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

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

Amy Shindler

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

Simon Bubb and Rae Brogan

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR BURNING BRIDGES NOW 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR BURNING BRIDGES NOW 

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

 

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Avant Garde Dance – Tony Adigun Interview: “The worst thing for someone is to be at a show for an hour and not feel anything.”

One of the countries best hip hop and contemporary dance choreographers Tony Adigun talks me through his love of music, reinventing a classic tale and his inspirations.

Tony Adigun

Tony Adigun

Hello Tony, how are you and what are you up to?
At the moment, with Avant Garde Dance Company, we’re in rehearsals getting ready for our Autumn tour of Fagin’s Twist. We premiered the show back in April at DanceEast in Ipswich before touring over the Spring. So we’ve had time out on the road, and after a break over the summer we’re now getting back into character and shaping things up for our autumn tour and London season.

Fagin’s Twist examines one of Charles Dickens’ most famous notorious villains. How did it all come about?
I was looking for a classic tale to re-tell, and finally settled on the story of Oliver Twist. In thinking about the different characters in the book, with the team, I set about re-imagining some of them; discussing what led them to the point at which the story we all know starts, and creating backstories for those who didn’t have them. How did they get to that point?
Oliver’s character seemed too simple, he was too nice and everything just fell into place for him. It seemed too easy for him. Fagin was the last one we looked at. I’m a believer in the underdog and I was really interested in his personality. I wanted to take his journey before he got to the point where he’s most recognisable and look at his past, at his childhood and see what parallels I could make between him and Oliver.

Music plays an important part in Avant Garde’s work. How did you select the music to soundtrack Fagin’s Twist?
I’m a massive fan of music, and so I work really closely with my collaborators in selecting the right kind of music. The mood, energy and style needs to complement what’s happening on stage. We try out all sorts in the studio during the creative process, so it’s an experimental process. Sometimes we get it right first time, and sometimes it takes a long time to get it just right!

What can audiences expect from an Avant Garde production?
Generally, I want audiences to feel something. I say to my dancers: your job is to evoke an emotion from the audience, whatever that may be. If they hate it, take it: you’ve brought something out of them. The worst thing is for someone to be at a show for an hour and not feel anything. I also like the audience to think. I don’t like things to be laid out plain and obvious: I want the audience to find things for themselves. Their interpretation and what they get from it are just as valuable and as important to me as my original intentions.
This show is one that the audience can enjoy without any previous knowledge of the original story. The relationships between the characters are really strong. I want the audience to sit up and take note of what’s happening but there are also moments that are just light and fun, that people can just sit back and enjoy. It’s narrative and exposes some timeless societal themes, helping us to think differently about people’s situations and actions.
We have a brilliant creative team on board – a fantastic set and costumes that we’re getting great feedback on. And lighting that also helps to create the dark and evocative atmosphere we were after. I work with contemporary dance but am heavily influenced by hip-hop culture and my work in the commercial dance world. Our eight incredible dancers also bring a variety of backgrounds, training and styles into the mix. Text is also a really important element of the show. It brings another layer and I enjoy the complexity and the simplicity that text can bring to a moment. It’s a third element which helps to infuse what’s going on and explain what’s happening.

Who are the top 3 choreographers of all time?
Well that’s subjective! In terms of current choreographers and companies I admire, and who’ve inspired my approach, I would include Ohad Naharin and Batsheva Dance Company, James  Thierrée and Victor Quijada’s RUBBERBANDance Group. And, if I’m allowed to add a fourth, the formidable Nederlands Dans Theater.

You are bringing Fagin’s Twist to Pavilion Dance in Bournemouth. What are your thoughts on the cultural ecology in the region?
Pavilion Dance is a great organisation – a really important player, not just in the South West but across the UK, in terms of supporting and helping artists develop, and creating new choreographic work. We’ve enjoyed, and massively benefitted from, working with them in the past, and meeting people in Bournemouth interested in coming to see and take part in our work. So we really look forward to returning this month. It’s an interesting place to perform as you have the local community plus the tourists. With PDSW now programming two-night runs rather than just one-nighters, hopefully audiences will grow and include more of the passing tourist trade as well as those living locally.

How has your creative work developed over the years?
I’ve increasingly been able to incorporate influences outside of dance. I obviously have a great passion for all sorts of music. But there’s also a host of different things: I really like architecture and structure and translating that to dance, looking at the lines and configurations and patterns of a building and trying to infiltrate that into my dance. I really like design, I’m a bit of a technology geek, so I’m trying to bring that tech-geek aspect into dance. I like media, photography, taking pictures and editing videos, so I’m slowly trying to bring that into my work as well.
I didn’t have the conventional route to becoming a choreographer. I didn’t study dance, it’s just always been a passion, I suppose I’m lucky that I like to be unconventional, therefore I’m not following a set path. Working with The Place as a Work Place Artist has helped me to invest time in myself as an artist and I’ve been able to work on different projects that I might not otherwise have worked done. It’s also given me community, being part of a group of choreographers, and the discussion aspect, talking about the climate of dance, especially contemporary dance. This has massively impacted my development in recent times.

What are your top tips for an aspiring dancer/choreographer?
Never throw anything away. Never turn your back on any movement vocabulary you have, but always add to it. Take as many classes as you can, even in styles you don’t like, just to see how it works with your body and influences you. You’re growing as an artist, so add layers to your experiences. Think outside of our natural inclinations.

What is your philosophy when it comes to making new work?
Innovate, Never Replicate.

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Director of Scorch, Emma Jordan talks about the rehearsal process, gender, Ireland and more

Edinburgh may be a not so distant memory but SCORCH by Primecut Productions at Paines Plough’s Roundabout took Summerhall by storm. Scorch had rave reviews from critics and audiences alike and it is due to head out on tour soon. I had a chat with the Director of the show, Emma Jordan about the rehearsal process, gender and Ireland.
Emma Jordan

Emma Jordan

Hello there, how was your Edinburgh Fringe experience this year? 
We had a super time at the Fringe – it’s the first time the company have presented work there and really it was worth waiting for. Summerhall is such a vibrant hub – a fantastic mixture of audience and artists in a relaxed atmosphere – not so hectic as some of the rest of the venues – and the entire programme of work presented there was interesting and inspiring. Our hosts Paines Plough made us so welcome and we really felt that we were part of a bigger picture, in terms of the roundabouts curated programme.

What is the most rewarding part of the process, of bringing a show that you’ve directed to Edinburgh? 
Our company Primecut mostly presents our work in Ireland, so for me it was really gratifying to present to such an eclectic audience. It’s always good to present work to new audiences, especially in Edinburgh where it’s truly international and mixed in terms of gender and age.

How would you describe the narrative of SCORCH in ten words? 
The story of a gender curious teenager and first love.

The response to SCORCH was quite good, wasn’t it? 
We had an amazing response with heaps of five and four star reviews and three awards ; a Best actor award for Amy McAllister – a fringe first – and the Holden street award. Happy days 🙂

Amy McAllister was extraordinary in the play. How would you describe the rehearsal process? 
The rehearsal process was very focused. The script leaves lots of open questions regarding presentation and we had to make a lot of decisions quickly. When you are integrating choreography and text it’s a fine balance – it was intense but also really enjoyable. Amy is a very talented actor and we worked with some great artists Ciaran Bagnal, our set and lighting designer, Carl Kennedy our sound designer and Nicola Curry our choreographer. I think we all understood that the play has important things to say regarding perception of issues around gender – we all had to learn fast and we had great support here in Belfast from Anchor and Buoys two transgender support organisations. They were hugely beneficial in helping us wrap our heads around the issues that Kes faces.

How many kilometers did you walk around the city? 
Who’s counting ? It’s a gorgeous city and the sight of the mountains made every day a pleasure.

Did you have any recommendations for other shows to see?
I really enjoyed Dublin Old School and Greater Belfast – two provocative shows very different in theme and presentation but both with really playing with language in an inventive way. I also loved Johnny and The Baptists Show in the Roundabout – very funny but with an honesty and integrity I applaud.

Cheers!

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUT TICKETS TO WATCH SCORCH AT BELFAST INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL ON 21/22 OCTOBER 2016

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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.