Categories
A Glass of Nothing Actors Theatre

‘A Glass of Nothing’ still half full

IMG_1763
Beth finds somewhere quiet to apply makeup in the Surgeons’ Hall

So… Edinburgh. Blimey, it was an exhausting. In fact so exhausting, it has taken me two weeks to get around to writing about it… Edinburgh utterly dwarfs the  Brighton Festival, and the competition for bums (on seats) is ferocious. Nothing beats first hand experience of publicising and flying for your play, sticking together as a unit and delivering great performances to all kinds of audiences. Not to mention getting into the rhythm of gulping  post-performance beers and discovering late night Edinburgh delicacies such as the macaroni pie.

We learned lots. Next time we take on Edinburgh we’ll do things a little differently. My biggest learning was that putting a short run play on at the beginning of the festival is disadvantageous when seeking reviews. Luckily we had some corkers from the Brighton Festival, so we did okay. We had a couple of quiet nights but luckily this improved towards the end of the run. I’m always surprised at how different audiences can react so differently to the same play. Lots of laughter on one night, a serious absorption into the dark side of the play on the other. While one night, we were all surprised how everyone took against Kitty’s character to side with Beth.

We all made time to see some other shows of course, but I found it hard to see as many as I’d have liked. Shows had tiny audiences were often excellent too.  We took in several women comedians, and I particularly liked Jane Postlethwaite whose work was full of imagination as well as being extremely funny.

All in all, however, it was a hugely positive experience. We left Edinburgh proud of ourselves. And I was bursting with pride in how brilliantly everyone had done. Beth was magnificent, pouting and flirting with the audience.  Kitty and Matt were sensational, and delivered excellent performances every night.  And a big shout out to Amy who did our tech, and for my wife Lorraine who was our bedrock (plus stagehand). We all lived together in a top of a tenement flat in Leith too, like a thespian Walton family. Maybe next year? Hmm…. Now there’s an idea.

IMG_1806
Amy Freeman on tech
IMG_1767
Matt Colborne, Kitty Underhill, Beth Symons August 2017, Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh
Categories
A Glass of Nothing Brighton Blonde Productions Theatre Uncategorized

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…

Categories
A Glass of Nothing Brighton Blonde Productions Theatre Uncategorized

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.

Categories
A Glass of Nothing Brighton Blonde Productions Theatre

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

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 16.45.04

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!

Categories
A Glass of Nothing a writer's life Brighton Blonde Productions Poetry Telltale Press Theatre

Precious time

I’ve spent the last couple of months with little time. I’ve been commuting to London to work in an advertising agency every day (a four hour round trip). The Gods of Freelance then added in more work for me to do on the train, and in the evenings and weekends and through holidays. By chance this coincided with one of my worst-ever bouts of depression. I rarely get depressed. Glum, sure, but that’s usually over in a few days. But being down for weeks on end was unusual for me, and my respect for people who keep on keeping on, despite dealing with repeated depression, is more acute now.

Now, having thawed from that glacier, I feel myself again. Being depressed for me means having myself at the centre of all my thoughts. And you can take it from me, it is a tedious place. Now I can laugh about myself again,  I can’t wait to get stuck into being creative on my own projects. The enforced ‘downtime’ has given me unexpected benefits. I am suddenly much clearer about two of my projects. Time is often the best editor. I could have done without pouring tea into my laptop the other day, however, but that’s a different story.

* * *

I attended the recent Telltale Press reading in Lewes, which featured Siegfried Baber, mining his love of Americana to enormous effect, Marion Tracey whose poems have an Apollonian dreamlike clarity.  Sarah Barnsley read particularly well I thought. One of her poems, called The Fugitive, I loved. It reminded me of C.P. Cavafy’s wonderful concreteness. I think Sarah’s work is fantastic. Sarah introduced her friend Katrina Naomi who also read excellently, despite being interrupted by the Telltale Stand collapsing dramatically as if some poltergeist had given it a good shake. Katrina’s work seems effortless, both accessible and deep. Everyone lapped up her reading.

I snapped two rather poor photos on the night. One of Sarah Barnsley, and the other of Katrina Naomi. The room was packed, although it doesn’t look like it.

* * *

Meanwhile two of my poetry chums are on the cusp of new publications, and I’m delighted for both of them.

By old pal Richard Fleming is just about to publish Stone Witness, a new collection with the Guernsey-oriented Blue Ormer Publishing. Richard’s box of books has just arrived and his blog captures the moment. It is going to be launched during the Guernsey Literary Festival, and I am really looking to seeing him soon, and owning a copy.

Meanwhile Robin Houghton has had a pamphlet accepted by Cinnamon, called All The Relevant Gods, to be published next year. Robin has an inspiring blog post about the journey to acceptance here. For all kinds of reasons, even for an exceptional poet like Robin, making progress can be tough. But it means getting the breakthrough is even sweeter.

* * *

Beth Symons and I are beginning to sort out our Edinburgh Fringe run. We all have somewhere to stay, which is a start. We are just about to start auditioning for a male actor (preferably Brighton based, or within striking distance) to join the ensemble. So if you happen to be male, in your twenties, and an actor with comedy chops, then please get in touch with me through this site.

My play, A Glass of Nothing, which is directed by and stars Beth Symons, and features Kitty Underhill will be on at  The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall, Theatre 2, 9.10pm on 5/8/17, (free preview) 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th August 17 (4-night run).  Naturally I hope to be blah-blahing about this more ere long.

Categories
A Glass of Nothing a writer's life Brighton Blonde Productions Painters, Poetry Theatre Writing

A mixed bag

I have been working hard on my children’s story The Second Kind of Darkness in the last two months. The end is in sight. Putting the story aside for a few years has really helped. Time is a great editor.

I’ve also been filling in gaps in my reading of good children’s books, including Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, and a book that is going down brilliantly with under 11s at the moment, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I even went as far back as Peter and Wendy, by J.M.Barrie, which I found to be fresher than I expected, and genuinely strange in parts.

Having run earlier drafts of my story past schoolchildren in schools, I have two teacher friends, specialists in the age group I am writing for and in English, lined up to read it, not to mention my wife, who is a headteacher. Bracing myself for feedback soon

***

Dates have now firmed up for my play A Glass of Nothing which will have a preview in the Surgeon’s Hall Theatre 2 in Edinburgh on 5th August, and then a short run Monday-Thursday 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th of the following week. As before, it will be a Brighton Blonde Productions performance, and star Beth Symons in the central role.

***

Two deaths in the last few weeks. One in the family, which I won’t write about here, the other of Andy Wilson, a former art director of mine.

I flew down to the funeral in Cornwall, with two other fellow advertising writers Pat and Barney who knew him well too. You get to know your partner inside out when you are working in a creative team, although Andy and I were partners only for about a year and a half, I knew him as a truly gentle soul, who was one of the most original and creative people I have ever met in any walk of life. Sadly his last few years were blighted by demons of addiction. This, as Andy’s death serves to remind me yet again, is a terrible illness that people pretend is a flaw of character.

One memory. When Andy and I were working late, Andy told me out of the blue that to make a party a success (I was thinking of having a party that weekend) I had to get a bucket. He emptied one of the metal bins under the desk, and laughed hollowly into it in a crazy Jack Nicholson style. He invited me to follow suit, and we passed the bucket back and forth until we were crying with laughter at nothing.

***

I once met the Nobel Prize winning Derek Walcott,  who died on 17th March. I admired him as a poet greatly, as I am especially interested in poets from islands (in his case St. Lucia).

With a group of other young poets, I attended a seminar with him back in the 80s in the South Bank.  I found myself standing next to him, and when we were all settling in and in confusion about chairs, I made some joke about sitting on his lap. He looked at me very stonily, clearly deciding I was an idiot from that moment. We were all asked to chuck a poem into the middle. And Derek picked one out at random. The whole session was taken up with his close reading and commenting on this first poem, leaving me at least feeling a bit short changed. At least I got him to sign my copy of The Fortunate Traveller.

***

Got around to reading Jacob Polley’s Jackself eventually. I think it is a worthy winner of the T.S.Eliot award this year. The poems feel very solid and realised, there is a meaty, chewable quality about the language. I want to reread it already. There is an excellent review here from the guardian.

***

Been haunting the National Gallery in London lately. This picture by Joseph Wright of Derby , which I had never looked at before, has begun to obsess me. It is An experiment on a bird in an Air Pump, a picture which becomes stranger the more I look at it. A white cockatoo, presumably the family pet judging by the cage in the corner, is being suffocated to demonstrate the nature of a vacuum. The two girls are naturally appalled, while the scientist with his wild hair and red clothes looks out at us as if to ask us if the air should be allowed back in to revive the poor creature.

An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_an_Air_Pump_by_Joseph_Wright_of_Derby,_1768

 

Categories
A Glass of Nothing Theatre Uncategorized

A Glass of Nothing & We Three Kings

The, ah-hem, sophisticated Brighton Blonde marketing machine is grinding into action. Here is the flyer for my plays at The Marlborough Theatre (tweaked for the interweb). Tickets are available at The Marley’s website here.

I am very proud of A Glass of Nothing. I am not someone who lovingly strokes my old work. But plays are a bit different. Each time you perform it, it is reborn. Beth, Dylan and Kitty continually unearth new approaches. I’m discovering that a successful script, is one that’s a firm launchpad. I’m also discovering the importance of a good structure. The play seems to have taken on a life of its own, driven by Beth’s direction and the lovely ensemble acting. I’m continually surprised at how well it works. We Three Kings is shaping up nicely too. It is about half an hour, and I think of it as a Christmas Entertainment, but a very Brighton one. A little bit nervous about this, just because it is so new.

PS: If you are tweety sort of person you can follow Brighton Blonde Productions at @BrightonBlondes

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-08-39-08

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-08-38-24

Categories
A Glass of Nothing a writer's life Actors Brighton Blonde Productions Guernsey Poetry Theatre

Nostalgia, and other news

p1010803

This time last week I was in Guernsey. I loved every moment of it. As soon as I set foot in my home parish of St Martin’s I feel surrounded by magic, and weirdly rebooted. The lanes are sedimented with decades of my memories, which provides the illusion that this is somehow my place. And I feel a love for this tablecloth of land spread over the corner of a little island that can never be erased. It is a piggy bank of my identity into which I have stuffed coins all my life. Above is the view from Icart Point, ten minutes walk from where I once lived.

The word ‘nostalgia’ derives from the Greek nostos for homecoming and algos pain. It is bittersweet, as if the past is a country you might visit. Perhaps one reason why nostalgia is such a close cousin of misty-eyed patriotism.

To my Guernsey family, I was always English. Taxi drivers sometimes ask me on the way back from the airport if it is my first time on the island, and just last week my wife said a cheery hello, to an English couple outside La Barbarie, where I stay. I heard one of them say as they moved on, ‘I do like it when people love our island’. It made me grit my teeth. But I am an exile from the island, and from my past. We all are. We don’t belong anywhere, but we want to belong. That is the algos of nostalgia, and the cause of a lot of nationalistic nonsense in the world. But if I were to belong anywhere, it would be there.

*  *  *  *

I’ve just had a poem accepted by E·ratio, due out in January, which ‘publishes poetry in the postmodern idioms with an emphasis on the intransitive’.  I am attracted to the journal’s rigour, and keep returning to it to be delighted and sometimes enraged by the poems it features. I’ve long enjoyed poetry that confronts you with difficulty,  ever since wrestling with late modernist J.H. Prynne. A long bout I owe to university friend Michael Stone-Richards who bought me a copy of Prynne’s The Oval Window back in 1986.

What was dubbed by ‘The Democratic Voice’ in poetry, (famously by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford in their introduction to the Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain since 1945), has appeared to overshadow the more esoteric reaches of late Modernism and Post-Modernism. As usual (and tiresomely) if there is a debate about this, I am in the middle. I wish more mainstream poetry had more ambition, while some postmodern poetry could stop desperately flashing its cleverness at you. Sometimes I feel like thundering at it, ‘yes I get that you’re clever, and that this poem is an artificial construct, now tell me something I don’t know’.  In a world of ironic speech marks, a dash of authenticity doesn’t go amiss.

And talking of authenticity and the middle way, tomorrow I am  going to the official launch of Charlotte Gann’s Noir. A book, a poet and a person I like a great deal.

*  *  *  *

And finally, rehearsals are now well underway for my plays We Three Kings and A Glass of Nothing, presented in a double bill at the Marlborough Theatre on Thursday 8th December and Friday 9th December. Tickets are here. Below, snap from last night’s rehearsal.

fullsizeoutput_66d

Categories
A Glass of Nothing Theatre

How to get the best from the Brighton Fringe

IMG_2790
Beth outside The Theatre Box a week or so before we started our run

To my surprise, I was recently asked if I had any advice for putting a show on in the Brighton Fringe, after A Glass of Nothing went down so well. So I thought I’d share some learnings here.

Back in 2010 my pal Matthew Pollard and I took a show called This Concert Will Fall In Love With You, to the Fringe. Although that show was a success, here’s what Beth and I did differently this year (having learned from this earlier experience). I should warn you that some of these practical points are statements of the bleeding obvious:

  • Venue is vital – earmark your venue ahead of time. Beth visited The Warren’s Theatre Box last year and loved it. So we knew where we wanted and went out to get it. By attending  the Brighton Fringe venue pitch presentation some time before the official launch, we were able to corner the lovely Otherplace people behind The Warren and  secure a slot at the Theatre Box early. Knowing where we were going to be doing our thing in advance was hugely beneficial both in early rehearsals, and when I was finishing the script. Due to The Warren’s good organisation our shows had great publicity, and attracted reviewers. The venue was easy for people to find when they came to the show, and was close to Brighton Station.
  • Trusting the people you work with is all important – Beth and I are an unusual team in that she is my stepdaughter. The fact that we know and trust each other is a great platform to start work, especially something potentially risky. In my previous experience This Concert Will Fall In Love With You I was similarly blessed by having a collaborator Matt, who I completely trusted too. Without trust I’m not sure how you can do it.
  • Getting an audience – putting on a new show is a risk. Luckily the four people involved all had different friend groups and were all based in Brighton, so we had quite  a few friends and acquaintances attend our shows. But there were also a good number of people who none of us knew. Being in the Fringe programme  is a must (although I don’t find it the easiest publication to navigate). Also being online with both the Fringe and Otherplace websites, and using social media, old fashioned flyers and posters all contributed to winning an audience. The combination of this somehow resulted in us filling our house for three mid-week nights.
  • Own your own definition of success.  I think it is important to know what success looks like for you as a person or a company. For me, as a pessimist, it was if we could get more than an audience of 25 people each night. In reality we managed 60-70 a night. But once the ticket sales  crept past my pessimistic low I was able to focus all my neuroses on what was happening on stage. For the four of us involved in A Glass of Nothing, it was highly successful. As well as the play itself winning four-star reviews, and warm acclaim from the audiences, Kitty got an agent, Dylan was able launch himself as an actor, and Beth showed herself as the truly fine and courageous comedy actress I know her to be. For me, as writer, it was a much-needed confidence boost too.
  • Don’t let it stop there. This one is all important. Don’t let it all end with one run. We are in discussions with a director to work with us on its next staging. Brighton Blonde Productions will definitely stage this play again, and work on new ones.
  • Just do it. Finally I think if you’re ho-humming over whether you should do a Fringe show or not, if you believe in your ideas I say just go for it. There’s no learning curve steeper than staging your work in front of a paying audience. Of course it is a risk, but one that makes you feel alive.

 

Categories
A Glass of Nothing a writer's life Actors Blowing my own trumpet Brighton Fringe Theatre

Better than I’d dared to hope for

IMG_2856
Peter Kenny, Kitty Underhill, Beth Symons and Dylan Corbett-Bader a few minutes before our final performance

So what a week. I’m writing this first thing on a Monday morning, after an extraordinary week. A Glass of Nothing played to three sell out audiences. It garnered some great reviews (which I’ll link again to here and here).

Having now seen the play run in front of living breathing audiences, there are bits I’d like to quickly tighten up, and other bits I’ll cut. I’m convinced the play has excellent bones, however, and it is definitely worth pushing on with.

The cast were a joy to work with. Beth, Kitty and Dylan, were sensational and there were no passengers in this cast. People’s feedback to me on all three has been fabulous. Beth carried the show, had the biggest part and showed enormous bravery transforming herself into a sensational diva, by turns touching and outrageous. Kitty, proved herself a versatile, natural comedienne and won herself an agent through her performance.

The most pressure was on Dylan, who for reasons already gone into on this blog, was featured in the national newspapers. He showed off a delicious comedy timing. He really is a loveable young man, on and off stage. I am sure will go on to achieve whatever he sets his sights on. His family are wise enough to protect him from the weight of expectation and let him flourish in his own way.

I found myself being quoted (as ‘Peter Kenny playwright’) on page three of The Daily Mail. Inevitably in the telling of Ronnie Corbett and Dylan’s story there was a slight warping of reality. According to the press, Dylan had the starring role in the play, for example, while  Beth and Kitty appeared in photos uncredited. That all their photos were on websites and in local and national newspapers, just from having been in a fringe show, is rather splendid though. And I’m naturally chuffed that a play I wrote was the context for all this.

So Beth and I are going to have a planning meeting later this week, to decide our next steps. But I think we’re both determined there will be next steps. And on a rather grubby practical note, having not made a loss on the show is rather nice. Traditionally fringe shows are holes into which money is poured, but when the beans are counted we will make as small profit, we can invest in the next production, such as buying tickets to Edinburgh for example.

Below: the glamorous backstage reality of the fringe.

IMG_2851