Then Again

Then Again devised by Tremolo Theatre – The LAB, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Then Again is a fast paced and funny time travel adventure. Focusing on socially awkward PHD student Millie, we see her develop from being unable to speak to anyone, into a YouTube celebrity. The story is a pretty familiar one – girl finds fame, thinks she’s getting everything she wanted, realises it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, ends happily with her finding what’s truly important in life. That narrative arc was familiar and is not the play’s strongest element. However, the time travel injects some fun into a familiar tale. The performers are all very talented, particularly in relation to the play’s comedic elements. Even though I knew what was coming, I enjoyed seeing Millie get there. I laughed out loud several times, particularly at interjections from talking toothbrush MIRI (it makes sense in the play, I promise). The lighting design was very impressive too, at some points perfectly recreating that classic computer screen glow through plastic tubing.

It isn’t a play that I’ll be thinking about for days afterwards, but it was a really enjoyable hour of theatre by a very talented group of performers. I look forward to seeing what they do next.

Sunked

Sunked by Chris White – The LAB, Theatre Royal Plymouth

As part of this Easter’s LAB season, writer and performer Chris White brought Sunked to Theatre Royal. The play skilfully blends poetry, music, spoken word, and James Cameron. Opening with the audio of a phone call from his co-star, informing Chris that he’ll no longer be performing the play, we get off to an awkward start. But it works, making Chris even more endearing. Chronicling his attempts to raise the Titanic while avoiding the wrath of James Cameron and Celine Dion, the play’s nicest moments are Chris discussing his relationship with his mother. The bizarre other additions are a lot of fun to watch but this familial relationship is the play’s heart. Chris is an incredibly talented wordsmith, I particularly enjoyed the section involving some Beautiful South references. I challenge anyone to see this and not leave feeling buoyed.

Slight tangent here – but I saw a previous review that suggested the use of swearing undermined the performance. For me, swearing isn’t inherently offensive. It’s dependent on context and nothing in the context of delivery here seemed offensive. Swearing in my opinion can enhance a message rather than undermine it, which I felt it did here. I understand that different people have different thresholds for offence, I was just very surprised that anyone could feel offended by such an amiable performer. It seemed a strange critique of a wonderful play*.

I guess don’t see it if you’re sensitive to usage of ‘bad’ language? You’d be missing out though. Chris White is an interesting, engaging performer, sure to have a bright future ahead of him.

*I should note, the rest of the review was on point. Just one lil section on swearing that confused me.

49 Donkeys Hanged

49 Donkeys Hanged by Carl Grose – The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

I was very excited to see 49 Donkeys Hanged as I’ve been involved in the production since I first began my placement at TRP. I should stress that by involved I mean I did some low level admin type stuff for it. But I’d read the script ages ago, seen the design models develop and read all the rehearsal reports. I thought it was shaping up to be something special and I was right.

The Drum has had all of its seats removed, replaced by scattered hay bales to draw us into the strange world of Bosanko Farm. The play is a promenade piece, so you can follow the action around and get as up close as you want. Some chose to sit on the strewn hay bales but for me, the ability to move around and change vantage point made for a great experience. Inspired by a headline Carl Grose saw whilst traveling in South Africa, the play takes place on a run-down farm in Ventongimps, Cornwall. The characters are closely married to their Cornish environment with local references and in jokes aplenty – unsurprising given that Carl Grose himself is Cornish. We follow the tale of Stanley Bray, a struggling farmer mysteriously compelled to commit the strange task of hanging 49 donkeys. He is as confused about why as we are. Bray’s wife, Joy hasn’t left the house for 30 years following the disappearance of their son Bobby. The two threads of the plot come together in a surprising twist, raising questions about storytelling itself and who really owns our histories.

Despite the gruesome title the play is hilarious, with particularly strong comic performances from Will Hartley as Carl Grose and Ed Gaughan as Stanley Bray. The Drum is choc full of atmosphere and music provided by Dom Coyote (roving the audience as Randy Williams) will be caught in your head for days.

It’s such a fun piece, highly recommend you see it!

49 Donkeys Hanged also had a writer’s response evening.  Following Thursday’s performance Theatre Royal presented three short response pieces. The evening came about following a call out to local writers. Eleven responded and were invited to see the play, with 48 hours to write their own ‘response’ piece. Writers chose to interpret the idea of a response in many different ways, from introducing the characters to new environments, suggesting what may have occurred in the future for Grose’s characters, to creating entirely separate pieces inspired by the play’s themes. From these submissions, three were chosen to be performed by the 49 Donkeys Hanged actors.

The chosen pieces were some of the ones who had opted for entirely separate stories. The three plays were very impressive, particularly given the limited turnaround time the writers had. It was interesting to see what people perceived the play’s strongest themes to be. The writers chosen were Sam Parker, Mich Sanderson and Alex Robins. By chance, all three of those chosen have been involved with TRP’s LAB company scheme, which I think demonstrates the strength of the talent TRP is nurturing. It was a great end to the evening and something I really hope we continue to do.

 

IdeasLAB

IdeasLAB – The LAB, Theatre Royal Plymouth

IdeasLAB is a sort of scratch night offered by Theatre Royal Plymouth. It allows local creatives to showcase early stage work and get a feel for how it could develop. I saw 4 fifteen minute extracts, all of which were impressive in their own way. It was my first experience of filling out feedback forms for a show. I have a feeling most of my feedback was essentially useless, I’m not great at deciding what I think spur of the moment. I really enjoyed the night though. It’s a great example of what TRP is doing to help develop talent in the area. It was also another chance for me to experience something new. I’ve never attended a scratch night or anything like it before but it’s something I’ll be doing a lot more often now!

The pieces I saw were:

Efferus Collective’s Pithed – a dance piece inspired by the case of a woman who lost all sense of proprioception. It was unsettling at times, with some great live drumming to accompany it.

FullRogue’s WILD SWIMMING A Brief and benighted history. – an extract from a play (I think!) discussing gender roles throughout history, told through the lens of a couple on a beach, possibly going for a swim.

Chris White and Poppy Pedder’s KIN – inspired by Black Mirror this short play presented a dystopian future where humans are permanently linked to someone, their KIN. It presented how loneliness can creep in, even within a close relationship. Despite dark themes it was funny throughout.

Alex Robbins’ Bear With Me – Ostensibly the story of a writer getting his leg caught in a bear trap and coming to tell us the tale. It blurred the lines between truth and fiction, what was performance and what wasn’t. And featured some honey eating bears.

I’ve added in those fairly dry descriptions of plot because the pieces were all in their very early stages. I figured it’d be a bit of a dick move to be writing reviews of them. I’m really looking forward to seeing how all of the pieces develop from here.

La Forza Del Destino

La Forza Del Destino by Verdi – The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

I don’t really know what to say about this. The Welsh National Opera is clearly formed of some very talented individuals. The power of their voices is impressive and the orchestra all sounded great. I loved the set design. But I was also bored stiff for the majority of the performance. Even with surtitles (which weren’t always working) and the programme’s synopsis I struggled to follow what was happening. There’d be wild applause for some sections, more muted applause for others and I couldn’t tell what was any different. I had no idea what was eliciting the extra cheers. This is the first opera I’ve ever seen, so I have a feeling a lot of me not enjoying it stemmed from me not understanding the conventions of opera. I’m glad I saw it, as it’s something I’ve never experienced before. I just didn’t especially enjoy it, which made me feel very guilty as I feel like it’s something I should have appreciated more. The whole experience made me feel like a bit of a rube really! – Through no fault of the WNO I might add!

Cathy

Cathy by Ali Taylor – TR2, Plymouth

Cardboard Citizen’s brought their production of Cathy to TR2, a brief stop on their current tour of the show. As it was being performed in a rehearsal room this version of the play was stripped back and basic, but still packed an emotional punch.

Originally written as part of Cardboard Citizens 25th anniversary celebrations, Cathy is inspired by Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home. Unfortunately, the issue of homelessness is still as pertinent today as it was in the 60s. For this performance the majority of the audience was formed of TRP’s engagement groups, such as Our Space. Our Space is a group for adults with multiple and complex needs, stemming from issues such as addiction, homelessness or social isolation. The aim of the group is to forge healthy social interaction, build confidence and encourage engagement with the theatre. I’m not always keen on outreach groups being made to watch plays that detail struggles similar to what they have experienced (the Exeunt article I’ve linked below explains why in much better words than I could come up with). However, in this case the attendees were aware of what they would be watching and had opted to attend. Cardboard Citizens also facilitated a discussion afterwards too which made things inclusive.

It’s testament to the show’s writing that the majority of the audience identified with what they’d seen, with many stating they had experienced a lot of the play’s events themselves. Cathy is the story of a mother and daughter who, after missing a couple of rent payments, find themselves in increasingly desperate situations. The current housing system for those in need is portrayed in all its inadequacies. It’s definitely not easy viewing. Some wry laughs here and there but overall the play is as difficult to watch as you would imagine with its subject matter. That’s not to say you shouldn’t see it! It’s great piece of work with stunningly realistic performances from all of the cast. The set design is interesting too, with what appears to be giant Jenga blocks being moved around to form each new environment, symbolising their transient homes. It’s a piece worth seeing, particularly for those who struggle to comprehend how a person could end up homeless.

http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/trouble-outreach-work/

Curling with coins, and other activities

In my last blog I wittered on about the launch of this year’s Weston Jerwood Creative Bursary scheme. As part of the first training day we met some lovely folk from the British Council and got more information on the international opportunities available to us. A good deal of the weeks following that has been me, a little ball of stress, trying to figure out which placements to apply for and what to even write. Turns out my chronic indecision and inability to sell myself (metaphorically, never tried literally) haven’t improved on this placement. I eventually chose to apply to two placements in Montenegro and one in Rome. I’ve never worked abroad before so if I do succeed I might just burst with excitement. I’ve been telling myself I’m not going to get any of the placements though. That way I’m either right or pleasantly surprised – the optimistic brand of pessimism. My application was a bit of a struggle too. I figured a short word limit would make the applications a fairly speedy task. Oh, how wrong I was. Turns out I’m nigh on incapable of brevity so it ended up taking bloody ages. So much editing. It was a character limit rather than word count so I ended up thesaurus-ing all my longer words. Slightly concerned it’ll read like a five year old wrote it, but it’s happened now! No use crying over spilt milk and all that.

I can’t be too sad if I don’t get an international placement as I’ll get to share in the experience through the cohort, the beauty of us all supporting and assisting each other over this year. And also because we already have a wee trip to Avignon Festival lined up! It’s the South of France, in summer, surrounded by loads of cool arts events. Not too shabby at all. Avignon also does quite a cool thing of mainly offering jobs to those living locally (you have to collect the application form in person). The festival attracts international audiences and shows so this doesn’t make the festival insular or anything like that. Having seen the impact of the Fringe on those who live in Edinburgh, I can’t help but think it might be a decent idea for some of the bigger UK festivals to put schemes into place to attract more local workers. Events that aren’t part of the year round landscape of an environment need to make sure they’re engaging with those that are. I know quite a lot of Edinburgh residents who feel completely disconnected from the Fringe. It was something that came and took over their town, not something for them. To me, this issue seems to be tied into the idea of arts jobs not paying proper wages. Particularly seeing as many venues offer accommodation in lieu of better pay (with no extra wages if you don’t need housing).  If you live in Edinburgh, why would you get an unpaid summer job in the Fringe venues, when you could work in the many bars/restaurants/shops that need more staff for August? Working for free would mean not making rent, so I always ended up in bar jobs rather than anything more directly arts related. It’s a shame as I could have had so many great training opportunities if they’d paid even slightly more. Working bars in the venues gets you some arts adjacent experience and transferable skills, but not all arts venues are going to be willing to employ someone on the basis of that (yet another reason I’m super glad the WJCB exists). I’ve always found it odd that staff in the same venues can be getting paid completely different amounts too. In venues I worked in, bar staff could be making at least minimum wage plus tips and free taxis home post shift. Front of house, box office, and technical staff were essentially volunteering with no perks except entry into shows they didn’t have time to see. Grim.

That went on quite the tangent! So, back to what I’ve been up to.

This week I had my ‘TRP Experience Day’, which was an official induction to the company. It happened quite a while after I’ve started, they have to wait for enough newbies to arrive to make having a whole day worth it. It was interesting to learn more about some of the departments I don’t get to interact with as much. We also played some team building games that weren’t awful! It was my first experience of a corporate-y event that was actually fun. Top game = one that involved sliding 2p coins down a table to get closest to a 5p. Basically curling on a much smaller scale (I think, not 100% sure what curling entails).

Run-down of other cool stuff I’ve done: I’ve been continuing with the archive work, unearthing some cool scripts and seeing more of TRP’s history. Also seen some truly horrible poster images, marketing has come a long way in the past few years! I’ve done some email networking, essentially pestering very experienced people and asking them to teach me their ways. It’s been successful so far! Turns out most folk in the arts are pretty lovely and willing to help out. I had a chat with our artistic associate to learn more about how programming for the Drum theatre works. I also got some advice and tips on what theatres I need to visit/what companies I should look out for. Project ‘Educating Lauren’ is in full swing. Finally, I got to see a run through of our latest production 49 Donkeys Hanged. It’s going to be a promenade piece with live music, it’s looking incredibly cool so far. We put together an audience which is unorthodox given that it’s not production week or time for the dress rehearsal. It was decided that given the unusual staging it would be worthwhile to have the cast get used to performing with audiences all up in their grill. It’s looking incredible so far, so if you’re in Plymouth March 22nd – 7th April come and see it!

This isn’t the only work I’ve been doing for the last two weeks, I just figured no one wants to read a list of my various administrative tasks. I am working hard, I promise!

Goals for the next two weeks: My aim for the next two weeks is to finish at least two of my ongoing projects, such as the archiving. I’d also like to try and be more sure of myself and go with my gut more often. That goal is quite closely related to my ‘networking’ this week. It’s been taking me half an hour or so to draft a three line email, panicking about how I’m coming off. And every time I’ve ended up going with what I wrote initially and it’s been successful. I need to worry less basically!

My goals in my previous blogs were to be more confident, be more efficient, keep this blog updated and get better at time management. Keeping the blog updated has gone well!* Confidence and efficiency are still works in progress. They’re big goals so they’ll probably take longer. Hopefully if I start being more assertive and stop wasting ages drafting emails the efficiency will improve too!

* It didn’t end up going that well actually. I wrote it on time! I just struggled to get around to editing it and actually posting,  still need to up my game a bit on this.