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!

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Busy Bunny

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"I'll be the cutest bunny in the Easter parade"

Wow, the last two weeks have flown by.

What have I been up to??

I was part of the backstage crew for Barefoot in the Park at The Miller Centre Theatre, Caterham, which was great. It’s a fun play and seemed to go down well with our audiences. The next play on at the Miller Centre Theatre is The Day After the Fair which is an adaptation of the Thomas Hardy story. This opens on the 21st October I’m currently not involved in this, so a review will be up once I get to see it.

College is keeping me rather busy. I have my first assignment for my Theatre of the Absurd module due in just over a week. I’m looking at Pinter’s The Birthday Party, Ionesco’s The Chairs, and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I’ve got to examine them in light of Martin Esslin’s “Theatre of the Absurd” definition and show how and why they fit that genre description. The first draft is done, I just need to tweak it now.

As we’re in October, it’s not long before my other assignment will be due for my Postwar British and Irish Playwriting module. For this I’ve got to look into three plays, I’ve chosen Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw, Pinter’s The Birthday Party (cunning I know as I’m studying it for the Theatre of Absurd assignment too! However both assignments are looking at totally different aspects but at least, I’ll be very familiar with the text) and Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers.

For part of the assignment I need to find a review or an analysis in a book that critiques the play, I then have to disagree with it and say why. This is quite a different way of doing an assignment question for me and I’m currently looking for a review/book that I can disagree with.

On top of this I have a few theatrical irons in the fire, including the first draft of my own play, which I’m pleased is now coming together. I also have an audition this month for a play I’m hoping to be in, during the early part of next year at the Miller Centre Theatre.

Back to the books for me now.

Krapp’s Last Tape, The Duchess Theatre, London’s West End – Review

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Michael Gambon as Krapp

This classic Beckett play opened this week in the West End, following its success and critical acclaim at The Gate Theatre Dublin.

It’s a 50 minute play with one single character, Krapp. Michael Gambon brought this enigmatic character to life before our very eyes. From the humourous to the sad and absurd, he kept us enthralled as we see Krapp listening to the tapes and recording his latest one. It’s an absolutely stunning and gripping performance.

The play itself is strangely beautiful and haunting. To me it felt poetic and Beckett has infused it with exquisite tenderness and power.

“We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side.”

Is a phrase repeated a few times in the play, and has been running through my head since seeing the play. Along with a few other phrases.

The playful Beckett humour is present and even though this is a poignant play, Beckett allows us to laugh at the inherent absudity of Krapp’s and our own existence.

The intimate Duchess Theatre is an ideal venue for the play and the lighting and direction were perfect. There are two stars to this play, Beckett as the writer and Gambon for bringing his text to life in such a compelling way.

Study and Induction Day at Rose Bruford College 11/09/10

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The offer of spending a day in “sunny” Sidcup is hard to refuse at the best of times, even more so when the offer of spending it is at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance for a day of workshops and fun.

It was lovely to meet up with old friends and to meet so many of the new students, I trust you didn’t feel too intimidated by us old hands.

A packed day was laid on;

  • Is it Really All about Text? with Professor Michael Walling
  • Telling the Tale: Voice and Essay Writing with Dr Stephe Harrop
  • Using the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and Learning Resources Centre (LRC) with David Matthews and Librarian Frank Trew
  • Pick a number between 1 – 100 with Jayne Richards and David Matthews

Michael Walling’s first session on “Is it really all about text?”, was great as Michael used a clip of an act from his latest play that opened on Thursday (http://www.bordercrossings.org.uk/Productions/Default.aspx?ProdID=12 ). An in-depth discussion followed as we analysed the performance. It was interesting to see what others had seen in the piece and the interpretations we had. It also gave me a taste of this production and if I have time I’m keen to catch it whilst it’s on in London.

I was looking forward to Stephe Harrop’s session following the workshop she did on the Greek Chorus at the March study weekend (https://theatrethoughts.wordpress.com/2010/03/28/kate-and-edith-a-pineapple-bra-and-greek-chorus/). This was an engaging and helpful session empowering us to use our voice in our assignments. Taking an extract of Duncan Williamson’s stories, we dissected it, and made it “academic”, whilst this was an extreme exercise, it really hit the point home and was worthwhile. Then followed a game where we had to tell a story in groups but for each verb/adjective/noun, give three other alternatives, alas no thesaurus or dictionaries were allowed.

The VLE is a new venture for the college’s distance learning program and has been a giant leap forward for us all and already is making distance learning better. David showed us some future things to come, which will make it an even funkier place. Learning more about the LRC was really helpful especially their online resources as I’m going to need them for my next assignments.

For the last session we got into groups and examined part of an anonymous students assignment against the marking criteria. What followed was interesting, I’m just glad none of my colleagues mark my assignments, especially Debbie!!! The tutors then pointed out the positives and negatives in the assignment. I’m guilty of many of the negatives, so it was good to be reminded what needs to be done as my assignments begin to loom.

The room was then divided between the continuing students and brand new ones, what followed was really good, the new students could ask us any question they liked of the continuing students and we answered from our group experience. I found this helpful as the advice given by other students was really good, and I trust it helped the new students.

As usual the food was fab (Mary has promised Jaffa Cakes for the March weekend as Kevin has requested them), there was a distinct lack of pineapple this year which while disappointing, was amply made up for by the melon and apples! (sorry to students not at March 2010 study weekend, it’s a “had to be there” joke)

For me though, the key thing I appreciate the most is to meet with other students, realise I’m not doing this on my own and to have a good chat about all things theatrical with people who share the same passion (if not the same views) as I. That’s why these study days are to me the highlights of the academic year. Bring on March 2011!!!!!!!!!!

Domini Public – National Theatre, Square2,Friday 23rd July 2010 – Review

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It’s with great pleasure I have my first guest writer for the Theatre Thoughts Blog – Whoohay!!

Kevin and I met via our course at Rose Bruford College and have shared many a conversation and laugh about theatrical things. (especially on whether Ibsen was an Aquarius 😉 – ask us when you see us)

Without further ado here is Kevin’s review of Domini Public:

Were you born in London, were you born abroad… simple questions, not hard to answer and not that moral, but how would you react to being honest about how much you earn, whether you thought you were clever than the average person, if you were creative? How about the really personal stuff, the embarrassing information, the things that would influence how others see you? Would you lie?

Spanish theatre maker Roger Bernat brought his latest and most ambitious production to the space outside the National Theatre where those that bought tickets were both audience and performer. On arriving at the venue, you were given in exchange for some form of id, a pair of wireless earphones (the sort you may have at a silent disco), the play begins and you are guided through the space. Two signs orientate you on says ‘left’ the other ‘right’.

You are asked a series of question; if you were born in London go left, if you were born abroad go right, if you were born in England but outside London stand in the middle, if you know your teams hymn raise your fist, if you ever fell in love with someone you wouldn’t have expected to hold you hand on your heart. You buy into the concept, as an audience member, you want the production to succeed, you want it to be good, so you feel you have to comply with the instructions. If you lie, you may ruin the production.

So, then the questions start to get more personal and works on your petty prejudices; If you have ever been suspicious of an Arab looking man move left, If you feel looking good can help social cohesion raise your hand, if you own property that you rent out move right. Slowly you see factions starting to appear, who are the people that earn the most? Who are the people that are concerned about how they look? Who are religious? Who have children? Then the performance begins.

By seemingly arbitrary questions the group are divided into groups of characters and provided with props and costume and through instructions in the headphones the story of abuse, freedom, capture, hope, despair, rape and genocide is played out. The impact of this play is in its questioning of the conventions of theatre making. We are not actors, but when we raise a gun to someone’s head we are acting. As observers of the action, we are audience, but at a certain part of the play we are asked to look away and by ‘not observing’ we read a new even stronger meaning into what we are not seeing.

Is this theatre? Yes, definitely. Is this a psychology exercise? Yes, probably. Did this fit in my ‘I go to see theatre and hope that I am a different person when I come out to the person that went in’? Absolutely!

Fabulous Featrical Feasting

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Yes, I know to my college peers it’ll seem like I’m being smug, but I’ve been cracking on with my background reading for my modules which are due to start next month. Being brutally honest this is the first time that I’ve actually got disciplined to read through as much as possible before the module starts, and so to my peers I highly recommend you get on with some, as I’m finding it exciting and also feel like I know a little bit now about the subjects I’m about to study.

So over the last two weeks I’ve been reading through several of the plays I’m going to be looking at more in-depth, and it’s been great to be reading such a variety. Here are a few of the highlights:

Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange, totally surprised me, I’d never heard of it or Joe Penhall. The background blurb mentioned that this play had won the Olivier for Best New Play in 2001. I absolutely loved it, it covers a subject (schizophrenia) that is close to my heart as a close friend suffers with this condition. More than this though, it’s so well written and “tight”, no line of dialogue is superfluous, and the conflict of interest between the three characters, really made me want to yell at the character Robert for being such an egotistical numpty!

I love it when the degree introduces me to great plays and playwrights, I can’t praise this play enough, and look forward to reading more of Joe Penhall’s work.

Next I read my first ever Terence Rattigan play  last week. The Browning Version was the play and again I enjoyed this, it again had a link that I could identify with, as I went to a Grammar School. The character Millie is certainly  up there with the list of “stage bitches” such as Hedda and Lady Macbeth. I found the introduction about Terence Rattigan at the start of the book, fascinating, his struggles, and life certainly make for a good read. I’m not sure what I’ll make of his other work but The Browning Version is certainly worth reading or seeing.

Into the Absurd with Jean Genet and his play The Balcony, I read this on the train during rush hour this week and I wonder what my fellow passengers thought as they read snippets over my shoulder. It’s set in a brothel and the first few scenes are rather “kinky” in places.

However as the play develops, Genet’s genius shines through, what or who is real? What is merely illusion? Who really has power?  These are all questions he brings to the fore with this clever play, with sometimes uncomfortable answers. The absurdity of existence is shown in an entertaining and powerful play.

Other writers I’ve read are Ionesco, Pinter and Wesker, more on them in the not too distant future.

It’s great to be challenged, stretched and have my mind and eyes open to such a wealth of theatrical writing, bring on August when the modules start!

A Week of Plays Not Football

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This week I’ve been cracking on with some background reading for my next modules. (good student that I am 🙂 )

I’ve read a few plays that I’ve not read before;

  • Stoning Mary by Debbie Tucker Green
  • Serious Money by Caryl Churchill
  • The Entertainer by John Osbourne

Stoning Mary was extremely disappointing, the premise of having white actors portray a situation that Africans have had to endure sounded like a clever idea. I just found it lacking in any depth or real dramatic action / tension. It felt disjointed and I couldn’t identify with the characters, they seemed totally two-dimensional. Why was Mary stoned? Should I care? I imagine the idea of the play was that I would, I just could not connect with the characters or the situations.

Another thing that annoyed me, was she has lots of places in the script where the “script” says;

“Character Name :

Next Characters Name:

Character Name:”

Now what is that pretentious “scripting” about??? I don’t think its clever or funny to have that as “dialogue”.  It happens throughout the play. If she wants characters to look/act in certain ways but not say something, she can add that as stage directions/comments if she wants, rather than waste space with nothing. To me it came across as the writer trying to be “clever”, or perhaps she couldn’t think of anything to write?

I did like the way in some of the scenes she has another actor play the characters ego and speak their internal dialogue, it is those scenes that grabbed me. If this had been developed I’m sure I’d have got more from and into the play. I felt there was potential as I read it but it just never seemed to achieve it.

I’m not sure if I’ll have to read anymore of Debbie Tucker Green’s work for the unit, hopefully her other work isn’t like this. I’ll re-read this play as and when I need to for my module, perhaps a second reading will change my opinion – if it does I’ll let you know.

Next on to Caryl Churchill. She’s a legend but I’ve only ever read Top Girls which I enjoyed. Serious Money is a superb play,  I can;t believe this hasn’t been revived in the last year or so (perhaps it has??)  It’s so pertinent to the economic crisis we’re going through and is some of the best writing I’ve read. The whole of Act 2’s dialogue rhymes, which is a great achievement in itself, even more so because this is intelligent, hard-hitting and witty dialogue. This is a play I look forward to re-reading and perhaps one day being in. Her portrayal of the City Traders in the 80’s is spot on, and scarily prophetic.

Olivier as Archie

John Osbourne is another luminary, again I’ve only ever read one of his plays previously, the ground breaking Look Back in Anger that changed everything back in 1956. That’s a play I’ve studied and referred back to many times over my course, so it was marvelous to get the opportunity to read some more of his work. I have to say I enjoyed The Entertainer more than I did Look Back in Anger. Partly due to my own interest in Music Hall, but again, his writing is just spot on, the pacing was great, I found it a real page turner. His character of Archie, is easily as memorable as Jimmy Porter from Look Back in Anger, I’d have loved to see Olivier performing the role of Archie when this was originally put on. As Archie deals with his self delusion, demons and self destruction I was genuinely moved. There is a film version with Olivier in, I’ll have to make do with that. I’ll also keep my eyes out for any productions of this on locally.

So they were this weeks reading. 2 out of three isn’t bad! I’m not expecting to enjoy everything I read or study on the course (hell I had to study an opera in one module – urghh!), as said on previous occasions, it’s great to be stretched and pushed outside my comfort zone and to experience new writers and plays.

There are several others to read over the next few days, I’m especially looking forward to reading Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth as I’ve not had the opportunity to see that when it was in London. My thoughts will be on here soon.