I sometimes wonder how anyone makes sense of my artistic taste and my direction of travel. This last week has been a particularly rich menu and by the end of this blog I may have found a common theme.
Monday was “Made in Dagenham” at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich by David Arnold, Richard Bean and Richard Thomas in an actor-musician co-production with Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. I missed the show in London. I seem to miss most west end runs in the limited days I have to see showcases and smaller work. 23 actor/musicians giving it the whelly it deserved in the big numbers, and the subtle humanity it invites in the unfolding of this tale of this struggle for right and equality. The struggle continues in this country, and across the world. This was not a piece of social history – this was a visceral exploration between 23 cast and 400 audience or what it means to stand up and be counted – and it was so moving to see the audience on its feet in solidarity.
Tuesday was “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Mercury Theatre Colchester with Shakespeare reimagined by Pia Furtado, designer Camilla Clarke, and composer Rebecca Applin. Another visceral exploration of humanity and the battle of the sexes set at the time of the return of troops to their military home base of Colchester. A hard edged score, rave-feel contemporary power, and that most uncomfortable of male/female battlegrounds which is Shakespeare’s comedy? The challenge for any theatre is to make this 16th century text zing off the page, and resonate with a school & theatre audience. For me the first half was a masterclass in considered delivery, witty landing, and contemporary characterization. I gather the reviews have explored this production as a marmite show. I love marmite, and I loved the first half. I felt as though I was watching a different show after the interval, and for me the piece got lost – maybe there was a creative intention to make the second half a peanut butter show. I loved marmite, but avoid peanut butter. Having said that – so glad I saw it, especially for Rebecca’s score – the composer in residence for both these fine theatres over the last year.
Interspercing this theatergoing with coaching theatremakers, small theatre companies with giant ambitions, and newly enrolled exec directors, my week remained rich throughout. Two days with our MA Creative Producing cohort of 8 international theatremakers offered discussions about cultural definitions, marketing planning, the skills needed for storytelling on a grant application form, and the legal structured forms of theatre companies in this country.
Wednesday was the European Premiere of “The Slave” at the Tristan Bates Theatre – a study of racial & relational deceit and tensions from the 1960’s by LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka produced by East of West Theatre Company. Mountview grad Stanley J Browne, Samantha Coughlan, and Stephen MacNeice led us through the intricate circulations of human relations at the edge of breakdown. It was powerfully topped off with a coup- de-theatre by designer Sophie Thomas and director Rachel Heyburn which provided a phenomenal and welcome release of energy. Pleased to be there with other champions from Phundee cheering on this theatre company “dedicated to creating politically engaged theatre”. I hope they will move forward with more contemporary writing which illuminate our current lives, as much as this important lost play sought to do in the 1960s.
Thursday was a chance to see the next generation of actor/musicians in a re-evaluation of Theatre Workshop and Joan Littlewood’s “Oh What A Lovely War” by director/theatremaker Chris Larner and the 3rd years at Mountview. It was wonderful to see Elizabeth Rowe, last year’s graduate, shining in Made in Dagenham on Monday, and now to see the next crop ready for harvest by theatres and producers across the country. I only got to see the 2nd half because my early evening was spent group coaching 58 postgrad actors on work/life balance, but I had the chance to see the amazing energy and complex weaving Chris and his team have put together to make sense of this piece of work for a modern audience. Chilling at moments.
Friday was a real treat – I was taken to see the absolutely stunning, powerful, passionate, and consummately skilled dance drama “Fagin’s Twist” created by Tony Adigun’s Avant Garde Dance Company (pic above). Hip hop, fantastic score, apparently inexhaustible dancer/theatremakers, storytelling through design, light, sound, and spoken word – we were stunned by this piece. A detailed, nuanced choreographic feast. Thank you to the many co-commissioners for making this work possible, and I hope there is a further tour or life. This piece had immense international potential, surely a contender for best dance/theatre awards with UK Theatre for 2016/17, a British Council tour, and a dedicated season at The Pit or wherever could host this show for a major season. There are four more performances in this run – Birmingham 20th and 21st Oct, Nottingham 25th and Plymouth 28th Oct.
Saturday two of us took a wee drive to Blackpool to take part in the British Naturistm national convention where we were invited to run some workshops exploring Revelation of the body through life, performance, and art. An unsuspecting group of the general public entered into human sculpture, personal meditation, role play, and reflections – helping to offer us rich material for future theatremaking. This will all feed into our next one day conference in November exploring clothing optional theatre and so much more. Do get in touch if you want to know more about this work.
Quite a week. So is there a theme – I suppose it is re-invention and re-discovery of work, and for me the delight of always being prepared to be surprised.
And this week includes being on a critique panel for new Musical Theatre work, two days with our MA Creative Producers, and then hopping on a train to Calais to join the Refugee Community Kitchen to help prep vegetables for whoever needs to be fed across the 10,000 refugees. News is not good from the camp, and all we can do is keep making food. Immense admiration for Hammersmith and Fulham council for stepping in to help where the UK governments seemed crippled with inactivity. It seems to have been the catalyst needed to unlock admin nightmares, and bring some of the young people across to join their families.
I only had opportunity to speak to a few of the participants in Chris’ sessions at the British Naturism Convention, Natcon, but they were uniformly enthusiastic. Unfortunately I was leading one of the parallel sessions and so unable to take part myself. http://www.bn.org.uk