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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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.

Theatrical Perfection? – The Blue Dragon – The Barbican Theatre London – Review

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Tai Wei Foo in The Blue Dragon

Why do I go to the theatre regularly? To be entertained? To be challenged? Because I’m a student of the art form? Yes to all of these but my primary aim is to be changed. A lofty aim no doubt, and to be honest it seldom happens, but every so often it does, and it’s the most incredible experience.

Since commencing my Theatre Studies back in 2005 there have been several seminal events in my theatrical life. One of which was hearing Robert Lepage lecture at my college in my first year of study. His passion, vision and clarity struck me, and following that lecture I researched more into his work, and his life.  I’ve been fortunate to see some of his work via video, but never live. The chance to see his new play and with him in it, made it top of my list for theatrical visits this year. I was also fortunate to see TOTEM also by Lepage this year and I found that an inspiring theatrical event.

So I booked this ticket solely on the fact that it was a Lepage play, but as I then read more about it, I became more and more intrigued. It focuses on Pierre Lamontagne, the character Lepage created for his Dragon’s Trilogy just over 25 years ago. We revisit this character in Shanghai and catch up with him and his life. Lepage plays Pierre, in what is one of the best portrayals I’ve seen on stage. Following this post recently a friend commented to me that, it’s great when you see a play and you forget the actor, and you become immersed in the world on stage and that character. Lepage was an object lesson in this, he WAS Pierre. Likewise Tai Wei Foo and Marie Michaud who played Xiao Ling and Claire respectively also created believable characters on stage. More than that though I cared for these characters and their decisions and their lives.

Tai Wei Foo as Xiao Ling and Marie Michaud as Claire

For me this was why this play was so special, it had heart and soul, and I felt part of their world as I could see it was a reflection of my own world. We live in a Globalised world now and Theatre is responding to that in various ways, one is to simply produce the same musicals everywhere – a Chinese version of Les Mis opened in 2008. More Cameron Mackintosh productions are to follow in China too. Whilst this is one way of reacting to the new world, I feel Lepage’s is more organic and more beneficial.  The Blue Dragon felt that each culture was respected and brought to the melting pot. That’s not to say only the good parts of each culture were displayed, far from it, the small-minded view of the Québécois that Pierre escaped from was shown as well as the harshness of life in China, but Lepage never went over to melodrama, his characters have to put up with problems like we all do, they got on, made decisions and lived with them. That is why this play resonated with me so much, it felt tangible and real, like few plays do. The speech of the play is in English, French and Mandarin (with subtitles) as and when required, rather than being confusing it simply helped to add to the realism and also the difference in speech tones and rhythms between the three languages was striking to hear.  As someone who works in a cosmopolitan city and work environment, different languages being spoken at anytime is not something that I’m unfamiliar with, again it’s part of being in the 21st Century Globalised world. One thing the play highlighted is something we’ve known for a long time, but was dramatically shown here, we’ll all be hearing more Mandarin in the future, more  than French and English perhaps?

Robert Lepage as Pierre Lamontagne

Lepage is known for his use of theatrical effects and this play is no different, but again, the effects, staging and lighting fit in seamlessly, and help to tell the story. This is theatre for a 21st century audience that isn’t afraid to use visual and cinematic ideas. The set gave me a feeling of “widescreen” and the clever staging utilised one aspect that theatre is especially suited to, that of working vertically whereas film is primarily a horizontal view, Lepage blended to the two genres and played to the strength of each.

I especially loved the tribute to Herge’s book The Blue Lotus in this play. As the programme states, for many (myself included) this book was probably the first time that many of us encountered China and the images Herge paints certainly have left their mark on generations of westerners.

A few subtle references are made to this throughout

It’s refreshing to go to the theatre and be surprised, challenged and inspired and all in the same night! That is how I felt having watched The Blue Dragon.  The playwright Eugene Ionesco talked about his work and the “two fundamental states of consciousness” between which he moved, “an awareness of evanescence and of solidity, of emptiness and too much presence, of the unreal transparency of the world and its opacity, of light and of thick darkness.” ( see his book Notes and Counter Notes) I got a sense of this last night, especially between the evanescent and solidity of the characters lives and of my own too, something that had been fairy cerebral until last night.

So to call this “Theatrical Perfection” is indeed a HUGE and outlandish claim, but for me, it was pretty close, something to aspire to and be inspired by.

Christmas has come early this year!

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WOOOOOHAAAAAAY!!!!!

Christmas has come early for me this year. My wife let me know what my Christmas present would be and I’m EXCEEDINGLY excited.

I have to wait until January 2011 but it will be well worth the wait – we’re off to see Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall.

I’ve only ever seen Cirque du Soleil on video before and so to see it live will be a fabulous experience. I’m particularly looking forward to this production as its theme is “A fascinating journey into the evolution of mankind” and it’ll be interesting to see how they weave that throughout the production.

Having done a bit more research on it since I found out we were going, I’m even more excited as the creator and director is none other than the genius that is Robert Lepage! I’m a huge admirer of his work and I was fortunate to attend a lecture by him at my college (Rose Bruford) a few years ago which was amazing. See here for a bit more info about his involvement with the production.

A review will follow on here, but I imagine the experience will be hard to put into words. As you can see from the trailer video:

Roll on January!

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.