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.


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.


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.

Bronte – after the event

Well I suspect I might blow my own trumpet a bit here, as I think I got this production right, and it was a rather special event. And it was an event, even if it was not well supported – that’s not a reflection on the spectacular cast nor production team.
The first thing about reading the play was how complex it was and how many different locations were required – a more literal director and designer than me would have made The Parsonage and elsewhere and the production would have been several hours longer. but I knew this production could not be literal, and had to have pace and drama. I needed a space that was both claustrophobic, but could also suggest the wide open moors, and also the world of the books. Finding that, and I will post photos in due course, was the first step, then I made a decision not to have any furniture otherwise it would be in danger of turning into a busy day at Pickfords. No furniture led me to concentrate every prop every action around the books and the papers, and that became the theme. after the tsunami of paper falling at the start, the cast were free to grab any paper to hand and have it become what we wanted – and gosh the cast ran with that. Books were kicked, eaten, torn, caressed, and more besides – anything to help express their thought process. we were lucky to have a new projector, and with some epic stills of clouds from Peter, my brother in law, we went from dark candlelit parsonage to the open moors instantly. I can’t abide laborious scene changes – I loved transformations, but they need to be seamless and choreographed. A simple illusion of Emily’s second book being burnt caused gasps every night – I guess the audience did not expect the paper to soar upwards, thanks to a couple of hidden wind machines. I think too we got the passion right about this, and managed to balance some joyous moments with deep, deep tragedy. The lighting was gorgeous and yes we had Nero the hawk, circling the auditorium. we just needed a bigger audience. All of us has reason to be very proud of this professional, theatrical and heartbreaking performance. Comments saying this was the best production at this theatre or better than anything at the exchange are lovely, but I wish they would give me, or all of us, some brownie points, and some credibility. They did help me in my application for assistant director at the storyhouse in chester on a production of Little Shop of Horrors. hang on – a local director who can cope with both puppets and actors. Well not even an interview, which is a bit tough. But we are still smiling after Bronte, and best of all, not the five star reviews, but more that we all loved learning about the family and all are so enriched after this experience.


I will write about this whole experience as it has been pretty amazing, but for now look at our three rather excellent reviews


catching up

Heck, that’s a good few weeks since I logged in an I’d like to pretend it’s because I have been working hard – well, I have but all on unpaid projects, ad on these I am spending more time than a daily job. The amount of effort I have put in to our production of Bronte has been extraordinary. Tonight the cast are let loos onto my set, which I hope they will find to be liberating. And what a good cast they are, and they are exactly as I imagined the Brontes to be. We did go over to Haworth, for a splendid da, and I not only came away more informed and moved but I came away with a splendid tweed jacket. I think the show is going to be rather exciting, but we could do with selling more tickets. I’m also working on the stage production but the traditional working methods of amateur opera is almost defeating me. I’d rather a strong intense short bursts, where the production becomes an event. here rehearsals are a week apart and it is hard to maintain and remember everything. But oh my they can sing.
So there’s not much work around up here at all. I’ve done a couple of days teaching in Preston and Cardiff, and did a voice over for a student film, but long term it’s rather bleak for us all.
Our last series, Moon and me, is now on air and is soothing children everywhere.
And culture wise, well I saw People at the Garrick, with its controversial porn in a stately home scene, and I saw an adult circus where the hideously behaved audience drove me away at the interval, and I saw the stage version of twirlywoos which managed t get all the signature moments in with some invention.
And hat was February.

February 6th

Well all very quiet on the animation front, but the series that I was involved with last year, Moon and Me, is now airing on Cbeebies, and looks absolutely beautiful, and the technology behind it all is astonishing. Without giving away too much, moon Baby and the other characters were physically separated by the atlantic ocean, and a lot of green screen was involved. That that isn’t noticed is testament to a lot of hard work. For a series about bedtime stories I think the gentle, very gentle pacing will rock youngsters to sleep quite easily.
I had a week at BAU in Barcelona, with sixteen would be animation students, and I enjoyed this group. everyone a different nationality but all more or less speaking English, and all there for very different reasons. i’d like more time with them, and I’d like them not to have to share a work station, as really, you can’t work in cramped spaces together. We all went out for something to eat, and suddenly the games I used to play all the time came back and much hilarity ensued.
I had an anxious journey home, not just for the weather but for a meeting I had to be at. fortunately I made it and hopefully seeds were planted.
Rehearsals for Bronte have started and i’m happy to be back in the theatre with all the resources we have, and a great cast, with a substantial complex and very moving play. I’m enjoying this, and struggling a bit with the rehearsals of Rigoletto as we’ve not had a full company yet – that does make blocking a scene hugely difficult.
I saw the magnificent and clever The Producers at the royal exchange, and the Garrick did a great production of A murder has been arranged, which is probably the clumsiest and silliest play ever written.

The new year

And a happy new year to you all… odd year so far, but things are quietly bubbling away. I’m not not busy, with my stage productions of Rigoletto and Bronte keeping my mind busy, if not keeping the bank manager happy. Both projects are stripped back and at their most basics, and both have challenges – Rigoletto is about the logistics of bring the cast together. I have no shortage of ideas about the production. and the Bronte challenge is make a complex, often harrowing play satisfying and ‘entertaining’. and imaginative. I’ve certainly seen two amazing productions this year, that define the word imaginative. I took a friend to the Royal exchange, to see The Producers. Traditionally that is a spectacular piece with set upon set and a cast of thousands. The space of the Royal exchange does not allow that but it does allow a leggy showgirl or boy’s foot to be kicked inches from your face, and to see every sequin and every feather. The necessary physical limits imposed by that space often force them to be more creative, and boy did they rise to that challenge. Yes we got a clever stage filling revolving swastika, but not as expected. many surprise after surprise. My friend was giddy, which of course made me giddy. he is at the top of his performing career, and this new space thrilled him. and yesterday I went with just the right friend to Company in London, and boy did we appreciate the new approach to an old favourite, and it is an old favourite. The much discussed gender changes didn’t really occur to me when watching as it all seemed so right, but it was the big budget, big imagination production that thrilled me…moving from a gorgeously lit empty space and Bobbie standing there in a dazzling red dress, to the most beautifully watery lit stage filling series of neon lit rooms, with choreographic staging that echoed my favourite animated film, Tango – all changing seamlessly in an instant.Witty direction, and so sophisticated. this was classy, intelligent theatre, and an approach I know I am capable of, but first you need people to turn up to rehearsal. Enough said. You also need people to pay you for work done – that’s been the other big battle of the year, and it has taken so much effort, and I’m still owed so much. Red tape – for feck’s sake!

December 27th

Our Christmas was rather glorious, especially for being slightly ahead of Christmas, due to choreographing the movements of our truly gorgeous new addition to the family, my great niece, Esme. We all agreed being calm and sated whilst everyone else was running round crazily was the way to do it.
I have spent most of my energies chasing up monies owing, and getting nowhere, and universities and councils are now shut for a lengthy period. Gee thanks. Some have even lost track of my fees. So annoying and so crippling.
As a family we watched Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born, which pleased us all. The third film, Black Panther, left us cold. Oh yes, it’s an important film, but I’m afraid CG is killing too many films, and too many magic clothes and magic elements do not make satisfying plot elements. I was bored witless by seeing another CG figure flung about. I’m afraid I yearn for the good old practical stunts and sets. if you take away the natural physics of a performance, it’s simply not involving or as impressive, despite the technological wizardry

short film

Here’s a short film by Christopher Hoare, for which I did the voice. I ather like it, and irony is not lost on me. I like the economy of the film