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

Our Aladdin and Treasure Island lead the way in 2017

Woman with mask in funny concept

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.

 

Looking back at Frame 312

Lately my life has been dominated by rehearsing and appearing in Frame 312 at Bolton Little Theatre, which ran from 11-18 October 2016. I played Mr Graham, an editor at LIFE magazine at the fateful time when John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. It proved to be a very challenging rehearsal for everyone, including the director Peter Scofield, but the result was a production that had a fantastic reaction from the audience.

Want the reasons I had wanted to be cast in this play it was a serious drama and I was keen to play a straighter character after my last three stage roles had been buffoons of one kind or another. This turned out to be a bit of problem because my usual comic instincts when it came to delivering lines had to be suppressed. Also I could not hide behind bluster and hesitation when remembering my lines. Learning the script was surprisingly hard this time. After learning Bob Acres at a run when I was emergency cast in The Rivals, I had gone into this play fairly confidently, however my confidence was soon shot as week after week my mind went blank in one place or another. I’ll admit that moving naturally on stage has also been one of my weaker areas. I’m a much more confident voice actor. There’s a real art to moving in a way that complements the lines and keeps the action visual, without looking too contrived. It is something I would love to workshop in the future. For example the director was keen for me to walk to the door and lean casually on the frame whilst talking to Young Lynette, but I never seemed to be able to reach the door and recline in anything like a relaxed way and ultimately I dropped it for merely moving about halfway to the door before turning. Another problem was that almost every acting choice I made was over-ruled by the director and I was unable to convince Peter that my take was better, which I made me annoyed with myself.

I had some pretty dark moments this last two months went I felt that I wouldn’t act again after this play. Suddenly it seemed to have become much harder and I was only playing a fairly straightforward character, who doesn’t have that much of a journey compared to the lead. Mr Graham was a good newsman, intelligent, cynical and caring about others, if somewhat condescending. Initially I thought he would be quite buttoned down but rightly I was told to increase the amount of emotion in my performance since it would be too de-energised for a whole play. I also learnt a handy shortcut when playing with an American accent, change t’s to d’s and pronounce “new” as “noo”.

Now I was not the only actor who struggled with the lines on this play, I think the whole cast seemed to have a bit of malaise for the first eight weeks. I discovered that my co-star in most of our scenes was far less experienced than I thought, and she was having an especially hard time. I wish I had known earlier on because I think I would have taken more of a lead and made sure we were in the right place at the right time for our entrances, perhaps done extra line-learning too. As it was, the part of Young Lynette was recast just a fortnight before the show began. Kimberly Armston did an amazing job stepping up to take on the complex  role of Young Lynette in such a short time and our scenes together became so much easier. Finally my own line remembering clicked in, even though I never managed 100% on any night, but then that’s usual for me. Kimberly Riley-Shipperbottom also did sterling work taken on the extra role of Maria, Old Lynette’s materialistic daughter-in-law.

I described Frame 312 as a play about the JFK assassination to friends and family but really it is as much about the corrosive effect of conspiracy and paranoia, both on one woman and on society as a whole. There’s a wider theme about the emptiness of the American Dream. Both Lynette and her son Toby are pursuing that image of a big house with 2.4 children, with nothing but the best. Lynette has long since realised that such status symbols do not bring happiness, whilst Toby is in denial. Meanwhile, whilst we see the drama of the conspiracy unfold in 1963/64 and the evidence mount up, in the end Keith Redfen’s play concludes that in the end conclusive proof does not matter. The most of the world knows that Lee Harvey Oswald did not work alone, that elements in the government covered up the successful murder of a president, but it keep turning anyway. Nothing will change now.

I am very glad that the production finally took off in the those last two weeks, with extra rehearsals and a lot of work from everyone. Jeff Lunt and Joylon Coombs did a marvellous job with the two time zoned set and the atmospheric lighting was perfect. The whole cast really came together and supported each other. We’ve had some lovely feedback from the audience. At the opening night, most of the evening performances were half-sold but almost every night we played to nearly full houses, indicating good word of mouth. I have not got any more acting lined up for the time being and I’m actually quite glad, because of the hard work this one turned out to be.

For now I shall be working behind the scenes and I am currently planning the stage movements for Wyrd Sisters, my next directing assignment. I’m write a separate piece about my preparations soon. Then there is the box office and marketing at BLT, plus some long overdue writing projects.

In meantime Bolton Little Theatre’s next production is Witness for the Prosecution. You can find out more about it on the website. Here’s the video teaser I created for it. Thanks for reading and more news soon.