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Friday, 30 November 2012

The Story So Far...

In the beginning there was a big bang... or something like that. Stuff happened, planet came together, chains of protein got busy and eventually grew to realise lots of stuff.  Stuff, stuff, stuff.
Anyway, to more immediate history, we're premiered... as it were.  Had a few lovely audiences for both shows and started to get a sense of how to play the plays.  I know, that sounds a little odd - we've been rehearsing for weeks and we've only just figured that out?  Well, yes.  It takes an audience to tell you which bits work and which bits need work, what gets a laugh, what gets you killed.  Sometimes rehearsals - especially so with monologue work (which about 70% of this stuff is) - are just a mechanical exercise of building a car from instinct in a darkened room.  Yes, it feels like you've put it together correctly, but you won't know till the doors of the garage opens and you have some light to see by.  And sometimes that's when you discover you've put the engine in the boot.
Not so I think with these shows.  The audiences leave smiling, they leave us their email addresses and buy the scripts of the shows on their way out (if they haven't already done so).  Nothing reassures me more than an audience that wishes to spend more cash on the show AFTER it has finished.  Unhappy audiences do not do this.
But, it's still early doors, it's possible the audiences so far have been idiots who are delighted at the prospect of simply sitting in a darkened room, watching the words fly past their heads, happy in their ignorance.  It's possible that the future audiences will sit their, arms folded, grumpy faced going - well get on with it then.  This is entirely possible.  But unlikely.  I hope.
Photos from the show will follow soon - it's been a hectic week and we just haven't had the chance - so that's something to look forward to.
So, bye-bye November, you've been a busy month.  On with Christmas and a Happy New Run.

P.S.  You can buy tickets here.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Teched Last Night

"Teched last night and we teched the night before,
We're all tired of teching, we don't want to tech anymore.
When we tech, we're as happy as can be,
But a hundred fucking lighting cues is much to much for me.

Wait for it, just wait for it,
We've another half an hour of this wanky shit,
We don't think the crew can take much more of it,
We don't want to do it anymore."

This above was a ditty I adjusted from "Gassed Last Night" when doing slides on a production of Oh What a Lovely War.  The tech wasn't actually that bad, it was a long one but it was a complex show - what are you going to do?  But it's always nice to have a moan, especially in verse.  It was however a versatile little number, wholey appropriate for other productions which were wanky to the nth degree.
I'm glad to say the technical rehearsal for Fantasy Terrorist Variations didn't fit the above.  It was very civilised.  I got on with the lights, while Simon and Keith ran lines.  We then did a cue to cue and a run.  A few minor stumbles on cues, but that's what tech rehearsals are for.  To rehearse.  And then get right.
So, just a few hours to go now people, book those tickets - etc - you know the drill by now
See you on the other side.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Odds and Ends

Just a few things today - it's two days till first night and I'm gathering props and costumes together ready for tomorrows tech/dress.  Then a run of Ghost Storyteller.  Waiting in also for the script/programme for The Fantasy Terrorist Variations that arrived on Friday when I was at home, but they assumed I wasn't in, didn't even ring the bell, and left a card saying they missed me.  Most annoyed.
Today has been a good day for this little blog - started about 18 months ago and this month has had the most hits - even more than this time last year.  So, nice to see you've been reading.
I was in London yesterday doing a bit of publicity, being interviewed on Monocle 24 - a sort of commercial World Service radio station.  I discovered on the way that my shoes leaked, so did the interview barefoot - my shoes and socks quietly steaming on a radiator.  My host, Georgina Godwin, did not seem to be offended.  In fact, we did talk about my damp socks briefly during the interview, before moving onto ghosts, terrorists and arts subsidy - on which latter subject I don't think I was wholey convincing.  For those who missed the interview the station also do podcasts, so it may reappear shortly for you to judge for yourselves.
On the way to the interview I, and the other occupants of the West bound Metropolitan Line train at around 12.40pm were harangued by a gentleman slightly worse for wear and definitely very angry about something.  We all, dutifully, ignored him.  I caught his eye a couple of times (my technique must be off) but I think I got away with it.  It was only as he got off the train that I suddenly realised what he was talking about.  Beyond calling us scum, though using other four letter words instead, he was also calling us thieving cheapskates.
He was talking about the rebate.
Now that's a better class of drunk.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Viva Espana

Okay, normally this close to the beginning of a run in London I would be blogging all about that - though as I have just mentioned the shows - tickets available here, BOOK NOW! - you could argue this blog is about them.  Except it isn't.  It's about another premiere - which is happening in Spain.  I am now an international playwright, quite accidentally I must add. 
The mastermind behind this production is Jamie-Glyn Bale who used to work at LOST and who was there when I won various very nice awards at their One-Act Festival.  He does work in Spain where for the last few years he has been wanting to translate and perform some of my monologues/plays.  Every so often an email would appear, I would give permission and then time would pass.  However, this year everything has come together - tonight there will be the first Spanish performance of a collection of pieces titled The Alternative Seagull and Other Stories.  Which translates as La Gaviota Alternativa y otras historiasHere is a link to prove this is true.  The company performing it are La Palabra Teatro and here is a link to their website similarly to prove that they too are true.  Because I do need to check every so often that it is.

If I wasn't stuck in rehearsals here, and had some spare cash, I would pop over and watch.  But I can't.  So, I'll just bask in the warm glow of performance.  My little babies have flown the nest - just look what they are doing now.
So, thank you Jamie and break many legs La Palabra Teatro.  May your Seagull fly... or if you know the content of my play, sit there doing very little unless moved by another person.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

How to Get People to Watch Verse Drama

Don't tell 'em.

Yup, that's about it.  Write the play, stage the play, make sure it's good and don't tell anyone (beyond the cast - they might not notice unless you do) that it is written in verse.  Unless it's written in rhyming couplets (which in English is a hiding to nothing) then 99% of the audience won't notice.  To call your play a verse drama is to label yourself as an elitist arty wanker, regardless as to whether you are, and you won't get a very broad base for your audience.


Which leads me onto issues to do with audiences rather well.  The arts editor at the BBC said something a bit foolish... not because what he said was wrong, that is up for debate, but it wasn't very well contextualised.  Here is a report about what he said on the Guardian website - the comments section is quite interesting for once.  Basically he seemed to say that subsidy is all wrong because in all the years of the Arts Council the numbers of poor people watching art hasn't increased.  And, to make matters worse, he weighted his arguments about elitism against ballet, opera - the usual suspects, as it were - rather than other, more successful art forms.  This is a simplification, but that's how it came across, which is all that matters here.
Now, on one level, he has a point.  We have failed as a nation to embrace art, even though routes to it are greater than ever.  The verdict on Verse Drama is a good example.  Nothing puts the backs up of those who don't earn much money more than something that smells of arty wank.  Even from my gilded position in the middle of the middle classes, the whiff of suspect wankery is something that I avoid like the plague in my own work - as I also do with cliched expressions.  This is the national mood.  High art is for wealthy people, even though I suspect the majority of wealthy people actually can't stand high art either, especially all that Opera they're supposed to always be watching.
Of course, I reject this cultural instinct because I know it is irrational.  High and low are pretty mixed concepts these days (if you accept the concept at all) and access to work is greater than ever.  Attendance to art galleries rocketed up when free entrance was introduced, and though the numbers of the poor did not go up as much as the middle classes, they did increase and that is a start.  It takes time for interest in free art to achieve currency (free stuff is inherently untrustworthy) and I don't think we've actually been very good at appealing art to anyone outside the middle class bracket until fairly recently, the last decade or two, so real change will take time.  Or not.  Perhaps the poor are just not worth the effort.  Perhaps we should just cull them now; if they don't want our ballet then they're obviously sub-human.
Also, these institutions of art are middle class in their appeal and inherently hard work.  Our more wired in society wants art that fits around them, not the institution.  I take in a lot about culture from the internet, vicariously I admit, primarily because I live in the middle of nowhere.  But there are people who prefer that because that's how they like to see art.  Taking in beauty without a numb bum or tired legs or the extra effort that the physicality of some arts institutions have to impose because they are solid.  This doesn't, however, negate the importance of these institutions, because they are the loadstone's to culture, they are the hubs around which the virtual editions orbit.
There is also a deleterious argument here about money, looking at all things in terms of money.  Now, a body like the Arts Council must be able to justify itself to the government, to appear to give value for money, because this is how everything is justified to the tax payer, fair do's.  However, if you only look at the money then you are missing to point about art.  Same point applies to issues of access.
Arts subsidy is about balancing out the ecology of art - maintaining standards in the non-commercial sector, training artists and giving opportunities for artistic risk which the commercial sector will not uphold.  Now, the commercial sector will, therefore, benefit from the training this gives for those people who cross between the two (i.e. basically most artists, and by proxy, all) and the commercial sector is then free to use this talent to cater to the mass audience that the subsidised sector doesn't.  They can go for mass appeal, producing work that is openly populist and, if necessary, catering to the lowest common denominator.  This isn't an attack on the lowest common denominator, the language is loaded but it isn't, people WANT art that is easy as well as hard.  The poor, having by definition less money, do not gamble their money on high art that will be a. hard work, b. not guaranteed to be any good and c. which there is a risk they might not get it (even though, being human, they probably would - but perhaps we should cull the stupid with the poor while we're at it?).  The poor, needing to invest their money wisely on a relatively guaranteed good night out, will go to a pop concert, a musical, something on ice - because it's easy and after a long day it is an escape.
That isn't to say that sometimes they will not go to high art, but it's an occasional gamble, not a way of life.  We of the comfortably off (and I should add I'm not actually comfortably off, I'm just from a family of comfortably off, comfortably off by proxy) will take that gamble more often because we can and because we can it has become a habit.  So the issue here isn't access, it's about a habit of art.
AND THIS is I think where Will Gompertz was going with his argument.  We should be looking at ways to subsidise audiences as well as artists - or subsidise audiences to help generate revenue for artists.  And in principle I totally agree.  This has worked for art galleries (though there is still a LONG way to go) but for my sphere of work, the theatre, it isn't particularly practical.  Unless we develop and Orwellian strategy to get everyone who books a ticket to bring their tax return and see how much of their ticket is to be subsidised by the tax payer, I don't see how you could implement it.
And artists should be engaged not just with what they want to do, but also with what their audiences want.  Okay, in todays marketplace audiences are fragmented, we choose who we sell our work to, but to only pick the middle class intelligencia all the time is a dangerous law of diminishing returns.  You don't have to compromise on the work either, for once you have an audience in the room so long as the work is good they will tend to go with it.  (Though this isn't an invitation to lie in your publicity.)  So, whilst you could argue my show The Fantasy Terrorist Variations is ultimately aimed at middle class types (I hope not, but it will mostly appeal there we think, though it is accessable to everyone) my show Ghost Storyteller is aimed at everyone.  It has a clear title and clear messages - i.e. it's a bit funny.  Now, this should bring in a broader audience, perhaps even a less middle class audience - but that doesn't mean the show itself compromises for a second in its form or aims.  You can do both.

And while we're on the subject of the show... Go on - book tickets NOW!  Here, click HERE, to get them.

Milk Bottle Productions Presents...
Ghost Storyteller
Comic Ghost Stories Written and Performed by Robert Crighton

Returning this Autumn / Winter following the success of the run last year!  Ghost Storyteller is a lightly comic selection of ghost stories written and performed by award-winning writer and performer Robert Crighton. 
From the ghosts of empty houses, to the personal ghosts we carry around us, this collection is a mixture of the fantastic and the “real”: including the tale of a poltergeist hamster and the pub that cried ghost.

Running Tuesday to Sunday from 27th November 2012 to 6th January 2013
Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm – Doors Open at 7.15pm
Sundays at 6pm – Doors Open at 5.45pm
No performances on Mondays, Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Years Day
Tickets: £12 / £10 concessions
Barons Court Theatre, “The Curtain’s Up”, 28A Comeragh Road W14 9HR
Nearest Tube:  Barons Court (Piccadilly/District Lines)

Box Office:  0844 8700 887
(Telephone box office hours 9.00am – 7.00pm Mondays –Fridays (excluding Bank Holidays) and 9.00am – 5.00pm on Saturdays.)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

One Week To Go...

One week to go before Ghost Storyteller and The Fantasy Terrorist Variations comes to life and I'm already thinking what I'll get up to during the run.  In between rehearsals, publicity work, line runs, I'm building up to what will fill in the gaps when I settle into the routine of the run.
Six weeks is a reasonably long time for me, in terms of repeating the same show.  The nice thing about doing a storytelling piece is that it is genuinely, largely, noticeably, different every time I perform it.  And I don't mean in a small way, not in the standard play sense of "it was a difficult house tonight" or "I wasn't feeling it" etc.; the audience in storytelling create the relationship between the performer and them, creates the show in many ways.  So, boredom is not a problem.  But a routine is.  The day to day element of getting up at the same time, doing the same journey, doing the same things.  The routine around the show is the problem.
So, how will I keep myself fresh?  By writing a new piece over those six weeks.  By spending a set hour plus in the morning typing in front of my computer and another hour in a London coffee establishment writing out notes to be typed up the following morning.  The three/four hours I'll be spending on a train each day I have set aside for reading.  Last year I made good inroads into unread Dickens, but this year I think I'm going to dance about a bit.  I'm doing a lot of science reading at present (don't mention the word 'meme' to me at the moment, boy will I bore you) but I'm also working through this years Booker shortlist.  Though I will occasionally defer to a George Gently novel if tired.  (Rather nice little books, can finish one in a day - though be warned, they are completely different to the television adaptations - in fact the BBC should really be prosecuted under the trades descriptions act for calling the series an "adaptation".)
But here I hit the problem.  Which project should I write over Christmas?
Here are the front runners:

The Attack of the Christmas Squirrels - 30/1
Yes, the ever promised story of dangerous furry rodents that regulars on this blog knows will probably never get written.

Trolls 2 - 6/1
The sequel to last years The Natural History of Trolls.  More trolls, more action, more memes.  In fact, I've got 3 sequels in mind, one provisionally titled: Peter Git.

Portrait of a Singer - 9/1
This is a morality thriller that has been bubbling away, a proper play with characters and everything.  I think I will spend sometime this Christmas on the research for this one, but writing probably deferred till next year.

The Juliet Scandal -5/4
A favourite of mine, a reversed version of the Romeo and Juliet story, where their love tears families apart rather than (belatedly) bring them together.  Though this would be a monologue, possibly with hints at Venus and Adonis and Lucrece.  Or not.  Don't know yet.

Something else - 10/1
Some other idea I haven't had yet... might just pop up and I have to do it.

Those are the front runners, there is at least one other play bubbling away under the surface and probably dozens of stories.  I'll let you know next week which has won out.  Or you could ask me - in person - when you come to see Ghost Storyteller.  Go on - book tickets NOW!  Here, click HERE, to get them.
Anyway, I'm off to do a run of Ghost Storyteller, wish me luck as you book those tickets.

Milk Bottle Productions Presents...
Ghost Storyteller
Comic Ghost Stories Written and Performed by Robert Crighton

Returning this Autumn / Winter following the success of the run last year!  Ghost Storyteller is a lightly comic selection of ghost stories written and performed by award-winning writer and performer Robert Crighton. 
From the ghosts of empty houses, to the personal ghosts we carry around us, this collection is a mixture of the fantastic and the “real”: including the tale of a poltergeist hamster and the pub that cried ghost.

Running Tuesday to Sunday from 27th November 2012 to 6th January 2013
Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm – Doors Open at 7.15pm
Sundays at 6pm – Doors Open at 5.45pm
No performances on Mondays, Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Years Day
Tickets: £12 / £10 concessions
Barons Court Theatre, “The Curtain’s Up”, 28A Comeragh Road W14 9HR
Nearest Tube:  Barons Court (Piccadilly/District Lines)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Cast of the Fantasy League - Part Two

Now, onto the second cast member of The Fantasy Terrorist Variations.  Following the form of my last blog I will write a balanced piece, refusing to gush about an actor just because they happen to be in my show.
Mr Simon Nader and I go back quite a few years now.  I first met him on a touring production of Othello where he stabbed me every single night.  This wasn't because I was being particularly annoying, it was in the script, though I will accept the possibility it was both.  There was that look of glee in his eye as he did it.  There is much that could and often is said about this first production together.  Unfortunately for you, dear reader, Simon and I have been dining out on the story of the Othello tour for years, and frankly it's the kind of story that deserves payment in cash or drinks, so I'm not going to give it away for free on the internet.  Sorry.  Come and see one of the shows and ask me all about it.  After buying tickets.
Needless to say, (or possibly not) we both came out of the run rather like old battle scarred warriors with a bond forged in the freezing cold tour dates of East Anglia in winter.  Or something similarly insulting to actual soldiers on proper battlefields.  That did verge on gush.  Will move on.
Unfortunately for Simon the story doesn't end there, as he was soon being whisked up by the Milk Bottle machine and coerced into joining the cast of Teaching Gods and other stories as performed at the Tabard Theatre in another cold winter of early 2009.  He hasn't looked forward since.  Whenever he goes off to film work in something that brings respect and money, like The Borgias, he knows that the call will come and he'll be obliged to do another show with me.  Yes, you've guessed it, I've got the photographs.
Simon returns to this show to perform 'his' monologue, Keynote Speaker.  It is his in the same way as Bink! is the almost property of Cat LaCohie (or Catherine Eccles as we still like to call her in Milk Bottle) - these are monologues that I wrote either for them or gave to them before I had a go - they are monologues that I have never learnt.  That seems to be the rule - whoever learns my monologues first gets a de facto stake in their future performance.  They have first dibs.  
Unfortunately, again, for Simon, I've made a few rewrites to Keynote Speaker.  It was never a monologue I perfected, it needed tweaking.  And there's nothing harder than relearning a tweaked version of a monologue you've already learnt.  But if I had to relearn the whole of Ghost Storyteller then Simon can relearn Keynote.  Tit for tat ladies and gentlemen.  But seriously, this does mean the show is better and that is all that matters.  
Last week was a momentous week in rehearsals for The Fantasy Terrorist Variations in that both members of the cast were in rehearsal - AT THE SAME TIME.  It meant that rehearsals for the third play of the show The Project After could now begin in earnest.  And boy was I happy to see this little play get up and run around.  It's a lovely little piece, funny and serious, funny about being serious and only 35% likely to cause the deaths of myself or any member of the cast.  Because it really doesn't insult Islam.  It really doesn't - as we debated at length.  See earlier blog.
Tomorrow we move into the final phase of rehearsals - the books are coming down, the words are flowing, we're starting to get it right first time, rather than doing it a bit right, stopping, doing it again a bit better and then again and this time right, and building a show.  For which you should all buy tickets.  Not to do my Ghost Storyteller show down (I'm not, it's a show I'm very pleased with, buy tickets for yourself and all your friends) but The Fantasy Terrorist League is a show that needs to be seen.  It makes you think, it pushes the audience down uncomfortable paths, it is gripping and slightly dangerous.
And it has Mr Simon Nader in it.  And he's rather good.
Which is as far as I'm allowed to go in terms of praise under the Non-Proliferation of Luvvy Gush Treaty of 1987.  Not enough people have signed up to this treaty and too many people die of embarrassment in atrocities all round the world (remember Paltrow) so please, don't be a wanker.  Don't gush.  Think of the children.

Simon Nader:

Simon Nader is a core member of Milk Bottle having played Teiresias in Blind Spots, Treplev in The Alternative Seagull and several solo pieces including Keynote Speaker.  He trained at London’s Academy Drama School. Previous stage work includes: Billy Blister, Billy Blister’s Circus (Watford Palace Theatre); George, Of Mice and Men (National tour); Colin/Policeman, Maggie’s End (Shaw Theatre); and most recently Qudz at the National Theatre Studio venue The Yard. Feature Film work includes The Dead Inside as Wayne Andrews and Guildenstern in Fodor's Hamlet (2006).  Radio includes BBC Radio 4’s The Chess Girls, whilst recent TV appearances include a recurring role in The Borgias and follow up to multi-award winning series Pillars of the Earth: World Without End.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Cast of the Fantasy League - Part One

Yes, with but a few weeks to go before The Fantasy Terrorist Variations comes to London it's meet the cast time.  Today it's Mr Keith Hill, who has the joyous crows feet inducing task of performing Fantasy Terrorist League and the all new The Project After.  I first encountered Mr Hill at one of those theatrery networking things - you know the sort, where you turn up hoping to make connections with the industry and find that, actually, the industry hasn't turned up and there are just mirror versions of yourself wandering around looking for love, employment or the next drink.  Thusly we found ourselves holding drinks and nattering away about politics/art/lifetheuniverseandeverything.  We met a few times this way and Keith has also managed to come and see a fair old number of my plays/stories.  It is at this point I should say I went to see Keith in a fair old number of his - but shamefacedly I bow my head and admit... I haven't.  Like the small child who's forgotten his homework I shall mutter my dog-ate-my-homework excuse that I live 50 miles away from London and catching people in plays is appallingly difficult.
However, I have seen Keith perform in little pieces in scratch nights and was suitably impressed (no I refuse to gush over performers, even for publicity purposes) and had in my mind that he should join Mission Milk Bottle one day.  That day came when he watched last year's The Natural History of Trolls (for which I think he was the only audience member that night - we had a wretched two weeks out of four where we got nearly no one) and over the briefest of drinks afterwards he mentioned that he'd quite like to do one of my earlier monologues Fantasy Terrorist League (2005) in some kind of way.  This got my brain going - as I've been toying with doing a new show based around the monologue for years - using it as a starting point for other stories.  The reason I'd not gone forward with it is that I've grown... if not tired as such... but a little weary of performing it.  And more importantly, the piece gives you terrible crows feet.  Fine a little later in life, but early onset crows feet in your twenties looks odd.  (What? I hear you exclaim - the answer to your confusion is that you have to smile continuously for about half the monologue, which does horrible things to your face.  Smiling, not recommended for small children or adults.)  So, the idea of passing the monologue on and building up a show for others appealed greatly.
Keith in character... with a bag.
We started rehearsals a couple of months ago - though we haven't worked continuously.  We did a starter rehearsal, reading through the text, discussing it, discussing politics, discussing what we'd been watching on television - going back to actual work.  We then walked through the play slowly, creating a rough blocking which - barring a few minor changes - has stuck with us.  It's a very different staging to my version.  For starters (and this is a very radical change) Keith gets to move.  I know, exciting.  I my version I stood still, barely moving, for nearly the whole monologue - but Keith has blocking.  And props.  Which reminds me, still need to sort out a good box.  The exactly right kind of box.  It's very important.
We then did a three day rehearsal block in the space at Barons Court and really nailed the blocking, the themes, the character, the generalness of the show.  It was an exhausting three days, both of us talking a lot about elements of the show that bounce in different directions.  I am, frankly, very glad that I'm not performing the piece again - it's a tough piece to play (though not to watch, he added, quickly) and Keith can carry off crows feet better than myself.  Which is as close to actorly gushing as I'm prepared to go.  For more you'll have to come and see the show yourself.

Keith Hill:
Keith, has seen a lot of Milk Bottles over the last few years, but has never managed to get into one until now. He was cast after a campaign lasting four years and a promise not to play his accordion. Stage work has included Lucifer and others in The York Mysteries , two productions of Road, Vaudevillains for Les Enfants Terribles, Feydeau farce for DeadAnt, Torben Betts’ The Error of Their Ways (then a UK premiere) for Eleanor Rhode. And now this.  The one person he has played in the last few years who is not homicidal, deluded, drunk, or all three, was the leading Miscarriage of Justice campaigner Paul May in Someone to Blame earlier this year at the Old King’s Head for David Mercatali.  Film includes The Last Time I Saw You; Exit with Julian Glover, an anthropophagite home chef in the forthcoming Valentine’s Day for Benjamin Taylor and most recently The Maid for 721 productions, which is nearing the end of post-production. Keith has also recorded a number of audiobooks, ranging from The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ to the enormous social history of post-war Britain: Austerity Britain, by David Kynaston