Rumplestiltskin in Lancashire

I went to see Mawdesley Amateur Dramatics Society last Saturday night to see their excellent production of Neighbourhood Watch by Alan Ayckbourn. I used to be a regular member of this group and it was there that I cut my pantomime teeth, both as a performer and later a writer. The visit reminded me that my MADS friends have also set up a website with an excellent gallery of past productions, including the first ever performance of Rumplestiltskin and other scripts of mine, including Dick Whittington where I played Dame Dollop. My last Dame role up until now.

Check them out below:

Rumplestiltskin 2015

Treasure Island 2013

Aladdin 2008

Dick Whittington 2007

Good memories and if you are in the Lancashire area, their productions are well recommended. Next up I believe is King Arthur, written by my former collaborator Adrian Barradell.

Red Rising – Sons of Ares

In a distant future, man has colonised the solar system, but this brave new era of exploration has led in turn to a tyrannical caste system of genetically modified humans, ruled by the Golds. Down in mines of Mars, a young Red called Darrow decides to fight back. So begins Pierce Brown’s bestselling series of YA SF novels. However I must admit though I had not heard of them until my friend Rik Hoskin told me about his current comic project – Red Rising – Sons of Ares.

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Published by Dynamite Comics, Sons of Ares is a prequel series, exploring the early life of Fitchner au Barca, the leader of the resistance movement calling themselves the Sons of Ares. The first two issues are out now and it has been well received by fans of the series. Rik is working closely in collaboration with author Pierce Brown, just as he did with Brett Sanderson on last year’s graphic novel White Sands. The splendid artwork meanwhile is by Eli Powell.

You can see a few preview pages and find out more details on this page. The series is available in comic shops and also on the Kindle.

More recently Rik has been interviewed by Dynamite about his latest series, and looking forward to issue four.  Its a great read too. You can find it here. I’m hoping to post some impressions of it soon.

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Talking about my old mate Rik also prompts me to talk about the latest addition to this blog. If you look to the left of the screen, you will notice I’ve added a new permanent section, containing downloadable copies of our original audio series – Agents of Psyence. These MP3 files used to be available at Westlake Films’ site, until I took them down during that site’s revamp. Now I’ve brought them in-house so to speak. At the moment the page is fairly bare-bones but I intend to expand it in time.

Agents of Psyence is an action adventure series based on Rik’s early self-published comic Psyence Fiction. Set in present day Britain, an enigmatic billionaire called Sebastian Hayward has assembled a team of unusual specialists, including a cybernetic warrior, an ex-MI6 agent and an occult expert, to investigate supernatural crimes. It’s mixture of horror and SF, with an emphasis on pace and thrills. My own approach was definitely influenced by the work of radio director/producer extraordinaire Dirk Maggs (Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Radio 1 version of Batman: Knightfall amongst many others)

The first story Truth and Bone was adapted by Rik from the pages of the first two issues, and the second, Bloodlines, written exclusively for audio by Rik and myself. I think they’ve got some of my best production work in them and its always been an intention of mine to continue the series. Several other scripts were written by ourselves, John Isles and Peter Grehen. I released the series under the label Phantom Frame, which is where the title of this very blog comes from.

You can experience both stories for free, playing them on this site or downloading them. Hope you enjoy them, whether you’re a new listener or a returning fan.

Discover the Agents of Psyence by clicking this link

For Battle and Glory – Recording Sontarans

I was just looking through some old CDROM backups last night, when I rediscovered this behind the scenes BBV podcast from 2000. Recorded and edited by Paul Griggs on the day of the recording of Conduct Unbecoming, it features myself, Paul and actor Anthony Keetch talking about Sontarans and the day’s work bringing my script to life.

Few people like to hear their own voices (am I really that nasally?) but it is an entertaining snapshot of a time in Doctor Who history, when BBV and other independent companies were carrying the show forward into the 21st Century. The podcast was originally released in the now obscure VQF format but I’ve converted it to MP3 for convenience. Enjoy.

Amazing artwork by Simon Hodges ( http://hisi79.deviantart.com/ )

This spinoff is still available to order from Galaxy 4 and can also be found on Audible.

 

Downtime out now, Wyrd Sisters soon

When I started off directing Wyrd Sisters I’d hope to keep a production diary up on this blog. Predictably this ambition was quickly eaten up by the time and energy involved in actually realising the play. So you’ll have to look forward to a retrospective article instead. However I can report that we are at an exciting phase where the books are down, the movements are being fine tuned and the set is almost in place bar the painting, thanks to the marvellous efforts of Jeff Lunt and his team.. Not to mention a whole wardrobe of costumes which have largely been designed and made from scratch by Francis Clemmitt and her team. I’ve also been out banging the drum and trying to get people interested in coming. Marketing a play is a job in itself. We’re having some publicity photos taken tomorrow which hopefully will excite the local media. I went on Bolton FM radio a couple of weeks ago and I’ll be popping up again on their frequency on Monday during the drivetime show in the evening. I’ve also made a short video promo for promoting the show on social media.

It’s going to be a show that’s different from pretty much anything Bolton Little Theatre have put on in a while. The cast are getting better with each rehearsal and its great to work with them. Best of all is Terry Pratchett and Stephen Brigg’s script, which is funny and wise. You can find out more and book tickets at http://www.boltonlittletheatre.co.uk/terry-pratchetts-wyrd-sisters/

That’s Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters 7.30pm 6 – 11 March 2017, Bolton Little Theatre!

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I’ve also learnt that Obverse Books have just published Downtime – The Lost Years of Doctor Who. I am amongst the forty people interviewed by author Dylan Rees about the remarkable collection of independent productions, both video and audio, that appeared in the Nineties and early Noughties attempting to fill the Doctor Who shaped hole which the BBC had created.

Of course my part relates to my work with Bill Baggs and BBV. I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet but as someone who was very involved in that particular pond, not just as a writer but as a fan, I’m look forward to reading it. Within its 400 pages Dylan Rees promises many facts and stories that have never been printed before. The book is available for £9.99 as an e-book and £19.99 as a large format paperback. You can learn more by visiting http://obversebooks.co.uk/product/downtime/

Thanks for reading. Hope to be in touch again soon.

Wyrd Sisters Diary #1 – Setting out on the road to Lancre

I’m not trying to claim any snob value here but I discovered Terry Pratchett’s Discworld almost right at the beginning. Back in 1985 I read an interview with Terry Pratchett, promoting the paperback release of the first Discworld novel The Colour of Magic, thought it sounded funny and bought it soon after. Possibly as a birthday present for my sister Gail now I come to think about it. Turned out we both enjoyed this send up of fantasy novels and it set us, and eventually my whole family, on an enjoyable journey with Terry’s funny, ingenious books for many years.

Wyrd Sisters is the first proper Discworld Witches book, introducing us to the eccentric coven of the formidable, good but scary Granny Weatherwax, the cheerful, earthy, experienced Nanny Ogg, and the naïve, enthusiastic Magrat. As well as Witches, it has a ghost, a demon, lots of dim-witted guards, and a troupe of theatricals who stage a farcical play within the play.

It is in part a parody of Shakespeare, the Scottish Play in particular, but it is also a comedy about power, be it brute force, common sense or the subtler magic of storytelling. In fact I’m pretty sure it was Gail who bought me the script books of Wyrd Sisters and Guards! Guards! for my own birthday several years later. I had no idea they existed until then. By then I had become involved with amateur dramatics, and I loved Stephen Briggs’ adaptations and the idea of realising them on stage. So in time I persuaded my then current group of Mawdesley Amateur Dramatics to stage Wyrd Sisters. The photo at the top of the page is from that production.

Like many groups, a majority of MADS were women, so it was an advantage to have a play with four really good female roles, not to mention a fair amount of characters who could be played by either gender. That 2007 production was my first experience of directing theatre. It helped that we were already a group of friends, so that made it less intimidating that it could have been. We played it on a smallish village hall stage, with much less in the way of facilities at the time than Bolton Little Theatre has. For example the sound system consisted of my laptop computer and a guitar amp at the rear of the hall. I should add that the current hall has had something of an upgrade since. However the show was a success, and I think the local audience enjoyed the fact that we were trying something a bit different from the traditional amateur dramatic fare.

Now ten years later I am about to direct a new production in a fully equipped theatre with a specially designed set and a cast that is an interesting mix of experienced Bolton regulars and newer faces, some for whom this will be one of their first plays. I have Glenn Robinson, Francis Clemmitt, Jeff Lunt and Joylon Coombs providing invaluable advice and help. I have been doing my homework and pouring over the script, plotting out movements, assembling the music and sound effects. As I write this, the first rehearsal looms this Sunday afternoon and I’m hoping I’ll remember how to do this. It’s not just the Witches who are embarking on an adventure.

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For more information and to book tickets, please visit our theatre website

Little Lost Robot

I have to admire the BFI for digging out some real obscurities for their fantasy and science fiction range of releases. Having done a splendid job restoring and releasing all the existing Out of the Unknown episodes in a box set, they have also brought out a single disc containing all the remains of its 1962 ITV predecessor Out of this World. I recently received it as a Christmas present. The brainchild of ground-breaking TV producer Irene Shubik, and an off-shoot of the prestigious ITV series Armchair Theatre, Out of this World was a thirteen part anthology of science fiction stories, mostly adapted from the page. Sadly only one complete episode still exists – Little Lost Robot.

Top robot psychologist Susan Calvin is summoned to a spacebase orbiting Saturn, where she is shocked to discover that the local robots have had their most basic rule, “No robot may harm a human or allow a human to come to harm,” reprogrammed to allow them to work on a secret military project. Now one of the robots has taken an engineer’s angry command to “Get lost” literally and has disguised itself amongst twenty-one identical robots due to shipped to another base. Susan must track down the fugitive before an intelligent robot capable of murder escapes.

It is an entertaining episode, even if it doesn’t quite capture the cleverness of Isaac Asimov’s original short story. In the original, part of his celebrated collection I, Robot, Susan Calvin explains the because the First Law has been changed to “No Robot may kill a human”, the Second Law “A robot must obey, where that order does not contradict the First Law” has now taken precedence. In fact as long as the robot is obeying “Get lost!”, this means the Third Law “A robot must preserve its own existence where this does not contradict the First or Second Law.” is now its driving motivation. Making this robot a determined escape artist that will use all its superhuman abilities to avoid being discovered.

This logical dilemma is never properly explained, in fact Asimov’s famous Three Laws are never fully stated. Rather people talk in more vague terms about the robot being dangerous due to its reprogramming. It seems an odd oversight for an episode with plenty of time for discussion and the usually fastidious Irene Shubik in charge. What this adaptation does add is more emotion to all the characters, especially Susan Calvin. In Asimov’s stories she is famously cool and logical, rather like Mr Spock but on television she is much more anxious and even flirtatious towards the end. There’s even a classic example of “mansplaining” as the supposed top expert in robotics has some elements described to her by her male assistant. At least she gets in a dry retort to him. The Chief Engineer is also developed into a character who resents the robots for their seeming air of superiority.

Production-wise the play can be regarded as good for its time. All the sets have a stage backdrop quality to them, but at least they are solid and practical and not in the slightest Flash Gordon-esque. The robots themselves do look as if they have been made for a school production but their blank, slightly Cyberman-like, faces are effective in close-up. The costume also forces the actors to waddle along, which is regrettably humorous. The production has that filmed-as-live-theatre style of direction which was typical of most television drama of the time. Yet for me at least the episode never drags.

Boris Karloff introduces and concludes the episode as the Host. He did quite a few of these hosting roles in later life, his mellifluous voice and urbane presence ideally suited the job. The most famous of these show was probably Thriller and another was a supernatural series called The Veil. His contribution here is probably about a minute long. Aside from Boris the rest of the cast is filled with actors who were familiar television faces of the time. Susan Calvin is played by Maxine Audley, probably best remembered now for her part in the notorious horror movie Peeping Tom.

As I said earlier very little of this series still exists, nevertheless BFI have done their best with the extras. Little Lost Robot is presented as a film print and a VIDFIRE version to replicate the way it would looked in 1962. Collectors of the Doctor Who DVDs will know the latter process as it has been used on nearly all the black and white episodes. There is interesting commentary featuring producer Leonard White and actor Mark Ward, hosted by Toby Hadoke, who has done similar duties on Out of the Unknown and Doctor Who.  Two further episodes exist as audio-only recordings: Cold Equations – a classic drama about an astronaut who discovers he has a stowaway on board who threatens his whole mission, and Imposter – a man is accused of being an alien construct, the only television adaptation to date of a Philip K Dick story. Both have been cleaned-up as much as possible and are presented here. There is also a PDF script of another missing story Dumb Martian. Finally there is an excellently written eighteen page booklet on the history of the series and the thirteen stories.

This DVD makes an excellent companion piece to Out of the Unknown, especially now it has come down in price to under £10. It is fascinating to watch this rare bit of British science fiction history and respect ABC for producing adult SF at a time when it was pretty rare on television.

Our Aladdin and Treasure Island lead the way in 2017

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It is always exciting and flattering when a theatre group chooses to perform one of my pantomimes. This year the two which I co-wrote with Adrian Barradell definitely seem to have struck a chord with societies. So I can only salute the following brave casts and crews who are performing Aladdin and Treasure Island in the first half of next year. Hope you all have a fantastic time.

Ambitions in Gloucester are putting on a performance of Aladdin in January.

The Wraysbury Players are staging Aladdin in Wraysbury, near Staines, also in January.

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January sees Swavesey RADSOC bringing Treasure Island to life in Cambridge.

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Tregony Clockhouse Players are putting on Aladdin in Truro in February and finally
Brockweir Amateur Dramatics Society are visitng Treasure Island themselves in March.