Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Katie Mitchell

To the Cottesloe to see 'Some Trace of Her,' Katie Mitchell's adaptation of Dostoevsky's The Idiot. Katie's work is always bold and very often contentious, but I've been following her developmental approach to directing ever since Nick Hytner gave her a regular berth at the National.

This production furthers her experiment at fusing live and visual media performance with a text, a process she began with an adaptation of Virginia Woolf's - 'The Waves,' two years ago and followed up, less successfully in a larger space, with Martin Crimp's 'Attempts on her Life,' last year.

Our focus for the production is split. On the stage actors dressed in black rush around fixing video cameras, manipulating angle poise lamps, delivering text into microphones and creating simple stage effects, whilst above a screen translates out the chaos below in a seamless film noir version of the story. Extreme close up means that if only a gloved hand is appearing in the film, the actor's costume will just be the glove, so that we gain a brutal understanding of the artifice as well as the art involved in creating the visual narrative of the story.

It's akin to watching a swan glide majestically along whilst also being aware of the turbulence underneath.

For my money Katie's the most cerebral director we've got at working in Britain at the minute and her new book The Director's Craft gives some indication to her precision and investment. Her thesis that Directors are generally under trained in our system is spelt out clearly both through her own Stanislavski inspired methodology and also her refusal to place a parameter on her and her actors pre-rehearsal research. It's not enough to guess the objectives for your character at any given moment - everything about the play must be known - past memories, as well as future desires. The actor mustn't think as an actor in 2008, but as the character in situ in his or her own context and that takes an awful lot of work to even get close.

Most directors, she suggests, fall into directing without understanding the work. They may achieve short term fashionable brilliance, but never spend time refining or questioning their craft in the way actors must. Nobody seems to divides audiences (or fellow directors) as she does and whether you love or are hostile to her work Katie is a positive provocation in our theatre. The bottom line is that more than anybody currently working in the mainstream she has a diligent, scientific approach and respect for her craft.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Poetry and Pinter

Back to the theatre and a trip up to the National to see Clare Higgins and Simon Russell-Beale in two Harold Pinter pieces A Slight Ache and Landscape. I can't think of two actors I'd rather see on stage than these two, but something didn't quite gel, particularly in Landscape.

Pinter's world revolves around 'empathic communion,' the desire we have to communicate with each other not because the information that we pass is either useful or amusing, but just because it is the surest and perhaps the only way to reassure ourselves that we're not mad or alone. This is common to hundreds of spoken exchanges between people every day, but Pinter's magic has always been to use the formality of the theatre to forensically examine the linguistic games we play, often revealing a subtext of despair or cruelty as he does.

I think the problem in these plays lies with Russell-Beale whose brilliance as a virtuoso, almost operatic, actor seeps out from underneath the casual rhythms he's trying to capture. He almost knows too much about the space, the audience, the musicality of the language and actually does the simple delivery so well it's impossible not to see the purity of his technique, which in turn stops us quite believing in the authenticity of the character.

The best moment comes a the beginning of A Slight Ache when, together with Higgins, he conspires magnificently to sadistically trap and kill a wasp in a jar of marmalade. The pathetic pleasure of the hunt, entrapment and final destruction joyfully realised.

There's a brilliant photographic display in the Lyttelton foyer by Simon Annand of actors taken at the half before the show (see Cate Blanchet above). Wonderful tension between the desire to put on a show and the knowledge that the photographer is intruding on private and sacred time. The best of the images capture the schism between character and actor at precisely the moment when they are being forced together.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Day and Night Happen

Spent the afternoon at the SMarts festival. Tina and the rest of the Bicat family had created an installation - 'Day and Night Happen' in Studio 3 exploring the magic of physics. The work was pure sensory joy. A narrator describing a very simple script.

'It's morning in the forest.

The birds fly through the sky.

A storm comes.' etc.

At each turn we grabbed handmade instruments or simple shadow puppet birds cut from lighting gels, bashed metal sheets and spun mirror balls, made from discarded CDs, in a spotlight to created a sonic and visual show in the space.

It's a clue to how we might go about creating the work for Ham House and the Shakespeare festival in December. Magic form the the most simple everyday objects and the fun of creating the story as well as listening to it. The Tempest, not just because of its storm, but because of Ariel's tricks immediately springs to mind. There's other tricks in Shakespeare, Puck in the Dream, Leontes reawakened faith in The Winter's Tale.

In the afternoon we went to see Aster(OI)d in the studio. It's very good work, but in the post-show discussion an issue about the self-referential nature of the work came up. The piece as it stands is telling two stories. Firstly it's a retelling of The Little Prince, secondly it's the story of two clowns trying to tell the story. This Brechtian muddle is of course fantastic and full of potential, but for some of the audience not familiar with the actors it left some confusion and ultimately the work ends up being more about the clowns than the material.

It made me realise how a clear set up helps to encourage the audience into playing with the actors. The last shows Complicite have done (Mnemonic, Disappearing Number, The Elephant Vanishes) all seem to have begun with an actor/ narrator on stage at the beginning introducing either themselves or the premise for the next hour and a half. The very notion of developing a complicit relationship with the audience seems to depend on an initial act of hospitality from the stage. NIE (visiting us next Friday) offer vodka as the audience come in. Even in less rough theatre there is a sense of moving from the reality of being in a theatre space to the fiction of being in a story. In Fragments the actors ritually entered the space, set their props and took up their positions in full view of the audience. Once this preparation was complete a simultaneous shift of energy from both actors started the play.

The End of the Beginning?

Two years ago we started to put in place plans for a new degree programme that would focus on preparing our students for the world of work. We quickly realised that it meant offering more 'training' to our students and look at create modules that would support the move from school to professional employment. We wanted to create a degree that would educate students to be intelligent and independent thinkers, as well as creative artists and skillful technicians of their craft.

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

Centralising Culture.

Really welcome announcement from Andy Burnham, the Culture Minister at the Labour Party conference this morning about free theatre tickets for the under 26s. The scheme comes into action in February and will run initially for two years with ninety five theatre's releasing tickets during the quieter periods of the week.

I suspect this is all part of a larger strategy to keep the cultural Olympiad on the agenda in the build up to 2012 and is also part of a creeping attempt to curb anti-social behaviour through the raising of the school age and the provision of alternative activity to binge drinking. Free access to swimming pools was also muted today.

I'm comfortable with all of this and think that Drama students especially will benefit hugely from having the opportunity to see professional performance more regularly than their budgets will currently allow. It needs to be followed up and sustained. Perhaps the threat of recession inevitably causes a move towards a more centralised form of cultural provision, but there's something to be said for an organised programme. It's the kind of thinking that created ENSA, The Open University and even the NHS and ultimately at the heart is an understanding that access and education both have a function to play in creating a cohesive society.

The binge culture is boorish, but maybe I've now just become the tired old reactionary I vowed never to be. Freshers week at University seems just a hedonistic string of institutionally supported insanely cheap drink promotions - with lecturers being warned not to expect great attendance at morning induction sessions??!!?? It begs the question of whether there is any point to induction week. Perhaps we should just send students off on the lash for a week and then greet them with alka seltzers and de-toxing smoothies in initial lectures.

Tonight is a golf styled pub crawl - (be warned good citizens of Strawberry Hill), tomorrow the theme is school disco, Thursday UV night and Friday is a foam party all billed under the sexually provocative title of FRESH MEET.

Don't get me wrong, pubs are wonderful, beer is in the main friendly and drinking is sociable but the Student Union's programme is entirely devoid of social concern, activism and creativity and that's a chunder inducing shame.

Friday, 19 September 2008

The Glass Menagerie

The Royal Exchange's production of The Glass Menagerie is at Richmond Theatre this week with Brenda Blethyn playing the douty Amanda Wingfield.

Molly had organised a Q & A with her after this evening's show and went over to join in. Brenda was fantastic with the audience - who at Richmond occasionally want to make statements to celebrate their own knowledge rather than asking questions - but she took every point on the level and just seemed to enjoy the conversation.

Amanda is modelled on Tennessee Williams' own mother and it's a part cracking with tension. Ultimately though she strikes me as a sympathetic figure - Controlling? Yes. Disappointed? Certainly, but underneath fighting at every turn for her children.

Brenda has an incredible presence as a stage actor and a her rolling style that moves unfaltering from moment to moment is perfect for this part - Amanda's need for forward momentum never allowing her children a moment to challenge or deviate.

The play has one of the most heart breaking moments in dramatic literature when the handsome gentleman caller, whilst encouraging the disabled daughter Laura to dance knocks her glass Unicorn off the table, breaking its horn, and turning into just another horse.

It's a beautiful, beautiful play.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Teaching Assistants & SMarts festival

We're getting closer and closer to the start of term and students are beginning to to appear. The International students arrived yesterday and on Sunday all the freshers will join them in Halls.

We're putting final plans in place. One of the new initiative's this year is too hire four of our former graduates to come in and support the courses as teaching assistants and mentors for the first year groups. So Tilly Wilkinson, Matt Crouzies, Kieran Edwards and Dave Hockham have been in drawing up rotas and getting their heads around their new responsibilities.

Dave is also juggling this with work in preparation for the SMarts festival which is going on over the weekend of the 29th & 30th Sept and brings freshers week to a cultural close. Working with two other graduate students, Lyuba and Tania, he's put together, Aster(OI)d a charming version of The Little Prince which he scratched to an invited audience last spring.

We've five contributions to the festival, apart from Dave's work and Stef's Yard Gal, Ruth Carter is coming back to restage her terrific production of Langston Hughes' Home Free, two of our 3rd years, Jacqui and Ny have been devising a piece of street theatre and Tina Bicat, our wonderful designer is putting an installation into studio 3.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The John Howard Centre Summer Festival.

I spent the afternoon with Keith Palmer and The Comedy School over at the John Howard Centre in Hackney.

The centre cares for about 180 sectioned patients who once a year meet together for a festival run by themselves. The Comedy School helps them prepare with workshop support in the build up and creating the event.

Key to the work is the negotiation of space. Many of the inmates suffer from agoraphobia and even a couple of hours away from their wards in the communal open space has to be carefully managed. Last year Keith explained they sat everybody in rows, facing the stage, but this led to some tension in terms of the formality of the arrangement and the potential for hierarchy it created. This year the space in front of the stage was set up cabaret style and the patients moved their own chairs into position. Magically, this freedom relaxed everybody. It's a case of understanding which choices are empowering and which create an ordeal for the patients.

I was looked after by G, who was my escort for the afternoon. G had been institutionalised for 30 years, most of them spent in Broadmoor. He took great pride in his appearance and had turned up to the event in a dapper gold suit, he very was anxious that he shouldn't spill food on it. We talked a little about his schizophrenia and, after I'd told him I was a Drama lecturer, compared it to acting.

'It's all about pretending to be something you're not -isn't it?' he asked 'and I guess to do that involves a huge knowledge of body language. The problem with schizophrenia is sometimes you see somebody do something, stand in a certain way, look at you and you're convinced you know what it means. The problems come when you get it wrong. So how do actors do it? How do actors convince the audience there not who they are?'

I asked him whether his schizophrenia would cause a problem if he went to the theatre - could he always tell it was acting.

'Yeah, I think that'd be ok. I think I'd spot an actor who was bad though. I'd know somebody who was trying to pretend to be something and not managing it... but then sometimes I get that wrong as well.'

Some of the patients took it in turns to play music, sing, rap, perform poetry and dance whilst others cooked the barbecue and served cakes and smoothies made during the week's cookery classes. Everybody smiled. It was escapism in it's purest and most literal sense.

Keith is going to run some facilitation projects with our first years in October and we're hopeful that some of our students might support the workshops in the build up to next year's event.

Monday, 15 September 2008


Caught up with my friend Lara, who has just returned from a very successful Edinburgh, performing in the award winning Barbershopera! at the Pleasance. Happily the show's transferring to Theatre 503 in November, so I'll get the chance to see it which is very good news.

This evening, though, we went to the Lyric Hammersmith to see the National Theatre of Scotland's 365 - which had also had some rave reviews at the Festival.

The play by David Harrower, takes the stories of twelve vulnerable youngsters leaving their secure unit and finding their way in the lonely and often frightening world of sheltered accommodation. Harrower won great acclaim a couple of years ago for Blackbird and once again he deftly explores the cusp of adulthood through this new work.

365 borrows heavily in structure from the company's highly successful Black Watch, a montage of stories, reports, expressionistic choreography and a deeply emotive song track, on this occasion provided by the excellent Paul Buchanan lead singer and song writer from The Blue Nile. The most moving moments occur when the characters grim realities of trying to cope with even the most basic social interaction is dispersed into a fantasy fairy tale dream sequence where a more innocent childhood is offered and revelled in. A green balloon, leftover from an uncomfortable party, carries a girl, who hid in a cupboard, away. Moments like this make for an intricate and moving show.

Lara's a Hammersmith resident, so we got in for a £5 - it's a great incentive to encourage a local pride and commitment in your theatre and the Lyric is a bit of a West London gem!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Getting away with Murder.

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

The amazing technological chocolate box.

We had a staff development day, focusing on two not altogether unrelated topics: retention of students and use of Web 2 technology in our teaching and learning. Across the higher education sector there is, and has been for the last six years, a 10% drop out rate for undergraduate students in their first year, and, in line with other institutions, we're being asked to reduce this rate.

Over the last couple of years my colleague, Paul Woodward, has been collecting data from the students who've left the courses without completing but it's been hard to discern a trend. Some students have felt over stretched, some under stretched, for some the course didn't feel right, for others University in general was wrong. Given that students have free will and inevitably will respond to their changing circumstances I wonder whether 90% retention isn't respectable rather than problematic?

One solution, offered implicitly in the second part of the day, is to adapt our approach to teaching and learning, to embrace the technologies that students are familiar with and sophisticated users of. I guess this very blog is a clunky attempt to do that... but we were offered a plethora of additional approaches: pod casts, facebook groups, wikis, eportfolios and myspace sites.

Intelligently used I think all of these might aid students to work smartly, so I'm broadly supportive, but the virtual world of convenient on-demand accessibility - lectures downloaded at 2am after a night out at Oceana, pod casts listened via ipod on the bus etc. - can only augment the visceral security of being live in the space with your peers and lecturer. The risk is when we pretend the technology can substitute for interpersonal experience.

The gift of facebook has been to democratise fame - so we don't just get Andy Warhol's rather mean fifteen minutes - but where we're able to create, control and manipulate our identity into perfection and , rather brilliantly, we can all do it similtaneously. Spending time working in a class or seminar is a much more exposing business, as your personality, unedited, is present to the demands of each moment and that includes sometimes being popular, sometimes not; sometimes getting hurt, sometimes upsetting others, sometimes being assertive, sometimes kind, and hopefully gaining some form of insight, knowledge or skill through the process.

Web2 -even in its abundant possibility for social networking - encourages us to create fixed islands of ourselves. Exciting and innovative educational experiences, however, require a commitment to meet openly face to face and be alive to the possibility of being wrong. I can't see this changing and that bodes well for the future of Drama both as an academic subject and educational methodology.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Six Characters.

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

Just when you thought it was safe...

Spent Monday morning with Trevor planning through some of the first year modules; in particular the Ways of Seeing, which is really designed to get our new students thinking openly about art and aesthetics. It's a bit of a hybrid course, part philosophy, part problem solving and creative thinking and our real aim is to spend a couple of hours a week running activities and exercises that will stimulate and slightly radicalise the students.

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.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Somers Town

Richmond Film House is one of the hidden gems in this part of London. It's the most comfortable and friendly cinema in town and is just a short bike ride up the towpath from College. It's tucked away off he main road down Water Lane and offers a great alternative to the seven screens of block buster entertainment in the Odeon over the road.

I cycled over after work yesterday to see Shane Meadows' new film Somers Town which traces the tentative friendship between Tommo, a fourteen year old runaway from Nottingham and Marek, the son of a Polish labourer working on upgrading St.Pancras in preparation for the new Eurostar terminal.

Meadows won great critical acclaim for the wonderful This is England last year and whilst the new film is not on the same scale, and filmed for the main in black and white, it contains the same recipe of beautifully observed semi-autobiographic domestic scenes, shot through a locked down camera. Characters move in and out of a fixed frame and rather than following their journeys, we jump to the next adventure - its like reading a book of short stories. It makes for a moving montage and perfectly suggests the frustration of being controlled by our circumstances.

The acting is also really impressive Thomas Turgoose, who was a revelation in This is England, plays Tommo, with the same brilliant mixture of innocence, front and despair. I remember, just, being fourteen and trying to negotiate my way into a more adult world where being polite could occasionally make you invisible or get you out of trouble, but where each minor injustice or underestimation, by others, of my imagined abilities, seemed the end of the world. The film, especially in its joyful and escapist ending, made me feel a little nostalgic.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Yard Gal we a run ting!

Some students don't half get their act together quickly. Stef O'Driscoll, who graduated in the summer, has been putting herself and her work about a bit and has a three week run of her production of Rebecca Prichard's Yard Gal opening at The Oval House in October.

The play was originally a collaboration between the writer and Clean Break Theatre company, and with the right creative team works as a fast paced, theatrical piece of vernacular storytelling.

Two more of graduate students, Monsey Elliot and Steph Di Rubbo, will play Hackney yardies Marie and Boo.

Stef originally put her production up as her third year directors piece in the Spring and we knew it was special - but to have sorted out both the funding and convinced the venue to pick it up is a major achievement. She sent me a brief email yesterday suggesting that we teach all future students how to fill out arts council funding forms and I could sense the relief she feels being back in rehearsals with the booking finally tied up.

We'll get another chance to see the work here at St.Mary's as Stef is going to bring it back for a one off performance as part of the Induction week festival weekend on 26th September.

Monday, 1 September 2008

September 1st

September 1st always seems a symbolic date, the start of the new year proper. I have to admit to always looking forward to it coming round, it's a day filled with the sense of everything being possible.

Our students are still three weeks away from induction, but the recruitment figures have held up really well and for the fourth year running we didn't activate clearing. This is a positive sign as we interviewed everybody who came across well in their application and simultaneously put the entry requirements up and, so we're attracting stronger students. It's a slow process of raising the bar, but we believe that the more curious and motivated the students, the more pleasure there is to the work and the more effective our focus on practical training will be.

There is a great sense of anticipation at this time of year and the next three weeks will be filled with lesson planning, updating courses and imagining the most stimulating semester we can for the students.

Being in London is a huge advantage for us and, post-Edinburgh and the Olympics, Autumn is a bumper time for great theatre here. It's very exciting to look ahead and see which shows are coming into town between now and Christmas.

The National Theatre open the booking for their new season on Wednesday. Amongst the highlights are Gethsemane, a new play by David Hare. The new DV8 piece To Be Straight With You and a visit from the excellent Chicago based Steppenwolf bringing August:Osage County - a new play by Tracy Letts.

Elsewhere, The Royal Court, are producing Now or Later (see image) by Christopher Shinn, timed to topically coincide with the US election in November, the play is set on the eve of a Democratic victory and explores the limits of stage managed control in creating our future leaders.

Closer to Uni, The Orange Tree are presenting a season of Vaclav Havel plays, kicking off with Leaving - which explores the political dynamics of power and time.

Other work I'm looking forward to trying to catch includes Peter Brook's production of Beckett's Fragments at the Young Vic, the Robert LePage nine hour epic Lipsynch, at the Barbican, Filter's Twelfth Night at the Tricycle, the new Neil LaBute play In a Dark, Dark House, at the Almeida, Spectacular by Forced Entertainment at the Riverside, the British premiere of Brecht's Turandot at Hampstead, Frantic Assembly's Othello at the Lyric and a reclaiming of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests at the Old Vic.

...What a City!