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Category: Backstage


My first Beckett

Ciaran McIntyre in Endgame, Liverpool Playhouse 2008

Ciaran McIntyre in Endgame, Liverpool Playhouse 2008

Out of Joint is presenting a rare live production of Samuel Beckett’s radio play All That Fall, in which theatre-goers will be blindfolded, the actors moving about the auditorium. One of Beckett’s most naturalistic plays, it is inspired by his native Foxrock in Ireland.

We asked cast members about their first experience of Beckett.

 

 

BRÍD BRENNAN

“Waiting for Godot was my template for a great play”

I studied “En attendant Godot as part of my French degree course at Queen’s University. It was revelatory! For years, waiting for Godot was my template for a great play and since the beginning of my adventures in acting I’d hoped to be part of a Beckett production. I am delighted now to find myself in that world which was first revealed to me all those years ago in Belfast.

 

KILLIAN BURKE

“I realised I didn’t need to ‘get’ it. In watching his plays you have all you need”

If I’m being honest, my initial feeling toward Beckett was trepidation. A deeply lined, stern face floating in the darkness, staring out at you. My first encounters with his works was through reading it, and this lead to a feeling of needing to ‘get it’. ‘What does it mean?’. Undoubtedly a hangover from an education where poetry and drama is dissected into its component parts, each weighed and measured, then shoved back together, more often than not leaving one with a feeling of ‘I didn’t like that’.

Then in my first year of university I went to see a production of Waiting for Godot at The Gate Theatre in Dublin. I left the theatre, making my way down O’Connell Street toward my bus, and I wouldn’t go so far as to say my world was shattered or anything, but it was ever so slightly tilted on its axis. I was confused and satisfied, and realised I didn’t need to ‘get’ a thing. In watching (or listening to) his plays you have all you need. You may of course dissect it if you wish but I think it’s more enjoyable to walk along with the world at an ever so slightly strange angle.

 

TARA FLYNN

“I’d love to have gone for a drink with him”

I studied English and French at university, so Beckett and his influence began to creep into my consciousness then. I read Waiting for Godot during that time and wished desperately to see it in a theatre. To this day, I haven’t managed it yet. I can’t wait.

Once I became an actor, I’d bump into Beckett periodically. Not in real life, of course – although I’d love to have gone for a drink with him, who wouldn’t? – but it’s impossible to live and work in Ireland and not be aware of his reach, even outside the theatre. I’d read him sometimes and read about him more. His life is as fascinating as his work.

As much of my own work has centred on comedy and satire, one of my favourite aspects of Beckett, and All That Fall in particular, is the humour. He can be so darkly funny. The world in All That Fall sits not too far from the world of one of Ireland’s greatest satirists, Flann O’Brien – which might surprise some. I’ve never performed in Beckett before and I couldn’t be more thrilled for this to be my first.

 

GARY LILBURN

“Leaving three actors in charge seemed a recipe for disaster”

My first opportunity to perform in a Beckett play came in 1994 when I was cast as Estragon in a New Victoria Theatre production of Waiting For Godot. Other New Vic regulars Paul McCleary and Lennox Greaves were to play Vladimir and Pozzo respectively. When we arrived for the first read through our director Peter Cheeseman announced that he didn’t believe we would have much need of his services and handed over the direction of the production to us three .

The play is difficult, dense and multi layered enough for any experienced director, but to have not one but three actors, inexperienced at directing, who were also in the production, in charge, seemed a sure recipe for disaster.

Thankfully we were saved by a Birmingham University professor and Beckett expert who took pity on us, gave us a crash course on the play and playing Beckett, and we managed to pull it off.

 

 

CIARAN MCINTYRE

“I find him hilariously funny”

As a theatre-goer I first encountered Beckett when I was a student in Dublin. I saw Waiting For Godot at a student drama festival and loved it immediately. My first Beckett on the other side of the footlights was a few years ago at Liverpool Playhouse, wedged in a dustbin with my feet poking out the back hidden under rubble, playing Nagg in Endgame, which starred Matthew Kelly and his son.

I find Beckett funny – hilariously funny. Very dark, but so, so funny.

 


Hear All That Fall at Bristol Old Vic (8-12 Mar 2016) and Wilton’s Music Hall in London (22 Mar – 8 Apr 2016).

Jane Wenham costume designs

James Button

James Button

Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern is set in a Hertfordshire village in 1712. Here are some of  designer James Button‘s costume illustrations, with a few notes about the characters and costume decisions. Click on an image to expand it.

Beckett Beginnings

Ciaran McIntyre in Endgame, Liverpool Playhouse 2008

Ciaran McIntyre in Endgame, Liverpool Playhouse 2008

Out of Joint is presenting a rare live production of Samuel Beckett’s radio play All That Fall, in collaboration with the Enniskillen Happy Days Festival. We asked some of the cast about their first encounters with Beckett.

 

GARY LILBURN

“Leaving three actors in charge seemed a recipe for disaster”

My first opportunity to perform in a Beckett play came in 1994 when I was cast as Estragon in a New Victoria Theatre production of Waiting For Godot. Other New Vic regulars Paul McCleary and Lennox Greaves were to play Vladimir and Pozzo respectively. When we arrived for the first read through our director Peter Cheeseman announced that he didn’t believe we would have much need of his services and handed over the direction of the production to us three .

The play is difficult, dense and multi layered enough for any experienced director, but to have not one but three actors, inexperienced at directing, who were also in the production, in charge, seemed a sure recipe for disaster.

Thankfully we were saved by a Birmingham University professor and Beckett expert who took pity on us, gave us a crash course on the play and playing Beckett, and we managed to pull it off.

 

GARETT KEOGH

“High flung philosophy from low lying mouths”

I knew Beckett from schooldays – well, knew of him. The sort of person you were supposed to know about. The obscure and difficult artist that for a teenager to know was cool.

But I first really met him in a tiny hall off Sherriff Street in the centre of Dublin when some school pals were arguing, fighting more like, over what lines to include or cut from their adaptation of his novels for a one-man show. Jim Sheridan and his brother Peter, armed with well-worn A4 pages and biros, Vinnie McCabe the actor voicing the results of their latest joust. So this is who Beckett was? A master of words, and rhythms I knew. Hilarious. Speaking the thoughts inside Vinnie’s mind.

These three and Mister Sheridan had done a famous production of Godot that shocked the amateur circuit. They were baptised in Beckett. They bit the nose off each other fighting for sense, non-sense, for continuity, and laughter.

Then in a dark and dingy basement on Abbey Street which was the original incarnation of the Project Arts Centre I saw my first theatre apart from school Gilbert and Sullivans. Vinnie as Krapp, and how he sat into the part, or the part seemed to sit into him.

One night I was lucky to wander into the Gaiety and see Jack McGowran do his one-man Beginning to End. Funny, seemingly effortless, the native Dublin cadences that Beckett had knitted into something profound, poetic, provocative, and funny. Here was high flung philosophy from low lying mouths. Here were dilemmas of birth, death, and the in-between, condensed, crystallised, and comic. Here were us humans tying ourselves in knots with words.

And here was silence. And the man who dared to ask, what happens when your questions are left hanging in the void?

 

GINA MOXLEY

“There’s no end to the learning”

By the time I moved from Cork to Dublin, after I graduated from Art School, I can only remember having seen two plays – The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds with a student Fiona Shaw, and a stultifying production of Joyce’s Embers that almost doused my budding interest in theatre.

Without any knowledge, experience and precious little talent I managed to be cast by an education theatre company touring to schools. In Sligo we crossed paths with the Irish Theatre Company on their final tour with a production of Waiting for Godot. It was the first Beckett I’d seen and I was of course blown away – but also I realised just how little I knew and how much there was to learn.

And here I am hundreds of years later performing in my first Beckett and realising there’s no end to the learning.

 

CIARAN MCINTYRE

“I find him hilariously funny”

As a theatre-goer I first encountered Beckett when I was a student in Dublin. I saw Waiting For Godot at a student drama festival and loved it immediately. My first Beckett on the other side of the footlights was a few years ago at Liverpool Playhouse, wedged in a dustbin with my feet poking out the back hidden under rubble, playing Nagg in Endgame, which starred Matthew Kelly and his son.

I find Beckett funny – hilariously funny. Very dark, but so, so funny.

 


See All That Fall at the Enniskillen Happy Days Festival, 22 July – 2 August 2015

From play to paintings – interview with Pippa Blake

Detail from "It's a damned paradise"

Detail from “It’s a damned paradise”

JON BRADFIELD talks to artist Pippa Blake about her new theatre-inspired exhibition.

Theatre’s a pretty transient art-form – once the last performance is over and the lights go down, it’s over. The cast moves on to other projects, the costumes are sent back and dry-cleaned, and we get on with the business of planning our next tour.

So we’re excited to have an unusual, permanent artistic legacy to one of our recent shows. The painter Pippa Blake joined us in rehearsals last year for our production of Pitcairn, a new play by Richard Bean about the colonizing of a South Pacific island in 1789. Pippa has completed a series of paintings inspired by the piece which are about to go on display (see dates below). Some clearly show their origins in the theatre production, while others seem to take us onto the island itself.

 


Two paintings by Pippa Blake

Two paintings by Pippa Blake

Was this the first time you’ve used theatre as a starting point?

I’d never used the theatre as a starting point before but the idea came to me while watching Howard Barker’s play Scenes from an Execution at the National Theatre in 2012. Everything resonated – I’d been making war paintings, and here was a 16th Century female war artist struggling in a male dominated world and wanting to show the truth, not what the bureaucrats wanted her to depict.

How did those war paintings come about? Those scenes of bombed cities and military helicopters, what was your source for them, and what are you trying to do with them?

I have been interested in war since studying the First World War poets at school. Wilfred Owen’s ‘Strange Meeting’ had a profound impact on me – I remember scribbling skeletons on essay papers at the time. I started out a landscape painter, then around ten years ago wanted to be saying more about the world. All the images of the Middle Eastern war on television began to affect me and move me towards making work – as well as the anniversary of Auschwitz in 2005 and the powerful images from 9/11 also. There is something about the soulfulness and loneliness of the bombed street scenes, which resonates with something inside of me, and perhaps I am trying to show that within the work

Your Pitcairn paintings evoke the production but you also spent time in rehearsals.

That was crucial. Although I haven’t used the drawings I made during them it gave me a greater insight into how a play is made and to get to the very bones of how life is breathed into it. It helped me understand what was behind the story of Pitcairn.

Detail: The Rehearsal

Detail: The Rehearsal

Aside from sketching, how was the experience of watching the play being rehearsed? 

Artist or not I found the rehearsals fascinating, listening to Max Stafford-Clark challenging the actors in getting into the character of their parts. I felt it was a privilege to be an onlooker and not only to watch the characters take shape and how they worked with each other but also how the actors reacted with each other personally.

Be strong we are taking control

Be strong we are taking control

Are you much of a theatregoer?

I grew up near Chichester Festival Theatre and was taken by my parents early on and there were school visits to Stratford and the Yvonne Arnaud at Guildford. During art school at Camberwell we would get cheap seats to the National. I would call myself a keen theatergoer who doesn’t go often enough.

Some of your paintings have been very abstract, some figurative, some are somewhere between the two. Do you always know when you start painting where you’re going to land between those two extremes?

That is a good question for me as I have been a very abstract painter and never a very figurative painter, at least in terms of realism. And of course the very nature of working with the theatre means that figures come into play. I never know when I begin a work what is going to happen on the canvas. I have an image as a starting point –a photograph or a drawing – and during the process of making the painting I lose the original photographic image, return to it, and then might lose it again. It used to worry me that I had these two apparently different approaches but now rest easy with the fact that I could go either way and perhaps have two styles – look at the work of Gerhard Richter to see how he sits within the two ways of working.

So when do you have an idea of what the finished painting will be?

It’s something I arrive at. Quite often I will completely change the painting and begin a new one on the same surface, which seems to be establishing itself as the way I work. Really I need to have many layers of work on the canvas until I begin finding what it is I am searching for.

Our sentence a life sentence

We're a crop and we have a blight

We’re a crop and we have a blight

In one of the Pitcairn paintings there’s a definite suggestion of theatre lighting, and another is called “the rehearsal”, but in most of them there’s no inherent reference to their genesis in a theatre production. So what do you think the paintings are “of”? Are they a recording of actors in 2014 performing a play about people and events on Pitcairn in 1789; or do they somehow bypass the show to become a depiction of the people and events on Pitcairn themselves? To put it another way: Are the clothes in these paintings the costumes from the play, which clearly they resemble; or are they the naval uniforms and Tahitian dress from 1789?

They are certainly the costumes from the play because the paintings could never have emerged without my experience of the play. However I would like to think that I have taken the paintings beyond the visual level of the theatre production in that there is very little direct reference to the stage-set (apologies to designer Tim Shortall!) although I was initially very inspired by the drama of his sets.

What is important is that I get across an emotion or feeling of atmosphere about the bones of the play. I ‘m trying to pare down to the essence of what is going on. I am also well aware of recent goings on in Pitcairn Island and the historical implications of life on the island that I am also mindful of in the work.

Do you generally work in phases, or series? I mean, you generally work on a number of pictures on a theme or style at the same time or in close succession?

Yes – I like to treat the work as a project involving investigation and research, so work on a series of paintings with the same subject matter. I work on several canvases at once – one reason is purely practical in that working in layers with oil paint I need to wait for paint to dry! And I like to be able to imbue the same spirit into all the works. so it is helpful to not stop and start one at a time.

Six paintings of characters from Pitcairn

Six paintings of characters from Pitcairn

What artists do you like? Current and historical

I grew up looking at Cezanne, Bonnard, Matisse and then Richard Diebenkorn, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Philip Guston. Current artists I look at are Anselm Kieffer, Gerhard Richter, Peter Doig, Cai Guo-Qiang, Tacita Dean and Adrian Ghenie amongst others.

Do you buy much art?

I used to buy work from artist friends but not so much these days – artists are not normally in a position to buy much art. When I visit galleries and exhibitions I like to decide which would be the one I would take away with me were it possible.

How do you spend your time when you’re not painting?

I travel a great deal and spend time in New Zealand, which is second home for me. I love walking up hills, watching movies, going to theatre, reading, drinking wine and I love dancing. I also have a small wooden boat, which I love to sail on fair weather days.

Paradise

Paradise

You’ve travelled a lot. Best three places/experiences?

I’ve spent time in French Polynesia and love the island of Tara – vanilla plantations, lush and warm. I’ve spent time in the Amazon on an expedition boat, working as an artist with the sense of being surrounded by a vast forest and its remoteness. Likewise sailing across the Indian Ocean, being on the dawn watch as the sun rose and feeling the vastness of the ocean and world around you. A very recent trip to China was fascinating and inspiring to go back to learn more about it’s history and politics.

Has your art been influenced by art you’ve encountered from different culture when you’ve travelled?

No, I don’t feel I’ve been influenced particularly from the art of different cultures although back in the late 70’s going to New York and seeing the Abstract Expressionists first hand had a huge impact on me – particularly Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Philip Guston.

 


See the Pitcairn pictures here:

Pippa Blake | Utopia : Dystopia
26-31 May: Embassy Tea Gallery, 195-205 Union Street, London SE1 0PB
5-17 June: West Dean Collage, Nr Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 0QZ

An interview with Gareth Thomas

On a night in late February, Gareth Thomas – former captain of the Welsh rugby team and the most famous gay team sportsman in the world – took his family and friends to a theatre press night. He’s no stranger, now, to shiny showbiz events but this was special. The play being premiered was Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, which tells his own extraordinary story, set against that of his hometown Bridgend, which has had its own share of the media’s attention. For a play that contains its share of darkness, it also contains a lot of humour and there was a lot of laughter in the theatre that night – not least from Gareth’s own mother, who shrieked with shocked glee whenever the actor playing her caught one of her mannerisms.

The sight and sound of Thomas’ family watching his story unfold is hard to beat as in image of acceptance. Although perhaps his reincarnation as a star of family pantomimes comes close. (“It’s great to be part of a team in theatre” he says. “Even if it’s a smaller team than in rugby it’s still a team where you work for each other and help each other out.”)

Does this mean things have changed? Would it be easier today for a young player to come out?

“I’d like to think so. The fear I had was that no-one had done it before, so I had no idea if I was going to get any support. I had no idea what the crowd’s reactions or the reaction from my teammates would be, or from the press. When you’re the first person to do something, everybody is unsure of what to do. I went through some bad times, but the majority of it was good times and I’d like to think people can look at that and think ‘he did it, he got through it, he carried on playing, he didn’t lose much from it, in fact he gained a lot from it’. I think mine is a positive story that people can look at and think ‘yeah, I can too’.”

In Wales, rugby isn’t just a team sport. It’s the people’s game in the way football is in England. It’s the centre of communities, whether that community is a small town or the nation itself. That his coming out, while still a major player, has been so uncontroversial is heartening. But he remains a rarity. Thomas says it’s about more than just looking for the famous cases.

“To me it’s important not just that a professional rugby player could potentially come out, it’s that anybody can decide to take up sport. There are billions of people in the world that play sport and the fact that it could make a difference to a few of them is enough for me. I know for a fact there are a few people out there who’ve had the courage to join a team because of what happened with me.”

Does he feel an obligation then to gay sports people? “100 percent” he says, then qualifies it. “I never came out because I felt I had an obligation to a community – I had to come out because I felt I had no life left to live. But after coming out, I realised that I do have a responsibility to others, and I have to take it seriously. When you realise you could influence somebody else’s life, that’s a massive responsibility. I want to influence people. By doing positive things, and consistently giving positive messages the more people you can start to influence.”

His success has seen him travel, which must give him a perspective of how things are for gay people around the world and at home. Are we as progressive here as we like to think?

“So many people are willing to say that everything’s okay but not to show that everything’s okay. I’ve been to countries where people say, ‘You know, I don’t mind if there’s a gay rugby player or someone gay living in my street’ but they don’t want to be associated with them. I think we live in a world where everybody wants to say the right thing but actions speak a lot louder than words. There are something like 78 countries where it’s illegal to be gay. Is that okay? That there are other places where people are afraid to live their life the way they want to?”

Thomas is very famous now, and much loved in Wales. Does he ever encounter homophobia himself?

“Not so much now, but I’m a stronger person. When I came out I was very self-conscious. I’d be constantly looking out for how people looked at me or listening to someone who’d just walked past in the street to see if they’d say something. I didn’t want people to dislike me or judge me for my sexuality. In sport, you’re trying to please people all the time and it’s very hard to stop thinking that way. Now, if someone does have a problem with me, that person becomes irrelevant. That comes over time, and from realizing who your friends are.”

Did his training and discipline as a sportsman help him block out the bad stuff?

“It’s probably a hindrance. You need positive support to play well so it’s very hard to not to notice the negative stuff. If somebody is calling you something, repeatedly, you can’t ignore it.”

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage was the idea of veteran theatre director Max Stafford-Clark, himself a keen former scrum-half. It’s been written by his regular collaborator Robin Soans, well known for his successful “verbatim” plays, based on extensive interviews with real people. Previous projects have seen Soans meeting with everyone from terrorists and their victims to Neil and Christine Hamilton, who became unlikely celebrities after disgraced MP Neil was caught up in a cash-for-questions scandal.

As well as telling Gareth Thomas’s story, the new play gives voice to young people from his hometown, Bridgend, which hit the headlines a few years ago following a number of young suicides in the wider Bridgend area. Newspaper photographers and headline writers fell over themselves to paint a gloomy picture of the town. For someone who grew up there that must have been strange at best?

“To me, Bridgend is something everybody has – it’s a home. All my friends live there – it’s a friendly place, everybody is willing to do anything for everybody else. It’s a lively town, and it represents a lot of who I am. It’s a place that’s proud. It’s been through turmoil, but it’s willing to fight to keep its reputation strong. People on the outside may read an article or hear a story about a place, but that doesn’t define that place. A place that’s willing to overcome adversity, that’s willing to fight for its reputation as I’m willing to fight for mine is a good place to be in.”

Is he not tempted to move to somewhere bigger? London, perhaps?

“I did. One of the best things I did was move away for a while. I thought, there has to be more to life than going to the pub and seeing Dave in that corner because he’s always there and Jen behind the bar because she’s always behind the bar. So I went to London for about three years and I felt so alone it made me realize the thing I was running away from was exactly what I loved – that I can walk into the pub and know people or people can stop me in the street to talk about the rugby. I had to go away to realize what that meant to me and moving back was the best thing I ever did. I’m part of a community where I feel safe, and I’m proud to be part of it.”

Since coming out, Thomas has worked with a lot of young people in Wales and across the UK. What advice would he give to a young person struggling with the idea of coming out?

“It’s difficult to give generic advice, because coming out is such a personal thing. But the thing I would say is, I get a lot of credit for coming out but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my mum and dad and my friends. So I’d say, the best thing is to find two pillars – it could be your parents or close friends. And then you realize, the rest of the world could hate you but you’ve got someone to fall back on. And it will be alright. Find your support network, your failsafe. Your bookends. I was lucky – I had a great family and friends.”

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage is touring until June.

 

Interview with Rhys ap William

Rhys ap William holding a rugby ball

RHYS AP WILLIAM stars in Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, Robin Soans’ new play about gay Welsh rugby icon Gareth “Alfie” Thomas. He took time out from technical rehearsals to answer a few questions.

Tell us about the show?
It’s a story about a rugby man and his home town. A roller coaster. I play Baz, Alfie’s dad, and Gareth himself. Baz is a great role and his scenes with Vonnie are great fun. Playing Gareth is an honour. He came to watch a run in week 5 and that was an emotional afternoon.

Rhys rehearsing with Katie Elin-SaltYou’ve been involved in rugby most of your life.  Are you still playing?
I’ve been player,chairman, treasurer and barman at my current club, Clwb Rygbi Cymry Caerdydd since around 1999.  I’ve played since the age of 5 and would love a game in my 40th year, injuries permitting.  The future for me in rugby terms is the committee room and my blazer.

Were you aware Alfie was gay before he came out – or at least aware of rumours?
Wales is a small place, like a big village! Rumours travel fast but the truth remained a mystery.

Have there been rumours about other players?
A lot of names were flying about when Alfie’s rumours started circulating, but he’s the only one that has come out. There are a few good fake tans in Welsh rugby!

Do you think it’s still difficult for people in team sports like Rugby Union in Wales to come out?
I think he was in a great sport to do what he did. Rugby Union is a tight family and team mates look after each other. It is difficult for anybody to come out in any sport due to the public perception of players. Follow Alfie’s lead.

Rhys in rehearsals with Bethan Witcomb looking towards someone throwing a rugby ball towards themYou’re the “face and voice” of Welsh Rugby Union at the Millennium Stadium. How did that come about? And – commiserations! – what was the atmosphere like at England v Wales in the Six Nations last week?
It’s a dream job. Apart from the England game! I’ve been doing it for 10 years, it started from doing a voice-over for the BBC. My role has evolved from “voice of god” at the stadium to match day presenter for WRU TV. I watch the game from the tunnel, and the atmosphere’s always electric. It’s not quite playing but it’s a good second place.

When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
No idea! I guess it started in chapel and primary school. I was always reading and performing and loved it. I’m 40 this year and still think about my university application form – I had all sorts on it but chose the Theatre Media Music option. I’m still just about employable so I guess I chose wisely.

Has working with Max Stafford-Clark?
I knew of Max and his work, but I didn’t know what to expect and certainly didn’t know about his rugby pedigree. He has opened my eyes to actioning text and indeed on performing as a whole. I’ve loved the rehearsal time with him and learned a hell of a lot.

Rhys in rehearsals with Patrick Brennan reading a script Where in Wales are you from, and what’s it like there?
I’m from Cwmllynfell. It’s a small mining and farming village at the foot of the Black Mountain at the top of the Swansea Valley. It’s a beautiful place that I don’t see enough of. Hills, rivers, trees and rugby! What a place to grow up. Unman yn debyg i gatre – that’s Welsh for “no place like home”.

Do you enjoy touring?
With a 7 month old daughter at home it’s not quite as much fun as it used to be, but with the great cast and crew we’ll have a top time. We’ll be at some great theatres all over the country and I’m looking forward to the London run at the Arcola.

Watch Rhys in Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, touring Wales and England, February – June 2015.

Mutiny!

Jack Tarlton

Pitcairn‘s director, Max Stafford-Clark, likes to use improvisation to help actors immerse themselves in their characters and situations. But he doesn’t usually put himself in the firing line… Here’s actor Jack Tarlton’s rehearsal blog. 

Being a True and most Accurate account by Jack Tarlton of the Treacherous and Convoluted Rebellion onboard Out of Joint

It is only a couple of days into the voyage of rehearsals for Richard Beans new play Pitcairn, and mutiny is in the air. The play chronicles the aftermath of the mutiny on the Bounty, and the attempt by Fletcher Christian and the other mutineers to establish a new life on the incredibly isolated island of Pitcairn.

Our director Max Stafford-Clark produces his well thumbed pack of playing cards and passes them around the table where the company is sat working line-by-line through the play. Each of us has to take a card without allowing anyone else to see which card we have. If it is a red suit then we remain loyal to Max and the rehearsal process. If it is black then we are mutinous. The higher the card the more loyal or rebellious we are. The lowest is 2, the highest 10. My card is Black 9.

Max says that between now and press night, some six weeks away, rebels who have drawn a black card must somehow cause an outbreak of mutiny. All options are open. “You could try to replace me with Sir Peter Hall if you want” Max advises. The loyal reds must try to stop the uprising. There is also an informant amongst us as the Joker was included and whoever selected this card must try to find out when the revolt is scheduled to take place and tell Max.

With one of the highest black cards in the room this makes me responsible for planning what form the mutiny will take. I will have to subtly work out who my fellow mutineers are, while avoiding giving any indication to any loyalists and must at all costs not reveal my plans to the informant. Not convinced that smuggling in the former Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre to take over rehearsals is entirely feasible and with at least six weeks until we open I decide to play the long game, waiting to see if anyone will reveal their hand first.

It’s odd as these first few days of rehearsal are the very important time when you get to know your new cast mates and bonds and friendships slowly start to develop. Now though, there is another parallel game of secret relationships being played out in the tea breaks and lunch hours.

I have another job at Latitude Festival this weekend, and so I leave rehearsals on Thursday evening to drive to Suffolk. I discover I feel a sense of release that I do not have to think of the mutiny for four days, and it is definitely the responsibility of that as opposed to the work on the play itself that I feel freed from.

Upon returning on Monday morning though I discover that the deadline for the uprising has been drastically shifted to this coming Saturday. Probably a wise decision – what would happen if half the company didn’t turn up for the first night?

I now have to act fast. I decide that Saturday itself will be the day of the uprising. You’ll be hard pressed to find an actor that wants to rehearse on a Saturday, so this will hopefully give me the best leverage and perhaps even offer the possibility of turning a few low-numbered reds. This is my version of Fletcher Christian’s promise of the wonders of Tahiti to those onboard the Bounty.

I get bolder in dropping the subject into conversation and am fairly confident that I have found my first ally, Henry. I tell him that I am going to try to get this Saturday off for the mutineers. If we get enough on our side we will meet at a café near the rehearsal rooms and phone to say that we aren’t coming in. He gives me Siubhan and Adam’s names as probable mutineers. That makes four, but will that be enough to stage a daring raid on Max Stafford-Clark’s authority? And all the time I am worried that I could be talking to the informant.

Then suddenly, an unexpected opportunity opens up. Asking around I find myself in with a small nucleus of loyalists, including Adam and Naveed. I lie and say that I am a Red 4 and ask red Adam if he knows of anyone who is against us. He gives me a list of those he is pretty sure are rebels. Henry and Siubhan are there as are Lois and Ash. Blatantly asking Siubhan if I can borrow a pen and paper I write these names down, in the same fashion that a list of potential mutineers’ names were discovered inscribed on paper on Tahiti before the mutiny.

But this means that the Reds are compiling names. So I decide to bring things to a head and send an email to my potential co-conspirators, very aware that I am taking a huge risk in exposing my plan to someone who might not be a mutineer.

I’m Black 9. I’ve got in with Adam and Naveed, both Red 6 and they think I’m one of them, but they are onto us and think we are going to do it on Saturday morning. I propose we meet Wednesday morning (tomorrow) at 9.30am in the rehearsal room hopefully before the others are there. We barricade the door and don’t let anyone in unless Max agrees to give us Saturday morning off. Or if Max is in his office we take him hostage and do it there. Others can choose to join us. Who’s in?

Jack

By the end of the day I have confirmation from all of them – a wink, a pat on the back or a shared nod, and Lois tells me she thinks that Vanessa and Cassie could also be on our side. Leaving rehearsals that day I think that we had a solid plan, but am then hit by a broadside. I check the next day’s call on the way home – Max is not in until 12pm tomorrow.

Should I postpone? I fear that this will give the Reds time to flush me out. And so –

I just checked the call for tomorrow and Max is not in until 12pm, so change of plan. I assume that we’ll take a tea break just before Max arrives… As soon as Max arrives we lock him in the rehearsal room with us. If there is anyone not in our group still in the room then (and to confirm out group is Jack, Sam, Lois, Ash, Siubhan and Henry) then when I say “It’s Time” we walk them calmly to the door and barricade it behind them. We all remain inside the room.

Don’t do anything until I say “It’s Time.” We will then issue our demands – this Saturday off – and allow anyone who wants in to join us.

I go to bed knowing that tomorrow will bring either triumph or humiliating defeat. And then I dream about it all night.

By the time I get to work I have received confirmation from all but Siubhan. The first couple of hours are spent continuing to work in detail through each line of the play with our Assistant Director Tim, but I find it very hard to concentrate, constantly glancing at the time with a growing sense of unease as it gets closer to 12pm and Max’s arrival.

“Ok we’ll take a tea break there.” Tim says.

It’s time.

“Traitor!” Adam Newington sees the mutiny through the rehearsal room door.

Except that Siubhan, Ash and Henry have just wandered out of the room along with the bulk of the company. That’s not what we agreed! And there is still no sign of Max. Sam and Lois remain, and we exchange furtive glances and talk in hushed tones. Vanessa remains inside the room, checking her phone. Is she one of us? Sally our stage manager is on her computer. Tim walks back in. Sam, Lois and me look innocent. I can feel a knot in my stomach. And then a car draws up. Max is getting out. He’s entering the room. I’m approaching Sally. My throat feels dry. “Could I talk to you outside please?” I’m shutting the door behind her. Pulling heavy boxes over to barricade the door. I’ve just shouted “It’s Time!”

The first surprise is that Tim is suddenly telling Max “This is it! This is the Mutiny. We’re holding you hostage!” and tying him up with a skipping rope. By complete good fortune, he’s one of us! And Vanessa too! Adam is calling me a traitor through an open window. Then, there’s a banging on the fire door, those faithful to Max are trying to break in to save their director. Lois is there, making sure they don’t succeed. Some people have managed to slip in through the main door. Cutlasses have appeared from nowhere and my fellow mutineers are brandishing them to hold people back.

And I’m on a chair, shouting our demands – either Max agrees to give us Saturday off or we hold him here indefinitely and rehearsals will not be allowed to continue. He says that our writer Richard Bean is scheduled to work with us this weekend so that is out of the question. He asks Tim for his advise. “I’m a mutineer, I have to say we should have the day off!”

Eventually a compromise is reached. Max might give us a week on Saturday off, to go to the National Maritime Museum instead. This is a very watered down version of what I was demanding, but the reality of the situation is now piercing the adrenalin of the revolution. How long can I keep this up for? We’ve got to actually do some work at some point today. The plan worked. I’ve led the insurrection. But we need Max’s word. On the back of my script I hastily scrawl

“If rehearsals go well, you will give us Saturday 2nd August off (to go to the Maritime Museum) & let us know by Monday 28th July.”

Our director signs MAX in bright yellow highlighter pen. We untie him and everyone allowed back into the room.

Then the truth is revealed – the reason that Siubhan never answered my last email and left the room was that she thought I was the informant trying to incriminate her. But the biggest shock is Ash. The reason he left was because he was the Joker in the pack. I had allowed the spy into our very midst. His plan was to leave at the tea break and intercept Max’s car on the way in and warn him. Having played it so coolly throughout though, at the very last minute he thought he probably had enough time to go to the shop for a drink. By the time he was back it was too late, his mission failed. His captain was taken and the mutinous dogs were in control.

Henry had just forgotten.

Postscript
In the end we went to the National Maritime on Friday 1st August. And were all called into rehearsals the next day.

.

Love and a Bottle – the making of a restoration comedy

Love and a Bottle email

See this show for £6. Use the code OOJ when booking. Performances at Greenwich Theatre on 9, 12 or 14 July  Book tickets.  


Max Stafford-Clark and writer Stella Feehily are working with students from LAMDA drama school on their final year show – a major rewriting of the “lost” restoration comedy Love and a Bottle by George Farquhar. Here we talk to Max and Stella, and below you can read the experience of one of the young actors, Joseph Prowen.

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“We sent one of the students, who plays a beggar, to Finsbury Park station to beg – he wasn’t allowed to come back until he got at least 50p! It took him about three quarters of an hour and he said it was a mortifying experience. But when he came back, he played the scene completely differently”

Max Stafford-Clark and Stella Feehily talk to us about the process of creating Love and a Bottle and working with LAMDA students

What was it about the play made you want to rework it?

SF I’d read Love and a Bottle and loved it. It seemed like the perfect project to work with LAMDA students on. It’s young and full of spirit. The females in it are also resourceful, strong and very, very funny – that’s the other reason I wanted to do it. It’s quite sassy. Max had asked me to do it and I said the only way I would is if I could do it with LAMDA.

MSC Farquhar gives identities to his characters and he also gives them an emotional existence. Stella has done just this through workshopping the piece, especially with a character called Mrs Trudge, who she has since renamed Mistress Endwright. She’s gone from a fifteen line part to having one of the biggest parts in the play. By doing this, Stella has really released a whole emotional strand of the play.

What does the process involve? How do you begin?

SF Well Max has actually worked with LAMDA students before on a verbatim play called Mixed Up North, which was written by Robin Soans. Max and Robin went up north and interviewed locals and that formed the basis of the play. Whereas this project was quite different – I had this ancient text which I had to try and make sense of to begin with. Then I had an idea that because there were so many different characters, it would be best to conflate them all – I cut the character of a playwright named Lyrick and instead gave that role to Roebuck – which meant that we actually brought the play much closer to the autobiographical account of Farquhar’s first visit to London. So by the time we had our first proper rehearsal I already had a draft of this new version. From there, we started to cut the play – it needed to be a lot leaner. Once we’d done the cutting, we went through the process of casting, and once we knew who was playing who, I started to write each character to match the students’ personalities. So the creative process really sprung from the students’ differing personalities and writing each character to suit them. Joseph, for example, is a talented musician, so I have adapted his character Roebuck to play the violin.

How has it been working with LAMDA students?

SF Having the opportunity to knock the piece around with enthusiastic, talented drama students was essential in helping me write this play. I would ask them to do silly things to help me which I perhaps wouldn’t ask professional actors to do; they would run around the room and try out different accents, which really helped me envisage where the energy should be in the scene. Coming from an improvisational background myself, that is exactly what I wanted – for people to say yes, let’s go, let’s try that. They’re such a warm bunch of actors, and we loved seeing them develop so much from the initial readings to seeing them create these gorgeous, hilarious characters and speak the language so fluently and with ease.

We sent one of the students, who plays a beggar, to Finsbury Park station to beg – he wasn’t allowed to come back until he got at least 50p! It took him about three quarters of an hour and he said it was a mortifying experience. But when he came back, he played the scene completely differently; the humility that he brought to it was just extraordinary.

What are the differences between working with student actors and working actors?

MSC I would say it’s very similar. The first job you have as a director is to create a company – and the majority of that has been done for you because you’re presented with a company when coming to LAMDA. The second thing is to be able to harness the actors’ enthusiasm for the project, which has to be led by my own enthusiasm and the ability to turn the energy of discovery into the energy of performance. Immersing the students in the historical background was fun for both of us, and it was a learning curve for me as well as for them.

How important are drama schools in the role of new writing?

MSC Well the facilities are marvellous. Having the opportunity to unearth a hidden gem means we’re also restoring it to the canon and saying this play is worth considering, which will be a considerable service to the whole theatre community that LAMDA has expedited.


“Stella’s created a more well-rounded play, with clearer resolutions and she’s fleshed out the characters”

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Joseph Prowen, a graduating BA (Hons) Professional Acting student at LAMDA, tells us about his time working with Stella Feehily and Max Stafford-Clark on a new version of George Farquhar’s Love and a Bottle, showing at Greenwich Theatre on 9, 12 & 14 July.

We began the LAMDA Long Project – an opportunity for students to work with a professional writer and director to produce the first draft of a new play – in our second year.  The process essentially involves research, readings, actioning and improvisation. We had a couple of sessions back in January last year, purely to talk about the play and do a read-through with Max and Stella. From there, everybody had the opportunity to read for each part – Max would say ‘tomorrow this will be the cast’, and then it would change every day. You’d then go home, look at the scene you were going to read, think about the character you were going to be reading for and do any relevant research that needed to be done. It’s really lovely to think that the end product of this play will have been made by us, and that Stella took inspiration from improvisations we did in rehearsals. Everyone had a chance to contribute something to each character.

Working with Max and Stella isn’t just an interesting dramatic process; a lot of the preparation was in the historical research. On our first day, Max did a quiz with us – what happened this year? When did this happen? When was this battle? We’d be asked to carry out some research around the period, or about different parts of Ireland – we might be asked to do a presentation on the Battle of the Boyne one week or John Dryden the next. You’ve really got to turn up having done your research, which is great as it encourages you to work hard.

Unlike a lot of new writing that happens, we had a leg up in that we took a play that already existed, Love and a Bottle, which was George Farquhar’s first play. The play is about a young Irishman named George Roebuck, who I play, and is based on Farquhar. When we got it, Love and a Bottle was great – youthful and exciting – but it felt like it needed some work. So what Stella did with us was to rework it and what you will see when the show opens is an amalgamation of Farquhar and Feehily. Stella’s created a more well-rounded play, with clearer resolutions and she’s fleshed out the characters, making them three-dimensional and much more human.

When we perform Love and a Bottle, there will only be a handful of us playing the same part as we were last year in rehearsals. So going into it again this summer has been like entering into a completely different play: workshopping a piece really is an ever-changing process, which I love. It’s such a rare opportunity for an actor to be able to completely immerse yourself in a process like this – especially with funding cuts. This is also our first major collaboration of this scale, which is great as the training at LAMDA is very much geared towards working as an ensemble, so this is something that’s perfect to do. We really felt like a company this year.

Love and a Bottle opens at Greenwich Theatre on Wednesday 9 July in collaboration with Out of Joint. To book tickets please call 020 8858 7755 or book online at www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk

 

This May Hurt A Bit – interview with composer Charlotte Hatherley

The incidental music in This May Hurt A Bit has been specially composed by Charlotte Hatherley. Charlotte has released three albums in her own name, was a member of rock band Ash for many years and more recently has played guitar on tour for Bat for Lashes and KT Tunstall. She also DJs. Here she talks about new directions, life on the road and writing for theatre.

Charlotte Hatherley

What are you listening to at the moment that you’d recommend?

I’m listening to ‘Hearts To Symphony’, the great new record from Carly Paradis who you might have heard playing on Clint Mansell’s Moon soundtrack.

How did you get involved with the play?

A playwright friend of mine in New York put me in touch with Stella Feehily. Stella had punk pop guitar music in mind for the play – my friend thought we’d make a good fit. We met up and, despite never having written music for a play before, I was immediately seduced by Stella’s enthusiasm and the idea of entering a completely new musical arena was very exciting.

What did Max and Stella ask from you?

Initially the references were The Pixies and Violent Femmes, quirky punk pop. Max wanted the play to end with an epic version of ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’ and referenced Hendrix’s ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. Max wanted me to sit in on rehearsals as much as possible so I could really understand the politics and emotional punch of the play.

With incidental musical, there’s a practical purpose – to cover the scene changes. But it also allows you to set a mood, an atmosphere, a pace. What are you trying to do in that respect with the music in this play?

Yes, essentially you’re trying to get from A to B within a 20/30 seconds time frame. Some scene changes require rhythm to keep the pace up whilst the set gets moved around, so I wrote the guitar tracks with that in mind. This May Hurt A Bit is very funny, but it’s also moving and thought provoking – the music can’t be too invasive in those moments so I introduced different textures to help reflect the mood.

The play is about the NHS – has it made you think about that, about healthcare generally? Have you had any notable encounters with the NHS?

I had meningitis when I was 3, and if it wasn’t for the NHS I probably wouldn’t be here – but I was too young to remember much about it. Working on this play was an education. I was aware of the NHS going through hard times, but it wasn’t until I sat in on a talk organized by Max and Stella with Dr Jacky Davis (who wrote NHS SOS) that I really understood the terrible mess it is in, and the damage political parties across the board have inflicted upon it.

Have you seen much theatre? Have you seen anything that you’ve particularly loved?

My mum is an actress and I spent a good part of my childhood climbing on the concrete sculptures in front of The National Theatre. My dad is also a playwright, so I’ve always been attached to the theatre. In my 20s I dated Michael Cerveris, an incredible stage actor from NYC. I saw him perform as Hedwig in ‘Hedwig and The Angry Inch’ MANY times! Most recently I saw Matilda in London, which I LOVED.

What are you up to at the moment now we’ve got This May Hurt A Bit up and running?

I’m releasing a record under the name ‘Sylver Tongue’ this year. It’s about to be mastered.

Why Sylver Tongue? And what’s the music like?

I’ve released 3 solo records under my own name. After my third record came out I was in need of a big creative break. Natasha Khan swept me up and asked me to tour with her band, Bat For Lashes, and I spent three years on the road. I came back to writing with a totally new perspective and a very clear idea of the kind of record I wanted to make. I felt constrained by the familiarity of the guitar so I wrote the entire record with keyboards and beats and hooked up with producer James Rutledge who brought his precision cool and sonic boom to the songs. It felt new, it looked new, so it made sense to call it something new. The music is very cinematic and emotive. I’m deeply proud of it.

You’ve toured a lot with a number of acts. Ash, Bat for Lashes, KT Tunstall. What do you like about life on the road? And, how much creative input do you have a as a musician playing others’ music?

I started touring the world at 18 so ‘the road’ has been a big part of my life. I get itchy if I say still for too long. I’ve had such incredible experiences on tour and have forged some wonderful friendships – I can’t think of a better way to make a living. I’ve always been comfortable taking a back seat and playing a more supportive role in a band. As a solo artist I understand the heat of carrying your own music and enjoy stepping aside where the only focus is on playing your instrument as well as you can every night. I have only toured with creatively open artists who encourage musicians to contribute to the cauldron of sound onstage, so I’m always creatively fulfilled.

When you’re performing your own music, what are you like on stage? Do you look forward to it? What’s your persona?

My Sylver Tongue stage persona is a (fake) fur and leather wearing Mad Max warrior woman! So when I perform I have to tap into that part of my personality – I have myself down as an introverted person but everyone has a chainmail clad Tina Turner inside of them, dying to get out. Playing live for me now is like being in the Thunderdome – and who wouldn’t look forward to that?

www.charlottehatherley.com @iamsylvertongue

About This May Hurt A Bit

The NHS and me

We asked the cast of This May Hurt A Bit: Why is this play important? 

Stephanie Cole and Natalie Klamar

Stephanie Cole

I’ve had a lot of contact with the NHS over the last few years – my husband dying of cancer, my mother of strokes, my brother has schizophrenia; so I’m very much aware that all is not well. I’m also aware that there are wonderful people working in it on the ground and that there are not so wonderful people running it which is happening in many areas of our lives, from the post office to the railways to the NHS.

Plays are there to make you look at things afresh and of course to entertain you but also to make you think and in this case it’s a very entertaining play, a very moving play, it’s very funny but along the way you glean information, a lot of it – rather like burrs on a country walk. At the end of the walk you suddenly find yourself stuck with burrs all over which you didn’t realise you’d acquired as you brushed through the edges.

My character has the last line of the play which is ‘we mustn’t give up Gina, we must fight, there’s still time’ and I think that’s really important.

Natalie Klamar

It’s so rare to be a part of a project that can change the way people think about such an important issue. Sometimes when you watch the news you can feel distanced from what they’re talking about if you’ve not been directly affected by it, but by creating characters that the audience can identify with and warm to; the subject matter can hit home in a way that facts and figures sometimes can’t.

Jane Wymark

What worries me is sleepwalking into losing the NHS because we’ve had it all our lives. So we take it for granted and we don’t know what it would be like without it and we’re brainwashed into thinking it’d all be marvellous and it wouldn’t.

As it stands, the NHS is still the best in the world for acute medicine. Where the system tends to fall down is chronic illness, when things go on and on. I agree with the message of the play it’s just so frightening about private finance initiatives and being stuck into this debt.  I’m so shocked to see it happening here.

People forget the enormous numbers of people who have very good treatment on the NHS every day, that aren’t dying in Mid Staffs and aren’t complaining about their GPs. There is a hell of a lot of extremely good care and that just sort of fades out.

Brian Protheroe and William Hope

I was 4 years old when the NHS came into being. It has benefitted me for the whole of my life and to find that private organisations are gradually being allowed to profit from this public service is both personally bewildering and distressing.

William Hope

As far as I know it’s the first theatrical production that has addressed the Health and Social Care Act, which is so complex and detailed. We’re slowly learning more but the principal fact is that it’s laying the ground to privatise as many components of the NHS as possible. I’m not sure that people are aware of the extent of it and probably this play will provoke a huge number of questions and shine a light on some of the murkier areas that the media should be picking up, on as well as members of the public.

Frances Ashman

Everybody knows that the NHS has been going through some really difficult times but somehow it goes over our heads because when we’re ill, as long as we’re treated, we’re “alright Jack”. I think this play’s important because nobody’s talking about it. There is nobody in this country not affected by what is happening to the NHS. All you need to know is you’ve been lied to. It affects all of us and I think we all have a responsibility to try and get together and stand against the people that are trying to take an institution that we’ve had for 65 years.

Tristram Wymark

The play is important to me because my sister (fellow cast-member Jane) and I have spent the last 7 years very involved with my mother’s health care. We’ve experienced the National Health close up and they have been wonderful, virtually every stage. Of course everyone has some bad experiences but those are outweighed by the amazing things these people do. I’m constantly heartened and overjoyed to see how much people in the health system care because it’s certainly not the money that keeps them going. The piece is important because there is a brilliant message in there that we need to get out there.

Hywel Morgan

‘Aneurin Bevan? Architect of the NHS and my political hero?! I’ll bite your arm off.’ That was what I told my agent before I’d even read Stella Feehilly’s script for ‘This May Hurt A Bit’.  Despite having died twelve years before I was born, coming from South Wales, Nye Bevan is a massive figure. Robert Thomas’ life size bronze at the end of Queen Street in Cardiff appeared during my teenage years and his legacy was emblazoned across the plinth: ‘Aneurin Bevan 1897-1960: Founder of the NHS.’

The truth is if we lose the NHS we lose the greatest thing this country has ever created. Most of us won’t realise how important it is until it’s gone.

Read Hywel’s rehearsal diary