Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Derby Theatre - A Christmas Carol - a promotion video

Book for A Christmas Carol through box office or Derby Theatre website.

Derby Theatre rehearsals of A Christmas Carol. Interview with Adam Horvath and Chris Price.

Today I went over to the Derby Theatre rehearsal space on Green Lane and enjoyed watching an early rehearsal of A Christmas Carol adapted by Neil Duffield. The professional cast and crew have three weeks to rehearse the show. Today was in week one. I watched an hour of the rehearsal and interviewed actors Adam Horvath and Christopher Price about their experience so far. Heidi McKenzie from Derby Theatre joined us for the twenty minute interview. It was all very light hearted and there was a lot of laughter throughout as the actors and I told our tales.

I explained that I had read Neil Duffield's play – a mix of classically referencing Dickens' well known words plus integrating a modern, perhaps less verbose way of expression and a style of sharing the text between several chorus characters that carries the story along nicely whilst keeping true to the classic tale. There is also live music and singing in the show.

Adam Horvath

The two actors confirmed that they had only been in rehearsal for a week and two days so far with three weeks in total followed by four days in technical rehearsal after that. I asked them if they came into the rehearsal process with a good understanding of the text and perhaps some of it under their belts.

Christopher Price

Adam confirmed that he had certainly read it a few times and made some notes about the play and his various characters but his acting experience so far was based on not presuming too much and unless there was lots and lots to learn he would come into the experience with a clean slate each time.

Chris said that if an actor learns something before they go into rehearsal then they have already shut down a couple of learning barriers which can lead to a difficult experience in learning the play along with the rest of the cast. He said it is different in an audition because you have learnt something in which you, as an actor, know what you want and also what you believe the casting director wants. He felt that it is lovely to be able to explore the play with the whole cast as well as generally to be comfortably familiar with it.

I asked if this way of working was the same with the Odyssey (a very successful Derby Theatre production which both actors were involved with). Adam and Chris both nodded emphatically and said that it certainly was. Sarah Brigham, currently directing A Christmas Carol, also directed The Odyssey earlier this year. Chris Price said that Sarah is a fantastic director in so much as she allows the actors the space to play and explore and if an actor has something that they want to explore she will give space for that. He emphasised that with her you always get a chance to put in your creativity as well and the play's journey is always adaptable, organic, a moving and a living thing.

I mentioned that I had seen on the internet that the actors had been playing Blind Man's Bluff in a rehearsal and I was interested to know how much traditional games and theatrical games informed the working process to the finished piece. Adam Horvath explained to me that they had been doing a lot of group exercises because a lot of the playing aspect rides along with the work the chorus do and that is the vehicle for the whole play. The play is really about a big group of story tellers and how they interact with each other and how they bounce of other people's ideas and expressions. Keeping the group alive and kicking is vital to the piece.

Christopher enthused that the chorus and ensemble are like a faultless seam of story-telling that illuminate and inform the story all the way throughout. In the structure of the script there are lots of little short lines. Although several people are individually saying them the interpretation of the writing by the actors feeding into each other and from each other means that the story becomes a character of its own and also becomes a flowing fluid poetic text.

I said that such a structure textually isn't an easy thing to do as an actor. You have to be acutely aware of the next line that can appear and ultimately disappear in a fraction of a second.

Chris agreed. “Yes that is right Phil and it is in the games we do in rehearsal that helps us to get to know each other very well in the ensemble. Yesterday we had, what was it? Five juggling balls? All five juggling balls were going at the same time so we were all moving around the space at the same time. We worked out some kind of system and it doesn't matter where you are - you keep going all of the time with awareness. There could be under the leg throws, over the head throws, straight to the other throws but you just keep these juggling balls constantly moving. You know, you make a couple of mistakes at first but then you find something quite unique within that particular energy of the group. It is unique for every single ensemble. Oddsocks theatre company are rehearsing next door doing Wind In The Willows and they'll have a completely different dynamic and a completely different energy about them and if you fused these two groups that would be a completely different dynamic too. That is the thing. It is almost molecular.” Chris laughs and concludes “Or perhaps we just all hot air!”

They explained too that in Derby Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol that as well as a small ensemble of adult professional performers there are also a total of twenty-four young performers broken down into three teams – A, B and C. I told them about the casting of Tiny Tim in The Lace Market Theatre's 2006 performance of my own stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol. There were two teams of children in this and in one team Tiny Tim was played by a sweet young girl (with cherubic boyish looks) and she was truly pathetic in the best sense of the word and utterly beguiling and totally symapethic as the crippled boy on death's doorstep. The other boy playing Tim was rather less than tiny. Rather Chunky Tim would have been a much more apposite description! He looked as if he had eaten half the set and dined out in the most glutinous eating establishments in Victorian London! Chris quipped that the big boy maybe had a glandular problem and that was why he had poorly legs because he was so obese that he could hardly stand on them!

I opened the conversation up to ask the actors, Adam and Chris what it was that they were enjoying the most so far in rehearsals.

Adam bashfully said that is just so nice to be doing a Christmas show and that he had watched The Muppets' Christmas Carol at the weekend! “ Got that (Muppets show) out of the way! No seriously, Christmas Carol is just a story that keeps on giving. It's timeless and in our production on stage it will feel different every night and however subtle the ensemble are we always going to find different things that audience give us each night. It's just a feel good show done with a nice group of people.”

I asked if their Scrooge was good and got a wave of enthusiasm back. Chris said “ Yeah, definitely! Jim's great! He's fun and has a very good command of the room!”

Christopher concluded the interview by saying something I totally agreed with: “ A Christmas Carol is my favourite Christmas story. Out of all of 'em I absolutely adore it. At the end it has that special feel good moment. You go through all the trouble and strife and the greed and the poverty and then out of all of that gloom, doom and shovelled up black snow, the freezing blue cold there is that tiny little light of hope and warmth and love. And family! Every year, because I don't see my family as much as I'd like to, this show, in a special way sends you to that place where you can be with your family. Hopefully me Mam and me Dad and me sister from up north will be seeing this show at Derby this year and that will be very special.”

Adam is playing in A Christmas Carol through the Brian Weaver Fellowship and will be in the ensemble as well as playing the roles of Fred and Young Scrooge. Chris is playing Jacob Marley, Mr Fezziwig, Ghost of Christmas Present and Old Joe.

See Derby Theatre website for booking details.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Introducing Emma Brown - actress and mezzo soprano.

Over the last five months I have had the great pleasure of working with the very talented Emma Brown. Emma is originally from Nottingham in England but is currently residing and working in the beautiful Dutch university city of Leiden - south of Amsterdam. Her main professional work is as a much sort after mezzo- soprano. Emma read Music at the University of Cambridge before continuing her studies at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague and at Utrecht Conservatoire - both in the Netherlands. At Cambridge University Emma regularly participated in the Marlowe Society's play reading sessions for young playwrights.

As mentioned in a previous blog post we have found a way of rehearsing together that requires some flexibility to put into practice because not only are The Netherlands are an hour ahead but also because of each other's busy creative schedules. Emma is very much looking forward to performing at the Jakobus Theatre in Karlsruhe Germany in my new play, Grüße aus dem Schützengraben. In this Emma plays Frank Philip's daughter Madeleine and various other characters. She has a great dedication to the piece, a fun approach, a good instinct for dramatic levity and weight and poetry within the text and is continually offering creative and editorial advice, always in an enhancing and positive light. It is an enormous pleasure to have Emma on board this new production.

A brief resume of Emma's creative and educational background would have to include the following:

  • December 2014: Jakobus Theatre Karlsruhe: Grüße aus dem Schützengraben by Phil Lowe

  • October 2014 Leiden Memorial Service singing solo with the Dutch Royal Navy.
  • Leiden English Freshers new adaptation of Volpone playing the outrageous Lady Politic Would-be.
  • June 2014 Pancras Consort singing Ravel's Trois Beaux Oiseaux du Paradis.

  • Work-shopped with professional actress Prunella Scales on The Importance of Being Earnest.

  • April 2012: Jakobus Theatre in The Lace Market Theatre Company's production of Hedda Gabler.

  • 2010 Singer in Dutch National Opera production of  Il Priggioniero by Dalla Picolla

  • Has sung for the Dutch New Opera Academy at the Dutch National Opera and sang the role of Eve in Carlijn Metselaar's new opera - In The Beginning.

  • Her church music has been performed in The Netherlands and England including the prestigious and acoustically beautiful Hooglanse Kerk in Leiden and the Laurenskerk in Rotterdam as well as St Mary's Church in Nottingham's historic Lace Market district.

Emma is working to maximise her talents for a solo career that is both challenging and fulfilling. She is currently studying a wide range of repertoire, including standard opera and oratorio and works by new composers. She told me that she enjoys the challenge of new music and the satisfaction of bringing new life to existing repertoire. Her thrilling and powerful voice, rich in colour and highly versatile has already attracted international acclaim.

Emma also has a great stage presence as an actress and is looking forward to her roles in Phil Lowe's new play Grüße aus dem Schützengraben premiering at Karlsruhe's Jakobus Theatre on 4th and 5th of December before a possible run in Nottingham in 2015.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Rehearsing Greetings from The Trenches in Leiden Holland.

It's not often you get the chance to go abroad to rehearse a play but it recently felt very necessary to go over to Leiden to rehearse my play - Greetings From the Trenches - with my friend, fellow actor and singer - Emma Brown. I flew by Flybe from East Midlands Airport and transferred by train to Leiden at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Emma met me at the airport and accompanied me to the house I was staying in. As I mentioned in a previous blog post we had been rehearsing by Skype before and that is fine for text work but sometimes you need to be physically together to work things through and to block the play. Such was the case in late October 2014 and I took myself off for five days' worth of exploration both theatrically and continentally. The libation of Dutch and Belgian beer was a constant theme throughout as well as experiencing a fibrous meal called 'sauerkraut surprise' - but that's another story altogether!

Interior Hooglanse Kerk
Emma arranged a rehearsal space at the Hooglanse Kerk around the corner from a city centre stretch of the Nieuwe Rijn canal. It was a very pretty part of the old town of Leiden and near to the old roman fort. I have never seen so many bikes in my life! It was here we deconstructed the text and worked with it on a daily basis to find how it would work visually for the audience and ourselves in order to tell the stories with conviction and variety.
A tender scene in the play.

Emma has a very creative mind and we work in remarkably similar ways so the whole process was a joy to develop and great fun to explore and discuss. I like Emma's intuitive responses to change and her ability to retain the information quickly. We had particular fun with the scene about Hans Schwabe's Strassenbahn  (tram system) obsession. I am not at liberty to reveal anything more about that because it would spoil the surprise. Trust me when I say it should be very funny and show another side to the character Frank Philips and his relationship with his mostly tolerant daughter Madeleine. Through our rehearsals in Leiden we have discovered a lovely chemistry between the father and daughter in the play born from my original writing and the simple fact that I get on well with my friend Emma. It is an easy relationship built on mutual respect and an ability to see the funny side of most things.

We paid particular attention to finding how we could create ghostly moments through isolated lighting and our positions on the stage. After all it is essentially a ghost story.

rehearsal space

We worked particularly hard on the scene where Frank describes how he gets his creative inspirations and I recalled creative development exercises from my University days where getting down and dirty on the floor with some chalk and the liberty to randomly scribble could be inspiring. Sometimes taking oneself away from a desk or a laptop keyboard and just being 'free' can achieve surprisingly good results. Once again Emma's input was exceptional for our finished result and I guess it helps that I am not an arrogant director.

"When two mind begin sparking off one another...

... the result is pure creative magic."
Further into the week we went out to a local cemetery to film Emma (in costume) singing part of the German version of Silent Night. Her friend Hans suggested the location and we filmed by an angelic statue and also by a big old tree. The statue placement worked best. This was for the promotional video now seen on the Jakobus website. When filming with a video camera outside you become very aware of every little disruptive noise. Luckily the boys marching band, very audible throughout the afternoon, had now drifted away to another part of the city.

Towards the end of my stay we utilised the time related objects in one corner of the church in order to film myself talking Simon Schama style to the camera about the play. It proved to be an inspirational spot and visually appealing. So much so that I on the last day in Leiden I took some publicity shots of Emma for her own singing career.

We also recorded the theme tune for the show on piano (Die Vermisster) as well as me singing "If I Had A Door" and her friend Hans's beautiful rendition of Stille Nacht. Hans also took the rehearsal photos for us.

On Sunday afternoon we had a rehearsal in front of a group of English speaking audience and they gave us some good feedback (very favourable) which we have taken on board to improve the play.

Afterwards we retired with some of the audience to the Café De Bonte Koe for some 9% Dutch beers and a couple of shared cooked Dutch sausages! Sausages are a constant link (sausage link geddit?) in the play so this was most appropriate as well as amusing. Loved the tiles inside. I could just imagine my fictional characters Hans Schwabe and Frank Philips enjoying a drink or two together in there as well as sharing a hot sausage with mustard.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Derby Theatre's Adam Pownall awarded Encouragement of New Writing Award.

Derby Theatre Programme Co-ordinator receives Writers’ Guild award Derby Theatre is delighted to announce that Adam Pownall, their  Programme Co-ordinator, has been awarded an Encouragement of  New Writing award by The Theatre Committee of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. Adam, who took up his programming role at Derby Theatre in August  this year, was nominated for the award whilst in his previous role of Theatre Co-ordinator at Create Theatre in Mansfield. He was nominated  by Nottingham playwright, Nick Wood, whose credits include My Name is Stephen Luckwell, Birdboy and Can You Whistle, Johanna? Nick has also done commissions for Radio 4, the Royal Shakespeare Company,Nottingham Playhouse and Theatre Royal Plymouth and his plays have been produced across the world.

Nick nominated Adam due to his passion and enthusiasm for encouraging, championing and developing new writing within theatre in the region. Locally-based, critically acclaimed and award-winning independent theatre company, Fifth Word also wrote a letter of support for Adam’s nomination after he supported them as a company, and programmed them to perform two of their productions, Bones and Amateur Girl at Create Theatre.

The Encouragement of New Writing awards were the brainchild of the playwright Mark Ravenhill (Mother Clap’s Molly House, Some Explicit Polaroids), and were set up to give Guild members the opportunity publicly to thank those who had given them a particularly positive experience in new writing over the previous year. Adam Pownall said: “I am immensely proud, yet humbled, to even be nominated for this award. I am overjoyed that my hard work in supporting new writing has been accredited and noted within the industry. I shall continue to support writers from the region, and further afield, to give them a voice within theatre, and I hope that the region continues to be an exceptional place for writers to learn their craft.

The East Midlands has a rich variety of stories to tell about itself, but these talented writers need connecting to opportunities. My passion for developing writers and theatre companies who support new writing will continue within my role as Programme Co-ordinator for Derby Theatre, where learning is at the heart of all strands of our work, as is supporting the next generation of artists, including writers.” Adam, along with all the other winners, will attend an awards luncheon at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square on Fri 28 November to receive his award.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Circa Wunderkammer at Curve Leicester. Review

Historically a Wunderkammer was a piece of German furniture that also seems to have many other names but one purpose: to fascinate. It was also known as a Cabinet of Curiosities, Kunstkabinett, Kunstkammer, Cabinets of Wonder, or Wonder room. Friends and family would come round and be amazed at all the crazy collections of curiosities one had assembled and would talk for hours over what they were being shown.

So it is with Australia's modern day circus company Circa founded by Yaron Lifschitz and their show Wunderkammer. It is crazy, utterly riveting, deeply curious, brave and far more fascinating than any fleeting firework display happening outside the Curve theatre on this bonfire night.

The troupe has seven astonishingly talented performers, both men and women and for a non-stop eighty-five minutes the transfixed audience are in genuine wonder at a fluid fusion of contemporary circus. Their work is a breathless cocktail of circus arts, often done with much humour and sexiness, a mix of dance, acrobatics, trapeze work, cabaret, vaudeville and burlesque. Their innovative circus work also has one key element – danger. Whilst the performers are tumbling and flying across the bare stage with well practised and very highly skilled ease we are constantly aware that this is a dangerous art and thrilling with it.

The show is a series of set pieces performed either as a single artiste, a selection of artistes or the whole ensemble. Alas, I have no names to share as there was no programme. The Curve audience lap up every second and appreciative applause, gasps of amazement and much laughter for every wonderful display are constants throughout the show. It is truly a show you want to go on for hours. Utterly amazing, poetic and utterly unique. Circa Wunderkammer is at Curve until 8th November.

Review originally for The Public Reviews Nov 5th 2014

Arcadia at Nottingham Playhouse. Review.

In Tom Stoppard's cleverly constructed, poetic and witty play Arcadia – currently playing at Nottingham Playhouse - you certainly get your words worth. Well if not Wordsworth then a sexy sniff at the tailcoats of naughty boy Lord Byron passing invisibly through. Artistic director Giles Croft directs this text heavy play with a lightness of touch, an eloquence in the telling and a surprising amount of laughs are on offer almost from the second line in and throughout.

Arcadia is a story within two periods of English history, 1809-1812 and the present day. In being so it concerns the relationship between the past and the present, order and disorder, certainty and uncertainty and has been praised as being one of the finest plays in the English language by a contemporary writer. So does this production hold up to these brilliant claims? Indeed it does. With period knobs on.

Set in a beautiful section of a historic house in Derbyshire called Sidley Park (superb design by Madeleine Girling) we meet tutor Septimus Hodge and his young teenage charge Thomasina. Thomasina is keen to understand the meaning of 'carnal embrace' which her tutor fends of by saying that “Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one's arms around a side of beef.” Theatre graduate Emily Laing plays the gauche yet fiercely intelligent Thomasina with just the right touch of awkwardness often seen in the early teens. Much later in the play we see her as a late sixteen year old and the portrayal has a marked maturity. Parth Thakerar as Septimus Hodge delivers his character with a refined rakish wit and style and movement befitting the period.

Throughout the play we slip back and forth between time periods and have the benefit of knowing that modern day 'expert' Bernard Nightingale to be completely mis-led in his apparently learnèd assumptions about the activity and proximity of Lord Byron to the characters that inhabit the house around the early 1800s. David Bark-Jones plays the often pompous Nightingale with tremendous élan and energy and innate intelligence. He is at his very best in the lecture scene which scores some of the best laughs in the play.

Overall the play is peopled by eleven characters with some doubling and great ensemble work. There is a stand out performance by Lizzi McInnerny as the redoubtable Lady Croom. McInnerny rasps and sparkles in her role and although not on stage for a huge amount of time her character portrayal is unforgettable. Through her carriage and her haughty tone she truly seems to be from another age. You wouldn't want to cross her.

Stoppard fuses Arcadia with allusion and illusion and whether we are theatrically cajoled into considering the passions of The Enlightenment, Chaos theory, Fermat's last theorem, the skills of Capability Brown, or whether there really was a real hermit living in the fabricated hermitage and who shagged who in the shrubbery it always proves a seriously comic pleasure. Arcadia runs until 15th November 2014.

Photo credit: Robert Day.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Derby Theatre: Review of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice on until 22nd November is another five star production from Derby Theatre. Brilliantly directed by artistic director Sarah Brigham this comic drama from the pen of playwright Jim Cartwright has energy in abundance on the Derby Theatre stage. Sparks literally fly and the voice may be little but the spontaneous applause and laughter throughout is decidedly loud.

The revolving set is a clever design by Dawn Allsopp based on a terraced northern house in the 1980s.It can be seen as a cut through home, a back street and the seedy nightclub where LV reluctantly performs her medley of songs. The whole design revolves on a circular base made to look like a giant LP record. Atmospherics and sound play a big part in this show and Ivan Stott has retained his skill base with Derby Theatre from his days in a previous Derby Theatre show – The Odyssey, Tim Skelly's terrific lighting design works a treat in setting a variety of moods and times of day.

The whole cast make this show come alive –and in the case of Tracy Brabin's mother character- Mari, a woman mostly residing at the bottom of a bottle or two – you might say 'alive and very much kicking'. Her bent double legs akimbo performance is a master class in how to play drunk, loud and common and still be lovable. When she does her Jackson Five dance routine with Sadie (Sue Vincent) the whole audience burst out laughing and continued to shriek with laughter for the whole thing. Brabin can certainly play comedy extremely well, both broad and subtle and is equally at home with pathos.

Sue Vincent's deep voiced Sadie is a gift to an actress and Vincent draws many a laugh out of the simple letters OK delivered with a Cheshire accent. Plus she shows Sadie's tender side through her caring scenes with LV. Vincent delivers her role with exceptional comic timing.

Rebecca Brierley makes her professional début as LV or Little Voice and she does it with a mix of quiet concentration in the lost little girl aspects of her character, semi secure in her tidy bedroom full of Daddy's old LPs and a worn out record player, and then an ultimately astonishing display of sexy confidence as LV finally is forced to sing her medley of impressions at the club. And wow can she sing! If people are coming to the show with expectations of how this scene may be done they certainly won't be disappointed. A fine start to Rebecca Brierley's acting career.

The men in the play are generally pathetic opportunists with the exception of Billy. Billy in this production is played with real love and vulnerability by Tom Meredith. The character of Ray Say wonderfully performed by Kevin McGowan is perfectly done. Louche, a spot on match for the desperate to be loved Mari, expedient and exploiting, sad and somewhat shameless yet oddly sympathetic.

His counterpart is the brilliantly named Mr Lou Boo played to the hilt as a 'never was' or 'never has been' compère of a 'seen better days' nightclub. Actor Ged McKenna wins the crowd over big time with his corny act and unsubtle risqué crotch grabbing dancing – the type that drunken older male relatives do at weddings, usually with a far too young bridesmaid close by. Embarrassing but car crash comical. McKenna also features as the phone man at the start of the play.

If you like your drama to be dramatic – and don't we all? If you like your comedy to surprise and be genuinely funny and if you like to be all round entertained then I very much recommend that you grab a chance now to see this fabulous production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at Derby Theatre. Now could you please get the Shirley Bassey numbers out of my head!?


Photo credit: Robert Day.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Promotional video for Greetings from The Trenches by Phil Lowe and Emma Brown

"Greetings from the trenches" promotional video made during rehearsals in Leiden Holland.

More rehearsal details in the forthcoming blogpost.