Thursday, 28 February 2013

Richard III on the roof of a carpark.

Recently I wrote a blogpost about Richard III and thought it would be fun to attempt the famous first speech by Richard Gloucester ... "Now is the Winter..." and as Richards remains were found under a car park in Leicester what better to place to film this but in a car park. In actuality on 'top' of the car park at Fletcher Gate in Nottingham. The Lace Market Theatre is down below me as I'm acting so it all seemed fitting somehow.

The idea was for a modern day take of the first speech by Richard in Shakespeare's play Richard III. Apologies to WS for some small mis-quotes but as this was practically take 155 and I was freezing up there and I finally felt happy with this last attempt. Plus my hands were like ice blocks from holding the laptop and the biceps brachii muscle in my upper left arm was seizing up big time!

Character-wise I wanted to get Richard's dark sardonic sense of humour into the piece and reflect changes in thought with halting as he moves about the space. Also I considered how the speech itself demonstrates his embittered considerations of how nature has given him a bad deal and his murderous thoughts of betrayal and cunning social climbing.

This video was filmed on my laptop and I wanted Richard to be moving around the space as if it were a stage. I chose this car park because of the tower at the end of the parking area. It made me think of a castle and also symbolic of The Tower of London where the Princes are held in the play. I hope you enjoy my take on this character.

PS: This famous speech is a sod to learn and even more difficult to remember and to perform when there is the potential of folk parking their cars around you!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Finally an English subtitle film of Le Petit Nicholas

I missed this charming Gallic film when it came out last year at my local independent cinema and have eagerly awaited its release on DVD with English subtitles. Finally I got to watch it the other day and was so enraptured / captured by its style and wit that I have watched it three times in total.

It stars Maxime Godart, (Nicolas) Kad Merad, (the father) and Valérie Lemercier (the mother) and a host of other fabulous acting talent young and older. I particularly liked François Damiens ( the unconventional Scandinavian lover in Delicacy) in his small role as a bickering neighbour.

The film was originally released in 2009 in France and was a huge hit. Why we have to wait for these gems to eventually visit the UK I'll never know. This is a nostalgic, beautifully acted film from the original source of books by the Asterix creator, René Goscinny and set in the 1950s. I loved the set pieces and décor and I wanted to move into the street where Nicholas lives because it is sooo French.

The film is directed by Laurent Tirard (Molière and recently Astérix et Obélix - on his Majesty’s service -2012) and sees the nine year old innocent Nicholas believing that his parents are going to have a baby and his friends have caused him to believe that the older siblings get abandoned in the woods once the new child appears on the scene. When Nicholas becomes convinced his mum is truly pregnant he and his young friends hatch a plan to try and make sure the baby never appears.

The other major child actors (mostly boys and one girl) are superb and must have come from the French version of Central casting. I am not familiar with the drawn stories but these lads are great characters and very funny. They are:

Clotaire – bottom of the class but often comes up trumps

Alceste – fat and eats all the time

Eudes – very strong and likes to whack his friends on the nose

Geoffroy – very rich and his father buys him all that he wants

Agnan – teacher's pet, tiny and wears glasses – nobody likes him – but is strangely likable

Joachim – already has a little brother who he claims to hate but really loves him

Maixent – has long legs and runs very fast

Rufus – his father is a policeman and he has a police whistle that he likes to blow

Marie – Edwige – confident young girl who likes Nicholas but he is nervous of her because he's not used to girls

The parents of Nicholas (Merad and LeMercier) are brilliantly funny in this in often quite subtle ways. I've always loved the lugubrious Kad Merad since I saw him in the stunningly funny French film – Welcome to the Sticks (Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis). Danny Boon is also a favourite of mine and appears with Kad in the Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis film. I have read the reviews to this film (French with English subtitles) and they all say how brilliantly funny it is.


As I mentioned at the beginning of this blogpost I thought that the design and set pieces for the streets and interiors were magnificent and really gave a feel of a slightly opulent 1950s Urban France. If this whets your appetite then the DVD can be ordered through this link.


I thoroughly recommend it as a fun few hours for the family. The credits are a work of art in themselves! The French really do excel in funny films.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Performing in The Dresser as Norman

The video above is one of five rehearsed readings of Ronald Harwood's famous play and film, The Dresser I put on Youtube today. It is one of my favourite roles I have had the privilege to play over the years. This opportunity came in 1990 when I was a student at Nottingham Trent University and was looking for a professional placement as part of my degree course. I lacked the confidence and knowledge of how to get myself placed temporarily with a professional theatre company so I auditioned and won the role of Norman (the dresser) at the Robin Hood Theatre in Averham near Newark.


It was a very big part to take on as the play lasts about two hours and Norman is on stage all but ten minutes of that time. I rehearsed at the Averham venue twice a week and practised the lines and staging in any other time I had spare in my degree course. I seem to recall that I was involved in two other University productions at the time in one way or another!! Where did I get the energy?

Me when I was a performance arts student

Various people at the theatre (it is way out in the sticks) ferried me from a remote train station to the theatre and a man called David Nightingale took me home to West Bridgford most nights as well as my girlfriend Ann. Ann seemed to know the lines better than I did at times! I didn't know any of the team at the Robin Hood Theatre but they were very welcoming to this young arts student and took me under their wing. Margot Anderson directed and coached me in speech modulation for my often long speeches as Norman. She helped me to flesh the character out with a variety of vocal tones in the speeches and made what I had to say, touching and comic alike by altering my vocal inflections and making me aware of how I was coming across to an audience. In a way I have her and Brian Bonner (who played Sir) to thank in making my interpretation of the part a success and praised in the press.

Newark Advertiser

'Worthy of an Oscar

If there were Oscars for amateur actors, Philip Lowe would surely get one for his performance in the title role of Ronald Harwood's The Dresser at Averham until tomorrow.

It is a portrayal that runs the gamut of emotions, from prissy to pedantic to supportive and loving. Lowe is on stage for all but a few moments and sustains the role magnificently. He manages to attract and hold the attention without dominating the action, flitting hither and thither, fussing over his master and protecting him from unwanted intrusions, especially, one suspects, of reality.

Harwood was dresser to Balderton born actor manager Sir Donald Wolfit for nearly five years and one may suppose many of the incidents in the play are drawn from this experience.

Actor managers had to be tough to survive and Brian Bonner as the character known only as Sir reveals a man whose strength is draining away.

He has been taking Shakespeare to the masses for 40 years. It is now 1942 and we glimpse the backstage drama at a tatty provincial theatre during the Blitz.

The core of the play is the interplay, almost a battle of wills, between Norman and Sir, both in their different ways trying to hold back the inevitable final curtain.

The excellent supporting cast includes June Cresswell as Sir's bossy consort: June Hornby as his devoted stage manager; Amanda Rayns as a young aspiring actress and Bill Midwinter and Werner Fraenzel as a couple of has beens. Director Margot Anderson makes everything run smoothly. John Kitchen's set is superb. '

I remember during the performances that many of my student friends came all the way out to this remote theatre to see me perform and I remember that pleasure/pain feeling of getting on stage and saying my first line and knowing that for two hours there was no going back!

Some of my fave bits of acting were the verbal tussle with Irene the young actress; the scene where Sir blacks up as Othello; the frantic storm scene and the front cloth scene where Norman nervously addresses the audience and gets mixed up with his declarations. A superb show to be in.

If you haven't seen a stage version of this play the film is very worthwhile watching:


'Peter Yates' film adaptation of Ronald Harwood's play set during the Second World War centres on two men who have given their lives to the theatre. A once famous, Shakespearian actor (Albert Finney), who demands to only be called 'Sir', presides over an acting company who are exempt from military service due to age or health. Tom Courtenay plays his dresser, camp and nagging, but the only one who can communicate with 'Sir' (who is struggling with demons from his past and descending into senility) and manages to keep him together; helping with his lines, listening to his worries and reassuring him about his talent. Both men rely on each other and the play 'Sir' has put on, 'King Lear', seems to echo what is going on backstage. The film received 4 Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actor (both Finney and Courteney) and Adapted Screenplay.'

Monday, 18 February 2013

Thoughts around Richard the Third.

Following the recent finding of the remains of King Richard the Third beneath a car park in Leicester I thought I would look back on a production of Shakespeare's 'Richard III' that I was involved in 2008. It was directed by Cynthia Marsh for The Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham and Richard was played by Chris Ireson. Although still of some playing length the play was cut and the dress code a mix of modern and Elizabethan styles. It also played in repertoire with a play called Terrorism by The Presnyakov Brothers with a translation bySasha Dugdale and this was directed by Martin Berry.

The links were the emotion of fear and the chaos and friction that irrational and real fear cause. Some of the cast in Richard III were also in Terrorism. I was not so brave to commit myself to both plays in one week and quite content to gets to grips with the Shakespeare, thank ye all the same.

The casting for Richard III was for over fifteen actors who often played multiple roles: I, for example; played Derby (Lord Stanley), a gentleman, a citizen, Rivers (brother of Elizabeth; Lord Mayor, Tyrell, Surrey and, to add contrast a bit of humour, a very camp Bishop of Ely.

One young man, new to the theatre and never seen again afterwards, played Grey, Lovell, a guard and one of the murderers and decided that, unfortunately, due to a vigorous bought of projectile vomiting, he couldn't make our last performance on the Saturday matinée. His mother phoned in just one hour before we were due to 'go up' (start the matinée performance) and so the rest of the cast frantically busied around sharing his roles between them. Thankfully his woeful acting skills weren't up to much and he had very few lines, therefore we were able adjust and to get by without him. I think it leant to a much more pacey show! There was certainly a sword sharp edge to the performances that afternoon. We told some friends who had been to see the show and they said they couldn't tell that we had an actor down. There's no business like show business as they say.

To paraphrase Cynthia, the director, she felt that the two plays presented during this exciting week were disparate; one late 16th Century, one 20th Century; one presenting a violent King the other presenting modern day violence in all its forms. She said that 'Richard the Third propagandised the founding of the House of Tudor to Elizabethan England beset by its own succession worries. Terrorism locates violence and bullying in the routines of contemporary life: travel, sex, work, gossipping and the banter of the changing room.' Source: programme notes.

Interestingly, the very unusual fact that we had two plays running together during our week long run echoed an almost bygone age of repertory theatre and like our Richard III actors playing several roles, seemingly effortlessly, (historically, known as the sweating lords for very good reason as, like us, they ripped off one costume and donned another set of clothes and identity) they would also have played several parts in Rep. Given the massive amount of Shakespearean text our Richard and the cast had to learn and perform this was no mean feat!

Some interesting things about the play Richard III generally.
  • Shakespeare's main source for the play was the historian Raphael Hollinshed and Shakespeare's (strongly Tudor influenced) portrait of Richard took a great deal from Sir Thomas More's work, History of King Richard the Third.

  • The ruthless ambition and semi satanic moral code given by Shakespeare to Richard were intended to make the usurpation of Henry VII (grandfather of Queen Elizabeth) seem necessary. Remember that Shakespeare's company needed the financial and royal support of the Queen to exist. The plays written could not afford to be seen as anti Queen Elizabeth or of her line. Heads would roll!
  • Some modern day defenders of Richard (the man) believe that Shakespeare's portrayal of him as Richard Gloucester and King Richard in the play are unfair. Alas the play's popularity and continual success in the theatre and in film continues to convince people that he was evil, manipulating and violent.

  • Richard III shows off some of Shakespeare's early formal verse at its best. The extraordinary scene where Richard woos the ultra reluctant Anne (act 1 scene II ) gains many of its effects by means of its clever use of parallel, quasi sing song constructions. “Was ever woman in this humour woo'd? Was ever woman in this humour won?” Despite initially hating him, Anne is won over by his pleas of love and repentance and agrees to marry him. When she leaves, Richard exults in having won her over despite all he has done to her, and tells the audience that he will discard her once she has served her purpose. Nice guy! Poor gal!

  • Other courtly women in the play hate the manipulating king more and more as he plots the murders of children and adults alike on his rise to corruption and power. The distraught Queen Margaret exemplifies this point in her famous speech lamenting the existence of King Richard and his terrible deeds: we join the speech at it's climax here:

Queen Margaret: ... No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine, unless it be while some tormenting dream fright's thee with a hell of ugly devils! Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog! Thou that was sealed in thy nativity the slave of nature and the son of hell! Thou slander of thy heavy mother's womb! Thou loathed issue of thy father's loins! Thou detested...

Richard: Margaret.

Queen Margaret: Richard!!

  • In the play, Clarence dies after Richard is named Protector (how ironic!): in reality, Clarence died five years beforehand. Here and elsewhere William Shakespeare the playwright took historical liberties to dramatically construct his play.

Famous critics have said:

“Crimes are Richard's delights but Macbeth is always in agony when he thinks of them” (Thomas Whately)

“The hump... the conscience, the fear of ghosts, all impart a spice of outragousness which leaves nothing lacking to the fun of the entertainment, except the solemnity of those spectators that feel bound to take the affair as a profound and subtle historic play.” (George |Bernard Shaw)

“There is another peculiarity of the present drama which ought to be mentioned – the frequent use of the curse, it is a terrific weapon and is employed here with terrific violence. (Denton J Snider).

My recommendations in books and films:

Year of the King by Anthony Sher: I read this back in the 1980s and it is a very accessible record of Anthony Sher's acceptance of the role of King Richard for the RSC and Barbican and his journey as an actor to discover another way of portraying the crippled king with the ghost of Laurence Oliver's well known depiction of Richard III on his heels. This terrific book is also illustrated with Sher's wonderful sketches and drawings. Highly recommended.


Richard III: The 1996 film with Sir Ian McKellan playing the title role is set in Britain in the 1930s and offers yet another slant on duplicitous evil. In this version civil war has erupted with the House of Lancaster on one side, claiming the right to the British throne and hoping to bring freedom to the country. Opposing is the House of York, commanded by the infamous Richard who rules over a fascist government and hopes to install himself as a dictator monarch. The film is severely edited for text but gives a very clear depiction to Richard's rise to power and his downfall through violent means. I would encourage anyone to watch this as a lesson in film acting and as an encouragement to delve further into the play itself.


Looking for Richard starring Al Pacino: A documentary style film about Al Pacino's quest to find the inspiration to play the role of King Richard III.


Lace Market Theatre production photographs by Mark James. Copyright.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Sarah Milican has a big new fan - me!

I'd heard of Sarah Millican the award winning comedian and perhaps caught glimpses of her in the press but had never seen her live or even on DVD or telly until a friend recommended that I take a peak at her latest DVD Sarah Millican Live– Thoroughly Modern Millican. Ohhh! I have never laughed so much flower!!! The Telegraph describe her as “Supremely talented” and The Observer says she is “A Distinctive Blend of Northern Charm and Utter Filth”

I love stand up and this fantastic lady totally did it for me. There is obviously a lot of hard graft over the years and astute writing skill gone into her keenly funny and off key observations and she appears now to be at that seemingly effortless stage and gloriously rude. There is certainly a lot of effort that goes into this level of effortless. I enjoyed her knowing giggle and the way she commanded the stage and had the audience lapping up every ribald word and gesture.

For those who are interested in how she caught the stand up bug there is a great one page interview in the Radio Times 16th-22nd February edition. On the DVD there are some great extras including:

  • Sarah's Rider

  • About me

  • About my comedy

  • Stairlift us up to where we belong (BBC Radio 4 monologue recorded live at the Edinburgh Festival)

  • Sarah Millican's Support Group (First episode of Sarah's BBC Radio 4 programme).

  • There is also a sheet inside the DVD case listing all her tour dates in 2013.

In the 'About my comedy' DVD extra she says that one of the key elements of getting on in the comedy world is to be nice to people along the way and always carry a notebook for the 'gold' as a comedy writer. She also says that she records all the shows she does and analyses them to improve her act. She said it is the only was to do it as you never remember all of the things that go well when you are 'in the moment'. The DVD and Sarah Millicant Chatterbox is available through this link below to Amazon. I believe that I have become a very big fan!! Or as Sarah might say “ A fucking big fan pet!”


Monday, 11 February 2013

Review for 'On Golden Pond' at the Lace Market Theatre

'On Golden Pond' by Ernest Thompson showing at the Lace Market Theatre, Nottingham.

11th -16th February 2013

Review by Phil Lowe
The emotional ripples on this gentle American play about age, family expectations, recriminations and blinkered intolerance are, in the main, a genial wave lapping on the shore of US life with a few bugs thrown flying in to irritate when the waters threaten to become too placid.

A retired couple, Norman Thayer Jr and his wife Ethel Thayer (exquisitely under played by Geoff Longbottom and Carol Parkinson) arrive at their summer home at Golden Pond in Maine and their banter is that of an old pair of talking comfy slippers. Excepting that Norman, the left slipper, has lost its way slightly and is now shuffling in a daze of shifting memories and what it has to say isn't always palatable to the family. He is convinced he is going die within a year.

Norman is soon to be eighty but doesn't want to recognise it nor the fact that his estranged daughter Chelsea Thayer Wayne (Helen Sharp) and her new dentist partner Bill (Kevin Briffett) are soon to be arriving at the house for his celebration. Along with them comes Bill's thirteen year old son Billy (a terrifically mature and still performance from Alec Boaden) who not only rocks the proverbial boat in the family arrangement but becomes a central force in healing the family unit.

The whole piece is gently humorous and surprisingly touching throughout especially in the scenes that challenge the matriarch's slightly bullying and condescending attitudes. Kevin Briffett's assured handing of the scene when the dentist gets his metaphorical teeth into the future father-in-law and the scene when Helen Sharp playing the damaged daughter attempts to make peace with her father who she calls 'Norman' not Pop or Dad, are very well handled.

The role of Charlie Martin is superbly played by Andy Taylor. He is the local postman with a romantic history linked to Chelsea and Andy Taylor practically glows with energy as the simple minded local guy who laughs at most things in life even if it is not politic to do so.

The whole cast have a real feeling of 'family' about them as they move around the wonderful realistic set designed by Peter Hillier. I felt that the solid looking summer home had a life beyond its physical structure, that somewhere on the horizon was the Golden Pond and it's mating loons mirroring the past life of the Thayer family. Beautifully directed by Marcus Wakely.

Highly recommended.

Phil Lowe

11th Feb 2013

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Anna Karenina - the 2012 film.


Anna Karenina is acclaimed director Joe Wright’s bold, theatrical new vision of the epic story of love, stirringly adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s great novel by Academy Award winner Tom Stoppard . The timeless story powerfully explores the capacity for love that surges through the human heart, whilst illuminating the lavish society that was imperial Russia.

'The year is 1874. Vibrant and beautiful, Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) has what any of her contemporaries would aspire to: she is the wife of Karenin (Jude Law), a high-ranking government official to whom she has borne a son, and her social standing in St. Petersburg could scarcely be higher. She journeys to Moscow after a letter from her philandering brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) arrives, asking for Anna to come and help save his marriage to Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). En route, Anna makes the acquaintance of Countess Vronsky (Olivia Williams), who is then met at the train station by her son, the dashing cavalry officer Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). When Anna is introduced to Vronsky, there is a mutual spark of instant attraction that cannot--and will not--be ignored.'
I originally saw this spectacular and highly theatrical film at the cinema last year and again today on DVD that I ordered through Amazon.


Once again I enjoyed the theatricality of the piece and the superb photography and choreographed action. My favourite section was the horse race and the crowd reaction as Anna gasps thinking that her lover Count Vronsky is dead. Director Joe Wright arranges and frames this potentially complex narrative by use of a sumptuous Russian theatre of the period. I loved the arched dance like mingling of the main characters and the crowds. Tom Stoppard's text was as unfailingly brilliant as one would expect from this master of the genre.
I thought that Keira Knightly gave a very mature performance in the title role as did Jude Law as her husband. Matthew Macfayden was brilliant as the philandering brother Steva Oblonsky and I thought that the slow burning love affair between Levin and Kitty was very touchingly and effectively done.
Jude Law.
 The last scene was totally jaw dropping beautiful. I'll not spoil it for those who have had the pleasure of this film.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Les Miserables. History in the making book. From page to stage.

I was thrilled to get a paperback copy of Les Miserables: History in the making, by Edward Behr in the post this weekend and can't stop reading it. It is jam packed with all that any Les Mis fan would want to know about the Victor Hugo novel and it's re-imagining by the RSC and the Les Mis composers and lyricists. I have been a fan both of the original musical and the recent film and have thoroughly enjoyed learning how the whole story went, as the expression goes, from the page to the stage.

The book explores the immensely popular musical's history from the French production and concept album that so inspired Cameron Mackintosh to back an English language translation back in the mid 1980s. It also covers those years and the growth of the musical to other countries around the world listing over 70 opening nights across the world from the original arena version of Les Miserables at the Palais des Sports on the 20th September 1980 in Paris to the Musichall Theatre Duisberg on the 26th of January 1996.

I was particularly taken with an engraving style picture of Jean Valjean and how close the image looked to the Hugh Jackman portrayal in the years after his parole. This painting in the first edition of Les Miserables made it possible for Colm Wilkinson to keep the beard which Trevor Nunn had initially wanted him to shave off for the musical.

As well as a wealth of written text, there are some fantastic photos of Les Mis from across the world and the whole libretto at the end of the book (illustrated with b/w photos).

"Bring him home!"

"Lovely ladies!!"

If you are as keen to order the book as I was you can order it through Amazon at this link below.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Alfie 40 years on. The making of.

This short film reflects humorously on the later life of the iconic film character played by Michael Caine. We find Alfie forty years after the end of the film and he is just as sexist as ever and a chain smoker.

I enjoyed the film again recently on DVD and made note of Caine's expressions and use of language. His constant usage of the term 'birds' for women (his alleged conquests) and the expressions 'mumsy but in good condition' for an older woman with whom he had a sexual liaison or two. Also I decided to call the little dog he befriends 'It' after the fact that he refers to all his girlfriends as 'it' - this has got to be one of the most demeaning put downs against womankind ever. There is also his constant belief that women still find him irresistible despite his obvious lack of tact, manners and down at heel looks. Note egg deliberately spread on t shirt.

I don't smoke but watched the way that Alfie lit up during various parts of the film (hand guarding against a draft.)

The piece was filmed at my home on the stairs with the front door open to let in a goodly amount of light for filming and the ciggy smell out! It was done in one take after a practise run.