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Open letter: It’s time to put an end to the toxic West End PR culture.

Dear all,
Long story short, it’s time to put an end to the toxic West End PR culture.
There are times in life when you have to say, “do you know what, let’s not put up with idiocy anymore.” The Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn piece arguing that two dads are not ‘the new normal’ crossed the line. Freedom of speech isn’t a passport to spout hatred and bigotry.

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For too long PR and The Daily Mail have had a toxic relationship with ‘scoops’ being handed over to their ‘Entertainment Reporter’ Baz Bamigboye. London theatre PRs extend Baz preferential treatment — when they owe equal attention to all media.

But the more you find out about theatre, and the more you find out about the way theatre works, don’t you find yourself realising that nothing, not even Baz’s scoops, really happen by accident?

The Daily Telegraph Chief Theatre Critic, Dominic Cavendish summed it up recently with this Tweet. 

Arts journalism and arts journalists deserve better. What are we, the theatre-consuming community, to take from all this? Well we can simply say that enough is enough.

I call on the following Press Managers / Publicists to restore the Arts PR business in the interests of preserving the sense of an inclusive, free and fair press and in recognition of transparent arts journalism.

NT Press Office

RSC Press Office

The Almeida Theatre

Emma Holland PR

Target Live

Jo Allan PR

Kate Morley PR

Cornershop PR

Draper Conway

Royal Court Theatre

Kevin Wilson PR

Premier PR  

Amanda Malpass PR

I will be updating this blog in 7 days time – I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Carl Woodward 

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Nuffield Southampton Theatre’s Sam Hodges: ‘I want to take work to London but I don’t want to compromise our artistic identity.’

Sam Hodges
Sam Hodges in Rehearsals

Sam Hodges in Rehearsals

NST, Nuffield Southampton Theatres new venue is situated in the heart of the city and has a 450-seat main house alongside a 133-seat studio. The inaugural production at NST City is the world première of the Howard Brenton play The Shadow Factory, which is set in 1940 during the Battle of Britain. The production features state of the art technology and video projections by the Tony Award-winning 59 Productions. Exciting times.

Samuel Hodges is the creative and executive Director of NST Theatres. How would he describe the past few months? “It turned out to be a quadruple unknown,” he says. “This is a brand-new piece theatre in a brand-new building, there is also the community chorus amongst the state of the art technology – so we went into the process with so many variables. I’m really pleased with how it has come together – Howard has said it is his love letter to Southampton, the birthplace of the Spitfire aircraft.”

So, how is he dealing with the pressure of launching a brand-new venue? “Right now, there is a genuine sense of anticipation around the opening of this building, which has surprised all of us and exceeded all of our hopes. There is a genuine buzz of curiosity and investment. What’s interesting is not only the number of people but the distance they are travelling. In terms of our ability to be more accessible and more visible and be more open to people across the county,” says Hodges.

The Shadow Factory

The Shadow Factory

By contrast, Hodges is deeply aware of the gamble and pressure of getting a show like The Shadow Factory off the ground, not to mention the involvement of a community chorus. Making theatre with local amateur participants doesn’t diminish the art but gives it new purpose. “It has been glorious and exciting,” he says.

“I’m not going to lie, we were given the building far too late and were given the keys just before we started rehearsing the show. As a director you aren’t always sure of the tone of you work, because you are so close to it. I tend to enjoy design and movement. All previews are a time of balancing things. I do feel like we are doing justice to the story,” says Hodges.

His 2018 season, contains some inspiring projects, including co-productions with Theatr Clwyd and English Touring Theatre, while Hodges directs a workshop musical adaptation of cult film Son of Rambow. “It is an ode to the 1980’s – it’s a sort of modern day Oliver Twist,” he says. “It’s a musical I’ve been working on for three years with songwriter Miranda Cooper. It is a Nuffield Southampton Theatres workshop production in association with The Other Palace, London. Essentially an opportunity to workshop for 3 weeks and have public fairings along the way– it might get off book and be fully realised– it’s about getting feedback and having the space to develop it.”

This is the passion that drives Sam. Is he inspired by successes of other regional theatres like Bristol Old Vic? (which currently has two home-grown shows in town The Grinning Man and Long Day’s Journey Into Night.) “Our audience is incredibly diverse; in terms of age and background and embracing new ideas: they are up for it,” he says. “I want to take work to London but I don’t want to compromise our artistic identity. The reason for taking work into London, generally, is about developing the theatre and the cities brand on a national level – the reason I suppose I’m going slowly in that direction is that I want to make sure that by the time we get there is it isn’t by doing a celebrity-led version of the Important of Being Earnest. I do think Bristol are doing excellent work – it’s about work that lifts a theatre and lifts a city,” says Hodges

 

We talk about the writer/director relationship. I refer to the recent Twitter thread that I started ‘playwrights being told off.’ Does he think playwrights are bullied in the rehearsal room? “No. But I do feel that they can be a very odd and powerless situation for a writer. The sort of unspoken rule of a rehearsal room is that it is the directors room. Howard is an absolute joy: a combination of sage and calm and mischievous. I’d say it is about negotiation. You do worry the writer hates what you are doing – more often they are listening to the rhythm of their own words. I’ll come out of a preview but he’ll just say: ‘That word – needs to go…’ We’ve disagreed on quite a few things but that’s part of the process.”

The Shadow Factory stars Anita Dobson (aka Angie, of EastEnders) wife of rock guitarist Brian May as leading lady. How was it sitting next to a living legend in for the first preview? “Extremely surreal,” he says, laughing. “It’s a different level of legend isn’t it? He was pretty laid back and I think he enjoyed himself. He definitely gave Anita feedback – you always know when your actors have had their other halves in. Brian was the first person to buy a drink from our bar, which was pretty special.”

Craig David was recently announced as a patron of NST, a role that will see him championing the theatre’s work. Why him? “Craig David is Southampton born and bred,” he says when I bring this up. “We are trying to build a local network of support. We are expanding our programme of theatre to include music, amongst other things, within artistic the programme out patrons are figureheads but ideally, they are individuals through which younger audiences can come through the doors and share an affinity with. I must admit I did get a load of text messages after the announcement: Craig David – exclamation mark, exclamation mark, heart emoji. Craig joins our other patron Harriet Walter, I’ve always been a huge fan of Harriett’s and she lives just outside of the city,” says Hodges.

There is a still a challenge ahead, though, as he says “It’s not always about saying what you want – it’s about delivering what we said we would. One of our main focuses and priorities has been putting together a team that works for what we want to achieve. Which I think we have done. I feel immensely proud of all of our staff.”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE TRAILER OF THE SHADOW FACTORY

The Shadow Factory runs at the NST City, Southampton from 16 February to 3 March.

Box Office 023 8067 1771

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Bryony Lavery: ‘I don’t know a woman who hasn’t got a Me Too story – myself included.’

Bryony Lavery in rehearsals

Bryony Lavery in rehearsals

The playwright Bryony Lavery, best known for her play Frozen, which originally premiered at the Birmingham Rep in 1998 and ran on Broadway in 2004 when it was nominated for a Tony Award for Best New Play is a cool customer. Frozen is currently on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket starring Suranne Jones.

We are having a coffee at the heart of London in a Caffe Concerto. “This is my first west end show!” she says. “I don’t think of myself as a west end playwright – so that’s really exciting – but really what’s exciting is the excellence of the whole team.”

At 71, she looks gorgeous, with sparkly blue eyes and a playful spirit. Despite being busier than ever and in the middle of a tech week. “A writer doesn’t have to be around in tech but I like going and hanging around. It’s when you suddenly realise the actors disappeared because they have dressing rooms. So, actually you sit in the auditorium with the technical crew and chew the fat,” says the Yorkshire born writer.

If a west end play wasn’t enough, Lavery co-wrote Brighton Rock, a new stage adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic 1930s novel. “My job is to transfer it from one medium to another and make it excitingly dramatic.”

“I really love adapting. I find it fascinating because it teaches you stuff that helps original writing and it spins my brain around because I don’t think I’m Graham Greene or David Walliam’s The Midnight Gang (Chichester) or Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons (Chester). Each has similarities that one has to address but I love it. If you are doing an original work you have to start choosing what you’re doing much earlier,” Lavery says.

Her commitment to international and regional work is remarkable. Does she enjoy writing for the regions? “I’m not a Londoner; I live in London but I came from the regions,” Lavery says.

“I don’t want theatre to be London-centric, I like doing work in the regions. I do think critics mostly judge work differently because it’s much easier to go one tube stop to the Donmar. Therefore that work gets esteemed more than the wonderful work going on in regional theatres.” She continues. “Because critics are snobs and lazy, bar a few honourable exceptions. Touring is tremendously hard work so anything that means people can walk to their theatre is great. I sound like Emily Pankhurst of regional theatre!” Lavery says, miming the act of gagging.

What does she think of Fake News? “I think I avoid the news…  But it seeps into the work in sub-textual things. I don’t think it’s my strength to write about Fake News or the current climate. I couldn’t bear to write about Brexit – I just couldn’t bear it.”

Is she still a feminist? “Feminist forever!” Bryony booms. “I’ve been one since I was born. You’d be an idiot, in my view, not to be.”

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Bryony Lavery: “Feminist forever!”

She supports the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements fighting against sexual harassment, she says, telling me, “I don’t know a woman who hasn’t got a ‘Me Too’ story – myself included. Men can have an inkling but can never fully understand that we’ve lived with this reality for so long. It’s so engrained because it requires men to give up power and nobody wants to give up power. I am watching it all with interest and hope with a lot of caution…” She peters out, lost in thought.

What does she think about music and drama falling to the lowest level in a decade as a result of the EBacc and education cuts? “When I was growing up the only theatre I saw was at Dewsbury Variety,” she recalls. “I used to get on the bus and see stuff touring at Leeds Grand. When I see work coming through NT Connections what that practice does for young people: their skill, their social acumen or their confidence. It’s a no brainer – let children learn… I’m getting incoherent with rage about it. What do I think about it? I think it stinks,” says Lavery.

She has a phenomenal sense of humour, so I ask her who would play her in a film about her life? “Here’s a story,” she says, smiling. “Jonathan Mumby and I were on holiday in Greece and in the sea playing a game called: ‘Casting The Biopic’ and we cast David Essex for his part and for me he suggested Linda Gray from the American soap Dallas… It made me laugh so much because it’s so wrong it’s right – I laughed so hard that I burst an ear drum,” she recalls.

Lavery is off to another meeting. “Next year I am trying to get a bit of a slow year,” she says, as she departs. “I have said that for the last ten years. I work quite fast but sometimes I have to say no – I say no to things that don’t excite me and I need to practice saying no a bit more.  I think I’ve gobbed on enough.”

Brighton Rock will open at York Theatre Royal from the 16 February to 3 March and then tours to Brighton, Colchester, Hull, Cheltenham, Winchester, Watford, Birmingham, Newcastle, Mold, Derby and Salford.

Frozen runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 21 February to 5 May.

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Artistic Director of Nottingham Playhouse, Adam Penford: ‘Gender balance is fascinating.’

Nottingham Playhouse’s new artistic director – he started full time last November–  Adam Penford likes his colourful socks. What socks is he wearing today? “Purple pink and yellow; not unlike my Christmas socks,” he laughs.

But where did he purchase those festive socks on display in a recent rehearsal photo? “They were from Marks and Spencer’s,” he laughs louder.

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Wonderland Rehearsals – Photo credit Darren Bell

We are talking ahead of the first run through of Nottingham-born playwright Beth Steel’s 2014 play, Wonderland. Her dad worked at Welbeck Colliery as a miner. It is a story set in the pits in 1983 during Thatcher’s government. “The lads are ready to get on stage,” he says. “It’s a complicated show… There are over thirty scenes. We are rehearsing in the former Barton’s Bus Garage because the set is so epic we couldn’t find a space big enough in the city centre to accommodate us,” Penford says.

Which makes Wonderland all the more welcome. It is representing the vital modern history of the local community on stage with compassion. His first show at Nottingham Playhouse includes actor Chris Ashby who previously played the lead The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and was cast through the Playhouse open auditions. “It was something that we consciously set out to do when casting the play,” Penford says. “I’m fortunate to have such a brilliant all-male ensemble, they have a real camaraderie on stage and off stage. Just over half of the cast are from the local region; two are from the North East, and Joshua Glenister who was a member of Nottingham Playhouse Youth Theatre. Most of the company have truly personal connections to the coal mine.”

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Adam is a modest fellow. I ask him how he is getting on in his new role. “It’s interesting: there is no school,” he explains. “There are obviously a lot of similarities to being a freelance theatre director that come with the job, but it isn’t the same. You take comfort from the fact that previous artistic directors have all had to learn on the job. There is a massive support network of artistic directors that ring each other up for advice or guidance – not many people know about – that’s been really useful.”

What are his key priorities going forward? “Audience development, in terms of numbers and diversifying audiences,” he adds. “I’m hoping by programming work by artists like Mufaro Makubika a play set during the 1958 race riots in Nottingham in a historically working-class area of inner city Nottingham and set against the race riots will engage new and hard to reach audiences.”

In the era of Time’s Up and #MeToo, which strives for better treatment for all, especially women, Penford is aiming for a 50/50 gender split. “Gender balance is fascinating,” he begins. “It is something that I am certainly very sensitive to and aware of when I begin programming. We will be doing gender-blind casting for the next show that I’m directing; Holes which is a stage adaptation of Louis Sachar’s novel and I am delighted that we have Kindertransport by Diane Samuels and Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker which boast a fully integrated cast and creative team of disabled and non-disabled practitioners and is a co-production with Ramps on the Moon. So, it feels like a varied season featuring inclusive work by three female playwrights in my first season.”

How will he cater to his audience’s wide-ranging tastes? “You can’t please everybody. I knew that I wanted to do a musical in my first season,” Penford says. Regional theatre is facing colossal local authority cuts which make it harder to take artistic risks. But Penford isn’t going to let that limit his ambitions. “We hadn’t produced a lead produced a musical at Nottingham Playhouse for 18 years, I knew it needed to be a well-known title. We are a 750-seater venue and that it is a substantial amount of tickets to sell.”

“The fact that Sweet Charity has a female protagonist was appealing to me. It felt natural to offer Bill Buckhurst – the genius behind the pie and mash shop Sweeney Todd the opportunity to direct. I’m also really excited that Alistair David will choreograph and we are about to announce further casting for the role of Charity soon.”

Who is playing Charity? “I can’t say,” he says, laughing.

Come on give me a scoop, I say. “Ok… She is amazing,” he says.

Wonderland runs from Friday 9 February 2018 through to Saturday 24 February 2018.

 

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BLOW YOUR TRUMPETS ANGELS: Guest blog by Jeremy Goldstein

Jeremy Goldstein
Henry Woolf and Jeremy Goldstein

Henry Woolf and Jeremy Goldstein Photo: Darren Black

This week I’m getting ready to take ‘Truth to Power Café’ to Yorkshire ahead of Australia and The Netherlands.  The idea for the show grew from a new play I’m working on called ‘Spider Love’  which is inspired by the political and philosophical beliefs of Harold Pinter and his Hackney Gang.  The Gang were a group of six friends who included my late father Mick Goldstein and Henry Woolf who at 87, is the last one alive. In 1955, Harold based his protagonist Len, on Mick in his one and only novel ‘The Dwarfs’, and Henry directed Harold’s first play ‘The Room’ just before ‘The Birthday Party’ opened in 1958.

Last week I went to see Ian Rickson’s West End revival of ‘The Birthday Party’   I was reminded the play is about power and occupation. Stanley is occupied by the external forces of Goldberg and McCann and we, the audience are left to ponder his plight. The last time I saw it was in the late 1980’s. I was 16 and sitting in Harold’s front room in Holland Park.    My hair was bleached blond and I was wearing my Frankie Goes to Hollywood leather jacket.  Harold had invited my father and I to lunch and we ended up watching the BBC TV production of ‘The Birthday Party’ with him in the role of Goldberg.  At the end of the video Mick burst into tears, and Harold roared with laughter as if the play was an in-joke between them.  Maybe they shared Stanley’s secret?  I will never know, but this was the only time I’d ever seen my father cry, and it was a profound and beautiful moment I will never forget.

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Ele Pavlou Photo: Sarah Hickson

Just before my father died in 2014 we were estranged and not speaking.  I tried to patch things up, but my letter arrived the day he died so he never got to read it.  I thought our relationship was forever broken, but as time went on, I discovered relationships with our loved ones, continue to evolve even in death, and these projects ‘Truth to Power Café’ and ‘Spider Love’ have become an attempt to reconcile my failed relationship with my father Mick.

In amongst Mick’s possessions I found a play he’d written in 1975.  I knew the play existed as I remember acting out all the parts as a 9-year-old-boy.  Forty years on, I was surprised to discover the play is in fact Mick’s personal response to his friendship with Harold, and what it was like for him to be written into ‘The Dwarfs’ as Len.  While I was reading the play, I visited the Harold Pinter Archive at the British Library, where for the first time I read a treasure trove of original letters between Harold, Henry and Mick. Many of the letters were written in the 1950’s, so it was through these letters, that I got to know my father as a young man for the first time.

In 2015, I arranged to meet Henry who started sending me original poetry in response to ’Spider Love’, the verse of which I’ve been able to incorporate into my own adaptation of my father’s text and which I now perform in ‘Truth to Power Café’.  I also created a part for Henry who appears in ‘Spider Love’ as himself.  We joke it’s the part he was born to play.  Last October, we staged a reading of ‘Spider Love’ to a packed British Library theatre.  The event included an on stage conversation between Pinter’s biographer Michael Bilington and Henry.  Thanks to Carl we’re able to show you the video for the first time.

When we eventually mount our production of ‘Spider Love’ we’ll be able to stage it in the shadow of the brave and courageous souls taking part in the ‘Truth to Power Café’.

This year alone we expect to engage at least a hundred participants.

Everyone taking part in the Café has five minutes to respond to this question before a live audience.

‘Who has power over you and what do you want to say to them?’

I talk about my father.

I wonder what Stanley would have said?

‘Truth to Power Café’ is a global platform for speaking truth to power in a theatrical context inspired by the philosophical beliefs of Harold Pinter and his Hackney Gang and presented in in association with Index on Censorship.  Director Jen Heyes. Photography Sarah Hickson.

Upcoming performances include Cast in Doncaster on 8th February and Theatre in the Mill in Bradford on 9th February.  This week the project launches in Australia for Festival 2018  the arts and cultural programme for Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, and in The Netherlands for Leeuwarden European Capital of Culture.

For more info and to sign up visit https://www.truthtopower.co.uk/

The Birthday Party is running at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 14th April 

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Streams ahead: NT LIVE

National Theatre Live

National Theatre Live is invaluable. You could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at the notion of a “broadcast theatre performance” in a cinema. Since launching, NT Live broadcasts have been seen by an audience of over 7 million people. The first season began in June 2009 with the acclaimed production of Phédre starring Helen Mirren. Recent broadcasts include Follies, Angels in America, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Hedda Gabler.

Upcoming broadcasts include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell and Julius Caesar featuring Ben Whishaw. The National broadcast some of the best of British theatre to 2,500 venues in 60 countries around the world including over 700 hundred in the UK.

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Obviously, it’s better to be in the theatre, that goes without saying. Nevertheless, it is true that it is much better to sometimes sit in a cinema in comfort, with a drink in your hand than it is to sit in the worst seat in a theatre. Seats in some theatres are bloody terrible. There are some seats at the top level of The Barbican where you can see more of what is going on in the wings that what is happening on the stage.

It is worth remembering that not everyone has a theatre on their doorstep. In general, NT Live is the most revolutionary thing to happen to the theatre in our lifetime because theatre, which is often condemned as elitist, is now available to anyone who wants it – anywhere: If you can get to a cinema you can see the best of theatre –  at a fraction of the price.

NT Live screenings are a welcome addition to the local Odeon or Picture House for any culture vulture. But they are no alternative. That doesn’t mean it’s not amazing, it just means we need to focus on the future but not lose sight of the value of live performance.

I attended the ‘studio audience’ for the NT Live broadcast of Follies from the theatre. There were rows of seats blocked off in the stalls, with cameras flying overhead and the lighting ever so slightly adjusted for film. It was a wonderful experience and the spectacle of the production carried across to film remarkably well. 

Anyway, I put some questions to the NT Live team and they cleared up some queries that I had, which was ideal.  (You’re welcome)

What is NT Live? 

National Theatre Live started in 2009 as a way to increase access to our work for those audiences who might not have the opportunity to see it. It was initially conceived for UK audiences but the response was so positive, we started screening internationally too. We currently screen to 2500 venues in 60 countries, 700 of which are in the UK which is around 90% and the same as a Hollywood blockbuster.

Our first broadcast was Phedre with Helen Mirren which was seen by over 50,000 people. Our single biggest broadcast is Hamlet with Benendict Cumberbatch which has been seen by more than 800,000 people. Our current worldwide audience is almost 8 million

Who owns it and where are the NT Live offices?

It’s run and managed by the National Theatre and the NT Live team are based at the National Theatre building.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof captured live at the Apollo Theatre during its West End run on February 22

Who are NT Live personnel? 

There are a dedicated number of people who work on NT Live across production, distribution, marketing and press. We work with a freelance team of operators across cameras, sound and lighting for the broadcasts themselves. The Bridge are using NT Live to broadcast Julius Caesar. The team at the Bridge are great friends of ours. Nicholas Hytner is our former director and Nick Starr former executive director here. We hope to broadcast more of their productions in the future. Working with other theatres has been part of the NT Live programme since our second year and supports us in bringing the best of British theatre to cinema audiences.

Is it a stand-alone live broadcast company?

NT Live is run and managed by the National Theatre.

Does it get public funding?

Our pilot season in 2009 was made possible by seed funding from Arts Council England and NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) and subsequently through a mix of National Theatre investment and sponsorship. We also have a partnership with Sky Arts which is a year old but has been a great success in its first year and we’re looking forward to see where it will go next.

Can any theatre pay for it and use it? e.g. The Globe.

The Globe and ENO already broadcast their own shows which they organise themselves, this means working with other theatres in London We regularly work with other London theatres including the Young Vic, The Old Vic and the Donmar Warehouse as well as other West End producers. We really enjoy working with other theatres and getting to show their great productions to cinema audiences around the world.

How about a regional theatre?

We have worked with Complicite to broadcast A Disappearing Number live from Theatre Royal in Plymouth as well as Manchester International Festival to broadcast their production of Macbeth with Kenneth Branagh. We also broadcast Of Mice and Men on Broadway, broadcasting more regional theatre is something we’re keen to do more of in the future. Some find it confusing that it has the name NT Live. It both gives it prestige and seems to limit it. What particularly excited us about this concept was the fact that it was captured and broadcast live and that’s why the live is there.  

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Imelda Staunton who plays Sally Durrant and Janie Dee who plays Phyllis Rogers Stone waiting to go on stage © Ellie Kurttz

 How are cinema prices decided?

Each cinema chain decides on pricing according to their individual pricing plans.

How do Encore Screenings work?

We programme Encore screenings as a way for audiences to access our productions at more convenient times but also so we are able to give more opportunities to see our most popular broadcasts.

How are the age ratings given?

We are subject to BBFC ratings in the UK and provide the broadcasts to them for classification. They also provide guidance for our live broadcasts based on information we provide to them ahead of the broadcast taking place.

So there we have it. 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof captured live at the Apollo Theatre during its West End run on February 22, Julius Caesar live from the Bridge Theatre on March 22 and Macbeth live from the National Theatre on May 10

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Critical email gaffe – will it make The Bridge wise up?

I have a unique insight of those who labour in the corners of arts journalism and in my experience, the relationship between a PR and a critic has always been built on a nonsense inside a farce, but in recent years this relationship has contorted in bizarre and unexpected new ways.

Last week Lyn Gardner’s press ticket for the new Cirque Du Solei show ‘Ovo’ was withdrawn after her one star review of a previous show. The Guardian paid £73 for a ticket and sent another critic along to get a second opinion. Madness. Nowadays, theatre criticism is on the decline: it is an artisanal industry in a technological age. 

Yesterday, news broke that the publicist for the Bridge Theatre, London run of Julius Caesar sent an email by accident, intended for directors Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr regarding press seat allocations for the opening of that show, to fifty critics and bloggers. The attachment showed how many tickets each critic had been allocated and which seats they were to be sat in. Hytner hit reply-all, so everyone saw. Writing from his iPhone: “Prominent critics should be all be in A 6-19, B 6-18 or in A or B 56-69. Under no circs use AA or B.B. tickets for important critics.”

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It’s certainly an old school way to press. Looking at the eye-wateringly lame list of invited ‘prominent’ critics and traditional publications (Catholic Herald anyone?) and the fact that this is a major press campaign for a major new production at Hytner and Starr’s 900-seat venue – their new commercial operation near to Tower Bridge – it raises a lot of questions. It’s also true that everyone involved could do with a kick up the arse.

N.B. Credit where it is due: the ticket prices, range from £15 to £65, which are reasonable by today’s standards.

Beyond the usual ebb and flow of shifting theatre allegiances, there has yet to be an instance of bloggers successfully being held in the same regard as traditional print critics, but they have increasingly found power in numbers.

It’s bad news for critic notebook sales, but social media is now at the heart, or the end, of all these exchanges. Perhaps a full-on, real-life siege is how all PR and blogger relationships should reach their conclusion. It would certainly be a strong test of commitment – on both sides.

This is worth getting one’s theatre knickers in a twist about, though, and it is important that the Bridge sit up and take note, which it has, unless the whole thing was a double bluff aimed solely at securing Julius Caesar some column inches. It has been interesting how gleefully the Bridge’s shortcomings have been reported, following the lukewarm reception of Young Marx too. It is an irresistible narrative: Sir Nick Hytner, the consummate theatrical mogul, has made a mistake.

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Every time something goes wrong in the world of theatre, mrcarlwoodward.com gets stronger. I started the website 2 years ago with a blog by asking playwright Mark Ravenhill what his favourite emoji was (‘The winky one’) and it evolved from there; but considering how notorious the site’s become at a point when mainstream criticism is more or less dead, it’s exciting to think about what might happen next.

Anyone can start a blog and diverse voices are crucial to the conversation. Traditional reviews are so often just the start of that conversation and the opportunity bloggers can offer for long-form engagement with all theatre should be celebrated, not ignored.

Until then I’m finding new ways to adapt the spirit of the site – I’ve just launched a new fortnightly theatre podcast: COMMIT NO NUISANCE with critic Mark Shenton, and I recently ‘interviewed’ the cat from Michael Grandage’s forthcoming production of Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Julius Caesar is at the Bridge, London, until 15 April. Box office: 0843-208 1846

 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 1 OF COMMIT NO NUISANCE

Shows discussed: The Band, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Girl From the North Country, Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (at Brentwood Leisure Centre) Witness For The Prosecution & Pal Joey.

Theatre podcast by Mark Shenton & Carl Woodward

Commit No Nuisance

Commit No Nuisance

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Interview with the cat from ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’

Michael Grandage will direct The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh.

The PR campaign kicked off this week with bold artwork, which features Aidan Turner in a vest – holding a cat. The star of the show is undoubtedly the unassuming cat whose bloody paws hint at the pitch-black comedy within McDonagh’s play.

I caught up with cat earlier this week to find out how his involvement came about.

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Hello cat! How are you?

Fine, thank you.

How did you come to be on the The Lieutenant of Inishmore publicity material?

Right place, right time! I was on a night out with friends at The Ivy Club and after a few drinks I needed to pee, so went to the bathroom and bumped into Cameron Mackintosh who said he was looking for a cat for his latest venture with Michael Grandage. The rest is history. I couldn’t believe it when I got the call saying I was going to be part of the production.

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Aidan Turner

Why do actors pose like Aidan Turner has in your recent publicity shot? Is it because their talent isn’t apparent?

Ha! I think it comes from all those years of rejection. When one becomes a household name such as Aidan their ego can become inflated. I tend to keep myself to myself most of the time… I don’t think Aidan even realised I was a huge Poldark fan but he was very humble. I hope he keeps his shirt on during rehearsals.

Did you have any concerns about appearing in your winter coat?

I may be a bit chunkier than the average feline but I’m proud of how I look. And when you consider what I might have been wearing instead — a pair of boots for instance — I think it’s turned out fine.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is arriving after *another* James Graham play. Have you seen Quiz?

I saw QUIZ at Chichester… I think it’s a good play. I guess after the huge success of Labour of Love, James is in a really different place to where he was before — Ink was such a sophisticated play too, though, know what I mean? It pushed Graham to the theatre a-list and Quiz feels a bit like *another* crossover into the mainstream. I guess James’ profile and the momentum of his amazing 2017 will make it a massive hit anyway, but I’m kind of glad this is the last James Graham play on St. Martin’s Lane for a while. I’d really like to see an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in there. Perhaps Aspects of Love?

The full, all-Irish cast of The Lieutenant of Inishmore was announced earlier this week. Press night should be a laugh.

Yes, my agent called to tell me the news; I think it is a real top-notch cast. I am quite nervous at the prospect of starring in Aidan Turner’s West End debut.

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Aidan Turner and cat

Will you have stunt-double puppets for the gorier elements of the play?

No. I do all my own stunts.

So, what do you make of Aidan Turner swapping Poldark for a serious play?

I think it’s great. I don’t know him very well — that photo was the first time we met, and he didn’t say much to me — think he’s a great talent. Can you imagine the calibre of the projects and collaborators he’s been offered post-Poldark?

When you say he didn’t say much to you, what do you mean?

Well he didn’t say anything to me to be honest. He just stroked me occasionally.

Maybe he has allergies.

What are your plans for the rest of 2018?

Well Nick Hytner has been in touch, I might do a few adverts. But while I’ve enjoyed my brush with fame I think I’ll just keep a low profile. I’ll probably travel a bit.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore  runs at the Noël Coward Theatre from 4 July until 8 September with previews from 23 June.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 1 OF COMMIT NO NUISANCE a new theatre podcast by Mark Shenton and Carl Woodward

Shows discussed in Episode 1: The Band, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Girl From the North Country, Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (at Brentwood Leisure Centre) Witness For The Prosecution & Pal Joey.

Theatre podcast by Mark Shenton & Carl Woodward

Commit No Nuisance

Commit No Nuisance

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Shows that will be worth seeing in 2018

People often ask me for show recommendations. So, I’ve put together a list of a couple of shows that I reckon will be worth seeing in 2018. (You’re welcome)

The Here and This and Now

Glenn Waldron’s new darkly comic play – first seen at Theatre Royal Plymouth – is a murky look at company away-days and the pharmaceuticals business. Oh and antibiotic resistance. Plenty of food for thought in these medicated times.

10 Jan to 10 Feb, Southwark Playhouse. http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/the-here-and-this-and-now/

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Frozen

The detail of the writing and the emotional truth within this modern classic will knock anyone for six. Bryony Lavery’s remarkable play explores every parent’s worst nightmare; the disappearance of a child. Suranne Jones makes a welcome return to the stage and will be directed by Jonathan Munby. Amazing.

Feb 9-May 5, Theatre Royal Haymarket. frozentheplay.com

Girls&Boys

The world premiere of Dennis Kelly’s monologue stars Cary Mulligan and tells the story of a woman who meets her future husband in a queue, apparently. The play tracks the progress and ultimate breakdown of their relationship. Lyndsey Turner is the director and Es Devlin the designer. The show recently extended by a week due to overwhelming popularity – blag, borrow or steal a ticket.

February 8 – March 17, Royal Court. royalcourttheatre.com

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Girl From The North Country

Girl From The North Country

Following its sell out run at The Old Vic, Girl from the North Country has transferred to the West End for a 12 week run and many of the multi-talented cast return with several new additions. Conor McPherson weaves magic with Bob Dylan songs and reinvents them blissfully. Don’t miss this one, folks.

Runs until 24 Mar, Noël Coward Theatre. www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/tickets/girl-from-the-north-country/

Strictly Ballroom

West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production, directed by Drew McOnie is based on the 1992 Baz Luhrmann film, with music and lyrics from Luhrmann and Catherine Martin and a book from Luhrmann and Craig Pearce. Exciting, eh?

Mar 16 – Saturday Jul 21, Piccadilly Theatre. https://www.piccadillytheatre.org/strictly-ballroom-the-musical/

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Strictly Ballroom The Musical

Nightfall

Barney Norris’s new play opens at London’s Bridge Theatre, the new 900-seat venue founded by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr. Norris has described Nightfall as being “about grief and the way that grief drowns life”. Should be good.

28 April to 26 May, the Bridge Theatre. bridgetheatre.co.uk

Quiz

Fingers on buzzers, James Graham is back in town. Quiz is about Major Charles Ingram, the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? contestant accused of cheating by getting his mates in the audience to endorse his answers by a code of coughs. I saw Daniel Evans’ acute production at Chichester and look forward to seeing it reworked. Top notch stuff.

10 April to 16 June, Noël Coward Theatre. https://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/tickets/quiz/

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The Rink

The Rink

This classy Kander and Ebb Musical tells the tale of an Italian housewife Anna, who runs a roller skating rink. Rather interestingly, this is the first production to be staged in London in 20 years. Anyway, The Rink will be directed by Adam Lenson, with choreography from Fabian Aloise, which is exciting.

29 May to 29 Jun, Southwark Playhouse. southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/the-rink/

The end.

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Louis Maskell, interview: “The Grinning Man has an almost Tim Burton spikiness to it… Like a really intense experience at a nightclub.”

The lead role in The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic’s blockbuster, is the big break Louis Maskell was waiting for. The modest actor explains why he wants to act for ever.

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Louis Maskell as Grinpayne

Based on the Victor Hugo (Les Mis) novel and cult silent movie ‘The Man Who Laughs’, this macabre musical fairy-tale features ingenious puppetry and a perfect marriage of the alternative and the discordant mainstream. As well as being expertly written the majority of the songs are skilfully structured. How would he describe the show? “People have a preconceived of Victor Hugo novels; they immediately think it’s going to be long and dark and sombre,” Maskell says.

 

“This piece has elements of that but it is incredibly funny. The best way is to describe it is that it has got humour and an incredibly touching narrative at its heart, it has an almost Tim Burton spikiness to it,” says Maskell. “New British musicals like The Grinning Man and Everyody’s Talking About Jamie deserve attention – dare to see them, I promise you that you won’t be disappointed,” he says sweetly.

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The Grinning Man is directed by Tom Morris (War Horse) – Maskell has nothing but love for his director. “Tom is a genuinely incredible director, it doesn’t surprise me he is artistic director of a theatre like Bristol Old Vic, because he is such a keen builder,” Maskell says.

“Tom rarely ever gets annoyed and his rehearsal room is very collaborative – we have revised the show and then organically created the piece with our new cast members and in turn created a new family of grinning men and women,” he adds.  

 

On the topic of regional theatre, he is full of praise for the risk-taking happening outside of the capital. “The only way that you can create really good and dynamic musical theatre or plays is by going down the regional theatre road – because in the west end you rarely get anyone putting on a new production; the best theatre is in the regions – all of these really good regional theatres like Sheffield, Leicester Curve and Chichester Festival Theatre, deserve a lot of praise.”

I saw the original production of The Grinning Man at Bristol Old Vic and attended a preview recently. I was struck by how young the audience were, the enthusiasm and affection for the show was palpable. Has he noticed this? “I was very intrigued as to what kind of audience we were going to get but what we’ve found is there is a real hunger from a younger audience for this particular piece. I think it’s because the show feels almost like a really intense experience at a nightclub – it’s got that kind of energy to it,” says Maskell.

 

He trained at Guilford School of Acting, how important was his time there, I ask. “Massively – it gave me the base for what I do now – it gave me lots of skills to build upon,” he says. “I remember when I first graduated, I found it difficult to crack getting that first job… I did everything that I did at Guilford every day. So, I would warm up and work on my voice and the more I did that the better I became. I found more confidence and I got more jobs. Guilford gave me lessons to implement outside of college.”

 

What are his favourite musicals? “The shows that I’ve done are the ones that I was obsessed with growing up: My Fair Lady, West Side Story and Fiddler on The Roof. I think Hamilton is an absolute beast… I’ve got quite an eclectic taste,” Maskell says, with a laugh.  

Maskell’s star is in the ascendant. I ask him how he would best sum up 2017. “I’d describe it as a year in which a lot of dreams became a reality,” Maskell says.

Louis is taking it all in his stride. “I’ve got my feet on the ground; being a leading role in a show in London is something that I’ve always aspired to do. To be here doing a new musical is something that I never envisaged achieving; I’m embracing every moment because everything will end at some point,” he says. 

He adds: “Once you’ve achieved a goal you’ve then got to set new goals – I know that I need to now work even harder I love musical theatre. I want to act forever.”

The Grinning Man runs at Trafalgar Studios, London.