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UK Theatre Awards 2017: A blow by blow account

12.30pm I arrive at the Guildhall, London and head for the drinks reception in the Crypts. It’s quite posh. I have a glass of champagne and bump into theatre critic Mark Shenton. “Hello! I’m surprised you managed to fit this in between all your meetings,” he says, laughing. We have a quick gossip.

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Mark Shenton

12.45pm I mingle and bump into critics Lyn Gardner and Fiona Mountford, which is nice. “What on earth are you doing here!?,” Lyn says. I wouldn’t miss it for the world – congratulations, Mrs. I say. Bless.

12.55pm A man from Scottish Ballet asks me to take his photo around forty times – because the lighting is not flattering. I oblige. Great days.

1.00pm Everyone is having lunch. Here is the menu.

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(I was afforded a cheese roll, a banana and a Kit Kat. Beggars can’t be choosers.

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Guildhall, City of London: The Great Hall.

1.30pm The guy from Scottish Ballet appears. “I need somewhere to throw up my gum,” he says to me and the chap from UK Theatre. Words fail me. I suggest a bin around the corner.

2.00pm It’s starting. I think.

2.05pm Oh here comes Gemma Bodinetz who has won the Best Director award for artistic directorship of Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse’s new repertory season. “I’m looking forward to the whole thing now: I can get drunk,” she says. Amazing.

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Gemma Bodinetz

2.08pm “Yayyy Gemma!” Shrinking violet Sam Hodges is gate crashing my interview, which is a bit annoying. Oh well, he’s charismatic.

2.14pm Anyway, why is today so important to Gemma? “I’m absolutely thrilled…  It’s taken me 14 years to win this award. It’s a very important thing for us as an organisation,” she states.

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Samuel Hodges chatting away

2.16pm Let’s have a quick chat with Nuffield Southampton Theatres Sam Hodges then. He has just picked up the Renee Stepham Award for Best Presentation of Touring Theatre for Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. Why is today so important for him and this production, I ask. “It’s a massive deal; it was a glorious show. We’d never done anything on this scale and arguably we shouldn’t have – luckily our board backed this decision fully and this is the icing on the cake,” he says, smiling.

2.18pm I lose the thread of what’s going on and before I know it along comes actor Joseph Millson who has won Best Performance in a Play. What is it about regional theatre that is sexy? “I am hugely devoted to the supporting of local and regional theatres; it saved my life when I grew up in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “Even if it hadn’t doesn’t make you an actor – it gives young people such an independence.” He continues. “There’s something so individual and so much expression. If everyone just bought one ticket a year at their local theatre then everybody could reap the benefits.”

2.25pm I have a glass of white wine. 7/10.

2.30pm Sharon Duncan-Brewster has deservedly won Best Supporting Performance for A Streetcar Named Desire at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. “A lot of people do not venture out to do any work outside of London, so when I was asked to be in Streetcar I thought the only role I could play is the negro woman,” she says, candidly. What does this win mean to her? “Every city or town that I go perform in, there are people who look like me in the theatre and its time they saw themselves represented on stage,” she says. “I would love to see more of the amazing diverse work happening out in regional theatre coming into London,” she pauses and has a little cry. We have a hug.

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Sharon Duncan-Brewster

2.41pm I run to the toilet and bump into West End Producer Nica Burns(!) She looks fierce in a white gown- I am too scared to talk to her, which is a shame.

2.45pm Best Touring Production went to The Who’s Tommy, which was co-produced by New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich and Ramps on the Moon. The two organisations also received the award for Promotion of Diversity for their groundbreaking work in the inclusion and integration of deaf and disabled individuals. Here comes the Former Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Stratford East, Kerry Michael. What more needs to be done on the diversity front, going forward? “We need continue making inclusive show because they are so exciting – we’ve got to keep winning awards which aren’t just about inclusion but are about high-quality art,” he replies. Indeed.

3.00pm There is a break. Everyone has a chat, dessert and more wine.

3.25pm Sheffield Theatres’ production of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which will open at London’s Apollo Theatre in November, wins Best Musical Production. John McCrea, who plays the eponymous role of Jamie, won the award for Best Performance in a Musical. Here come the boys.

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Everybody’s Talking About Jamie lads

3.30pm I have a quick photo with John McCrea who is wearing a rather fetching scarf indoors. ‘Trendy’.

3.34pm Personality vortex Freddie Fox appears with Playwright Sir David Hare. Hare is the recipient of the Gielgud Award for Excellence in the Dramatic Arts from The Shakespeare Guild. We have a photo (I’m really very shy) and I collar Freddie for a chat. “Stories need to be told everywhere all over the country and the world. Not just London. It’s a chance to be heard and seen and celebrated – it clearly means an awful lot to many people,” he says.

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Freddie Fox and Sir David Hare

3.40pm I decide to have another glass of wine. ‘Lol’.

4.00pm Lyn Gardner is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre award and so actual Emma Rice is here to introduce her. That’s pretty amazing. The whole thing feels quite exciting now.

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4.03pm “A critic being honoured by the theatre industry? John Osborne once suggested most of you are supposed to feel towards people like me the way: “a lamp-post feels about dogs.”” Gardner says, which gets a big laugh. She continues. “If you want to see theatre’s future, then get on a train.” The whole place erupts into applause. Inspirational.

4.10pm Lyn Gardner walks up to me clutching her award. I ask her how would she describe her state of mind? “Discombobulated,” she says. Why is this annual event so significant for the sector, I enquire. “Quite simply, too often regional theatre is not as celebrated as it should be. Regional theatre is a thing in itself – it is not simply a training ground or somewhere where people begin their careers until they move to London. It’s where the vast majority of the population live,” she says, emphatically. She’s got a point. Also, Surely she should get an OBE soon – Billington has one.

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Emma Rice and Lyn Gardner

4.12pm Emma Rice looks uncomfortable and our eyes meet. As someone who is moving forward with a regional company (Wise Children), why do you think regional theatre should be celebrated, I ask quickly. She smiles, enigmaticly. “At Kneehigh – we lived by the Joan Miró quote “To be universal, you also have to be local” – you find communities with stories to tell and friends that they want to tell them with. That’s integrity and that’s the real deal,” she says.

4.15pm What a day. The ceremony concludes and I go and find somewhere to eat a burger.

The end.

Find out more about UK Theatre at UKTheatre.org

UK THEATRE AWARDS 2017 WINNERS

The Renee Stepham Award For Best Presentation Of Touring Theatre

Nuffield Southampton Theatres for the world premiere touring musical production of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox

Best Show for Children and Young People

The Snow Queen, New Vic Theatre

Best Director

Gemma Bodinetz, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse new repertory season

Best Touring Production

The Who’s Tommy, New Wolsey Theatre and Ramps on the Moon

Best Supporting Performance

Sharon Duncan-Brewster, A Streetcar Named Desire, Royal Exchange Theatre

Best Performance in a Play

Joseph Millson, The Rover, Royal Shakespeare Company

Best New Play

Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery

Theatre Employee Of The Year

Jane Claire, English Touring Theatre and Liz Leck, Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust

Clothworkers’ Theatre Award

Derby Theatre

Best Design

Jon Bausor, The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

Achievement in Dance

Scottish Ballet for the European premiere of Crystal Pite’s striking one-act ballet Emergence

Promotion of Diversity

New Wolsey Theatre and Ramps on the Moon for their groundbreaking work in the inclusion and integration of deaf and disabled individuals

Achievement in Opera

Scottish Opera, Pelléas And Mélisande

Gielgud Award

David Hare

Best Performance in a Musical

John McCrea, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Sheffield Theatres

Best Musical Production

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Sheffield Theatres

UK’s Most Welcoming Theatre 2017 with Smooth Radio

The Mill at Sonning

Achievement in Marketing/Audience Development

Scottish Ballet for its Digital Season in April 2017

Outstanding Contribution To British Theatre 2017

Lyn Gardner

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Playwright, David Eldridge interview: “There’s less procrastination when you’re a dad.”

As David Eldridge’s new play Beginning opens at the National Theatre’s Dorfman, he talks about his son, ticket prices, inspirations and success.

We meet in his office at Birkbeck University, London, where he lectures in Creative Writing. Chatting with Eldridge about his career opens up other windows on his experience. For instance: he’s a dad (“I always think about my son Bertie when I write, and he spurs me on”) For instance: despite having written landmark plays like Under The Blue Sky, Market Boy and In Basildon, he remains very grounded. (His best mate is a fireman in Essex, where he grew up). For instance: his new play Beginning was written unsolicited, but with the National Theatre in mind (“I wrote the play and then decided the NT would be a good home for it and sent it to Rufus Norris. Luckily for me he agreed”.)

His new play explores what it means to be lonely in a big city, features two actors and has no interval. “Beginning is a real actors’ piece,” says Eldridge emphatically. “The two characters in the play are on stage for the whole evening without a break. We were looking for people who didn’t just feel absolutely right in terms of the casting but who had the technical ability, personality and guts to do it. On-and-off that casting process took seven months, much of that due to director Polly Findlay’s availability, but we wanted to be absolutely sure.”

What are the particular pressures of writing for the National Theatre? “I’m not sure that applies to Beginning because it’s the first play I’ve written in ages that wasn’t a commission for a particular management,” he says. “I think opening a play in any of the major playhouses is incredibly stressful. On the Olivier stage at the National (where Market Boy was produced in 2006) just selling the 1,150 seats for every show used to give me nightmares. I think animating the larger stages at the NT is a craft in itself and both the Olivier and the Lyttleton eat story, so you need lots of narrative red meat and actors who are on the front foot.”

I wonder how he will measure success with Beginning. “I just want to feel happy that the play has gone as well as it possibly can and that audiences have got something out of it,” he states.

“It’s nice when you can see an audience laughing and crying and reflecting upon the action of a play. But it’s also very rewarding when audiences get in touch.” He references his play The Knot of the Heart, which premiered at the Almeida in 2011. “I kid you not, every day an audience member communicated with me in person, by letter, card, email or via social media to tell me how in some way their life had been touched by addiction. It was exhausting. But beautiful and humbling,” he recalls. “Everyone wants to have nice reviews for posterity and to help encourage audiences to see the show. But I’m much less neurotic about them than I was in my twenties.”

Which fellow writers inspire him, I ask? “Robert Holman has been one of the most inspiring playwrights in my writing life,” he replies, “Robert taught me how to be a playwright in many ways; but his own work, his sense of place, theatricality and commitment to the truth of his characters is always inspiring. Caryl Churchill, as Sarah Daniels says, is “our Picasso” and she seems to reinvent the wheel with every play. Her work always pushes me to try new things and to be bold. Edward Albee inspires me to fulfil John Osborne’s aspiration to give audiences “lessons in feeling”. And I learned a lot from adapting Ibsen. I think the work I did on three of his plays helped strengthen the storytelling in my own plays.”

He reckons that the economics of theatre tickets are out of line. “Theatre going has become too expensive. There’s also a part of me that’s still the slightly chip-on-shoulder, scholarship-and-assisted-place Romford kid at the posh school; who resents how much of British theatre is still occupied by privileged white middle-class men. I think the theatre has got a bit better on that score over my writing life, but it’s still a world that can be too dominated by clever posh white people and far too preoccupied with who’s in and who’s out,” he says bluntly. “It’s why I’ve always preferred to make most of my friends outside the theatre.”

We talk about the differences in writing for television. “On screen you’re cutting away to the next scene all the time and often the cut tells the story”, he explains. “On stage you’re trying to sustain the action. Too many scene changes, inelegantly done, make for a tiresome evening in the theatre. I think TV writing, like writing for a large theatre space, eats story and you really have to pique an audience’s interest the whole time. Otherwise people just switch off and look at their smartphone or change channel.”

On the bookshelf there are various framed photographs of his little boy. How has being a dad changed his writing? “You know,” he smiles. “It’s made me more uncompromising.”

But Eldridge is acutely aware of the legacy of putting pen to paper. “I always have this gut feeling that I never want him to read or see my work when he’s older and feel his dad could have done better. I push myself. Although he doesn’t live with me, we spend a lot of time together, and that means like most writers who are parents, I organise when I write accordingly and use the time much more efficiently. There’s less procrastination when you’re a dad.”

Beginning is at the National Theatre’s Dorfman stage, London, until 14 November. Box office: 020-7452 3000.

Polly Findlay and David Eldridge will take part in NT Platform on Thursday 19 Oct, 6pm.

Now you know. 

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A chat under a bridge with Howard Brenton and Sam Hodges

The Shadow Factory is set in the autumn of 1940 during the Battle of Britain and is about the devastation reigned on Southampton, the home of the Spitfire. The play is written by theatre giant Howard Brenton and directed by the ambitious director Samuel Hodges.

The NST City is part of Studio 144, a new £28m venue in Southampton’s city centre. The building will include a 450 seat main house and a 135 seat studio, as well as screening facilities, rehearsal and workshop spaces.

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Howard Brenton and Samuel Hodges (obvs)

I went along to a have a chat with director of NST Samuel Hodges and playwright Howard Brenton on  a ramp in Southampton under the Itchen Bridge for the launch of the play.

Here is what we discussed.

Me: Hello! Are you both happy with how today has gone? 

Sam: I think it’s terrific – this is the perfect place for it. It’s beautiful and historic. It feels exiting; It’s suddenly got real.

Howard: It’s amazing to see this ramp we are standing on, they built sea planes in the 20’s and 30’s here and they rolled off this ramp.

Me: How would you describe your state of mind, Mr Hodges?

Sam: My state of mind is one of cautious excitement – I think it’s always that way with any new play at this point where you’re between a final draft and beginning of rehearsals and it’s all starting to shape up. On the other hand, we are desperate to get into this new building and start playing. I suppose there are quite a few unknowns: to go into a brand-new theatre and make a piece of brand new theatre is double unknown.

Howard: Well it’s great standing on this spot – I remember in the beginning I said yes to writing this play in a pub not far from here… Now we are standing on the actual site with the thing written and we are all ready to go.

Me: Is that how you get all your commissions, Sam? In the pub?

Sam: Yes. Absolutely.

Me: How would you describe The Shadow Factory in a nutshell?

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Sam: It’s a story about the community, it’s a story about the city and it’s a story that they will not have heard. I think as a theatre experience what they will get is something very unusual. Something with lots of design ,with projection, with flying bits ,with big community chorus, with movement and with music. I would hope it feel like something almost immersive.

Howard: I hope they will be entertained. This is a story of local people, a story that is not widely known, as Sam says. Shadow Factory is about people who did something extraordinary. It’s not to be sentimental about it because this is a very, very tough time. A lot of people thought they were going to lose the war. Nevertheless, they achieved this; 6 weeks from the factory being bombed – planes were being made in bits in the back streets. So, if people could do that 70 years ago, if we have to face a crisis in this country, and God knows we may well. What can we do? It can surprise us what we could do. I’d like people to take that thought out of the theatre.

Me: Is there anything that either of you would like to add?

Sam: Um. No. That’s’ fine.

The Shadow Factory runs at the NST City, Southampton from 16 February to 2 March.

 

An incomplete guide to mainstream

mainstream

After a week of discussion around mainstream, this afternoon I have taken the step of shifting the Mainstream Level to Critical status. I was having trouble getting my head around what exactly this whole mainstream ‘thing’ is. Then it twigged. People cannot conceive of detachment as being part of artistic appreciation: this criticism is practical, active and positive. There is no reason that critical detachment must result in a negative approach. As far as I see it regional theatre has been *rightly so* punching above its weight for years.

This week I took a trip to Bristol to watch Iphigenia in Splott. On the way home I visited Salisbury to watch Hedda Gabler. Both of these fine shows are being performed outside of London. What struck me was the geography of two excellent producing venues (Bristol Old Vic and Salisbry Playhouse) and the exceptional production values on display. It would be moronic to suggest that Iphihenia in Splott might be too challenging for any regional audience because it is ‘alternative’. Regional theatre is often real value for money.

It’s a tricky one – if The Almeida were to go bust, it would be quite sad. But ultimately people would go to another of the many venues in town. If Salisbury Playhouse were to dissapear what provision would there be on that level?

We need a fundamental rethink.

I suppose at a push I like extremely and quite unfashionably traditional productions, yes. We all understand the artistic manouverings that are a fact of life for every subsidised arts organisation in England. Bums on seats etc. But there is a bigger thing going on here. This is a monumental time for British theatre.

Well i’m going to give the mainstream thing a rest… for now. Matt Trueman will do another blog soon, there’s bound to be something funny in that.

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Chris Sonnex, Royal Court: Is it possible to engineer social change using theatre as a medium?

Interview with  Chris Sonnex : Tottenham and Pimlico Residencies at The Royal Court

Theatre as a weapon of revolution

Chris Sonnex has come back from the jungle and is clearly unsettled. How did the Royal Court’s Community Producer come to be in Calais? When we meet, recent clashes between police and migrants have erupted, after authorities moved in to dismantle the part of the refugee camp known as The Jungle. I learn that Chris is working as an Associate Artist with Good Chance Theatre; a company at the heart of an international crisis.

“I walked into the office and Vicky [Featherstone] asked ‘Can you go out to The Jungle?’ It was a case of right place wrong time or wrong place right time, whichever way you look at it. However, it was the most incredible experience for me. As soon as I got there I realised that food and housing are their basic needs to live, but that it is the theatre that makes them feel alive.” Chris is a social activist and he clearly shows theatre to be a weapon of revolution.

Tottenham and Pimlico Residencies at the Royal Court

We discuss Tottenham and Pimlico a Beyond the Court residency project launched in 2015 in two dissimilar areas of London. He explains,“The work is similar to the National Theatre Scotland’s model; go into a community, find out what that community wants and create something for those people.”

The London postcodes were chosen specifically for social improvement within the locality of The Royal Court. “Tottenham was a place that was heavily on people’s minds because of the riots. In Pimlico it feels like there is less of a community. We set up a market stall and engaged with people who made five minute plays and offered workshops to those people. ”

Using drama and theatre to explore the personal and social issues

Is this work reactionary rather than radical? It seems the best kind of contemporary community theatre reflects the ruling-class control. There is a clear mission to use drama to explore the personal and social issues in Chris’s work. He demonstrates that theatre is political because it is a universal weapon. This holistic approach to participation draws on a range of disciplines including forum theatre, youth work and conflict resolution. This model is adaptable and progressive within diverse groups of people to create broader experiences. I wonder what facilitating opportunities such as these feel like. He laughs, “The best part of the job is the people. There’s always a danger that this work can be token-istic. We want to make quality work with a personal, social and political conscience.”

The work he describes appears wonderful, but I ask what the tangible outcomes are. Is the Royal Courts’ Tottenham and Pimlico project an add-on? Chris doesn’t think so. “First and foremost I see participant’s confidence and communication skills improve greatly, more broadly they find their voice about their lives and express a new found truth to power. But they also find each other, establish friendships: they come to know empowerment. We are the Royal Court of London; we should be reflecting what is going on in society.”

Group play-making and participation, critical to cultivating social change

For all the many utensils in the hands of those cultivating social change, whether community practitioners, teachers or outreach workers, one of the most vital elements is that of group play-making and participation. It is about building a community, where each member has equal rights and responsibilities. Sonnex has quietly grown in stature at his own pace, but it’s why being part of the company has been so invaluable. “Innovation and new voices are at the heart of what the Royal Court is for.” He adds, “For 3 weeks in July, Open Court will see thrilling new events, performances, talks and projects taking place throughout the theatre. It’s thrilling.”

What you start to sense is a theatre outreach programme not just giving a voice to its local community but a programme that is truly complimenting the bold work on its stages. Case in point, “I See You ” is presented as part of the International Playwrights: A Genesis Foundation Project. This work is not dealing with vague ideas; it is ambitious and rooted in a lived experience.

Note: It was 5 weeks ago that I did this interview with Chris Sonnex. Goodchance Theatre, which had  been the harbinger of joy and hope for the refugees at Calais for the last six months shut down last week. This was necessitated by the displacement and destruction of the community due to destruction of the camps at Calais by French authorities. You can read more details related to the closure below.
‘Influencing’ – How can the Arts make a difference in the world?

Mark Wheeller Interview: “The arts have a general thing of surviving no matter what… as well as a good thing that can be a bad thing… as with or without funding arts will thrive… because people enjoy participation.”

Mark Wheeller is a writer and part time Executive Director of Arts at the Oasis Academy Lord’s Hill and director of the Oasis Youth Theatre. Although his name is not well-known outside of schools and colleges, he is one of the most-performed playwrights in Britain.
He is a champion of young people’s work and theatre in education more broadly. I thought it would be nice to catch up with Mark to see exactly what’s happening. And I was right – it was very nice indeed.
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Mark at work

Hello Mark! What are you doing at the moment?
Literally at this moment I’ve just returned from a school who have some GCSE students working on one of my plays “One Million to STOP THE TRAFFIK” and I  was there to have a look at what they’d done and to offer them some ideas as to how they might improve their response to it. I haven’t seen or thought about that play for about six years and it was, as it nearly always is great to see fresh pairs of eyes on the play presenting it very differently from how we did. So it made me re-examine those words and find new things. I’ve also just bought a new car and for the first time have a hybrid car where is runs partly on electricity… this has led to a number of learning curves.

What is ‘I Love You Mum’ about? 
It’s the tragic story of Daniel Spargo-Mabbs a sixteen year old lad from Croydon who went to an illegal rave without his parents knowing, took MDMA, unknowingly a double dose and two days later his parents were at his bedside giving permission for the Dr’s to turn off the life support machine. Dan was a popular and able boy and it was a surprise to everyone that he had become a victim to MDMA.  His parents are determined that some good should come out of this dreadful situation and through the Foundation set up in his name (Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation) commissioned me to write a play telling the story. The original idea was that his school would put the play on but it soon became obvious that some distance (emotionally and geographically would benefit the project) and so my Oasis Youth Theatre were offered the chance to premiere the play. We have been working on it for the last year and a half.  It has been in incredibly powerful project to be involvement.  It has been about stickability rather than ability in terms of those who will be in it. They have had to be so committed over such a long period of time. We also have incredible back up with a professional set designer (Richard Long), musician (Paul Ibbott), who has written a musical underscore, and multi-media expert (Danny – Gagging for It – Sturrock).  This team have worked tirelessly to produce the most incredible support to our work and add so much to the final result. I think the professional Theatre would do well to compete with the time we have been able to find to put into the production… and therefore the result.

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Do you think about National Curriculum  potential when you’re writing? Of that catalogue of 100 plays you have, how many are mega successful? 
I never think about the National Curriculum. My productions have been written because I found it so hard to find scripts I liked for my Youth Theatre work.  It seemed a daunting task to find a script that was just what we need as a group. It seemed to be easier to write what I fancy directing and then, as they are brand new, everyone in the production feels a greater sense of ownership. It has been other peoples idea to include them in the curriculum.
It depends on the definition of “mega successful”. I have never had anything on the West End. I’d love that to happen. I have never had a professional adult group perform any of my plays in a major provincial Theatre. So… who has been performing my plays.  Mostly a few Theatre in Education groups (professional) touring schools, prisons or the workplace. Also, as a result of these groups drawing attention to my work Youth Theatres and school have picked up on my plays and presented their own versions of them.  In the late 1990s they started to be used in GCSE. A/S and A’Level exams (mostly unbeknown to me) and from that two (Missing Dan Nolan & Hard To Swallow) have been taken on as set texts by two of the four boards offering the new GCSE Drama (9-1) exam.  I guess that’s pretty successful to have these plays emerging from an unfunded provincial Youth Theatre where all the other contemporary plays have come from the professional world.  I’m very proud of that!
Numerically… I have some plays that have been performed (licensed performances) a massive number of times. Here’s my top 5 as of today 8/03/2016
1/ Too Much Punch For Judy (1998) 5,998
2/ Chicken (1992) 5,654
3/ Legal Weapon 1/2 ((1999) 2,546
4/ Arson About (2004) 1,442
5/ Hard To Swallow (1990) 365
(Amazing!)
Of all my others (there are 28 in all) only two have notched up more than 100 performances, but that’s partly the fact they haven’t (for the most part) been out as long!  I would be intrigued to know whether any of these would qualify as the most performed contemporary plays?

Are the arts doing enough to nurture and support young talent?
Not sure that “the arts” can do this.   People can do this… people who are in the arts.  I imagine they are.  Are those people given enough support/resources?  No.  The arts have a general thing of surviving no matter what… as well as a good thing that can be a bad thing… as with or without funding arts will thrive… because people enjoy participation.  I’d love to see a more foams programme that is well funded from the grass roots.  I think football has a great model, where, with football in the community there are lots of opportunities for young people. It would great for this to be applied to Theatre and the arts… but it’s beyond me to know how to organise this.

Do you think decent theatre needs an undercurrent of sorrow? 
It seems that mine does. I’d love to write a good comedy. I don’t have the ability. No I don’t think it needs it.  I think my work does it because that’s what I think I do best. As I say I’d love to be able to do a good comedy.  I have been so pleased to see my son Charlie working with his Barely Methodical Troupe on some wonderful comic moments, and my Daughter Daisy in her musical Theatre work being much more light hearted than my better known “stuff” is.  All power to them.

And what else do you have coming up this year?
I have two premieres in one month. I Love you Mum (The Brit School 29th March 3pm)  and Scratching the Surface at a One Act Play Festival in the Midlands on March 6th), which is about self harm.
In May I have been told there will be a premiere of my verbatim play Kindness – A Legacy of the Holocaust written with Voices Director Cate Hollis, who directs this production.
A couple of International Schools have asked me to visit them in the next academic year… which gif it happens will be very exciting.  I’ve never been to Malaysia… and before that my wife and I are off on holiday to Cypris where Daisy is singing in one of the Thompson Gold Hotels!   So… and exciting year in prospect.
Thanks for listening!

Adios, Mark!

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The Old Red Lion Theatre, Stewart Pringle Interview: “If you’re looking to get excellent feedback on your work, now is the time to send it in to us.”

Life is full of uncertainties but one unshakeable 2016 fact is that the Old Red Lion Theatre is leading the pack with exciting and original drama.
Last year saw ORL premiere Arthur Miller’s lost debut play. 

Stewart has just won ‘Best Artistic Director’ at the Offie Awards.

Here’s the chat in which we hear all about how he juggles his role as an Artistic Director and a critic, as well as his favourite Annie Lennox song.

Congratulations on the Offie Award! 2015 was a very good year for ORL wasn’t it.
Thanks! I was delighted with the shows, yeah, though I don’t know how much credit I can take for them. We got to work with some fantastically ambitious and talented companies and artists, and really stretch the possibilities of that space, which has always been my hope for my time here.

You’ve just relaunched your Literary department. What’s the score?
Our literary department had sort of dwindled a bit over the past year, basically because I had my eyes on other things and probably didn’t give it the time it deserved, but then last year while he was directing Sparks at the space the brilliant Clive Judd offered his services. We’ve always talked a lot about new writing, and there are very few people whose taste or judgement I respect as much as Clive’s, so he’s assembled a new team of readers (who are all insanely talented and successful artists in their own right) and we’re really kicking things back off. We’re also looking at new and better ways we can facilitate the shows that come to us via that route making it onto the stage here. If you’re looking to get excellent feedback on your work, now is the time to send it in to us.

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Lardo

 

What are you most excited about this year?
Gosh, everything really. It’s hard to pick. I have a very personal relationship with Radioman, in a way, because I saw and loved and actually reviewed it when it had its first try-outs a year ago, so getting that here is a joy. But honestly, I’ve got so many amazing people coming in over the next few months, it’s not possible to pick a favourite. But I will say one thing, keep your eye out for Christmas. There is something extremely special and rare on the cards.

Do you believe in the phrase ‘give the public what they want’?
I don’t think so. I mean, does the public know what it wants? I’m a member of the public and I have absolutely no idea. I look to theatre, and fringe theatre in particular, to open me up to new possibilities.

 

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No Villains by Harold Pinter. 2015.

Fair enough. Do you find that most of the people you meet in the world of theatre have quite bad taste?
No, I don’t think so. Most of the people I meet in the theatre world think very carefully about it because they love it, and they talk intelligently and passionately, so even if I don’t agree with them, I can usually appreciate how they feel about things. I mean there are some people like Quentin Letts who’re just sort of rivers of shit and broken shopping trolleys, but they’re few and far between. And actually I don’t think Letts is in the theatre world anyway, he’s in the troll-tertainment world, or whatever you call that.

How do you balance your role as an Artistic Director and Critic?
It’s a similar sort of job really. You go and see things and decide what you think about them, and engage with them and decide whether to pursue them, whether that means following that company’s work or trying to bring them in to the theatre. It’s all about getting out there, seeing the work, existing within an appreciative community. On a practical level it can be a little tricky just because there are only so many hours in the day (or rather the evening) but I just about get by.

What is your favourite song by Annie Lennox?
I like the cover of ‘Put a Little Love In Your Heart’ that she recorded with Al Green for the soundtrack to Scrooged, where Bill Murray is Scrooge and tries to staple antlers onto a mouse.

Is there anything else you’d like to discuss or address?
Maybe only to say how wonderfully supportive people have been since I started here. People like Matt Parker from the Hope just up the road, and David Byrne from the New Diorama just down the road, and Will Young and Ben Monks from the Tristan Bates: they’re worth their weight in gold. It can be a bit of a lonely job, this, in a way, so knowing that there are other people out there fighting the same kinds of fights and things like that, well that’s just very comforting. Islington AD’s unite, is what Matt always says, and I just think, well, that’s the spirit, isn’t it?

The end.

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Derby Theatre, Sarah Brigham Interview: “It’s vital that every young person is given access to high quality arts experiences and able to realise their own creativity.”

Sarah

Sarah Brigham  is Artistic Director and Chief Executive at Derby Theatre. Sarah is a powerhouse. Previously the Artistic Director at The Point, Eastleigh, and The Berry Theatre, where she  developed a unique programme of support for established and emerging artists. Amazing. 

We had a discussion about life in general and more. See below.
Hello! You are a hard-working person. If you were to draw a graph of the last ten years, how would it look?
Hello, that question made me smile – my graph is probably like everyone who works in the arts – pretty crazy most of the time but high on fulfilment and enjoyment and a high peak in feeling very lucky to do a job I am passionate about.

You are currently in Tech week for Look Back in Anger. What’s going on?
Well its an interesting tech week as we are actually in tech for 2 shows at once – yes we are mad – Its going to be a full on week!  Alongside Look Back in Anger we have commissioned a response piece from the female perspective.  Its called Jinny and its the third in our RETOLD series which sees us cracking opening the classics from the female perspective.  Whilst working on Look Back in Anger I began to wonder when do we ever hear the working class voice on stage now?  And when is that voice ever female. So we decided to commission another writer who has lived and worked in Derbyshire (as Osborne did) to bring this voice alive for 2016 – Jane Wainwright was born in Chesterfield and spent a research and development period meeting women aged 25 (Jimmy Porter’s age) across Derby asking them for their take on class, feminism, love, dreams, ambitions and what they were angry about now.  Interestingly many felt similar to Jimmy there was no an open door to a good job no matter how talented you were, they felt frustrated by the life plan they felt society still imposed onto them and they were frustrated that the voices they heard on their stages, in newspapers and in films didn’t represent their experience.  Jane has taken their wit, their fears, their ambitions and created a female Jimmy Porter for 2016.

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So right now we are in a lighting plotting session for both shows !  Lighting Designer Arnim Freiss is working wonders and Neil Irish’s set is looking fabulous.  We’ve built further into the auditorium than usual so I’m  constantly checking sight lines  as its changed the dynamic of the space in an exciting way.

Look Back in Anger induced a step-change in British Theatre didn’t it.
In many ways yes although sometimes this is overplayed a little as there was lots going on then ,  Waiting for Godot opened a year earlier for instance but you are right it is often heralded as the play which changed the face of British Theatre, it is studied by students of theatre across the UK, it helped put The Royal Court on the map and often the industry talks about plays prior to 1956 (the year the play premièred) and post as two distinct eras.

It certainly put on stage a voice which had not been heard before; the voice of the working man and he had a lot to say, heralding the movement of “angry young men”.  I don’t think we would be in the same theatre landscape if Look Back in Anger had never been produced.  Its a great play – full of complexities but great none the less.

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Brassed Off, Derby Theatre. 2015.

You’ve been a pioneer for artist development locally. What is the next corner to be turned?That’s very kind of you.  Gosh I’m not sure – there are lots of challenges ahead I think we all  know that – the latest settlement for ACE was great but its not a time to rest on our laurels – we need to keep making the case for the arts.  One area that really worries me is the destruction of arts in education.  It’s vital that every young person is given access to high quality arts experiences and able to realise their own creativity. At the moment that seems hugely under threat and if we don’t do something about it then we will be all the poorer not only in 20 years when we are looking for the next generation of artists but also straight away as our children and ultimately our society will suffer.

We also need to turn a corner on diversity – its not good enough that our creative leaders, our artists and our audiences don’t represent the world we live in.

On a more positive note there are so many exciting things happening in the industry at the moment – everyday I meet new artists, new companies who are making work in new ways and thinking about how to take new audiences on a journey so on that score I feel pretty chipper about our future.  I guess my role is to ensure those artists are nourished and supported.

Regional theatre appears to be in mighty shape. What are the biggest challenges to sustain this?
That’s so nice to hear as often the regions get treated like the naughty child and told they aren’t good enough.  Yes there is great work coming from the regions – I’ve had some of my best theatre experiences in Manchester, Edinburgh, and a small village hall in Leicestershire.  Of course funding is a challenge as always and the disparity of funding I think is an issue which needs solving.  Maxine Peake made a great speech recently where she pointed out that the (brilliant ) work she makes in Manchester is judged on the same platform as work from london which has three times the resources to rehearse and make the work.  I totally agree with her – give any director or theatre 3 times the funding and I’m pretty sure you’ll see bolder choices being made and a more consistent product produced.

There is disparity within the regions too. The Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine idea is great but we need to remember the cities on the edges of that also.   Putting a show on in Derby costs the same as putting on a show in a big city although the distribution of funding doesn’t always recognise this. The smaller cities also often don’t have access to the same level of possible philanthropy or audiences.  Having said all of that I absolutely recognise that it would be mad to just drain London or the bigger cities, these are our jewels … It is a conundrum but one we need to crack.

What is your least favourite emoji?
I’m probably not cool enough to be able to answer this question but just looking at them on my phone now I’m not very keen on the angry one and there’s one with dollar signs in its eyes which looks vile!  generally my rule is if you’re really bothered by something say it to the persons face to face , don’t text it or Facebook it and if you daren’t say it directly then be quiet!

MONEY

And what else do you have coming up?
Lots of projects but immediate things I’m excited by are The Departure Lounge festival which will be held at Derby Theatre again this year in July – curated by Ruby Glaskin it allows us to turn our stage into a Glastonbury (we astro turf it and the audience sit on deck chairs and picnic blankets)  and we programme the most exciting work going up to Edinburgh.

I’m also excited about putting Look Back in Anger and Jinny in front of an audience – we open on Friday for 3 weeks then transfer to Bolton octagon.

To conclude, then, is there anything you would like to say to the people (plural) reading this?
Just if you work in the arts keep up the good fight and if you’re an audience member go to your local theatre today and see what’s on.

Thanks for chatting to me, Carl.

Byeeeeeeee, ducky!

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Brian Logan, Camden People’s Theatre Interview: “it seems the stars are aligning nicely for people who make performance in unexpected ways.”

Camden People’s Theatre is a performance space in a former pub, with a dynamic programme supporting new writing and innovative productions.

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I had a chat-slash-interview with Brian Logan, CTP’s Artistic Director.

Here’s how it unfolded…

Hello Brian. Camden’s People Theatre is very good isn’t it.
Hello Carl. Thanks for saying so. We try to be very good: I’m glad to hear you think we’re succeeding.

With the way the industry’s changing, do you worry about the future for unconventional theatre makers?
I don’t worry too much about the future of unconventional theatre-makers. I think today’s unconventional theatre-makers are tomorrow’s influential and often (by then) mainstream artists. I look around CPT at a generation of playful but dedicated innovators who’re more resourceful than my generation ever seemed to be, and they fill me mainly with hope. And delight.
I also think one of the most significant changes in the industry, or the culture, over the last decade has been the mainstream’s adoption of what used to feel like unconventional ways of doing things. The kind of leftfield, hyper-creative, non-hierarchical, bloody-minded theatre-making habits that CPT has always championed are now commonplace in organisations that used to be the sole preserve of, ahem, new writing and Oxbridge-educated directors. So to me it seems the stars are aligning nicely for people who make performance in unexpected ways.
I do worry, it’s true, about where in London these artists are going to live. I do worry about how they’ll support themselves – although we’re here to help with that in whatever way we can. But I also see plenty to be optimistic about.

Tell us about SPRINT Festival?
It’s London’s biggest and best established carnival of new and unusual theatre. It started in 1997 and this is its twentieth incarnation, which I think is pretty extraordinary. Unlike the other festivals we present at CPT, there’s no theme. It’s just a concentrated, adrenaline-charged shot of what we do year-round, which is support and present the most imaginative, provoking and unpredictable new theatre we can find, usually made by artists at the start of their careers, often engaged with critical questions about how we live now. The Sprint festival is always lively. It’s programmed as democratically as possible – we invite applications from as wide a range of artists as we can. Its shows burst out of our theatre space and into other nooks of our building, and beyond. Visit on any night and we hope you’ll leave with a quickened pulse and a vivid sense of what’s happening right now on theatre’s cutting edge.

As for this year’s Sprint in particular, it’s got a satisfying mix of CPT rookies, old friends, hard-hitting shows, playful diversions and lots else besides. We’ve got the award-winning Atresbandes with their new show Locus Amoenus, the cult Kings of England maverick Simon Bowes with Ding and Sich, and Conrad Murray – star of last year’s CPT hit No Milk for the Foxes – with his council estate-set hiphop theatre piece DenMarked. We’ve got the first ever performance of the winner of our inaugural People’s Theatre Award, Emily Lim and Gameshow’s Grown Up, we’ve got the five brand new projects emerging from our unique Starting Blocks artist support scheme and we have a whole new Sprint strand, called Freshers, showcasing new student and graduate work. So: it’s exciting, and way too sprawling to encapsulate here.

Joe Boylan and Gemma Rowan in This Is Private Property @ Camden People's Theatre. (Opening 15-01-16) ©Tristram Kenton 01/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

Joe Boylan and Gemma Rowan in This Is Private Property

How would you describe your perspective on life?
I’ve never been asked nor ever considered an answer to that before. I think I have lots of different perspectives depending what aspect of life I’m currently engaging with. I hope I’m good-humoured, optimistic and egalitarian, but my family, colleagues and arch-enemies may well say otherwise.

Bloody hell. Your ambitious devised production ‘This Is Private Property’ was a bit of a fiasco. What are your thoughts on how it was received by critics?
I’m curious to know why you consider it a fiasco, Carl. Did you see it? It handsomely outstripped its box-office targets, engaged an audience who hadn’t been to CPT before, and – judging by our feedback forms and the cast’s conversations with those audiences – was very much appreciated by many of the people who saw it.

As for the reviews, I thought – as usual – that some of them were on the money, and with some of them, I strongly disagreed. Politically and in terms of their aesthetic assumptions. Obviously, we’d have loved everyone to like the show. But it wasn’t made to appeal to the cultural cognoscenti, it was made to engage with a wider audience, including those living at the sharp end of the housing crisis. Those are different constituencies with sometimes contrasting values and tastes. So – while nobody enjoys getting bad reviews – we were happy to get good reviews as well, and very pleased in general with how the production was received.

I didn’t see it sadly… What is your advice for emerging artists in their late 20s and early 30s?
It depends where they’re at in their career, what they’re working on, what kind of help (if any) they’re asking CPT for. We definitely don’t have a one-size-fits-all artist support thing happening here. Supporting artists is the most important thing we do here, and it’s very important to us that we tailor that support to what any given artist or company needs at a particular time.

What’s the best part of your job?
There’s lots that’s good about my job. Seeing great theatre (for free!). Being in a position to help super-smart and talented artists make their work – and being personally inspired & refreshed by their fearlessness and their new ways of seeing and doing things. Not having to travel at rush hour. Working with my fab colleagues Amber and Anna. The single best thing is the feeling of being at CPT on one of our buzzy festival nights, when the whole place crackles and hums with artists meeting audiences meeting artists, all having new conversations about significant things. And drinking, and feeling alive. It’s a thrill to feel that in some way we’ve helped make that happen.

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Is there anything that you’d like redacted?
D’you mean from the answers above? Nope. Publish and be damned.

Bye bye (!)

And that, ladies and gents, is where our chat ended.
Sprint Festival features adventurous theatre from across the UK and beyond and runs from Tuesday 2 – Saturday 26 March. 

 

 

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Labels, Joe Sellman-Leava Interview: “There needs to be greater diversity in the arts – in all senses of the word.”

Worklight Theatre’s award winning show, Labels is going on a UK Tour. The show draws on writer and performer, Joe Sellman-Leava’s mixed heritage to explore racism, immigration and displacement.

I had a chat with Joe. See below.

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What’s the point of this UK Tour of Labels?
We want to engage more people with the show and the discussions around it. The issues that it covers are, unfortunately, not going away any time soon, and we feel it’s important that people feel empowered to continue shaping the discussion

Which event in your life made you the person you are today?
It’s hard to pin down one event, but I had a few brilliant teachers in my late teens who challenged and encouraged me in equal measure. I would say this is where the passion and determination for the work I do comes from.

What are the consequences of trivialising racism?
The consequences are that people suffer. In some cases this might be bullying in school or at work, but in other extremes it can mean we see people as less than human, and then treat them as such.

What would you do if you were banned from making theatre?
I’d try to find other ways to ask similar questions, through writing, film or visual art.

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What’s wrong with the industry today?
It’s incredibly challenging for people in the early stages of their careers, and concerning that this may not change even as you become more experienced. I personally think there needs to be greater diversity in the arts – in all senses of the word.

Time and time again we are reminded that diversity is key to creativity. What more needs to be done?
Perhaps thinking about it in a more joined up way? Trying to use the arts as a way of engaging young people from diverse social, ethnic and financial backgrounds. Ensuring that people aren’t shut out from training opportunities because of their school or their parents income. Thinking about more ways for emerging artists to develop their skills and showcase their work. Thinking about ways regions and the UK as a whole can retain, rather than drain talent, as artists become more experienced. Thinking about the wider value of the arts and greater diversity within it; consider how all of these things link together.

Is there anything else we need to discuss?
No.

That’s that then. Ciao, Joe!