Phew – that was a hectic few days

13th October
So I’ve been to Poland and back, to the Animarkt festival in Lodz (Wooodge), for three long days of workshops in an old restored power station, which was a truly bizarre and lovely setting. A great bunch of people, and my students had varied abilities, but some produced some startlingly good work. On the last day Mars attacks! was shown in my honour, and a cake to celebrate my 40th years as an animator, though I was not going to send the cake back and admit it’s near the end of my 41st now. Delicious cake. Mars attack – a movie marking the start of a new technology is certainly looking a little awkward now, and I’d not seen it for ages, but was surprised at just how many of my gags and ideas were still in the film. Such a shame, in one way, that stop motion was not involved in the end.
A bit of an epic and stressful journey home, and then straight in to presenting my Tchaikovsky film and Matthew bourne’s swan Lake at the Garrick – heck that’s a good double bill, though I say it myself. Swan Lake is simply a masterpiece and always will be. so rich, so sensual, such an achievement. I never tire of it, though the ‘opera house’ scene does go on for ages and the Prince gets sidelined there. He needs a rest. But what a piece. So many of my friends were very sniffy about this, and didn’t take the chance to see it.
I had another trip to the RSC to see measure for measure, which is not my favourite play, but heck this production was thrilling. The scenes between Aneglo and Isabella as the deal was plotted were simply breathtaking, with the audience gasping at the audacity and relevance. A great production – and very ‘woke’ (heck I hate that word. But every box was ticked.
I’d like to say this week will be quiet and I can concentrate on the script i’m writing for the BFI submission but heck no.

Shrews, Penguins and more

September finished in a bit of a mad rush. I’m writing away on a project to submit to the BFI – along with every other animator around. I’m getting frustrated as I could approach this subject in many different ways, and probably if truth be told it may be too big a subject for a short film, but then I managed to reduce The Iliad to an interesting chunk. Watch this space.
I’ve done quite a few talks to various senior based groups, and this week I meet a group of Ukelele players who might be able to join us for Jeeves and Wooster. Live music would make all the difference, and talking of live music I did go and see the Penguin café. I’ve lost count how many times I have seen the band live and after a hectic day at the Bolton film festival, I did nervously wonder if I was too familiar with them, but no, they thrilled, startled, surprised and moved me even more that usual. they had brilliant lighting here, taking us seemingly underwater. I will never tire of the penguins.
I am getting a little tired, no I’m not, but it’s so much the thing at the moment that plays have to reverse genders – we have a female King john, Macbeth and many more, and it really does not matter to me at all, but it is already a cliché – however in the RSC’s Taming of the shrew it made sense to play Petruchia as a women in search of a husband, and Katharine that doltish husband who was tamed. A gorgeous rich production.
I wish perhaps they’d swapped the genders for the Agatha Christie play I saw that was simply dull, but then can she ever work as a thriller. Nail biting it was billed, and nail biting it was not. Meet the characters, kill one, then spend hours pointing fingers at people, when there is no chance of working things out as we are not given enough information. well sit back and look at the frocks – sadly there’s not much drama in that.
and then finally we launched our atlrincham Garrick Picturehouse with everyone was Talking about Jamie, and they certainly were for day after. A great success. It is a magnificent show, and yes there were tears there.
Let’s have a bit of Penguin Café

21 st september

Yikes, two weeks to write and a rather epic two weeks.
I have to confess that the two weeks of constant performances of corrie slightly took it out of me. I loved being part of the show, and being reliable for the cast. I was backstage, pushing and shoving the endless trucks about. I loved finding emotion even in the opening of a door – a quick or slow door makes all the difference. I didn’t love the play and that wore me down each night. It was not so much a play but more a collection of famous scenes. Some of those scenes were brilliant and iconic, but each night I kept thinking of ways to have linked them as a satisfying whole. The audience enjoyed the show, but the audience was slim most nights. still I enjoyed being surrounded by a cast who really inhabit some of the roles. Heck, who am I kidding, I just love being backstage. The most natural place for me to be.
I did squeeze in a few talks during all this. One was to a group of ladies, fierce and fiery and friendly, called Tangent. I was only allowed 35 minutes which is tough for me. But I had fun watching the politics and dynamics of the group. Each lovely mature lady having a role to play and making sure they used that power. The other group was for the university of the Third age and this was a tour round the Garrick. As I had suspected they loved seeing all the wigs from corrie.
But then, unexpectedly, there was a very quick trip down to Cornwall and the Falmouth College. Such a gorgeous location and the weather was kind, sunny but bumpy on the plane. And I felt fired up, and I think I gave a darn fine talk, finding a good shape, throwing out pearls of sort of wisdom, and bits of emotional insight. We got to almost three hours and everyone was up for more. The only film of ours I showed was Tchaikovsky and again that had a great effect. the audience response to the whole talk was thrilling. And that night I sat on the harbour wall with, of course, a Cornish pasty.
A bit of culture with the film of Downton Abbey which was absurd and raced through big plots at the rate of knots, but insanely enjoyable. The next night was Rigoletto from Lake Constance at bregenz. A stage in a lake is an absurd concept on top of the absurd concept of an opera anyway, but add to this outrageously extravagant visuals, and slightly absurd visuals, and it makes for a very odd experience. Gilda singing Caron nome thirty foot up in the air in a hot air balloon, watching by a huge gurning puppet was certainly unique.
Quite a couple of weeks, and all this made for a lively conversation at the unemployment office.

7th september

this time last week I was a few rows from watching Stephen Fry in action – and what action. Every word, of millions of word, chosen so carefully, each progressing the thrilling narrative. And this week I am back stage at the Garrick’s production of Corrie, a very random, actually totally random, celebration of Coronation street – a list of famous scenes barely linked together. An enjoyable piece of fluff but a piece of fluff that takes about 35-40 of us to fluff it each performance. Sadly the audiences are thin, to say the least.
I also did a talk for the sale Waterside, and I rather enjoyed this one, on a roll about the device and storytelling and making every frame and every element count. With that I’ve been writing a short film to submit to the BFI in a month or so. I’ve probably chosen a subject that could support a feature, but hopefully this will work as 15 minutes, and there will be nothing like it. I hope the animation gods, would that be Prometheus, are looking down on us.
And I’m missing one performance of corrie as I am doing a talk for a group of senior ladies, and with supper to boot. The trick of this one is that I have only thirty minutes. Heck, that’s much more difficult.
It’s odd, sitting here, getting ready to do shows today – the whole day revolves around that, and though I am merely stage crew, I’m still going through my mental list, and tidying up anything that could be honed after last night. I know why we do all this – for a brief moment, we matter and have a purpose.
I have tried to keep up with the politics this week, but really, I have no idea what is happening. What a farce.


yikes – how could I forget that I actually had two days work, and two days rather fun if not a little extraordinary work. Along with Gripper, and two other in Birmingham, we were demonstrating a new stop motion app on the Note 10 phone in the O2 shop. The idea was to let customers customize a puppet with various accessories and we would animate a scene – animating blind as it happens, with no monitor or counter (all those modern luxuries) and a full speed with a shop full of giddy people – it being Pride as well. All the circumstances that are not perfect for animating but as it happens it was great fun. There were plenty of colourful characters using the shop as a respite, but I have a feeling that it was not just pride that got the various staff members loosened up over the two days. Having two animators around brought a bit of eccentric colour. I’d love to do more of this and was very grateful for the chance to do something so different.


The Lowry 30th -32st August 2019
So there is the marvelling at the nearly eight hours of spirited and herculean performance from Stephen Fry; and there are the greek myths themselves, and then there is the beloved company of those characters I have known all my life, but then there was something else. No one came out of these three epic events without having been transfigured in some respect; all of us came away having recognised, among the rogues and heroes and villains and victims and romances and challenges, aspects of ourselves, and we have been enriched, and transformed and nourished by this shared collective event. Humbling and inspirational. One man and a chair and good stories are more powerful than any literal representation.

Do not miss this staggering event over the next few weeks.

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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.