An Interview with Toby Boutall

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A bonkers, immersive, party of a late night ‘childrens” show is winging its way into Edinburgh this August. The Mumble managed a blether with the creative polymath behind it all…


Hello Toby, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
TOBY: I’m originally a Bedford boy, and proud. However, I now live in Kingston way because the train takes twice as long but its ¼ of the price.

What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
TOBY: Something big and ballsy. As long as it doesn’t pander to everyone’s needs then I’ll be up for watching it. Also, pandas. I like pandas.

Over the past few years you have been developing performances and shows that try to challenge the idea of normal theatre? What gave you the impulse to go off tangent, so to speak?
TOBY: I just get bloody bored of watching the same old things over and over again. I started by making a show which was a mix of music, cabaret, lecture, theatre and club night a few years ago called, A Concise History of How One Should Party. It went down an absolute storm… For the 30 or so people who saw it; their reaction got me excited. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to just find some way of presenting this style in a believable style. Added to this, I love people like Eric Andre and Rik Mayall. So what better setting than kids TV!

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What have you learnt from the journey about yourself & the theatrical arts?
TOBY: Lots of people complaining but not doing enough themsleves to justify it. Hard work and good relationships are essential. Also, when you’re shucking oysters and telling people you’re writing a mad cap show, people don’t always take you seriously.

How do you know & feel when you have just given a good performance?
TOBY: I’m sweating BUCKETS. Greasy pants.

Can you sum up the Fringe experience in a single sentence?
TOBY: I hope your soul and liver are ready for this Toby.

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This year you will be bringing Very Blue Peter to the Fringe. Can you tell us about it?
TOBY: Very Blue Peter is Blue Peter on acid. The show itself centres around a famous controversy from 1998, which we’ve said was all a cover up for something much bigger. It contains: three rogue presenters, JK Rowling, Eurovision, World Cup, Morph, police, drugs, booze and psychedelic rock music. This is the episode of Blue Peter that was never aired.

How does it feel to be the shows writer & a director?
TOBY: Pretty cool! For me, this show is an exact science and it needs to be done is a certain way to make sense. At this point, I think a director would laugh in my face if I presented this idea to them.

Can you describe your cast members in a single word?
TOBY: Lauren Douglin = Biblical
Anthony Fagan = HughJackman
Eliza Hewitt-Jones = Landan
Matt Daniels = Naked
Alex Forman = Big

If you’re flyering the show, what would you say in thirty seconds to convince someone to see Very Blue Peter?
TOBY: Do you remember being a kid? No? OK, that’s a bit weird mate. But either way come and see Very Blue Peter. It’s pretty cool mate. I like your shirt. There’s a bulldog at the theatre. There’s not actually a bulldog. But yeh. Blue Peter on acid with a few pints sounds good, no?

What will Toby Boutall be doing after the Fringe?
TOBY: What Toby Boutall does every day. Be disappointed by where life has lead him and pretend on social media that he’s a happy presentable bloke. That and a panto playing the Genie.

Photography : Jackson Bews


Very Blue Peter

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Gilded Balloon Teviot
Aug 1st–27th August (23:15)

 

Talking Heads

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West Yorkshire Playhouse
Leeds
June 14th-23rd 2018

Script: five-stars  Stagecraft: four-stars.png  Performance: five-stars  


The monologues which make up ‘Talking Heads’ were originally written for and presented on BBC2 over 25 years ago and I myself have vague recollections of them from that time. They have of course been performed since on the stage but what is special about these performances is that they are taking place here in Leeds where for the most part they were originally set. This is of course as much a Leeds of Bennet’s imagination as it is a real place – a heightened world coloured by fuzzy recollections of his childhood and youth as much as it is reality but what strikes – as ever – about these pieces is their rich sense of detail, their ‘lived-in’ quality which could only come from the most keenest of observers. From the specific number of the bus used to the details of the canteen pudding this is a world which feels startlingly – almost oppressively real at times.

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When the first piece “A chip in the sugar” begins we are transported into the fastidious world of Graham a middle aged man living with his mother. Theirs is an uncomfortably close relationship of mutual dependence. Socially isolated Graham takes quiet control of his mother’s opinions in line with his own liberal Guardian reading ways ( something he feels is for her own good ) whilst she rely s on him for physical and practical support. All is well until the arrival of an old flame of his mother’s who gradually wheedles his way into her affections with his superficial charm and flash patter.

Chris Chilton’s performance as Graham is excellent avoiding either a knowing impression of Alan Bennet himself (whose mannerisms the character sometimes embodies) or a campy caricature. He manages to illicit sympathy for what is at times an unlikeable character. He manages to capture both the humour and the desperation of the language making the audience both laugh uproariously whilst in the same breath gasp with shock. By performing small actions such as the folding of his clothes and the pacing of the room we get a sense of the obsessive nature and suppressed anxieties beneath the controlled exterior. When the fear and anger burst out it is with a genuine sense of queasy unease.

It’s very special for various reasons: It’s the last show in the Courtyard before the Playhouse undergoes redevelopment.  It’s also my first time directing in my home theatre, and the opportunity to co-direct with James and Amy is really exciting.  We’re each of us working with fantastic, generous actors.  As you may know, four of the monologues have already been on tour around Leeds, so it’s great to offer them out to our community.  It also means we can present a very different show, putting them all together on stage in one big production.
Director: John R Wilkinson

Read the full interview here

Next came “A woman of no importance” in which we meet Peggy a woman with a sense of herself as the ‘lynchpin’ of her workplace. Flo Wilson gives a subtly powerful performance as Peggy. At first I found her a rather tiresome creation; self-regarding, boring and obsessed with the petty mundanities and power-plays of office life as she is but gradually as the piece progressed my feelings were transformed. Wilson captures a woman both in decline and in denial of her place in the world and the changing nature of her own powers. I began to feel a gradual growing sense of great empathy for a character I had actively disliked and a strange sense of admiration for the self-deluded way in which as her world shrinks Peggy still retains her sense of pride and dignity. What is most impressive about the performance is the physical transformation in which Wilson captures the declining physical powers of Peggy. Wilson manages in her movements to make Peggy grow heavier, wearier and older before our very eyes through subtle shifts in posture, breathing and enunciation. This is also cleverly expressed through the use of costume – her gradual change from smart dress and coat to nightie and bed-jacket , the way Peggy clasps her handbag so tightly– and set as we see the environment gradually change from one of a banal public waiting room to hospital bed.

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Finally we have “Soldiering On” in which we find Muriel, a woman of advancing years trying to hold things together in the wake of her beloved husband Ralph’s death. Though clearly a member of the upper classes we see as the piece unfolds a gradual stripping away of both Muriel’s physical comforts and her illusions until she is reduced to a state comparatively worse than either Graham’s or Peggy’s. I ended up finding Muriel in many ways the most appealing of the characters due largely to Tina Gray’s performance. She managed to convey a sense of a woman who underneath her bravado and stiff upper  lip was rather lost. Imbuing her with a sense of unworldly niaviety  as-well as vigour and pluck she gave Muriel’s suggestion that her story was “not a tragedy -I’m not that sort” the ring of truth to it which just made it all the more heartbreaking.

Throughout the pieces the setting is first rate whether it is letting us into the dreary and  claustrophobic bedroom of Graham, the fading glamour of Muriel’s chaise longue and packing boxes or the antiseptic melancholy of Peggy’s hospital bedside. The way in which the sets are changed – particularly by the overalled workmen in Muriel’s living room – is also a sophisticated  touch. The use of lighting and sound is minimal but effective too conveying both changes of scene and time and place with shifts in colouration and strength of light.

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What shines through – though it is ably abetted by the uniformly excellent cast of course- is the script itself. These three pieces took me on an emotional journey in which I was taken to places I did not expect to go by people I didn’t want to go with. Bennet is able to create characters which have the tang of real life to them with all its ambivalence and complexity. It shows the strength in his writing that even the characters referred to off stage so to speak seem as well rounded and believable as the ones speaking directly to us.

Though there is much humour in the work and I indeed laughed through much of it these three pieces are I feel more tragedies than anything else. Not grand tragedies – that’s not Bennet’s style – but tragedies of lives unlived, of repression, denial and self-delusion, themes which run through these plays like the writing through a piece of Blackpool rock. These are very clever plays indeed which manage with their use of the casual wit and trivial mundanities of ordinary speech to explore difficult topics such as mental health issues, sexual  repression and the damaging binds of family. By tackling these issues with humour, realism and above all humanity Bennet’s work has  lost none of its power or relevance over  a quarter of a century after they were first written.

Ian Pepper

five-stars

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

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The National Production Company
Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
13-16th June, 2018

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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) has been a consistent crowd-pleaser since its debut in 1987. A Fringe Festival stalwart, the play has the survival abilities of a cockroach, and the script itself is so tried and tested that it would seem that it would take some effort on the part of a performance troupe to make it anything less than utterly charming and delightful for an audience.  The brain child of American writers Adam Long, Jess Winfield and Daniel Singer, The Complete Works… is a light-hearted and irreverent romp through all 37 of the Bard’s plays, consisting of slap stick, farce and pantomime-esque audience participation.

In many ways, this winning formula serves The National Production Company well in their incarnation of the play, currently appearing at Edinburgh’s Assembly Roxy. The fledgling company have an admirable stab at it, employing the requisite high-energy and fast pace, and adhering stolidly to the well-loved, conventional features of the play – the sonnets are handed out on paper, Shakespeare’s biography is confused with that of Adolf Hitler, Titus Andronicus is presented in the style of a cookery show, MacBeth is performed in see-you-jimmy hats and in terrible Scottish accents, Othello is a rap, the ‘Kings’ plays are transformed into a slow-motion American football game.

One of the elements of the play that makes it satisfying for performers is the capacity for improvisation and the requirement for cultural references to be updated and tailored to specific audiences and locations. The play presents many opportunities for The National Production Company to put their stamp on it and really make it their own, but they choose to play it a little too safe. The result is that some of their references seem unimaginative, at points bordering on cliché. Even the decision to use Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ to bookend the show feels like it would’ve had more cache during the Rickrolling phenomenon/Astley renaissance ten years ago.

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As the play is now 31 years old, some elements of it are badly in need of updating. The implication that a man in a dress doing a high-pitched voice is automatically hilarious doesn’t sit comfortably in 2018. One line about ‘not making things gendered’ in this version seems to acknowledge this, but so weakly, it somehow manages to make it worse. Similarly, the idea that a Southerner affecting a Yorkshire accent is inherently funny has gone out of fashion since Michael McIntyre was called out for classism by justifiably irked northern viewers several years ago. Presenting two men kissing as something to laugh at – really? Still?

It’s a shame that these wide-open opportunities to innovate were missed by The National Production company, as they are clearly a very talented bunch with heaps of passion.  Bits of the performance were absolutely pitch-perfect and well-executed – the demanding final scene, with three versions of Hamlet performed at breakneck speed and backwards, and the tightly choreographed prologue to Romeo and Juliet were particular highlights. While a little disappointing, their decision to stick to established formulas is understandable. This was a solidly enjoyable performance, but I think much bigger and better things await The National Production Company.

Kirsty Mcgrory

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An Interview with Middle Weight Theatre

Middle Weight Theatre are bringing their ‘amendments: A Play on Words’ to the Fringe this August. The Mumble shared a wee chat with writer/performer, Matt Roberts, and director/performer, Tom Stabb.


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Tom Stabb

Hello lads, so where ya both from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Tom: Hello! Matt is originally from Cornwall, he studied in Exeter, Devon (where we met) and is now based in Bristol. I’m from and based In Exeter. So you can only imagine the type of arguments there are over who makes the better pasty.

When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Tom: From a very early age. Both my parents were involved in theatre; my father was an actor/director and my mother a ballet teacher/choreographer. My house was continually packed with actors, dancers, stage hands and as a result was always full of creativity; there were constant rehearsals, debates and arguments over the latest Bafta or Tony award winner. I actually learnt to count by watching rehearsals of the ‘39 Lashes’ from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ It was inevitable there was going to be an influence. Or therapy…

When did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
Matt: Several years ago I was a singer in a metal band and someone told me there were auditions being held near me for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ They reckoned I’d make a good Judas, because it was a ‘rock’ musical. My natural rock tenor voice (and my tendancy to betray people) made me a perfect candidate. I got the part, I loved performing it and this lead to other acting roles over the subsequent years.

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What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Matt: For me, I want to be transported into the world of what I’m watching. I don’t want to sit in the audience and think ‘I’m currently watching a play;’ I want to be there thinking ‘I’m in their world.’ Ultimately, it’s about being immersed I guess. Also, I want to exit the theatre with residual thoughts and feelings – a good play should send you straight to the bar for a discussion, an argument or should at least prompt dialogue about the themes and psychodrama of what you’ve witnessed.

What do you like to do when you’re not being all theatrical?
Tom: I would love to give you a list of cool stuff to make myself sound all wind-swept and interesting, but honestly, the past three to four years have been consumed with establishing and maintaining the theatre company. Whether this is by going to watch other companies’ productions, talent scouting, learning new direction techniques, promoting or reading play after play after play, my interests are almost always work driven. I can do a good rendition of Eminen’s ‘Rap God’ or ‘A Modern Major General’ by Gilbert and Sullivan after a few glasses of wine; does this count?

You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three films, what would they be?
Matt: James Foley’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ and Alexander Mackendrick’s ‘The Sweet Smell of success.’ A close fourth would be ‘Noddy goes lap dancing.’ I can’t remember who directed it.

So Tom, how did you & Matt meet?
Tom: For a while I was a local music promotor around the Southwest. On several occasions I booked a heavy metal band that Matt was the vocalist for. They were such an outstanding group, I ended up muscling (and blackmailing) my way into being their bass player. We gigged and toured for over five years together, which (unsuspectingly at the time) developed into an on and off stage chemistry with regard to performance, comedy, writing, trust and, dare I say it, ethics… The band ran its course, but we have continued to collaborate on theatre projects ever since. Thus Middle-Weight Theatre Company was born.

Can you tell us about Middle-Weight?
Tom: It was jointly founded in 2013 by Matt and I, and the aim – from day one – was to maintain a high standard of entertainment expressed by a wide variety of talented actors through new and thought-provoking original writing. Along the way we have welcomed the crucial talents of Al Wadlan, Jemma Gillard and Chrissy Marshall in co-running the company. Everyone who has been involved in any of Middle-Weight’s productions, be it performing or behind the scenes, usually has a keen interest in discussing or debating current affairs and politics, which is why our new play ‘amendments: A Play on Words’ (about censorship and the devolution of language) has been such fun to produce.

Can you tell us more about this year’s play?
Matt: It’s basically about how our language is being profoundly diminished by the rampant political correctness currently infesting our society. Don’t get me wrong, I completely acknowledge that we need to have codes in place to ensure people and the groups those people are part of aren’t persecuted or victimised, by I’m worried that the populus is becoming so sensitive and have developed such a finely tuned sense of ‘offense’ that our language is becoming subject to so much prohibition and censorship that soon there will quite literally be nothing left to say.

Five years into the Middle-Weight experience, how have you changed as a person?
Tom: Interesting question. I have changed in the sense that I’ve rekindled an interest in embracing new methods and to be more pluralistic. Honestly – I’m a bit of a control freak and have a somewhat nervous disposition by nature, so gaining and developing new techniques and experiences has taught me to compose myself – when for example a piece of scenery we’ve spent weeks making doesn’t fit properly or a prop doesn’t arrive on time, I don’t tend to hit Matt in the face as my first response anymore – so there’s definite growth there.

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How would you describe your working relationship with Tom?
Matt: Tom is great to work with because he is one of the very few people I’ve met in my life who is thoroughly reliable. If he says he’ll do something, he actually does it, and that’s a rare commodity in a person. He’s also very patient, which is, considering my phenomenally large ego, quite important.

This will be your third time at the Fringe, can you describe the experience of performing at the Fringe in a single sentence?
Tom: Enchantingly exhausting.

As an actor, how will you know & feel when you have just given a good performance?
Matt: If I’m sweating a lot, that’s usually a good sign.

Do you & Matt socialise outwith rehearsals?
Tom: No. We have a keen disdain for one another.

What will you guys be doing after the Fringe?
Matt: There will be a quick break (after a tour, Tom and I generally part with the mutual sentiment of ‘I don’t ever want to see you again’) and after which, it’ll be one of many potential projects. We have 3 new original plays to choose from, so we are delighted to know we will be busy until 2020!


amendments: A Play on Words

3rd-11th August (23:05) 
thespaceUK on NorthBridge 

BUY TICKETS HERE

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www.middleweighttheatrecompany.com

The 39 Steps

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Sat 9th June
Murthly Village Hall

Script: four-stars.png  Stagecraft: four-stars.png  Performance: four-stars.png  


This is the ninth season that Dundee Rep have taken theatre into the community to various local venues. This year, director Irene Macdougall and the ensemble are revisiting familiar community venues and have added some new ones to the itinerary. There is something quite magical in the idea of a touring theatre and this Saturday night performance was packed. There was certainly a bit of a buzz amongst the audience as the hall filled up before the lights went down.

The 39 Steps being one of my all-time favourite movies (Hitchcock’s 1935 version, not any of the lacklustre remakes), I was keen to see what Dundee Rep’s ensemble would make of this classic Buchan ripping yarn. Would this Richard Hannay be a suave prototype James Bond, who takes his ladies’ kisses without asking? Or perhaps the comic Hannay of Simon Corble’s 1996 stage reboot? And how do you squeeze a tale that starts in a London music hall, steams up the Northern Line to Scotland and back to London again onto a stage (little Murthly village hall stage at that)?

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Dundee Rep’s Joe Landry’s 39 Steps takes the conceit of a radio ‘play within a play’. As the lights go down the familiar pips of Greenwich time signal give way to the clipped tones of a Radio Scotland announcer introducing ‘tonight’s live performance’ of Buchan’s play in front of ‘a live audience’ – Hey that’s us! As the action progresses there were moments when, if one closed one’s eyes, one could easily have been listening to a radio drama from the nineteen thirties. Sound effects, mostly all produced ‘live’ by the five actors on stage, were a great part of the pleasure of listening as the familiar plot unfolded.

Ewan Donald’s Hannay is a delightfully upper crust rogue. Dressed for the part in tweeds and brogues, and with an accent that could cut a bar-full of glasses, he playfully keeps up the conceit of the nineteen thirties radio actor playing Richard Hannay. Emily Winter’s Annabella Smith/Pamela are just as playfully done. The awkwardly stifled romantic spark between Hannay and Pamela is the source of much magically amusing moments. Barrie Hunter takes, among a plethora of roles, the character of Professor Jordan to ‘evil genius’ proportions. Billy Mack and Ann Louise Ross take up the remaining cast with some excellent quick-change vocal acrobatics. At points in the action it’s hard to believe that there were only five actors on stage.

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For me, and the appreciative audience in Murthly village hall, much of the comedy of the play was in watching the cast provide the sound effects. Look (or listen) out for the barking dog with excellent comic timing, and the flock of sheep. The excellent sound production never overtakes the plot, and, being created live, is a reminder, like the two old style BBC microphones at front of stage, that this is a radio performance being recreated on stage.

Dundee rep are currently touring venues around Dundee, Angus, Fife and Perthshire until Saturday 23rd Jun. If you want to be seriously entertained for an evening then look out for your nearest venue and get along. The ticket price is worth it twice over!

Mark Mckenzie

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TOUR DATES TO COME

 June  Venue  Book Tickets
Thu 14 Dibble Tree Theatre, Carnoustie  01241 853946
Fri 15 Menzieshill Community Centre  01382 432967
Sat 16 Rio Community Centre, Newport  01382 543366
Tue 19 Kirriemuir Town Hall  Click here to book
Wed 20 Forfar Reid Hall  Click here to book
Thu 21 Maxwell Centre, Hilltown  01382 802628
Fri 22 Douglas Community Centre  01382 436944
Sat 23 Eassie and Nevay Hall  01307 840839

www.dundeerep.co.uk/event/the-39-steps

An Interview with John R Wilkinson

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Talking Heads is coming to the West Yorkshire Playhouse this week. The Mumble managed to catch a wee chat with one of its directors…


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Hello John, so where are you from & where do you live? Hello John, so where are you from & where do you live? 
John: Hello.  I am from Leeds, albeit its murkier backwater – Wetherby to be exact, where I still live.  One of the great thing about Talking Heads is all three co-directors are from the North.  Well, Amy’s from Lancashire but we’ll forgive her that.

When did you first develop a passion for theatre, and what, for you, makes a good piece of theatre?
John: My mum’s always been involved in light opera, so it probably stems from that.  Also, I used to be an avid Masters of the Universe collector when I was little, so imagining all sorts of scenarios with He-Man and Skeletor probably helped as well.  A good piece of theatre for me includes various things.  There’s got to be a real element of mystery, or discovery if you like, in it.  You should leave asking as many questions as you’ve had answered.  It should improve your perspective on the world around you.  I often talk about productions finding an “active somnolence” – a kind of hypnotic quality.  They should call.  You should respond.  They should soothe and mend you in doing so.

Can you tell us about your studies?
John: I trained at Bretton Hall College and the Workshop Theatre, University of Leeds.

You are Director in Residence and Agent for Change at West Yorkshire Playhouse; can you tell us how you got the job & what your role is?
John: I was appointed in October 2017.  Aside from directorial responsibilities, the role is designed to support the creation of opportunities for other D/deaf and disabled creatives and setting up opportunities during Ramps on the Moon tours for local D/deaf and disabled artists to introduce themselves to their local theatre.

You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three films, what would they be?
John: 1 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition)
2. Moneyball
3. Withnail and I

What does John R Wilkinson like to do when he’s not being creative?
John: Which is most of the time!  Let’s see: Well, James Brining and I cry over the current plight of Leeds United.  Netflix, Books (Historical Fiction, Sports Biographies) and Cycling.  I’ve also just had Botox – in my legs, not my face!

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Marlene Sidaway performing in LS14

You’re directing Talking Heads at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. What’s exciting about this project?
John: It’s very special for various reasons: It’s the last show in the Courtyard before the Playhouse undergoes redevelopment.  It’s also my first time directing in my home theatre, and the opportunity to co-direct with James and Amy is really exciting.  We’re each of us working with fantastic, generous actors.  As you may know, four of the monologues have already been on tour around Leeds, so it’s great to offer them out to our community.  It also means we can present a very different show, putting them all together on stage in one big production.

Do you & the cast socialise outside of rehearsals?
John: Yes, we had a party last Saturday, actually!

What does the rest of 2018 have in store for John R Wilkinson?
John: Immediate priorities?  My sister’s getting married at the end of next month and I’m looking forward to the World Cup!

Photography : Anthony Robling


TALKING HEADS IS SHOWING AT THE WYP

JUNE 14th-23rd 2018

BUY TICKETS HERE

The Vampire Clinic

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
28th May – 2nd June

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You may have speculated why appointments with doctors in surgeries or hospital clinics, never seem to keep to schedule. Why is it you always have to sit around for ages? Is it a case of overworked staff and too little time? Or is it a deliberate ploy by the NHS, to give waiting patients the opportunity to get to know each other, to share detailed descriptions of ailments, to exchange life stories including the current state of conjugal interactions… and pick up new friends? Genius or what!

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Findlay (William McBain) has plenty to contemplate as he sits in a bleak waiting room surrounded by Health Service flyers warning about the symptoms of heart disease. Sadie (Barbara Rafferty) has been here before and she’s come to terms with the changes a stroke can bring to your life. She tells us, one night she “went to bed a warrior and woke up a worrier”. She recognises the fear in Findlay and is determined to cheer him up with some breezy, Glasgow, heart-attack, banter. As his story moves from grim descriptions of the night of his seizure and the effects of his condition, to Pythonesque flights of fancy, he and hot blooded Sadie find they have more in common than a medical condition requiring Warfarin.

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Rafferty’s Sadie is literally, a survivor, soliloquising about the nature of her stroke in some detail, explaining the changes it rent in her brain, the split she lives with, which on occasion, lets another woman occupy her head. That said she is determined to put a positive spin, or at least wobble, on whatever challenges life throws at her. McBain’s Findlay is less proactive, still finding it hard to believe what has happened to him and concerned about what kind of future awaits. Both actors seemed to struggled with their dialogue on occasions which the charitable might put down to characterisation.

Peter McDougal has written a dark comedy that doesn’t shy away from the stark consequences of what can happen to relationships after illness. But the humour is broad and unrefined, sounding at times as if it belongs to an earlier decade.

Fails to get the blood pumping.

David G Moffat

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An Interview with Isobel McArthur

Blood Of The Young will soon be bringing their summer blockbuster to the Tron in Glasgow. The Mumble managed to nab one of the team for a wee blether…


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Hello Isobel, so when did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
Isobel: Hiya Mumble. My very first involvement in the theatre was about age 8. I joined the local youth drama group. It was badly organised and, of course, all the output was terrible – but there is something useful about getting up on a stage as soon as you can to help you figure out who you are and how performance works. It’s probably good to be getting it wrong when it really doesn’t matter.

When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Isobel: I was very lucky in that my parents took me to see a few plays when I was a kid. The theatre was instantly the most magical place I’d ever been. I wanted to watch, read and do as many plays as possible.

Can you tell us about your studies?
Isobel: I did a degree in Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow and then trained as an actor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Isobel: Of course there needs to be room and provision for many different kids of theatre but personally I believe it is in theatre’s own interest to be generous, uplifting, accessible, thought-provoking and above all else, entertaining. If a piece of theatre doesn’t entertain as its first function, I don’t think it has the right to demand any attention from an audience.

You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three films, what would they be?
Isobel: Just three copies of the film Castaway. For tips. No – I’m joking. I know precious little about film, if I’m honest. I suppose it would be important to be able to watch them a few times. I’d probably want to do the occasional bit of head-scratching, but mostly to be moved to laughter or tears if I don’t have any other company. Probably Un Prophete for a think, Duck Soup for a laugh and – this is a bit of a cheat -but I’d like to have the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy as my final choice. For the feels.

What does Isobel McArthur like to do when she’s not being creative?
Isobel: That’s a funny way of looking at it. I suppose I feel like hobbies need to be creative to be interesting at all. I’m daft about cooking. I occasionally do a bit of crafty stuff, sewing etc. Obviously life since drama school has, in large part, been made up of pulling pints, bringing people their breakfasts or doing mind-numbing promo jobs. But a good imagination helps get you through.

Can you tell us about Blood of the Young?
Isobel: Blood of the Young are a Glasgow-based ensemble theatre company. The company hold regular ensemble training days to build complicity and they make bold work with an emphasis on striking visuals, live music, ensemble movement and fun. We’re currently the National Theatre of Scotland company in residence.

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Anneke Kampman performing in ‘Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound’, Tron Theatre, 2017

How did you get involved & what is your role in the company?
Isobel: We formed when we left drama school. My role is usually one of writer-performer. I contributed a short play to BOTY’s first show Golden Arm Theatre Project, and I wrote both Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound and Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of). I also perform in these shows. But in BOTY, there is an emphasis on collaboration, whoever you are. That can mean different things in practice but we will always establish a relationship with everyone on the project that means anyone can question, contribute and offer up new ideas. I believe we have a stronger critical eye when we work together in this way – we are more discerning and the work can then encompass a wider breath of tastes, senses of humour, artistic inclinations etc. It means it’s all the more important that the team are supportive, respectful of each other and open-minded, of course – but if everyone’s compassionate and just wants to make the best show possible, this works really well.

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One of your creations will be moving into the Tron for a few weeks at the end of June, can you tell us about the play you have fashioned?
Isobel: Aye, the play is called Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) and it is an adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel to be performed by an all-female ensemble of 5. The show features all the big-hitters from the original story, but it also shines a light on some of the characters below-stairs who usually get overlooked. It will be a colourful, dynamic, multi-rolling show with karaoke and disco balls. If we get it right, it shouldn’t matter whether the audience have ever heard of Austen. It will simply be a funny love story, entertainingly told that anyone can enjoy as a great night out.

Does Jane Austen still hold a relevance to the modern mind?
Isobel: For many, Austen novels represent a stuffy and inaccessible corner of the bookshelf that they were banished to once in school. I sympathise with that view. They can be challenging reads because, frankly, there are lengthy periods in Austen novels where it seems like nothing is happening. But she is a genius and always laying a path for something explosive. That required patience, however. And how many of us have that these days? This has to be a show that can be enjoyed in its fullest without anyone needing prior knowledge of the novel. Hopefully everyone can feel they have a stake in this world because, of course, it’s hugely relevant. In Pride & Prejudice, all the women are victims of the historical period they find themselves in. Women are unable to inherit anything from their parents – they need to marry a man to do it for them. These miserable circumstances land the women in various impossible situations, often making them either turn on each other or surrendering their core values for lack of any other option. In this way, nothing could be more relevant than the horrors faced by women when they are regarded as second-class citizens. Beyond that, however, this particular novel is also about the importance understanding yourself and others better in order to question preconceptions and ultimately reach the kind of understanding with another human being which could be called ‘true love’. It is about building bridges of understanding, admitting when we’re wrong, questioning our own prejudices and trying to see the world from someone else’s perspective. I wish that weren’t all still so painfully relevant.

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Paul Brotherston (right)

How is director Paul Brotherston finding working with the play?
Isobel: I think this would be a challenging play for anyone to direct. There are about 120 named characters and multiple locations in the original novel – and we need to tell a tight version of the story using only 5 actors. However, we have assembled a great team and are just as excited by the many challenges as we are petrified by them. This show will be a lot of fun. It’s a romantic comedy! So I trust the playfulness in the room will make for a really enjoyable process for all. Paul is perfectly placed to direct it – it’s very much a Blood of the Young-style piece.

What does the rest of 2018 hold in store for Isobel McArthur, Blood of the Young & Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of)?
Isobel: Hopefully our show will enjoy a good run in Glasgow. Who knows if it will have a future after that – we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll continue to write after this but principally I’ll be going off to act in a large-scale project. As for BOTY, we will continue to train and begin development of our next project. More on all that anon!


Pride & Prejudice*
*sort of

The Tron , Glasgow
28th June – 14th July 2018

BUY TICKETS HERE

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www.bloodoftheyoung.org

The First Dance

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
14th-19th May

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Real men don’t watch, top chick-flick, Dirty Dancing. They may have sat in a room when the DVD was playing but they were not looking. Most probably their thoughts were about something entirely masculine, like the sweaty, raw, grappling, physicality of a scrum at rugby. This could be a problem for Rhoda as she plans the ‘first dance’ at her upcoming wedding, because fiancé Terry is an oval ball enthusiast and a bit of a man’s man, not too keen on Terpsichore. To realise her big day’s dream of recreating the leaping finale in the 1980s film, she seeks the assistance of dance tutor Gavin. His theatrical posturing is not to Terry’s taste and the latter displays his homophobia by directing a shocking epithet at the instructor (cue sharp intake of breath from the audience). Regardless of this, a determined Rhoda will have her way. But there’s another problem, due to their strict religious beliefs, the couple cannot engage in anything involving close proximity, until after they’ve exchanged wedding vows. Adaptable Gavin will have to partner each separately. In this case it takes three to tango; he will be Patrick Swayze’s ‘Johnny’ for Rhoda… and Jennifer Grey’s ‘Baby’ for Terry.

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Darren Brownlie’s Gavin is a versatile delight, whether gathering himself in grief, sorrowfully owning the silences, or twisting, flexing, bending (has the man no ligaments) while delivering waspish retorts to any slights. Jo Freer’s Rhoda is the kind of woman who wears the trousers. Not only that, she keeps the Wedding Fund bank card and its PIN number, in the pocket of those trousers. She envisions a precise, fundamental future for herself and the man she hopes to create. Think Lady Macbeth but without the milky kindness. Daniel Cahill’s Terry is caught up in events, struggling with doubts about his upcoming marriage, trying to realise exactly who he is. A solid fortress of a man anxious not to have his drawbridge lowered.

Martin McCormick’s play, a satisfying mixture of the serious and comic, entertains right through to its uplifting conclusion. You’ll have the time of your life.

David G Moffat

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The Girl on the Train

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West Yorkshire Playhouse
Leeds
Until Saturday 9th June

Script: four-stars.png  Stagecraft: four-stars.png  Performance: four-stars.png


I approached “The Girl on the Train” knowing nothing about it other than that it was an adaptation of a best selling thriller by Paula Hawkins and that it had already been adapted into a film. I was expecting something of an Agatha Christie style who-done-it by way of Steig Larrson but what I got was far richer and challenging than that.

The play opens onto a bare anonymous space in grey and blue tones as a woman lies in a crumpled heap on the floor. ‘Is she the first victim?’ I wonder but no the dishevelled figure rises and begins to clear up the debris of an apparent party. This is our heroine, Rachel a troubled young woman self medicating the pain away of a difficult break-up with lashings of alcohol. As she teeters on the edge of mental collapse she finds escape from her own drama through the mysterious disappearance of a neighbour.

Rachel becomes embroiled in the investigation itself and finds herself gradually slipping further into obsession as she becomes compelled to discover the truth of the missing woman. Her amateur sleuthing brings her into contact with various characters who are not necessarily what they appear from the woman’s distraught husband, Scott to her condescending therapist, Kamal to her own seemingly kindly and understanding ex husband, Tom. All the while she is trailed in her enquiries by the wryly cynical D.I Gaskill, who though at first dismisses her as a troublesome crank soon comes to suspect her own motivations.

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Though it’s plot has the requisite twists and turns one might expect from a superior thriller it soon became clear that this play was far more than that. As Rachel herself refers to her alcohol blackouts’ and lapses in memory it became apparent that for all the guess who fun to be had the play is as much a meditation on the unreliable nature of memory as it is a conventional thriller. All of the characters have something to hide not only from each other but also from themselves as the lies, half truths and unclear memories pile up to reveal how we all twist the past to help construct our identities. The missing woman herself, Meghan appears only in flashback as we see her as a kind of brittle ghost, something of a mystery to even those closest to her. These scenes are beautifully staged, the lighting shifting to a subdued nocturnal blue, the characters standing stock still as the memories are played out and they look on like the audience frozen and unable to intervene.

The production design in general adds a great deal to the atmosphere of the play. There is particularly impressive yet subtle use of sound and lighting throughout which are used to effectively suggest the different environments and moods from the grey starkness of Rachel’s lonely flat to the warm fuzzy light of Scott’s living room. The way the scene changes are signalled by a flash of dark blues and blacks and the accompanied discordant white noise of train-song is also a powerful touch. The colours of the set, all washed out greys and blues are mimicked by the drab colours of the characters outfits which emphasise that we are in ‘any-town’ UK, a place of conformity and blandness which masks a darkness beneath the surface ready to bleed out onto all that sepia.

The set itself is also excellent, built as it is from a series of frames, the outer bright neon cleverly mimicking the rounded edges of a train carriage window the innermost one a modern art painting which draws the eye to the gaping black hole at its centre, a symbol of Rachel’s fragmented memory and the mystery at the heart of the play.
Though this is certainly a dark play tackling complex themes it is not without a sense of humour and the script has plenty of fun ribbing the social aspirations of Tom and his new wife or at times the convoluted machinations of the plot itself.

Though the thoroughly engaging first half of the play ends powerfully- the stage literally dropping back from us as if we the audience are falling into a grave – it is in the second half that goes further into its questions on the nature of identity and memory. Though the script and staging is excellent it is of course the cast who breathe it into life. They do a great job of making their roles believable and naturalistic. Colin Tierney as D. I Gaskill turns what could have been a world- weary cliché into a twinkle-eyed charmer whilst Florence Hall as Meghan creates genuine poignancy from a role which in lesser hands could have been a mere cypher. Yet the show really belongs to the central performance of Rachel by Ill Halfpenny. Played with a humour, charm and sassiness which still manages to capture the sense of rage, desperation and self-loathing bubbling under the surface Halfpenny’s performance is an exemplary study of a woman just about holding it together. It leaves us as the audience rooting for this angry, confused and vulnerable woman as she, through the course of the play grows in strength and understanding gradually coming to terms with the truth of her own past.

Ian Pepper

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