198 posts categorized "Fringe/pub theatre" Feed

Q&A Guleraana Mir on challenging cultural and gender stereotypes in 'irreverent, dark comedy' Coconut, Ovalhouse

Writer Guleraana Mir talks about her new play Coconut, in which she wants to show that there is far more to British Asian women than is commonly portrayed.

22 - Guleraana Mir
Guleraana Mir

What is Coconut about and what inspired you to write it?

The term Coconut refers to someone who is brown on the outside and white on the inside. It is mostly used as a derogatory term, but that is how the protagonist Rumi, a British Pakistani woman self-identifies.

The play charts the course of the relationship between Rumi and Simon, a white man who converts to Islam to marry her.

It’s a story of two people trying to navigate what being in an intercultural and interracial marriage looks like when they’re not even sure where they fit in society individually.

Back in 2015 when I was asked to write the original 15-minute one-woman piece for Ladylogue! (an evening of one-woman shorts) I was given the extra caveat to consider what I wasn’t writing about: My heritage.

Of course, I wanted to meet the challenge but I was also inspired by the fact that I’ve never seen a character like Rumi on stage before.

We don’t have much range in our British Asian representation on stage, or screen. It’s all Bollywood-inspired wedding-based drama, colonialism, terrorists or doctors.

Some of us don’t fit into any of those boxes as people, so why should our characters?

It’s your first full-length production, what has the journey been like?

Long. No one ever tells you that theatre takes time, especially if you’re producing.

The Thelmas are co-producing Coconut with Ovalhouse and we’ve known for over a year that this production would happen, it’s just been a case of getting everything in place so that we’re ready to pack the theatre with an exciting and diverse audience once we open.

Before that we spent over a year developing the play with support from Park Theatre’s Script Accelerator and New Diorama’s BAMER program, so a lot of work has gone into this.

I’m really excited to show off the play in its final form as it’s undergone some serious rewrites since our last industry reading.

How involved are you in the rehearsal process?

Not very. Since the last rewrite, I’m comfortable with where the script is at, and I trust the creative team with it.

If they need clarification on something I know they will reach out, otherwise director Madelaine [Moore] has a strong vision for the piece and I trust her completely.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that once it’s all put together it’s going to look better than I could have ever imagined.

What I am doing is admin - helping organize the pick-up and drop-off of set, source props etc. all much less glamorous than sitting in a rehearsal room chewing the end of a pen, but ultimately much more useful.

Coconut is a described as ‘an irreverent, dark comedy', what role does humour play in the telling of this story?

Humour is essential otherwise when the play takes a dark turn the audience would just feel battered.

Most of the humour comes from the character of Rumi and her outlook on life.

She’s the kind of person that approaches everything lightheartedly with a smile and a one-liner.

In the play humour is what lulls Rumi (and the audience) into a false sense of security, as she’s constantly brushing everything off with a joke and so doesn’t realise what is going on until it’s too late.

 

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Church halls, tights and holding hands with actors, it's Macbeth, Factory Theatre-style

When an actor holds your hand or leads you into the performance space it is the encounter that is foremost in your mind and what is going on around you rather than the nuances of character, play and plot.

REVIEW: It's a cold, wet, Easter Friday and I'm in a church hall in Pimlico, sat in a circle on a plastic chair.

The strip lights are bright, the atmosphere friendly, the scouting posters on the walls betray the halls usual users - this isn't your standard theatre experience.

Factory Theatre macbeth signIt feels a little like a support group, a support group for theatre addicts - later an actor will stand next to me and hold my hand - but that's during the play, beforehand they mingle and chat. 

They aren't yet in character like at the Donmar's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui last year. Neither are they in costume.

I'm asked how I heard about the performance and whether I'd seen anything by Factory Theatre before - the company behind this production of Macbeth.

The atmosphere is relaxed, warm, full of expectation but with an underlying layer of nerves from the actors and perhaps the audience too - some are due to take part.

Audience participation is voluntary. Kind of. You can volunteer to 'play' a witch and are allocated a line or two together with the appropriate cue.

You can also join in with certain choruses of the witches. Or you can observe unless you find yourself being led gently by the hand to stand with the actors and other members of the audience during particular scenes.

But this is all to come. First us theatre addicts get an intro by our support group leader, RSC thesp and Factory artistic director Alex Hassell.

This, we are told, is the first performance of what will hopefully be an evolving production with the cast changing as often as the venues. Casting is colour, gender, age and disability blind.

The actors have a prompt, things might not go smoothly, we can pop out to the loo - the only real nod to convention is that phones should be switched off.

In a similar vein to recent productions where the lead actor is determined on the night (coin toss for Mary Stuart and burning matches for the RSC's Doctor Faustus) a game of rock, paper, scissors decides who will play Macbeth.

The two actors up for the part choose a member of the audience to play for them. We get a female Macbeth - what I was hoping for.

And then the play begins and we are in theatre-land with the actors wearing tights on their heads and silently moving around, shaping the performance space in the middle of the circle by either sitting, crouching, laying or standing.

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Review: Child stars and showbiz neglect in We Need To Talk About Bobby (Off EastEnders), King's Head Theatre

...it is at times an uncomfortable watch, it's also an angry watch as adults flounder and fail. 

The showbiz world is littered with examples of child actors who've gone off the rails and here Paperback Theatre examines the relationship between twelve-year-old Annie (Tara Groves), her parents and those she works with as she is thrust into the limelight in a TV series with rather gritty storylines.

We-need-to-talk-about-bobby-(off-eastenders)-6088-680x453-20180307It is a world where Annie is treated like an adult rather than a kid and her parents are increasingly out of their depth as her fame grows.

Sophie Portway and George Attwell Gerhards play her parents and also those she works with so that with the removal of a pair of glasses, we switch from a scene 'on set' between actors playing parent and child to parent and child. 

At first, there is a safe distance between the two but the lines begin to blur with damaging consequences.

As Annie's age and inexperience in the grown-up world are increasingly overlooked and her character's storylines get darker, her parents struggle to cope with the growing attention her fame is gathering and her subsequent behaviour.

Annie may not be suffering the physical and sexual abuse of the character she portrays but there is abuse in the neglect she experiences and the emotional distress she suffers as a result.

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Q&A: Josh Roche on directing 'thriller' Plastic and who he'd 'commit crimes' to work with

JMK Trust 2017 award winner Josh Roche (My Name is Rachel Corrie) is directing Kenneth Emson's new play Plastic at the Old Red Lion, here he talks about working on the play, 'entertaining' theatre and who he'd really like to work with.

Tell us a bit about Plastic and what drew you to the project.

Plastic is the most eloquent play I've ever read on the subject of adolescence. 

I'm twenty eight, so I don't know if this will change, but my teenage years are the toughest years I've had to get through.

Josh RocheThe combined pressures of sex, loneliness, self-image and a hundred other things, create a brutal cauldron of self-defence and bitterness. It's competitive, nasty, vengeful and manic.

Plastic makes us feel deeply how the seeds of our adult insecurities are planted in our teens.
 
This is a new play by Kenneth Emson with whom you’ve worked with before, does that help with bringing the piece to life and how collaborative is the rehearsal process?

Yeah we've got pretty efficient with our work. We can usually get the important notes done on the first pint these days, which frees up time for complaining about the industry for the rest of the meeting....

More seriously Kenny is an incredibly experienced writer, far more experienced than me. He's humble and exacting in equal measure, which makes him a dream to work with.
 
You say you like to produce 'entertaining political work’, how do you define ‘entertainment’?


Well entertainment makes you feel something, whether that's laughter, tears or horror. We're all humans and extreme feelings are novel, unusual and important to us. My aim is to move audiences to feel, using political stories.

How they respond to the story is up to them, but the main aim of entertainment is to move people.  If you don't enjoy being moved, then I'd give Plastic a miss.

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Review: Trap Street, New Diorama - raises more questions than it answers about social housing

There is far more to this subject than is, or can, be explored in an 80 minute play and as a result it feels like the brush strokes are too broad.

Social housing or rather the rise and fall of the post-war council estates comes under the spotlight in a new, devised, piece Trap Street at the New Diorama theatre but before I go on with my thoughts, I feel I should explain my background.

Trap street New diorama
Danusia Samal, Amelda Brown and Hamish MacDougall in Trap Street, New Diorama

I've spent the last 20 years as a journalist writing about development and regeneration so estates renewal and property is familiar territory and has undoubtedly influenced where my interest in the piece lies - and also my frustrations.

Trap Street - a reference to the fake streets added to maps by cartographers so as to protect copyright - focuses on one family to chart the history of an estate and generate social commentary.

It jumps back and forth in time from when Valerie (Amelda Brown) rents a brand new flat on the estate with her two young children - Andrea (Danusia Samal/Amelda Brown) and Graham (Hamish MacDougall) - through to the estate's decline and proposed demolition, by which time Andrea owns the flat.

At first life on the estate is full of promise, a sense of community with residents associations and organisations and people looking out for each other but gradually apathy sets in, cracks in the community appear and the sense of pride begins to disappear.

Rubbish, graffiti, crime and poor maintenance colour the years leading up to plans to demolish and replace with new housing, a mixture of private and social.

Andrea is offered a price for her flat which is a fraction of what it would cost to buy in the new development.

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Review: Napoleon Disrobed, Arcola Theatre - riotous, surreal and silly fun

What if Napoleon hadn't died in exile but had escaped using a body double? This is the opening premise of Napoleon Disrobed which has been adapted by Told By An Idiot from the novel The Death of Napoleon by Simon Leys.

Napoleon disrobed arcola manuel Harlan
Ayesha Antoine and Paul Hunter in Napoleon Disrobed, Arcola Theatre. Photo Manuel Harlan

In what is a fun, silly, surreal and quirky piece we see the historical figure, played with brilliant Englishness by Paul Hunter, navigating modern-day Europe, trying to live the life of an ordinary person and not get spotted.

Until, that is, he wants people to know who he really is and that is where his problems really start and where the themes of the play start to bubble to the surface.

His story becomes a series of connected sketches that get more and more random - playing tennis with a frying pan and an inflatable fruit random.

Living in Paris with a melon seller 'Ostrich' (Ayesha Antoine), his friends grow concerned by his increasing insistence that he is indeed Napoleon.

So, they take him to a hospital and, in a nice piece of audience interaction, he is shown all the other people who insist they too are the French statesman.

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January theatre round up: Big (big) name castings, highs, lows and lots of actor spots.

The Inheritance Young Vic
Vanessa Redgrave joins the cast of The Inheritance, Young Vic

Theatre gets me through the dark days of January, here are my highlights from the new play and casting announcements, favourite things I saw (and the low moment).  And, thanks to the Julius Caesar press night, there was a bumper crop of actor, director and writer spots too...

* Forbes Mason, who will forever be known as the Lucifer in pants, thanks to Jamie Lloyd's Doctor Faustus, has been cast in the Almeida's Summer and Smoke which opens later this month. Did I mention how much I'm looking forward to seeing Patsy Ferran, who also stars, in that?

* Josie Rourke announced she is stepping down as artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse next year after eight years in the role. My highlights of her tenure, if you were to ask me for the first things that spring to mind, would be the Tom Hiddleston Coriolanus (incidentally my review of that is my most popular post and has been viewed nearly 15,000 times), the all women Shakespeare series and James Graham's Privacy. There are plenty of others but those are what stick most in my mind.

* Vanessa Redgrave (yes Vanessa Redgrave!) has been cast in The Inheritance at the Young Vic which opens next month. I could listen to her voice for hours. Also announced in the cast are Stan-fav's Kyle Soller, Michael Marcus and Luke Thallon plus a whole bunch of new names I’m looking forward to getting to know over a double play day.

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Review: Woman Before A Glass, Jermyn Street Theatre - reflections of an extraordinary woman

Peggy Guggenheim (Judy Rosenblatt), daughter of one of the less wealthy Guggenheims - "lowly millionaires not billionaires", is teasing the Italian press from the balcony of her Venice palazzo while deciding what to wear for an interview.

Woman Before A Glass, Jermyn Street TheatreShe roots through a pile of designer dresses bemoaning the fact that her maid has taken the day off and reminiscing about each garment.

If you don't know much about Peggy Guggenheim then this opening scene is a great introduction touching upon the key ingredients of her life and personality: Art, love and family.

Peggy Guggenheim isn't a shrinking violet, she is demanding, intelligent, flirtatious and loving and that is just scratching the surface.

Writer Lanie Robertson gives us three scenes from which to paint a portrait of this extraordinary woman who must have been both fascinating, fun and infuriating to be around.

In each scene we see Peggy in a real-time scenario dealing with things like gallery directors and preparing for her artist daughter's opening exhibition, as well as hearing her recollections about her life and the people in it.

She talks about the night, during the Second World War, when the Nazi's came knocking on her door in the South of France as casually as she talks about spending two days in bed with Samuel Beckett.

Giving oral sex is mentioned in the same breath as having cocktails - this is a woman who is certainly not ashamed of having a sexual appetite and satisfying it.

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Review: The Claim, Shoreditch Town Hall - farcical and dark asylum seeker tale

I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so angry while watching a play. Angry at story steeped in a ridiculous incompetence from those that hold sway over the lives of others.

The Claim  UK Tour - Yusra Warsama  Nick Blakeley and Ncuti Gatwa (courtesy of Paul Samuel White)
The Claim UK Tour - Yusra Warsama Nick Blakeley and Ncuti Gatwa. Photo: Paul Samuel White.

Serge (Ncuti Gatwa) is seeking asylum and has an interview with Home Office officials.

He has been in the UK for a year, lives in a house in Streatham and has a job. His wish is simple: He wants to live, something he feels he can’t do in his home country the Congo.

The story the Home Office staff want to know is why he can’t go back home but it isn't as straightforward as that.

Hindered by the opening of old wounds and a desire to give the right information, the telling of Serge's story is also hampered by language barriers and interruptions. 

One of his interviewers, B (Yusra Warsama) is officious and doesn't speak Serge's language. Her colleague A (Nick Blakeley) is a sympathetic but incompetent translator. Both are distracted by personal issues such as forthcoming holidays and leaving work on time. 

It is a scenario that has the ridiculousness of a farce. However, given his research into the Home Office immigration process writer Tim Cowbury has created a story which takes on a Kafka-esque edge of frustration, dehumanisation and danger.

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Fringe theatre interview: Director Mark Maughan on finding humour in asylum play The Claim

Mark Maughan  director of The Claim - courtesy of Richard Davenport
Mark Maughan director of The Claim. Photo: Richard Davenport

Interview: Director Mark Maughan talks about about his work on new play The Claim which takes a satirical look at the UK's asylum process.

 
How did you get involved with The Claim and what drew you to the project?
 
Tim Cowbury (the writer) and I started researching and developing The Claim together back in 2015 and have collaborated on it ever since. I was interested in making a piece about migration, Tim about power and language.

Once we found out about the Home Office’s flawed asylum system, we knew that this was something that needed to reach a wide audience and the subject matter also had enough dramatic potential for us to be drawn to it as artists.
 
What was your approach in the rehearsal process?
 
Grit and grace. I am lucky to be surrounded by an absolutely first-rate cast and creative team, but we only had three weeks to rehearse before we met our audience, which went by extraordinarily quickly.

I shared key information from the research and development period with everyone who was new to the team, but most of our time was spent bringing our abstracted world of a real-life process to the stage.

It was also about breaking down the text into manageable chunks and repetition, as there are a lot of words to get through in a relatively short piece.
 
The Claim takes a satirical look at the UK's asylum process - what role does humour play and how do you balance that with the drama?
 
Sadly, my reaction to what we learnt about the asylum system was often laughter – at how completely ridiculous it is. Not including that absurdity would have been to misrepresent the reality of the process.

Of course, there is also a lot of drama in the Home Office interview as someone is using their words to fight for their lives, so the piece increasingly takes on this tone as it races towards its conclusion.
 

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