Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Why James Hyland decided to twist one of literature's most iconic villains....

"Fagin may very well disgust us, but he is,

ultimately, a complex and multi-faceted

member of the human race. This is the

genius of Dickens"

After a hugely successful tour with 'A Christmas Carol- As told by Jacob Marley (deceased), James Hyland is back at the MET studio with his brand new show 'Fagin's Last Hour'.
Charles Dickens’ classic tale of crime and punishment is stunningly re-imagined in this powerful new stage adaptation. Told from the point of view of Fagin the Miser, one hour before his execution, this unique one-man show offers a fresh insight into literature’s most controversial villain. The show is already receiving rave reviews so we had a chat with James Hyland to discuss the complex nature of Fagin's character and to catch up on James' incredible year.

Hi James, it’s a pleasure to have you back and many congratulations on winning Best Performer in Theatre 2012 (Fringe Report Awards) for 'A Christmas Carol- Told By Jacob Marley (deceased)'. What have you been up to since you were with us last December?

Thank you. It's my pleasure to return to Stafford. The audience and staff at the Gatehouse were tremendous and I very much look forward to performing there again. I'm delighted to have won Best Performer in Theatre (Fringe Report Awards 2012). The reaction to 'A Christmas Carol, as told by Jacob Marley (deceased)' has been astounding, culminating with last year’s record-breaking performance at The McCarthy Studio and my nomination for The London Theatre Award (London Awards for Art and Performance 2012). The nomination was received in conjunction with fellow nominees the Royal Shakespeare Company (Matilda The Musical), the National Theatre (One Man, Two Guvnors), and the Young Vic (Noises Off). It's been a terrific honour to be nominated in competition with such well-known companies and, having had the pleasure of working with the RSC before, it makes me all the more proud to know that I am in such good company. Alongside my ongoing tour, I am currently writing a feature film screenplay as well as a new Dickens adaptation for the stage, and will also be directing my third short film in 2013 as well as appearing in two feature films. 'A Christmas Carol - As told by Jacob (deceased)' will also be returning to the stage this Christmas for its fourth consecutive tour as part of Charles Dickens' Bicentenary celebrations.

"Do try to see his performance. You won’t forget it" ***** ~Tom Aitken, Plays to See

This year you attended a Reception with The Queen at Buckingham Palace to mark the bicentenary of Charles Dickens. How does it feel when your work is recognised like this?

To be recognised for my work by Her Majesty The Queen has been a highlight of my career and to spend time in her company alongside her family at Buckingham Palace was a very great honour indeed. In addition to meeting The Queen, I had the privilege to meet The Duke of Edinburgh, The Duke of Gloucester, Princess Alexandra The Honourable Lady Ogilvy, and The Duke of Kent who took particular interest in ‘Fagin’s Last Hour’ and how the original concept for the show came about.

"Astonishing performance... this was unforgettable theatre at its best."~Jane Howard, The Courier

Similarly to your performance of A Christmas Carol told from Jacob Marley’s perspective, Fagin’s Last Hour is quite literally a twist on Oliver Twist, offering a fresh perspective and insight into the character of Fagin. How do you develop and adapt these classic stories to deliver a new story for your audience?

I always remain as close to the source material as possible but with an eye on accessibility for a twenty-first century audience. You can never put a book on stage in its entirety so a certain level of economy is required in order to adapt it for the theatre. With this in mind, I look for a focal point within the story, a focal point which holds particular importance to the author of the original work, and then I rework the story through that narrative centre. In the case of 'Oliver Twist', I was inspired by the chapter 'Fagin's Last Night Alive', the second to last chapter of the novel in which we see Fagin at his most desperate level awaiting his execution and, as a result, at his most human. By telling the story of 'Oliver Twist' through the words of Fagin, a criminal under extreme mental distress, I am allowing the personalisation of the story to accentuate the level of poignancy in the situation, as defined by Dickens, so that an audience may empathetically engage with the character, and his experiences, on a far deeper and more emotional level than would otherwise be the norm.

James Hyland as Fagin

"A gripping dramatic tour de force by James Hyland...a visceral performance and not to be missed"
~Neil Zoladkiewicz, The Dickens Fellowship

What are the challenges of making your audience connect and even perhaps feel empathy for a villain like Fagin?

The onus is always on telling the truth; to stay as true to the source material as possible. Fagin is not, according to the novel, a stock stage villain, nor is he a lovable rogue. He is a perverse creature devoid of conscience, the wily old serpent to Oliver's flawless innocent. And yet, the dark colours with which he is portrayed bleed with an unsettling naturalism, highlighting a larger truth specific to Dickens' exposé – that one's environment, not birth, influences character. And it is through the truthful expression of this exposé that we are able to empathise with such a character. Fagin may very well disgust us, but he is, ultimately, a complex and multi-faceted member of the human race. This is the genius of Dickens, that he is able to create a scenario which enables us to feel sympathy for a character that is unapologetically despicable and yet, at the last, recognisable for being human.

"The ending, after Hyland has left the stage, will stay with me for a long time." ~Susan Elkin, The Stage

Oliver Twist is such a popular tale, why do you think so many generations have connected with the story?

For me, the most memorable characters in 'Oliver Twist', and by consequence the most popular, are those of the criminal underworld. What makes them so memorable is not the fact that they are criminals per se but rather that they have no choice in being so. Confined to workhouses, starved, and mistreated, the poor had no way of redeeming themselves from misery and death except by running away or turning criminal. The underworld characters, such as Fagin, find themselves in a dangerous world in which they are, from their introduction until their conclusion, in extreme danger; desperate human beings that are trying to eke out a living in a world where none is available except through criminal activity. Ultimately, it is fear that drives them; the fear of starvation versus the fear of the hangman's noose. That is a powerful dynamic, the evocation of human fear and how the dictates of its composition may narrate its expression in our daily lives. And it is our appreciation of that composition that resonates, time and again, within those of us who have experienced the tale.

"A gripping adaptation... Hyland lays bare Fagin's character in all his complexities ~David West, The Reliant

You’ve had fantastic reviews already for Fagin‘s Last Hour, how have audiences responded to the show so far?

The response has been enormously positive from the press and audiences alike. Several people have commented on how the ending of the show has stayed with them long after they have left the auditorium. This, again, is credit to Charles Dickens and his ability to connect with an audience through the sheer mastery of his storytelling combined with his unfaltering sense of truth.

James Hyland transformed as Fagin and Jacob Marley

                                                       Fagin's Last Hour official website


Fagin's Last Hour is at the MET Studio on Friday 26th October and Saturday 27th October. To bookyour tickets click here

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Richard Poynton: Director of 13

There aren't many people brave enough to take a youth theatre cast to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is why we wanted to meet with the director of 13, Richard Poynton. We had a chat about the show, the impact theatre has on young people and Richard's career to date.

Hi Richard, how are you feeling about taking 13 to Edinburgh? It's quite a task taking 17 teenagers to Scotland!

"I'm very excited about it all, it's an amzing project to work on and a great opportunity for the young people taking part. On my part I'm a little bit nervous! It is nervewracking but I know the group are hugely excited about going"

Why was 13 chosen for the group to perform last year?

"At the time the group were all 14 and 15 years old so it was quite appropriate as a coming of age tale and I knew they wanted to do a musical. It's one act so it's quite short and simple in terms of staging. It's by a composer who I was aware of and it's got a youthful vibe to it and they really love the songs. I think it was good for them to do something they'd never heard of before, to really create the roles for themselves. I only knew the songs and when I got the script through it was brilliant, it's absolutely hilarious, in rehearsals it's still making me laugh"

How do you think 13 will appeal to audiences in Edinburgh?

"We're performing it at the same time as the National Youth Music Theatre are performing it in the West End and it's also only for a week in London, so hopefully some actors who are in performances in Edinburgh and can't catch it in the West End will come to our performance. I think in general for Edinburgh audiences, it's really fast paced and quite relentless; I think it's a really fun way to spend an afternoon. There's such a broad spectrum of things going on in Edinburgh and quite a lot of it is comedy or play based and musicals aren't that prevelant there. I  like putting on big shows in small spaces as I think it has a really big impact on the audience"

What have been the highlights for you working on 13 so far?

The rehearsal process has been really fun and the script is hilarious, there are some killer lines!
The atmosphere you get when creating a show is always great.
How has the show developed since it was first performed last year?

They've all developed as a group and their performance skills have increased and improved. Some of the cast didn't like to sing previously, but since their first performance a lot of the cast have been in shows like Into the Woods and Musical Youth Theatre Stafford so vocally they've really gained confidence. Some people who wouldn't normally be cast in main roles have been given an opportunity and they've gained a lot of confidence. It's really nice seeing them do the same songs now with their new found confidence. A lot of the dance routines have been altered to make them harder, as the group has developed so it needs to stay challenging for them."

None of the cast have been to Edinburgh before and it's a once in a lifetime experience. What do you think the children will gain from performing at the fringe festival?

"I think it will be completely invaluable for them as they're going to see professional actors perform in all kinds of spaces. I think they're all used to quite traditional theatre, so with SGYT I've been trying to get them used to performing in smaller spaces with not much set and just using the physicality they bring as an actor to a performance. It'll really open their eyes and getting them to see a spectrum of shows will be great for them. They're a tight knit group already but they'll really bond on the trip too as they'll all be staying together away from home"

Why is it important for audiences to support the Gala Performance this Saturday ahead of the trip to Edinburgh?

It's the first time this particular group have gone to the Edinburgh festival and the first time any SGYT group have gone for a long time. These young people are going to be representing the youth of stafford. Giving them support before they go will really gear them up, hopefully they'll take the adrenaline from Saturday's performance when we leave on Sunday morning! It'll be a really different performance for them as last year it was in the MET to  a capacity of 100 people and on Saturday it will be in the main house to capacity of 500 people. We've had a  new set built so it will have a very different feel to it from last year.  There's bigger, better dance routines and the cast have really grown as singers and dancers"

Your shows as director for SGYT have included Into the Woods and Arabian Nights, what do you love about directing SGYT shows?

"I've been directing since 2006 and I also direct with Walsall Operatic Society and have been with them for about six years now and I also do freelance directing. What's great with SGYT is that each group has around 25 children in it so across all SGYT there's about 200 children,  but they get a really intense expereience. It opens up even more shows to perform as we have smaller groups. As a director you have shows in the back of your mind and with SGYT  I can propose shows to do so I am quite spoilt! The team that work on the shows are very proactive so I get indulged creatively! My crazy ideas tend to be accepted..!"

How did your career as a professional director begin?

"I directed some things at university, I studied English Literature as my major subject and Theatre Performance as a minor. It was the first time I ever studied theatre as a subject, I didn't do performing arts at GCSE or A Level. My first paid job was with Brownhills Musical Theatre company.  That was a performance of the musical The Scarlett Pimpernell.  Once I met people within the field I started to hear more about things that were going on.
After that I met Walsall Operatic Society and directed a few shows. We did a performance of West Side Story which won a National Operatic Dramatic Association award so that brought me to the attention of other people in the field. I also did a lot of work for a small fee or no fee, so I always tried to do something I'd never done before as a director, from Japanese theatre to performing in a traverse theatre. Each project brings different challenges, I like to push myself"

Were you involved in youth theatre as a child?

"I did some performances in primary school, then I didn't really do anthing for a while. I was in school choirs and orchestras, but it was really when I was around 15 and I joined the Prince of Wales Youth Theatre in Cannock and was with them for about 4 years. I'd never really studied theatre in an educational sense as a child. I think anybody can and should give it a go"

Why do you think it is important for children to be part of youth theatre groups and projects?

"Obviously there is the social aspect and it's fun and the children get to interact with people from thier own and other age groups and they can meet people from different schools and different backgrounds. It helps with their confidence and they can explore different situations that they might come across in life in a controlled and safe envirnoment. I'll always remember when I did a workshop about status and the group had to move as someone of a low status through to someone of high status, thinking about how they carried themselves and their body language. It was getting them to see that if you act confidently people will see you as a confident person and it will become a self fulfilling prophecy. I asked the group how they though they could use this physicality, thinking in a performance context, when one girl replied saying "in everyday life". I think they gain a lot from any youth groups where they have to take a risk and take a chance. Through play they can learn about the world, and when we're putting a character together it's all about empathy and sympathy which is really important for them to think about"

What are your next projects once you've recovered from Edinburgh?

"I've got something very exciting planned for Group 8 but I can't say too much yet as they don't even know themselves yet! There'll be more plays from SGYT this year. I spend the summer reading texts and finding suitable plays, but I'm hoping to do some devised work next to really challenge them to create their own piece"

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Interview - Stafford Gatehouse Youth Theatre

"13 is a unique, fun and lively show" 

Stafford Gatehouse Youth Theatre has been estabilished for over 25  years and for the first time SGYT are going on tour to Edinburgh to perform the musical 13 at the Fringe Festival. The group have been busy rehearsing for a preview show at the Gatehouse before taking the show to Edinburgh.

A little apprehensive about interviewing a group of teenagers we had visions of being faced with young divas, content with embracing characteristics of Glee characters...Thankfully our fears were proved to be irrational as the young cast chatted away, bubbling with excitement at the prospect of touring Edinburgh.
So tell us a little about the story of 13.

It's about a boy who is about to turn 13 and celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. He moves to Indiana with his mother when his parents divorce and faces the difficulty of trying to fit in at a new school whist planning his Bar Mitzvah. The show might appeal to fans of Glee because of the music, but 13 is definitely more personal and real.

How do you feel about taking the show to Edinburgh? Have any of you been to the Fringe before?

No! We didn't really know a lot about it and it'll be the first time any of us have been so it's quite exciting really! We never thought when we started working on 13 that we'd get to perform at the Fringe Festival.

Do you think the show will attract a different audience in Edinburgh to when it was performed at the Gatehouse?

Well obviously our families won't be there! We think the show will appeal to a young crowd, espeically teenagers as they can relate to it and it's a really fun show.

How do you think audiences will respond to 13?

Although the show might appeal mainly to a younger audience, older people will also enjoy it as everyone has experienced trying to fit in at school and 13 does it in a funny way, it's not cheesy at all. It should really make the audience laugh.

So what do you think are the key ingredients to making a great show?

You've got to like the show to start with. We all love 13. You need time to really connect with your character and of course have loads of team work.

Can you see any similarities between any of the characters of 13 and the people in your group?

Definitely! Most of us all go to different schools and hang out in different groups so you can really see similarities between us and the characters in 13. We can all relate to individual aspects of each character.

What are your favourite muscials or plays that you'd recommend to our blog readers?

Wicked! Les Miserables is also great and a non-musical choice would be Woman in Black, it's brilliant and scary.
Finally, what would you say to encourage Edinburgh festival-goers to see ‘13’? 

It's unique, fun, lively and just a feel good show. The audience will really feel the beat!

13 is on at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre on Saturday 18th August at 7.30pm before touring the Fringe Festival. Book Tickets

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Elizabeth Rose: Director of Peter Pan

"It's been such a disappointing summer full of rain that you should treat yourself to something fun and come see us in action!"

Stafford Gatehouse Theatre's Summer School rehearsals have started and the building is already buzzing. Director Elizabeth Rose has returned to direct this year's show, Peter Pan. We met with Elizabeth to find out more about her work and to discuss the timeless magic of Peter Pan.

Hi Elizabeth, let's start by discussing how your theatre career started?

I was pretty shy until I got to secondary school, where I got involved in Drama Club and really enjoyed it. I spent 3 years in the Derby Playhouse Youth Theatre and absolutely loved it, and a lot of my peers from that time are still in the industry doing amazing things. I trained as an actor at Bretton Hall and have worked professionally in theatre and television for over ten years. I now also work as a workshop leader, Youth Theatre teacher, role-player, facilitator, and in Stage Management. I can’t imagine ever not working in theatre, and am very passionate about what I do, which is important as it influences your whole lifestyle. I have worked a lot with children and young people and have a particular interest in what theatre can offer them in terms of education, entertainment and skills development.

Elizabeth during rehersals
How are preparations coming along for Peter Pan?

Very well thanks! However prepared I am I know I’ll be nervous on Day 1, but that’s part of the fun. I like to have an overview of the whole show in my head before we start, although if something doesn’t work in rehearsals or a different idea is suggested then obviously things change. I think it’s really important that every member of the cast feels they are a part of the team, so we all work hard to make sure everyone has plenty to do and a lot of that happens now, before we start rehearsing. I also work out how much material we need to cover each day in order to stay on target to begin the technical rehearsal having already run each act at least once. My script is already covered in scribbles and sketches and I met with Tim Murley, our set designer, in February, and with Measure for Measure, our wardrobe department, a month ago, so you can see how far back preparations begin. We generally start discussing the next Summer School as soon as one is finished, so we can be sure to choose something everyone will want to do.

What are the challenges of directing a cast of children ranging from 7-18 years of age?

Picking a story which will interest a wide age group is probably the most challenging thing, but Peter Pan is perfect. The children and teenagers themselves are great and the older members, or those who have more experience, are great at looking out for the younger ones. We are very lucky to have such a great Chaperone, Lesley, who keeps everyone safe and entertained when they’re not working, but we try to make sure everyone is as busy as possible. We also treat the cast as professionals and find that they respond by behaving as professionals, whatever their age.

What other summer school shows have you directed?

The first Summer School show I directed was Bugsy Malone, in 2009. I’d been Associate Director for three previous shows but it felt like a big leap to becoming Director, albeit a very exciting one. Since then I’ve directed Just So and The Adventures of Mr Toad, and can honestly say Summer School is one of my favourite projects of the year.

Bugsy Malone 2009
Peter Pan is such a magical story, do you and the creative team have some exciting plans in store?
Of course, but I can’t tell you what they are, it would spoil the surprise! Peter Pan has to encapsulate everything children want and make adults feel like they are children again, so that is what we’re aiming to achieve. We’ve a few tricks up our sleeves but you’ll have to wait and see what they are. The music is stunning and the show will look beautiful, so once we’ve added a sprinkling of fairy dust we’ll be away!
What is it about Peter Pan that you think has engaged and captured audiences for so many years?

It’s got all the ingredients of a classic story – good vs bad, adventure, suspense – but also a huge amount of humour. The book itself (although it was originally written as a play) is very funny, and most of the jokes in the show are from the original story. The element of fantasy is also massively important – who wouldn’t want to fly if the opportunity was there?! Wendy, John and Michael experience so many amazing things and audiences, whether reading the book or at watching at the theatre, love to go on their journey with them.

As you said earlier, you have directed a lot of shows for summer school and were also Assistant Stage Manager for the Christmas rock n roll pantomime Dick Whittington. What is it about the Gatehouse Theatre that keeps you coming back?
I have nothing but good memories of working at the Gatehouse – and can’t believe it’s six years since I first worked here! There’s a great team here all year round, from the Administration and office staff to Box Office, the Technical Departments, the cleaners – it sounds clichéd but it really is one team working together which is why it works. I couldn’t do Summer Schools without Verity, Michael and Richard, who all make it so much fun. It’s a great job and I feel very lucky to be a part of it – and of course the Summer School casts are so enthusiastic and so much fun that there’s never a dull moment!
What have been your highlights so far whilst working on shows for the Gatehouse and what are you most proud of?

There’s so much that I’m proud of, but sitting in the audience for the first performance of each of the shows and seeing everything come together is always a thrill. There have been times when we’ve had standing ovations and it’s amazing to see the cast look so elated at their hard work being rewarded. As for highlights... the countless occasions on which we’ve laughed until we’ve cried, or seen someone achieve something they didn’t think they could do, or watched people grow in confidence and go on to train and work professionally. All those things are great and make my job an absolute pleasure.

What are your next projects once Peter Pan has finished?

I’m back on tour in the Autumn, working for a company called Big Window on a show for children aged 2-4. There are very few companies catering for such young audiences and it’s brilliant to watch the children’s reactions. If you find that we’re nearby come and have a look! After that there are a few possibilities, but I’ll keep them under my hat so as not to jinx them!
How would you sum up this years summer school show in 3 words?

One big adventure!


Peter Pan will be performed from Wednesday 8 – Saturday 11 August 2012 and are available from Stafford Gatehouse Theatre Box Office on 01785 254 653 or by clicking here. 

Tickets cost £9.50 or £8.50 for concessions for the 7.30pm shows and £8.00 and £7.00 for concessions for the 2.30pm matinees (no matinee on Friday 10th August)

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Interview: Anthony Webster

Stafford Festival Shakespeare would be nowhere without the hard work the supporting cast contribute to the show. Hailing from the local Staffordshire area, the supporting cast are a reminder of the community spirit Stafford Festival Shakespeare has maintained over the years.
Anthony Webster will be taking part in Stafford Festival Shakespeare for the first time this summer. We spoke to Anthony about his busy plans for this summer and his unusual performing history. 

Hi Anthony, tell us a little about yourself...

Much of the time I work as a Learning Support Assitant on a local college's performing arts provision. Away from this, I'm acting, be it for an independent film, as a supporting artist for a major release, as a cast member to help media students hone their skills or on the ameteur stage. When I'm not doing any of this I probably have my hands in glue, making masks or props for some piece or another.

Have you been involved with Stafford Festival Shakespeare before?

I’ve lived most of my life within a short distance of Stafford but this is my first involvement with Stafford Festival Shakespeare and I’m enjoying every minute with the company. The team spirit, enthusiasm and expertise in the group are really inspiring and invigorating.

You’ve performed in many unusual venues, from nuclear bunkers to art deco bank vaults, which would you say was the strangest and which was your favourite?

Years ago, during the Lichfield Mystery plays, I took the role of Lucifer within the city’s magnificent cathedral. I’m sure that’s where my love of performance in different types of spaces stems from, and so in a way this experience remains my favourite. As for the strangest, there are lots of contenders. Certainly, the ‘frozen-in-time’ atmosphere of both the nuclear bunker and the art deco bank vault really impressed itself on me. But I’ve run around a farmer’s field battling aliens from a distant planet with nothing more than a broom handle. I’ve knelt at a mock grave comprised of a bag of compost at the edge of a football pitch. It was surreal to stroll through a purpose-fabricated medieval London street, which was actually located within the Welsh countryside. Becoming Jesus Christ at the Last Supper late on a Friday night in an old primary school hall, and performing King Lear atop of Pembroke castle’s rain-drenched battlements are also high on the list of strangest venue.

Any funny stories to tell from performing in these unusual venues?

There have been a few funny moments! Whilst filming a robbery reconstruction in an art deco bank vault safe, the production cast and crew paralysed in disbelief when somebody accidentaly locked shut the door of the safe and noone knew the combination to open it! Thankfully, noone was inside and in fact the only thing locked in the safe was a banana as part of somebody's lunch! It didn't take long for the listed building's site staff to come to the rescue of the banana!

What do you think of the castle setting for the show?

What a location! It’s a landmark setting perfect for the event. When you have a dramatic feature like this against the horizon, you have to bring a play that’s worthy of it. That excites me because I know this zesty production will be superb.

What television shows and films have you been involved with?

This year I’ve taken supporting artist roles in the feature films ‘Henry IV Part II’ and ‘Les Miserables’. I seem to have the air of a beggar about me: both productions cast me as one, and the characters were great fun to play. Back in February, some might have seen me in an episode of ‘Aircrash Confidential 2’, a disaster reconstruction programme broadcast on the Discovery channel. I took a larger role as the Bank Manager in ‘Britain’s Biggest Heists 2: The Baker Street Heist’, shown on HD History Channel and Crime & Investigation Network. The rock band Blue Origin achieved Kerrang broadcast with their music video 'Godless' at the start of this year and I played Jesus Christ at the Last Supper in this dynamic piece. I was privileged to be cast as the University Lecturer for the Cisco Systems Inc. public spaces commercial broadcast, an advertisement focusing on their provision of technical expertise in the Olympic Games provisions.

Why did you decide to get involved in SFS?

Well, a friend told me about Stafford Festival Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ production and I knew I had to audition. Last summer, I’d really enjoyed the challenges presented by the different outdoor venues of a ‘King Lear’ tour, so joining the local cast offered an opportunity I couldn’t ignore. I also think ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a story that appeals to so many people.

 Do you feel it’s important for the local community to get involved with events like SFS?
Yes I do, I’m a great advocate of people giving something a go. Why not? Stafford Festival Shakespeare and other events like it are great for making new friends, maybe practicing a neglected skill or learning a new one. So far in the preparations for opening night I’ve managed to do all three.

What would you say to local people to not only make them want to watch the show but also be a part of it?

I think that anyone taking a seat to watch a show is very much a part of it. Putting aside the day-to-day cares and believing in the world of the play, well that’s the life blood, the magic of it all. But to get up on the stage gives you something much more. There’s a real satisfaction of crafting a vibrant piece of drama within a creative team like that of Stafford Festival Shakespeare. Nerves and inertia get in the way of so much all the time, but there’s an opportunity to really enjoy yourself here. Why miss out?

What is your next project after Shakespeare?   
I’ve quite a few things on the boil at the moment. I have a run of short, independent films soon after ‘Romeo and Juliet’. There’s extra skills training I’d like to do, and some auditions I’d like to attend. I don’t stand still for very long.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Getting to know Romeo and Juliet

"Stafford Castle is such a wonderfully enchanting setting to put on Shakespeare"

The cast of Romeo and Juliet have been in rehearsals for just over a week and we thought it was time to get to know them better. We met with our very own Romeo and Juliet, Dwane Walcott and Poppy Drayton to ask some quick fire questions.

Dwane Walcott

Poppy Drayton
Stafford Festival Shakespeare is one of the largest open air Shakespeare events in Europe, how do you feel about being part of the event this year?

Dwane: At any one moment I feel a range of emotions from joy to fear…the over riding feeling is one of privilege.

Poppy: I’m hugely excited to be part of this year’s Shakespeare Festival. I can’t think of a more beautiful setting to put on a Shakespeare play!

What made you want to get involved?

P: I’d heard how wonderful the atmosphere is and I thought it’d be such a fantastic event to be part of.

D: Romeo and Juliet is the backbone for many of our most loved stories, so I am excited to explore the themes at the grass-root level, where they began.

Have you ever performed in the cast of a Shakespeare play before?

D: I have been in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Othello and performed scenes from Love’s Labour’s Lost and Titus Andronicus

P: Yes, I’ve been in several Shakespeare productions both at school and drama school but never had the chance to play Juliet. I feel greatly honoured to play such a well-known and much-loved character of Shakespeare’s.

Shakespeare has written countless well-known plays and sonnets, what is your favourite Shakespeare play?

P:  I have a new favourite every time I’m involved in another production!

D:  Titus Andronicus was the first of Shakespeare’s plays I read for fun and it still vividly sticks in my mind. But can I say I don’t have one?!

What do you think is the feeling/message that stays with the audience after watching Romeo and Juliet?

D: What would you sacrifice for the sake of love?

P:  The message I was left with was that strength of passion can ignite a change in others, even if you, regrettably, aren’t able to watch it take effect.  

The event takes place in a very unique setting, have you performed in the grounds of a castle before or open air?

P: No never, apart from at a fair called Strawberry Fair in Canada when I was 7. I’m expecting this event to be very different though as this time I won’t be dressed from head to toe in a Lycra Canadian flag! Thank goodness!

D: Never! It is going to be an experience no doubt!

How do you think performing at the castle will differ to a traditional theatre venue?

D: I guess it never rains at the theatre! It should hopefully expand the theatrical experience, and give people a night to remember!

P: It is such a wonderfully enchanting setting to put on Shakespeare. It feels wrong in a way to contain Shakespeare’s work within four walls when it’s so full of life and vitality!

Romeo and Juliet opens on June 28th and runs until July 14th at Stafford Castle.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Interview: Like a Virgin (theatre production)

"How audiences will come out feeling will blow them away."

Like a Virgin is a thrilling exploration of teenage life and the relationships between mother and daughter during this challenging time. Expect an explosion of emotions as the play exposes the tearaway lives of teens Angela and Maxine as they truant from school and form a girl band, hoping to walk in the steps of their idol, Madonna. Mother, Viv has a lot to contend with having caught her husband with another woman and struggling to control her daughter’s reckless lifestyle.

Brought to you by Reform Theatre Company, who have also visited The Gatehouse with My Favourite Summer, the play is set to take place at The MET Studio later this month. We chatted to actress Susan Mitchell who plays Viv and we discovered that there’s a lot more to teenage life than dancing around your bedroom with a hair brush in hand…

'Viv' and 'Angela' on stage- photo taken from reformtheatre.co.uk

Hello, how’s preparation for the show going?
It’s going really well, we open a week today and everything’s going great. We’re just organising costumes at the moment and the girls' scenes are looking absolutely fantastic. The set is all up too and we’re ready to run so everything’s great.  

Aside from the title 'Like A Virgin', has Madonna influenced the play in any other ways?
Yes, there are plenty of Madonna songs in there. It’s just about two girls who, through their love for Madonna, are searching for love and acceptance and to live their dream- madonna is their teenage idol.

How do you think audiences will respond to the play?
It will take them through a complete wide range of emotions. Gordon Steele, the writer, has written some brilliant one-liners and it will have people in absolute stitches. However, even though it’s hilarious at times it’s actually heart-breaking at others and by the end there wont be a dry eye in the house.

Do you think both adults and teens can relate to Like A Virgin?
Yes, especially some of the extremely funny scenes. There’s a scene with the two girls where it’s a bit of a sex education lesson involving a magazine and it’s hilarious. Younger people are going to recognise the silly little things teenagers talk about and take from each other and how they build their friendships by finding things out together. 

The character you’re playing is Viv, can you tell us a little bit about her?
Viv is the mum of Angela and as a result of certain events she’s let her role of mother deteriorate and as such she becomes the one cared for by her daughter. It explores a role reversal between mother and child and the strength of children and their determination for what they want and how they cope with things. Throughout the play we see that Viv is actually a really loving mum who has just lost her way purely by circumstances that were beyond her control. We do see her redeem herself by the end.

The story has an element of seriousness to it, is it challenging portraying such emotion?  
It’s challenging and I don’t mean this in a negative way, the scenes can be emotionally exhausting at times but it’s definitely not challenging in terms of acting because the play is written really, really well. The emotion is there and all we need to do is say the lines without working overly hard but we do have moments where we have to take five after rehearsal after a particularly emotional scene. We can’t forget the comedy element especially with the two girls- watching them exploring being pubescent and the things they share and argue about is hilarious and really good fun.

What are the key messages or themes within the play? 
I think it is the innocence of young people, the strength of love and the pure determination of human beings.

Finally what would you say to people to encourage them to see Like A Virgin?
I think Gordon’s written a really down to earth piece of writing that will take you through so many emotions even though it’s just an hour and a half. It really is powerful seeing the characters dealing with the struggles that they face and it is a powerful piece of theatre in itself. To go through such an emotional journey in a short space of time and how audiences will come out feeling will blow them away.

Like a Virgin is on Tue 17th April 2012 at The MET Studio, Stafford Gatehouse. 
Reform Theatre Official

If you would like to review Like a Virgin for our blog then email bward@staffordbc.gov.uk for more information

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Interview: Abbey Road Experience

“Abbey Road is such an accomplished piece of music it’s hard to know where it came from.”

On the 9th of March the Abbey Road Experience will be bringing a very special show to our MET studio. The tribute band is dedicated to performing the full Beatles Abbey Road album and other favourite hits. The show promises to be a huge hit for Beatles’ fans.

The group dropped in to the MET Studio to practise their challenging and energetic set and so it seemed only fitting that we hijack their rehearsals in true rock ‘n’ roll style for an exclusive chat with the band…

So how are rehearsals going so far?

Chris: Ok I think! Its been good starting rehearsals.

Derek: It’s the first time working with a PA system and lights...it's starting to feel really good, exciting really.

What was your inspiration to tour the Abbey Road album live? Does the album have special significance for all of you?

Chris: There’s an American band called the Fab Faux and I saw one of their videos a few years ago and was knocked out by them. I thought Abbey Road was untouchable in terms of a live performance so it opened my eyes to put something together. It took a while to get it together and now we have the right people involved which makes it exciting. Abbey Road is one of my favourite albums of all time.

Derek: The Beatles never performed it live for a start, so even as piece of music it’s quite a challenge and it’s very enjoyable to take it on. Abbey Road was a studio album pieced together as a whole concept so to tackle it live is a challenge!

You have six dates coming up in the area, would you like to carry on after and take it to more venues?

Phil: That’s the plan, as there aren’t really many countries where bands take this whole album out. There are many Beatles tribute acts around, but only American bands tend to go for recreating whole albums whilst European bands tend to take on songs or sections of albums. We feel there isn’t much competition as so few bands do this concept, so would definitely like to take it elsewhere!

We’re very excited to have you kicking off your rehearsals in the MET Studio, what do you think of our new venue?

Derek: Wonderful.  It’s superb, a lovely space and it’s one of our first dates. It’ll be nice to come back as we know what it’s like- a home from home!

The MET holds an intimate audience, is
 that more nerve wracking than playing to a big arena?

All: Yes!

Phil: If you can see the whites of their eyes it’s unnerving!  With a big audience, there’s a gap between you and the audience so you can psyche yourself into thinking there’s no one there and if I make the biggest mistake of my life it doesn’t matter!

Have you all worked together previously? How did you all "come together"?

Chris: Steve and I work in a band called Desperado, an Eagles tribute band and have been together two and a half years.

Steve: Derek and I worked together about fifteen years ago, but nobody had worked with Phil before.

Chris: I’d been to see Phil as a solo artist and he’s incredible, it was an ambition to get him on board straight away. Without Phil’s input I don’t think it would have come together.

I imagine you’re feeling the pressure to live up to the work and do it justice?

Derek: It’s nerve wracking, as you can know the songs to listen to, but learning to play them and juggling all the different parts is daunting. There’s no point doing something like this unless you can do it well

Chris: We don’t want to embarrass ourselves!

So Derek, as a Staffordshire lad, does it feel more special playing to your hometown?

Derek: Even though I’ve toured and travelled the world, it’s always been home and it is nice to come back.

So, what is your favourite song to perform from Abbey Road?

Derek: The last one!

Chris: That’s a tough question! I tend to look at it as a whole piece of music in it’s own right from start to finish

Phil: George Harrison songs are probably the best on for me.

Derek: When I first heard the Abbey Road album, I always wanted to perform Because and thirty years on I’m getting to fulfil that ambition, so that song has to be the inspirational song on the album for me.

Phil: John Lennon was probably the least musically educated, yet he just did stuff and it worked. Abbey Road it’s such an accomplished piece of music it’s hard to know where it came from. When you try to play it you can tell he just came upon it, which makes it even more remarkable.

Chris: You can extend that to a lot of songs, as they were so young when they were writing these incredible songs. They’re basically geniuses!

An even tougher question; what is your favourite Beatles song?
Phil: It’s so subjective and once you name one you want to add more.

Derek: When John Lennon’s death was announced on the radio, the first thing I played was Across The Universe and it made me cry that day. It will always stick in my mind.

Phil: In My Life is a fantastic song; simple but couldn’t be improved in any way.

Chris: Long and Winding Road is one of my favourites, it’s just a great song and I get to sing it live which is even better!

Is there anyone in the charts that you find exciting at the moment?

Derek: I love Ed Sheeran; he’s brilliant

Chris: He is pretty good. I do like Jessie J, her voice is extraordinary.

Biggest rock ‘n’ roll highlight?

Chris: I’ve never really been a bad boy!

Phil: I’ve toured a lot and you tend to find some of the best moments are when you’re off stage, and the places you find yourself in, as you’d never go there without music. I went across Siberia and that was something special. I’d never have gone there without doing the music.

Steve: I did a month’s tour of Russia and we played in a circus! Our equipment was coming in past tigers; it was mad!

 Abbey Road Experience is on Fri 9th March 2012 at The MET Studio, Stafford Gatehouse.