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The Roundabout, Park Theatre: Inside The Rehearsal Room

I am delighted to see that JB Priestley is back in vogue.  The Roundabout, directed by Hugh Ross opened at Park Theatre last night. The play is a recently rediscovered comedy by JB Priestley – I popped down to Park Theatre, London during the second week of rehearsals and had a lentil salad with Hugh Ross and some of the talented cast including newcomers: Bessie Carter and Charlie Field.

Hugh Ross

Hugh Ross

This is the first major revival of this play in 80 years, so why now? And what have been the biggest challenges getting it up on its feet? Director Hugh explains, “Like anything – finding the right people; every actor brings something different,” he adds: “The one rule for a director is to remember and that every single actor works in a different way. I always think about a line from Sunday in the Park with George ‘Anything you do, let it come from you – then it will be new’.”

Ross has a varied career as an actor and director appearing in a wide variety of British tv, film and theatre. He is surprisingly laid back about it all. It’s all the more remarkable, because he is bringing a play by one of Britain’s leading playwrights to the stage for the first time in nearly a century. I wonder what keeps him awake at night, “A lot of little things, most days it’s thinking that actor is not happy about something, I’m a great believer in the play,” he pauses and grins: “What happened this morning was we ran the second act and I said let’s just put this together and we went through the third act and it was like they were all trying to remember the last time, it was all too big and too rushed, nobody was thinking, nobody was listening. But, we pushed through,” says Ross.

“The play is entertaining without being stupid. It’s positioned in a sense as a drawing room comedy but because of the format of the theatre, I got together with our designer, Polly Sullivan and we decided that it should take place in the conservatory of this family home. I’m a great believer that less is more,” says Ross.

Brian Protheroe will star as Lord Kettlewell and Richenda Carey as Lady Knightsbridge. Both join me for a chat about what audiences can expect. They are visibly excited to be working on the play. “It’s a very different play to make work completely from beginning to end but when you get – what I think is a miraculously well cast play – I think it stands a chance. It’s part farce, part light comedy; but there are extreme moments of comedy,” he adds: “There is a wonderful relationship between the father and the daughter, communism is at the heart of it,” says Protheroe.

Priestley’s plea for a shared humanity is as relevant as ever today, this is prescient theatre. “The Roundabout is a very clever play and I love the bits I’m not in! People can expect something interesting that is very fun too,” says Carey. “The political element of when it was written – 1931- after the Revolution there was a big movement in Europe towards the idealism of Soviet Russia. Rather like now where there are huge tectonic plates shifting,” says Carey.

The Roundabout at Park Theatre.

The Roundabout at Park Theatre. Click on the link to book your tickets now!

The industry can be notoriously difficult for many and I’m curious to hear from a seasoned performers perspective. “My theory is you get a go every two years – you get a really good go – and then it’s someone else’s go, that’s what has seen me through,” she pauses: “Women’s parts? There’s practically none in existence – I would rather scrub lavatories than do a part that I don’t want to play – I really would,” says Carey.

At this point Lisa Bowerman starring as Lady Kettlewell joins us. She is nervous because this is her first theatre role in eight years, usually in radio. “I did the scratch reading of the play last year and at that point it was very difficult to know if there was going to be a future in it. The fact that they have raised the money is terrific,” says Bowerman. She adds: “Some people will have a preconceived idea about JB Priestley, it’s about topics that you wouldn’t expect and it turns the table on you – it has a serious heart, yet remains incredibly entertaining.”

This staging of The Roundabout not only celebrates Priestley’s legacy but salutes a man with an exceptional eye for character. Even if he occasionally lapses into cliche, Priestley understood the nuts and bolts of the theatre better than anyone. Nonetheless, this is a terrific example of a work in progress, hard work, finance and schedules all coming together. The Roundabout is in safe hands.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR THE ROUNDABOUT

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Seiriol Davies: “It was important to me that when it hit Edinburgh, it was totally bullet proof”, talking about How to Win Against History.

Few Edinburgh Fringe shows make the kind of impact that How to Win Against History has. Having received high praise from (basically everyone) Janet Ellis and Complicite, the show is surely destined for another life.
We meet at Assembly Hall, George Square for a pint and a chat about the show, rejection, working the Fringe and more.

How to Win Against History

How to Win Against History runs at Assembly George Square Theatre until 28th August. Click on the image to book your tickets now!

I start by asking him how the show came to be, a musical focussing on Henry Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey who enjoys cross-dressing, he starts “The whole time we’ve made the show I was entirely convinced I was going to get pipped to the post by someone else, because it is – to me – such an obvious story. Henry was theatrical, what the French would call flamboyant, he spent all his family’s money putting on plays, with him in them and often dressed in lovely dresses made of diamonds. Upon his death his entire internal life had been deleted, so he’s the perfect kind of cypher character in a way.”

This is theatre at its most alive. We discuss the rave reviews, taking it in his stride. He appears genuinely humbled. “They are really lovely. They certainly impact the show in the way that they get people in. It will help us to tour it as well, which is my primary goal. I like reading reviews from audiences who get it on many levels and I like that the show has a broad appeal, it’s about using mainstream-ness to talk about what it means to be rejected by society.” He adds “To my knowledge, the worst review we’ve had said it would only appeal to a niche audience and that our Henry should have been more butch.”

I ask what the biggest challenges that he has faced with this piece were. “I was terrified going into the venue, because it’s so mini, but it’s been decked out beautifully. It’s actually eerily similar to the upstairs studio we first developed it in at Ovalhouse. Ovalhouse is an amazing engine for creating new work, and they’ve been instrumental in getting it off the ground. We’re really grateful to them and Pontio in Bangor, who are our Welsh partner, who made it possible for us to get to Edinburgh.”

One of the best things about Edinburgh Fringe is that it rewards risk-taking audiences, and everything is up for grabs. You hear people raving about it, and want to see it for yourself. How to Win Against History is doing very well here but I bet most of the audience never imagined they’d ever love a show dedicated to the lives and times of a cross dressing dancing Marquess, or would have booked to see it at their local theatre.

Davies is bringing a fresh approach, “I think it’s a shame when a musical is all like ‘scene scene plot talking talking scene SONG which-is-a-divergent-soliloquy-about-what-someone-is-feeling-inside then back to scene scene talking talking plot…’ I mean it can be that, sure, but you’ve got access to such an amazing breadth of ways of expressing stuff in musicals, and do so in ways that seem effortless to take in as an audience. So, you can move the story forward with a song, and at the same time subvert or mess with what the words are saying, using the music. There’s a song in the show about touring an increasingly difficult show, which moves the plot and characters forward a fair but, but also digs up all of our actorly bitterness towards critics, audiences, other actors and our own poncy ways and failures. But the song is a chirpy barbershop style, so it contrasts. I’m not sure that’s the best example of what I’m saying, but I’m tired and I’ve had a cider, so that’s my excuse.”

At this point, I pipe up that rejection is the greatest aphrodisiac. “I have not found this to be the case,” he says, smiling. “Except if you mean that people with low self esteem are easy to pull?” His humour is still intact.

Creatives at the festival pour their hearts and souls into shows to deliver the goods. How is he feeling right now, two thirds into the run? “I feel good. It feels really great to have momentum behind something like this when it has been so long in the making. It was important to me that when it hit Edinburgh, it was totally bullet proof.”

These origins make perfect sense. It has an unique energy behind it. The show’s incredible achievement is that it completely defies categorisation and that many, myself included, would probably never see outside a festival context.

His favourite musicals are a given, in terms of what you see of him, he is a very intelligent theatre creature. He says “Southpark the Musical, which is so unbelievably clever.” He smiles. “Oh God. Cabaret and Matilda!”

And there we have it.

How to Win Against History is at Edinburgh Fringe Festival until Aug 28.

CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKETS FOR HOW TO WIN AGAINST HISTORY

Click here to read the review of How to Win Against History by Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph

 

 

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Mamoru Iriguchi ( 4D Cinema ) : ‘By having a screen around your face, you can make sure that everybody enjoys both the video and your face’

Mamoru Iriguchi

Mamoru Iriguchi

Mamoru Iriguchi is at Summerhall with 4D Cinema. I caught up with him and chatted about the challenges of being a performer at Edinburgh, technical difficulties and more.

Hi ya! Where are you and what are you doing currently?
In my flat (I live in Edinburgh) and drinking coffee. If this question is about my work, I am a theatre designer and performance maker.

How have audiences responded to 4D Cinema so far?
Very positively, I think.

In your show 4D Cinema – you sport a screen and a projector around your face – Where did the idea come from?
When you use video projection in your show, often the audience members only watch the projection and forget about your presence. By having a screen around your face, you can make sure that everybody enjoys both the video and your face.
4D Cinema is partly about the differences between live and filmed performances, so I wanted to place the two very closely.

What’s the hardest part about being a Fringe performer?
I think the hardest part would be sharing a bedroom with ten other performers. Luckily I am based in Edinburgh, so I do not have that. I wish I had more money to see more shows but this is probably a universal issue for everyone who works in art.

Do you read reviews of your work?
Yes, I cry with joy or despair while reading them.

How do you warm up physically, mentally and vocally for this show?
I cycle (uphill) to the venue everyday. I often take a cycle path around Arthur’s Seat and sing a song or two. I am ready when I get there.

Summerhall is quite remarkable isn’t it?
Yes there are lots of really great shows.

Have you been down the Royal Mile in your garb? It would be quite something.
I am afraid not, because, sadly, my projector is not battery-operated.

Have you had any technical difficulties?
Nothing other than my own clumsiness.

Anything you’d like to add? 
Please come to see 4D Cinema.

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Interview: What sort of man is Shôn Dale-Jones? 

Shôn Dale-Jones

Shôn Dale-Jones

Shôn Dale-Jones performs as part of Hoipolloi and under the alias of Hugh Hughes in jovial shows such as Things I Forgot | Remembered and Floating.

His work is quite good and people like him. His current show The Duke is a free show – with proceeds going to Save the Children’s Child Refugee Crisis Appeal. It has been well received, and after Edinburgh’s outing it heads to the Royal Court and Plymouth.

We ended up chatting about his favourite critic, an average day and the most beautiful theatre in the world.

Hello! Can you tell us about an average working day in the life of Shôn Dale-Jones and Hugh Hughes. And tell us how they differ. 
Shôn gets up around 6:30 am, puts on a tracksuit, eats some muesli and fruit, heads to his studio and writes until his belly needs lunch, then after lunch he reads what he’s written and decides what to do next.
Hugh rolls with life’s curiosities.

What is the most beautiful regional theatre that you have performed in?
Liverpool Everyman…It’s the best theatre in the world…

Do you feel an expectation that you’ll achieve similar level of successes working on some of the projects that you do?
I definitely try to start each project with a blank canvas.

How would you describe the cultural ecology in Wales in 2016?
Excellent.

The Duke is playing at the Pleasance in the heart of the fringe – what can audiences expect?
A funny and poignant comic story that’ll challenge what they value.

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR TICKETS FOR THE DUKE 

What three things should every good Edinburgh Fringe show have?
Commitment, commitment, commitment.

During the devising process, how long do you stick with a show that’s not working? Do you persevere or should it click instantly?
I think it’s good to try stuff out for a week here and there before going at it hammer and tongs…

It must be quite exciting, having written and performed in so many shows, to do something different and not charge (donations going to Save the Children) for The Duke. Is it different staging a free show?
Very. I’m surprised how liberating it is. It frees the mind to consider things other than the number of people in the audience and the amount of money clawed in at the box office.

With the way the industry’s changing, do you worry about the future of making theatre?
Yes. It’s really tough financially again. And audience habits are shifting. However, theatre is more vital now that the world is changing so radically and so rapidly.

Who’s your favourite critic and why?
My daughter, Josie. Because she’s sharp, clear and no nonsense!

Anything that you’d like to add? Cheers!
I love Steffi, my wife.

The Duke is at the Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, until 29 August

 

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Emma Bettridge, Bristol Old Vic Ferment: “I’ve never been bad cop…”

Producer Emma has got her hands full. The reason is that many of the companies she has nurtured and commissioned are about to fly the flag at Edinburgh Festival. Emma Bettridge is the curator and producer of Ferment, the artistic development department of Bristol Old Vic.

Emma Bettridge

Emma Bettridge © Jon Craig

As the artist development and work are both completely excellent, and as Ferment has quite a lot going on in it, I thought it’d be good to chat to Emma about it all. So I got her on the phone last week.

She starts by telling me what an average day is like, “Quite varied; day to day, I clear emails on my commute, meet with emerging artists and view new work. This week is particularly busy as it is Ferment Festival – a curated scheme and work in progress. What’s really exciting is that we’re currently undergoing a huge front of house redevelopment so there’s a nice space to meet and talk with audiences after the work has been presented. It’s been really positive utilising original spaces to explore new ideas; there are companies rehearsing somewhere in the city. It’s a nice vibe!”

Brilliant. So, to the casual reader what does Ferment do? “We offer tailored advice, and work closely with artists through the rehearsal process – one of the ways the department are able to advocate the very best of the South West. Bristol Old Vic have a track record of backing exciting things, just look at The Castle Builder which was developed with support from MAYK, Bristol Old Vic Ferment and Tobacco Factory Prototype and Sally Cookson’s thrilling Jayne Eyre.” She’s got a point. Furthermore, glancing at the line-up of Ferment and the dynamic work on show at Edinburgh including, Shaelee Rooke, Rachael Clerke, Propolis Theatre, Kid Carpet and Tim Bell to name a few highlights.

Beyond dealing with the fact that this year Ferment are taking the largest number of productions to Edinburgh in its seven year history, supporting eight shows across the festival, Bettridge is negotiating a path through the relentless demands placed on the modern producer. “When it gets too much or something doesn’t go to plan I always say nobody died and it’s only theatre!” So, what about balancing being the bad cop and being everyone’s friend, well… “It’s a broad title! In a way I have a more back and forth relationship – let’s be clear – there are ways of saying no. Working in artist development requires a free flowing and organic approach. I guess we meet in the middle and forge an ongoing relationship. I’ve never been bad cop…”

We chat about how she entered the industry. She says that, looking back “Ten years on I realise that doing my degree was actually really valuable. One of my first jobs was working at The Pleasance in Edinburgh, I saw a lot of shows and contributed to an organisation that does a lot of backing of and developing artists.”

Many of Bettridge’s mentors during the early stages of her career highlight the importance of sending the elevator back down. I ask her who inspired her. “Definitely Sarah Holmes (New Wolsey), Kate Sparshatt (Gecko) and of course Emma Stenning (Bristol Old Vic). I’ve been very inspired by those women working in this industry.”

At this point, I ask her what makes it all worth while and how she measures success. “One has to trust that we are working hard to refresh the pool in order to achieve maximum excitement.”

For more details on Bristol’s Edinburgh shows click HERE

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Ray Rackham: ‘I won’t read a bad review twice; I’ve not come that far!’

Ray Rackham

Ray Rackham

As he brings Judy Garland to Southwark Playhouse the director of the glorious Through The Mill talks about casting, the circumstances of his own death – and social injustices.

Hello Ray! Through The Mill is about to open at Southwark Playhouse. How is it looking?
We’ve just had our press night and, to coin a Judy phrase, things are going marvellously. I don’t think any of us, cast, creative and production, have ever worked so hard, but when you get a full standing ovation on your opening previews, and then in each performance in our opening week, it’s strangely re-energising. That being said, I feel like I could sleep for a fortnight!

Do you read reviews of your work?
I never did as an actor or director, I felt that it was unnecessary. I came to realise it was actually because I don’t take criticism particularly well. My career evolving of late into writing, I find reviews more interesting than terrifying now. What do people get from the work? What points am I making that aren’t translating? As a writer, I think you innately become more self-critical because your responsibility is to provide clarity and simplicity in the form, however beautiful you wish your dialogue to be. That being said, I won’t read a bad review twice; I’ve not come that far!

How did you start out in this business?
I tried collecting art, and that didn’t work. I tried collecting antiques, and that didn’t work. I tried acting, and that didn’t work. In fact, a rather well known, but now late, casting director told me, at the age of twenty, to come back in twenty years time when there will be plenty of roles for me. When I had more than a few years to go until that time, I thought I would give directing a crack. And it worked. Writing came as a natural successor. I’ve got four years to really nail it, or you may see me playing “affable, dumpy towns person 4” in a musical near you!

What’s your favourite Quality Street?
The eponymous Green triangle! Anyone who says otherwise is not to be entirely trusted.

Where were you – and what was your reaction – when you discovered you’d been nominated for a Broadway World and Off-West-End Theatre Award?
Well, there have been a few, but alas I’m always the bridesmaid and never the bride. I don’t recall them all, but I do remember the first. I was congratulating everyone else and had started voting online when I saw my name for Ordinary Days. I won’t say if I voted for myself, but I’d like to thank that one person who did. I have a feeling he’d be tall, handsome and exceptionally witty. A regular Noel Coward!

How did you celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday in June?
Like our glorious Majesty, I celebrate my own birthday twice, so I had a few friends around for a slice of cake and a spot of narcissism. I met the Queen once, she complimented me on my hat. I replied it was from Moss Bros, and wasn’t bad for a hire job. I was to learn she was actually talking to Esther Rantzen, who was stood beside me.

If you could eliminate one social injustice a year, each year for three years, which would you choose and in what order?
I think love will always be the answer to injustice. If we all just loved each other more, and celebrated, supported, accepted; well all types of social injustice would lessen overnight, and we’d all be a tonne happier. But, sadly, that seems less likely each and every passing day. So my plan would be Poverty, Discrimination (in ALL its forms) and Classism. It’s so sad that, all these years after the introduction of incredible social reform under a post Second World War government, that there’s still a establishment snobbishness throughout the political elite. I often think the world would be better run if the world leaders had spent some time down the Upper Street launderette with my Great Nana Ada, my Nan, and my Aunt Yuni.

Who’s the best Theatre Director?
I’m not answering that question. No, don’t make me!

Do you spend a lot of your time thinking about how much of your life you have left?
All the time. If my horoscope were ever to tell me I was going to meet a tall dark stranger, I’d withdraw all of my money from my bank account, stock up on gin, fly myself to the Bahamas and await the Grim Reaper. I’ve never written a bucket list for that reason; in doing so you’re more or less contracting to shuffle off at some point. So, whatever time I have remaining, I want to fill it with being good at doing what I want to do. And maybe getting paid for it!

What do you look for when you are casting a show?
Talent and Timeliness.

Who are the last four people that you called on the telephone?
I am renowned for never answering my phone. Because I spend so much time in the theatre, my phone is usually always on silent mode. So I’ve just looked at the last four calls I’ve missed. The answer? Mother, mother, mother and mother.

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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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Belinda Wollaston talks about her role as Judy Garland in Through the Mill, what made her the woman she is today and more

Belinda Wollaston
Belinda Wollaston

Belinda Wollaston

10 years after working with Sondheim on Broadway, the musical theatre chanteuse is preparing to take on Judy Garland at Southwark Playhouse.  She considers the circumstances of her own death  – and wants  us to never stop trying to save the world.

Hello! You are an Australian Musical theatre actor. How do the UK and AUS Theatre scenes vary and which is the best? 

The best bit is that they both have an incredibly strong community, just as vibrant as one another. The scene is obviously much bigger in London, which creates more opportunities week to week than in Australia, but that doesn’t make it either one any better or worse, they’re just different.

In early 2006 you travelled to New York where you worked with some of the theatre world’s biggest names, including Stephen Sondheim. What does Stephen Sondheim smell like?

Rainbows!

What are you up to these days? 

I am currently rehearsing for Through the Mill, which is due to open at the Southwark Playhouse on the 8th of July. I will be playing Judy Garland during her Palace Years, from 1951-1952.

Belinda Wollaston as Judy Garland and Harry Anton as Sidney Luft

Belinda Wollaston as Judy Garland and Harry Anton as Sidney Luft in Through the Mill. Click the image to book your tickets now!

Do you think current musical theatre artists would benefit from a short spell in the marines? 

That’s an interesting question… A few years ago I was in South Korea doing Jekyl and Hyde, and I was told that a lot of the local performing artists have previous military experience. Needless to say, it was the slickest show I have ever worked on!

Do you ever consider the circumstances of your own death?

Sure, I think we all do from time to time. All I can hope is that when the time does come, I fall asleep after drinking a lot of expensive champagne, surrounded by my loved ones.

What’s the best song in MAMMA MIA

The Winner Takes It All for sure!

Which one event in your life made you the woman you are today?

It’s hard to pinpoint one event, but I certainly remember a time when I felt 100% certain that I wanted to go into musical theatre. I was 11 years old, living in a small town in rural Australia, when I went to see a performance of Les Mis. I sat in the second row and I remember never wanting to leave the theatre again; I was completely mesmerised.

Do you think actors should stop trying to save the world and get on with their jobs?

I don’t think anyone should ever stop trying to save the world.

Have you ever set fire to anything you shouldn’t have?

The only things I ever set fire to are the coals on my barbecue, or some candles for a bit of mood lighting.

Is there anything else we need to discuss?

Aside from your choice in questions? 😉 Only to ask when you are going to come and see Through the Mill??

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR THROUGH THE MILL

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

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 : )

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Alastair Knights talks about My Fair Lady 60th Anniversary concert, his next directorial venture and more

Alastair Knights

Alastair Knights set to direct My Fair Lady 60th Anniversary concert

The cafe is bustling with people. Alastair Knights is on a break from rehearsals for Jim Cartwright’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Union Theatre. Knights leads us to the bar area and we sit on an old sofa. He’s just returned from America and is a little jet-lagged. Last Summer Alastair directed The Spitfire Grill to great acclaim at the Union, went on to direct Kings of Broadway; featuring music from shows and an all-star cast of West End talent. He was also behind the St James Theatre RE:act scheme. Now, he is set to direct the hotly anticipated My Fair Lady 60th Anniversary Concert later this month.

Alastair Knights

Alastair Knights

How much of the industry is who you know vs what you know

I ask him how much of the industry is who you know vs what you know. “Oh God. Who you know! Friends help each other out. You need to be talented and prepared, that’s a given. But what you do need is luck. You need that little moment and if you don’t get it you’re fucked.” It’s clear from speaking to Alastair that a little luck goes a long way.** It was in 2013 that Knights and Musical Director Alex Parker devised and directed Sondheim’s A Little Night Music and staged Putting It Together – A Musical Revue at G Live in Guildford. Putting It Together was a hit later at the St James. One man in the audience was Robert Mackintosh, who runs the St James Theatre and brother of theatrical producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh. He adds “I had my luck because Robert Mackintosh decided to drive to Guilford to see Putting it Together. I wouldn’t be here now if that hadn’t happened. Actually, I’d say it’s 60% who you know and 40% what you know.”

Favourite off -West-End-Theatre

We discuss London venues and I inquire his favourite off-West-End theatre. “The St James Theatre. They gave me my first opportunity in RE: act, a short-plays initiative, and over the last year we have worked with 120 emerging artists. Writers are paired with upcoming directors and actors to create a response piece to productions. It’s an exciting place to be.”

Actors are the bravest people ever

Sitting in one of London’s most vibrant pub-theatres, it is apt that Alastair speaks of his admiration for fringe theatre workers; It’s here that shows can be calling cards for emerging artists. “I’m strongly for Fringe Theatre. I think actors are the bravest people ever. It’s so exposing.” He delves deeper into this advocacy, “There is a lot of discussion around low pay work, but fringe theatre gives actors and directors such wonderful opportunities. I would have never been asked to do Little Voice at a West End or big regional theatre. For me, working somewhere like The Union is a creative and collaborative dream.”

Whats next on the direction list

Alastair’s modesty is endearing. Some directors talk like they’re reading from a script; Alastair speaks with utter conviction and clarity of thought. His enthusiasm is persuasive to the point of being faintly intoxicating. I probe to find out what is next on his directing wish-list. He beams “Fanny and Stella! It’s a new musical I’m working on with composer Eamonn O’Dwyer. It’s about two female impersonators in the gruesome underbelly of Victorian England. We have the rights to Neil Mckenna’s book and we’ll workshop the show next month.”

More about the My Fair Lady Concert happening at St. Paul’s Church

For someone at the start of their career Knights has a lot already under his belt, his ambition is palpable. He tells me about the My Fair Lady Concert he will be directing, “Amazingly, Liz Robertson called Cameron Mackintosh and he suggested Alex Parker and I put it together. We are celebrating 60 years since the first Broadway performance! It’s a gala performance at the iconic St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, the location of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins’s first encounter. We have an incredible cast including Patricia Routledge, Kara Tointon, Frank Skinner, Gina Beck and many more telling the story of the inception of the show, along with songs from the musical itself. The evening is generously supported by Cameron Mackintosh and all proceeds are going towards St Paul’s Church to improve access.”

We talk briefly about imposter syndrome. He says that, if he wasn’t doing this he’d be working an office job. “Probably PR. That’s what I’d probably be doing. Definitely marketing, actually, because I like talking.” Well, quite.

The last five photos on his phone

At this point I ask what are the last five photos he took on his phone. He giggles and coyly begins to list: “The Little Voice Poster, me with a teeth whitening strip in California, a soundboard desk here at the Union, me and my best friend in Hollywood and a theatre in LA.” Whilst looking at his phone, it strikes me that I’m five seconds away from being able to contact Cameron Mackintosh.

The thing about being star struck

I ask Alistair if he’s ever been star-struck. “All the time. I think the first time that I worked with Elaine Paige was a huge deal for me. She is so incredibly talented. Her voice is insane; she’s in her 60’s and looks amazing. What’s more in rehearsals she sang Nobody’s Side from Chess at a Danceworks in Fulham, at midday, and proper belted it. A dream. I know I’m going to be star-struck when I start rehearsals with Patricia Routledge!”

Finishing on a Sheridan Smith note

As we draw to the end of our lunch I ask him if there’s anything he’d like to add, or retract. He seems concerned about Sheridan Smith, who has taken time out from Funny Girl due to exhaustion. “I find the Sheridan Smith situation really, really sad. I’ve seen her be absolutely incredible on stage in Flare Path and Legally Blonde. I watched her in Funny Girl and the spark was missing. I hope she takes some time out and returns better.”

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (@LittleVoiceLDN) runs at The Union Theatre (@TheUnionTheatre), Southwark from 4 to 26 June

My Fair Lady at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden on Sunday 19 June