SMMX

and that is stop Motion Mexico, and I’m just back from there. a bit of an epic journey I confess, stopping both ways in Cancun, which had the bluest seas I had ever seen. And the ubiquitous Cirque du soleil – the other ubiquitous theatre piece is The Play That goes Wrong – everywhere. Anyway some dram about the tickets as they were reserved as Barry Jonathan Crabtree. A bit of sweet talking was needed. Anyway I eventually found myself in mexico city, met by the lovely organisers, Malizeth and Gonzalo – they’ve almost done the whole festival by themselves, and they are still smiling. and what a great few days we had, with the other guests, Matias Liebrecht, and Damien Pousse. they were perhaps up for the midnight parties, more than I was. Jetlag was a bit of a killer at that time of nightBut between us all we did various workshops and talks and screenings, ferried to various part of the city. A great response as well, and after my Tchaikovsky, several ladies were in tears. I was surprised at the end of my Masterclass to be presented with a lifetime achievement award – a beautiful sculpture of a Mexican hairless dog. this was presented to me by the great john Ikuma, with a speech that was much appreciated. So a lot of talking and sharing and passing on, and two days of being a tourist in mexico. we took in markets, Frida Kahlos house ( too crowded to go in), a great meal at the university canteen in a lovely garden, a walk round the place and its’ garden, a night up a mountain in darkness, and an evening at the Lucha libre from which my senses have not recovered – wow what a spectacle. No pyramids for me, but I can’t complain as it was a truly extraordinary six days, and i’m buzzing and honoured – this will make for an interesting conversation at the Universal credit meeting next week. I’m so lucky that animation takes me to such places, and that audiences respond to the passion in my work – if only there were more.

The Dream and Chicago

Same format of a couple of plays and nowt else, but that’s it for a while. I couldn’t resist going to see midsummer night’s dream in London, but floods and delayed trains and terrible weather and standing traffic conspired to make me ponder not going, but I wanted to see this play, and I made it just in time. What a venue – The bridge theatre is new to me, reached by walking across the still breathtaking Tower bridge, and there it is sat on the river’s edge. Rather splendid, and inside was a bit like an oblong royal exchange. the plan had been to stand, cheaply, and be involved in all the immersive aspects of this particular production – hmm, I had distinct second thoughts about that and upgraded no problem at all, and got a much more cohesive view of all the action. An odd space actually, feeling more like an arena than a theatre. Many public stood in the pit and were marshalled out of the way as furniture was wheeled on and lifted up on a complex system of lifts. Most of the floor seemed to be lifts. That worked well for my view point, and there was Gwendoline Christine, from GoT, right in front of me, draping herself from a silk hammock, trailing acres of green silk. The twist in this production and there were many was that it was Titania who put the flower in Oberons eyes and thus he fell in love with Bottom, and what joyous scenes those were. The bubble bath between Oberon and Bottom will long stay in my memory. Lots of gorgeous images, the mechanicals play scene became much about the experience we were watching – immersive and improvisational. Puck had great fun with the audience, and he was certainly more agile than my Puck – but oh those lines and speeches. I still never tire of them. So much of Shakespeare is about theatre itself and the necessity of such fulfilment. I was so glad that I made the effort to get there and to see Gwendoline. Her Oberon matched her for beauty as well, both enormously tall striking actors.
The next night, back at the sale waterside, still feeling the echoes of our Rigoletto, I saw MYT’s Chicago. I’ve felt a little Chicago’d out recently, mainly because everyone seems unable to think about copying the fishnet approach, but joe had brought plenty of new ideas and staging, and his cast and band were extraordinary. I love that they do it in eight intense days rehearsal. No time to get bored, and it certainly becomes an event and not a chore.
Bob Fosse and Gwen verdon are certainly everywhere at the moment -on an eight part series on the BBC and Gwen had her own documentary – it’s been a joy seeing the behnd the scenes of such iconic numbers as the cabaret ones. and i’m glad more people are getting to hear that glorious croaky voice – the croak came from swallowing a feather hidden away in the cupboard in sweet Charity.
I think at the Garrick that we are getting somewhere with the live events at the Garrick. a lot of work, and a lot of obstacles thrown my way – it’s almost like doing a job.
I’ve been mulling over with friends on how to not just make money from my experience, which would be good to be sure, but actually more about passing it on and not letting it all go to waste when I’ve gone. working on that.

All plays, no work

I do wish though it was all work and no play. This is so reducing me.
But I’ve been going to the theatre since I was probably five (thanks Ma and Pa), maybe twice a week, certainly once a week, and nothing gives me more pleasure. Nothing nourishes me as much. But sometimes I get consumed with sadness, and feel that this is selfish in that I can’t pass on nearly sixty years of extraordinary images, stories, ideas, magic, sounds, emotions, observations, shared experiences, life enhancing and life changing moments, all that creative collaboration. It is of the moment, and that’s exciting, but I wish I could pass on my passion or somehow reuse it in a creative project – a book of 100 moments that make life worth living. I’d love others to enjoy even a fraction of what I have enjoyed. I hope a more economic personal future does not curtail all this.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen quite a few things, all mostly booked a year ago or when I was working. Firstly, Sheffield offered the Life of Pi – and that was simply extraordinary, full of profound beautiful moments, and joyously inventive storytelling. Gorgeous puppets of course, and at one point it was Pi and the animals in the boat, along with half a dozen seemingly invisible operators. it gets me every time when performers are invisible – it works in animation too, see Screen Play. who ever notices the black figures. But life of Pi was sublime. Then a birthday present of The Provoked Wife at Stratford – a play I got reacquainted with when doing Playhouse creatures last year. Glorious bawdy and rather dark romp with an interesting moral. The lady playing Lady brute was willowy Alexandra Gilbreath, and her understudy was a black, bald lady of restricted growth. I hope she gets to play the part, or has bigger parts in the company. well done RSC. Also in the play was Les Denis, doing little more than moving furniture. I felt very sorry for him, but he was at least working, and I gather he has a major part in the other play, Venice Preserv’d.
Then five years late to the party, I caught up with The Book of Mormon and marvelled at the slick, geometric choreography and fluid staging, and the sheer energy of it all.
And then live from the national/Piccadilly was The Lehman Trilogy. On the hottest day on record I didn’t really want to face nearly four hours of the complex saga of the banking family who set up Wall street, but it was thrilling, staged on an almost constantly revolving glass box, suggesting a modern office whilst its three performers resolutely wore 19the century frock coats. Complex and hugely satisfying. Inventive, non literal theatre at its best. Frustrating though as I have listened to friends designing plays at the Garrick, and coming up with literal architectural dead rooms. This should not be replicas but illusions. I believed I saw the tiger Richard Parker, and the moment, when finally worn down, he put his head on Pi’s lap I gasped so loudly.
interestingly I had done a talk at a film group last week. I was the first half and took the Tchaikovsky film to pieces, and then a fellow speaker talked about making screens and such images for films. I have a feeling my single puppet was found to be more interesting. Illusions still take our breath away, when we know it is just an illusion.
All this and not a sniff of work, even though a university asked me to apply for a job as a part time tutor, and sure enough I submitted the endless paperwork and did not even get an interview. Darn.

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.