Rose Bruford Graduation 2013

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The graduation day finally came!

The graduation day finally came!

After 8 years of studying in my “spare time” the day actually came. I graduated with my BA in Theatre Studies from Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, yesterday!! To say I’m chuffed is an understatement.

It has been the most thrilling, exhausting, challenging, frustrating and fun 8 years of my life. I had no idea the journey I’d be on when I started back then. It’ll be a cliché I know but embarking on this course really was THE BEST decision I’ve ever made.

Graduation cupcakes - yum!

Graduation cupcakes – yum!

I’d never have started this blog if I’d not been on the course (and I’m blown away this blog has had over 100,000 readers since I started it). It really has impacted every area of my life. So looking back what were my most memorable moments and parts that stand out?

Firstly it’ll be the people I’ve met on the course, the tutors, staff and fellow students. I’ve got some amazing friends from this course and have had great banter with them, The tutors have stretched me and it’s been a good experience to disagree with some of them (especially on Stanislavski, Peter Brook, The Method), they’ve also helped me to hone my own views on theatre.

Myself and Kevin, we disagree on lots of things theatrically, but we always enjoy debating our differences!

Myself and Kevin, we disagree on lots of things theatrically, but we always enjoy debating our differences!

Top of the Class goes to our Scottish student Calum.

Top of the Class goes to our Scottish student Calum.

Programme Director Jayne Richards and Mary Lynch the Administration Manger a HUGE thank you to them. I really couldn't have done it without them.

Programme Director Jayne Richards and Mary Lynch the Administration Manger, a HUGE thank you to them. I really couldn’t have done it without them.

The course encouraged me to go and do all sorts of things such as, a trip to Dublin to see Brian Friel’s Translations  (and falling in love with that play and city). Getting up on stage and acting myself, becoming a theatre producer and spending a placement with Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. They’re the experiences that come immediately to mind.

There are 3 specific areas I’ll always be thankful to the course for:

  • My Theatre of the Absurd module literally changed my life – it’s not hyperbole, it’s true. The plays and philosophy I read for that module, just “clicked” with me. I found a philosophical outlook on life that made sense of this crazy universe to me. Devouring the works of Sartre, Ionesco, Beckett and especially Albert Camus has been life changing. A huge thanks to Dr Harry Derbyshire who taught this module deserves a special mention he was an amazing tutor, teaching my first and penultimate modules. Thanks Harry!
  • Encouraging my critical skills. I never imagined I’d become a theatre critic when I started the course. Eight years later here I am, critiquing away. It’s also led me to be invited to officially critique productions and be asked along by others to act as a dramaturg giving input and advice on numerous productions. Thanks to tutor David Chadderton for his Theatre Criticism module and helping me to think in a much more focused way about my theatre critic vocation.
  • Opening my eyes to such a huge variety of playwrights. It is their work that has been what has kept me going on these 8 years. Now I’ll be honest I’ve read a lot of tosh(that’s an academic term!)  also over the last 8 years on this course,  However these plays are special to me:

The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan – I remember reading this for a module and sobbing tears at the end of reading it. I dried my eyes and read it again immediately. My love and admiration for all things Rattigan is due to this course.

Oleanna by David Mamet – I read this very early on in the course and the confusing emotions and feelings it aroused suddenly made me realise the power that theatre has. Mamet’s wider writings on theatre have also been inspirational to me.

Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall – This caught me totally by surprise,  a tight, thought-provoking and dramatic piece. Seeing someone address mental health in such a clever way, blew me away.

Translations by Brian Friel – I owe my love of Irish playwriting to this play (and the Irish Playwriting module). As I said earlier, I took a trip to Dublin to see a revival of this piece as I was so keen to see it rather than just read it. That’s currently the furthest I’ve travelled   just to see a play. A testament to the power of it.

  • The work of director Augusto Boal also radically changed my outlook on life/theatre. Specifically for me, it has led to my active support of Cardboard Citizens. This has been an enriching experience for me and I’m blown away by the help and support they give those who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness.

So I’m sad to be at the end. It really has been a hell of a ride, but I’m grateful for it in so many ways.

President of Rose Bruford College Sir Richard Eyre quoted Sir Tom Stoppard in his address to us, it is a fitting end to this chapter in my life.

 “Knowledge is good. It does not have to look good or even sound good or even do good. It is good just by being knowledge. And the only thing that makes it knowledge is that it is true. You can’t have too much of it and there is no little too little to be worth having.

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‘Tis the Season to Be Busy

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Hi,

I didn’t get to post last week, sorry.

I’m currently busy acting as Production Assistant for The Exorcism, which opens at the Miller Centre Theatre, Caterham on 3rd January 2013.

I’m also involved as producer for The Real Inspector Hound which opens at the Bridewell Theatre, London on February 20th. I’m also in that production playing the character Moon, so am busy learning my lines like crazy.

Added to this, my final college module starts in January, it’s entitled The Director’s Story, so I’ve been doing a bit of preliminary reading. (I’m also hoping to direct my first play in 2014, so this’ll module comes along at just the right time). I’m also in the process of getting my research area confirmed for my dissertation that begins next year too. So 2013 will be a “heads in the books” year for sure.

I am going to a few shows in December, so reviews will follow shortly.

I hope your Christmas preparations, be they familial or theatrical are going well.

Dominic

 

 

Rewriting the Nation, British Theatre Today by Alex Sierz – Review

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On my recent holiday, one of the books (I’ve not got a Kindle or iPad, old school I know) I took was the above. Alex Sierz book In Yer Face Theatre, is the definitive book looking at British theatre in the nineties. I was hoping his latest book would fill a similar need to look back and comment on the “noughties “, which has been a varied and interesting decade for British theatre.

He starts out with an informative introduction, and a chapter on the context of modern British theatre, which is very helpful. Then he leads us into his personal definitions of “New Writing”. It’s his book and so it’s really helpful that he so clearly sets out his understandings and definitions. Personally I’m not sure I’d agree with what I feel is his narrow definition of new writing. For example he decides that plays writing about history are not “new writing”. I also totally disagree with his views on Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, there WERE (and perhaps still are!) schools like that. My own grammar school being a point in case. I had a lecture with Alex Sierz at a college study weekend a while ago and remember chatting to him there regarding new writing, I’ll certainly have some more to discuss with him the next time.

Even if you don’t agree with his definition of new writing, I commend him for stating it clearly and can understand his reasons. It also helps to keep the book focused rather than getting too unwieldly.

Part two covers various themes in British theatre over the last 10 years; Globalisation, Market Forces, Class divides, Relationships, Sexuality and an illuminating chapter on plays that look at our world from alternative realities. This part is superb, with references to an amazing gamut of plays, Alex Sierz draws out themes, observations and comments and gives a brilliant “birds eye view” of what British Theatre has been doing and saying over the last ten years.

My only gripe is his incessant praise and sycophantic comments on Martin Crimp, Mark Ravenhill and Philip Ridley. On reading yet another sentence about how brilliant they are, I wanted to scream “Ok, I get it, you like them!”. However I really don’t think he offers any grounding as to why they are so “good”. admittedly I’m biased as I don’t think their work is very good (although I agree with Alex Sierz on Caryl Churchill – my own views on her work changing in the last 12 months, and Sarah Kane). Unfortunately I feel a book like this will only continue to propagate the idea that this trinity of Crimp/Ravenhill/Ridley are the greatest British playwrights. It’s Alex Sierz book and he’s entitled to his views obviously, but I felt too often the book read as a tract promoting them to the expense of other British playwrights.

I really loved the conclusion where he again skillfully gives us an overview of what British theatre has been saying and I was struck how he also points out what it HAS NOT been saying. I found this very refreshing, as he points out, there may well have been right-wing playwrights who’ve written plays, but as the ethos of the major producing theatres is liberal/left-wing, perhaps the British theatre world is self censoring itself? I too agree that it seems odd that certain themes or views on them appear to be absent from British theatre during the last 10 years, I find it hard to think of the 20,000 or so new scripts the theatres that literary departments receive each year, none(or very few) have dealt with, the house-price boom, the ethics of choosing schools, global warming (although 2011 seems to have changed that with Greenland at the NT and The Heretic at Royal Court). As Alex Sierz says;

“Who spoke up for ordinary middle-class couples doing ordinary middle-class things?” 

 He goes on to add;  “The irony is that, in the final analysis, those theatres that were so proud of being cutting edge were often offering something very like escapism: gritty plays about poor people on council estates could be as unchallenging as a feelgood musical.” 

He’s not afraid to praise all that has been good in the last ten years, but likewise to point an informed finger at where there have been shortcomings or blind spots.

If you are a student of theatre or a practitioner, I’d say this is essential reading, likewise if you have an interest in theatre, this will certainly throw light on current trends in British theatre. As a reference work it’ll be invaluable and it also brought a large number of plays to my attention that I’ve noted down and will be working my way through their scripts to see what I think of them. I’ll certainly re-read this, he writes in a very accessible style with some laugh out loud descriptions. Whilst I don’t agree with everything, I love the fact that Alex Sierz gets me thinking “why do I disagree/agree/feel this way”. The other key point is Alex Sierz has seen these plays, he’s been involved in British theatre over the last ten years. It is invaluable book and well worth reading and pondering over.

I was fortunate to read this book in gorgeous sunshine on the banks of The Rhone, if only all the books I read could be completed in this way!

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill – Trafalgar Studios, London – Review

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I’ve read it, I’ve re-read it, I’ve written assignments on it, referenced it in other assignments, seen it mentioned in almost every module. If you’re a theatre student, there is no escaping Top Girls.

On each re-reading, I’ve grown to appreciate it a bit more, but I’ve always wanted to see it. Act 1 is nigh on impossible to read, as it’s a script of the women at a dinner party, talking over and interjecting each other. I was looking forward to sitting back and watching it as I’ve felt I’ve never really “got” this play due to the scripting in Act 1.

The infamous Act 1. With the eclectic guest list

I was also pleased as this production was to be directed by Max Staffford-Clark who directed the original production all those years ago (yes 1982 is actually quite a long time ago, scary but true!). I was pleasantly surprised to see during the interval he was sitting a row behind me, with his notebook.

As usual my wife joined me on this theatre trip, I was keen to see how she’d respond. She knew nothing of the play and I was also keen to see how as a woman the play would speak to her.

The assembled cast of Top Girls, certainly gave good performances, especially Surrane Jones as Marlene. She was stunning as the 80’s woman, and gave her character a real conviction. Stella Gonet was excellent in her three roles but especially as Joyce in Act 3.

Act 1 was visually striking, as each guest arrived in their period costume, the scene was set for this absurd first Act. I was struck by how humourous it was, with great character acting by Olivia Poulet as Dull Gret. I always wondered if this would actually work or whether it was a clever idea on paper only. Having now seen it I feel it does work. It cleverly shows that the challenges women face are timeless and even though different times and cultures have come up with different solutions the challenges of career, sex, childbearing, violence, marriage and men, are still relevant.

Into Act 2, which having not revisited this play for the last 18 months or so, I’d totally forgotten about! Having dug out my dog-eared script this morning, I was also surprised to see that they’ve changed the order of scenes. I think the version I saw last night got it right, going straight to Angie and Kit playing in their garden, then moving on to the Tops Girls Agency in London.

The attention to detail in the Top Girls agency and home set of Act 3, was brilliant but also a bit scary that my childhood is now a “historical setting” ! Why were electric kettles brown in the 80’s??

Stella Gonet and Suranne Jones

Act 3 was extremely powerful as it shows the stark choices Joyce and Marlene have made. It doesn’t offer any glib solutions or answers and Caryl Churchill sensibly avoids defining whether Joyce or Marlene are “right” in the decisions they’ve made. I have to say I sympathised most with Marlene, wanting to escape the backwaters of East Anglia and make something of her life was easy for me to understand.

On leaving I finally felt like I understood this work properly for the first time. As my wife and I meandered back to Charing Cross and we chatted on the journey back, we said that not much has changed in the last 29 years. Women still get paid less than men in comparable roles (my wife being a case in point!), the choice of career and/or children is still one many women struggle with. Also how do women retain their “womanliness” in the more male dominated careers. As Joyce wryly observes in Act 3, of Margaret Thatcher, “What good ‘s first woman [prime minister] if it’s her?” Just as importantly though my wife enjoyed the play, she thought Act 1 was fun and actually set the scene in an admittedly unusual but effective way. We also enjoyed the office scenes, especially the interviews.

So I’m chuffed I’ve managed to see this, perhaps if I’d seen it first I’d have found its themes and structure more palatable when reading/studying the play. So if you have had to, or are going to be studying this play, get along and see it!

I also have a greater appreciation for Caryl Churchill and her work. I’ve read a good number of her plays, some I love such as Easy Money, others I loathe such as Cloud Nine! Yet her contribution to 20th and 21st century theatre is important and Top Girls will always remain part of the theatrical canon, having now seen it I can say that it rightly deserves to be in there.

Luck of the Irish?? I hope so for this assignment.

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This'll help with my assignment

The end of my current module is a few weeks away, which means one thing – an assignment is looming! This module on Postwar British and Irish Playwriting has been an interesting one. In many ways it’s been a mixed bag really. It’s brought to my attention some real gems – Blue/Orange, Plenty, The Entertainer. Whilst at the same time it’s made me have to read some really awful plays – Stoning Mary and Mercury/Fur especially come to mind.

I’m glad to have chosen this module though, as I was totally ignorant of any Irish playwrights until I did this module and for me they’ve been the real “finds” of this academic year. So it’s not surprising that I’ve chosen to focus on them for my next assignment. I’ve had to choose three Irish plays and the three I’ve chosen are;

The Weir by Conor McPherson. I saw this earlier this year (a review is here) and was blown away by the lyrical script and was delighted to see a modern playwright writing monologues for his characters.

Did You Hear The One About The Irishman? by Christina Reid  is another of my choices. By depicting how personal decisions have societal and political ramifications she shows us the problems ordinary people faced during “the troubles”.

For my third choice I’m currently debating which to use, it’s a toss up between Translations by Brian Friel or The Clearing by Helen Edmundson. These plays both look at Irelands past, yet it shows how the spectre of actions taken hundreds of years ago effect the present day.

So join me in raising a glass of Guinness to these fine playwrights, and to me getting a good grade!

Choice, Cuts and a Challenge

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4.4% cut in their funding

At college this weekend one of the things I came away with was how fortunate I am with the amazing and world-class theatre I have literally on my doorstep. Hearing colleagues bemoan the state or lack of theatre in their own countries or locations within the UK was actually quite a wake up call that I should be VERY thankful for what I’m privileged to see.

Take the next three nights;
I’m off to see an experimental piece of theatre  at the Southwark Playhouse. Sunday at the Centre of the World. This is conveniently on my way home from work. This will be my first time there despite its location ( I desperately wanted to see Company there last month but could not get to it unfortunately)
Friday night I’m off to the “bastion of brilliance” that is The National Theatre to see Greenland. A new piece of collaborative writing which I’ve heard mixed reviews and thoughts on.
On Saturday I’m off to The Royal Court, one of the  most important theatre’s in the world, to see another new piece of writing, Simon Stephen’s Wastwater.

Last week I was in the West End seeing the fabulous musical Betty Blue Eyes and I’m fortunate that where I live has a thriving and vibrant amateur theatre that puts on a varied season of 9 plays a year.

I used to live just outside of Bath and likewise when there I was so fortunate to take advantage of what’s on at the Theatre Royal and it’s smaller venues the Ustinov and The Egg.

Growing up I was often at the Trinity Arts Theatre and looking back, productions I saw there certainly impacted me positively and could well account for my love of theatre now.

The Wonderful National Theatre

Life’s short and so I’m taking full advantage of my current location to make the most of seeing all this theatre. I’m also saddened that so many of my college colleagues are not in such a fortuitous position as I, especially others within the UK.

As the cuts loom large over the theatre world, I know that many venues simply won’t be able to survive, I suppose it’s the old adage “if you don’t use it, you lose it” and so I can only encourage you all to support your local theatres be they amateur or professional. To those that don’t have access to the quality and variety of theatre I’m so fortunate to have here in London, do consider a trip down here too, a recent family member took a week off work and spent a week in London seeing a different piece of theatre each night. While perhaps not ideal, it certainly makes sense to make a “pilgrimage”!

I wrote the above earlier on today and saved it ready to tweak and then publish, on my journey home I read THIS ARTICLE in the Evening Standard telling us what the damage is for the arts. A good response also in today’s Standard is here. Truly shocking is all I can say, cutting the Royal Court and National Theatre’s grants is nonsensical. So what did I do, other than write a blog moaning about them? Well I decided to put my money where my mouth is and become a member/friend and donate to The Royal Court, National Theatre, Cardboard Citizens and English National Ballet all of which have suffered in the art cuts. If you value the arts as much as I imagine you do if you’re reading this blog please consider supporting an arts association close to your heart – or one of the aforementioned which are of international importance.

Those of us that are spoilt for choice can’t afford to be complacent.

I’m truly thankful for all the British Theatre has given me, and trust that it continues for current and future generations despite the difficult times ahead.

English National Ballet in action

Study Weekend 2011 – “Pieces like this make me want to puke!”

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The sun always shines in Sidcup

Well as mentioned previously the annual Study Weekend at Rose Bruford College is the highlight of my academic year. 2011 was no different.

Primarily I’ve laughed lots and shared my passion for theatre with a group who feel equally as passionate, even when my disdain for Stanislavski and some modern playwrights is expressed by me in rather blunt tones! It great to mix with other people with a vast range of experiences/nationalities/views. I really enjoy the stimulation this weekend gives me, intellectually, physically and emotionally.

So what did we get up to?

Well it kicked off with a session by David Chatterton on “Signs of a Good Performance: Writing for Readers and the Work of the Theatre Critic”. This was a fabulous start, David gave us much to think on and we broke into groups and looked at varying reviews of a recent production. This was especially helpful to me and the reviews that I write. David is the tutor for a module I commence in September on Theatre Criticism. This session gave me much to muse upon and I imagine this module will have a very strong effect on my reviews – I trust for the better!

Next up Dr Rachel Clements led a session on “Plays Without Signs.” Here we were given sections of plays written in the last 15 years by Sarah Kane, Martin Crimp and Simon Stephens. My group had the play Pornography and it was fascinating what others in my group thought about how it should be staged. I was surprised too, this play deals with the events of the 7th July attack in London, I lived very near where the bus exploded that day and I was surprised how emotional this play made me feel and how feelings I thought were a thing of the past came right back. So an emotionally tough session but worthwhile. The title of this post  “Pieces like this make me want to puke!” was exclaimed by Sharon, on her feedback from her group, they had Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life as their text, this split the class but I’ll be honest I agree with her! I’m not sure what merit there is to a “playwright” who writes so little of a play that the cast and crew and director has to basically create the work?

A break for something to eat which was just as well as the afternoon was going to be pretty physical.

We had a session on Kudiyattam theatre. This is an ancient Indian form and was certainly outside of all our comfort zones. Our tutor  Arya Madhavan was extremely patient as we tried to learn the foot, hand and rhythmic movements required. Think aerobics and yoga with a bit of drama thrown in  and I think that’s probably what the class looked like. We then had the chance to work out our own brief sketches using this form to present back to the whole group later on.

Dinner was served, accompanied by a nice glass of red wine.

We returned to the Rose Theatre and presented our pieces back to everyone, which was good fun. Our tutor then presented a 10-15 minute performance of a Kudiyattam performance, telling the story of the young baby Krishna. It was spellbinding to see this intricate and unusual theatrical form performed for us. A brief interview and Q&A session followed which was equally as enlightening.

A visit to a tavern was a suitable  finish to the day to continue our discussions.

Loosing an hour of sleep, failed to deter us returning fresh as a daisy this morning for more. I unfortunately was held up with “technical” issues preparing for my lecture in the afternoon. So missed most of Prof Michael Walling’s session on “Physicality, Energy and the Making of Meaning”. I did get to see the groups performances at the end of the session and enjoyed those.

After lunch I presented my own lecture to the students, “The Closer You Look, The Less You See.” Looking at signs and gestures used in the art of conjuring. The students and staff seemed to enjoy my performance and lecture which I was pleased at. I’ll post up a synopsis of the lecture up on here at some point soon.

A final session on study tips and encouraging us all as we study remotely, was a perfect end.

I huge thanks to all the staff that helped organise and run the weekend, and thanks to all those that attended, it’s sharing events like this with such a fab bunch that makes studying so enjoyable and the Study Weekend the highlight of the academic year.