Script This…

November 30, 2009

Talent can often be found in the strangest of people or places. If the current trend of TV reality shows such as Britain’s Got Talent and X-Factor are anything to go by, offering everyone and anyone the chance to showcase their talent, there are talented individuals waiting to hit the limelight. Oh and of course let’s not forget the multiple Andrew Llyod Webber exploits into finding the next Joseph, Maria and Nancy talent contests, so it’s about time that we saw a little of this talent searching in other aspects of theatre.

Enter stage left Script This… brought to you by the Broadway Theatre Barking team.

Even in the depths of Barking at the Broadway Theatre, a place I had never experienced but completely fell for its charm on Thursday night, is showing that talent is everywhere and needs to have a platform. Their ongoing programme of Script This… invites new and unpublished budding playwrights from any background to submit their scripts to the Broadway Theatre where they are all read, returned with feedback but the most important part, given the chance to appear in their monthly Script This… event.

Four scripts are selected by the Script This team to appear in a short 10 pages, script-in-hand performance, directed by The Broadway Theatres artistic director, Karena Johnson, and professional actors. They are all rehearsed, and presented in the same day, which makes the process even more exciting.

Then in front of a small audience the plays are presented. Yet what makes this event different is after every short extract the audience discuss their thoughts and feelings on the piece. Did they enjoy it? What worked, what was lost? The feedback is valuable as hidden amongst the audience are the playwrights themselves, but are only revealed at the end.  After the discussions the audience then vote by manner of a card system, green for you liked it and want more, yellow for it was good, and red for you never want to see it again. The cards are totted up and the extract that gets the highest mark moves onto the next round where they can produce another extract at the next event.

The reason that I’m very taken with Script This… comes from the experience which I had at the event. There is something edgy and fresh about the night, where I find myself sitting next to two complete strangers but bonding over our opinions on the scripts being presented.

It was clear that not everyone within the audience were from theatre backgrounds or in the industry themselves, but this made the whole experience even more exciting. By discussing the scripts openly amongst a collection of mixed individuals and groups was rewarding to say the least.

I’ve often found that criticism from those within the industry to at times be too bogged down with the ‘know-it-all’ approach to theatre, so why not have someone who is completely fresh and new to plays and writing discussing their honest, open views? Encouraging discussion about the plays means that the playwrights gain an insight into what a whole collection of people thought about their work. At times the views are conflicting but this makes for interesting debates around the work.

Whilst I will openly admit that I am far from a critic or expert of plays and playwriting – my views were justly heard and discussed by the audience. Script This… really works in two ways; by engaging the audience with new writing work never seen before, and equally of the writers gaining feedback and an opportunity to showcase their work.

The Broadway Theatre in Barking really has taken up a challenge to broaden their work, and one which I fully support. If talent is to be found anywhere, then why not in Barking? Script This… will be returning to The Broadway Theatre in January and is highly recommended for a creative and inspiring night out at the theatre (with a difference).

See The Broadway Theatre website for details on Script This… and future events.

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Review: The Habit of Art

November 16, 2009

The Habit Of ArtThere is something oddly familiar with Alan Bennett’s new play, The Habit of Art now playing at the National Theatre. It has nothing to do with Artistic Director Nicholas Hytner, directing another of Bennett’s plays, the last being The History Boys at the National again. It has nothing to do with the subject matter either, a look into the relationship and lives of W H Auden and Benjamin Britten.

No, the reason The Habit of Art is so familiar lies in the content of the play, a rehearsal room, the setting for Bennetts new piece. The play is a play within a play, and the play happens to be towards the end of rehearsal period. (Still following?) The Lytteltons stage is thus the rehearsal room, with the bare bones of a set constructed, and slightly furnished. A small kitchen area is on one side of the stage, and on the other a series of desks, chairs, keyboard and scripts.

The lighting is simple, even the design evokes the reaction that this is all too familiar. Any person who works in theatre, or has had the opportunity to sit in a rehearsal room during a rehearsal will see the familiarities here, and it is executed marvelously. The witty banter between the actors, the assistant stage manager running around setting props and prompting lines, yes, this is all too familiar to me.

There is a slight concern then that, because of the setting of the play, that Bennett has excluded a whole sector of his audience who perhaps don’t know the workings of the theatre and the rehearsal room, yet this clearly is not the case. I might have been chuckling to myself at theatre related jokes, but equally these jokes transferred easily to the audience with great reception.

Richard Griffiths is as always on top form in this. Even the subject matter of playing Auden as a sexually driven, yet equally as boring man is done perfectly. I never thought I’d reach the day when I would find it amusing to listen to Griffiths telling of his delights of enjoying a mans genitals and pleasuring him in such a manner as I heard in The Habit of Art.

The storyline of the play (within the play) is an interesting one, and I do say this in a tone of – I’m not quite sure I like it. However, that’s not the point. For the storyline of the play, is actually that of the rehearsal room, it is the breaking out of character to criticise the playwrights words. It’s the getting thrown off your lines because an actor has yet to have their movement blocked for their short monologues.

What is brilliant about The Habit of Art is Bennetts ability to go, yes I am a playwright, I write, but sometimes we don’t always get it right. And yes, there are actors, who just act, how easy that must be! The director disappears, but the show goes on. It is Bennetts sense of understanding the world he is writing for. He openly mocks himself as a playwright by having a playwright as a character within his play, putting the actors off their lines and arguing with rewrites. Yet equally Bennett makes wise comments upon theatre and actors, comparing them to a solider, they are afraid.

There are some other remarkable people to mention in The Habit of Art, pretty much all the actors are strong, funny and play the parts excellently. Frances de la Tour is wonderful, playing the balancing act between the cast and the creatives. The peace maker in the rehearsal room. She is cool and  equally demanding too with her outbursts of “On, go on”, every time the action stops due to casual talking. Alex Jennings plays the role of the composer Benjamin Britten, and whilst he wasn’t someone who greatly stood out for me, his emotional engagement with his story did pluck at my heart strings slightly.

Adrian Scarborough as the biographer Humphrey Carpenter, has some beautifully comic lines, including his exclamation that he is nothing but a “device” in the play. This certainly racked up a few laughs at the National, for most certainly this character is only a device being used by Bennett or rather the playwright in the play to tell the winding stories of Auden and Britten.

It is moments such as this that reminds us once again that Alan Bennett is a master of a playwright, a living monument to all things good about theatre and his ability to write about situations and characters. Witty, heart-warming, and fantastically funny, that is The Habit of Art for me.

The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett is playing at the National Theatre and booking until April 2010. New tickets to be released shortly so check the National Theatre website for details.


Three More Sleepless Nights – Review

August 27, 2009

ThreeMoreSleeplessNights

Theatre is an adventure, where we have to some times take risks and dive in the deep end. I had some spare time, chose the National Theatre and got the cheapest seat possible. I landed up at Three More Sleepless Nights a short three act play by none other than Caryl Churchill. As it happens Churchill was one of the only female playwrights I studied at University so it was finally good to sit down and watch one of her plays (or rather not to sit through another male driven performance).

I knew nothing of the play, so it was a gamble… the question is: did the gamble pay off?

I was slightly disappointed when I walked into the Lyttleton Theatre (generally a nice space) to find that little had been done to make this production remotely stand away from the backdrop of Phedre which plays after Three More Sleepless Nights. As I mentioned in my Phedre Review the set is fantastic so at least make a decent effort on covering it up. The half attempted design of Noami Dawson failed short for me. Creating the shape of a room defined by door frames and  skirting boards is rather pitiful against the epic, yes epic backdrop of Phedre…

XX and XX the shouting couple

Lindsey Coulson and Ian Hart, the shouting couple

The play itself is rather absurd, three scenes each featuring a different couple, each in bed. Not a glimmer of sexual suggestions nor movements in sight, but rather the bare exposure of human relationships strained. Churchill achieves this in an interesting manner. The first couple, played rather violently (verbal, not quite physical) by Lindsey Coulson and Ian Hart portrays a hateful relationship where shouting seems to be the only manner of communication. Lines often got lost when the overlapping of text and screaming merged together, but this really did not matter. At first it was irrating, I’m one for hearing everything, but actually it’s all rather clever in the grand scheme of things.

The second couple played by Hattie Morahan and Paul Ready are quite the flip side of the screaming and shouting. An eerie silence falls upon the theatre, and every so often a groan emerges from the actors. This seems to be the communication for the best part of 5 minutes, until odd lines are delivered. This is certainly Churchill in her most absurdest manner. (Not that I think she falls into this category at all but there certainly is something absurd about this part of the play.) Accelerating some several minutes later, and there are more pauses, odd lines, film quotes and heaven knows what else. We’re left with questions, questions, and questions. These are quickly answered when the couple finally go to bed and XX takes a knife and stabs herself, unknown to her partner. She bleeds onto the bed with fantastically realistic blood… and lights down.

This short play is about snapshots of peoples relationships, a glimmer into their lives and a sudden cutting off… it is strangely captivating. There are distinct moments where you can’t help but to relate to previous bed-time moments with previous lovers, over previous arguments now gone stale and old. I caught myself smiling when I recalled similar moments in my life.

So did my gamble pay off? I guess it did for a short 50 minute production. Whilst Three More Sleepless Nights is enjoyable, it filled a small gap in my schedule and proved interesting… but don’t expect a masterpiece, nor expect Churchill at her best.

Still it makes a change for the National Theatre to be showing these 6pm short performances, and my insiders tell me there are a whole line up to follow over the next few months… I just wonder how they intend to fill the seats without having to resort to giving them away…