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We're planning to put on a show in the Autumn - depending on the venue, either a 1 week preview in October followed by 3 weeks in Jan / Feb or 3 weeks in November. To discuss, we usually meet for coffee in the middle of town, but time pressures this week meant that we thought we could delve into the joy that is a Skype audio conference.

What's the first rule of any conference? First check your equipment.

So 7:30 came around, I joined the conference, I could hear everyone perfectly. Could they hear me? Not so much. A few text messages (because you can't IM someone who's in an audio conference with you) and checking my headset leads me to believe that my microphone is kerput.

Aware that there are 3 people waiting on me to sort my shit out, I dig through the box of bitstm that every geek has to find my spare microphone. This, unaccountably, is not in the box of bits.

So, I would like to thank Skype and Apple for inspiring / allowing me to download the Skype for iPhone app, install it on my phone and join the conference (15 minutes late, but still there) using my phone, essentially, as a working microphone.

We are living in the future ...
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So, for those of you within striking distance of Brighton, my theatre company is putting on a play at the Festival Fringe this year.

We're at the Marlborough theatre (just opposite the Pavilion on the Steine) this Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday - 9pm Tuesday and Wednesday, 7.20pm Thursday and Friday.

http://www.brightonfestivalfringe.org.uk/ticketing/index.aspx?q=perfect+party has details.

It would be lovely to see you there if you can make it!
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It's that inbetween time - liminal space - between Christmas and New Year. I've done nothing. Almost literally. A combination of cold weather and illness has meant that I've not left the house since coming back from Christmas dinner with [livejournal.com profile] westernind and [livejournal.com profile] forbinproject, nor have I seen anyone face to face in that time, except for the man who came to read the meter.

This year started _very_ badly and improved quickly, but it's been quite a curates egg overall.

The Year gone, the year to come )

Here's to the new year; may it bring you light, warmth and love.
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I've just been to one of the best theatrical performances I've been to in the last couple of years, and definitely one of my top 5 ever.

Scaramouche Jones is the story of a clown, told on Millennium Eve as he celebrates his hundredth birthday and does not expect to last the night. As he stumbles off some tawdry circus stage into the claustrophobic dressing room, he turns and greets the ghosts that surround him - in the space I was in, a unjustifiably low number of people - and promises to tell the story of the seven white masks that turned him into the clown he is today.

This is not a new play; reading up on it on the journey on the way home, it's written by Justin Butcher and first performed 8 years ago, and Pete Poslethwaite played the eponymous Jones in Bristol a few years back. I'm glad he wasn't there tonight though; he's distinctive enough that he'd have distracted from the strength of the story.

The theatre I watched it in wasn't a theatre; instead it was a room in an abandoned Sure Start centre off Oxford Street, white clown masks leading you through the bureaucratic building until the red draped performance space was revealed. An intimate space; seating for perhaps 40 around three sides of a square. And when everyone is sat, Scaramouche Jones comes in and starts to talk.

The actor, Tom Daplyn, is a great physical actor and clown. He effortlessly portrayed a 99 year old man playing a six year old boy or a 51 year old as he told the story of the clown's life. When he was describing his birth, he picked up a blanket and with a couple of deft twists, cradled it in his arms, a lifelike baby in swaddling cloths. His control of the room was faultless; it's a cliché to mention pins dropping, but at one point when he lowered his voice, I could see all the audience members physically willing themselves to stillness. And he takes Butcher's often baroque language and makes it feel like a clown's face paint - stylised, over exaggerated and strangely but appropriately formal. The language of someone who performs in everything he does, even on his deathbed when his only audience are the ghosts of his past.

Scaramouche Jones is sometimes funny, sometimes horrific, sometimes full of pathos. I can't recommend this play highly enough. Unfortunately, it's only on in London until Saturday. I'm going to try and rearrange my schedule so that I can see it again.

If you are in London, and have any free evenings between now and Saturday, I strongly recommend you try and see it too.

http://www.tacittheatre.co.uk/index.php/box-office
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"What do they know of England, who only England know?"

Kipling, via Billy Bragg, of course.

Friends and I went to see 'Pressure Drop' at the Wellcome Institute last night: a play / art installation / live gig with Billy Bragg. Like much of Bragg's recent work it's looking at the nature of Englishness and identity, detailing a day in the life of a white, working class family in East End London as they get ready for a funeral.

I expected it to be an unchallenging work - with tickets around £20 and it being at the Wellcome, you could pretty much describe the audience without being there, and I doubt I'll ever see Billy Bragg anywhere other than in opposition to the BNP. But I came away from it with more questions than answers, and that for me is good theatre.

In part, its due to the performance of David Kennedy as the shaven headed right wing thug Tony; a broadly drawn caricature who becomes very, very real. His shifts from comedy to ranting to violence are mercurial; at one point you're laughing at him, and almost a heartbeat later you're backing away in case he kicks off and you get caught in the crossfire. But he's also, to my mind, the most emotionally deep character - everyone else reacts to him, and are defined by their relationships with him. Mick Gordon (the playwright) could have taken the easy way out with Tony, but instead he is greater than the sum of his parts.

He's racist, yes. But the questions he (somewhat incoherently) asks about cultural change and the nature of a sense of place, and more importantly, the right to a sense of place and community ... I'm not sure I have answers to those.

Don't get me wrong; I didn't come away changing my views - I think that immigration has been a valuable thing for this country (but then as a first generation immigrant I _would_ say that) and I think that this country (and Europe as a whole) has benefited massively from our position and our empires over the last 500 years. I've nothing against immigrants coming here, working and making this country stronger.

But I do think that it should be possible to ask questions without being automatically labelled a bigot, even if you don't ask those questions in the most politically correct way.

And I don't know what the answers to some of the questions raised are.
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But Punchdrunk have just announced their US debut - their own particular take on Macbeth, to be shown in Brookline, Massachusetts, starting October 8th.

http://www.americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/sleep-no-more

If you like innovative theatre, I can't recommend Punchdrunk highly enough.

Really. Go see it. You won't be disappointed.
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Just a quick reminder - the Shadowbrook Arts Committee are going to the Masque of the Red Death on Saturday 20th October at 7pm at the Battersea Arts Centre - http://www.bac.org.uk/.

Given that some people's circumstances have changed since we bought the tickets, please could you confirm here that you're coming, and that you want all your tickets? If you don't, we've still got time to find homes for them.

Cheers

John

Saint Joan

Jul. 12th, 2007 08:51 am
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The stage was almost empty. There was a pile of something in the centre, towards the back, but it was lit in such a way that all you could see was its resemblance to a funeral pyre.

Intentional, of course.

There's something tantalising about a stage with no curtain, especially one as big as the Olivier in the National Theatre. The set designer knows that they can start working on your expectations as you walk in, still carrying the outside world with you in part. When all you see is a proscenium arch and a red velvet curtain, you know where you are, but have no hint of what to expect. A thousand different activities could be going on behind there, rush and fuss, turmoil and trouble, but the curtain masks it all. But when the stage is open, and the first scene is there ready for you to see, a different anticipation is built. What's that for? What are they going to do with that? Where do they start?

Even before the announcement about the mobile phones - intrusive but (as was proven later) sadly necessary - the director has started drawing you into the open stage. Immersing you. Drowning you.

And then the singing begins. I have a good ear for families of languages and I don't know where the words came from. A single female voice in a tongue that was too gutteral to be French, too lyrical to be German, too modern to be Latin and too unfamiliar to be Welsh. But beautiful, heartfelt, laudatory. A song of prayer and loss. And the men walk on stage and the pyre is seen to be a pile of chairs, and in time to the music they dismantle it and take their places.

The staging for Saint Joan is minimalist - the chairs are used over and over - sometimes as furniture, sometimes as percussion instruments - , a few tables brought on, a throne revealed. Given that it's the Olivier, the stage is capable of so much, and so little of it is used, and that's one of the many strengths of this performance. The Olivier is a massive space, and it must be tempting to a director to have the stage lifting and spinning, opening and closing. But Marianne Elliot is restrained in her use of the space, instead forcing and encouraging the actors to open up. And they do.

Anne-Marie Duff didn't impress me particularly in Shameless, and she was one of the actors in a restoration 'comedy' at the Young Vic that was so poor we left at the interval and drowned our memories of that production in as much beer as we could afford. But as Saint Joan, I couldn't take my eyes off of her. Shaw's Joan is a girl of 17, with the bravado and the crystal-shattered fragility of so many girls of that age. And Duff brings out those aspects of Joan's character, and so many more, with captivating ease. She's surrounded and supported by a strong cast; Paul Ready as a delightfully petulant Dauphin, Oliver Ford Davies as an Inquisitor and a Hound of God, Paterson Joseph (who I last saw as the wonderfully slimy boss in Peep Show) as Cauchon, the bishop of Beauvais.

There are no villains. As Shaw himself wrote in the preface to his play:

There are no villains in the piece. Crime, like disease, is not interesting: it is something to be done away with by general consent, and that is all [there is] about it. It is what men do at their best, with good intentions, and what normal men and women find that they must and will do in spite of their intentions, that really concern us.


Everyone does what they do for the very best of reasons, and that, more than anything else makes the play a tragedy.

I'm not going to say too much more - the memory of the play last night is still a little too raw. But I will recommend it to you - in fact, I can't really recommend it highly enough.

Saint Joan is on at the National Theatre now until at least September 4th, and is part of the Travelex season, which means that you can get good tickets for £10 each.

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