For those in Peril on the Sea

A pertinent caption there as I have seen two show this week about exactly that. I should catch Titanic again and make it a trio. But first up was my beloved noye’s Fludde – 55 minutes of joy. This was at the Theatre royal stratford east – I think I have only been once there, but what history it has there. And a gorgeous theatre too. This production was rather good, in shades of grey until the rainbow, which was not a rainbow but splashes of colour. I know every word of this piece and thrill at hearing it’s ripe language. The production had some glorious moments, especially the appearance of the ark, but they opted out for showing the Firmament which is sad as musically it is so great at the moment, with the handbells going ten to the dozen. The animal masks were a bit casual but it was full of lovely images and moved me enormously.
The second piece was the Life of Pi, over at Sheffield, a provincial theatre with a good reputation, but heck what a first class production this was, and the loud gasps that echoed through the theatre I apologize for. Wonderful detailed but very stylised puppets, lighting that really put us at sea, and staging that I just wanted to clap. An imaginative script that juggled the three narratives beautifully segueing from on to the other with such lightness. and boy did it ask some major questions, and certainly did not shy away from the animals being killed and eaten. The beautiful turtle gliding silently round the stage met a ghastly and pertinent fate, and I could not really believe that I was seeing it. and the moment that Richard Parker finally gave in and rested his head on Pi’s lap did make me gasp and cry. So many such images. I was elated and dumb, but now I am so depressed as this is the sort of thing I should be doing, solving such problems with theatrical dexterity.
I did go to a one to one creative session with a local theatre this week, and felt utterly patronised with them looking at me clearly thinking I’m not one of the clique. But the thing that galled me was talking quite naturally about the arts and not showing off, but even the most basic cultural knowledge was outside of their frame of reference. And these are people supposedly giving out money for exciting projects. Shameful.
And what of the CG Lion King that is causing so much fuss. Basically without the artifice, realistic lions bursting into song is certainly uncomfortable. The artifice gives license for such things as overt composition, music and choreography and funny movements. This is causing much heated debate. My answer is look at the dumstruck audience at Pi yesterday. Did it worry us that we could see three operators with the tiger or that the jackall had no back legs, or that the lifeboat was rather crowded. not one jot! it was more powerful than the film, way more powerful.

Odd couple of weeks

Yep distinctly odd. A lot of talking about the past and radio interviews about the return of the Wind in the Willows puppets to Manchester, and indeed it was lovely to see them. Also much talking about the Lip Synch series of short films, which are now thirty years old. A magazine wanted to do a lengthy piece about their significance. I felt very much the cuckoo in the nest whilst down at the aards. the others have all gone to features and such, and I’ve floundered, but my contribution to the series, next, still seems to work, and has not aged. I felt a bit like the fifth Beatle. All this talk about the past would be great if there was an equal talk about the future. My 64th birthday came and went with few trumpets – sadly my third consecutive birthday of being out of work. I did things for the birthday when working but it seems rather pointless when things are a bit tough.
I did see a local production of Jeeves and Wooster, the play that I am directing next February. It worried me as this production fell very flat. It didn’t have much energy or invention and one of the main performances crossed the line from charming to irritation. I won’t copy any ideas but I will make sure that we have charm and invention in spades. And I’ll make sure we don’t swallow those glorious names.
And an epic funeral down at the Garrick, giving a good friend a great send off.
So all human life these last two weeks – a bit of animated life would help things.

Midsummer week

well I did a voice over for a one minute film which was quite fun. Have a listen

I might get to do a talk for that local film society. I really should get myself a video camera. Certainly not short of ideas.
another week where I applied for a job that had my name all over it, but not even an interview. Do any companies actually hold interviews any more? Or is it all done digitally and by remote. Shame as you learn so much about attitude face to face. Is there any point in keeping applying for jobs?
So there’s very little sight of any future work but my past came back with a vengeance this week, confusing me as it was a reminder that I can do this, in spite of all the obstacles at the moment. Anyway after the exhibition in Liverpool of the Wind in the Willows puppets, they went missing for thirty years, and recently turned up when a potential auction was prevented, and after much tussling and sweet talking, the puppets have returned to the northwest and are to be homed at the Waterside in sale, where the rest of the archives are held. And as a result I have done about six press and radio pieces about the puppets. I hope I gave the impression that it was not just me and that I managed to acknowledge everyone else involved. it was a joy to hold Toad again, and wherever I went this week he was met with such love and affection. But holding him, he was a remarkably simple puppet and yet we managed to get a lot of emotion out of him. Maybe that’s a lesson to be learnt. Oh to revisit the willows.
More dance this week, and not just any dance but a significant end to a significant era. Last night Birmingham Royal Ballet gave their last performance in the hippodrome under the direction of David bintley (well that’s a little cheat as they have a week in London). he chose Hobson’s Choice as a send off, and it really has everything, from folk dancing, to comedy, to pathos and the odd dancing animal, and replete with utter charm and warmth. Frankly, it’s perfection, and I was happy to be there as david took his final bow, looking truly speechless.
Dance, and especially David’s work, has given me more pleasure than any other living artist…..though perhaps Mr Sondheim might argue about this. A different pleasure there. Thank you David, for so much.

Dance and despair

Two dance pieces this week – the first was matthew bourne’s swift inventive take on Romeo and Juliet. In and out within two hours and drained by the end. Interestingly set in an asylum, and everything arose from that setting. Some stunning inventive corps scenes, and the sheer spectacle was sensational. the ending seemed a bit clumsy as everyone came away thinking that Juliet had suddenly stabbed Romeo – not quite. I think she was aiming for the ghost of the Tybalt character, but this crucial moment was a bit clumsy. But heck a fresh take indeed. Then this afternoon I was at the June Rendell academy of dance’s show – nearly three hours and probably about forty numbers, maybe a dozen too many. The Handmaid’s tale and westworld in dance for children….not sure about that, but what was impressive was the sheer marshalling of over two hundred kids, and all their costume changes. faultless and a real achievement. A lot of excellent dancing but too much lack of focus – a lot of heads looking round anticipating what should be happening next.
And the despair – who does one have to xxxx to get a commission these days. Are there actually any films being made? apparently as Annecy has just been and gone.
I was reunited with mr Toad this week – oh my.

Bronte review

I can live with this great review of Bronte. It’s criticisms seem against the play itself, not us.
https://www.noda.org.uk/show-reports/bront?fbclid=IwAR0X64JicgfOnSQel0eoWabG6KUfRJ1AJ88–QwnjHSneZxrB9i99ydEJRo

barren week

Barren in as much there were no shows and no work, but somehow I have been breathlessly busy. I did meet up with a chum and we went to see a studio recording of the new incarnation from Mischief theatre – a tv show goes wrong. I have laughed enormously at the live play that goes wrong, and The Comedy about a Bank robbery, but not so much as their various tv adaptations. And this was fascinating to watch – a half hour programme taking four hours to shoot. The poor director consigned to a remote box somewhere……heck I’d rather be down on the floor. And it’s interesting how an audience laughs differently after successive takes. It was funny, but somehow I miss the desperate need of the actors to have to carry on in the live theatre, and hear it was not as aspectacular. It felt a bit safe and predictable and you didn’t get the sense of a troupe of actors struggling. It was not the inspired observation of acorn Antiques nor the intelligently plotted Noises Off, but still very funny. I think such things work best live – the knowledge of their being a second take available undermines it. But hey BBC you really do have the most complicated of ticketing and entry systems, and not the most friendly either.

A week of things dance

Well it started with me apprehensively going to see a double bill in the cinemas, live from the Bolshoi. I was apprehensive because when I last saw the Bolshoi, in the flesh and in the Kremlin, they were not good. theatrically dead and ugly, and no drama. not the transformative experience it could be. Their swan Lake was ghastly actually. But here we had the sultry and very visual Carmen suite followed by a new Petrushka – the first different production of this, and, my, it knocked my socks off. starkly and but strikingly designed with five huge flat coloured Russian Dolls, and the cast in costumes whose colours seared my eyes. and a gorgeous intelligent production, almost reversing the idea of who is a puppet and who is human. Beautifully staged.
Then some friends in a 1970’s comedy that was slightly morally questionable, but an entertaining night all the same.
Then at the Garrick, the hugely ambitious Cats. we weren’t allowed to reference the original production, and the rather literal rood top set of smoking chimneys was a suitable playground for the cats to thrown themselves round. Perhaps incessantly choreographed, as chum martin as Gus sat still on a black box barely moving was an absolutel highlight. I might have put more thought into giving Grisabella a bit more of a dynamic send off. After all this walking up a flight of steps into a light was a bit meh. But the fact that we can do such complex shows is rather amazing.
Then I’d been invited to the Pendleton evening of dance called Tryptich too. These performers are sixth formers and danced relentlessly for two and a half hours, and some of it was a bit too easily confrontational, but a scene where their usual black costumes were transformed with the addition of a floaty marron skirt, was sensational. Much circiling around a lady with a heavier skirt, which billowed out to fill the whole stage, and again much billowing. That was gorgeous enough, and swan Lake finale played here, and some Vivaldi, but then they started scattering hundreds of torn up newspapers. I thought this one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever seen. Gorgeous.
and then finally last night, over to Sheffiled Lyceum to see the final night of the UK tour of new Adventures swan Lake. I’d seen them at the beginning of the tour, and wen with a friend who was a swan Lake virgin. They are still magnificent and the feat still takes my breath away, but the theatre here was simply too small. Much of the set was not visible, throwing out the potent symmetry, and often the dancers had to land off stage as their simply was not enough space. Add a rake and the humour that seemed to have grown, I was not quite as involved as usual, but I still my hand up and say that this is still a masterpiece. There are still questions I want to ask, but I hope this is not the last time I see this piece.
Yep that was a week.

Catching up

I’ve lost track of things as it certainly has been a busy few weeks. There was a very quick bit of acting – a gruesome story in the most beautiful country cottage. Eating of a baby was involved. a student film which could have benefitted from a bit more preparation and storyboards and such, but it was a good long day. A rather excellent production of Things I know to be true – again very straightforward, where a bit more imagination could have helped. A brilliant production of west Side story at the Royal exchange, which imagination in spades. Way too many deadly dull meetings for various Garrick things. I came to the rescue of a sixth forms’ Romeo and Juliet, but too late, as the project was terminally wounded, Shame as I would have liked to have got my teeth into that. Then a very flattering exhibition up at the University of Teesside. A hundred or so images and they look stunning, but again if I had asked a few more questions about it and it’s purpose I might have done things differently or been more prepared. And yes, I have applied for jobs for which I would be most suitable, and no, not even an acknowledgement, which is beyond mean and unprofessional.

EQUUS

Now this is a play that has meant a lot to me, and ever since I first saw it, possibly over 40 years ago, the presentation of the blinding of the horses, with huge lengths of red ribbons truly did change my artistic life. But the passion for the horses, and the actors as horses is something very close to me – men as animals. Oh yes. The wire frame head for these horses has become somewhat old hat now, and thankfully this production my by chum ned Bennett dispenses with anything as literal as that. Nugget was played by a muscular black actor in underwear who simply walked on stage quite normally, then started dislocating his limbs into something resembling all fours, not quite, but almost, then the transformation, with a burst of smoke from both nostrils, was complete. Utter genius. A production close to my way of thinking – no furniture, certainly no literal furniture, a fluid space with shadows, no real period, no real geography, and pacey and imaginative and thrilling. The blinding of the six horses had the lad naked and athletically jumping about blinding them with great flashes of blue and red. I was breathless. I think I finally understood this play, and as Alan’s moment of passion was envied by Dysart, envied and illuminative of his own pallid life. the word pallid certainly him home to this member of the audience. A brilliant production ignoring all traditions and history of the play. Fresh and exciting.

Rigoletto

And so, over the course of 25 years, I have been involved in three versions of Rigoletto; the animated half oper version, the play Quartet, and finally the full scale opera live on stage. Unless a ballet version comes along (or the musical, as Elton John certainly tackled another Verdi opera, Aida), I might leave it at that. I wonder if anyone else can claim such a diverse friendship with the masterpiece. This last incarnation has certainly been the hardest, and doing, in effect, four performances over four nights, drained us all, and is unheard of. But eighteen months ago we suggested Rigoletto, and here we all are much richer, and much drained by it, but we succeeded in our aim of introducing opera to new people, with an accessible and theatrically dynamic production. Yes, we succeeded there. We could have had more in the audience, but I think I solved all the staging problems and made something that was dark, and disturbing and entertaining, and unique to us and our venue. Moving inot the theatre at 9.00 and putting everything up and lit, ready for a tech run at.00 and the a full dress run at 7.30 was a day that took it’s toll on me for the rest of the week, but the theatre, under myg uidance, managed to produce some gorgeous Renaissance lighting, and it really was a beautiful looking piece, with all my colour schemes and compositions working. and heck it was moving. But perhaps time now to say goodbye and thank you to Rigoletto and his debauched friends. There will be photos.