Monday, 17 December 2012

Michael Caine's brief encounters

This is the first of a series of funny videos that I am filming for Youtube. Although I do a passable M Caine impersonation the idea is to create some funny moments through improvisation. This video took five goes until I was satisfied with it... and not a lot of people know that.

Developing my writing

I am currently researching for more information on the world of butchery for my proposed book "Tales From The Block" as well as developing my comedy writing by creating pieces for Youtube and other comedy formats.

I seem to have a surreal sense of humour influenced by Monty Python, The Goodies, classic TV series such as Steptoe and Son and others broadcast in the 1970s. These were my teenage years and the years where I started to realise that I could make people laugh. Then came the Canadian comic Kelly Monteith with his observational comedy sketches whose show I used to love.

I was never a fan of the traditional stand up comic like Bernard Manning and similar comedians. My sense of humour was rather in the style of Not the Nine O'clock News and further comedic adventures with Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder. I saw Jasper Carrott in his early days at Derby Playhouse and followed him throughout his career.

Then along came the clever American humour of Third Rock From The Sun and the hit TV show Frasier. I was also influenced by the styles of Woody Allen and his films and somewhat by the corny style of the Mel Brookes films such as Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

These days I am a fan of the Black Books series, Father Ted, Eddie Izzard and Bill Bailey.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Acting 'A Chip In The Sugar' in Karlsruhe

Regarding the title of this blogpost, I can only speak for myself in this as I did a monologue as Graham and seven other characters from A Chip In The Sugar. All the work I'd put in over the last three months paid off in the three performances I did at the Die Käuze theatre in Karlsruhe. They weren't perfect but then live theatre rarely is and that is the joy in doing it. Working with the imperfections so much that audience of oblivious of them and still entertained is worth the struggle.  I learnt very quickly not to be self critical and analyse oneself or judge the words issuing forth as one acts. To do so is fatal and therby mental blanks can come thick and fast. Not what you want in front of a full auditorium.

"Oh my God Mother!"
The Tuesday morning performance was the probably the best in being pretty much word perfect and the energy from doing an early show paid off plus the fact that I knew that there was a big group of English language students in and also our gang from the Lace Market Theatre had come across town ( some with hangovers) to support myself and the team who were performing The Typists. So all in all I was very pleased with the quality of the performances I gave and the applause, the whoops and the stamping of feet that came as a reward for doing well was very gratifying.

"Get down, He's back!"

I enjoyed the talk back with the students and felt very surprised and happy that they had clubbed together to buy me two very nice bottles of  French wine as a reward for sending them a script marked up by me to illustrate some points about the text and the peculiar English expressions in the work and my understanding of the characters. I also sent them a companion audio CD explaining all and an audio CD of me doing A Chip In The Sugar

"We were just letting our midday meal go down when the Vicar calls."
.As I got towards the last performance I was able to trust that I knew the script well enough to take more pauses and work with the laughter ( a surprising amount actually ) that was coming my way, without losing the plot - so to speak.

"There's a car parked out side and I think there's somebody watching the house.."
Whilst I was in Karlsruhe it was suggested to me that a one man show called Der Kontra Bass or The Double Bass by Peter Suskind might be of interest to me. I have since had a little search on the Internet and from what I've seen it looks interesting. Watch this space.

Phil Lowe

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Finally learnt 45 mins of script

So, after three months of learning Alan Bennett's A Chip In The Sugar I now feel I am ready to perform it in Karlsruhe mid May.

I have had to fit in my rehearsals where I can and do a full time job as well and, of late, I have been rehearsing at the Lace Market Theatre ready for a members only pre-view on May 13th before the group goes to Germany on the 18th.

It has been an interesting journey, the text interpretation getting subtler over the last week or so. Because I have made sure that I know the script very well with time to spare this has given me the opportunity to play around with it a bit and become ultra familiar with the rhythms and subjects. As you may be able to see from the picture above, there are many large passages of text and later in the piece the main character, Graham, starts to reveal his anxieties and breaks away from the story telling to sit quietly in his room (depicted by an armchair). In my rehearsals last week I was having a bit of trouble with mental blanks and realised it was these transitions that were causing the problem. Lots of time concentrating on the main text and character(s) portrayal, less time on the equally important asides were the culprits.

I have also learnt a lot about the techniques of doing one man shows through my experience of performing A Christmas Carol in Germany and UK last December and my training on my Performance Art degree course have all helped me to develop a method and style of solo performance. This is particularly important with using the voice to portray characters in A Chip In The Sugar and also demonstrating the geography of the characters on stage and keeping a connection with them as an actor. In the simplest of terms - not having the character -Mr Turnbull  - mentally to the left of me and suddenly he's over on the right for no reason at all. Also I have used a style of speaking across to 'Mother' for example (seeing her sitting in the chair) and then saying her lines for her forward facing the audience. It's like seeing the character from different angles. Well, that's my intention anyway.

Having a few friends in to watch the rehearsals has helped as the added 'pressure' to perform brings its own rewards and lessons learnt. So thank you to Janette, Paul, Colin, Hilary and David for being my audience. Hilary was particularly helpful and a great laugher. An actor needs to be able to ride the laughs.

Max Bromley suggested slowing some the dialogue down for the German audiences because it is very colloquial in style and another friend - wise in the ways of the theatre - said give yourself time to enjoy any business and don't feel you have to keep talking all the time. On this note I have improved the piece by allowing my character time to go from one time slot to another or one situation change to another. It works so much better that way.

Plus, I created a qulaity CD for myself to listen to myself performing the piece well and have given copies to some friends and acquaintances to listen to and the feedback has been very favourable. One couple said they had listened to it twice and it was like listening to a radio play - only better. Thus encouraged I am now ready to perform the piece in Germany. I can't wait.

Phil Lowe as Graham

Monday, 2 April 2012

Audition for Little Shop of Horrors

The other day I went for an audition for the role of Mr Mushnik in the musical A Little Shop of Horrors. I had never sung at an audition before and was nervous about even trying. However the role appealed (as if I haven't got enough to do!) and I went along.

It was a bit short notice to learn the 'Mushnik and Son' song properly so I took along two songs from Jesus Christ Superstar that I am familiar with and ended up singing a verse and chorus from the bouncy Herod's Song. Apparently I did OK and was a baritone.

I didn't get the role but the experience was good. I think it helped that I knew the director and have worked with him before. I will certainly go and see the show in July as Martin's shows are always brilliant.

Onwards and Upwards with A Chip In The Sugar then...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Rehearsing A Chip In The Sugar

Rehearsing ‘A Chip In The Sugar’ written by Alan Bennett.

At the moment I am two weeks into my ad hoc rehearsal schedule in learning Alan Bennett’s ‘A Chip In The Sugar’ monologue. My pet name for this foolhardy project is ‘Chip’ and it is going to Germany in May alongside another short play called, ‘The Typists’. In my enthusiasm to perform, I blithely ignored the realistic fact that this humorous and pathos filled theatrical piece from Bennett’s original Talking Heads TV series  is actually sixteen pages long and forty minutes in performance on me tod!!!  Proverbial light comes on when Phil realises a monologue is one person talking! Alone! On stage! Without a script!

In this case, the monologue has the main character of Graham, an older gay man with mental health problems, living with his elderly mother who has met up with an old flame, a Mr Frank Turnbull , and is courting him despite her own problems with a failing memory. I have chosen to use differing voices for the various characters in the storytelling unlike Bennett who originally played Graham himself and all of the other characters with his own iconic voice. Both work equally well in performance and the writing is undeniably Alan Bennett in style; laconic, Yorkshire through and through and witty, very witty indeed, and also full of understanding for human frailties.

It is a joy to try and learn and even though there are lots of ‘she said – he said - Mr Turnbull/Mother saids’ liberally scattered throughout the piece they are a part of the rhythm of the theatrical writing and though these interjections seem odd  to an actor, at first, they actually work very well. They help create a rhythm, a pace and a balance.

Like any comedy, a lot of the performing does rely on being aware of where the laughs/chuckles are likely to occur and whilst rehearsing I have left a short space after the punch lines to practice, albeit sans audience, the art of remembering the pick-up lines or the proceeding passage and story development. To help me with the rehearsal process I have recorded the piece with my Dictaphone and put it on a CD to play again and again at home and get me used to the story and the pace of its’ telling. I have also kept a copy on the Dictaphone itself to listen to during the day via a set of headphones.
Consequently, I think that I am now the official ‘nutter on the bus’ who mutters to himself on the 6am Indigo bus to work each morning.  I am even getting brave and almost talking the script out loud as I walk the streets of Nottingham. I can almost imagine folk looking out for the ear piece and mobile connection. "Surely' he's talking to a friend on his blue tooth jobby. except he hasn't got a blue tooth jobby. Mavis, call the cops!"

Alan would be proud
I am often tired after a day’s work and don’t always feel inclined to spend the evening rehearsing and getting frustrated with myself because the lines aren’t coming out right, so I rehearse as and when the energy or enthusiasm is with me. I am enjoying the rehearsal process and the humour of the piece so I do try and find time to devote to learning it. The fact that I really need to be ready by the end of April (my deadline) spurs me on. Come June I will look back with astonishment that I managed to learn it all and perform successfully in Karlsruhe!

The script itself has a lot of repetition throughout and it is easy to find oneself verbally leaping on to another section in the story so concentration is paramount and doing one’s best to be true to every word and inflection helps build confidence in the piece. Without sounding immodest I often give myself a mental ‘slap on the back’ when I think that I am getting stronger in the recalling and performing without the script in front of me. Any actor would agree that these moments of freedom from eye-balling  or gripping on to the script are scary but also very satisfying part of the rehearsal process.

I mark up the script itself to remind myself of my own verbal errors (the odd word wrong or slight paraphrasing) and to illuminate links from one ‘idea’ within the storytelling to another. A good example of this last notion would be that Graham mentions his mother sitting on the cold pavement and in the next breath says, ”Come on Mother, we don’t want piles!” The link being that a cold bum might give her piles. The additional fact that pile and pavement both begin with P helps to cement the script memory too. Additionally, I often try to visualise the scene like a mini movie in my head and find this helps and I am prone to making little drawings in the margin to remind me of the thread and order of the prose.

At this stage of writing this up (mid March) I am confident in the first six pages. Only ten more to go!!!

Monday, 20 February 2012

A Chip In The Sugar

The Lace Market Theatre are taking three plays to Karlsruhe as part of a twinning arrangement in May. They are Hedda Gabler, The Typists and A Chip In The Sugar. The Alan Bennett piece (Chip) is a late entry offered by and performed by myself and I have about ten weeks rehearsal to learn sixteen pages of monologue.

I started three days ago and have the first two pages secure. The script is very well written and mostly chronological in the story telling and relatively (ahem) easy to learn. Saying that there are several characters to deal with as well as the main character, Grahame. For an actor this is a gift.


My own poster design above shows Grahame nervously looking outside the house as he feels 'someone' is watching the house.

Later in the rehearsal process I'm going to have to rehearse this with a director/overseeer to cement the work and get used to pausing and picking up dialogue where the laughs are and there are many laughs in this piece.

I am already muttering the lines to myself at any given moment, on the bus, in the street, under my breath at work. Fun times.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A Christmas Carol catch up with reviews

These are an article and two reviews that recently got published in the Lace Market Theatre's journal, The Boards. For those who are interested and don't have a chance to read the paper document here they are online.

Taking ‘A Christmas Carol’ to Germany and back, by Phil Lowe.

Where do I begin? Well, I was certainly shown great hospitality from my hosts Gerd and Herrlich Lehrmann and their friendly dog Frickr and got a very warm reception at the Jakobus theatre from Markus, Carsten, Manfred and all my other friends there. Everything possible was done to make my stay and my performances as comfortable and easy as possible and I had a thoroughly good time. The dramatic readings had been very well advertised in the local papers and arts magazines too.

Alright, the weather was a tad inclement, raining nonstop for two days out of the three, but there ain't a lot one can do about that. The last day (Thursday) cleared up and I was able to be a tourist in the beautiful city of Karlsruhe without getting soaked to the skin. There were plenty of opportunities for chilling out and taking a host of festive photos and enjoying some mulled wine, coffee and warm apfelstrüdel and cream in a steamy café or two.

My friend Thorsten Feldman came to the first performance on Tuesday night and we met up on the Wednesday and enjoyed each other's company at the Christmas Fair over a glass of mulled wine: dining later at a student pub: and further, viewing the damp sights around central Karlsruhe in a downpour. I also went to the Theater "Die Käuze" with Thorsten and saw the fantastic set they had built for a production of Snow White or Schneewittchen und die sieben Zwerge.

Having a passion for discovering new food experiences I managed to find a fair few foodie joints to nose around and learnt some new names in German for the specialities on offer. I'm sure one exists, but I never got round to finding an indoors market to investigate. It seemed though, that on every street corner and sometimes one or two in between there was another Apotheke (a chemist). I have never seen so many in one city!

On Thursday I spent some time during the lunch period  in * Café Bleu with a well deserved beer and also ate there later that same evening with Andrea, Gerd, and Herrlich. Lena Maia from the Jakobus theatre made a surprise visit to say 'hello' and it was nice to see her too since their theatre's visit to Nottingham. I feel that I have some real good friends in Karlsruhe formed through the twinning events that we all enjoy and, hopefully, I look forward to another visit with the Lace Market Theatre next May. Maybe, the weather will be better and warmer in the Springtime!

Regarding the performances, I enjoyed them both and enjoyed employing some subtle physical actions to enhance the verbal storytelling. Both the audiences were very attentive considering that the English was very flowery and Dickensian. I felt the idea of playing the music of Personent Hodie and creeping on as the Storyteller rather than just walking to the lectern really worked.

The bigger process of organising the events had been going on since August 2011, including making my own costume. From a performer’s point of view, even though I had been totally been re-writing the script and adding in some authentic German, the production was still a growing piece even as I actually performed it at the Jakobus theatre each night. That added to the excitement of the creative process and kept it alive for me and the audiences.

This development continued as I performed ‘A Christmas Carol’ for a final time this year at the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham on the evening of Sunday 11th of December. Back home I had to adjust again to a new staging and lighting style and edit out all the German. Over forty people attended the performance at the Lace Market and Mr Alan Geary was generous in his review. I would like to progress in this style of story-telling and see where it takes me professionally. I already have plans to approach the Nottingham Playhouse for next December as well as the Waterstone’s Bookshop in Nottingham.

Phil Lowe.

*For anyone who has been on the twinning events in Karlsruhe, the lovely Café Bleu opposite the Jakobus theatre has a special place in their hearts. I imagine that the Trip to Jerusalem will have a similar magic for the Germans when they visit us in Nottingham.

A Christmas Carol
Lace Market Theatre

December 11th 2011

One –man show pays homage to Dickensian delivery.

Phil Lowe’s successful rendering of this Dickens’ classic is a development on the highly successful full-play version he presented three years back.

It is admirable that Lowe doesn’t attempt to usurp the author. This is an homage to the writer; a demonstration of his greatness. And it isn’t a play of the sort with one actor who keeps changing hats – that might have been an embarrassing error.

Rather, it’s an entirely engaging dramatic reading, the kind of show that Dickens himself took on the road. At the start, as soon has some jaunty carol music has faded, Lowe enters from the audience, goes straight to the lectern and gets down to business.

The narrative is beautifully spoken, of course. But Lowe also does the characters well, particularly the grotesques. And he evokes the colours the smells and the emotions. He brilliantly brings out the unfailing emotional tug of the story – Tiny Tim is as annoying as ever, but that’s always the price you pay for Dickens.

Storytelling is, alas, no longer a central part of our culture, but on the strength of this piece of work, it should be.

Alan Geary

Nottingham Post.

Second review.

The choir sings with purity and clarity as a bent up, decrepit looking figure makes its way to a lectern, divesting itself of its winter clothes and metamorphosing itself into an impish, spryer figure with a twinkle in his eye to begin to tell us a well known tale.

Though the story was familiar, some of the smaller details surprised me, such as the use of ribbons by the Cratchits to brighten up everyday clothes, and the cage like support around Tiny Tim’s lame leg (something I don’t remember seeing in any adaptations of the story, though I may be wrong.)

Phil Lowe’s dynamic rendition of the story, and Dickens’ own words, enabled the audience’s imagination to form rich and intricate pictures rivalling anything seen in the cinema. He kept our attention throughout the telling of the story as we eagerly awaited each and every word. His vocal acrobatics allowed each character to be distinguished from each other. The intensity of his performance both emotional and dramatic, was reminiscent of Steven Berkoff’s  one man performance of Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Tell Tale Heart.

Having missed this show the first time round, but having seen and liked the ensemble version that that performance led to, I was curious to see this version. I was not disappointed.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

A Christmas Carol -One Man show

Back in December 2011 I performed a one man show of A Christmas Carol in Karlsruhe Germany (two nights) and at the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham. The German show was advertised on the Jakobus Theatre website as:

A dramatic reading by Phil Lowe

Gastspiel in englischer Sprache, geeignet ab 6 Jahren

Phil Lowe from the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham will be performing his acclaimed One Man Show of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" at the Jakobus theatre in Karlsruhe. The show - a dramatic reading - will be performed mostly in English and it promises to be a thrilling evening at the theatre.
Phil plays all twenty five characters and is looking forward to visiting Karlsruhe and re-uniting with some of his German friends.
The performances are at 8pm on 6th and 7th of December.
NOT suitable for children under six years old.

Unter den Weihnachtsgeschichten ist sie der absolute Klassiker: "A Christmas Carol" von Charles Dickens (zu Deutsch schlicht "Eine Weihnachtsgeschichte"). Am 19. Dezember 1843 erschien erstmals dieser Text, mit dem Dickens auf die bittere Not der Armen hinweisen wollte. Auch heute noch sind die zentralen Themen von Dickens Geschichte wie Armut, Ungerechtigkeit, Profitgier aber auch die Notwendigkeit von Familie und Freundschaft sowie das Verständnis und das Mitgefühl für Andere von Bedeutung und treten gerade in der Weihnachtszeit verstärkt in unser Bewusstsein. Nicht zuletzt ist diese Geschichte von Charles Dickens eine der meistgelesenen und bekanntesten weltweit. Dafür sprechen auch die unzähligen Verfilmungen und Adaptionen. Sie beinhaltet christliche und gesellschaftliche Grundwerte und hat seit ihrer Entstehung an Aktualität nichts eingebüßt.