28 February 2015

First Performances of 'Hospital Food' at St Brendan's Sixth Form College

After rehearsing with the students of St Brendan's Sixth Form College for a few hours a week for 7 weeks as director, this week our National Theatre Connections Festival show Hospital Food was performed for the first time to good audiences at the college. Despite the very limited rehearsal time, especially with such a large cast who were rarely able to attend all at once, I am really pleased with the show we have managed to put together here and the fantastic performances of the students. Our attention now turn to March when the show will be on at Bristol Old Vic.

23 February 2015

Devising 'The Star Seekers' by The Wardrobe Ensemble and The Wardrobe Theatre

During February half term The Wardrobe Ensemble and The Wardrobe Theatre collaborated on a brand new family production set in space, The Star Seekers. The production was devised in the weeks leading up to the performances and, as well as designing the promo image, taking the production shots and assisting on lots of the marketing, I joined the creative team (Helena Middleton, Jesse Meadows, Jack Drewry and Ben Vardy) with my dramaturgical eye in the rehearsal room for several days. These days were fabulously entertaining as we improvised, devised and collaborated to explore space and put the show together. I was particularly thrilled that several of my ideas made the final show including a talking black hole! The final show was an absolute hit, mixing real science, great music, wonderful ideas and some semi-improvised set pieces in a terrifically fun hour which went down incredible well with a fantastic review, seas of smiling faces and lots of interest from other arts organisations. I don't think this is the last we've seen of The Star Seekers by a long shot.

"Children aged between three and seven with even a modicum of interest in the great unknown up above our heads will get pulled into the irresistible gravitational field of this beautifully wide-eyed, enthusiastic and good-humoured show. They’ll also take away the satisfaction of having helped to shape its journey across constellations of possibility."
Bristol 24/7

22 February 2015

'Detective O' performances at Bristol Old Vic

After its run at The Wardrobe Theatre last July, Corina Bona's fantastic one-woman puppetry family production, Detective O & The Cold Case Caper, (on which I worked as dramaturg) transferred to Bristol Old Vic's Studio for a week of shows during February half term. Puppetry director Marc Parrett, a heavily pregnant Corina and I rehearsed and reworked certain elements of the show in the lead up to these performances and the result was a really terrific near sold-out run. Due to other commitments I never actually got see the show with a live audience before the summer so it was a real pleasure to finally see all the work we had put in over months in the rehearsal room transferred to the stage and the delight it brought Bristol audiences.

8 February 2015

'Hug' by Verity Standen at ICIA Bath

Yesterday the ICIA Bath had an open day to help launch its new season and celebrated with a host of performance events. One of the shows on was Verity Standen's Hug so for the first time since Bristol Biennial festival last September, the Hug gang and I rehearsed for a couple of days and then performed this immersive a cappella choral sound bath at the ICIA 5 times to some very chuffed audiences. Hug is due to go on a mini-tour soon to Eastleigh, London and Falmouth and I hope to join the show on the road as much as possible.

28 January 2015

Dramaturg and Producer on 'Muppits Die Hard' by The Wardrobe Theatre

It was always going to be a hard job following the success of previous alternative Christmas shows at The Wardrobe Theatre like Se7en Dwarfs and Oedipuss In Boots but our 2014 offering grew to be a truly phenomenal success. Muppits Die Hard ran between 10th December and finally ended on 17th January after 23 performances (included 6 added due to demand) all of them totally sold out! The show was seen be nearly 1400 people in the end, a truly staggering figure considering Home Alonely, our first alternative Christmas show performed to nearer 200. Muppits Die Hard began life in July 2014 as a handful of like-minded theatre-makers gathered in The Wardrobe Theatre for some research and development. Over the next few months puppets were designed and made and then in November, boosted by some Arts Council England funding we got to work devising and rehearsing with our creative team - Chris Collier as director, performers Corina Bona, Andrew Kingston and Harry Humberstone and myself as dramaturg and producer. Ed Patrick (Kid Carpet) provided all the music for the show (though largely from outside the rehearsal room) and we were joined for a couple of days during the process by the fantastic Bristol-based director, Emma Williams as a valuable outside-eye. With such a wonderful team in place, making the show was a brilliantly hysterical, creative process though we often had panic-attacks that we'd left ourselves too little time! The principal idea of the show was to create a comic, festive ode to Die Hard (the cult 1988 action film starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman), told primarily with puppets and borrowing The Muppets' irreverent, self-referential anarchy style. It proved a winning formula. Audiences raved about the show and such was the demand for tickets, if we had a larger theatre I really feel we could have doubled the number of audience we had in. We were interviewed for Made In Bristol TV (below - we're from 6 minutes in) and had a handful of very positive reviews.

It’s Christmas Eve and high above the city of LA, exceptional terrorist Hans Gruber has seized control of a 35-story skyscraper and is holding everyone inside hostage. As this villainous German carries out his murderous plan of deceit, there’s one thing he didn’t count on - a mysterious party crasher, a fly in the ointment, a monkey in the wrench, a pain in the ass - the grizzled, street-wise, wise-cracking, New York cop John McClane who’s willing to battle against the odds single-handedly to rescue Miss Piggy and save Christmas.

“Immense action scenes, recurring gags and a bombardment of self-referential silliness makes Muppits Die Hard by far the best show you’ll see in Bristol this Christmas.”
Stage Talks ★★★★

“A zany alternative to the Christmas schmaltz, grab a drink and enjoy the action.”
Whats On Stage Stage Talks ★★★★

"As always, there is an unbelievable amount of creativity and attention to detail that makes the anti-pantomime such a heroic spectacle."
Simple Lampoon

21 January 2015

Directing National Theatre Connections show 'Hospital Food' with St Brendan's Sixth Form College

This week I started working with 10 students at St Brendan's Sixth Form College in Bristlington, Bristol, to direct and show they plan to put on for National Theatre Connections Festival 2015. Every year the National Theatre invites 10 writers to create 10 new, exciting and challenging scripts which will then be performed by youth theatres and schools up and down the country. Connections gives young people experience of professional theatre-making as they create marketing campaigns, design sets and costumes, operate lighting and sound boards, stage-manage their performances and, in the case of St Brendan's, bring in a professional director. Originally my close friend Anna Girvan was asked to direct this show but after a few weeks had to pull out and she asked if I would step into her shoes to finish the show with the students - I duly obliged! The script St Brendan's chose for their students to perform is Hospital Food by Eugene O’Hare. It's set in a British teenage cancer unit and follows 10 young patients, all of them undergoing various conventional treatments for different cancers at different stages of progression. Their shared illness bonds them and they support each other as they reveal their fears and hopes for the future while confronting, head on, the very real prospects of untimely death. The production will be performed at St Brendan's College in February and at Bristol Old Vic in March. Furthermore, National Theatre watch every single production around the country and then invite what they judge to be the best production of each script to be performed in London. This project is a great opportunity for me as a director and one I am really relishing.

19 January 2015

Spring 2015 Season at The Wardrobe Theatre

Over the autumn and winter months I have been working hard with my fellow co-directors at The Wardrobe Theatre to programme another exciting season of theatre, comedy and regular local nights at the venue. Here's the season's printed brochure which I designed very closely with the venue's resident illustrator, Ben Goodman:

18 January 2015

Start of Closer Each Day Season 9

This week sees the beginning of season 9 of Closer Each Day: The Improvised Soap Opera at The Wardrobe Theatre. Hard to believe we've been running for nearly 4 years! The show will run fortnightly until the summer. Can't wait!

11 December 2014

End of Closer Each Day Season 8

Last Tuesday was Episode 6, the season finale and the Christmas special of Closer Each Day: The Improvised Soap Opera at The Wardrobe Theatre. The show was a packed and hilarious night of improv and plot twists yet again with most of the action revolving around one of the characters, Simpkins, getting visited by three ghosts (ala Ebeneezer Scrooge). Season 8 of the show was another mammoth success and I am constantly proud and inspired to be so closely involved in such a great show, with such a great group of performers that audiences return to laugh their heads off at fortnight after fortnight. Bring on season 9!

26 November 2014

'Muppits Die Hard' gets Arts Council Funding

Today we got the fantastic news that the application I wrote for The Wardrobe Theatre's 2014 alternative Christmas show, Muppits Die Hard, to get funding from Arts Council England was successful! This is a huge deal for the theatre and the production and means we can create a show that matches our ambitions but, most importantly, means no-matter what we are able to pay our creative team properly for all their hard work in making and performing the show. Hurrah!

24 November 2014

New Choir Performance at Sharp Teeth Night

Last night after several weeks of rehearsals, a new choir I am a member of (an offshoot of Utterance) performed our first show at The Arts House. Sharp Teeth Presents a Night of Storytelling was a wonderful varied evening of performance in a small room underneath a Stokes Croft cafe to a packed crowd. The new choir doesn't have a name yet though we are provisionally calling it the Back of Book Choir as all the songs we perform have been composed by James Nuttall, inspired by the blurbs and synopses found on the back on paper back books. The choir are a great bunch and we have a great time rehearsing and performing together. Fingers crossed we get a chance to perform our tunes again in the near future.

16 November 2014

Half-Mask Workshop with John Wright

For the past few days I have had the pleasure of taking part in a week long workshop in performing half-mask with John Wright, one of my theatre/clowning heroes, the co-founder of Told By An Idiot and Trestle theatre companies, author of the fantastic 'Why Is That So Funny?' and an international renowned director and teacher. The workshop was held at The Island and was an amazing introduction to the world of half-mask performing as well as a lot of overlap into clowning. John is an inspiring teacher and I feel like I learnt a huge amount from his challenging but very supportive and rewarding sessions.

27 October 2014

The Smoking Puppet Cabaret 'Muppits Die Hard' Fundraiser

Last Thursday at The Canteen I joined my Smoking Puppet Cabaret compatriots and the casts from The Wardrobe Theatre's Christmas shows past and present to host a fun one-off event to raise eyebrows, awareness and money for the venue's 2014 Christmas production, Muppits Die Hard. The night mimiced The Smoking Puppet Cabaret's successful format from Shambala Festival and Bristol Puppetry Festival to present an entertaining cabaret night of irreverent puppetry and improv. I acted as compare for most of the evening in my Blue Blue Peter presenter guise and also performed in most of the cabaret acts including Blue Blue Peter itself (where we get the audience to make their own shadow puppets before we improv sketches with them), some Muppet puppet style scenes including a sing-along and a romantically charged encounter with the Oedipuss puppet from The Wardrobe Theatre's 2012 Christmas show, Oedipuss In Boots. The night was a brilliantly fun and well attended fundraiser with us managing to raise several hundred pounds thanks to people's kind donations. The money will all be used to make puppets and the other design elements of Muppits Die Hard. Can't wait to get started on it!

1 October 2014

Start of Closer Each Day Season 8

Last night Closer Each Day: The Improvised Soap Opera returned to the stage of The Wardrobe Theatre for the start of its eight season. After the summer break, it's great to get back in the swing of things with this hilarious fortnightly show. Over the course of the season (up to 9th December) we will be introducing some new characters and trying some new ideas so lots to look forward to.

23 September 2014

Verity Standen's 'HUG' at Bristol Biennial

After its stunning run at Edinburgh Fringe 2014, Verity Standen's HUG returned to Bristol as part of Bristol Biennial festival of art last weekend. I joined the HUG singers for 8 performances over 2 days at Trinity Centre and Grain Barge. The audiences were once again phenomenally responsive and it was another wonderful experience to be part of (even if it did mean hiding nearly 20 people in the beer cellar at Grain Barge as backstage). There are lots of potentially really exciting things on the horizon for HUG so hopefully this wasn't the last time we were all together.

17 September 2014

'HUG' at Forest Fringe, Edinburgh 2014

This August I was delighted to be one of the singers in Verity Standen's choral sound bath performance HUG as the show was invited to run for 2 weeks at Forest Fringe during Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014. We took a handful of the show's original singers to Edinburgh from the run at The Wardrobe Theatre last October and brought in about 10 new voices made up of local residents and other performers in town for the festival. After a few days rehearsal teaching the new singers the show, we opened at The Drill Hall in Leith, the base of Forest Fringe, on Wednesday 6th August and performance 2 or 3 times a day for 2 weeks.

Each audience member is blindfolded. They are then individually hugged by a singer. Unable to visually gauge their surroundings, participants experience the performance through sound, breath and vibrations of the body as the choir of voices deliver the song. Playing with sense and perspective, HUG is a unique examination of the human voice’s power over our emotions.

The show was an astounding success, we got a huge amount of very positive press (including a small feature on BBC1's festival roundup TV show), more incredible audience reactions, and were even nominated for The Arches Brick Award and a Total Theatre Award. We also managed to find time to do a performance of HUG in Zoo Southside exclusively for the Zoo Venues' staff. It was an exhausting but thrilling experience to be involved closely with this unique show once again and I hope we can build upon HUG's success here to bring it to many more places and people over the coming months. Here are a few choice quotes from some of the incredible reviews the show got during its run:

"To feel somebody’s thorax vibrate as they tackle an elaborate counter-melody feels like the most immediate, visceral experience of music as human expression possible, not just hearing the music but feeling it physically coarse through you, your whole body singing like an antenna to heaven... Verity Standen's polyphonic show is completely astonishing, like 20 minutes talking to God."
Time Out - ★★★★★ Full review here

"A strangely cathartic experience, unequivocally illustrating the power that music holds to move us. And in its unseen, anonymous act of intimacy, it contains a heartbreaking comment on the comfort yet impossibility of true closeness."
Exeunt - ★★★★ Full review here

6 September 2014

Autumn/Winter 2014 Season at The Wardrobe Theatre

For the last few months I have been working intensively with my fellow co-Directors at The Wardrobe Theatre to put together another programme of theatre, comedy and regular local nights at our venue. The focus of the venue has always been to programme exciting, diverse events and not be afraid to take risks, to support up-and-coming companies in the region, and to remain accessible and affordable for audiences. This is an ethos that has does us well over the past 3 years and it is something we have been able to stick to again for the upcoming season. This season I am particularly excited about the return of Tap Tap Theatre with their highly rated family show Handmade Tales in October. Here's the season's printed brochure which I designed very closely with the venue's resident illustrator, Ben Goodman:

31 August 2014

'A Little Nonsense' at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014

After months of rehearsing, organising, fundraising and touring, Juncture Theatre's dark comedy clown/drama A Little Nonsense finally made it to the largest arts festival in the world, Edinburgh Fringe 2014. The show ran for 4 weeks at Pleasance This in Pleasance Courtyard and was an exhausting but exhilarating experience for the whole company. Our initial concerns of having the show in one of the festival's glorified shipping container units were quickly dispelled as we realised these tiny spaces really helped nurture the intimate atmosphere we were trying to create for the performances. Between 30th July and 25th August the show was on daily at 1pm and we bookmarked the performances with several hours of flyering on The Royal Mile and around Edinburgh inbetween. We also booked slots on mile's mini-stages for a handful of afternoons and the cast were able to clown around and improvise some wonderful routines for the delight of the passing crowds. The sheer scale of Edinburgh Fringe with thousands and thousands of shows competing for a finite number of audiences meant we had to work really hard every day to get audiences. We struggled due to the combined fact the show was by a company few people had heard of, by a writer no-one had heard of, starring actors few had heard of and not being about anything anybody could instant recognise or relate to. That said, with the help of some great word-of-mouth from many people saying it was their festival highlight and a handful of fantastic reviews (including a ★★★★★ stunner from Broadway Baby - here), the shows averaged about a 40-50% audience which is not to be sniffed at at all during a company's first visit to Edinburgh. The two actors, Andy Kelly and Matt Christmas, did particularly well considering the director and I were forced to leave them to their own devises for the majority of the performances as we were performing in another show at the same time across the city. All told, it felt wonderful to take this brand new script that we all believed in thoroughly from the dusty, tiny rooms of The Wardrobe Theatre and The Bike Shed Theatre to the glorious heights of Edinburgh Fringe where it was able to rub shoulders with the cream of international comedy and theatre. It felt like the peak that this show could reach and so, for now anyway, we will say goodbye to Man and Clown in A Little Nonsense and thank them for the fantastic memories.