Sunday, January 26, 2014

Preview votes have been counted...

BRILLIANT! BEST YET.  That's our audience feedback for Media Monsters preview nights... and also one of the replies to What did you think of tonight's performance? We've never had such a torrent of feedback forms, all of them super-appreciative. Excellent and thought-provoking peppered responses, with lots of comments that showed how completely our Frome audiences 'got' our intentions. There were positive comments about our scripts ("brilliantly written"~ "Modern Shakespeare") our cast ("sensitively acted"~ "fantastic performances") and Marc's direction ("Loved the staging and movement" ~ "sensitive and nuanced".)  The contrast in tone between our plays went down well too: "Both enjoyable, interesting perspectives" ~ "Good contrast – first satirical, second original with dramatic development, thoughtful and very powerful.")  Our plays are moving & real,  funny, clever, sexy and shocking, meaty & complex, uncomfortable & enjoyable, entertaining, complex & seamless, riveting, challenging compelling & evocative.  And comments along the lines of "created lots of discussion and will keep us talking" are certainly proving true!

As the company gets ready for our run at Alma Tavern Theatre, Rosie and I can take a deep breath until opening night. I've found that for a playwright the process of production is fascinating & deeply terrifying. Your words, like The Prophet's children, leave the home of your imagination and saunter off into the house of tomorrow which you cannot enter, not even in your dreams. That's why we write for theatre, of course, rather than for readers. In my mind, my characters were idealists who  since 1967 had progressively constructed separate lives: their memories ~ heart-breakingly beautifully acted by Olivia Dennis and Vincent Enderby ~ are selective, and their real-time interaction non-connective: a jagged route to their final stand-off.  Marc as director saw the journey slightly differently, and that becomes the writer's journey too. It's a fearful privilege and I've learned much about the vital steps from page to stage. I'm Bafta-gushingly grateful to Stepping Out Theatre for taking on the Media Monsters project, and to this talented cast & crew.

So prepping's done and taster tasted, on now to Bristol for the real feast... After two full-house shows with such a generously enthusiastic supporters, what challenges will next week bring?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dissenting voices, minor and major

Mark Thomas couldn't get the measure of the Merlin Theatre audience for 100 Acts of Minor Dissent, he said. He only gave us 7/10 but that's apparently close to top score ~ quite right too for a full house and a scrum for his dissenting merchandise. Perhaps he found us a bit earnest, applauding practical political outcomes more vigorously than disgusting definitions for the word Farage. We might not have relished the images of subverting porn as feminist art, but we were wholeheartedly with Mark's avowed motivation: "I love our community, and I hate what capitalism is doing to it".
Most of the acts of dissent are very funny and all have a purpose, which is to claim or reclaim common rights. Mark knows the law ~ with his team of radical lawyers, he should ~ and applied under the Freedom of Information Act to see what data the police have on him. Which is a very long list of his presences at public protests, some with endearing comments ("He seemed happy") and some tersely disparaging. "General rabble-rouser and alleged comedian" is one Mark is considering using as a review quote.  He gave himself 6/10 for the show but after 2 hours of full-on, informative, inspiring, thought-provoking, comedy, most of us would have upped that to at least 9.

Speaking of provocative theatre, Frome Standard out today has a double-page spread on Media Monsters including full interview with Rosie and me on the writing and production process for each of our plays. Big thanks to Your Time editor Dan Biggane for supporting us in our most personal shared theatre project yet ~ and if you've left it too late to book for the Frome preview at Cornerhouse, there are still seats at Alma Tavern Theatre where they've also laid on a pre-theatre meal deal, with prosecco...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

... and we're nearly off. Or rather, on!

MEDIA MONSTERS is coming... or should that be 'are coming?' Probably ~ this is a double bill of two very different plays, though both question the relationship of media to morality ~ television media especially. My Big Fat TV Bitch, Rosie's play, is a sharp and funny challenge to documentary exploitation of minority groups, timely indeed as the Benefit Street furore continues to rumble.  Rosie says: "I think of a character who will express what I want to say. That character will meet others... and with them, I create a piece of theatre. Molly (pictured here) was until recently a character inside my head. I can't wait to meet her on Friday night." Which echoes Jolyon Rubenstein, whose show The Revolution will be Televised was Comedy Programme Bafta winner 2013, in interview with Ideas Tap: "If you know your character, you know what they’re going to say. Satire is about noticing what everyone else is thinking and giving voice to it." His ideal recipe is "Ali G in a blender with Panorama."

My play Fixing It isn't a social satire, it's more social reflection about changing social values ~ a love story and a morality play too. The oblique reference to Jimmy Savile (who features only in this drama as an aberrant & abhorrent icon from a very different era) inspired our flyers, which have caused so much controversy that Martin Earley had to remove them from display at our Cornerhouse venue ~ that's the ones not torn down by enraged punters. There was even discussion as to whether Simon Cowell would sue us for the use of his image on the same piece of paper as a pixilated, blurred, half-visage of the biggest monster of all time... I'm not reposting the contentious flyer here, so scroll down a couple of weeks to make up your own mind. Would it put you off coming to see the show? We're nearly fully booked for the preview this weekend so the question is academic, but I'm curious. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sketches and preliminaries

Visually speaking, what is a sketch? A rough preliminary to more crafted piece of work ~ equivalent to the writer's 'splurge' draft ~ or is it an expression of the artist's process needing no further development, in the way a theatrical sketch is a complete piece?  SKETCH is the current exhibition at Black Swan Arts, with 54 collections selected from open competition which between them comprise hundreds of glimpses of their artists' interior and exterior lives.  Words at the Black Swan writing group, led by David Davies, skirted definitions with a focus on individual pieces and the private moments they represent.  A stimulating session, producing thoughtful & delightful responses which will be displayed at the gallery and archived online here with the images that inspired them.

And on the subject of using words to sketch reflections, Philip Larkin's "statement" on why he wrote poetry was simple: to preserve things I have seen / thought / felt, both for myself and for others, though I feel that my prime responsibility is to the experience itself... Why I should do this I have no idea, but I think the impulse to preserve lies at the bottom of all art. It certainly applies to all writing ~ stories and dramas too ~ whether challenging, mourning, or fantasty-dreaming: at their heart is a desire to preserve what we have felt, whether through living or longing, or even dreading. Certainly everything I ever write is somewhere on that experiential continuum from intimately known to emotionally conceivable.
My play Fixing It, moving as it does swiftly back and forth along this imaginary continuum, has consequently left me giddy as rehearsals continue. I'm in awe of the actors who have taken these characters and given them dimension, colour, energy, and even private thoughts & emotions I never fully realised. It's like someone's turned up the heating on my inner world. Livi and Vincent are heart-breakingly convincing as the youngsters believing All you need is love, but Paddy and Robert are gripping as their older selves, still passionate about their ideals, but no longer in unison.
I'm loving the way Marc runs rehearsals: a combo of disciplined sessions on key aspects like transitions plus wonderful inclusive times like an hour listening to tracks from their era chosen by all the cast... what a great way to start a long day.  Sarah is still busy sorting out costumes, mindful that quick changes are vital. Here's Vincent as Rick, if this takes you back then you probably remember the summer of love too... So in case you've forgotten, we open for two nights' preview in Frome at the Cornerhouse on 24th January, with the 'proper' run (ie full set and lighting) at Alma Tavern Theatre from 28th January till 8th February.

And then, unbelievably, life will go on, and other things will happen... one of which is that Frome favourite Nathan Filer, who has now made himself a nation's favourite too by winning the Costa Debut Novel award for The Shock of the Fall is coming to Merlin Theatre to talk about his shift from acclaimed poet to acclaimed novelist ~ and also tell us why he was deported from his truth-finding mission in the West Bank. This will be a night to remember~ booking recommended, as it's one of our "Platter" nights with everyone onstage in a bistro atmosphere, with real supper option.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Happy new year.... though one week on 21014 is already not quite box-fresh. Jingoistic shots have been fired in an ominous preliminary to the centenary commemoration of WW1, as Michael Gove blithely reinvents history to eliminate the public protests and the records of thousands court-martialled, apparently under the impression that until Ben Elton wrote Blackadder Goes Forth, the Battle of the Somme was a moral triumph and every soldier slavishly supported "the old lie, Dulce et decorum est / pro patria mori."  He should have read Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That: "Patriotism, in the trenches, was too remote a sentiment, rejected as fit only for civilians, or prisoners. A new arrival who talked patriotism would soon be told to cut it out." Or at least listened to Harry Patch, last veteran of that war, who unflinchingly insisted: "The politicians who took us to war should have been given guns and told to settle their differences themselves."  But then education isn't really Mr Gove's thing, is it. 

And as lashing rain with winds of up to 90mph transform roads into rivers, fields into lagoons, and generally turn the land into a vast puddle, maybe Bristol theatrical productions should stop conjuring up dramatic storms as a major plot line.  The weather has never quite been the same since Tom Phillips' play 100 Miles North of Timbuktu last autumn, in which an invention to control the weather by computer got out of control and brought catastrophic tidal waves up the Bristol Channel ~ and now Tobacco Factory is staging The Last Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor, a story about a series of violent ship-wrecking storms.  It's a high-spirited and high-energy show, and demonstrates the superior power of imagination over complex sets and costumes as five charismatic performers do battle with ogres, sprites, and whales as well as high waves.  Saikat Ahamed, Vic Llewellyn, Zara Ramm, Lucy Tuck and the ever-excellent Chris Bianchi share the roles around between them on a kind of rota basis but the clarity of story-telling ensures there's no confusion, and there's enough variety in each sequence, including live music and clever puppetry, to ensure the saga never flags.

Despite this double-dose of spells aimed at submerging all routes between Frome and Bristol underwater, Rosie and I made it to Hen & Chickens in Bedminster for the first rehearsal of our double-bill  Media Monsters with director Marc Geoffrey and our dream-team cast. Day one was for read-through, discussions, and script-tweaks.
It's indescribably exciting to hear words that came out of your head becoming first voices and then people,  who begin to have opinions, and intentions, not all of which you knew about...  Ann shows the set design, which is fabulous, and there's first thoughts about music. Two days on, Sarah arrives to talk costumes and there's excited talk of make-up and hair-curling sessions. Marc is blocking my play Fixing It and devising links between the two different decades, and when, after 8 hours of rehearsal, we reach the end of the first full run-through and he says 'That was a good day's work' I feel as proud as if I'd actually contributed anything more than a besotted and slightly inane smile all day.  So there'll probably be more in a similar vein for the next few postings too... enjoy your January, I know I will.