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If I Were You

A new season of plays is opening next week at Bolton Little Theatre, kicking off with Alan Ayckbourn’s gender swapping comedy If I Were You. I’ve put together a video trailer for it, the first of a new season of movie-style teasers, rather than the behind the scenes style I’ve used in the past. My aim is for none of them to be much longer than 30 seconds. So far it seems to have gone down very well, with plenty of hits on Facebook and Youtube. Hope you like it too.

Here’s the text I’ve written for the website: “A hilarious comedy about swapping bodies, living someone else’s life, and learning something unexpected.

“The Rodales seem like an ordinary family, but beneath the surface things are beginning to crack. Jill and Mal have lost the spark in their marriage, their son Sam resents his father and their daughter Chrissie has recently become a mum and is dealing with marriage issues of her own. And while they all share advice on how others should live their lives, nobody is really taking it on board – until Mal and Jill see things from a dramatically different perspective, that is.

“Waking up one morning and finding they have switched personas, Mal in Jill’s body and Jill in Mal’s, they must continue life “as normal” as their other half. Jill faces the challenges of working with their laddish son-in-law, Dean, as the Store Manager of a homewares shop, while Mal has suddenly becomes a housewife, learning more about his children – and finding out the secrets they already know about him!

“Will seeing things from the other side make matters even worse, or is this just what they need in order to save their family?”

Tickets are £10 and you can book them at the box office or online.

Book now

Samuel Crompton, Wyrd Sisters and more theatrics

This has been an exhausting month or so. Although the plays Samuel Crompton – A Fine Spinner and Wyrd Sisters are many months apart on the calendar, they have been overlapping to hectic effect. I’ve been directing the former with a small group of talented actors, whilst at the same time auditioning the large cast for the latter. Not to mention there being a family crisis that necessitated spending a lot much more time than I like in the local hospital. Although I am happy to report that things are looking optimistic on that score at the moment.

Samuel Crompton – A Fine Spinner is a biographical play about one of the key inventors of the British Industrial Revolution. He devised the “Spinning Mule”, a machine which mechanised the cotton industy, taking the process from weavers’ cottages to large factories producing vast amounts of cloth for the empire. Although as Donna Hughes’ play reveals, Crompton himself so little of that wealth. It has been the first bit of directing I have done in quite a few years, the first stage directing I’ve done in over a decade. So it’s been a re-learning experience. Not just helping the actor’s performances and blocking the moves, but the matter of organising rehearsal dates and rooms, thinking about props, creating the sounds and visual material, costumes, dealing with the commissioners of production Bolton Library and Museums, and the practical questions of staging a production in a old preserved building with limited facilities. The play is being staged at Hall’ith’wood, Bolton, Crompton’s former home and now a visitor attraction.

We are an element of Invention Stories – a family event with craft activities, storytelling and two performances of our play, taking place on Tuesday 26 July. The play and the day itself are admission free, although the audience for each performance is limited to 30 because of the size of the venue. If you would like to book a seat, please follow one of these links:
11.30am performance or the 1.30pm performance

Invention Stories is one of many events celebrating science and engineering as part of Manchester being the European City of Science in 2016. You can find out more at their home page.

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Despite the challenges I am glad we have been able to stage the play in the atmospheric room you can see above. For a while it looked as though building work would move us into the Central Library. I’ve been very lucky to have a talented and supportive small cast of volunteer actors (pictured above) who have taken on what is a quite wordy play full of narration with great aplomb. Their characterisation has been spot on almost from the word go, which has made my job a lot easier. I know them all from Bolton Little Theatre. I was quite nervous about approaching people to take part, so I’ve been grateful for the advice of Sandra Leatherbarrow (far left) and Nathalie Haley for their help with the casting. I’ve deliberately kept the staging modest, three chairs,  a table, a spinning wheel. On the day I’ll be running the technical side of the play, cuing the sounds and music, and the slideshow too. I’m definitely going to be relieved when I have this under my belt.

This educational play is definitely good practise for the far bigger challenge of Wyrd Sisters. Adapted from Sir Terry Pratchett’s novel of the same name, it brings his magnificent fantasy creation Discworld to the stage. Creating a fantasy kingdom, even a little one like Lancre, home of the Witches on a stage in a small theatre is definitely a challenge, particularly a script which has so many locations as this one. I’ve been very fortunate that veteran director and stage designer Joylon Coombs has agreed to take on the production design. He has come up with a marvellously flexible set that combines a heath with a stone paved area. Combined with lighting and gobo stencils projected on to it, I am confident that we can create a great fantasy atmosphere that is going to enjoyable in itself. Although the main focus is on the actors and Stephen Briggs’ ingenious adaptation. I am going to be using the model of the set to block out roughly what the moves will be and I hope to share some of that with you in a future post. Incidentally Joylon directed me in a production of Richard Sheriden’s The Rivals earlier this year, which also featured a clever set, recreating Restoration Bath. I played the foolish Bob Acres.

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But before I could start properly thinking about blocking, I had to cast my play. In the past I have generally worked with a group of people I’ve known for a while. This time however I had to audition a host of actors, many of whom were strangers to me. At least I had a good number to start with. I had advertised the readthrough online but on the night I was nervous that almost no one would turn up. To my gratitude however there was a very healthy turnout. In fact several Bolton Little Theatre friends approached me later in the week, saying they were surprised when they heard how many there were. This I put down squarely to pulling power of Terry Pratchett’s name. It was nerve-wracking running it, trying to make sure everyone got a fair amount of reading time, trying not to have favourites, listening carefully. It was interesting to see which lines got laughs too, The sequence with the Players pretending to be Witches was hilarious. I was not too worried if people got the characterisation a bit off, since this was the first readthrough.

I felt it would be unfair to cast solely from the readthrough, although in the end I did cast one or two parts from that evening. I went on to have two more auditions, one for the female roles and another for the male characters who will be doubled up,  each actor playing three roles. Finally there were one or two roles where I did call on my previous experience and offered them to talented folk I’ve worked with before who know will do them justice. I was lucky in some ways to be casting a play with so many roles, so I had plenty of opportunities to recognise the actors who had been kind enough to show an interest. However I still had to make judgements and disappoint a few people who for one reason or another did not fit what I had in mind. That was definitely the hardest part, but I strongly believe in getting in touch with everyone as soon as I could regardless.

So although January and the rehearsals seem a while away yet, already I’m thinking about props and putting together the soundtrack. I’ll share more about my process soon on the blog.

Finally, in other news I have just put together a preview trailer for the whole new season at Bolton Little Theatre. Hope you like it:

Visit their home page here.

Samuel Crompton – A Fine Spinner

I am currently working with Bolton Little Theatre on an unusual one day theater piece called Samuel Crompton – A Fine Spinner.

Samuel Crompton is one Bolton’s most famous sons, a gifted engineer and inventor who created one of the key machines of the Industrial Revolution – the Spinning Mule. It changed the face of the cotton industry, enabling a worker to reliably spin yard upon yard of cotton thread without it breaking. It was also very scalable, leading to huge mills with rows of machines and much of Bolton’s wealth was built on it. But the man himself saw only a fraction of the wealth that he might have earned from his genius, due to not patenting his invention, but instead accepting payments from mill owners to come and view his designs.

A Fine Spinner by Donna A Hughes, is the story of Samuel Crompton, his invention and his troubled relationship with the new world that machine ushered in. A cast of five actors from Bolton Little Theatre will be performing this one act play at Crompton’s former home of Hall’ith Wood, on Tuesday 26 July 2016, as one of the events celebrating Manchester’s status as European City of Science 2016. Admission is to the house and the play is free, and we will be performing the play three times during the day.

You can find out more about the year long festival at http://www.manchestercityscience.com

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It has been an interesting challenge so far to plan this production. The author originally intended the play for the theatre, with multiple sets, scenes and a larger cast. My first job was to sensitively edit her play to make it feasible for staging in one room and with the minimum of props. I also had to cut several characters to bring the cast down to a manageable level. First to go was the narrator, a fictional neighbour of the Crompton’s. He was purely a narrator, with no other role in the story, so it seemed sensible to take him out and give parts of his speeches to the characters to perform to the audience as asides. It also made the speeches a little more dynamic if the people involved were relating them. I chose to remove the first scene altogether, featuring Sam and his sister Ruth as children, since child actors bring their own complications and the scene mostly repeated information for elsewhere. My other main deletion was the Prime Minister, since he only appeared for about half a page. Instead the other characters will act as if he is there, while he remains off-camera as it were.

Hall’ith Wood is now a museum, dedicated to telling the story of the house, its role in the English civil war and its most famous tenant – Samuel Crompton. Open Tuesdays and Saturdays, free admission. You can find out more about the place by visiting its website.

I’ll be sharing some details about this production when we start rehearsal. But for now, if you are free during the day on Tuesday 26th July 2015, please mark your diaries!

April 2016 news round-up

It’s time for another quick collection of announcements about what my friends and I have been up to creatively and in some cases professionally too.

Last year I did an email interview about my times with BBV and writing three Doctor Who spin-offs, for a chap called Dylan Rees. Dylan is writing a book about the vibrant audio and video spin-off market which arose from the final years of the show’s original run and filled in the so-called “wilderness years” between the original and the revived versions of Doctor Who. It will be published later this year by Obverse Books. I’m looking forward to it, not just as a contributor but as a fan of that era. The cover has been already been released:

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Notice Sylvester as The Foot Doctor on the cover too! You can pre-order it from Obverse Books now. I’ll review once it is out.

My ever busy mate Rik Hoskin has had several projects out recently, including the first of a new range e-books based on 90’s cult TV show Hercules – The Legendary Journeys. I enjoyed Storming Paradise enormously. It captures the feel of the show very well. You can try a sample and order it from Amazon. He’s also written a second motion comic episode of Wolfblood, the hit BBC children’s series about werewolves. You can watch a trailer of it here at the BBC website.

Finally I recently made a new trailer for the next Bolton Little Theatre production. Taking Sides by Ronald Harwood is an excellent drama based on real events surrounding a US army investigation into suspected Nazi party members, following Germany’s surrender in WWII. Was famous conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler just a patriot on the losing side of the war, or an active member of the Nazi party? Colonel Arnold, traumatised by witnessing the aftermath of Auschwitz, is determined to find some culprits. For this trailer I decided to create a movie style one which sold the story, rather than a behind the scenes talking head piece. The results I think are pretty successful and I intend to make all subsequent BLT trailers story based too.

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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.

 

News round up

This is one of those weeks with plenty going on, but none of it really making an significant post in itself. So forgive me if I just bring a few items to your attention and – hopefully – interest.

The Rivals 5 – 12 March 2016

A few weeks ago I shared a promotional video about this local production of Richard Sheridan’s restoration comedy The Rivals which I had made. Little did I know then that I would now be starring in this play myself! Due to a cast member pulling out, I’ve been prevailed upon to play the role of Bob Acres. Acres is is one of the rivals for Lydia Languish’s hand in marriage. A buffoonish but essentially good hearted squire from the country, his attempts to fit into Bath high society go awry when Sir Lucius O’Trigger encourages him to challenge his competitor to a pistol duel, not knowing that his romantic rival is in fact his friend Jack Absolute in disguise.
It is quite a challenge learning a part in little over a week, particularly when the language is archane 18th century English. But with the support of the team and some edits to the more verbose speeches I think I’ll make curtain up. Thankfully the costumes fit me with just few tucks.
The Rivals is on at Bolton Little Theatre 5 – 12 March and if you are interested you can find out more and order tickets at the official website.

Kolchak online audio drama

Sometimes an old job comes back to haunt you. I was recently reminded by my friend Bill about a fan radio version of Kolchak – The Night Stalker which I appeared in. I played a vampire called Pitov. It was an especially fun script and hearing it again I’d forgotten what a polished production it was. As usual I recorded my parts at home and then sent them to be blended in. So it’s certainly worth promoting again. You can download all four episodes from Broken Sea Audio Productions right now.
I’ve had a great relationship with BSAP over the years. As well as my own fan Prisoner radio series, I co-wrote a story called Turf War for their Doctor Who series, and I’ve guest starred in several shows including Escape from New York, Planet of the Apes, The Maltese Falcon and Saga of the Grog and Gryphon.

Rik Hoskin talks Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein

My talented writing pal Rik has been on the publicity trail recently talking about one of his comic strip projects – Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein – based on the series of novels created by bestselling author Dean Koontz. Most famous for horror blockbusters like Watchers and Midnight, Koontz has increasingly pushed into mainstream thrillers/suspense books. Frankenstein however is a return to his pulp roots, a reimagining of the famous story of the scientist and his monster, in which the Monster is the hero and defender of humanity, whilst his creator has become a near-immortal evil, mad scientist. But I ought to let Rik explain it better and you can find out more with these website interviews below:

Bleeding Cool and The Collector’s Guide to Dean Koontz

A couple more projects in the pipeline for myself which I want to tell you about soon, once I’ve finished with The Rivals! Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

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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.

 

The Thrill of Love

Last night I was watching the rehearsals for Bolton Little Theatre’s next production – The Thrill of Love. It is an excellent play by Amanda Whittington, probably best known for her award winning play Bollywood Jane, and based on the true story of Ruth Ellis. Ellis was an ambitious young woman who for a while had a profitable career as a nightclub hostess in post-war London. But she became infamous as the last woman to be executed in the UK, following her conviction for the murder of her ex-lover David Blakely. The play looks back at her life and the crime, following the investigations of Inspector Gayle as he interviews people who knew and the flashbacks conjured up by his questions. It is an excellent piece from the scenes I watch and cleverly staged too with its small cast.

I was at the rehearsals to film a promotional video for the BLT website and other social media haunts. In the past I’ve tried to film prior to rehearsals but this time I was working in parallel with them, catching actors to answer a few questions whilst they weren’t on. I was a little worried that the noise of the rehearsal might be too distracting but in fact it helps with the atmosphere of the interviews. Thanks to both Kimberley’s, Nicola, Tara and Sandra for sparing the time to filmed and Peter for understanding why he was not included in this video, despite his pivotal role in story. Despite their nerves, all the participants had perceptive comments to make about the play and Ruth’s history. Considering the speed it was edited, I’m pretty happy with this promo.

The Thrill of Love will be staged between 7 and 14 November 2015 at Bolton Little Theatre. For more information, please visit the website (which I maintain) http://www.boltonlittletheatre.co.uk

Lear’s Daughters (or why is everyone so evil in King Lear?)

Hello again. One of the hats I wear is updating the Bolton Little Theatre website. I’m also on the marketing committee. At the last meeting I suggested filming some interviews with the creative souls at the theatre to promote up-coming plays and I’ve just completed the first one, which you can watch below.

It is centered on our forthcoming production in April of “Lear’s Daughters”, a prequel to “King Lear” looking into what made Goneril, Regan and Cordelia the women they are in Shakespeare’s tragedy. The play is written by Elaine Feinstein. But I’ll let director June Grice explain more…

Hope you find it interesting. Here is Ben Latham’s excellent poster for the production too.

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