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A catch up with Cat from The Lieutenant of Inishmore: ‘It could have really gone tits up.’

Due to popular demand I caught up with Cat in between rehearsals for The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

The revival of Martin McDonagh’s play opens in the West End next month. It stars Poldark’s Aidan Turner and is directed by Michael Grandage.

Originally performed by the RSC in 2001, McDonagh’s black comedy is set in Ireland in the early 1990s, and satirises nationalism and terrorism in the modern day

Here is what happened.

Hello again. How are you?

I’m doing well. This weather is quite tedious; I find a quiet place in between rehearsals to cool – hot on the top, cold at the bottom, you know how it is.

Let’s not discuss our private lives. How are the rehearsals for The Lieutenant of Inishhmore going?

It is going very well. I have to confess I was pretty bruised that I did not feature in any of the rehearsal shots. I mean I would have liked some for my portfolio but the PR is wary of me, she’s threatened, she’s trying to ruin my moment. A bit petty in my opinion but what can you do.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Noel Coward Theatre

The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Noel Coward Theatre

The last time we spoke you mentioned that you thought that your co-star Aidan Turner may have allergies. Turner recently confessed that he is, in fact, allergic to cats. How has this impacted your working relationship?

It could have really gone tits up… Luckily, it has been fine. I adore Aidan, he spills over with emotion, continually taking the company in unexpected directions. His accent is exuberant and it helps that he is pretty buff and it has been a joy to take him to the theatre as my guest.

Interesting. I know that you are close to Nick Hytner; have you been to The Bridge?

I saw Nightfall recently; the whole thing seemed like a lot of effort for not much reward. It wasn’t my cup of tea, to be honest. I think the two Nicks are trying to find their War Horse or Curious Incident; I’m not sure anything else in the current programme really fits the bill. I have a feeling that in a few years we’ll probably look back on the first ten years as the Nicks finding their feet, and it’ll be the second decade that really make the most sense. If it isn’t a Pret a Manger by then.

Have you seen Orlando Bloom in in ‘Killer Joe’?

I know Katy Perry very well so we attended the dress rehearsal together. I am usually wary of star vehicles and stunt casting. Mind you, I think it can be a good thing for theatre because it so often brings new audiences through the door who may have never been to that theatre before. Sometimes, though, all I crave to see is a really good actor. But I thought that Bloom was quite good, so critics are invited to sit the fuck down.

What most drives you to be brilliant – fear of failure or thirst for success?

I try not to take this industry too seriously. I constantly want to outdo the last thing I’ve done.

With Harvey Weinstein being arrested and the #MeToo movement finally having its Hurricane Katrina moment. How widespread is abuse and bullying in theatre?

The thing is, most of the people in power who work in this industry are total bell-ends. I am currently working on an initiative: #MiaowToo – It is important that cats are afforded the same watershed moment to expose theatre-land thugs; I was at an audition recently. I was picked up, stroked and dropped on the *concrete* floor without consent. Anyway, it is mostly men in power abusing that power, habitually and with the belief that they will never be revealed. This careless grooming has to stop.

Do you lead or follow?

I definitely lead.

Is it hard work doing all that leading? It must be a lot easier to just sit around copying people.

No, it’s not hard work, it’s part of who I am. I love to strive to do things differently. That’s part of why I love what I do.

Are you in this for the long run?

I’ve just done an interview with The Guardian with a ‘fresh new voice’ that has replaced Lyn Gardner. Don’t get me started… I’m still furious about it. Anyway, ‘How long do you think you’ll do it?” asked the fresh new voice; I can’t remember her name, I think they used to be a stand-up comic. “A year?” Maybe I’ll stretch it to two, I purred.

Finally, is there anything that you’d like to add?

I’d like to say that The UK’s theatre exports are pretty much restricted to Sonia Friedman, James Graham, Michael Grandage and Caryl Churchill. I am currently looking at a KickStarter to supply emergency subsidies to any theatre company developing half-decent UK theatre talent. Also, please come and see The Lieutenant of Inishmore; it boasts an outstanding cast. It is superbly cast, written and acted with ruthless and icy force. There are no weak links. Martin McDonagh squeezes every gorgeous horrible drop out of the violence. Cheers!

The Lieutenant of Inishmore runs at the Noel Coward Theatre 23 June – 8 September 2018

Read the first interview with Cat from ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ HERE

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Lyn Gardner & The Guardian: the end of an era?

Lyn Gardner
Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner Photo credit – Pamela Raith

Like a phantom itch from an amputated limb, the Guardian have decided to call time on critic and journalist Lyn Gardner writing about theatre. It is one of the stupidest things it’s ever done.

The writing has been on the wall for some time. Last year, the idiots who run the Guardian cut her weekly theatre blog,  as a result of cost-cutting measures; saving them £13,500.00 annually. She was then appointed associate editor at The Stage, following the cancellation of her theatre blog contract.

The Guardian stated today, “We have decided to look to add some new voices to our arts coverage. Our commitment to coverage of the theatre remains absolute.” Lyn’s contract, which ends on June 1, comprised of 28,000 words of features & up to 130 reviews a year. Removing Gardner’s voice is not absolute, or progressive or smart. It’s none of that. It’s none of anything. It’s just loads of nothing. It is the short-sighted sound of the end of an era.

Who are these new voices? It may not seem like it, but it’s actually a comparatively small selection of critics who keep arts coverage going. None of them are up to the challenge of replacing Lyn.

Gardner is one of the few arts journalists who don’t subscribe to navel-gazing or hysterical right-on agendas. Her dedication to children’s theatre, new work and regional theatre is unrivalled. Last year she was presented with a Total Theatre Award as a result of significant contribution for her journalism work on the fringe. (I’m not even going to go into the devastating loss of her Edinburgh Festival Fringe coverage. I’ll literally lose control.) She was also awarded a UK Theatre Award for her outstanding contribution to British Theatre.

To most people theatre criticism is now a joke. I don’t think it’s very funny. In such hopeless circumstances, the best we can do is cancel our subscription to the Guardian and/or email the editor Katherine Viner: [email protected] our despair. While you are at it subscribe to The Stage and pay for your journalism.

It feels like theatre is finally facing up to its shameful diversity problem, though, when it comes to who is writing about theatre and in spite of the economic woes of the mainstream media. Critics of Colour was recently launched for people of colour who write about theatre and to support the development of critics from BME backgrounds.

Anyway, as long as there is theatre and culture there will be critics responding. But the responsibility cannot fall solely to bloggers plugging this particular void. Blogging is not good for your mental health. I’ve run a theatre website for about two years and if I am totally honest, it might have prompted me to have a quiet cry once or twice. Keeping on top of it all is an almost impossible task and it is just not sustainable.

I guarantee you, though, no matter how bleak this is for the arts community, Lyn will be back. Gardner has a new website http://www.lyngardner.com and will continue her work at The Stage, no doubt in a wider capacity. Bring it on. 

Lyn Gardner, Me & Mark Shenton at Theatre Craft, 2017

Lyn Gardner, Me & Mark Shenton at Theatre Craft, 2017

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So I went along to the launch of Company

On reading the phrase ‘An invitation to the official launch of Elliott & Harper’s revival of Company at Joe Allen with director Marianne Elliott & cast members Rosalie Craig, Broadway legend Patti LuPone and Bake Off’s Mel Giedroyctogether in one sentence you know you’re in for quite a treat.

I mean, it’s not every day you get the opportunity to join 87 other strangers over breakfast with ‘critically acclaimed’ musical theatre people and Mel, is it?

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Photo by John Nguyen

So, with some degree of excitement I made my way to Jo Allen, and here are some things I noted.

To kick things off, David Benedict, Sondheim’s official biographer hosted an alright discussion with Rosalie Craig who will play the re-gendered lead role of Bobbi, Patti LuPone plays Joanne & Mel Giedroyc takes on the role of Sarah. All four ladies were on top form. Somebody’s phone went off during this bit and LuPone criticised Uma Thurman for her questionable turn in The Parisian Woman on Broadway.

The launch included an exclusive first performance of Being Alive by Rosalie Craig. And what she did was great. Slick, cool and laid-back, As well as the song being amazing on its own merits, Being Alive (aka one of the 1000 greatest songs of all time) sounded bloody good live from a female perspective and the crowd reacted quite positively to it, i.e. they clapped like loons.

Modern technology permitted me to catch the moment with a twitter vid (is that what we call it?) and I’ve placed it below these words. I even put on a shiny filter to create an ‘intimate’ feel. You’re welcome.

The next thing I knew, I found myself with various members of the press at a round table interview with Marianne Elliott and Mel Giedroyc. I took the opportunity to ask them how they feel about Stephen Sondheim originally stating that, with Company, he wanted a show “where the audience would sit for two hours screaming their heads off with laughter, and then go home and not be able to sleep.”

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Ladies Who Launch etc —  L to R LuPone, Craig, Elliott & Giedroyc. 

“Oh God… It is a very funny piece. But I suppose ultimately it is a serious subject,” Elliott says. “Look at the news recently about the pay gap between genders that revealed men are paid more than women, which is unbelievable. The reason for it is that women are not in managerial positions; they are staying at home, they are looking after kids or thinking about going part-time or starting a family. I know a lot of women in that situation – I was in a similar situation myself. It is a very serious issue for women in their mid-30’s because they probably know that if they want to have a family then the clock is ticking.”

What does Mel think? “I love the idea of an audience laughing a lot throughout a show. But I don’t like the idea of them not sleeping – they must laugh and then sleep,” Giedroyc says simply. “But not in the theatre! They must laugh until they are so tired that they go home and then they sleep.” Righty ho.

Company is shaping up to be one of the theatrical highlights of 2018. Well done all.

There were various pastries and refreshments and that was that.

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Company will run at the Gielgud Theatre from September 26 to December 22.

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Olivier Awards 2018: A blow-by-blow account

It may not have seemed like it, but 2017 was actually a record year for London’s theatre industry with 246 productions, 15,000,000 million tickets sold, 99 new plays, 13 new musicals and 45 dance and opera productions.

Thanks to a combination of blazing new musicals (An American in Paris, Girl From The North Country & Hamilton) and outstanding new plays (Ink, Killology & The Revlon Girl) it’s a great time for British theatre.

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The Olivier Awards were broadcast live from The Royal Albert Hall on Magic FM, which was quite funny because the unsuspecting public heard the host Catherine Tate, swear multiple times. It didn’t go well. The ‘highlights’ were broadcast into a condensed 90-minute slot on ITV1 at 10.20pm. Tate was the host who promised us a safe pair of hands but delivered us nothing really.

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Catherine Tate

Most of Tate’s presenting carried a frisson of shambles – it was also incredibly clumsy, with an ill-judged quip about the Time’s Up movement and a joke about sexual harassment. She forgot to wear her Time’s Up badge too. Hm.

Unsurprisingly, the ratings averaged just under 600,000 TV viewers (down 40% on the 1 million people who tuned in in 2017 when the ceremony was scheduled in the prime-time slot between 8-9pm.) This does need sorting out; broadcast the ceremony live and hire a decent host.  Cheers!

Anyway, hip hop musical Hamilton opened the show and swept the board, winning seven of the thirteen awards it was nominated for, including best actor in a musical, best new musical and outstanding achievement in music. The Ferryman duly won best new play, best director for Sam Mendes and best actress for Laura Donnelly. The National Theatre clinched five trophies including best musical revival for Follies and best revival for Angels in America.

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The cast of Hamilton

Bryan Cranston won best actor for his role in Network (Andrew Garfield was robbed). Denise Gough won best actress for her sublime performance in Angels in America. James Graham won the award for best new comedy for Labour of Love, which was good news.

More amazingly still is the fact that the Bob Dylan musical Girl From The North Country (which felt like mastery on stage) won two awards. Sheila Atim (best supporting actress in a musical) and Shirley Henderson (best actress in a musical).

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Girl From The North County’s Sheila Atim

There were two rather lovely, but similar, tap performances from the cast of Young Frankenstein and 42nd Street in the first half. Lots of glitz and glitter too.

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The cast of Young Frankenstein

The fiasco, however, was the In Memoriam segment, where Michael Sheen introduced the segment, thanking those included “and many others who aren’t… for your contribution to our stages.” Unfortunately, they left out Sir Peter Hall. Which was pretty stupid but what can you do. Hall was the creator of the Royal Shakespeare Company and built up the National Theatre and died in September last year.

I lost the thread of what was going on and before I knew it American musical theatre legend Chita Rivera popped up, marking the 60th anniversary of the London opening of West Side Story. She seemed happy to be there so that was good.

“We are hugely sorry for the oversight of leaving Sir Peter Hall out of our In Memoriam,” said the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) in a statement this morning. Good grief.

David Lan was awarded a special award in recognition of his work leading the Young Vic for the past 18 years, before retiring earlier this year. He gave a rousing and genuinely political speech. It felt like the show should probably have just ended there. It didn’t though.

There was then a special performance celebrating 50 years of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, featuring Jason Donovan, Linzi Hateley and Lee Mead. The anti-climax of a performance had just enough star quality to hide the song’s distinct lack of brilliance.

You (the audience) have been amazing. I have been adequate for my price range,” said Tate closing the ceremony. Indeed.

Actually, theatre is often at its best when it takes you by surprise and other than Tracie Bennett (her victory lap performance of I’m Still Here is worth watching on ITV Player) not winning anything for her performance in Follies, this year had a pungent whiff of inevitable to it all. Shame really.

FULL LIST FOR THE OLIVIER AWARDS 2018 WITH MASTERCARD

AMERICAN AIRLINES BEST NEW PLAY

The Ferryman at Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre and Gielgud Theatre

BEST NEW COMEDY

Labour Of Love at Noël Coward Theatre

BEST NEW DANCE PRODUCTION

Flight Pattern by Crystal Pite for The Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE

Francesca Velicu for her performance in English National Ballet’s production of Pina Bausch’s Le Sacre Du Printemps at Sadler’s Wells

BEST ENTERTAINMENT AND FAMILY

Dick Whittington at London Palladium

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Vicki Mortimer for Follies at National Theatre – Olivier

DELTA LIVE AWARD FOR BEST SOUND DESIGN

Nevin Steinberg for Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Bertie Carvel for Ink at Almeida Theatre and Duke of York’s Theatre

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Denise Gough for Angels In America at National Theatre – Lyttelton

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN AFFILIATE THEATRE

Killology at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre, a co-production with Sherman Theatre Cardiff

BLUE-I THEATRE TECHNOLOGY AWARD FOR BEST SET DESIGN

Bob Crowley and 59 Productions for An American In Paris at Dominion Theatre

WHITE LIGHT AWARD FOR BEST LIGHTING DESIGN

Howell Binkley for Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

BEST ACTOR

Bryan Cranston for Network at National Theatre – Lyttelton

BEST ACTRESS

Laura Donnelly for The Ferryman at Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre and Gielgud Theatre

BEST DIRECTOR

Sam Mendes for The Ferryman at Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre and Gielgud Theatre

BEST NEW OPERA PRODUCTION

Semiramide at Royal Opera House

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN OPERA

Joyce DiDonato and Daniela Barcellona for their performances in Semiramide at Royal Opera House

BEST REVIVAL

Angels In America at National Theatre – Lyttelton

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC

Hamilton – Composer-Lyricist: Lin-Manuel Miranda; Orchestrator: Alex Lacamoire at Victoria Palace Theatre

BEST THEATRE CHOREOGRAPHER

Andy Blankenbuehler for Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

MAGIC RADIO BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

Follies at National Theatre – Olivier

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Michael Jibson for Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Sheila Atim for Girl From The North Country at The Old Vic and the Noël Coward Theatre

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Shirley Henderson for Girl From The North Country at The Old Vic and the Noël Coward Theatre

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Giles Terera for Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

MASTERCARD BEST NEW MUSICAL

Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

SPECIAL AWARD

David Lan

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Europe’s Theatres in Crisis as Venues Face Going Dark

#SAVESTAGELIGHTING
#SAVESTAGELIGHTING

#SAVESTAGELIGHTING

As the theatrical landmark event of the year, the Olivier Awards approach us this weekend, a sinister cloud looms in the not too distant future.

In a nutshell this cloud comes in the form of proposed EU legislation which would ban the sale of almost all stage lighting units.

On the face of it, this may seem like somewhat of a trivial issue but when you examine the consequences of such a move, it is evident that this would cause cultural devastation across the continent.

Every size of venue will feel the impact of this, from local village halls, right the way up to the leading stadiums and arenas.

It will be immediate and overwhelming.

The shows we have all come to know and love would close as a result of this. War Horse, Curious Incident, Hamilton, Wicked, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, The Mousetrap, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the list is endless: they would all be lost within a matter of months.

If we can’t have shows there is little use for venues, and so many of the continent’s finest venues and producing houses would face unavoidable closure.

If there are no venues, there are fewer shows, meaning that there are fewer jobs for actors, musicians, directors, designers, technicians, scenic artists, carpenters, ushers, bar staff, agents, critics, admin staff, accountants, cleaners, security… you see where I’m going with this?

The list doesn’t just stop at theatre shows: Glastonbury, Electric Picnic, Oxegen, Sziget, Tommorrowland would all be brought to their knees. As well as all of the individual tours of the leading music artists in Europe.

Put simply, to our knowledge there are no forms of live performance reliant on stage lighting that are currently capable of surviving with this legislation in place.

In response to this, the Association of Lighting Designers (ALD) has launched the #SaveStageLighting campaign to protect the future of venues and theatres across Europe against the devastating effect of the EU’s proposed Eco-design Working Plan 2016-2019.

The #SaveStageLighting Campaign must demonstrate to the EU Energy Directorate, the widest possible cultural opposition to these proposals. Performances rely on theatrical lighting; it is the glue that binds every aspect of a performance together. Theatre lighting relies on having the right tools available to create just the right effect at just the right moment.

A successful outcome to the #SaveStageLighting campaign is essential to secure exemption for stage lighting from these proposals. The consequences of failure would be catastrophic to the entertainment industry and European culture.

What does the Eco-design Working Plan 2016-2019 entail?

The Eco-design Working Plan 2016-2019 proposes that after September 2020, only lighting fixtures that meet a certain level of energy efficiency will be allowed to be sold within the EU. In effect, they want to bring all stage lighting units under the same regulations that govern industrial and domestic lighting. The efficiency level that has been set is now so high that there are currently almost no products capable of achieving it, nor will there be within the given timescale.

What will the real impact of the plan be on European theatre?

At the first level, the impact is crippling in a financial sense. To replace stage lighting fixtures alone with new EU-approved sources would mean buying an entirely new rig of LED lighting units which is costly in itself. However, the requirement for venues would be full replacement of the building’s lighting infrastructure, including dimmers, cabling and control consoles as well as fixtures. To budget for and implement within two years will prove difficult for larger venues. For smaller venues it will be ruinous, and they will literally go dark.

More troubling still, however, is that currently very few theatrical-quality LED lighting fixtures come close to matching the beauty, subtlety, richness and poetry of tungsten light sources. The indication from LED manufacturers is that no new fixtures of this type will be able to meet these new regulations, even by 2020. The reality at the moment is that as units become irreplaceable, the entire repertoire of work reliant on those products will close until suitable replacement instruments are designed and manufactured.

With recent studies showing that stage lighting typically accounts for less than 5% of a theatre’s total energy consumption, focusing forced expenditure on the other 95% of a theatre’s energy consumption, where much greater energy savings are possible, surely makes greater economic sense.

We are appealing for your support. Follow us online at @SaveLighting on Twitter and @SaveStageLighting on Facebook. From there you’ll easily be able to find our petition, links to your MEPs and ways to contact the EU directly.

Lets do everything we can to #SaveStageLighting!
Robbie Butler
Lighting Designer and #SaveStageLighting campaign coordinator.

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Our creative curriculum isn’t going down without a fight: The Big Arts & Education Debate

The English Baccalaureate (EBbacc) in its current form is depriving the next generation of creative talent. Since 2010 there has been a 28% drop in the number of children taking creative GCSEs, with a similar drop in the number of creative arts teachers being trained. The Government’s ambition is to see 90% of GCSE pupils choosing the EBacc subject combination by 2025. Alarming, eh?

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The EBacc leaves no room for creative, technical and artistic subjects. The structural problems of this ‘performance measure’ are causing the arts to be eroded in our school curriculums. Currently, the EBacc – which measures schools’ performances – does not include arts subjects. Anyone with their head screwed on will recognise that the Department for Education is at the mercy of a Conservative government in headlong pursuit of Brexit and with no great sympathy or appreciation of the cultural sector.

It’s probably worth mentioning that during 2015-2016 (before the EU referendum) the creative industries grew at twice the rate of the wider economy, according to the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Economic Estimates for 2016. This information also reveals that the creative industries make up 5.3% of the UK economy. Arguments that the sector as a whole continues to thrive – despite funding cuts – fall on deaf ears.

But a creative education is a valuable phenomenon, socially, politically as well as aesthetically. The arts offer young people certain experiences that other subjects cannot give, for it is a democracy which functions on a transformative level, despite, or maybe because of its poverty. Whether many of our young people swim or flounder as chaos swirls and globalised multinationals determine everyone’s lifestyle will depend on our humanity today. We have to act now.

On Friday 20 April I will be hosting The Big Arts & Education Debate alongside Birmingham Rep’s Associate Director, Steve Ball. This symposium will take place on the Rep’s main stage and will provide a space to discuss the challenges facing our education system that is increasingly individualistic in its narrow vocational thrust rather than being nourishing and inclusive.

Taking part in The Big Arts & Education Debate is playwright James Graham; Indhu Rubasingham, Artistic Director of Tricycle Theatre; Cassie Chadderton, Head of UK Theatre; Ammo Talwar, CEO of Punch Records; Christine Quinn, West Midlands Regional Schools Commissioner; Pauline Tambling CBE, CEO of Creative & Cultural Skills and Tim Boyes CEO of Birmingham Education Partnership.

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James Graham

The rise of initiatives such as Bacc For The Future and the London Theatre Consortium’s Creative Learning Symposium are shining a light on the current crisis, with 200 organisations and 30,000 individuals determined to bring about change. To deprive state educated children the opportunities to pursue a career in the arts is nothing short of perverse. Diversity is a big priority, but this should include class too.

The Big Arts and Education Debate is a prophetic and practical opportunity to come together to address this very serious situation. We very much look forward to seeing what recommendations and solutions that we can achieve together next month.

The Big Arts and Education Debate takes place at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Friday 20 April, 2 – 5pm.

Tickets £10 / £5 concessions are available from birmingham-rep.co.uk / 0121 236 4455.

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The Gate, Ellen McDougall: ‘There is an unconscious bias in the way that we categorise people and often that is invisibly prejudiced.’

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Ellen McDougal

Ellen has just come from rehearsals for the world premiere of Effigies of Wickedness, a project that she is directing, in collaboration with English National Opera. The cabaret includes a number of songs banned by the Nazis in the ’30s. During the Nazi reign, the Weimar cabaret performed the songs as a celebration of difference but were later exiled. What can audiences expect from this unlikely collaboration? “For me success will be opportunity to bring together different worlds: opera, there’s also the cabaret scene in London that some of the artists we are working with are really connected with. When the music was first written it came out of a very strong queer community from Weimar, Berlin. What I don’t want it to be is a chocolate box all escape to the 1930’s. That said, the satire and wit in the music is incredibly joyous,” says McDougall.

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Effigies for Wickedness 

For most of our time together, McDougall, artistic director of the Gate, Notting Hill looks me right in the eye and gives long, careful answers. Where does she get her confidence? “I don’t know… I don’t know that I’ve got loads of confidence,” she says.

” remember writing Purni Morell an email after I left the studio at the Unicorn, where I was director in residence very early on in my career. She’d sent me to Vienna to see shows. I wrote her this email saying: ‘having you believe in me helped me to believe in myself’. I think that is definitely one example of where confidence can be found. By being backed by somebody that you truly admire.”

I ask Ellen whether her gender has ever held her back professionally. “It’s impossible to answer that question as I’m not the person giving me opportunities, I guess,” she says thoughtfully. “But I would say that I haven’t always been very front-footed as a director. I think there is sometimes a structure in theatre where directors are expected to be loud, confident and demanding; in terms of getting pitches listened to or getting people’s attention and that’s never been something I’m comfortable doing or doing very well. I think those structures are founded on patriarchal patterns but the idea that that favours men is probably true,” she says.

McDougall is leading the way in a renaissance in fringe and pub theatre that is often a stomping ground for radical emerging artists. But with conversations currently raging around fair pay on the fringe, does she think that the fringe model is broken? “There are big important questions about diversity, about who is getting the chance to make work and then there is a conversation about who is privileged enough to be able to afford to work for free,” she explains. “The thing of treating artists badly and expecting too much of them and putting demands on them in structures that exclude anyone on low income; the subsidised sector is as much to blame, I would say, probably across the board. We need to be interrogating those structures more rigorously and thinking about the way we talk to artists and we need to be including them in those conversations. That’s a more useful debate to be having, I think.”

What is her best quality? “I like to think that I’m collaborative and that I’m good at listening,” she says. “I’m definitely rigorous, borderline perfectionist. I like to think that I am imaginative. I went to an artist talk in the summer as part of the Shubbak Festival and the panel were female artists from the Arab world and one of them said that she hadn’t noticed initially but she’d suddenly realised that her work was often described in the terms that you would use to describe settings on a washing machine – such as delicate or soft. But that idea that somehow the way her work was being viewed was gendered. The serious thing that she was pointing out was that there is an unconscious bias that goes on in the way we categorise people and often that is invisibly prejudiced,” says McDougall.

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Ellen McDougall 

In 2011 Ellen received an Olivier Award nomination for her first show, Ivan and The Dogs. What, I ask, does she think of the 2018 nominations? “I think that the idea that there is a best is weird,” she says with a smile. “The idea that art can be quantified and compared is really weird. When I went to the Olivier’s in 2011, I was nearly sick everywhere because I was so nervous. I mean, they announced the category my show was nominated in after a performance by Barry Manilow. Sean Holmes’ production of Blasted won and he spoke about Sarah Kane and what she might have made of it all after the reception that show had when it first opened. Having said that, getting people excited about all forms of theatre is really brilliant, and it definitely does that.”

At this point, we discuss climate change, rising CO2 levels, melting of ice caps and the wildlife TV series Blue Planet. It is a subject that is very close to McDougall’s heart. “The context of making theatre in the knowledge of climate change: how the way we make stuff, the stories we tell. The structures need to change in order to account for that. I feel like it is something that should be on the agenda all the time – it often gets dropped off because it requires deep thought and a willingness to experiment. But we’ve got to talk about it and think about it because it relates to everything. To me, it underpins so much of what is happening in the world. Brexit, the swing to the right… And somewhere I think the knowledge that we all have that climate change is happening and it is fucking terrifying is in conversation with all that.”

Pia Laborde Noguez 2 Trust, Gate Theatre.

Trust, Gate Theatre. Photo credit: Ikin Yum 

She’s not finished. “I’m proud that Trust had a set that was largely recyclable or reusable and some of the things that weren’t recyclable or reusable are things they have recycled from a previous show at the Gate. There is an economy that is starting to happen within what we are doing in our season that means we are trying to lower the impact of our footprint with the shows and that is something we will continue to do and interrogate. I think there is something incredibly exciting about empowering artists to think about how the things they make are made.”

Effigies for Wickedness (Songs banned by the Nazis) runs 03 May to 02 June.

Box Office 020 7229 0706

 

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Competition: win a pair of tickets to The Grinnning Man

Well, it’s that time of the year when I like to run a competition and, as luck would have it, The Grinning Man’s ‘people’ have chucked a pair of tickets my way in order to draw attention to the fact that it’s a) still on and b) worth watching. 

See the source image

In order to stand a chance of winning tweet (@mrcarlwoodward) me 3 reasons why you deserve to win.

Closing date is Monday 12 March at 3pm.

Good luck!

The Grinning Man runs at Trafalgar Studios until 17 April

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Critic overlooks moral location of Baz Bamigboye’s scoops.

I was disappointed to read Matt Trueman’s Opinion piece for The Stage: ‘Baz Bamigboye’s envious critics overlook hard journalistic graft.’

In it he disapproves of my recent Open Letter to London Theatre PRs – asking them to address their relationship with The Daily Mail. My open letter was not an attack on Baz’s credentials as a journalist. However, Baz and the Mail are inextricably linked

Trueman writes: “My colleague Mark Shenton regularly tweets his dissatisfaction at what he deems preferential treatment, while blogger Carl Woodward recently called for a boycott of Baz’s column.”

Trueman refers to my blog as a ‘boycott’. It is not a boycott. His use of the term boycott reveals a distinct lack of the understanding of the English vocabulary.

He continues: “To suggest as Woodward does, that he (Baz) has all his “scoops handed over” by obliging press reps is not just naïve, but positively insulting.”

By the end of the last paragraph, however, something unexpected had happened. The article had become so pompous and self-righteous it was making me laugh. Quite a lot.

How so? Well, it’s purely down to the fact that this is not accurate arts journalism, obviously, it’s littered with political propaganda and is a contemptuous way to treat readers. Alan Lane brought some sense to proceedings with his response to Trueman’s article.

I mean, really there’s no point in getting Trueman’s back up any further (for me, or anyone), since the last thing that anyone wants is for his stance on Baz having ‘exclusives’ to harden. I obviously hit a nerve. 

As a result of today’s article Baz even dismissed his sources. The mind boggles.

If one of our leading theatre critics wants to defend a right-wing tabloid that whips up hatred and bigotry, then fine. But I’m really tempted to suggest Trueman can take a run and jump.

Update:

Cheap journalism thrives on whipping up feelings. When we talk about tolerance it is a moving line – then there’s a grey area. In the heat of the moment I referred to Matt Trueman as witless and I was not entitled to do so. I have apologised for that.