Update August 2018
In many ways, it has been a quiet eight months since I last updated readers, but I seem to have had a fairly busy diary. In a voluntary capacity I’ve been involved in a Heritage Lottery project at Nottingham Theatre Royal. There I’ve been part of an Oral History group that has been interviewing past and present members of staff, audiences, artists and theatre makers about the significance of the Theatre Royal in their lives. We’ve met some fascinating people and soon the web site will have lots of information for people to see and hear. One of the highlights for me was chairing a public presentation of our findings from some of the personalities on April 24th at the Theatre Royal. We will continue to interview people over the autumn.
In February and March I made my (now) annual visit to Southend to work with students from East 15 Drama School (University of Essex). This year I tasked them to create a piece of work aimed at much younger children with an adaptation of a book that I have long had on my shelves (INTO THE FOREST by Anthony Browne). It provided a very engaging and stimulating basis for our performance which was enjoyed by nine different classes of children in our two targeted schools, It was instructive to me in revealing that there might well be a case for developing a text based on the book for professional production.
Nick Wood and I continue to explore potential partnerships to create an adaptation of the novella THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES by Jean Giono. Ideally we’d like to set it up as we did with THE UNDERGROUND MAN at Nottingham Playhouse and we’re sure there’s a market for it in studio theatres and community venues. Our search for a producing partner continues, watch this space…
I continue to support Red Earth Theatre as a board member, their work goes from strength to strength and only in July I was able to see the pilot version of their next production based on the work of Russell Hoban entitled MOONCHILD. It had for the first time live music which greatly enhanced the experience for both deaf and hearing children.
I am also continuing to act as an advisor to Big Brum Theatre in Birmingham whilst they continue to explore ways in which they can use different forms of assessment and evaluation to enhance both their work itself but also make their case to potential funders with whom they are negotiating financial support.
So with the sound of builders in our drive creating a new office and storage space, I’m looking forward to three weeks holiday, returning in late August to provide administrative support the Big Window production of IF ALL THE WORLD WERE PAPER….Written by Mike Kenny and performed by AJTC this production rehearses over December and January before opening and touring through February and March 2019. However, I am available should any reader have a project that needs a Director!
Update October 2017
During the spring and early summer I worked as producer for Big Window Theatre making an application for funds to Arts Council England to tour a piece of work to young audiences in Arts Centres. We were successful in applying for the grant, had over 40 performances booked and then lost the rights to the books we wanted to adapt! Lesson to self, always make sure you have the rights before applying for funds! So currently I am awaiting responses from literary agents about books that I want to have adapted and have just spent the last two days working with friends Iain and Mick from AJTC. We have been searching for an extant script or a good title to replace the project for which we secured that funding. A number of possibilities were identified so watch this space for further developments.
In the meantime, I’ve seen some rather good theatre at The New Vic, Stoke (Pitman Painters), Derby Theatre (Great Expectations), Nottingham Playhouse (All My Sons and Pride and Prejudice) and a very good show for schools (Stepping on my Shadow) by Dragon’s Breath who are also based in Nottingham. Let’s hope the rest of the autumn brings similar treats.
Update March 2017
Maybe March will be a quiet month as I have only two lectures to prepare and deliver and an ACE Assessment to finish? Because I have just spent the best part of the last six weeks in Southend working with Second Year Community Theatre students at East 15 Drama School (Essex University). Over that time we created a participatory TIE programme for Year 4 primary pupils based on the book The Green Children by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Set in Suffolk, this is the story of the mysterious arrival of two green children in the ancient village of Woolpit. We extracted three themes from the book which we thought were relevant to our target audience, they were the notions of ‘Difference, Loss and Change’.
Using the book then, as inspiration, we produced six different scenes depicting the experiences of the children themselves and the villagers whom they met. Between scenes the children in the audience discussed what they’d seen, how they felt about the characters and explored what they might say or do if they were met with the situations that they had seen. In all we performed six times, a public dress rehearsal for other students and then five shows in two schools. All the responses were different but it was very gratifying to us all that there was much animated debate in each performance and very intent viewing of our scenes. It was a delight working with these young, intelligent and creative actors in producing the show. So thank you Crawford,Harriet, James, Jenn, Jonny, Kate, Poppy, Sherri and the course leader, Ainslie Masterton.
Meanwhile in an arts centre, village hall or theatre near you it is still possible to catch THE UNDERGROUND MAN adapted by Nick Wood from the novel by Mick Jackson. Last weekend it was at York Theatre Royal and this week it plays at Lincoln Drill Hall with a number of other venues until the end of April (see the AJTC link). Audiences seem to be really enjoying the play and it was wonderful performing at Welbeck, the location of the action. There were many people there, who had direct connections to the estate and indeed the old Duke of Portland himself.
Update January 2017
What a busy autumn it turned out to be! The first run of THE UNDERGROUND MEN met with some serious critical success and very favourable audience comments in all venues. After my extended holiday in October I was able to catch up with the show at the Theatre Royal in Margate which was enjoyed by a small but perfectly formed audience. Very soon we will be re-rehearsing at the Civic Theatre in Barnsley, at the end of January, before the second part of the tour goes out. The whole team and I are very pleased that for our second date (January 27th) we actually perform at Welbeck in the Village Hall. It will be a fascinating experience actually performing on the site where the tunnels were built. I’m sure the post-show discussion will be lively! If you’d like to see the show somewhere then look in the links section for AJTC and you should find the full winter and spring schedule.
However, before that, I’m off to East 15 Drama School (University of Essex) in Southend. I’ll be working with the Year Two Community Theatre students to devise a new TIE piece for pupils in primary schools in the area. In all we’ve about 17 days to research and create the programme, so there will be quite some homework for them to undertake. This will be my fourth project at the school and I’m really looking forward to it, the students always bring something fresh and thought-provoking to the process.
During this period I’m also undertaking some more assessment work for Arts Council England, it seems from the most recent visits that I’m becoming the ‘go to’ man for participation projects at NPO clients. It’s always fascinating to see other practitioners at work and the process of of observation and reflection about their approach, always has something for me to add to my repertoire of skills.
What the rest of 2017 will bring, at the moment, I’m not quite sure but conversations, are, as they say, ongoing.
Update September 2016
THE UNDERGROUND MAN is up and running!
We opened on Thursday 22nd September in the Neville Studio at Nottingham Playhouse to three full houses and ticket sales for the rest of the run looking very, very healthy. My thanks to all the departments at the Playhouse for giving the company and production such wonderful support, As Director I felt very well cared for.
Harriet Clarke, the designer has created a wonderful, expansive set, but also one that can be flexible for AJTC on their tour. Indeed this afternoon we start to re-rehearse the production for an ‘end stage’ configuration, having opened withe the set in ‘traverse’ format.
We’ve had a great deal of fun in rehearsals and it’s been a very creative process for all concerned. That’s not to say there weren’t a number of tricky problems to solve but that’s the nature of rehearsals and everyone really pulled out all the stops to make it work. Tomorrow we have ‘Press Night’ so it will be interesting to see what the professional critics make of the play. The responses of audiences so far has been very warm, very attentive and most appreciative, with some serious conversations going on in the Playhouse bar afterwards.
AJTC finish the Nottingham run on October 8th and set off on their tour (see the links page) very soon thereafter, starting in Guildford and finishing at Margate on the 23rd November. After Christmas we re-rehearse and they set off on a second leg of their tour and bookings look to be healthy and still coming in. We’re particularly pleased that we will actually be able to perform the show at Welbeck itself although exact dates are to be confirmed. Watch this space.
Update 20th June 2016
The Underground Man has seen significant developments in the last ten days. We are lucky enough to have recruited new NTU graduate Harriet Clarke as our designer. Harriet won this year’s Playhouse Prize and her first professional production will be Underground Man.
From the 8th – 12th June, Mick, Iain (AJTC), Nick Wood, Harriet and I were fortunate enough to be able to spend five days up at Welbeck Abbey in the Harley Gallery working on Version 4 of Nick’s script. We held open rehearsals every afternoon and on the final day shared four semi-rehearsed scenes with members of the public. We had a very warm welcome from all those people we met up there, so a very big thank you to Lisa Gee (Gallery Director) who facilitated our visit. We hope that in the fullness of time when the show is up and running then we’ll be able to do an actual performance on site which would be very appropriate, the play being the fictionalised account of the last six months in the life of the Fifth Duke of Portland who built a network of tunnels under Welbeck. The play charts his growing eccentricity and eventual demise in accidental circumstances, as he struggles to comprehend an increasingly complex and alienating world.
The response of the public at the open rehearsals and the ‘sharing’ was very useful and heart-warming. They were obviously interested in the subject matter, found all sorts of contemporary references, were keen to discuss their observations and possibly, most importantly, laughed out loud at the funny bits and clearly had a good time.
Subsequently Nick, Harriet and I attended the ‘Season Launch’ at Nottingham Playhouse on June 13th, where Giles Croft (NP Artistic Director) spoke very warmly of his response to the sharing session the previous day.
Bookings for the tour are now firming up and Mick and Iain will be taking the play to venues throughout England, to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, have a look at the AJTC web site in my links for full details of the shows booked so far. The tour will last until April next year, so lots of opportunities to catch up with it! Nottingham Playhouse dates are 22nd September – 8th October in the Neville Studio (Box Office 0115 941 9419).
Update 5th April 2016
I’ve just finished a very busy six weeks at Lincoln Castle developing one new play and re-directing three of the original texts that form part of the ‘Costumed Interpretation Visitor Attraction’. This year Nick Wood wrote a new play for performance on the ground floor of the ‘Men’s Wing’. This play tells the tales of three inmates from the mid-Victorian era in a melodrama style with audience participation. It’s been great fun to rehearse and audiences are responding well. We also re-rehearsed the plays in the ‘Condemned Cell’, the Chapel and the Women’s Wing. The latter, the story of a woman falsely accused of hiding the birth and early death of her baby always seems to fascinate audiences who often applaud when the ‘not guilty’ decision is announced. My thanks to the cast for a job well done that will continue to be performed most weekends until mid-October. They are: Charles Cromwell, Sara Beasley, Jim Findley, Miranda Heath, Tom Tunkin-Jones and Kieran Tobias, not forgetting Liam Hickey (from New College Nottingham),who stage managed the rehearsal process.
So onward and upward or rather downward as I start to contemplate the co-production of The Underground Man produced at Nottingham Playhouse with Iain Armstrong and Mick Jasper of AJTC. We start rehearsals in late August and open on the 22nd September in the Neville Studio for just over two weeks. However, prior to that we have a week of script development working with our writer (Nick Wood), a designer and musician.
The play, based on the novel by Mick Jackson fictionalises the last six months in the life of the Fifth Duke of Portland who lived at Welbeck near Worksop in north Nottinghamshire. He was famous for having built a series of tunnels under his estates to give work to men from the local area. The play charts his growing eccentricity and eventual demise in accidental circumstances, as he struggles to comprehend an increasingly complex and alienating world.
Watch this space for new developments.
Update 15th September 2015
We can now confirm that there will be a production of THE UNDERGROUND MAN adapted by Nick Wood from the novel by Mick Jackson and performed by Iain Armstrong and Mick Jasper of AJTC based in Guildford. Just imagine the confusion in rehearsals when Mick, Mick and Nick are all in the same room at the same time! The production will play in the Neville Studio at Nottingham Playhouse in late September 2016 and then go on a regional and national tour (see below for full details of the plot and characters).
In the meantime Nick Wood has been commissioned to create two new plays for Lincoln Castle Prison, so we’re starting to talk about the stories we want to dramatise and how we’re going to do it.
We’re hoping with these two plays to create real opportunities for our great local ensemble actors to show their skills and talents. I’m booked for pre-rehearsal workshops starting in October and I will be spending a number of days over in Lincoln working with students and interested amateur actors during the coming months to recruit a new cast.
Thanks to all the existing cast members who have worked so hard to make the present set of plays such a success over the summer months, lots of lovely feedback from the public and staff at Lincoln Castle.
Update 3rd May 2015
It’s just over a month now that we opened the four playlets in Lincoln Castle Prison as part of their new visitor attractions. The process was very rewarding, working with a group of seasoned and talented professionals and equally enthusiastic and committed local performers who made up our Ensemble. The productions continue on high days and holidays in the venue until the end of October. Thanks to all the Lincoln Castle staff for their support and encouragement for what was for them a new venture. I’m looking forward to re-visiting the shows and cast over the next two weekends.
After we’d opened at Lincoln on April 1st (who decided that date?). I was able to concentrate on the next project which seems most likely to be a production of THE UNDERGROUND MAN, adapted by Nick Wood from the novel by Mick Jackson. All being well, we’ll be doing it at Nottingham Playhouse and on national tour in the autumn of 2016 and already there’s a draft text. The production will be created with Iain Armstrong and Mick Jasper of AJTC Theatre whom I’ve know and worked with for more years than I care to remember. The original, very funny book, recounts the events in the last six months in the life on the 5th Duke of Portand who created a series of tunnels under the grounds of Welbeck Abbey in north Nottinghamshire. It’s written as both a diary and a series of testimonies from local people who came across him during that troubled time of his life. It has much to say about the pressures of contemporary experience and its obsessions with information as the central character struggles to come to terms with understanding all that is around him. The fictionalised events have a number of challenges for the adaptor and director, not the least being how to light a ‘fart’ and demonstrate how the Duke trepanned himself, that is, bored a hole in his head to let out the noxious vapours!
Watch this space.
Update 2nd February 2015
It seems quite a long time since I last posted some news. Happily, I’ve been rather busy. The project at Lincoln Castle Prison is moving forwards, I’ve cast six professional actors and we’re in the process of creating a Community Ensemble Company. Nick Wood has written four very interesting scripts about life in the prison in the 19th century and I’m looking forward to seeing an audience react to them. Rehearsals start in March and I’ll be joined by Kitty Winter (Movement)and Wayne Walker-Allan (Music and Soundscape). We have a kind of Dress Rehearsal on March 28th but the public will see our efforts for the first time on April 1st! Just how did that date materialise out of the ether?
AJTC has made a second application to Arts Council England for a grant to co-produce THE UNDERGROUND MAN with Nottingham Playhouse in September. Nick Wood will adapt this book by Mick Jackson for a tour to small venues in the autumn and next winter. It follows the last six months in the life of the 5th Duke of Portland, a notable Nottinghamshire eccentric. Fingers crossed!
I’m just about to finish working with the Community Theatre students at East 15 Drama School (Essex University) in sunny Southend-on-Sea. This year we’ve chosen to explore issues about families, looking particularly at what happens to adopted children and their parents. It’s a very interesting subject and after much hard work we’ll be taking it to secondary schools next week. It’s called Family Album, I think they are going to be rather good.
All this work during the winter and spring means I won’t be able to do so many Assessments for Arts Council England. In the autumn, they kept me very busy seeing a wide range of shows which was fascinating. I hope to return to this part of my ‘portfolio’ when the project at Lincoln is up and running.
Last, but hardly least Nick Wood draws his two year run (as a performer) with A GIRL WITH A BOOK (the story of Malala Yousafzai) to a close at the end of March. It’s been a fascinating journey for him and the good news is that there are three productions of the play scheduled for different theatres in Germany over the next three months. It’s still a topical issue. What a pity we couldn’t get a long run in a small theatre here in UK. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating the show and hope that audiences have enjoyed the debates that have hopefully ensued after they’ve seen the production.
Update June 2014
I’ve just returned from the last night of YOU CAN ALWAYS HAND THEM BACK at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester. We had a really fun time rehearsing the play and the responses of our audiences have been very warm indeed. The critics (see the Press page) have also been very generous and seemed to have a good night out, finding the play both amusing and moving, which is what I hoped. Both Peter Skellern (music and lyrics) and Roger Hall (dramatist) came to see the production (Roger from New Zealand) and were very kind to the cast and creative team. It’s a play that ought to have a further life so watch this space.
So on to new projects. I’ll be working at Lincoln Castle over the next several months to create new, live interpretations of events and characters associated with the castle and its prison during the 19th century. Writer Nick Wood will be joining me and we’re looking forward to the challenge.
We’ll also be working with AJ/TC Theatre from Guilford over the autumn to fund and create a new touring theatre piece based on the book THE UNDERGROUND MAN by Mick Jackson. The novel imagines the last months in the life of the 5th Duke of Portland seen through the eyes of his servants. The Duke is viewed as an English eccentric, as he was, most famously for creating the network of tunnels under the Welbeck Estate in north Nottinghamshire as a welfare to work project.
Update May 2014
I’m very happy to say that I’m starting rehearsals for You Can Always Hand Them Back written by Roger Hall and Peter Skellern on Monday the 12th May at The Mercury Theatre in Colchester. It’s where I opened Roots by Arnold Wesker two years ago and it’s great to be back. The show opens on Friday 13th June! Hmmm. Tickets, as they say, available at all prices at: www.mercurytheatre.co.uk
The play is a ‘two-hander’ and takes a sidelong look at the pleasures of being a grandparent. It’s packed full of witty songs from Peter Skellern which will resonate with people of a certain age, their children and maybe even some of the older grandchildren. The creative team will be Jane Linz Roberts (Design), Stefan Bednarczyk (Musical Director & Performer), Charlotte Morgan (Choreographer), Ben Payne (Lighting) and Marcus Christensen (Sound Design). We have also been able to attract two great actors to the cast, Kate Dyson to play Kath and Paul Greenwood to play Maurice. There will be film of rehearsals shot next week and photographs the following week, so look out for those.
One of the real challenges is to make the projections (of the photographic archive of the family) really look part of the action. Not to mention finding two families who will both share their own archive and take part in some photo-shoots on location with the ‘grandparents’. Watch this space.
I’ve just finished working in Southend at East 15 (University of Essex) where I devised a play with Year 2 students on the Acting for Community Theatre course. Last year we adapted the book The Arrival by Shaun Tan, this year we created a participative play based on some of the stories that have been revealed by The Child Migrants Trust created by Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys. Her book (and the film) Oranges & Butterflies tells the story of her struggle to assist former child migrants who were shipped out to the countries of the Commonwealth in the two decades after the Second War. Our play followed a fictionalized character and asked the audience to see the events through her eyes as fellow passengers on the ship and in the Australian orphanage. It was a fascinating process and seemed to engage our audiences in some high-level thinking, listening and speaking.
I also saw the students with whom I worked last year, who performed their showcase for agents and producers at the RADA Studio’s in Chenies Street, London on the 27th of February, it was called 3…2…1…GO and looked at the early days of television. It was great fun.
Nick Wood continues to perform A GIRL WITH A BOOK, and this week performed the play in and around Cardiff in a tour organized by Theatre Iolo including a charity performance at Chapter Arts. The play is our take on the events surrounding the shooting of Malala Yousafzai. It’s told through the ruminations of a writer struggling to understand the context and motivation of the attackers. So far the performances have aroused much discussion. For details see www.agirlwithabooknickwood.com which lists all the dates and gives background information.