Table with PC and mixing desk

Pantomimes, stories from two World Wars, and an Apprenticeship

Plenty going on at the moment, which has left me trying to find the organising equivalent of Hermione Grainger’s magical Time Turner gadget to fit it all in.

Most pressing at the moment has been compiling and operating the sound effects for Bolton Little Theatre’s production of the WW1 play “Private Peaceful” Running 10th – 17th November 2018. It’s the story of Tommo Peaceful, a British Army private facing the firing squad for mutiny. As he waits for the dawn, he looks back to his childhood in the Sussex countryside and his hellish experiences in France. As sound design I have created a trailer as well.

It’s always interesting to find the effects and then edit them to fit the director’s intentions. Not all my sounds are authentic to the period but they fit the model of what the audience will expect to hear on a battlefield. When I was first learning audio drama production, I soon appreciated that there are certain conventions about sound, such as arriving lifts which ping ,that are vital shorthand in telling a story. However whilst its good to keep my audio skills fresh and to help create a theatrical play, I do intend to pull back from this kind of role for a while after Private Peaceful has finished.

Why? Because there is plenty going on elsewhere. For a start I have begun a part-time degree called BSc(Hon) Digital & Technology Solutions Apprenticeship at Manchester Metropolitan University. I do believe that decisions and people can connect in unexpected but beneficial ways. So although there is not an obvious crossover between fiction writing and programming / web development /  business information systems, part of me thinks what has started as an opportunity to update and increase my technical knowledge, might help my creativity nous too.

Six Million Voices logo

Recently I was approached by my old friend Nigel Anderson, director of Angel Snow amongst others, too take part in a new exciting project. Six Million Voices is a short film inspired by the classic book about the Holocaust – The Diary of Anne Frank and is being made in cooperation with the Anne Frank Foundation. It is built around the album of music and narration produced by Chris Williams. You can listen to some of her music via her Soundcloud page.

I have been asked to play Anne’s father and the founder of the organisation, Otto Frank, which is a great honour and I am looking forward to working with Nigel and Chris soon. I’ll be able to tell you more about this film and my role in a future update. In the meantime for more information about Anne Frank and the work of the charity set up in her name, visit their website.

The sound of sleigh bells is in the air and I am delighted to announce that four theatre troupes have chosen to put on productions of the pantomimes I have written/co-written. Knowing how much work goes into any panto production, it is always very gratifying when people choose my work. I hope they all have a great time and if I get hold of any posters I’ll share them here. So coming soon for Christmas:

  • Aladdin, Spotlight Performing Arts, Middlesbrough, UK
  • Aladdin, All Saints’ N20 PCC, London
  • Rumplestiltskin, Fairlight Pantomime Group, Fairlight, UK
  • Treasure Island, Whitefriars College, Northcote, Australia

Thanks for reading.

 

Panto cast take a bow

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.

More NODA happiness

I’m interrupting my Out of the Unknown marathon for a bit of housekeeping.

First off, I’ve been updating the Writing and Audio Drama pages on the left, adding web-links so that you find out more about (and maybe even order) some of my work. For example clicking on any of the pantomime scripts now takes you directly to their pages at Lazy Bee Scripts.

Secondly, but more importantly I’m delighted to announce that my lovely actor friend Bridgett Welch has just won the 2016 National Operatic and Drama Association award for Best Female Comedy Performance (Pantomime) after appearing in my own Rumplestiltskin. The show was premiered by Mawdesley Amateur Dramatic Society. She was indeed a wonderful Dame, but then I thought the whole cast were marvelous. It’s especially lovely because I became involved in amateur theater via MADS and I certainly would not have written any of my pantos without their support over the years.

mads

Bridgett is here on the left, next to fellow MADS Debbie and Emma.

mads2

And here in character as Dame Dolly!

Rumplestiltskin poster

Thank you NODA! Rumplestiltskin review

I have been sent a marvelous review by Luke Taberer and Lloyd Bamber of the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) of Rumplestiltskin, as staged by my good friends at Mawdesley Amateur Dramatic Society. I really enjoyed their slick production, especially some of their inspired ad-libs and interpretations in the best panto tradition. Such as casting a small boy as the fearsome Bear in Clutchwood Forest!

“The show was well received by the audience, which could be heard throughout. The script was a superb choice, as it had content which could be appreciated by all ages and flowed very well.”

You can read the whole report by clicking on the link below:

https://www.noda.org.uk/events/reports/rumpelstiltskin_1

Many thanks for the kind words guys.

Pantomime season for me starts in the Summer

It’s been an encouraging time for me lately on the pantomime front. This year I published my first panto as solo writer – Rumplestiltskin – via Lazy Bee Press. It’s always nerve-wracking to send my work out into the world, waiting to see not only if people like it, but will some people actually put real money on the table to stage it. My last panto, a version of Treasure Island co-written with Adrian Barradell, had failed to attract much interest. So it was a pleasant surprise when I received my latest sales report and read that a Washington based group called The British Players had chosen it as their pantomime for this year and will be staging it 4 – 20 December at Kensington Town Hall. Many thanks. Back in the UK, my old comrades at Mawdesley Amateur Dramatic Society are also kindly staging a production of it too. Another community group had bought a review copy, whilst Lowdham Pantomime Group has generously chosen Aladdin the version written by Adrian and myself a few years ago.

aladdin_poster

Pantomime are curious beasts to write. On one hand they are very formulaic and indeed their audience expects them to be so. A familiar folk tale. a silly dame, heroic boy and girl, completely evil villain, usually with two useless henchmen, and a monster at some point to chase the cast around. On the other hand a good panto also surprises us with its contemporary jokes and its magic. There must be a moment where all seems lost and the bad guy will win. It must entertain children of all ages and their parents too. Plus I know I am writing for companies where not everyone is a great actor or comedian. The characters must have strong identities of their own that can support anyone brave enough to step in front of an audience. There’s real pleasure to be had when I see someone get a big laugh with a joke I wrote for them.

At the moment I am trying to write in a different genre but I may well return to panto in a year or so’s time and choose another fairytale to retell both in my own style, and also with all the trusty pantomime tools in the box too.

Writing Rumplestiltskin the pantomime

goblin

Now available for theatre groups of almost any kind is my pantomime version of the Grimm’s fairytale “Rumplestiltskin”. It has been published by Lazy Bee Scripts and I want to thank Stuart Arden for his help. It’s my first solo panto outing, having co-written versions of “Dick Whittington”, “Aladdin” and “Treasure Island”. You can take a look at all of them on the Lazy Bee website – http://www.lazybeescripts.co.uk/Authors/Author.aspx?iIA=239

Rumplestiltskin has become one of the slightly lesser known of the Grimm’s collection. In fact when I’ve been talking about, its noticeable how many people get it confused with Rapunzel. I suspect its partly because the latter has had the Disney treatment in the marvellous “Tangled”. Another reason is because its inescapably one of the darker stories, with its baby trading plot and few sympathetic characters. I mean even the heroine is someone who offers their baby away, albeit under duress. So adapting it into a frothy family show had some challenges. That was actually one of the reasons I chose to adapt it, because at the time there were no other versions on Lazy Bee’s books (Aladdin by contrast had eight different scripts at the time.) By the time I submitted it however, it was number three.

As someone who has acted in eight panto productions, my philosophy with panto writing is to keep it as fast moving as possible, with the minimum amount of sentimentality and romantic scenes. In my experience romantic duets, even with accomplished singers, can leave the audience shuffling in their seats and similarly dramatic pathos can quickly become tedious bathos. So young love and tragic events are pretty much transparent plot devices to drive the story onwards, and the story is there to hang comedy on to.

Generally I’ve been writing for amateur theatre companies who don’t have much in the way of resources. My first was written in an emergency for a largely inexperienced group of friends, so Pam Hope and I felt obliged to write something with the minimum of props and major scene changes. I’m quite proud that none of my scripts have needed more than three backdrops, as I make extensive use of the half-curtain stage space. In Aladdin, I turned the lack of ability to stage a standard flying carpet sequence into an asset with a scene where the carpet and actors stay still, whilst landmarks are carried past them by the junior chorus, a bit of lo-fi comedy which always seems to go down well.

Whilst panto plots may be more contrived that most, they still have to have internal logic. In the original tale the heroine marries the king who imprisoned her and forced her to spin gold. This struck me has hard to swallow, so I changed to an evil king and queen who had a good son, who eventually confronts them and rescues the girl. Furthermore it is the goblin who has magically made the king and queen evil, so they can freed and become good again, whilst making Rumplestiltskin even nastier. The matter of the heroine offering her first-born, without losing all audience sympathy was another tricky one. I dealt with it by really stacking the deck against her. She makes the deal as much to save her family as herself and also hopes that she may not have a baby. In the second act, she is clearly shown regretting the decision and is also the person who ultimately defeats the goblin.

At the readthrough for the play with some friends, I found that the first act was too long, pushing the whole play over my self-imposed time limit of two hours. My solution was to edit the heroine’s imprisonment from three days to two, thus cutting out two scenes, and also cutting some of the introductory dialogue which was just exposition with no jokes. The result definitely feels tighter. Some readers felt the story was still a bit too frightening, so I took out the goblin’s line – “a real live baby is more precious to me than all the gold in the kingdom.” After that it was ensuring that the jokes come thick and fast. Pantos have a definite formula, which can be helpful for writer, but I have to be careful to watch out for repetition or too many jokes of the same kind. I hope that “Rumplestiltskin” will have a good shelf life for many years to come, and that groups have as much fun putting it on as I’ve had writing. More in fact!