Author Archives: yodamo
Square Chapel, Halifax
I don’t think I’ve ever walked into a theatre auditorium and been handed a discount leaflet for a gym. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been handed a discount leaflet for a gym at all – one look at me and I’m thankfully seen as a lost cause, so I’m allowed to continue on my way unencumbered by an unwanted flyer. Not so tonight. On my way to my seat, a flyer was thrust enthusiastically into my hand. As recorded questions about body image played over the sound system (Are you happy with yourself? Which part of your body is your favourite?) I investigated the leaflet, presenting me with the opportunity to Get Hench with Harry. No thanks, I thought, while I’m not happy with my body, I’m certainly not in a hurry to become hench, and so filed it away in the darkest recess of the programme in my hand. It turns out that the leaflet and my ensuing thoughts were far more relevant to Dorian that I’d initially realised.
Dorian, written by poet Andrew McMillan, and brought to the stage by Huddersfield’s Proper Job theatre company, tells the story of Dorian, a widower in his mid 50s, who enlists the services of Harry to help him sculpt his aging and sagging figure into the body of his dreams. His son Sam is having his own crisis. He plays in a band with his girlfriend, Sarah, and is feeling the pressure of maintaining a perfect image for the band’s social media presence. In turn, Sarah works as a photographer for Harry and produces a photoshopped image of Dorian’s target figure, an image to inspire him through a 6 month fitness program.
This play forms the final part of the company’s Monster trilogy and takes its inspiration from Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey. Using Wilde’s story as a starting point, Dorian examines the twisted and destructive relationship between body image and fitness culture, as well social media and image manipulation. The cast perform directly to the audience as well as into a variety of webcams, mobile phones and laptops. Their images, recorded videos and streaming footage are displayed on a wall of screens at the rear of the stage as the cast take selfies, manipulate images of themselves and each other, and host live streams of their performances.
The four strong cast are superb. Rick Ferguson’s performance as Dorian is an absolute delight as he deftly navigates the character’s journey from likeable, vulnerable father through to an altogether more monstrous and self-obsessed figure. Chris Casey, as fitness instructor Harry, gives an appropriately energetic performance – standing high on stools to tower over the audience, doling out catchphrases (“I’m a midwife of muscle!”) to his eager student. He also transforms into his own version of a monster as he begins to physically dominate the other characters and grows increasingly violent. My own ponderings on my own body and fitness levels – as well of those of the entire audience – intertwined with the themes of the play as Harry strode around the auditorium, picking out audience members to demonstrate the notion of the ideal body to his fitness class. Elizabeth Harborne’s character, Sarah, is often responsible for laying bare Dorian’s themes as she records videos on “image optimisation” for her captive social media audience. She then switches out of “social media” character and turns to address the audience directly, admitting to her lies, explaining that the pursuit of a perfect image is merely an industry and that this industry’s customers are also its victims. Meanwhile Neil Balfour, as Sam, inhabits the rear of the stage, sitting at a keyboard as he provides both soundtrack duties and a heartbreaking image of a soul ripped apart by social media-inspired body dysmorphia.
What starts out as a very sweet, humorous and relatable production, soon takes a nastier turn, appropriately for a play series entitled Monster. There’s a key scene at the heart of the play that rings true. Sam and Sarah are dining out at a restaurant, but they both stare into their phones, ignoring one another. Sarah takes selfies and photos of her sushi, and the resulting Instagram pictures uncontrollably flood the backdrop, endlessly tweaked and adorned with an increasingly elaborate amount of emojis. The reality that sits in front of this backdrop – Sam and Sarah, silent and miserable – exposes the lie behind these pictures. Soon, these pictures overload the screens and they begin to glitch and distort, a nightmarish vision of social media’s warped version of reality.
Proper Job make strong use of Meyerhold’s theatrical biomechanics, with its emphasis on precise and dynamic physical movements. This really complements the action in Dorian, as the focus on physical presence fits neatly into this world – these characters are forever posing for the camera, exaggerating or concealing their physical traits to portray a very different image of themselves to the world, almost lying to themselves through their very actions, betraying their true selves. This at its most evident in the restaurant scene: Sam and Sarah carry chairs towards their table, navigating their way across the stage in very stiff and staccato lines, a very rigid and formal dance, portraying a couple whose interactions have become uncomfortable and alien.
There are a lot of individual components that make up Dorian – family drama, philosophical musings, songs, action sequences, multimedia elements and an ever evolving set. In lesser hands, this could easily result in a muddled and confusing production, but producer/ director Chloe Whitehead and director James Beale handle this with ease. Cast members move across this shifting stage with a fluidity and ease that allow McMillan’s wonderful script to shine. There isn’t a moment wasted in this production and it all builds up to a horrific climax as all these individual elements build up to a monstrous cacophony, a real cautionary tale for those who may obsess over their physical appearance and how they present themselves to the world. Superb
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Oct 14 – 19, 2019
This week’s offering at Oran Mor saw the return of Ian Pattison’s play “Divided”, about the iconic psychiatrist, RD Laing. The scene was set in a stylish art deco living room with three comfortable chairs and an extra podium at the front where Billy Mack relaxed and likeable Laing would sit with a whisky at his desk while he talked on the phone. We listened in as he took many calls from various characters, dealing in depth with each.
The play explored the way Laing would constantly come across the then behavioural dysfunctions of mental health treatment, which he saw as not humane. And so, as the action unfolded, these dialogues revealed the universal insights and the great passions that characterised his life. Alongside his work, life was happening for him too. Both of his daughters, Suzie (Sarah Miele) and Karen (Eve Traynor) would want to talk to him, but there was always some sort of barrier that meant that they felt he wasn’t quite there. It was sad to see this side of things, but although there were many arguments you got a strong sense of the family love that existed between them and that always helped them sift through to find the truer meaning – very much the work of the psychiatrist.
Laing was portrayed here as being defined by the huge regard he felt for his family and lovers. There was a dilemma regarding the hard fact that his daughter Suzie was ill with leukaemia and in all reality did not have long left to live. His love for her ‘perhaps’ conflicted with his philosophy; that it is better off to know bad news than to conceal it. After passionate arguments with his other daughter Karen, he decided to adhere to that philosophy causing Suzie to become upset though she later revealed that she was glad that he did so, while Karen too accepted it in the end.
This production had the taste of a fair-minded exploration into what made the great man tick, both positive and negative. It was also a dedication to a time when old walls were falling down and new doors being opened. Laing’s new theories about the doctor patient relationship would go on to change everything; a fascinating insight into a complicated mind.
Leeds Playhouse, Courtyard Theatre
Oct 3 – 5, 2019
Stories. We all love them, don’t we? Until, of course, we find ourselves on the wrong side of a narrative. Until we find ourselves no longer playing the hero and we’re suddenly portrayed as the antagonist, the wrongdoer, the terrorist. It’s easy to forget the power that stories hold. They appeal to people’s hearts, but can just as easily stoke hatred, incite violence. We find ourselves at a point in history where the power of a strong narrative is perhaps more evident than ever – fake news this, propaganda that. Stories can lead us astray, they can destroy lives. We need to be wary of a story.
Trojan Horse, written by Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead is a story that seeks to redress a balance that has been thrown way off kilter by a sickeningly popular and prevailing narrative: Islamophobic sentiment fuelled by stories of extremism, radicalisation and terrorism. Produced by Barnsley’s Lung Theatre, Trojan Horse won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award in 2018 at the Edinburgh Fringe. Tonight, it kicks off a short UK tour at the newly refurbished Leeds Playhouse and the packed auditorium were ready to hear this story.
It centres around the real life 2014 Trojan Horse scandal that began with an anonymous letter that made accusations of radicalisation within several Birmingham schools, a letter that spoke of head teachers being bullied out of their schools to further a Muslim plot to force religion and install extremist views in the minds of school children. The play follows events in and around the schools of the Park View Educational Trust and the ensuing investigations by Ofsted, Birmingham City Council and Peter Clarke’s government investigation.
Monks’ and Woodhead’s play draws from extensive interviews, public documents and speeches and is broken into small segments that whisk us from council meetings to classrooms to the children’s homes. It serves up each piece of dramatised evidence to the audience, who is allowed to act as the jury in the court case, allowing us to draw our own conclusions, conclusions far removed from the hysterical narrative as it was presented in the mainstream media. Each segment further drives the plot forwards, presenting contrasting sides of the story – from the paranoid headmaster convinced of the extremist plot, to the earnest teacher whose main concern was transform his pupils’ lives for the better. Such an approach could come across as fragmented, but the strength of the writing and the relatable and open hearted performances pull it all together into a cohesive, compelling and eye opening whole.
Gurkiran Kaur as Farah delivers a relatable central character as she opens the play in the her family home, bickering with her father over whether she should keep her head covered out of the house. She then talks of her teacher who turns a blind eye when she promptly removes her head scarf at school. Mustafa Chaudhry as teacher Rashid and Qasim Mahmood as Tahir, head of the educational trust deliver memorably ardent performances – these are men who are fighting to improve failing schools, not just failing in terms of Ofsted results, but also failing their pupils who have grown restless and directionless. They are also supported by Komal Amin and Keshini Misha, who rapidly switch between characters – from school pupils, to headmasters and councillors to fill out the play with a larger cast of central characters and background figures. Their energy forms the vital heart of Trojan Horse.
And what energy. The stark set is dominated by school desks mounted on casters, which the cast enthusiastically whirl about the stage in what are almost dance sequences. They continuously rearrange the desks as they transition from scene to scene, from location to location. They open and then slam their desks shut as they change outfits to switch from character to character. The constant movement gives the play a real sense of trajectory as events spiral out of control. Subtle sound design underpins the flow of the action – low quiet drones swell into affecting sweeps at key emotional points; each scene separated from the next with bursts of breezy uptempo music that draw us ever onward to the play’s conclusion. Lights stutter and flash as the characters find themselves embroiled in press interviews. Intrusive microphones surround the cast as they are interrogated and accused, their private lives thrust into the public eye, their every word and action repurposed to suit someone else’s political ambitions, to suit another man’s view of the world.
As far as Trojan Horse is concerned, that man is Michael Gove. The play draws from elements of his book, Celsius 7/7, as in turn the Trojan Horse letter drew heavily from this book. The back of the set is a school blackboard, onto which quotes are projected that introduce and sum up each scene and snapshot. They present an alternative narrative in which the scandal was seized upon as an opportunity to reinforce the narrative of Gove’s investigation into terrorism. It presents the anger and sadness of the pupils and the teachers who fell victim to this very political repurposing of their lives, it depicts the schools that had struggled – yet crucially – succeeded in improving the lives of the children in the local communities. It the shows these school brought right back round to failure despite their every effort.
The audience reacted to the play’s energy energy in kind – cheering and applauding, nodding in emphatic agreement with the characters on stage, fully engaged with this version of event, welcoming its message. Keep an eye on this tour, this is an important story and long may LUNG continue to tell such stories.
Drayton Arms Theatre, London
Saturday 28th September, 2019
Frank, touching and slick, Breathless Theatre’s show Good Grief explores how loss manifests itself in ways that are often painful and unexpected. Both speaking and miming verbatim pieces of interview text, the four-part ensemble move between a simply staged living room and audience space to discuss how we can connect through our frequently humorous and moving experiences of death. Though only 45 minutes long, writer, director and actor Tallulah Vaughan has managed to craft a remarkably thorough piece that resonates with an intimate audience.
Good Grief is loosely divided into sections that discuss the physical and psychological effects of loss. So often overlooked, the physical symptoms of grief – nausea, pain, tiredness, loss of appetite, loss of sleep – are discussed at length; it’s joked that we almost need a ‘baby-on-board’ style badge to display our grief so we’re treated with care. Indeed, Victor Mellors fluently portrays a disarmingly upbeat and self-deprecating character who jokes that he is ‘the hulk of crying’, proving that there are many faces of devastation.
Later, the seemingly supernatural effects of lost ones that speak to us in our dreams is explored. Actor Emma Nihill expertly embodies the characterisation of a woman in Dubai who meets her late grandmother in her dreams, who congratulates her on a good grade that she later receives. Similarly, Finnen, Mellors and Nihill movingly portray a late wife giving her husband permission to be happy with his new wife, after which she never appears in his dreams again.
The play being divided up into these sections structures a narrative which could otherwise become lost or repetitive with so much information. Indeed, simple lighting cues inform us that the topic has changed and suitably set a different tone. These sections, however, are slightly hindered by their staging being similar for all: the piece remains fairly static, with the actors often sitting on the sofa throughout their discussions. As a result we occasionally lose the importance of the text as the eye isn’t necessarily drawn. Some movement would have been welcome to more vividly illustrate each section, such as during Finnen, Mellors and Nihill’s dream sequence.
At times like this it can be unclear whether we as an audience are ‘intruding’ upon an intimate moment or are welcome to be involved with it. Indeed, the actors frequently sitting amongst the audience conveys a sense of familiarity and dialogue, as do Vaughan’s fascinating and vulnerable discussions about her construction of Good Grief itself. However, were Breathless Theatre to explore the potential of audience discussion and participation further, the piece could become a more communal and fulfilling exploration of a theme familiar to us all.
The play also exposes the strange institutions and customs that we construct around death, with Mellors recounting the story of a humorous pre-recorded Mass in Spain. Sequences like this expose the centuries-long discomfort many cultures have with something as universal as death: often, Vaughan highlights, we do what we think is ‘right’ – such as hiding the possessions of those we’ve lost to feel better – but, in doing this, we are, as Nihill tells us, ‘burying our treasure.’
Good Grief achieves its aim to open up a discussion about loss in a way that is often poignant and thought-provoking, demonstrating the talent of young company Breathless Theatre. By constructing a well-rounded discussion around such a vulnerable theme, Vaughan successfully manages to ‘make the darkness feel uncomfortable with itself.’
AN INTERVIEW WITH BREATHLESS THEATRE
Hello Breathless Theatre! Who are you, and from where and when did you form as a theatre company?
Hi! We’re an emerging theatre company who focus on telling truthful, human stories with important political or social messages behind them. Promoting female talent is also very important to us and we currently have an all-female production team. We were founded in 2018 when our director, Tallulah finished university and we took our first piece, SPACES, to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Your production, ‘Good Grief’, explores how people of varying backgrounds and ages experience grief. Why is this subject matter important to you, and why do you want to communicate its importance to an audience?
Grief is something that profoundly affects everyone, and yet us Brits are so reticent to talk about it. This piece originated from a need Tallulah felt to talk about grief and to create a shared community space where it could be discussed – and perhaps the burden of grief lifted somewhat. As the writing and rehearsal process continued, it became clear that the ways in which we could discuss grief through the medium of theatre were myriad and yet there were very few spaces that grief could be discussed outside of therapy. The team all have experience of intense grief, and as writers and creators we felt it was extremely important not to focus too heavily on the morbidity that grief brings with it but instead to try and find some hope within the experience. We wanted to communicate the importance of finding hope during difficult times to the audience.
Actors in the play both speak and mime text verbatim from people you interviewed about their experiences of grief. Why did you choose to stage the play in this format, and how did you approach people to be interviewed?
We chose to use verbatim voice clips because it was important to us to convey the universality of grief – that it can happen to anyone, at any age. It takes the audience out of a black-box theatre with five actors and reminds them that what we are telling is truthful. It also helped to create characters that might be hard to portray otherwise – such as the old man played by a 30 year old! In terms of approaching people to interview, we had mixed responses. Some people were very keen to talk and share their experiences and understood why we wanted to create a play about this. Others held back and felt it was too personal to discuss. Interestingly, it was far harder to get men to speak to us than women! Since doing the piece at the Drayton Arms, a few people have approached us with a willingness to be interviewed so we are setting up those at the moment.
Good Grief manages to combine humour with moments of sadness to create a very honest and unflinching piece. How did you collate your interview material to achieve this balance?
Thank you! That was our aim. For us, it was about finding the moments of humour within each interview and never allowing the piece to sink too deep into trauma or misery. So if we had an emotional scene, we would try and follow that with a moment of upbeat narration or a humorous anecdote to give the audience some light relief. During the interviews, we asked everyone if they found humour in grief and nearly everybody agreed that there was and that it is vital to focus on that during the tough times. As Tallulah’s mum always says, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry.
What proved a challenge when developing and staging the play?
The challenge was keeping the play interesting and finding a narrative storyline in what is essentially a theatrical collage. With verbatim, you’re dealing with a lot of spoken recollections and memories and so it can become a very static piece – people just standing on stage and talking to the audience. We had to work quite hard to find ways of presenting those memories visually to create dynamism on stage.
Do you have a particular favourite line or exchange from Good Grief?
A particular favourite would be ‘I don’t know much about grief, I’ve never died!’. The glib humour in that is just wonderful. But also, the idea that ‘grief is something you’re going to live with because that’s what makes you human’. It’s a reminder of how lucky we are to find someone we care about so much that we do grieve for them, and how that is a shared human experience. We’re never alone in our grief.
The nature of verbatim text means that actors have to be line perfect whilst adopting multiple styles of body language. How did you approach this as an ensemble?
The actors spent a lot of time listening to the recordings and speaking along with them in front of a mirror. They also listened to them whenever they could – on the tube, on the way to work etc. For each voice character, we listened to the track repeatedly and created a character out of the voice, thinking about how they would stand, breathe, move. For us, it wasn’t about recreating the characteristics of the people we interviewed but about finding the essence of what they were saying and conveying it physically.
If you’d like your audience to understand or take one thing from Good Grief, what would it be?
It’s okay to grieve. Share it, talk about and it will get better!
What’s next for Breathless Theatre?
We’d love to expand Good Grief into a full-length piece and so we’re hoping to go into R&D for that soon. There may also be another play in the works
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sep 30th – Oct 5th, 2019
Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and Pint’s 500th play season continued this week with the return of “Fly Me To the Moon” by Marie Jones, a play that first appeared at the venue in 2010. The stage was set in a cosy looking living room where we meet two care workers, Loretta (Sandra McNeeley) and Frances (Julie Austin) who were there to carry out their duties for their client, Davy McGee. The two had devotedly looked after the 84 year old Davy for the past 12 years, knowing him well and familiar with his habits and routines, such as his love of the horses and of Frank Sinatra and the way he would sing along to “Fly me to the Moon”.
However it was soon clear that today wasn’t going to plan when Frances shot into the room from the bedroom and did a quick couple of turns around the stage, in a panic because she’d discovered that Davy had passed away in his sleep. What will we do, what will we do….? With Francis going out of her mind, the mind of Loretta got to thinking as she realised that the old man had died before he was able to pick up his pension of £80. Not only that but Loretta discovered a betting slip – for once Davy’s horse had won at 100 to 1. Wham the plot to take it for themselves was born.
While Loretta started making plans for a trip to Barcelona, Frances fretted about the fact that what they were doing could be fraud, and with the strains of “Fly me to the Moon” in the background, they discussed the rights and wrongs of the situation. The arguments went to and fro, but whenever Francis complained that they were doing something wrong, Loretta would persuade her that it was both of their ideas to which Frances always came round. But their careful plan fell flat when they realise that the time of death would not concur with the time of cashing the pension. But they did it anyway, justifying themselves on the grounds that they had been working for years on minimal wages. We can understand from the stories that blended into their conversation that no matter how hard they both worked, they have money troubles that won’t go away.
With lively dialogue and thought provoking issues, this was a play that challenged you. You can’t just dismiss the temptations the women are subject to as despicable without also considering the role of society which expects them to perform work for the vulnerable while not paying them a living wage. It’s good theatre that raises these conundrums and makes you think.
Sep 25 – 28, 2019
Having done a fair bit of hillwalking in Scotland and further afield, I was intrigued by the premise of this work – in 25-plus years of trudging through rain, hail, sleet, snow and the occasional sunny day, I’ve never exchanged passing greetings with a black fellow-hillwalker. I’m not sure how that fact plays out statistically-speaking, but I guess it is true that black people are under-represented amongst the Berghaus brigades.
Three titular black men meet once a month to walk and talk and relieve their urban stresses. But this weekend, as they stumble through heavy weather they find themselves confronting much deeper than their workaday problems. There’s Matthew the GP (played by Patrick Regis) who’s having marital problems, and Richard (Tonderai Munyevu), a Ghanaian man living in the mental exile of an absent father, and Thomas (Ben Onwukwe), a busted flush with a history degree from Huddersfield, who has been a little unsettled recently. Losing themselves in the deepening fog, they encounter Ayeesha (Dorcas Sebuyange), a streetsmart young woman who provokes the men to consider how ‘British’ culture swallows up their blackness like the fog, erases the mark of black peoples’ footprints on the landscape, from prehistory to the present day.
There’s a lot for an audience to consider in this work by Testament, the writer and musical director Andy Brooks. “Black people were walking here before Anglo-Saxons” remarks Thomas, who gives the group a peripatetic history lesson in the hidden, ‘whitewashed’ history of these islands. There’s some philosophising to – from black identity and the theories of W.E.B. Du Bois, the American sociologist and founder of the NAACP, to the political activism of rap music. The reality of modern racism is never far, it rises continually like a Brockenspecter, or the crunch of a boot on gravel, just out of sight. The most powerful testament to this is delivered in the pistol-quick spoken word pieces given to Ayeesha. Powerfully delivered with sass and charm by Dorcas Sebuyange, these interstices that punctuate the walking are the most powerful parts of the work. It’s a sobering reminder that, aside from the prejudice de jour of islamophobia, British black people have suffered and continue to suffer under the homogenous whiteout of casual racism.
Walking is a great democratic invention. Rich or poor, black or white, it’s only requirement is the ability to put one foot in front of the other. If you can do that, then do. The next time I go walking, I’ll be giving a thought to the history, the hidden history, that I might be walking through. Eclipse Theatre Company presents Black Men Walking as part of Revolution Mix (www.eclipsetheatre.org.uk/revolution-mix), a series of plays, radio dramas and a forthcoming film, by Black artists, with the aim of “placing Black narrative at the heart of British Theatre”. It’s a powerful, promising start for a worthwhile and timely project.
A new form of drama is about to entertain the audiences of the world. The Mumble caught up with the man behind it all
Hello Damo. So you are here to talk about your new project, the Conchordia Folio – what’s it all about?
Hello Mumble. Well, in essence the folio is a collection of dramatic scripts, per se, rather like the Shakespearean folio. The only difference is I’m assembling it myself, whereas the Bard’s was collated by his pals a few years after his death. It should be ready in book & audio form by the Spring. There’ also an element of competition here – why not, you only get one life. As a poet I’ve written a better epic than Milton, but Shakespeare seems untouchable. But so were Liverpool FC before Fergie got the Man U job, & after declaring he wanted to ‘knock them off their fuc£king perch’ he went on to do so. I know I’m definitely a better bass-payer than Shakespeare, so I knew had to incorporate music into my scripts, play to my strengths kinda thing. Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock that Shakespeare off his fuc£ing perch!
Good luck with that one? So what exactly is Conchordia?
Well. Its essentially the artform I’m inventing. Stripped down to its most basic level the term can be interpreted as ‘with chords’ – the idea is that one can witness a piece of drama accompanied by a single acoustic guitar. That’s the core. Then, I realised that guitar could be played by a performer, which reminded me of the very funny Flight of the Conchords duo. They are like proper multi-taskers – acting, singing, dancing, playing guitars – that’s what I want ‘Conchordian’ to be able to do. Act, sing, dance & playing instruments when they’re not on stage – even if its just percussive. Also, since Concord the airplane is now defunct, the name is up for grabs these days & I like idea of people going for a ride in one of my conchords.
What other musical instruments are used in Conchordia, apart from the percussion?
Well, to be honest, there’s no limit. I’m going off the old edict that for a song to be a good song it needs to sound good sung on its own with only an acoustic guitar. But any producer of a conchord may use that basis to add an orchestra, or a rock & roll band, anything they like really. Each text also has a few ‘set’ pointers, which may also be interpreted as the company sees fit.
What other traits & attributes sets Conchordia apart from the other arts?
Each of the Conchordia has different DNA – there’s some that are just rock opera with barely any dialogue, & some that are simply musicals with an acoustic guitar. My later creations, however, are definitely realising a vision of theatre I have been developing. As a poet I have a gift for blank verse – its the most artistic way of expressing human speech. Shakespeare used it, so it can’t be that bad right? The English also have a genius for songwriting, while the Americans have mastered the musical. So if we blend all these together – Shakespearean blank verse, English songwriting, plus a wee splash of Broadway, you get Conchordia.
Have you performed any of your conchords yet?
I have actually – last year I put on a piece called Alibi at the Haddington Corn Exchange & also at the Eden Festival. It was fun – everyone enjoyed performing it & watching it. Doing Alibi made me realise I was onto something & began to look at my past pieces.
Your past pieces, what do you mean?
Alibi was the first slice of musical theatre I ever did – in 2007 & 2008. I was wintering in Sicily & got an acoustic guitar for Christmas, 2006. I then started looking at my old songs, connecting the common threads & adding a story. Bingo, my first conchord! I performed a it a few times in Edinburgh, Sheffield & Leeds. Next was a piece called Charlie, about the Jacobite rebellion, which I made into a film. About that period, & ever since, I’ve created a few others, but all in sketch form, in various states of completion. The Conchordio Folio is the moment I get them all nailed – a line in the sand, so to speak.
What Conchords are included in the Folio?
I’ve settled on 12 – its a nice epic number. The first five come together in a quintology called Leithology. There’s Alibi, Gangstaland, one I haven’t given a title to, a time-travelling one called Timewarpin’ & Tinky Disco. The idea is that they all interlink through characters, who each get a main musical to strut their stuff in. Like the X-Men franchise. Tinky Disco is based loosely upon The Tinky Disco Show, & will see the return of DJ Brooklyn – like a 21st century Falstaff. There are then three histories – Charlie, Finnesburgh – based on a story in Beowulf – & Malmaison, which tells the story of Napoleon on his return to Paris after Waterloo. There’s also a trilogy called The Rock & Roll Wars, its essentially a battle of the bands on a cosmic level. Finally there’s Exes & Axes, a 19th century tale of romantic betrayal set in 19th century France – it doesn’t quite fit with any of the others, but its really funny.
Will you be performing anything from the Folio soon.
2020 is the big year. I’m gonna be putting the entire Leithology quintology at the Old Dr Bells Bath at some point, & probably during the Fringe. As for the others, who knows, but they’ll be in the bank for the future & anybody anywhere can perform one as long as they have space, people & a guitar.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sep 23 – 28, 2019
The fabulous 500 play celebration year for Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and Pint continued with Peter Arnott’s masterful play, ‘The Signalman’, a monologue starring Tom McGovern. McGovern played one Thomas Barclay, the eponymous signalman, and concerned his memories of 40 years before when he worked as a signalman at the tender age of 24. The action started on a simple set on which was just a few chairs and a coat stand on which the actor hung his railway jacket as he quietly entered. It all somehow endowed the stage with a feeling of depth and sincerity.
As he looked back into the past, Barclay’s memories transported him back to the terrible night so many years before when it had been his signal that had sent the Edinburgh train on to the Tay Railway Bridge which collapsed taking many lives. We saw Barclay in turmoil as he turned over the events in his mind and in his long spotlit scene’s, reliving the subsequent inquisition he’d undergone from his powerful supervisors, an inquisition which mirrored his own doubts and feelings of responsibility. It was not hard to sympathise with him when he began to question his own sanity – no wonder…
The music in the piece took on quite a grave, ghostly character as the man went through torrents of suffering and plunged into the depths of despair, haunted as he was by visions where he was left all but a ghost. He had been so proud of his life and career, so when faced with this devastation it came all the harder. We followed each line to tremendous heights and then equally tremendous lows, and were affected by each spontaneous outcry as in the end he wept openly. We were left in no doubt about the impact of having your world turned upside down in this way.
This story was a tremendously moving tour de force, holding nothing back as we were taken on a rollercoaster of emotion, focussing on how one terrible event can deeply affect one individual, posing questions about how responsible we are for the things that happen to us and seeking all the time to find meaning for our lives. Take hankies!
A quality performer is bringing her poignant tale to the United Solo Festival, New York
Hello Allison, so where are you from and where are you at, geographically speaking?
I was born and raised in Southeastern Wisconsin in the town of Elkhorn. It is near Lake Geneva, which is a popular and beautiful place to visit. I currently live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and have been living here since 2006 when I took a job at the University of Alabama in the Department of Theatre and Dance.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
I was in the fourth grade and was cast in a short play as a singing flower–the experience was memorable as I loved to sing and I got to wear fluorescent face paint that would glow in the black light. We also had a performance at local nursing home for the elderly–that was a moving experience for me at a young age.
What is it about performing that you love the most?
The connections made by revealing the human condition.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
I think that theatre should reflect life and in that reflection, I want to feel something and learn something. If it makes me laugh or cry along the way then it held my attention and I was able to escape from my own realties for a while. That can be so refreshing.
In your time you have performed at ancient theatres in Greece located at Argos and Spetses. Did you feel like you were communing with the spirits of your art?
Yes, it was such a powerful experience and working in those ancient theatres was breathtaking. I felt a complete sense of being grounded, and the connections we made as a cast in The Trojan Women are something that I will never forget, and that was over twenty years ago.
You’ve got three famous figures from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starter, mains & dessert?
Hmmm, these are always the hardest questions for me. I would start with a light summer salad (spinach, corn, feta, watermelon), followed by seared salmon with a maple-mustard glaze and finish with a Key Lime Pie. My guest list would be: Georgia O’Keeffe, Lillian Hellman, and Joan of Arc.
So, you’re bringing your show, STEP MAMA DRAMA!, to this year’s United Solo Festival . Can you tell us about it?
This show is inspired by my personal experience as stepmom and also includes monologues and moments shared by others who I interviewed for the project. My goal is to show various sides of this complex and often difficult relationship. I also spent time talking with stepchildren as well. When I told people about this show, many began to share their own perspectives on blended families. I listened closely and let them know that what they communicated to me could become part of my show.
You performed STEP MAMA DRAMA! at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, how did you find your time in Scotland?
My time in Scotland at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was amazing and exhausting, I love being surrounded by the arts in a great city.
What emotive responses do you hope to invoke in your audience?
I hope that others can connect to some of these stories, people, and think about the wide variety of stepparent and stepchild relationships often found in the blended family.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the streets of New York…
Hi, if you are stepmom, have a stepmom or have a blended family experience this is a show for you! When and where: Sunday, November 3, at 6:00PM part of the United Solo Festival at Theatre Row, Off-Broadway in the studio theatre.
United Solo Theatre Festival
410 West 42nd Street, NYC
The Brunton, Musselburgh
September 20th, 2019
Since inception, Rapture Theatre have tunnelled a catacomb of fine memories into the minds of the Scottish theatre-goers. Their latest cave of delights is called Clybourne Park, a spin-off from Lorraine Hansberry’s ever-enduring 1959 Broadway play, A Raisin in the Sun. The latter play tells of a black family’s real estate experiences in “Clybourne Park”, a fictionalized Subdivision of Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. The New York Drama Critics’ Circle named it the best play of 1959. A half-century later, a spin-off was penned by New Yorker, Bruce Norris, & just like its mother-ship won hierarchical awards such as the Pulitzer for Drama & the Olivier for Best Play. Side-by-side, the two plays have morphed into a soap opera, & there is no reason why the Raisin mythomeme could be a standard locale for future dramatical socio-dissections of 1950s America.
Clybourne Park is divided into two halves; the first telling the story of the house purchase from that of its owners & the busybodying locals trying to keep the neighbourhood white. So this is racism, of course, but its comedy racism, looked at with a kinda sympathetic pity thro’ mileusean eyeglasses. After a sophisticaed screwdrill-whirring session in the interval, we find ourselves transported to an assimilationistic Noughties, when its all a little bit more grating, with a dash of false-flattery. Are we moderns really like these people on the stage reduced to fencing dodgy jokes like weapons of prejudice. Luckily, the play was saved by the cast-inflating reintroduction of the house-buying back-story, & in essence Clybourne Park flows thro’ 4 quarters – plus an astonishingly well done ending – the first half is all good, the second half starts slow & becomes excellent. The whole, I must add, is held togther by leibmotifs which bounce from half to half & also into Raisin with subtle but enlightening alacrity.
The play exposes the hypocrisy, particularly of educated, middle-class people who will happily uphold the principles of fairness & equality – unless & until those principles impinge on their own ideas & interests.
Michael Emans (Director)
Watching Clybourne Park’s “progressive community” in 2019 is a curious, indemnified affair. The racism which Norris remoulds in the second half is that of an American people trying to redefine its attitudes as they dwell among social landscapes very much shaped by centuries of racial subjegation & oppression – all while living under the tacitly legislated safety of father Obama. Clybourne also shows how people shun the pursuits of deeper understanding by the donning of fake armour – ‘how can I be racist when I’m gay.‘ A soreiety of the minorities. Although attitudes are similar in 2019, ten years is a long time in world progress & things are changing / have changed – Clybourne Park is already on its way to becoming the time capsule that is A Raisin in the Sun.
I can only heap as much praise as I’ve got to heap upon the acting – extremely realistic, their accents were impeccable & they teleported me without (visible) effort into 1950’s suburban Chicago. Having such a deliciously drab set helped inestimably. In the second half the troupe takes on new roles; instigating & ensuring a dipping of my suspension of disbelief. The joy I felt toward the end when the 1950s actors returned to the stage, beyielding my spirit unto a child-like joy, made me realise that as entertainment Norris would have been better off staying in the 50s, but to win awards he needed to make it contemporary as well. The awards were won, yes, but the piece then becomes imperfect as timeless drama. Still, if you have a good company involved, then Clybourne Park gives its actors a chance for something meaty, something pleasantly performable, & Rapture were simply superb at it.
Damian Beeson Bullen