June 30th 2018

On a gloriously sunny evening it’s hard to be down, but heck, i’m worried that this is it. Have I made my last tv series or short film? My birthday is looming and I’ve been reflecting on the last year, which was pretty disastrous professionally and certainly financially and the only real satisfaction came from the unpaid stage production of Ladies in Lavender. That did bring a lot of satisfaction so I will cling on to that. I’ve not done as many talks or teaching as usual, and when a high profile festival on the other side of the world asks you to give a talk, well that’s great but now we are not having flights or hotels or even a fee paid. Thanks but no thanks.
With the back of the sofa now being rifled, I’ve not seen any shows or films this week, but I was itching to go an see the last performance, that is on now, of War Horse. I was in the building on Wednesday and was tempted to sneak in for the second half. Also in town has been the glorious Play that Goes Wrong, and Legally Blonde – oh hang on, I did see a show, and a special one, thanks to the kindness of a good friend. Another new theatre to me, the Chester storyhouse. their opening show was The Beggar’s Opera which I adore but I got nervous when i’d read that they had supplanted most of the music with a modern score. I missed that one and was nervous about A Little nIght Music. Here, it wasn’t the score that they had modernised but the costumes, but actually I didn’t mind at all. The costumes were much of the period in which the brilliant musical was written, about 1973, and rather drab, but it made the relationships very convincing and intimate, rather than about the distant rich and famous behaving badly. The piece is a masterpiece however you play it, and I love this new theatre. a real buzz and many different creative activities going on. I did write to the director but haven’t heard anything. Chester is also doing the Mystery Plays – hmm, I’m tempted but if there’s a twangy rock guitar, I’m out of there.

and yes the sunset is a magnificent colour tonight, but this is due to the devastating fires up on the moors just a few miles away.

War Horse and Crooners

June 23rd 2018

As the lack of prospects and the lack of funds throw me towards an abyss very soon, I need the escape that theatre provides. I have had to cancel a fair few tickets that I had booked in advance, and indeed, I had booked for War horse probably a year ago, and secured front row seats, but, heck, could I get anyone interested, and that was the whole point, to introduce someone new to Joey and Topthorne, but I was not to be, and I was ready to waste the tickets but gave them to a colleague and his daughter – a job well done, as they were both enraptured by the whole show. I got so excited at them seeing it that I couldn’t resist sneaking to a matinee…..not the seat I could have had but ok, and the schools parties nearly had me ready to be all sniffy, but full marks to the boy a few along from me who was in floods of tears in front of all his mates. I think this time, being by myself, I concentrated on every aspect of it, and boy does it deliver. we’ve lost some of the spectacle since the early days but it is simply a masterpiece of artifice, and demonstrates that element so few things can do,; something transcends the physical aspect of the actors and the bamboo puppets to move and to linger. Some real connection that you take away – you feel you have been inside the psyche of the characters and the horses and in the war. You have contributed to the story, surrendered to it, and it affects you. And it certainly did.

My next escape from reality was over to New brighton, that was suitably rather pleasant on a hot sunny day, with a theatre right on the sea. I was there to see a chum, Roman, in his piece, Crooners. I had tea with him and then saw the show, front row, and of course I became the butt of many a running joke, and most happy for that. But what a show, so many classic crooner songs, such as Beyond the sea, Mack the knife, Mister Bojangles, all done beautifully, but all laced with outrageous sassy humour. A very sexy show, and beautifully inventive with some inspired cheesy gags. I loved it and loved meeting the gents afterwards. Again, some joy lingered and I was lifted from the impending doom. I might just see them again to get my fix..

Greyhounds

This was a new play written by one of our Garrick members, Laura Crow, and put on as an independent production in our studio, and it is rather splendid. a group of disparate characters trying to put on the patriotic Henry V during World War II and finding that patriotism waning somewhat, with a second act detailing the fall out, a few years later, of a dreadful event. Funny, sad and very moving, with some killer lines. This is going up to Edinburgh, well just the Henry V act, so you can catch it there. I’m full of admiration for the group for forming a company and putting it on. I feel I have so many ideas at the moment, but if there was only the hint of the merest of fees, I know I would be able to focus, but so many people are dangling projects in front of me, but without a fee. A plain fact of life that a fee guarantees commitment and hard work, and respect. Please don’t give me the ‘when we make it you’ll get paid’, or’ it will look good on your CV’ nonsense, Most of the established jobs pages are tempting you with exciting projects, but no fee. This is simply disgraceful. And I have witnessed several times at first hand, examples of where lack of planning have led to huge wastes of money. Heck, it winds you up. But well done for this small company on writing, producing and earning a fee from this play. A great programme too and superb publicity.

Lost in the pacific

Well, I’m not making this one up, and I don’t know where to begin with it.  I’m not sure why I bothered to watch it, but here goes with the plot. A maiden flight of a supersonic passenger jet for select people. Lots of stares among the guests in the rather beautifully designed aircraft. A storm, they have to land on a tiny island (how?), which is over run with giant CG cats, and some of the crew are killed and two mercenaries hop on board as the plane is taking off. The plane is then hijacked to an aircraft carrier that is also overrun with bad CG cats, and then – oh for fecks sake, I gave up.

Breaking the code

As you may remember, I directed a production of Breaking the Code a few years ago, and had a hugely satisfying time, with a great cast, and a gloriously intimate space. I was nervous about seeing another amateur company take this on, especially when I saw the venue, which is such a theatrically unfriendly space. The mismatched curtains and a huge space between the audience and the cast didn’t help make a shared experience. It was very much them and us. I’m guilty as a director of putting much business in to a performance that will bring out the character and plot. Sometimes the text is just the surface. I think the director’s role is to illuminate the words and characters. It’s not just get them on, sit them down, and then get them off, however slick that is and however faithful that is to the text. You really have to be responsive to the space and the audience. I’m not sure if Hugh Whitmore is still alive but I’d love him to add an epilogue to this brilliant and challenging play, as so much has changed. I did enjoy seeing this and there were some excellent performances. a good few prompts and rather too many moments of an empty silent stage, but at least this play still has a life.

 

Jurassic world

Well we do seem to have come a long way from Wilis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen, but without them…….

Jurassic world is certainly impressive with wet dinosaurs emerging out of smoke and so seamlessly integrated into hand held camera work, and causing such physical mayhem – I can’t imagine the preparation needed, and perhaps the rather soulless experience on set with actors staring for ever at green screens or ping pong balls on the ends of sticks – actually I can imagine that precisely as my last year has been all about that. An odd film though…..perhaps there are several films all crammed into this piece that ticks all the boxes and dares to allow us some empathy for certain dinosaurs – the suffocating bronto choked me up I will admit. I’m just not sure it all hangs together, but does it need to when you have eating and chasing and screaming. Jeff Goldblum must have thought Christmas had arrived early. Was that one days’ work?

Yep, I’ve always said that if you want to check out the state of special effects, look at the latest dinosaur movie. Any new advancement and the dinos will be first in the queue.

 

culture stuff – May

So we lost this website for a while, and my brother in law, Peter, has worked himself into the ground to get this new one up and running again. I’m not working at the moment, and that is a whole another story, but I’m trying to save pennies, well I have to, but fortunately I had bought a few film and theatre tickets when I was working – so I have seen a few things. I loved the film about Ian McKellen – so honest and warm and rather humble, as our british acting giants tend to be. Watching the clips of his career, on stage and on film, I wonder if he is the actor that I have seen on stage more than any other. I first saw him as Edward II, then Faustus, then Edgar in Lear. a brilliant actor, and I am thrilled that I have bumped into him a few times over the years.

then the Garrick came up trumps with Priscilla, Queen of the desert. Great performances and dancing. There was a slight chance that I could have directed and designed it, but the show has to have the paintbrushes, the cupcakes, the lizards, and I don’t think I could have had the resources to reinvent it. I could not immediately think of a new image or new theatrical language for it. after all the colour of that show, and a stage full of brashness, the Lauriston studio performed Stones in his Pockets, which is such a great play, and the two actors did it superbly, with relentless energy.

We will be in there soon with Playhouse Creatures, assuming I earn some money to keep me going till then. I do worry that work for me is about to dry up, and I’ve been put out to pasture. Such as it seems, but there’s a lot of life in this old dog yet.

40 years on

And so my involvement with the recent series ended with a bit of a whimper, fading out. I’m always happy, well I am most happy when I am working, but this has been an odd experience for most of us, simply as our contribution has been a bit limited.Read more >>