The Believers Are But Brothers

The Believers Are But Brothers by Jaavad Alipoor – The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth.

Jaavad Alipoor explores extremism in its many forms and how the internet becomes a breeding ground for radicalisation. The play makes pertinent points about the ability of the online world to become a place of solace for those struggling with day to day life, along with how that can be exploited. There is the unusual addition of a Whatsapp group that the whole audience is added to (with people being neighbourly and sharing their screens for those without Whatsapp). It allows Alipoor to communicate with the audience throughout the show, placing us firmly within that online world. The audience builds up a little community, which is fun. There are also violent interjections direct to your phone that allows for a visceral insight into how online abuse can feel.

The play is a fairly intense viewing experience and felt particularly resonant now things like the incel community are becoming part of mainstream consciousness. It’s not always a fun experience but it is definitely worth your time. Alipoor is a skilled performer, presenting an engaging story in an interesting and unusual form.

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys by Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice, Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe – The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth.

I don’t really have much to say about Jersey Boys. I enjoyed the show and had a fun evening, but it’s not a play that requires much thought beyond its surface. It does exactly what you’d expect a big budget jukebox musical to do. And there’s nothing wrong with that, everyone needs a night of escapism every now and again. Jersey Boys brought huge crowds to Theatre Royal, many of whom very rarely (if ever) attend the theatre. It’s getting people to engage with the arts through something they’re already familiar with, and I’m here for it.

It’s definitely worth seeing if you’re after a fun night out. The cast are great, it’s a slick and impressive production, and the songs are all certified bangers. Little ashamed to admit that I thought Beggin’ was a Madcon original – genuinely no idea the Four Seasons did it first. The more you know! I also really enjoyed finding out that Joe Pesci helped create the Four Seasons. Folk sat next to me were shocked to see someone so young in the crowd, so we ended up having a nice chat about why I was there. Turns out they were also Brummies! One of them sang very loudly throughout; he was so into those tunes. I was loving it, it’s rare you see someone at a theatre so unabashedly havin’ it large. My aisle mates weren’t all as on board but the band were playing loud enough for them to still hear the performers – as far as I’m aware no complaints were made.

All in all, a very good time!

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.

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.

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.

PlayLAB

PlayLAB – The LAB, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Tiny Details by Jon Nash, Of the Soil by Run Like Stags, Followers by Alexandra Ogando and Snip by Lucy Bell

PlayLAB is a night dedicated to showcasing and developing new work. A festival of short plays all built around the loose theme of speaking freely. Each performance featured a group from Theatre Royal’s Engagement and Learning department: Young Company 14 – 18s for Followers, People’s Company over 25s for Snip, Young Company and People’s Company 18 – 25s for Tiny Details and this year’s LAB company (Run Like Stags) for Of The Soil.

I really enjoyed every piece. The beauty of a night like this is that if something isn’t for you it will quickly be followed by something that might be. Wasn’t an issue here though, they were all enjoyable. Some beautiful music and an intriguing premise from Run Like Stags, some sinister conspiracy theorists from Jon Nash, some laugh out loud moments from Lucy Bell and energetic fun from Alex Ogando. Every play presented interesting ideas. Of course, there were aspects you’d love to know more about and points you’d like to see go even further but that’s the nature of short plays. The acting was of a really high calibre given that most of the performers aren’t professionals. Lots of promise overall, I’m really glad a night like this exists.