Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Review of Kindertransport at Derby Theatre

Kindertransport by Dianne Samuels (on tour)

Monday 27th January - Saturday 1st February at Derby Theatre.

Until 1989 the playwright Dianne Samuels confessed that she had never heard of Kindertransport and even the original Jewish children transported to England from 1938 onward had great emotional difficulties in openly discussing their experiences of being refugees from the Nazi regime. Such is the story of Eva in this heart breaking play. Whilst great hope for the safety of Jewish children was universally expected the uprooting of any child from their parents and their culture must be an extremely difficult thing for both parties. This must have been especially difficult for the parents and adult relatives trying to hide the raw possibility they would never see their children again, ever.

Historically, on December 2nd 1938 the first trainload of 196 children, most which were rescued from a torched Berlin orphanage and eventually landed at Harwich arrived distressed and practically homeless in England. Before war broke out they would be joined by over 9000 refugees ranging from toddlers to teenagers who would find new homes with relatives, foster parents, boarding schools and hostels all over the UK. When they were put on the trains in Germany, they and their parents were told not to show any emotion on penalty of being refused permission to leave. What a cruel regime! Most never saw their parents again and they had no idea what lay in store for themselves either. Imagine if you were that child or your children had to go through such a difficult emotional social transition. It doesn't bare thinking about and could be considered as incomprehensible in the extreme. How could you imagine the cruelties ahead when only ten years earlier everything seemed ok and cultures were existing side by side?

We still read about political refugees in the press and on various media today but the question is whether we have become socially hardened/selfish enough to ignore such people and their bravery and hopes or if that spirit of caring and supporting is still with us as a nation as we become a multi-national culture. It would be good to suppose that we, as a nation, still consider ourselves a welcoming culture and find ourselves beneficiaries of what the foreigners entering our lives can bring. Each day on the busses and in the streets we hear the tongues of peoples from Romania, from other countries where the political regime is as harsh or crushing to freedom as was that of the Nazis during the period in which people were forced to survive and be extraordinarily brave in their decisions regarding their loved ones. I do not intend this to be a glib, na├»ve overall comparison of refugee/downtrodden cultures then and now but a reference point for the hopeful nature in modern society and that could be of benefit to all if we only let it.

The play takes us through two time frames, that of Hamburg in the late 1930s - a violent time of anti-sematic feelings in Germanic Europe due to dark political propaganda and ignorance and the 1980s where a woman still suffers from the torments of her experiences back in her childhood in Jewish German culture and her decision to remain in the country of her adoption and re-design herself as British and totally abandon herself from the culture in which she was brought up until about the age of eleven.

This touring production of Kindertransport is totally compelling and the acting is top notch. The German accents are particularly well done by Emma Deegan as the mother Helga and Gabrielle Dempsey is astounding as young Eva. Her German language is excellent and carries through linguistically as convincing as any young German girl in distress. She completely inhabits her role and is especially convincing as the young girl growing as a teenager and losing her German accent and finding the flatter vowels of the Mancunian culture. The German clicks in again in times of high anxiety. A very well thought through performance.

Paula Wilcox as Lil gently commands the stage throughout. One turn of the head and the sudden development of a less sprightly walk and the toning of her voice to older, gruffer levels takes us from her younger days as Eva's saviour to the times as a family referee as events take place in the family attic that ensure the past will out and relationships change radically between the women. Janet Dibley is perfectly cast as the former Eva (now Anglicised as Evelyn) and retains the haughty pride that was prevalent in young Eva on her first encounters with British culture. Not quite ice maiden but full of locked in terror of self exposure and an ingrained compulsion to forget all of the past in her childhood city of Hamburg.

Paul Lancaster is terrifically menacing as the fictional 'ratcatcher' ( a haunting and frightening story book figure created to round up and to kill children) as well as being a gentle man at the UK borders, a German guard on the train bound for Holland, a postman without much sensitivity about the realities of Nazism and an out an out racist porter. Rosie Holden as the daughter Faith is very believable as the student about to leave home who discovers her mother's secrets by chance. A very competent and true performance with just the right amount of hysteria when needed. I liked that she couldn't quite pronounce the umlaut in the German for ratcatcher as well. An emotional and very honest performance, as were all.

Beautiful and subtle lighting and sound effects throughout on a muti-functional set with an open roof and the clouds of time scudding by throughout. Superbly directed by Andrew Hall.

The production has financial support from Stage One www.stageone.uk.com. Stage One is a company that cares about and supports the future livelihood of commercial theatre.

Catch it while you can. Terrifically moving theatre.

Derby Theatre. Booking 01332 593939.

I arrived to sheep bleating and the blinding of a monster at Derby Theatre

I felt very privileged to be invited to attend one of the current rehearsals for Derby Theatre's exciting and upcoming productions yesterday. This is a new production of a new play by playwright Mike Kenny and is a modern adaptation of Homer's classic adventure The Odyssey.

Artistic director, Sarah Brigham and Heidi from the marketing department allowed me to witness the rehearsal process for an hour and to interview Wole Sawyerr and Emma Beattie who are playing Odysseus and his wife Penelope in the drama. Their interview has already been posted before this one and makes for fascinating reading about the nature of rehearsal and the actor's creative input.

I arrived at the rehearsal venue on Green Lane in Derby and was ushered into the rehearsal room mid act. I was greeted by the sound and vision of sheep bleating and an actor having their eye poked out by a very sharp stick! They were in the middle of a first run through of the scene where Odysseus and his crew are trapped in the Cyclops's cave and escape by blinding the creature and crawling out under the rams.

The eight actors were already mostly off book and the rapid physical creation of each scene unfolding through their actions and reactions in the storytelling had been clearly mapped out. The difference between the professional directorial process compared with the lengthier non professional world is fascinating to see and enjoy. This company have three and half weeks to complete the rehearsal and to be at performance level right across the creative board. An amateur production would be in rehearsal for three months mainly due to the fact that amateurs are working at other jobs during the day and commit themselves to the play/show during the evenings and weekends as a hobby not their career.

Sarah Brigham (director) spoke with the actors about 'super -objectives' and about the need to rack up the energy levels and dynamics as the characters went from island to island on their Odyssey adventure where each time more and more of the crew are lost to monsters and sirens until only Odysseus is left floating on a broken raft at the mercy of the sea and the revengeful sea god Poseidon.

They did a fast energy building exercise with Sarah and repeated the story again with a new energy including the blinding of the Cyclops Polythemus, the amusing escape under the rams and Odysseus bragging to the blinded Cyclops, the arrival at Circe's island where the men are turned into pigs and the torments of Odysseus as he is taunted by the sirens as they sail past their rock. There was a drugged up dreamy scene where some of the crew fall victim of the Lotus Eaters and this state was accentuated through a distorted music track and live music.

Sarah told the actors not to wait for the music but to let their actions dictate when the music plays. My rehearsal watching ended when Wole as Odysseus arrives at the island governed by king Alconicus and his beautiful daughter Nausicaa where he rests until the new challenge of returning to his land of Ithaca.

Prior to their break the actors gathered together to listen to a tape of an ex soldier discussing combat tactics and defensive deployment and post traumatic stress particularly caused by having to decide to kill a child in a war zone that his being held as a human shield by the enemy.

Thank you Derby Theatre for this great chance (and future chances) to see top class theatre in action through the rehearsal process.

Phil Lowe.

Interview with the leads in The Odyssey at Derby Theatre.

Interview with Wole and Emma currently in rehearsal for Derby Theatre's new production of Mike Kenny's The Odyssey.

I introduced myself to Emma Beattie and Wole Sawyerr as an aspirant writer for theatre and theatre reviewer and a big supporter of Derby Theatre having had a long and enjoyable experience of seeing most of their productions so far plus probably hundreds of plays from the former Derby Playhouse. I said the interview would be a relaxed talk about aspects of Mike Kenny's play The Odyssey. I wanted to find out how it was formed and how the play's text worked as a construction and story-telling medium and differed from translations of the original poetics by Homer. I had a brief understanding from the hour's worth of rehearsal I witnessed today and grasped that it has elements of narration through Odysseus, the lead, and other injections of story telling through the other actors who play a variety of other roles. This practice continues throughout the work and carries the story physically and vocally forward. Wole is playing Odysseus and Emma is Penelope/Athene / Man and Ensemble. Mike Kenny's The Odyssey is an ensemble work with eight actors directed by Derby Theatre Artistic Director Sarah Brigham.

The interview:

Phil: Emma, I understand that you were an actress in Electra and Iphigenia in Tauris. Did they have any similarities to this show?

Emma: Actually I work shopped it at the National with Josette Bushell- Mingo. The idea for them work shopping it and potentially doing it was for them to do an all black production. I think though I was the only white actress! (laughs) The idea was to open up these great plays that were just seen as 'white' the whole time. At the time I was involved in Last of the Haussmans at the National so I agreed to do this project for them. It was interesting, we had a German girl from a physical theatre company so it was similar to this in that it was quite physical plus quite about the power you can create using the whole body not just the voice with your complete self, rather than it just being about the words. And I think that's what we are trying to achieve here though it's not completely physical theatre and it's about every bit of you on stage telling the story. It's about the emotion coming from every bit of you and that will mean that, hopefully, it's about eight of us creating a powerful theatrical story and landscape on stage for you to enjoy and hear the story from. With some songs, with some music too although we are backing away a bit from 'songs' but trying to explore musically the combination of vocals so that it become a blend of all. It's like holistic theatre I guess. It's not just physical, it's not musical, it's not – verse. It's everything! We move the stage. We create it. We tell the story together. Odysseus tells the story as well as being the story. So suddenly he goes from narrator to Odysseus in the moment.

Wole: You are right Emma. It isn't just about having song it's also about that musicality being part of our world that we may sing during our actions, during our character's lives on stage. A natural thing rather than 'hey let's now sing a song!'

Phil: How long do the actors have to prepare for rehearsals and I appreciate that it may differ from production to production, from job to job - if you like? Also how much time do you have to study independently before rehearsals start so that you have a degree of preparation for the role/s you are about to play?

Wole: Good question. Definitely, it does vary from job to job. With this one, for example we had the script from Mike quite some while ago.

Emma: When decisions had been made mid December 2013 we had the script but also Christmas gets in the way and we were under the impression that it may be a draft and therefore could change.

Wole: Maybe not significantly but it is one of the drafts along the production line and Mike is a hard working writer- creative force. So we've got that time with it. In terms of being prepared there is obviously the research that any actor can do depending on what the job or script requires and Sarah and Mike were quite keen to share one of the books they were using as what you might call a cornerstone and were referring to it a fair bit. I think it was by Dr Jonathan Shay and it's the Odysseus in America and he did also do...

Emma: Achilles in Vietnam. Both were about combat trauma using Homer's characters as models.

Wole: That's right. So basically we can use those texts and beyond and more as well as looking at translations of Homer's original if we choose to.

Emma: You can do as much or as little as you have time to do depending on how much time you've got before you get to rehearsals. And sometimes... er it's a lovely luxury to have access to the script and to let it wash over you a bit but I find you don't want to make any huge decisions before you get to the rehearsal room cos you don't know which direction your director's going to lead you; where other actors and their ideas are going to take you. So it's good for you to remain fluent and flexible and be able to adapt. So that means that now this process, which we are shoe-horning into three and half week's rehearsal (which is quite short) with a lot to do, I think is a very intense three and a half weeks.

Wole: Which we are only starting to feel. I don't know about you Emma but I am only just starting to feel the intensity today.

Emma: Today?! (laughs)

Wole: Yeah cos last week it felt slower and Sarah's style is quite relaxed.

Emma: Is it? (laughs louder)

Wole: You've not worked with some taskmasters, believe me. Erm, yeah Phil, so that allows us as a company to be jovial and jokey but also to work and concentrate but also to breath a little. I think, as with any director, I don't want to speak for Sarah but, I assume we'll start to ratch it up a little because we have to and for our own sake as well.

Emma: You have your first week and then you think 'oh my God' we've got two and a half weeks!
You don't want it to just be about learning lines and turning up. You want to keep thinking about it and still allow things to change, to shift. I find I just eat sleep and breath it and have had all sorts of weird and wonderful dreams and have to resist the temptation to text Sarah about various ideas that had come to me.

Wole: Just to interrupt. I didn't resist the temptation to email about some music even though I'm not that musical. I had to actually let them know.

Emma: It's exciting to be able to contribute to the piece creatively.

Phil: I've seen some of Derby Theatre's pictures on facebook of some the costume designs. Can you tell me about those and the modern soldier style of them.

Emma: Yeah, I texted an actor friend over the weekend. He's actually in The Musketeers, so he's doing very well and I said to him that we are doing The Odyssey in Derby that the costumes are great and sort of military and think Sarah Connor Terminator 2 and he said, “Sarah Connor - much more fun than a toga.” I am very happy with the costumes. They give you an earthiness and a grounding and hopefully it will be a very raw experience for the audience and hopefully they won't feel that there are words and verse floating above them and that it's all Greek and inaccessible. Hopefuly it will...

Wole: Hit home.

Emma: Yes. In the great way that films like Terminator 2 and Alien do. Whatever you think about these films, they're classic films. They take you … and ...

Phil: Pull you to bits.

Emma: Yeah and that's exciting to do to an audience.

Phil: At what point or points during the play does the notion or motif, if you like, of a soldier's experiences, namely haunted (as the publicity says) by the experience of war and horrors of The Odyssey build into the script?

Wole: Into the script? I'd say literally the first moment we see Odysseus. But then it doesn't carry on again until the end of the first half and then on into the second half.

Phil: So it's a non linear piece?

Wole: Yes, as Homer's is really. Reflective. I think Mike Kenny has reflected that because we have a starting point where we see Odysseus and then we get taken through Odysseus's journey and it's the journey of his men and his family. Then we come back to the end of the first half and come back full circle to where we first saw him and then, carry on with the rest of the story. Does that make sense?

Phil: Yes.

Emma: We haven't even touched on that bit yet in rehearsals.

Wole: As Emma says, we haven't even touched on that yet although it's in the writing and Sarah and I have had some discussions around that and the effects of PTS (post traumatic stress) on Odysseus and the soldiers who have fought at Troy and tried to return home to a degree of normality. The effects of PST will influence Odysseus even through his narration because he has hindsight now – he's been through it to an extent and he's re-living it and he's not re-living it separate to what has happened. That makes sense in my head I hope the words make sense!

Phil: Perfectly. I can understand the cyclical theatrical device in the writing. It sounds very exciting and emotional. Lastly, has this particular play ever been performed before?

Wole: No, it's new writing.

Phil: New writing for Derby Theatre? Excellent. Thank you very much for your time.

Emma: Thank you. It's been great.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

An evening of Nottingham Playhouse delights

As a supporter and theatre reviewer of the theatrically excellent Nottingham Playhouse I was invited along, with other guests, to the venue tonight to hear about their forthcoming Spring Season. Regular readers may well recall that I went along to another event earlier in the year to hear about the proposals and theatrical development of their new home grown show 'My Judy Garland Life'. More about this shortly. For more detailed background info on the writing process of My Judy Garland Life please link here.

From the Nottingham Playhouse marketing and publicity department.

'Find out more about our ambitious five theatre co-production of Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, a riot of a musical for riotous times. Looking ahead to autumn, we present a season inspired by the theme of time and memory. Our autumn shows include dazzling, time-spanning dramas from two master playwrights of the modern age:  J.B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. Our piece of new writing this autumn is Propaganda Swing, a toe-tapping new show from Peter Arnold which explores how music can be manipulated in the most evil of times.

Actors will deliver one short scene live on stage from Time and the Conways and Arcadia. We’ll also be interviewing the directors of both productions to find out more about their visions for the two shows.

Giles Croft, Artistic Director of Nottingham Playhouse will also be introducing elements for the neat2014 festival (Nottingham & European Arts Theatre Festival) which will run 23 May – 1 June.

We’ll be taking a look at our fantastic dance season which includes Richard Alston Dance CompanyFabulous Beast Dance Theatre, and the magnificent Ballet Boyz.'

I saw the Ballet Boyz last year at Derby Theatre and can certainly recommend a visit to their show. Read my review here. The Fabulous Beast piece looked totally un-missable. A fabulous blend of mask work, dance and performance art.

'Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy is set to be a huge hit when it reaches us in March. As part of our season launch, you will have an exclusive chance to see how this hilarious and heart-breaking play is shaping up in the rehearsal room.

Lucy Speed, best known for her roles in EastEnders and The Bill, and star of our Neville Studio show, co-produced with Fifth Word, Amateur Girl, by Amanda Whittington will be taking part in a Q&A session on stage.

And to wrap up the evening there will be a live duet from the two stars of My Judy Garland Life, Sally Ann Triplett and Faye Elvin, accompanied on stage by their actor-musician band.'

For an interesting read about the background into Amanda Whittington's work and development in taking the script form page to stage click here.

All exciting stuff and a fabulously varied programme for theatre goers in the Nottingham region and beyond. I do sincerely hope that you will support the Nottingham Playhouse and their excellent programme spring 2014 and beyond.

Phil Lowe

Monday, 13 January 2014

Recording 'I Could Pee On This' and 'I Could Chew On This'

As well as my theatre projects I have been inspired to record on video the compete books of humorous poetry by Francesco Marciuliano. The best selling books are called ' I Could Pee On This' and 'I Could Chew On That'.

I have enjoyed the process and learnt something about basic editing and they seem to be getting attention on Youtube. My account is linked through HERE. I am hoping to be able to develop some leads for professional performance poetry readings.

There are four 'I Could Pee On That' videos and the same amount of doggy 'I Could Chew On That' videos. In both sets I have added extra video content for added amusement.

I can be contacted at phillming@aol.com for professional bookings.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Odyssey - Mike Kenny's major adaptation for Derby Theatre.

Homer’s  classical story,The Odyssey in a new version by Mike Kenny directed by Sarah Brigham will be playing at Derby Theatre Fri 14th February – Sat 1st March 2014. This promises to be an epic new version of the classic tale and Derby Theatre’s big production for Spring 2014 and its third home produced production with the excellent Cooking With Elvis and Kes as previous critical and theatrical successes.   

To mark 2014’s First World War centenary, The Odyssey, one of literature’s oldest stories, will explore and highlight the consequences of war through a brilliant and moving new adaptation brought vividly to life to life by an exceptional cast of performers through live music and emotive storytelling.

The Trojan War is over and it’s time for Odysseus to return home. The fighting may have ceased but storms still rage on the high seas. Our hero is forced to run the monumental gauntlet thrown down between him and the long- awaited reunion with his family. But getting home is only half the battle, as twenty years have passed and everything has changed in his absence. 
The show has been adapted by one of England’s leading writers and Olivier Award-winning playwrights, Mike Kenny (who has numerous production and adaptation credits to his name including The Railway Children for York Theatre Royal in association with The National Railway Museum).  

The cast includes: Wole Sawyerr in the central role of Odysseus (Henry VI Parts 1 & 2, Shakespeare’s Globe directed by Dominic Dromgoole); Emma Beattie as Odysseus’ wife, Penelope (The Last of the Haussmans, Iphigenia in Tauris and Elektra, National Theatre); Christopher Price (the Riddler in Batman Live, International Tour; Hansel and Gretel, Kneehigh; Oh What a Lovely War, Northern Stage); local actress Anna Westlake (who most recently appeared in Oddsocks’ production of Comedy of Errors) and Ivan Stott (Musical Director on Derby Theatre’s production of Kes and Musical Director and performer in Derby Theatre’s Christmas show in the studio, Pinocchio). The cast also includes Ella Vale and Rich Dolphin.   

Artistic director, Sarah Brigham said: “Mike’s modern adaptation of this classic story, about a soldier who returns home from war and who has to piece his life back together, has a modern day feel, resonance and relevance through its language and themes. It is a timeless piece which the brilliant ensemble of actors will deliver with a powerful and emotional punch against a soaring, live musical score.”   

Alongside the main show runs a connected piece called, Penelope RETOLD,  with performances from Wednesday 19th February until Saturday 1st March and it is billed as the perfect accompaniment and companion piece to The Odyssey, as it looks at the story from the perspective of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope.

The RETOLD programme is a series of brand new one-woman plays commissioned by Derby Theatre, from some of the most exciting female voices in contemporary theatre today. Penelope RETOLD will be created by theatre maker and performer, Caroline Horton, described in relation to her production of Mess as “a major, major talent”, Time Out.   

Tickets for The Odyssey: £10 - £25.50, concessions £10 - £23.50. Group and school rates available. 16-25 year olds: £5 per ticket on Friday evenings (proof of ID required). 
Tickets for Penelope RETOLD: £9, concessions £6. Or see it for £5 if you book for The Odyssey.

For more information and to book tickets call the Box Office on 01332 59 39 39 or online at www.derbytheatre.co.uk