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BLOG: What a difference a year makes
One year ago, wide eyed and filled with the promise of new and potentially enlightening experiences, I embarked upon the Bloggers & Critics Scheme. Fast forward to the same time this year, and I’m left reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ when the Theatre Royal’s schedule was overflowing and we were blissfully unaware of what lay just beyond the dawn of the new decade.
Since being asked to write a post about the fond memories I have, and those things I miss about TRP, I’ve been reflecting, and, in all honesty, it’s hard to put into words, but I will try.
I’ve always loved the theatre, although haven’t been able to attend as much as I’d like to over the years. Recently I decided to make sure that changed, so when the B&C Scheme opened up, I jumped at the opportunity. For me, it offered a fresh avenue to learn and grow, to experience and explore, as well as to be inspired and perhaps channel my own creativity more.
During the journey, we were extremely privileged to glimpse behind the curtain of a vibrant producing theatre that paves the way for cultural development in Plymouth. Reviewing many amazing shows, attending various workshops, meeting industry professionals, and nosing about backstage were definitely hugely rewarding experiences. However, I wouldn’t want to single out any one in particular as being the ultimate highlight. Having said that, almost certainly two of my favourite shows were ones that we were unable to write about, so I’d like to give them a little extra love here and now: Chris White with his hysterically touching Moist, Moist, Moist that, at times, felt like he was addressing you directing, whilst reaching into your heartbroken and fractured soul with his clever, mesmerising talent and boyish charm. As well, as The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, a production by Theatre Royal and Told By an Idiot that was so quirky and unique it left my jaw aching from over 90 minutes of unabated grinning.
Fast forward to today and Covid-19 has almost certainly had a staggering impact on theatre’s worldwide. One of the saddest aspects in terms of Plymouth’s cultural perspective is the knock on effect it’s had on the Mayflower 400 Commemorations. Years of hard work have been ploughed into planning this moment in history, including into shows such as This Land, TRP’s first ever international community production, which has had to drop anchor and plot a course for its new destination in 2021. It must be disheartening for those who have dedicated so much time and energy to projects only for them to be hit by the Covid storm right before opening night. But, the show must go on, and, hopefully, many events will still take place later this year or next.
So, back to the subject of what I miss. For me, far beyond one specific moment, or production, is simply leaving the theatre feeling inspired and uplifted by the wealth of creativity, talent, and teamwork, no matter how big or small the show. And when I say ‘small’, I mean purley in terms of production/cast size. Some of the most wholehearted, captivating, and emotionally charged evenings for me have taken place in The Drum, an intimate and confronting space that leaves no place to hide. And, what I long for again is the wonder of being immersed into a different world, momentarily embracing life through someone else’s eyes, finding meaning in their vulnerable narratives, then leaving with a renewed passion for digging deeper, pushing further, and striving for more authentic expression in the world around me. It’s the opportunity to simultaneously escape reality and to embrace my own more authentically and wholeheartedly.
They say time is a healer; I hope this is the case for theatres across the country. Stories are at the heart of our individual and collective journeys, and what I’ve come to appreciate more during this national hibernation is that places like TRP are exactly what give life meaning. The theatre showcases our humanity so succinctly, providing form to the expressions of our human experiences.
BLOG: Our Space; 'How community engagement can change your life'
For the last 10 years, Theatre Royal Plymouth has been running its ground-breaking Our Space project for adults with complex lives. This creative programme brings to life the relationship between the arts and community well-being and was recently featured in Arts Professional here.
Sara Rhodes, our Engagement Manager explains: ‘Our Space’ began life eleven years ago with a simple invitation to people who were sleeping rough outside the theatre and using drugs in the toilets to come in and have a chat over a hot drink. It has developed into a creative programme for adults with multiple and complex needs. Its members come from all walks of life and may have faced challenges involving homelessness, mental health issues, re-offending, substance misuse; or they may feel isolated for other reasons. The project continues to evolve and respond to the needs of the community.’
Carol Jones, Editor at AMAculturehive, says: ‘Here we see a real recognition that communities do not exist to serve the arts; the arts exist to serve communities.’
Read the full feature here.
TRP’s Director of Engagement and Learning, Mandy Precious, was also recently interviewed for the Massachusetts-based Creative Minds Out Loud podcast, discussing how social prescription – prescribing the arts or arts activities – has impacted the organization and the Plymouth community:
‘Things like depression or anxiety are escalating, and there’s a sense that it’s an epidemic, and you can treat that in many different ways – including by prescribing the arts.’
Listen to the full podcast here.
10 years of Our Space in numbers:
862 drama workshops
81 public performances
41 referral partners working in areas including homelessness, probation, mental health and rehabilitation
BLOG: Girls just wanna have fun - Behind the scenes at Theatre Royal Plymouth for Priscilla Queen Of The Desert
“Check, 1,2,3,4,5…. 1,2,3,4,5”
Sneaking around the wings of the Lyric stage at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, with microphone checks echoing all around me, I was thrilled to be given an insight into the pre-show preparations for Priscilla Queen of the Desert, currently delighting Plymouth audiences. Despite being in the middle of a 10-month tour of Priscilla, Company Manager Leighton Vickers’ dedication and pride in the show was evident as he enthusiastically told me about the hard work and organisation that goes into making Priscilla the show that it is.
With changes to the set, script and costumes, Leighton explained that this is the first time any company has been allowed to change the design of the show. When the producers at Nullarbor Productions saw the latest incarnation, having overseen and managed all international versions of the musical since its Australian premiere in 2006, they tearfully pronounced, “Our baby’s a teenager!” By scaling down some of the costumes in physical size, this has enabled the choreography to be enhanced, giving the performers the freedom to dance, sashay, flounce and strut their way around the stage without inhibition.
Costumes are a major focal point of the show with Adam, played by the incredible Nick Hayes, undertaking 14 costume changes in every performance. It was fascinating to see the work that goes into ensuring all pieces are in the correct place, labelled and ordered for the show’s performers to swiftly change in and out of, ably assisted by the company and dressers, including a team from TRP.
I was privileged to be allowed to ‘drive’ Priscilla the bus, a beautifully created and very versatile part of the set which appears from several angles to the audience but which must also be re-set each night before every performance.
Leighton also told me about touring life with many of the company not seeing their families for days or weeks on end. The show is packed up on a Saturday night and re-set in a new town, sometimes on the other side of the country, on a Monday morning. This gives Sunday as the only day to catch up with family, one of the hardest elements of being on tour according to Leighton.
As the cast stepped on stage for their pre-show physical warm-up, some at various stages of their make-up routines, I got a brief insight into the camaraderie experienced by members of a touring company. News shared, jokes flowing and girls (and boys) just having fun, it was clear to see that this is a show buzzing with love and energy from all involved. Something that was confirmed when this girl got to have her own fun, watching it an hour later.
REVIEW: Priscilla Queen Of The Desert
As a self-proclaimed super fan of drag shows, cabarets and all things camp, when a trio of seasoned drag queens back in to your local theatre in a busted old bus, you kind of don’t get a choice in the matter. So I headed down to Theatre Royal Plymouth this week to see Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Priscilla follows the story of two professional drag queens and one transgender woman on an impromptu road trip for a spectacular one night engagement at a rinky-dink venue on the other side of Australia. Mitzi Mitosis (Joe McFadden), Bernadette Bassenger (Miles Western) and Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Nick Hayes) travel in a bedazzled bus named Priscilla, until the old girl breaks down.
Two drag queens and one transsexual stranded in the Australian outback. Sounds like the start of a bad joke.
The three performers learn new truths about each other, how to protect oneself in a dark seedy bar crawling with homophobes, and a very impressive ping-pong inspired party trick. Ultimately the story is one of acceptance – towards others and towards ourselves. Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
Strictly Come Dancing winner and former Holby City star Joe McFadden lead the cast in this production, with a story of family at its heart and beautiful renditions of True Colours and A Fine Romance, and AbFab star Miles Western took us on a journey of grief and self-acceptance with his portrayal of Bernadette. However, Footloose and Legally Blonde star Nick Hayes as Felicia Jollygoodfellow was the clear stand out of the three leading roles. With powerhouse performances of club classics including Venus and a killer Kylie medley that was well worth the wait, Hayes inserted every innuendo with perfect comedic timing and showed us the darker aspects of life for all those under the technicolour flag.
No drag show is complete without an array of outrageous costumes and set and costume designers Charles Cusick-Smith and Phil R Daniels did not disappoint. Cupcakes, bedazzled capes, rubber ducks, even wigs that double as pom-poms – you name it it’s going in the costumes. The quick-changes and almost supernatural speed with which performers went from bare-faced to painted-for-the-back-row were executed to perfection: not a synthetic hair out of place. The set was almost tame by comparison. Although, I suppose you can’t really have pink sand in the Australian outback without looking a bit silly.
The show’s soundtrack (collated from classic tracks like It’s Raining Men and I Will Survive and an original score by Stephen “Spud” Murphy) was a perfectly balanced blend of drag anthems and heartfelt power ballads perfectly tailored to accentuate the atmosphere of the scene. Dance captain Nell Martin kept the incredibly fine turned ensemble in shape – every split jump and scantily clad reveal choreographed to perfection.
With the show being close to Australia’s heart (inspired by the 1994 comedy film of the same name and produced by Jason Donovan), it seemed fitting to see Bob (Daniel Fletcher) standing under the spotlight in his sparkly outfit telling the audience about two charities working to raise money after the Australian bush fires.
In times such as these, we all have to come together. Ultimately, Priscilla is a story about just that. A story of acceptance, of breaking down barriers, of putting aside your own prejudices and perhaps learning a thing or two about yourself in the process. I’m looking at you, Bob.
We’re all on our way to finding where we belong. Just try not to break down.
BLOG: Flying high at Theatre Royal Plymouth
As a lifelong theatre fan I have often wondered what happens beyond the big red curtain, past the ensemble of talented performers and musicians. So when the Theatre Royal Plymouth invited our small group of eager bloggers to visit the Flys and see a master at work, it was an opportunity that we couldn’t possibly miss.
For those who may not have heard the term before, the Flys is the backstage area where scenery and equipment are suspended, until the time they are needed in a show. They are then expertly and safely lowered into view, just in time for the lights to go back up on the action.
Giving us this backstage insight was Head Flyman Al Shalliker, who oversees his skilled team with a high degree of attention to detail. Our first stop was the main stage, with a thrilling opportunity to look out into the audience where I have sat so many times before. Looking up, we had a glimpse of how high the Flys operation goes, gazing up into a far reaching medley of frames and ropes that are ready and waiting to be attached to scenery pieces. Courtesy of his colleague Jim, we witnessed the seamless lowering and raising of the main stage curtain, which didn’t fail to send a quiver of excitement up the spine!
Making our way up a spiral staircase of 5 floors on our journey to the highest heights of the theatre building, our first stop was on a balcony lined with dozens of ropes that run from floor to ceiling. Al explained how the lifting and lowering of scenery and props is performed by pulling these ropes, which work as part of a system of frames, weights and counterweights, paired with precision timing and working to the cues of the stage managers and of Al himself via headset. My fellow bloggers and I were lucky enough to have a go on a pulley, lifting a set frame from floor to ceiling height. It was surprisingly easy to do, although still a little heavy for us first timers even with the counterweight mechanism. However, it helped that we had no added pressure of having to be seamless or needing to keep to an exact time of execution during a live show. Not for the faint hearted, we carried on to the top floor, where we walked over slats of metal that covered the roof space. It was exciting, yet a little unnerving, looking between the slats far down to the theatre floor. This is definitely a career for someone who has a head for heights!
The size of the team required and the amount of pulleys needing to be operated depends on the type of performance. Most shows have to take into account a period of setting up and dismantling, with a large tour such as Mary Poppins requiring up to 4 days of getting ready to open. It was interesting to see how precise and detailed the arrangements need to be, as accidents could happen if eyes are wondering elsewhere.
It was fascinating to see how this well-oiled machine works, especially hearing how passionate Al and his team are with making everything run smoothly for each show. In Al’s opinion he does his job to the best of his ability for the sake of the audience, as anything less than perfect will take away from their theatre experience. I will certainly appreciate his effort all the more when I next sit down to enjoy a show at Theatre Royal Plymouth.
REVIEW: Les Gloriables
Christmas is my favourite time of year. Oversized festive jumpers. Quirky markets stalls. Wizzard and Mariah Carey staging a hostile takeover of the charts on commercial radio. And the alternative Christmas shows in The Drum.
Rioting its way on to the stage this year is Les Gloriables. Presented by French/English comedy duo Spitz & Co (Lise Boucon and Susie Donkin), this slapstick parody takes inspiration from Victor Hugo’s classic novel turned record breaking musical, as we follow the story of ‘John’ Val Jean, Fantine, Cosette, Javert and a whole host of timeless characters. Having previously seen belly-aching material from this eccentric duo, I came in excited for the show and expected a lot – and received much more.
Being an avid Les Misérables fan meant that I already knew the story, was familiar with the original characters and the original score. Therefore the campaign for Plymouth’s newest MP, the hat-juggling scene between Cosette and Javert and the nail-biting opening chapter (will Waitrose bandit John Val Jean ever escape? However will he do it?) made perfect sense to me. However, a generous helping of improvised silliness, plenty of content based around current affairs and our uncertain political climate, and even a shout out to Jacob Rees Mogg in there too, provided inclusivity. The energetic women on stage who certainly didn’t take themselves too seriously kept the entire audience, whether uninformed newbies who had never seen the show or die-hard fans who could quote the script in their sleep, laughing (and in some cases, snorting), from start to finish.
Personally, I knew I was going to enjoy the show as soon as I walked in. Whilst waiting for grade-A diva Gloria Delaneuf, her ever faithful assistant Josephine Cunningham dutifully handed out handkerchiefs, selected a few audience members to take part on stage, and encouraged us all to have a sing-song. This acted as a delightful prelude to the show, and not five minutes in, a friend of mine turned to me and said, ‘This is right up your street isn’t it?’
My favourite aspect of the show was the immediate encouragement of audience participation. I love getting involved because it makes you feel just as important to the performance as the cast are, and a different crowd makes for a different show every night. To my delight, there was no shortage of this during the performance. Everyone was such good sports and it only made the show lighter and funnier as a whole.
I would have liked to get picked on, to climb the barricade and wave the French flag. It is, I suppose, a brilliant excuse to go again. Vive la revolution!
Les Gloriables will play in The Drum Theatre until the 30th of December 2019.
BLOG: TRP Meet and Greet for The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel
Plymouthians in 1954 were left disappointed when Laurel and Hardy, due to entertain crowds with the last performance of their final tour at Plymouth’s Palace Theatre, cancelled the show. After performing a single night, Hardy had a mild heart attack and they cancelled their run in the city and the rest of the tour. Laurel and Hardy were never to perform together again.
So it seems fitting that Plymouth is where ‘The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel’ will begin, before moving to Luxembourg and London. Those who missed out on Laurel and Hardy’s final performances all those years ago were forced to imagine the experience of seeing the pair’s inimitable slapstick in the flesh. ‘The Strange Tale…’ stirs the imagination once again by exploring what the little known friendship between Stan Laurel and that other titan of the era, Charlie Chaplin, might have looked like.
What an honour it was to be invited along to the ‘Meet and Greet’ at TRP to welcome those involved in ‘The Strange Tale…’, a Theatre Royal Plymouth and Told by an Idiot’s new production, and to get a sneak peek into the people, and story, behind it. Strictly TRP and production staff only, it was a privilege to join the circle and introduce myself as a TRP Blogger and Critic. And what a circle to be a part of; everyone from catering staff and front of house to actors, directors and musicians standing shoulder to shoulder. All had their own important part to play in the running of this amazing theatre and the production of a performance due to open in only a couple of days.
David Prescott, Artistic Associate at TRP, welcomed us and reminded everyone of the special relationship between TRP and Told by an Idiot, having co-produced seven shows together. After introductions, there was a real buzz in the air as the show’s Writer and Director, Paul Hunter, whet everybody’s appetites with promises that ‘The Strange Tale…’ is “genuinely experimental and genuinely accessible”. Accessible is something TRP does with flair without making a song and dance about it. This show will have not one, but two Saturday matinees. Having listened to its audience, TRP recognises how important matinees are to those who might need assistance to attend or perhaps even have to catch two buses just to be there.
Paul Hunter was quick to point out that ‘The Strange Tale…’ is not a biodrama but a “true fantasy”. While most shows start their lives with with a script, ‘The Strange Tale…’ came from an idea – the idea of what that relationship between Laurel and Chaplin might have involved – and evolved organically from there. As a reader, viewer and theatre goer, I love a back story or a spin-off. Jean Rhys does this brilliantly in “Wide Sargasso Sea” – telling the back story of Bertha, the ‘madwoman in the attic’ from Jane Eyre. I have high hopes that ‘The Strange Tale…’ can conjure up something as artistically credible and enjoyable. Despite being based on true events, it is an imagining of what might have been; a “funny, poignant homage to two young men who changed the world of comedy forever,” say Told by an Idiot. They explain that, “Chaplin and Laurel spent two years touring North America together, with Stan as Charlie’s understudy before they both respectively had successful performing careers. In Charlie Chaplin’s highly detailed autobiography, Stan Laurel is never mentioned. Stan talked about Charlie all his life.”
Were the two of them friends? Was Stan in awe of Charlie? Did Charlie get sick of his understudy? Speaking at Stan Laurel’s funeral, Buster Keaton said, “Chaplin wasn’t the funniest. I wasn’t the funniest. Stan Laurel was the funniest,” so perhaps Chapin even felt threatened by him. Laurel wrote of Chaplin, in a letter to a friend, “’He was a very eccentric character, composed of many moods, at times signs of insanity”. We will never know for sure how the conversations went in the cabin the two shared on their way across the Atlantic to tour America with Fred Karno’s famous music hall troupe but ‘Told by an Idiot’ are ready to mine a rich vein of comedic possibilities at the Drum which I look forward to seeing.
Tickets for the show can be purchased here.
BLOG: The Lab Company 2019/20 keeping busy!
It has been an extremely busy few weeks for The Lab Company! We have been incredibly lucky with the amount of brilliant performances we have been able to see, and the enriching workshops that we have been lucky enough to receive from some incredibly talented artists.
The first workshop that we had was from Shôn Dale Jones. As Shôn works a lot with autobiographical performance, he wanted to show us part of his process. This included us simply telling stories of a time that we have done something in our lives that we couldn’t explain. The stories didn’t have to be anything crazy and could just be something very basic. From this, we chose a story and bought it to life. Some highlights from the workshop included drawing from our own lives, thinking about how to connect personal stories to what’s going on in the world and the idea of failure and how failure means learning from mistakes.
The next workshop we had was from Tonderai Munyevu who works with Eclipse theatre company. Again, Tonderai works a lot with autobiographical performance and so we had a moment of sharing stories of things going on currently in our lives. From that we were able to connect some stories and play around with how to tell those stories. Tonderai also told us that as theatre makers who may be interested in autobiographical performance, we need to learn the art of self-care. This includes thinking about if we can talk about the stories we want to talk about, considering who may see the show and if you are willing to tell your story in front of family/friends, not forcing yourself to explore something that you aren’t ready to explore and having someone in the theatre world who can support you in your journey.
We then had a workshop delivered by Dr Sita Thomas who worked with Kali theatre company. Sita’s workshop centred mostly around verbatim theatre, the idea of taking somebody else’s words and making a performance from them. We spoke to her about some things that we had been discussing as a group and from that, we split off into pairs and chose a concept that we were interested in. Sita explained that there were multiple ways of performing verbatim including, performing it exactly as the other person said it, making a song from what they said, or creating a completely new character from what was said. She also taught us some ways in which we should approach someone we would like to interview and how to make someone feel happy to share stories with us.
The last workshop we had before the October half term was with Jenny Sealey, the artistic director of Graeae Theatre company. Graeae are focussed on making theatre accessible to everyone and by also having a diverse cast by having D/deaf and disabled artists at the centre of their work. Jenny firstly asked us to create a sign, noise and word for our name. Then using these, we created short scenes with firstly just the signs we created, then the signs and the noise, and then finally, the sign, noise and word. It allowed us as creators to think about different ways of performing that may be more inclusive. This workshop gave us a lot to think about and play with in terms of making theatre that is accessible. It made us think about sign language, audio description and the possibility of subtitles.
As well as receiving workshops from outside companies, we have also had workshops with Lucy Hirst who has also been mentoring us through this process. A lot of these workshops have allowed us to get to know each other as theatre makers and as individuals. We have also been able to have some extremely in-depth discussions that we have experienced or what we think of current events. We have constantly been creating short pieces of work to play around with everything we have learnt from Lucy and from the other theatre makers we have worked with.
We have been extremely lucky with the amount we have learnt in this short amount of time. From this focus on autobiographical making, we are beginning to use the techniques that we have learnt to create, with a focus on self, place and community, and how we can interweave this ideas to create something that is accessible.
Lots of Love,
Lab Company 2019/2020 (Name still TBC!)
REVIEW: Won over by One Under
“One Under” is the term used by London Underground drivers when somebody commits suicide by jumping in front of a tube train. In Winsome Pinnock’s re-written version of her thriller for Graeae and Theatre Royal Plymouth, we are confronted by such an incident and then taken on a journey which untangles a web of five characters intrinsically linked to each other.
Speaking on the BBC radio programme, ‘Front Row’, Pinnock said, “It’s about grief, loss and how people cope or don’t cope with that.” By not providing concrete answers to why a young man called Sonny decided to become ‘one under’, the audience are worked hard to unravel the incident and Pinnock’s intention is effectively realised as we experience the very real thoughts, questions and feelings that occur when somebody takes their own life – in whatever circumstances those may be.
We meet Cyrus, the driver whose train Sonny jumped under. Played perfectly by Stanley J. Browne, we see him becoming more and more desperate in his search for answers and reasons behind Sonny’s suicide. Sonny, who at first appears to be a creepy sleazebag, wines and dines a girl who is later called upon by Cyrus to provide answers. Gradually layers of Sonny’s mental well – being and history are peeled away to reveal the painful depths of his character, going right back to his broken childhood. His mother and sister become entwined in the plot as we see them battle with their own grief and ultimately, the pain caused by losing a loved one.
Graeae are an innovative theatre company known for being inclusive and in ‘One Under’, they place actors of colour, D/deaf and disabled actors centre stage without it being a piece about disability. When the director, Amit Sharma said “It’s about representation but the story is universal,” he hit the nail on the head as this is a story that touches everyone. With a reputation for ingeniously accessible productions, the piece is captioned throughout with the script available for the audience to follow on the London Underground departure boards. This creative approach is non-intrusive yet enabling for everyone and particularly anyone with auditory impairment. With no hearing impairment, I enjoyed being able to dip in and out of reading the captions and it opened up a new way of experiencing theatre to me.
With the solemnity of the theme, I came away feeling hollow and sad from the pain of attempting to unriddle the complex mysteries of suicide. Sad for Sonny but also sad for the many children in our care system who are four times more likely to have a mental health disorder and four times more likely to commit suicide in adulthood. ‘One Under’ is not a play that you can walk away from without being starkly reminded that you can never fully understand what is going on in a person’s life. Hard-hitting, challenging and well-crafted,it’s recommended to all especially if you’re brave enough to admit you might have ever sighed or tutted in frustration upon hearing the news that your train is delayed due to ‘an incident’.
BLOG: One Under Meet & Greet
Two days before the opening of One Under, by Winsome Pinnock and Graeae Theatre Company, I was invited to attend my first Meet & Greet experience; something that’s usually reserved for theatre staff only.
Arriving at the wrong entrance and waiting at the Stage Door amongst remnants from last week’s fabulous Rocky Horror Show, which are due to be collected on Thursday, apparently, I realised I didn’t really know what to expect. Luckily other people knew what they were doing and soon came to find me hiding back there. Upon making our way up to the first floor mezzanine, I was pre-warned about the ‘circle time’ style introductions that might ensue, but I felt reasonably confident that I wouldn’t say anything too stupid, but I can never guarantee this, of course.
Armed with my complimentary camomile tea, I was greeted by a few familiar faces and introduced to some new ones. A crowd started to quickly gather in a relaxed semi-circle facing towards the Director, Amit Sharma. Bracing myself for the introductions that inevitably came, I can confirm I proudly managed to remember my name and my role there, thus not embarrassing myself or Rebecca and Maia who run the Bloggers & Critics Scheme. Phew.
Joking aside, it was encouraging to see such a diverse bunch of people from front of house staff, to cast members and talent developers, to production and marketing, and even the CEO, all of whom play an integral part in the day to day working of this busy and thriving theatre. No matter their role, everyone was genuinely pleased to be there and took a keen interest in what the cast and crew of The Drum’s latest production had to say, making for a humble and relaxed atmosphere.
However it wasn’t all one sided, the mutual respect was apparent. Amit declared the company’s love of returning to The Drum over the last 15 years as TRP is one of the best producing theatres in the country. So clearly they have great taste as well as oodles of talent!
After brief introductions and some background information about the company, we were invited to preview the set. Eagerly making our way into The Drum, we gathered around on the benches to witness a production that was clearly in the midst of technical rehearsals, fine tuning, and settling into the space ready for Thursday’s opening night.
The term ‘creative use of captioning’ is cited in the show’s description on TRP’s website. Beforehand I wondered what this could mean, but it became immediately apparent as we stepped into the room. The cast, which consists of disabled and non-disabled performers, and the production team of One Under will “creatively integrate description and captioning” into the show. I’m still not 100% sure how this will happen, but I’m looking forward to finding out next week.
Amit also mentioned inspiration for the set design was in part based on the DNA double helix structure as he playfully wove in and out of it light-heartedly discussing how everything was shaping up.
Unfortunately, as the play isn’t open yet, I couldn’t take any pictures to illustrate this pretty poor half-description of the set. But if you are interested, you’ll just have to go and see it for yourself, won’t you!
Running from Thursday 17th to Saturday 26th in The Drum, more information and tickets are available here.
BLOG: Hello from the 2019/2020 Lab Company!
We are a group of early career artists between 19 and 25 from Plymouth and around the South West, who have been brought together by the Theatre Royal Plymouth to devise a new piece of theatre for the 2020 Spring programme. Through this blog we want to share the journey of our creative process with you.
When considering what to write for this, and wondering how to best communicate our process of development as a company. It struck me how important communication is, as a foundation for creative practice. The exercises and activities that Ben and Lucy (our wonderful programme leaders) have been taking us through in our first two days together, have all been to achieve this aim. To establish a comfortable, playful environment in which to share.
After meeting outside stage door and basking in the Plymouth sunshine for a few minutes, Lucy brought the group into The Lab, cracked out the Macklemore soundtrack and immediately got us straight into some high energy warm ups. Having shaken out some of our first day jitters, we played some getting to know each other games. These more basic warm ups transitioned into devising activities. Lucy had us write down answers to three statements;
I want to make theatre that sounds like…. (Rather than choosing an arbitrary sound Lucy asked to choose a specific song we could play to the group)
I want to make theatre that smells like…
I want to make theatre that tastes like…
I want to make theatre that feels like….
Upon answering these questions, each company member took turns sharing their answers while playing their chosen song. Meanwhile, the rest of the group watched and wrote small notes with our responses on, (ranging from further song recommendations, writing advice and simple notes on how much we enjoyed their ideas). We shared these by scrunching them up like popcorn snacks and gently throwing them into the performance space, for each person to collect and reflect on.
We found this exercise particularly beneficial in starting to bond, and getting to know each other’s inspirations and creative styles. The combination of a performative structure, and rolling responses/feedback, allowed each company member express themselves, learn the rest of the team. Immediately engaging each other creative identities. What could have been a dull ‘getting to know each other game’ this creative communication felt like a springboard for developing autobiographical performance, whilst simultaneously building the combined artistic identity of the group.
On our second day we lost three members of our group to their graduation ceremony’s (Congratulations to Alice, James and Amy!). Although they were missed, we instead were joined in the studio, by some members of the 2018/2019 Lab Company (sharing their hints tips and advice). James from Marketing came by to give us some information and examples of how to market our show. As well as members of staff from various different departments, welcoming us to the Theatre Royal Plymouth family and providing an informal networking opportunity.
It was a lovely chance to chat to other members of the Theatre Royal Plymouth community. And reminded us that communication is not only important in the studio, but in terms of developing professionally, taking advantage of these networking opportunities and learning from all of these brains at the theatre. As well as promoting our show and engaging with the wider theatre community in the South West (which I hope this blog will begin to achieve!)
Lots of Love,
Lab Company 2019/2020
BLOG: Production Management
When accomplished professionals implore you to be brave and keep going, it gives you hope that you’re not totally deluded and irrational to have dreams and aspirations!
On Thursday we were extremely fortunate to meet yet another crucial cog in the well-oiled theatrical machine that is the Theatre Royal Plymouth (TRP). As a producing theatre that supports the production of new, innovative plays, it’s become apparent during our time on the Bloggers & Critics Scheme just how socially conscious and forwarded thinking TRP actually is.
So when we met with Hugh Borthwick, TRP’s Production Manager, it was a real opportunity to find out more about the work that goes on behind the scenes to bring such an action-packed calendar of events and creative opportunities for new and emerging artists, as well as established shows and world-wide sensations to life.
Confident and self-assured, Hugh projected an image of a calm, controlled and articulate man who’s both modest and sure of himself, yet someone you probably wouldn’t want to mess with! Unlike other people we have had workshops with over recent months, he greeted us with no plan or preconceived agenda. He kept the session open for free-flowing discussion and made sure to answer our, (my) sometimes nosey and dirt-digging, questions with openness and professionalism.
Discussing a range of topics from what the day-to-day life of a Production Manager actually looks like, to the controversial history of TRP’s journey in Plymouth since its birth in 1982, and what makes working in the industry challenging and rewarding, Hugh even managed to segway politics and topical social issues seamlessly into the conversation at crucial moments; although that’s not necessarily hard in our current climate, I guess.
Leaving personal opinions aside about particular shows, Hugh wasn’t shy in coming forward regarding what evokes pride and keeps him motivated, alongside what he finds most challenging about the delicate balancing act in a sometimes fraught environment that is a live production setting, especially when you have so many cooks simultaneously baking cakes over various platforms.
Hugh clearly works hard, often long hours, and is a very respected member of the team who strives for excellence. Highlighting what motivates him personally, and the theatre in a wider context, it’s clear that there’s a conscious push towards community engagement, which was also highlighted during our last workshop with Ben Lyon-Ross, TRP’s Talent Development Producer. It may not be immediately obvious or apparent to someone merely glimpsing aspects of the theatre’s work from the outside, but TRP actively involves and collaborates with a wide and diverse spectrum of the community making creativity increasingly accessible to ‘everyday’ people, whilst supporting emerging creative talent that bring thought-provoking and wildly original content to Plymouth, who then often successfully take this further afield.
It has been a privilege to meet a mere handful of the people involved in some of this groundbreaking work, and, what I will remember most and take away with me from the hour we spent in Hugh’s company was his message to keep going, to be brave and bold, to push for what we believe in, and to strive to make things better in whatever form that may take for us.
So thank you, Hugh. I will aim to do just that.
NEWS: Theatre Royal Plymouth Pantomime Babe Auditions
The search is about to begin to find 16 local children who will play alongside Brian Conley, in this year’s Theatre Royal Plymouth pantomime, Cinderella. The chosen children will form two teams of 8, who will then perform on alternate days.
Auditions will take place at the Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Production and Learning centre, TR2, 12 Neptune Park, Plymouth, PL1 0SJ, on Sunday 27 October with registration taking place between 9.30-10.00am
These auditions are ONLY for children who can meet the following requirements:
- Team members must be of Key Stage 2 age (Currently in year 3/ 4/ 5/ 6 at Primary School)
- Team members must be no taller than 4 feet 6 inches with competent skills in modern dance. Suitable applicants will be measured (bare feet) before auditioning.
- Team members must be available for rehearsals on Sunday 10th November, Sunday 24th November and Sunday 8th December and then from Sunday 15th December until Saturday 18th January 2020.
- Team members must be able travel to the Theatre Royal Plymouth within 30 minutes of being called.
- Team members must be accompanied at the audition by a parent/ guardian who must be prepared to stay for the entire day.
Suitable applicants need to register in the reception area of TR2 between 9.30-10am on Sunday 27 October 2019.
Please bring plenty of food and drink as there will be limited refreshment facilities available.
Cinderella runs at the Theatre Royal Plymouth from Friday 20 December 2019 to Saturday 18 January 2020.
Tickets are priced from £13 and can be booked online here or by calling the Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office on 01752 267222.
For further information on the pantomime babes auditions, please contact Engagement and Learning on 01752 230379.
BLOG: Recovery and the Arts Conference
Everyman Theatre, Liverpool. Tuesday 3rd September 2019.
A fantastic day at the conference of recovery through arts,
Listening to stories, real people fresh starts,
Journeys of learning techniques and new skills,
No longer addicted to needles or pills,
Physical dance, humour and song, poetry, writing is where we belong,
Taking our trauma, abuse and bad luck.
Creating real theatre from the ground up,
Our stories are raw ‘coz we speak the truth,
Serious emotions shot through the roof,
You are what you hide and we hide it no more,
Compulsive behaviours are channelled with awe
but beware of the illusion that twelve weeks can fix,
You can’t always cure the cough with old Tixylix.
Remember we’re vulnerable and will be for years,
Haven’t dealt with half of the stuff that brought us to tears.
Facing our lives again with all of its strain,
Self-harming and medicating no longer to blame,
If left all alone our minds become dark
The voices appear creating a spark,
This spark is enough to start a small fire, a craving or burning unwanted desire.
We need structure, support, a weekly check-in,
a network of friends for love to sink in,
a purpose, a reason and somewhere to go
Our minds become young ourselves we don’t know,
I call it rebirth because old habits must die,
Reprogram the brain,
Release the new I.
BLOG: Wardrobe Experience
Having been involved in productions at the theatre in my younger years I was always interested in how costumes are designed and made, how quick changes happen so seamlessly and how wigs, hair and make-up are all pulled together for the final look, so I jumped at the chance to have a nose around the wardrobe department at TRP.
Delia Lancaster, Wardrobe Manager, started our tour by showing us some beautifully drawn costume designs for the Young Company production ‘Influence’. It is part of her job to source the costumes from the designers’ inspiration. This can involve making, buying and borrowing to make sure the look is as it should be. I was very impressed by what can be achieved with a very small budget. Delia really knows her stuff.
The next stop on the tour was an area with a large wooden box. Delia explained that when there is a touring show who provide much of their own costumes, this is how they arrive at the theatre. With a quick flick of the hinge the clothes were exposed on a rail and ready to be worn by the actors. It was at this point that Delia showed us a costume worn by a man that is used for a quick change. She explained how the dress was constructed to make the quick change as swift and seamless as possible. “Lentils make a really good bosom” was the gem of a quote Delia gave at this point and sure enough the whole chest area of the dress was filled with lentils! Not quite what I expected to hear however, it gave me an insight into some of the hacks the wardrobe team have to come up with to make costumes as realistic as possible.
Next, we were on to the huge expanse of the wardrobe store. What an impressive room with rows upon rows of clothes, shoes, hats and accessories. I have to say I was slightly overwhelmed with the enormity of stock and found myself wondering how on earth they find anything in there. But, on closer inspection I find that all clothes are meticulously sorted into item, size, colour etc so once you know your way around as Delia does, probably with her eyes closed, it wouldn’t be a problem. Not even a brief conversation about Poldark could sway Delia from her passion. She is only interested in the costumes when she watches it unlike the rest of us!
Delia gave us an insight into make-up and wigs and we got the chance to have a go at fake embroidery. The wardrobe team really have to be able to turn their hand to anything to be able to achieve the costume they want.
Delia’s passion for all this wardrobe is glaringly evident, from the way she lovingly describes an item to her work ethic and dedication to her job. We even had the opportunity to reminisce from when she dressed me in a number of Young Company productions back in the mid 1990’s so this was a fantastic experience for me.
BLOG: Theatre Royal Plymouth Workshops
Tucked away in fairly unassuming corner of Plymouth lies the Theatre Royal Plymouth’s TR2 workshop. Somewhere between Santa’s workshop and Hogwarts, we were lucky enough to gain an insight into the ‘behind the scenes’ magic that goes in to making many of the sets for your favorite performances. If, like me, your Hogwarts letter was lost in the post, this may just be the next best thing.
Perhaps rather unusually, just before the actors appear on stage is always one of my favorite moments of any performance. There is just something in that brief window as the house lights descend and audience’s murmurs fade in to a milky nothingness that is so tantalizing. When it seems like it is just you and the stage, set ready for an evening of possibilities. It is always at this point, before my thoughts are stolen away by the performance, that I wonder about the work that goes in to making the set in front of me.
But just what goes in to making a set? I must admit I had very little idea before this workshop tour. I say ‘workshop’ loosely as stepping in to TR2 you cross in to a dizzying airplane style hanger, a room that is part Hollywood studio, part Hogwarts Great Hall, complete with almost living portraits and art, and part Santa’s elves workshop. It certainly has a TARDIS ‘bigger on the inside’ joy to it.
On hand to guide us through is Brendan (Head of Manufacturing), our very own young Dumbledore, albeit with less beard, and perhaps even more knowledge about the workings of this hidden realm.
The talents of the makers and craftsmen are clear from the moment we step through the door. In front of us lies a plethora of pieces of art. From intricate honeycomb stairs for an upcoming production, to a spray-paint mural the size of a semi-detached house, this is a kind of living museum of modern making. The design and craftsmanship on display here at TR2 certainly put my weekend struggles with IKEA furniture assembly firmly in to perspective. For those that love a trip to a DIY store will find themselves in heaven amongst the ingenious pieces of staging across the workshop.
During our tour we stumble across Anna, an old friend of mine, who also holds a Master’s degree in Contemporary Art Practice, who seems to symbolize TR2 as a place both of community and excellence. Brendan tells us that all the makers here ‘have a go’ at all aspects of construction. This is place where photographers are soldering and carpenters are welding, a real community of construction.
Unknown to me, TR2 doesn’t just build staging for the Theatre Royal Plymouth, but for Theatre’s up and down the country, demonstrating the talent, expertise, and dedication that make up the team. I was surprised to see a larger than life portrait of Sir Ian McKellen adoring the walls here for an upcoming West-End production of King Lear currently being worked on at TR2. Despite McKellen infamous ‘You Shall Not Pass!’ ringing in my ears, this really is a place where everyone is welcome.
Next up was our chance to get stuck in and have a go. Despite being worried about my lack of artistic ability, team member Dan was on hand to help. We were allowed to program and play with the workshop’s CNC Machine, a giant woodcutting machine protected by lasers. Yes Lasers. It doesn’t get much cooler than this kids. With thoughts myself as a cross between James Bond and Nick Knowles of DIY SOS firmly behind me, we each manage to draw and cut a nameplate with relative ease. The chance to play with some grown-up toys is definitely a highlight of the visit.
From cutting edge design to the actual cutting edges of the CNC machine, both young and old can relish in some artistic amazement on this tour. From sets, to props and costumes TR2 is probably still one of Plymouth’s best-kept secrets. So if you feel like your seat on the Hogwarts Express is dwindling away, there is still magic close at hand. Just remember, no muggles allowed.
NEWS: TRP New Season Announcement
We are excited to announce our new year of work with both nationally and internationally recognised theatre companies. Some of the key highlights are below:
This Land a major new work of international community theatre performed by citizens of Plymouth and members of the Wampanoag tribe from Massachusetts USA, directed by Alan Lane, text by Nick Stimson and songs written and performed by Seth Lakeman. Performed as part of Plymouth’s Mayflower 400 programme for 2020 (June 2020).
One Under by award-winning playwright Winsome Pinnock, in collaboration with Graeae Theatre Company, directed by Amit Sharma (October 2019).
CITIZEN a living breathing portrait of Plymouth devised by TRP’s People’s Company, directed by Lucy Hirst (July 2019).
Lucy also directs Influence, a TRP Young Company production, written by Andy McGregor (August 2019).
The world premiere of I Think We Are Alone a new co-production with Frantic Assembly and Curve. Written by Sally Abbott and co-directed by Kathy Burke and Scott Graham (January 2020).
The UK premiere of Amsterdam, a new co-production with ATC and Orange Tree. Written by award-winning Israeli playwright Maya Arad Yasur and directed by Matthew Xia (February 2020).
Are we not drawn onward to new erA co-produced with Ontroerend Goed, playing Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019.
2000 Stories: Now I Can Speak by Plymouth based performance company Beyond Face, directed by Alix Harris, supported by TRP (June 2019).
The world premiere of The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, a Theatre Royal Plymouth and Told by an Idiot production with Royal & Derngate Northampton and Unity Theatre, Liverpool, created by Told by an Idiot, written and directed by Paul Hunter with additional material by members of the Company. Cast includes Amalia Vitale as Charlie Chaplin, with music played live on stage composed by MOBO Award winner Zoe Rahman (November 2019, ahead of a tour).
The Ladder in association with Shôn Dale Jones/Hoipolloi (September 2019).
Funky Llama Festival, TRP’s all-inclusive flagship festival showcasing the talent of local and national disabled and non-disabled artists (June 2019).
Unsung by Valentijn Dhaenens with Big In Belgium and Richard Jordan (September 2019).
Platform, a brand new event showcasing four new shows made by TRP Lab Associates Chris White, The Narwhal Ensemble, Jane Spurr and Beyond Face. TRP’s Lab Associate scheme offers South West artists a year long attachment to TRP (August 2019).
In The Lab, TRP’s experimental studio space, new work from local artists Ruth Mitchell, Colin Davey, Alexander Rhodes and The Lab Company. The Lab Company supports the development of Early Career Artists based in the South West (July 2019).
NEWS: Theatre Royal Plymouth livestream Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre masterclass
Join Dance Consortium in association with The Space as they present a masterclass from the internationally-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Livestreamed from Sadler’s Wells on Facebook and Twitter, the class will begin at 2pm BST on Friday 13th September.
Join Dance Consortium as they share a class led by Matthew Rushing, Rehearsal Director for the Ailey company and company dancers, as they work with participants on stage at Sadler’s Wells. You’re invited to take part in the class and learn from home as they demonstrate selected choreography from their piece ‘Lazarus’ by Rennie Harris and answer audience questions.
The livestream, hosted by Hakeem Onibudo, will last for approximately an hour total, and will consist of 40–45 minutes of instruction followed by a 15–20 minute live question and answer period. This will be your chance to ask a question through the livestream on social media and hear it answered on air!
You can watch the masterclass live from Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Facebook page on Friday 13th September.
NEWS: Theatre Royal Plymouth commits to Real Living Wage
Theatre Royal Plymouth has today announced it is a Real Living Wage employer that means staff will now earn a minimum of £9 an hour instead of the National Living Wage of £8.21.
The Real Living Wage is the only rate based on the actual costs of living and is a voluntary benchmark for employers that want to ensure their staff earn a wage they can live on, not just the government minimum.
The uplift will effect around 75% of the Theatre’s staff and has taken 18 months to negotiate.
Adrian Vinken, TRP’s Chief Executive said “Plymouth is experiencing a fantastic period of change and economic growth and it’s really important that all of our City’s communities benefit from that. Paying the Real Living Wage is one way to do that. For TRP it’s recognition of the value our staff create – without whom we could not do what we do, as well as we do it. As a flagship employer in Plymouth and a leader in the creative sector we believe it’s an important change to make – and one that we hope inspires other organisations”.
Following agreement from the Theatre’s Trustees to work towards becoming a Real Living Wage employer, TRP worked with BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) to negotiate new terms and conditions with each team, and the final ballot took place at the end of July.
Debbie Clinton, TRP’s Head of HR said “We’re delighted to be a Real Living Wage employer – it has made, and will continue to make a real difference to a large proportion of our staff-members, and it makes TRP an even more attractive opportunity for people when we’re recruiting new staff”.
Plymouth City Councillor Chris Penberthy said “I would like to congratulate TRP for becoming a Real Living Wage employer; an achievement that will benefit their workforce. It is fantastic to see a high profile local employer with an international reputation making sure that their staff share in their success. Evidence shows that paying the Living Wage brings benefits to both businesses and their staff, I hope that other local firms will join Theatre Royal Plymouth by implementing the Real Living Wage.”
This Land: The Story So Far
With This Land, we are doing something extraordinary—and extraordinarily difficult. There are four communities making this show; the Wampanoags, Plymouth citizens, the creative team, and the staff of Theatre Royal Plymouth.
But how do you go about creating a citizen’s production of 150 people, when 120 of them are from Plymouth, UK, and 30 of them are from the Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts?
I’ve been holding workshops with the Wampanoags in Massachusetts and with the community in Plymouth. And clarity has grown.
It has taken a lot of meetings to overcome the totally understandable suspicion of the Wampanoags. But at the last meeting, we had a breakthrough. The Wampanoag tribe are writing their part of the story. It’s extraordinary, because they’ve not been able to tell their story in this way before.
In Plymouth, the workshops will carry on – we need to find 120 people who want to be part of this. This isn’t an audition. It’s about building a team.
TRP are putting everything into this, which means we have every possible toy, trick and resource to make the most epic piece of theatre possible. We begin with 150 people – and that is a really good place to begin.
Want to be involved in This Land? Email us and we’ll be in touch with project updates and key dates.
Meet the Director
Learn more about the project, the creative team in a friendly and informal setting:
- Tuesday 17th December, 6pm–7:30pm; The Lab
We will be holding informal audition workshops for anyone who would like to be involved as a performer in the production:
- Friday 13th March 2020
- Saturday 14th March 2020
Information about signing up for these will be released in January 2020.
Rehearsals will take place across evenings and weekends from April 2020–June 2020. All cast members will need to be available for full day rehearsals from 8th–16th June, with performances taking place from 16th–20th June 2020.
Really, why does Mutley have so many barbers?!
Other than the, quite frankly, ridiculous amount of barbers on Mutley, what springs to mind when you think of Plymouth? Is it Smeaton’s Tower, Drake’s Island, Captain Jaspers, Seagulls, grey, concrete buildings, or odd looking new ones? Or is it more personal and sentimental than that for you? Is it your ever evolving story interwoven with the continually changing face of the city that makes this place so indescribably special?
CITIZEN, directed by Lucy Hirst and performed by 23 amazingly brave and talented People’s Company members, brings the city and its stories to life in a show that, no matter where you’re from or what your background, speaks to you as a member of this complex and rapidly expanding community.
Combining some familiar faces, a shed load of heartfelt stories, tales of hope and resilience, of comeups and comedowns, community spirit and individual strength, of long held pain and cathartic redemption, CITIZEN asks you to think about all those individual stories that are threaded into the very heart of the city, and calls us to hold on tightly to the ties that unite us, not to those that divide us.
Being a born and bred Janner, or a visitor that’s never left, isn’t always easy. The show highlights some of the major inequalities and struggles that we need to face head on. From ethnicity and racism to homelessness and the unacceptable levels of poverty, It doesn’t shy away from the innate issues that the people of Plymouth face on a daily basis.
But, at the very heart of each genuine and authentic story, some of which are hard to hear at times, is a tale of hope: hope for the future, hope for increased diversity and tolerance, hope for prosperity and change. It reminds us that the greatest strength we all have is each other. Whether that’s close family and friends, the kindness of strangers, the companionship of a beloved pet that gives you a reason to keep going and move forward, or the moments of epiphany some find in their relationship with a higher power.
So when asked what makes me hopeful for this city, what inspires me and what I’d like to see more of, it is brave and bold shows like this one. It’s Plymouth having the desire and courage to tell its stories; to create and expand beyond its current limits. To amplify our collective voices, and look for the wealth of inspiration and life that is all around us. It’s for individuals to come together; for us to see beyond the ubiquitous faces that walk passed us day in day out and journey into the very soul of those stories, battles, and dreams for a better tomorrow that define us all.