Friday, 29 March 2013

Richard Griffiths. RIP.

I was very sorry to hear today of the death of Richard Griffiths, one of Britain's most celebrated character actors, who died from complications following heart surgery. The stage and screen performer, who played Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films, was 65. The married actor, was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire, and grew up caring for his deaf parents and was awarded an OBE for services to drama in 2008. He was a Tony-winning character actor and an inspiration to many actors for his subtle and often quietly comic roles.

I personally remember him for many of his roles and particularly for his hilarious role as an accountant who falls in love with a pig about to be slaughtered in the Handmade Films movie, A Private Function, and for his role as the quarrelsome chef/detective in the television sitcom, Pie In The Sky. I loved that show and the depth he brought to it.

Griffiths died yesterday at the University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire. Sir Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, said that, “Griffiths's unexpected death would devastate his "army of friends". Mr Hytner, also said, “Richard Griffiths wasn’t only one of the most loved and recognisable British actors – he was also one of the very greatest and his performance in Alan Bennett's, The History Boys, as Hector, the charismatic teacher, was quite overwhelming: a masterpiece of wit, delicacy, mischief and desolation, often simultaneously.”

Daniel Radcliffe, today led tributes to the actor whose "encouragement, tutelage and humour" made work "a joy". Radcliffe, who also performed with Griffiths ( RG as Martin Dysart) in the stage play Equus, said: "Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career.”
He continues, "In August 2000, as I nervously started on my first Harry Potter film he made me feel at ease and seven years later, we embarked on Peter Schaffer's play, Equus, together. It was my first time doing a play but, terrified as I was, his encouragement, tutelage and humour made it a joy. In fact, any room he walked into was made twice as funny and twice as clever just by his presence. I am proud to say I knew him." (Source: internet tributes)

Aside from the Harry Potter films, Richard Griffiths was most famous for his role as the gloriously camp Uncle Monty in the cult film favourite, Withnail And I. He had a busy and varied career in the theatrical arts and fairly recently played the charming Monsieur Frick in the popular film, Hugo.

Well, “ Dear boy, dear boy” I will miss you being here on earth to entertain us on our screens and stages with your avuncular charm, wit and impish mischief. My condolences to your family. We never met but you touched my heart and made me laugh. Thank you.

Phil Lowe.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Advice from a recent graduate of RADA's Set Construction course.

Reproduced from The Lace Market Theatre' magazine - The Boards.

Writer Phil Lowe recently spoke to former Lace Market Theatre member, Janine Forster, about her acceptance and experiences on the Scenic Construction MA Course at RADA over the last two years.

She had the opportunity to study in the Academy's carpentry and steel fabrication workshops, working with professional directors and designers on the Academy's public productions and had the chance to visit various professional organisations such as the National Theatre and Royal Opera House.

The course gives students the opportunity to gain practical and theoretical knowledge of construction materials and their properties, carpentry and joinery, building, erecting and maintaining sets and the mechanics of scenery handling and rigging including theatrical flying. On the practical side great emphasis was placed on the safe usage of various tools such as routers, jigsaws, band, table, wall saws, lathes, grinders and sanders. The students are also taught to produce working drawings and ground plans using CAD (Computer Aided Design), budgeting and ordering of materials, technical stage management skills and the principles of masking and sightlines.

One of the best aspects of the course is a four to six weeks professional attachment to a theatre or scenic contractor and this course leads to the award of a postgraduate diploma in Scenic Construction. For the best impression of Janine's creativity and colour photographs of her work please go to Janine's website.

Phil: Are you still a member of the Lace Market Theatre?

Janine: No, as I spend most of my time down in London now. However, I would like to thank the Lace Market Theatre for the support they gave me throughout my course and not only the generous donation from the Lace Market Theatre charitable trust that helped me, but also to the members that have wished me well and kept in touch!

Phil: I understand that the scenic construction course at RADA only accept a few people per two year course. What was it about your attitude, experience and qualifications that led them to accept you?
Janine: Yes they take up to three students a year on the course. There were three of us in total in my year and we all came from very different backgrounds and not all from the theatre. Although it is a postgraduate course you do not need an undergraduate degree to apply or get on to it - just relevant experience. I think that they look for enthusiasm for the subject, dedication to build on existing skills as well as wanting to learn new ones!

Phil: London is an expensive city to exist in, would you have any personal advice for any applicant about funding oneself through a drama school course?

Janine: I would start early! You will find that you send a lot of letters and not get many responses. Funding, especially for the arts, is difficult to come by but there are a few good websites and there is a charity almanac that lists all the charities in the UK and their criteria. It is long slog and very time consuming, but worth it. I would also keep note of who you have written to and if they have responded. I have written a entry about funding advice you can find it at my blog:

Phil: Did you manage to get any help with finding contacts within the industry?

Janine: As part of the course you have to undertake a six week placement within the industry which the tutors and staff at RADA have established contacts with.

Phil: Was the course itself a challenge for you in terms of expanding your creative nature?
Janine: I absolutely loved the course and I would say it is the best thing that I have done. The mixture of working on productions every six weeks with personal projects gave me a great balance. The roles undertaken for the productions prepare you for working within the profession and with professional designers (RADA productions are designed by external professional designers as well as the students on the design course). The personal projects were there to improve key skills needed for scenic construction but also to give you the opportunity to get really creative and to design as well as make.

Phil: How intensive was the course?

Janine: The course was very intensive especially during build week and the run up to a show when you could be working up to twelve hours a day, six days a week . Definitely not nine to five but then again set construction is not a nine to five type of career. Also, RADA is what you take from it. During the weeks between the shows (when you could leave at five) I tended to stay late anyway to work on personal projects and learn new skills. The great thing about RADA is that it is so friendly and that there is always someone about, so if you wanted to know a little bit more about lighting or how to make a certain prop there was always someone (whether a tutor or other specialist) about to show you.

Phil: To what degree was the course practical and theoretical ?

Janine: I would say that it was 99% practical. There are some lectures, developmental talks, and health and safety training that take place at the beginning of the year. The undergraduate course also has a few more lectures about theatre history and the different types of roles in the theatre which the specialists are welcome to attend. You are continually assessed instead of having exams at the end of the year

Phil: Given your experience at the Lace Market Theatre in designing and building sets, what would you say were the major differences between the amateur world and the professional world?

Janine: I would say from a construction point of view that it is a little more removed from the actual theatre space, even if you are lucky enough to work for a producing house you will be in a workshop space away from the theatre spaces. If you work for a scenery building company you can find yourself not being involved in the fit up or visiting the venue at all!

Phil: Did you do any artistic work outside of the RADA spaces to gain experience?

Janine: I personally did not, other than my placement.

Phil: Does RADA have a support system for its graduates in finding work or contacts?
Janine: This is going to sound really cheesy but RADA is like a family! You spend up to two years (on some courses) of your life with the same group of people and because RADA is a very small community everybody knows everyone else. So once you have graduated you can pop back and say "hello" to use the facilities or ask a former tutor for advice and I would say that it is an excellent support system! As far as contacts and finding work goes there is nothing formal in place (i.e. job boards or newsletters) but more of a 'word of mouth' network - 'I heard that so and so was looking for a carpenter... you should get in touch’ type of thing.

Phil: Overall how did you find the course and did it meet up to your expectations?

Janine: It utterly surpassed them! I would very much recommend the courses at RADA.

For an overall view of the courses run through RADA visit

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Playing Gethin Price in Comedians by Trevor Griffith.

Some considered thoughts about being involved in a production of Trevor Griffith's play, 'Comedians' at the Lace Market Theatre, Nottingham, in April 1995.

Notes from the Lace Market Theatre programme.

We work through laughter, not for it. (…) A joke releases the tension, says the un-sayable, any joke pretty well. But a true joke, a comedian's joke, has to do more than release tension, it has to liberate the will and the desire, it has to change the situation... there's very little won't take a joke. But when a joke bases itself upon a distortion – a 'stereotype', perhaps – and gives the lie to the truth, as to win a laugh and stay in favour, we've moved a way from the comic art and into the world of entertainment and slick success.” (Trevor Griffiths, Comedians, Act 1)

I think that the quotation above is a key to the heart of the play in terms of determining a dangerous/ harsh truth through laughter (often based on an element of distort and cruelty) and the 'staying in favour' aspect refers, in my opinion, to the pulling back of the 'punch' line to a gentler and perhaps more publicly acceptable definition of funny = light entertainment. The cruel humour of Gethin Price serves to demonstrate the bruised skeleton of the future of no holds barred comedy. A true theatre of cruelty.

This particular production's audition for an all make cast was open to women and the role of Sammy Samuels was offered to Anne Bone. The casting added an additionally interesting male/female often, potentially violent, conflict between the characters Gethin Price and Ms Sammy Samuels. The caretaker was also cast as a female role and humorously played by Barbara Fisher.

The first production of the play ' Comedians' by Trevor Griffiths was performed at the Nottingham Playhouse, February 20th 1975 and then at the Old Vic: September 24th 1975. Jonathan Pryce played Gethin Price and Jimmy Jewel, Eddie Waters.
Nottingham Playhouse and Richard Eyre as they appear in the original programme
The Lace Market Theatre production.

Story in brief.

Eddie Waters is an older, formerly professional, comedian generously imparting his skills to a class of mixed ability, would be working class comedians. He is written as a man who stopped being funny at a point in his life and rarely says anything funny through the whole drama. He teaches them to look for the truth: the implication is that society can be changed by persuasion. His main principles are that the comedians confront/reject comedy that reinforces stereotypes, that attacks gay people, the Irish, the blacks, women or a particularly 1970s comedy scapegoat, the Pakistanis. Interestingly, this play pre-dated the rise of alternative comedy in the 1980s and practically leaks sexism and racism from every sweaty pore, deliberately.
Water's students are due to perform their acts to a live audience in a Bingo Club and to a Mr Bert Challenor, and old foe of Waters who can offer the most talented members of the group a contract to play the working men's clubs.
Vince Handley as George McBrain
There are two staged venues: the classroom where the evening class is held; a bingo hall where they perform and then back in the classroom when the performance is over. Bert Challenor gives them a preparatory chat before they leave the safety of the class and insists on the need to be entertaining and that the audience is their paymaster. He perceives the entertainer, Max Bygraves, to be the ultimate standard of comic perfection. Gethin Price is disgusted at this news and has changed his comedy act at the last minute much to Eddie Waters dismay and surprise. Gethin is seen by Waters as the shining star of the group and is considered by the rest of the group as a teacher's pet and a strange character.

Divided between Waters and Challenor's opposing views, most of the class have moments of doubt about the forthcoming event, and start to reconsider their comedic futures and the desperate hope of escaping their dead end jobs.

Gethin Price performs a very different act to what has been expected in rejection to Eddie Water's ideals. During his performance, Price, paying tribute to Grock, the famous clown, wears a white face and launches an attack on a pair of dummies, a man and woman in evening dress. He pins a flower on the woman's dress and blood appears. Eddie Waters is hurt to find that Price's act is fuelled by hate, lacking in compassion and, as far as Waters is concerned, the truth. Comedic truth/ liberating truth. At the end of a dispiriting evening after the others have left, Waters and Price bitterly argue about the purpose of comedy. The raging Price explains that he favours revolution against gradual reform.
                                                         Stuart Power as Eddie Waters.

Eddie Waters fights to regain his moral ground and explains to Price that he once went to a German Prison of War camp after the war and he was attracted and also repelled by what his intellectual and unexpectedly erotic feelings gave lie to there.

The play ends on a quasi optimistic note but with shadows of doubt from all the participants. Two are chosen by Bert Challenor to get contracts to work the clubs and the rest are rejected. Throughout the play a bitter dark vein of comedy prevails. End.

I was attracted to the role of Gethin Price after seeing a TV version of the play with Jonathan Pryce as Gethin. I patiently waited years to be offered an opportunity to play this part and it was my first role at the Lace Market Theatre in 1995. My favourite part of the rehearsals was when I had some time to look at the role having learnt a lot of his dialogue and to find a way for the character to inhabit the stage. I virtually looked like a skinhead so an aggressive walk was created, exaggerated and toned down for realism. I like that kind of approach. My accent was a whiny Manchester accent with hints of danger, knowing bitterness and sarcasm.

Although the comedy 'act' for Gethin was written out in the script there was a lot of opportunities for the 'action' to be improvised, i.e: the Kung Fu, the aggression toward the models and the audience themselves and the upper middle class. Any actor who plays this role must love the variety that Gethin's 'act' provides.

Review in Arts Extra (Nottingham Evening Post) by Joan Appleton.


Comedy is a serious business. The would be comics in Trevor Griffith's powerful play 'Comedians', which the Lace Market Theatre presents this week, go through a rigorous training under 'old pro' Eddie Waters, played movingly by Stuart Power.

The Murray Brothers (Steve Herring and Andrew Haynes) come hilariously to grief, the two Irish boys (Vince Handley and Keith Milne) turn in predictably funny performances.

The Jewish comic, originally a man but played here by Anne Bone, had a nice line in mock aggressive humour.

But the real aggression comes from Gethin Price, a violent man driven by hatred and resentment played brilliantly by Philip Lowe as a weasely white faced clown.

If humour, as Griffiths says, has to be based on the truth, then perhaps his is the best kind. Only you don't laugh.

Cynthia March directs the ensemble, which includes a morose caretaker (Barbara Fisher), a lost Indian (Adrian Perkins) and a smooth Cockney agent (John Hunt) with fine attention to detail.

Martin Hooper's set, a grimy classroom which becomes, after the interval, a sparkling Bingo Club, leaves little to the imagination.

Twenty years after the play first opened, the boundaries of what we may laugh at has widened. Comics go further. We follow uneasily. The message seems to be that you can joke about everything provided it is done from love.

Comedians is a thought provoking play given a marvellous production by a first rate cast. It can be seen at the Lace Market Theatre until Saturday.

April 1995.


Monday, 18 March 2013

Dead Funny by Terry Johnson - a reflection.

Playing Nick in the Lace Market Theatre's production was a hoot from start to finish with some superb direction from the director Pat Richards.


At the time of rehearsals we pondered whether Dead Funny will work quite as well, decades down the line, as the bygone comics like Benny Hill and Frankie Howard fade from memory, but written against this tale of collective obsession and of crumbling marriages we did find it very, very funny. It was particularly funny at one rehearsal up in the top room of the theatre when Dave Bilton was doing his opening 'naked' scene with Beverley Saint as his frustrated stage wife and a potential new member was being shown the building and ended up being shown a naked man stretched over four chairs with his stage wife kneeling before him! We think she joined.

Set in Easter 1992, Terry Johnson’s tragi-comedy centres on a group of hero-worshipping neighbours, fixated on British comedians of music-hall tradition. Benny Hill has just died and the dwindling numbers of the Dead Funny Society prepare a wake. Gynaecologist Richard (Dave Bilton) is as indifferent to his wife Eleanor’s obsession to give birth as she is to his with dead comics. The unease of their relationship and that of other relationships is implicit throughout the play. Brian comes to tell Richard, as the chairman of the Dead Funny Society of the death of Benny Hill and he interrupts a painfully comical attempt at sexual massage.

Brian and Richard decide to hold a celebration of Benny's life the following Wednesday and invite the other members of the Society. As the party progresses the mood darkens as the tension and revelations of the various relationships come to light. Custard pies and sausage rolls are thrown and I got to empty a bowl of trifle over Dave's head every night! All this in reaction to finding out that my baby is not my baby at all but fathered by Richard.

Another unlikely catalyst is the gentle neighbour Brian who 'comes out' during the evening's entertainment and was a superb performance of inner pain coupled with superb comic timing by Malcolm Wilson in the Lace Market production in November 1999.

It is an hilarious comedy, needs brilliant comic timing, the ability of the cast to recreate classic comedy sketches and participate in frantic custard pie fights as the tragedy unfolds. Plus a great backstage crew adept and cleaning up the mess every night. As the main thrower of food stuffs I was told to be very careful not to get any on the borrowed furniture. The medical torso was hired for £23.50 for three weeks.


I particularly enjoyed the scenes during the 'Dead Comedians' celebrations where we performed the comic sketches like Morecambe and Wise's “Boom -ooh – ya -ta-ta”, the 'in the box' sketch of Jimmy James and the impersonations of Frankie Howard, Max Miller and Tony Hancock. I remember that we worked very hard at the comic timing including some word rehearsals at Dave's house at the latter stages. Great fun!

Review from Philip Ball (Nottingham Evening Post)

Darker side of comedy

Dead Funny
Lace Market Theatre
Philip Ball

Pat Richards has brought together a hard working cast to provide the impersonation needed to carry Terry Johnson's play.

They are all members of the Dead Funny Society who gather together in homage to the legendary Benny Hill, Frankie Howard, Jimmy James and Morecambe and Wise. The comic routines are brilliantly done but Dead Funny has a deeper and sharper tone.

Adult audiences will not be disappointed as observations on sexual attitudes are explored with wit and perception. The cast run through familiar routines whilst conveying the angst between their characters.

Malcolm Wilkinson has the best lines as Brian on the edge of the divided relationships between Richard (Dave Bilton), and Ellie (Beverley Saint) Nick (Phil Lowe) and Lisa (Melanie Gallie).

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Frances Ruffelle 'Piaf' video.

This fantastic video came through on Facebook today and I wanted to share it with those who read my earlier review. It really sums up the nature of the show at Curve in Leicester and Frances Ruffelle's brilliant performance in Paul Kerryson's wonderful production.

For my original review clickez ici.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Trying out a stand up comedy set

Last Wednesday I took part in a 'Tesco's Got Talent' competition in a semi final at the conference suite at the Leicester City Football ground. I had already won a preliminary round in my current workplace with a stand up routine about butcher's shops and the meat and fish counter at Tesco.

Tesco have very strong guidelines about being rude about customers so the observational comedy I devised and wrote was more about the joke being on me than being about the customers really.

The set comprised of two jokes about butcher's shops ( themes were a cheeky rabbit and an intelligent dog) then I moved into observations about me being able to speak a bit of three languages namely French, German and Chinese. I went on to explain that we have a lot of Chinese customers and that they appreciate my attempts to be polite and I demonstrated that and then went into mock Chinese as I demonstrated verbally what I could do to their sea bass. The joke was on me as, after a lengthy explanation, it turned out they didn't speak Chinese.

Then I told the audience a true story about a strongly accented customer who said that he wanted "To piss" and that my colleague Paul was attempting to show him where the loos were. It turned out he wanted 'two piece' of salmon.

For the final part of my act I told the audience that I do the counters' announcements on the mike at work and that I had a fantasy that the Daleks had opened a branch of Tesco and I wondered what the announcements would be like. I do a good Dalek impersonation and proceeded to do three Dalek calls echoing subjects that normally happen in the supermarket.

I had woken up early (3am) the day I was due to perform and had some funny ideas that I wrote down but later in the day decided it was best to stick with the routine I was familiar with rather than adding new material last minute.

On the evening of the Tesco's Got Talent gig, I followed a young woman (No! not that kind of followed!) who was on first doing a dance routine. I was on second. Another twenty three acts were to follow, mostly singers.

The conference room was very wide and the stage was a temporary, poorly lit affair in the middle of the room by the back wall. I was confident in my material after some rehearsals at home and I found that I had to compete with a lot of chat from the tables whilst I was performing. It wasn't like the theatre or a comedy club where folk go quiet and let you entertain. I didn't let this put me off and used my skills to get the attention from the audience, the most important ones of looking and sounding confident and eyeballing each section of the audience and the judges as I spoke so that they all felt included. I got some laughs (always good for a comedian!) and the material that went down well was the Chinese language section and the Daleks in Tesco material.

The judges said that I had done very well with writing my own material, the timing of the humour and the originality of my act. I wasn't the outright winner but I got a trophy for my efforts, a fun night and a few beers and some food. The experience has made me think about doing an open mike slot at a proper comedy club sometime where people actually go to see and listen to the comedians rather than chit chat about their social lives during a set.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Play it Again Sam - a superb production.

'Play it again Sam' by Woody Allen.

The Lace Market Theatre.
September 2004.

I think if there ever a play I was able to get the opportunity to be involved with again, as the lead, it would be Woody Allen's silly three act farce 'Play it Again Sam'.

Original poster framed
Max Bromley directed the Lace Market Theatre production back in 2004 and also designed and built the set with a wonderful backdrop of New York apartments. This was another play where the cast wanted to move into Alan Felix's fictional apartment as it was so well designed and constructed. The photos accompanying this article were taken during a dress rehearsal and the empty book cases were actually full of American books and authentic magazines for the show.

Alan Felix (the Woody Allen character) lives in New York and is a writer for various film magazines. He has an obsession for Humphrey Bogart and sees him as the ultimate macho man who always 'gets the dames'. Alan Felix is the opposite of macho cool; nervy,  a hypochondriac, desperate for love and sex, nerdy and self consciously witty. He has just been dumped by his ex wife is feeling very down at the start of the play.

His best friend, Dick ( a workaholic) and his attractive wife Linda try to set him up with a new woman on a series of disastrous dates. Each date gets worse and worse and in the Lace Market Theatre production we had one actress playing his ex wife Nancy plus all the other women he dated. This led to some very funny scenes where Alison, who played all the would be girlfriends, would go off stage as one character, rip off the costume and come back on as another character. As the play is essentially a New York farce all the actors had similar moments to deal with especially when things hot up and Alan Felix starts to date his best friend’s wife Linda and feels impassioned but dreadfully guilty at the same time. Typical Woody Allen fare and enormous fun to do.

Sally who played Linda recalls being helped with a really fast change backstage and the zipper caught on the dress she had to remove, to then put on another, before I opened the door to let I don't think the audience heard her repeatedly and frantically whispering “Not YET, not YET!” If I'd have opened the door the audience would have seen far more than they should have!


A lot of the action is based in the apartment and we used the front of the stage areas for outdoor scenes such as the 'day in the park scene' the 'disco scene' and the 'art gallery'. The main lighting for the apartment was dimmed with the acting areas lit to suggest the venue. We sourced a selection of film posters featuring Bogart and some were directly referred to in the text.

In the auditions there was a worry that we would struggle to get a man to be convincing in the Bogart role but then John Parker stepped and did the Bogart character brilliantly. Likewise, a new member called James Walker was just right as my best friend Dick in all his comedy incarnations.


The text was often very fast paced and quirky and very very funny. Most rehearsals we were in tucks at the ridiculous plot and the great wit that Woody Allen is renowned for in his comedies. Max Bromley's superb direction helped us all with the comic actions and comic timing and made sure that the show was the huge success that it was. Plus, of course, the support from backstage and the sound and lighting technicians.

Playing Alan Felix, I spent quite a lot of time reading about Woody Allen and watching some of his earlier comedies to get the quirky nuances and vocal coughs and ticks that he employs when talking and was thrilled and delighted when, almost at the last minute, I managed to get a pair of glasses from Nottingham's Gray and Bull optician's that were the same as Woody Allen's 1960's library glasses. This pair had no glass in them and that really helped with audience being able to see my eyes. A lot of feelings are conveyed through the eyes.


One of my fondest memories from the show, and there are many, was a fantasy scene where the character of Linda comes on to Alan Felix big time and throws him to the floor then pounces on top of him. Sally (Linda) and I could hardly contain ourselves from laughing all the way up to the dress rehearsals and then the director decided to add in a sultry soundtrack of  Serge Gainsbourg's 'Je t' aime'. How we got through each performance with a live audience there I do not know!


Edited notes I made to myself after the last night:

'I was on such a high last night that I couldn't sleep and finally grabbed fours worth at 4am this morning, finally dragging myself out of bed at 10am Sunday morning. No more looking in the mirror mouthing words by Woody Allen. I think I'll miss that.


For starters I've wanted to do this play since it was announced that it would be the first play of this artistic season and the opportunity came up to play Alan Felix, the lead part (practically Woody Allen) and the rest of the small cast chosen, were perfect. The director Max has been a source of inspiration throughout the whole three months rehearsal. A great teacher and an absolute pleasure to work with from start to finish. The rehearsals were very hard work, particularly as I am working full time as well, but very fulfilling and fun. Thanks goodness I took a week off work to do this.


Our last night was a dream come true, a full and very appreciative audience who laughed at everything, even things we thought were funny but with some audiences hadn't raised a titter. What a fabulous feeling to generate laughter through Woody's play and lines; my character and our cast's interpretation of events unfolding on the stage. By the end of the longer second act the whole place was buzzing with excitement and we were eager to 'whack it to 'em' in the third and final act. And we did!

As the curtain closed on us and we got ready for our line up we were like little kids at Christmas, bouncing around with joy and a tremendous sense of achievement. Two curtain calls and a standing ovation, cheers, clapping and a sea of delighted faces followed and us brave four were grinning from ear to ear. The curtain closed for the last time and we all gave each other big hugs and sincere “well dones” to close the experience. What a feeling! Great camaraderie and a brilliant job well done.

We had ten minutes in the bar where we were heartily congratulated by the remaining audience and club members. Extremely positive comments all around. All that effort I and my friends had put in over the last three months had paid off. I am so pleased and proud of myself and the stirling efforts from the director, other actors, the backstage crew and technicians to make the whole thing a success.

After all that applause there then came the call to go back downstairs and help take the set down. A mammoth job but with some extra hands it was done in two hours and the stage swept clean by midnight. Then we wearily climbed back upstairs to some welcome food and champagne and a calm down and a chance to look back on our week. Our sound man, Daniel, gave me a lift home and I unpacked my 'prize' of a big framed Casablanca poster and I shall put that up in my bedroom later today.


I have decided to keep the glasses as a memento and I am still covered in bruises from the 'action' during the week. They will heal and my wild hair will be shorn early next week so I don't look quite such a geek!'

Sunday 26th September 2004

Great times, great laughs and I wish I could 'Play it Again Sam' again.

To order a script of Play It Again Sam click Amazon link above.


Les Miserables book: from stage to screen. A MUST have!

As a big fan of Les Misérables both on stage and screen I just have to promote this amazing book!. It's brilliant!

It has a beautiful padded cover and there are pages of fabulous photos and stage designs and of course lots of informative writing, but what makes this book so different is that it has 4 pockets throughout that contain lots of re-produced Les Mis paper memorabilia! There are posters from various productions, an invite for the party after the first night, set designs, costume designs, a ticket stub from the Broadway show, a programme for the original French production, a props list, pages from the script, a specially produced newspaper to promote the first tour, aerial set design, Jean Valjean's passport to freedom in French, a place mat from a gala dinner... There are 20 items listed. A MUST have for all the devoted fans of Les Misérables the musical.

I really liked the in depth and intelligent telling of the origins of the French version of Les Misérables, how it was picked up by Cameron Mackintosh and presented at the RSC Barbican Theatre, originally to often poor press reviews but astonishing box office growth to the point of sell out, and also its incredible history as the show has grown, developed, and become a worldwide phenomenon both on stage and screen. Les Misérables has become the 'people's musical' and loved for the passion and compassion of Hugo's original re-worked for the theatre.


There is plenty of informative writing about Tom Hooper's film version of Les Misérables , his vision for the film, the live singing and the rigours the cast went through to be chosen and to play the fantastic parts, etc...

The shop price is £30 although I have found copies on Amazon for a lot less, including one direct from Amazon for £16.50.

PS: The Les Mis 25th Anniversary DVD is fantastic and the second disc is full of wonderful vids about Les Mis and a comprehensive full colour booklet.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Playing a serial killer in Frozen by Byrony Lavery

Description of the play 'Frozen' written by Bryony Lavery.

“One evening ten year old Rhona goes missing. Her mother Nancy, retreats into a state of frozen hope. Agnetha, an academic, comes to England to research a thesis titled “Serial Killings: A Forgivable Act?” Then there's Ralph, a loner with a bit of a record who’s looking for some distraction … Drawn together by horrific circumstances, these three embark upon a long, dark journey that finally curves upward into the light in this big - brave, compassionate play about grief, revenge, forgiveness and bearing the unbearable.” (The Guardian)

Robert Hewison of The Sunday Times (London) describes it thus: 'A profound, hypnotising drama about the moral and emotional effect on both the relatives of victims and the murderer.... (It) rewards you at last with a sense of understanding and release.'

In Frozen the playwright Bryony Lavery examines the almost unbearable subject of abducted and murdered children ( young girls in this case) but carefully manages to avoid either sensationalism or sentimentality. Her play 'Frozen' has a cast of three characters, (with two extra – non speaking roles in the original text and Birmingham Rep 1998 production) who speak as much to the audience as they do to each other later in the play. The majority of the writing is structured through individual soliloquy and further into the play develops into two person dialogues.

The story:

The mother Nancy, sends her ten year old daughter Rhona round to her grandma's with a pair of secateurs and never sees her again. She conducts her own fraught journey of initial dis-belief and terror at one of her two daughters going missing to that of support for other families in equally terrible strife through a support organisation called FLAME.

The American psychiatrist, Agnetha Gottsmundottir, is exploring an academic theory that child abuse causes profound and pathological changes in the structure of the brain as surely as physical injury does and brings herself, and her clinical and personal convictions, to study Ralph in soliarty confinement and lecture on her findings.

Many years after Rhona disappears, Ralph is caught and it becomes Agnetha's job to interrogate him in prison. It quickly becomes clear that he provides further proof for her theory, in particular that abused children lack the ability to create emotional bonds, that their brains actually look different from those with happier backgrounds.


Ralph Ian Wantage is the serial killer of young girls who cares only for his tattoos and his secret collection of child porn videos. He is an isolated obsessive whose sensibilities and conscience are indeed, Frozen. Ralph shows no remorse at all; his only concern is that killing girls isn't legal. He fantasises about a childhood in which he was 'spoilt rotten' and his mum and dad sat around reading poetry. To Nancy, however, he describes a father who washed his mouth out with soap and water and beat him viciously on the side of his head. Forced by Nancy to recognise what he has done, he is unable to cope any more, commits suicide.

Playing Ralph:

The director Gill Scott and the Lace Market Theatre cast discussed the themes of the play at length and I watched the acclaimed film The Woodsman (Kevin Bacon) and read several articles about the grim subject of child abduction and murder. Not easy reading but interesting in trying to understand the motives of the character I was to play. The director and I discussed how he would move, dress, talk and behave and it was agreed that he would dress quite smartly with a shirt and tie and be clean shaven. Most of the first act her wears a casual jacket to hide the tattoos on his arms that were revealed later in the play. We felt that he strove to be as 'normal' as he could be, to avoid detection.

Ralph's character 'celebrates' his killings with a tattoo after each event and as he travels around the   northern parts of the country in his van he gets to know the best tattooists around certain areas. The tattoos were described in the text, that he confesses to the audience. as being all over his body.

The first practical problem that raised itself was how do we do these tattoos? I looked all over for some fake ones that could be applied each night but the tattoos were so specific (Sunburst dagger of Death – Angels fighting with devils) that it would have been very hard to find the right sort. After a fair battle to find a solution the actress playing Agnetha came up with a solution. She had a friend who might be agreeable to coming to the theatre prior to every performance to paint them on my arms. Luckily this young lady was a skilled face painter and applied her skills to creating some false tattoos based on my designs. When he tells the audience of his all over body tattoo prowess I just alluded to the others that were positioned on his back and legs.

Regarding the speech patterns of Ralph; I decided that his voice would have a slight impatient tone about it except where he got to his need to 'groom' the young girls and gain their trust in accepting a lift in his van from them. Then I changed his tone to something more avuncular as I thought, and the director concurred, his normal gravelly tone would just frighten his victim away. The often staccato text (for Ralph) itself helped in developing this decidedly odd character's way of behaving. He says “obviously” regularly throughout the play which to me indicated a man with very little patience and some of his other language is almost military – 'my centre of operations and logistically' and everything is spoken of as needing to be very organised. When he finally converses with Agnetha and the mother for often fabricates stories of his idyllic early family life and only when the mother presents to him, in a very gentle way,  photos of the daughter he has killed, does the realisation of what he has done start to hit home.

He was a very interesting character to play – some interesting foul language to work with and some dark moments to get through but overall I 'enjoyed' – if that's the word – playing Ralph each night in a very close and confined studio performance where you were very much in the audience's very nervous faces. There is often reference to catharsis in theatrical terms and the way this play ends the audience certainly have a cathartic ending. Obviously!

As the play was very episodic I made myself a list during the later rehearsals to remind myself of my entrances and exits and where I sat in this complex jigsaw of a play. I didn't use it during the week's run but it certainly helped to clarify what was what and indeed where.

Phil Lowe


 Amazon link above to a selection of plays by Byrony Lavery including Frozen. Click on link above to order.

Review from the Nottingham Post

Torments in the cold

Frozen by Bryony Lavery

Alan Geary

'From the moment we hear his harsh and fractured ramblings, and see his awkward gait, darting glances and madly rolling eyes we're convinced that Ralph (Phil Lowe) is a serial killer. This isn't caricature, this is frightening, accomplished acting. And, in the end, Lowe makes his character pathetic.

Bryony Lavery's beautifully wrought play, directed by Gill Scott as a studio piece, takes us deep into the mind of a child murderer.

It's also an exploration of the emotional plights of Nancy (Maeve Doggett), the mother of one of his victims, and Agnetha (Sylvia Robson), a psychiatrist studying the case, torn between professional duty and personal need – shades of Equus here.

Whether she's hanging out the washing or addressing a public meeting, Doggett never lets us forget that she's a soul in anguish.

And Agnetha, with her ringing American voice, professionally assertive but actually as vulnerable as her subjects, is brilliantly captured by Robson.

The three are talking sometimes to the theatre audience, sometimes to the audience at a lecture. And the narrative moves back and forth into different pockets of time. There's strong language and revolting dialogue but it is never gratuitous.

Thematically it's deeply upsetting -obviously; it's also sometimes touching. Despite the worrying confusion between the concepts of psychopath and paedophile, as a piece of theatre it could hardly be more rewarding.'

Alan Geary.