Kate and Edith, a Pineapple, Bra and Greek Chorus

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Just got back from a FABULOUS, study weekend. They’re always the highlight of my academic year, this years however really was something extra special.

Yesterday saw 32 intrepid students make they’re way to “sunny” Sidcup, for a weekend that would explore the concept of narrative. It was great to spend the first 30 mins having a cup of tea and meeting up with old friends, and making some new ones. The social aspect is one of the things I love the most, it’s been great to make friends via this course over the last 5 years, we come from diverse backgrounds but all have a passion for theatre. I was particularly pleased to hear Kevin tell about his trip the night before to see Sarah Kane’s Psychosis 4:48, as I’d wanted to see that last week but couldn’t get a ticket.

Suddenly it was 10am  and I was off to my first lecture, Working with Translated texts in performance. David Matthews gave a great lecture on how texts develop when they are translated and we explored different texts and variants of translation. He broke translation down into 3 “types” ;

  • Mimetic – Formal (or totally literal)
  • Organic – Functional
  • Extraneous – this can almost been an adaptation or paraphrase.

I found this an interesting session, so much of what I study are translated texts that it’s worth remembering the above, all of them have their place, but there’s no use reading an extraneous translation as a mimetic one. Where we draw the line between translation and adaptation was the basis of a good discussion, that could have gone on for the whole weekend!

A quick dash from that classroom, over to the next one for New Writing: How Narratives work in Contemporary British Drama, with Dr Aleks Sierz. I found this lecture so helpful. Dr Sierz gave a great description of how the story is the over arching element of the play, and in fact begins often before act 1 of a play and can continue beyond the final scene. The plot however is what we actually see. He illustrated this especially with regards the play Top Girls and how biographical material is there, but you need to look for it. His advice to read a play as though you were going to have to direct it and take notes whilst doing so, was really sage advice that I’m going to try to implement. That way you understand the story not just the plot.

Lunch followed, the food is always another highlight!

The afternoon was a 3 hour session with Sally Pomme Clayton, a masterclass in the truest sense. Through numerous exercises/games we worked on the ideas of narrative and storytelling. This culminated in us getting into groups and having to work on a fable which we would then perform in front of the rest of the class that evening. I was team up with Joan and Ellen, the fable we were given ; The Bald Man and His Two Mistresses. Well I liked the sound of the two mistresses, not sure about the bald man bit though! This story developed eventually to become The Salon with a healthy dose of innuendos and involved me being pampered and having my hair done by Kate and Edith (it was a hard role to rehearse, having my head massaged I just about coped, despite the envious looks from other students). We had great fun working on this and the laugh/groan we got at the end made it all worthwhile!

The other groups brought their stories to life in some really creative ways too, some comedic, others simply quite beautiful. After we’d shown each other our stories, Sally Pomme Clayton performed a story for us. This was magical, we sat at the edge of our seats as she told this story, just her, a bell and drum. I’ve no idea how long it took, we were just engrossed. This was a lesson to us all that a single person ona bare stage can command it and the audience. Just stunning.

I decided not to join part of the group on their visit to the tavern that evening as I’d be loosing an hours sleep due to the clocks going forward.

Sunday morning and we all arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the day ahead – well some more that others. I tried a piece of “energy gum” from Ellen – a word of warning it’s awful, it doesn’t have a taste as it simply blasts your taste buds to oblivion. Didn’t feel very energised after it either, but you have to try these things.

First lecture/workshop today was three hours with Dr Stephe Harrop on Exploring the Ancient Chorus. I don’t know much about Greek theatre but am getting more and more interested in it due to references in our course (there’s also a Greek Theatre module the Dr Harrop is writing too – that’ll be a MUST!) , so I was really looking forward to this session. Dr Harrop didn’t disappoint at all. The last half was spent working on a scene from Alcestis. This was a real highlight for me, working together, we took a part of the chorus and worked on memorizing it, and then putting actions to it. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds! However we all worked together and actually got it quite good!( I’m still new to blogging but I may put up a video link as and when I’ve worked out how to do that!)

Lunch followed, yum which included a huge THANK YOU to the staff for arranging the weekend – it’s a huge task but they do it superbly. So THANKS again.

I then attended the “surgery” with David Matthews, this was a small group of 5 of us, just discussing some of the areas we needed help with, in regards to our academic work. It was particularly interesting to hear about Rob’s work on his Masters dissertation regarding Verbatim Theatre. David offered me some helpful tips “Critical Muscle” being the most helpful – I need to back up my own opinions with “critical muscle”, will do for my next assignment!

Then we assembled outside for our recital of the piece we’d worked on before lunch – performing it outside in the sun (yes it’s true) was great.

So yet again a fabulous, instructive and fun time was had by all. As I said earlier this year was special though, I think this is primarily due to the fact that we worked together especially for the Chorus today and there was a real “team spirit”, it may sound corny or a cliché, but it’s true, a real bond was created, and I can’t wait to work with them and others at the next event. As for the title of this post, if you were there it should make sense!

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Study Weekend

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Well it’s only a day away, and I can’t wait. The annual gathering of the distance learning students at Rose Bruford College. I couldn’t make last years due to moving house, but am glad I can make this years.

We’ve got a great line up of lectures and workshops. The theme of this years weekend is the concept of Narrative.

The choices I’ve made are to attend the following;

Working with Translated Texts in Performance.

New Writing: How Narratives Work in Contemporary British Theatre

Study Surgery

I’m looking forward to these and also the combined sessions, most notably the Exploring the Ancient Chorus, as the more I read about Ancient Greek theatre the more I’m intrigued and interested in how it has effected the history, theology and political nature of our own society and theatre. In the past we’ve had a group perform for us on the Saturday evening, this year, we’re working together in the Saturday afternoon then performing in the evening ourselves, should be great fun.

The other thing I love about the study weekends is the fact that I know I’ll have a good hearty laugh on a good few occasions! (Brecht would be proud of the amount of Spass we have) It’s been great to meet up on an annual basis with some of the students that I keep in contact virtually the rest of the time. This year we’ll be missing one as she graduated in May last year – but that’s been great to see and she’s inspired a few of us to keep at it. It’s also always nice to meet new faces and students.

Distance learning can be a lonely experience, but the study weekend and study days help me to ground myself with others and realise there are a good few in the same situation, and also with the same passion for theatre as I.

See some of you there!

Assignment Options : Brecht and Boal

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Well, my college assignment is looming and I had to make a decision on who to focus on for the question set for me.

This module has opened my eyes to numerous directors work, which has been fascinating and stimulating. However when I looked at the assignment question it asked me to select just two to focus on and their innovations in relation to their socio-political situations.

I whittled the list down to five potentials;

  • Bertolt Brecht
  • Ariane Mnouchkine
  • Robert Lepage
  • Augusto Boal
  • John McGrath

Each one has particularly struck and resonated with me during this module. Mnouchkine’s use of Commedia Dell’arte, John McGrath’s thoughts and battles against Thatcherism, and Robert Lepage’s vision and developments are simply astounding (I was fortunate to attend a lecture Robert Lepage gave at college a few years ago, it was some of the best teaching I’ve received)

However, after some thought, I chose Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal.

Brecht’s plays and thought’s have really “clicked” with me and have helped me to define my own thoughts and understanding on theatre. I like his sense of humor and know that studying him further for this assignment will stretch my own thoughts on theatre and life beyond my comfort zone.

Boal is similar, reading his material and having seen a couple of videos of him on You Tube, you can’t help but get inspired by his enthusiasm and passion for life. I’m reading his autobiography ” Hamlet and the Bakers Son”, and I’m regularly laughing out loud at his funny observations. Yet I’m all but too aware of the pain both physical and emotional he’s suffered for his art.

So as my research continues for this assignment I’m aware that my theatrical knowledge will grow and change , but in order to do justice to their thoughts and views, I myself must change too.

Phussing about Phantom

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This week has been all about one show – Love Never Dies.

It opened this week and has had a huge amount of attention. The reviews have been a mixture. The Stage had three pieces on it this week, one of which was an interview with the Director Jack O’Brien. As said in a previous post, I’ll be going to see it in  couple of months. It’s been interesting to see the buzz this show has caused and it’s certainly caused a bit of a stir and frenzy, which is no bad thing for the industry.

Mostly it’s been fairly positive, most critical of the story over anything else, they’re still in the “tweeking” phase, so it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves over the next few weeks and months.

From my point of view, I’m pleased that we have a new musical (albeit a sequel) that’s not based on some pop stars back catalogue opening in the West End (however a Spice Girls musical is currently in the pipeline for release soon).

Hedda Gabler – A Review

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My excitement was finally satisfied as I sat down and Hedda Gabler started last night at the Theatre Royal Bath. I’d been like an excited kid all week. So did it live up to my expectations?

I mainly have to read Ibsen’s plays before I ever see them performed, I really enjoy seeing a play I’ve studied performed, I find especially with Ibsen I miss some of the humour when reading his plays, the cast certainly brought out the comedy inherent in this play which gave great comic relief to the otherwise tense feeling of the play.

Rosamund Pike, was exceptional as Hedda, she performed her, with style and just the right amount of psychosis, sometimes I felt sorry for her, at other times she incensed me. A complicated character, ably acted by Rosamund Pike. Hedda is seen as an enviable and challenging role by actresses and Rosamund rose to that challenge and delivered a stellar and memorable  performance. Her glamour and poise helped us to warm to her, despite her failings. Yet she showed Hedda’s manipulative and psychotic side with just the right balance, on reading and now seeing this play, I’m not 100% sure if Hedda is mentally unstable or just a selfish, lonely and desperate woman.

Tessman, Hedda’s husband was suitably played by Robert Glennister, in many ways a character just as trapped as Hedda. Judge Brack, the other part of the triangle was played with great aplomb by Tim McInnery, who gave him just the right amount of charm and slippery smarm and gave the closing line superbly with a look of horror and astonishment. Colin Tierney’s impassioned underdog performance as Loevborg, was a particular highlight, his struggles and desperate end, were genuinely brought to life. Zoe Waites provided a lovely performance as the infatuated Mrs Elvsted, while Anna Carteret and Janet Whiteside supported the action as Aunt Juliana and Bertha.

The set and lighting was functional and the sound of the burner firing up and rumbling throughout the theatre at the end of act 3 was a chilling conclusion to it.

The production is due to transfer to the West End later this year and so I recommend catching it there if you’re interested in seeing this play brought to life with a fabulous leading lady .

Theatre Royal Bath

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I’m off to one of my favourite theatres tomorrow – The Theatre Royal in Bath.

Whenever people ask me how I envisage how a local theatre should be run and serve its local community I always point them to the example of the Theatre Royal. Not only is it artistically successful, but it’s also a commercial success. It’s never dark (except for maintenance) and puts on one of the most diverse programs of any theatre I know each year.

One of its highlights is the Peter Hall repertory season it has each summer, where at least one of those productions transfers to the West End and then tours. Several productions preview there before their West End runs, and it plays host to numerous touring productions. Throughout the year, it will have, musicals, opera, ballet, stand up comics, jazz, plays(both comedy and serious), Shakespeare and other classics, West End previews, revivals, a local production and the traditional panto over xmas. It has developed the Ustinov studio theatre for more experimental and small-scale productions and it also has the wonderful Egg theatre for its children’s and young peoples theatre productions.

In an era when many local theatres are struggling, I think the Theatre Royal is a real beacon for showing commercial success and artistic creativity can work together, to benefit the local community and further afield too.