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Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Travelling Salesman

Milk Bottle Productions Presents...
The Natural History of Trolls
My life is a bizarre mix at the moment - half the time I'm a proper performer, rehearsing and performing, running lines and other actory things - the other half I'm a travelling salesman, passing on little brown envelopes filled with flyers.  I had a long day doing similar yesterday - popping round a cast members house to drop off my suspicious package, rehearsing a little in the afternoon with Richard Ward (whose part is so secret no one else in the cast is allowed to see it!) and then off to the New Wimbledon Studio to meet the lovely Helen who showed me round the space.  I must say I was impressed.  The London Fringe is made up of many dives but the studio at Wimbledon is not one of them.  The dressing rooms are positively palacial - if a funny shape.  Yes, we'll be well at home here.
And tickets for the show are, like the bowels of a condemned man, moving.  Tuesday night is the front runner at the moment, so get your tickets now.  And that does mean using the internet or phone to book.  Go on, you know you want to...
The New Wimbledon Studio Monday 11th, Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th July at 7.45pm
Tickets: £10   Box Office: 0844 871 7646
New Wimbledon Studio, the Broadway, London, SW19 1QG


Now to other things.  I've been introducing you, my international audience (and yes, I see you in my stats America - hello there! - you're most welcome), to some of my earlier pieces and the progression of their publication/performance.  So it's time to introduce to you the manifesto season.  The manifesto wasn't a manifesto as such, nothing like the kind you got in the early 20th Century where artists nailed various colours to their masts, it was an appeal for the author.  Specifically, of course, this author.  No conflict of interest there.

Broadly speaking I worry that British Theatre has become very faffy.  Lots of artistic statements, workshops and people talking bollocks.  There is nothing so depressing than a bit of blurb saying that a work is "ground breaking" and "innovative" when the piece they put forward is based on techniques that have had currency for more than a century.  The traditions of British Theatre (capitals there, so I must be serious) of solid guts, getting on that stage and owning the text and the audience are diminished by the lack of variety of experience that young actors can get.  This is a slide that happened since repertory companies ceased to function. 

Let's not get too hung up by the death of repertory (many were terrible places where theatre went to die), but these theatres did give actors the chance to play every part under the sun, regardless of age, sex and class and, regardless of type they had to get on stage and do their stuff.  But rep was just one model for this kind of action.  Prior to rep there were stock companies, actor managers and other beasts of theatre which produced a variety of shows every year with (broadly) the same cast.  And so you can go back and back from one theatre company to the next right up to the English Civil War (where it gets a bit wobbly) and through a few threads back to year dot.

That was the British Theatre (still in capitals) - Wales, Scotland and Ireland all followed similar and sometimes better lines.  So when rep died (or was brutally killed, depending on your political pursuasion) there was nothing comparable to replace it.  The tradition of the ages died.
What I am really bemoaning is the lack of companies.  We don't have theatre companies anymore.  For the most part what we call a theatre company is a theatre management, who call together actors and artists to create occasional bits of work.  The RSC is an exception and there are others, but compared with even fifty years ago there are almost no companies where artists work together in a semi-perminant basis - as an ensemble.

And there have been few artistic movements in the theatre that have existed outside of an ensemble. Shakespeare, Moliere, the work of the MAT to name but three out of dozens.  Because an ensemble doesn't just help the actor grow, it gives the writer (director and designers) juice.  There is nothing better than to write dialogue for a company of people you know.  You're spurred on by the chance to challenge X, you've got this great scene that Y will do well, and you've got a chance to show off Z's special talent (whatever that turns out to be).  The divorce of theatre from its company has been the end of the British tradition of theatre.

That isn't to say that there isn't a lot of very good theatre going on - it's that there is a hole in the heart of it all that isn't being filled and we are poorer as a result.  When the older generation of actors dies, that will be it.

This, in a roundabout way, is what the manifesto season is about.  All the play's in it were written with specific people in mind and were there to challenge and push, not "the boundaries of modern drama" or the "envelope of innovation" (genuine quote) but to push a cast, to push people, to get those bastards out on the stage and give it some. 

Unfortunately, of course, the theatre company these plays were written for doesn't exist.  Almost.  All my plays are written with one group in mind.  An amateur company, the Sudbury Dramatic Society based at the Quay Theatre, Sudbury.  They produce six productions a year with a variety of old hands and new faces.  They don't put on my plays of course (I wouldn't suggest it for a start) because they wouldn't sell.  But I do imagine who would play each part based on these actors, giving them something to say.  I don't tell them this, of course, except via my blog.

The manifesto season was also just a calling card, a chance to show the variety of work I write - from storytelling to comedy to tragedy.  I wrote this little manifesto - below - in some hope that it might annoy someone and printed it in the programme of the first play of the season, Cuckold's Fair.  In an hope to annoy I made it as pretentious as possible - in that I stated we had pretentions to greatness, as apposed to using pretentious language to give the impression of pretention to adequacy - but no one said a word.  Hey-ho.  Suppose it would have been better to talk about being "relevant".  Which I think I did use in a press release once in 2006, but never believe my press releases, they're almost all lies.

The Manifesto Season @ Barons Court
3 New Plays – 3 World Premieres – 3 Different Worlds

These three plays are our Manifesto.  They are a manifesto that demands to be heard, seen and experienced.  They are a call to arms for writers of challenging words.  Not for writers of scripts or for new writing – but for the ascendency of a theatre of words.
The words of the theatre of Robert Crighton are weapons, precision tools to slice into the physically and visually strong, but textually weak, theatre of today.  Challenging theatre has always progressed with its words, and in the modern theatre the words have become soft.  Come and listen to a few of ours.  Listen to the manifesto.
Milk Bottle doesn’t develop work: it writes it, rehearses it and puts it on.  We do not workshop, we do not create theatre in a democracy, and we do not dilute our material by looking for a consensus.  We aim to share with you the visions of Robert Crighton, three works of different genres, yet all from his own very twisted world.  It is his, it is genuinely unique, and we share it with you - enjoy. 

Manifesto 1:  Storytelling - Cuckold’s Fair - Tuesday 9th to Sunday 14th February 2010

So, in this roundabout way, to Cuckold's Fair - the first of the Manifesto Season.  It was based on the original idea I had for the monologue Teaching Gods.  In Teaching Gods a man is cursed with "perpetual attention" - that is an erection (no swooning in the back) that only goes away when he's about to get lucky.  But I chickened out for Teaching Gods and did the mild version of the story.  Cuckold's Fair took it all the way and threw in a few more sexual antics for good measure. 

Cuckold's Fair is about sex and infidelity - specifically the man being cuckolded by his wife/partner.  This we explored in most combinations, the serious affair, the one off fling, the couples who love, the couples who don't... but mostly I used sex because it's funny, it's absurd and the desperation to have it tends to make people do really stupid things.  It was also a serious look at how infidelity works and the damage it can do. 

It ran for a week and I was very pleased with it - it will return for a one performance this December (BREAKING NEWS - dates pending) and hopefully I'll revive it next year.  But for those who can't wait, you can always purchase the script online or download it to your kindle.  Be warned - it is filthy in places and not always in a good way.  You have been warned!  BUY NOW!

Next time on this occasional blog about the past - rather than the Trollish future - I'll introduce you to Shoes That Angels Fear To Wear.  They're rather natty.

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