Edinburgh: dress rehearsal and preview night

Tickets here for A Glass of Nothing – a show where dreams come true

Friday 4th open dress rehearsal. At our team breakfast we decided that whatever happens in Edinburgh, we are already winners by being part of it.

For a winner, however, I felt twitchy. Doing things helped. Flyering and dropping posters of at various venues, and collecting stuff from printers, takes your mind off the existential horror of it all. The rain fell greasily on us and the luvvie legions running around town. I noticed one or two had Sandwich boards. A new game:  match the rain-bedraggled figure with their photos on the board.

Our performance in the Surgeons’ Hall was excellent. Matt, our new boy, killed it. Beth and Kitty at their best. We came in at 50 minutes on the nose too, and managed to dress and undress the stage in the five minutes either end. Amy did all the tech faultlessly, and Lorraine ran front of house perfectly.

As it was unadvertised, we weren’t really expecting an audience, luckily a large cast of Swiss actors attended, who chuckled a lot. Confirmation that the play’s three wish format works well, even if everyone didn’t understand the wordplay. All of us on a high afterwards.

Saturday 5th — Preview night. Beth and I off to the meet the press session at one o’clock. It was advertised as a chance to pitch your piece to the press. Naively I had seen this as a few minutes to a room full of journos etc. The reality was an enormous queue snaking out of a university building down the length of a street. After an hour or so, you made it inside, and then each publication had a desk, at which there were fifty deep queues like an airport when all the flights are cancelled. After hours of standing about, we managed to get to speak to people from a few publications. Beth and I split up after the first one, to double our effectiveness. Fascinating to see who else was there and chat to a few people.  Talking to two young women from Ireland, talking about ticket sales. Last night they had two people in their audience. The reality is that with hundreds of shows going on at any time, you’re lucky to get any kind of audience. Gender and identity seemed to be on the majority of performer’s minds. Lots of student age folks doing Edinburgh, apparently with enviable bullet proof confidence.

While Beth and I were doing this, Kitty and Matt were flyering their hearts out.  So it began again. To the Surgeons’ Hall. I didn’t feel quite as nervous as last night, but still, as a card-carrying  nervous. Heartened by seeing a few friends and relatives.

The performance itself was nervier than last night, but I was very proud of Beth, Kitty and Matt. It’s easy when the audience is fully behind you and you’re coasting along. This was one of the nights when the tough got going, and we learned lots from it.

Afterwards a really cheery night. We went to a bit party for theSpace performers, which started at 11:30, and heard the band Blueswater, performing. Huge amounts of fun, and a late, late night for all.

Sunday 6th — this was a day off before the run next week. Gradual recovery from the party the night before. Into town to actually see a show, Nasty Women on the Fringe, which was a cabaret of women stand up comedians. Really funny stuff.

Below the foyer of theSpace Surgeons’ Hall, and then a couple of snaps in those twitchy seconds before the audience to comes in, Amy Freeman, doing our tech, in the corner.

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Brighton Blonde Productions arrive in Edinburgh to stage ‘A Glass of Nothing’

Tickets here for A Glass of Nothing — a dark comedy about the selfie generation.

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Above Matt Colborne spots one of our posters outside the Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh.

Up at an ungodly ten past five, a taxi to Brighton station to catch the 06:19 up to St Pancras. At King’s cross we met Kitty and Matt at Kings Cross zoomed through downpours and sunny spells for four and a half hour up to Edinburgh. Amy Freeman, an old friend met us on the platform, and we cabbed to our digs in Leith, an air b’n’b flat at the top of rather posh tenement buildings. A nice smart interior, but the sixty timeworn stairs leading up to the flat.

So our tech rehearsal at the Surgeon’s hall this afternoon. This is all about sorting out the light and sound cues, meeting the Space team at the venue, and being talked through safety stuff.  A nice little venue, and just perfect for us. The Surgeons’ Hall is really near the heart of where the fringe action is. And already Edinburgh seems stuffed to the gills with luvvies and really buzzing. Our taxi driver said there was a yearly invasion from England for the month.

The tech was fine, but there was only just time to get everything sorted.  The Space crew really helpful, and it is a kind of military operation, with each theatre being used multiple times during the day. It certainly helps you keep a sense of perspective when you see the bazillions of posters for events. Still, Beth and I schlepped about after the tech and distributed our posters and flyers to other Space venues. It is a bonus that in effect each space venue is able to advertise your show.

I’m really happy we decided to take the plunge and go for it this year. I’m chuffed to have a play on, and be part of this huge cultural event.

A quick, discounted once we showed our lanyards, beer at the Surgeon’s hall then eventually back home to Leith where we are staying. We found an Indian restaurant nearby called Shri Bheemas, with good food. Then back to our air b’n’b, home and happy to be there. Loads to do tomorrow, everyone crashed out early.

Below a snap of a nervous-looking Beth, Lorraine and I at ungodly-o’clock on the train, a selfie outside the Surgeons’ Hall, one of our posters (yay!) and Beth on stage during the tech.

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Final preparations for Edinburgh

So we’re taking A Glass of Nothing to Edinburgh. Exciting, yes of course, but the truth has dirtier fingernails. Our previous shows have all been close at hand, so organising a run in another country is harder.

Only one final rehearsal to go now down in Brighton. Beth and Kitty now imperious in their roles. And our new man Matt, has worked his socks off to get his part down. We’re proud of him. Due to our slot timings, we have had to trim the play by five minutes. I made the cuts a couple of months ago, of course. In this week’s rehearsal, however, we did a full and fluent run through. Argh! Still five minutes over! It is mystifying. Beth and I did some extra last-minute trimming, not easy on something already greyhound lean. Then the next run-through squeaked in under the desired 50-minute mark. Whew. When you think of how even Shakespeare gets cut and refashioned, there is absolutely no room for writerly flouncing about this sort of thing. But how you can cut loads out of a play only for it to stay the same duration is a bit weird.

So it’s up with the sparrows next Thursday. We are training up to Edinburgh from Brighton, laden with a cases and a few props and some costumes via Kings Cross. No mean feat in itself, especially as we’re off to my stepson’s wedding in Leeds immediately after we’re done in Edinburgh, so we’ll be carrying wedding clothes too.

We aim to hit the ground running in Edinburgh. There are props to be bought, a tech run at The Surgeons’ Hall shortly after we arrive (meeting old friend Amy who will do our tech for us), the press office to visit, flyers and posters to collect (I have bought outside and online  advertising, sent out dozens of press releases etc.) and do other bits.

We have rented a house twenty minutes away from the centre, where Beth, Kitty Matt, Amy, Lorraine and I will be a Theatrical Walton family for a week. The next day, Friday, we have our open dress rehearsal, where folks can come in at a reduced rate. The Saturday is our Preview, the following week our run.

Worst fear? Playing to an empty house. In Brighton, where we know people, we sold out a 70 seater three nights in a row. Playing to one person and a dog would be a challenge. Greatest hope? That we all come home having learned lots, and made audiences laugh and think — and that this isn’t the end of the road for the play we’ve worked so hard on.

So wish us luck! And should you find yourself in Edinburgh, do come along.

Here’s a short monologue from the play performed by Beth…

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A dark comedy for the selfie generation

My play A Glass of Nothing starts with Beth Symons, below, searching for likes online. Other than that, what else can a lonely twenty-something woman with no money, poor housing, and dismal prospects do? She has to stay at home and gulp a glass of nothing, that’s what.

A Glass of Nothing is built around a classic three wish structure. Beth wishes for beauty, the perfect partner, and a great career — having decided that ‘nothing is more real than advertising’.

Here’s a wee trailer… click here to book a seat at the show.

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Minotaur

I don’t dwell much on past projects.  I’m always focused on the next thing.  On Friday I had a few beers with Glen Capra, and this reminded me of Glen and I recording my poem Minotaur, which had been set to music by Matthew Pollard, in one take back in 2011. I made this video afterwards, using a flip camera to get a labyrinth effect walking around in Brighton.  The poem’s hero doesn’t realise he appears monstrous to others.

 

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Versatile, unflinching and soulful. Richard Fleming’s tour de force

Richard Fleming

Richard Fleming launches Stone Witness

Stone Witness by Richard Fleming, published by Blue Ormer Publishing

Richard Fleming’s new collection is a tour de force, harvesting poems which include some of his strongest work to date. The best of Richard Fleming’s work is possessed by soul; that unmistakable sense that the poem you are reading is inhabited by something other than mere words.

Stone Witness collects 40 poems , and it feels like a major collection. The two longest poems are the title poem, and The Murchen Quartet, quite magical in its hare imagery.

Midnight; a sickle moon, black trees in silhouette,
tall, jagged tops,
an electrocardiogram
scribbled on the night sky.

(The Murchen Quartet)

Into this charged landscape, a stranger arrives.

Kneeling, he opens a satchel,
secured by leather-made leash
and gently releases,
as though giving birth,
two leverets, supple and sinewy-soft

(The Murchen Quartet)

One of the many skills Richard Fleming has at his disposal is to conjure the natural world. But this moment of a man mysteriously giving birth in a meadow is starkly contrasted to other poems in this collection that brood unflinchingly on ageing and death. There is a  woman in Quarry drowned in time and drawn down by death’s dark current.

                            Drowned daughter
she descends through grey seams
hewn by generations
of quarrymen long dead

(Quarry)

while in Next Please, the horror of ageing is coldly explored.

staring, fearful, at the ceiling
or some mirage, in the corner,
no one else sees. The disorder
of their lives is like a puzzle:
pieces fail to fit together,
sky or trees or roof is missing.

(Next Please)

Richard Fleming was born in Northern Ireland, and in poems such as Titanic (built in Belfast) and His Mother Dances, and Picnic,  he strives to recall childhood details to give us glimpses of his early life.

The first image
is always a tartan rug,
then, swiftly, other items follow:
Dad’s parked Austin, monochrome,
Mum’s picnic basket, acres of beach,
Atlantic breakers rolling in
and, there, behind my milk-white shape,
huge sand-dunes rising.

(Picnic)

Richard Fleming’s experience of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, worked a strange magic on the poet. Instead of publishing poems about that conflict, his reaction was to celebrate life, in sometimes joyous poems that extol his adopted island home of Guernsey. Much of his writing on the island was collected in A Guernsey Double (2010) (aided by the Guernsey Arts Commission) as a two-person project with the current writer to pool our poetry about Guernsey and create a poetic landmark in the writing of the island.

To my mind this project culminated in October 2016, when Richard was commissioned to write a poem about the island, which stands as the eponymous centrepiece of this collection, Stone Witness. The broadcast of this poem was a magical moment, which celebrated the mysterious La Gran’mère du Chimquière, the 5-3,000 year old menhir standing outside St Martin’s Parish Church in Guernsey. This poem is destined to become a paean to the island itself.

Stone,
old, old stone, I groan with age.
Gran’mère, Earth Mother,
I stand sentry beyond the churchyard gate,
and watch, with sightless eyes,
the snail of human traffic creep along.

I am old and granite-cold: your islands anchor stone.

Your father’s fathers came to me
to pray, to lay or lift some minor curse:
an endless chain of island men,
one generation to another,
linked.

(Stone Witness)

There are moments of humour in this collection, such as his tribute to Philip Larkin, or in the miniature Eden: The Short Version, which can be fully quoted.

God gave Man
Paradise.
It all went
pear-shaped.

(Eden: The Short Version

This is a rich collection, and I cannot do justice to its versatility and scope here. There are apocalyptic visions, such as the extraordinary Last Moments, sketches of lost friends and family, and more political work such as Flotsam where we see a refugee washed ashore.

She lies face down
barely breathing,
a human starfish,
one black asterisk
referencing nothing.

Great credit is due to Steve Foote, the publisher of Blue Ormer Publishing, who has brought the island the book by Edward Chaney Genius Friend, about G.B. Edwards, author of The Book of Ebenzer Le Page. which I blogged about here.

As the pre-eminent poet on Guernsey, Richard Fleming’s wonderful collection is an important addition to the Blue Ormer list, and to the story of Guernsey poetry.

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‘A Glass of Nothing’ theSpace@Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh 4-5 & 7-10 August

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Tickets available here

I’ve always liked collaborations. Brighton Blonde Productions, the theatre production company I put together with my stepdaughter Beth Symons has been a particularly excellent one. Our Edinburgh trip will be our third run as Brighton Blonde Productions.

It is good to write with an actor in mind, instead of starting with a blank sheet. For A Glass of Nothing, Beth and I drank beers and discussed the pressing concerns of a woman  woman in her twenties (beyond the next round of course). When writing it, all I had to do was consult my inner Beth and ask myself if she would say those lines. Beth’s influence means that the play deals with social media, and the pressure to conform to expectations of beauty and so on. It has turned out to be a dark comedy for the selfie generation.

It’s nice for us as a family. The ever supportive Lorraine (my wife, Beth’s mother) is listed as our official stage hand for the show. I’ve been to the Edinburgh festival as a punter was great fun. Taking a play to Edinburgh will, fingers crossed, be at least as much fun — mixed with dread and horror, obviously.

I am also mightily relieved that the fabulous and multitalented Kitty Underhill will join us in Edinburgh too. Kitty is a top comedy actress, and her enthusiasm, poise and hilarious ad libs have contributed enormously to the show. For the Edinburgh run we’ve recruited actor and model Matt Colborne to play the male roles. Beth and I have started intensively rehearsing with him, and I’m already excited about the new character dimensions Matt can bring to the show.

Turns out everyone in the show is an actor/model. I also have a tiny cameo in the show — but it will come as no surprise that I am not an actor/model at all. Though the cast are all busy on other work, somehow, we’re pulling it altogether. So if you find yourself in Edinburgh at the beginning of August. Come along!

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