Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard by Don Black/Christopher Hampton/Andrew Lloyd Webber – The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

I don’t think I like musicals. Or at least, I don’t think I like more traditional musicals like this one. The kitsch and the camp of Rocky Horror, Hairspray and Little Shop of Horrors all appealed to me in the film versions so they seem like something I might like onstage (and did like in the case of Hairspray). I really didn’t engage with this show though. I found myself drifting into day dreams and not paying attention for quite long sections, which of course meant that I wasn’t following/understanding the plot. It just couldn’t seem to hold my attention. I think part of me not enjoying it stems from not being as keen on the style of music used. There was also slight issues with the backing music being louder than the vocals at some points. All the action happens through songs, there’s little to no dialogue so being unable to hear a few sung lines here and there has quite a big impact. The plot of the show sounded right up my street so I thought I’d enjoy this more than I did. I’ll have to get my hands on a copy of the film instead I think!

I’d like to add a disclaimer that me sort of hating this show is not a reflection of the show itself. Quite a few people who saw it commented on what a quality piece it was and had nothing but praise for it. The performances seemed strong (Danny Mac won awards for his portrayal of Joe Gillis) and the vocals were impressive. The set was gorgeous too. I think it’s more a case of it just not being to my tastes. It is a weird experience knowing I really didn’t enjoy something but being essentially unable to explain why.

I’ll continue seeing musicals that come to TRP though, I think it’s important that I keep an open mind and it’s good to see as much as I possibly can.

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice by Roland Schimmelpfennig (translated by David Tushingham) – The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

I was blown away by the skill of the actors in this piece. The play is so densely wordy I’m astounded that they’ve managed to remember all of it. The actors describe the inner thoughts of characters and narrate the world around them. It never takes you out of the action though, the performances are still believable and engaging. Felix Hayes’ Albert was a particular highlight, neurotic and hilarious.

The majority of the stage directions are spoken aloud which helps marry the set to the action. The piece is set in an office, with the cast rearranging tables and fashioning office supplies into the various props required. It all worked really well and seeing the ingenious uses for seemingly incongruous objects added a level of fun to proceedings. My only complaint was that it was performed end on. In its original run at The Orange Tree Theatre in London it was performed in the round, which I think would have improved things. It was still great, but there were certain aspects that seemed to have been planned with in the round performance in mind.

Good Girl

Good Girl by Naomi Sheldon – Trafalgar Studios, London

I didn’t really know what to expect from this play, which I think made it all the better. I happened to be in London on short notice and essentially chose a play based on what time and where it was on, as I had a few other appointments to fit it around. Which seems like the worst reason to see a show ever, but it worked out wonderfully for me because Good Girl is absolutely brilliant.

The show details the life of the titular Good Girl (referred to as GG throughout) as she grows up, navigating her emotions and the expectations of the world around her. I laughed out loud so many times, Sheldon’s writing is incredibly relatable. It’s perfectly evocative of growing up in the 90’s with numerous references that could have been describing me and my childhood friends. The themes are pertinent for any time period and any place though. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this show.

Sheldon is alone on a podium throughout and is still consistently riveting to watch. She doesn’t need anything other than her own performing ability to keep us enraptured. While the majority of the piece is spoken with GG’s voice and point of view, Sheldon also brings to life various friends and acquaintances. Each character to clearly defined and recognisable, Sheldon is able to essentially converse with herself and still have it be easy to follow. Cos she’s so bloody good.

I haven’t connected with a show like this in a long time, it really is something special.

London baby! (the big Jerwood launch)

This week I finally got the chance to meet the other 39 recipients of a Weston Jerwood Creative Bursary (WJCB). And I got to do one of my new favourite things – business travel! Paid for trains and hotels will never get old. So it was back on to snapchat for more of those not so humble brags.

As with the other trips I’ve been on, the purpose of this lil jaunt was not as frivolous as my over-excitement about freebies implies. We were there to develop ourselves and to learn more about the year ahead. This all began with the official Jerwood launch at the super snazzy Jerwood Space, where we listened to some inspiring speeches. Hearing everyone praise the scheme and get excited about what we could achieve really highlighted how much of an opportunity I’ve been given. I think my favourite speech was from WJCB alumni Alice Parsons, it was lovely to hear from someone who had been through what we’re all going through. She really helped to drive home what’s possible for us.

The launch also allowed for us to chat to people in the industry and do a bit of networking. I’m still fairly awful at it but I’m definitely less ‘rabbit in headlights’ these days (and that’s only two months in, maybe I’ll be a proper extrovert by the end of this thing). As well as meeting more established industry professionals, we got to meet each other. We’d travelled from as far as Belfast, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff – we’re a spread out bunch! A major aspect of the programme is us creating our own network and collaborating, so all convening at events like this is vital. We had a lovely dinner together and shared our experiences. Nice to know that I’m not alone in my fears and also to hear what everyone else is up to.

The morning following the launch, we were up bright and early to head to The Place, one of this year’s host organisations. Here we had a jam packed day – I couldn’t possibly tell you about all of it. So here’s the highlight reel. The morning session was full of practical information that I reckon will be very handy in future. It was really cool to learn about the various routes people have taken into arts careers, reassuring to know it doesn’t need to be a set path. We also got the lowdown on how funding works, its priorities and a little advice on how to go about applying for it. My arm ached from the speed I was trying to take notes. I’ve not had to do that since uni, which was a fair while ago now.

 

IMG-6502.JPGSnowy views from outside The Place

After some tasty as heck pastries and cups of tea, it was on to speeches from the British Council. In a new pilot scheme for the 2017-19 cohort, the British Council have collaborated with the WJCB team to create 14 international placements within arts organisations throughout Europe. All 14 of the placements look so much fun and, perhaps more importantly, like they could be invaluable in terms of our development. Getting the chance to travel and understand arts initiatives in a broader context than the UK is so important. After the whole ‘Brexit’ debacle (a young person in the arts, not keen on Brexit? Shocking, I know) I feel it’s more important than ever to be forging relationships with our neighbours and ensuring that arts and culture become shared experiences. Competition for the placements will be fierce, every one of the other bursary holders is crazy talented and obviously we can’t all get a place. Therein lies the beauty of us creating a network amongst ourselves. Any knowledge, skills and contacts we gain on the international placements will be shared by the group. It’s all very exciting!

The final part of the day was my favourite. We got to meet alumni, hearing them speak about their time on the placements, their experiences afterwards and what we can do to make the most of it. In smaller groups we were given the chance to ask questions which was great. It meant I could let loose all my stupid questions in a more chill environment. I took away a lot of advice that I want to try and follow. And, in my favourite take away from the event, we’re now all in contact with each other, already discussing some incredible ideas for collaborations. Watch this space!

 

Two months down!

Two months down!

And 10 more to go! I’m really hoping they don’t all go by as quickly as these first two have. I’ve realised I definitely need keep more on top of updating this blog too. Saying nowt for ages and then dropping like 10 posts in one go doesn’t seem like the best tactic. It also means there’s no way I can fit in all the great things I’ve been doing, so this post is going to be but a tiny snapshot into my world.

I’m getting more settled in at TRP. There’s no longer that weird anxious feeling where I’ve no idea what I’m really there for. My line managers and I have formulated some jazzy plans for my development this year and there are so many projects I’m really excited to be getting my teeth into. I’m slowly improving my networking skills, although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to just strut in and start chatting. I’m naturally hella awkward so I think the first ten minutes or so of any event will always consist of me pretending to text while I work up the courage to approach folk. I’ve got that slightly concerned ‘I’ve just received a confusing but important message that requires immediate attention’ look on lock. Seriously, I’ve got it nailed.

As mentioned, part of my settling in has been sorting out some long term tasks for me. One of my favourite so far has been archiving scripts. It’s given me a chance to indulge my inner history nerd and look back over the theatre’s old programmes. It’s been a lot of fun looking at what marketing styles were cool for each era and seeing super early scripts from writers who are now huge. I knew a bit about how much talent development TRP do but I hadn’t realised just how many big names had graced our stages. It’s an ongoing project, there’s still mounds to sort through and I’m looking forward to what gems I’ll unearth!

Another lovely thing I got to do was take a trip out to Cornwall to check on the progress of a set build. The set was for our own production of Clockwork Canaries by Christopher William Hill. I’ve seen the workshops at TR2 before and it was nice to get a view of how other companies function. This workshop has two adorable dogs so it was always going to be a highlight! Although, I can’t express how nerve-wracking it is playing fetch with two rambunctious collies in the presence of some incredibly fragile and/or dangerous items. To get to the workshop we had to catch a little ferry which was a novelty for me. Plymouth is mad pretty if you’re in the right area (see above photo of the view from TR2). The purpose of the trip was to make sure the set was all being built in line with what the designer has envisioned. I got to tag along to learn a little bit more about how a production comes together. This was a great set to see as it involves quite a lot of complicated elements – like a graveyard an actor needed to be able to dig into and a balcony that someone could safely climb down from.

Run-down of other cool stuff I’ve done: I’ve gotten better at IT, I’m not quite as much of a technophobe! That said, my poster making skills leave a lot to be desired. Publisher just won’t ever compare to Photoshop – a programme that continues to flummox me. I’ve gotten better at general office things, like creating contact sheets, using programmes like Artifax, researching/booking casting spaces. I’ve learned more about the interplay between TRP’s many departments, I’ve helped to source/fix props for a few shows and got a far more solid understanding of the production process. I can now explain the difference between a producer and a production manager! I’ve gotten to grips with the rehearsal process having sat in on a few, I’ve seen how technical rehearsals work, I’ve shadowed some technical staff, I’ve been on the roof of the theatre (gorgeous but my god, so scary), I’ve seen how a script develops throughout the production process (I’d always imagined that once rehearsals start it was a done deal, which is definitely not the case) and I’ve attended press nights/opening nights for many plays. This isn’t even close to everything. It’s been a busy few months! I’m now even more excited for what’s to come.

Goals for the next two weeks: first and foremost, actually keep this blog updated! Listing goals for the next two weeks is no good if I’m not checking in at that point.

Get better at time management! I find that I stay on top of smaller, more immediate tasks no bother. This happens at the expense of the long term ‘big’ jobs though, so I need to work on prioritising and making sure I don’t let things fall by the wayside.

My goals for the previous blog were to be more confident and be more efficient. There’s definitely been some improvement with these but there’s still a way to go. They’re pretty big goals though so I suppose that’s understandable. I’ll keep working at it.

Clockwork Canaries

Clockwork Canaries by Christopher William Hill – The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Directed by Luke Kernaghan, this new play was a lovely completion of a circle for TRP. Kernaghan was the first resident assistant director for the theatre and has now returned to direct a show in The Drum. During his time at TRP he directed one of Christopher William Hill’s earlier plays with our Young Company. Lots of connections coming together! I really enjoyed seeing the fruits of the theatre’s emphasis on developing talent.

The show was right up my street as well. Dark, unusual and funny, with some stellar puppet work. The play is set in the town of Schwartzgarten, a fictional location seen in William Hill’s novels. On one of the nights that I saw the play there were some young fans of the books in the front row, giggling delightedly at every reference to Schwartzgarten specific products.

The play is ostensibly about a family. Maximillian Dressler (Dominic Marsh) and his daughter Tatiana lead lives surrounded by death, literally, in the form of the pet cemetery attached to the house. Tatiana herself (played with charming girlishness by Charlie Cameron) is obsessed with the subject, imagining her ideal tomb and drawing gravestones to decorate the house. This should set the scene for how odd the Gothic world of the play is. The pair welcome a new cat into their home, the catalyst for even stranger events. The cat, given the fancy moniker of Count Frederick Sebastian, is brought to life by puppeteer Richard Booth and it steals the show in several scenes (as does the puppet dog he also operates, it’s so cute!). The cast is rounded off by Jeremy Ang Jones playing a delivery boy fond of implausible disguises and Chris Staines who plays the flamboyant Mrs Steinhoffelman and several other characters. The staging is incredibly complex involving multiple speedy costume changes and some ingenious set design.  It’s such a fun spectacle to watch, bright and full of life despite the dark themes of the story. It’s laugh out loud funny at times and genuinely creepy at others.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. Go see!

The Little Matchgirl

The Little Matchgirl adapted by Emma Rice and Joel Horwood – The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

In this re-telling of four Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales, Emma Rice has perfectly captured their magic. Moving between what is seemingly the present and the magical world of Anderson’s tales, the play weaves in puppetry, song and some gorgeous choreography. For me, the most impressive element of the evening was the puppetry. Edie Edmundsen imbues the match girl puppet with astonishing humanity, her playfulness and also her desperation being palpable. It was no wonder people were crying at her inevitable fate.

The ‘happier tales’ alluded to in the title have their moments of pathos but as a whole the show is cheerful and fun. Each tale is introduced with the striking of a new match, presided over by storyteller Ole Shuteye (Niall Ashdown), a sort of vaudeville compere. My favourite individual tale was The Emperor’s New Clothes, the final ‘outfit’ reveal was bloody hilarious. All of the music in the show is brilliant too, marrying all the tales together despite their varying tones.

It was strange seeing this play in late February though. It very much feels like a Christmas piece (which it originally was), with all the warm fuzzy feelings that entails.