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On Thursday evening last week, James Brining, artistic director, Robin Hawke, Executive Director, Amy Leach, Associate Director and whole array of writers, directors and performers presented the autumn and winter season announcement for Leeds Playhouse, running through their upcoming attractions. This year, however, the announcement was coupled with something even more exciting.
Last year, James Brining, announced an extensive £15.8 million redevelopment programme to what was formerly West Yorkshire Playhouse. Alongside this, he announced a name change to Leeds Playhouse alongside. This is a dishearteningly separationist world that we currently find ourselves in, a world of Donald Tump’s oft-threatened country dividing wall, a world of that business around leaving the EU. Against this backdrop, this name change could be interpreted as something of an isolating move, of a theatre extricating itself from the rest of West Yorkshire and becoming solely a theatre for Leeds. However, from the content of Thursday’s showcase, it is quite clear that is not the case. Not only is the theatre firmly rooting itself in all things Yorkshire, providing a voice to established and upcoming voices, as well as reaching out to the rest of the UK and the world beyond. The Leeds in its name is more of a doubling down on its identity, a reaffirming of itself as an important part of the city of Leeds, imbuing its new walls with the character of the city around itself.
West Yorkshire Playhouse closed its doors on June 23rd 2018, and since that date has held performances in a converted set workshop, dubbed the Pop Up Theatre. This performance space has seen many superb performances. Over the past 9 months there have been performances of 14 shows and over 50, 000 audience members have attended these performances. There was an air of regret at having to leave this temporary performance space behind – its longer stage and more intimate feel has offered new ways perform and the team have clearly felt at home within its walls. However, this sadness is now tempered with the anticipation of what is to come. What was originally intended to be a quiet year for Leeds Playhouse whilst development works took place, has become one of great creativity and activity.
The revamped Leeds Playhouse will offer two rejuvenated performance spaces in the Quarry and Courtyard theatres as well as one exciting new performance space – the Bramall Rock Void: a performance space that has been created below the theatre’s old box office, developed in the ground of Leeds’ Quarry Hill itself. The old theatre, while of great significance to Leeds’ cultural backdrop, did not command much awe as a building. However this new building will be much grander in both height and scale, offering a greater connection to the city itself with new entrances opposite Leeds Bus Station and a short distance from the heart of Leeds city centre. The expanded building will offer new routes through its spaces and new ways for the public to engage within – with bars and cafes sitting alongside the Quarry, Courtyard and Rock Void. The team’s excitement was palpable, and they were very much looking forward to waiting in the theatre’s entrances and witnessing the public’s reactions on their opening weekend.
A challenge that the team faced as work continued deep down into Quarry Hill, was the surprise discovery of bodies buried beneath the theatre. Historically, there have been three churches situated on Quarry Hill – from the Old Boggart House Methodist Chapel, to St Mary’s Church. It is likely that these churches had burial grounds on site, hence the discovery. With a wry smile, it was noted that many established theatres have their own ghosts that lend them a mystery and charm, so with any luck their very modern building may inherit its own ghost. What better a symbol of a strong link to the area and to local history than a ghost, with echoes of the past overlaid on the present?
Another fantastic symbol of the link to place and past is the new performance space, the Bramall Rock Void. This is named after the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, who have supported the Playhouse over the years and have donated significant amounts of money to facilitate this new development. This underground theatre features exposed red brick walls that echo the sarchitecture of Leeds, filling it with local spirit and character. It also has exposed rock in the floor to connect it with the very foundations of the city. From 11th – October to 2nd of November, the Bramall Rock Void will feature its inaugural performance – There are No Beginnings by local writer Charley Miles, who has found her home at the Playhouse. Set at the time of the Yorkshire Ripper murders from the discovery of the first body to the eventual arrest of Peter Sutcliffe, the play follows the lives of four individual women as they deal with curfews and a time that gave birth to the Reclaim the Night movement. Charley Miles firmly insists that this is most certainly not a story about the Yorkshire Ripper, but one about female resilience; it is a positive affirmation of a dark time. The Rock Void is a flexible space that allows for many different seating arrangements and this play will be performed in traverse, with the audience seated at either side of the performers, in an intimate and atmospheric production. Miles is thrilled about having her work performed here and describes the Bramall Rock Void as “an unearthed heartbeat that was hidden under our theatre all along”.
As building work continues on Leeds Playhouse, so does work on Leeds City College’s new Quarry Hill Campus next door. This new neighbour has provided fresh opportunities and a new production signals the burgeoning connections between the playhouse and Leeds City College. Leeds Playhouse’s Youth Theatre will be performing Influence, a new play by Andy McGregor at Leeds City College’s new campus from 31stOctober to 2nd November. Directed by Gemma Woffinden and taking inspiration from modern TV shows such as Stranger Things, Influence presents a lively comedic adventure full of explosive action as a group of teenagers embark on a search for a missing local boy. This new partnership is one of many that extends and deepens the Playhouse’s connections to the wider communities across Leeds and Yorkshire as a whole. The team remain dedicated to supporting developing talent in the area, and then showing this off across the county.
One such production is Trojan Horse (3rd – 5th October) by Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead, a multi award winning play award winning play that will begin a national tour at Leeds Playhouse’s Courtyard theatre in advance of the full opening festivities. Originally developed through the playhouse’s Furnace programme, the play won the Scotsman Fringe First award in 2018. It deals with the allegations of Muslim teachers plotting extremism in Birmingham schools and is built around real life testimonies of people from Bradford, Birmingham and London. Many theatres and institutions were reluctant to get involved with this project and the company themselves were very concerned that the sensitive nature of their work could ruin the reputations of those involved. However, the Playhouse was supportive in this venture and are proud to place this performance at the very beginning of their opening celebrations.
Other planned performances are: Northern Ballet’s Dracula at the Courtyard Theatre (29th October – 2nd November), a performance that is due to be broadcast live to cinemas across the world; A new production of Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Launderette, running for two weeks (15th – 26th October) after the theatre’s opening weekend; Mushy: Lyrically Speaking (8th – 12th October), a true story about Musharaf Asghar from TV’s Educating Yorkshire;Barber Shop Chronicles, returning to Leeds after a sell out world tour. Additionally, there is a whole raft of performances aimed at a younger audience, designed to introduce them to theatre. In the run up to Christmas, they will be staging The Night Before Christmas, a play about language barriers that incorporating sign language into D/deaf friendly performances. This certainly highlights the theatre’s dedication to inclusive performance and its drive to create a fully accessible theatre experience.
Finally, we were treated to a snippet of the play Dinner 18:55, a play that was originally performed in February 2019, in advance of its UK tour. This is an intergenerational production born out the theatre’s Creative Engagement programme and features a cast of young people aged 18 to 21 and adults over 55. The play itself presents a moment in which two generations take time over a meal to converse and tell their stories. We got to hear two of the characters tell their stories: a young man mused on the nature of “success” in the age of social media and how he struggled to measure his own success against high profile success stories. Next, a retired social worker told his own life story and measured his experiences against this young man’s definitions of success, highlighting its truths and lies. Two cast members, Pat & Wisdom, spoke of their involvement in show, of bridging the generational divide and the opportunities presented that slowed them to tell their own personal stories as they improvised and collaborated on the writing of this production. This show, along with all of the others listed above, show exactly how much the Playhouse desires to reach out to the communities that surround it, to showcase local talent and develop their involvement in theatre.
Following a series of stress tests to ensure that the building is ready, along with the one coordinated toilet flush to ensure that the building can cope with its new influx of visitors, Leeds Playhouse will be ready to open its doors to the public.
Opening weekend will take place from 11th – 13th October, deliberately timed to coincide with Leeds’ hugely popular Light Night on 11th October. It presents a wonderful chance to explore the theatre’s new performance spaces, restaurants and bars, along with pop up performances in the atrium, tours and theatre workshops. The team have opted for a gradual opening, with each space having its own opening performance rather than one big bang event, and are very much looking forward to meeting their future audiences.
May 18 – June 1, 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Be My Baby is a subtly gripping history lesson about an underexposed and somewhat shameful aspect of our collective past. Set in a home for unwed mothers it centers on the lives of a small group of young women from very different backgrounds who never the less find themselves in the same predicament: being single and pregnant at a time ( the early 1960’s) when to be so was tantamount to social suicide.
At the very heart of the play is Mary (Simona Bitmate), a young woman from a comfortable middle class background whose disapproving mother (played brilliantly by Jo Mousley – all brittle anxiety and superiority) is conflicted about leaving her in such a place.However under the firm hand of Matron, the head of austere St Saviours Mary begins to find her feet. She befriends the other girls, sassy, hardbitten Queenie ( Crystal Condie ), giddy, naive Dolores ( Tessa Parr )and serious, self-contained Norma ( Anna Gray) as they bond over their mutual incarceration and their shared love of soulful pop.
All have their individual fantasies of boyfriends, jobs and escape which they begin to reveal to each other, all in different levels of denial about their situation. The play started slowly creating a sense of time and place before gradually drawing the characters out (none of whom are entirely what they seem). I found the dialogue with its flashes of humour and underplayed emotion very naturalistic. The script relied as much on what was not said as what was. There was a sense that things were hinted at and suggested which made the gradual revelations both believable and all the more affecting. The potential heaviness of the subject matter too was handled in such a way that it seemed to gradually seep into the play almost imperceptibly until the quietly devastating final act.
At first we are encouraged to view matron as being a negative figure, the girls jailer a prudish and stern disciplinarian but such is the depth of the play that Matron is shown to have great empathy for the girls. There is a tenderness and care beneath her stiff exterior. Even during a deeply uncomfortable scene in which she forces Mary to understand how the world outside might view her we don’t doubt that this is done for the best intentions. Susan Twist’s performance as Matron is a masterclass in restraint, with tenderness and deep feeling glimpsed beneath her character’s stiff exterior.
In fact the script encourages the audience to empathise with all the differing perspectives of the characters to the extent that we can see how everyone is equally struggling with social rules they had no say in making. For though this is a play about women men still act as a shadowy presence off stage, their actions pushing the events of the story as much as the women on it. In this way the play shows how all the women are contained and restrained by the expectations and desires of the men around them. Even the sassy Queenie appears to ultimately accept that to imagine another way is nothing but a pipe dream.
The play has something to say about class too as it looks at the different expectations the girls and others have of them. The interplay between Queenie and Mary, showing how the former’s inverted snobbery stops her from seeing they are both equally trapped. The actors all have good material to work with and all manage to create fully realised nuanced performances. No-one here is a cliché or cypher yet through them the show explores issues as varied as back-street abortions, rape and forced adoption. I found the relationship between Queenie, the tough cynic with dreams of pop stardom and Mary, the naive girl from the genteel background with the steely resolve particularly finely drawn. It felt like we were watching the growth, blossoming and wilting of a friendship before our very eyes.Although both the script and performances are uniformly excellent some of the credit for making the play a success must go to the overall design, sound and lighting.
The costumes of the characters were cleverly used in a symbolic way. . The pastel pinks,purples and blues of the parental figures denoting a faded authority, the grey pinafores of the girls seeming to suggest a desire to turn back them back into little girls, whilst also implying the dull uniformity of the prison yard. The overall use of a limited palette in terms of costume and set allowed the performances themselves the space to breathe which they needed. The set which could – given the time period of the play – have been used in a more hackneyed way was used to convey a sense of sterility, it’s minimalist grey cabinets, shelves and boxes evoking more the furnishing department of a high street department store than the swinging 60’sof lore.
The only element which did place us in a particular time-frame was the play’s imaginative use of music. Between each scene change we hear and see the girls sing along to 60’s pop which wittily expressed their situation. Towards the beginning when a moment of romantic pop segued and merged with a hymn and later as the music overlapped a wistful monologue this was handled in such a masterful way as to really hit me in the gut. The lighting, subdued throughout was particularly effective during the spotlit birthing scene. This created a real sense of wonder as the actress performed in a kind of flowing, slow-moving mime the act of her baby bulge becoming a living, breathing child.
I found the play to be unexpectedly moving as I found myself drawn into the lives of these young women journeying with them through their excitements, fears, frustrations and disappointments. It was all the more emotionally rich for being performed by all with such obvious care and empathy. Ultimately it was a fitting tribute to the lives of all those young women whose unknown story it now told so well.
Auckland Theatre Company are in the process of unveiling a fantastic young actress
Hello Nathalie, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Hello! I’m from Canberra, Australia, and I’ve just moved to Auckland this year.
When did you first realise you were, well, theatrical?
I’ve wanted to perform since I was 11 and I saw a stage production of High School Musical. The ensemble looked like they were having so much fun as a team, and I wanted to have that too. When I started taking theatre classes and tackling scripts, I got way more interested in characters and the forces that drive them to act in the ways they do. I love putting myself in other people’s circumstances and using them to express
myself in ways that I wouldn’t get to in my own life.
Last year you graduated from the Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School, how was your time there?
It was so cool. Toi Whakaari is a place where you are constantly experimenting. There’s no end goal to the training. You are just continuously exposed to new techniques and styles of performance and given lots of opportunities to test them out. You are pushed to take more risk, have more pleasure, and go further into the unknown, but you are never pushed to be a certain kind of actor. The school celebrates creativity and has a great subversive sense of humour. It’s also incredibly challenging to put your struggle in front of other students and teachers for three years, but I’m grateful that those challenges took place within those walls.
Can you tell us about,’ I Never Thought I’d Have to Explain it All?’ & its tenure in Wellington?
I Never Thought I’d Have to Explain it All is a show I made about a high profile disappearance case in Australia – one that I was briefly involved with as a kid. As I researched deeper into the case, I got really affected by how it was reported on and spread through the entertainment industry. So the show buries the story of the case in many of these entertainment mediums, like talk show, film, documentary, stand-up comedy, podcast etc. As we give the audience more truths about the case, we also involve them more in the thrill of these forms. It’s very funny and wicked and compelling. I started writing the show with Andrew Eddey in our final year of drama school, and we presented the first draft at Toi Whakaari’s annual Festival of Work in Development. It started out as a solo show, but it grew to include more performers, designers, and managers by the time we presented a second draft at The NZ Fringe Festival in March this year. We learned an incredible amount about the work throughout this second season, so hopefully we will mount another development of the show in Auckland or Australia in the next couple of years.
What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage / the curtain goes up?
Sometimes I do a ‘dick-ass dance’, which is a very important technique I learned at drama school. Basically you just dance your heart out, off the beat and leading from your hips. Other times I just stand toward the audience and feel love and gratitude right before going on. If I’m about to enter with someone else, I’ll try to make a joke with them or whisper something titillating in their ear.
What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?
Reading a great play out loud with friends, or watching a great film with a big cup of coffee, or body surfing at the beach with my dad.
You are playing the young Queen Elizabeth in Peter Morgan’s ‘The Audience,’ how did you get the role?
I auditioned for the role in December. I was in Australia at the time, but my grandma said “oh, you’ve got to go get seen” so I flew over for the day. And then there was a recall audition in January.
Can you tell us a little something about the play?
It’s a theorised glimpse into the private audiences that Queen Elizabeth II has had with the British Prime Ministers each week throughout her reign. It’s also a beautiful and comical portrait of the woman, and a compelling insight into how those PMs stayed sane in power.
How are you finding Her Highness’s accent?
It’s very fun. It’s one of my favourite parts about this project. When she was young her voice was very distinct. There are all sorts of words that I catch her saying in broadcasts and interviews that don’t quite follow any rules, and I like the challenge of trying to capture them all.
How is Director Colin McColl handling both yourself individually & then the cast as a whole?
Colin has worked with many of the actors in the cast for many years, and I’ve witnessed a very strong and easeful working relationship, with lots of mutual respect and responsibility. The actors don’t wait to be told what to do by Colin, nor are they lead through any specific process. They do their research and jump straight onto the floor with lots of offers and confidence. This is my first professional theatre show since graduating drama school, so it’s really great to witness that.
What emotive responses do you expect from the audience?
I think The Audience will be very funny and moving, especially for people who have grown up listening to Queen Elizabeth II’s broadcasts and following the politics of all of the British Prime Ministers who appear in the show.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets, what would you say?
Come watch a wonderful actress, Theresa Healey, navigate the role of Queen Elizabeth II – over 60 years of her life! – with dexterity, humour, and sensitivity. And an ensemble of daredevil character actors take on all of the wacky traits of the British PMs. A majestic set and a pandora’s box of wigs and costumes – it’s going to be fun!
What will you be doing for the rest of 2019?
I’m heading back to Canberra when The Audience closes to start rehearsals for The Street Theatre’s production of A Doll’s House Part 2 by Lucas Hnath. The play is set 15 years after the end of Ibsen’s classic, and I’ll be playing Emmy, Nora’s grown-up daughter.
Straddling the spheres were theatre meets ethereality is Kate Joyner & her remarkably evocative Blood Tales
Hello Kate, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Kate: I’m from England, grew up in Shropshire, but I’m currently living in Barcelona.
When did you first realise you were, well, theatrical?
Kate: I think when I was 7. I used to to create one girl performances on my god-mothers poufee. I was always quite expressive and interested in how humans worked, so throughout my life, I’ve studied psychology and art.
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
Kate: I think theatre is an live experience, no one performance is the same, there is a magic to it. I think being in the same room as someone who is offer their art is a very real experience, perhaps even divinely.
You’ve got three famous women from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starters, mains & dessert?
Kate: First of all I probably wouldn’t cook, we’d go out for dinner, as it’s one of my favorite things to do. And then I’d let them choose what they want from the menu. Who would they be? Audrey Lorde, Eve Ensler and Madonna.
Can you tell us about Silver Moon Theatre Co. & your role?
Kate: I am The Silver Moon Theatre Co. At the moment it’s a one woman company. What I’m principally interested in in my art form is giving voice to the unspoken voices of the feminine. I’m really passionate about the stage a tool for the wildest and boldest expression of the feminine soul, as a way of bringing to the forefront aspects of our feminine nature that have otherwise been banished to the shadows. Why would I want to do this, you might ask? In order to create ripples of social change within the collective unconscious. I have the support of a director, Palma Morena Greco and an amazing producer, Danja Buchard and my techie is called Felix Gane. What I do is create the shows, from the writing to the performing and the whole orchestration.
What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage / the curtain goes up?
Kate: Well I spend about half an hour warming up. In that half an hour, I meditate, then run on the spot whilst talking to the wall, get into the emotional body of my character, who by nature is a witty witch, so as you can imagine, the last thing I do before the curtain comes up can sometimes get quite wild.
You’re bringing a play to Brighton this May, can you tell us about it?
Kate: Yes. I’ll be doing a short 3 night run, (so get your tickets already). It’s at Sweet Werks 1 at 21.15, 10th, 11th &; 12th May. The tag line for the show sum its up pretty well so I like to share that: “Re-mystifying the most misunderstood phenomena of a woman’s body by telling the true tales about our Blood”. And then the blurb:
This one woman show will transport you into the mystical landscape of woman’s Blood through the lens of a hilariously funny wicked witch from London. Mixing the sacred with the profane, the outrageous with the sensical, insanity with normality, The Blood Tales will change what you thought about women’s menstrual Blood, for ever. The show dispels the outworn stories of shame and disgust into tales of beauty and power through the cauldron of this raw and elemental theatrical performance. Creating a field of magic that ripples into the political as well as the spiritual dimensions of a woman’s holy red river, offering the promise of a new paradigm, as seen from the Moon. Not all are insane enough to come and see it, but hopefully you will be brave enough to accept this wild and bold invitation, my pretty.
Can you tell us about the almost esoteric writing of the script?
Kate: I was on the West Coast of Scotland on an island, which I don’t remember the name of, unfortunately. It was in 2015 and my muse whispered to me the inspiration for The Blood Tales. She told me to go home and listen to what the Blood wanted me to say, so for 3 consecutive moon cycles, when I got my blood, I locked myself away. From that time, I transcribed 13 poems that make up the base of the script.
Aha, it seems that the Moon Goddess, one of the traditional inspirations for poets, was with you. Can you define for us the comblended experience of being inspired by the menstrual cycle & the heavenly sphere which controls it?
Kate: Yes, excellent question. It’s my experience that when we bleed we enter into an altered state of consciousness. This form of consciousness is very close to the earth dreaming, the anima mundi. It makes sense if you think about it, if our moon cycle is connected to the moon cycle which is to say the rhythms of nature, then the internal act of bleeding, when we tune into it, can bring us close to the our elemental nature. This form of consciousness, where the soul is on the skin, the poetic voice is more available to me. By surrendering into this flow, I get to hear the voice of my muse and then I transcribed that voice into red streams of poetry.
Can you tell us about the evolutionary growth of The Blood Tales as performance art?
Kate: It started out as a spoken word performance back in 2015. I knew there was more life behind the words than simply standing there and reciting the poetry, so I enrolled in an experimental theatre laboratory in Barcelona where The Blood Tales has since turned into a full scale theatre production. During this investigative phase, I’ve been shown that within the blueprint of the show is a map that can lead women into their own feminine initiation. I’m going to be offering workshops along with the show, where women can come and tell their own Blood Tale. And then my prayer is that “The Blood Tales does for the blood what The Vagina Monologues has done for the vagina”. Pretty wild, no?
What emotive responses do you expect from the audience, both male & female?
Kate: I feel it leave people quite moved as it’s an emotive piece. You feel with me as I take you on this journey into the long lost terrain of the feminine wild. I’ve had amazing responses from both men and women. One man from the audience of a show I did in Oakland, USA, came to me and said “Seeing your show makes me rely wish I could menstruate”.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Brighton?
Kate: Don’t miss The Blood Tales. Really. Just don’t. It’s the most revolutionary thing you could possibly see this Fringe.
What will you be doing for the rest of 2019?
Kate: I will working on my latest production, “In bed with Madonna”, holding a woman’s retreat in Crete in August, working hard to get The Blood Tales on tour for later this year or early 2020, so watch this space and generally just enjoying life as much as I can.
Thanks for all of your questions and for taking time to read folks. I hope to see you in the
Sweet Werks 1
May 10-12 (21:15)
An essay showing the theatrical origins of Homer’s Iliad, through the pen of Thales, under the direction of Lycurgus of Sparta…
I am currently sat at a table amidst the sunswingingly sensuous delights of Star Beach on the northern shores of Crete. My family & I arrived late last night, hiring a car & eventually tracking down our residence for the next three nights, Petra Village, a mini-resort with pool, bar & a trillion crickets piping a cacophony. It is apt to be here on the Megalonisi, the ‘big island’ of the Greeks, to provide an account of the mesmerizing energy of Homer’s mind-music, that poetical weaver of disparate strands of ancient subject matter into the world’s two most earliest & most majestic epics. That an individual author composed these poems, however, is simply not the case. This ‘Homeric Question’ has tested academic minds for many an age, with Frederick Nietzsche declaring ‘the primary form of this widespread and honeycombed mountain known as the Homeric question can be most clearly observed by looking down at it from a far-off height.’ The ‘far-off’ height mentioned by Neitzsche is the tall mountain upon which the chispologist builds a weather-station & shouts into the gusting breezes that Homer was a quasi-mythological deity, to whom only the highest examples of streaming elysium would be associated – less an individual genius & more the poetic soul of an entire people.
But for now, & for ease of dictate, we shall call Homer by his antique identity, as the singular author of the Iliad & Odyssey. His subject was the Trojan War & its aftermath, an event of deep history whose war-drums still beat resoundingly today. The Iliad centers on a small series of events that took place toward the end of the ten-year war, while the Odyssey sings of the return from Troy of the Grecian hero Odysseus. The poems are, in a word, magnificent, full of comprehension & understanding for the ways of men, while possessing some of the greatest phraseology ever to be uttered by a human tongue. The most astonishing thing about the epics is their sheer antiquity, through which mists of deep time the creation of the poems, & indeed their creator, have been readily obscured.
It was as early as the Classical period that the first doubts appertaining to the origins of the epics were raised. The oldest complete copy of the Iliad – the 10th century BC manuscript – has marginal notes, first published by De Villoison in 1788, which preserve substantial remnants of ancient scholarship on the poems from the intense erudition of Didymus, Aristonicis, Herodian, Nicanor & Antoninian. A century later, a similar note-smitten codex was created which ended up in the library at of the Townleys of Townley Hall, in my hometown of Burnley. Of these scholia, we encounter the thoughts of two obscure figures known as Xenon & Hellanicus, two antique scholars who first speculated that the Iliad & Odyssey had been composed by separate authors. This actually makes sound sense, for where the Iliad contains four times as many similes as the Odyssey, the language of the Odyssey is less archaic than that of the Iliad, to which surmise we may add that words for many common items are different in each poem. Aristotle further highlights the differences between the epics when he muses, ‘the composition of the Iliad is simple & full of pathos, that of the Odyssey complex, as there are recognitions throughout & full of character.’
So far so different, & as the Aegean sea blows a refreshingly wild wind into my beachside boudoir, we may acknowledge that long before the days of word-files & photocopying, the preservation of Homer’s poetry, spread over many centuries, suggests a great number of scribes have handled the text. Along the way, each would add something of their own making, maybe respelling a word, or perhaps re-writing whole passages in order to please a changing audience. As the poems evolved, two vast chains of transcreation would slowly fossilize themselves into the epics we whimsically attribute to a single Homer. One cannot understand why this happened, for the dating of the ‘original’ Homer was offered quite differently by a great many ancient scholars. The early Christian churchman, Tatian, in his Address to the Greeks, identifies this scattered strata of Homeric composition;
Now the poetry of Homer, his parentage, and the time in which he flourished have been investigated by the most ancient writers,— Of these, Crates says that he flourished before the return of the Heraclidæ, and within 80 years after the Trojan war; Eratosthenes says that it was after the 100th year from the taking of Ilium; Aristarchus, that it was about the time of the Ionian migration, which was 140 years after that event; but, according to Philochorus, after the Ionian migration, in the archonship of Archippus at Athens, 180 years after the Trojan war; Apollodorus says it was 100 years after the Ionian migration, which would be 240 years after the Trojan war. Some say that he lived 90 years before the Olympiads, which would be 317 years after the taking of Troy. Others carry it down to a later date, and say that Homer was a contemporary of Archilochus; but Archilochus flourished about the 23d Olympiad, in the time of Gyges the Lydian, 500 years after Troy.
It is through these ‘Homers’ that the story of the Trojan War & its aftermath would pass, until the Iliad as we know it began to take shape in the 9th century BC – as I believe – under the auspices of the Spartan King, Lycurgus. Not a poet himself, the task was given to a certain verse-maker called Thales, whom he met on Crete, an island which I am yet to explore but have made my first landing as if I was one of the German gliders crash-landing in advance of the German Fallschirmjäger in 1941. It is through the vita of Lycurgus, as given by Plutarch, that we gain a heady hint of just how powerful a poet-thinker was Thales. We join the vita with Lycurgus on some kind of state visit to Crete;
One of the men regarded there as wise statesmen was Thales, whom Lycurgus persuaded, out of favour and friendship, to go on a mission to Sparta. Now Thales passed as a lyric poet, and screened himself behind this art, but in reality he did the work of one of the mightiest lawgivers. For his odes were so many exhortations to obedience and harmony, and their measured rhythms were permeated with ordered tranquillity, so that those who listened to them were insensibly softened in their dispositions, insomuch that they renounced the mutual hatreds which were so rife at that time, and dwelt together in a common pursuit of what was high and noble.
This description of Thales tells us he was the perfect poet, a teacher who used the soft & easy words of the lyric, but resonant with meaning in order to teach the people of Crete just how to be, how to live a good life. I have only been here a few hours, but so far all the Cretans we have met have been decent & open; from the young couple on a moped who led us to the beach road in the dark last night, to our cool & friendly waiter here at Star Beach, the appropriately named ‘Adonis.’ ‘Don’t worry be happy’ is the mantra & if these easy vibes emanated from the ancient wisdom of Thales, then to be in his actual company would have been a tremendous sensation for Lycurgas, & it is no wonder, I suppose, that he was invited to join the royal Spartan party. Agreeing to terms, perhaps, Thales left his gorgeous rock at the edge of Europa & joined Lycurgas on a visit Asia Minor, where Plutarch tells us the Spartan king;
Made his first acquaintance with the poems of Homer, which were preserved among the posterity of Creophylus; and when he saw that the political and disciplinary lessons contained in them were worthy of no less serious attention than the incentives to pleasure and license which they supplied, he eagerly copied and compiled them in order to take them home with him. For these epics already had a certain faint reputation among the Greeks, and a few were in possession of certain portions of them, as the poems were carried here and there by chance; but Lycurgus was the very first to make them really known.
At this point in time we have a certain Spartan king in possession of the two foundation stones of what would become the Iliad, these being those fragments of the early Homeric materials, & a poet who could do something with them, to turn them into something cohesive & infinitely beautiful. Such a moment provided the perfect conditions for what can only be called a regurgitation of Homer, a moment remembered by Demeterius of Magnesia, who placed the author of the Iliad in the same ‘very ancient times’ of Lycurgus. With all the pieces in position, all that was need was a catalyst to spark off the creative furnace that would produce the Iliad, & it came in the form of the first Olympic Truce. We begin with Plutarch, who writes of Lycurgas; ‘Some say that he flourished at the same time with Iphitus, and in concert with him established the Olympic truce. Among these is Aristotle the philosopher, and he alleges as proof the discus at Olympia on which an inscription preserves the name of Lycurgus.’ The truce forged by Lycurgas, Iphitus of Elis & Cleosthenes of Pisa was designed to bring peace to the Peloponnese; all three sides were bogged down in endless rounds of bloodshed, and it was decided that they would try to soothe their differences by staging a peaceful games at Olympia. A tribute to the unity of the Greek nation was needed, & a tribute to the pan-Grecian unity as it fought the Trojan War was a perfect theme, & subject worthy of Thales’ pensmanship. The following passage by the 5th Century BC Athenian historian, Thucydides, backs up the sentiment;
The weakness of the olden times is further proved to me chiefly by this circumstance, that before the Trojan war, Hellas, as it appears, engaged in no enterprise in common.
The squabbling Greeks of the Olympic Truce would need to be reminded of a time when they stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity. If anything could convince them to settle their differences, the Homeric poems of Troy recreated by a noble-minded Thales would definitely do the job. That Thales handled the Iliad is unconsciously supported by Pausanius, who describes the Greece of Lycurgus’ time as being grievously worn by internal strife and plague, while the Iliad actually begins with a plague. Indeed, Pausanius tells us that Thales, ‘stayed the plague at Sparta,’ during which time, I conject, he was likely to have been composing the Iliad. The dates also fit, for where Herodotus tells us, ‘Hesiod and Homer I suppose were four hundred years before my time and not more,’ i.e. 850 BC, the Olympics of Lycurgus can be approximately dated to the same period. The Greeks counted their Olympiads from 776 BC, but the Olympic Games of Lycurgas were said to be much earlier. Sources vary as to when these actually took place; both Polybius (quoting Aristodemus of Elis) & Eratosthenes tell us that the 776BC victors were recorded 27 Olympiads from that of Iphitops & Lycurgas, whereas Callimachus differs by saying 13 Olympiads had passed. If we average that out & say 20 Olympiads, a timespan of 80 years, we gain a date of 856 BC for the Lycurgean Olympics.
Delving further into the ordinance of what I shall now call the Thalian Iliad, it’s form appears to have been based upon the ritualistic & quite theatrical mystery plays of Greece & Egypt, played out over several days like the Ring Cycle of Wagner. Plutarch even places Lycurgas in Egypt at one point, where he would have encountered an Egyptian Drama full of soliloquies by narrator-style priests, actor dialogue & dramaturgical expressions of stage-craft still used in our modern theatre. Egyptian drama of the Lycurgan period was sophisticated; consisting of a prologue, three acts subdivided into scenes & a concluding epilogue. Two have come down to us whole, the ‘Ramesseum Coronation’ & the ‘Myth of Horus at Edfu.’ In the latter, both mortals & immortals play out the action, a motif also present in the Iliad.
Over the centuries, academics have subconsciously suspected that the Iliad was in its origins a dramatic performance. The Roman writer Quintilian praises the second book of the Iliad in particular for the greatness of its speeches, while the 17th century English poet, Alexander Pope, stated, ‘for a farther preservation of this air of simplicity, a particular care should be taken to express with all plainness those moral sentences & proverbial speeches which are so numerous in this poet. They have something venerable, & as I may so oracular, in that unadorned gravity & shortness with which they are delivered.’ In recent years we have Jenny Strauss Clay’s description of the Iliad’s ‘extraordinarily high percentage of direct speech – much more than any other epic;’ Bernard Fenik’s, ‘direct discourse comprises 67 percent of the Iliad;’ & Laura M Slatkin’s, ‘extraordinary refinement & complexity of oral performance,’ from which erudite opinions we should acknowledge that the Iliad was in fact played out through a series of scenes in which actors & actresses were given lengthy speeches. Interspersed are the battle scenes, which may have been played out in the manner of the Egyptian dramas, reminiscent of gladiators in a Roman arena – beautifully choreographised physical theatre but without the actual bloodshed.
Roll on a few millennia & the Iliad material is coming full circle, so to speak. Three years ago, for example, I reviewed a stage version of the material for Mumble Theatre. Unfortunately, the original theatrical purpose of the Iliad was slowly eroded by time, when the mega-money spectacular of Lycurgas would gradually give way to performances by individual singers called Rhapsodes, such as the the Homeridae, the ‘Children of Homer.’ Perhaps it was their memories which preserved the Thalian Iliad, which were later transcribed by the librarians of Alexandria, or perhaps one of the scripts survived enough centuries to be copied down on fresh papyrus, but either way all evidence points to a mid-ninth century BC origin for the Iliad, when one poet & one benefactor shine out through the darkness of their times – Lycurgus the Spartan King, & Thales, the Cretan poet. Meanwhile, some chilli olives & soft Cretan red wine await me at the Petra Village.
Damian Beeson Bullen
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
There is a discernible line of English eccentricity runs from the topsy-turvy wordplay of WS Gilbert, through the cheeky sophistication of Noel Coward to the humorous quotidian lyrics of Michael Flanders. The latter, in partnership with friend and composer Donald Swann, produced a string of comic songs that delighted live audiences throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Flanders and Swann are the subject of this witty production (written and directed by John Bett) that sparkles with some of their most celebrated collaborations, “The Hippopotamus Song”, “The Gasman Cometh”, “The Gnu Song” and many, many more. The stage is set like a Victorian parlour with red velvet drapes, dried flowers and a grand piano but any formality is immediately subverted by sound problems with the keyboard and the affectionate teasing of the performers as they introduce each other to the audience.
Both actors appear as themselves, verbally sparring in a genteel fashion as they tell the story of Flanders and Swann. When called upon to perform a song (which they do exceedingly well) a bearded John Jack takes the Flanders’ part while Gordon Cree sings and tinkles the ivories wearing a diffident Swann’s round Billy Bunter glasses. This is a clever device that takes the duo beyond mere tribute status and allows Jack in particular, to bring a frantic physical comedy to the proceedings using a variety of props, as well as a bit of gesticulating, Scottish luvvie banter.
The songs may be familiar but their performance is fresh and lively. And there’s politics too. An ironic discourse delivered on Dr Beeching’s massacre of the rail system, followed by a rendering of “Slow Train”, listing some of the stations that came under his axe, turns out to be a genuinely moving lament. Another surprising gem is Swann’s original tune to “A Red, Red Rose” delivered warmly in a soft bass baritone by Cree. With plenty of apposite details on the lives of the two entertainers sandwiched between the humour and iconic songs, this is a show that enlightens and entertains in equal measure.
A top piece of hat tipping, brimming with fun.
David G Moffat
Up & coming company From the Gut have brought an emotional, fun-packed play to the Fringe…
Hello Nick, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Nick: Hi Mumble! I grew up in Warwickshire, in the countryside, then moved down to London when I went to LAMDA. I’ve lived in Bermondsey, SE16 since 2015 and it really feels like home. I love it, the River, the community, the pubs, the parks. It’s a wonderful place.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Nick: Daisy Herringshaw was a family friend who was 90 when I was born. I used to sit for hours as she used to tell me stories of “treading the boards” in rep theatre. From there I was hooked.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Nick: Something that makes you feel; if I’ve got shivers running down spine, laughing until I cry or left thinking about the play for days I’ve seen a good piece of theatre.
Can you tell us about From the Gut?
Nick: From the Gut was formed by three of us after we graduated LAMDA. We loved the community at Drama School and wanted to recreate that in a professional environment, that’s why we work with actors who we know well. From the Gut is a family.
You have brought a play to Edinburgh this August, can you tell us about it?
Nick: It feels amazing. Last year me and Sam Angell, the other writer, came up to the Fringe for over a week and had the best time seeing the most inspiring theatre. We decided then and there that we had to create a show and bring it up in 2018. We put what we love most about the Fringe into Istanbul: You’ll Never Walk Alone; the energy, the heart and the music. The play is about the legendary 2005 Champions League Final between Liverpool and AC Milan and how the game changed the City of Liverpool. It’s told through the eyes of three groups of fans, the night of the game.
How is it going so far?
Nick: It’s going really well, we’re having the best time up at the Fringe. This is our debut show as a company and we’re learning a lot. I think the Fringe is unique place for that. The show’s been well received by audiences, people have been coming up to us afterwards and saying some really wonderful things. Hopefully the last few days (our run finishes on the 18th) we can really pack out the theatre!
What materials did you use during the research period?
Nick: I’m a huge Liverpool fan so for me it was about finding the things that had inspired me over my years of support. Building the emotional connection I feel for the City and Club into the play for both the cast and audience to feel. I hope the cast are all lifelong Reds now!
How is director Max Harrison handling everything?
Nick: Max is a wonderful director. Me and Sam trained with him at LAMDA and subsequently he’s been going from strength to strength. Most recently working with Phillip Ridley on his play Moonfleece at The Pleasance. Istanbul is a multi-roled multifaceted play, with lots of different styles of performance. Max is the perfect director to link all of those together, while working with the actors to draw out nuanced performances for each of their different characters.
The attachment between football & community is particularly strong in Liverpool, any idea why?
Nick: Liverpool is a global footballing super power and the support of both Everton and Liverpool often borders on religious. In recent history it’d be remiss of me to not mention Hillsborough. The tragedy in 1989 bonded the people of Liverpool to the team. Kenny Dalglish (the Liverpool manager at the time) attended each of the funerals for the 96, the city really came together. Afterward the club and fans and families had to fight or two decades to overcome the tragedy and being justice back to the city. The 2005 Champions League Final was the first big win for the club since 1990.
What is the opinion of Rafa Benetiz among Liverpool fans in 2018?
Nick: Most of us love him. He gave us one of the greatest nights of our lives. He got us to dream again, and he got us. His family still lives in Liverpool, his daughters are Scouse. I can’t find enough positives to say about the man. He was always there for the Hillsborough Memorial, even when he was no longer our manager. Istanbul: You’ll Never Walk Alone is, in a way, a play about Benetiz.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the street…?
Nick: We are one of Lyn Gardner’s Picks of the Fringe. It’s a raucous 50 minute play that’ll leave you pumped and inspired. Even if you hate football you’ll still love Istanbul. We also have a banging soundtrack.
August 3-14, 16-18 (19.45)
It seems that more and more often, Hollywood is looking to theatre stages for inspiration. Mamma Mia just returned to the screen with its “Here We Go Again” sequel, and did so to the tune of largely positive reviews. And in the next few years there’s talk of adaptations for the likes of Cats, In The Heights, West Side Story, and Wicked – not to mention new reboots of Disney films-turned-Broadway shows like Aladdin and The Lion King.
What we see a little bit less of these days is adaptation going the other way – from screen to stage. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but the reverse seems to be more common for the moment. We’re likely to get an exception in the next year or two though, as the original musical movie La La Land appears destined to appear on stages in London, New York, and, if those go well, around the world.
To refresh your memory, La La Land came out late in 2016 and immediately became the darling of Hollywood. Directed by the young and incredibly gifted Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, it chronicled the lives of two young adults in Los Angeles chasing different dreams in the arts. Widely expected to steal the show at the Oscars because of its celebration of Hollywood and the sheer joy it seemed to evoke in audiences, it actually wound up being upset by Moonlight for the Best Picture honor. Even so however it proved that a completely original modern musical could take the cinematic world by storm.
The film’s nearly universal appeal seemed to come from its purest aspect, which is to say the songs. Even an LA Times piece that was harshly critical of the movie’s message about young musicians in 2017 stated that few movies as “dumb” about music as this one are also as alive to its emotional potential. The article’s point was that the film’s message contrasting sellouts with genuine artists was somewhat childish or outdated – but that when the movie boiled down to its original numbers, it shined nonetheless. This sort of critique wasn’t unheard of, but it did represent the minority opinion. Even so however it demonstrated exactly how this show could work on Broadway.
A stage version of La La Land would almost certainly be stripped down a little bit in terms of plot and dialogue, and would emphasize the music that people will remember from the film. It’s even been suggested that new numbers will be added, which should provide some depth for a score that, if it can be criticized for anything, might be a little too repetitive. The formula of highlighting songs above story, and adding more music to the project, actually sounds like a winning concept for the eventual stage musical.
We haven’t heard much in the way of specifics about when this is coming or where it will debut. But a La La Land stage production has more or less been confirmed, and this is a reminder that it’s almost certainly coming in the near future.
Principal Edinburgh George Street
August 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27
This morning I took a walk around Yester Woods near Gifford with my wee dog Daisy, deliberating on the marking for Interactive Theater’s newborn baby, Pamela’s Palace. Was I really going to give a vernal work-in-progress five stars? Was that really the right thing to do? Then I remembered something important. I had taken my wife to the show, & as we were leaving, I was practically begging her to tell the girls at her work to organise a Fringe posse & all go out together to see Pamela’s Palace. In that moment I was vicariously experiencing the Mumble’s 5-star litmus test – if one feels compelled like the Ancient Mariner to tell everybody you know (or the wife knows) to see a show, then its the definitive 5 Stars.
Meeting upstairs in the pleasure-to-be-at Principle Hotel, some of the audience are befrocked in pink smocks as we are led down to a traverse style setting of chairs, with the salon spread out quite jazzily between us. This was only the sixth ever show – a 3 night run in Brighton, & three so far in Edinburgh – but God did create the world in six days! Apparently there have been changes made after every edition, which indicates a serious sense of professionalism in an extremely unserious setting. Welcome to Scissors Palace, ran by the deep-tann’d, bling-jangling, Vogue wannabe Pamela Jones (Donna Gray). Its Salon Of the Year awards time, & she’s pulling out all the stops with an ubersassy Classical Greece theme.
Also working at the Salon are Tiffany (Katie Grace Cooper) & Bronwen (Ayesha Tansey), one gregarious, one demure; both top actresses & all together the complete trio, when not pulling off proper bangin’ Beyonce-level dance routines, positively bounce off each other & the classy script & roleplays created by the funny-bone knocking Katie Grace Cooper.
We’re working with an all female cast (even directed by a lady) and we’re looking at topics that are affecting women today – age, beauty, the pressures of being a woman, strength, weakness, vulnerability. It’s just about being human in an unforgiving world but it definitely brushes cheeks with feminism. It’s also so much fun!
Read the full interview…
Interactive Theatre International are the guys behind the ever-brilliant Fawlty Towers & the Wedding Reception. The one drawback is that with those shows being food-inclusive, a few folk are priced out of the superslick comedy acting of the ITI contingent. On the other hand, Pamela’s Palace is a much more doable £15 – there’s a glass of bubbly & some nibbles thrown in too – which is a price well worth paying to see the same actresses in action who pull off so well the ladies in the Wedding Reception, & Sibyl in Fawlty Towers. Indeed, Pamela is quite simply the Sibyl of this millennium, & lets hope the dangerous drama that is her Palace runs & runs like the others. As for this Fringe, the volcano has only just exploded, & the lava has not yet set. One expects as the ladies find their feet & the full measure of their personal & audience interactions, the show will just get better & smoother &… well… I’ve just seen it & its wonderful stuff!
Steve Attridge is a very cool guy indeed & his theatre is, dare we say it, even cooler. The Mumble were lucky enough to catch a wee blether…
Hello Steve, & welcome back to Edinburgh, how has your year been?
Steve: Hello to you. Been a great year. Went to Komodo Island in Indonesia to see the Komodo dragons, the big cannibalistic dinosaurs that can grow up to three metres and look at you with Neanderthal contempt. On the island you get up close to them – health and safety doesn’t exist, which is refreshing. Also went to Cambodia and did volunteer work with elephants in the jungle. Fell in love with them all. Was exhausting – temperatures of 40C – and exhilarating. Also got a few plays written which are doing the rounds. Been working on a book.
Last year you brought Dick in Space to the Fringe, how did it all go?
Steve: Very good experience. Was my first time so I learnt a lot – what to do, what not to do. Some excellent reviews. People liked the show and I’ve performed it since. One bad review but I can safely say that it’s been taken care of and the body will never be found.
What have you got for us this year?
Steve: Ron the Plumber meets God-Cilla. One man show. Part of the Free Fringe.
That’s quite an interesting title; where & when did the idea come from?
Steve: Ron first appeared a few years ago in a comedy review I wrote and performed. Audiences really liked him so it was always in my mind to write a one man show for him. I wanted a showcase for him – a bit of narrative with an episodic mix of stand up, comedy character and bits of theatre. An OCD character on the rampage through the pipes and cisterns of the nation in a quest to destroy something evil.
And now 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?
Steve: They would be Judas Iscariot, Charles Darwin and Marie Lloyd. Starter would be unleavened bread and oil – Judas would appreciate this because it was what was eaten at the Last Supper. Mains would fish and Darwin could tell us how it evolved and eventually turned into us. Dessert would be spotted dick and custard because Marie, as an East End girl, would appreciate it.
Can you tell us about your time working with John Cooper Clarke, & what did you learn from the experience?
Steve: I learnt to keep a show moving, create a persona, don’t take anything too seriously and don’t drink barley wine.
OK back to Edinburgh; can you tell us about your stagecraft; the music, sound & stage design this year?
Steve: Tried to keep it simple. A few props, a few surprises, let the character carry the show and get rid of anything that overcomplicates or detracts from him.
How much of Steve Attridge is there in Ron the Plumber?
Steve: I’m obsessive (though not about plumbing), a bit anarchic and often carry things too far.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell Ron the Plumber VS God-Cilla to somebody in the street, what would you say?
Steve: Jokes hot from the porcelain with OCD deranged plumber Ron. Alarming suicides, traumatised French Poodles, exploding toilets, God disappearing, disastrous sign language dating and rabid Nazi bath taps. No better way to spend forty five minutes than to dance the thin line between sanity and ballcock derangement with Ron.
For someone performing their own show for the first time at the Fringe, what advice do you have for them?
Steve: Pace yourself.
What will you be doing after the Fringe?
Steve: Going to Spain to write, play tennis and drink wine.
The Loft, The Counting House
Aug 2-17th (13.30)
The combination of Steve’s genuine quality & a cleverly thought-out, gag-punctuated, innuendo-pregnant script brings dividends – Mumble Theatre