An Evening with the Collector

Dominic Kimberlin goes behind the scenes at rehearsals for The CollectorThe Collector goes up this week and I was lucky enough to get a brief glimpse inside one of those crucial last rehearsals. Directed by Katherine Weight and produced by Mathilde Johnson, the play stars Peter Stanley and Cara Mahoney as an obsessive kidnapper and his imprisoned victim, respectively. As Cara and Peter went through some of the scenes, Katherine and Mathilde explained a little about the processes behind the productionRehearsals begin with a 30 minute warm-up: stretching, vocal excercises and other activities designed to build energy. In a dialogue-heavy piece with only two actors, it is crucial to seize and maintain the interest of the audience and so there is a clear focus on finding a rhythm and allowing the characterisation of the actors to drive the scenes forward. The brief excerpts I saw were very intense, partly of course because of the subject matter, but largely for the absolute commitment with which lines were delivered.Both Miranda (Cara; kidnapped) and Clegg (Peter; kidnaps) are from different social groups and so each have separately constructed senses of identity, each holding a conviction in their own rationality. It is this self-justification which motivates their continued belief in the injustice of their situation and makes their interactions all the more engaging. It is also difficult to classify what is right or wrong when the environments in which an individual is brought up seem to dictate the course of their life, with fortuitous circumstance determining one's prosperity rather than any virtuous intention.Mathilde's previous plays (Caligula, Medea) were notable for their distinctive costume design, yet The Collector aims at recreating a naturalistic setting with much of the clothing being provided by the actors. Posters have been put up asking for any information about a missing student, with a disclaimer at the bottom advertising the show. So effective was their design that a number of townspeople were convinced they were legitimate, although the police department had been informed beforehand.It can be difficult to make the idea of kidnapping seem plausible, to make it into something which could actually happen to you or someone you know. St Andrews is comparatively safe, lacking a wide variety of criminal activity, and yet dangerous obsession can occur in any place where two or more people are present. This is one of the reasons the concept of The Collector is so unnerving – it may depict an extreme but the fundamental motivations behind the actions are recognisable.Whether or not you're intrigued by the dark side of humanity, a good story told well is always worth seeing. I saw The Collector later that week. I was not disappointed. Dominic KimberlinImage by Mathilde Johnsen

Easily Impressed

Alex Mullarky responds to questions of the legitimacy of theatre writing in St AndrewsThere’s recently been some debate about the quality of theatre reviewing in St Andrews. An important question has been raised: are we afraid to write bad reviews?The answer is yes. Sometimes, we are. The theatrical community in this town is a small and close-knit one. Theatre writers tend to be theatre practitioners as well. When we go to see a play, we generally recognise one or two faces in the cast. After a couple of years we may well know every face, including the director, the producer, the technician. It is incredibly hard to review a production in St Andrews without reviewing a friend. That is a difficult thing, and it is understandable that writers flinch from it.St Andrews is called ‘the bubble’ for a reason: it’s an unusually small university town in which six degrees seems a remarkable amount of separation. This also means that we can’t necessarily be judged by the standards of ‘the outside world’. Though we should never be falsely kind, it is necessary to be tactful. There is an important distinction between being negative and being constructive; it is possible to write a negative review of a piece of theatre without hurting feelings, and that is a skill some reviewers lack. A negative piece of criticism could put someone off performing or producing again, but constructively-phrased, it could aid their growth.There may not be an abundance of two- or one-star reviews of Mermaids productions, but I see this as evidence of the quality of theatre we produce. We are in a unique and privileged position, with access to funding, venues and actors at no personal cost. Few of us are likely to be supported with such ease and generosity again in our lives. We have an abundance of enthusiasm and an abundance of talent. I see nothing negative in that.I am concerned that encouraging the appearance of more ‘fair’ reviews in our publications will do only that: encourage the ‘appearance’ of fairness. I don’t want anyone to feel they have a point to prove, to show they’re an impartial reviewer who’s doled out star ratings from one end of the scale to the other.As a matter of fact, from now on, I’ll be discouraging star ratings for The Tribe’s theatre reviews. They’re reductive, unhelpful and unnecessary for a town in which a show can rarely be reviewed before the end of its run (certainly by issue-based publications like The Tribe). The substance of a review should not be able to be summed up in a few punctuation marks.St Andrews does not have a theatre writing problem; we are lucky to have such a talented group of strong, opinionated writers who write for nothing more than the chance to see a good play. We work for free. And I think that's amazing. Alex MullarkyImage by Helen Miller

The Other Side of the Story

Alex Mullarky reviews the much-anticipated The CollectorA two-person show is a tricky thing to pull off. Tricky is putting it lightly, really; without two incredibly strong actors driving the performance it would flop completely. This is especially true for a show like The Collector, in which an avid entomologist ‘collects’ a young woman and keeps her in his cellar (see Dominic Kimberlin’s behind-the-scenes article, An Evening with the Collector). Miranda, an innocent student at first glance, has deeper layers of self-obsession and carelessness; Frederick, the kidnapper (say no more) could sometimes appear sympathetic in his neurosis and self-doubt if only played well enough.Fortunately in their casting, director Katherine Weight and producer Mathilde Johnsen hit the nail squarely on the head. Cara Mahoney played Miranda, capturing the multiplicity of her character beautifully. Miranda follows a fascinating arc, from the initial expected reaction of a recent kidnap victim through a series of ups and downs; empathising with her kidnapper, seeking to learn more about him, screaming and swearing at him, hurting him and attempting to escape, using her sexuality to try to control him and finally becoming desperate in her illness. It would have been easy to play this with a one-dimensional conception of the character, but Mahoney clearly understood her character well and her every action was considered and convincing.Peter Stanley played Frederick Clegg, the lottery-winning entomologist who buys a house deep in the country, sends his family on a cruise to Australia and does up his cellar to accommodate his ‘guest’. At first Stanley’s quiet, hesitant Frederick had some audience members sympathising with him: though his actions were obviously horrific, his clearly crippling self-doubt and sense of alienation were something that many people could probably understand to some degree. As the play goes on, however, this sympathy begins to drop away. Following Miranda’s attempt at seduction, Frederick loses his respect for her and begins to treat her with the contempt and perversion one would more readily associate with a kidnapper. Failing to recognise the seriousness of her illness, he inadvertently causes her death but, within a few days, he begins planning a new start – a new kidnapping.Stanley’s final monologue was delivered impeccably. His lengthy stares into the audience were genuinely unnerving, while the contrast with his opening monologue in which he is so much more naïve was startling. It felt like a grim kind of fascination to watch he and Mahoney interact.The theatricality of the piece was very good; scene changes were smooth, blackouts were rarely prolonged and – even more striking for the Barron – the stage space was used effectively with a newly-rigged curtain neatly separating the two worlds of the cellar and ‘upstairs’. It was only a shame that the curtain would occasionally snag and was somewhat painful to watch being dragged notch by notch across the stage.The production team should be proud both of themselves and their cast. I can say without much hesitation that this is one of the best productions I’ve seen in my time at St Andrews. Stanley’s final monologue, delivered as he walked out of the Barron and punctuated by the door slamming behind him before the audience burst into stunned applause, will stay with me for a long time. Alex MullarkyImages by Kelly Diepenbrock

Housemate Drama: Flatmates & Just As It Is

We are all well-acquainted with TV series such as Friends and How I Met Your Mother, which follow the every-day lives of friends living together. Flatmates, written by Ellen Dryden and Just As It Is, written by Alice Shearon, take a new spin on the drama of cohabitation, this time targeting the student population. In Flatmates, set in St Andrews, the plot is brought even closer to home. Both plays boasted a colourful cast of characters, but demanded that the audience be brought into their worlds to truly have an effect. This was done successfully in Just As It Is, yet fell short in Flatmates.Flatmates opens with Lyn (Natalie English) and Steve (Luke Shepherd) bickering at the breakfast table and the rest of the play unfolds in a similar manner, with Steve antagonizing Tom (Alex Carr) and Lyn resisting prospective flatmate, Coralie. To add to the monotony of the plot, the characters are for the most part two-dimensional and opportunities to reveal their nuances were unfortunately missed. It was disappointing that quiet and troubled Tom’s strange relationship with his mother was only brought up in passing, although it had the potential to be developed further. Indeed, many questions in Flatmates are left unanswered. It would have been helpful to provide an explanation to what audience members continued to wonder at as the banter ensued: how did these students come to live together in the first place if they frustrate each other so unbearably?Nonetheless, weaknesses in this play are due to oversights on the part of the script, and in no way reflect the talent of the cast. Special recognition should be given to Mallini Kannan, who gave a convincing performance as Coralie, a quirky music student with her own set ideas, not wishing to get mixed up in the conflict. Tony (Mark Paul), Coralie’s ‘unofficial fiancé’, as he refers to himself, complements Coralie’s role perfectly with his pretentiousness and odd behaviour, captured well by Paul as he awkwardly takes notes whilst inspecting the flat for Coralie. The duo’s comedic performance earned their share of laughs from the audience.It is a shame that Flatmates was unable to take advantage of the many opportunities to reveal more of the characters’ dimensions. Although the stereotyped roles were entertaining, their lack of substance left something to be desired.The second play, Just As It Is, sucked the audience in from the start and made one feel intimate with each and every character. From apparently animal-loving Lisa (Coco Claxton) who we later learn questions her relationship with her vegan boyfriend, too-posh Rudy (Fredrik Svensson) who turns out to be a scholarship boy, characters are complex. This was achieved through a number of thoughtful techniques. Amy (Lauren MacLellan) is skillfully weaved in as a third-party observer of her older brother Neil (Stephen Quinn) and his housemates. Her sweetness and sincerity, mastered by MacLellan, evoke from the housemates confessions of their innermost vulnerabilities. Lighting was also used to indicate when a character was in monologue, lending the opportunity to express his/her personal stories. Writer and director Alice Shearon should be congratulated on her script.The play devotes sufficient time to showcasing each of the five housemates, including Craig (Mark Tomlinson) and James (Ben Bonci). Yet, it is overambitious in introducing more characters than it can adequately handle. Charlie (Charlotte Kelly), all-round keener, and Mary (Joanna Fitch), James’ newly-adopted academic daughter, soon become entangled in the story. Attention is detracted away from the housemates, and as a result, the intensity of the plot dwindles.Not only is Just As It Is amusing, met by the audience with boisterous laughter, but it also closes with a positive message. The real reason for Amy’s visit to St Andrews is finally revealed: to discover her talent. James reassures her that there is no need to rush to figure out who she is; there will be plenty of time for that at university.A talented cast along with a well-written script made watching Just As It Is is a real treat. Jasmine Godfrey Image by Adelaide Waldrop

Get Your Wellies On: God of Carnage

Lachlan Robertson advises appropriate footwear for this Freshers Play... first few rows may get wet.God of Carnage, a play by Yasmin Reza, and directed as one of this year’s Freshers Plays by Mandarr Brandi, at times peeled back the skin of our notions of refinement and culture to expose the layers of anger and resentment beneath.The play itself centers upon the aftermath of a schoolyard fight between two children, where the parents of each participant have met to agree upon how the matter should be resolved. These two couples are, at first, shown to be near polar opposites in their professions and world-view. The Raleighs are a pair of cool, well dressed executives: Alice Raleigh, a high paid lawyer; her wife, Annette, is involved in “wealth management.” The Novaks are concerned with what Michelle Novak calls an “honest” life - when compared to that of the Raleighs. Michelle owns a home wares store, and Veronica is a writer interested in art history and African politics. As the play progresses, the two couples provoke one another into shucking their social niceties and revealing their most basic emotions, discovering many similarities as they do.From a directorial standpoint, Brandi’s choice of an entirely female cast is questionable in a play that seems bound to the dynamic between men and women. Changing a character’s gender should always be approached with care. Having both the Raleighs and Novaks as same-sex couples seemed to be a laborious way of bringing questions of sexuality into the play’s subtext. Subtext that, for the most part, seemed not to exist. Lines such as a “I’ve got a John Wayne idea of manhood” (the line being changed to an “idea of sexuality”), undermined the integrity of the gender switching. It felt to be an easy step made by the director to further radicalize the play. However, more women participate in the Freshers Plays each year than men and this decision may have been made out of necessity rather than artistic design.In contrast, though, the action of the play was handled well. The tension between the Raleighs and the Novaks was expressed with admirable tenacity by each actor at different points of the performance. However, as the characters fell into spouts of drunken rage the acting lapsed into melodrama on occasions, and I was left unconvinced. It was as individuals that each cast member was able to display their full talents. Of particular note were Eveliina Kuitunen, with her sharp delivery and shifts between her roles as family member and corporate lawyer, and Catriona Scott, with her spiraling descent into some kind of middle-class furor. Both performances by Sarah Wright and Caitlyn Ramsey were sporadic in their conviction. Sarah was best when embellishing her character’s growing disdain for her partner, and Caitlyn in the delivery of her more comic lines.Set and costume design were executed with considerable simplicity and taste. From the first glimpse of the characters and set, the carefully chosen palette of earthy browns, black, and, most importantly, the deep red warned the audience of what was to come. Similarly so, the opening music of the performance - reminiscent of a marching roll, or a manic assault upon a typewriter - and use of red lighting alluded to the tension felt by all the characters from the beginning.In its entirety, the play was a mostly enjoyable piece of theatre. Whether this was done through delivery or bouts of fake vomit (probably the most shocking front row experience of my life), I found myself entertained. Questions regarding directorial intent aside, Brandi brought a strong performance to the stage with the help of cast and crew. If you did not see God of Carnage, and have missed out on this year’s Freshers Plays, I would strongly recommend you give your support by attending next time. Lachlan RobertsonImage by Adelaide Waldrop

Maybe Everything's All Right: Yellow Moon

Two teenagers come to terms with their feelings of detachment and insignificance whilst on the run in ‘Yellow Moon’, directed by Fraser Craig and produced by Charlotte Andrew.Stag Lee (Charlotte Kelly) and Silent Leila (Shelby Nelson) both struggle to deal with the difficulties posed by their environments: Lee’s efforts to make ‘big money from a life of crime’ are largely unsuccessful as his arrogance exceeds his ability, whilst Leila has become silently withdrawn from others, her thoughts occupied with her own perceived unimportance. Lee’s cocksure attitude is portrayed excellently by Charlotte, whose performance is the more impressive for playing a male role, and elicits genuine emotion throughout the play. Equally, Shelby’s portrayal of Silent Leila is worthy of merit as Leila rarely ‘speaks’ in the play, her lines largely consisting of her thoughts which are not heard by the other characters. This provided one of the more intriguing elements of the play as her detachment from the world around her is actualised to the point where no one responds if she speaks. The commitment of both actors to their roles was such that some of the more controversial topics in ‘Yellow Moon’, which touches on ideas like self-harm and social poverty, are handled sensitively whilst maintaining realism.Along with the play’s five characters, the actors take on a narrative role as well, explaining the events taking place and vocalising the thoughts of some individuals. This allows the scenes to progress in a non-linear fashion as the shifts in location or time can be made apparent to the audience. The exposition is delivered in a variety of different styles, often sounding like extracts from a police report describing the incident, and at other times introducing a hint of uncertainty as the narrators never seem sure of what actually happened. Mishia Legget was particularly engaging in her delivery of these key lines, which could otherwise have proved tedious over time. Sofia Langthaler and Radhaika Rapur were also notable in this capacity, as all three actors were required to remember a great many lines for many different characters and contexts, and were able to adopt and move between multiple personas convincingly.The production of the play was consistently high throughout. In particular, the lighting to complement some of the action sequences was well-employed, dramatizing a stabbing and a fire to great effect. A raised platform had been set up along the back of the stage, adding another level for events to take place on. Scenes flowed seamlessly into one another with the actors remaining onstage for the majority of time, showing an awareness of rhythm which allowed the piece to move forward and avoid stagnating.‘Yellow Moon’ was an ambitious choice for a Freshers’ Play and one which, I think, ultimately paid off. It was refreshing to watch and the cast and production team are to be credited for their innovative representations of challenging subjects. Dominic KimberlinImage by Adelaide Waldrop

Where Do I Go?

HairThe Byre Theatre, 1st November 2012****The question Claude asks himself at the end of the first act of Hair is probably the same that Just So are asking themselves following the show’s sell-out run. How can they follow up on a show like that? As someone who has seen very few musicals, I had no idea what Hair was about and very little to compare it to. So, fortunately, I approached it with no preconceptions about how it should look or sound, and not only was I impressed, I was blown away.Upon entering the Byre the audience discovered the stage awash in colour, with a live band set up on a raised platform and the ensemble milling about the stage, barefoot upon a floor of patterned rugs. In the background stood a VW campervan and a ladder, decorated with flowers. One cast member wandering in through the back of the theatre paused to stroke and compliment our hair on his way to the stage. The actors’ commitment to their characters for the twenty minutes it took the audience to take their seats was extremely impressive.And what an amazing cast. Though no performance could really be faulted, DJ Ball as Berger stole the show whenever his character came into focus. Highly commendable, too, were Kuffasse Boane as Hud, whose character I would hardly have guessed is usually male, so naturally did she take on the role, and Tommy Rowe as Claude, whose conflict between his loyalty to the Tribe and the pressure from his family to give in to the draft was truly heartfelt.As a piece with very little dialogue, Hair could easily have been let down by poor direction. But with Adelaide Waldrop at the helm every song formed a fluid and beautiful image on the stage in a way that was never dull to look at. The plot was sometimes hard to follow and occasionally seemed more like a series of songs performed than a musical, but that is the nature of the piece and, despite some initial confusion, Hair built to a highly moving and emotional climax. As Claude returned to the stage sans a rather lovely blonde wig, the meaning of the musical’s title (finally) became clear to me. To the Tribe, their long hair represents their freedom and their refusal to conform, in stark contrast to the short-cropped heads of the drafted soldiers. Claude’s sudden hairlessness is more shocking than the much-anticipated nude scene; he is the most strikingly bare of them all.All in all, an outstanding piece, performed beautifully. The Tribe could not be prouder of its namesake!Alex MullarkyImages: Kelly Diepenbrock

In the Trenches' Grey Mist: Clockwork

Alex Mullarky’s latest play operates in fairly intricate ways. Set in the trenches of the first World War, the action revolves around an English Captain, Will Silverdale, and his interactions with Manon, the ‘girl from the boulangerie’, who appears to possess quaint abilities and in whose company he finds solace from the bleak reality of war and his military responsibilities.One of the most significant leitmotifs of the play is, unsurprisingly, the passing of time. Mullarky weaves this theme aptly into both her narrative writing and her stage directions. In his opening monologue, Will mentions his frustrated wish to become a clockmaker, and time remains a concern for him until the very end ‘Once you’re over time doesn’t pass like it does in the trenches. It sprints and slows by turns.’, he states in his final (and solidly written) soliloquy.  Time is interestingly distorted in Mullarky’s play: a few specific passages put aside, one is usually left with no clear sense of what time it is- and yet the sound of clock continually provides a background to the action, inexorably ticking towards the end.The main strength of Mullarky’s writing lies in her extended prose. Every single one of her monologues is well-constructed, well-paced and partly relies on interesting imagery. A significant passage is a soliloquy spoken by Will, who has no real recollection of his home and ends on one of her usual contrasts : ‘[…] a past I’ve been told I had, when I feel this is all there’s ever been…’ Half narration, half streams of thoughts, such pieces provide a scenic time isolated from the frame of the action by focusing on the psyche of one single character at a time. This technique worked very well, although it would have been interesting to apply it to the whole of a small set of characters to piece out the puzzle further.Other aspects of the production, however, are not treated with equal skill: character development is sometimes carried out in too rash a way (Manon’s heavy reluctance to help in the trenches is replaced by an intense drive to be around the camp confusingly fast) and the staging wasn’t always quite on point. Entrances and exits tend to feel unnatural, and the use of space isn’t optimal: setting the main scenes and the monologues straight in front of the audience worked very well, using an intermediary layer to represent the French town and the boulangerie was efficient, but more could have been done with the third and main stage.The issue of volume and projection put aside, the cast is generally strong. As Will, Cooper Goldman portrays an unusually young, yet extremely weary Captain sternly and efficiently, giving his words the weight that they are due. His performance, however, could have been more intense and prompter in hinting at the deep-seated psychological issues of his character. Catarina Giammarresi gives a very good interpretation of her Manon through her subtle body language and trembling inflexions, although a greater diversity in tone and phrasing would have made her emotional peaks more striking. David Norris’ Lawrence and Dominic Kimberlin’s Miller provide the action with some charming comic  relief. Kimberlin’s character, however, has the complexity of a war poet (a pleasant twist, giving him an unexpected human weight), and the actor’s subtle facial expressions are exceptionally good. Calder Hudson as Bailey and Lewis Harding as Peat display a solid grasp of their character and a good amount of comfort on stage, acting as pillars of the main action, and praise is also due to Harding for gently revealing the humane side of the play’s most manichaean authority figure.Clockwork is an intriguing production, and a promising one when it comes to Mullarky’s future endeavours. Although not flawless, the play continually resorts to interesting literary and theatrical techniques- but I hold the belief that the writer’s greatest strength is her almost poetic prose, which sounded truest throughout the performance.Peter von ZahndImages by Helen Miller

Party: A Tale of Fools and Lemon-Drizzle Cakes

Peter von Zahnd praises the theatrical choices in 'Party'As I walked into the Byre shortly before the premiere of the play, I briefly wondered if I would grasp every aspect of a play revolving around politics : avowedly, I am not that familiar with the subject-matter. Luckily for me, and to the general delight of the audience, neither were the characters.  The plot is as simple as it is efficient : four university students are gathered in a garden shed (or is it a summerhouse?) and strive, without much success, to make up their mind as to what could possibly go into the manifesto- none of them really knowing what on earth they are doing. A fifth character, the jovial and ever so slightly awkward Duncan, is their latest recruit.  Not because he is strongly political (one wonders what he’s doing there in the first place), but a potential marketing goldmine, as his father runs… a minor printer’s shop.As a consequence of Tom Basden’s skilfull (and very cheeky) writing, comedy sprouts everywhere. As the play went on I found myself expecting a joke with every new line spoken by the characters, and I was seldom disappointed. Part of the text’s intelligence is that it sometimes relies on comical bombs that are temporarily defused and explode later on in the performance. Thus Mel’s aggressive refusal to drink the coffee no matter what, dramatises the action, exposes some of the conflicts that run between the characters, and leaves the audience speculating as to why the hell the coffee is not to be consumed. Later on, as the merry troupe are struggling with ethical choices whose implications they know nothing about, the reason is revealed : ‘It’s not fair trade!’. A lot of noise for not much, especially as Mel is arguing on the side that her car certainly ‘could kill a small child’.Party couldn’t have quite hit the mark without the general skill of the actors, though, and much praise is due to Joe Fleming for his theatrical choices. The almost static blocking (fot it is, overall, a static play, where nothing is ever reached) is intelligent, but whenever they move, the actors do it well. One of the most delightfully awkward situations emerges when an overly keen Duncan (Joe Fleming) stands up to fill everyone’s glass of water to the brim, unaware of the decidedly perplexed expressions of the other characters – who don’t particularly want any water. Fleming’s general tone and motions blend well into his character: a confused – and a bit thick – awkward young man who just thought he was going to his own birthday party. As Jared, the wannabe leader of the bunch, Christy White-Spunner gives his character the  right blend of pseudo-political passion (which he does almost languidly), and of patronising pomposity: ‘Abstention? Don’t be ridiculous, it’s pronounced abstaintion.’ Amanda Litherland’s very energetic portrayal of Mel, a somewhat vituperative know-it-all, works very well, especially as it mirrors the roughness of her male antagonist, Jones (Ollie Clayton), who, sat on the opposite side of the stage, sends her the ball back with equal intensity. Phoebe, the candid secretary of ‘taking notes’, is played by Shayna Layton, whose hilarious facial expressions and slower rhythm find a fitting place among a crowd of louder characters.Overall the comic timing of the lines was very solid, flowing intellegibly enough to be processed and quickly enough not to become redundant. A few comical elements, however, were somewhat overemphasised, and, I thought, lost some of  their taste in the process: the link between a rainbow flag and homosexuality, for instance, was hinted at (and understood by the audience), hinted at again and lingered on, and finally expressed.Past a certain point, it becomes obvious that Duncan is about to be elected president- unwillingly and unintentionally. When he declines the offer to resign and walks back to his chair, the comedic tone, for the first and only time, is dropped. ‘I could resign… but I don’t think I will’, he gravely states. The other four look at him and at each other, genuinely dismayed and left wondering how on earth they got there and what they can possibly achieve with him at the head of their ill-born party. This interesting atmosphere of thick anxiety does not last, and as he sits back facing the audience, it is easy to guess at the subject-matter of the play’s last line : ‘Now, how about that cake ?’ Although predictable, this final passage hints at another comical element: it’s his birthday and he just wants a slice of lemon drizzle cake. Once he’s satisfied, he assumedly will resign and leave the incompetent party members free to start again where they left off – that is, not far. The audience, however, has been much amused.Peter von ZahndImage: Jake Threadgould

The Lion, the Bitch and the Soldier

Katie Brennan, director of The Lion in Winter and stage manager for Clockwork, interviews and is interviewed by Alex Mullarky, director of Clockwork and publicity officer for The Lion in Winter. (Both shows are produced by Emily Grant!)Katie: So, Alex, tell me about Clockwork!Alex: Clockwork is a play. I started writing it in my head several years ago, and on my computer a few months ago. It's the story of a First World War army officer called Will, but it's also the story of a French girl called Manon with an extraordinary ability. It's about how they meet and how they change one another's lives. It's about war and it's about hope.Now, you tell me about The Lion in Winter!Katie: The Lion in Winter is one of my favourite plays of all time so I'm super, super excited that I get to direct it this semester. It's written by James Goldman, and was adapted into an incredible movie with Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole as Eleanor and Henry in the 60s. It has everything I love in it- comedy (but in a darkly biting way), messed up family dynamics and it stars some of my favourite players in English history- Henry II (son of my favourite historical lady, Matilda the Empress) and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was one the most badass women of the Middle Ages. Her first husband was the King of France! She divorced her him to marry Henry! She led multiple civil wars against Henry! So great. The Plantagenets are beautifully twisted and horrible to each other, but I think it's both relevant to a lot of people and really, really fun to watch.Katie: So, Alex, why World War I? It's one of my favourite periods in history so I'm biased, but why did you go with that?Alex: I have been obsessed with the world wars since I was a child (as weird as that sounds). My dad loves all things historical so I was guided towards the books and films of the period and had watched all the classics by the age of about 12. I read Birdsong when I was 13 (and was totally taken aback by the sexual content!). Then when I was 16 I wrote my first book, set in the second world war. I felt like I was doing my dad proud with that. In Clockwork I tried to encapsulate all my feelings about the incomprehensibility of the First World War and its inhumanity. It's a difficult thing to try to express on the page. I've been trying to tell this story for a really long time. I have a few pages of prose from when I attempted to write it as a novel with an omniscient narrator like in The Book Thief. But when I tried to write it as a play, it actually worked. In short - lifelong obsession, inspired by my dad.So what is it about the Angevin Empire you love so much, Katie?Katie: Hmmm. I think it goes back to my love of Matilda the Empress, really, as she was one of the founding members of the dynasty. Brief history lesson here! She was married off to a Holy Roman Emperor at the age of eight, then her brother died and she became the sole heir to the English crown. When her father died (Henry I) she couldn't get to England fast enough (she was on bad terms with her father at the time since he'd married her off to a man she hated after her first husband died) and her cousin Stephen of Blois stole her crown. She then spent the years between 1135-1153 trying to get her rightful crown back and only succeeded through her son, Henry, who we meet at the end of his reign after he secured the crown following Matilda's realization that she would never be crowned as 12th century people were wary of having a woman on the throne of England. And then... it's just a collection of really, really powerful people behaving horribly to each other. Mostly I just love Matilda, and the dynasty she creates that rules England for a REALLY REALLY LONG TIME. And they're all kind of crazy and horrible to each other and I love them.So Alex, what I love about Clockwork (I really love Clockwork, readers) is that even though it's clearly historical, there's a little bit of magic to it, which is always my favorite in everything. Throw magic everywhere, I say. Is there a reason you thought to add in Manon's 'skill'? And it's based on Breton folklore, am I right?Alex: It is indeed! My French teacher in school was brilliant and used to go off on long-winded tangents about French culture in every lesson. That's when I learned that the seventh child of a family was once believed to have healing abilities, and that's the idea I play on - though not rigidly - in Clockwork. I was uncertain about including this idea in a WWI piece as I didn't want to seem as though I was treating this human catastrophe flippantly, but it gelled so well and just made so much sense I couldn't take it out. Dealing with her 'ability' - for both Manon and Will - is also a subject the characters debate and struggle with. I love me a bit of magic realism.Alex: The Lion has a lot of sexual references in it, many of them highly entertaining. You're performing in a church - how do you feel about that? (Personally I love it.)Katie: The church part was a bit iffy for a little while, actually. There are a few scenes (well, one in particular) that worried me to no end, as it's a kiss between two male characters. In front of an altar. I mean, I don't know how that goes here but in the States there would be quite a strong reaction to that. Especially as it's in a working (gorgeous!) church we were a bit worried. But the guy we're working with who's renting the space to us said that he thought it should all be fine, as it's just love, and God is love, so there shouldn't be any problem with it! Though, as this is The Lion in Winter, there are meanings and intricacies to everything, and the scene is not as straightforward as it appears.So ... magical realism. Go! What do you like about the genre in particular?Alex: I'm so sick of all the paranormal teenage books going around at the moment. This may sound irrelevant but it's not. It's so beautiful when magic can be worked into a text without being addressed and explained in our terms. Those paranormal books feel the need to make magic make sense but that's not the point of it (in my opinion). So that's what I like about magic realism.In your not-so-biased opinion, who’s the best character of The Lion in Winter?Katie: Ohhhh nooooo. I think best character and favorite character are probably two different answers as well. The best character, I think, would have to be Henry and Eleanor tied, strangely enough. They're the most well-constructed, most thought out and Henry has one beautiful speech at the end of Act I that breaks my heart every time. Favorite character? I have a soft spot for Geoffrey, and it always upsets me the way history plays out, because even though he was striving for power in the play (and potentially in real life, though we'll really never know) he dies three years after the play takes place. Also Eleanor is one of my personal heroes in life so she's on there too. She went on a Crusade with her first husband, Louis, and she and her ladies rode bare-breasted part of the way. You really can’t beat that.So what types of research did you do for the show, if any? And can you talk about any set plans that you have?Alex: I googled a lot of stupid questions when I was writing. I felt I had a pretty solid general knowledge of the period from my reading but specific things would come up that I'd just have to ask the internet. I love listening to music from around 1914-18. It's amazing - 'your king and country needs you' and 'pack up your troubles in your old kit bag' - they were really going for it propaganda-wise! In terms of set, it's composed of a dugout, a boulangerie, and No Man's Land, all at the same time. I'll let you puzzle that one out, readers.I like those questions so I'm firing them back at you, Katie!Katie: I took a medieval history course last semester (I am currently taking two, and it might possibly end up being part of my degree) that focused on the development of England (it was mostly England, sorry everyone else) and what came to be known as 'England' from about the 15th century onwards. So there was a section that dealt with the Plantagenets, and that's... really all the historical bit I did? I mean, the point of the show, partially, is to make everything a bit anachronistic, Eleanor even has a line that's like 'It's 1183 and we're barbarians!'The main ideas I have about set and costume-y type things are just... mainly I don't want everything to look super clean and like an idealized version of the Middle Ages. That's kind of one of my pet peeves with medieval period pieces, where everyone looks nice and clean and neat. I mean, we'll do what we can because we're renting costumes from the National Opera and I've already told the actors they're not even allowed to BREATHE on them, so...So, Alex, why should everyone come see Clockwork?Alex: I guess it depends on the kind of person you are. Maybe you feel we should all be aware of the trauma and horror these people underwent (I do). Maybe you like explosions (well…). Maybe you like love stories (don't we all?). Maybe you just like a good evening's entertainment. In short... there's no reason why you shouldn't!And why should we go see The Lion in Winter?Katie: Two dudes making out in front of an altar. JUST KIDDING. Mostly, it's a family drama with some really excellent acting and a really pretty set. Also some food will be there. Potentially.For more information, visithttp://thelioninwinterplay.wordpress.comhttp://clockworkplay.tumblr.comImage credit: Katie Brennan, Helen Miller

Behind the Scenes with Baby Bottle Cosmo

Katie Brennan talks to the writer and cast of Baby Bottle CosmoTribe: So, to start things off, what's it like putting on a show in the Byre? And actors in particular, what's it like to work on a show where the playwright is working along with you?Tim Foley: I'll leave the cast to answer these first. But the Byre... I mean, that's the big one.Frazer Hadfield: I did a show in the Byre last year, and it's a great space. Means more people get the opportunity to watch than on, say, the Barron. Tim’s great - it means we can tweak things if they're not quite working, and the script can still be a fairly liquid thing.Ed Fry: It's a very communicative process. Like Frazer said, Tim has always been very insistent that the script isn't set in stone, and he's always open to suggestions. I guess it also means you're getting to work with someone who really knows the play inside out, and that's reflected in the quality of Tim's directing.Mandarr Brandi: Doing a show in the Byre is at the moment mildly intimidating.... First show in St. Andrews, and it's on the town main stage. Terribly exciting though. Working with a director who literally conceived your lines (and knows them better than you do) is also a humbling and somewhat nerve-inducing experience, somewhat mitigated by the fact that the guy exudes awesomeness.FH: Tim is (as much as I don't really like to rub his ego too much) a cracking writer. Meat, Titans, Imaginary Cutlery, Stick Figures have all been hugely successful - so working closely with him on something that could potentially be his last big production in St Andrews is fairly exciting. And it's his only Byre show so far. Quite a big deal.Jennifer Russell: Working with the playwright makes it a much more interactive experience - like the others mentioned - the script seems more alive and dynamic, somehow, because it is open to experimentation and variation. I think as an actor, you feel that you are able to get a more vivid sense of your character, because we can discuss them with the writer himself.The fact that it is in the Byre just makes it all that much more exciting - and daunting.Mimi von Schack: The Byre is so daunting! But on the one hand, it's thrilling, as in St Andrews, physically speaking, it doesn't get much bigger than that. But I think there's also a reputation and a standard set out when you put a show up on that stage. You have to bring out the big guns. ?I worked with Tim on his first show (and mine, here in St Andrews!) Scene of the Titans. I'd never had the experience of working with the writer and composer as a director, and I loved it (and him!) immediately....I felt like even in my relatively small part I was contributing to the show in a way I hadn't in previous experience. Tim does a wonderful job of allowing his cast and crew to be a key part of forming the final script. You become so spoiled - once you've had this kind of creative freedom, it's hard to have it any other way!Tribe: Tim, would you like to give some background to the play itself?Tim: I wrote this way back in January, when I was meant to be editing Meat. My time off from writing plays is clearly writing other plays, I'm aware of how nerdish that sounds. Just as Meat was effectively a 'dinner room drama' with a twist, Baby Bottle Cosmo became a 'living room drama' with a difference.?The difference isn't the fact that they're gay couples, by the way. I realise the moment you put gays on stage, there are expectations there. But the 'token homosexual' doesn't exist in Baby Bottle - they're all gay, it's a gay-centric world, and as a result, I hope we treat the gay relationships with a normality you don't often get to see. What I mean is, their issues are much more grounded. No-one is 'coming out' or dying from AIDs-related issues. There is definitely space for those in other dramas, but here we're looking at parenthood and those expectations within relationships.Tribe: So actors, I know some directors have their actors meet up and try to get into character outside of rehearsal. Did you guys do anything like that? And everyone, what do you hope the audience will take away from the show, after seeing it?Tim: Haha... I'll let the actors comment on the 'dates'...In terms of what I want people to take from it... I'm not sure really. I don't need everyone to 'get it'. There will be lots of questions (Where is Potty Piggy?) and there's so much sleight-of-hand some people will definitely miss some of the answers. And that's not a bad thing. They'll maybe talk about it to people afterwards ('wtf was that?!') or maybe they'll even see it again! Both are welcome.As long as they take something away. I don't know, even just a gut feeling. I think people may be surprised at how powerful it gets towards the end. I didn't write it that way. But I've been standing in rehearsals, and there are moments I begin to shiver - and that's nothing to do my writing, or the heating in the Barron. It's something the actors are finding. The final few moments...man, it's gonna get me on the night.Frazer: My character in particular, Frankie, is quite intense. I actually feel drained after performing some of the scenes. There are so many peaks and troughs with him, that you don’t really know whether you’re coming or going. I hope the audience will be able to walk away from the show feeling they have had a glimpse at this guys struggle with his many issues, and maybe have begun to understand what he is going through. The whole situation seems ridiculous out of context, but when you look beyond some of the brilliant one-liners, and begin to explore just what is going on in the story, you will find some very real problems and scenarios. I think thats part of the brilliance of the writing - you go from quick witted comedy and very dark humour, to something much more emotionally draining towards the end of the play. As Tim said, the last few minutes are intense. I just hope people will be talking about it. If it creates a bit of a stir then I'll be happy.Frazer: I’ve not given too much away have I?Tim: As long as you don't tell Katie about the nuclear explosion at the end, we're fine.Mimi: Tim sent us out on dates, and we all perhaps had a bit too much wine and bonded. The characters of Baby Bottle Cosmo are very complex. Yes, this is a dark comedy, but none of them are, in my opinion, farcical. Sometimes their actions are exaggerated, but their motives, intentions and emotions are all real and honest. Something I've always admired about Tim's plays is how he manages to write comedies with very serious subject matter and truths to them. The characters in Baby Bottle struggle with 'sensitive subjects,' things we don't like to talk about, or we're afraid to talk about because they bring us into uncomfortable, occasionally taboo, territory. That is exactly what the play itself does: makes the audience consider, maybe not so much 'parenting', even, but the issues it raises about sexuality, relationships, responsibility, and identity. As Frazer said, it will definitely leave people questioning the weight words can carry. Oh, and you'll have a bit of laugh, too!Tribe: Alright everyone, thank you so much!Baby Bottle Cosmo, written and directed by Tim Foley goes up in the Byre Theatre on the 30th and 31st of October at 8 PM. There will also be a special ‘Baby Bottle Cosmo’ available at the Byre Bar. Interviewed by Katie Brennan Image: Tim Foley

Auditioning in St Andrews

Dominic Kimberlin recounts the annual whirlwind of start-of-year auditionsHaving carefully organised my tutorials to avoid any conflict, marking their times and locations in my diary, I decided to throw all that effort away by going to audition for every play I could think of. Fortunately, my editor wanted an article about auditions, so I can pass off my poor judgement as a form of legitimate journalism, which you can now read. Everyone wins.Auditioning in St Andrews follows much the same format as auditioning anywhere else. You are given a piece, usually taken from the play, and a period of time in which to prepare it. You then perform the piece. At this point, you may be asked to prepare another, or to perform in a different style, or to leave. This goes on until there is no one left.Naturally, this can be a little stressful, particularly when there are a lot of people auditioning for the same play. The knowledge that the same monologue you’re working on has been performed by 22 people before you, one after another in front of the same individuals who will then be comparing your relative worth, is a heavy burden. It’s also easy to be distracted from preparation when the speech you’re poring over is being recited in a variety of inflections all around you. To counter this, I often stare at the paper for so long that the words fade into a blurry bolus of dark shapes and I forget what and why I’m reading. This has a limited effectiveness.After the audition comes the wait, which is measured by the gradual erosion away of the F5 key, and ends with the reading of an anticipated email. There are two outcomes from this, both of which involve getting drunk(er): you have been rejected outright or you’ve qualified for call-backs. Neither of these outcomes will do anything to alleviate the cloud of self-doubt and entitlement, but both will probably involve the checking of the ‘To’ line in the email header, thus enabling you to agonise over who else may or may not have been chosen. (This isn’t always possible; even when the email has been sent en masse, sometimes the identities of other recipients are hidden.)Call-back auditions combine the crippling self-doubt of the first audition with a new, equally crippling feeling of expectation. They usually involve group work, which is often unfeasible in the first stage of auditions, and this gives you a chance to meet the other hopefuls that you may be performing with. This is nice, as you may begin to view them as pleasant, free-thinking individuals rather than as hostile manifestations of your own failure, usurping your ambitions with their undeserved talent. That evening, as you refresh your inbox between sobs and gulps, you might reflect on the experiences you’ve shared and gain some perspective on what really matters to you.At the time of writing, I am at the end of a fortnight in which I went to about 12 auditions of various shapes and sizes. I am also at the end of a fortnight in which I drank heavily. Dominic KimberlinImage: nicoleleec @ flickr

Rubber Ducks and Adult Toys

Billy Budd SailorThursday, 20th September, Byre Theatre****Only a scant cluster of people congregated at the Byre Theatre last Thursday night to watch Martin Lewton’s stage adaptation of Melville’s novella Billy Budd. Yet this did not impair the dramatic experience; on the contrary, the scarce audience contributed to the intimate nature of the performance. A bathtub, candles, rubber ducks, a naked man. This array could easily generate a voyeuristic aura by having the audience observe a bathing and masturbating person, but instead, writer and actor Lewton succeeds in establishing a customary story-telling atmosphere.It was interesting to note the sharp contrast between the extremely subtle erotic hints of the 19th century prose and the overwhelmingly explicit pornographic symbolism of the 21st century setting. While the narrator, in Melville’s elegant style, recounts a tragic story of an admired male beauty on a battleship, he proceeds to shave his pubic hair, open a gay magazine featuring an article on anal pleasure, and don a cock ring. Most prominent analyses of the novella focus on allegorical interpretations: handsome sailor Billy Budd, press-ganged on board the Bellipotent, is often compared to Christ, or Adam before the fall. Forsaken of speech, the boy is entrapped by a fallen angel, the arms master, Claggart, and ends up on the gallows. So far, only Benjamin Britten and E. M. Forster, in their mutual opera adaptation, came close to addressing the homosexual elements of Melville’s work, allegedly triggered by the latter’s complex feelings towards fellow author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Lewton however decided to fully emphasize the gay subtext of the story, much disclosed in the very obvious double-entendres dispersed throughout the monologue.Many an unfortunate play has used blatant nakedness for the sole purpose of distancing the audience, then ended up unnecessarily vulgar (such as a recent adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Munich Volkstheater that resembled an orgy in pools of blood). Billy Budd Sailor uses nudity to a greater artistic effect; one does not need to be desensitized by a regular consumption of gay porn to be able to see beyond the shock value and appreciate how physical openness is juxtaposed with suppressed desire. This does not mean that the production was stripped of other concerns: the gradual increase in tension precipitates the subjects of guilt, innate goodness versus innate evil, and truth, inviting the viewer to ponder when exactly the line between narrator and protagonist was erased. Luisa HillImage by Theatre North

Theatre for a Better World

Alex Mullarky examines the UK's most unusual theatre festivalThe London International Festival of Theatre (otherwise known as LIFT) has been running biennially since 1981. Describing its motive as ‘shining a light on the stories of the world’, LIFT is not your average middle-aged middle-class theatre festival. Instead, LIFT brings to the UK theatre from all around the world, featuring this year everything from an unabridged American production of The Great Gatsby (Gatz) to a Tunisian Macbeth based on real historical events (see my review from the first issue).This year LIFT coincided with the World Shakespeare Festival, which sought to bring productions of Shakespeare plays to the British stage in every language and with many and varied interpretations. The notion of performing Shakespeare in another language seems faintly odd – beautiful word choices in Shakespeare’s English won’t necessarily translate easily into other languages – and the idea of inviting other companies to perform the plays of an English playwright, rather than one of their own native writers, whiffs of cultural imperialism.This serves, really, to highlight LIFT’s success. Though working in tandem with WSF on a couple of their commissions, overall LIFT’s productions were striking in their originality and their fearlessness. Belarus Free Theatre, a company that emerged ‘in Europe’s last surviving dictatorship’, brought Minsk 2011, a revolutionary piece which openly criticises the loss of a way of life in the country. Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour’s highly acclaimed White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, saw a different performer every night – ranging from Tamsin Greig to Arthur Darvill – reading, without preparation, a piece of fascinating theatre. Soleimanpour himself was unable to attend the performances, confined to his country as a punishment for failing to sign up for national service.  Another piece, Hamid Pourazari’s Unfinished Dream, saw audience members blindfolded and led to a Croydon car park where a multi-faceted performance was played out before their eyes.Not only did LIFT bring great theatre to London’s stages; it also held forums whereby the nature of theatre, and its power, was examined. On their website, LIFT claim to be ‘actively engaged in working in partnership with European artists and producers to commission and produce theatre and performance that responds to the most urgent issue of our time: climate change’.  The festival authorities issue a sustainability policy to all of their participants, encouraging them to think of the environment with regards to the transport, waste and energy needs of their production. A series of talks and seminars also took place whereby the possibility of theatrical collaboration between nations and across continents was openly discussed.These events were incorporated into the schedule of the festival as a whole, meaning that the performances and the examination of theatre itself were on a level of equal importance. LIFT, in conclusion, is a revolutionary festival, committed to global communion about theatre, a sustainable future for the arts, and thought-provoking entertainment. This is the kind of thing we need to see more of in the UK, where theatre feels increasingly inward-facing. Long live LIFT. Alex MullarkyImage credit: Kean Lanyon

Short Captions for Stick Figures: Review

Short Captions for Stick FiguresBarron Theatre, 18th September 2012The announcement of a new Tim Foley play so soon after the recent success of Meat at the Fringe had me pretty excited and, judging from how crowded the Barron was, I was part of a more general collective excitement. I knew two things only about the production: Short Captions for Stick Figures was put together in a week by a cast of four and that ‘sex was on the a-gender’, thus putting my expectations much higher than what were reasonably necessary to review the play. Walking into the Barron and seeing an office setting heightened this anticipation further; the appearance of normality seemed to hint towards the deconstruction of conventional norms that would inevitably occur.Short Captions depicts the female head of Human Resources, Warner (Ayanna Coleman), in her dealings with the stolidly belligerent Bob (Jasper Lauderdale), who works as a ‘captionist’ for the advertising department. Warner’s office, which is where the play takes place, encapsulates her attempts to create an egalitarian workplace through hanging motivational posters and the presence of the ‘serenity sofa’, a place where all workmates can sit and discuss any issues they have. Recreating the typical mentality of the modern corporation, the play illustrates the breakdown of the well-meaning ideals behind this mentality when confronted with the logical analysis of their meaning.Warner asks in a moment of sarcastic irritation whether Bob can provide the ‘proof’ that he has the biological prerequisites to use the women’s bathroom, provoking Bob to claim that Warner indecently suggested that he expose himself and in the following scene, his lawyer (Alex Levine) insistently writes down everything Warner says despite her protestations. As she becomes more and more agitated, particularly in response to Bob’s continual suggestions that she is pregnant, she begins to use gender-marked insults and sexually violent language, further distorting her supposed egalitarianism until she becomes the embodiment of that which she argues against, the oppressive reinforcement of gender identities. Forcing her secretary Jackie (Emma Taylor) to bend over provocatively as a way of distracting his lawyer, heightens the level of this aggression, culminating with a drunken threat to lie about the incident and claim that she was in fact pregnant, thus completing the transformation.Nothing is ever spelled out or completely explained, always leaving the possibility that Bob’s deconstruction of gender archetypes is legitimately important to him and his arguments for using the women’s bathroom flicker between the ridiculous and the surreally logical. This idea extends beyond the use of stick figures to denote gender (long hair and a dress connoting the female) into genuine questions about sexual identity, which is emphasises all the more as Warner resorts to more devious and cynical methods of dealing with Bob. Bob too remains a mystery. His gradual change into a new kind of femininity appears ridiculous, but his integrity can never be gauged entirely as his arguments are never defeated and so his position is never usurped. The ‘proof’ is never provided, not explicitly, instead daring Warner and the audience to find it for themselves, or else accept the new ‘a-gender’ of sex and so allow Bob to use the women’s bathroom.Ultimately Short Captions for Stick Figures is very funny, but with that humour it still makes for a thought-provoking hour. It’s an odd thematic blend, like if Joe Orton had written a Dilbert strip featuring a trans-gender Wally, and it works incredibly well. The fact that it was produced in such a short time is astonishing, considering how professional the presentation is, and is an example of how engrossingly twisted theatre can be. 

Dominic KimberlinImage: Tim Foley

Taking a Show to the Fringe (For Beginners)

So you’re thinking of taking your show to the Fringe this year? I’m not going to say think twice. It’s an amazing experience. What I will say is, think carefully. Make sure you have every detail worked out before you even think of stepping on to that train. Chronicled here are a list of mistakes you should try to avoid making (in the attempt of which I failed). This is by no means a comprehensive guide for Fringe first-timers – all you need is Google if that’s what you’re after – but I do present to you some honest advice garnered from my first experience of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer.1. There is a van.Do not jam six swords into your parents’ car, store them in your family’s garage over the summer, use a golf bag to hide them on the train journey back to Edinburgh, then carry them from Waverley to your flat. There is a Mermaids van for that purpose. If you leave them in St Andrews they will get loaded onto this van and delivered direct to you in Edinburgh.2. Ask for pictures of your rehearsal space.If a rehearsal studio company offers you any location named ‘the vaults’, ‘the dungeons’, ‘the crypt’ or anything of this nature, it may not be a playful nickname. It may in fact have been flooded and have fungus sprouting from beneath a never-opened door. You may in fact feel uncomfortable breathing. The lighting may be dim and the room cold, while outside in Edinburgh it’s sunny and warm. There may also be a pillar bang-smack in the middle of the space. You may want to double check this.3. Make sure you all like each other.You will be living and working with these people for anything up to a month. You will see a lot of them. You may even see too much of them if the bathroom door’s not properly locked. Make sure your relationships can stand it.4. Flyer in costume.If you don’t have a costume on, people on the Royal Mile do not want to hear from you. There are enough people in their regular clothes and paid flyerers in sponsored t-shirts. At the very least, wear a hoodie with your show’s name, dates and location. Give the impression of uniformity. If you can, dress like a gryphon or a hawk. The tourists love it. Then, when they stop to photograph you, jump down from your bollard and flyer the crap out of them.5. Don’t get up early.If your show is on at ten o’clock at night, don’t be out there flyering at ten o’clock in the morning. It is highly unlikely that the people you hand a flyer to now will be on their feet looking for something to see in twelve hours’ time. If they have any sense, they’ll be in bed. Flyer in the run-up to your show. And don’t overdo it. Two hours per day each (if you have a big cast and can afford to do it) is plenty.6. Bring money. Lots of it. As much as you can get.Edinburgh during the Fringe is an expensive place to live. No, you will not get by on £150. Don’t be so naïve! You will have to buy food. You will have to catch the bus. You will have to buy props and costumes and coconuts. And while we’re on the topic…7. Never pay for a show.Your venue, if it’s worth its salt at all, should give you a pass to get into other shows in that venue for free. I saw 25+ shows this August and I paid for two of them. And if you love a show, make the most of it. Go and see it again. Maybe even three times. It’s not costing you anything and all actors want an audience!8. Give away your tickets.If your show isn’t selling well, do whatever you have to to get audiences in. Two for one deals. £1 tickets with a secret password. Free tickets if it’s looking bleak. There’s nothing worse than a theatre with five people in it. We all agreed we’d rather be performing to a full house where the audience had paid a fiver between them than have six people sitting there who all paid full price.Remember, kids – it’s about the theatre, not the money…But do try to break even.Alex MullarkyImage: Magnus Sinding

Bouncers Remix: Review

Bouncers RemixVenue 2, Tuesday 11th SeptemberThis year’s Freshers couldn’t have gotten a better introduction to St Andrews theatre. Bouncers Remix, which went up under the same production crew and mostly the same cast last semester, performed an encore for free in Venue 2 on the Tuesday of Freshers’ week.  Though there were a few drawbacks that made the show slightly less than flawless, it was free, funny, engaging, and just artsy enough to catch everyone’s attention.Bouncers has three intertwining plots, that of 4 male friends going out on the town, of 4 female friends going out on the town, and of 4 bouncers at one of the clubs in town where the partiers end up. Though there are 13 characters—including the lecherous DJ—there were only 4 actors and the only hints, other than the occasional purse, as to when the scene and the characters were changing were the actors’ demeanors and voices. It could have been outrageously confusing, but the actors, for the most part, smoothly and clearly transitioned.I showed up to Venue 2 for the show and could barely squeeze onto the second floor of the Union because there were so many people there to see the play. The Venue had been converted into a pub-like set with tables of 4 or 6 set up around the room and the actual Union bar off in the corner. There were problems early on when health issues with one of the four actors delayed the show for over half an hour. But despite warnings that a replacement might need to be brought in for the ailing actor, the show went on without further incident and I couldn’t even tell which actor was feeling poorly.Ben Anderson absolutely stole the women’s scenes. You could really feel that he was enjoying playing the part, which is a positive message to any Freshers keen to join Mermaids, and his portrayal of a drunk, promiscuous girl was just too funny. He had the walk, the voice, and just really nailed the role. I don’t think there was a single one of his lines that didn’t make the audience laugh. Jamie Jones was suitably lecherous for his part as one of the partiers and was probably the best performer in the group as far as the male partiers were concerned.Cameron Kirby, in my opinion, had the best all-around performance, which is really impressive since he was originally not even an actor in the show but the director. Though none of his characters stole their scenes, he did the best at consistently performing every character and seamlessly transitioning between his collective of roles. His body language marking character changing was very strong and he was the best to look to for clues when I was lost and wondering if the scene had changed.The character of Lucky Eric, the philosophizing divorcé bouncer brought needed weight and introspection to the otherwise light-hearted show. Oli Clayton nailed the role, his accent and demeanor for the role was spot on and in many ways his performance was the most brilliant part of the show. Despite this I couldn’t help but feel that his transition from a serious role—the only real deep character in the show—to a comedic one was never quite complete.  So while Lucky Eric stole the show, his other characters failed to shine.I also must draw attention to an aspect of shows that is so often under-appreciated: the tech. The lighting and music was a fulltime job because of all the scene transitions between flashing club lights and blaring music and the outside world of the bouncers and though it was overwhelming at time, like in a real club, it was wonderfully done, especially considering the constraints of the venue.Emily GrantImage: Adelaide Waldrop

The Sky is Falling!

Simon Lamb reviews the Christian Music and Drama society’s Play in a Day – Skyfalls, 13th September 2012What do you get if you take Chicken Little, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and a whole host of other fairytale characters and plotlines, and put them onstage together for a twenty minute extended sketch? That was what the Christian Music and Drama society set out to discover with their annual ‘Play in a Day’. One day (read: five hours) to write, rehearse and stage a play for an eager audience. Entitled “Skyfalls” – by the audience after the production, no less – the play begins with an announcement from the BBC that the sky is falling. Again, according to Chicken Little. Or, rather, Chicken Big (Joe Hartropp) as he’s known now.Hartropp copes well, delivering both playful anguish and love-struck teen (and hits home base later with his “She sees me as a duck” monologue). Our tour of Fairytaleland takes us next to see Little Red Riding Hood (Ariana Brighenti) making peace with the Big Bad Wolf (Rachel Oliver). Fitting her character’s name, Brighenti is given little to do (the scarlet academic gown was a nice touch), but her interactions with Oliver are fun.We soon discover that Chicken has a bit of a crush on Sleeping Beauty (Meghan Wilson). That’s something of an understatement: he’s had his eyes on her for a loooong time, and even watches her when she’s…well, sleeping. However, before he has to ‘resort’ to True Love’s First Kiss, Beauty awakes: turns out she was enjoying her Freshers’ Week a little too much. Be warned, freshers – drink makes you Sleeping, not Beauty. Before you know it, we’re in the cottage of Snow White (Elizabeth Perry), where the fair maiden has enslaved her one remaining dwarf, Grumpy (Billie Anderson) Apparently, the other dwarfs disappeared in a mining incident, a reference which felt just a little too relevant and unnecessary. Anderson holds her own with what little she has to do, but it’s the interplay between Wilson and Perry which holds the scene. However, Perry steals the show with the following exchange as she tries to steal Chicken’s affections from Beauty…Chicken Big         I’m Chicken Big.Snow White         Yes, you are.Delicious! The plot then hits full throttle: turns out a certain Jack has hacked away the beanstalk that held up the sky, and the chopped down vegetable is now lying in Snow’s forest. It is Oliver’s moment to shine as Wolf sacrifices himself for the greater good: he huffs…and he puffs…and he blows the beanstalk back into place. Hooray! Although I’m sure the cast were not going for touching, weirdly, the scene of the other characters mourning Wolf’s death turns out to be genuinely so.Throughout the climax, Anderson provides musical accompaniment on the piano – the first note hit the perfect comedy button, but the rest (whilst beautifully played) was ultimately unnecessary. Everything wraps up pretty quickly then, with Little Red starting up a Villain’s Rehab group…as you do. A final comment to the company would be to have taken some more risks. In a venue like the Baptist Church, you don’t get fancy tech or even a stage. But this is theatre. For example, there’s no reason the dead body of Grumpy couldn’t have become the remains of the beanstalk for the finale, thus removing the awkward moment when the dead guy stood up to leave the stage and an audience member shouted out “He lives!” Ultimately, though, the show was a triumph, and the audience loved it: whatever it may have lacked in places, it certainly made up for in an enthusiastic cast (three freshers and three committee members, though you wouldn’t know which were which). The answer to the question I began by asking? Something along the lines of a watered-down version of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” with a nice big dollop of Freshers’ Week fun.Simon LambImage: CMaD

A Little Piece of the US in Waterloo

A Kid Like JakeThe Old Vic Rehearsal Rooms, 5th July 2012****The Old Vic’s TS Eliot US/UK Exchange began earlier this year when the Old Vic initiated its search for five new plays by young American playwrights. Drawing a conclusion to its Bridge Project, which has been running for three years now, the exchange aims to forge closer working relationships between British and American theatre practitioners, with British directors, producers and actors bringing American plays to the stage. So, this past July, tickets were offered for free online with a special password, the Old Vic rehearsal rooms were opened to the public, and five new plays which the Old Vic believes have the potential for widespread success were performed for the first time in the UK.A Kid Like JakeOn the 5th of July the piece was Daniel Pearle’s A Kid Like Jake, ostensibly the story of two middle class Manhattan parents trying to get their son, Jake, into the best kindergarten possible. At first the pressure and hysteria seem almost laughable as Alex, the mother, struggles to write a stand-out application essay about why someone would pick out her child in a room full of playing children. Her search to find the right wording to make the essay unique without sounding cliché is akin to what most seventeen-year-olds go through in this country when writing their personal statement; to afford the same effort into a four-year-old’s kindergarten application seems ridiculous beyond measure.Yet as the play goes on the audience finds itself drawn into their struggle. Discussions with the headmistress of Jake’s pre-school (played intelligently by Robin Weaver of Inbetweeners fame), tours of the ‘campuses’ of the area’s top kindergartens and abject horror at the suggestion of public school find their way under the audience’s skin until we feel just as much pressure and tension as Alex does. Underlying it all, though, is the deeper question of Jake’s gender. His love of fairy tales, dresses, and playing the princess in his own reconstructions of Disney movies is a source of doubt and concern in his parents. While Greg, Jake’s father, is fairly easygoing about it all, Alex’s concern that he might be ‘labelled’ before he has even moved onto kindergarten occasionally betrays itself as a fear of confirmation that he is, perhaps, something she doesn’t want him to be.Woven in with it all, Alex’s fear of miscarriage in her new pregnancy highlights the doubt she feels about her own capacity for motherhood. In the abstract penultimate scene Alex confronts a young woman whom she addresses as Jake, and who is then forced to leave as the clock strikes midnight. While the acting was moving, it felt as though Alex was labelling her son as a girl after all, while he was only five years old. Greg’s liberal attitude seemed less definite and fatalistic by comparison.There was a great deal of hard work and talent in the performance; if the Exchange is revived next year I’d recommend anyone to go, if only for the privilege of being allowed into the Old Vic’s rehearsal rooms! The Exchange has demonstrated that the Old Vic is brilliant at sourcing new talent at home and abroad; long may it continue. Alex MullarkyImage by Elizabeth Eddy

Great Entertainment

Great ExpectationsTheatre by the Lake, 20th July***When Philip ‘Pip’ Pirrip first visits Satis House as a child, the hostile, beautiful Estella explains to him that the name means ‘enough’ in multiple languages. The owner of the house, she goes on, cannot help but be satisfied with such a fine house. But the great estate is, as we all know, is haunted by the living phantom of Miss Havisham, a jilted bride who never recovered from being let down at the altar by her beau.Martin Johns’ set design is composed of the beautiful, decaying façade of the great house, inset with broken mirrors and picture Great Expectationsframes, full of hidden doors and windows, draped in dust and cobwebs. The actors transform the set themselves as they bustle on and off stage in plain base costumes, carting tables, chairs and wedding feasts between them, and slinking off without a word. But they are far from unobtrusive, throwing open windows and doors and creeping in a mass across the stage to hiss and shout words at Pip as he recounts his story. At first this technique is quite abrasive, but as the audience gets used to the sudden appearances of the rest of the ensemble it becomes an effective way of conveying Pip’s internal insecurities.The production was beautifully coordinated; Miss Havisham’s entrances were always heralded the same way, with the doors of Satis House thrown open to reveal her hunched over her cane in a haze of smoke, which parts as she takes three quick paces forwards. The stage is used with ingenuity when Pip is led through the maze of Satis House by Estella, who guides him by candlelight in and out of the many doors of the stage. Though the cast were all wonderfully characterised, special mention must go to Nicholas Goode as Herbert Pocket, who held his glass high in a toast throughout one of Pip’s lengthy reminiscences, kept a cool head and announced ‘on with the plot’ while the audience erupted in laughter over a spilled glass of wine.There is so much complexity to Dickens’ plot that the ending of the book feels like a jigsaw puzzle falling into place before your eyes. Unfortunately this performance of the classic left out what felt like major aspects of the backstory, including the true story of Miss Havisham’s romantic entanglement and its disastrous outcome. The unity of the original story is somewhat lost in the end of this production, with only the central, vital loose ends tied up, such as the truth of Estella’s parentage. It is understandable that such complexity would take up additional stage time in what needs to be a tight production, but it does seem that a few more of Dickens’ final plot twists would have been worth the extra five minutes.The ending unfortunately seemed particularly anticlimactic and even more ambiguous than Dickens’ much-contested rewritten ending; however, after such an immersive and enjoyable production this seemed a small let-down in comparison. Alex MullarkyImage by Keith Pattison