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.

Behind the scenes of “Dinner”

Bolton Little Theatre’s latest production is “Dinner” by Moira Buffini. As with many of her plays it is concerns a set of apparently sophisticated liberal characters brought together in a room. Slowly however their veneers are stripped away to reveal ugly prejudices and other basic flaws and deceptions. In the case of this play, Lars a bestselling author of self-help books and his wife Paige are holding a small dinner party to celebrate his latest publication. But it soon becomes clear that Paige intends this evening to be an elaborate revenge against a group of people she despises for their hypocrisies. Somehow, the mysterious silent butler is the key, but what is his ultimate role?

I have made a short behind the scenes documentary to promote the play, which is being staged 6th to 9th April 2016. For tickets and more information please visit our webpage.

 

Going behind the scenes of “The Rivals”

Bolton Little Theatre’s next production will be Richard Sheridan’s famous comedy about a clash between greed, snobbery and romantic ideals in 18th century Bath. The play is most famous for giving literature one of its most famous comic characters – Mrs Malaprop, a rich pompous dowager who frequently mangles the English language as she lectures all and sundry. “She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile!” Sheridan probably based her name on the French phrase “mal a propos” meaning “poorly placed”. Although many comedies had used mixed up phrases before this, including Shakespeare’s, malapropisms has become the popular description of such jokes.

Last week I took my camcorder down to the theatre to interview director Jolyon Coombs about the challenges of staging the play and talk to some of the actors

Hope you find it interesting. “The Rivals” is on 5 – 12 March 2016 in Bolton.
You can book tickets and find out more from the website by clicking here.

 

Westlake Films has a new home on the Internet

One constant that has threaded through my creative life for more than ten years now has been Westlake, a group my friends and I formed to make short films, for our entertainment and hopefully for others. Through this group I’ve been able to write scripts and see them turn into actual videos. Not to mention opportunities to act, produce, be a microphone boom operator, a cameraman, a gopher and to get stage punched and kicked far too often!

Now we have a new website, thanks to the diligent efforts of Kevin Hiley and Andrew Crines, and you can find it right here at http://westlakefilms.blogspot.co.uk/   Many of the films have been re-digitised with improved picture and sound quality for this new site. You can stream them on YouTube or download them for free!

Over the years we’ve made original stories and documentaries, comedy skits, fan films (mostly about Doctor Who) and music videos. It’s been a great learning experience, as well as a lot of fun.

Here’s a few of my recommendations if you have not tried Westlake before:

In the Fan Films section

K9 and Bloke – an affection send-up of the awkward Doctor Who spinoff that tried to make the Doctor’s robotic pet a leading star. Charlie Wall plays a shabby PI who solves local crimes with the aid of a long-suffering K9. Written by myself and guest starring Nigel Peever.

In the Films section

Memories of the Mill – John Isles talks to his grandfather Frank Brook about his working life as they tour a preserved steam driven mill in Burnley, in this nostalgic documentary.

Help Wanted – a short ghost story inspired by the tales of the great M R James. A thief’s life becomes a nightmare when he violently robs a church. Written by myself and featuring great music by Peter Wicks.

In the Haberdashery section

The Unoriginal Adventures of Robin Hood – a wickedly funny mash up of a couple of BBC fantasy shows which were on air at the time, written and performed by the cast.

This is just a small selection of what you can find. Hope you enjoy it and we would all would love to hear your thoughts.

Santa Claus Conquers the Mayans

For the past few years, my friends and I, under the guise of Westlake Films, have made some kind of comedy video to tie in with Christmas. This year’s production, made despite all kinds of problems and completed against the clock by director/editor Kevin Hiley, is Santa Claus Conquers the Mayans. Written by John Isles, it features a Mancunian Santa and his Chief Elf in a race against time to stop a deadly boardgame from destroying the world. A plan that involves robbery and Mexican wrestling.

As well as helping to make the film in general assistant category, I also make a couple of onscreen contributions, playing a dubious Australian TV historian and providing the opening narration.

You can find out more about Westlake Films and our past work at our website: http://www.westlakefilms.co.uk

Merry Christmas everyone!

Arsenic and Old Lace

arsenic

I’m shamelessly plugging my upcoming appearance in “Arsenic and Old Lace”, the classic American black comedy by Joseph Kesselring. I’m playing Dr Herman Einstein, the plastic surgeon and cringing henchman of the fiendish Jonathan Brewster. Armed with a comic German accent, I’ve been part of a hard working cast of actors and technicians at Bolton Little Theater and the rehearsals have been busy but rewarding.

The play is on for seven nights between 6th to 13th of December, tickets are £10 and if you are interested in watching then find out more from: http://boltonlittletheatre.co.uk/whats/arsenic-and-old-lace/

Written in 1939, this brilliantly constructed comedy, has impressively stood the test of time. As a writer I love the script, not just for its tightly designed plot and atmosphere of matter of fact madness, but for some jokes about writers which are still bang on target. Take Office O’Hara, the would-be playwright for whom his policeman job is “just a temporary thing”. “How long have you been a policeman?”, asks Mortimer, “Twelve years”, replies O’Hara blithely. Later on, after boring the room senseless with his hours long pitch, the cop protests, “I know the first two acts are a bit long, but I can’t see what we can leave out!”

It’s a play that combines slapstick of hiding dead bodies with some sharp satire on the hypocrisies of the monied establishment. The Brewster sister are hailed for the good works, but they are shown to be rather prejudiced as well as murderers. Their money and position means that the police treat them with rather too much respect. Although we are a British theater troupe, we are playing with American accents, because somehow the comedy just doesn’t work without them. This play is both timeless, yet fixed to a specific place and time.

Expect some production photos in a little while.