Scratching the itch

Posted: June 6, 2017 in A Bit of Everything

Do you ever get those ideas that are like persistent itches? The ones that recur again and again and niggle at you until you do something about them?

Off West End Awards, Battle of Cable Street, Pleasance Theatre, Scratch Night, London Fringe Theatre, Holly Barbour, Olivia Meguer, Sophie Mckay, Charlotte Ive, East London History, For the many not the few, Oswald Mosley, Mitford Sisters, Diana Mitford, refugees, Labour PartyA few years ago, we came up with an idea for a show called What You Risk. I’d been studying street and public art and had discovered the mural commemorating The Battle of Cable Street. The battle took place in East London in 1936. Then just as now, the area was a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures. Some were immigrant workers, some had lived there for generations, some were refugees fleeing the growing threat in Europe. The politics and beliefs of the residents of Stepney, Bethnel Green, Wapping and beyond were diverse and profound. Then just as now, there were people in the country who were threatened by this. Sir Oswald Mosley was the leader of The British Union of Fascists, known as the Blackshirts for the eponymous uniforms they wore. In October 1936, amid a brewing sense of fear and alienation that was sweeping across Europe, Mosley sought to march his men through the East End as a show of strength for his idea of Nationalism. The concept of ‘Inciting Racial Hatred’ was non existent and Mosley perceived it as his right to freedom of speech. Consequently, he was protected by the police, they were to be present at the march to ensure ‘safe passage’ along the planned route. But the people of the East End was having none of it.

The Battle of Cable Street saw everyday people, from every walk of life, come out en masse and block the march. Barricades were made from household furniture, first aid stations were set up in local shops, the men and women who lived there came out, stood shoulder to shoulder with each other and united against fascism and hate-mongering politics.

Off West End Awards, Battle of Cable Street, Pleasance Theatre, Scratch Night, London Fringe Theatre, Holly Barbour, Olivia Meguer, Sophie Mckay, Charlotte Ive, East London History, For the many not the few, Oswald Mosley, Mitford Sisters, Diana Mitford, refugees, Labour PartyI relayed the idea to the rest of the company and we decided to find a way to tell the tale from a female perspective. Mosley was married to Diana Mitford, one of the Mitford sisters, a family of society ‘bright young things’, most of whom wrote prolifically about their opinions and experience. Diana herself kept quite extensive diaries and was an ardent supporter of Mosley’s politics – we felt this would be a fantastic way to tell the story from more than one political view point. We also want to represent the Jewish refugee population that Mosley felt were such a threat, as well as the Communist party members who were instrumental in organising the community to protest the march, so we explored first hand accounts from the day itself as well as finding the stories of what lead those people to live where they lived and do what they did.

At the time the idea definitely had legs, but for one reason or another, mainly to do with us all simultaneously being offered other things to do, we never really gave it the space to breath and grow and therefore it never became a full production. But the idea also never really went away.

So at the beginning of the year, when we were starting to think about what new projects we would like to explore, What You Risk seemed to bubble to the surface of our consciousness and offer an idea that really had something to say about the world we’re in now.

Off West End Awards, Battle of Cable Street, Pleasance Theatre, Scratch Night, London Fringe Theatre, Holly Barbour, Olivia Meguer, Sophie Mckay, Charlotte Ive, East London History, For the many not the few, Oswald Mosley, Mitford Sisters, Diana Mitford, refugees, Labour PartyEven in the four or so years since we first thought about making What You Risk, everything has changed so much. Even since the beginning of the year everything has changed so much. Even since the weekend. I don’t want to start making massive political comments, but one of the things that, for us, resonates so strongly with our idea for What You Risk, is the sense of unity that inspired the people of the East End to act. Those people made a decision about beliefs and politics. They decided that what defined them and those they considered comrades was not their country of birth, the colour of their skin or the race and religion they were born into. What united them was their humanity, their beliefs in the way they should live their lives, the way they should value those around them.

So now seems a hugely timely point to develop the production further and see what legs it really has. Off West End Awards, Battle of Cable Street, Pleasance Theatre, Scratch Night, London Fringe Theatre, Holly Barbour, Olivia Meguer, Sophie Mckay, Charlotte Ive, East London History, For the many not the few, Oswald Mosley, Mitford Sisters, Diana Mitford, refugees, Labour PartyWonderfully, the Pleasance Theatre Islington has chosen to include us in it’s upcoming scratch night on 20th June. Having met the producer of the night, we’re feeling very much supported in being able to get a little bit of the idea out there, let it run around for a bit and get some feedback, all in the knowledge that if something doesn’t work, we will be in a safe space to find that out. Which is a fantastic opportunity for us – now more than ever, What You Risk feels like the sort of work we should be making and making well. We don’t want to just hash something together in a few months and hope for the best. The reasons that the Battle of Cable Street happened are imbedded into the world we live in now. We want to make a piece that does justice to that, that asks the right questions and also shows a hugely inspiring, positive moment in history, where the voices of the people didn’t just rise but soared and showed that love really can conquer hate. Finding a working process where we can test, then maybe rework, then test again, seems to be the most fruitful and the best way for us to make sure what we do eventually make has been thoroughly thought through, thoroughly investigated, both as ideas and as a production and in its final form, will be the truest reflection of our vision.Off West End Awards, Battle of Cable Street, Pleasance Theatre, Scratch Night, London Fringe Theatre, Holly Barbour, Olivia Meguer, Sophie Mckay, Charlotte Ive, East London History, For the many not the few, Oswald Mosley, Mitford Sisters, Diana Mitford, refugees, Labour Party

Where to begin

Posted: April 25, 2017 in A Bit of Everything

It’s been a while since the last blog and that question could easily apply to ‘Where to begin catching up on what’s been going on’. However, the time away from the blog has been spent coming up with ideas, making plays and helping other people create their work. So, after a small space to recupe digest, we at Scrawny Cat are once again asking, where to begin with the next piece.

Restoration comedy, Rose Playhouse Bankside, London Fringe Theatre, Fringe Theatre, Aphra Behn, Susannah Centlivre, Restoration TheatreSince last August it’s been all systems go. Autumn saw us staging ‘The Basset Table’ by Susannah Centlivre, a wonderful Restoration comedy that hasn’t been performed for over three hundred years. Scrawny were lucky enough to once more work with The Rose Playhouse Bankside on their Rose Unfolds Salon Season. The Rose, for those not in the know, is the archaeological site of Bankside’s first theatre and also houses a lovely sixty seat space aimed at providing a platform for emerging theatre companies making interesting work. We’ve previously staged our four women adaptation of ‘Richard III’ there, as well as our Off West End nominated production of ‘The Ghost Sonata’ by August Strindberg.

Holly Barbour, The Rose Playhouse Bankside, The Rose Unfolds, Restoration Theatre, London Restoration Theatre, London Fringe Theatre, Fringe Theatre, Female Wits, All female cast, cross-gender castingThis time around, the Rose wanted to bring to life some forgotten classics in the form of six plays by female Restoration authors, with all female directors and all female casts. I’ve had a copy of Fidelis Morgan’s ’The Female Wits’ sitting on my bookshelf for about a decade, but it took the Rose discovering the book to remind me how much I loved those plays and how much fun they might be to put on and explore how they sit now. Many people have heard of Aphra Behn, but Centlivre, Mary Pix, Delarivier Manley and a whole host of others seem to have slipped into the mists of time and rarely get an airing. In their day, these women were making a living writing, enjoying as much success as their male counterparts and being judged on the worth of their work, not their gender. So we decided to bring them back. The Salon Season was gloriously diverse in the way that each director approached their piece, showing that whilst there might be an over riding style to Restoration theatre, like every play, there is also so much interpretive freedom, so much written between the lines to eek out and see how it lands.

Restoration Comedy, Anna Chessher, Freya Finnerty, The Rose Playhouse Bankside, London Fringe Theatre, cross-gender casting, all female cast, The Salon Season, Aphra Behn‘The Basset Table’ is a tight little comedy, employing the hall marks of a classic farce framework, plenty of secret plots, intrigues, disguise and mistaken identities. We decided to go one step further and have the eleven characters being played by a cast of five. The logistics of that required a fair amount of planning, but each actress played two or three characters that really benefited being played by the same person. The most naïve male character, Ensign Lovely, was played by the same actress playing Lady Reveller, a woman hell bent of living life to it’s fullest and exploiting society as much as she could. The same woman strutting around as Captain Firebrand also played the prudish Lady Lucy and the trickster servant, having to live on her wits with nothing but charm in her pockets, had another life as Sir James, the cad about town who had the fortune and freedom to make puppets of his friends for his own amusement. The result was fast paced and furiously funny at points, the script allowing us to build and build the humour until events just exploded. But what was more fun was listening to these words being spoken for the first time in so long and trying to hear the authors voice beneath them. What did she think? What was she saying? There are so many asides and in jokes that are obviously about the world in which she lived, what were her opinions? What was she saying about it? And what did that in turn, have to say to us? Despite it’s period setting, it’s period writing in fact, ‘The Basset Table’ felt fresh and vigorous to stage, using age old dynamics between men and women and yet still having a new story to tell about them. We enjoyed doing it so much, hopefully we can revisit it in a fuller staging and a longer run before too long – it’s be glorious to bring it’s vibrancy and laughter to a wider audience.

Fringe Theatre London, New writing theatre, The Lion and Unicorn Theatre, war zone reporterAnd so, moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, yours truly took a small break from Scrawny Cat after the show to work with new theatre company 6th Space on their devised piece, ‘Gathering Dust’ which ran at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in late February. On the surface the idea couldn’t be further from ‘The Basset Table’ if it tried. The company were exploring the idea of how we use our imaginations to survive in extreme circumstances. Focusing on a war zone journalist, Charlie, captured on an unnamed contemporary front line, the play was both naturalistic and abstract in it’s rendering. I came on board about half way through the initial devising process and got to be a part of developing the company’s ideas, devising with them, dramaturging for them and writing some of the script. Having spent the last couple of years working on Shakespeare’s, some new writing and a bit of wonderfully juicy Strindberg thrown in for good measure, it was a delight to return to my devising roots and get to do some writing myself again. Even when doing already existing texts, I tend to approach things in a pretty devised manner. I love collaborating with the actors and creatives and for me, so much of the process is getting to test the canon of theatrical language we have at our disposal, not restricting ourselves to one particular style because that’s how we think of classics or modern European drama, but just using what best expresses the idea. It’s also incredibly freeing to work with a company who can see when something is missing. It means we can write our own words that do the job of what is vacant. I love to play with language, it’s rhythm, the beats that can be dropped into sentences and the images that can be made. One of the things that was needed in ‘Gathering Dust’ was an articulation of each captured characters thoughts, that wasn’t necessarily needed to be naturalistic. I got to write a monologue for each one that was more beat poetry than soliloquy. I got to drop in images and play with how they could be conveyed. I got to devise movement sequences that echoed and amplified the words and the feelings of the characters and that were able to stand out in intentional opposition to the more realistic elements of the play.

It was refreshing and rewarding and a real rediscovery for me of how I like to tell stories.

So that brings me back to the original question. Where to begin? Well, after the past two projects and the month or so of chilling, we at Scrawny have a few ideas up our sleeves that have been percolating for a while. Where to begin is marrying those ideas with what we have all learnt in the last six months and making something of them that employs new skills and forgotten loves to render them the best we can.

That’s quite enough for now, what the actual ideas are might be best suited to another blog, that definitely won’t take another six months to write! More anon. . .

One of my favourite quotes ‘Trust me, I am telling you a story’. Jeanette Winterson opens her novel ‘The Passion’ with it and increasingly, that is what I feel like I am saying to a theatre audience.

Strindberg, Shakespeare in Love, playhouse, bankside, archaeological site london, history of London, Off Westend awards, Offiies,  The Rose Playhouse, Fringe Theatre London, London Theatre Company, London Theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Foss Shepherd, Sophie McKay, Charley Willow, Charlotte IveLast week we finished our three week run of August Strindberg’s ‘The Ghost Sonata’ at The Rose Playhouse Bankside.

It was a glorious experience I am so pleased with how everything turned out, as a production, for the company and for me as a director. It is possibly the most un-stressful production I have worked on and also the one that seems to best collect all the different aspects of what I as a director and we as a company want to work on. And as an added bonus, both myself and one of my actresses, Olivia Meguer, were nominated for Off Westend awards for Best Director and Best Supporting Actress respectively, which is a little bit amazing.

Everything is always a process, this is theatre, it is transient and doesn’t last long, but each thing leads to the next and, for me, The Ghost Sonata was so much a product of what we have done before and also so much a sign post for what we can do in the future.

Strindberg, Shakespeare in Love, playhouse, bankside, archaeological site london, history of London, Off Westend awards, Offiies,  The Rose Playhouse, Fringe Theatre London, London Theatre Company, London Theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Foss Shepherd, Sophie McKay, Charley Willow, Charlotte IveA bit of context: The Rose Playhouse is a lovely 50 seat theatre constructed as a platform above the remains of the original Rose Playhouse, Bankside’s first theatre. Before the Globe, before Shakespeare had bought himself into Henslow‘s good books, this is the place where it started – think ‘Shakespeare In Love‘, the theatre in that where Joseph and Gwyneth frolic about in backstage, well that’s the Rose.

The Playhouse was discovered in the 80’s amidst the building of a new block of Bankside offices and a partial dig was undertaken; the bulk of the foundations of the pit and stage were unearthed but money ran out and the trustees have been fundraising every since to complete the dig. Plans are in place to have this fully realised in the next two years, but whilst that goes on, the board felt that the space should still be a living, breathing theatre, hence our chance to go and perform on the site that Shakespeare started his career on.

It’s eerie and atmospheric in the of best of ways, the original space stretching out behind the stage almost as if it is going into the past. The harsh, modernist lines of the 80’s office build remind the onlooker of that wonderful thing about London, it’s life built upon life, each generation making their mark whilst still knowing it stands on the shoulders of something that went before.

Strindberg, Shakespeare in Love, playhouse, bankside, archaeological site london, history of London, Off Westend awards, Offiies,  The Rose Playhouse, Fringe Theatre London, London Theatre Company, London Theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Foss Shepherd, Sophie McKay, Charley Willow, Charlotte IveLast year Scrawny Cat staged a four women version of ‘Richard III’ here. It was the first time we had worked in the space and was a massive learning curve. It absolutely shaped the way we approached ‘The Ghost Sonata‘. Just knowing the potential atmosphere, the way and where the eye is drawn to, the chill that gets in your bones when you sit there too long, the brilliant, invigorating clash between the ghosts of theatre past and the possibilities of theatre now. All of it informed the shape of ‘The Ghost Sonata’ and I feel like I am walking away from a very whole production, one that sat in the space it played in well.

When I was offered the August slot, I had to think about what I wanted to do. There were things we found in Richard that we, as a company, needed to explore more. But it was about finding the text that allowed us to do that. I love the concept of a liminal space, a betwixt and between, and the Rose is nothing if not that. So ‘The Ghost Sonata‘, a suggestion from an unlikely source that took seed in my mind, seemed to fit perfectly. It is a late Strindberg play, set in Stockholm and is often sited as the best example of early modernist theatre. It is about what we do to ourselves and other people and how we live with the weight of that. It is about a group of people in an urban space jumbled upon top of us. But it is also about the ghosts we all have and the price we pay for what we want. It is about that cage in which imprisoned men and women destroy each other by the intensity of their loves and hates.

Strindberg, Shakespeare in Love, playhouse, bankside, archaeological site london, history of London, Off Westend awards, Offiies,  The Rose Playhouse, Fringe Theatre London, London Theatre Company, London Theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Foss Shepherd, Sophie McKay, Charley Willow, Charlotte IveWhen I first read it, I didn’t understand it. When I read it for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th time, I still didn’t understand it and would develop a minor sweat at the thought that I had committed myself to making a play of this bundle of words that I really didn’t get. But gradually it took hold. Slowly I began to see the way it exists in a sort of limbo, a threshold for the characters as they look at their past, regard their future and find themselves walking over the path from one to the other. Eventually I began to see how this could manifest itself theatrically, how the transitional context that the characters all exist within could be staged, and staged there, in a place where past, present and future all combine in one.

Strindberg, Shakespeare in Love, playhouse, bankside, archaeological site london, history of London, Off Westend awards, Offiies,  The Rose Playhouse, Fringe Theatre London, London Theatre Company, London Theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Foss Shepherd, Sophie McKay, Charley Willow, Charlotte IveStrindberg is a writer of ghosts. Whether they are his or that of the characters or the people making the play, the ghosts are there and make themselves heard. He is so adept at looking at the human condition, the idiosyncrasies we all have that eat away at us. But he does so in abstract. Strindberg was a modernist, embracing the idea that the disjointed nature of our nature could be the shape as well as the source of the drama. His plays can feel fragmented and disrupted, yet there are keys, repeated signs and images and motifs. And this is how it felt creating our version of ’The Ghost Sonata’. There is a sense to the play, there are themes that run through it like coloured thread. But they do not lay themselves out linealy. They show themselves slyly, in unexpected locations, surprising ways and through repeated refrains and words. They seemed to offer a chance of saying to the audience ‘Trust us, we’re telling you a story’ and asking them to go with you, with patience and slowly be satisfied. However the ghosts are always there, the stain of the life that went before and haunts you now. ‘The Ghost Sonata’ is full of spectres, threatening to unbalance the status quo. And yet there is also the possibility of the future, of what will come, if only the past could be swept away, or cleansed and started a new.

All themes that lend themselves very well to The Rose. To me The Rose itself could be described in a similar way. And for us as a company, being able to explore that, pull apart the where and how an audience sees it was a remarkable experience. We were able to combine overtly showing how we were making the story, the mechanics and reality of the actors and the space, whilst still telling a story. It felt like we found ways of asking for that trust, that patience as the keys and themes present themselves. Everything falls into place in the end, it all makes some sort of sense, even if it’s not a conventional one.

So now, it’s time for a little time to digest, a bit of time to think about what we do next and how and then onwards and onwards and onwards, taking the past with us and finding a new story to tell.

canofbookworm

To watch this production of The Ghost Sonata is to feel like you have entered a strange, labyrinthine dream-world. When Sonata was written in 1907, Strindberg apparently subtitled it “Kama-Loka,” which was the name of a supernatural dream-land that humans must navigate their way through before reaching the afterlife. This description of the play is as accurate as any I can think of – there is a fixation with death throughout, many of the characters are ghosts or soon-to-be ghosts, and the story feels like the narrative of a dream which makes a strange kind of sense, despite being so surreal as to be nonsensical. Characters appear to be one thing but then change before your eyes into something else, the plot is full of so many turns that right up until the end you are not sure of where it is going and what is really going on, and…

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Ghost Sonata, the rose bankside, strindberg in london, theatre in london, fringe theatre london, modernism theatre,  historic london theatre, london theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Sophie McKay, Foss ShepherdIn a little under a month, our new production will be opening at The Rose Playhouse Bankside for a months run in it’s glorious, slightly eerie but utterly wonderful space.

Just over a year ago we staged a four woman Richard III and are delighted to be returning with a fancy new show.

The production in question is The Ghost Sonata by August Strindberg. This will be the first time one of his plays has been staged at the Rose and all in all, it’s a tad exciting.

We’ve written a new adaptation that’s hopefully all crisp and succinct (something new and different for me) and are being joined by some new people as well. Charley Willow, one of the fearsome four of Richard, will be with us again and is taking the normally male role of The Student. Charley is joined by Olivia Meguer, Sophie McKay and Foss Shepherd. Foss has previously worked on a short film with myself and Charley and we know he’s a lovely, resourceful actor. But it’s been a glory to work with Olivia and Sophie, somehow we’ve managed to make a snug little dynamic where I completely trust what they do and they seem to feel comfortable to take that extra imaginative step and really put things to the test, good times.

Ghost Sonata, the rose bankside, strindberg in london, theatre in london, fringe theatre london, modernism theatre,  historic london theatre, london theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Sophie McKay, Foss ShepherdWe chose The Ghost Sonata for several reasons. It’s incredibly rewarding working on classics as there often feels like there is a level of freedom with them. Enough time has past that they can be re-evaluated for how we live now, but the simple fact that they’re classics means there’s a firm base of quality that has enabled them to stand the test of time. Our job is to work out how they sit now, what they have to say, what we want to say through them and how to do justice to a text that’s managed to survive at least a hundred years and still have things to offer. Yet I wanted to do something that wasn’t a Renaissance piece. I love Modernism and can see the ways it not only built on the theatre of the past, but dissected and re-imagined theatre for what it could be in the future. The Ghost Sonata is one such piece.

Ghost Sonata, the rose bankside, strindberg in london, theatre in london, fringe theatre london, modernism theatre,  historic london theatre, london theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Sophie McKay, Foss ShepherdStrindberg’s classic is often heralded as the prime example of Modernist theatre. That’s a lofty title to bear but it’s certainly given us a lot to play with. The narrative is dense and misty at the same time. It operates on symbolic and naturalistic plains in parallel – the same could be said of many pieces of older classical theatre, but with The Ghost Sonata, it feels like those parallels are rubbing together much more intimately, like they exist in the same world but are sort of shifting through each other like mist. Not the best explanation, you’ll just have to come see it to get the idea.

With Richard, we played with the mechanics of what we were making. We showed as much as we could and tried to construct the fiction in front of them whilst acknowledging we were doing so while doing it. Nothing new or original there, but it opened up a discussion for us about how we wanted to make stories, how we wanted the audience to watch them and how we wanted to allow the audience to construct some of it for themselves as well. So in choosing the Ghost Sonata, we chose something that would allow us to take that further. It is a script that already seems to be playing with those ideas, which gives us the space to play with them even more.

Ellen Terry, Lady Macbeth, Ghost Sonata, the rose bankside, strindberg in london, theatre in london, fringe theatre london, modernism theatre,  historic london theatre, london theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Sophie McKay, Foss ShepherdEach production I direct, there seems to be one word in particular that has the most resonance and generally gets massively overused by me. This time it is Liminal. We are actually keeping a tally of how many times I say it in rehearsal. My understanding of the word, or perhaps more accurately, the concept, is that it offers a sort of limbo space. A place that is betwixed and between. A friend once explained it by using Macbeth as an example. The witches exist in a liminal space, they are outside of the world of the living but their world exist amidst it, again like a mist. But certain other characters pass through a liminal space as well – Lady Macbeth, during her hand washing, out spotting, once thrice, tis time to do it moment is on or in a liminal threshold. At the very moment of committing the action, she is stood in a doorway that is the space in which she changes, irrevocably. When on the step of that threshold she is neither what she was before or what she will be, she is betwixed and between.

For me, Liminality is underpinning how I view this play and therefore how I and my actors are constructing the world we will eventually present. On one level, the play follows the journey of a student as he passes through a square populated by the kind of house he would like to live in and filled with people who have the lives he would like to lead. He has just come from rescuing survivors from a collapsed building and is existing in his own liminal moment of change where he must choose what he is to become. On another level, none of that may be real. Maybe he died in the rescue attempt, maybe he is passing through a sort of limbo, purgatory space, complete with a devilish fiend offering him what he thinks he wants for the price of his soul.

Who knows, these are all questions we are just beginning to answer, but it does mean that every rehearsal is a discovery, each one pulls the flesh of the play apart a little more and we get to chase the shards of light that come through the cracks.

More to come, but for now, it’s definitely exciting times.

New writing London, scratch nights London, All women Shakespeare, Richard III Theatre, All women Richard III, All female Richard III, Edinburgh Fringe Theatre, Storytelling Theatre, Nick Myles, Etcetera Theatre, Harriet Kemsley, Charley Willow, Marie Rabe, Rosemary Tross, Victoria Allies, Charlotte Ive, Theatre London, Theatre blog LondonIt’s been a few months since the last Scrawny blog and there’s much to tell.  We’ve been beavering away at different things and now, finally, there’s a little time to process.

Back in April we staged our biggest show to date, a three week run of Richard III at The Rose Playhouse Bankside.  The Playhouse is the archaeological site of the original Rose Theatre, one of Bankside’s first playhouses and the place where Shakespeare started his career – if you’ve seen Shakespeare In Love, it’s the one from that!  Needless to say this was an exciting experience.  What was more exciting, for us at least, was what we chose to do with the play.  We Scrawny’s are committed to performing and staging productions with strong female roles, whether they are intended to be or not.  We also want to look at how stories are told, what you need to tell them, what quiet little things do you need to share with the audience to build a world for them, we wanted to explore those through our staging of Richard.

New writing London, scratch nights London, All women Shakespeare, Richard III Theatre, All women Richard III, All female Richard III, Edinburgh Fringe Theatre, Storytelling Theatre, Nick Myles, Etcetera Theatre, Harriet Kemsley, Charley Willow, Marie Rabe, Rosemary Tross, Victoria Allies, Charlotte Ive, Theatre London, Theatre blog LondonThe play had to be edited to an hour and a half, which was a task!  But nothing is impossible if you really want to do it, you just have to work out how.  So we were looking at a short, pacey Richard, but why stop there?  There are some fantastic female roles in Richard III, but Richard is essentially about, well, Richard.  The role is a gift and a challenge for any actor, but of course (Benedict and Martin) it is generally one reserved for men.  Well we wanted the ladies to have a go too.  We chose to do an all-female Richard, not simply to spread the ‘Lion’s Share’ but also because of the afore-mentioned female role.  Lady Anne, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Margaret, The Duchess of York; they were some of the most powerful women of their time.  By powerful, I mean their political weight.  The fates of these ladies decided the story of nations, each one of them and the events that happened to them, shaped the history of the middle ages.  But in essence, they had no power.  They did not decide who they would marry, where they would live, where their all important  dowry and lands would go and which would-be King their estates would prop up and propel onto the throne.  It was a paradox that seemed incredibly fruitful, but theatre is a practical arena in which to discuss things, so the idea of having actresses rather than actors being the ones giving and taking the power from these women, as well as playing the women themselves, offered and interesting maze of representation and re-evaluation for us to play in and pull apart.

 

Shakespeare London, Rose Playhouse Bankside, Shakespeare's career, Shakespeare In Love, Richard III London, New writing London, scratch nights London, All women Shakespeare, Richard III Theatre, All women Richard III, All female Richard III, Edinburgh Fringe Theatre, Storytelling Theatre, Nick Myles, Etcetera Theatre, Harriet Kemsley, Charley Willow, Marie Rabe, Rosemary Tross, Victoria Allies, Charlotte Ive, Theatre London, Theatre blog LondonTo really investigate the idea of what it meant to these characters to be trapped in the way they were, to be such pawns on the board of history, we chose to have a cast of just four, four women, each playing Richard at some stage and each having one of the main female roles.  Through the edit and the rehearsals, we co-ordinated which actress played Richard when, so that it had the maximum dramatic affect  on the female character they were playing. For example Marie Rabe and Scrawny newcomer (but now very much resident) Charley Willow played Lady Anne and Queen Elizabeth respectively.  It made sense, therefore, to have Charley play Richard in the Lady Anne wooing scene, all charm and manipulation, relentlessly burrowing in to her heart, conscience and mind to win her hand, despite having been responsible for the death of her first husband and his father.  Later in the play, the table was turned, Marie playing Richard to Charley’s Queen Elizabeth, as a desperate King trying to keep a grip on his power and make the vital political manoeuvre of marrying Elizabeth’s daughter.  For the actresses, for myself as a director, and hopefully for the audience, it was a process abundant with meaning and resonance and allowed us to also investigate the many faceted role of Richard and all his different guises as he manipulates, murders and makes galvanising changes in Britain’s history.

 

Shakespeare London, Rose Playhouse Bankside, Shakespeare's career, Shakespeare In Love, Richard III London, New writing London, scratch nights London, All women Shakespeare, Richard III Theatre, All women Richard III, All female Richard III, Edinburgh Fringe Theatre, Storytelling Theatre, Nick Myles, Etcetera Theatre, Harriet Kemsley, Charley Willow, Marie Rabe, Rosemary Tross, Victoria Allies, Charlotte Ive, Theatre London, Theatre blog London, Things to do in London, Richard III Society, Archaeology London, Historic London, London Theatre Heritage, All women Shakespeare, Shakespeare London, Fringe theatre London, Rose Playhouse London, Shakespeare in Love, Heritage London, Bankside ShakespeareSo that was fun!  Breathtaking in fact and I think we all felt privileged to have been able to do it.  But such a big project required digestion.  What worked?  What didn’t?  What have we learnt?  And how do we apply that to what we do next?

 

We have taken a step back to give ourselves time to give ourselves time to process.  We have begun planning our next project, but one thing that became very clear with Richard was that time was a precious element.  The whole process, from visiting the Rose to actually getting the show on, was a year in the doing.  And that was needed.  Not simply to organise, but to allow the time needed for ideas to develop, to sit and gain weight or be cast aside once they prove themselves not right for this particular thing.  It is the longest we have taken with any of our productions and it paid off.  So this is something we must try to apply from now on.

 

Shakespeare London, Rose Playhouse Bankside, Shakespeare's career, Shakespeare In Love, Richard III London, New writing London, scratch nights London, All women Shakespeare, Richard III Theatre, All women Richard III, All female Richard III, Edinburgh Fringe Theatre, Storytelling Theatre, Nick Myles, Etcetera Theatre, Harriet Kemsley, Charley Willow, Marie Rabe, Rosemary Tross, Victoria Allies, Charlotte Ive, Theatre London, Theatre blog LondonSince last August, we were also running our scratch nights, Scrawl, on a monthly basis.  We had to put them on hold during the latter part of getting Richard ready for the stage, but they have given us a wonderful team of people to work with.  Actors and writers who we’ve been able to really enjoy play with, making a space where we can all explore.  It has meant having a pool of incredibly resourceful people to work with, finding those who’s ideas work with ours and who push us to do better.  And it has been successful.  From the scratches came ‘Croque Monsieur’ by Sienna Dexter, performed at The One Festival.  Nick Myles and Harriet Kemsley staged and performed new work with us, Nick will be taking his to The Etcetera Theatre very soon and Harriet is now up in Edinburgh, making her mark on the comedy festival.  We developed two productions that went on to the Pay Nothing, Play Anything festival at The Etcetera Theatre in January and on top of all that, our core creative team has been buoyed by the people we worked with on Scrawl.

 

So now that we have a little more space, we can work with these people again to develop our next idea.  Since the beginning of the year we have been discussing and brainstorming (am I meant to call that mind-showering now?) comedy ideas and what would be a good format for Scrawl to go forward in.  We want to keep the idea of it being a platform for new work, a safe space to try things in and get a response and develop from that contribution.  But we also want think bigger.  We want to reach more people than we can through one evening  a month and we also want a record of the work we’re doing, something to chart our progress with and share, en mass, what we’re trying to do.  With that in mind, we decided in January that Scrawl could become a web series, a sketch series that allows us to explore our comedic writing, to devise and create new stories, new characters, new worlds with our actors and make something they have a real sense of ownership over too.

 

Shakespeare London, Rose Playhouse Bankside, Shakespeare's career, Shakespeare In Love, Richard III London, New writing London, scratch nights London, All women Shakespeare, Richard III Theatre, All women Richard III, All female Richard III, Edinburgh Fringe Theatre, Storytelling Theatre, Nick Myles, Etcetera Theatre, Harriet Kemsley, Charley Willow, Marie Rabe, Rosemary Tross, Victoria Allies, Charlotte Ive, Theatre London, Theatre blog LondonHaving talked and observed and thought and giggled quite a bit for the first six months of the year, we’re now ready to take it into a rehearsal room and get cracking on standing our ideas up, seeing how stable they are, having that amazing thing of putting what’s on paper into the real world with real reactions and watching it fail or fly.

 

Exciting times!

Shakespeare in London, Shakespeare in Love, Shakespeare's birthday, Shakespeare 450th, fringe theatre, things to do in London, Rose Playhouse Bankside, The Globe Theatre, Richard IIIToday is St George’s Day.  Today is Shakespeare’s birthday.  These are widely known facts.  What is less widely known is that today, well later today, four wonderful women will be performing Shakespeare, Richard III no less, just above the remains of the theatre he started his career in.

And those four actresses are my four actresses.  Well, they’re not really mine, they are not commodities that I have bought.  They are the four women I have been working with, directing and devising our production of Dicky 3 with for the past couple of months.  The ‘mine’ was not one of possessiveness but rather of pride and possibly a slight need to align myself with them due to how brilliant a job I think they’re doing, I’m trying to leave my paw prints all over them perhaps.

Shakespeare in London, Shakespeare in Love, Shakespeare's birthday, Shakespeare 450th, fringe theatre, things to do in London, Rose Playhouse Bankside, The Globe Theatre, Richard III, Things to do in London, Richard III Society, Archaeology London, Historic London, London Theatre Heritage, All women Shakespeare, Shakespeare London, Fringe theatre London, Rose Playhouse London, Shakespeare in Love, Heritage London, Bankside ShakespeareAnyway – what prompted me to write this was my arrival at the theatre last night for the beginning of the last week of our production.  We’re on at The Rose Bankside.  For anyone who’s seen Shakespeare in Love, The Rose was the theatre in that, owned by Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush), and buried underneath an office block for hundreds of years, now it’s archaeological remains are half excavated and have a small performance space over looking the foundations of the playhouse itself.

Shakespeare in London, Shakespeare in Love, Shakespeare's birthday, Shakespeare 450th, fringe theatre, things to do in London, Rose Playhouse Bankside, The Globe Theatre, Richard III, Things to do in London, Richard III Society, Archaeology London, Historic London, London Theatre Heritage, All women Shakespeare, Shakespeare London, Fringe theatre London, Rose Playhouse London, Shakespeare in Love, Heritage London, Bankside ShakespeareI was nearly at the theatre and remembered that as there are no toilets at the space, it being literally very old remains, a little platform to make plays on and a bit of a box office, therefore I took my normal detour into the Globe, which is just next door.  I bumped into one of the afore mentioned brilliant actresses and agreed to wait for her in the foyer.  I was stood there, staring into the distance, just thinking about my day, when my eyes fell upon the enormous banner slap bang in the middle of the entrance, proclaiming that it is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.  I remembered that the Globe’s production of Titus Andronicus opens today, to coincide with old Will’s official birthday, that everything about the Globe is celebrating England’s national day for a hero greater, in its mind, than St George.  And the Globe is only a reconstruction.

Shakespeare in London, Shakespeare in Love, Shakespeare's birthday, Shakespeare 450th, fringe theatre, things to do in London, Rose Playhouse Bankside, The Globe Theatre, Richard IIIAs we left and walked towards the Rose, I could see the gates to a courtyard further down Park Street.  Gates to a block of expensive looking flats, the car park of which covers the remains of the original Globe.  A split second later we’re walking into the, much less grand, foyer of The Rose and through the curtain and into the space itself.  The red lights are already on.  Red LED’s show where they found the foundations in the original excavations back in the eighties and provide an eerie backdrop to our play.  The darkness stretches from the playing space, receding into black, from it these bright red lines shine from a huge pool of water, showing where the stage, walls, seating and yard would have been.  Or some of it.  Some of it is still buried, right underneath the stage I’m standing on when I’m thinking all this.  The stage my actresses stand on every night, saying Shakespeare’s words, breathing life into the characters he drew.

Shakespeare in London, Shakespeare in Love, Shakespeare's birthday, Shakespeare 450th, fringe theatre, things to do in London, Rose Playhouse Bankside, The Globe Theatre, Richard III, Things to do in London, Richard III Society, Archaeology London, Historic London, London Theatre Heritage, All women Shakespeare, Shakespeare London, Fringe theatre London, Rose Playhouse London, Shakespeare in Love, Heritage London, Bankside Shakespeare , Marie Rabe, Charley Willow, Victoria Allies, Rosemary Tross, Charlotte IveAnd then it properly struck me (yes, it sometimes takes time for the penny to fully drop) The Globe, and probably anyone else remotely interested in theatre, will be making a huge fuss about it being 450 years since Shakespeare was born.  And so they should.  But here we are, doing a production of one of his plays, walking across a space that he would also have walked across.  Our Richard III is soundscaped with live operatic singing; Elizabeth Graham, our opera singer and composer, spends half the production stood in front of the foundations, singing across them to us, singing through air that would once have had a building there and a stage and actors and lots of Elizabethan’s enjoying a show.  Shakespeare would have performed on that stage.  And now we are.

Shakespeare in London, Shakespeare in Love, Shakespeare's birthday, Shakespeare 450th, fringe theatre, things to do in London, Rose Playhouse Bankside, The Globe Theatre, Richard IIIWhat it was that struck me, like a huge sledge hammer round the side of my head, was how very very lucky we are.  Well maybe lucky isn’t the right word, we’ve worked incredibly hard to get here.  But what we definitely are is privileged. Extremely privileged.  The Globe can celebrate, I’m sure Stratford will be half crazy with birthday celebrations.  But we little band of players will spend our evening underneath an office block, cold, in need of the loo, watching our breath drift into darkness.  And we will be celebrating the birth of a man who’s work has transcended time, nearly five hundred years, and yet is fresh, vibrant and full of meaning to anyone who wishes to take it on, perform it, see it, learn it.  Shakespeare indelibly marked our culture, our literature, our art and therefore our lives.  And we will be celebrating his birthday in the very place he started performing, writing, dreaming about that very work.  That’s breathtaking.