2016: reminiscing

29 Dec

As we reach the end of 2017 and I take a bit of time to sort things out and tie up loose ends, I like to look back on theatrical adventures throughout the year.. then I realised that on this blog I didn’t do it for 2016! I realise this sort of post is not really interesting to anyone else but I like to do it as it means I have a record somewhere other than my head of the things I got up to.

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I’m going to do 2016 first and hope my memory serves me ok.

So.. ACTING: I was in 3 plays –

Thaisa/Bawd/Fisherman in Pericles with YSP in the Spring

Lucy in The Beggar’s Opera with York Theatre Royal for their Secret Play in May.

Lysandra/Flute in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Well Fangled in July.

[Then teacher training took over for a while..]

DIRECTING:

I adapted and directed Much Ado About Nothing for my school’s Drama group concert.

I also assisted on A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Youth Theatre and assisted on Gates of Gold with Wildgoose Theatre (more from them in 2017).

No writing this year! At least nothing performed.

I did do some filming for I Am Tim (for their episode, The Hugalope) and did some radio recording for Henry V though.

And some things I WATCHED (unlikely to be an exhaustive list!):

When We Are Married, 9 to 5, The Rivals, The Mystery Plays, Let it Be, The Mai, Wild, Barnbow Canaries, Rent, King Lear, The Donmar’s Shakespeare Trilogy.

HIGHLIGHTS OF 2016: Without a doubt, a trip to Stratford Upon Avon to perform Pericles on their outdoor stage, The Dell. Belting out Once More Unto the Breach at the top of a deserted Middleham Castle for Radio York. Being invited to the York Cultural Awards as Henry V was shortlisted for an award. As an audience member, watching Harriet Walter and her band of sisters in Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest in the Kings Cross Theatre (Donmar Warehouse). Best £50 I’ve ever spent. Thoroughly inspired. 

LOWLIGHTS: Getting phone and purse nicked backstage, dripping with sweat in Friargate during the year’s heatwave, not meeting Harriet Walter.

 

 

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Review: Dracula, Bronzehead Theatre

6 Nov
“Welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely. And leave some of the happiness you bring.”
Dracula for me lives in dimly forgotten Year 7 English lessons and trips to Whitby, claiming to know more of the history and story than you care to admit. “Oh of course, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Transylvania. Scary castle. Sucking blood”… So I enter Bronzehead Theatre’s production with no real reverence for the text and no real knowledge of the story.
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Ruth Jamieson and Anna Rose James in Dracula. Photo by Michael J Oakes.

This in part, becomes a double edged sword. Tom Straszewski’s adaptation flits between real and imagined worlds and multiple characters so fast that as someone unbitten by the Dracula bug, I sometimes struggle to keep up. However, as a piece of theatre, Straszewski’s Dracula is undoubtedly skilled and imaginative. A thrilling atmosphere is created from the start, when the audience is ushered through the darkened building of 41 Monkgate by Ruth Jamieson’s character; from our own day and age and with a penchant for exploring old and mysterious buildings. Up in the John Cooper Studio itself, she is joined by the enigmatic Anna Rose James, the apparent inheritress of this building who tempts Jamieson into reenacting the Dracula tale aided by dusty letters and documents. The space itself is adeptly transformed by Director/Producer team Straszweski and Sandrine Enryd Carlsson to give the feeling of an eerie, decrepit building, so that we ourselves feel like the trespassers. The use of white scaffolding sheeting is especially creative as not only can it transform into props but it is used to create some very effective shadows and silhouettes, which complement the further inspired use of lighting, including open flame.
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Anna Rose James in Dracula. Photo by Michael J Oakes.

Light and shade is also seen in the lead performances. Our evening is in capable hands with Jamieson and James, and the two actors are eminently watchable. James is particularly skilled in effortlessly transforming into different characters and keeping the audience enraptured as she flits from each. Although billed as a two-hander, we are tempted throughout with an inevitable appearance of Dracula (James Swanton) through the aforementioned shadows and the surround sound provocation of his voice. When he finally arrives, he signals the dramatic denouement in which poor sight-lines unfortunately shield the undoubted blood from some of us. But no matter, we still leave the building slightly shaken and with a greater appreciation for this tale, good story-telling, and seriously good theatre.

 

Dracula was performed in 41 Monkgate Theatre, York w/c 30th October. Hopefully it will be revived (geddit) once again…

Review: When We Are Married

28 Oct

Here’s a review I wrote of Northern Broadside’s When We Are Married, on tour until 10th December (Dates here

This review was for Arts York.

The well-to-do Mr and Mrs Helliwell, Mr and Mrs Parker and Mr and Mrs Soppitt have been married 25 years today – or so they think. As it transpires, they were never officially married at all, and so begins J B Priestley’s When We Are Married at York Theatre Royal.

First staged in 1938 and set in 1908, much of Priestley’s play still charms today but many of its contrivances pre-date our modern sensibilities, leaving some of the plot neither shocking nor shockingly funny.

“I say we’ll have some fun!”

This is not to say that it is not good fun, just that the cast have to work hard to keep the audience on side. Fortunately, they do. Much of the humour here is thanks to impeccable casting and well-pitched comic timing rather than any plot device. Kat Rose-Martin stands out as Ruby Birtle, the Helliwell’s no-nonsense maid, with an accent that makes you proud to be Yorkshire and a presence that commands the stage whenever she enters. Steve Huison also catches the eye as the much-maligned Herbert Soppitt. Huison masters, rather than overplays, a physical humour that also serves to make Soppitt one of the most endearing, interesting, and human characters in the play, along with Annie Parker (Sue Devaney), with whom he shares a tender and funny scene.

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Steve Huison and Sue Devaney in When We are Married (Photo: Nobby Clark)

“Marriage is a serious business!”

Aside from the humour, the germination of the piercing social commentary found in Priestley’s most famous work An Inspector Calls can also be seen here, with Counsellor Parker surely being a pre-curser to Mr Birling. The blurring of the lines between the upper and lower classes is keenly felt when the sitting room becomes a free-for-all for any Tom, Dick, Harry or Henry. Mrs Northrop, the cook and housekeeper, even takes it upon herself to remind Mrs Soppitt of her past as a greengrocer’s daughter. There are also plenty of characters with not much to smile about by the end but comedies get ‘happy endings’, of course, and this one occurs rather abruptly and jarringly with a sing-along and a knees up. It is unclear if this decision was an intentional extension of Priestley’s irony. If so, then thumbs up.

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The cast of When We are Married (Photo: Nobby Clark)

The functional set and sumptuous costumes root us effectively in this past world, enabling our suspension of disbelief. Though not quite a barrel full, there are still plenty of laughs and Northern Broadsides have once again provided an enjoyable and high-quality evening of entertainment, with a consistently strong cast. Next time, let’s have some more grit.

Review: The Mai

16 Mar
“It’s not fair they teach us desperation so young, or if they do, they should never mention hope.”
Desperation, dejection, and disappointment seem to be the order of the day in Marina Carr’s 1995 play The Mai about a year in the life of a large Irish family full of brilliant but flawed women. Despite being a long and wordy play, with Carr displaying a flair for lyrical as well as naturalistic language, the plot is not the draw here; rather it is the characters and their inner lives that are so interesting and relatable, and the actors, without exception, skilfully bring them to life.
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Beth Sharrock as Millie (all photos by Michael J Oakes)

“I wanted my life to be so huge and heroic and pure.”
The title role of The Mai is a fantastic and exposing part for actor Beryl Nairn, which she clearly relishes and excels in, squeezing every last inch of emotion from this challenging and changeable character. The Mai’s daughter, Millie is our ‘narrator’ throughout, yet her speeches tend to be more poetic than expositional, which sometimes left the timeline of the story confused. However, Beth Sharrock (who plays Millie) shines in her myriad of metaphorical monologues and handles them sensitively and with genuine emotion, never overplayed. Millie, and her son, stand at the end of a long line of generations of wilful women who seem to have passed unfulfillment down through the ages like a dusty heirloom, and we are left wondering what her fate will be. At the top of this line is old Grandma Fraochlan, who gets all the best one-liners and is expertly played by Elizabeth Elsworth, with sparkling wit and expression. The family relationships are all nicely drawn, from that of The Mai and her husband Robert (Damian Fynes in a fine YSCP debut), to the three sisters The Mai, Connie (Helen Sant) and Beck (Jessica Murray), to the aunts Agnes (Vivienne Clare) and  Julie (an eminently watchable Sophie Buckley).
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Elizabeth Elsworth as Grandma Fraochlan

“I’m not drunk, I’m trapped!”
This sort of play is exposing for an actor and the cast have obviously been sensitively directed by Jan Kirk to bring the best of themselves to their roles, their performances also aided by Helen Taylor and Maggie Smales’ costume design and Natalie Heijm’s make-up. Despite a slow start at the preview performance, the drama soon began to fizz and, particularly in the second half, the rapport between the actors was evident as the quick wit sparked between them and the tension grew to its foreshadowed conclusion.
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Beryl Nairn as The Mai

The Mai is a fantastic example of the talent York has to offer, both on stage and off, with set, costume, sound and lighting all playing their part, and you should take the chance to see this little performed claustrophobic and distinctly Chekhovian play.
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Review Archive

5 Mar

Just doing a bit of spring cleaning and collating some of the reviews I have had published (which are still live) in the past into one place.

May 2014 – Blithe Spirit, York Theatre Royal (The Good Review)

May 2014 – A Number, York Theatre Royal (The Good Review)

November 2011 – Kafka’s Dick, OUDS (The Oxford Student)

October 2011 – 40 Years On, York Theatre Royal (A Younger Theatre)

July 2011 – Two Planks and a Passion, York Theatre Royal (A Younger Theatre)

March 2011 – To Kill A Mockingbird, York Theatre Royal (A Younger Theatre)

November 2008 – The Winter’s Tale, OUDS (The Oxford Student)

2015 – A Theatrical Year.

4 Mar

So, as I did after 2014, I felt it was time to write a summary of theatrical exploits in 2015. As I said before, a lot of this is for me to look back and reflect on what went on, and to look forward to the next lot of fun! So without further ado..

 

January- Started the directing journey for Drums in the Night by auditioning the cast.

I entered my short script Blu to Script Factor and won the heat.

February- Rehearsals for Drums in the Night began. I was flattered and excited to be working with such a strong cast and crew on a text which I had studied in the original German at university.

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March- See above!

April- Drums in the Night opened at Friargate Theatre. It was fantastic to be back in the directing chair but the joy of the play was everything coming together as I had envisaged thanks to lots of hard work from everyone.

May- Drums in the Night came to a close and I had my audition for Henry V..

June- Henry V rehearsals start!

July- This always seems to end up being a busy month!

We had the Drama Club Summer play at school – called The School Trip which I co-wrote and co-directed.

Also, it was the 8-11 Youth Theatre’s performance of The Hairdo That Got Away which was great fun.

I put on Blu as part of The Love Arts Festival at Friargate Theatre with my company Bird on Head Theatre.

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.. and it was the Script Factor final. I wrote a play called The Absolute which was based on the theme of Relativity and was about a couple’s relationship, told from after one of their deaths. It came second place!

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August- Henry V rehearsals started up again.

September- See above. That was literally my life for the second half of the year.

I also began to co-run Script York.

October- Henry V with my Barnbows. What more can I say? I loved loved loved this experience. It is hard to put it into words.

November- A bit of a rest but with Script Factor and some Shakespeare meet ups thrown in!

December- Assisting on the school production of The Wizard of Oz to round off the year.

And some of the things I watched..

– South Pacific (York Theatre Royal)

– Les Acteurs et La Dispute (TFTV York)

-Hamlet (Royal Exchange in cinemas)

-Romeo and Juliet (Flanagen Collective)

– Shakespeare in his Cups (YTR)

– Timon of Athens (YSP)

– The Comedy of Errors (Handlebards)

– High Society (Old Vic)

– Henry V (RSC Schools/Hull Truck)

– The Maids (Hedgepig)

– Richard II (Bronzehead)

– In Fog and Falling Snow (YTR/NRM)

– The Railway Children (YTR/NRM)

– Avenue Q (West End tour/GOH)

– Bend it Like Beckham (Phoenix Theatre)

– Dick Whittington and his Meerkat (YTR/NRM)

– The Great Gatsby (The Guild of Misrule)

 

And 2016??

The first project of 2016 is Pericles with The York Shakespeare Project in April. More about that soon…

 

 

 

Henry on the wireless.. #ysphenry

23 Oct

Listen to Maggie (Henry V Director) and me talking about the play and the experience of setting it in World War One with an all-female cast. (From 2minutes 30secs in).

See my last post for details of tickets – on in York until 31st October.

Henry V – Upstage York – 21st-31st October.

14 Oct

I’m currently playing Henry V in this production at Upstage (41 Monkgate York). Watch our trailer, like our page and come along!

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BLU – Love Arts Festival. Friargate Theatre, York, 4-5th July.

29 Jun

“I thought love was black and white.

But with you it can be red and orange and yellow and green,

and sometimes…

just sometimes…”

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I originally wrote Blu for a Script Yorkshire Script Factor heat earlier this year. The theme was, unsurprisingly, ‘Blue’ and I immediately thought of writing something to do with mental health, “blue” sometimes being used as a euphemism for mental health problems such as Depression. I don’t mention a specific issue in the play, but my own past experiences with Anxiety did have an influence on the writing.

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“It was a Saturday. That Saturday. Meeting you for the first time.”

Blu begins with an awkward meet cute at a party between a man (played by David Phillipps) and a woman (played by Emma Dubruel). They are very different people but they are intrigued by each other and, over two different time frames, we see that actually maybe they are just what each other needs at this particular time in their lives.

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“I think I noticed some kind of, lemon kind of, might be some elderflower crap. Posh bastards, everything’s from Waitrose.”

Coming to watch Blu will take the maximum of 10 minutes of your precious time and for just £5 you can also get in to watch other Love Arts performances at Friargate Theatre. On Saturday 4th July, we are on at 5pm and at 6pm you can watch Are You Taking the Mick by Conquer and, at 7pm Do you Mind? by Beardog. On Sunday 5th July, we are on at 4.30pm and at 6pm you can watch Headaches by Enso. For an extra £5 each you can also see Anonymous Bosh’s The Knot of the Heart and Hedgepig’s The Maids the same weekend!

Love Arts York festival is a festival with the simple aim of using the arts to get people to think about and talk about mental health and wellbeing. www.loveartsyork.co.uk

Blu production updates are posted on twitter, follow @birdonhead for more information.

I will also be entering a play in the Script Factor Final, also at Friargate, later in July. Tickets for both events can be booked at www.ridinglights.org.uk/friargate

Drums in the Night

18 Apr

Again, another months’ long silence!

In my last post in January I mentioned some exciting news for 2015, well that exciting news was/is that I am back in the directing chair for Drums in the Night by Bertolt Brecht, performed by York Settlement Community Players who were also behind The Stepmother that I posted so much about.

A week today we will be getting ready to ‘get in’ at Friargate Theatre, where the play will be performed from 30th April – 2nd May.

In my whistle-stop tour of Brecht on my German course at university, I studied the play – Trommeln in der Nacht in German – and it is great to be able to revisit it now and to bring it to life with talented actors and a committed production team.

The play was written when Brecht was still in his early twenties, before his theories of Epic Theatre and Verfremdung, when he was a jobbing writer just wanting to make money! He chose the topical subject of the end of the First World War and the Spartacist Uprising – an uncertain time in Germany: many Berliners starving; soldiers returning with no homes to return to; an abdicated ruler etc etc- and placed a love-story in amongst this backdrop. All humanity is inside its 18 characters – good and bad, crude and innocent, funny and tragic. I think it’s great and I hope, if you come to see it, that you will too.

Emma Dubruel (Anna) and George Stagnell (Kragler). Credit Michael J Oakes (1)