Final week of Haroun rehearsals

Haroun Rehearsals

Haroun Set

I like to choose wildly ambitious shows that I have no idea how to make – shows that are way beyond my skill-set and comfort zone. Not because I’m a masochist (although it sometimes feels like that), but because I think it’s the surest way to develop my craft as a director.

I love Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and I knew it would be an ideal piece for the ensemble I would be working with. But I also knew it would be a huge challenge. The show involves flying scenes, underwater scenes, a journey into outer space, a dizzying number of locations, crazy characters, monsters, shadows and ships – none of which I had any idea how to create. It is by far the most ambitious project I’ve ever undertaken, and I was coming straight into it from a previous show, so had very little time for preparation. It’s also the first time I’ve worked with a pre-written text in about five years.

Hopefully the show will be a success and the students will have taken a lot from the process, but this afternoon I’ve been reflecting on my own learning outcomes.

– My preparation going into the show was not adequate. I didn’t know the story well enough, I hadn’t made clear design choices, and I was bringing my ‘wing-it’ attitude from years of devising. Part of me is quite happy that I delayed design decisions until late in the process – it meant that I’m very happy with the choices we made. On the other hand, going through the design process at the same time as trying to put together a horrifically complicated show was not particularly helpful. It also meant that the cast won’t have their costumes until they get into the theatre. For a show as physical as this one, the costumes may change what the performers are capable of doing, and I wish we had been able to look at these things earlier.

– I’ve been much more disciplined on voice work this time round, but watching the run on Friday, I still felt like this was the show’s weak point. Huge amounts of time have been concerned with the logistics of staging. For a future I want to direct a very naturalistic piece that will force me to work on basic acting skills!

– I was much better in my rehearsal planning than I have been in the past, but I still think I could have used the early part of the rehearsal period more efficiently. I always seem to get to technical rehearsals wishing I just had a couple more days.

– Casting is absolutely everything. I couldn’t have made this show without the physical skills and imagination of the actors I’ve been working with. The single biggest thing a director does in determining the quality of a show is in the casting of it. If you want the show to be physical/funny/wacky you must find physical/funny/wacky actors, and then let them play. Riff off what they bring to rehearsals and make sure the best bits get into the show. What’s more, by delaying casting until the second week of rehearsals, I was really able to make much better choices over parts, which has been incredibly beneficial. I haven’t held auditions since the last scripted piece I did over five years ago. The idea of having to make choices in such a small space of time now fills me with horror. There really is no substitute for spending time in a rehearsal room with actors.

Shows

I haven’t made it to any shows this week – non-stop rehearsals!

Movies / TV

Not much of this either!

Music

Went to Thomas Jack at the Laundry E8. A fun night, mainly because I was with Harri and Alia – I thought Thomas Jack was a bit disappointing. It’s actually the guest mixes on his Soundcloud channel that I love the most…. His live mixing skills were pretty bad and he didn’t really know how to build a structure and rhythm to the night. Shame, but a fun night out nonetheless.

Reading

Nope, haven’t been doing much of this either!

Other

Obviously the big event of this week was the elections. I think the idea of another Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition was at least vaguely palatable, but the Tories getting in with an outright majority – ouch… I can’t quite believe some of the policies they are planning on putting through – like tearing up The Human Rights Act – but I hope an EU referendum will take the sting out of UKIP. And if nothing else, hopefully the country will emerge financially streamlined. It’s a worrying five year in stall though, that’s for sure.

The other big shocker of the night was the clear inadequacy of the electoral system. For UKIP and the Green Party to have polled so high nationally, but to have ended up with so few seats is a disgrace.

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Haroun Rehearsals Week 4

Haroun Rehearsals
It’s been a full-on three weeks since I last posted, so a slightly shorter description of what we’ve been up to in the rehearsal room.

In week two of rehearsals we examined each scene in detail, identifying its given circumstances, inciting incident, turning point and outcome event. This was a laborious two-and-a-bit days, but helped to clarify an often confusing plot – in the second half the narrative splits into two parts which take place simultaneously, and one of our challenges will be making this division comprehensible. On Wednesday afternoon I finalised casting. We then spent the rest of the week doing character work and beginning to sketch out the show’s staging. Waiting until the second week to cast means that people aren’t currently quite off-book, but there is a wonderful shared mission to the piece, and I feel like I’ve got the roles as spot-on for each actor.

Basic staging continued through week three, culminating in our first stagger-through on Friday morning. Not as awful as I was expecting. My standard experience of these early runs is in devised theatre, where often both the text and the performance are in woeful states. In this case though, the strength of the text shone through, and there were some genuinely moving moments. I was filled with unexpected optimism.

This week (week four) we’ve focused on turning last week’s rough edit into something more interesting. I turned over responsibility for all the physical work to the cast, and took small groups off to work on their individual roles and acting performances. Normally on a show this size I’d have a full-time movement director; while I don’t have that, I do have an incredibly inventive cast. Setting them tasks and coming back and editing their inventions has been an incredibly productive way to double our workload. It also means that they have full ownership over what they are doing, which for me is essential. What’s more, I’ve realised how little interest I have in ‘staging’ in the traditional sense (i.e. telling people where to stand). My interest is much more in finding performances that evolve organically into staging, but in a show of this size, with so many people on stage, actors do know roughly where they need to be standing. Otherwise there’s a cringe-worthy amount of upstaging, aimless wandering, and clumped blocking. Also, I’ve noticed that young actors always seem to think they need to play scenes close to the person they are speaking with. It’s like watching primary-school children playing football where everyone’s chasing for the ball with no sense of greater organisation. Perhaps when working with actors whose stage-craft is better developed it’s possible to ‘block’ less, so perhaps for future drama school shows I’ll work on developing some of these skills in early rehearsals.

Unfortunately most of the cast have been ill, and while we’ve got a lot done, but it’s been a tough week. Two of my main actors (Haroun and Butt) have missed rehearsals entirely. The rest of us have been working long hours, 9am to 8pm every night, often later. The show requires it though – there are so few scenes that don’t involve everyone, so it’s almost impossible to work on more than one scene at a time.

The coming few days (week five) will be make or break. If by Friday we can polish off the good work we’ve already done and solve the few remaining problems, then we’ll be in a brilliant place going into tech. If not, then there may be trouble ahead…

Shows
Since I last posted I’ve seen two operas – King Size at ROH 2 and Between Worlds at the Barbican.

King Size, directed by Christoph Marthaler, was a fun and silly take on love-songs through the centuries. Two over-ebullient performers rattled through a melange of romantic music from the Renaissance to the modern day (including the Jackson 5). They performed their roles with a very ‘German’ sense of fun (i.e. the theatrical equivalent of dad-dancing) and beautiful singing. Throughout an old woman crossed the production’s immaculate hotel room, alone. Her silent, lonely presence haunted the production.

Between Worlds focused on a group of office workers trapped in the World Trade Centre on September 11th. While not wanting to take anything away from the absolute tragedy of what happened on that day, dramatically, we spent over an hour watching people sing variations on ‘we’re all going to die’. There was no chance of escape, and the libretto had practically no subtext for the music or staging to get it’s teeth into. Ultimately, I had to ask, why create this piece? The creators emphasised that the piece deliberately ignored the wider context to focus on the human tragedy of the day. A tragedy that has been lost in the event’s global after-effects. But this is a ludicrous statement – just in it’s choice of subject the show was emphatically political. Why should we eulogise and mourn these specific dead? What about the hundreds of thousands that died in the West’s revenge-soaked retaliation?  What about the terrorists themselves? What questions did this piece ask of humanity? And what did it add to our understanding of 9/11?

Movies / TV
Inevitably going to miss a few as it’s been so long since I last posted. But one highlight of the last few weeks has been discovering the extraordinary French cartoon Le Roi et l’Oiseau. Created by Paul Grimault and  Jacques Prevert, it’s a beautifully conceived vision, a kind of surreal, modernist take on a classic Walt Disney film. I’d never heard of Grimault before, but he has become to me one of those visionary directors (like Disney himself, and Marcel Carne, Hayao Miyazaki, Wes Anderson, David Lynch, Francois Truffaut, Steve McQueen…) that I now can’t imagine life without. I also watched Mondo Enduro, about a group of motorcyclists who spend a year motorcycling around the world. Nutters. But incredibly charming in their absolute geekiness and bumbling Englishness.

Music
Jon Hopkins at the Brixton Academy – what a blast! Amazing to be going to live music once again and a reminder of all that I have been missing while spending so many of my evenings watching plays. Exciting, fun and with a swagger that theatre can only dream of.

Jon Hopkins

Reading
Proust has been plodding along, but I’m finally coming to my senses with French. If I really want to improve then I do need to make some focus elsewhere. Proust is doing little more than helping me to sleep every night. And I honestly think I’d be getting much more out of it in English. So I’ve taken a few steps back and have got myself a load of Tintin comics (oh my word Tintin in the Congo is outrageously un-PC), am re-reading Bonjour Tristesse, and have downloaded Perault and Anderson’s fairy tales. Plus I’m going to watch a bunch of French animated movies and focus on learning the most used words in French in my non-reading time. So hopefully this will be the way forward!

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Other
Obviously the election has been a constant side-interest. I’ve gone through moments of being utterly bored and occasionally riveted; but mainly totally frustrated. Cameron, Milliband and Clegg just say the same thing over and over again. Elections seem to have become more about repeating sound-bites than any kind of real debate. Politicians now treat us like we’re stupid, and you could see public anger boiling over on Question Time. Why can’t politicians act like normal human beings and not the public relations department of their political party?!!!

Highlights since the last blog
– Thomas Jack live at the Brixton Academy.
– Discovering the French film Le Roi et l’Oiuseau. It’s already leap-frogged into my top ten movies.
– Alia Malik moving in – a real delight to have such a cherished friend around.
– Seeing my summer plans emerging – including holidays, personal development time, and production work for Instructions.
– Giving my French a big kick-start.

First week of Haroun Rehearsals

The Week in Work
First week of rehearsals for Haroun and the Sea of Stories at East 15, and I’ve been looking at two strands. In the mornings, I’ve been introducing the kind of techniques that I use as a director – Gaullier’s ‘pleasure’ principle and his insistence on actor sensitivity, Anne Bogart and Tina Landau’s Viewpoints and Keith Johnstone’s status work. In the afternoons, the group has been exploring the plot, themes, personal significance and contemporary resonances of the play. What I’ve immediatley noticed is that they are incredibly brilliant at corporeal work, and so bringing this element into the piece is an absolute must. The question I face is how to do that without any Le Coq-style ‘physical theatre’… which I hate. Why do I hate it? Because for me it’s very hackneyed, stuck in the 80s, and obsessed with ornate style over human substance. I’m looking for something a bit fresher; something that maintains a focus on the actors performances as opposed to showing off their gymanstic dexterity. However, the other problem I have is how to create the umpteen landscapes and action sequences with zero money. So lots to be thinking about moving forward. This week coming I want to really nail down some very specific scene and character work, before moving onto the big staging questions…

Shows
I’ve been hard at work in Southend all this week – so no time to watch shows!

Movies / TV
Watched the movie Starlet, by director Sean Baker. A fun, quirky piece – although I wonder how much patience I would have had with its stilted plotting if Drew Hemingway hadn’t been so absolutely gorgeous to watch. Even if it was kinda hackneyed story-wise, the cinematography and soundtrack were utterly fabulous, and it had that relaxed and rough feel that I’m really enjoying at the moment. Still, I wonder how much of me was watching the movie for its artistic merits, and how much of me was just enjoying the scantily clad women…

Music
I listened to Hannah Kendall and Anna Clyne’s hour-long slots on Radio 3’s Composer of the Week. Massively enjoyed both, and Hannah’s epic music I’d of course heard before. Anna Clyne was new to me though, and a revelation – a combination of the electronic sampling with the modernist aesthetic of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Utterly entrancing and can’t wait to explore more.

Reading
I’ve been reading David Selbourne’s account of Peter Brook’s rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a frustrating account – Selbourne is far more interested in the politics of the rehearsal room, the ethics of the director/actor relationship, his misgivings about ‘director’s theatre’ and his own insecurities as a failing writer. Really, all I care about is what Peter Brook was doing! There are occasional descriptions of rehearsal exercises, but these are few and far between. Still, interesting that Brook was so caustic with his actors, and so harsh on them. It’s not always about being immediately loved by the actors, but pushing them to a place, perhaps of great discomfort, where they will make deep discoveries.

Week Highlights

– A lovely day spent exploring the marshlands of the Thames estuary in Essex. Found an amazing pub located in a boat in Benfleet. Want to go back!

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– Got the Versys back – although significantly damaged…

– Sold the Varadero for £550. Day after I put it in Ebay. Nice!

– Discovered a new composer whose work I love – Anna Clyne

– The weather has been glorious – long may it continue.

The Coming Week
Outside of work, I’m looking forward to Alia moving in tomorrow night, and seeing King Size at the ROH on Friday night. I’m also trying to focus more and more on self-development, and want to spend some time reviewing Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. A very inspiring book that helped me a lot a while back.

Week in review – projects collide and my motorbike gets stolen

The week in work
Well, it’s been a hectic and fragmented week, and to be honest, I’m looking forward to getting focused on Haroun and the Sea of Stories rehearsals next week. Too much colliding on too many projects!

Unexpectedly, it felt like the opera I’m doing next year – The Knife of Dawn – got the lion’s share of my time. Monday was spent going through the first treatment of the libretto and meeting with Irina Brown to get some opera directing advice (I can’t wait until the summer, when I’m going to dedicate a big chunk of time to learning more about the medium). On Wednesday I was in the hallowed halls of the Royal Opera House to meet with their Associate Director John Fulljames – he was full of brilliant and generous producing advice. Hopefully he’ll remember me for my talent and charm rather than the fact that I dropped water all over his table and within centimetres of his MacBook! On Thursday evening we were at Tessa’s house going over her brilliant first treatment in minute detail. It’s shaping up to be a very exciting piece of work.

After that, Instructions for American Servicemen had a lot of producing work to be done, not to mention another work-in-progress outing at the Bath Comedy Festival, which went fantastically well. Boy In Darkness looks set to tour next year, and there were meetings about how that might work. A Lecture on Doubt, the live art/music/performance piece I’m developing with Sarah Johns got an evening session and some pitch writing. Finally, I was desperately trying to get my head around Haroun and the Sea of Stories and put together a vague rehearsal plan. Not quite enough done yet, but I should be able to get through the first week unscathed!

I also managed to fit in an afternoon of yoga for directors at the Young Vic, and a very lovely coffee with the theatrical demi-god that is Mike Alfreds. Such a lovely man, and wonderful to soak up his independent spirit and wealth of experience. I hope I’m as sprightly, switched on, and relaxed as he when I’m seventy.

Theatre Shows
I only managed the one show this week: Politrix at the new Hackney Showroom. It’s a strange space – basically a medium-sized warehouse with folding chairs, a lighting rig, and an mdf-bar decorated with fluorescent tubes a la Dan Flavin – but it was used brilliant by the Big House Theatre company, and shows a lot of potential. One thing going for it is it’s immense size compared to most fringe venues. My worry is that it’ll be scuppered by it’s woeful transport links. If it can tap into the local community, taking in both the ‘real’ Hackney-ites and the gentrifying cool-crowd, then it could have a flavoursome future. It’s hard to see it appealing to a wider London community though; unfortunately, when it comes to transport, I think people are just too lazy.

Reading
I’ve been reading The Active Text – Unlocking Plays Through Physical Theatre by Dymphna Callery. Although I’ve only made it through the first few chapters, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect book. Essentially it’s about applying physical theatre and devising techniques to the rehearsals of a pre-written play. Haroun… is the first ‘play’ I will direct in nearly four years. In my head, I was inventing all sorts of rehearsal room exercises to develop the ensemble’s knowledge of the text and characters. Low and behold, I open Dymphna’s book, and there are all the things I was planning on doing, and more. Although I’ll also be bringing in a huge array of Gaullier and Viewpoints inspired practise, it’s great to have a rehearsals road-map that I can experiment from over the next few weeks.

Music
I’ve been listening to a lot of Thomas Jack’s Tropical House mix-tapes. I’ve been knackered, but played while working, they’ve kept me upbeat and energised when all I wanted to do was sleep. A little bit of summer in my life.

Miscellaneous Thoughts
Without doubt the most traumatic part of this week has been having my new motorcycle stolen. Coming home on Thursday night, I was absolutely shattered, and must have dropped the key after locking up the bike. Returning the next day from Bath (where I’d spent most of the day fighting off a horrendous migraine), I walked past my parking-spot to discover it no longer there. Stolen. Through my own stupidity. It’s been a hard knock to take. I keep trying to remind myself that it’s only a motorcycle, that on every other scale of measurement my life is going stupendously well at the moment. Having Jean-Pierre visit from Paris has been an amazing way to keep my mind off it – no-one else makes me laugh so much. Ultimately though, I’m absolutely gutted. It sounds silly to say, but I had fallen in love with that bike. I was so proud of her. Every time I walked away from her I would gaze back, besotted by her beauty.  She represented freedom, anarchy, danger – the fact that my career was coming together and I could finally afford luxuries. And now she is gone, probably forever. She was not insured, and she was one of a kind. I know that in a short space of time I’ll get over the loss, but honestly, for the moment, thinking about it makes me want to cry.

The week’s highlights:

– Seeing The Real MacGuffins have a storming night at the Bath Comedy Festival

– Having Jean-Pierre visit from Paris

– A great session on Knife of Dawn with Tessa and Hannah

– Brilliant final show of Boy In Darkness by Gareth

– Very inspiring coffees with Irina Brown, Mike Alfreds and John Fulljames

The coming week

Can’t believe I’m starting rehearsals on Tuesday for my next show. Like with Boy In Darkness I feel woefully unprepared. I have a plan though, and I’m sure it will work out. At the very least, the script has already been written! Design meetings tomorrow, then on the train (grrr) the morning after. Southend here I come!!!

Week in review – 29th March 2015

The week’s highlights

1 – A very relaxing three days at home, mostly spent sleeping, reading and lying horizontal. Mum even brought me breakfast in bed once!
2 – Got a brand new phone which is rather lovely thankyou very much. A Samsung A3. And quite frankly, I don’t know why anyone would need anything more.

3 – Motorbike I think is finally fixed. Seems to be running very well either way.

4 – Had a couple of really strong shows for Boy In Darkness.

5 – Have been getting firmly back into yoga-zone.

The Week in Work

Not a huge deal of this, as I was mainly home trying to catch up on sleep this week. But it was great to see Gareth really beginning to nail consistent performances of Boy In Darkness and enjoying himself much more with the narrated segments. I hope that we can take this show on the road, it’s an incredible piece, and deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

This week’s shows

So, I got along to a couple of friend’s shows and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Royal Opera House this week.

I’ll keep waiting on the pavement for the ice cream van to come was the first solo show from my friend Ian Nicholson. A work-in-progress set in and around an ice cream van, it linked the history and demise of this particular British institution to Ian’s reflections on coming from the ‘island’ city of Portsmouth. There’s a lot of work still to come on this show, particularly in bringing together the rather tenuous link between the ice cream van and Pompey. Personally I would ditch the latter and focus on ice cream vans, but then again, I don’t really make the kind of auto-biographical pieces that this is trying to be. My main gripe with the show though was the £12 ticket price – which felt outrageous given that the show was clearly still in development, Ian was reading from a script at times, and the piece ended rather abruptly after thirty minutes. Inviting audiences to work-in-progress showings is an integral part of the way I work as well, but the prices are kept intentionally lower, and the show will at least be in some semblance of readiness.

For only £10 extra, I was able to sit (admittedly quite high) at the Royal Opera House for John Fulljames’ new production of Brecht and Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. The piece tells the story of the founding and ultimate degeneration of a kind of modern Sodom or Gomorrah where money is God and women little more than the trophies of men’s success. There were some fantastic musical highlights, and the mix of more traditional arias with jazz and other styles reminded me of Weinberg’s The Passenger – one of my all time operatic favourites. The acting and singing were strong, and Finn Ross’ projections brilliant; all in all, it had the ingredients of a great night out… but, ultimately, I was uninspired. Huge portions of it seemed to drag, and the production was just too safe, too clean; a Barbie-and-Ken-style parable, not the gritty, dirty, dangerous horror story it could have been. I think Es Devlin’s design has a lot to blame for this – there is no doubting how clever and pretty it was – but it was a smug and incredibly self-satisfied design that at best seemed to miss the point and at worst pandered to the very pretensions which Brecht and Weill’s opera was attacking. Which leads me to my final point – Brecht… I’ve staged his work myself, I think his innovations as a director were monumental, but nowadays, I just think his parables are so ludicrously one-sided. Capitalists aren’t necessarily evil, but are a fundamental and often ingenious part of our society. Yes, we should put curbs on greed, but to make them the villain of every piece, as Brecht does, is just absurd.

Later that evening I went along to Stringberg’s Creditors at the Brockley Jack, in a new version by my friend Neil Smith. Given the number of times I’ve seen and read Miss Julie, I can’t believe this very similar piece has slipped me by. As Neil said, it’s a kind of Miss Julie minus class anxieties. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ‘classic’ on the fringe, and it was a bit of strange experience. I sit in studio theatres and want to see something new or rarely done, something bold or formally adventurous. While Creditors was all of these things 125 years ago, and still retains Strindberg’s psychological brilliance, this is a very straight production. It’s a good production… but ultimately I can’t see the point. If I want to see a conventionally staged classics I’ll wait until the Donmar does it again with brilliant actors and exquisite production values. Given how fringe theatre prices are going I won’t have to pay much more for the privilege. The Fringe at its best offers experiences unavailable elsewhere.

Reading

I got a lot of reading done over my three days at home – Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins was my holiday book. A fun page-turner, and although it was somewhat spoiled by my having already seen the film, I enjoyed it’s simplistic escapism. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, based on his experiences in Auschwitz and Dachau, was a different kettle of fish – a both horrifying and hopeful vision of human behaviour. Leaving enough hints for our imaginations, Frankl fortunately saved us from graphic descriptions of the concentration camps. What emerges instead are the reflections of a  beautifully inspirational man. From the depths of misery, Frankl formulated what I suppose is today referred to as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – the theory that it is not the good or bad events that determine our mental health, but the attitudes that we take towards these events. Apparently when working with patients, Frankl would often ask ‘Why do you not commit suicide?’, and from the answers then received, move forwards. Linked to this is his other central tenet – that we should not be asking the meaning of life, but asking what life expects from us. In my case, I don’t commit suicide because there is so much of this world I want to explore, so many great friends I want to spend time with, so many experiences I’ve yet to have, so much more development as an artist I want to make, not to mention the fact that I don’t think I could ever put my mum through me killing myself! This is what life expects of me – to do my best for my friends, my family, my work… and to do it with the most generosity, humaneness and dignity I can muster. I firmly believe Frankl when he says that ‘pleasure is, and must remain, a side effect or by product, destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself’.

Music

Did I mention this last week – I’ve been loving Public Service Broadcasting. Although I prefer the music on their first album Inform-Educate-Entertain I love the full blown concept-album The Race for Space. The track Go! is just an incredible, heart-thumping and joyous experience.

Film & TV

Finally finished Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round this week. What an adventure! And what a brilliantly entertaining pair. Eastern Russia was just crazy, and reminded me of the joys of travelling off the beaten track, where the world is just a totally different place. I can’t wait to start watching The Long Way Down next.

I also caught Spike Jonze’s Her, which I loved, and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, which wasn’t quite as wonderful (and definitely didn’t get my mum’s seal of approval!), but which I thoroughly enjoyed. Both films had sensational lead performances from Joaquim Phoenix and Greta Gerwig’s respectively. Is Gerwig the most beautiful, fun and perfect women ever?

The coming week

Lots of little bits and bobs coming up, but priorities include:
– Final preparations for Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which starts rehearsals on the 6th.
– Time on Knife of Darkness treatment before meeting on Thursday
– Coffees with Irina Brown, John Fulljames, Mike Alfreds
– Final week of Boy In Darkness run – we’re aso filming the show, and lots more friends coming to see.
Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain is having another try-out at the Bath Comedy festival
– My friend Jean-Pierre is coming to visit from Paris!!!
– Yoga and theatre afternoon at Young Vic

Boy in Darkness opens!

Week in work

Boy In Darkness opened! And although it’s not perfect, I’m immensely proud. In less than four weeks we have written, staged, designed and teched what I think is a gem of a show. It’s been hard work, but I’ve learnt an enormous amount and the effort has been utterly worthwhile. Highlights of the show are of course Gareth’s performance, Svetlana’s movement direction, and the stunning combination of Martin’s design and Fiffi’s lighting. I also think we’ve managed to retain the mystery, tension and language of the original novella without compromising on theatricality. With an extra week of rehearsals I would have loved to have sculpted each of the scenes a bit more clearly, and done everything I could to make the show scarier. Ultimately though, I think the show is rather brilliant, and I feel very blessed to have been involved. The Peake family came on Friday and gave it their unanimous seal of approval, which was the icing on the cake.

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This was the first time I’ve put together a ‘mood board’ for the show, and given how jaw-droppingly beautiful the show looks, it’s certainly something I’ll be doing again. Check out the board plus images from the show here:

Theatre trips
Given that I spent the whole week in tech, previews and opening night for ‘Boy In Darkness’, I unsurprisingly didn’t make it to any theatre this week. However, lying in bed last night, I listened to a recording of Kate Tempest’s ‘Brand New Ancients’, which I saw last year at BAC. It’s an astounding piece – written in achingly beautiful modern verse, performed with virtuosic commitment and skill, underscored deliciously and telling an astounding modern epic. Just incredible. Had me in tears yet again.

Other cultural highlights

Ha! Not much time for anything else. Continuing to enjoy The Long Way Round on Netflix.

Reading stuff
Still stumbling along with Proust… After some delicious pages where the narrator glimpses the young daughter of Swann… we seem to be back to mind-numbing descriptions of Combray and the narrator’s family. Still, good to fall asleep to.

Miscellaneous Thoughts
Luckily I was able to get to yoga-brunch this Thursday at Hackney Downs Studio. It’s such a wonderful place to work, and the way in which they’re building a real community of artists is quite special. It reminds you that in a place like London, and in a career as transient as theatre directing, having that kind of place to go back to is a real privilege.

The Coming Week
So, there was me thinking I might have a bit of down time, but next week I’ve got a casting and design meeting for my next East 15 show (Haroun and the Sea of Stories – which I haven’t even had a chance to read yet), a meeting with my relationship manager at the Arts Council, a meeting with the Head of Publishing at the Bodleain Libraries about rights for ‘Instructions…’, and numerous other bits and bobs for the various other projects I’m working on. So, the silly season of being ridiculously busy continues! Luckily, I’m looking forward to all of these things, not to mention the culmination of the Six Nations on Saturday. I just wish they weren’t all coming so on top of eachother…

The week’s highlights
– Successfully navigating our way to Boy In Darkness’ opening night, and a cracking performance from Gareth to boot!
– Meeting with the Peake family and getting their seal of approval on the show
– Surprising mum in Cardiff for mother’s day
– Hanging out with Lily while she’s over from Berlin
– Riding the Kawasaki over the Severn Bridge – magical!
– Yoga Brunch at Heartspace

Week in review – Sunday 8th March

Theatre trips
After last week’s fiascos, it was a welcome change to see some brilliant shows…

Dead Centre’s ‘Lippy’ at the Young Vic and Gecko’s ‘Missing’ at BAC

In a normal week Lippy would have been the highlight, but that award goes to Gecko’s Missing’. Both shows were beautiful meditations – Lippy on the impossibility of crossing the divide between ourselves and other people, the present and the past; and Missing on how the narratives of our past continue to shape our present. As well, both shows were outstanding explorations of theatrical form.

Lippy started with a wonderful twist – a mock post-show Q&A. The subject of lip-reading was introduced, the difficult of ever really being able to interpret what other people are saying explored, and various elements of the preceding ‘show’ alluringly dropped in. I knew nothing about Lippy beforehand, so assumed this was going to be the entire show… it was amusing, interesting, but I did wonder how they were going to keep it going for 75 minutes. I needn’t have worried. The reveal into the show’s next portion was a spectacular coup-de-theatre – one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had in a theatre. The wordless sequence that followed was stunningly choreographed, beautifully executed, and both magical and terrifying at the same time. Ultimately the show’s second half could probably have done with some trimming, but it’s mix of Artaud, Beckett, Joyce, performance art and movement was intoxicating. The questions it asked were innumerable, but ultimately for me, at it’s heart was the impossibility of ever truly interpreting the events of the past or each other. We’re really all alone on this planet…

When I fist saw Gecko ten years ago, I would have firmly classed them as theatre. Frequently now, they are referred to as a dance company. It’s a mark of how they have developed, and the beguiling hinterland they now inhabit between the two worlds. My relationship with their work is slightly love/hate relationship though. The first time I saw them (performing ‘The Race’ in 2005), I adored their energy, fun and unabandoned joy. They were so playful with their exploration of modern life and created beautiful images out of very little more than a treadmill and puffs of chalk. Since then, they’ve grown up, and I haven’t always enjoyed the results. Many of their shows have been slow, ponderous – always an absolute treat for the senses, but frustratingly oblique. ‘Missing’ felt like the summation of that early energy and all the aesthetic lessons they have learnt from their more indulgent shows. At its centre was a wrenching narrative – the central character’s childhood trauma, the present damage it still has, and the fantastical ways the character attempts to deal with those early experiences. The imagery was wonderful, and the story and acting heart-breaking. Above all though, the show gave me an incredible amount of space to infuse my own life into the story. The cornucopia of languages (English, French, Italian, Spanish, German), the ambiguous characters, the non-linear presentation, the lack of prescriptive story-telling – Gecko never tried to lead the audience to clear conclusions about what the show might be trying to ‘say’. It was a wonderful lesson in telling just enough to allow us to follow a basic story, but never too much that might close down our own dreams and interpretations.

East 15 Physical Theatre Showcase – I’ll be directing these students in a month or so, and seeing their showcase was incredibly exciting. Their physical abilities are brilliant, they explode off the stage with their sheer youthful exuberance, and they work together as an ensemble superbly. ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ is going to be a challenge for both them and me, but it’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to.

Week in work
It’s been a tough week again with Boy In Darkness. Having finished the script last Friday, we only left ourselves a week to properly stage it. Well, when I saw ‘we’, I mean ‘I’. There have been a few hard lessons I’ve learnt during the course of this show, and one of the hardest is that the five weeks rehearsals is not the same as the three weeks. Perhaps blindingly obvious, but not something I fully appreciated until now. I spent the first week of rehearsals as if I had four more to go, and we’ve been playing catch-up ever since. Gareth (bless his socks) has worked insanely hard throughout, and so we did finish the week with a half-decent run that bodes well for next week. But of course, now we have to hand over to tech rehearsals, so time is ticking away! However there is so much in Gareth’s performance that is exciting, the set looks amazing, and I think the show is going to be a real treat.

It’s also been quite a humbling week in other ways. Not only have I had to come to terms with the mistakes I made in earlier weeks of rehearsals, but our movement director Svetlana Biba came in twice and showed me everything that I could have been doing! What an amazing talent she is – a supremely gifted physical performer with an incredible visual imagination and a brilliant directorial eye. Sitting in the corner watching her work I felt pretty useless… In two afternoons her impact on the show has been immeasurable, and the way she has unlocked Gareth’s physical abilities has been amazing. A real lesson in directing which I’m utterly grateful to have received, no matter how painful it might have been to sit through.

Moving forward, my aims for the coming week are to bring a much more mischievous and humorous layer to Gareth’s narrator, greatly improve the visual storytelling, and really bring out the coming-of-age story that I think lies at the heart of this piece. Lots to do, so fingers crossed!

Rehearsal set...

 

Other cultural highlights

After getting frustrated watching Ewen McGregor and Charley Boorman’s ‘The Long Way Round’ on a low-res YouTube link I ordered the DVD, only to discover minutes after it was on Netflix anyway!!! Anyways, have been loving this series. Normally I find travel programmes kinda boring, and I guess this reflects my own travelling tastes. I enjoy holidays most when I’m either relaxing on a beach, or doing something adventurous like kayaking or mountaineering. There’s this middle zone where you just kind of wander around looking at stuff which I find tedious. Maybe when I was inter-railing aged seventeen this was cool, but I guess then, the adventure was to be inter-railing at the age of seventeen! Ultimately, I’m just not that interested in other cultures… or not as much as I feel I ‘should’ be. Having worked in tourism for ten years and spent so much of my own time travelling, I just find sightseeing kinda boring now. The experience itself of being on holiday is more important to me, the countries I’m visiting a backdrop to this. I want to be relaxing, having an adventure, or spending time with family and friends. The Long Way Round reflects this – the countries they visit and the people they meet are incredibly important, beautifully shot, and culturally fascinating… but the adventure of Ewan and Charley motorcycling around the world is the real story, and even this, ultimately, plays second fiddle to a beautiful bromance between two very funny men.

Music
After a couple of weeks of non-stop Four Tet, I’ve been re-discovering my love of Tom Robinson’s ‘Introducing’ podcast on Radio 6. His taste is impeccable, and the absence of a DJ blathering away wonderful. More than anything, the music is stunning – a great mix from intimate acoustic numbers to punk to weird electronica. Joyous.

Reading stuff
So I’ve turned a slight corner with Proust. I was getting totally frustrated with its slow pace, it’s meandering prose, it’s horrendously difficult French. I thought, this is beyond me, I’m going to read Dumas instead. But actually, reading the first few pages of Les Trois Mousquetaires, I found myself immediately missing Proust’s exquisite writing. For all its difficulty, it is a truly wonderful mix of poetry and prose. So I decided to change the way I’m reading it. Now, I’m just taking it one paragraph at a time, one page a night. I read the page twice in French, check the vocab I don’t know, and then read my English translation to make sure there’s nothing I missed. So it takes a while. But instead of my normal way of reading books – which is generally a rush to find out what happens next – I’m now seeing every page as a treasure-trove in its own right, if only I take the time to really explore it. And I’m falling in love with the book again, with it’s meditative pace, and the space it takes to examine the minutiae of life. It’s quite zen… I might even describe it as an exercise in mindfulness. And given that it’s the last thing I do every night before falling asleep, I feel like it’s genuinely affecting my life and my waking thought patterns. If nothing else, it makes reading Ulysses seem like a doddle!

Miscallanous Thoughts
Not much time for these! Although it’s been amazing to see the sun come out and the hints of summer arriving. I can’t wait to get on my bike and start exploring the world.

The week’s highlights

– Gecko’s ‘Missing’ at the BAC and Dead Centre’s ‘Lippy’ at the Young Vic

– Taking the Versys for a couple of rides.

– Getting to a full run for Boy In Darkness

– Discovering ‘The Long Way Round’ was on Netflix

– Watching and learning from our movement director Svetlana