Adventures in Audio Part 1: HighTide

Honour sees bucolic cutting-edge at Hightide

Exeunt Magazine.    HighTide Festival Theatre

I was recently given a Zoom. They are wonderous things with many mics and the ability to record in such high quality that it took me an entire day to transfer this file to the lovely Daniel B Yates (that or my computer’s as slow as I’ve always suspected). ANWAY. Scroll down on the Exeunt main page and you’ll see little old me. Have a listen. What do you think?

Exeunt Magazine

Interview: Jon Cooper on A Lady Of Substance

Written for What’s On Stage

Shortly after graduating Kent University, Jon Cooper won a place on The Old Vic’s New Voices company 2006. Subsequently he was chosen to be part of the Old Vic’s US/UK exchange program. His first full-length play For Once I Was was developed at The Old Vic and then went on to have a run at theTristan Bates Theatre. A Lady of Substance was developed at the Manchester 24/7 Festival with director Matthew Dunsterand is currently receiving its London premiere at the Tristan Bates Theatre.

Talk us through the story of A Lady of Substance

It’s about an older poet, early 40s, who has had a relatively tragic experience happen in her life and is stuck in a cycle of self-destruction. She’s left her flat and then comes back one day to find that this 16 year-old girl has broken in and has been squatting. The two of them together have loves, the young girl of hip-hop and the older woman of poetry. Over the course of a 24-hour period the two of them spend time together talking and sharing and learning and writing, while also dealing with the loses that have happened in their lives and also going on a gigantic bender!

So there are some embarrassing hip-hop and performance poetry moments in it?

Well there are a number because I wrote them all! As a young middle class white man I’ve done a sterling job! No I believe that hip-hop is a continuation of poetry in many respects. Hip-hop is the selection of words and the refinement of the English language with a beat placed underneath it to help accessibility. You can learn as much from early hip-hop about the way a particular society was dealt with by the police and what it wasto live in those social conditions as you can from Keats about love. I thought that that was an important thing to be exploring. Also it’s a nice generational thing to have an older and a younger person who are trying to describe to each other why it is that they love what they love and actually finding that they have some common ground.

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Review: A Russian Play

Written for The Stage

Ostensibly a black comedy, A Russian Play is actually rather like the stand-up gig you long to forget – you know the one, where you like the comedians but they just can’t make you laugh. Pegged as being a cross between Withnail and I and Crime and Punishment, John Thompson’s new play feels more like a tepid imitation of both.

It’s 1916 on the eve of revolution in Petrograd. Two unlikely friends (a poet and a revolutionary) are huddling in a small attic trying to survive poverty and starvation. When they attempt to rent out a bed to a lodger things develop with tragic results.

In David Salter’s amiable production the cast give spirited performances. Tom Kanji as pained writer Fyodor has a touching fragility and as frustrated man of action, Alexei Dan Percival is suitably fists first, in a bombastic performance.

Olivia Du Monceau’s detailed design gives a palpable sense of the cramped squalor in which these desperate men have to live.

There are philosophical echoes of Samuel Beckett in this vagabond relationship and some interesting ideas around violence necessitated by poverty. But these threads are not developed into any tangible discussion, leaving A Russian Play to flounder into something of a non-event.

Runs until 4th March.

 

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

Written for FEST.

Over at St George’s West there’s a show exploring the idea of audience culpability and responsibility. It’s not Audience, currently making a big noise for its questionable ethics and shock tactics, but rather the infinitely more subtle White Rabbit Red Rabbit. Read cold by a different actor each day, we are asked to partake in a series of choices both for ourselves and them. We are told that this is an experiment, not a piece of theatre and are asked to look at the idea of separating oneself from the crowd, the fear involved in that decision, and its rewards and downfalls.

It is a completely democratic room because the performer is making all their choices at the moment of reading them. Sometimes, she is genuinely surprised by the actions she is asked to do, and by the ones she is asking us to carry out. What will playwright Nassim Soleimanpour ask us to do next?

Today, Bridget Christie takes up the mantle of being the body for Soleimanpour’s voice. Her natural playfulness brings a cheeky atmosphere to this experiment. It would be fascinating to see what a more solemn performer would bring, and what a more playful audience would do. Will the slightly disturbing ending always be the same and, if not, just what are our roles, as audience, performer and writer in its outcome? Whilst Audience may be grabbing the headlines, White Rabbit Red Rabbit is asking fascinating parallel questions in a truly unique format.

For more information go here.

Review: Belongings @ Trafalgar Studios 2

Written for Whats On Stage

‘One of the lads’ Debs is home from a tour in Afghanistan, for good this time, despite her almost religious belief in the righteousness of the armed forces. Father and ‘porn entrepreneur’ Jim welcomes her back with a barked ‘Mate!’ and head tackle, but it’s girly ‘new mum’ Jo she’s most excited to see.

In her first full length play Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s flare for balls out comedy comes through loud and clear but so do the strong signs that she’s also a damn good playwright. Witty bullet fire delivery is as natural as breathing to characters such as Debs as she playfully fights with barracks buddy Sarko, banters softly with Jo or rages at her father. But inBelongings Lloyd Malcolm’s skill for sophisticated subtlety also flickers.

A predatory Sarko watches from the shadows as Debs smokes at her kitchen table, an almost symbiotic word association game transforms into a sensual conversation about a deeper longing; these are simple moments communicating a thousand things. Sad then that these beautiful theatrical slights of hand are eventually sunk under a mound of overly long emotional exposition, frustrating that in her unruly ending Lloyd Malcolm seems to have lost the courage of her convictions.

Courage is in no short supply in this four hander cast who are all excellent and presided over with confidence by an assured Maria Aberg. In Jo and Debs Lloyd Malcolm has created two complex and fascinating female roles played here with extraordinary empathy by Kirsty Bushell and Joanna Horton. At all times fully present, Bushell and Horton give moment to moment performances of such emotional depth that at points they are truly breathtaking.

Runs until 9th July 2011

Q&A with Ella Hickson

Written for Fourthwall.

Ella Hickson made her name at the Edinburgh Festival in 2008 with her play Eight, picking up a Fringe First and The Carol Tambor ‘Best of Edinburgh’ Award. Her second play transfers to London.

Interview: A Precious Little Talent – Ella Hickson 

Ella Hickson

Ella you’ve had a pretty meteoric rise since 2008 as a young artist. What was your route into this business we call show?

My university theatre runs a free fringe slot, you just have to come up with an idea and put it forward. Luckily my idea of eight monologues got selected and so I had to write them. It was a pretty straight forward process, I knew eight good student actors and so we created the pieces through conversation, it was a really wonderful process.

Being a writer is quite an isolated profession. How helpful have your various secondments and attachments to theatres been?

Hugely. I am really very grateful to Katherine Mendelsohn and the team at The Traverse and also Simon and Sean and the team at The Lyric. Without these communities I think I would have found the past few years really hard going. It’s very important to be connected to a theatre, to understand the workings of a building and to feel like you belong somewhere.

Some people say you have to have lived it to write about it, how do you feel about that?

Well I’ve never blown up any buses or stripped any corpses so I guess it isn’t true! Having said that I think all good writing holds a kernel of universal truth and it helps to have some relation to that truth even if you haven’t experienced it.

Where do you get your writing inspiration from?

All over the place, snippets of conversations – watching films or plays – conversations – books. I get a lot from talking to my friends.


After so much success with Eight, did you suffer with any ‘difficult second album’ moments with Precious Little Talent?

Of course. I felt like there was a lot of pressure on me to perform with Precious Little Talent, hence the slightly provocative title. But in hindsight I think that pressure was largely in my own head. Plays come and go and press rarely think about a review once it’s written. You have to be committed to the work, not the response it gets, its the only way to keep doing the best you can.

Precious Little Talent taps into feelings of abandonment that are incredibly prevalent at the moment. But it’s not about powerlessness, in fact it seems an inherently optimistic play. Was this important to you?

At the time, yes. I think there is little point in paddling around in doom in gloom unless you at least explore some routes out of that situation. Plays need to be about change, about transformation – if people are abandoned we want to see them strive to be found.

How involved have you been with this production of Precious Little Talent? In the rehearsal room are you a ‘hands on’ writer or do you believe in letting the work go to a certain extent?

It’s been a learning curve as this is one of the first few times I’ve ever had to do it as I’ve usually directed my own stuff. I have a really good working relationship with James and there’s definitely a culture of open communication and co-operation which makes it all a lot easier.

Why should people come to see Precious Little Talent?

It has a charming combination of humour and pathos. It’s a very contemporary play with that good old fashioned entertainment tone of laughter and tears.

-Interview Honour Bayes

Precious Little Talent runs at the Trafalgar Studios from 8th April until 30th April 2011.
More info

Winterlong @ Soho Theatre

Written for www.whatsonstage.com

    Winterlong

They fuck you up, your mum and dad…” So begins “This Be The Verse”, Philip Larkin’s infamous rallying call to end the interminable production line of progeny he sees miserably populating the earth. It’s a biting sentiment and one that could have found no greater spiritual home than Andrew Sheridan’s bleak debut play Winterlong.

Oscar, a sweet natured kid, slowly has his hopes and dreams of love squashed out of him by his self loathing adult relations. Ignored, inappropriately propositioned, stolen from, his grandparents and parents cannot even bring themselves to hold his hand.

Joint winner of the Bruntwood Competition in 2008, Winterlong is a text of admirable structural ambition. Weighing in at a hefty two hours plus and with pretentions to the heightened naturalism of Harold Pinter or Howard Barker, Sheridan has certainly dreamt big.

Sarah Frankcom’s desolate production does justice to these aspirations. Setting the action in Amanda Stoodley’s suitably Beckettian wasteland, an otherworldly rubbish dump of life’s tatty collectables (bikes, radios, saucepans, all suffocating under a river of clear plastic – a nod to Oscars own emotional suffocation?) Frankcom adds an apocalyptic feel to what is essentially a twisted tale of family screw ups. A taut cast ramp up the intensity levels to near boiling point with acute and emotionally wrought performances.

As for the play itself Sheridan starts well, brutally dissecting the broken parent child relationships with a ruthless elegance. But the second act fails to leap from the podiums built in the first and Oscar’s story remains safely ensconced in familiar territory. For all its dreams of Greek tragedy, and Winterlong does sucker punch you at points, this story is simply an everyday tale of cruelty, and there’s sadly nothing original in that.

Runs till 12th March 2011