Category Archives: Europe

The Conchordia Folio: An Interview with Damian Beeson Bullen

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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!

So how exactly do you intend to ‘Knock Shakespeare off his feffin perch?’
I mean look, if a guy can run a marathon in less than two hours, another guy can outdo Shakespeare. Its the whole point of being human right, to better ourselves. Methodwise, its simple really. I’ve tried to outdo his sonnets already, creating a sequence of 154 which if you put against Shakespeare’s 154, I think I’ve got the edge. So it’ll be the same idea with the plays. I need to create a canonical 37 which when placed next to Shakepseare’s own 37, lets leave it to posterity to decide. My edge, I think, is going to be more penetrable language, shorter pieces & some proper banging tunes.

 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.

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Performing Alibi at Eden Festival, 2018

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 to be included in the Folio?
Like I said before, 37. 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 quite a number of histories – Charlie, Finnesburgh – based on a story in Beowulf – Malmaison, which tells the story of Napoleon on his return to Paris after Waterloo, one about Princess Diana, & Gods of The Ring, about the Foreman, Ali, Frazier fights in the 70s. There’s also a trilogy called The Rock & Roll Wars, its essentially a battle of the bands on a cosmic level. 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. Here’s 36 of the 37 conchords;

LEITHOLOGY

Alibi
Gangstaland
Tinky Disco
No Nay Never
Timewarpin’

COMEDIES

The Sensuality of Sappho
The Cannibals of Clackmannan
Hunters Woods

HISTORIES

Madame Fahey
The Budapest Cup
Youngers Ale
Charlie
Gaston Dominici
Finnesburgh
Fredrick & Wilhemina
Galapagus
Gods of the Ring
In A Child’s Garden
In A Man’s Garden
Xanadu
The Siege of Etain
Viriathus
Malmaison
The Indian Mutiny
The Medicines of Doctor Morrell
The People’s Princess
Fyre Festival, Baby!

THE ROCK & ROLL WARS

Rock & Roll Apocalypse
Monkey Messiah
The Inferno

OTHERS

Exes & Axes
Fairyland
Cabal
Seven Shurikens
The Sleepers of Ephesus
Danny Brown, the Boy Detective


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.

An Interview with Birdlife Productions

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kotuku and the Moon Child

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

 

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www.birdlifeproductions.co.nz

 

Orange Double

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Forte Prenestino

Rome

19/10/18


About ten days ago or so, I was in Rome. Twenty years ago I had visited the city for the first time &, being a busker, I was both amazed & delighted to find myself the benficiary of the hospitality of the Forte Prenestino. This old Italian military base was taken over by the avant-garde youth of Rome three decades ago, & has grown from strenth to strength. I always love to go back, feed myself on the cheap but tasty vegan fare & see what arts are on offer. On the occasion of my most recent visit – with my brother-in-law & occasional Mumbler in tow – I had the good fortune to witness an unusual, yet addictive piece of European theatre.

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Its name is Orange Double, the duo of which are two flamboyant female actresses – AudeRrose and Nikky – as moody as the Papin sisters of Mans, who skittle about stage to the eerie accompaniment of strange & surreal sounds bellowing & willowing from gonzo instruments. Some they produce themselves, but the majority come from the arcane musicianship of the gentleman that completes the Teatro Forte! troupe. Other important ingredients of Orange Double include the kaleidoscopic, petri-dish visualities either projected from the front of the stage, or onto a sheet from behind; & the suitcase full of contraptions which are regularly shaken into the action.

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During this swirl of shapes, sounds, shades, colours & monolithic movement, I found it all rather David Lynch really – a wonder without words that has you completely hooked from the off like a fascinated toddler, tho’ it is very much a case of choose your own narrative. For a good, good while we are just floating in the cosmic bubble of Orange Double‘s dreamscape, but then somehow they manage to up the tempo, change costumes, slide onto a chaise lounge & provide a suitable ending. After tripping out for a good half an hour down the K-Hole that is Double Trouble,  I wasn’t expecting such a lift at all – but it was great, & a perfect way to conclude this whirlwind ride where sound & movement are synergised without any seeming effort, creating audiovisual theatre at its very, very best.

Damo

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