Thursday, 31 July 2014

Derby Theatre Pulse a review

Pulse, is a Derby community production to get the blood pumping. Slick, very professional on all fronts and full of well developed and totally believable characters with a witty and often moving script by Sally Siner. Every member of the large cast should be proud of this show and their evident total commitment to it. If ever there was a chance to say "break a leg" this hospital based show would be it and there would be several dedicated practitioners there to help in a second and each would be supporting the other as they do on stage - with love and attention. The whole ensemble also executed the many scene changes with admirable clarity.

Directed with style and great imagination by Caroline Barth, Pulse covers all aspects of life and death within the body of the fictional Orb hospital and the multi-level setting means that it lends itself to drama that goes from realistic to surrealistic, from dramatic to traumatic within a heart beat. Clever use of lighting and soundscape both electronic and provided by the cast through ensemble expulsions of breath and song carry the various stories along superbly. I loved the orb shaped circular centre piece onto which various X ray type images were projected to indicate which ward or department we were being shown.

Jean Cherry
Of course with such a big cast of thirty eight it is a particularly hard task to praise everyone however deserving. None-the -less I was impressed by the truth and professionalism of Jean Cherry as the elderly dying patient Unity Brown and equally by Joshua Adams as Sam the young cardiac patient. Both were especially touching during their 'communication' scenes. Throughout Lea Holmes as Roman made a part that potentially could have been corny a completely understated and surprisingly alive joy to watch.

In fact, overall, there were many moments when I had to consider that I wasn't watching assured professionals working on stage when the reality was that this is a group of talented amateurs - in the very best sense of the word.

During each production the text is signed throughout and great variety and complicity was brought into the work as two deaf actresses did a whole amusing scene in sign language to deserved applause from the near capacity audience. The play is also supported with simultaneous text running on two screens either side of the stage.

To quote Caroline Barth the director "This theatre piece is a heightened look at 24 hours in an ordinary hospital and the company work beautifully together to create non-naturalistic moments that lift us out of reality... fast paced and funny it also makes us realise the value of the NHS and how fragile it would become if we don't value it and fight for it."

Photographic images by Robert Day.

Pulse plays until Saturday 2nd August. Climb out of your hospital bed if you must and go and see it. You'll feel instantly better.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Derby Theatre. Two fabulous productions by Derby Youth

I've been hearing great things about these two Derby Youth Theatre productions. Catch them while you can and help celebrate the talents of these casts. Performances remaining 25th and 26th July.

Photos © Robert Day.

Our two youth theatre groups present a stunning double bill: Two plays in one evening, unified by the themes of freedom and sacrifice.

The Willow Pattern
Written by Judith Johnson
Directed by Emma Waslin

A classic tale of innocent, yet forbidden love. Be transported to a vibrant and colourful land of the past to uncover this traditional tale of the angry Mandarin and his determined daughter Knoon-She.

The Chrysalids
Written by John Wyndham
Adapted by David Harrower
Directed by Sarah Brigham

A powerful story set in the post-nuclear world, a place divided into ‘perfect’ humans and ‘mutants’. A young hero and his friends are growing up in fear, hoping that nobody will ever know of their unique power of telepathy. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery, or flee to the terrifying and mutable badlands.

Please note there are two shows per evening

The Willow Pattern (presented by Youth Theatre ages11-14) running time approximately 55 minutes


The Chrysalids (presented by Youth Theatre ages 15-19) running time approximately 50 minutes

Site Specific Sunday - two events from the DEparture Lounge programme.

As part of Site Specific Sunday and Derby Theatre's collaboration with In Good Company towards DEparture Lounge I participated in two unusual events. Both involved sitting down.

A groups of artists and theatre makers called Quarantine presented an event called Table Manners where they invited participants for a meal in exchange for a conversation. The brochure described the experience as an intimate and temporary encounter between two strangers who, in other circumstances might never meet. It was about the familiarity of sharing food together and the art of conversation.

I must learn to read brochures better as I assumed that there would be a table full of people not just one other person. I was met at the door of The Book Café on the Cornmarket in Derby and my food order was taken. I went for the pastrami dish.

Then I was introduced to Renny from Quarantine and sat opposite her. I'm a confident person and looked forward to conversing with this lady. She explained to me about the company and how they hold the same events regularly in Manchester but it tends to be in an Indian restaurant with buffet style food. The topics for the conversation were printed on a 'menu' so we chose our starter topic, our main topic and our dessert topic.

It is nearly a week ago now since this encounter so I can't remember specifics about the conversations but I do remember explaining about my proposed theatre event that I am taking to Germany in December after choosing the option 'what are you part way through?' from the menu. We also spoke about the sea and seaside resorts and I felt (but didn't say) that the encounter was almost like a first date - each person being on their best behaviour and recognising traits within the other that indicate they get on well. I was enjoying Renny's company so much and the opportunity to chat with an intelligent woman over some pleasant food that we over ran our half hour slot (again I didn't read the aspect of the brochure that said the longevity of the slot) and we must have talked for nearly an hour.

The whole experience was very interesting, intelligent, fun and pleasant. Thank you Quarantine and Renny O'Shea.

The second experience was Michael Pinchbeck's Sit with me for a Moment and Remember. This was on a bench on Derby's market square and opposite The Quad - a modern cinema and arts centre. The bench was a wooden one that isn't normally in the position that it was situated. The DEparture Lounge brochure described the site specific experience thus: A bench with a plaque reading ' sit with me for a moment and remember' is placed in a public space. It is both a dedication to a loved one and an invitation to a stranger. You are invited to sit on the bench and listen to a recording that reflects on what it means to sit and remember.

When I arrived to take part there was already someone participating so I went away and came back ten minutes later. I was given a set of head phones and I sat and listened to a soft and warm female voice talking to me as a stranger about contemplation and taking time out to sit and think. The subject, with some instructions to follow, also changed slightly to refer to another - the woman. Part way through I was advised to look to my left. Near to me on the previously empty bench was a young woman smiling and looking forward. It was like she had manifested herself there as a memory made real. The audio continued with instructions to close my eyes and count to ten. I did this in my head. In a sense I didn't want to spoil the mood by talking aloud. The woman's hand then gently rested on mine after I was aurally instructed to put my left hand on the bench. Her hand remained there for a few seconds and then disappeared. During this time I had my eyes closed as instructed and then opened them. The woman on the bench had vanished. During this part of the encounter I had heard contemplations of a relationship that had finished but without remorse. The declarations had a poetic feel to them and inspired some new thinking in me towards my stage writing.

I found the whole experience very relaxing and also quite moving because of the subjects and the warm caring voice that spoke to me through the headphones. I never asked the question but since then I have wondered if female participants have a male voice and a man sitting by them on the bench temporarily.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Derby Theatre - In Good Company - DEparture Lounge

From Thursday I7th to Sunday 20th July Derby Theatre with 'In Good Company' presented DEparture Lounge, an opportunity to sample new and exciting theatre writing and enjoy a host of fantastic fringe performances and enjoy the thought provoking moments of Site Specific Sunday. In this blog post I am not claiming to cover all that was on offer but to speak and think about the things I had the chance to get involved in.

At the DEparture Lounge launch on Thursday evening 17th July at Derby Theatre I gathered with like minded folk and listened as Sarah Brigham outlined the exciting programme ahead. Downstairs in the Studio the Story Scavengers inspired and amused the audience with a presentation of  a loose script based on what had been listened to and observed fresh in Derby's City Centre that very day. They created theatrical stories out of ordinary stories overheard throughout the everyday world of a busy Midlands city. Some of it was quite poetic, other aspects fleeting but revealing. This was directed by Gareth Morgan Literary Associate at CAST Doncaster. Most of the content was humorous, similar to the next presentation 'All The Little Lights' but this had a much darker tone. Commissioners: Fifth Word.

At 7pm the studio was presented with a rehearsed reading of a play by Jane Upton and Fifth Word Theatre. To quote the brochure 'Joanne's had to grow up fast. Lisa's escaping her past and Amy's being bullied. At the local chip shop an unlikely friendship is formed. But where will it lead?

All The Little Lights has been developed as a creative response to recent high profile cases of child sexual exploitation and thorough research carried out at Safe and Sound in Derby.'

From a male perspective I found the short play very moving in my consideration of these young women's exploitation in the dangerous seedy world of porn and nubile/child sex. None of these actions can be excused but what I did find interesting was the complicit nature of the older girls manipulating the youngster Amy and her even younger (spoken of) sister into the ring of depravity through the male  owner of the chip shop. One might naively assume that it is purely the male predator that is to blame yet he is backed up by the actions of previous victims presumably for their own gain coupled with the fright of being revealed and a brutal violence towards themselves. All the Little Lights was intelligent theatre writing with a true depth of circumstance and expression.

The cast was Nadia Clifford as Joanne; Sarah Hoare as Lisa; Abigail Hood as Amy. Each actor has a seasoned pedigree in drama and in some cases hard hitting drama.

Directors: Angharad Jones and Laura Ford.

Dramaturge: Kate Chapman

Sound Design: Adam McCready.

Fifth Word was set up by Angharad |Jones and Laura Ford in 2008 and they exist to spark debate about serous contemporary issues. They produce provocative new plays made in the East Midlands that tour across the country. They specialise in thought provoking and timely scenarios that tell stories in a bold and uncompromising way that speaks to a range of traditional theatre goers and the next generation audience. They work with upcoming and established playwrights from the region through developing new commissions, scratch nights and full productions.

Amongst other productions they have recently worked with local writer Amanda Whittington on Amateur Girl. To condense the Guardian's critique they gave it five stars and said: "Observations of the dehumanising influence of the sex industry do not come much sharper.."

A separate Blog Post about Site Specific Sunday is a work in progress. Available here in the next few days.

Cast revealed for Twickenham Theatre production of Sweeney Todd.

Olivier Award winner David Bedella will play razor-wielding madman Sweeney Todd and Sarah Ingram his pie-making partner in crime, Mrs Lovett, in an intimate new production of the Tony Award and Olivier Award-winning musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler, will kick-off the autumn season at Twickenham Theatre in West London. It will start previews on Wednesday 10 September and runs to Saturday 4 October.

The new venue’s first in-house show is a co-production with West End producer David Adkin.

David Bedella was a triple award winner, named Best Actor in a Musical at the 2004 Olivier Awards, the Evening Standard Awards, and The Critics Circle Awards, for creating the role of the warm-up man Jonathan Weiruss/Satan in Jerry Springer The Opera. He appeared in the role at the National Theatre, in the West End, the Sydney Opera House and in New York in a concert version at Carnegie Hall. On television David most notably played Dr Carlos Fashola in Holby City and more recently guest starred in By Any Means and Inside No. 9, all for BBC, and his film credits include Alexander and Batman Begins. His other West End starring roles include Frank n Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, Billy Flynn in Chicago, and Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He starred as Arnold in Torch Song Trilogy and Wilson Mizner in Sondheim’s Road Show, both at the Menier Chocolate Factory. In the past year he played Man 1 in the acclaimed production of Sondheim’s Putting It Together at St.James Theatre and Kevin in Into The Heights at Southwark Playhouse.

Sarah Ingram’s many West End musicals include Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Martin Guerre, Inherit The Wind, Flashdance, Imagine This, Murderous Instincts and Napoleon. She worked with David Bedella on Sondheim’s Road Show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Most recently, Sarah played Josie in the revival of the Boy George musical Taboo at Brixton Clubhouse following her critically acclaimed performance as Miss Hannigan in Annie at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Mark McKerracher (Judge Turpin). His West End starring roles include The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, Sunday in the Park With George, Ragtime, Cats and The Bodyguard.

Zoe Curlett (Beggar Woman). Her West End starring roles include Christine in The Phantom of the Opera and Cosette in Les Miserables, and Cats and The Secret Garden on UK tour.

The rest of the cast includes: Shaun Chambers (Pirelli), Genevieve Kingsford (who makes her professional debut as Johanna), Mikaela Newton (Tobias), Josh Tevendale (Anthony).

Director Derek Anderson, Musical Supervisor Tim Jackson, Musical Director Ben Holder, Set Design Rachel Stone, Costume Design Olivia Ward , Sound Design Joel Price, Casting Anne Vosser, Producer David Adkin in association with Twickenham Theatre.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Lace Market Theatre - possibly the best set ever!!! The back story.

Interview with set designer and photographer Mark James about the building of the set for The Lace Market Theatre's production of the controversial play Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth.

Phil Lowe: You were asked to acquire a real caravan for the set. How did that come about?

Mark: The director, Roger Newman and I wanted a real caravan on stage and you can't make up anything really that looks just like a caravan, They are such unique objects, I could spend months making something that perhaps looked like a caravan but wouldn't really. It would be rubbish.

We went through local breakers yards and alerted them to the fact that we wanted a caravan but we didn't get anything from them at all.

Phil Lowe: Did it have to be in a particular style?

Mark: The older the better and I didn't want anything too stylish. I wanted something a bit crap looking. It had to be small as well, about ten foot – not much bigger than that really because of the size of the stage at the Lace Market Theatre. I saw plenty of them which were seventeen feet but they wouldn't fit. It was pointless even thinking about them. Time was ticking on so I started looking on Ebay and the preloved site. This was two or three weeks before the get in, about the end of June. I really wanted it ready, cut up and ready to re-assemble on stage as soon as possible so the actors could get used to it.

Leading up to this period I was getting a bit frantic with me thinking I wasn't going to get my caravan. I must have looked at dozens of caravans mainly on Ebay and contacted some of the sellers mainly about the size. I wasn't having a lot of luck so far. Nothing seemed right.

Phil Lowe: Did you have a budget?

Mark: Sure. The stage budget was £575 for set, props and lighting. I was willing to spend £200 – £250 on the caravan. Then I saw one in Wakefield which had been on the internet for less than an hour and was auctioned or Buy It Now for £30!!! I emailed everyone with the exciting news that I had found one and that it was perfect – well fairly decrepit sort of perfect and not at all road worthy. I didn't wait for a reply. I just went for it. Even if it turned out a bad buy it was worth the risk of £30. The people who were selling it were advertising it as something one could use as a quirky shed on an allotment or as a chicken coop. It was also particularly gutted inside with only a little bit of furniture left attached. This also meant less work for me as set designer and builder.


So when I bought it - it was a case of arranging transport to get it back to Nottingham. We hired a trailer for £48 to tow the caravan and drove up to Wakefield on a Saturday morning to pick up our purchase and to meet the family who were selling it. The caravan turned out to be perfect for me and my purposes. We strapped it on and I reinforced inside with some bracing because apparently, it is the furniture that is the strength of a caravan.

On this road trip was Heidi Hargreaves and Sam Allison. Heidi documented it through her photos. Back in Nottingham we took it to Nick Gales' place of work and we were given permission to use their car park to chop it up as long as we got rid of it by the following Monday. The chopping up was done with an angle grinder lent to us by John Parker who is in the show playing Troy Whitworth. Sam was in the Saturday matinee performance of Rutherford and Son and so he helped us for as long as he dare. Heidi and I started to take the caravan to bits about five o'clock in the evening and on Sunday Austin Booth helped out from 11 to 3pm and by then we had completed the job.

Phil Lowe: How did you plan in re-constructing the caravan after demolishing it?

Mark: Believe it or not I didn't have a plan!!! I had no idea how easy or difficult it would be to put it back together in a safe manner. It had to be very strong generally but also at one point one of the actors sits on top of the caravan. So anyway, we cut it into five pieces and we didn't use the chassis because some actors emerge from under the caravan in the dark and there would have been very sharp bits to contend with. We couldn't afford to have actors injured. To give it all a firm foundation I re-constructed it with an internal timber frame and it is surprisingly sturdy. You could say that it almost slotted back into place, almost.

Phil Lowe: What about the other aspects of the set – the greenery – the general dump of various rubbish around the caravan in the woods?

Just some of the empty cans used on the set of Jerusalem
Mark: We got the empty lager cans from Jam Cafe in Hockley Nottingham. They are one of the few bars now that still sell beer in cans. I think over all I got about a hundred or so. To give a bit of variety from the Red Stripe cans we got the cast members to bring in some other designs. The trees were from Lace Market member Cibele's garden – massive overgrown Budhlia plants. A lot of the leaves had fallen off but they have still retained enough for the stage illusion. Hugh Phillips, our great lighting guy has lit the three trees from behind with green lights to inject an illusion of life into the remaining foliage. I also liked the idea of having the trees moving in a gust of wind so we have suspended them above the ground.

Everything has had to be Flamebared so that they are not a fire hazard. Flamebar is a liquid that you spray onto materials to reduce the risk of fire on stage. All theatres use this. The main character Johnny 'Rooster' Byron physically sets light to various documents during the play and people smoke so we have had to be particularly careful.

The playing area surrounding the caravan is meant to be a muddy mess due to all the people who party there and I have tried to give it a different dimension with an application of wood bark amongst the detritus that surrounds Rooster's caravan.

Phil Lowe: How have the actors enjoyed working on this most fantastic and most realistic of sets?

Mark: Roger (the director) told me that when they first started rehearsing with it they absolutely loved it and I've tried to create lots of different playing levels on the stage as well. By this I mean different height levels so that people can use them – to pull rank and whatever. Even though it is quite a cluttered stage and it looks like a junk yard I've still tried to leave as much room as possible for the cast to utilise as an acting area. I think it works. Well you will see tonight! Roger has created lovely groupings of people using different parts of the set so I think that it looks fantastic. A true collaboration between everybody.

Big thanks to Mark James for the fascinating interview. Production photos by Mark James. Documentation Caravan photos by Heidi Hargreaves.

End note: I have heard that the owners of the Sprite caravan are coming to see the show on Friday night. I hope that they are impressed with the star of the show - Sprite caravan!

This top quality production runs at The Lace Market Theatre Nottingham from 21st to 26th July 2014.

Box Office 0115 9507201

Twitter: LMTheatre.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Eagle Awards at Derby Theatre

Caroline Barth of Derby Theatre sent me a very nice email today reflecting on my small input to last night's amateur theatre celebration  - The Eagle Awards at Derby Theatre.

"Dear Phil,
Thank you so much for your wonderful contribution to the Eagle Awards.  You were warm, funny and helped the evening go with a swing!    Everyone was really pleased with the whole evening and we are so grateful that you gave us your time voluntarily."
I thoroughly enjoyed the event and was very proud to offer my services as a presenter for the Malcolm Sircom Award for best production of a Pantomime.
The nominees were:
The Watson Players for The Sleeping Beauty 
Kaleidoscope Players for Beauty and the Beast
The Enfield Players for Trouble in Pantoland
Mickleover Players for Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates
The judges thought that the winning production was; a fantastic interpretation of the traditional tale, brought to life with energy, humour and style. Excellent staging, costumes and sets, great Performances and a pace that never let up and made for a resounding success. Those involved in this production have every right to be very proud.
The WINNER was The Watson Players for The Sleeping Beauty.

All the winners in all categories of The Eagle Awards.
As I sat in the audience watching all the other awards and speeches I started to think about what I was going to say outside of the script and came up with a few short stories that went right back to the very beginnings of my own amateur attempts at theatre. The very first attempt was being cast as one of the three kings aged nine in the Roe Farm School nativity. I didn't  turn up on the night of junior school nativity as one of the three kings (I had no idea I had to!) and found myself being forgiven enough the next year to be the centre of a three boy Puff The Magic Dragon with my face stuck against the sweaty bottom of a boy with chronic wind so foul that I almost threw up every night! Even this didn't put me off and after some Derby Gang Show experiences I found myself completely hooked and joined The Littleover Players and then Derby Theatre in the Round with a few forays into Derby Shakespeare and a few musical societies before going to university to study performance art in the late 1980s.
I also told the audience about how my family in Chaddesden circa 1960s never went to the theatre but were 'entertained' on Saturday night by a trip to the Dog Track on Friar Lane and on Monday night the live entertainment came in the form of wrestling bouts at the Queen Street Baths venue. One Christmas I was given an encyclopaedia with a several vibrant colour plates and one of these was an artists' impression of a side view across a stage where a production of Peter Pan was in full flow. The theatricality of this sparked a profound interest in this thing called theatre which I began to follow with a passion at the tender age of eleven and have continued to do so ever since.