Prancing round like fairies wearing white unitards

15 11 2013

A Midsummer Nights Dream Propeller

It has been a very cultured week for me. Following my attendance at an opera on Tuesday tonight was Shakespearean comedy at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford.

The tickets were a birthday present from my husband who escorted me on my second theatre outing of the week and I think it is safe to say that I was more excited about the experience than he was. I have wanted to see Propeller Theatre Company in action for some time and having recently directed my own version of The Dream it was a welcome opportunity to see how the professionals approached one of the Bard’s most enduring comedies.

Hubby is not a theatre fan.

He is most definitely not a Shakespeare fan.

Had I any reservations about his response to the production or lingering hope that he would find it an enjoyable experience – any hope was crushed within moments of entering the auditorium. The pre-set featured a box draped with white cloth and netting adoring the backdrop. There were also a number of the actors scattered round the performance space wearing plain white unitards. A sideways glance confirmed that he was not impressed however this was nothing compared to the look of horror in the opening ensemble section which featured the coming together of the all male cast in a glorious display of graceful Elizabethan dancing accompanied by the sweet sound of close harmony as they performed a fairy song.

For what it is worth, I throughly enjoyed the experience and thought it was a fantastic production.

However ,I think I may owe my other half a cinema trip to see Thor in the very immediate future!


ATWAS Review

2 11 2013


The latest production by Guildford based Theatre Company All the World’s a Stage – Once Upon a Midnight Dreary – was conceptually brilliant but poorly executed.

The production was based on the writing of Edgar Allen Poe and provided an adult alternative to the Halloween celebrations. It lasted for an hour and the performance took place in Guildford’s Racks Close.

The meeting point was the stunning Boatman Public House on the river Wey where the audience enjoyed pre (and post) show drinks. At 7:45pm they were met by one of the actors and led to the steeply banked land of Racks Close, an old chalk quarry site. At the entrance an actor recited The Raven, surrounded by fiery torches which were to provide the only source of light during the performance. The vocal delivery was superb and set the tone for the evening. This atmospheric opening was only hampered by the noise and headlights of passing cars.

The audience followed the cast of 5 to the first of three “stations”. At each station a different tale from the Poe repertoire was performed. The three tales enacted by the troop were ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar‘, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum‘ and ‘The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether‘.

The scenes were largely narrative in nature with clunky dialogue, little action or visual interest. Efforts to utilise the original text were evident but significant editing would have been needed to transform the text into a theatrical presentation. Luckily the vocal performances were strong and engaging for the most part. An exception to this would be the American accent of the only female performer. As the rest of the company delivered the heavily stylised dialogue in English accents there appeared little justification for her Southern American drawl which was distracting at best and grating at worst.

Although the promenade staging was an inspired choice a major drawback was the expectation that audience members stood for the duration. An hour in the cold made this too long and reduced interest in the quality of the performance and audience members became increasingly restless. A suggestion on the ATWAS website that people provide their own stools or fold out chairs or the provision of benches for the small audiences at each station would have eliminated this problem. Two audience members complained of feeling faint during the second tale and one had to be removed for the remainder of the performance. The setting did not make this easy as an audience member could not simply walk away due to the poor lighting and uneven ground but had to be escorted by an actor bearing a torch.

Of the three tales the System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether was the most engaging with a much stronger focus on character development however as with the other two, it was too long and most audience members had identified the twist long before it was revealed to them. It was however a gratifying change of pace from the narrative and plodding Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar or the awkward and underdeveloped physical theatre of The PIt and the Pendulum.

The concept was promising and ATWAS has the potential to create memorable theatrical experiences that engage the senses and involve audiences in the action, however on this occasion, Once Upon a Midnight Dreary felt under rehearsed and a little slap dash



Halloween Celebrations

31 10 2013


I last saw ATWAS perform their pub crawl version of A Christmas Carol in December 2012.

I really enjoyed their unique storytelling style and use of site specific staging to enhance the experience.

Despite the cold today I am looking forward to my second visit to watch the fledgling theatre company perform in honour of Halloween. This time they have taken inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe and it would appear that the performance is entirely outdoor. I am attempting to reserve my judgement for now, about the wisdom of an open air production in October – my ongoing struggle with cold temperatures is only furthur exaggerated in the early months of pregnancy.

TG2 Surrey had the following to say about ATWAS latest venture:

Visionary Guildford theatre company, All the World’s a Stage, have brought the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, the Master of Macabre, to Guildford this Halloween. Tales of mesmerism, murder, torture, and insanity are brought  to life in Guildford’s Racks Close, lit only by blazing torches and whatever scant moonlight remains at the end of the lunar cycle. This promenade production meets at The Boatman Pub, where audiences will be met and led to Racks Close. Here, they will find one who has been hypnotised at the point of death, another who is forced by the Inquisition to choose between two terrifying methods of death, and an asylum with a secret.

It is always great to try something new and at 34 I am unlikely to go trick-or-treating so here’s to a spooky night with good friends and a warm jacket.


Opening Night

15 07 2013

Opening Night

Tonight is the opening night of my small scale studio production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream“.

It has only been 6 weeks in the making but it feels like we have been working on it for an eternity!

But tonight my Yr9 students will finally receive a public audience.

The last 6 weeks have been very intense and I cannot help but wonder: why did we do it in such a short time period? I could bore you with the details, but sufficient to say that it has been a busy time for my colleague and I.

As always – I have not a clue of whether or not my cast are actually ready to perform for “other people” but come what may, they will do so tonight.

Throughout the day today I will be welcoming KS3 audiences, and their teachers, to view my work & that of my students. This evening FFOMC and my father-in-law will (reluctantly) make the annual trip to my school to see the finished product that I have been talking about and working towards for months. My mother-in-law will also be attending on night two.

As always – our kids are fantastic and highly motivated. I am confident that we have selected the right students to take leading roles and we have worked collaboratively on the design concept and included other departments in this project who have made our costumes & props.

I only hope that the old saying: “it will be all right on the night” holds true for us.

Last week, the student’s who will be performing tonight, took their external exam. I can only hope that this was a positive experience that will motivate them when it comes to their final end of year public performance.

As we say in the performance arts industry “break a leg”.

But I will go furthur to say: “Yr9, you make me more proud than you will ever realise”

It’s been a great year little bunnies, so for the next two nights make sure that you:


Living “The Dream”

12 07 2013

A Midsummer Nights Dream image

Rehearsals for “The Dream” are going well and the kids have really risen to the challenge.

At the end of an incredibly stressful week for my little bunnies, we did a full run through today.

The circumstances were far from ideal. It was painfully hot. We were in the canteen. Our improvised set involved tables strategically placed to represent our stage blocks. Some members of the cast including principal roles would occasionally disappear for about 20 minutes or so to take their external exam. Stress levels were extremely high and tempers were frayed.

But there was plenty of good news.

The kids have finally realised that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is actually a comedy. Hermia’s stern rebuke of Lysander’s advances when she warns him to “Lie further off” is hilarious. We all giggled as Helena begged unashamedly for Demetrius love and Egeus facial expressions when it dawns on him that his beloved daughter has been discovered asleep next to Lysander having spent the night with him a forest are absolutely priceless.

The kids also did their own make-up designs today with some amazing and creative choices. The back stage crew happily painted thrones and stage blocks and despite the high stress levels it was an extremely productive day.

We will know whether it has all been worth it on Monday – opening night.

However I have realised that in a production set in a forest that I have failed to cast any children in the coveted role of “a tree”.

I feel I am a disgrace to the drama teaching profession.

I have let the myself down, let the kids down, in fact I have let everyone down!

Keep “dreaming”!


Technical Run

21 06 2013

Backstage Crew

In my past life in the Theatre industry I have always been a performer.

I understood the importance of those who worked behind the scenes and respected the work that they did, but as a director I am growing increasingly dependent on my backstage crew. This is becoming a bit of an issue. Over the past few years there have been fewer and fewer upcoming stage management candidates emerging and it is becoming increasingly difficult to stage a production in college without the assistance of strong people working behind the scenes.

Today, during a run of “The Dream” my colleague and I tasked three inexperienced but extremely keen students with winging it on the sound desk. I have been given a mini-disc of soundtracks used in a past production of “The Dream” and am in the process of working out which tracks work with my own reimagining of this classic text.

I was extremely impressed with the initiative taken by these students and grateful that I have a small team who can make up for my own incompetence in the technical side of performance arts. They will be a massive asset to the department in the years to come.

I have also managed to secure the involvement of a few other staff willing to support with making props and costumes and I am finally starting to build an infrastructure. This is helping me to relax about the prospect of future projects as I will not feel so rudderless.

God bless you backstage crew- you make the rest of us look good!

Brush up your Shakespeare

5 02 2013

Brush up your Shakespeare

I was introduced to the great Bard when I was 10 years old.

I saw my first live performance of Hamlet in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. It was an intimate performance space staging a dark and brooding interpretation of the text. The story had me gripped from start to finish. I loved the passionate dialogue beautifully delivered by the Northern Irish actors, the stunning Elizabethan costumes and the tense, energetic stage combat sequences. I was hooked and became a devoted fan of Shakespeare that night, a passion that has remained with me to this day.

My parents took me to see Hamlet to quash my desire to work in the acting industry or at least to educate me about the existence of genres other than pantomime. They could not have predicted my response and my Dad endured my enthusiastic evaluation of every moment of the performance during the car journey home.

That evening marked my introduction to the world’s greatest ever playwright and up to the point when the actors walked onto the stage and started to speak, I had no preconceptions about Shakespeare whatsoever. There are no words that can express how grateful I am to my parents for giving me this experience but also the theatre company for creating such a memorable interpretation of what remains my favourite play of all time.

It was a combination of my own lack of fear or judgement when I watched this performance and the skilful delivery of the actors that enabled me to develop an ear for the language. My parents had never used “dumbed” down language at home with me, if I didn’t understand a big word I would simply ask what it meant. Their use of language also encouraged me to deduce the meaning of words from context. I was taught the importance of good grammar and corrected if I used ‘saw’ instead of ‘seen’ or ‘did’ instead of ‘done’. Language was valued in my household with a mother who was a linguist and a father who shared my love of the stage. However I am regularly reminded that my experience is not exactly typical.

The mention of Shakespeare in the hearing of most teenagers is usually greeted by much sighing, rolling of eyes and inarticulate groans, (reinforcing my view that they need better language skills with which to express themselves). I am not suggesting that Shakespeare’s cannon of work will ever be universally loved by all, but it is disheartening to discover that much of the fear and distrust of Shakespeare exists before students have ever even opened one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Students tell me what their parents thought about learning Shakespeare or their older brothers and sisters. Sometimes they confess to a bad experience of being asked to read a lengthy monologue aloud in an English lesson with difficult words that they couldn’t pronounce. (There are many amazing English teachers who deliver ‘Outstanding’ lessons about Shakespeare). During my teacher training I was horrified the number of trainees who were nervous about teaching Shakespeare. I am equally dissatisfied by the quality of some of the independent training bought in by schools and passed off as education, not to mention the clumsy attempts by some theatre companies to put their own stamp on these wonderful stories.

While I personally love traditional interpretations of Shakespearean plays, I am definitely in favour of modern adaptations and am not concerned by editing as even I do not want to sit for 4 hours in a theatre. The universal themes of the plays will ensure the stories always remain relevant to a modern audience but as the language becomes less assessable in an age obsessed with more visual stimuli and a low attention span, it is inevitable that directors will chose to edit the material and use modern design elements to engage with new audiences.

So to go back to the title of this post: Brush up your Shakespeare!

Get to know the intricate plots and diverse characters. Engage with the universal themes and opportunity to explore the human condition. Don’t let the language put you off, try to work out the meaning through the context or say the words aloud and see if they remind you of other words (after all, Will did invent a fair few words and phrases in the English language). Finally, if you have a bad experience in an English lesson or see a boring version of a play, don’t write it off immediately.

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