Tuesday, 30 September 2008
Monday, 29 September 2008
Saturday, 27 September 2008
To help raise the bar we changed the way we recruit We mailed every school in the country and we stopped giving out unconditional offers, even to very high flying students. We figured that 'bright' people wouldn't trust a University that just offered a place without interview or audition. We interviewed everybody. Simultaneously we started to discriminate, both in the publicity and in our talk, making it clear that passengers or students who thought drama might be a 'doss' need not apply.
Finally we invested in the theatre itself, new seating, a revamped foyer with proper signage and a pledge to bring in more professional work from outside.
In short we positioned ourselves in what we felt was a niche, between University and Drama School.
Tonight at the end of a long week, in which we've welcomed and worked with the first cohort of students recruited on the new degree, I stood outside the theatre bathed for the first time in the neon glow of our smart new entrance and realised that much of what we've wished for has started to happen. It was a very, very good feeling!
The return of Yard Gal is very welcome and although Monsay and Steph are a little off the blistering pace they achieved back in the Spring -it was a useful and essential run out in the build up to the run at The Oval House next month.
The girls were predictably down at the end, but it's really just a matter of fitness and this will come with hard work over the next month or so. It's going to be a tough call to play night after night for three weeks, especially in the highly physical version that Stef O'D has created for them. The writer, Rebecca Prichard, has also asked for the cuts made for the original work tobe put back in, adding a good twenty minutes to what was a very tight piece.
Re staging will call for genuine stamina and sensible pacing but, provided they don't become victims of their own self-doubt, I've absolute faith in the show.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Friday, 19 September 2008
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Monday, 15 September 2008
Sunday, 14 September 2008
The National Youth Theatre had a memorial celebration for our former artistic director, Ed Wilson, who sadly died earlier this year. It was quite an event. Ed led the company from a tiny two room office above a garage in King's Cross to the wonderful, fit for purpose building that we now occupy on the Holloway Road. Two hundred or so of the former and current members gathered to re create work from his tenure and read words of tribute. It was a very moving day.
The highlight of my time with the NYT was the tour to Stanislavski's Moscow Arts Theatre, with T.S Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral in 1989. It was the time of glasnost and we were the first actors to perform a play with a 'religious' theme in the USSR. Prince Edward, our patron came with us and his meeting with the Patriarch of Russia was the first time a blood relative of the Romanovs was afforded the privilege since the revolution. We encountered the frenzy of a royal paparazzi press call in Red Square, lunched at the British embassy, rushed out in our pyjamas to see the changing of the guard at Lenin's tomb and were greeted with flowers enough to cover all our dressing rooms. We stayed at the humongous hotel Rossia, spied on by an army of charming matriarchs, who sat with phones and samovars at the end of the corridor and recorded our comings and goings in a black leather book. It was heady.
Several members of this company were back in the familiar main rehearsal room today and - supplemented with monks and women of Canterbury from Ed's 2003 revival and the company's choir, recently returned from singing the natioanl anthem at the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics - we recreated the Kyrie and Beckett's first entrance. Time was short and Paul Roseby, the company's current Artistic director urged us to 'stretch it', 'punch it out' and, my personal favourite 'wang it round to the audience.' Interestingly, both generations of actors implicitly understood the coded vocabulary.
During a break the technicians ran some video clips of Ed pleading passionately for government investment in youth arts followed by twenty year old footage from the initial production's rehearsals. None of us knew it existed and none of us were able to hold back tears.
Thursday, 11 September 2008
Wednesday, 10 September 2008
Went to the Gielgud this evening for the opening preview of Headlong's reworked production Six Characters in Search of an Author, orginally authored by Pirandello. My friend Vix has been working as a creative associate on the lighting for the show and she kindly got me a ticket.
The play itself is so self-referential about the concept of theatricality that I always fear it risks eating itself within it's own logical framework. This new interpretation seems to embrace that very confusion but also makes a bold attempt to push through to something more meaningful on the other side. However, this is such a layered production, refracting so many shafts of light and colour, that it's impossible to catch all but a handful of the ideas offered up.
The updated conceit is to change the original 'play within a play' convention to a 'play within the making of a drama documentary' specifically here on the fictional euthanasia case of Alex, a fourteen year old boy who has gone to the Dignitas clinic in Denmark to die. The idea works rather well and brings to this production a very modern debate about the limits of both existance and reality in a mediated culture. Euthanasia quickly become a subtle metaphor for the loss of control we experience when we hand over the story of our lives to others. The first act neatly transposes Pirandello's original text into this sanitised setting.
The formality anarchically disintegrates in the second act, however, as the documentary maker, traumatised by 'telling the story' of the initial assisted death, starts her own breakdown, unpicking the reasons behind her inability to tell her own story and her need to project narrative onto others. Her moral collapse is vividly dramatised in a series of barely associated scenes involving live action, reconstructed action and pre-recorded film. Time is elastic as Pirandello takes the stage looking for an end to the play, Alex quotes 'To Be or Not to Be', on film, from beyond the grave, an actor appears playing the production's director, Rupert Goold, and eventually the documentary maker seeks death herself in a Danish clinic via the lethal injection administered by the very characters she'd failed to create a story for.
This is a huge, messy existential debate about authorship, need, control and power.
Precocious or brilliant? Probably a bit of both!
Tuesday, 9 September 2008
One of the big differences between school and University is the that here, hopefully, there are less structures which socialise students and more which 'dare' them to think independently and to take risks in following through such thoughts - this is also of course bound up with the reality that many are leaving home for the first time. When students play it well, the jump into the new is liberating and exciting - but when something goes wrong Uni's an anxious and lonely place. In many ways this course is designed to legitimise the change of culture and to challenge students to embrace it and enjoy the responsibilities it offers. We want to make it easier to swim than to sink.
In the evening I caught up with Molly to finalise the Drama in Community planning. The biggest change is through the assessment. Rather than asking students to put in a portfolio of evidence at the end of the course - we're going to ask them to blog throughout. Last year's third years did so much work via the web - planning, evaluating, scheduling and worked so intensively on the logistics of putting together the Community play in Ham House, that the portfolio ended up for many of them being a salvaged document rather than a working support - so we're hoping this initiative might address that a little.
It was good to see Molly after the summer break - she's ploughing through her own MA dissertation which needs to be handed in at the end of September.
Tonight though she was rushing off to a public meeting to discuss strategies to save her local Camberwell pool - 'the heart of the community' - from the English National Ballet who want to turn it into their south London rehearsal base.
Saturday, 6 September 2008
Went to the Young Vic to see Peter Brook's production of Samuel Beckett's Fragments, which is back in town for a few weeks. I missed it first time round, so am very pleased to get a second crack. The mesmerising Kathryn Hunter and mercurial Marcello Magni (who Kasia brings in to St.Mary's to run workshops from time to time) are joined for this run by Khalifa Natour.
I've always thought Beckett was fun, even at his most bleak moments, and these short pieces are packed with jokes and humour. The most wonderful image of the evening came in Act Without Words II where a large gardening spike, a God of sorts, gently drops from the ceiling and pokes first Marcello and then Khalifa awake from the plastic sacks they've been sleeping in.
Marcello, the disgruntled fatalist, first prays and then fights the day. He struggles to dress, to eat, to move his bags, to piss, to put on his hat, to undress and to settle for the night. Each blow greeted by a grunt. a glance upwards and an acknowledgement to the audience. Finally he sleeps and the spike God moves onto Khalifa.
Khalifa is joyeous. He repeats each of Marcello's daily functions, but every action is efficient, smooth, flowing and concluded with a check of the watch and satisfied nod that the routine of life is both upheld and controlled. He sings, he dances and loves each progressive moment of a the passing day. Eventually he too sleeps. God descends once again (as oblivious as a stick can be to the contrasting moods) to poke Marcello and the cycle begins again in all its ridiculousness.In contrast to the clowning, Rockaby shows Kathryn at her most brilliant, nuanced and committed, as an elderly woman, poised between life and death, trying to make sense of a specific moment of being. It's the most amazing, vunerable performance, completely uncluttered by vanity.
The whole show is only a hour long, but you leave, having laughed in the face of the outrageous fortune that life offers, feeling refreshed and, as with all fantastic comedy, stronger and ready to burst any bubbles blowing around in your own life.