Monday, 27 August 2012

Francis Bacon Opera

"A new opera based on transcripts of Melvyn Bragg's interviews with Francis Bacon" must be among the hardest of hard sells, but nonetheless I went to see that show yesterday and found it delightful. Two singers portray Bragg and Bacon - wisely stopping short of emulating the adenoidal speech pattern of the former in favour of a hilarious shock of black hair and some high trills at unexpected moments. Bacon reminded me of Gene Hunt in "Ashes to Ashes" and the whole things needed a bit more direction, but the singing was full blooded and brilliantly executed and the repetiteur was amazing. It lacked projected images of the pictures being discussed - some sort of copyright issue, I guess - but even so it really worked.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Hard Sell

My friend Fi (ASM on "Equus") was the one who said that she'd known people make lifelong friends when flyering on the Royal Mile. I treated this notion with mute derision, as that sort of promotion generally makes me feel queasy both as as giver and receiver.
I suspect the quality of your flyering experience depends at least partly on the show you're selling. I heard a guy the other day punting a show he described as "a black comedy about brutalist architecture". Yeuch. And a few minutes later I watched someone dressed in a black wifebeater, khaki shorts and bare feet bound up to a prospective audience member saying "you look like someone who'd enjoy 45 minutes of challenging physical theatre". I don't know anyone who looks like that - not on purpose, anyway.
Our approach is different. We hand out Tunnocks teacakes as an incentive and go out in full costume and, when it's not raining, with the set to give a sort of moving tableau. Goes down a treat.

"Noel Cowards "Still Life" - falling in love right here...
The only problem is sometimes we cause a traffic jam because of a glut of photographers. But as Simon our producer would say, that's a high value problem!

A Funny Thing Happened in Charlbury

Since Edinburgh venues basically charge by the minute there's an enormous pressure to a) cut the show b) have a really pacy show or quite often c) do both. Still Life is probably a 50 minute show really but with minimal set changes and by keeping it slick we have it down to 43-45 mins. Perfect, in other words.
When you're presenting a Shakespeare or a musical though, it's cut or go bankrupt. I saw Sondheim's "Assassins" the other day, which seemed perfectly adapted at 90 mins. His "Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum", however, had been eviscerated to 70 mins by removing all the songs. It was like panto without the dame - and sadly, also lacked most of the humour. Choice of material is a thorny issue when directing young people and this show, with its double-entendres, seaside postcard humour and Frankie Howerdesque nudge-nudge audience interaction just feels a bit grubby when 16-18 year-olds are made to play it. I'm stunned at how only a couple of years extra maturity results in a largely credible "Machinal" from OUDS or, for that matter, "Still Life".

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Not having been to Edinburgh for a few years (OK, twenty) I was keen to take advice from younger and wiser colleagues before embarking on this project. It boiled down to this:

  • don't overrun
  • flyer every day for at least two hours
  • get the reviews in early
Oh God, the reviews. I don't doubt my judgement on my own show, or really care (to be honest I expected a harsher time than we've had) but I regularly seem to have seen a different show than the press. There's healthy debate in the flat, too - Josh (who plays Stanley) has tastes so polar from mine that I should organise my bucket list from his shit-list. Well, except for on the Sondheim show that generated David's troublesome review. There we have solidarity.
Josh Green meets his public
Our early reviews were healthy, but as expected the Broadway Baby/Three Weeks ones were less enthusiastic. They praise the general aesthetic but find fault with the central relationship, which is a problem in the script in my opinion, and Libby Purves from The Times said much the same. Three stars from her was a lovely surprise, although the review was constructed in such a way as to defy the extraction of a pithy quote except "Terrifically authentic hairdos". Not quite the way we wish to be remembered!

Roosting Chickens

Right. Further to my rant yesterday about how I have been misrepresented about my opinions re: a certain Shakespeare interpretation.
My entire cast and I were sitting in the very convivial garden of said company's venue having lunch today when the news arrived that they had received 5* review in a respected online magazine. Cue outraged shock from everyone (even those who hadn't seen it) and much guffawing about the temerity of foreigners doing Shakespeare at all. I get up to go to the cafe for a coffee refill and pass one of their actors at a neighbouring table.
We now need to find somewhere else for lunch.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Ricardo Garcia

It's easy to forget that this isn't just about the theatre. I saw a show last night called "Ricardo Garcia's Flamenco Flow" which just blew me away. Mixing Spanish guitar, djembe and tabla with dance elements including bhangra, jazz dance, breakdancing and of course flamenco, it was completely exhilarating and totally original. I never dreamt such diverse elements could be combined so seemingly effortlessly. Absolute 4*.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

At Least The Kids Don't Have Weapons...

Like Cold War Russia, the Fringe can be a dangerous place to express opinions. David - who plays Albert - is a reviewer for the online magazine Broadway Baby, and posted an entirely fair but tough notice of a youth musical group's efforts with a Sondheim musical. In fact his criticism chiefly centred on the director and MD, partly for their choice of material for such a young cast, but also for their very mixed results with the actors. For this he was pointed at in the street, stared out and subjected to an acid encounter with one of the mothers, vicariously injured by the coverage. Thank God they left after a week.
It's happened to me too - there's a lot of Shakespeare here, and the results are predictably mixed. I came out of a show yesterday with a barrelful of opinions - some about safety but also about some unintentionally hilarious moments - which I casually shared with someone at our venue. After the show today I learn that it's all over C that the "the director of Still Life thinks that show is SHIT". That isn't what I said at all, but still in less than 24 hours that's rumour travelling at a scary rate. If only my opinions about our show moved so fast.

Friday, 3 August 2012


We've fallen on our feet with our venue and flat, which we picked almost at random when we visited Edinburgh in April. C-Aquila has a small studio and a large main space, and whilst it's not as groovy as C-main or Nova, it's a bit less frenetic which suits the tenor of our show well.
Our show is Noel Coward's "Still Life" which is a bizarre choice for Edinburgh in some ways. Not new writing, not out of copyright, and the way we're presenting it, pretty conventional in the staging - no clever reinterpretations or physical theatre and whatnot. Old School Quality Writing may have to be our Unique Selling Point, in fact. We're going after the older demographic in a big way, too, with a gimmicky offer of a cup of tea and a Tunnocks teacake to draw them in (inspired by the phenomenal success of Shakespeare for Breakfast). Let's hope they don't expect anything to match our press junket at the Balmoral, where half a dozen journalists descend on a sumptuous afternoon tea of finger sandwiches, cakes and exquisite scones. Setting the bar a wee bit high...

Thursday, 2 August 2012


So I'm in Edinburgh. The last time I was here as a performer was about 23 years ago and to be honest I wouldn't recognise it. Nothing is familiar, nothing at all, except the Fringe poster from 1988 in the festival shop.
I don't remember flyering at all then - perhaps that's why we had such atrocious houses for "The Elephant Man" and "The Sea". Or maybe the titles were to blame - if I hadn't been involved in them I wouldn't have seen them. Anyway, I remember doing precious little back then except drinking and eating out every night in an Italian restaurant called "Luigi's" or something. No wonder my finances were shaky.
These days it's a very different beast, but for the moment I'll be concentrating of getting our show up. Not just metaphorically either, as the stairs to our space are steep, numerous and we have a LOT of set...