Saturday, 31 May 2014

Loewenmouthy - a reflection. Notingham Playhouse. Neville Studio

Less of a review - more of a reflection.

I went to the neat14  Loewenmouthy poetry based event for a few reasons;

Being part of a twining event with two theatres in Karlsruhe has allowed me many opportunities to become friends with many people from this beautiful German city since I first went in 2006 and to share with them a mutual love of theatre. This is a practice that I love and has embedded itself deeper and deeper in my heart and soul as the years have gone by. I count the people of the Jakobus Theatre and Theater Die Kaeuze as some of my truest friends. So much so that I now go to perform on my own, separately to our biannual events, and I am going this December to perform a show partly in English and partly in German. Nervos? Ein bischen.

The mixed language in the poetry I heard in Loewenmouthy by young people from all countries, whether from Sara in the Lebenon or Iony Smallhorne's sympathetically done poetical video has given me renewed inspiration to continue with this and have new ideas for development. Thank you.

I went along to hear some German spoken and I did. This was by a young man called Alan Husakowski whose first language wasn't German. In fact my understanding is that when Deborah Stevenson of Mouthy Poets went to Germany he had spoken very little German and yet (on video) we have him expressing himself very well in both languages through poetry. Inspirational.

I came away from Loewenmouthy full of great admiration for the work of the two groups and the appreciative audience that both support and enhance the possibilities of language, that on a weekly basis encourage 15-30 year olds to create, learn writing skills, editing and develop event co-ordination skills. Anything that Mouthy Poets does to develop a passion for expression through vocabulary and allows young people to present their feelings poetically both live and through digital means should be championed. I loved the fact that the young men were actively encouraged to talk and present their feelings through their own poetry and was impressed with the depth of feelings from the young women from across the world. As for Deborah 'Debris' Stevenson. Superb! I will never see a Starbucks coffee cup in the same light again.

They talk about poetry 'speaking to your heart'. Joshua Judson, I was hearing every word of your poem below and I was with you every syllable. Excellent.

The Braunschweig group #Loewenmaul (Lion's Mouth) is a similar group in the German city we know as Brunswick. Their age group is 13-30 and together they speak more than five languages and come from more than five countries from around the world and now live in Braunschweig.

The laudable Loewenmouthy project was launched by Deborah Stevenson and Anne Hartmann at the State Theatre in Braunschweig in September 2013. Loewenmaul had their first show in March 2014 as part of an intercultural festival. We heard tonight that they are currently creating a book of stories for children in cooperation with a local organisation for political education.

Phil Lowe (or is that Loewe?)

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Review. Headlong's Spring Awakening at Derby Theatre on tour.

Frank Wedekind's controversial masterpiece (Spring Awakening) adapted into a new up to date version by Anya Reiss and currently on tour through a Headlong and West Yorkshire Playhouse and Nuffield co-production arrived on the Derby Theatre stage last night. As the audience settled themselves into their comfy seats the teens were already on the stage playground swinging on the swings, dragging a bed on stage and scuffling among themselves and appearing and re-appearing through a backdrop of strong see through rubberised curtains. The sort you may find in an abattoir.

An announcement should have been made. "Watch out audience, you are in for a very bumpy ride!" But no - just a sudden switch to a pitch black stage and a cultured male voice over extolling the virtues of a Venus figure in a painting. All starts well - the figure is described artistically then the details centre on the woman's chest area and the erect nipples and her full thighs and the pudendum and how wet her vagina appears to be und so weiter. A spotlight pierces the darkness to illuminate a boy enthusiastically masturbating on a toilet to the ever increasingly audio erotic description of the Venus figure. Bang! The play begins!

In an incredibly confidently handled piece the Headlong ensemble explore the themes of teenage suicide, a need for clarification on sexual matters from adults, rape, teenage pregnancy, gay love, love in general, and the desperate need to be accepted as a person as a teenager whilst getting little support from adults who seem ill equipped to offer advice that is practically or emotionally helpful. The young cast play not only the teenagers themselves but also adults who populate the piece as parents or teachers or advisors and each transition is handled superlatively well. The characters attempt to support each other with matters sexual through internet links to very violent porn extracts  and misleading information causing great emotional confusion and very sudden violent reactions between them. Many of the actions are accompanied by sound effects and energetic modern pop music.

The play is on an open stage that allows the audience to see the actors entering from the wings and also allows for major props such as a bunk bed on which an horrific rape scene takes place to be pushed on and secured in place. A permanent feature is a set of two swings that allow the actors to use them to a variety of theatrical advantages. The whole of Spring Awakening is a moving macabre hymn to teenagers seeking out sexual information from a variety of sources and being condemned for it by their elders.

There is fantastic usage of projection and this is particularly alarming with a girl talking to a young man via a laptop about being pissed and 'totally out of it' for three days and having had no real idea where she has been expect that her friend has a good mate who is a great photographer and wants to take pictures of her. The potential danger of her position is alarming and the video images projected on to the rubberised curtain are of an exhausted and desperate young woman who is excited at her teenage freedoms and also terrified by them. Those comfy theatre seats become less and less so throughout the story telling of this play. Then the character Moritz Stiefel hangs himself and all hell breaks loose. Questions of life versus death filtrate and antagonise the text.  In this show there is no interval to hide in and it is all the better for it.

This all sounds very bleak and yet there are some very funny moments in the play as Wedekind originally intended and which he defended his script in 1911. Against his overtly political readings he insisted that he'd intended the play to be a 'sunny image of life' in which all but one of the scenes he'd tried to  exploit a 'freewheeling humour' for all the laughs that he could get and this is quite shocking considering how amoral the play's action is. We have Wendla Bergmann and Moritz Stiefel pre-occupied with death and the sadness lies in how lovable both these characters are that decide to take their own lives, The humour is very dark but still funny nether-the-less and the multi-media effects are breath-taking as is the quality of the acting. Ekow Quartey in his dual role as Hans and the teacher Mr Sonnenstisch is especially impressive for the maturity of his interpretation of the teacher role.

Director Benn Kidd has done a fantastic job of bringing the play to the modern stage through this version by Anya Reiss and the ensemble of eight young actors (Aoife Duffin, Claudia Grant, Bradley Hall, Oliver Johnstone, Ekow Quartey, Ruby Thomas,Adam Welsh and Daisy Whalley)  deserve all the accolades possible for their performances and bravery overall in such a thrilling yet hard hitting play. Another fine example too of how video and modern media can be used for brilliantly dramatic effect in combination with the acting and take a super play to the realms of being utterly compelling and a challenging but ultimately rewarding theatrical journey.

Spring Awakening is at Derby Theatre until Saturday 31st May. (touring)

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Marta Górnicka - Magnificat - Chór Korbiet - Nottingham Playhouse - review

Chór Korbiet / The Chorus of Women/Magnificat.

A production of the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute in Warsaw

To quote the programme: “The Chorus of Women is a modern form of choral theatre. The libretto for the performance is a collage of cultural texts: the chorus mixes fragments of Antigone and works by the likes of Agamben, Barthes, Jelinek and Butler with colloquial speech, advertising slogans, recipes, computer sounds, film quotes and fairy tales.

A modern tragic chorus is composed of women of various professions and various ages. It undermines linguistic clichés and reveals the language in its ideological dimension: it speaks with the words of excluded texts.

The modern drama broke up the chorus, thus depriving itself of a certain dimension of the tragic. We must restore the chorus to the stage and find new forms of its theatrical presence; we have to restore women to the chorus. The chorus of women will shout, whisper and sing. It will treat words as music. It will change language into voice, it will initiate its subversive force.” Marta Górnicka.

In creating the work the chorus have researched and devised from three main subjects, memory, voice and gender. In memory they recall Polish songs, forgotten drama texts as well as songs from ancient dramas. In voice they searched for a sound or collection of sounds that are detached from the language such as in rhythms, echolalia or in a drone.

In the piece there are frequent uses of various forms of echolalia ( the meaningless repetition of another person's spoken words) and they formed a very powerful sound in chorus to the point where the sound appeared to be rippling in the air.

In gender they try to regain/create a woman's voice in culture and thus in The Chorus of Women/Magnificat we get a thrilling mix of whispering, keening, deliberately overdone sounds, song in unison, song lines from individuals, humour, swaying body rhythms whilst singing, a superbly sung (mainly in the very expressive Polish language) and wonderfully conducted piece. There are surtitles but I found myself soaking up the sound and enjoying the work aurally and found the concentrated body language used quite hypnotic. Sometimes the vocal and deeply focussed intensity is actually quiet scary in parts and that's partly what makes the drama of their work come alive. Everything is unexpected and has a focus like no other I seen. In fact I'd say to me as a seasoned reviewer and playgoer it was thrillingly unique and other-worldly. Another wonderful addition to the neat14 festival.

If you can get a ticket go see them tonight at Nottingham Playhouse. It will be an enriching hour very well spent in the dynamic company of the Chór Korbiet.

Box Office: 0115 9419419

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Second Minute at Nottingham Playhouse. A chat with the cast.

This afternoon I was given the opportunity to chat to actors Beatrice Comins, Rob Goll and Adam Horvath all of whom are currently appearing in Nottingham Playhouse's rural touring production of Andy Barrett's new play The Second Minute directed by Giles Croft. This play is part of Nottingham's fantastic European Arts Festival - neat14.
Jo McLeish of Nottingham Playhouse facilitated the meeting.

Phil: I wanted to talk to you about your experience as actors in a touring production of The Second Minute and I'm aware that you are going on from Nottinghamshire down to Cambridgeshire with the tour. Primarily I'm interested in your general experiences of being on tour with this play and about the practicalities of touring and whether audience members have approached you about the themes of the play and perhaps how it has touched them personally.

Beatrice: Yes, absolutely, that's the thing about doing this play at the moment and why we are doing it because it is so pertinent. People are coming with their own experience and expectations and then relating to the play beautifully. It's going down really really well. We get quite a few people who come up and they've got, not necessarily their 'own' experience of course, but it may be within their family, some kind of connection. Yesterday we were just over the border in Lancashire and there was a very elderly lady who'd come and she'd travelled some way to come and see the show and she'd come because she'd recognised that it was about the Sherwood Foresters and her Grandfather was a Sherwood Forester.

Not only was he a Sherwood Forester in the First World War but he'd actually had experiences that were quite similar to one of the original letters that we use in the play. He'd been seriously wounded and ended up in a shell hole and his arm was completely blown apart basically and he was left abandoned there for a considerable period of time and gangrene set in. However, he was there so long that it got fly-blown and the maggots ate the gangrene and the result of that was that he survived his terrible injury. He lost his arm and survived and ended up in a German prisoner of war camp. Because the play is based on real experience it resonates with everybody else's real experience as well.

Rob: In Tealby in Lincolnshire we had a Sherwood Forester who came to see it at the Tennyson D'Eyncourt Memeorial Hall. Was he called Desmond?

Beatrice: That's right. Desmond.

Rob: And he came along along with his cap badge. He said he could provide his cap badges and was almost fiercely proud of his regiment there and he was thanking us profusely for telling him things about the regiment that he didn't know before. It's incredible actually to meet people who are touched in ways we hadn't thought of before and for them to tell us about these very personal experiences of something they've done/ something they known. Andy Barrett the playwright has done the research and written it in the play and he's done this really well because you find that it is reaching out to the people to whom it concerns and they are saying “Yes that's right – that's how we feel about the regiment”. It's been great and in the small venues it's a very intimate piece. It's ideally suited to the village halls and small theatres. (laughs) If they're big enough! We've had some tight squeezes!

Phil: Are they all front facing as at the Derby Theatre Studio where you opened the play?

Beatrice: Yes we pretty much have to do that because we are so self contained. We take two lighting stands and we've got a very simple set up but that means there's very limited scope for where the lights go. Therefore it needs to be end on. We can't do it any other way than end on.

Rob: Last night, for example, our dressing room was a cupboard. (They all laugh) A luxurious cupboard but still a cupboard. In most of the venues the dressing facilities are elsewhere so we have to 'hide behind the set' virtually for the whole thing.

Adam: Sometimes we get chairs!

Beatrice: I had a chair offered me backstage the other day but then I'm all right because I’m on stage most of the time and so I get to sit on stage and don't mind what's back stage.

Phil: Do you get many people asking you about 'the book'?

In the play Rob's character talks about a book titled The Second Minute. It is a fictional book.

Beatrice: Yes!!! Yes!!! People keep wanting to buy the book! We've had so many people asking to buy the book and they are often shocked that it doesn't exist. There are 'other' books but not a 'Second Minute' book that everybody wants.

Adam: We had some people who came to see it and they said that they'd come to see it because of the book and they claimed they'd read the book. We thought 'have you?' There must be a similar book around. Lots of people have asked and they want to know where they can get a copy?

Beatrice: Yes they have.

Rob: The programme is rather nice because it has the facsimile letters in.

Beatrice: I wanted to say something earlier and that is related to people's personal experiences and as an actor performing this play it gives you a very easy direct line into maintaining truthfulness because you know it is so immediate to so many people. The subjects you are dealing with I mean and it really is a short-cut to trying to maintain a strong line with truthful emotions. It really keeps you grounded. And having things like knowing when you are performing – I never see them but - having the projections behind of photographs of the real individuals who appear in the letters. Knowing that's behind you when you are performing is actually quite a profound experience.

Rob: In these less formal spaces people don't tend to act like theatre audiences would and you can hear comments in response to various bits of the play like “Oh, what a shame!” They are reacting immediately.

Adam: Very in the moment. It's very touching.

Phil: That's great that they are so moved by it that they feel the need to say so out loud and to each other.

Rob: It's a shame that Ali's not here because she, as we're getting changed afterwards, she … hears the bulk of the audience reaction or the feedback about the people in the stories. Apparently, was it two days ago, in Oxfordshire, there was a whole family who were moved to tears at the end. They brought their children too. I see all this because I address the audience so much and there are varying degrees of engagement in their faces either listening to me or watching the projections or watching Bea (Beatrice). I see how fixed they are in it but also, the other day, up in Ellesmere Port we had a large GCSE school party in from Warrington I think. They had come quite some way to see this play.

Adam: About twenty miles I think.

Rob: That's right and it was the first time we had run it without the interval. So it was straight through – all ninety minutes - and they were sitting on uncomfortable squeaky chairs in a full theatre and it was quite warm as well...

Beatrice: Oh it was really warm.

Rob: Towards the end, quite off putting, someone left to go to the toilet and the kids at the front shushed them to be quiet in the middle of our final scene, but their own concentration held fast. Apart from the squeakiness of the seats they were completely focussed on the whole thing. Then we did a Q&A afterwards and the questions were good and this is year ten – fourteen and fifteen year old teens.

Beatrice: The kind of age that you think would be the hardest to play to and that is the really gratifying thing about the piece because it does work for the full cross section of the ages and demographics although our audiences tend to be quite a lot older and that's just inevitable in so many ways. I mean the nature of rural touring those audiences and the subject matter tends to appeal to an older audience. But, when we do get kids in its great because they are as equally involved as the older ones. We played another college in Lincolnshire and they were great as well and that was largely a student audience.

Phil: In practical terms do you all help set up the performance space on arriving at a venue?

Beatrice: Yes. There are only four of us on the road and out stage manager Ali Murray is in charge of everything and does a brilliant job. We unpack the van and build the set and the chaps do all the heavy stuff and I do the tweaking. (laughs) But it takes us about an hour or so to actually build the set but it has been very well designed for this kind of touring and they've really taken that on board beautifully so it is pretty straight forward. Ali does all the electrics and by the time the set is built she's usually ready to start focussing the lights. We need to be on stage for her to focus so we're in the right position. Actually that takes a fair bit of time. It probably takes as long to focus the lights and sort all that out as it does to do everything else.

Rob: It's because the lighting stands are placed in relation to the size of the venue and sometimes they're wide and sometimes they're deep and sometimes they're really really close. Sometimes we don't have the steel decks. In Chipping Norton the other day, for example, the stage was about six foot high with the audience low and a really characterful balcony. So we didn't have the steel decks because that would put us too high so we've got more space.

Beatrice: But these means, because we are used to stepping up all the timing of the piece can get thrown out if you are not careful..

Rob: At the Century Theatre in Coalville where the stage was lower and we didn't have the decks and the lighting was then hung on their rig so...

Beatrice: So we have to look at it and reposition ourselves on stage because sometimes the lighting is very sideways and so we are blocking each other so we do have to do have to look at it to make sure... it affects us significantly as to where we are on stage.

Phil: You wouldn't want to walk into that experience and think “there's 'something' wrong' and for that consciousness to throw you.

Beatrice: No, there's still, inevitably a sense of leaning backwards and forwards and thinking “Ah there's a big light blob on my face”. You still have to work around it.

Rob: We also have to watch that there are no bottoms in the projection either.

Rob went on to explain that the projections used in the piece are actually projected from a filing cabinet on set, not back projected as I thought when I saw and reviewed the show in Derby. He explained that if any body parts interrupt the line of projection you will have given away the trick so the actors have to be constantly aware of their position on stage. No random or rapid of hands or arms flung about.

I said that there was one thing that I did like and that was the visuals of the cascade of crosses/kisses that tumble down the screen at one point in the play.

Beatrice: Yes in the speech my character uses both words kisses and crosses and I'm sure that's quite deliberate. Plus the audience and particularly the children loved the projections because they were hand drawn and shaky and such. That was part of their charm. They were basic but actually that made them more effective. And I think for Sarah Lewis the designer her whole concept was that they were hand written letters and so she wanted very obviously hand drawn pictures in the projections but of course I never see them! I've always got my back to them so I never know when they are there.

Rob: Through the design process she did so much that were lost because of tweaks and cuts and I suppose we never got a chance to see them all and it was half way through the tour that I realised that there was a garden growing in one of them! I never even knew that went on!

Phil: Well that' s great. Thank you all very much for you time and al the best for the remainder of your tour and this afternoon and tonight in the Neville Studio at Nottingham Playhouse.

More touring dates and details HERE

Neat14. Gob Squad's Western Society. Review.

"No-one is who they are. They are talking to someone miles away."

Gob Squad have been devising, directing and performing together since 1994 working where theatre meets art, media and real life. Their latest show, Western Society was performed at Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery as part of neat14. Their company, as a whole group, includes Simon Will, Sarah Thom and Sharon Smith, now professional performers and former graduates Nottingham Trent University Creative Arts BA Hons degree. The brilliant video and technical work is by another former graduate from the same degree course - Miles Chalcraft. Sound design was by Jeff McGrory with technical co-ordination and lighting design by Chris Umney.

For 'Western Society' Gob Squad take a short and potentially boring Youtube video of a family house party where the guests are filmed tightly clustered around a settee in particular modes and through this genesis expand the concept of personalities and their relationships and their deepest desires and fears. The four players arrive in a state of nudity, dress up in bling and glittery outfits, speak directly to the audience and to each other using their real names and take the audience on a journey where seven lucky members can actually participate with them on stage. They may be asked (through headphones) to dance like the Granny character, to eat cake, to change the music and therefore the tone of the piece, pretend to drink beer from a bottle or to kiss a member of the cast. And as the piece turns from fun to personal intensity they may even be asked to be Mum and Dad to one of the characters as she is asked deeply personal questions. None of this done to humiliate the participatory or non participatory audience members  but to empower them and take them beyond their normal role as a passive spectator. The packed audience at Nottingham Contemporary loved it and clearly Gob Squad have built up a fantastic reputation for inter-active and semi improvised work.

The piece includes characters based on 'given' names for the unknown figures that people the original video and they are 'next to remote',  'remote control man', 'granny', 'karaoke man', 'he dances with granny', 'cake lady', 'white cap boy' and 'girl with phone'. The four actors in this production for neat14 are Simon Will, Damian Rebgetz , Sarah Thom and Tatiana Saphir. All have an easy and funny repartee with the audience and a brave approach to devising and performance. Coming away from the production many of the audience chatted with the cast and the words 'clever and funny' were predominant in the conversations. Clever indeed.

For  twenty years Gob Squad have been searching for new ways to combine media and performance and the use of audio and video technology plays a prominent role in their work with the result that alienated forms of intimacy have become a central theme.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Nottingham Playhouse Youth theatre hit the trenches for neat14,

I popped into a rehearsal of a revised adaptation by Robin Kingsland of Erich Maria Remarque's classic war story All Quiet On The Western Front tonight. The rehearsal was directed by Allie Spencer and the cast were a very mature natured youth group (Nottingham Playhouse Youth Theatre). I was most impressed at the standard of acting and of commitment to the piece. The play has been especially commissioned for neat14 and shows the horror and kinship as the young Germans fight for their survival.

All Quiet On The Western Front will be part of the neat14 festival and of course one of many plays being performed in Nottingham and countrywide that concern themselves with The Great War Centenary. Detail of the show and booking facilities can be found HERE.

Rehearsal images of two harrowing bombardment scenes featuring the cast and the young actor playing the hero Paul Baumer. The story follows their lives, their dreams, their victories and their tragedies as they fight on the German front line.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Review. Derby Theatre. Northern Broadsides. An August Bank Holiday Lark

Review for An August Bank Holiday Lark by Deborah McAndrew and performed by Northern Broadsides in association with New Vic Theatre – Stoke. Currently on tour.

This wonderful play is about a community centred among the Lancashire cotton mills in the period leading up to August 1914 and beyond. The army recruiting bands are known to be in the area and naïve patriotism are the key words for 'joining up' and fighting for King and Country. For many young men it appears to be a promise of adventure – a foreign scrape on foreign fields and back in time for Christmas and 'won't our family be proud!?'

It was written that Europe sleepwalked into battle in the late summer of 1914. Whilst the great powers had been arming throughout the early years of the 20th Century in expectation of a European conflict, when war was actually declared on the 4th of August to the great majority it was a major shock. The shock became greater still as the stark realities kicked in and thousands of the expeditionary forces were being slaughtered on the battle fields and less experienced and rapidly trained men were enlisted to fight the continually bloody battles and replace the slaughtered across mainland Europe and beyond to the eventual loss of millions on all sides.

The strength of this play and this extraordinary production lies in the believability of its beautifully drawn characters many of whom do not actually appear on stage but are spoken of with such warmth and humour within the script and so cleverly that ultimately they become as real as those that inhabit the physical telling of the story. The unseen and often mentioned Reverend Semper could easily be standing benevolently in the wings alongside the wealthy Worsley family who have dedicated a portion of their great house to be a field hospital after the loss of one of their own sons at Ypres. On the other side of the stage the theatrical imagination conjures up the shadows of the post boy weeping copiously on the farm wall with his terrible news in hand and, conversely there is the comical image of Wally Entwhistle who was sick all over the crowd as he sat as jockey up high on the top of the Rushcart during the year of the Diamond Jubilee! Edie's invisible invalided mother is just as relevant to the depths of the story as Edie is herself as she is finally released to start a brave new life in Manchester after the tragic death of her brothers Ted and Will.

The twelve strong Northern Broadsides cast works tremendously well through dramatic strength and agility – those Morris dances are a mighty workout – and the natural portrayal of each character with utter conviction and subtlety of performance makes the audience fall in love with each and every one of them until by the first half one is under their spell and – by fizzin' 'eck – one actually feels for each as if they were family. In so doing one knows that – to theatrically paraphrase - 'All that is Well is not going to end Well. So enraptured were the Derby audience that many sat to watch the Rushcart being dissembled during t' interval and clapped along to the live music played by the female cast!

So lots of humour and establishment of characters and their relationships inhabit the first half and the second half, all naturally becomes darker in emotional tone as the boys go off to war. The theatrical work is about how the Great War affects a close community and its traditions and all the while the dramatic focus stays in the Greenhill community as it is hit by tragedy after tragedy. Occasionally the darkness is lit by hope and new social beginnings, with a reconciliatory marriage party and more globally in the rise of the Suffragettes and women taking over traditional male roles in the cotton mills as well as revised relationships with maimed survivors returned from the front. The mix of grief and happiness when gentle hero Frank Armitage (Darren Kuppan in a terrifically understated and sympathetic performance) finally gets to hold his new born son is an unforgettable emotional moment that will stay will me forever.

An August Bank Holiday Lark is directed by Barrie Rutter the founder and artistic director of the internationally acclaimed Northern Broadsides and Rutter appears throughout Deborah McAndrew's play as the Squire – John Farrar. His central performance is utterly believable as the very likeable but emotionally entrenched and jug of beer pre-occupied father of Ted and William and confident daughter Mary – exquisitely played by Emily Butterfield.

In a cast of twelve vibrant players – each required to dance and sing and play a variety of folk music instruments and act with the Lancashire accents of the piece there wasn't a weak link and each was so well drawn and portrayed that the audience invested in all the deep emotions from curtain up to the very end with spontaneous applause throughout. It was almost as if the modern day British audience were craving the warmth and unity of families and communities, dramatically depicted from the early part of the 20th Century. This was despite their crippling hardships and hard won hopes and the mutuality of each separate reality holding on to every last drop of emotion and socially dependent depiction. This was a drama that gripped the heart and the soul of the Derby Theatre audience and celebrated the story until the very end. Fizzin' Great!!!! Get your tickets now and invest in a gorgeous piece of theatre before it goes.

Phil Lowe

Monday, 19 May 2014

Lace Market Theatre twinning. Fond memories.

After a very successful Theatre Exchange week in April this year I decided to give members from all three groups an opportunity to share their thoughts on the week and without further ado here are a selection of some of them. I was very touched by the often emotional responses. Phil Lowe.

Viktor & Stephanie Mueller ( Die Käuze)

The week before Easter the Karlsruhe theatre “Die Käuze” visited its friends at the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham. The theatre exchange is a 32-year-old tradition. As two of the youngest members of this exchange program, we experienced an extraordinarily heart-warming welcome and enjoyed the Lace Market’s hospitality throughout our stay. The journey to Nottingham consisted of a few hours of driving, a nice night on a ferry and a few close calls in the left-handed traffic. We can imagine we arrived at Lace Market Theatre looking worn out but also excited to be there. The first tears started to run when the long-term members of both theatres fell into each others’ arms. It was a very moving moment to see them meet again.

Those of us visiting for the first time didn’t feel any less welcomed. Our particular host, Steve Parry, was great, and we had a few nice evenings with him, chatting over this and that. When the time came to set up our play for the performance, we had some difficulties to overcome which is normal when putting on a play in a new place. But even then, our friends from LMT were extremely helpful and worked overtime to finish the stage so we would have enough time to rehearse. The performance went well, and we had a great audience.

On the last day of our stay, we went to Stratford to pay homage to the Bard of Avon. Once again the LMT team proved themselves to be excellent guides. It was a real treat to see not only the beautiful city and the historical sites, but also take part in a special backstage tour of The Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

On departing, everyone gave each other hugs with tears in their eyes. New friendships were made and old ones strengthened. We are already looking forward to seeing the LMT members when they come over here to Germany, and we hope we can return the wonderful hospitality we experienced in Nottingham.

Norbert Wingender (Die Käuze)

Two things I learned in Nottingham

1. There's the left side and there's the wrong side.
2. Two yellow lines are not street decorations.

Didn't drive this time, wasn't towed away this time. But was carried away by the hospitality we received at the LMT. It's anyone's guess how much time and effort was spent to prepare things for us, cook for us (thanks, Max and all your little helpers) and support us, and how many wives/husbands suffered from their husbands/wives working long hours for us.  My guess is: a lot.

We were second to play so we were in a hurry, but it's nice - and comforting - to always see someone rushing up and down the ladder who really knows what he's doing, so the play went smoothly three times at last. Although half of the play is getting changed and providing proof that two bodies actually can take the same space at the same time. Since this is not perceivable to the public, I hope the audience enjoyed the visible part as much as we did.

My special thanks to Joy and Gordon who gave three of us a home for a week, fed us, transported us and endured all our mistreatments of their mother tongue. My special apology to the lady who checked the safety precautions at the theatre - I would have been pleased to give her my full attention but am a little shy when I'm busy changing my trousers.

Two things I learned this time in Nottingham:
1. Not all English buses are red.
2. English food is good.

Oh, and LMT has great people. But I knew that already.

Carsten Thein (Jakobus)

Performing a show in our German language on the stage of a theatre of Karlsruhe's twinning city Nottingham, is always a great pleasure to me. It's the best evidence that I can imagine that shows how small the distances between countries have become today. The people of the Lace Market Theatre have become very good friends for us at Jakobus and during the week in Nottingham we've even had the feeling of being part of a big theatre-family. We can't wait for the next meeting in Karlsruhe in the Spring of 2016.

Larissa Kaufmann (Die Käuze)

Ey up me ducks! It was this year around Easter when we, the Theatre die Käuze, came from Karlsruhe to the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham again, like every four years. For me it was now the 7th time. I have always taken part in the twinning of the three theatres; from the time I was planned (in 1982) after I was born in 1985. The warm welcome of people that where there from the beginning makes you feel like you never had been away and of course it is very nice to meet new people too.

When I walk up the stairs to the theatre club  I feel like I have just been there just the day before. The rooms and corridors behind the stage and below the audience, where we get ready for the show, feel very familiar. There are the stickers of the two theatres from Karlsruhe on the dressing rooms´ mirrors and there are the pictures and everything from our long years of twinning the theatre club. There is the "last order" call from the bar at half past eleven.....the mingle-mangle of paints in front of the actors´ toilets... the conglomeration of technical stuff in the lighting corner. All join to create good memories.

Of course we also have much to do with rehearsals and setting up the stage, but this is a task we like very much. Especially finding solutions with the help of our friends. It is always exciting to see how things are arranged on a different stage, how everything will work out. And it is done in a way that is similar to ours.

But there is one sad aspect: after all the effort that was put in from our friends we have to leave after one week and again I could not speak to all the people we know from the years before. There is just too little time we have with our hosts.... What was going on during the years we were absent? What´s going on in Notts?..... I hope the time will not be too long until The Lace Market theatre will come to Karlsruhe again in two years time.

Gordon Parsons (LMT)

This was our first experience of hosting guests from Karlsruhe and Joy and I found it a most rewarding one. Personally, I think I had the best and healthiest breakfasts ever! We even coped with the early starts. We were impressed with our guests' punctuality and with their willingness to help and to speak English. As Joy said, I knew plenty of German nouns but had trouble stringing them into a coherent sentence.

We were also most impressed by the LMT's catering standards, a great credit to all involved. What we found especially heart-warming was the support our members and guests gave to the productions. We scored highly here. Boeing Boeing was an absolute delight. The ingenious way of narrating the story for non-German speakers was particularly impressive as were the musical interludes, costumes, acting and set. The charming Til Eulenspiegel formed an excellent contrast and both must make us feel that we should give considerable consideration in the future to exactly what we take on our return visit in two years time. The theatre was buzzing all week. A triumph."

Lisa Bossert (Jakobus)

It was my first time in Nottingham. My first time in England at all! I was totally " over the moon " - even the weather was much better than expected - who would have thought that you can get sunburned in England? ? To play Boeing Boeing in Germany , was great and we actors were very excited. But also – playing the same play for a foreign audience , who apparently really understood almost everything from the plot - at least they laughed in the right places - was sensational and memorable!

The mere fact that the stage looked almost like at home  when we arrived,  made it quite easy to prepare for the performances ... Thanks again to the many volunteers who have made this possible! I found the exchange between the three theaters and of course the people from all different ages and mentalities especially valuable. I am very glad not to have slept at a hotel because I could really " immerse " and have an English experience . What is the everyday life, they really only eat fish and chips ? ( No!) I have taken my hosts to my heart and cannot wait for it to be next time in Germany . This exchange was an incredibly beautiful experience . To meet so many people who are interested and have shown syphathy (Thanks Phil ! ) It was heart-warming and appreciated! Thanks and see you all soon. Lisa.

Karsten Stephan (LMT)

I would like to express my appreciation on behalf of the students studying German at Alderman White School and Bramcote College for the superb week of German theatre which you have just organised. All our sixth-formers studying German together with a large number of adult learners of German (Alderman White has a community-based language programme for adult language learners) came to see one of the two productions , 'Boeing, Boeing' and 'Till Eulenspiegel' - and it some cases both!
To quote one student ' It is great to have this opportunity to experience live German theatre'. ' My sixth-formers were still talking about the plays days afterwards, even the discussing the language they had learned and understood. One student raised some points of grammar which he had remembered from one of the plays.

This has been such a valuable educational experience for everyone and for those interested in theatre itself (and we have many students who are actively involved in extra-curricular drama) there was also a fascinating discussion with regard to stagecraft in 'Till Eulenspiegel'

Long may this wonderful international educational experience continue.

Simon Carter (LMT)

As a 'newcomer' to the Theatre Exchange, I thoroughly enjoyed the week. It was lovely to meet everyone and to assist both groups technically with their productions. Thanks for bringing two very different but equally brilliant shows to the theatre, and for making them so enjoyable even for those like me who's German is lacking. I hope to see everyone again in the future."

Cora Krukhof ( Die Käuze)

It was the first time I came to Nottingham and the Lace Market Theatre. I was impressed by the possibilities and equipment of your theatre, but even more so by the affectionate reception and the support all of you gave us.

Special thanks to Gill for organizing so well, to Max who provided us with such delicious food during the days of rehearsal, and of course to the whole team (technicians, "stage-rebuilder",...) who helped to keep everything going so smooth. In one phrase: It was a wonderful experience being with you. THANKS TO YOU ALL!

Gill Scott (LMT)

Organising and co-ordinating a week's visit from Jakobus and Die Käuze to our theatre may seem a daunting prospect, but there are two things I can always rely on.  The first is the unfailing good humour, adaptability and friendliness of our German guests and secondly, the generosity, flexibility, expertise and determination to make a success of everything of our own members.  It does, of course, mean a great deal of advance planning on both sides.  

An important element is identifying hosts and then trying to match up hosts, guests and parking requirements of transport to ensure a smooth transfer after long journeys.  Pet and food allergies  play a part in the matching up!  And this is one area where flexibility and unflappability of the person in charge, in this case Hilary Evans, is key.  There are often last minute changes to deal with.  

One other aspect also needs early planning - the day's outing.   The planned visit to Stratford Shakespeare theatre involved two reccies - to suss out the backstage tour of the theatre and the proposed restaurant for lunch.  Here Doreen Sheard's expertise as a courier is invaluable in ensuring an enjoyable day for everyone.

Building a set for a play not seen and at a distance as well as setting up the sound and light is a big ask, but Hugh, Philip H, Philip A, Simon and Peter did a fantastic job as did Rose in sourcing last minute requests for props.

And don't forget the commissariat - lunches for over thirty people plus tea and cakes for five days was amply provided by Max Bromley and Bar Fisher. And the party! Wow! what a send off Linda provided on the Friday evening. There are of course other elements, such as publicity, FOH, staff, bar staff, often taken for granted, but certainly not by me. I hope this has given people an idea of what is involved in this project. It is something of which all members can be proud. Gill

Phil Lowe (LMT)

What more can I add except to say what a wonderful week we all had! Alongside the plays and our 'official' events I enjoyed the pleasure of seeing our smiling guests in and around the theatre and out and about as we all enjoyed the fabulous weather, the beer at The Trip and the theatre bar and the pleasures of various restaurants in Nottingham and the fun morning at Batman's House with our friends from Jakobus. I will always remember the exciting challenge of creating the Friday party speech with help from Michael Darmola (keep it light hearted Phil!) and Carsten Thein and Markus who helped make sure the spoken German was good and funny. Doing that speech in German with Michael was one of the proudest moments of my life as a member of the Lace Market Theatre and just proved to me that our friendship with our beautiful friends from Karlsruhe is ever blossoming. Here's to the next time in Karlsruhe!

Monday, 12 May 2014

Interview with Barrie Rutter of Northern Broadsides Theatre

Interview with Barrie Rutter, Founder and  Artistic Director of Northern Broadsides

With Northern Broadsides current touring production of Deborah McAndrew's new play – An August Bank Holiday Lark mid tour I was offered the opportunity to interview their artistic director and performer Barrie Rutter.
I asked Barrie to talk around the various Morris dances that appear in the show and are in integral element of being part of the story not just as an entertainment. He said that the casting was the most important part of the show and that they had to cast feet as well as talent. “Everyone had to look as if they would get the dance within the parameters of the rehearsal period and I saw a lot of actors and as soon as they started to dance it looked as if it had been poured out of a bucket!”

He also confirmed that the ladies in the cast had to play instruments but not just any instrument because it is folk and the company wanted violins, squeeze boxes, the piccolo, big and small drums. Barrie continued; “You cut your cloth accordingly so if you need sixteen men over six foot that's what you go out to get, don't you? I mean with something like dance and music it's not that obvious but that was the form of the rehearsal period.”

I said that from my reading of various sources including an excellent downloadable Learning Pack from Northern Broadsides that I recalled that the show features five or six different styles of Morris dance and one that develops a much more pronounced military tone.

“Yes, it's a segue and it's all seamless. It's when the chaps go to war which happens like half way through part two. I didn't want it to come too early in terms of going to the trenches. Actually we don't do that in the play. We show the how the world war events are affecting the village. The main characters only have an hour to get married and then he gets the train back to the base camp and they celebrate that with a dance and that segues into him returning back to barracks.”

On one of your short videos promoting the rehearsal of the play I noticed that there were quite a lot of older folk watching from the seating. I was curious as to who they were and wondered if the public are allowed into your space to watch a rehearsal?

“We always have an open day, with our friends of Northern Broadsides. We always organise a friends day where they come to a rehearsal where we entertain them and show them stuff that we have done and discuss it with them. We don't like it it to be too far down the rehearsal period so that see warts and all and they see problems and they see how we get round them. A craftsman never cuts a corner, he gets round it.”

I asked if that was a long established tradition with Northern Broadsides.

“Yeah, yeah. Ourfriends pay £25 a year and we try to give them as much as possible.”

I explained that I was once a performance arts student in the late 1980s and we had the chance to go to Halifax and Dean Clough to see a land artist exhibition by Richard Long and that one of the former cotton mill spaces was filled with local slate and it was very atmospheric and imposing. From his response Barrie seemed very aware of this piece. I went on to ask about the rushes that are used within the play as a decoration on the rush carts and how long they would have to last during the tour from February to June 2014.

“Well, we took them down off the Sowerby Bridge rush cart last autumn, when they stripped it and kept them in the theatre in Stoke hoping they would be useful and indeed they are and they've got to last another five weeks. Plus we've got the jockey who rides the wooden saddle on top but that doesn't do any damage. In fact it's a very canny piece of construction that the designer, Liz Evans has made for us and because we can't park it anywhere we build it (the cart) in front of the audience and we take it down as part of the interval. Lots of people stay behind and watch it being dismantled.”

Barrie spoke more about the audience saying that the quality of the 'house' is remarkable because the effect of the play on audiences has been the same since day one. “It is a very big effect that of joy and of theatricality. Terribly moving as well. And it beautifully written and conceived by Deborah and she has written over six plays for Northern Broadside.”

I thanked Barrie for his time and said how much I looked forward to seeing the show at Derby Theatre on 20th May.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Soon at Derby Theatre - An August Bank Holiday Lark.

Northern Broadsides in partnership with  New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme present the world premiere of An August Bank Holiday Lark A new play by Deborah McAndrew Directed by Barrie Rutter

★★★★★ – The Observer

★★★★ “A wonderful new play” – The Times

★★★★ – “A beautiful constructed drama” - The Guardian

★★★★ “Poignant, warm hearted drama …hankies at the ready” Daily Telegraph

Derby Theatre will play host to Northern Broadsides, and their highly  acclaimed world premiere production of Deborah McAndrew’s  An August Bank Holiday Lark, from Tue 20 until Sat 24 May. 

Taking its title from a line in Philip Larkin’s poem MCMXIV, An August Bank Holiday Lark commemorates the centenary of the start of the First World War and explores what impact war has on a rural community in East Lancashire. Set in the idyllic summer of 1914 rural Lancashire, everyone in the community is excited about Wakes week; a rest from field and mill and a celebration of the Rushbearing Festival with singing, courting, drinking and dancing. The looming war barely registers … but it will.

Through the lens of traditional rural life, the play follows the stories of the people of the village and witnesses their personal transitions from exuberance to touching naivety as they deal with their loss with courage and humanity.

Deborah McAndrew said:  “An August Bank Holiday Lark focuses on one small community and the, often overlooked, British involvement on the Eastern Front. Countless Lancashire lads exchanged the soft Pennine drizzle for the searing Turkish sun and gave their lives at The August Offensive in Gallipoli. The play never leaves the fictional village of Greenmill, but remembers the fallen and wounded – and those for whom the war was far away and over long before the guns were finally silenced. “It felt important to depict normal life with all the character and absurdity that you always see in people. The War happened to folk who were flirting and arguing, dreaming and even dying in the usual way; people for whom a poppy was just another flower you stuck in your hat.”

Northern Broadsides are a unique theatre company with a true northern voice. Their work is characterised by a high degree of theatrical inventiveness and robust performances from a large ensemble cast of multi-talented and charismatic northern actors who all perform in their natural voices. For the past 22 years, they have delighted audiences here and abroad with a growing classic repertoire which has won them many awards and a loyal following worldwide.

 Tickets for An August Bank Holiday Lark are £10.50 - £25.50. For more information and to book tickets call the  Box Office on 01332 593939 or online at

 Tue 20 – Sat 24 May Evening performances: 7.30pm Matinee performances (Wed and  Sat), 2.30pm Tickets: £10.50 - £25.50 Box Office: 01332 593939

Monday, 5 May 2014

Review: The Second Minute. Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company.

Review: The Second Minute by Andy Barrett

Tour venue: Derby Theatre (Studio) May 3rd 2014

Andy Barrett's utterly engaging and emotionally compelling play, The Second Minute, is based on one Nottinghamshire soldier's letters from the trenches of The Great War to his mother in rural Nottinghamshire. And so it is regionally fitting that this piece is touring the East Midlands until 27th May.

It is performed by three actors from the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and concerns a young man called Thomas Swann, an innkeeper's son in rural Nottinghamshire who enlists in the Sherwood Foresters regiment in 1914 to fight, like thousands of other young men, on the Western Front. Many like Thomas saw this as an adventure and believed that the war on foreign soil would be over as quick as it had began. To keep in touch with families and friends back home letters were sent to and from the trenches at a phenomenal rate. Written communication during this period was of paramount importance. In 1913 a small town could expect up to twelve postal deliveries a day and in the height of the war (1917) nineteen thousand mailbags crossed the channel daily.

Playwright Andy Barrett gained special permission to search archives of the Museum of the Mercian Regiment for letters of this nature to form the basis of this play and was struck by a collection of over a hundred letters, postcards and photographs to and from private Thomas Swann. Many of the letters of this time were censored and mention little of the horrors of war. The content was a very moving 'conversation' between mother and son across two totally different landscapes and lifestyles; one of boredom, war and chaos and the other of the practicalities of running a pub and of the local harvests. But both writers had one enduring key ingredient and that is a deep unequivocal love for the other and this is the key to Barrett's sometimes funny, always interesting and often heart breaking play.

Swann is played with understated conviction by Adam Horvath, one minute smart and proud in uniform and ready to do his duty, the next minute sitting filthy in the trenches drafting the next vital letter home. Horvath is a splendid young actor and runs through a range of emotions from cheery Tommy to that of anger, confusion and disillusionment at the unpredictability of a soldier in action.

The other two parts bring us up to the modern day. Researcher Laura (Beatrice Comins) becomes more and more drawn into the life of Thomas after a box of his letters are found and delivered to her desk. She makes the decision to read them one a day and in chronological order and in doing so forms her own special relationship with the young man she calls Tom. Comins' part is the heart of the play, the almost tangible link between the past and the present – a desperate reaching out to discover the man behind the words and her subtle shining eyes portrayal exudes the yearning for love necessary for the play to work.

Actor Rob Goll is sympathetic and often very funny as Laura's aide Alan and introduces himself as the author of a book called The Second Minute. Goll is just right as Alan – a likeable combination of easy going 'stand easy' and full of enthusiasm for the Boys Own language of the age surrounding World War One and the typical army slang of the era. He is also sombre and respectful of the sacrifices of the thousands of men who lost their lives during the hellish conflicts, especially of the Battle of the Somme. A beautifully measured performance.

In all, this intimate play on a simple set (Sarah Lewis) visually aided by back projected animations and period photographs and beautifully directed by Nottingham Playhouse's Artistic Director Giles Croft is a delightful and moving piece of theatre well worth seeing and written by Nottingham writer Andy Barrett.

Touring and production information can be found here.

The Second Minute is part of the Nottingham and European Arts and Theatre Festival - neat14

Theatre photography copyright Robert Day.