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.–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.


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.