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Top 5 Shows of the Year (according to me)

Seiriol Davies

This year’s Top 5 Shows Of The Year list was really hard to put together.

Firstly, the standard was extraordinarily high. There was not enough room for amazing stuff by more people. Too much good theatre – not a disaster, but annoying when it comes to a list.

N.B. This was going to be a Top 10 list but I haven’t really done any Christmas shopping so a Top 5 seemed more achievable. Apols.

How to Win Against History

  1. Much as I liked The Grinning Man (see below) it was How To Win Against History that hit the spot in 2016. It’s no coincidence that this show was the highest reviewed show of the year at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s all about HTWAH really. A feverishly amusing biographical musical about Henry Cyril Paget, the 5th Marquis of Anglesey. This is musical theatre at its most adventurous: a pensive, glorious extravaganza that redefines the term “ripped-up musical”. It is an astounding melodious creation by the gifted Seiriol Davies.
Seiriol Davies

Seiriol Davies

Here is what Seiriol had to say on being number one: Oh my stars and garters, what a thing. I’m really delighted it went down so well – from a hot, dark little box by a park in Edinburgh it now looks like the show’s going to go far. We’ve some very exciting plans for it in 2017, they’re gonna take us all over the UK (subtly pressure your beloved local venues for news), including a lovely transfer to the capital (currently London) and it’s a bloody amazing feeling that Henry and his bizarre, spangly, preposterous, feels-making story are going to get in front of ever more people. See, I told you it was mainstream.

You can read my chat with Seiriol  here 

 

 

The Grinning Man

Tom Morris

Tom Morris

  1. Now that is how you do a musical. The Grinning Man is a brand-new musical from Bristol Old Vic, in its bold 250th anniversary year, directed by Tom Morris (War Horse) and based on the Victor Hugo novel and cult silent movie ‘The Man Who Laughs’. This macabre musical fairytale featured 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: Seriously, well done everyone.

You can read my chat with Tom Morris  here 

 

 

 

This House

James Graham

  1. This House transferred to the Garrick Theatre, following its run at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre. Having originally played two sell-out seasons at the National Theatre, directed remarkably by Headlong Artistic Director Jeremy Herrin. ‘FYI’ James Graham may just be the brightest playwright that Britain has to offer. Does he occupy that space by accident? Does he bollocks. Nothing about this play or Graham’s career seems left to chance. That’s not to say this play feels stilted. On the contrary, he seems to have fun with the space he’s in. This House is by turns hilarious, poignant and thrilling.

You can read my recent chat with James Graham here 

 

The Children by Lucy Kirkwood

Lucy Kirkwood

Lucy Kirkwood

  1. As the Royal Court entered its 60th anniversary season The Children was a welcome entry to the dynamic and eclectic season. A Kirkwood play is a gift from the Theatre Gods. The premise is simple: Two retired nuclear scientists in an isolated cottage in a post-apocalyptic world by the sea. Anyway, what really made this new play so wonderful were the harmonious performances from Francesca Annis, Ron Cook and Deborah Findlay. Whatever the frame of reference, a huge proportion of this slow-burning play situates itself outside the realms that dominate commercial theatre. Bloody brilliant etc, etc and so on. The Children runs at The Court until 14 January

 

 

Us/Them 

  1. Set during a hostage drama in a school in Beslan the greatest of evils, terrorists, chose the greatest good – a group of children as their victims. There was a feeling of relaxed charm this production, and it’s a feeling many artists find hard to engineer. BRONKS Theatre pulled it off. This is not a perfect show, but it does contain enough perfect moments to make it the best Belgium import of 2016, not to mention the best piece of dance-theatre of Edinburgh Fringe Festival. After a sell-out run at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and winning The Scotsman Fringe First Award, Us/Them is coming to the National Theatre in early 2017, so book now to avoid disappointment. Book now – you know it makes sense. <<You can read my review of Us/Them here>>

(I feel a bit bad about ‘Funny Girl’ not being on the list – it probably should have been. OH WELL.)

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Interview with Bryony Kimmings: “Be yourself. Right now I’m in joggers. And I don’t give two fucks.”

Bryony Kimmings
Bryony Kimmings

Bryony Kimmings

Bryony Kimmings is a performance artist and maker of experimental theatre. Her recent collaboration with Complicite, ‘A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer’ saw dancing tumours in the Dorfman Theatre: An all-singing show that followed the stories of a group of cancer patients.
Her piece ‘Fake it ’til you make it’ was also excellent actually.
Here is chat with La Kimmings about some things. You’re welcome.

Bryony Kimmings, what sort of woman are you? 
The kind who doesn’t gender herself. And the kind that gets angry at this slightly misogynistic question. What sort of human am I? Head strong, loud, shy, caring, cunty, arty, safe, stupid and did I mention loud?!

Wow. Congratulations on A Pacifists Guide, what has been the best thing about directing that show?
Ahhhh I think working with the amazing creative team and learning from them all. The choreographer, set designer, costume, the music bods, dramaturgs. I honestly feel like it was a public baptism of fire but I finished it knowing SO MUCH. It’s kind of fast tracked me into feeling ready to do it again… Better

Does your self-image impact how you interact with other people?
Hmmm I’m not sure what the means. Do you mean does me being vaguely in the public eye affect my relationship. Nah. God no. But it means more people want to be your friend. Which often I like. I’m a social butterfly unless I’m on my period, then I’m a quivering and anxious wreck.

Can you describe your state of mind when you were making A Pacifists Guide?
Erm. Fuck it was a long process. First year: excited. Writing period: frustrated by my own incompetence. March-June 2016: completely consumed with my baby being very very ill. Directing period: manic and doubtful. Press night: proud

I get the impression that you read a lot about other artists and that your own interviews can be a lot more self-aware as a result… Is this incorrect
Nope. I don’t engage much with artists in terms of reading, in fact I rarely read. I engage with artists as piers. But to be honest I’ve been doing interviews for a decade and I know who I am and that includes not having a filter.

What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
Don’t sweat the funding, the websites, the branding…. All that matters is that you get good at making art and quick.

How long have you got off for Christmas?
Two weeks. Myself and my ex partner Tim are splitting time with baby Frank so I have a week to get totally wrecked and a week to literally snuggle for England.

What ten emojis would you use to describe 2016?
🚑💉💊🔬💔🕸🦄🌊🍼

What would your personalised number plate of choice be?
MC BRYAN E

What is your favourite theatre and why?
I fucking love the Purcell Room. It’s grand and great acoustically and so nice to perform to and watch in. I also have a special place in my heart for soho!

Do you have a message for the  readers who have never seen a Bryony Kimmings show?
Stop being a dick and get onboard the art train of truth, desire and pleasure.

Finally, do you think the word ‘hipster’ is just used by people who don’t understand youth culture or are they genuinely a bunch of pricks with questionable facial hair?
Hipster as a term is old. It basically means young and cool. Let people alone… But for me  I like individuality and creativity so the current hipster uniform is the opposite of that. Be yourself. Right now I’m in joggers. And I don’t give two fucks.

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Interview with Director Gary Condes: “In an age of calculated self-aware subtle comedy, LUV will provide a belly laugh.”

Gary Condes

As he directs LUV at Park90 with Park Theatre, director Gary Condes reflects on rehearsals, the Emma Rice fiasco and his favourite old wives tale.

LUV is a 1960s riotous celebration of the absurd lengths we go to when struck down with the terrible affliction known as love. After reuniting one fateful night, old school pals Milt and Harry uncover each other’s miserable life stories before hatching a plan to find their happily-ever-afters. I decided to chat to Gary about a whole manner of things.

Gary Condes

Gary Condes

Hey Gary! You previously directed Miss Julie and Some Girl(s) with Buckland Theatre Company and are back at Park90 with LUV. What do you like the most about working with Buckland?

I love Buckland’s desire to produce work that examines the nature of human behaviour through plays that focus on relationships and to put them in intimate studio spaces so that audiences experience immediate and affecting theatre full of emotional truth.

Luv

Luv. Click on the image to book your tickets

How are LUV rehearsals going? 
Great! We are spending the early stages mining the script and improvising to work out what the characters are really doing in each scene and why they are doing it. As a result we are acquiring a deep and specific understanding of the characters behaviour which will help to build nuanced and fuller performances.

What attracted you to direct LUV?
It’s a charming, unique play with heartfelt humour that gets us to face those existential questions that arise when examining the very nature of ‘Love’, how we define it and we measure it. It’s strengths lie in its colourful characters, extreme circumstances, laugh out loud dialogue, physical comedy, social and philosophical commentary and it’s infectious energy. The attraction for me was the mix of absurd humour and touching moments and the opportunity to make audiences feel happy, sad, joyful and full of despair all in the same show.

Are you sad about Emma Rice stepping down from The Globe? 
From the outside there seems to have been a misunderstanding about the style of work The Globe thought they were going to get from Emma Rice and what they ended-up getting from her. The glove didn’t seem to fit. Emma will find another platform for her work easily enough and The Globe will find someone else who best supports their philosophy. Can’t blame them both for trying.

What can audiences expect from LUV
In an age of calculated self-aware subtle comedy this production will provide audiences with a good old cathartic belly laugh at how self-indulgent humans can be with their own suffering. Expect a delicious high energy romp through a multitude of matters: marriage, relationships, loneliness, lost identity, desires, ambitions, failures, suicide. The performances will be bold but grounded in emotional truth so that audiences can connect to the characters suffering through laughter. A mix of absurdist humour and Broadway comedy: Mel Brooks and Neil Simon give birth to Eugene Ionesco.

What’s your favourite old wives’ tale?
If you are unable to fall asleep you are awake in someone else’s dreams.

What is your best advice for actors at auditions?
Don’t look at it as a job you have to get. See it as an opportunity to present your work. Prepare fully, deeply and make specific choices about your scene or monologue and then go to the audition to show them your work. Treat it as a presentation of what you’ve created, but you’ve got to do the homework beforehand.

Who is your favourite director?
Rimas Tuminas, Artistic Director of Moscow’s Vakhtangov Theatre Company. He manages to create an audacious mix of heightened and symbolic theatre which is underpinned by performances of deep and full emotional truth. His Uncle Vanya being a perfect example of this. It is theatre as art which illuminates & elevates.

Say in 1,500 years they discovered something you had directed on film what would you like them to find? 
It would be a film I haven’t made yet but is in development. It’s an autobiographical piece about family and takes place between the family run restaurant and the family home. I would like them to find it in 1,500 years and hope it helps people to understand something about human nature and its capacity for both deep suffering and great joy and that it’s the ‘experience’ of living that is important.

Why do you think Park Theatre is so successful? 
I think it’s due to the combination of seeing quality productions of interesting plays, thought provoking subject matter and fine acting in intimate and involving spaces.

Anything you’d like to add? 
If you want an alternative Christmas show to come and see LUV, this is it!

Luv in on at Park Theatre from 8 December  2016 – 7 January 2017

CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS OF LUV

CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS OF YOUR FAVORITE LONDON SHOWS 

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Interview with producer of This Place We Know, Sophie Watson: “I’d just like to put on record that I’m not advocating putting Billie Piper in a time capsule.”

Sophie Watson
Bush Theatre has taken over the Uxbridge Road while the venue is undergoing a year-long redevelopment project. This Place We Know is a bold series of six commissioned short plays performed in spaces on and around Shepherd’s Bush.
This Place We Know has seen six world premieres of specially commissioned plays; this is a unique example of a theatre redefining what new-writing might do and how it might correspond to the local community. I thought it would be a good idea to chat to the producer behind it all: Sophie Watson.
Watson talks about Arts Council imposing ‘quantitative measures of arts quality’, Billie Piper in Yerma and more.
Sophie Watson

Sophie Watson

Hello! What are you working on at the moment?
The Bush Theatre is currently undergoing some changes that will make us more accessible and more sustainable, in the meantime, we’re out and about producing theatre in West London. We’re in our last week of ‘This Place We Know’ a series of short plays commissioned as a love letter to the Uxbridge Road and next up we’re remounting ‘The Royale’ by Marco Ramirez at the Tabernacle.

What is your most treasured possession?
In my theatre life, my playtext of ‘Many Moons’ by Alice Birch – the first play I ever produced.

Who or what is your biggest influence?
I don’t think I could pick one, I’ve always been so inspired by my colleagues; the team at the Bush are heroes.

The best kind of theatre often breaks the mould, how do you juggle risk-taking with sustainability?
When producing for an organisation you can’t look at a play in isolation, at the Bush we’re constantly looking at a season as a whole and asking ourselves whether we are offering our audiences a balanced programme. An example of that would be working with a playwright that audiences know and love and following that up with someone they may never have heard of, and hopefully there’s enough trust for audiences to come on a journey with us and a new playwright.

This Place We Know brings together a series of specially-commissioned plays in and around Shepherd’s Bush.  How have you prepared for this logistically?
I have been working on this project for many months. We commissioned the writers at the end of 2015 and then my first task was to introduce myself to almost every business on the Uxbridge Road to see whether there might be an opportunity to work together. It’s been important to think outside of the box, we ended up producing a play in a karaoke bar which I didn’t approach at first as I couldn’t imagine pulling it off but there’s a lot of good will in Shepherds Bush.

Gender inequality is a huge problem in the arts, however, there’s no shortage of women working in the arts, have you ever faced obstacles in your career?
This is a challenging industry to find your way in to regardless of gender, but I have to say that broadly I haven’t faced any obstacles that I would attribute to my being a woman. I hope I can use my position to support more women coming up through the industry as well as to profile female artists.

What are your thoughts on Arts Council imposing ‘quantitative measures of arts quality’?
I am sceptical about the introduction of these measures as an accurate way of measuring success. I’m also concerned about the additional administrative burden for organisations. I have read of concerns lately that organisations are carrying too much administrative resource, with some suggesting that this is to the detriment of the art/artists, but I find that a difficult argument to balance when looking at the demands placed on us all.

What would you bury in a time capsule to represent theatre in 2016?
Billie Piper. Is that weird? I can’t stop thinking about her performance in Yerma at the Young Vic this year. Plus, she’d have loads of other interesting stories about pop stardom.

Do you think we’ve become too obsessed with ourselves?
I think that we have always been obsessed with ourselves and with other people; particularly how we look, think and feel in relation to those other people. The difference now is the level of insecurity created by the various modes of presentation available to each and everyone of us. It continues to be the role of theatre to help us answer those questions.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Christmas at Marks and Spencer.  Don’t ask.

What is the best job you’ve ever had?
Producer at the Bush Theatre of course.

Anything you’d like to add?
I’d just like to put on record that I’m not advocating putting Billie Piper in a time capsule.

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Interview, Amy Shindler: “I have three strands to my career: I’m a writer, actress and voiceover artist. Okay, I’m clearly a wheeler-dealer.”

Amy Shindler
Amy Shindler’s writing is mainly in television: she co-created the ITV 1 series, Pat and Cabbage, and has written for the long-running BBC comedy, My Family. Other credits include: Trollied (Sky 1)Threesome (Comedy Central) and Horrible Histories (CBBC). As an actress she has played the role of ‘Brenda Tucker’ on Radio 4’s The Archers since 1999.
 
Amy’s first ever playBurning Bridges’ opens at Theatre 503 this week and the run includes several relaxed performances that are specifically designed to welcome people who will benefit from a more relaxed performance environment, including audiences with an Autism Spectrum Condition, sensory and communication disorders, or a learning disability.
It’s wonderful to see minor adjustments being made to make topical new writing truly accessible.
I caught up with Amy to ask about the inspirations for the play, rewriting history and the enduring popularity of The Archers.
Amy Shindler

Amy Shindler

Amy! Where are you and what are you doing currently?
Carl! I’m currently sitting in my study in my house in West Dulwich and I’m answering your questions. In a broader sense I’m working on a couple of original  television comedies for ABC in the States and for the BBC over here; storylining a new TV drama, still in early stages; and waiting nervously for my play, BURNING BRIDGES to preview tomorrow night. I’m also trying to digest a homemade green smoothie which is turning out to be less than enjoyable.

Simon Bubb and Rae Brogan

Simon Bubb and Rae Brogan in Burning Bridges  © Sam Taylor. Click on the image to book you tickets now.

What can you tell us about Burning Bridges? Is it good?
Burning Bridges is a play about an American woman, Kate, and an English man, Dan, living together in London, they’re professional colleagues and also newlyweds. They invite Kate’s younger sister, Sarah, who has Asperger’s syndrome, over from the States for a two week visit. However Sarah has some major surprises for them and things quickly spin out of control. It’s a bit dark and it’s intense, but there’s lots of humour in it too because I can’t seem not to put comedy in everything. It explores issues surrounding Asperger’s such as sensory overload, obsession and difficulty forming relationships, but also questions that come up when you’re living with someone with AS: how far do you go to protect them? Is that even the right thing to do? It also looks at issues outside autism, like gender politics at work and home and how do you prioritise childcare if you and your partner are equally professionally committed?
I can tell you that it is very good, because it’s being performed by three very talented actors: Rae Brogan, Anne Adams and Simon Bubb, with the ace Sally Knyvette directing. Also Theatre503 is just a brilliant place.

It’s fair to say that you have quite an eclectic CV isn’t it?
Yes I guess I do, although that does make me sound like a bit of a wheeler-dealer! I have three strands to my career: I’m a writer, actress and voiceover artist. I spend most of my days doing the former, mainly writing comedy and, more recently, drama for TV. I’ve also played the character of Brenda Tucker in the Radio 4 soap, ‘The Archers for 18 years, I was in the movie, ‘Everest’, last year and I’m the voice at the end of the phone if you call National Rail. Okay, I’m clearly a wheeler-dealer.

Theatre 503 has produced some outstanding work Rotterdam, The Girl in The Yellow Dress etc. What have been some of your favourite shows there?
Yes it’s a really good theatre, they’ve produced so many excellent shows over the years. I particularly liked Stephen Brown’s Future Me, Sam Ellis’s Starlore for Beginners and the brilliant The Mountaintop by Katori Hall.

What hopes and aspirations do you have for your play Burning Bridges?
Each of my characters makes flawed decisions but I really wanted to keep the audience’s sympathy shifting as I explore the humanity behind their actions. I hope it resonates on some level with audiences and gives them something to debate in the bar afterwards, it would also be great to make them laugh. Above all though, I really hope this play raises awareness of Asperger’s in women which is hugely, often dangerously, under-diagnosed or mis-diagnosed. It’s also sadly under-represented in the arts.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR BURNING BRIDGES NOW 

You play Brenda Tucker on the soap opera ‘The Archers’. Why do you think the show has such enduring popularity?
It really does have the most loyal following. I’ve been told by many fans of  ‘The Archers’ that it’s been in their lives for so long that listening to it has become almost ritualistic. Like brushing your teeth or making dinner. They will talk to me like the characters are real people, sometimes friends, sometimes annoying neighbours. Recently, I’ve had so many fans come up to me, almost apoplectic over the evil doings of Rob Titchener. I sometimes have to gently remind them that it’s a drama and the characters are played by actors. This isn’t a popular line of thought though.

Are artists quite difficult people to be friends with?
Yes we’re awful. I personally only befriend people in the construction industry. They do useful things like putting up buildings.

If you could change one major historical event, what would it be?
Well I don’t know if this is entirely historically accurate but apparently due to a mix up over what time exactly it was in Berlin, Lloyd George declared war before Kasier Wilhelm had been given the final ultimatum asking Germany if they’d care to pull out of Belgium. When the mistake was detected in London, a nervous young civil servant was dispatched urgently to the German embassy to ask for the ultimatum back, as there was still technically 20 minutes left before the agreed deadline. However the Ambassador’s butler refused to let him in because it was “bed-time”. I like to think the whole first world war could have been averted if someone had read their watch correctly or the butler hadn’t
been a jobsworthy pedant.

Are you looking forward to one day being 50?
Only if there is a party involved. Otherwise it’s not worth it.

What are your top tips for an aspiring writer?
I’d say what my dad said to me at the start of my writing career – it’s a quote from PG Wodehouse: “the art of writing is applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair”. Best advice I ever got and amazingly difficult to do

How good out of 10 is Burning Bridges?
Carl, this is not Strictly Come Dancing.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?
I’d like to add that these are really fun questions to answer. Apart from the previous one which is ridiculous.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR BURNING BRIDGES NOW 

Tune into Amy Shindler talking about Burning Bridges in the next two videos

 

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Actor Gavin Spokes on his favourite professional experience, love for live theatre and more

Gavin Spokes
Gavin Spokes

Gavin Spokes © Nick James

Gavin Spokes talks about Guys and Dolls, London Pride – and Nineteen Eighty Four Headlong and Nottingham Playhouse’s spin on George Orwell. Dunstable gets a mention.

Hi Gavin! You are currently in rehearsals. What/Who/When/Where?
We are currently in rehearsals at the Phoenix theatre with our new Nathan and Adelaide, played by Simon Lipkin and Rebel Wilson

You have appeared in some pretty big shows including One Man Two Guvnors and appeared on TV and Film. What has been your favourite professional experience?
I’ve been very lucky to do some really lovely work. I’d say that playing Francis in One Man Two Guvnors in the west end was a real highlight

Guys and Dolls

Guys and Dolls

Is Guys and Dolls the greatest musical of all time? 
I’d say that Guys and Dolls is definitely in the top 3 musicals ever written. The book is as strong as the score, which is very rare.

Can you describe the house you grew up in?
I grew up in 3 bed semidetached house in Dunstable. Nothing fancy in the slightest but my mum was/is one of the most house proud people on the planet. A lovely place to grow up in.

You have expressed your personal love for live theatre as opposed to acting in TV and film. What are your thoughts on Cinema screenings of plays? 
I’m in favour of screenings in general. It’s generally only done with productions that are running in London. Most of the country can’t get/afford to see a production in London. It gives a chance for to those in the furthest corners of the country (or internationally) to witness the very best of British theatre.

What is the greatest Ale that you have ever supped? 
The greatest ale I’ve probably ever supped is a pint of London Pride which I had after I’d moved into my first house that I bought with my wife after 14 years of renting together!

You starred in one of my all time favourite shows Nineteen Eighty Four. Well done. Did you know it was going to be a huge success?
We (the cast) had no idea of how successful 1984 would be. When we opened in Nottingham, the audience didn’t clap at the end of the show for about 10-15 secs. We couldn’t tell if they hated it or not. It wasn’t until we got the reviews in, that we had a sense of what the feelings towards the production were. The rest is history. However Rob Icke & Duncan McMillan always had a clear idea of what they were trying to achieve.

Is Boris Johnson a fictional character?
Do not get me started on Boris Johnson.

Do you have any theatrical superstitions or rituals?
I won’t say Macbeth. In fact I often get into routines during a run. I guess I’m very superstitious, when I go back to my dressing room etc.

And what else do you have coming up?
I’ve started auditioning for things but nothing that’s definite yet.

 

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Director Adam Penford talks about Watership Down, The Boys in The Band featuring Mark Gatiss and more

Adam Penworth

Ahead of directing Mark Gatiss in ‘The Boys in the Band’ at Park Theatre, Adam Penford is taking on Watership Down at The Watermill. The talented director talks about the value of regional theatre and reveals that he is always dropping egg cups.

Adam Penworth

Adam Penford

You’re in rehearsals currently for Watership Down. How’s it looking?

We’re nearing the end of rehearsals and I’m having the best time. It’s an epic narrative for such an intimate venue, but I have a generous and talented company of actors and creative team, and we’re working together to find inventive and fun ways to tell the story. And the Watermill Theatre is so idyllic. Rona Munro (James Plays, NTS) wrote this adaptation for the Lyric Hammersmith 10 years ago, but Richard Adams, who wrote the novel, lives down the road and all the places referred to in the book are nearby – so it feels like we’re bringing the story home.

You are due to direct The Boys in The Band featuring Mark Gatiss at Park Theatre later this year. Will it be any good?

It’s a fascinating play and well overdue a British revival as most younger theatregoers don’t know it. It was one of the first overtly gay plays and was a controversial smash hit when it premiered off-Broadway in 1968. The premise is simple; a group of gay friends gather for a birthday party and after a lot of booze things unravel. A surprise visit by the host’s old college roommate – a straight man with a secret – tips things over the edge. Think WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, but camper. It was far ahead of its time so it’s dated very little, and yet it also looks back and plays tribute to the classic American voices of Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Eugene O’Neill. It always divided the gay community as some felt it reinforced gay stereotypes, whereas others adored it for being simply honest, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out with a contemporary audience. It’s very witty, dramatic and entertaining – packed full of zingy one-liners.

What was the last show that you watched and enjoyed?
Showboat was terrific. It was exciting seeing Gina Beck and Rebecca Trehearn nailing those strong female roles. I’ve admired all the musicals Daniel Evans has directed and produced at Sheffield and can’t wait to see how he programmes both spaces at Chichester. It’s a pity the show didn’t find a London audience, but it’s a tough sell.

What is the best musical of all time?
Probably a Rodgers and Hammerstein, or a Sondheim, or GYPSY, or GUYS AND DOLLS. But everyone always says that. So one of my favourite shows is LEGALLY BLONDE. I directed a production a couple of years ago and there is not an ounce of fat on the bones of that show. Every lyric, musical phrase, and line of dialogue is driving the narrative and character development. All the tunes are hummable, the music perfectly captures the world of the story, and it’s genuinely funny and moving.

What was the last item of crockery you broke?

I always drop egg cups.

As well as working extensively at the National Theatre, what opportunities have you been afforded in the regions? [DEATHTRAP]

I directed a production of Deathtrap earlier this year at Salisbury Playhouse which we’re hoping to tour next year. I’d previously directed Stepping Out there and it’s a lovely venue with a loyal audience. Gareth Machin, (the Playhouse’s Artistic Director), has always been supportive, we met when he was working at National Theatre Studio and he gave me my first staff directing opportunity there. Growing up in the East Midlands, my first theatre experiences were all regional (Nottingham Playhouse, Derby Playhouse, Leicester Haymarket) so I feel very passionate about the value of local theatre and would like to do more.

What makes a good Director?

I don’t think there’s a single approach to directing. It’s such a personal thing and attempting to imitate another director’s method leads to confused work. My own approach is combining an instinct for the material with a lot of research, and this leads to a vision of how to best serve the play/story. I think being able to clearly articulate that vision, whilst remaining open to collaboration, has led to the work that I’d deem my most successful.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever been given and by whom?

When I’m worrying about whether I should take on a project or not, Nick Hytner always tells me to just do it. His advice is to do as much of your own work as possible in the early stages of your career because it’ll make you a better director, and not to worry about trying to forge a particular career path, or how your choices and the resulting productions may be judged by the industry or press. It’s very liberating.

Can you tell us something SCANDALOUS?
Well I could tell you many things, but I’m obviously not going to.

What’s your favourite emoji?
The classic smiley. Although I still type it out laboriously like a computer illiterate fool : )

BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR WATERSHIP DOWN

BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR THE BOYS IN THE BAND

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Playwright Brad Birch talks about dealing with rejection, Brexit, En Folkfiende, learning on the job and more.

Brad Birch

Have you read many Brad Birch interviews before? He’s good at interviews. The recipient of The Harold Pinter Commission 2016 has a chat with me about dealing with rejection, Brexit, En Folkefiende, learning on the job and more.

Brad Birch

Brad Birch

Hi Brad, what did you do yesterday?
Hello Carl. Yesterday I was in tech rehearsals for En Folkefiende. It’s a very technical show so everyone’s very busy; sound, lighting, video, stage management, everyone, I suppose, apart from me. My role in techs often seem to be as an extra eye and ear for the director (this show is directed by Andrew Whyment) and I also like to check in with the actors and crew and drink a lot of coffee. I’ve been in techs in the past where I’ve had to be more hands on, having a more active role in the room, but these instances tend to only come about if there’s text work still to be done. At this late stage in the process it’s obviously less ideal to still be working on the text. Now that’s not to say I’m 100% happy with the text, there’s some stuff that’s still up in the air, but this process is slightly unique in that the production is going up to Edinburgh in the summer too and we have time to rehearse and rewrite again in the coming month or so. I’m looking forward to rewriting in response to this run in Cardiff and the audience’s reaction to it.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in?
I think everyone has moments of feeling as though they don’t fit in and some have more moments than others. In a way school was where I felt I fit in the most, but I left at 15 while doing my GCSEs. School for me was a social thing and I’ve always learnt and thought better on my own. It has meant that life took a slightly circuitous route but I’ve my own reference points and process. For a long time I didn’t feel as though I fit in in theatre as I didn’t come to it through drama school or university. I developed through working with individual mentors rather than groups or institutions and it took a while to find my feet in the broader ecology.

What are your thoughts on Brexit?
I’m fearful of what the right wing will do to this country without certain safeguards provided by the EU. Just look at what they’re trying to do to the Human Rights Act, for example. There’s a left wing argument against TTIP and what have you, but can you imagine we’d end up with anything better under an isolated Conservative government? Just look at the food industry, for example, and the kinds of preservative crap that goes into food in the USA; it’s the EU that prevents that kind of stuff from going into our food. I worry about the general trend of isolationism and nationalism that’s currently festering in the right and left. I don’t buy the SNP, I don’t buy Plaid, I don’t buy a devolved north (George Osborne has a northern constituency so this idea that everyone in the north is crying out for a socialist utopia feels to me unlikely). I’ve never felt my identity particularly tethered to a nation, I don’t feel fundamentally more this side of the street rather than the other side of the street. I get more excited about the potential for international left wing answers to global capitalism rather than parochial left wing answers to global capitalism.

How has your writing developed over the past two years?
I think my writing has become more controlled and considered. I’m harder on myself. And I think that comes from going from production to production. You develop a muscle and a rigour and you learn what works and what doesn’t. As I say, I didn’t have a university drama society to practice on, so I’ve been learning on the job. There’s work I’ve not been proud of because of this but I can feel my writing maturing and I’m excited about the next couple of years of shows. I teach now as well and this certainly makes me a sharper writer.

You are the writer in residence at Undeb Theatre and on attachment at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Can you talk us through an average week in the life of Brad Birch?
An average week at the moment is a bit hectic, balancing a few projects at once. I enjoy writing but days whereby I’m having to look at more than one thing can sometimes be a struggle. I am quite strict on my routine and at the moment I have little time for anything else other than typing but usually I try to read about two books a week, go for a lot of walks and talk a lot in pubs. Meeting with people for an afternoon pint and a chat is one of the most joyous things I can think of doing. Zoe and I have also recently had a baby boy called Woody, so life is currently full of concentrated meaning.

How do you deal with rejection?
You just have to not care.

In March 2016, you were announced as the recipient of this year’s Harold Pinter Commission. Tell us something really exciting and top secret about the commission at the Royal Court that is ‘in development’.
This play feels like the culmination of a long relationship with one of the most important buildings of my life. I’ve been in and around the Court for about six years. However the play I’m writing is just like any other play currently on my slate – it’s about a question I can’t answer.

Let’s talk quickly about what put this current business in motion — how did you start out on your career path?
So as I mentioned above I left school early and for about three or four years I just bummed around doing terrible jobs and doing a lot of thinking and reading. When I started writing I wanted to write books. I didn’t grow up with theatre. I fell into it and a bit like a spider in a bath, now I’m in, I can’t get out. I’m fascinated by people and for me theatre is the best medium to explore what people do to each other.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Jeremy Herrin once told us in a group at the Court to always see yourself writing more than one play. And it’s that perspective that prevents you from throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the current draft of your current play. I’ve still got fragments and set pieces and lines that I wrote in 2009/2010 that will one day make it into something.

The Brink was quite good *well done* were you happy with it?
I was very happy with it, thank you. It was such a talented room. I want to make it a life maxim to only work with people who are better at their jobs than I am at my job.

Your next show is EN FOLKEFIENDE. Is it any good?
I really like it. The students we’re working with at Welsh College are, again, brilliant. I don’t know what it is about this school, there must be something in the water in Cardiff. In terms of the play, it’s been a delight to get under the bonnet of one of Ibsen’s most fascinating plays. People talk about the politics of An Enemy of the People but for me it’s a play about brothers.

Can you write a Haiku for our readers (plural)
I try not to write
In cafes or pubs or clubs
And yet here I am

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Andy Sheridan, Playwright interview: “Loyalty, hardwork, bloody mindedness – the three most important lessons I have learnt in my career as a writer.”

Playwright Andy Sheridan
Interview of Playwright Andy Sheridan

Andy Sheridan

After perfecting the art of theatre writing, playwright and actor Sheridan won The Bruntwood Prize in 2008 for WINTERLONG, which went on to be produced in the studio at the Manchester Royal Exchange in 2011. Sometimes he is on TV.
But what does he think of the Daily Mail? And,
who dared him to write his first play? I guess you could read this as a Q&A chat or as quite simply as a lengthy pub crawl transcribed.
If you are still reading this then do continue below and you will find out more.

Andy Sheridan. What’s happening and where you are today? 
I’m sat in my office trying to finish my next play that’s going on in at The National Theatre of Sweden in Stockholm next year. Prior to this I’ve been out to buy my 19-month-old daughter Betsy a pair of summer shoes. Rock-n-Roll.

What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made?
To pick one is hard because there’s been so many. A couple spring to mind immediately.

  • My younger brother had spent a day in the summer holidays making me a table out of scraps of wood   he’s foraged from a skip. When he gave it to me later that day I systematically smashed it to pieces with the hammer he’d used to make it. It was fucking cruel and I still hate myself for it.
  • Instead of saying my final goodbye to my granddad before he died I selfishly decided to compete in a running race. I didn’t win and I never saw my granddad again.I was a bit of a cunt as a teenager. Who isn’t.

What most drives you to be brilliant – fear of failure or thirst for success?
I’m the middle child of three brothers. They are both brilliantly spectacular. My older brother is a consultant cardiologist and my younger brother civil engineer. I’ve never really felt I’ve lived up to their brilliance and in truth neither have my parents. Even now I suppose I just want to please my family and now my daughter.

You won the Bruntwood Prize in 2008 with your play WINTERLONG. What are your recollections of that period of your life? 
I was out of work as an actor and the playwright and my closest friend, Robert Holman, dared me to write a play. I still don’t really know how I did it. I remember winning the award and speaking to my partner who was visiting her grandmother in Hong Kong. For some reason I remember hearing the chickens in the background of that telephone conversation.

What does the Daily Mail mean to you?
It means fuck all to me because it’s just terrible bollocks. My dad used get it delivered when we were growing up and he’d batter me if I did the quick crossword before him.

How many pints can you drink before you fall over?
Don’t know. Never done it. 5 pints is my limit and then I go home.
What are the three most important things you’ve learned in your career as a writer?
Loyalty. Hard work. Bloody-mindedness.
What word do people correctly use to describe you?
Calm.
Mainstream in Theatre: What is going on with it?
I don’t know what that means.
What is your favourite Fruit? 
Pineapple. Though I do like raspberries.
Anything you’d like to add? 
I can’t wait for Van Gaal to get fired. He’s turning my football team into a turgid embarrassment

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Mark Anderson talks about his role in The Toxic Avenger “It’s been great for me to step out of my comfort zone.”

Mark Anderson

 

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson is an  immensely talented actor and musician based out of London. His theatre credits include  The Book of Mormon – Original West End Cast (Prince of Wales Theatre), Once Upon A Mattress (Union Theatre), Legally Blonde (National tour), Love me tender (The Churchill Theatre Bromley) and more. Currently he is starring as Toxie in The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse.

During the course of what follows you will hear Mark talking about various things. Enjoy!

Hello Mark! How the devil are you?
I’m really good ta.

You’re currently starring in Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse. What’s that all about?
It’s a musical based a cult, 80s, B movie, horror film. It’s essentially your typical comic book superhero story; Nerdy guy Melvin Ferd, The Third is an aspiring earth scientist who gets dropped in a vat of toxic waste by some local thugs and evolves into The Toxic Avenger. The villain is the corrupt town Mayor who is importing toxic waste into Tromaville for large sums of cash. It’s written by Joe DiPietro who wrote I L ove You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Love Me Tender, which toured the UK last year, and David Bryan who is most famous for being in Bon Jovi. They also wrote Memphis together which was hugely successful in it’s West End run. Toxic Avenger is much smaller though, there are only five of us in the cast and three of those play multiple roles. The love interest is a blind librarian called Sarah and the Mayor also doubles as Melvin’s mother which culminates in her having a scene with herself. The other two guys literally play everyone else and quick change like there’s no tomorrow. I think what makes the piece is that it’s very aware of what it is. It self references and all of the fun and drama comes from whether or not people will make their changes and who they will come out as next. The material is SO strong and it’s just really good fun.

Mark Anderson as Toxie

Mark Anderson as Toxie

Pretty standard musical fare. You know the trendy people. Let’s call them tastemakers, the media etc. They don’t like to feel that something is too likely to be a hit; they play it cool. How anxious were you about taking on the lead role in the European Premier?
To be honest, I never considered that the response would be so fantastic. You hope but when you’re dealing with something new, you have no idea what the reaction will be like. When I got sent the script I just knew it was right up my street. Like I said, the songs are ace and when I read the script I was lol’ing every other line and I knew I wanted to do it. All you can ever hope to do is do the piece justice and to the best of your ability. I think that’s why we have something so special – there was never any pressure from anywhere but we all threw ourselves in so hard and all wanted to do well, for each other. It’s incredible to be acting with people and working for a creative team who inspire you so much, who you want to impress and work hard for and keep finding new things with every day. That’s why it works.
I never think of myself as the lead. There are only five actors in the entire thing and we all have as much to do as each other, yes, the story is about Toxie, but we’re all essential to creating the world we’re all living in, its more of an ensemble piece.
I was majorly anxious though. Ha! It was big deal for me to take on such a large role, I usually do the sidekick/geeky part and in my audition I told the director, Benji, that I was nervous about playing Toxie. Playing the nerd in the start comes more natural to me and I was worried about playing the character after he had transformed. Toxie is a 7 foot, big, green freak and has some serious songs to sing. This probably isn’t normal for a musical theatre performer but I don’t really like singing, it terrifies me. But, like anything, when you’re in context and wearing a load of prosthetics, covered in green makeup and are in character, telling a story the inhibitions seem to go away. It’s been great for me to step out of my comfort zone. When you’re used to playing certain roles you start to pigeon hole yourself and can doubt your abilities. But then that’s just part of being an actor I guess.

Toxic Avenger Team

Toxic Avenger Team with composer David Bryan

You’ve performed in some pretty big shows.(The Book of Mormon, Legally Blonde etc) Do you feel any pressure to look a certain way?
Ummm…yes, kind of. I gym a bit and always watch what I eat. This is a tricky one because it’s different for everyone. I’ve done some shows with some very physically fit people and when you’re sharing a dressing room with a group of boys who are all very in-shape, there is a certain pressure to keep up. Now, I’m quite happy knowing that I’m the best I can be and want to be. For me, the jobs I’m up for don’t require me to have a 48 inch chest but I think when you do what we do, your body is your toolkit or your office computer. You need to look after yourself because what we’re asked to do sometimes as actors is nuts and even a little cold can take you out for weeks.

What’s your favourite musical note and why?
Ha! My favourite musical note? Any one that comes out of Cynthia Erivo’s mouth probably.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth?
An anchovy. Dis-gus-ting! Why people eat those things is beyond me. I’m heaving.

Yuck! Who or what was your biggest influence as a performer?
Good question. I’ve never been so in awe of someone than Gavin Creel. I loved him before I met him and when we worked together I was so pleased he was nice. Ha! When we did Mormon, he was such genius onstage but that wasn’t even half of it. He was the beating heart of the building we all worked in. He included everyone and was a leading man in every sense of the word in every aspect of the job. We became great friends, he is so generous and kind and makes you feel so special. He did an ‘In Conversation With’ type thing one Sunday at the Charing Cross theatre with Ed Seckerson and he asked me to sing one of his original songs with him doing backing vocals and playing piano. I was so scared. He coached me and gave me confidence and some amazing advice I still practise now. He’s kind of incredible.

What’s your favourite dinosaur?
Is this because you know I’m obsessed with dinosaurs? They’re all so awesome. My twitter says that I’m a Triceratops so I’ll go with that. Though I always wanted to be able to fly when I was little so maybe a Pterodactyl. No, a Triceratops, final answer.

How good out of 10 was GYPSY?
10. I loved it. I love everything. I even saw the Light Princess five times (mainly because I love Tori Amos, but still).

Christ alive. Do you have anything exciting planned for the second half of 2016?
Not yet. Back to the drawing board. Wanna give me job?

If you were to take me out in West London for the evening where would we go? (Not as a date. It was never described as a date)
West London is very specific, ha! We’d go to the Southbank, it’s my absolute favourite place in London, especially when it’s sunny. From the London Eye right down to Tower Bridge. Then, we’d obviously go to the theatre.

Thanks Mark!
Thank YOU!