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.

boy_in_the_darkness001

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

A hard week at work

The week’s highlights

– Getting to the end of an exhausting week of Boy In Darkness rehearsals with a strong script and direction for next week’s rehearsals

– Another brilliant afternoon spent with the amazing Barbara Houseman

– The improving weather

– A night-time ride on the new motorcycle

– The delicious coffee I’ve been drinking from my Aeropress

– Unexpectedly bumping into my friend Lily (who lives in Berlin) at the Lyric Hammersmith

Theatre trips

Happy Days by Samuel Beckett at the Young Vic
Secret Theatre: A Streetcar Named Desire at the Lyric Hammersmith

I didn’t make it past the interval of either of these two productions. Perhaps I was not in the best mental shape to be watching theatre this week, exhausted from Boy In Darkness rehearsals. But I’ve sat through great theatre when exhausted and come out feeling utterly exhilarated and awake. Neither of these two shows managed anything but the opposite.

Happy Days  – Every two or three years I say I’m going to give Beckett another chance. I’ve seen some of my favourite directors tackle his work – Robert Wilson (Happy Days), Simon McBurney (Endgame, with Mark Rylance), Peter Brook (Fragments). Every time I go back, I have renewed optimism that this time I’ll enjoy Beckett. But every time I’m bored shitless. Which is not the feeling I get when I read Beckett… but I’ve just never had that magical experience, which I’m sure must happen occasionally, when it roars off the stage in all its absurd beauty and hilarity. For example, having sat through two dull as ditchwater productions of Endgame a few years ago, I actually decided to read it. I was laughing away! I thought, this is pure clown… but I’ve never seen it played that way. Instead, whenever I see Beckett, it’s treated with absolute reverence: ‘we are in the presence of greatness’. Something sacred. Something that we will endure like it or not. Nothing can survive this kind of reverence, which the Young Vic production wallowed in. It was not funny, I didn’t feel any kind of connection to Juliet Stevenson, I didn’t understand the design choices, and I was bored. Surely someone can make Beckett both meaningful and entertaining!

Secret Theatre – A Streetcar Named Desire Some of the best things I’ve seen in London originated from David Farr’s tenure at the Lyric Hammersmith – Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Spyski immediately jump to mind. But there’s something I find deeply unappealing about the Lyric’s current output. I admire Sean Holmes’ attempts to explore more European aesthetics, and in some cases this has paid off wonderfully (his production of Simon Stephens’ Morning was a brilliant case in point). On the most part though, I feel like I’m watching very boring English actors dumped into an empty approximation of German theatre. Now I have to point out that I was in a minority of one at the theatre – everyone else at the production was enthralled. But for me, this was an ugly, miscast, badly acted, embarrassingly bad production that stripped Williams’ sensuous world of any mystery, beauty, elan or atmosphere. I can see what Holmes was trying to do – blast the play down to it’s absolutely brutal kernel. But by robbing the piece of all that steamy atmosphere of the American south and replacing it with a cold, rational, British-accented reading of the piece, so much was lost and little gained. I find Holmes’ productions posses the stark outward facade of a continental production (or at least what we in the UK imagine to be a continental production), but the actors themselves don’t seem to be doing anything different. There is none of the imagination, craziness and explosiveness of the best European theatre. It’s not enough to put actors in austere, art-gallery-like settings. Something else has to happen to the very DNA of the performance itself. At a minimum, a director should read the play like a poet; not a social scientist.

Week in work

It’s been a tough old week at the office. Every production goes through it’s ‘oh shit’ moment, when you’re faced with the reality of opening night, and the complete unpreparedness of the production for that occasion. This happened on Monday, when Gareth and I hit absolute loggerheads. Gareth had gone away over the weekend and come back with some drafts of the script. There was a lot of great stuff within it, but when I tried to suggest some changes, Gareth got very defensive. I got defensive back – what was I supposed to be doing here if not to give feedback? I think both of us were struggling with our own battles. My worries were that I had completely scuppered the rehearsal process by working in a way that was completely unsupportive of Gareth as a performer. Forcing him to take a very analytical approach to the piece, spending so much time focused on writing a solid script, and asking him to stick much more closely to Peake’s language than he had been. Gareth’s never worked this way before. He’s instinctual, brilliant, highly physical. He left school when he was fourteen. I think my preoccupation with the script left me, in his mind, being connected with every teacher who’d ever criticized his written work. I think he was also panicking with the sheer scale of work that needed to be done. I took some of his scenes and worked on them that night, to show that actually I wasn’t asking for big changes, but just refining, clarification. Showing this to Gareth the next day, he saw this, and his trust slowly returned. For the next two days we were pretty much stuck in front of our computers. Gareth sending me drafts, me re-drafting them, until we got to the end. Thursday we read through the drafts, cut down on my tendency to over-write scenes, and then did the same again on Friday. Neither of us got a great deal of sleep, but the effort was fully worthwhile. We now have a very solid script going into the last week of rehearsals that I hope will serve us well. What’s more, going through the oh-shit phase, working our asses off together, and finally coming out the other end with something we were both happy with has cemented our relationship in a wonderful way. I’m very excited about moving forward.

I’m also incredibly excited about the rest of the creative team we have working with us. Martin’s set ideas are looking fabulous, and Jon’s first stabs at sound design had us talking about a gazillion possibilities. Our second voice session with Barabara Houseman was also amazing – having someone of her experience working on the project is quite an incredible privilege.

Which leaves me with Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, which, believe it or not, was also kicking off massively this week! We now have twenty confirmed or pencilled bookings, which is the target I set myself at the beginning of the bookings process. Huzzah! Mainly this week we’ve had a lot of rural schemes jumping on-board, but we will also be returning to venues like the Yvonne Arnaud. A few more venues to chase up and then I think we will be done.

Other cultural highlights
I haven’t really had much time for anything but work this week. I did try and watch the first episode of Better Call Saul… but didn’t make it past the first half-hour. I was expecting some very silly knockabout comedy. Clearly the writers had more serious thoughts in mind. Either way, it was dull. And looked kind of cheap as well. My Leonora Carrington book has arrived, and I’m looking forward to dipping into that when I get a moment. I also watched Prometheus, which was enjoyable, but not much more. Certainly nothing on the level of the original Alien movie. It felt like Ridley Scott was trying to do something between an action movie and a horror, but kind of failing to achieve either. It also fitted into what I labelled a while back the ‘psuedo-intellectual’ action movie. These are movies which purport to have deep-seated philosophical examinations at their core, but in reality are ham-fisted nonsense. At their best, they’re both wonderfully entertaining and thoughtful – The Matrix, Inception… both worked very simple concepts into fabulously stylish movies. But Prometheus seemed to think that it was an incredibly deep film, when in fact, it was just an average sci-fi with a few beautiful images.

Music

Four Tet non-stop this week. Just love to write and work to them.

Reading stuff

Proust continues… but I’m nearing the end of my patience. Too tired to deal with it.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently watching music videos. I used to pooh-pooh these as being little more than glitz, pop and sugar. In contrast to the bland uniformity of most television these days, music videos shine out as a format where quirkiness, high production values and artistic risks are embraced. Even when the videos are still a bit saccharine, there still at least seems to be an attempt at making something different. Maroon 5’s wedding crashing video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09R8_2nJtjg) had my flatmate arguing for ages about how staged the scenes were, Mark Ronson / Bruno Mars’ 80s flashback had us trawling our memories for all the references (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09R8_2nJtjg) and SIA’s Elastic Heart if not totally successful, is brilliantly weird (http://www.vevo.com/watch/sia/elastic-heart-feat-shia-labeouf–maddie-ziegler-official-video/USRV81400854).

The coming week 

Priority for this week is, unsurprisingly, our final week of Boy In Darkness rehearsals. We’ve got a script, we’ve got a strong idea of where we want to take it, now we have to put it all together.

Weekly reflection – 22/02/15

Every week, I’m going to try and reflect on the week I just had. I have no idea who it might be of  interest to. To be honest, it’s the act of writing, remembering and reflecting that is most important to me. I feel lucky enough to live a jam-packed life, and  I want to have a chance to think back over some of the more enriching things that happen. Hopefully this is a slightly more systematic way of doing it. At the very least mum will know what I’m up to.

22nd February 2015, London

The week in work

First week of rehearsals for ‘Boy In Darkness’ at the Blue Elephant. It’s been a strange week. Normally the first week is about exploring the subject matter of the show as a team. But Gareth already knows the story so well that sometimes I wonder if I’m not just wasting his time, and I can feel him getting frustrated. However, I’ve made the mistake of jumping straight to staging before, and I hope the time spent going deep at the beginning will pays its rewards. I want the piece to come out of Gareth like he wrote it, but I also want him to know exactly what the stepping stones in the story are. Otherwise it risks coming out like a jumbled mess which the audience won’t follow. To achieve the kind of grounded, minimalist telling I’m interested in, I think that we need to start slow and build from the ground up. At least I hope so. It’s strange, because for the first time I feel that in these rehearsals I’m not experimenting with how I rehearse – I’m using techniques that have served me well in the past. Which is at odds with my desire to be constantly pushing and extending my work. I don’t want any two shows I create to be at all alike. At the same time, I don’t want to throw away techniques that have previously worked well just for the sake of it. We shall see. What is clear is that Gareth is an incredible performer, and Mervyn Peake’s story is extraordinary. As long as I can release that talent then we will have a very strong show.

At the same time lots of work to be done pushing the Instructions tour… we’ve got about six bookings now, but it’s a slog…
Theatre I saw

Physical Science at the Blue Elephant
Tree by Daniel Kitson at the Old Vic
You Are Not Alone by Kim Noble at the Soho Theatre

Physical Science was a cute piece of interactive dance theatre for young kids. Watching my little cousin jiving away was a joy, and I’m hoping to get him hooked on theatre with lots more visits as he grows up. I also loved watching sign-language performed by a trained dancer. It was elegant in a way I’ve never imagined before, and reminded me of the beautiful opening to Robert Lepage’s ‘Blue Dragon’ when he explains the symbolism behind Chinese characters. I’ve currenlty living with two BSL signers, so determined to learn a bit!

Tree was perhaps the most disappointing of the three. Very pleasurable way to spend an evening, but felt strangely old-fashioned – like it was from Alan Ayckbourn’s back catalogue. Which is great if you like Alan Ayckbourn, but wasn’t exactly what I was expecting from Daniel Kitson. It was very witty, very light, very pleasurable, very well performed, but too long and ultimately just a little bit too flimsy.

I’d been looking forward to Kim Noble’s You Are Not Alone for some time, and was not disappointed. What an gob-smacking mixture of comedy, performance art, theatre, punking, shock, video and music. One of those amazing shows that is both as formally dazzling as it is penetrating of its subject matter. Exploring male loneliness, sexuality and identity in a fragmented and digital world, Noble had us giggling away, shocked by his audacity and tearful. Often at the same time. Wow.

Cultural highlights

So I joined Tate last Sunday, which felt like a very grown up thing to do. After filling in all the forms and enjoying the view from the member’s room, I didn’t really have time to do any art-viewing, so literally ran around the two exhibitions. But there were some great pieces that I’m looking forward to seeing more. Marlene Dumas continues to astound me, and it was funny seeing pieces that I’d previously had to myself in private galleries now surrounded by huge crowds. This portrait of Phil Spector remains one of my favourites:

Forsaken 2011
Wasn’t so into the endless horror of the Conflict, Time, Photography… but that’s not to deny the beautiful work on display. The highlight probably Sophie Ristelhueber’s post-Gulf War images.

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Ultimately though, the big thing I’m looking forward to at Tate is Leonora Carrington – annoying I’ll have to travel all the way to Liverpool to see it, but I’m sure it’s going to be worth it.

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And this is an eerie drone video from Chernobyl that captures a soviet era ghost town post nuclear fallout.  https://vimeo.com/112681885

Reading stuff 
I’m a huge fan of Eric Barker, and his thought-provoking, research-backed thoughts on modern living continue to help me grow happier. This piece on learning to settle for ‘good enough’ is perhaps one of my favourites http://tinyurl.com/q8do32a.

Tragic news that Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer, but I hope I can leave with as much dignity, joy and love for life as this beautiful man http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/opinion/oliver-sacks-on-learning-he-has-terminal-cancer.html.

This final piece, also from the NY Times was just weird. I couldn’t work out if it was a Paul Auster-style short story, but seems to be for real. I’ll say nothing more: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com//2015/02/14/a-curious-case-of-writers-block/

Novel-wise I’m continuing to struggle through Proust (in French…). A few paragraphs every night before I go to sleep… beautiful, but I do rather wish he’d get on with it.

Music

Four Tet has been the soundtrack to the week – wonderfully chilled electronica. This is my favourite track http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Unicorn/6BBZtW?src=5

Miscellaneous Thoughts…

I’ve been watching Michael Cockerell’s fly-on-the wall documentary ‘Inside the Commons’ (with significant contributions from Jack MacInnes). I can’t get over how much that place seems stuck in the nineteenth-century. Both physically as a building, but in the way it’s run. I mean, seriously? All those ridiculous costumes, arcane titles, and pompous ceremonies? And the amount of paper they seem to waste on a daily basis – did no-one tell them the joys of Google-docs? Cloud storage? Sexual equality? It’s crazy to think that it’s how our country is run. The Labour and Lib Dem MPs are coming over surprisingly well – grounded, unpretentious, genuinely likeable. The Conservative party on the whole just seems odious – which is not a comment on their politics. The party just seems to attract the kind of person that sees politics as an extension of private-school privilege and university debating societies. These self-serving, conceited toffs seem to be running our country though.

I also had an illuminating, if slightly drunken chat with another director on Saturday night. She’s not interested in making work outside of London; I don’t care so much about London and would much rather be doing stuff that tours. Mainly because I think London has enough theatre, but also because I wouldn’t be making theatre today if it weren’t for groups like Trestle who came to culture-starved Jersey. I want to make theatre for real people. I can’t help thinking that most London work, especially on the fringe, is more about pushing careers and stroking egos than a real commitment to audiences.

The week’s highlights

– I got a new motorcycle! A Kawasaki Versys 650 – which is a beautiful beast that I’m also terrified of. And terrified it’s going to get stolen very quickly… The most expensive thing I’ve ever bought (thankyou mum for helping me with the cost), so no big holidays this year and purse-strings will have to be tightened for some considerable time. Aiming to take it on a road trip this summer though – maybe South of France and Spain?

– Also got an Aeropress coffee maker. What a bargain! £25 for an expresso machine that makes coffee that is just out of this world. Delicious beans I got from my local cafe + aeropress = best coffee I’ve ever had in my life,

– Kim Noble

– A lovely evening catching up with Lady Lynne Forbes.

– Grant’s birthday bash. Planned on staying in and decorating room, but plan completely destroyed by horrendous hangover. Oh well, I’m working hard. Important to let loose a bit.

Devised theatre: ten tips for a truly creative collaboration

(Originally published on The Guardian’s Culture Professional Network)

Britain may lay claim to some of the world’s greatest dramatists, but solitary scribbling isn’t the only way to create theatre. “Devising” is a process in which the whole creative team develops a show collaboratively. From actors to technicians, everyone is involved in the creative process. Since the pioneering Oh What a Lovely War, some of theatre’s most exciting productions have been made this way.

It’s both an exhilarating and terrifying way to work. I love the challenge of creating a show from scratch, but with this freedom comes a significant catch: there’s no script; no safety net. I’ve spent most of the past decade walking this tightrope. From shows that have ended up touring nationally to flops I’d rather forget, here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Be passionate about your source material

It might be a story you love, an injustice that enrages you or a question you can’t stop asking – just make sure you’ve chosen a starting point that fascinates you. This curiosity will keep you alive to new possibilities, make you fearless when things get tough, and ensure you’re always digging deeper.

If you don’t care, why should an audience?

Do your research

The more you know about your starting material, the freer your imagination will be within it. Research nourishes rehearsals, provides a huge wealth of material from which to devise, and gives authenticity to your final production. The latter is important; if an audience questions the world you create, it’s almost impossible for them to relax into the fantasies you’re weaving. Of course, if you’re creating a clown show, ignore all the above; ignorance will be bliss.

Get your material out there as soon as possible

Nothing gets me off my backside like the prospect of public humiliation. Without the pressure of a reading or work-in-progress night, I wouldn’t create anything. Early previews will stop you over-thinking, get you creating, allow you to test material and (hopefully) build a buzz for the show. If premature exposure sounds too terrifying, you can always invite supportive friends into your rehearsals.

Unite the whole company around a common purpose

Set aside some time early on to explore everyone’s personal objectives for making the piece. Then, as an ensemble, write a unified mission statement for the show. This might range from explicitly political aims to simply wanting to create a joyous evening of fun – it might even change as the project moves forward. It will provide an essential framework against which you can judge every decision you make and ensures that everyone is travelling in the same direction.

Keep an open mind

Few things will choke creativity more than your brainy ideas about what you think will work. Admit that you know nothing, keep an open mind and listen attentively to the people with whom you’re working. The smallest comments can spark Eureka moments, and there really is no such thing as a bad idea. Some of my favourite scenes were inspired by tiny glimmers in otherwise awful improvisations. It’s often the most disastrous rehearsals that tell me where I’m going wrong. As long as you’re venturing into the unknown, there’s no such thing as failure.

The importance of story is relative

Some people swear that story is everything, but it really depends on the show. If I’m adapting a pre-existing narrative, story will undoubtedly be high on my priorities. But sometimes it will only emerge once we start connecting the material we’ve made. In comedy, it’s often just a framework from which to hang the gags. What’s certainly true is that an early obsession with plot will close you off from many discoveries.

Always look for counterpoints

If your subject matter is serious, look for the moments of humour. If you’re doing comedy, remember that it’s probably not funny for the characters involved. Similarly, don’t get stuck in endless dialogue; the way you tell a story through action, movement, music, design, sound and lighting is just as important as the words.

Everyone works differently

Devising doesn’t have to mean endless improvisations. Let people create material in whichever way works best for them. Some of the best scenes will come when people are just given time to go home and write.

Don’t be precious

Throw away your rehearsal plans if they’re not helping, give your best jokes to another actor, consider moving your final scene to the start, simplify the plot-line, and mercilessly edit your show to the shortest length possible. I’ve never regretted any cuts or changes I’ve made to a show; getting the rhythm right trumps everything.

Stay optimistic and enjoy yourselves

Things will inevitably go wrong, but remember to keep looking for the joy and inspiration to create. Stuck in a hole? Play a silly game or get outside and do something fun. You’d be surprised how many good ideas come when you’re not trying.

And we’re off!

British Cover

It’s a little over a week since I arrived home to find an envelope waiting for me from the Arts Council. We’d applied for funding to develop a new show, and I’d like to say there was a moment of fear, perhaps anticipation as I peeled it open; but the truth is you don’t even have to open the envelope to know. Rejected applications get a short pro-forma letter – perfunctory, polite, and disheartening. Accepted applications however get that magical YES-letter plus a lengthy contract and financial questionnaire, in duplicate. The envelope waiting for me was thick with paper – we had scored a winner! Then my flatmate told me our landlord was selling and we’d be homeless pretty soon – life has a way of keeping you in check.

The show we’ll be making is ‘Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain’, inspired by the 1942 pamphlet of the same name. Given to American troops on their way to Blighty, the Instructions were a crash course on the quirks and customs of British life, featuring everything from cricket and ‘indoor amusements’ to Sunday afternoons in the country. Our plan is to tour in late 2015, and for the moment, we’ve been awarded enough money to spend two weeks developing ideas, followed by a work-in-progress performance at The Theatre Chipping Norton.

We might have our funding, but there’s a lot of hard work to come. The last week has been full of meetings, phone calls, and all the joyous administration tasks that even a small show like ours requires. It’s a precious time though – before we get bogged down in all the details we can dream about what we really want to achieve. For me, that boils down to two things: creating a fun, silly show that takes an irreverent look at what it means to be British; and working hard to create quality interactions with the audiences and venues we tour to.

For the show itself, I can’t wait to work with Dan, Jim and Matt from The Real MacGuffins. They’re a fab comedy trio full of ridiculous witticisms, idiotic imaginations and a finely-honed inter-personal dynamic (i.e. Matt is the butt of every joke). They love to work directly with an audience, and I know that together we can create a joyous evening of entertainment. More than that though, I want the show to bring together communities that might not normally connect. Theatre, especially if you’re playing in a village hall miles away from the nearest town, is one of those rare times when communities come together with the sole aim of having a good night out. I’m imagining panto-style interactions, audience-members split into competing teams, and a big song and dance at the end. Theatre’s a social occasion, and I want Instructions to tap into that spirit.

As a theatre company, it’s not only a chance for Fol Espoir to deliver another great show, but also to deepen our relationship with our audiences. Our last show Winston On the Run toured to a huge number of venues. Perhaps because of this, it felt like we were in and out of theatres in the blink of an eye. This time we want to be of better service to the communities we tour to – offering workshops, post-show talks, educational activities for schoolchildren and more obvious ways in which people can stay in touch with us once we leave. I want Instructions to be more than just a show. I want it to be an event.

The Writing Process by Freddie Machin

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The first time John Walton and I met was at his old flat in Covent Garden. He auditioned me for one his first productions as a director, an adaptation of Mishima’s Yoroboshi. I didn’t get the part, but – and actors can take solace from this next bit – he kept me in mind for a future project. Yes, that overused and frequently hollow promise that underlines every rejection letter does sometimes actually come true.

Within a few months we were thrust together again at Gifford’s Circus, touring in their summer production of War and Peace. During the rehearsal process I had my first play produced in London. Chicken premiered at Southwark Playhouse, earning me the nickname ‘Shakespeare’ with our circus director. A moniker I tried endlessly to re-ignite with my peers in London but alas it was not to be. Not least because I wasn’t really a writer yet. My only experience of the writing process had been sitting in my bedroom, living on crisps and banging my head against a wall. That’s how I wrote Chicken.

But that’s not strictly true, the catalyst which converted me from actor to actor-writer came before that, on a collaborative writing project at Action Transport Theatre. Under the guidance of super-mentor and professional playwright Kevin Dyer, myself and three other emerging writers researched and wrote a play which we toured back to the young people who had inspired it.

I found this collaborative writing process completely different to that of writing Chicken. Much of our early work at Action Transport was done in a rehearsal room, either leading workshops with the young people we met or discussing our memories of our own childhoods and our ideas as a writing team. This led into a more traditional solo writing period but it was characterised initially by vocalising ideas rather than the silent solitude of my garret in London.

Working with John on Winston… was in some respects a combination of the two and another equally steep learning curve for me, chiefly because I had never researched my main character before. I had based characters on people close to me, people I had read about in the newspaper and people I had met but never someone that everybody in the world was already well acquainted with.

So the first thing we did was spend a week in a rehearsal room with My Early Life – Churchill’s autobiography covering the period – and enthusing over what was great about the book – the imperial cast list, the numerous trysts with death, our lead character’s insistence on silk underpants. A focus for our story quickly presented itself to us – bookended by an Oldham by-election failure and an Oldham general election success – was an impossible tale of escape and endurance in South Africa.

Every writer I have ever sought advice from has told me that the dialogue always comes last. The majority of your work, particularly in the early stages, will be spent structuring and re-structuring the piece and discovering who your character is. Once you have these two things down, the dialogue will write itself.

John often says that one of the reasons we worked so successfully together on this project was because he has that meticulous, scientist’s eye for construction and I have a natural bent for character and dialogue.

And true to form, the first thing I wanted to do was the fun bit – write the words. My initial interests in the script lay in the tone and getting Churchill’s voice right – an uncommon mixture of Victorian era imperial entitlement and naïve, youthful ambition.

Because that’s the bit you spent your life overhearing at bus stops, scratching down in notebooks and what lingers from a great production – that is what makes you want to be a writer and that is what will engage the audience when the piece is performed. But it’s also the bit that must be deferred.

So we painstakingly beat out a structure, moment by moment and gradually, inadvertently, through studying the facts of the real life story, a character began to emerge. Tiptoeing towards dialogue we experimented by giving him some of Churchill’s actual words to speak. We transposed as much of the young war correspondent’s dispatches into our script as possible and read it aloud.

It was a complete failure. Although Churchill is a great writer – his florid language and imagery so pleasurable and evocative for the reader – when spoken as dialogue, the text falls flat. Heavy, dense and far too wordy, it did not capture the essence of the man at all let alone the energetic spirit of youth captured in the story.

In relying too heavily on the facts of the story we had become too loyal, too reverent to the myth of Churchill. And so I was given the license to start create dialogue and being released from the bonds of verbatim text was hugely liberating.

John suggested we refer to him as Winston rather than Churchill to help alleviate us of the burden of history and in my sketches and early drafts I went one further – I called him Paul. Soon enough, whilst maintaining all of those essential character traits we had compiled and discarding his famous title, all the pomp began to dissipate. He became human for the first time – a young person, like you or I, facing his demons, contesting with his destiny and defining himself for the first time.

And that is the spirit with which we continued – drafting and redrafting, in cafés, in rehearsal rooms, at fringe festivals around the country, fine tuning this thing we had carved from science and art, structure and dialogue, the known and the unknown.

Winston’s PR journey – a post from our wonderful media genie Jane Verity

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Our journey with Fol Espoir started with a slightly awkward conversation with a fairly sceptical sounding John Walton. John had got in touch through a mutual friend who had recommended us, but I didn’t know this at the time, and thought it was an off spec enquiry.

What I realised as I was speaking to him, and one of the things I’ve enjoyed about working with Fol Espoir since, is that whilst ‘PR’ is a dark art for so many of the people I work with – something they know needs to happen, but have no desire to get involved in – for John and Freddie it didn’t fall into the ‘scary’ category, but instead it was another part of the adventure, approached with just as much openness, creativity, honesty and intelligence as they approached the show.

I think John sounded sceptical that day because he was still weighing up his decision, trying to sound tough, and decide whether we were the best he’d spoken to.

But I also think that throughout the project there has been a real striving for excellence in John that has made me feel, well, not uneasy, but just like I had to prove myself, to live up to his expectations.

And that’s actually a really interesting point about client relationships. I’ve always assumed that the ideal is that you treat each other like friends – you have a giggle on the phone, you know about each other’s house sale / new car / favourite TV show – but working with Fol Espoir has really reminded me that some of the most productive relationships are not even.

What I felt, and what John made me feel, was a responsibility to do a good job. Not because he was being horrible or demanding, but because when you’re working with people who are really good at what they do – and really invested in what they do – you have an obligation not to let them down.

And there is a real duty of care with clients like Fol Espoir too. Their money, like many of our clients, comes from arts council funding – tax payers’ hard earned money that our government still, just about, believes is best spent in making theatre and then in persuading people to come and see it.

So all in all that’s a lot of pressure. It’s a question we always ask ourselves before accepting PR project work. Can we deliver on the clients’ expectations? If not, that’s a lot of heartache and a lot of blame to shoulder – particularly in a discipline where ultimately you’re never in control of the results. But that doesn’t matter – if you sign on the dotted line and say you’re going to make something happen and then you can’t, there’ll only be one person to blame in the client’s eyes.

But in this case I was happy to say that we could it. They had sensible expectations – the focus was on regional press rather than national, on bums on seats rather than glittering reviews, and the show had almost all of the ‘magic’ ingredients for great press coverage – a real life story about a well-known figure, not the story we all know, but something different – the young Winston Churchill, opening in Winston’s home town, a one-man show being performed by a young theatre company. And they had great production photographs already, from an Edinburgh run last year.

And we were right. Doing press for Winston on the Run has been easy. I don’t say that lightly, and I wouldn’t say it about anything else I’ve worked on this year. I did it with the help of one of our PR execs, Lisa, whose organisational skills worked a treat on a 30 date tour of one night shows. And it was easy because the strength of the story really captured journalists imaginations, and also because Freddie is such an eloquent interviewee. He made an excellent radio guest – and 10 BBC radio interviews later, he hadn’t missed a single beat, racing around to fit interviews into his day’s travel from one venue to the next, not just enthusing about the show, but engaging presenters in a debate.

I think it’s easy to sit in your office as a PR, setting people up with interviews, without really thinking about how much personal effort it takes to actually do them, and do them well. It was also easy because both John and Freddie were always there at the other end of an email, or a phone call, and because we were working together with one common goal.

We approached the task in a methodical way, identifying a list of target venues with John, and then prioritising key titles for each venue. We used the venues communications teams as a starting point – their local knowledge is always the key to projects like this – and then it was just a case of being thorough about contacting and following up with each contact, co-ordinating and recording interview requests, and being organised enough to put together a schedule that Freddie could keep up to, as well as fitting in around tech time and once the show was open, travel time.

As regional and national media become more and more stretched in terms of their journalists’ time and ability to travel, the tide turns more towards the need to provide ready-made content. So in many cases writers were asking for email question and answers rather than phone interviews, and The Guardian Professionals Network asked for an 800 word blog. Obviously, this changing landscape gives a great opportunity for those who have the time and skill to write, but it does change the balance of how much time on projects is spent writing, as opposed to pitching. In lots of ways that’s great – it gives the control back to us – as well as a sense of being a ‘maker’ rather than a middle man – but it does tend to be more time consuming. In this case though, Freddie and John were great – and were happy to give the time to write great content – and one of the results can be seen here:

http://www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2013/oct/11/post-show-theatre-discussions

People often ask ‘what works best’ in terms of the mix between print media, online and broadcast – but the only proper answer to that question is that what you really want is a bit of everything. I think here we got a nice balance between radio, traditional print and online – although perhaps it would have been nice to have seen more really good, engaged arts bloggers in the regions the show toured to – I’m sure they’re out there – but we just didn’t quite find the time to focus our energies in that direction, and I think it was agreed that the audience for this particular show were perhaps more interested in traditional than ‘new’ media.

I think this tour has been a learning process – both for us and for Fol Espoir, and there are certainly things that we could have done differently (like starting work two months earlier), but I think I can hold my head up and say that we lived up to John’s expectations. Just about.

– Jane works with arts, leisure and business tourism clients as an account manager for Bonner & Hindley Communications. She was press officer for the West Yorkshire Playhouse and is Press and PR Manager for Red Ladder Theatre.