’t necessarily expect. It’s a beautiful theatre and the cast are looking forward to playing there.

Have you had any special audience responses that have stayed with you?
As I said earlier there has been so much amazing feedback it has been very special. Our cast are incredibly talented and give it their all in every performance. The cast have met people from all walks of life who thank them for doing the show and telling stories that are close to their own. There was one kid in Liverpool that came and said because of RENT he’d been inspired to talk to his parents and come out which is an incredibly brave thing to do. Jonathan Larson did that most rare of things, he wrote a piece of theatre that inspires people in a truly life changing way.

Rent is at Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts 1-6 May https://www.lighthousepoole.co.uk  Box Office: 01202 280000

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is at the National Theatre, until 19 August.

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Mike Shepherd, Kneehigh: “I used to walk over the Millennium Bridge full of hope and now it is with a knot in my stomach.”

Mike Shepherd
Mike Shepherd

Mike Shepherd

Mike Shepherd, Artistic Director of Kneehigh Theatre Company has had a remarkable career as a director, performer and as founder of Kneehigh.

We are talking on the same day that Emma Rice, former Artistic director and long-time friend and collaborator with Shepherd penned a spirited open letter to the incoming Globe artistic director. Rice offered candid insight into the politics behind the scenes of the organisation. It is, by all accounts, a fascinating thing. When offering up advice from the perspective of her time in post, she reveals, “I have learnt, never again, to allow myself to be excluded from the rooms where decisions are made” she continues, “…as important and beloved as the Globe is to me, the board did not love and respect me back.”

So, what does Mike think about it all? “The thing that is a huge shame is that Emma created a brilliant and vibrant artistic community at the Globe and that hasn’t been valued at all,” he pauses. “I used to walk over the Millennium Bridge full of hope and now it is with a knot in my stomach.”. He continues: “Essentially after head-hunting her and taking her away from Cornwall they discarded her – it is a dreadful situation.” Their mutual respect and affection will last long after Rice leaves the Globe. Indeed, he is very clear that they will work together in the future and that Emma will always be a part of the Kneehigh family.

His dynamism is, he confesses, the result of finding his artistic feet during a genuinely political time. “Look, I’m so old, I’m from a generation where we genuinely thought we could change the world; that Bob Dylan era. I was never a hippy, though I’m contemplating becoming one. An effective hippy.” Shepherd laughs when I tell him that I wish it was two years ago and ask his thoughts on our Prime minister’s surprise announcement of a Snap Election outside No 10, saying she has delivered stability after the Brexit referendum result. “It’s pretty desperate isn’t it,” he says bluntly. “I was horrified that we voted Brexit. I spent some time recently touring around a very troubled America… On one hand, we have to keep fighting and on the other you want to turn your back in disgust.”

Before coming to the bigger issue – the global refugee crisis and how to make a difference, when it comes to making work that is relevant to audience members’ lives and concerns, Kneehigh are in a league of their own. “Our latest show 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips ends with the Martin Luther King, Jr quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” At the end of the show we asked audiences to buy a lucky button, make a wish for a better, safer world. We raised over $50,000 for organisations helping refugees in Europe and Syria.”

Shepherd has been steering Kneehigh since Rice left two years ago, continuing the political and socially sensitive work with gusto. How has he been getting on working closely with Charles Hazlewood and Carl Grose? “Well, Charles is an extraordinary man, he comes up with the most brilliant projects, he has an amazing creative energy. Carl came up through the company; he was originally our apprentice,” he says. “Those two really chime and are absolutely best friends. I should also mention our close links with choreographer Etta Murfitt and our magnificent lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth. That is a very strong creative team that is fuelling our work and continuing the Kneehigh journey,” he adds.

Lyn Gardner recently wrote an article about the Harry Potter and The Cursed Child’s success in making theatre universally appealing and how our strongest culture triumphs are only conceivable because of the subsidised arts sector.  “How wonderful that Steven Hoggett and John Tiffany are artists that have come from subsidised theatre backgrounds. Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is an exemplar of mainstream theatre attracting a whole new generation of theatre audiences, many of whom will be attending theatre for the first time,” he says. “That’s one of the biggest challenges for me always; it’s hard earned – we don’t just dip from one good idea to another, we want to make a difference and engage with diverse and new audiences.”

Next month Kneehigh will take up residence at Brighton Theatre Royal as part of the Brighton Festival with a restaging of the critically acclaimed Tristan and Yseult; Emma Rice’s acclaimed staging of the Cornish legend that catapulted Kneehigh onto the national stage. “Yes, I’ll be doing Tristan and Yseult for the last time,” he pauses. “As King Mark I say ‘We don’t look inland there’s not much point. No, outward, outward lies the way!’. Looking ahead, we are also thrilled to be working with Keziah Serreau who will be assistant director on the Tin Drum in collaboration with Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and West Yorkshire Playhouse. We will also be looking into a new Kneehigh show based on Marie Curie, currently titled ‘Radioactive (Love and fall out)’”.

He ends on at note of upbeat positivity about the next generation of artists and the future. “I’d just like to encourage organisations to pull together and to collaborate– there needs to be a spirit of hope. Theatre is there to provoke, challenge and entertain.”

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Actor Daniel Donskoy: “A Song Goes Round The World is my response to Brexit and my stance on being very, very European in London 2017.”

I am delighted that following a successful run at St James’ Studio in 2016, A Song Goes Round The World opens at Upstairs at The Gatehouse this week; from 25 April and run until 30 April. The show is performed and directed by Daniel Donskoy.

Watch and learn, lesser theatre entities. This is how you do it.

Daniel is director of Collaborative Artists, an independent theatrical production company run by Daniel Donskoy since 2014. Collaborative Artists’ productions include La Ronde at The Bunker staring Lauren Samuels and Alexander Vlahos, You won’t succeed on Broadway, if you don’t have any Jews starring Sophie Evans, Lloyd Daniels and Sarah Earnshaw (nominated for Best Off West End Production at the 2016 WhatsOnStage Awards). Prompted by Brexit all its 2017 productions will be focused on international pieces of theatre with a particular emphasis on European works.

I asked Daniel for some of his thoughts on the show, the state of the world, auditions and more. They make for ‘quite a read’.

Daniel Donskoy

Daniel Donskoy

Hi Daniel! How are you doing?
I am very well thank you, Carl! I just moved this week and am enjoying my new neighbourhood a lot and of course, I am very much looking forward to this week. I haven’t performed live on stage in a while but spent most of the last year in front of a camera.

In ‘A Song Goes Round The World’ you are performing German, Yiddish, French and Russian chansons. Is there no end to your talents?
I have to thank my family dearly for the language skills. They moved me around quite a bit during my childhood and I feel so lucky to have been exposed to so many different cultures &  languages. Those moves, of course, had pros and cons but also gave me the chance to observe and understand new cultures before settling into them. That had a huge impact and shaped me into the person that I am today.

Is it a difficult process being the director and performer?
The last show I worked on in London before A Song Goes Round the World was LA RONDE in a new adaptation by Max Gill at The Bunker. Everyone’s roles were clearly distinguished – I was the producer and responsible for facilitating the grounds for a successful production. I feel very blessed to have worked with such a fantastic team of people.
Developing A Song Goes Round the World together with Inga Davis Rutter was a different creative process that I enjoyed. Not only are we telling the stories behind the most adored European chansons but it allows me to draw from my background. So if you want to know how it was growing up in a Russian household in Berlin of the 90’s, you should come along.

Can you explain a bit more about ‘A Song Goes Round The World’?
Ultimately it’s a musical odyssey through the most adored European chansons of the 20th century. From Edith Piaf’s ‘Hymn L’amour’, the Yiddish all-time classic ‘A Yiddishe Mame’ through to the Russian ‘Ochy Chernie’. When we premiered at St. James Studio I was astounded by the audience’s participation. They clapped along and it was wonderful to unite people from a huge variety of background and heritages for an evening of music. To become political for a second: It’s my response to Brexit and my little stance on being very very European in London 2017. It is important to never forget that we are far more similar than it often seems. At the end of the day, we’re human beings with not so dissimilar wants and needs.

Daniel in ITV’s Victoria – *swoon* © ITV Plc

You will be joined by a different guest each evening – that sounds fun.
I am so happy and thankful to Jackie Marks, Sarah Naudi and Monique Young for joining me. Jackie is simply phenomenal and was part of A Song Goes Round the     World when we did it last year and we had a really wonderful time sharing the stage. Fun fact: Jackie was the first British Fantine Sarah and Monique are both extraodinary performers both of whom I have met in our days at drama school this will be the first time we perform together since then.

Do you think we are living in quite a topsy-turvy time at present?
Please don’t get me started – I try to not read the news sections almost every day but then it feels like putting your head in the sand. The inevitable move toward the right all over the world can seem very scary. I think with all the influx of information we are being bombarded with it has become more difficult than ever to know what’s right and who is telling the truth. As a young artist living in London 2017, I am of course a liberal and centre-left thinking but I firmly believe that the current political systems as we know them will soon change drastically and if we’re unlucky we will soon only reminisce about the times of liberty and freedom. It is so important for every one of us to educate ourselves – to learn to form an opinion – our very own opinion created by listening to different sides of a different story and stop following any belief system blindly – politically, religiously and culturally. Yes, these are times of change and with open-mindedness, we can all make it a change for the better.

What are your top 3 musicals?
1.Cabaret – A musical about my wonderful hometown – I’m biased 😉
2.Les Mis – No need to explain, I hope.
3.Merrily We Roll Along – Sondheim is a genius and if I get to do a musical in the coming years may it be one of his.

The Gatehouse is quite a brilliant London fringe venue, are you excited to be performing there?
Of course. The whole area is so wonderful and the view from the Highgate village down on the city such a wonderful sight, not the way to and from Highgate tube-station. Every time I have visited the Gatehouse the atmosphere was very friendly and the shows were brilliant. I cannot wait to swap sides for the first time at the Gatehouse and be on-stage.

Have there been times in the past when you haven’t liked a show that you’ve been to?
That usually happens when my expectations are too high. Often it’s the material that is the problem. Some show juts aren’t written to be performed but the show that I hugely enjoyed most recently was Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre. I was truly transfixed by it.

What will you be wearing for this performance? The costumes for ‘Victoria’ were very stylised — like that photo of you in the fancy jacket.
I’m singing in German – I am naked of course. Or maybe just that Jacket from Victoria with nothing underneath? – it’s a surprise.

Blimey. Which is the best bit of ‘A Song Goes Round The World’?

The moment when the audience joins in to sing – music can bring such unity and see the audience smile or shed a tear. That’s the beauty of cabaret: the interaction with the audience.

You are quite tall aren’t you.
6”3 to be exact or 190cm (the European way) stage lights and I have often had problems before – I remember one particular show at the Arcola Studio 2 – I just kept walking into that light during every blackout.

Tell me about audition. I love hearing about auditions.
Pretending to be eaten alive by pigs in an audition room was probably my moment of stardom. But honestly, I LOVE auditions. When you’re an actor you have to say that or you’ll get stressed – well that is my way of seeing in. I try to enjoy every opportunity to embody a character be in on stage, on screen. Though my ultimate  favourite audition parody is the video ‘Fiery Angel’ GOOGLE IT NOW!

Is there anything that you’d like to add?
Thank you for taking the time to chat to me and I hope to see you at the Gatehouse and see you clapping along in the front row.

Naturally. Cheers, Daniel! 😉

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Interview Mayfest – MAYK – Director Kate Yedigaroff: “Do we doggedly keep on trying to deliver although we would have had to compromise extremely on quality scope, breadth and impact?”

Kate Yedigaroff

Mayfest is Bristol’s unique festival of contemporary theatre, dedicated to presenting a broad range of unusual, playful and ambitious work from leading theatre makers from Bristol, the UK and beyond

Kate Yedigaroff is co-director of Mayfest.
We are at the Watershed in Bristol – total brilliant cinema & digital creativity hub–  by the docks. Amazing.

Here is what we discussed…

Kate Yedigaroff

Kate Yedigaroff

Hi Kate, first thing is first: can we talk about THAT The Stage headline and the whole Mayfest Festival going bi-annual thing. 
We have made the decision to pause and we made it for lots of reasons. Of course, the thing that was picked up was that part of that reason was to do with the current funding landscape. We decided to pause because although we are an NPO this is only a part of the picture and we had had a bad year in terms of additional fundraising amongst other things. These decisions are hard – do we doggedly keep on trying to deliver although we would have had to compromise extremely on quality scope, breadth and impact?  Or do we take a breath and give time and space to strategic thinking and creating a really good festival for 2018 and beyond.  We’ve been going year on year for some years and there is a kind of breathlessness to that – it was getting to a point where we were being responsive all the time, rather than looking at where we actually are, contexts are shifting, the world is changing etc etc. Also our other producing work is growing and growing.

Would it be accurate to say that Mayfest may have become a of victim of its own success? 
It feels entirely appropriate that this festival goes bi-annual. Our intention is that this festival spreads right out across Bristol. So, another reason for delivering every other year is to build relationships that are going to take time, planting seeds for really exciting collaborations to grow and extending our national and international relationships too.

Talk to me about Bristol. I love Bristol. Do you? 
Bristol is an extraordinary place and I’ve found it impossible to leave. There is an ever shifting gang of artists making work, and a strong core. Strong networks and great audiences. Mayfest started at BOV in 2003 and at that point it was a programme of work in the studio that was deliberately being the alternative offer to a classical main house programme. It very quickly became clear that there was a huge community of artists and audiences that wanted to engage with it.

It seems like there is a lot of joined up thinking and collaborative team spirit, no?
There is a generosity here, and people’s peripheral vision is quite good but there is a lack of resource and at the moment there is not a lot of space to actually do stuff in. It’s tough for mid-career artists who are beginning to want and need to make work of scale and there isn’t enough hard cash and real opportunity to make those things happen.

What are the biggest challenges that you are hearing from the mouths of artists?

Lack of decent commissioning, co-production potential and proper supported development time, the scratch culture reigns supreme. Naturally people are frustrated as it’s getting harder to take risks on work that hasn’t been seen or artists that are ‘unknown’.  But if nobody’s going to take a punt how the hell are we going to move on from here.

You are co-director of Mayfest alongside Matthew Austin. What’s that relationship like? 
Matthew and I are very good friends and I suppose the ethos of the company is built on that – we are very different creatures but our tastes are mostly similar and we share a leaning to leftfield with a desire to not exclude. We are different spirits and we have different backgrounds. At work we pretty much share responsibility for everything but crudely speaking I’m more likely to be in a rehearsal room or having long meetings with artists about new ideas and he’ll be gathering speed with the important practical stuff that makes the work happen. It isn’t possible to think of doing this without him. We seem to make sense.

So, no festival this year. What have you got coming up?

Part of not doing a festival this year is a load of other projects that we are producing – in May we are premiering a show with a company called Firebird theatre. They are a company of disabled actors and they are making an autobiographical show that amongst other things celebrates 25 years of them making theatre. There are also the beginnings of a really exciting project with Stillhouse and LIFT. New works in development with Sleepdogs, The British Paraorchestra, Jo Bannon. And we are developing a programme of presented work outside Mayfest –  new ways of staying in touch with our audiences and experimenting with new things.

What is the Fringe culture like in Bristol?
The Wardrobe Theatre is a great project that’s becoming a big deal quite quickly. A lovely space with a really lively theatre. Brunswick Court, Residence and Interval – groups of independent artists who are co-working and experimenting with new ways of peer to peer support etc.

Who has been your mentor? Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to?
I feel quite lucky to have been well supported in Bristol – Dick Penny – CEO of Watershed – really backed me when I needed it –Tom Morris and Emma Stenning at the Old Vic too.

As we are all running to stand still and spinning plates, do you ever stop and take time to think about your own professional development?
I am more and more interested in finding new ways of creating unusual projects with greater and deeper public engagement. I’d like more time to explore this.  I find it quite easy to have a crisis of meaning – is this all enough?  There are so many people really being fucked over.  What can we do? Let’s not sit in an echo chamber etc etc. I wonder if there will become a way that my theatre producing can connect more overtly to these questions.
And I want to make sure that I keep trying to be a good mum. And that is constant learning. I have a son. I want to help him to be a happy man. Able to be vulnerable and silly and to find power in that too.

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Interview: Director Sam Pritchard on Pygmalion, regional theatre, ketchup and more

Sam Pritchard
Sam Pritchard

Sam Pritchard

I had a chat with Sam Pritchard. Sam is the very bold Associate Director (International) at the Royal Court and was winner of the JMK Award for Directors in 2012. His credits include Anna (Aix Opera Festival/ENOA Workshop), There Has Possibly Been An Incident (Royal Exchange and Edinburgh St Stephens/Soho Theatre/Berlin Theatertreffen), Buy Nothing Day (Company of Angels), Fireface (Young Vic) and Galka Motalka (Royal Exchange). He will be directing Guillermo Calderon’s play B for the Royal Court in September 2017.

He has directed a radical new staging of Bernard Shaw’s acute comedy Pygmalion for Headlong, a poignant tale of two opposites, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, trying to find a common language.

Anyway, last week many thought I had lost my mind when I ran a twitter poll asking: ‘Do you keep your ketchup in the fridge?’ * See photo below*

Ketchup Poll

Ketchup Poll

In fact it was an elaborate way of enriching this ‘content’. So there you go.
But does Sam keep his ketchup in the fridge? Well…

Have you had a good week? 
“Good – It’s been pretty busy – I have a full-time job which is as an associate at the Royal Court –  I work mostly with international playwrights there isn’t really and average week – so much of our work here or with playwrights is about working on the development of their work, listening to them and discussing work that we have received. I’m currently in Bath and looking forward to catching up with the cast and team – I have never been to Bath, I know it has a classic proscenium-arch and I’ve heard is a brilliant space.”

Pygmalion

Pygmalion. Click on the image to book your tickets for Pygmalion

Do you read the Pygmalion Reviews? Some were quite good weren’t they. 
“I do read some of the reviews – I think there is an interesting thing that comes with Headlong as a touring company that a show gets engaged with at different points in different places. And I think the company have certainly found that to be the case, that different audiences across the country have had really different experiences. For me the aim has been to respond to the impulse I had in my first engagement with the play, when I first sat down to read it. It felt like a really radical piece of work. Much more so than we usually think. I thought about its relationship to us now. It’s an extraordinarily front footed and in some ways populist piece of writing about class and identity in Britain – I think that’s what Shaw wrote. Our response isn’t traditional but it flows from that.”

How important are your relationships with the creative team? 
I think all of those creative relationships are entirely crucial whether that’s with set and costume designer or lighting and video designer; in the case of this show a cinematographer or sound designer. Those relationships were key in terms of growing the world and aesthetic from that initial impulse into the show that we all made together. This is a play about language, how we hear, see and feel it and all of those design elements needed to deliver that.”

You were the winner of the JMK Award for Directors in 2012, how helpful was that in terms of your career trajectory?
“The extraordinary thing about that process and the opportunity it offers is being able to make a piece of work that you’re passionate about. It’s not about working on other peoples’ shows or developing your practice in a theoretical way. It’s about doing the actual thing itself. Which is invaluable.”

Do you see regional theatre as something that is in decline? 
“As someone who lives in London I feel totally underqualified to comment on the state of regional theatre. I lived and worked in Manchester at the Royal Exchange for three years at the beginning of my career. And my experience of that theatre and city has always been that there is a thriving and distinctive and different theatre ecology there. Our experience with Pygmalion has been really positive. Shaw feels like a very audience facing artist. He’s up for a conversation, an argument and a debate with his audience and the play is a brilliant mixture of the comic and the darkly political. It feels to me as though audiences have really engaged with that across the tour.”

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR PYGMALION

How have audiences responsed to Pygmalion across the country? 
One of the interesting things we set out to do with this show was to try to engage with our contemporary political life through a classic play. We’re really comfortable with the reinvention of classic European and American plays in this country now. But our own canon hasn’t been re-examined in quite the same way. It felt like this was a brilliant opportunity to do that – with a writer who has much more that’s radical to say about inequality and the way language and culture contribute to that divide. And from my experience of watching the show, it’s been interesting to see audiences engage with that. To find some of this story much more disturbing to a contemporary ear than it is funny.

Anything that you’d like to add? For example – Do you keep your ketchup in the fridge etc, etc, and so on. 
“Wow… You saved your most incisive question for last. Yes. Well, I think I do because it was kept in the fridge when I was a child. I will re-examine my decision. Hm.”

Pygmalion by Headlong is on tour and hits Oxford Playhouse from Tue 18 to Sat 22 April 2017It then makes its way to NTS Campus, Nuffield Southampton Theatres from Tue 25 April to Sat 13 May 2017.
Tickets: Oxford

Tickets: Southampton

023 8067 1771

www.nstheatres.co.uk

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Guest blog by Nathan Markiewicz: “In order to write a play, the author must face his own “trolls in heart and soul,” without self-consciousness, and in All Our Children, Stephen Unwin has certainly done so.”

Nathan Markiewicz
Nathan Markiewicz

Nathan Markiewicz

I have been lucky enough to call Stephen Unwin my friend for the last few years. Since we met we’ve worked together in numerous contexts: professional and academic theatre, large workshops and intimate rehearsals, we’ve even sat alone together in cafés clacking away at our laptops, sharing ideas and provocations—but we’ve never done anything quite like All Our Children. Over the years I’ve become close to the Unwin children too, sometimes I even feel like a member of the extended family. The play is dedicated to Stephen’s son Joey, who has learning disabilities not unlike those discussed in the play, and I have lately witnessed the intersection of two sides of Stephen’s world: theatre and disability rights.

Stephen Unwin

Stephen Unwin

Everyone knows that a playwright is a creative artist and a director is an interpretive artist, but what about when they are one in the same? While Henrik Ibsen was writing Ghosts, one of his most personal and intimate plays, he famously described the process in a letter to a friend: “To live is to war with trolls in heart and soul. To write is to sit in judgement of oneself.” The sentiment makes for a rosy soundbite, but the reality of dragging one’s subconscious out of the guts and onto the page isn’t quite so romantic. The flurry of transatlantic emails that Stephen and I exchanged while he was writing the final drafts of All Our Children never included anything as nearly as poetic as that—after all every problem in the theatre is a practical one. Our correspondence, and my observations during the first week of rehearsal, have led me to reformulate Ibsen’s dictum: To write is to wrestle with the trolls inside, but to direct one’s own writing is to truly sit in judgement of oneself.

Click on the image to book your tickets for All Our Children

The grim subject of All Our Children is T4, the Nazi program of exterminating the disabled, but the play isn’t really about that, any more than Ghosts is about sexually transmitted disease. As a young student of the humanities, I found the great question of Twentieth Century history impossible to answer: how one of the most progressive societies in the world managed to commit such atrocities. It was only an academic consideration anyway, wasn’t it? In recent years, that question doesn’t seem so hypothetical. After all, I come from the nation which brought you the iPhone and the Tomahawk Missile, the smallpox vaccine and crack cocaine, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Contradictions everywhere.

It is this kind of cognitive dissonance which takes center stage in All Our Children. The play is a study of the emotional toll that such transgressions take on the perpetrators. It is not so much a history piece as a personal drama which asks us to consider our own complicity in the sins of our society. Nearly every day in rehearsal there is a moment when I wonder, “What would I have done?” A question which inevitably leads me to ask, “What am I doing now?”

In order to write a play, the author must face his own “trolls in heart and soul,” without self-consciousness, and in All Our Children, Stephen Unwin has certainly done so. As rehearsals progress, I see him “sit in judgement,” each day learning more about himself—the true pursuit of an artist. All Our Children is not only a play, it is also a love letter from the author to his son, Joey, and indeed to all our children.

All Our Children plays at Jermyn Street Theatre from Wed, 26th April – Sat, 3rd June. Book your tickets HERE 

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Behold: Paines Plough 

Paines Plough are one of theatre’s secret weapons. The touring new writing company has  and are continuing their extremely brilliant partnership with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the Gate Theatre in fostering talent by staging Hush by Alison Carr.

For the past three years, they have supported emerging writers has penned a short play for the graduating class of the college which is then staged in Cardiff and London for a short run. Previous playwrights who have taken part in the partnership with Paines Plough, RWCMD and Gate Theatre are Elinor Cook and Brad Birch who are both debuting full length new plays at Paines Plough Roundabout later this year.

I caught up with Hush writer Alison Carr and Paines Plough’s Artistic Director James Grieve to chat about new writing, the amazing new season, mainstream criticism and more.

Basically, it’s a really good chat.

Alison Carr

Alison Carr

Hi Alison, Paines Plough have a solid reputation for nurturing young theatre talent – how does it feel to be part of that?
It’s great. I first worked with Paines Plough about seven years ago when I took part in Come To Where I’m From at Live Theatre in Newcastle. I met James and George; I really liked the company and what they were doing. I wanted to be part of it. We’ve kept in touch and when I got the call to write their co-commission with RWCMD I was thrilled. And a bit daunted. A cast of eight, you say?! But they’ve been really supportive and encouraging throughout the process and I’m really proud of the play and excited for people to see it.

Last year you completed The Traverse Fifty – a 6-month attachment with Monkeywood Theatre. How helpful was that experience?
They’re actually two separate things. The Traverse Fifty was a year-long attachment with the Traverse that I was part of in 2013. It was incredible; I’d definitely say one of the most important experiences of my writing career so far. I was actually on the verge of packing-in writing when I entered to be part of it – it was a real make or break moment. The attachment with Manchester’s Monkeywood Theatre a couple of years ago was an opportunity to be supported over a 6-month draft process, culminating in a development day and a reading. It’s always good to have structure and support when you’re writing – I need deadlines and pressure – and then the chance to hear the play read by actors, work with a director, it’s all invaluable with a new work.

What is your play ‘Hush’ about?
There’s a question. There are three strands to the story – a young woman who comes back to the town she grew up in and left under a cloud, her former best friend who has stayed in the town and tried to live a good life, and a young man who waits in limbo for the return of his missing brother. So, broadly speaking, it’s about coming home, leaving vs staying, guilt, identity and loss. There are some jokes in there too, though.

CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKETS FOR HUSH  (Cardiff)
CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKETS FOR HUSH  (London)

Are there any writing tips that you live by?
It’s not exactly a pithy quote, but ‘just get on with it’ would be the main one. The amount of time I waste on worrying and procrastination, whereas when I just sit down and do something I feel so much better. Also, small achievable goals are key and time off is allowed.

JAMES GRIEVE

James Grieve

James Grieve

Congratulations on the wonderful Paines Plough season. What are you most excited about?
All of it. But particularly our Roundabout tour because I get to direct three outstanding new plays by Brad Birch, Elinor Cook and Sarah McDonald-Hughes with an ensemble of actors and go on tour in our beautiful pop-up theatre to lots of great places around the UK. We built Roundabout to give people amazing theatre experiences in places where there isn’t usually any theatre and it’s one of the things I’m most passionate about doing.

CHECKOUT MORE DETAILS – ROUNDABOUT 2017

Paines Plough doesn’t just develop exciting new writing but also cultivate directors and mentor them in producing bigger work. Why is that important to the company?
Great new plays need directors who understand and genuinely love playwrights and possess the particular skills and sensitivity needed to deliver a world premiere production of a new play. Developing directors with those skills and forging relationships between directors and playwrights is very important to us. John Tiffany first worked with Gregory Burke, Enda Walsh and Jack Thorne at PP and those lasting relationships went on to make BLACK WATCH, ONCE and HARRY POTTER. Our former Artistic Directors now run The Royal Court and Birmingham Rep. Our Associate Companies are run by the leading Artistic Directors of the future. New talent is following in the footsteps of Ian Rickson and Katie Mitchell as PP assistant directors. Developing great new writing directors is essential to PP now and vital to the entire theatre industry in the future.

You are continuing your partnership with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the Gate Theatre in nurturing young talent. What makes this partnership so special?
The NEW season is the visionary brainchild of RWCMD’s head of acting Dave Bond. With the college we co-commission and co-produce a new play written for and performed by the graduating actors as the final show of their training. It’s a fantastic challenge for playwrights to write big cast, ensemble plays with equally weighted roles. It’s a wonderful opportunity for a playwright and director to develop a relationship. It’s an incredible, unique opportunity for the student actors to bridge training and professional life by originating roles in a world premiere by an outstanding contemporary playwright, working with a professional director and performing in both Cardiff and London. It’s a completely brilliant project. And the plays sometimes go on to have a professional life – Ali McDowell’s POMONA and our own Luke Norris’ GROWTH began life as NEW productions.

With the Guardian cutting the extremely brilliant Lyn Gardner’s theatre blog – the big question is: will all mainstream critics end up on Theatre’s rocks, being eaten by crabs?
No, Lyn is far too vital to be marginalised. She will continue to be an essential read wherever she posts her reviews and analysis. I’m sad at the loss of the Guardian blog, but I’m equally excited by the emergence of new platforms and publications and the vitality of theatre writing and criticism online.

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Barney Norris: ‘It’s so precious and such a privilege, to live in a culture where we can expect things of people, and hold them to account, and we must advocate that wherever we’re afforded an opportunity to do so.’

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Director Abigail Graham on Death of A Salesman, Molly Sweeney, Love Actually, Mike Leigh and more

Abigail Graham is a freelance theatre director and artistic director of OpenWorks Theatre. Her work includes Black Sheep, DEBRIS and Molly Sweeney.

Abigail is currently right in the middle of rehearsals for Death of a Salesman at the Royal & Derngate. The production runs in Northampton from 8 to 29 April 2017, before touring to Cambridge, Bath, Malvern, Exeter, Canterbury, Portsmouth, Edinburgh and Truro. Graham’s production is the first independent tour from the Royal & Derngate. No pressure.

 

Abigail with Mike Leigh

Hi ya! Royal and Derngate is quite a good theatre isn’t it?
Yes. The team are wonderful, a really  creative, supportive atmosphere.

 

What was the last new play you saw and left thinking – ‘bloody hell!’?
Castorf’s version of The Brothers Karamasow at the Volksbuehne in Berlin. It was epic.

Why should we come along to see your Death of A Salesman?
Firstly, it’s an extraordinary play, and we’ve got a brilliant team of actors and creatives; all of whom are working to open this classic up to a new generation of theatre goers.
It’s also a mind bending, time bending play – like being sucked into a whirlpool; Miller takes us into Willy Loman’s head and that opens up exciting staging possibilities as you leave objective reality and enter a more subjective world.  The creative team and I have enjoyed meeting that challenge and we hope the audience will enjoy coming on that journey with us – being sucked into the whirlpool too if you like. The cast are incredible – at the end of week two I’m pleased to say they’re all being really brave. So all being well, audiences will be in for a really good night out.
Crucially, Miller wrote it to ‘put a timebomb under the bullshit of American capitalism’…and considering the current political climate, it feels like a good time to be having that conversation.

Molly Sweeney was a quite successful wasn’t it. Do you have fond memories of that time?
Yes – having Brian Friel as a pen pal was really humbling. I miss him.

Death of A Salesman

Your production is the first independent tour from the Royal & Derngate. Nervous?
Not really, I’m looking forward to the play meeting audiences from all over the country. With a play as political as this one, I reckon it will be really interesting to see how people from opposite ends of the UK respond to it.

What’s your No 1 piece of Directing advice?
Keep learning.

Death of a Salesman is a classic text full of broken and misplaced dreams. Is it a metaphor for life?
I hope not.

Are you looking forward to Love Actually for Comic Relief?
(Let’s hope the hot French guy is in it thought.) Will Emma Thompson be re-enacting my favourite bit? You know the bit I mean….

Does Tim Piggot Smith have any dressing room demands?
I.e cayenne pepper, and rose-scented candles, rooms must maintain a constant temperature of 68 to 75 degrees etc etc. Not as far as I’m aware….

Can you tell us a bit about OpenWorks Theatre company?
Sure – I set up OpenWorks in 2013 as I believe you can only change who goes to the theatre if you change who makes it. On a very basic level, we are working to create a holistic relationship between art, outreach and audience development. It started out with each member of the creative team having a paid mentee who was in rehearsals afternoon a week, they then act as ambassadors for the show amongst their peers; giving word of mouth only discount codes to members of their community who haven’t been to their local theatre independently before.
It’s now evolved; our current commission, a new play by Caroline Bird, was inspired by a Looked After Young Person who was a trainee on our last production. I can’t say too much, but we were chatting about zombies and it all came from there. Following an exploratory week with him and his peers, Caroline has gone away to write the play, and we hope to return to the group and workshop it with them and some actors, and then when we go into production to keep them as trainees who will act as ambassadors for the work.

Mike Leigh is your hero, isn’t he?
I love his work. I saw All or Nothing in the cinema when I was at university; I had never seen acting like it. I guess he’s one of my heroes because he just keeps doing his thing his way, making the work he wants to make the way he wants to make it. He came to see Molly Sweeney at The Print Room. We ended up chatting for about an hour after the show.

Is there anything you’d like to add, Abigail?
Nope. Have a lovely week.

Death of a Salesman will run at the Royal & Derngate from 8 to 29 April 2017.

 

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