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A chat under a bridge with Howard Brenton and Sam Hodges

The Shadow Factory is set in the autumn of 1940 during the Battle of Britain and is about the devastation reigned on Southampton, the home of the Spitfire. The play is written by theatre giant Howard Brenton and directed by the ambitious director Samuel Hodges.

The NST City is part of Studio 144, a new £28m venue in Southampton’s city centre. The building will include a 450 seat main house and a 135 seat studio, as well as screening facilities, rehearsal and workshop spaces.

Sam and Howard .jpg

Howard Brenton and Samuel Hodges (obvs)

I went along to a have a chat with director of NST Samuel Hodges and playwright Howard Brenton on  a ramp in Southampton under the Itchen Bridge for the launch of the play.

Here is what we discussed.

Me: Hello! Are you both happy with how today has gone? 

Sam: I think it’s terrific – this is the perfect place for it. It’s beautiful and historic. It feels exiting; It’s suddenly got real.

Howard: It’s amazing to see this ramp we are standing on, they built sea planes in the 20’s and 30’s here and they rolled off this ramp.

Me: How would you describe your state of mind, Mr Hodges?

Sam: My state of mind is one of cautious excitement – I think it’s always that way with any new play at this point where you’re between a final draft and beginning of rehearsals and it’s all starting to shape up. On the other hand, we are desperate to get into this new building and start playing. I suppose there are quite a few unknowns: to go into a brand-new theatre and make a piece of brand new theatre is double unknown.

Howard: Well it’s great standing on this spot – I remember in the beginning I said yes to writing this play in a pub not far from here… Now we are standing on the actual site with the thing written and we are all ready to go.

Me: Is that how you get all your commissions, Sam? In the pub?

Sam: Yes. Absolutely.

Me: How would you describe The Shadow Factory in a nutshell?

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Sam: It’s a story about the community, it’s a story about the city and it’s a story that they will not have heard. I think as a theatre experience what they will get is something very unusual. Something with lots of design ,with projection, with flying bits ,with big community chorus, with movement and with music. I would hope it feel like something almost immersive.

Howard: I hope they will be entertained. This is a story of local people, a story that is not widely known, as Sam says. Shadow Factory is about people who did something extraordinary. It’s not to be sentimental about it because this is a very, very tough time. A lot of people thought they were going to lose the war. Nevertheless, they achieved this; 6 weeks from the factory being bombed – planes were being made in bits in the back streets. So, if people could do that 70 years ago, if we have to face a crisis in this country, and God knows we may well. What can we do? It can surprise us what we could do. I’d like people to take that thought out of the theatre.

Me: Is there anything that either of you would like to add?

Sam: Um. No. That’s’ fine.

The Shadow Factory runs at the NST City, Southampton from 16 February to 2 March.

 

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Five key shows opening in London in the next four months 

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

Jesus Christ Superstar (11 August)

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

Five Guys Named Moe (29 August)

How do you think this will do?

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

Footloose (12 September)

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

The Toxic Avenger – (28 September) 

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

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

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – (6 November)

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

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

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Around the World in 80 Days, Matthew Ganley Interview: “Dolphins are incredible creatures.”

You’ve probably heard that Around the World in 80 Days is currently on at Cadogan Hall, London, so it seemed like a good opportunity to talk to Matthew Ganley who is currently starring in it.

The show is on at Cadogan Hall for five weeks and continuing as part of a wider UK tour. The production features an ensemble of 8 who play over 125 characters in an imaginative and physically inventive high-spirited escapade. Follow the mysterious and fabulously wealthy Phileas Fogg as he wagers his life’s fortune that he can circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days. Brilliant.

Here is what we discussed.

Hi ya! How is Around the World in 80 Days looking?

It’s looking great thanks. A riotous spectacle!

Great! How would you best describe Theresa Heskins’ approach to directing?
Detailed, rigourous and playful. Her rehearsals are brilliantly full on. So much care and attention is taken and her shows have real integrity as a result. As an actor I am trusted and scrutinised in equal measure. You bring all of yourself into the process and after a week your brain and body have had a full workout!

If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
The Baiji Dolphin. A Chinese river dolphin recently declared extinct due to human impact. We could learn to do things differently to give them another shot. Dolphins are incredible creatures.

There are a lot of characters in Around the World in 80 Days aren’t there. How do you tackle playing several different characters?
Having a few different accents is useful. Also discovering the differences physically between the parts. Working with opposites can help. If one character is a smug plonker, I might explore making the next one kind and likeable. Above all, discovering the truth for each character and realising their role within the story is the most useful approach.

Who would play you in the film of your life and why?
Jason Statham. We look vaguely similar and he’d make my life look that bit cooler.

How is this role different to your previous roles in The Lady Killers or Once?
In Once and The Lady Killers I had just the one character. In 80 days I have 28 (including an elphant’s arse!) It provides a different challenge. Being able to switch in an instant from an English reform club member to a street seller in Bombay without leaving the stage is a challenge but a very fun one! There’s not a moment’s rest.

How challenging is it staging this show?
It’s such a fast paced and technically busy show. Portraying each country and culture in a such short space of time means the acting, movement, music, quick costume changes, lighting, fight sound effects etc. must all work seemlessly together. The whole team both on and offstage can’t afford to drop the ball. There’s never a dull moment!

Around the World in 80 Days is quite unique in that it is old fashioned but also post-modern isn’t it.
That’s interesting. I’ve never thought of it in those terms. It’s great that an audience might elicit those observations and I’d say our amazing design team definitely contribute to placing us in a very specific period. From my perspective the show is so well written that the stuff I’m responsible for, i.e. the people, relationships and the story to me are timeless.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

What do you think audiences will enjoy most about this production?
The comedy, the suspense, the brilliant fight sequences, the elephant, the epic journey and the romance.

What is top of your bucket list?
At the moment it’s a sky dive.

Cadogan Hall seems like an unusual home for this show. Is it?
Transferring from traditional theatres to a concert hall has had its challenges. It has also gifted us with great acoustics, a wonderful auditorium and the new addition of projecting images of each place on to the backdrop of the stage. We’ve had some brilliantly lively crowds so far and the show is settling in very nicely here.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?
Come and see it. You’re guaranteed an unforgettable night out.

At Cadogan Hall until 2 September, then on tour. Box Office: 020 7730 4500

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Charlie Fink, Cover My Tracks Interview: “There is a lot of things in the realm of gig-theatre, but I feel like we’ve made something truly unique.”

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Interview: Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Gareth O’Connor: “People either laugh from start to finish or they are very quiet.”

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
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Anthony Biggs, Artistic Director Jermyn St Theatre: “Much though I hate to admit it, I would say Trump and Brexit are indirectly a good thing for the arts, or more specifically the making of us. It challenges us to respond.”

Anthony Biggs
Anthony Biggs

Anthony Biggs

Anthony Biggs’ is well into his final season as Artistic Director of Jermyn Street Theatre. He has been in charge at the venue since 2013, and has produced work by British authors such as JB Priestley, Terence Rattigan and A.A. Milne, as well as musicals including See What I Wanna See, Closer Than Ever and I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road.

Anthony, it turned out, fancied doing an interview about Gorky, Jermyn St Theatre and more.

Modern drama owes a huge debt to Maxim Gorky. (See: Eugene O’Neill’, Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter). The Last Ones by Maxim Gorky is a strikingly relevant and vivid portrayal of a family and a country in the grip of revolution. Biggs’ farewell production is the UK premiere of Maxim Gorky’s The Last Ones, which is set in 1908 in a Russia following the October Revolution and has been translated by Cathy Porter. The 1907 play has a bullying Russian patriarch at its centre and there is certainly a timeliness about it. “The striking thing about Gorky’s work is that he started writing relatively late in life having had a pretty tough childhood – he famously walked over a 1000 miles from his home along the river Volga to go the university in Kazan – Lenin went there – and having walked all the way there they told him to bugger off,” he says. “He became a beacon of the anti-establishment. In the play, there is this remarkable Donald Trump parallel – it’s clear that the main character Ivan, a retired Police Chief, believes in alternative facts – everything he says is fiction. He states at the end: “We must fight against our enemies”, like a mobster out of the Sopranos.”

The tiny Jermyn Street Theatre succeeds in its mission to revive classics and develop new musical theatre work with big ambition. But does he ever worry he’ll run out of quality old plays? And where does he start to look for the hidden gems? “I usually find these plays by searching through public libraries, trying to find work that provokes me,” he says. “When I read O’Neill’s The First Man they were about to do his famous play The Hairy Ape at the Old Vic which was written at the same time. I thought that was interesting – here was this other play that had been forgotten about, but felt equally relevant, and I had to do it.”

Rather excitingly, Biggs will soon be co-artistic director of The Playground Theatre, London. A new space with a seating capacity of up to 200 with a flexible stage and two dressing rooms. “The Playground Theatre is a huge space which used to be a bus garage. It’s a completely immersive space so it could be transformative,” he says. “The West End has its bonuses but it is like a goldfish bowl. We are in discussion with European companies who are making theatre that is so far away from anything going on in this country at the moment. And the foreign productions we do see here are usually don’t represent the level of experimentation that is happening abroad, or are watered down versions of what is going on elsewhere.”

Does he think Trump and Brexit are good thing for art and culture?

“I was a teenager under Thatcher and I know how awful it was then for the Arts community,” says Biggs. “I couldn’t afford to go to drama school in the late 80’s –there were hardly any grants then. But a lot of talent emerged in the eighties and early nineties that came out of a period of appalling arts funding. Maybe because those artists felt they had something important to say. Under Blair’s Labour we had the Lottery which changed everything – suddenly we had all these new buildings and literary and education departments – but I’m not sure the work improved. Much though I hate to admit it, I would say Trump and Brexit are indirectly a good thing for the arts, or more specifically the making of us. It challenges us to respond.”

The Last Ones is at Jermyn Street theatre, London, until 1 July. Box office: 020-7287 2875.

Interview Dance Umbrella’s Artistic Director, Emma Gladstone: “I’m really thrilled that we are working with a whole mix of international and diverse artists. We really hope you enjoy what we’ve cooked up!”

Emma Gladstone
Emma Gladstone

Emma Gladstone

Dance Umbrella is London’s international dance festival, celebrating 21st century choreography across the capital. Emma Gladstone is the artistic director of Dance Umbrella. Over its long history Dance Umbrella has been undeniably influential in opening the eyes of art-makers to a very different kind of way to make and present work.

We are talking on the phone ahead of the 2017 season announcement, Gladstone is seeking quiet from a noisy toddler ahead of an important meeting at The Barbican, London. Certainly, there is plenty on her plate “I would say it is a mixture of exhaustion and anticipation,” she adds, quickly. “I get very excited about launching our festival season. It’s a massive time of the year and afterwards I can just about breathe a sigh of relief. One of the things I’m trying to do is keep it really tight; everything we are doing is outlined on the back of the brochure.”

Gladstone’s aim is to make a Dance Umbrella for everyone. “I think there is a huge audience interested in live art, physical theatre and dance. There’s a huge potential audience that don’t get what we are doing yet, but I’m trying to change their minds,” she says. “It’s important to remember that Dance for the mass audiences since 1930 has been mostly classical ballet. I think there is a big crossover of people who are curious – they think they won’t like it and I want to persuade them otherwise. We programme some evocative and resonant work that can transport you intellectually, emotionally and physically.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR DANCE UMBRELLA, MOVING LONDON, 11-28 October 

Rocío Molina

Rocío Molina. Click on the image to book your tickets for Fallen From Heaven

Since many creative companies can’t endure without subsidy and/or big commissions, their identities swing according to the work they’re permitted to make. Many find themselves pushed towards children’s theatre. Gladstone is instinctively inclusive, and fundamentally aware of the bigger picture when it comes to programming work for a live art festival. “I started programming the festival very selfishly as a young mum in 2000, when I was working at The Place,” she says. “It’s such a physical art form and lots of young people attend classes so for me it made sense to integrate pieces for them into Dance Umbrella. It’s like having Rocío Molina returning with Fallen From Heaven (Caída del Cielo). She ended up getting an Olivier nomination [for Bosque Ardora in 2015] as soon as she was taken out that ‘flamenco box’ and her work was seen for what it is more widely. I’m really keen on that.”

Dance Umbrella 2017

Dance Umbrella 2017. Click on the image to book your tickets.

It is by all accounts worth looking at what value we place on the work Dance Umbrella showcases. But what is she most proud of in this year’s line up? “I would say I’m most proud of Satchie Noro and Silvain Ohl’s spectacular outdoor performance Origami, on a 40ft shipping container at Battersea Power Station that will be going on a little tour of the Thames and around London,” she says. “I’ve been working with developers for the first time, so it’s been quite a long process getting access and permission from those sites down the river. It’s impressive but it’s got something very peaceful about it. We are also going to sunny Croydon; I’m so keen on us getting out of the centre and the big houses. There’s a real pleasure in the mobility of running a festival outside of a venue.”

The emphasis of her programming is on increasing diversity, on gender equality and co-production, making the audience base as wide as it can possibly be. “We’re doing these two very special festival-within-a-festival events; one at Rich Mix and one at Shoreditch Town Hall,” she says excitedly. “Guest Programmer Freddie Opoku-Addaie is creating a festival-within-a-festival with two live bands from all over Asia, Europe and South America. I’m really thrilled that we are working with a whole mix of international and diverse artists. We really hope you enjoy what we’ve cooked up!”

Dance Umbrella 2017 will take place across London from 11 – 28 October 2017.

 

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The Ugly One at Park Theatre, Interview: Arian Nik: “Art, theatre & performance is one of the best outlets of frustration & another opportunity to have you voice heard.”

Charlie Dorfman and Arian Nik in The Ugly One. Photo Credit Helen Maybanks
Charlie Dorfman and Arian Nik in The Ugly One. Photo Credit Helen Maybanks

Charlie Dorfman and Arian Nik in The Ugly One. Photo Credit Helen Maybanks

Their PR asked if I’d like to have a chat with the cast of Buckland Theatre Company’s The Ugly One and I said ‘yes please, can I ask them all the same question?’ and before they had a chance to say no I did just that.
 During the course of what follows you will hear various cast members talking about various things. Specifically: getting older, The Ugly One (obviously) and more.
 ‘FYI’ The Ugly One is a scalpel sharp comedy on beauty, identity and getting ahead in life. You will also bear witness to a question about Trump and Brexit’s impact on arts and culture. Oh and it runs at the Park Theatre until 24 June.
Arian Nik answers the same set of questions as Indra Ové yesterday.
Do you think everyone does have body confidence issues? Some people seem to have none at all, do they just not realise it?
I can’t really speak for others, but as far as my own confidence goes – I think we live in a society now where there are so many pressures from the media that it’s hard not to have hang ups about your appearance!

Is it quite fun working at Park Theatre?
Working at The Park Theatre has been a blast so far. I trained at Mountview  Academy in North London so spent a lot of my time as an acting student seeing productions at The Park- feels awesome to now be on the other side. The theatre is always buzzing & the staff are super friendly.

What drew you to auditioning for The Ugly One?
There were so many reasons! Having visited The Park so much as a student, to perform there was always a goal of mine. Secondly, the piece itself excited me so much! I had loads of questions & was hungry to explore the possible answers. Above all – I wanted to work with Roy. His approach to text & story telling rang true with me. I was itching to create with him.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR THE UGLY ONE

Getting older is quite fun isn’t it: do you need time to pass so that you can look back with wisdom?
I don’t believe wisdom necessarily comes from age or time, but from experience. One person can experience more in a year than another person may do in a lifetime. The experiences offer the wisdom. Not age, nor time.
But yes, getting older is fun. I counted down the days till I could get my hands on a Drivers Licence.

What can audiences expect from The Ugly One 10 years on since it was last seen?
Audiences can expect an exciting, thought-provoking & hilarious night out. The play is more relevant than ever. The issues explored & the expectations from the world of the play are perhaps more relatable now than they were 10 years ago.

How have the performances been going? Is it fun performing in an intimate space such as Park 90?
The preview period has been so much fun. The audiences have been warm & welcoming which has really allowed us to explore, cement but above all – PLAY.

Can you describe your director (Roy) in 3 words?
Open. Playful. Supportive.

Last question – easy one – Do any of you share the view that some take that Brexit and Trump are good for arts and culture?
As long as there are no cuts or shunning involved- yes. World politics is igniting something within people more so than ever. Art, theatre & performance is one of the best outlets of frustration & another opportunity to have you voice heard.

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The Ugly One at Park Theatre – Cast Interview – Indra Ové: “I’ve enjoyed getting older. Age has never worried me. Live in the moment!”

Indra Ové in rehearsals for Buckland Theatre Company’s The Ugly One at Park90. Credit Helen Maybanks
Indra Ové in rehearsals for Buckland Theatre Company’s The Ugly One at Park90. Credit Helen Maybanks

Indra Ové in rehearsals for Buckland Theatre Company’s The Ugly One at Park90. Credit Helen Maybanks

Their PR asked if I’d like to have a chat with the cast of Buckland Theatre Company’s The Ugly One and I said ‘yes please, can I ask them all the same question?’ and before they had a chance to say no I did just that.
During the course of what follows you will hear various cast members talking about various things. Specifically: getting older, The Ugly One (obviously) and more.
‘FYI’ The Ugly One is a scalpel sharp comedy on beauty, identity and getting ahead in life. You will also bear witness to a question about Trump and Brexit’s impact on arts and culture. Oh and it runs at the Park Theatre until 24 June.
Anyway, here is what Indra had to say for herself.

Do you think everyone does have body confidence issues? Some people seem to have none at all, do they just not realise it?
Yes I think most Women in the West have body confidence issues. We’re made to. I think its part of a beauty conspiracy. Created by the press, by cosmetics firms and the drug industry. If people don’t have it they are very lucky. Men suffer much, much less than women. Though the pressure is effecting them too now.

Is it quite fun working at Park Theatre?
Yes enormous fun. It’s a great theatre and space. And I’m local so it’s pure joy for me!

What drew you to auditioning for The Ugly One?

The script!! I loved it from my first read. I love the way it’s written and I love the subject. It’s so important. And I really enjoy the mixture of tragedy and comedy. And the dynamic change of characters. I love my three Fannys. It’s great to go from playing someone my own age into someone aged 73! And I wanted the opportunity to work with Roy. We’d met a lot in the past year and I was keen to work with him. And since the Park has opened I’ve wanted to work here!!

Getting older is quite fun isn’t it: do you need time to pass so that you can look back with wisdom?
Yes I’ve enjoyed getting older. Age has never worried me. Experience and wisdom is a great and liberating thing. Live in the moment!

What can audiences expect from The Ugly One 10 years on since it was last seen?

A fascinating reflection of what’s happening in Western society today that I think is even more significant, relevant now than 10 years ago.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR THE UGLY ONE

How have the performances been going? Is it fun performing in an intimate space such as Park 90?

Performances have been great. Especially as we’ve had packed houses, and such responsive audiences. It’s great working in such an intimate space and being so up close and personal with the audience.

Can you describe your director (Roy) in 3 words?
Funny Brave Playful & Creative

Last question – easy one – Do any of you share the view that some take that Brexit and Trump are good for arts and culture?
No Brexit and Trump are incredibly dangerous for the arts!!

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I went along to the unveiling of LAMDA’S new building and had a chat with Joanna Read and Rory Kinnear