Edinburgh Preview – Much Further Out Than You Thought

Much Further Out Than You Thought is a one-man show which tells the story of Lance Corporal James Randall, who finished his tours of duty in Helmand six years ago.  It is Remembrance Sunday, and he is in his living room in south London recording a birthday message for his young son, surrounded by childhood toys and memorabilia.  As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that James is suffering from PTSD, and the audience learns how the collision of civilian Britain and front-line Afghanistan can lead to catastrophe.

I met with writer and actor Giles Roberts after the play’s preview at the Old Red Lion in Islington.  A charming and interesting man, he is as sympathetic and likeable as the character he portrays with such expertise.  Giles was quick to point out that Much Further Out Than You Thought is not intended to be anti-war propaganda – it is the individual story of a single soldier.  He does, however, object to the glamorisation of the army which appears to be taking place recently.

Although James Randall is fictional, Giles did have the help of two soldiers as consultants when he was writing the play.  He got the idea after watching a 1980s documentary called Four Hours in My Lai, about a massacre by US troops in Vietnam.  The personal testimonies of the soldiers particularly resonated with him, and he began to try to empathise with how an act of killing must irreparably alter a person, and how it influences them in the future.

We talked about the timelessness of the situation: young men are trained to kill, but what happens to that training when they come back home?  There has been a lot of talk about World War I in the last couple of years, and shell-shock cases have parallels with current incidences of PTSD.  But Giles emphasised that warfare is more asymmetrical now: there are no longer two rows of trenches and the enemy can be anyone and anywhere.  This causes the combatants to develop a sense of hyper-awareness, which, unfortunately cannot be easily turned off when they return to civilian life.

Despite having several writing credits for spoken word, Much Further Out Than You Thought is Giles’ first play.  As an actor, trained at the Oxford School of Drama, he has many credits to his name.  The play is directed by Bethany Pitts, and Giles spoke of the short rehearsal period with a director he already knew very well, and how interesting it was to come at the material from two different angles.  Much Further Out Than You Thought is the winner of a 2015 IdeasTap Underbelly Award.  With IdeasTap sadly having to close, Giles and Bethany will be among the last people to benefit from their invaluable help.

Much Further Out Than You Thought is at the Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), 56 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1EG, from Thursday 6th – Sunday 30th August 2015 (not 17th), at 3.20pm.  It is produced by the Molino Group.  For more information visit The Molino Group.

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Just When You Thought it Was Safe to Go Back to Victorian London

The Legend of Springheel’d Jack – Series II of The Springheel Saga

Once again, Wireless Theatre Company has produced an energising, bewitching, atmospheric piece of radio.  Opening seven years after the end of the last series, we are immediately dropped into the thick of the action and the pace does not let up throughout the three episodes.  The Doctor Who references this time seem to me more subtle, and at the same time wider-reaching.  The sound landscape played a large part in this (I’m sure I heard a tardis at a couple of points!), especially the incidental music provided by Cameron K McEwan.  Without giving too much away, much of the story revolves around a mysterious box, whose origins, it turns out, involve transwarp drive.  The box’s final destination is reminiscent of another cult classic – Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The storytelling remains first-class  Writing for radio holds its own special challenges, as the conversations have to tell most of the story, without being too obvious or lessening the impact of the characters as individuals, and this was managed seemingly effortlessly by Gareth Parker and Robert Valentine.  However, in this series, they have added the device of a narrator, who is also a character in the story (James M. Rymer, wonderfully played by John Holden White) and this proved to be very effective.  As before, the dialogue is outstanding throughout; with priceless lines such as “the tears that rolled down his cheeks behind the large false beard.”

The acting was superb.  Christopher Finney reprised his role of Jonas Smith with aplomb, John Holden White, as James M Rymer, was an excellent addition to the cast, and Nicholas Parson was wonderful as Cuthbert Leach.  However, my personal favourite this time was Josephine Timmons, as Lizzie Coombe.  She was believable on so many different levels (it was a complicated character); totally sympathetic and a pleasure to listen to throughout.  Casting was by Jack Bowman, who also had a small but effective cameo, but whose major contribution is in the production and the superb writing (under his pseudonym of Gareth Parker).  The excellent direction was by co-writer Robert Valentine, who was also part of the production team, along with Mariele Runacre-Temple.

The Legend of Springheel’d Jack is in three episodes: The Terror of London; The Carnival of Horrors and The Engine of Doom.  Each of these can be downloaded from http://www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk.  Series III – The Secret of Springheel’d Jack – is planned for an August/September release.  I’ll be listening!

Previously published in Blogtor Who.

Romantic Fun for Valentine’s Day

She Loves Me at the Landor Theatre

I didn’t notice that Saturday was Valentine’s day when I arranged to go and review She Loves Me on that day. Once I realised, I wondered if I would look a bit strange going to a romantic musical on my own on the day for celebrating the pairing instinct! I needn’t have worried. There were a lot of couples (and quite a bit of hand-holding), but there were also people who had come because they had friends in the cast, so I didn’t stick out like a spare thumb.

Seated at the end of the front row I had a good chance to look at the set (courtesy of designer David Shields and Lighting Designer Richard Lambert) before the performance began. It was wonderful! She Loves Me is based on a play called Parfumerie (by Hungarian author Miklos Laszlo) and most of the action is set in a cosmetics shop. The set was well-designed: bright, cheerful and colourful; as well as being easily adaptable to the requirements of different scenes.

I did have one major gripe about this show, which nagged at me right up until partway through the second half, when I suppose I got used to it. The play is set in Budapest and is being performed in a London theatre. So why is everyone speaking in an American accent? Yes, I know the musical was first produced on Broadway, but that seems insufficient reason to me. And although the accents were, on the whole, excellent, they did slip on the vocal numbers in some cases. Looking at the cast list, I can see that one cast member is from the US and another from Canada. Let them speak in their native accents, and let the rest of the predominantly British cast speak in their own accents. Were an accent change indicated, the only logically choice would be Hungarian, and I don’t believe that would be either practicable or effective.

Accents aside, I really liked She Loves Me. The fourteen-strong cast gave flawless performances with high energy throughout. The songs were exuberant and infectious, and the choreography was of a very high standard – essential when you have such a large cast in such a small space. Credit is due to director Robert McWhir, musical director Iain Vince-Gatt, and choreographer Robbie O’Reilly. The cast were ably support by a trio of musicians whom I can’t seem to find listed in the program and Nina Morley’s costume design and Cecily Rabey’s stage management contributed to the excellent overall look and feel of the piece.

With such a large cast, all of such a high standard, it is hard to pick anyone out for special mention. Lead actors Charlotte Jaconelli and John Sandberg were wonderful, both vocally and in terms of creating believable sympathetic characters. The same could be said Emily Lynne, David Herzog and Matthew Wellman – although without the sympathetic part in his case, as he was playing the villain! I was particularly drawn to Joshua LeClar as the bicycle messenger Arpad and Ian Dring as Mr Maraczek, the elderly shop owner. All of the singing in the show was brilliant, and I particularly enjoyed the chorus numbers (George Mulryan, Rosie Ladkin, Tom Whalley, Olivia Holland Rose, Luke Kelly, Anne Horn and Suzie Chaytow). At 2 ½ hours the show is good value for money, and I can guarantee you will leave with a smile on your face.

She Loves me is at the Landor Theatre until 7 March 2015, Tuesday – Saturday nightly at 7.30pm, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. For more information, visit www.landortheatre.co.uk.

Nobody Does It Better

The Diary of a Nobody at the King’s Head Theatre, 20 January 2015 – 14 February 2014

The Diary of a Nobody, the story of Charles Pooter, was published as a series of articles and illustration in Punch during the late 19th Century, and was written by brothers George and Weedon Grossmith.  There have been numerous stage, screen and radio adaptations over the intervening years, often differing wildly in interpretation, for instance Keith Waterhouse’s play, featuring Judy Dench and Michael Williams, told the story from the point of view of Pooter’s wife Carrie.

As would be expected, Rough Haired Pointer have their own take on the story.  This starts with the design (Karina Nakaninsky and Christopher Hone): both set and costumes are constructed to resemble the black and white drawings in the original work.  Secondly, the adaptation and direction (Mary Franklin) splits the action between four characters in an interesting way (the narration, as Pooter, is shared by all four, for instance), and thirdly the sheer madcap mayhem and silliness of the production was extremely refreshing.

The cast consisted of four male actors, which did add slightly to the Pythonesque atmosphere of the piece, although I’m sure it could work equally well with women also.  Jake Curran played Charles Pooter throughout, which lent a much needed anchor to the play, amidst the constantly changing characters around him.  He did an excellent job of conveying both poignancy and humour.  Jordan Mallory-Skinner played Carrie throughout, although he did morph briefly into three other characters.  Again, he gave a sympathetic and amusing portrayal of the character, and, although not dragged up in any way other than the costume and a pair of earrings, at times I found myself forgetting he was not really a woman!

All the remaining characters were played by Geordie Wright and George Fouracres.  Wright did have a main character of sort, in Sarah, the maid, but he played many others also, and Fouracres was continually changing parts, although perhaps his role as Lupin, the Pooters’ son, is the one that most sticks in my mind.  These two actors contributed a lot of the over-the-top hilarity which was a characteristic of the production, and both displayed great comic flair, as indeed did Curran and Mallory-Skinner.  The chaotic fun was enhanced by the staging: little touches such as having the cast pour glasses of rice from a wine bottle and try to drink it, and the postman carrying a letter box with him as well as a letter to put through it.  There was also some audience participation involved.  In addition, there was quite a bit of corpsing, which strangely just made the play even funnier.

The Diary of a Nobody is closing at the King’s Head tonight, so do pop down and see it if you can, or look out for future productions (the current one is a transfer from the White Bear).  For more information, visit www.kingsheadtheatrepub.co.uk  or www.roughhairedpointer.com.

Photographs courtesy of Rocco Redondo

The Diary of a Nobody

Brilliant Brel

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at the Charing Cross Theatre

You probably know more Jacques Brel songs than you think.  Ne Me Quitte Pas, anyone?  How about No Love You’re Not Alone (incorporated in David Bowie’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide)?  Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun was Le Moribond with a new lyric, while Scott Walker had a hit record with Jacky in the late 1960s.

Singer songwriter Brel was born in Belgium in 1929, moving to Paris in 1953 to pursue his career in music.  Although he died young (aged 49) he left a remarkable legacy of chansons behind him, many of which focus on the darker side of life.  “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” a musical revue of his work, was first produced in New York in 1968.  The show reflects his strong anti-war stance, and features songs in English, French and Flemish.

The Charing Cross Theatre production has a heavy cabaret feel to it, which is all to the good.  The first half was enjoyable: Eve Polycarpou opened the show with Le Diable (Ca Va), followed by Daniel Boys and Gina Beck, who made a favourable first impression with If We Only Have Love. Musical Director and Pianist Dean Austin sang a brief solo with Le Moribond, and I particularly liked the closing number Amsterdam, powerfully sung by David Burt, which gave a flavour of what was to come after the interval.  I would have liked to hear some harmonies on The Desperate Ones, which was sung in unison by the full company, but by the time I got to the interval I was already impressed and looking forward to what was to follow.

Despite some feedback problems on the sound front, especially during “Middle Class” (which was a shame, as it was otherwise a very amusing number from David and Daniel), the second half blew me away.  Eve’s Ne Me Quitte Pas was profoundly moving, and Gina’s “My Death” totally rocked.  I’ve been lucky enough to see the wonderfully talented Camille O’Sullivan perform both of these, plus Amsterdam, live on more than one occasion, and Eve, Gina and David’s renditions in no way suffered by comparison.  Daniel Boys also gave a consistently strong performance throughout, with his Next being a particular standout.  Overall, the second half seemed to build to a final crescendo, with the full cast joining in for a reprise of If We Only Have Love at the end.

The four singers were ably supported on stage by band members James Cleeve, Felix Stickland, Doug Grannell and Richard Burden, as well as by Dean Austin as previously mentioned.  This excellent show was directed by Andrew Keates, and is well worth a viewing.

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris runs until 22 November 2014 at the Charing Cross Theatre, Monday – Saturday 7.45 pm, Saturday matinees 3pm.  Tickets are available from www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk.

My Million to One – Worth £1 of Your Money!

For almost a year, I have been attending free events run by My Million to One, a charity run by Alana Hurd, and backed by such big names as Richard E Grant and Jason Flemyng.  I have been to Q&As with both the aforementioned actors, as well as director Hugh Woolridge.  I have also been at a Mind Body Spirit workshop and a discussion about producing theatre.  There have been many others that I have wanted to go to but time or circumstances prevented me, such as Tai Chi, circus skills and book publishing to name but a few.  The subjects covered have been many and varied – from new age thinking to the arts to business to extreme sport and even exploration: Sir Ranulph Fiennes was one of the many wonderful people to give his time to the project.  There have also been many raffles throughout the year.

The workshops and Q&As will be drawing to a close before the end of the year, but transcripts of the Q&As will remain available for members to download from the internet and there are also dozens of discounts and offers to help people achieve their dreams.

My Million to One was founded to found a home for abandoned disabled children in Southern Africa. Alana was asked to help whilst volunteering in the area, so she approached a couple of small, local charities that she knew very well and they agreed to adopt the children and give them a home.  However, she has to meet two criteria in order for the arrangement to go ahead.  Firstly, to find money every year to pay for the children’s home, plus all their needs, education & rehabilitation costs; and, secondly, to guarantee that the money will be provided for their lifetimes.

Alana has found a unique way to do it – By making £1,000,000 by 22nd November 2014.

When a million of you join MMTO, paying £1 (+ 11p credit card charge) each ONCE ONLY, the interest alone from the £1,000,000 will build AND fund the home for the children in Africa, never requiring further investment again.  This is a brand new charity model in its own right.

A million sounds like a big number, but it’s really just 10 to the power of six, or in human terms six degrees of separation.  Let me explain.  I’ve paid a one-off donation of £1 to join My Million to One.  If I get 10 friends to do the same, that’s 101.  When each of those then gets 10 new friends to join, that’s 102, or 100.  They each persuade 10 other friends – 103, who invite 10 more friends each – 104.  Those friends do likewise and we have 105, and finally this last group each asks 10 friends and we have 106 or £1,000,000.  Plus my original £1 of course.  So in six easy steps we have created a forever home for disabled African orphans, and made an awful lot of friends.

Will you be one of my ten?

Read more about My Million to One here: http://mymilliontoone.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/my-million-to-one-the-3-whys/

or go straight ahead and join here: http://www.mymilliontoone.com/foyer

My Million to One really needs and deserves our support.  Join – and tell your friends!

Get Your Own Art – for Free!

OwnArt

Own Art is an Arts Council England initiative which gives interest free loans to individuals, in order to make purchasing contemporary art and craft easy and affordable.  They are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, and, as part of the festivities, have commissioned Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller to create a digital animation.  This work, which will be based on that he did for the Venice Biennale 2013, is to be split into 10,000 stills that will be available to download as individual unique works of art.

To be one of the lucky 10,000, subscribe (anytime from now onwards) to The Space newsletter at http://www.thespace.org/artwork/view/wesit#.U5wnqyJwZeU.  Once you’ve confirmed your subscription, they will send you an email with a link to claim your work, which will then be downloadable from Monday, 7 July 2014.

The full animation will be premiered on screen on Saturday, 19 July, at both Westfield Stratford and Westfield London.

Own Art was created to inspire individuals to take their first steps and buyers and collectors of contemporary art and craft, as well as to assist the galleries they work with, along with their artists, to be more sustainable as businesses.  Customers can borrow from £100 to £2,500 interest free, and spread the cost of repayment over 10 months.  A quarter of the loan amount each year, on average, is to customers with an annual income of £25,000 or less.  Since the scheme began in 2004, it has financed in excess of £25 million worth of sales.

Jeremy Deller has been making art since the early 1990s.  He won the Turner Prize in 2004 for the documentary Memory Bucket, and his work covers subjects ranging from exotic wrestler Adrian Street to international fans of 1980s band Depeche Model.  He has exhibited widely throughout the world, and in 2013 represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.

For more information on Own Art visit www.ownart.org.uk.  You can find out more about Jeremy Deller at www.jeremydeller.org.

 

The Doors of Perception

John Middleton: Painting Works at the Coningsby Gallery, 9 -13 June 2014

Abstract art is, of course, all about perception. Almost always, the viewer sees the work through their own lens, and the resulting mental impression is, in effect, a collaboration between artist and observer. John Middleton’s show definitely gives the spectator a lot to absorb and think about; however there seem to me to be certain underlying themes to do with place, fluidity and possibility.

Doors are exciting, representing as they do the transition from one place to another. On entering the exhibition, the first picture to catch my eye was Doorway. With its central arrow, whose direction varied with your point of view, it seemed to say that our personal doorways can take us to many different places. Temple Doorway is another obvious example of the same theme. In a wonderful touch, the artist has used sand from a beach near the temple at Chichen-Itza to depict the building, yet it is the completely dark open doorway which draws the eye, suggesting the endless possibilities of the other side, and the journey from the physical to the spiritual which is evident throughout Middleton’s work. Nearby paintings complemented this idea. Path to the Temple suggests that either the rugged route or the direct path will lead you to the same destination, and Kimono, with its eye-catching gold square suggested a doorway filled with blindingly bright light.

Hanging side by side, The Pink Bird and The Green Bird were both inspired by Edward Lear. Strangely, although pink is a brighter colour, it was the latter which suggested Caribbean islands to me – perhaps because the bird was in flight, or maybe because green is the hue of vegetation and growth. Green is also a powerful colour in Idiosyncratic Pattern, which has shades of mother-of-pearl and has, to me, a 1970s feel, and asks the question “When is a pattern not a pattern?” This painting is also a good example of John’s fascination with flaws, rather than hiding them he likes to draw attention to them in an “X marks the spot” sort of way. The Last Sighting of Bigfoot deals wonderfully with the problem of making visible the invisible, while Henri’s Fish and Socks deceives the eye and plays with notions of depth and dimension.

Know Your Place seems to me to sum up the sense of myriad possibilities presented by this exhibition. Perhaps the empty space at the centre is for you; or you are one of the surrounding circles or even a small dot of colour right at the edge? The potentialities are endless as, I suspect, are the responses to John Middleton’s work – as varied as the works themselves. I have only touched briefly on the range of watercolours and drawings on display, but I found the whole to be impressive, engaging and stimulating.

For more information visit John’s website www.johnmiddleton.uk.com.
GreenBird

Open Houses in Hampstead

Hampstead's Village People, Fenton House (courtesy Sam Roberts) 7 Hampstead’s Village People: Portraits of Cultural Icons; Ryan Gander: The Artists have the Keys

On Friday, I payed a visit to two highly contrasting properties in Hampstead, where the National Trust were celebrating the opening of two new exhibitions.

First on the itinerary was Fenton House, which is hosting Hampstead’s Village People: Portraits of Cultural Icons, in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery.  The photographs are tastefully housed in two rooms on the ground floor, and cover a range of artistically influential people from the area over the last 100-plus years.  I was particularly taken by the pictures of Daphne du Maurier and Cecil Beaton, as well as Peter Barkworth, whose writing had previously made a great impression on me.

Then it was on to explore the house.   I was intrigued to learn that 55 of the paintings on permanent display were bequeathed by Peter Barkworth, and there are some wonderful paintings in Fenton House.  There are also rather a lot of harpsichords – on average two per room on the first floor.  Glass cabinets full of china and what I would describe as knick-knacks in each room complete the eclectic collection.

Before leaving, my companion and I took a stroll about the gardens, which are well worth a visit.  Beautifully laid out, on several levels, they seemed to induce a sense of peace and serenity in me, especially seeing the spring flowers just starting to appear.

Ryan Gander at 2 Willow Road (courtesy Sam Roberts) 46Secondly, we visited 2 Willow Road, the home of architect Erno Goldfinger, for Ryan Gander’s The Artists have the Keys.  Gander has been interested in Goldfinger’s work since 2005, and he has approached the current exhibition in an extremely immersive fashion, almost as if he was asking what else might Goldfinger have added to the house himself.  Gander’s art is place amongst other objects in the property, and guest are given a list of which pieces are in which room, but with no other indication as to location.  I enjoyed this mini-challenge, which was similar to a live hidden-object game, at the same time as appreciating the house in it’s totality and all the other art contained within.  Gander’s work is very much in sympathy with the style of the place, which also hosts work by Bridget Reilly and Max Ernst, to name but two.  I particularly enjoyed Things just happen to me, a chess set inspired by components from a Bedford truck circa 1975.

I found the house itself fascinating, from the bed that folded up into a cupboard, to the sliding doors between rooms, to the photographs stuck inside the bathroom cabinet.  A couple of very helpful volunteers were kind enough to share their vast wealth of knowledge about Goldfinger, his wife, and the house with us, and I went away feeling stimulated and informed.  I couldn’t stop myself saying “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die,” at least once though!

Both Fenton House and 2 Willow road are open from 11am-5pm, Wednesdays to Sundays (last admission 4.30pm), but entry to 2 Willow road prior to 3pm is by tour only.  For more information and admission prices, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk or telephone 020 7435 3471 (Fenton House) or 020 7435 6166 (2 Willow Road).

 

Photographs courtesy of Sam Roberts.

Mary Tynan

Short but Sweet

The Fat Man's Wife 5 - courtesy Simon AnnandCanal Cafe Theatre presents The Fat Man’s Wife by Tennessee Williams

It is always intriguing to hear about a “new” play from a celebrated dead playwright.  Although written in 1938, The Fat Man’s Wife remained unproduced throughout Williams’ lifetime, having its first staging in New York in 2004.  This is its first UK production.  Despite the excitement of the new, however, there is also slight suspicion – why would the work of an extremely successful and well-regarded writer be so neglected?  It was therefore with curiosity mixed with apprehension that I arrived at the Canal Cafe on Thursday night.

I had never been to this theatre before, but from previous knowledge I had been expecting an arrangement of tables and chair, café- style.  However, the company had decided to perform in traverse, which was an excellent choice, as it really made the best of the space available.  Incorporating an actual window into the set, rather than covering it up was also a good idea.

I was first drawn to Williams’ work after seeing a film version of The Glass Menagerie, featuring Karen Allen as Laura, and this has remained my favourite of his plays.  The Fat Man’s Wife appears to have many similarities with the story of Shakespeare’s sister, in that they are both slightly gentler than much of the writer’s other work, while still containing the sense of claustrophobia and restriction that characterises the majority of his plays.

All three actors did a wonderful job.  Damien Hughes, as Dennis Merriwether, conveyed the exuberance and indestructibility of youth and the frustration when he realises that eagerness and enthusiasm isn’t going to be enough, in a lively, engaging way.  Emma Taylor (Vera) had our sympathy as the middle-aged woman trapped in a loveless marriage, who nevertheless is too scared, or too realistic, to escape.  We could feel her pain, and, even more, her weariness.  Although his part was small, Richard Stephenson Winter, still managed to portray Joe as a figure to be pitied, a victim of his own appetites, and made Vera’s decision to stay with him believable.  The play was ably directed by Russell Lucas, with assistance from Anne Harris.

Without knowing the background of this play, however, it comes across as the first act of a two act play, with the second act missing.  The ending is abrupt, and it feels as if the characters could have done with a lot more development.  But once you take into account the fact that it was one of Tennessee William’s earlier pieces of writing, and look at it as a sort of rehearsal for his later works, it becomes a fascinating piece of theatre, well worth the price of admission.

The Fat Man’s wife is running Thursday – Sunday at the Canal Cafe Theatre, Little Venice until 2 March, Sundays at 7pm, all other shows at 7.30pm.  For tickets and more information, please visit www.canalcafetheatre.com.  Picture by Simon Annand.

Mary Tynan