Author Archives: yodamo
11th July 2018
The dashing, young, talented director that is Robin Osman seems to like World War 2. Last year he brought a Vichy France inspired piece to the Edinburgh Fringe, & the other day, for two nights, he served up Loring Mandel’s very excellent Conspiracy at the Assembly Roxy. His cast mirrored that of the film The Expendables, but here the Hollywood A-Listers are Edinburgh theatrical Don Juans such as Ben Blow, Matthew Jebb, Chris Pearson & Jonathan Whiteside.
Conspiracy is a play about the now infamous meeting at Am Großen Wannsee 56–58, a grandiose villa at the edge of Berlin, lapping against gorgeous lake waters &, in January 1942, the setting for the most terribly implicative ninety minutes of conversation the world has ever known. The Endlosung had come, the Jewish Question had an answer. From ‘Vladivostok to Belfast’ there would be ‘no Jews, not one!’ all murdered by poison gas in efficient factory fashion & cremated into dust. The drama of the piece is contained in small measure within the personalities of the fifteen high-ranking German officials at the meeting, but it really pursues our psyches like a slavering beastie thro’ the monstrous promises of ghastly futurity polluting the play’s dialogue. The author, Loring Mandel, imagined the scene at Wansee & replicated its oral ambience to the best of his abilities; which means, pretty much, its brilliant.
Conspiracy was at first a joint HBO-BBC TV special, which won an Emmy, a Golden Globe & a Bafta, & was created on the back of a single document found in Berlin – the only one that was never destroyed. Of his use of this materielle, Mandel told the Mumble;
The document that survived was very highly redacted, by three different people: first by Eichmann, then by Müller, then by Heydrich himself. So all that it really contains is the cast of characters and the sequence of events, the agenda. But there’s other information—not much, but there are comments that Eichmann made when he was captured and more comments during his trial. That’s really the only hard material we have. So I spent a couple days in the archives of the Holocaust Museum finding out as much as I could about as many of the participants as I could locate in those files. I also looked at the transcripts of the Eichmann testimony. Then I did research at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, the museum in the building where the conference took place, and Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. When I had enough of a feel of the background of the participants, plus what I had gotten from the conference itself, I wrote the first draft, and that was finished in January of ’98. That was submitted to HBO, they said they wanted to proceed with it, and they hired a full-time researcher to provide supplementary material, and she was able to find out a great deal more of the background of the characters than I had been able to get. We ended up with tremendous amounts of research
A few years later, Mandel decided to reconvene his TV classic with the stage. ‘The film is a one-eye process,’ he told us, ‘it’s monocular. Stage is binocular, and it makes a real difference. In film, it’s easy to begin a scene in the middle of a sentence, because you can cut into it. You can’t do that on the stage because the character is there and talking before, unless you do it all with lights, and then it really isn’t an adaptation. The only reason that I did a stage version of it is because I felt it was something that people should be made aware of—young people particularly. I thought it was something that schools could do, and churches and synagogues and so on. That’s why, because I never thought it was a big commercial property. So the fact that it’s been exposed here, I think that’s absolutely wonderful.’
So to Edinburgh & the Assembly Roxy. I took my seat in the far top left corner, directly before the end point of a ‘Last Supper’ style arc of tables, behind which was another table corncucoping with fine wines & meticulously laid out chips n dips. Here was David Taylor’s Eichmann – the guy caught by Mossad agents in Argentina in 1960 – the shadowy holder of the scythe, who would greet the 14 guests with a foot-stamping ‘Heil Hitler.’ One of these was Matthew Jebb, whose SS Oberfuhrer Erich Neumann sat down right in front of me, rattling on about the Four Year Plan, & somebody who would one day save lives by requesting that Jewish workers in firms essential to the war effort were not to be deported for the time being.
Dead men don’t hump
Dead women don’t get pregnant
So in they came, lieutenants of the Nazi experiment, key representatives of agencies created by the Fuhrer in order to transmit his imbecilic White Supremacist philosophies, & to turn them to reality; the ultimate of which was the rendering ‘Judenrein’ of Europa to unfold. At their heart was Jonathan Whiteside’s Heydrich, play’d with a commanding & sneering hostility – like the Devil at icy Cocytus with his anti-pantheon at his feet, his telligible snarl barking his masters’ orders without complaint. ‘After the war this is my home, a marvelous home,‘ he chirps on first arrival. He’d be assassinated in Prague within six months.
As a drama, we had Heydrich’s & Eichmann’s slow roll-out of the Endlosung – half history lesson, half surreal vision – interspersed with excellently presented buffet intermissions where the hubble-bubble mumblings of twos&threes conversations were broken by flash-fires of actual dialogue. It was all such a bouncy script to behold, a masterwork of multiple voices as the single item on the conference’s agenda slowly ripened into truthdom like rapeseed in the Spring. To counteract the growing ‘storage problem‘ of Nazidom’s Jews – millions had been acquired through Hitler’s conquests – euthanasia would be expanded on a massive scale when, to save the soldier’s sense of honour – they didn’t enjoy shooting women & children – the systematic extirpation of a race would be achieved thro’ poison gas. Eichmann’s mini emotional break-down as he described the sounds of the dying being almost drown’d out by a gas-truck’s motors was a high point in the play.
Such a powerful ideological performance was this, that at the end I was waiting for some cretinous Neo-Nazi to stand up applauding wildly & cheering. Of course it never happened, this is gentile Edinburgh, but we were all transfixed by both the morbid curiosity & the elk-paced intensity of the piece. The finely uniformed gentleman actors were as one soul, a very precise & genuine performance. Conspiracy is a warning of how sick & how sterile human compassion can become, & plays handling such hot potatoes of the conscience should be treasured – not for their hateful ideas – but to remedy Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s observation that, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”
The International Melting Pot that is the Edinburgh August is the pinnacle of cultural diversity, & the Mumble was happy to find out one of America’s finest theatrical minds is once again returning to the Fringe…
Hello Allison, so where are you from and where are you at, geographically speaking?
Allison: 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?
Allison: 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?
Allison: The connections made by revealing the human condition.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Allison: 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?
Allison: 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.
I think the Fringe is amazing and if I lived closer I think that I would have returned sooner.
You’ve got three famous figures from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starter, mains & dessert?
Allison: 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.
You’ve performed at the Fringe before, almost a decade ago; how did it go?
Allison: Yes, I performed in 2009 and 2010 and it was a great experience, my show titled: Considering Georgia O’Keeffe, is based on the life and work of the artist. Quite a different show than Step Mama Drama!, my current show is much more personal. I think the Fringe is amazing and if I lived closer I think that I would have returned sooner.
So, you’re bringing your show, STEP MAMA DRAMA!, to this year’s Fringe. Can you tell us about it?
Allison: 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’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the street, what would you say?
Allison: If you are a stepmom or have a stepmom, this show is a must-see!
What will you & your play be doing after the Fringe?
Allison: I will head back to the US for the fall semester at the University of Alabama where I teach in the Department of Theatre and Dance. Plans for my show include further development with composer, colleague, and friend Raphe Crystal to add an element of live music with plans to perform it in New York City in 2019. I would also like to develop the show further with an ensemble cast to show even more range and depth as I plan to continue to conduct interviews based on theme of the show.
The Space on the Mile
Aug 3-4, 6-10 (16:15)
Tickets: £8.00 (£5.00)
Without Nick Revell the Fringe, & indeed the entire world, wouldn’t be as half as cool. The Mumble always finds it a pleasure to get together with the man for a wee blether…
Hi Nick, how has your 2018 been so far?
Nick: Hi Mumble. 2018… well, there’s been a lot of anxiety, obviously, what with the same old collective global fiasco – Syria, Brexit, Trump, bees dying out and plastics choking the oceans. But on the other hand, I bought a Magimix, which means my mayonnaise-making has become much more reliable. So, you know, on the grand scale, it all sort of evens out.
What are the processes behind the creation of one of your shows, from inception to hatching?
Nick: Good question… sorry for the pause – I’m trying to figure it out… Yeah; I look for an excuse to read loads of stuff about something that interests me, and hope a story or two start to emerge out of that. I like to let random connections happen. This year I was interested in the Silk Road – the ancient and modern trade routes between China and Western Europe, with all the strategic and cultural implications. Fascinating. Made loads of notes. And virtually nothing of that figures in the show. Of course. But it got me started.
Two years ago you brought us, ‘Gluten Free Jesus’ to the Fringe, & last year the delightfully titled ‘Nick Revell vs Nick: Lily, Evil Cat Queen of Earth Planet and the Laughing Fridge.’ How did they both all go?
Nick: I was pretty happy with both of them. Audiences came, seemed to like them, and I was changing them throughout the run. Which meant they stayed fresh for me. Nothing worse than just going through the motions.
What have you got for us this year?
Nick: It’s called BrokenDreamCatcher.
What has BrokenDreamCatcher got in common with your previous two Fringe shows?
Nick: It’s in the same style – I call it magical-realist satire. Sounds pretentious, I know, but it’s as accurate as I can get. A structured story which is I hope, weird, wonderful and entertaining, clearly untrue while hopefully reflecting some kind of critical light on the real world. In this one, Vladimir Putin’s buttocks leave him, come out in Berlin and claim political asylum, while a hipster shaman vandalises native-American dreamcatchers, allowing the collective id of an entire north London borough to escape and cause mass psychic panic.
After the Fringe your new radio series, also called BrokenDreamCatcher, will go out on BBC R4. Can you tell us about how you got the gig?
Nick: They came to see Gluten Free Jesus in 2016, liked it, and so I pitched for a series in the same style.
Now for the all important question, you’ve got three famous figures from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starter, mains & dessert?
Nick: Oooh… well; I think Queen Cleopatra would be very interesting. Profound insights on global politics, probably some good gossip, and of course, a reputation for being extremely hot, and a bit saucy. Francois Rabelais – 16th Century French comic writer, polymath and noted wine connoisseur. Jane Austen. She’d probably be quiet at first, but once she got on the wine, I reckon she’d be highly entertaining. And fearlessly sharp. I’d start with cocktails: margaritas – loosens everybody up in a good way, and it takes a bit of time to kick in. Martinis are tempting but they can mess you up too early. With these guests, you’d want the conversation to flow without descending into nonsense. Some salatini with the cocktails – tiny Italian salted pastries. Then – oysters. With a Sancerre. And soda bread, which I’d get my mate Brendan to make. Homemade pasta with a sage butter dressing and maybe a bottle of Spanish white – like a Godello; then rare steak tagliata with very thinly cut chips and a green salad. Barolo or a really good claret. Chunk of a French mountain cheese after that, or Stilton, depending on the time of year, followed by a chocolate mousse. Armagnac. Then hopefully tequila slammers, loud music and dancing.
OK back to Edinburgh, what are the staple ingredients to your style?
Nick: I try and make a surreal story which grabs people. And to chuck vivid images into their heads the whole time. I like to use a whole range of different tones of jokes from stupid to vicious, with the empahsis on playful but sharp.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell BrokenDreamCatcher as you flyer some randoms in the Edinburgh streets. What would you say?
Nick: Hello! Want to hear a bonkers story this afternoon? Lasts an hour, feels like twenty minutes. Sex, violence, a talking bear and classic 70s disco.
What is next year’s show called?
Nick: Haha! It’s a little early to tell. But I’ll be there.
Aug 2-26 (15:35)
Has it been only a year since Alice Sylvester wowed Edinburgh with her one-woman play about Sylvia Plath? Time flies, but in that time she has come up with something stirringly new. The Mumble caught her for a wee blether…
Hello Alice, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Alice: I grew up in the South Wales valleys, and I still spend a lot of my time there. But over the past few years, I haven’t settled in a place for too long, (I think I get easily bored). I try to travel as much as I can especially while I’m writing. I did live in Edinburgh for a few months this year and I really loved that.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Alice: I discovered creative writing when I was 7, since then all I’ve wanted to do is write. I discovered my passion for being on stage a little later on when I was a teen. It’s kind of funny, I chose performing arts as a school subject because I thought it would be fun and easy- it turned out to be the thing I’ve worked hardest at in my life so far. During the last year of my degree I learned how to write and perform my own plays, which is becoming a little bit addictive since my two favourite things are writing and acting.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Alice: Whatever it is, I want it to move me. I want it to make me think and feel beyond myself, beyond my every day thoughts and feelings. I don’t need to understand it, I don’t need to agree with it, I don’t even need to like it; a good piece of theatre should stir within you, and you leave you a little changed.
You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three box set TV shows, what would they be?
Alice: Mad Men is probably my favourite show, Game of Thrones I can (and have) watched for ten consecutive hours, and then Sex and the City is the show I can annoyingly predict every sentence of.
Can you tell us about The Bathtub Heroine?
Alice: I created The Bathtub Heroine theatre company in 2016, with the intention to produce theatre that has captivating leading female roles. More than that, I’m also passionate to allow emerging female artists to develop their skills behind the stage in all areas of theatre creation and production.
Last year you were in Edinburgh with, “Sylvia Plath, Your Words Are Just Dust.” How did it go?
Alice: I had some experience of the Fringe, I had performed there the previous year. But this was my first original show, I was in control of every aspect of producing a show and although I wasn’t scared, I had no idea what I was doing, or how it would be received. But I couldn’t have asked for a better response. I had great audience attendance even some shows were fully sold out, and I received five star reviews that were beautifully written- it was very encouraging. Since then I’ve had an attitude that if I want something, I’ll just go for it, I’ll give it a shot, life’s much more fun that way.
What have you got for us this year?
Alice: “How to Swim in Hollywood” is inspired by the 2017 Hollywood sexual abuse scandals. I wanted to write a piece that shows how cultural norms regarding beauty standards and gender ideals strongly influence sexual exploitation, and the way we understand it. The play is set in Beverly Hills in 1979, and it follows the character of Daisy, a young housewife of a Hollywood icon. Growing up Daisy never learned how to swim, and the main focus of the play flows between her memories of swimming pools at summer and experiences with men. It becomes clear to the audience that Daisy was entirely unprepared for womanhood; her stories of teenage crushes create a picture of a woman who was thrown into the deep end of a world she doesn’t understand. It is intense at moments; it shows the complex nature of rape and coercion, and the ways in which people can struggle to understand abuse.
Why did you set the play in 1979?
Alice: When I began studying the Harvey Weinstein accusations I was quickly drawn back in time to the 1970s- and I learned about director Roman Polanski’s conviction of raping a 13 year old girl (1977). What horrified me the most was not the crime Polanski had committed, but the way that the cultural perspective of the time meant people didn’t perceive his actions as rape. In the light of recent events, it reminds me that just because evil is public knowledge, does not mean that positive change will occur. I want ‘How to Swim in Hollywood’ to encourage people to consider what aspects of current culture are blurring the perspective of sexual exploitation, and how we can educate children and teens to discover their sexuality in a safe and healthy way.
How did you create the character of Daisy & how much of you is there in her?
Alice: The character of Daisy was my first point of inspiration. I had this character in my head for some time, I knew her personality, she lived in L.A, she was young and married, and had a history of sexual abuse. Then months later the Harvey Weinstein scandals hit the news, and when that happened I began to really connect with the world and story of Daisy. There is a lot of myself in the character of Daisy, perhaps even more than I realise. I think that’s necessary when I create a one-woman show; I’m enticed by characters I can understand, I can relate to them if I share an element of their pain. In comparison to the woman I am today Daisy is very different to me. But she is perhaps a version of a woman I could have become if I didn’t grow tired of allowing negative influences in my life, and if I never began to make womanhood the experience I want it to be.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the street….?
Alice: This is a powerful performance, a dark and beautiful show, an important perspective inspired by the recent Hollywood abuse scandals.
Can you tell us about your stagecraft; the music, sound & stage design?
Alice: I would describe the play as dreamy- the main character is alone in her bedroom, overlooking L.A at night, and the only stage set is her vanity table, a symbol for what is at the centre of her existence. She flows from conscious thought to past memories; there is a piece of atmospheric underwater music written for the play and a few of my favourite 70s hits. I wanted everything to be soft, and hypnotic from the physicality to the sound and light design. I like the idea of creating a play that is visually sweet, soft, and delicate but gradually pulls you into its dark undercurrent.
How will you know & feel when you have just given a good performance?
Alice: I will feel relaxed, even when I have performed scenes that were intense and dramatic. I know when a performance is great because it felt natural and organic. I should sink effortlessly into the character and welcome the audience into the world of the play with ease. It’s sort of a seductive feeling, which is a funny thing to say, but yeah, that’s how I would describe it- a good performance feels great; I’m seducing myself and the audience into the fictional world of the play.
Can you describe the experience of performing at the Fringe in a single sentence?
Alice: It is a financially devastating, emotionally draining, alcohol fuelled, wild, hilarious, and wonderful adventure.
What will you be doing after the Fringe?
Alice: My next stop will be New York in November, I’m performing ‘Sylvia Plath, Your Words Are Just Dust’ at Theatre Row on 42 Street, as a part of UnitedSolo- the world’s largest solo theatre festival. After that I’ll hopefully spend some time outside of the UK, find a city that excites me and start writing something new.
Greenside, Infirmary Street
Aug 5-11,13-18 (22:00)
Tickets: £10.00, 7.00 (con) BO: 0131 557 2124
There is something quite brilliant about the dramaturgical puppetry of award-winning Blind Summit. The Mumble managed a wee blether with its director-in-chief…
Hello Mark, so when did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Mark: I saw Dad and Mum in the village pantomime when I was about 8 I think. As a teenager school took us to see three Pinter plays at Bath Theatre Royal which I found extraordinary and started reading Pinter as a teenager. I got very into musicals for a while and tried to “see them all”. When I was 18 I went to see Romeo and Juliet at Stratford.
Can you tell us about your studies?
Mark: I trained to be a doctor first. After working for a couple of years as a junior doctor I retrained to do acting. Then I discovered puppetry and that I have mostly made up myself with collaborators.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Mark: It needs to be funny, clever and teach me something. It needs to be about something – i.e. political. And the thing that makes me enjoy it is at least one good performance.
You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three films, what would they be?
Mark: Oh God that’s a horrible thought – City lights (Chaplin), Casablanca, 310 to Yuma
What does Mark Down like to do when he’s not being creative?
Mark: Play tennis
Can you tell us about Blind Summit?
Mark: Blind Summit is a multi-award winning London-based, internationally touring producer of puppet-based theatre. For twenty years we’ve have consistently subverted people’s expectations of puppetry: from giant storybook characters in the opening ceremony of London’s 2012 Olympic Games to The Table, a globally successful touring production that completely up-ended audiences’ understanding of how puppet and puppeteer communicate.
How did you get involved & what is your role in the company?
Mark: I am the Artistic Director of the company, which I founded in 1997.
What are the processes behind designing each puppet’s aesthetic?
Mark: We work in two ways. With a text we look for an aesthetic that will illuminate some aspect of the text, usually a formal allusion. Puppets tend to bring attention to the metaphorical aspects of the text. We also make work that starts with the puppet we want to play with and write the text from there. i.e. the other way round. That can get very difficult. That’s how we are making Henry.
After 20 years of being with Blind Summit, how has your own take on puppet theatre evolved?
Mark: I am less preoccupied with comedy and existentialism and more engaged by story.
Can you tell us about the Opening Ceremony to the London Olympics?
Mark: It involved putting a huge amount of time and effort into a very little amount of time. It was extremely exhilarating being on the stage on the night. Danny Boyle and the Designer Mark Tildesley were really inspirational to work for. Putting together a team of 20 puppeteers and 35 volunteers was amazing and we made good friends.
Can you sum up the Fringe experience in a single sentence?
Mark: Fast paced and invigorating.
This year you will be bringing ‘Henry’ to the Fringe. Can you tell us about it?
Mark: It’s a one man, three man show with puppetry called “Henry”. It’s narrated by puppeteer, director and “control freak” Mark Down who explores the mystical power of puppetry, assisted by two, slightly sinister, masked puppeteers. Things get out of control when the spirit of “Henry” enters the puppet. Who is “Henry”? What does he want? And is he dangerous? At least I think that’s what it’s about – we’re still making it!
For those who have seen past creations, such as Citizen Puppet (2015) or The Table (2011), are we to expect something similar or not?
Mark: Expect the unexpected. If The Table was the life of a puppet – Henry is about the life of a puppeteer.
If you’re flyering in the Edinburgh streets, what would you say in twenty seconds to convince someone to see Henry?
Mark: Anything might happen, come and see!
What will Mark Down & Blind Summit be doing after the Fringe?
Mark: Sleeping! And thinking about making the next Blind Summit show.
Pleasance King Dome
Aug 11th–26th (15:30)
A bonkers, immersive, party of a late night ‘childrens” show is winging its way into Edinburgh this August. The Mumble managed a blether with the creative polymath behind it all…
Hello Toby, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
TOBY: I’m originally a Bedford boy, and proud. However, I now live in Kingston way because the train takes twice as long but its ¼ of the price.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
TOBY: Something big and ballsy. As long as it doesn’t pander to everyone’s needs then I’ll be up for watching it. Also, pandas. I like pandas.
Over the past few years you have been developing performances and shows that try to challenge the idea of normal theatre? What gave you the impulse to go off tangent, so to speak?
TOBY: I just get bloody bored of watching the same old things over and over again. I started by making a show which was a mix of music, cabaret, lecture, theatre and club night a few years ago called, A Concise History of How One Should Party. It went down an absolute storm… For the 30 or so people who saw it; their reaction got me excited. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to just find some way of presenting this style in a believable style. Added to this, I love people like Eric Andre and Rik Mayall. So what better setting than kids TV!
What have you learnt from the journey about yourself & the theatrical arts?
TOBY: Lots of people complaining but not doing enough themsleves to justify it. Hard work and good relationships are essential. Also, when you’re shucking oysters and telling people you’re writing a mad cap show, people don’t always take you seriously.
How do you know & feel when you have just given a good performance?
TOBY: I’m sweating BUCKETS. Greasy pants.
Can you sum up the Fringe experience in a single sentence?
TOBY: I hope your soul and liver are ready for this Toby.
This year you will be bringing Very Blue Peter to the Fringe. Can you tell us about it?
TOBY: Very Blue Peter is Blue Peter on acid. The show itself centres around a famous controversy from 1998, which we’ve said was all a cover up for something much bigger. It contains: three rogue presenters, JK Rowling, Eurovision, World Cup, Morph, police, drugs, booze and psychedelic rock music. This is the episode of Blue Peter that was never aired.
How does it feel to be the shows writer & a director?
TOBY: Pretty cool! For me, this show is an exact science and it needs to be done is a certain way to make sense. At this point, I think a director would laugh in my face if I presented this idea to them.
Can you describe your cast members in a single word?
TOBY: Lauren Douglin = Biblical
Anthony Fagan = HughJackman
Eliza Hewitt-Jones = Landan
Matt Daniels = Naked
If you’re flyering the show, what would you say in thirty seconds to convince someone to see Very Blue Peter?
TOBY: Do you remember being a kid? No? OK, that’s a bit weird mate. But either way come and see Very Blue Peter. It’s pretty cool mate. I like your shirt. There’s a bulldog at the theatre. There’s not actually a bulldog. But yeh. Blue Peter on acid with a few pints sounds good, no?
What will Toby Boutall be doing after the Fringe?
TOBY: What Toby Boutall does every day. Be disappointed by where life has lead him and pretend on social media that he’s a happy presentable bloke. That and a panto playing the Genie.
Photography : Jackson Bews
Gilded Balloon Teviot
Aug 1st–27th (23:15)
West Yorkshire Playhouse
June 14th-23rd 2018
The monologues which make up ‘Talking Heads’ were originally written for and presented on BBC2 over 25 years ago and I myself have vague recollections of them from that time. They have of course been performed since on the stage but what is special about these performances is that they are taking place here in Leeds where for the most part they were originally set. This is of course as much a Leeds of Bennet’s imagination as it is a real place – a heightened world coloured by fuzzy recollections of his childhood and youth as much as it is reality but what strikes – as ever – about these pieces is their rich sense of detail, their ‘lived-in’ quality which could only come from the most keenest of observers. From the specific number of the bus used to the details of the canteen pudding this is a world which feels startlingly – almost oppressively real at times.
When the first piece “A chip in the sugar” begins we are transported into the fastidious world of Graham a middle aged man living with his mother. Theirs is an uncomfortably close relationship of mutual dependence. Socially isolated Graham takes quiet control of his mother’s opinions in line with his own liberal Guardian reading ways ( something he feels is for her own good ) whilst she rely s on him for physical and practical support. All is well until the arrival of an old flame of his mother’s who gradually wheedles his way into her affections with his superficial charm and flash patter.
Chris Chilton’s performance as Graham is excellent avoiding either a knowing impression of Alan Bennet himself (whose mannerisms the character sometimes embodies) or a campy caricature. He manages to illicit sympathy for what is at times an unlikeable character. He manages to capture both the humour and the desperation of the language making the audience both laugh uproariously whilst in the same breath gasp with shock. By performing small actions such as the folding of his clothes and the pacing of the room we get a sense of the obsessive nature and suppressed anxieties beneath the controlled exterior. When the fear and anger burst out it is with a genuine sense of queasy unease.
It’s very special for various reasons: It’s the last show in the Courtyard before the Playhouse undergoes redevelopment. It’s also my first time directing in my home theatre, and the opportunity to co-direct with James and Amy is really exciting. We’re each of us working with fantastic, generous actors. As you may know, four of the monologues have already been on tour around Leeds, so it’s great to offer them out to our community. It also means we can present a very different show, putting them all together on stage in one big production.
Director: John R Wilkinson
Next came “A woman of no importance” in which we meet Peggy a woman with a sense of herself as the ‘lynchpin’ of her workplace. Flo Wilson gives a subtly powerful performance as Peggy. At first I found her a rather tiresome creation; self-regarding, boring and obsessed with the petty mundanities and power-plays of office life as she is but gradually as the piece progressed my feelings were transformed. Wilson captures a woman both in decline and in denial of her place in the world and the changing nature of her own powers. I began to feel a gradual growing sense of great empathy for a character I had actively disliked and a strange sense of admiration for the self-deluded way in which as her world shrinks Peggy still retains her sense of pride and dignity. What is most impressive about the performance is the physical transformation in which Wilson captures the declining physical powers of Peggy. Wilson manages in her movements to make Peggy grow heavier, wearier and older before our very eyes through subtle shifts in posture, breathing and enunciation. This is also cleverly expressed through the use of costume – her gradual change from smart dress and coat to nightie and bed-jacket , the way Peggy clasps her handbag so tightly– and set as we see the environment gradually change from one of a banal public waiting room to hospital bed.
Finally we have “Soldiering On” in which we find Muriel, a woman of advancing years trying to hold things together in the wake of her beloved husband Ralph’s death. Though clearly a member of the upper classes we see as the piece unfolds a gradual stripping away of both Muriel’s physical comforts and her illusions until she is reduced to a state comparatively worse than either Graham’s or Peggy’s. I ended up finding Muriel in many ways the most appealing of the characters due largely to Tina Gray’s performance. She managed to convey a sense of a woman who underneath her bravado and stiff upper lip was rather lost. Imbuing her with a sense of unworldly niaviety as-well as vigour and pluck she gave Muriel’s suggestion that her story was “not a tragedy -I’m not that sort” the ring of truth to it which just made it all the more heartbreaking.
Throughout the pieces the setting is first rate whether it is letting us into the dreary and claustrophobic bedroom of Graham, the fading glamour of Muriel’s chaise longue and packing boxes or the antiseptic melancholy of Peggy’s hospital bedside. The way in which the sets are changed – particularly by the overalled workmen in Muriel’s living room – is also a sophisticated touch. The use of lighting and sound is minimal but effective too conveying both changes of scene and time and place with shifts in colouration and strength of light.
What shines through – though it is ably abetted by the uniformly excellent cast of course- is the script itself. These three pieces took me on an emotional journey in which I was taken to places I did not expect to go by people I didn’t want to go with. Bennet is able to create characters which have the tang of real life to them with all its ambivalence and complexity. It shows the strength in his writing that even the characters referred to off stage so to speak seem as well rounded and believable as the ones speaking directly to us.
Though there is much humour in the work and I indeed laughed through much of it these three pieces are I feel more tragedies than anything else. Not grand tragedies – that’s not Bennet’s style – but tragedies of lives unlived, of repression, denial and self-delusion, themes which run through these plays like the writing through a piece of Blackpool rock. These are very clever plays indeed which manage with their use of the casual wit and trivial mundanities of ordinary speech to explore difficult topics such as mental health issues, sexual repression and the damaging binds of family. By tackling these issues with humour, realism and above all humanity Bennet’s work has lost none of its power or relevance over a quarter of a century after they were first written.
The National Production Company
Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
13-16th June, 2018
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) has been a consistent crowd-pleaser since its debut in 1987. A Fringe Festival stalwart, the play has the survival abilities of a cockroach, and the script itself is so tried and tested that it would seem that it would take some effort on the part of a performance troupe to make it anything less than utterly charming and delightful for an audience. The brain child of American writers Adam Long, Jess Winfield and Daniel Singer, The Complete Works… is a light-hearted and irreverent romp through all 37 of the Bard’s plays, consisting of slap stick, farce and pantomime-esque audience participation.
In many ways, this winning formula serves The National Production Company well in their incarnation of the play, currently appearing at Edinburgh’s Assembly Roxy. The fledgling company have an admirable stab at it, employing the requisite high-energy and fast pace, and adhering stolidly to the well-loved, conventional features of the play – the sonnets are handed out on paper, Shakespeare’s biography is confused with that of Adolf Hitler, Titus Andronicus is presented in the style of a cookery show, MacBeth is performed in see-you-jimmy hats and in terrible Scottish accents, Othello is a rap, the ‘Kings’ plays are transformed into a slow-motion American football game.
One of the elements of the play that makes it satisfying for performers is the capacity for improvisation and the requirement for cultural references to be updated and tailored to specific audiences and locations. The play presents many opportunities for The National Production Company to put their stamp on it and really make it their own, but they choose to play it a little too safe. The result is that some of their references seem unimaginative, at points bordering on cliché. Even the decision to use Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ to bookend the show feels like it would’ve had more cache during the Rickrolling phenomenon/Astley renaissance ten years ago.
As the play is now 31 years old, some elements of it are badly in need of updating. The implication that a man in a dress doing a high-pitched voice is automatically hilarious doesn’t sit comfortably in 2018. One line about ‘not making things gendered’ in this version seems to acknowledge this, but so weakly, it somehow manages to make it worse. Similarly, the idea that a Southerner affecting a Yorkshire accent is inherently funny has gone out of fashion since Michael McIntyre was called out for classism by justifiably irked northern viewers several years ago. Presenting two men kissing as something to laugh at – really? Still?
It’s a shame that these wide-open opportunities to innovate were missed by The National Production company, as they are clearly a very talented bunch with heaps of passion. Bits of the performance were absolutely pitch-perfect and well-executed – the demanding final scene, with three versions of Hamlet performed at breakneck speed and backwards, and the tightly choreographed prologue to Romeo and Juliet were particular highlights. While a little disappointing, their decision to stick to established formulas is understandable. This was a solidly enjoyable performance, but I think much bigger and better things await The National Production Company.
Middle Weight Theatre are bringing their ‘amendments: A Play on Words’ to the Fringe this August. The Mumble shared a wee chat with writer/performer, Matt Roberts, and director/performer, Tom Stabb.
Hello lads, so where ya both from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Tom: Hello! Matt is originally from Cornwall, he studied in Exeter, Devon (where we met) and is now based in Bristol. I’m from and based In Exeter. So you can only imagine the type of arguments there are over who makes the better pasty.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Tom: From a very early age. Both my parents were involved in theatre; my father was an actor/director and my mother a ballet teacher/choreographer. My house was continually packed with actors, dancers, stage hands and as a result was always full of creativity; there were constant rehearsals, debates and arguments over the latest Bafta or Tony award winner. I actually learnt to count by watching rehearsals of the ‘39 Lashes’ from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ It was inevitable there was going to be an influence. Or therapy…
When did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
Matt: Several years ago I was a singer in a metal band and someone told me there were auditions being held near me for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ They reckoned I’d make a good Judas, because it was a ‘rock’ musical. My natural rock tenor voice (and my tendancy to betray people) made me a perfect candidate. I got the part, I loved performing it and this lead to other acting roles over the subsequent years.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Matt: For me, I want to be transported into the world of what I’m watching. I don’t want to sit in the audience and think ‘I’m currently watching a play;’ I want to be there thinking ‘I’m in their world.’ Ultimately, it’s about being immersed I guess. Also, I want to exit the theatre with residual thoughts and feelings – a good play should send you straight to the bar for a discussion, an argument or should at least prompt dialogue about the themes and psychodrama of what you’ve witnessed.
What do you like to do when you’re not being all theatrical?
Tom: I would love to give you a list of cool stuff to make myself sound all wind-swept and interesting, but honestly, the past three to four years have been consumed with establishing and maintaining the theatre company. Whether this is by going to watch other companies’ productions, talent scouting, learning new direction techniques, promoting or reading play after play after play, my interests are almost always work driven. I can do a good rendition of Eminen’s ‘Rap God’ or ‘A Modern Major General’ by Gilbert and Sullivan after a few glasses of wine; does this count?
You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three films, what would they be?
Matt: James Foley’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ and Alexander Mackendrick’s ‘The Sweet Smell of success.’ A close fourth would be ‘Noddy goes lap dancing.’ I can’t remember who directed it.
So Tom, how did you & Matt meet?
Tom: For a while I was a local music promotor around the Southwest. On several occasions I booked a heavy metal band that Matt was the vocalist for. They were such an outstanding group, I ended up muscling (and blackmailing) my way into being their bass player. We gigged and toured for over five years together, which (unsuspectingly at the time) developed into an on and off stage chemistry with regard to performance, comedy, writing, trust and, dare I say it, ethics… The band ran its course, but we have continued to collaborate on theatre projects ever since. Thus Middle-Weight Theatre Company was born.
Can you tell us about Middle-Weight?
Tom: It was jointly founded in 2013 by Matt and I, and the aim – from day one – was to maintain a high standard of entertainment expressed by a wide variety of talented actors through new and thought-provoking original writing. Along the way we have welcomed the crucial talents of Al Wadlan, Jemma Gillard and Chrissy Marshall in co-running the company. Everyone who has been involved in any of Middle-Weight’s productions, be it performing or behind the scenes, usually has a keen interest in discussing or debating current affairs and politics, which is why our new play ‘amendments: A Play on Words’ (about censorship and the devolution of language) has been such fun to produce.
Can you tell us more about this year’s play?
Matt: It’s basically about how our language is being profoundly diminished by the rampant political correctness currently infesting our society. Don’t get me wrong, I completely acknowledge that we need to have codes in place to ensure people and the groups those people are part of aren’t persecuted or victimised, by I’m worried that the populus is becoming so sensitive and have developed such a finely tuned sense of ‘offense’ that our language is becoming subject to so much prohibition and censorship that soon there will quite literally be nothing left to say.
Five years into the Middle-Weight experience, how have you changed as a person?
Tom: Interesting question. I have changed in the sense that I’ve rekindled an interest in embracing new methods and to be more pluralistic. Honestly – I’m a bit of a control freak and have a somewhat nervous disposition by nature, so gaining and developing new techniques and experiences has taught me to compose myself – when for example a piece of scenery we’ve spent weeks making doesn’t fit properly or a prop doesn’t arrive on time, I don’t tend to hit Matt in the face as my first response anymore – so there’s definite growth there.
How would you describe your working relationship with Tom?
Matt: Tom is great to work with because he is one of the very few people I’ve met in my life who is thoroughly reliable. If he says he’ll do something, he actually does it, and that’s a rare commodity in a person. He’s also very patient, which is, considering my phenomenally large ego, quite important.
This will be your third time at the Fringe, can you describe the experience of performing at the Fringe in a single sentence?
Tom: Enchantingly exhausting.
As an actor, how will you know & feel when you have just given a good performance?
Matt: If I’m sweating a lot, that’s usually a good sign.
Do you & Matt socialise outwith rehearsals?
Tom: No. We have a keen disdain for one another.
What will you guys be doing after the Fringe?
Matt: There will be a quick break (after a tour, Tom and I generally part with the mutual sentiment of ‘I don’t ever want to see you again’) and after which, it’ll be one of many potential projects. We have 3 new original plays to choose from, so we are delighted to know we will be busy until 2020!
amendments: A Play on Words
Sat 9th June
Murthly Village Hall
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
This is the ninth season that Dundee Rep have taken theatre into the community to various local venues. This year, director Irene Macdougall and the ensemble are revisiting familiar community venues and have added some new ones to the itinerary. There is something quite magical in the idea of a touring theatre and this Saturday night performance was packed. There was certainly a bit of a buzz amongst the audience as the hall filled up before the lights went down.
The 39 Steps being one of my all-time favourite movies (Hitchcock’s 1935 version, not any of the lacklustre remakes), I was keen to see what Dundee Rep’s ensemble would make of this classic Buchan ripping yarn. Would this Richard Hannay be a suave prototype James Bond, who takes his ladies’ kisses without asking? Or perhaps the comic Hannay of Simon Corble’s 1996 stage reboot? And how do you squeeze a tale that starts in a London music hall, steams up the Northern Line to Scotland and back to London again onto a stage (little Murthly village hall stage at that)?
Dundee Rep’s Joe Landry’s 39 Steps takes the conceit of a radio ‘play within a play’. As the lights go down the familiar pips of Greenwich time signal give way to the clipped tones of a Radio Scotland announcer introducing ‘tonight’s live performance’ of Buchan’s play in front of ‘a live audience’ – Hey that’s us! As the action progresses there were moments when, if one closed one’s eyes, one could easily have been listening to a radio drama from the nineteen thirties. Sound effects, mostly all produced ‘live’ by the five actors on stage, were a great part of the pleasure of listening as the familiar plot unfolded.
Ewan Donald’s Hannay is a delightfully upper crust rogue. Dressed for the part in tweeds and brogues, and with an accent that could cut a bar-full of glasses, he playfully keeps up the conceit of the nineteen thirties radio actor playing Richard Hannay. Emily Winter’s Annabella Smith/Pamela are just as playfully done. The awkwardly stifled romantic spark between Hannay and Pamela is the source of much magically amusing moments. Barrie Hunter takes, among a plethora of roles, the character of Professor Jordan to ‘evil genius’ proportions. Billy Mack and Ann Louise Ross take up the remaining cast with some excellent quick-change vocal acrobatics. At points in the action it’s hard to believe that there were only five actors on stage.
For me, and the appreciative audience in Murthly village hall, much of the comedy of the play was in watching the cast provide the sound effects. Look (or listen) out for the barking dog with excellent comic timing, and the flock of sheep. The excellent sound production never overtakes the plot, and, being created live, is a reminder, like the two old style BBC microphones at front of stage, that this is a radio performance being recreated on stage.
Dundee rep are currently touring venues around Dundee, Angus, Fife and Perthshire until Saturday 23rd Jun. If you want to be seriously entertained for an evening then look out for your nearest venue and get along. The ticket price is worth it twice over!
TOUR DATES TO COME
|Thu 14||Dibble Tree Theatre, Carnoustie||01241 853946|
|Fri 15||Menzieshill Community Centre||01382 432967|
|Sat 16||Rio Community Centre, Newport||01382 543366|
|Tue 19||Kirriemuir Town Hall||Click here to book|
|Wed 20||Forfar Reid Hall||Click here to book|
|Thu 21||Maxwell Centre, Hilltown||01382 802628|
|Fri 22||Douglas Community Centre||01382 436944|
|Sat 23||Eassie and Nevay Hall||01307 840839|