Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Greetings From The Trenches - first rehearsal promo video.

Promotional video from the first rehearsal of Greetings From The Trenches.

Greetings From The Trenches - work in progress

For a while now I have been working on a theatre piece that will be shown in early December at the Jakobus Theatre in Karlsruhe - Germany. I have strong connections with this theatre space and the people who run it and the piece suits the themes of post war Germany and England after The Great War. 'Greeting From The Trenches' is about factual events and a fictionalised notion of two opposing soldiers (one English, one German) meeting at the Christmas Truce and realising the potential in their friendship.

So much has been read about such fraternisation and the promise to write 'after the war is over' and as far as I know there is little evidence that any such discourse happened. My theatre piece examines a poetic notion of the possibility that it did and what the correspondents may talk/write about and how long the writing practise would exist for. Plus what would be subjects? Commonalities? Politics? Normal; life? Poverty? The future? Deep regret? Food?

Emma Brown, an actress based in Holland and a Mezzo/Alt singer joins me for this extraordinary theatre piece and I was delighted to meet up with her last week for a read through of the script so far and a rehearsal. Emma is a superb singer and a fine actress.

Alongside the research ( boy can you research too much about WW1!) and the writing, the script has been developed to the point of  great promise and I have sent off a copy of the play's synopsis to Nottingham Playhouse's Time & Memory new writing initiative. Towards the end of this month I shall know if anything has become of my application.

A couple of weeks ago I had a short tune go through my head that seemed fitting for this piece and rather than assume that I might remember it later in the evening I recorded it on my Dictaphone. Today I have created a short video that shows the development of such an idea. My instinct is to use the tune as a prelude to a poem played on a piano or sung by Emma.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Equus: Review. Nottingham Playhouse Advanced Youth Theatre

Equus by Peter Shaffer is a thematically and textually strong play, demanding vocally and physically, and best played by adults with a younger man in the lead as disturbed teenager Alan Strang. That is the way it would work best.

Think again. The Nottingham Playhouse Advanced Youth Theatre production sweeps all of those assumptions out of the proverbial theatrical stable in a thunderingly good production at the Playhouse's versatile studio space – the Neville Studio.

Shaffer's play about a young man who has blinded several horses in a fit of anguish and deep guilt examines the nature of religious worship and of misguided parental control and the disastrous results thereof. It also looks at passion and what that means to the two main protagonists.

Alan Strang ( a grippingly honest performance in an emotionally difficult role by Tom Martin) has been offered into the care of psychologist Martin Dysart. For the play to work these two roles have to be well thought through and performed with consummate skill and believability. Jacob Seelochan's portrayal of Dysart has a maturity well beyond the age of the young actor and he conveys Dr Dysart's own mentally corrupted impression of himself brilliantly.

This production is directed with great theatrical imagination by Sarah Stephenson and the style of playing for the cast of twelve produces some thrilling theatre and emotional tension in the ensemble. Always engaged, the cast are placed along the back of the space in a jury box and use their bodies and voices to support or disturb the story as it unfolds. At times quite eerie the ensemble also create vocal atmospheres through a build up of sounds/words and stamping of feet. There is a clever device of showing bags of evidence to the jury as the play unfolds.

The riding scenes are confidently and imaginatively done in particular the scene in the field of HaHa where Strang takes a horse called Nuggett for a ride that becomes an erotic experience.

Will Harrison and Eleanor Sharkey impress as the repressive father and mother Frank and Dora Strang and Paige Peddie gives a mature performance as Heather Salomon. Over all a superbly well performed youth theatre production of Shaffers' dynamic play of misdeed and psychological examination.

Equus plays until 16th August.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Sardines Magazine. WW1 Centenary feature and more!

I am proud to announce that I have written a World War One centenary special twenty-one page feature for Sardines Magazine (August edition - issue 23) plus an interview with John Godber, Joe McGann and Shobna Gulati. In the last issue Sardines published my interview with Warwick Davis (cover feature), a piece about myself as theatre reviewer and the twinning arrangement at Nottingham's Lace Market Theatre. It is an honour for me to be a contributor to this excellent

 Paul Johnson - Sardines editor in chief - has done a fantastic job of editing my text and bringing the piece even further to life with some brilliant photo arrangements. Amongst the WW1 subjects (all to do with theatre) we feature the puppets from War Horse, an interview with Howard Brenton at The Globe theatre, insights into one production of Private Peaceful plus news and reviews from professional touring productions. Those include Northern Broadsides 'An August Bank Holiday Lark', Nottingham Playhouse's new play 'The Second Minute' by Andy Barrett and directed by Giles Croft and  Alex Gwyther's one man show 'Our  Friends, The Enemy'. Two amateur productions of 'Oh What A Lovely War' are seen in two very different ways and there is a great photographic compilation of pictures from many an amateur First World War play across the country. And much more...

The latest magazine - hot off the press - is chock full of articles that will be fascinating for any lover of the theatre and can be ordered through the Sardines website either as a single magazine or subscription or downloadable. Back copies can also be ordered through the same website.

The John Godber interview took place in the rehearsal rooms at the former Art College on Green Lane and I caught John mid-rehearsal with his production team and cast for a new touring production of his play April In Paris. He was a very straight talking and relaxed man in the interview and revealed some interesting thoughts on the success of his many plays and style of playing.

His actors, Shobna Gulati and Joe McGann were an utter delight to interview alongside John and were very amusing and insightful in their theatrical stories and tales of the rehearsal process.

Many thanks to Heidi McKenzie at Derby Theatre for arranging this interview. Also big thanks to Jo McLeish c/o Nottingham Playhouse and her own company The Media Room for her continuing support.

Well, that's a promotional flavour of my own contribution to this issue of the quarterly magazine - Sardines. I look forward to submitting more work and ideas in 2014.

Many thanks to Paul Johnson, Fariba and the Sardines team.

Phil Lowe

Twitter :PhilLowe7

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.