An Interview with Birdlife Productions

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New Zealand puppet-theatre company, Birdlife Productions, are touring  Europe this summer. The Mumble had a chat with man & wife maestros, Roger & Bridget Sanders


When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Bridget: I lived in London when I was a teenager and it was the 70’s – a fantastically vibrant and creative environment to be immersed in. In those days you could cycle into the West End and queue for theatre tickets to all the best shows for only a £1. After that I went to Leeds University and studied Theatre and Dance and Art at Bretton Hall.

Hello Roger. So what for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Roger: Hello! I go to the theatre to have my mind and imagination opened. I want to be totally transported to the world that is presented to me and fully absorbed by it. I want to make theatre for the same reason.

What is it about performing in front of other people that makes you tick?
Roger: Actually I don’t really know the answer to that. I think it might be something to do with the opportunity to be totally present in the moment with a group of people, sharing something of value through creative expression.

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In a world where entertainment is on demand – what makes theatre so special?
Bridget: The difference between theatre and video is like the difference between seeing a picture of the ocean and actually swimming in it – what’s to compare? Theatre is something that envelops us and we immerse our whole selves in it. We hope that Theatre is always entertaining – but I think we go there looking for more than that – we want to be changed by it – if only momentarily.

How did you you two meet?
Bridget: Roger and I met in the wilds of West Wales – we were both looking for something outside of the mainstream or something more to life. We had babies and lived in a Tipi but from early on we promised ourselves that one day we would make our living from being creative together.

How does being in a romantic relationship influence your professional partnership?
Roger: It actually really helps! Our Theatre company is our livelihood so we have to get through things – there is no walking away. We understand each other very well and are able to have a lot of fun, which helps us deal with the challenges.

What does your perfect Sunday afternoon with Bridget look like?
Roger: Being out in Nature laughing about life!

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Can you tell us about Birdlife Productions?
Bridget: Up to a few years ago we were both involved in The New Zealand based BodyInSpace Theatre Company. I had started out as a props and costume maker and my involvement gradually morphed into performance. When that company folded, Roger and I decided to form our own company – we really wanted to try and make a living from the thing we loved. ‘Birdlife’ was the name of our first production and the name stuck!

What are the key tenets to telling stories without words?
Roger: Understanding and communicating the emotional journey, effective use of visual symbolism, recognising the way body language reads and visual timing. Simplicity helps!

Can you tell us about the design process behind creating your puppets from inception to performance?
Bridget: Puppetry is a very fluid Artform – anything can become a puppet. I have learned over the years that having too fixed ideas about a particular puppet can be restrictive to the process. I usually start the rehearsal or devising process with a mock-up of a sort of puppet that fulfils the character and then the actual mechanics of the puppet come much later, when we know how sophisticated it needs to be or how much it needs to communicate. Our creative ethos is very much about the ‘hand-made’ – we want children to be inspired to think they could do it themselves so we like to keep the puppets as simple as possible, often making them out of recognisable stuff like junk and household objects.

You are bringing a show to Europe in 2019 called ‘Kotuku and the Moon Child’ – can you tell us about it?
Roger: A Moon Child gets trapped on Earth – how will she find her way home? This is a 50-minute family puppet and mask show that uses modern puppetry techniques mixed with the spirit of traditional fairy tales which have been shaped and inspired by the New Zealand landscape – it’s light, colours and bird life. The story unfolds using only the languages of mask, puppetry and music. It is accompanied by a beautiful original piano score by New Zealand Composer David Sanders, who also
happens to be my brother.

Where did the idea of ‘Kotuku and the Moon Child’ come from?
Bridget: I was on holiday near an estuary and a lone Kotuku (white Heron) came to visit every day. In New Zealand, the Kotuku is a very rare and auspicious bird that brings good luck. The story, somehow, came to me fully formed over a weekend – although we have made quite a few tweaks to the story over the past year!

The play has already been winning awards in your New Zealand home, can you tell us about this?
Roger: We debuted this show at the New Zealand Fringe Festival in March this year. The judges gave us the ‘GREEN LIGHT LIST AWARD’ which was a new award to honour and encourage a show that did not fit into any particular category. We then went on to the Dunedin Fringe Festival in April and won ‘OUTSTANDING DESIGN’ which was a terrific honour, and unexpected for a children’s show.

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The themes seem universal, are there any age restrictions, and if not how do you think each end of the age-range will be entertained, and those in the middle too, of course?
Bridget: Yes, the themes are universal, but also very relevant. Our New Zealand debut came the day after the terrible recent shootings of Muslims in Christchurch. In our story, the Moon Child is a little immigrant who finds herself in a foreign place. She learns to communicate, make friends and empower herself. It’s a story for children about empathy, relationship and healing. We use no spoken language in our show so all of this is conveyed through gesture and music. In these days of constant digital media there is very little opportunity for children (and their parents) to be fully immersed in gentle vibrant theatre. There is no age barrier to following our story and all ages seem to have been delighted by it – there is even enough adventure for teenagers. Having said that, children under 5 find it harder to sit still for the full 50 minutes and often need to verbalise what they are seeing, so it is better for 5 years and up – all the way to 95 years!

You’ve got 20 secs to sell the play to somebody in the streets, what would you say?
Roger: Step out of your world and give yourselves and your children a treat. Spend an hour with us immersed in a world of visual and musical wonder! It will make you happy!


Kotuku and the Moon Child

24th to 28th May, Prague Fringe CZ
12th to 16th June, Festival Valise, Poland
23rd June, Ludlow Fringe UK
28th to 30th June, Barnstaple Fringe UK
​6th July, Small World Cardigan Wales
13th July, Guildford Fringe UK
19th – 20th July, Great Yorkshire Fringe UK

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www.birdlifeproductions.co.nz

 

Leeds Playhouse: Autumn-Winter Season

Leeds Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining. Photography by The Other Richard

James Brining


On Thursday evening last week, James Brining, artistic director, Robin Hawke, Executive Director, Amy Leach, Associate Director and whole array of writers, directors and performers presented the autumn and winter season announcement for Leeds Playhouse, running through their upcoming attractions. This year, however, the announcement was coupled with something even more exciting.

Last year, James Brining, announced an extensive £15.8 million redevelopment programme to what was formerly West Yorkshire Playhouse. Alongside this, he announced a name change to Leeds Playhouse alongside. This is a dishearteningly separationist world that we currently find ourselves in, a world of Donald Tump’s oft-threatened country dividing wall, a world of that business around leaving the EU. Against this backdrop, this name change could be interpreted as something of an isolating move, of a theatre extricating itself from the rest of West Yorkshire and becoming solely a theatre for Leeds. However, from the content of Thursday’s showcase, it is quite clear that is not the case. Not only is the theatre firmly rooting itself in all things Yorkshire, providing a voice to established and upcoming voices, as well as reaching out to the rest of the UK and the world beyond. The Leeds in its name is more of a doubling down on its identity, a reaffirming of itself as an important part of the city of Leeds, imbuing its new walls with the character of the city around itself.

West Yorkshire Playhouse closed its doors on June 23rd 2018, and since that date has held performances in a converted set workshop, dubbed the Pop Up Theatre. This performance space has seen many superb performances. Over the past 9 months there have been performances of 14 shows and over 50, 000 audience members have attended these performances. There was an air of regret at having to leave this temporary performance space behind – its longer stage and more intimate feel has offered new ways perform and the team have clearly felt at home within its walls. However, this sadness is now tempered with the anticipation of what is to come. What was originally intended to be a quiet year for Leeds Playhouse whilst development works took place, has become one of great creativity and activity.

Trojan Horse

Trojan Horse

The revamped Leeds Playhouse will offer two rejuvenated performance spaces in the Quarry and Courtyard theatres as well as one exciting new performance space – the Bramall Rock Void: a performance space that has been created below the theatre’s old box office, developed in the ground of Leeds’ Quarry Hill itself. The old theatre, while of great significance to Leeds’ cultural backdrop, did not command much awe as a building. However this new building will be much grander in both height and scale, offering a greater connection to the city itself with new entrances opposite Leeds Bus Station and a short distance from the heart of Leeds city centre. The expanded building will offer new routes through its spaces and new ways for the public to engage within – with bars and cafes sitting alongside the Quarry, Courtyard and Rock Void. The team’s excitement was palpable, and they were very much looking forward to waiting in the theatre’s entrances and witnessing the public’s reactions on their opening weekend.

Charley Miles. Credit Rebecca Need-Menear

Charley Miles

A challenge that the team faced as work continued deep down into Quarry Hill, was the surprise discovery of bodies buried beneath the theatre. Historically, there have been three churches situated on Quarry Hill – from the Old Boggart House Methodist Chapel, to St Mary’s Church. It is likely that these churches had burial grounds on site, hence the discovery. With a wry smile, it was noted that many established theatres have their own ghosts that lend them a mystery and charm, so with any luck their very modern building may inherit its own ghost. What better a symbol of a strong link to the area and to local history than a ghost, with echoes of the past overlaid on the present?

Another fantastic symbol of the link to place and past is the new performance space, the Bramall Rock Void. This is named after the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, who have supported the Playhouse over the years and have donated significant amounts of money to facilitate this new development. This underground theatre features exposed red brick walls that echo the sarchitecture of Leeds, filling it with local spirit and character. It also has exposed rock in the floor to connect it with the very foundations of the city. From 11th – October to 2nd of November, the Bramall Rock Void will feature its inaugural performance – There are No Beginnings by local writer Charley Miles, who has found her home at the Playhouse. Set at the time of the Yorkshire Ripper murders from the discovery of the first body to the eventual arrest of Peter Sutcliffe, the play follows the lives of four individual women as they deal with curfews and a time that gave birth to the Reclaim the Night movement. Charley Miles firmly insists that this is most certainly not a story about the Yorkshire Ripper, but one about female resilience; it is a positive affirmation of a dark time. The Rock Void is a flexible space that allows for many different seating arrangements and this play will be performed in traverse, with the audience seated at either side of the performers, in an intimate and atmospheric production. Miles is thrilled about having her work performed here and describes the Bramall Rock Void as “an unearthed heartbeat that was hidden under our theatre all along”.

As building work continues on Leeds Playhouse, so does work on Leeds City College’s new Quarry Hill Campus next door. This new neighbour has provided fresh opportunities and a new production signals the burgeoning connections between the playhouse and Leeds City College. Leeds Playhouse’s Youth Theatre will be performing Influence, a new play by Andy McGregor at Leeds City College’s new campus from 31stOctober to 2nd November. Directed by Gemma Woffinden and taking inspiration from modern TV shows such as Stranger Things, Influence presents a lively comedic adventure full of explosive action as a group of teenagers embark on a search for a missing local boy. This new partnership is one of many that extends and deepens the Playhouse’s connections to the wider communities across Leeds and Yorkshire as a whole. The team remain dedicated to supporting developing talent in the area, and then showing this off across the county.

One such production is Trojan Horse (3rd – 5th October) by Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead, a multi award winning play award winning play that will begin a national tour at Leeds Playhouse’s Courtyard theatre in advance of the full opening festivities. Originally developed through the playhouse’s Furnace programme, the play won the Scotsman Fringe First award in 2018. It deals with the allegations of Muslim teachers plotting extremism in Birmingham schools and is built around real life testimonies of people from Bradford, Birmingham and London. Many theatres and institutions were reluctant to get involved with this project and the company themselves were very concerned that the sensitive nature of their work could ruin the reputations of those involved. However, the Playhouse was supportive in this venture and are proud to place this performance at the very beginning of their opening celebrations.

The Wizard of Oz. Leeds Playhouse. Christmas 2019

Other planned performances are: Northern Ballet’s Dracula at the Courtyard Theatre (29th October – 2nd November), a performance that is due to be broadcast live to cinemas across the world; A new production of Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Launderette, running for two weeks (15th – 26th October) after the theatre’s opening weekend; Mushy: Lyrically Speaking (8th – 12th October), a true story about Musharaf Asghar from TV’s Educating Yorkshire;Barber Shop Chronicles, returning to Leeds after a sell out world tour. Additionally, there is a whole raft of performances aimed at a younger audience, designed to introduce them to theatre. In the run up to Christmas, they will be staging The Night Before Christmas, a play about language barriers that incorporating sign language into D/deaf friendly performances. This certainly highlights the theatre’s dedication to inclusive performance and its drive to create a fully accessible theatre experience.

Finally, we were treated to a snippet of the play Dinner 18:55, a play that was originally performed in February 2019, in advance of its UK tour. This is an intergenerational production born out the theatre’s Creative Engagement programme and features a cast of young people aged 18 to 21 and adults over 55. The play itself presents a moment in which two generations take time over a meal to converse and tell their stories. We got to hear two of the characters tell their stories: a young man mused on the nature of “success” in the age of social media and how he struggled to measure his own success against high profile success stories. Next, a retired social worker told his own life story and measured his experiences against this young man’s definitions of success, highlighting its truths and lies. Two cast members, Pat & Wisdom, spoke of their involvement in show, of bridging the generational divide and the opportunities presented that slowed them to tell their own personal stories as they improvised and collaborated on the writing of this production. This show, along with all of the others listed above, show exactly how much the Playhouse desires to reach out to the communities that surround it, to showcase local talent and develop their involvement in theatre.

Following a series of stress tests to ensure that the building is ready, along with the one coordinated toilet flush to ensure that the building can cope with its new influx of visitors, Leeds Playhouse will be ready to open its doors to the public.

Opening weekend will take place from 11th – 13th October, deliberately timed to coincide with Leeds’ hugely popular Light Night on 11th October. It presents a wonderful chance to explore the theatre’s new performance spaces, restaurants and bars, along with pop up performances in the atrium, tours and theatre workshops. The team have opted for a gradual opening, with each space having its own opening performance rather than one big bang event, and are very much looking forward to meeting their future audiences.

Steve Bromley


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www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk

Cool Dads

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
May 20 – 25, 2019

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No sooner had the house announcer proclaimed “…with no further ado…” than the room fell silent and dark and we were catapulted straight into the action. The spotlight fell on an ever so green set, with two supporters standing on the touchline for the first round of the under 14’s Scottish Cup where their boys’ team, Mosspark, faces the mighty Kings of Rosshill. The banter between the sardonic Danny (Adam Robertson) and his pal Graham (Kris McDowall) was fierce and authentic, with Graham clearly terrified of the opposing team. Along comes the team coach, Paul (David McGowan), making a big impact in his tracksuit, along with larger than life Angie (Natali McCleary) who soon makes her presence felt.

The four of them, long term – and long suffering – fans, talk football and offer contrasting opinions and guidance from the side lines, yelling their gratuitous advice and instructions in the familiar manner of fans the world over. We see Danny unable to shift out of his negative mindset – even when their team scores, and then wins the match, he can’t find praise for the youngsters. His ranting becomes more and more aggressive as if he can’t stop himself while friend Graham keeps his back from any fray and tries to guide Danny towards a more peaceful mood.

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It turned out there was history between Danny and coach Paul – they had a falling out when Paul’s football career was cut short due to an injury caused by Danny, something Paul had never been able to forgive. The two nearly come to blows, but Angie intervened and in an angry outburst she puts them in their place by shouting that life could ultimately be a lot harder and that in fact no-one had the right to think of themselves as the ‘cool dads’ that they think they were because there’s always something new to learn. In the course of these exchanges we came to realise that Danny had never known his own father, something he found hard to accept and which perhaps was at the root of all his troubles.

So there you have it – a great play not just about football (though that too) but about life and learning and living with our past. An enthralling hour full of gusto, passion and an ultimately moving story. What’s not to love?

Daniel Donnolly

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An Interview with StoneCrabs

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StoneCrabs herald from Brazil & are bringing a cutting piece of interactive LGBT theatre to Britain this summer. The Mumble had a chat with the company’s Franko Figueiredo & Inês Sampaio…


Hello Franko, so first thing’s first, where are you both from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Franko: I’m from Brazilian mixed heritage and Inês is from Portugal of Angolan Heritage. I now live on the Isle of Wight and Inês lives in Nottingham.

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Inês

Hello Inês, so can you tell us about your theatrical training?
Inês: I started engaging with theatre back in Portugal in 2009 when I joined theatre O Bando for weekly workshops. It was a sort of Young people’s company led by extremely knowledgeable theatre practitioners who had been developing their own school and approach to theatre that was extremely stimulating and challenging. This got me excited to learn more, and so I attended East15 (2012-2015) and completed my degree with a 1:1 in BA(hons)World Performance. The best way to describe such content rich course is to tell you that I had the pleasure to join an around the world trip in 3 years, with the privilege to experience a taste of the culture, art, approach to theatre, rituals and essence of all four corners. This course not only trained me in acting and multi-media but also in various styles of dance and music forms/instruments from all over the world including; Butoh, storytelling, African dance, Bharatanatyam, storytelling and masked performance and mask making. As well as traditional theatre performance, I have also received training in directing, scriptwriting, research, devising and production skills. The range of disciplines acquired enables me to create and apply myself confidently to new visceral work.

When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Franko: Since my childhood, I’d say. Though the passion was more about storytelling, being with other children gathering around a bench in the town’s square, at dusk, hearing locals tell stories, and re-telling those stories at home.

What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Inês: Passion, wit, engagement and a lot of hard work. Good theatre ultimately entertains. I am a big supporter of theatre as a platform to educate, inspire and provoke, but nonetheless is has to entertain. There is a formula that makes theatre good, and I am learning more about it, just as I read “Strategies for play building” by Will Weigler, which gives you five main ingredients for a successful theatre show. I love theatre that celebrates multi art forms and embraces world theatre techniques, when appropriate.

In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
Franko: There is a special connection in theatre, the collective energy that we exchange, the reminder that we are not alone. The shared risk and the immediacy of it is unlike anything else, it can make it for a very special, charged experience.

What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage / the curtain goes up?
Inês: I love the romantic idea of curtains going up! I breathe in through my nose and push my right hand forward, as I exhale on various sounds like “s” or “sh” or humming I bring my left arm forward and the right arm back. This helps me keeping my vocal cords active without being too loud, helps me calm my nerves with the breathing and keeps me distracted as I focus on the arms (right arm represents my belly as it expands forward and my left arm the sound coming out). I also jump and say “You got this, this is gonna be good, this is gonna be great, it will be what it wants to be and I trust.”

You’ve got three famous writers from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starters, mains & dessert?
Franko: Probably Octavia E. Butler, James Baldwin and Yukio Mishima. I’d serve smoked salmon pancakes for starters, Brazilian moqueca with manioc flour, rice & beans, and dessert would be apple pie and ice cream. I’d go straight into my overdraft and serve plenty of wine

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Can you tell us about StoneCrabs & your role?
Franko: StoneCrabs is a small BAME, LGBTQ Theatre Company which I co-founded back in 2002 with Tereza Araujo and John Heyd, when we were ‘post-dramatic’ political theatre. Later in 2006 Kwong Loke joined us and we share the role of Artistic Directors. As we welcome new members to the company, the work changes and we start developing our theatrical language further; we are particularly interested in intercultural political theatre and right now experimenting using ‘gaming’ techniques and interactive play strategies when creating new theatre work. We also deliver lots of community and educational projects. Like most small companies, I have a chameleon role of producer, writer, director, facilitator, fundraiser, you name it. We are a small registered charity and I am helped by a wonderful board of trustees, my colleagues and company associates, who are all freelancers like myself, meaning we oscillate from getting paid on a project basis to being volunteers.

What is the theatre scene like in Brazil?
Inês: For the new government art has become less of a priority and artists are being fed with passion (literally, no money) and the Arts and Culture Ministry is now extinct. I have just finished a tour of an opera show for families which was part of SESC festival, an absolutely incredible programme and an honour to have been part of, and off course, I have experienced some of the most exquisite classical music shows, but very little theatre. All theatre I watched was kind of underground, off the radar, done with very little resources. And I met far too many talented people who explained that the funds for theatre were so scarce that they were no long fighting for the cause, which has really sadden me. Poverty in Brazil is not like the poverty here, thus I am afraid their priorities lay elsewhere and theatre is left, sadly, for the few, who can afford it.

What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?
Inês: My perfect Sunday afternoon will have direct sunlight onto my skin, a fresh diet coke with plenty of ice and lemon, the cold Atlantic sea on my feet and family and friends around. But if we are talking about an english Sunday I would have to say that a nice trip to the park, a good (on budget) meal with friends, a trip to the theatre with some boardgames afterwards seems like a pretty good day! (and there I am, over booking myself!).

You are currently touring a new play around Britain, can you tell us about it?
Franko: The Trial is a interactive play about identity, equality and justice. The audience is transported to rural Brazil and is invited to play Jury to a case brought to trial by Tieta. Tieta is a young man who was shunned from their small town for being queer, years later Tieta returns as a trans-woman and set the challenge to the townsfolk (the audience) to find her justice. As the Trial progresses and the Jury learn the facts, circumstances and evidence and must reach a final verdict to the case brought to court. I wrote The Trial as an attempt to bring to light some of the issues the LGBTQ+ community is going through in Brazil, Inês and Almiro also brought in authorship to the text, and what we ended up with is a post-dramatic interactive show that uses rakugo (Japanese storytelling form), dance, live music and audience interaction.

How have you found working with your Brazilian colleagues, Franko & Almiro?
Inês: Franko is an absolute inspiration for me. Ever since we worked together at East15 when StoneCrabs came to direct my showcase I was in awe with their craft. Franko is an incredibly supportive director who encourages my creative input and this for me is very important. I trust them as a director and feel very grateful to have the honour of working with them. The true source of my nerves when performing The Trail is not that I may make a fool of myself, but that I may not make justice to Franko’s work. Almiro is a very kind artist with an excellence in dramaturgy that is beyond compare. Always very attentive and caring, bring a light and inspiration to our working space.

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Franko

How much of this play is fed by your own experience?
Franko: The rural setting is definitely from my growing up and there are moments of the Trial that borrows from a personal universe, for instance being an immigrant, having left Brazil at the end of a military regime that created a very oppressive society. Like the character of Tieta, I was very conscious, from a young age, that I was different, that I didn’t conform. When I came out as gay (the word queer was not in use yet), there was no tolerance. When I was given the opportunity to leave Brazil I didn’t hesitate. Arriving in London to the tune of Bronski Beat’s song ‘smalltown boy’ playing in some of the LGBTQ bars was both welcoming and challenging, in different ways. I went back to Brazil last year, soon after the new president took power and I probably experienced more hatred now than I did all those years ago, this has also influenced the play.

Does Tieta encapsulate the main themes of the play?
Inês: Tieta is a complex character; although she goes through a lot of changes, her journey is full of ups and downs. She represents a fight for equality and human rights, and in that sense I believe she is the most suitable person to do so, and The Trial is a call for arms from Tieta.

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How did the start of your tour go in Nottingham?
Inês: We had an amazing response, the audiences were with me, and with the show, all the way through. They were fully responsive and incredibly provoked. Their final verdict was mind blowing, I can’t tell you more without spoilers. I feel very grateful. We couldn’t have had a better start to the tour.

Do you think the Brazilian mesh of poverty vs wealth & greed, social exclusion vs fight for equality will resonate with the British in 2019?
Franko: Perhaps, Britain feels so divided right now, there is the element of populism and far right thinking that seems to be dominating the stages. I was recently in Liverpool, and we just played The Trial in Nottingham. I couldn’t help observe the amount of homeless people on the streets, years of austerity has left us morally bankrupt and it is really scary. There’s seems to be a huge lack of education and respect, people just seem to think that it is okay to shout abuse at one another, it’s ugly. I’m very interested in the verdict the audiences will deliver with in the performances The Trial? Will we still base our choices/votes in ingrained patriarchal ethics and ideas?

You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Brighton, what would you say?
Inês: This is an incredibly fun interactive show that will make you experience the whole spectrum of emotions. If you love music, you need to watch it. If you like stand up comedy, you need to see it! If you enjoy story telling, this show is for you! If you are interested in the concepts of equality, identity and justice, than come and watch this show! Witty, SO ENTERTAINING, unexpected.


The Trial

The Warren: The Blockhouse

May 28-30 (20:00)

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www.stonecrabs.co.uk

 

Be My Baby

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Leeds Playhouse
May 18 – June 1, 2019

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Be My Baby is a subtly gripping history lesson about an underexposed and somewhat shameful aspect of our collective past. Set in a home for unwed mothers it centers on the lives of a small group of young women from very different backgrounds who never the less find themselves in the same predicament: being single and pregnant at a time ( the early 1960’s) when to be so was tantamount to social suicide.

At the very heart of the play is Mary (Simona Bitmate), a young woman from a comfortable middle class background whose disapproving mother (played brilliantly by Jo Mousley – all brittle anxiety and superiority) is conflicted about leaving her in such a place.However under the firm hand of Matron, the head of austere St Saviours Mary begins to find her feet. She befriends the other girls, sassy, hardbitten Queenie ( Crystal Condie ), giddy, naive Dolores ( Tessa Parr )and serious, self-contained Norma ( Anna Gray) as they bond over their mutual incarceration and their shared love of soulful pop.

All have their individual fantasies of boyfriends, jobs and escape which they begin to reveal to each other, all in different levels of denial about their situation. The play started slowly creating a sense of time and place before gradually drawing the characters out (none of whom are entirely what they seem). I found the dialogue with its flashes of humour and underplayed emotion very naturalistic. The script relied as much on what was not said as what was. There was a sense that things were hinted at and suggested which made the gradual revelations both believable and all the more affecting. The potential heaviness of the subject matter too was handled in such a way that it seemed to gradually seep into the play almost imperceptibly until the quietly devastating final act.

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At first we are encouraged to view matron as being a negative figure, the girls jailer a prudish and stern disciplinarian but such is the depth of the play that Matron is shown to have great empathy for the girls. There is a tenderness and care beneath her stiff exterior. Even during a deeply uncomfortable scene in which she forces Mary to understand how the world outside might view her we don’t doubt that this is done for the best intentions. Susan Twist’s performance as Matron is a masterclass in restraint, with tenderness and deep feeling glimpsed beneath her character’s stiff exterior.

In fact the script encourages the audience to empathise with all the differing perspectives of the characters to the extent that we can see how everyone is equally struggling with social rules they had no say in making. For though this is a play about women men still act as a shadowy presence off stage, their actions pushing the events of the story as much as the women on it. In this way the play shows how all the women are contained and restrained by the expectations and desires of the men around them. Even the sassy Queenie appears to ultimately accept that to imagine another way is nothing but a pipe dream.

The play has something to say about class too as it looks at the different expectations the girls and others have of them. The interplay between Queenie and Mary, showing how the former’s inverted snobbery stops her from seeing they are both equally trapped. The actors all have good material to work with and all manage to create fully realised nuanced performances. No-one here is a cliché or cypher yet through them the show explores issues as varied as back-street abortions, rape and forced adoption. I found the relationship between Queenie, the tough cynic with dreams of pop stardom and Mary, the naive girl from the genteel background with the steely resolve particularly finely drawn. It felt like we were watching the growth, blossoming and wilting of a friendship before our very eyes.Although both the script and performances are uniformly excellent some of the credit for making the play a success must go to the overall design, sound and lighting.

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The costumes of the characters were cleverly used in a symbolic way. . The pastel pinks,purples and blues of the parental figures denoting a faded authority, the grey pinafores of the girls seeming to suggest a desire to turn back them back into little girls, whilst also implying the dull uniformity of the prison yard. The overall use of a limited palette in terms of costume and set allowed the performances themselves the space to breathe which they needed. The set which could – given the time period of the play – have been used in a more hackneyed way was used to convey a sense of sterility, it’s minimalist grey cabinets, shelves and boxes evoking more the furnishing department of a high street department store than the swinging 60’sof lore.

The only element which did place us in a particular time-frame was the play’s imaginative use of music. Between each scene change we hear and see the girls sing along to 60’s pop which wittily expressed their situation. Towards the beginning when a moment of romantic pop segued and merged with a hymn and later as the music overlapped a wistful monologue this was handled in such a masterful way as to really hit me in the gut. The lighting, subdued throughout was particularly effective during the spotlit birthing scene. This created a real sense of wonder as the actress performed in a kind of flowing, slow-moving mime the act of her baby bulge becoming a living, breathing child.

I found the play to be unexpectedly moving as I found myself drawn into the lives of these young women journeying with them through their excitements, fears, frustrations and disappointments. It was all the more emotionally rich for being performed by all with such obvious care and empathy. Ultimately it was a fitting tribute to the lives of all those young women whose unknown story it now told so well.

Ian Pepper

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Jocky Wilson Said

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Tron Theatre, Glasgow
May 13 – 18, 2019

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A desert scene stretched out from the back of the stage, with colourful backdrops and green fresh cacti. A solitary scene for the one-hander to come. It’s 1979 and Jocky Wilson was 184 miles from his destination, Las Vegas, but missed his connection and was forced to hitch hike his way there. But would the wait prove too much for him? Darts player Jocky Wilson (convincingly played by Grant O’Rourke) turned professional in the late 70’s and went on to win World Pro Darts Championship in 1982 and again in ’89. He always was the gallous character from Fife that was captured in this play written by Jane Livingstone and Jonathon Cairney. Jocky Wilson Said was first performed at Oran Mor in 2017.

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Clothed in his professional darts garb – he was on his way to play an exhibition match – Jocky’s emotions fluctuated from elation to despair as he waited for a ride that at times didn’t look like it would even come. At one point he screamed angrily as a possible hitch passed him by. He started talking to a cactus and in the conversation reflected on his life and the journey which had taken him thus far. It was as if the stage was peopled with characters from his imagination as he recalled the huge, all- encompassing part that darts had played in his life, becoming a way out for him, but more than that giving him something at which he excelled. He told the cactus of his great triumph and how winning the championship was both a victory for himself and a victory over people he encountered who perhaps didn’t believe in him as much as he would have liked.

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Jocky Wilson Said was very much a tale of the underdog made good, going through the elements of his life one by one like the pile of rocks he was sitting on. We saw the real man behind the image, got a feel for what made him tick. Not least because of a wonderful performance by Grant O’Rourke, who seemed to completely inhabit Jocky’s persona, from his accent and mannerisms to the very spirit of the man himself. And at the moment when a vehicle finally stopped for him, he gathered his things and as a goodbye from him to us he lifted an imaginary championship cup and he proudly and defiantly raised his hands to the sky. With that, the lights went out and he was gone.

Jockey Wilson’s character shone through this play, his courage, his determination; and in no small part, his humour. It set the stage alight as though it was big production with a big cast. But these were things it didn’t need. Altogether a skilful and accomplished piece of drama.

Daniel Donnolly

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Toy Plastic Chicken

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Oran Mor Glasgow
May 6 – 11, 2019

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At the Oran Mor, this week’s set had an air of readiness about it, somehow clinical. Sure enough, when the lights were on it, a passport control point immerged. Ross (David James Kirkwood) and Emma (Anne Russell Martin) appeared as passport officers in full uniform. Ross seems happy in his work, while Emma is full of inner rage about her profession. The play, written by Uma Nada-Rajah, is set at Edinburgh airport and is a black comedy based on a true story.

Enter Rachel (Neshla Caplan), who seems like a victim from the moment she comes on stage and is put through her paces by the two officers. The set changes cunningly to depict the various sections of the airport kiosk, as the examination progresses. In one powerful scene, the hapless Rachel has been told to strip behind a screen, while the silent and furious Emma stands by. It is an extremely uncomfortable moment. Ross, the jokey male officer, provides an element of comedy. But his jokes have somehow an undercurrent of violence about them, highlighting another uncomfortable aspect of the action.

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The eponymous plastic chicken is set on the table from the beginning as it is the only item left after Rachel has divested herself all metal and electronics. When the alarms go off, the toy chicken is deemed to be a bomb and uproar ensues. Protocol must be followed and Emma becomes more and more robotic in the discharge of her duties, though Ross can be relied upon for complaining to. Indeed Ross even professes his love for Emma, but she simply replies ‘…not today…’ The situation deteriorates drastically, and Rachel reacts badly, becoming distressed. As she has to turn her attention to the woman’s care, an increasingly conflicted Emma curses repeatedly “..f**k..” as she expressed her hatred of her life as a passport control officer.

The play ended as it began with a deliberately standoffish Emma and the ever-joking Ross directing a distraught traveler through Edinburgh passport control – a down to earth delving into the paranoia of modern life and the art of sticky situations, I found the dialogue dynamic and emotionally true. Yet another example of the high art of drama to be expected at the Oran Mor venue, well worth a watch.

Daniel Donnolly

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Interview: Nathalie Morris

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Auckland Theatre Company are in the process of unveiling a fantastic young actress 


Hello Nathalie, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Hello! I’m from Canberra, Australia, and I’ve just moved to Auckland this year.

When did you first realise you were, well, theatrical?
I’ve wanted to perform since I was 11 and I saw a stage production of High School Musical. The ensemble looked like they were having so much fun as a team, and I wanted to have that too. When I started taking theatre classes and tackling scripts, I got way more interested in characters and the forces that drive them to act in the ways they do. I love putting myself in other people’s circumstances and using them to express
myself in ways that I wouldn’t get to in my own life.

Last year you graduated from the Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School, how was your time there?
It was so cool. Toi Whakaari is a place where you are constantly experimenting. There’s no end goal to the training. You are just continuously exposed to new techniques and styles of performance and given lots of opportunities to test them out. You are pushed to take more risk, have more pleasure, and go further into the unknown, but you are never pushed to be a certain kind of actor. The school celebrates creativity and has a great subversive sense of humour. It’s also incredibly challenging to put your struggle in front of other students and teachers for three years, but I’m grateful that those challenges took place within those walls.

Can you tell us about,’ I Never Thought I’d Have to Explain it All?’ & its tenure in Wellington?
I Never Thought I’d Have to Explain it All is a show I made about a high profile disappearance case in Australia – one that I was briefly involved with as a kid. As I researched deeper into the case, I got really affected by how it was reported on and spread through the entertainment industry. So the show buries the story of the case in many of these entertainment mediums, like talk show, film, documentary, stand-up comedy, podcast etc. As we give the audience more truths about the case, we also involve them more in the thrill of these forms. It’s very funny and wicked and compelling. I started writing the show with Andrew Eddey in our final year of drama school, and we presented the first draft at Toi Whakaari’s annual Festival of Work in Development. It started out as a solo show, but it grew to include more performers, designers, and managers by the time we presented a second draft at The NZ Fringe Festival in March this year. We learned an incredible amount about the work throughout this second season, so hopefully we will mount another development of the show in Auckland or Australia in the next couple of years.

What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage / the curtain goes up?
Sometimes I do a ‘dick-ass dance’, which is a very important technique I learned at drama school. Basically you just dance your heart out, off the beat and leading from your hips. Other times I just stand toward the audience and feel love and gratitude right before going on. If I’m about to enter with someone else, I’ll try to make a joke with them or whisper something titillating in their ear.

What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?
Reading a great play out loud with friends, or watching a great film with a big cup of coffee, or body surfing at the beach with my dad.

You are playing the young Queen Elizabeth in Peter Morgan’s ‘The Audience,’ how did you get the role?
I auditioned for the role in December. I was in Australia at the time, but my grandma said “oh, you’ve got to go get seen” so I flew over for the day. And then there was a recall audition in January.

Can you tell us a little something about the play?
It’s a theorised glimpse into the private audiences that Queen Elizabeth II has had with the British Prime Ministers each week throughout her reign. It’s also a beautiful and comical portrait of the woman, and a compelling insight into how those PMs stayed sane in power.

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Nathalie as HRH

How are you finding Her Highness’s accent?
It’s very fun. It’s one of my favourite parts about this project. When she was young her voice was very distinct. There are all sorts of words that I catch her saying in broadcasts and interviews that don’t quite follow any rules, and I like the challenge of trying to capture them all.

How is Director Colin McColl handling both yourself individually & then the cast as a whole?
Colin has worked with many of the actors in the cast for many years, and I’ve witnessed a very strong and easeful working relationship, with lots of mutual respect and responsibility. The actors don’t wait to be told what to do by Colin, nor are they lead through any specific process. They do their research and jump straight onto the floor with lots of offers and confidence. This is my first professional theatre show since graduating drama school, so it’s really great to witness that.

What emotive responses do you expect from the audience?
I think The Audience will be very funny and moving, especially for people who have grown up listening to Queen Elizabeth II’s broadcasts and following the politics of all of the British Prime Ministers who appear in the show.

You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets, what would you say?
Come watch a wonderful actress, Theresa Healey, navigate the role of Queen Elizabeth II – over 60 years of her life! – with dexterity, humour, and sensitivity. And an ensemble of daredevil character actors take on all of the wacky traits of the British PMs. A majestic set and a pandora’s box of wigs and costumes – it’s going to be fun!

What will you be doing for the rest of 2019?
I’m heading back to Canberra when The Audience closes to start rehearsals for The Street Theatre’s production of A Doll’s House Part 2 by Lucas Hnath. The play is set 15 years after the end of Ibsen’s classic, and I’ll be playing Emmy, Nora’s grown-up daughter.


THE AUDIENCE

ASB Waterfront
May 8-23

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The Mistress Contract

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Tron Theatre, Glasgow
May 1 – 11, 2019

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I felt solemn as I entered the tiny venue at the Tron Theatre Glasgow, expecting a serious play. The set was absolutely gorgeous – bigger than the seating area and plastered with props and dividers. It was a very plush living room with luxurious couch and a second level a red drape covering the half of it. All depicting the home of a wealthy man. As the lights brightened, yet more was revealed where the stage seemed to double in size.
The night’s play, inspired by the memoir ‘The Mistress Contract’ by ‘She and He’, was written by Abi Morgan and premiered at the Royal Court Theatre London in 2014, the same year it was written. Now enjoying its Scottish premier, the current production is directed by Glaswegian playwright and director Eve Nicole. Taking the role of HE is the uniquitous Cal MacAninch fresh from TV shows and theatre work around the country and SHE is played by actress Lorraine McIntosh, of Deacon Blue fame.

The Mistress Contract gets straight down to business with the two characters in conversation about their different perspectives on their sexual encounters with each other. Encounters which we learn arise from the contract that they signed thirty years before which lays out the deal in which she would favour him with sexual services in exchange for a home and a decent share of his formidable riches. But, she recalls, there was a period in what she refers to as their thirty year experiment where he couldn’t afford his side of the bargain, but she nonetheless allows him to owe it to her.

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She produces a Dictaphone and recalls that when they signed the mutual contract in 1981, there was an idea that they would record this experiment to perhaps make it into some kind of a book. Today she is someone who is passionate about her books, her life, her house and garden. As they talked, music played and they undressed and sat together on the couch, still debating sexuality, gender equality, whether there was a difference between their perspective sexualities. Finding, 30 years on, that the difference was often profound.

They fought, they kissed, they relaxed they loved. As you watched, you felt that the crux of their relationship was a self-revealing, tangible and passionate love. The fact that it had endured for three decades seems to prove that the contract was a powerful one and signed by both in honesty and good faith. Never to marry, and only to love each other became exclusive as the years passed; they despair, they make up, they perform in love together. They were serious and enlightened, with kids and life to contend with but ultimately they come together as a real life couple who triumphed, and remained faithful to the contract they both signed thirty years ago, which is more than you can say for many marriages!

Daniel Donnolly

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The Origins of Ivor Punch

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
April 29 – May 4, 2019

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A blue-toned set depicting the Isle of Mull – or some similar remote island – greeted us as we took our seats. In the middle stood the grim looking Henrietta Bird clock tower. As the stage darkened we could just make out the movement of the three actors, all playing double roles; Andrew Tait, as Sergeant Ivor Punch and his ancestor Duncan, a postman, Tom McGovern as Ivor’s friend Randy and -no less – the great Charles Darwin; and Eva Traynor playing the famous Victorian explorer Isabella Bird and her sister Henrietta. This play, written by Colin MacIntyre, is quite a complicated piece, based on the author’s own prize-winning book, ‘The letters of Ivan Punch’, and touches upon ideas of identity and mythology, history and love – a tall order in the space of a mere hour!

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The action began with Randy and Ivor Punch sitting together in a car singing a song about angels. The purpose of their journey was humorously to steal a Christmas tree with Ivor ironically dressed in his full Police uniform on his way to commit a crime. But an angel, in the form of a woman in a white dress, Eva Traynor’s Isabella, who stated she was somehow there to help him. He was intrigued when she called him Duncan, a character Ivan was unaware of.

The words ‘God is love’ appeared graffitied on the side of a cliff and were introduced to the plot in a dramatic scene at the clifftop, a proverbial cliff hanger. Then bright lights shone dramatically upon the scene to invite us into another aspect of the story. This time, Andrew Tait appeared as Duncan, postman and jack of all trades, a man of few words, beyond a few well-worn stories. Henrietta falls for him, but you wondered if it was him or something he knew of that she wanted?

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Through interactions between the various modern and historical characters, the story delved more and more into exploring the identity of Ivor and the factors which made up who he was. We had costume changes and found Charles Darwin, resplendent in top hat, waistcoat and pocket watch.  Lofty ideas were analysed and Ivor revealed that he had put Darwin’s book ‘The Origins of…’ to the test with the ‘Bible’ and found that naturally the Bible was chosen every time. In the midst of all these weighty discourses, light relief was provided by Randy, with his down to earth, not to say rude, language.

The passion between Duncan and Henrietta was also explored, particularly in the dialogues between the two sisters. Ivan and Randy came to realise the identity of the name on the clock tower and in the final scene we found Henrietta offering support to Ivan as she professed her faith in his capability for love in all of life.

The way this story was built up, using a great many facets that all somehow mysteriously melded and joined together was much like the complex original book by Darwin himself. The play bounced along sometimes lightly, sometimes heavily, for the hour and after proposing many questions, somehow in the end had them all answered.

Daniel Donnolly

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