Monday, May 30, 2016

Observe The Sons Of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme. 

A play by Frank McGuinness on at the (gorgeous) Citizens Theatre just now. A co-production between the Citizens, the wonderful Abbey Theatre, Headlong and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse. I'm guessing it's touring.

This was a weird experience. 

I am certain that remembering World War One (and Two) is vitally important. So I do lean towards books, plays, films that reflect on what happened. It feels the least I can do. 

I continue sad to have missed a scheduled trip to an NTS show called The 306 last week on account of the child's choir. BS will hopefully be writing about it here soon. 

So I expected to like this Sons of Ulster show very much. 

Lights up. And I've not experienced this very often but I instantly hated it.

A man with wild white hair in loose pyjamas drifted about the stage. A big lump on stone in the background. He made no reference to the stone but it seemed to be carved into an exquisite lumpen shape but it was hard to see what the shape might be. He spoke about the difficulty of forgetting the past for quite a long time. In all fairness, I found it hard to listen as instead, I was thinking angrily about the perils of writing a play when you're used to writing a book and then thinking angrily about what I could be more usefully doing with my time instead.  

Luckily, after a little while, some soldiers in the uniform of the first world war appeared silently from the wings and crept silently around our pyjama-d protagonist, weapons at the ready. Lots of atmospheric smoke. 

At last (it seemed), the lights went out. Up again.  A nice sunny day. A young soldier pottering about. New recruits arriving to their new accommodation having freshly enlisted. Pyjamas nowhere to be seen. The lump of artful stone gone. Normal service resumed. The story began.

The story itself was troubling. Disparate men. They don't all get on. They go and fight. They bond. Massive dollops of religous-inspired antagonism.  An illicit gay relationship. Some (reasonable) anxiety about impending danger. Cut together in chronological order to show how they started out disparate but became friends who cared very much about each other. This strand of the story was as nicely told as the script permitted. 

But nonetheless, I didn't care very much about any of them. Even the eccentric laugh in the face of danger posh greyhound breeding whyever is he here in the first place man. Who inevitably turned out to be the man in the pyjamas.

The redeeming feature by a million marched miles was the set. Which was gorgeous. Replete with atmosphere and brooding menace. Lump of artful stone aside. Clever use of levels. Perspective. The lighting was gorgeous. Just wonderful. The whole curiously dispassionate story looked stunning. 

But that didn't quite make up for the fact that when these poor guys finally got to go over to the top, having finally (and it wasn't a long play - it just felt it) arrived at the Somme,  I almost wished they'd get on with it.

Friday, May 27, 2016

I should be used to this by now. 

I cast it. I burst with excitement. I can't imagine a cast more perfect. This cast has been particularly perfect - so far - as they all obligingly told me their holiday dates and then all obligingly didn't offer up any additional rehearsal dates when we sent out the rehearsal schedule. With a cast of 21, this is no small matter.

This week. The uggh moment. And I'm a terrible person for being petulantly irritated by something wonderful cropping up for someone. But I was darkly irritated and indeed, I sulked. (I'm not proud.) And then got on to fixing it.

Couple this with the fact - and this causes me proportionally much more irritation than the other thing - that some good portion of the cast can't make this Sunday's first read through and both Fringe casts bonding session. 

Don't get me wrong. It's all for legitimate reasons. Holidays. Exams. Prior commitments. That sort of non-negotiable real life stuff that must always come second to our silly strutting and fretting. But it makes me want to growl like Aslan when he drove away Winter - and wasn't quite sure that Spring would wander round the corner instead.

So I am seeking consolation in music. Terrible Heart FM played Beyonce's All the Single Ladies which always puts in the mind of miraculous Yvonne / Miranda in our Tempest who (thank goodness) managed to conjure up some sort of wriggling dance routine alongside an excellent rendition of the selfsame for our Bard on a Boat show some good years ago now.

Then there was the child's school Glee choir final last night at the Assembly Rooms. Despite having heard the common song six times from the competing schools, I ridiculously can't remember what it was. Something boisterous and warlike. They got to choose their own second song. And some of the choirs were marvellous and some of them were impressive more because getting a bunch of kids to do anything in anything like unison is some feat. But in amongst the jumble were occasional hair up on the back of your neck moments. The odd peculiarly precocious solo. The odd moment of impeccable imaginative choreography. And clearly, some great singing. 

So that's it, isn't it? That's why I persevere with this daft time-guzzling mostly thankless hobby. Because the occasional hairs on the back of your neck up moment make it all - more or less - worthwhile. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

David's (Edward Albee's) Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is completely marvellous. Aided and abetted by four excellent actors. And I'm not just saying that because I painted little bits of the set blue at the weekend so feel some shred of responsibility for getting the show on and up. It was wonderful.

There's a funny thing about seeing a show at 40 that you studied aged 16 and 17 at A'Level. My teenage self appreciated (loved) the dialogue, the drama, the deep dark despair that permeates the story. 

But I was lucky enough to have very little sense at that tender age of how horrible people can be to each other. Of how the things that you dream of and in fact, expect, when you're younger don't always quite pan out. So I daresay you appreciate the script at some level but extra (lucky) years of life instill it with a whole new sharply painful piquancy. 

Script aside, the production looked gorgeous. A cracking set, somehow claustrophobic and draughty with possibility at the same time. Costumes. Well, they lucked out with their costume designer who graduated from Edinburgh College of Art only to be (just) snapped up by the BBC. And with Gillian in charge, the props were always going to be seamless. 

The actors were the heroes. It's impossible (for me) not to compare any George and Martha with the (temporarily) blowsy Ms Taylor and the harried Mr Burton. But Richard and Mel were great. The cliches are limp through over-use. But you might legitimately say they were commanding.  

Richard was wonderfully put upon in his cardigan but Machiavellian in his insidious manipulation. Mel was falling out of her (glorious) dress vulgar and gorgeous and vulnerable and majestic. 

Kyle was blonde and beautiful as the preppy, pathetic, vaguely heartless not maths but biology lecturer. (Yup, I didn't like him - his character! - but I am so very happy that this guy is off to theatre school. He's magic.) And Caroline as little brittle hipless Honey. Oooft. Fragile enough that you feared she might break right there in front of you.

For maybe that was the extra special thing about this production. I've only seen the play staged once before, on the Dundee Rep stage. They were there and we, the audience, were over here. The marvellous thing that David did was put us, the audience, right around the voyeuristic edges of the living room. So we were almost complicit. Silent bystanders that did nothing to stop the ever escalating bizarre and bastard-ly antics. 

I've always wanted to direct this show. But now I'm glad that David got there first. Please go and see it. They're majestic. 

Friday, May 06, 2016

I have a cast I have a cast I have a cast!

And not just any old cast but a brilliant one.

After getting on for three times as many people as I needed auditioned, after a Sunday afternoon audition that rolled on for six and a half hours, after a lot of head scratching, heart searching and invaluable wisdom from the AD and Musical Director Neil ("but Claire, the script says he's a man so maybe cast a man??"), we have a prize list of the chosen 21.

I feel I've never sent so many sorry emails. And I've turned away so many brilliant people whom I love and love to work with. Heartsore is a good word for it. 

And then you get the death by silence emails. And the short sharp "it's fine" emails that you know are sent through gritted teeth (with gritted typing fingers??). And the lovely reasonable kind emails of forgiveness in return and your guilty heart gives another guilty squirm in your chest.

What a weird and wonderful and humbling and horrible process it is.

So we have a cast. 

That means we have a show. 


And I have a monstrous excel spreadsheet to try and start corralling it all into some semblance of a rehearsal schedule.

Meantime, there are other shows afoot. One of my all-time favourites, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is our May production.  Next week. (Tickets here!) I studied this at A'Level. I saw a wondrous wicked production at Dundee Rep a few years back. It's a brilliant script that, like the best scripts, really sing when it's staged. Mr Grimes has assembled a brilliant cast (I suspect we have a slimmer Elizabeth Taylor on our hands.) I have my tickets for the opening night. And I cannot wait.

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