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Playwright Andrew Maddock, Interview: “I do get pissed off with ticket prices.”

Forget everything you thought you knew about Andrew Maddock (unless you thought his plays were quite good): his new play Olympiladsis an absolute belter. Andrew Maddock is one of The Independent‘s Playwrights to Dominate 2017. What does that even mean, I ask. “I knew exactly what that was – it was nice for my mum to look at,” he smiles. “For people outside the theatre bubble, I guess it legitimises me.”

We talk about ‘mainstream’ coverage for work and he talks about critics with a candour that is rare in this industry. “I love Fleabag –  I saw it twice – I don’t understand why the Guardian had to review it 6 times,” he says. “Publications don’t have the resources to send people to Pub theatres but they can send another critic to the same show.”

Maddock continues, “I would like them to maybe attend one of my plays in the future, and it’s not really very true because as you said, they are sent on assignment and I’m sure the reason for re-attending a show like that is for clicks. I really respect the work of a critic and I’m sure it’s not easy.”

Director Niall Phillips and Maddock formed the production company Lonesome Schoolboy Productions. Their latest show that has just opened at Theatre N16 explores a multifaceted relationship between two brothers and their estranged sister, living their lives under the shadow of austerity and the hope for a lasting London legacy during the 2012 Olympic Games. The show was selected to be part of Scott Ellis’ first season as Artistic Director of Theatre N16. Put it alongside sell-out show ‘He(art)’ earlier this year and what we’re all witnessing here, people, is Maddock transitioning into a proper actual excellent writer.

Rhys-Yates-Simeon-Nebiu-Samuel-Darren-300x246

Rhys-Yates-Simeon-Nebiu-Samuel-Darren- Olympilads

Beyond Stratford’s investment units and ‘innovation centres’, affordable housing is in little supply on the former London 2012 site. The legacy team have their work cut out to re-claim the original vision. It was important for Maddock to take this subject matter head on. “It’s a family drama set during 2012 Olympics… 5 years on. It is about the legacy that was promised”, he says. “The properties that were built are still unobtainable. I was born and raised in Wembley and I’ll probably have to move out of the area if I ever want to buy a house. Olympilads is about a family without that security.”

Fairer ticket prices and affordability is high on his agenda. He says: “I do get pissed off with ticket prices. I know that theatre isn’t cheap to make. But essentially where it gets me is when it’s a cash cow and they are going to sell out the run. Then they could absolutely bring prices down. In football, they have a grassroots model where the bigger Football clubs send the money back down and perhaps theatre could follow that model.”

Is he worried about opening a Olympilads when all the critical folk are at Edinburgh Fringe? “We’re in a tough space with the show opening in August because everything and everyone is up in Edinburgh,” he pauses, “However, we’re also in a great place because there is nothing else on during that time that is as good as our show.”

Olympilads is on at Theatre N16 8th – 26th August (Tues – Sat, No Matinee)

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Five key shows opening in London in the next four months 

Here are five important shows opening in London between now and the middle of November. (Please note that I am open to doing regional shows and Fringe shows but thought it would be fun to start with the ‘big ones’ – just humour me for the time being)

Jesus Christ Superstar (11 August)

Tyrone Huntley and Declan Bennett both have a natural luminescence so intense that it would shine bright in a Vantablack theatre dungeon. This revival is perfectly at home at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical could raise the Titanic from the sea bed. Enjoy!

Five Guys Named Moe (29 August)

How do you think this will do?

It doesn’t exactly feel as if the world of theatre is ‘battening down the hatches’ in anticipation of an unstoppable Clarke Peters musical tsunami. At the same time: you can’t go wrong with a bit of Clarke Peters. (Unless you happen to be the person who designed the poster, who ‘went wrong’ on an epic scale.) Anyway, the cast are extremely talented and it’s on at this new pop-up theatre in Marble Arch. So, ‘Let the Good Times Roll’, etc.

Footloose (12 September)

At this point we are so far into ‘will this do’ territory that you might as well watch the 1987 film.  It’s always difficult to say that a movie musical is entirely pointless, especially when there are audiences enduring it on tour around the country. However, this show, literally a frame-by-frame recreation of the movie, does make you wonder

The Toxic Avenger – (28 September) 

This show is a JOY. Joe DiPietro and David Bryan’s cult rock musical lands at the Arts Theatre following a storming month-long run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

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

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – (6 November)

This show is a really exciting thing, isn’t it? The new musical by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae premiered at Sheffield Crucible last year and transfers to the Apollo Theatre. John McCrea is brilliant, and ‘Everybody’s Talking’ is a super-smart musical. If you enjoy it, buy the concept album.  

N.B. There are two plays (‘Ink’ and ‘Labour of Love’) by up-and-coming scribe James Graham opening this Autumn in St Martin’s Lane, apparently. 

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Sign up to win a copy of CURTAIN CALL: A YEAR BACKSTAGE IN LONDON THEATRE

In this beautiful and groundbreaking book the reader is invited to go backstage with photographer Matt Humphrey and actor John Schwab as they present a side to London theatre that’s never before been portrayed. It is – quite frankly – truly remarkable to get a peek behind the scenes at some of our greatest performers doing their thing at our most treasured venues.

Here’s your chance to win a copy of this exquisite book. Sign up in the form below to take part in our lucky draw to choose the winner. Winner announcement on 25 January 2017

hpbook

“It’s genuinely the most captivating photography of theatre as an art form I have even seen.” – Huffington Post, UK.

“Any theatre lover, anybody that goes to the theatre would love to have this book.” – David Suchet CBE, Actor

“These photographs capture the life of a show much more than pictures of the show itself.” Juliet Stevenson, Actress

“You really get a sense of theatre in all its beauty, glamour – but all its hard work.” Noma Dumezweni, Actress

Containing exclusive photography of Nicole Kidman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Imelda Staunton, Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mark Strong and many more stars of the West End stage. There are numerous exclusive features of shows including interviews, such as Billy Elliot the MusicalHamletCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryGypsyA View From The Bridge and other award-winning productions.

With unparalleled access throughout the year, take a journey behind the scenes via Humphrey’s striking reportage-style imagery and Schwab’s revealing, insightful interviews. A visually stunning celebration of almost sixty productions, from innovative new works to time-tested family favourites, Curtain Call’s inaugural book presents a vivid record of an extraordinary year in London theatre.

Guest Blog – Beth Iredale’s ‘Dedication’ sketch review

Sketch Review - Dedication

Beth Iredale took part in the original Young Critics project at Theatre Royal Winchester in 2015. Her drawings are a very impressive critical response in the world of online noise.

We went to watch  ‘Dedication directed by Sam Hodges earlier this week at The Nuffield in Southampton.

To say Beth is a promising critical voice would be a gross understatement. Okay great.

You can check out an article she wrote (Exeunt) as well as her sketch reviews here  >> Edinburgh Festival Sketchbook .

Talking about the illustrations done for Dedication, Beth says: “These drawings are a visual expression of the play. This show is built around such passionate design, it seems only right to showcase it. Alex Lowde is on top form. The  illustrations are captioned with quotes from the show. “I’d rather use them to allude to the content instead of describing it” she says.

Sketch review by Beth Iredale of the play  Dedication at Nuffield Theatre in the gallery below:

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SKETCH REVIEW – DEDICATION

You can follow Beth Iredale at:
Twitter @_BethLawless
Instagram _Bethlawless

You can also read my Sam Hodges interview here. Well done everyone.

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Sam Hodges: “New work doesn’t always succeed – but it is critical as it’s the way that theatre has to respond in a fresh way to what is happening today.”

Samuel Hodges

Sam Hodges founded HighTide Festival Theatre in 2006. Fast forward to 2014 Sam Hodges took over as the artistic and executive director of the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton.

In 2016, Nuffield is at an exciting time of transition. Under the leadership of Sam Hodges it has been reinvigorated as a producing theatre company for Southampton and last year won The Stage award for Best Regional Theatre. He himself has just been nominated Best Director at UK Theatre Awards.

Later this year Nuffield will open a second venue in Studio 144 – Southampton’s new £25M city centre arts venue. Champagne all round!

Dedication is a new play that tells the story of Shakespeare and the 3rd Earl of Southampton. What exactly did happen between them? A powder keg of sex, power and politics in Elizabethan England.

On the eve of press night he discusses life lessons, Southampton as a cultural hub and bringing Shakespeare magic to the stage…

Samuel Hodges

Sam Hodges

Hello Sam, first things first: can you tell us all about Studio 144
Studio 144 will be a stunning new venue at the heart of Southampton’s thriving cultural quarter. It will be our new home and  will include a flexible 447 seat main house theatre, a 135 seat studio, screening facilities, rehearsal and workshop spaces, a café bar and bistro.
This new venue will transform Nuffield’s ability to show new and exciting high quality professional work from local, national and international artists, built on the foundations of our commitment to extensive and accessible artist development and community engagement. It will also allow us to develop our programme to include dance, film and music.  As you can imagine this is a very exciting time for us, but also a great challenge.
We’re going to be running two venues, the new city centre venue at Studio 144 and our existing theatre on the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus so we are working hard to make sure that our programme can offer something for everyone. We want our audiences to feel at home in both our buildings and we have big ambitions as to how we want to achieve that.

Dedication

Dedication. Click on the image to book your tickets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What can audiences expect from DEDICATION
A political thriller about what might have been. Sword fights, Elizabethan dancing, and a complete transformation of the auditorium into a space as you’ve never seen it before. We’re ‘casting’ the audience as the jury in a trial in which Shakespeare is being interrogated about his links to Southampton. It’s part love story, part adventure, part thriller.

Do you prefer the high level strategy director stuff or hands on stripped to the waist rehearsal room directing stuff? 
I love design – and am very much aesthetic led so I love those conversations about how the overall vision will look. But as a former actor, I do enjoy the process of developing the piece in the room as well – there’s nothing that beats an actor’s instincts and viewpoint as you shape a new play.

DEDICATION is an ambitious project. What have been the biggest challenges getting this off the ground? 
Probably the transformation of the auditorium and scale and intricacy of the set. There are literally loads of moving parts – and combined with the challenge of developing a new play, which relies entirely on an audience to truly test, we’ve had our hands full.

It would appear that audiences in Southampton are spoilt for choice for a good night out (The Mayflower, Nuffield, Stage Door) is this the case?
Completely the case although I think happily each venue offers quite a different flavour to Southampton. The Mayflower is obviously synonymous with big touring musicals, which it does very well, and it has started to do a bit of dance more recently. The Stage Door taps into that late-night cabaret feel – I’m a particular fan of their adult pantomime at Christmas! And then our focus is on drama and comedy – so something for everyone.

I noted with interest that you recently celebrated being Director at The Nuffield for three years. How would you describe your tenure? 
Extremely busy but very satisfying. I feel like we’ve achieved what we set out to do in this time which was to make Nuffield one of the national players, in terms of producing work. We have just announced our second London transfer in as many years, a UK national  commercial tour and we’ve been Regional Theatre of the Year,  – all big steps for the theatre. One of the most fulfilling parts of the job has been building a brilliant team around me – which makes the day-to-day a real pleasure. And having got to this point, the next three years are obviously going to be very focused on the new venue, which we feel ready for.

What is your favourite theatre in London? 
The Young Vic Theatre. It’s my kind of theatre. It mixes a strong European aesthetic with great British storytelling – a blend of what makes both traditions so unique. Yerma was one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned in the past 12 months?
To make sure I do enough living outside of work to ensure that my work has something to be inspired by.

Is there anything that you’d like to add? 
The reason I commissioned this play is that I believe passionately in creating new work that aims to support Southampton in ‘telling its own story’. New work doesn’t always succeed – but it is critical as it’s the way that theatre has to respond in a fresh way to what is happening today. I’m not interested in just mounting a period historical piece – it’s only worth looking back to see what it says about today. I hope that Dedication can be Southampton’s contribution, not only to Shakespeare400, but to the wider catalogue of Shakespearean work. On a larger scale, though, I hope it also asks questions about the way that we mould history to our shape – that we think of it as a fixed point, whereas in fact it is only what is written down that lasts.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUT TICKETS FOR DEDICATION

Checkout the production images of Dedication

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Sunny afternoon extends to October 2016

Sunny Afternoon

Tickets on sale now for Olivier Award-winning show’s extra dates

Show will celebrate two years in the West End in October

Fifty tickets at £19.66 for every show in July, celebrating fifty years since ‘Sunny Afternoon’ topped the charts and England won the World Cup

Due to public demand, the multi-Olivier award-winning hit British musical SUNNY AFTERNOON has announced another extension to its West End run, until 29 October 2016. The extension will take the show’s West End run past the two year mark.
This summer will also see the 50th anniversary of the release of The Kinks’ hit single Sunny Afternoon, which was released on 3 June 1966 and reached Number One on 7 July 1966 – just as England were winning the football World Cup.
To mark this anniversary, 50 top price tickets for every performance in July will be on sale for £19.66.

Sunny Afternoon

Danny Hoare, Tom Whitelock, Damien Walsh abd Oliver Hoare in Sunny Afternoon

CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS TO THE SHOW

The critically-acclaimed new musical tells the story of the early life of Ray Davies and the rise to stardom of The Kinks. It has established itself as a firm favourite with audiences and critics alike since it opened at the Harold Pinter Theatre in October 2014, and it begins a UK tour at the Opera House, Manchester, on 19 August 2016.
Ray Davies said: “I am delighted that Sunny Afternoon is extending in the West End and starting the national tour, playing many of the same venues The Kinks played on the road. Every time I visit the West End show I see people discovering it for the first time with the performances going from strength to strength.”
Danny Horn (Doctor Who; The Dead Dogs) plays Ray Davies, with Oliver Hoare (Antony and Cleopatra, Chichester) as Dave Davies, Tom Whitelock (Times Square Angel, Union) as bassist Pete Quaife and Damien Walsh (Dreamboats and Petticoats) as drummer Mick Avory. At certain performances, the role of Ray Davies will be played by Ryan O’Donnell (Romeo and Juliet, RSC; Quadrophenia).
Full cast: Jason Baughan, Niamh Bracken, Christopher Brandon, Harriet Bunton, Alice Cardy, Oliver Hoare, Danny Horn, Gillian Kirkpatrick, Megan Leigh Mason, Jay Marsh, Ryan O’Donnell, Stephen Pallister, Charlie Tighe, Gabriel Vick, Damien Walsh and Tom Whitelock. Understudies: Alice Cardy, Lia Given, Lloyd Gorman, Vicki Manser, Kay Milbourne, Nick Sayce, Robert Took, Alex Tosh, Robbie White.
Sunny Afternoon was the best performing show at the 2015 Olivier Awards, winning four awards.  The production won Best New Musical, Ray Davies won for Outstanding Achievement in Music, John Dagleish won Best Actor in a Musical and George Maguire won Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.
Fifty years ago this year, The Kinks were sitting at Number One in the UK charts with their single ‘Sunny Afternoon’. The band’s popularity has not faded since the 1960s, with crowds of all ages filling the Harold Pinter Theatre night after night.
Featuring some of The Kinks’ best-loved songs, including You Really Got Me, Waterloo Sunset and Lola, Sunny Afternoon shows the music of The Kinks is still as popular as ever, more than 50 years since the band’s rise to fame.
Following a sold-out run at Hampstead Theatre, this world premiere production, with music and lyrics by Ray Davies, new book by Joe Penhall, original story by Ray Davies, direction by Edward Hall, design by Miriam Buether and choreography by Adam Cooper, opened at the Harold Pinter theatre on 28 October 2014. Lighting is by Rick Fisher, sound by Matt McKenzie and the Musical Supervisor and Musical Director is Elliott Ware.
The official cast recording album, produced by Ray Davies at his Konk studios, is released on BMG Chrysalis and is available to buy at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sunny-Afternoon-The-Kinks/dp/B00NH8O7LU.
Sonia Friedman Productions commissioned Joe Penhall in 2011 to write the book based on Ray Davies’s original story. The company developed the production over the next four years, assembling the creative team and cast that presented Sunny Afternoon in 2014 at Hampstead Theatre under the direction of Edward Hall, and now at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
Ray Davies is an influential and prolific rock musician and was co-founder and lead singer and songwriter for rock band The Kinks, and later a solo artist. He has an outstanding catalogue of hits from the earliest 1960s to the present day with estimated record sales in excess of 50 million. He has also acted, directed and produced shows for theatre and television.
Joe Penhall is an award winning playwright and screenwriter. Plays include Some Voices (Royal Court), Blue/Orange (National Theatre and West End), winner of Best New Play at the Evening Standard Awards, Olivier Awards and at the Critics Circle, and Dumb Show, Haunted Child and Birthday (all Royal Court). Screenplays include Enduring Love and The Road.
As Artistic Director of Hampstead Theatre, Edward Hall’s productions include Wonderland, Sunny Afternoon, Raving, Chariots of Fire, No Naughty Bits, Loyalty and Enlightenment. As Artistic Director of Propeller, his work has toured worldwide, played the West End and Broadway and has won numerous awards both in the UK and overseas. Other theatre work includes A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (National Theatre), Edmond with Kenneth Branagh (National Theatre), Macbeth with Sean Bean (Albery), The Constant Wife (Apollo), Julius Caesar (RSC), Henry V (RSC) and The Deep Blue Sea (Vaudeville). Television work includes Downton Abbey, Spooks and Kingdom.  Edward is an Associate of the National Theatre and the Old Vic.

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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!

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Mark Ravenhill, Playwright: “There is really only one rule to learn before writing a play”.

Mark Ravenhill
Mark Ravenhill

Mark Ravenhill

Mark Ravenhill is a playwright. 20 years later ‘Shopping and Fucking‘ still looks like it’s from the future and Mark continues to look ahead. 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.
Despite not really doing interviews he agreed to a chat. Here’s what happened.

Hi Mark Ravenhill. If you were to draw a graph of the last ten years, how would it look?
Some leaps of imagination needed here.  First, that I could draw a graph. Which I can’t.  I’ve never been able to stick to the squares on graph paper. And second, that I have the kind of mind that imagines shapes that fit on graph paper.  Which I don’t have either.  So my graph of the last ten years would me trying to think in a way which I can’t, using a medium that I’m not suited to.  In other words, my graph of the last ten years would be one of messy failure. That is not a metaphor. Or a cry for help.

A view from Islington north

A view from Islington north

 

What can you tell us about A View From Islington North the ‘evening of political satire’ you are contributing to with Out of Joint? ‘A View From Islington North’ is a celebration of Max Stafford-Clark’s relationships with playwrights.  All the playwrights who’ve written the pieces have had work directed by Max over decades. He first directed work by Caryl Churchill and David Hare in the 1970s.  I’m one of the johnny-come-latelies, having only first worked with him twenty years ago.  Max is a brilliant, infuriating, insightful and relentless director

What’s your favourite emoji?
The winky one

Shopping and Fucking

Shopping and Fucking

Shopping and Fucking is often described as a period piece isn’t it.
I don’t know how other people describe it (if it all) but yes I would describe it as period piece. I wanted to write what it felt like to be in your twenties in that moment in time.  It doesn’t have any references to contemporary events outside the play but it’s whole mood and style belongs to the late 1990s. It’s a play that is sorted for Es and whizz.

With writers it feels like there’s a constant expectation, and that they need to keep proving themselves, throughout their career. Which perhaps isn’t quite the same for a director where you can just keep going until you fall over. Is that a fair analysis?
Do you think so?  I think directors suffer from constant expectation and many fall out of favour and fashion.  But it’s true that there is a high burn out with playwrights.  Some have one brilliant debut at somewhere like the Royal Court upstairs and then never write again. Plenty write three or four plays and then find they have no more plays to write.  Very few write plays over a lifetime. I’m fifty this year. To ensure that I too ‘can just keep going until you fall over’ I’ve mapped out a cycle of forty full length plays.  I’m committed to writing one a year, finishing each one on my birthday June 7th.  So that will take me until I’m 90, when I will fall over and die as I will have advanced osteoporosis.
If you were to write a playwriting rulebook, what would Rule One be?
There is really only one rule to learn before writing a play.  Never under any circumstances use the line ‘the door was open so I let myself in’. Everything else is allowed.
Let’s imagine we’re putting theatre as an art form in a capsule to sending it into space, which one play do you put forward?
One play to represent the whole of world theatre?  Wouldn’t it need to be a DVD of a performance? (the question is in danger of conflating a ‘play’ with ‘theatre’).  But let’s say it’s a play text.  I think it would have to be one of the Greeks. That’s drama in its purest and arguably most powerful form.  I would pick Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’, although it could just as well be Euripides ‘Medea’ or Aeschylus “Oresteia’.  How about I write a new English version and we ping that into space alongside the Ancient Greek text?
Do you endlessly analyse your creative decisions or are you impulsive?
I write first drafts almost entirely on impulse and then use analysis (often aided by the director and sometimes the actors) to work through further drafts.

Do you pay attention to critics?
I’ll listen to anyone who can help me understand what I’m doing and how I might get better at it.
To the people who are still reading, do you have a final message?
The door is still open. Let yourself out. Thank you.

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John Schwab and Matt Humphrey, “It’s not often that you take time to think about the process of the production.”

 

Royal Court Theatre, Curtain Call, photo by Matt Humphrey

Linda, Royal Court Theatre. © Matt Humphrey – Curtain Call (2016).

Curtain Call: A Year Backstage in London Theatre is the first in a series of photography books by photographer Matt Humphrey and actor/director John Schwab featuring an extraordinary collection of fly-on-the-wall backstage photography from London theatre productions in 2015/16. Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the Olivier Awards, in addition to exclusive backstage photography, Curtain Call also includes a foreword by renowned actor David Suchet and extended interviews with Chief Executive of The Old Vic Sally Greene, Artistic Director of the Royal Court Vicky Featherstone, casting director Jessica Ronane and actress Kate Fleetwood. The book is now exclusively available to buy from www.curtaincallonline.com

Tell us more about writing ‘Curtain Call’. Where did it come from?
John: Curtain Call was something I had a spark of an idea for when I was showing my sons some old programmes that I had from productions earlier in my career.  They asked if I had any real pictures from productions that I could show them, which I didn’t.  I realised that I also didn’t have any historical document other than the production photographs in those programmes as a testament to my career.  I thought this is something that needed to be addressed.  Theatre is such a visual medium, and there was nothing out there that could be seen once a production had closed.  I also wanted to make a website to service the same need and fill the same gap.  I approached photographer Matt Humphrey with the idea, and thankfully he was 100% up for doing it. It was serendipity that Matt had just finished documenting a year at The Hackney Empire. We started Curtain Call together and we haven’t looked back since.

Is this book for anybody or specifically a theatre audience?
John: I believe that this book is not only for a theatre audience, but also photography enthusiasts as well as anyone who is interested in what it takes to put any project together, be it a play, opera, film, radio show poetry event…you name it.  It envelops all corners of the art world. I think that anyone who enjoys aesthetically pleasing art would admire and get so much out of this book.

Gypsy, Savoy Theatre, photo by Matt Humphrey

Gypsy, Savoy Theatre

Gypsy, Savoy Theatre. © Matt Humphrey – Curtain Call (2016). (2)

How much do you think the general public care about backstage workers?
John: This is why I thought Curtain Call would be such a good idea.  It’s not often that you take time to think about the process of the production.  When we had our visit to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, the company manager (Wyn Williams) told us that it takes over 150 people to make that show happen every day. 150!  Now an audience member is only going to see 25 or so people on stage and taking their bow.  I wanted to shed light on what it was like backstage – showing that there is more than just the performers on stage that is making the show tick.  I think that with Matt’s photography people are going to have a much better idea of the hard work, passion and dedication which runs through a company to make it the best production possible.  There is a fascination with what goes on backstage in any arena, and we wanted to shed light on the hard work carried out by all the professionals involved in a production

What is your favourite backstage area in the West End? 
John: There are quite a few.  The “hang out” area in ‘Billy Elliot’ was fun.  I do like a Green Room and there are some spectacular ones in the West End – and not for the glamour, but for the space.  The Vaudeville Theatre has a huge Green Room where everyone involved in the production hang out.  It’s such good fun being in there.  The Dressing Rooms 1 & 2 at Theatre Royal Haymarket are absolutely stunning, and something to behold.  But my favourite place of any backstage area is in the wings.  Some theatres have massive wings like Theatre Royal Drury Lane and some non-existent like The Criterion. They are all so unique, which makes them extremely exciting.

Curtain Call contains exclusive photographs, interviews and stories not available anywhere else. What sort of things can a casual reader expect to find?
John: The casual reader would expect to find exactly that.  Exclusive access to the best of London theatre and get an insight into what it takes to make a show run.  The reader will be allowed backstage, the holiest of holies of the theatre, a privilege that most theatre fans rarely get a glimpse of.  The casual reader will also recognise many of the faces and names in the book and will hopefully get a different perspective of that artist.

The 39 steps, Criterion Theatre, photo by Matt Humphrey

The 39 Steps, Criterion Theatre. © Matt Humphrey – Curtain Call (2016). (1)

Bearing in mind that obviously all photographers folk say “well I just do what I do” and so on, do you keep an eye on the movements of others you perceive to be your competitors?
Matt: Naturally I am interested in what other photographers are doing, and I would actually be very interested to collaborate with them – potentially through Curtain Call. I don’t really see other theatre photographers as competitors – we all have a distinct way of shooting and do different things. I have been fortunate to combine my experience of working backstage with my reportage and portraiture photography, which I think is quite unique, and people like that.

Thanks, lads! 

X, Royal Court, London.

X” is not what it appears.

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X” is set on a small research base on Pluto. Pluto’s distance from the Sun is 3.67 billion miles. Much like the planet itself, “X” relies on what you bring to it. It is both engrossing and alienating.

X” is not what it seems.

Written by Demi-God Alistair McDowall and directed by Vicky Featherstone with customary assurance, this production is incoherent, but looks good and is mostly well acted. Sure “X” is ambitious. Even startling. But too many plot points are left to the audience’s imagination without absolutely any explanation whatsoever.

Superb as the visuals are, I wish that Featherstone’s production paid more attention to McDowall’s language. Not much is made visually apprehensible.

I liked the huge dead bird on stage and the bird that was flown in – wonderful
opportunities for design and stage management. I didn’t enjoy quite so much
all that mum stuff at the end and the last moment when someone said the tree
was her mother(!).

Science fiction never announces its subtext this narcissistically. Still, it’s a smart response to the excesses of the sci-fi genre. Without wishing to baffle you, people are doing this shit because everything is fucked. Theatre needs to be instrumental in un-fucking everything.

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It seemed like a 6/10 event – slightly above average and, for that reason, an average McDowall play.

McDowall’s got talent but at the moment no very coherent way of presenting his ideas. We shall see how he moves forward.

At the Royal Court, London, until 7 May. Buy tickets for X from www.royalcourt.com