Category Archives: Interview

John Schwab and Matt Humphrey, “It’s not often that you take time to think about the process of the production.”

Linda, Royal Court Theatre. © Matt Humphrey - Curtain Call (2016).

Linda, Royal Court Theatre. © Matt Humphrey – Curtain Call (2016).

Curtain Call: A Year Backstage in London Theatre is the first in a series of photography books by photographer Matt Humphrey and actor/director John Schwab featuring an extraordinary collection of fly-on-the-wall backstage photography from London theatre productions in 2015/16. Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the Olivier Awards, in addition to exclusive backstage photography, Curtain Call also includes a foreword by renowned actor David Suchet and extended interviews with Chief Executive of The Old Vic Sally Greene, Artistic Director of the Royal Court Vicky Featherstone, casting director Jessica Ronane and actress Kate Fleetwood. The book is now exclusively available to buy from http://www.curtaincallonline.com

1. Tell us more about writing ‘Curtain Call’. Where did it come from?
John: Curtain Call was something I had a spark of an idea for when I was showing my sons some old programmes that I had from productions earlier in my career.  They asked if I had any real pictures from productions that I could show them, which I didn’t.  I realised that I also didn’t have any historical document other than the production photographs in those programmes as a testament to my career.  I thought this is something that needed to be addressed.  Theatre is such a visual medium, and there was nothing out there that could be seen once a production had closed.  I also wanted to make a website to service the same need and fill the same gap.  I approached photographer Matt Humphrey with the idea, and thankfully he was 100% up for doing it. It was serendipity that Matt had just finished documenting a year at The Hackney Empire. We started Curtain Call together and we haven’t looked back since.

2. Is this book for anybody or specifically a theatre audience?
John: I believe that this book is not only for a theatre audience, but also photography enthusiasts as well as anyone who is interested in what it takes to put any project together, be it a play, opera, film, radio show poetry event…you name it.  It envelops all corners of the art world. I think that anyone who enjoys aesthetically pleasing art would admire and get so much out of this book.

Gypsy, Savoy Theatre

Gypsy, Savoy Theatre. © Matt Humphrey – Curtain Call (2016). (2)

3. How much do you think the general public care about backstage workers?
John: This is why I thought Curtain Call would be such a good idea.  It’s not often that you take time to think about the process of the production.  When we had our visit to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, the company manager (Wyn Williams) told us that it takes over 150 people to make that show happen every day. 150!  Now an audience member is only going to see 25 or so people on stage and taking their bow.  I wanted to shed light on what it was like backstage – showing that there is more than just the performers on stage that is making the show tick.  I think that with Matt’s photography people are going to have a much better idea of the hard work, passion and dedication which runs through a company to make it the best production possible.  There is a fascination with what goes on backstage in any arena, and we wanted to shed light on the hard work carried out by all the professionals involved in a production.

4. What is your favourite backstage area in the West End? 
John: There are quite a few.  The “hang out” area in ‘Billy Elliot’ was fun.  I do like a Green Room and there are some spectacular ones in the West End – and not for the glamour, but for the space.  The Vaudeville Theatre has a huge Green Room where everyone involved in the production hang out.  It’s such good fun being in there.  The Dressing Rooms 1 & 2 at Theatre Royal Haymarket are absolutely stunning, and something to behold.  But my favourite place of any backstage area is in the wings.  Some theatres have massive wings like Theatre Royal Drury Lane and some non-existent like The Criterion. They are all so unique, which makes them extremely exciting.

5. Curtain Call contains exclusive photographs, interviews and stories not available anywhere else. What sort of things can a casual reader expect to find?
John: The casual reader would expect to find exactly that.  Exclusive access to the best of London theatre and get an insight into what it takes to make a show run.  The reader will be allowed backstage, the holiest of holies of the theatre, a privilege that most theatre fans rarely get a glimpse of.  The casual reader will also recognise many of the faces and names in the book and will hopefully get a different perspective of that artist.

The 39 Steps, Criterion Theatre. © Matt Humphrey - Curtain Call (2016). (1)

The 39 Steps, Criterion Theatre. © Matt Humphrey – Curtain Call (2016). (1)

6. Bearing in mind that obviously all photographers folk say “well I just do what I do” and so on, do you keep an eye on the movements of others you perceive to be your competitors?
Matt: Naturally I am interested in what other photographers are doing, and I would actually be very interested to collaborate with them – potentially through Curtain Call. I don’t really see other theatre photographers as competitors – we all have a distinct way of shooting and do different things. I have been fortunate to combine my experience of working backstage with my reportage and portraiture photography, which I think is quite unique, and people like that.

Thanks, lads! 

Advertisements

Barney Norris, Playwright Interview: “The new media we’ll be tiptoeing towards is about extending our reach to new audiences. That’s the heart of what we do – reaching people.”

Barney Norris is a very good playwright.

At the age of 28, he won the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright for “Visitors”, which both the Guardian and Evening Standard named as one of the best shows of 2014.

Things we wanted to discuss included his his career, Wittgenstein, Tractatus, clause 7 and his favourite service station.

image
Here’s how the chat went.

1. Hello Barney! What are you doing at this exact moment in time.
Hello Carl! I’m in my flat drinking Aldi own-brand instant coffee, which I hate because of the taste but love because it’s a gleaning from touring to Scarborough and all links to the memory of touring adventures are precious, while my cat sits on my shoulder like a parrot.

2. VISITORS was a huge critical and commercial success. Presumably the pressure you put on yourself — and I get the impression you put a lot of pressure on yourself — would have been enough to be getting on with. How did you approach writing EVENTIDE?
EVENTIDE happened the same as VISITORS more or less, it started with wanting to make a play, and then it was grown by the same group of people using a very similar process of development (which I use for everything really). Having done a play people liked did make things scarier – but it also made a thousand things easier too. Not just money and production and so on, but it made things easier in terms of story. I felt suddenly that I knew who I was for, and what I wanted to do.

3. What do the next 12 months hold in store for Up in Arms?
Actually a lot of that’s still secret and can’t be announced: we’re just wrapping up the tour of GERMAN SKERRIES, our first play by another writer, Robert Holman (big step forwards for the company), which has been very successful and very fun. Then we’re in development on two new plays, one by me and one by the brilliant Bea Roberts, and planning a tour of a play I can’t yet name for spring 2017, and planning two ventures into media we’ve never visited before. Growing plays is a slow, loving, laborious business, so our fight is to let them take the time they take even if it means we only get to make so much work. The new media we’ll be tiptoeing towards is about extending our reach to new audiences. That’s the heart of what we do – reaching people. Not necessarily just reaching as many people as possible, quality and depth of engagement is crucial and that’s what we offer as a company over, say, a movie, we offer quality and depth, but we do always want to grow our audiences. So we’re in a period of development.

4. What’s your favourite service station on any United Kingdom motorway?
It’s all about Fleet. I suggest at least twice a year to my fiancée that we should do Christmas Day at Fleet one year, partly because it feels like we spend it there anyway, visiting everyone, but also because I love it. We got engaged last month and I outlined the possibility of having the ceremony in the overpass that links the two sides of the services. She hasn’t agreed to it yet, but we’ll see. I think it’s important to acknowledge the beautiful trees that surround Fleet. It’s an eery place at dawn. But these are the ravings of a service station amateur – you have to check out Henryiddon.com/forton-stories. That’s the goldmine.

image
FLEET SERVICES

5. You’ve just published your first novel ‘Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain’ How do you choose what parts of your life you put forward in your writing?
I don’t think I do really! I think writing is probably a translation of experience into sense/meaning/something approximating those two. So it all goes in really, even if not all of it gets a mention. Because all the work is just an expression of what it feels like to be alive at the present moment. All the work I do of my own volition anyway. There are commissions I take for different reasons that are more targeted explorations, less about the self, but the novel, and VISITORS and EVENTIDE, they’re quite self-exploratory.

6. When will the world end and whose fault will it be?
The world ends for each of us at the end of our lives, and I don’t yet know who to blame for that. As for the planet – she’ll be around long after our filaments are all burned out. It’s us, not the planet, who are on the way out, I think.

7. You strike me as someone who doesn’t take the easy route. How will you feel when you decide you’ve done what you needed to do?
The Evening Standard said that about me last week, is that where it first struck you? I kind of decide that every evening when it’s time to relax and eat and sleep and so on, but in the larger sense, I see older generations facing up to the end of their careers and I don’t know whether that happens with creativity. I think people always still have something to say while they’re alive, but our sight, our hands, our minds fail us. My Grandad didn’t choose to stop his woodwork, his hands gave up on him, he got shaky. So I don’t know whether what you’re describing will happen.

8. If I locked you in a safe for twenty four hours with no phone, what would you do inside your head?
Panic. I like space. It would depend on whether or not I knew I was getting out at the end of the day.

9. Tell me this, though. You’re quite credible aren’t you. You’ve been written about in all the right places, your plays get seen by all the right people. Is it right, though, that actually you’re kind of not that cool?
The most important tv show I ever watched was a Mr Motivator episode where he tried to be cool. So he wore a baseball cap and went skateboarding and, in a telling insight into how far we’ve come, ate a hamburger, but he still wasn’t cool. He was still wearing head to toe Lycra. Then a kid told him that being cool was about being yourself, and being happy with yourself, that there was no such thing as absolute cool. But in general, I think your question has too many undefined terms (credible, right, cool) for an answer to be possible, so – Wittgenstein, Tractatus, clause 7.

10. Anything that you’d like to add?
I think I’ve done quite enough damage already.

image.jpeg
Mr Motivator

Cheers! 🙂

 

 

Amy Rosenthal, Playwright Interview: “I’d be surprised if any playwright felt a constant coasting satisfaction; in any freelance career there’s always an element of fear.”

The other day I had a bit of chinwag with Amy Rosenthal who just happens to have two new plays on the verge of coming out. Amy is a playwright who is a very obliging woman so she answered all the questions, and some other ones too.

Here’s what happened during the chat.
1. Greetings! What are you up to currently? 
Hello! I’m currently in rehearsal for my play Pelican Daughters, which is part of the Shakespeare In Shoreditch Festival 2016. I’m one of four playwrights commissioned to write one-act plays inspired by Shakespeare, Shoreditch and storms – to be performed in site-specific locations from 20th-30th April.
Mine’s a modern-day spin on King Lear about three Jewish sisters, focusing on the eldest, Gaby, who’s desperate to please her dad on his eightieth birthday. He’s a naughty old tyrant who once ruled his East London patch and is now prey to redevelopers who want to gentrify the area. It’s about family and roots, and I hope it’s funny. I have a great cast and a terrific director, Kay Michael. It’s lovely to be in a rehearsal room after a period of solitary writing time, and I’m lucky because I then go straight into rehearsal for Fear of Cherry Blossom at the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre.

2. What can we expect from your new play Fear of Cherry Blossom?
Funnily enough, it also focuses on a Jewish family. Dinah and Abby are unmarried sisters on either side of forty, and Abby, the youngest, has become a committed Buddhist. Dinah and their dad Ronnie are alarmed by Abby’s choices, and Dinah wants to pull her sister back to her values, and what she thinks life ought to be. The play touches on themes I’ve wanted to explore for a long time – it’s about Anti-Semitism, which feels pertinent and (on stage) rarely addressed – about inherited, inter-generational fear – and about faith, in all senses. Judaism, spirituality, and how to keep faith with oneself, especially in the middle patch of one’s life.

Amy rosenthal
Amy Rosenthal.

3. Will you tell us a secret about yourself?
I’m Jewish.

4. I didn’t see that coming, Amy… Can you describe your state of mind when you are writing a play?
Tortured? My close friends, especially playwright Phil Porter, get the brunt of it – the fat tears, the self-doubt. The beginning is the worst, it’s as though in order to find my voice, which is essentially light and comic, I have to go through some dark night of the soul that can last – well, considerably more than a night. Once I finally know what I’m doing and the play starts to take shape, I’m very happy. I love my own company, I’m rarely lonely, the play becomes more real than reality. I write from 5.30 a.m. in a joyful state – a bit like the feeling after a migraine. Everything feels light.

5. What cereal do you like to have in the morning?
I’m not a cereal girl. I like toast and I love eggs. Sometimes I have porridge oats baked in the oven into a flat pancake, buttered, with cucumber, because someone once told my mum it’s good for you.

6. Is this industry, are there a particular of personality type that rise to the top? 

I don’t know about a personality type, I’d say a lot of playwrights are quite shy, but what you need is staying power. “Rising to the top” can happen fast, or mid-career, or late; most writers rise and descend many times. I’d be surprised if any playwright felt a constant coasting satisfaction; in any freelance career there’s always an element of fear. It’s a solitary profession and there are long periods of writing before productions happen (especially in musical theatre, which can take years to come to fruition because its so collaborative) so you often feel forgotten or as though the world thinks you’re not working. You have to just keep working, keep faith, and take on other jobs too – teach, run workshops, interact with other humans. It’s taken me a stupidly long time to learn crucial lessons about all this and I’m still learning. But I’m very disciplined now, and very committed.

7. Can you tell us about your Russian Doll painting sideline? 
The great David Edgar, who taught me playwriting at Birmingham University, also inspired my mad sideline. David collects Russian (matryoshka) dolls – mostly political figures. He commissioned me some years ago to paint his family on a set of blank wooden dolls. I loved it and I’ve been doing it ever since – painting families from photographs. A commission often seems to come along at the right moment and it’s a great antidote to writing because you don’t have to think. It’s meditative. It’s not easy to paint an accurate portrait on a curved surface, and the tiniest dolls are a challenge, but if you get it right they can feel uncannily alive.

1 (2)
Dynasty Dolls.

8. Is your life an open book?
I wonder. I’m not at all secretive and I like making people laugh, but on the whole I’m the listener in a lot of my exchanges.

9. If I were to hand you a book from the future, and it was the autobiography you wrote when you were 80, would you read it?
I don’t know. I’d be scared. Is there an index?

10. Anything that you’d like to add?  
Not really, I think I’ve gone on at length.

That’s that then. 

3
Amazing.
‘Pelican Daughters’  to be performed as part of Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival 2016, 20-30 Apr, tickets available to purchase at  New Diorama Theatre 

Chris Sonnex, Royal Court: Is it possible to engineer social change using theatre as a medium?

Interview with  Chris Sonnex : Tottenham and Pimlico Residencies at The Royal Court

image-2

Theatre as a weapon of revolution

Chris Sonnex has come back from the jungle and is clearly unsettled. How did the Royal Court’s Community Producer come to be in Calais? When we meet, recent clashes between police and migrants have erupted, after authorities moved in to dismantle the part of the refugee camp known as The Jungle. I learn that Chris is working as an Associate Artist with Good Chance Theatre; a company at the heart of an international crisis.

“I walked into the office and Vicky [Featherstone] asked ‘Can you go out to The Jungle?’ It was a case of right place wrong time or wrong place right time, whichever way you look at it. However, it was the most incredible experience for me. As soon as I got there I realised that food and housing are their basic needs to live, but that it is the theatre that makes them feel alive.” Chris is a social activist and he clearly shows theatre to be a weapon of revolution.

Tottenham and Pimlico Residencies at the Royal Court

We discuss Tottenham and Pimlico a Beyond the Court residency project launched in 2015 in two dissimilar areas of London. He explains,“The work is similar to the National Theatre Scotland’s model; go into a community, find out what that community wants and create something for those people.”

The London postcodes were chosen specifically for social improvement within the locality of The Royal Court. “Tottenham was a place that was heavily on people’s minds because of the riots. In Pimlico it feels like there is less of a community. We set up a market stall and engaged with people who made five minute plays and offered workshops to those people. ”

Using drama and theatre to explore the personal and social issues

Is this work reactionary rather than radical? It seems the best kind of contemporary community theatre reflects the ruling-class control. There is a clear mission to use drama to explore the personal and social issues in Chris’s work. He demonstrates that theatre is political because it is a universal weapon. This holistic approach to participation draws on a range of disciplines including forum theatre, youth work and conflict resolution. This model is adaptable and progressive within diverse groups of people to create broader experiences. I wonder what facilitating opportunities such as these feel like. He laughs, “The best part of the job is the people. There’s always a danger that this work can be token-istic. We want to make quality work with a personal, social and political conscience.”

The work he describes appears wonderful, but I ask what the tangible outcomes are. Is the Royal Courts’ Tottenham and Pimlico project an add-on? Chris doesn’t think so. “First and foremost I see participant’s confidence and communication skills improve greatly, more broadly they find their voice about their lives and express a new found truth to power. But they also find each other, establish friendships: they come to know empowerment. We are the Royal Court of London; we should be reflecting what is going on in society.”

Group play-making and participation, critical to cultivating social change

For all the many utensils in the hands of those cultivating social change, whether community practitioners, teachers or outreach workers, one of the most vital elements is that of group play-making and participation. It is about building a community, where each member has equal rights and responsibilities. Sonnex has quietly grown in stature at his own pace, but it’s why being part of the company has been so invaluable. “Innovation and new voices are at the heart of what the Royal Court is for.” He adds, “For 3 weeks in July, Open Court will see thrilling new events, performances, talks and projects taking place throughout the theatre. It’s thrilling.”

What you start to sense is a theatre outreach programme not just giving a voice to its local community but a programme that is truly complimenting the bold work on its stages. Case in point, “I See You ” is presented as part of the International Playwrights: A Genesis Foundation Project. This work is not dealing with vague ideas; it is ambitious and rooted in a lived experience.

Note: It was 5 weeks ago that I did this interview with Chris Sonnex. Goodchance Theatre, which had  been the harbinger of joy and hope for the refugees at Calais for the last six months shut down last week. This was necessitated by the displacement and destruction of the community due to destruction of the camps at Calais by French authorities. You can read more details related to the closure below.
‘Influencing’ – How can the Arts make a difference in the world?

Mark Wheeller Interview: “The arts have a general thing of surviving no matter what… as well as a good thing that can be a bad thing… as with or without funding arts will thrive… because people enjoy participation.”

Mark Wheeller is a writer and part time Executive Director of Arts at the Oasis Academy Lord’s Hill and director of the Oasis Youth Theatre. Although his name is not well-known outside of schools and colleges, he is one of the most-performed playwrights in Britain.
He is a champion of young people’s work and theatre in education more broadly. I thought it would be nice to catch up with Mark to see exactly what’s happening. And I was right – it was very nice indeed.
imgID55891769.jpg.gallery
Mark at work

1. Hello Mark! What are you doing at the moment?

 
Literally at this moment I’ve just returned from a school who have some GCSE students working on one of my plays “One Million to STOP THE TRAFFIK” and I  was there to have a look at what they’d done and to offer them some ideas as to how they might improve their response to it. I haven’t seen or thought about that play for about six years and it was, as it nearly always is great to see fresh pairs of eyes on the play presenting it very differently from how we did. So it made me re-examine those words and find new things. I’ve also just bought a new car and for the first time have a hybrid car where is runs partly on electricity… this has led to a number of learning curves.
2. What is ‘I Love You Mum’ about? 

 

It’s the tragic story of Daniel Spargo-Mabbs a sixteen year old lad from Croydon who went to an illegal rave without his parents knowing, took MDMA, unknowingly a double dose and two days later his parents were at his bedside giving permission for the Dr’s to turn off the life support machine. Dan was a popular and able boy and it was a surprise to everyone that he had become a victim to MDMA.  His parents are determined that some good should come out of this dreadful situation and through the Foundation set up in his name (Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation) commissioned me to write a play telling the story. The original idea was that his school would put the play on but it soon became obvious that some distance (emotionally and geographically would benefit the project) and so my Oasis Youth Theatre were offered the chance to premiere the play. We have been working on it for the last year and a half.  It has been in incredibly powerful project to be involvement.  It has been about stickability rather than ability in terms of those who will be in it. They have had to be so committed over such a long period of time. We also have incredible back up with a professional set designer (Richard Long), musician (Paul Ibbott), who has written a musical underscore, and multi-media expert (Danny – Gagging for It – Sturrock).  This team have worked tirelessly to produce the most incredible support to our work and add so much to the final result. I think the professional Theatre would do well to compete with the time we have been able to find to put into the production… and therefore the result.
mw
3. Do you think about National Curriculum  potential when you’re writing?   Of that catalogue of 100 plays you have, how many are mega successful? 
I never think about the National Curriculum. My productions have been written because I found it so hard to find scripts I liked for my Youth Theatre work.  It seemed a daunting task to find a script that was just what we need as a group. It seemed to be easier to write what I fancy directing and then, as they are brand new, everyone in the production feels a greater sense of ownership. It has been other peoples idea to include them in the curriculum.
It depends on the definition of “mega successful”.  I have never had anything on the West End. I’d love that to happen.  I have never had a professional adult group perform any of my plays in a major provincial Theatre. So… who has been performing my plays.  Mostly a few Theatre in Education groups (professional) touring schools, prisons or the workplace. Also, as a result of these groups drawing attention to my work Youth Theatres and school have picked up on my plays and presented their own versions of them.  In the late 1990s they started to be used in GCSE. A/S and A’Level exams (mostly unbeknown to me) and from that two (Missing Dan Nolan & Hard To Swallow) have been taken on as set texts by two of the four boards offering the new GCSE Drama (9-1) exam.  I guess that’s pretty successful to have these plays emerging from an unfunded provincial Youth Theatre where all the other contemporary plays have come from the professional world.  I’m very proud of that!
Numerically… I have some plays that have been performed (licensed performances) a massive number of times. Here’s my top 5 as of today 8/03/2016
1/ Too Much Punch For Judy (1998) 5,998
2/ Chicken (1992) 5,654
3/ Legal Weapon 1/2 ((1999) 2,546
4/ Arson About (2004) 1,442
5/ Hard To Swallow (1990) 365
(Amazing!)
Of all my others (there are 28 in all) only two have notched up more than 100 performances, but that’s partly the fact they haven’t (for the most part) been out as long!  I would be intrigued to know whether any of these would qualify as the most performed contemporary plays?
4. Are the arts doing enough to nurture and support young talent?
Not sure that “the arts” can do this.   People can do this… people who are in the arts.  I imagine they are.  Are those people given enough support/resources?  No.  The arts have a general thing of surviving no matter what… as well as a good thing that can be a bad thing… as with or without funding arts will thrive… because people enjoy participation.  I’d love to see a more foams programme that is well funded from the grass roots.  I think football has a great model, where, with football in the community there are lots of opportunities for young people. It would great for this to be applied to Theatre and the arts… but it’s beyond me to know how to organise this.
5. Do you think decent theatre needs an undercurrent of sorrow? 
It seems that mine does. I’d love to write a good comedy. I don’t have the ability. No I don’t think it needs it.  I think my work does it because that’s what I think I do best. As I say I’d love to be able to do a good comedy.  I have been so pleased to see my son Charlie working with his Barely Methodical Troupe on some wonderful comic moments, and my Daughter Daisy in her musical Theatre work being much more light hearted than my better known “stuff” is.  All power to them.
6. And what else do you have coming up this year?
I have two premieres in one month. I Love you Mum (The Brit School 29th March 3pm)  and Scratching the Surface at a One Act Play Festival in the Midlands on March 6th), which is about self harm.
In May I have been told there will be a premiere of my verbatim play Kindness – A Legacy of the Holocaust written with Voices Director Cate Hollis, who directs this production.
A couple of International Schools have asked me to visit them in the next academic year… which gif it happens will be very exciting.  I’ve never been to Malaysia… and before that my wife and I are off on holiday to Cypris where Daisy is singing in one of the Thompson Gold Hotels!   So… and exciting year in prospect.
Thanks for listening!
Adios, Mark!

The Old Red Lion Theatre, Stewart Pringle Interview: “If you’re looking to get excellent feedback on your work, now is the time to send it in to us.”

Life is full of uncertainties but one unshakeable 2016 fact is that the Old Red Lion Theatre is leading the pack with exciting and original drama.
Last year saw ORL premiere Arthur Miller’s lost debut play. 

Stewart has just won ‘Best Artistic Director’ at the Offie Awards.

Here’s the chat in which we hear all about how he juggles his role as an Artistic Director and a critic, as well as his favourite Annie Lennox song.

1. Congratulations on the Offie Award! 2015 was a very good year for ORL wasn’t it.

Thanks! I was delighted with the shows, yeah, though I don’t know how much credit I can take for them. We got to work with some fantastically ambitious and talented companies and artists, and really stretch the possibilities of that space, which has always been my hope for my time here.

2. You’ve just relaunched your Literary department. What’s the score?

Our literary department had sort of dwindled a bit over the past year, basically because I had my eyes on other things and probably didn’t give it the time it deserved, but then last year while he was directing Sparks at the space the brilliant Clive Judd offered his services. We’ve always talked a lot about new writing, and there are very few people whose taste or judgement I respect as much as Clive’s, so he’s assembled a new team of readers (who are all insanely talented and successful artists in their own right) and we’re really kicking things back off. We’re also looking at new and better ways we can facilitate the shows that come to us via that route making it onto the stage here. If you’re looking to get excellent feedback on your work, now is the time to send it in to us.

image
Lardo

3. What are you most excited about this year?

Gosh, everything really. It’s hard to pick. I have a very personal relationship with Radioman, in a way, because I saw and loved and actually reviewed it when it had its first try-outs a year ago, so getting that here is a joy. But honestly, I’ve got so many amazing people coming in over the next few months, it’s not possible to pick a favourite. But I will say one thing, keep your eye out for Christmas. There is something extremely special and rare on the cards.

4. Do you believe in the phrase ‘give the public what they want’?

I don’t think so. I mean, does the public know what it wants? I’m a member of the public and I have absolutely no idea. I look to theatre, and fringe theatre in particular, to open me up to new possibilities.

 

image
No Villains by Harold Pinter. 2015.

5. Fair enough. Do you find that most of the people you meet in the world of theatre have quite bad taste?

No, I don’t think so. Most of the people I meet in the theatre world think very carefully about it because they love it, and they talk intelligently and passionately, so even if I don’t agree with them, I can usually appreciate how they feel about things. I mean there are some people like Quentin Letts who’re just sort of rivers of shit and broken shopping trolleys, but they’re few and far between. And actually I don’t think Letts is in the theatre world anyway, he’s in the troll-tertainment world, or whatever you call that.

6. How do you balance your role as an Artistic Director and Critic?

It’s a similar sort of job really. You go and see things and decide what you think about them, and engage with them and decide whether to pursue them, whether that means following that company’s work or trying to bring them in to the theatre. It’s all about getting out there, seeing the work, existing within an appreciative community. On a practical level it can be a little tricky just because there are only so many hours in the day (or rather the evening) but I just about get by.

7. What is your favourite song by Annie Lennox?

I like the cover of ‘Put a Little Love In Your Heart’ that she recorded with Al Green for the soundtrack to Scrooged, where Bill Murray is Scrooge and tries to staple antlers onto a mouse.

8. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss or address?

Maybe only to say how wonderfully supportive people have been since I started here. People like Matt Parker from the Hope just up the road, and David Byrne from the New Diorama just down the road, and Will Young and Ben Monks from the Tristan Bates: they’re worth their weight in gold. It can be a bit of a lonely job, this, in a way, so knowing that there are other people out there fighting the same kinds of fights and things like that, well that’s just very comforting. Islington AD’s unite, is what Matt always says, and I just think, well, that’s the spirit, isn’t it?

The end. 

 

 

Derby Theatre, Sarah Brigham Interview: “It’s vital that every young person is given access to high quality arts experiences and able to realise their own creativity.”

image

Sarah Brigham  is Artistic Director and Chief Executive at Derby Theatre. Sarah is a powerhouse. Previously the Artistic Director at The Point, Eastleigh, and The Berry Theatre, where she  developed a unique programme of support for established and emerging artists. Amazing. 

We had a discussion about life in general and more. See below.

  1. Hello! You are a hard-working person. If you were to draw a graph of the last ten years, how would it look?


Hello, that question made me smile – my graph is probably like everyone who works in the arts – pretty crazy most of the time but high on fulfilment and enjoyment and a high peak in feeling very lucky to do a job I am passionate about.

2. You are currently in Tech week for Look Back in Anger. What’s going on?


Well its an interesting tech week as we are actually in tech for 2 shows at once – yes we are mad – Its going to be a full on week!  Alongside Look Back in Anger we have commissioned a response piece from the female perspective.  Its called Jinny and its the third in our RETOLD series which sees us cracking opening the classics from the female perspective.  Whilst working on Look Back in Anger I began to wonder when do we ever hear the working class voice on stage now?  And when is that voice ever female. So we decided to commission another writer who has lived and worked in Derbyshire (as Osborne did) to bring this voice alive for 2016 – Jane Wainwright was born in Chesterfield and spent a research and development period meeting women aged 25 (Jimmy Porter’s age) across Derby asking them for their take on class, feminism, love, dreams, ambitions and what they were angry about now.  Interestingly many felt similar to Jimmy there was no an open door to a good job no matter how talented you were, they felt frustrated by the life plan they felt society still imposed onto them and they were frustrated that the voices they heard on their stages, in newspapers and in films didn’t represent their experience.  Jane has taken their wit, their fears, their ambitions and created a female Jimmy Porter for 2016.

image

So right now we are in a lighting plotting session for both shows !  Lighting Designer Arnim Freiss is working wonders and Neil Irish’s set is looking fabulous.  We’ve built further into the auditorium than usual so I’m  constantly checking sight lines  as its changed the dynamic of the space in an exciting way.

3. Look Back in Anger induced a step-change in British Theatre didn’t it.


In many ways yes although sometimes this is overplayed a little as there was lots going on then ,  Waiting for Godot opened a year earlier for instance but you are right it is often heralded as the play which changed the face of British Theatre, it is studied by students of theatre across the UK, it helped put The Royal Court on the map and often the industry talks about plays prior to 1956 (the year the play premièred) and post as two distinct eras.

It certainly put on stage a voice which had not been heard before; the voice of the working man and he had a lot to say, heralding the movement of “angry young men”.  I don’t think we would be in the same theatre landscape if Look Back in Anger had never been produced.  Its a great play – full of complexities but great none the less.

image
Brassed Off, Derby Theatre. 2015.

4. You’ve been a pioneer for artist development locally. What is the next corner to be turned?


That’s very kind of you.  Gosh I’m not sure – there are lots of challenges ahead I think we all  know that – the latest settlement for ACE was great but its not a time to rest on our laurels – we need to keep making the case for the arts.  One area that really worries me is the destruction of arts in education.  It’s vital that every young person is given access to high quality arts experiences and able to realise their own creativity. At the moment that seems hugely under threat and if we don’t do something about it then we will be all the poorer not only in 20 years when we are looking for the next generation of artists but also straight away as our children and ultimately our society will suffer.

We also need to turn a corner on diversity – its not good enough that our creative leaders, our artists and our audiences don’t represent the world we live in.

On a more positive note there are so many exciting things happening in the industry at the moment – everyday I meet new artists, new companies who are making work in new ways and thinking about how to take new audiences on a journey so on that score I feel pretty chipper about our future.  I guess my role is to ensure those artists are nourished and supported.

5. Regional theatre appears to be in mighty shape. What are the biggest challenges to sustain this?


That’s so nice to hear as often the regions get treated like the naughty child and told they aren’t good enough.  Yes there is great work coming from the regions – I’ve had some of my best theatre experiences in Manchester, Edinburgh, and a small village hall in Leicestershire.  Of course funding is a challenge as always and the disparity of funding I think is an issue which needs solving.  Maxine Peake made a great speech recently where she pointed out that the (brilliant ) work she makes in Manchester is judged on the same platform as work from london which has three times the resources to rehearse and make the work.  I totally agree with her – give any director or theatre 3 times the funding and I’m pretty sure you’ll see bolder choices being made and a more consistent product produced.

There is disparity within the regions too. The Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine idea is great but we need to remember the cities on the edges of that also.   Putting a show on in Derby costs the same as putting on a show in a big city although the distribution of funding doesn’t always recognise this. The smaller cities also often don’t have access to the same level of possible philanthropy or audiences.  Having said all of that I absolutely recognise that it would be mad to just drain London or the bigger cities, these are our jewels … It is a conundrum but one we need to crack.

6. What is your least favourite emoji?


I’m probably not cool enough to be able to answer this question but just looking at them on my phone now I’m not very keen on the angry one and there’s one with dollar signs in its eyes which looks vile!  generally my rule is if you’re really bothered by something say it to the persons face to face , don’t text it or Facebook it and if you daren’t say it directly then be quiet!

MONEY


7.  And what else do you have coming up?


Lots of projects but immediate things I’m excited by are The Departure Lounge festival which will be held at Derby Theatre again this year in July – curated by Ruby Glaskin it allows us to turn our stage into a Glastonbury (we astro turf it and the audience sit on deck chairs and picnic blankets)  and we programme the most exciting work going up to Edinburgh.

I’m also excited about putting Look Back in Anger and Jinny in front of an audience – we open on Friday for 3 weeks then transfer to Bolton octagon.

8. To conclude, then, is there anything you would like to say to the people (plural) reading this?


Just if you work in the arts keep up the good fight and if you’re an audience member go to your local theatre today and see what’s on.

Thanks for chatting to me, Carl.

Byeeeeeeee, ducky!