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A Glass of Nothing Actors Theatre

‘A Glass of Nothing’ still half full

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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.

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Amy Freeman on tech
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Matt Colborne, Kitty Underhill, Beth Symons August 2017, Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh
Categories
Actors Autobiographical Comedy Theatre

First night tonight at The Marlborough

So the first night of our double bill, We Three Kings, and A Glass of Nothing is tonight at the Marlborough Theatre. Till the evening comes, I feel in limbo. We’ve had long rehearsals over the last few days. Our tech rehearsal was last night. It certainly focuses your mind and clenches the bowels when the stage is lit and dressed, and people are in costume. Tonight sees the first performance of We Three Kings so I am slightly terrified. Being very confident about A Glass of Nothing helps a lot, however.

There are still a few seats available on the door should lovers of dark comedy want to come on impulse. The Marlborough Theatre deets are here.

Being in The Marlborough theatre reminded me of the first time I was there seven years ago for a meeting about something completely different. I snuck onto the stage, and just soaked up the atmosphere of the empty theatre. Unexpectedly, I had a powerful feeling of homecoming.

My first flirtation with writing for theatre was sparked by my friend Timothy Gallagher. It culminated in us staging plays we had written at the Water Rats Theatre in London. Tim was like an infuriatingly talented older brother. But as his death loomed (of AIDs at the age of 37) I shelved my work and focused on helping him stage his own plays. Sometimes he would check out of hospital, get a cab and perform at a venue I’d helped sort out, then go back to the ward. His performances, seen by very few, were electric.

I took me about fifteen years to realise I had been experiencing survivor’s guilt. I didn’t understand at the time, why I was no longer able to face theatre or even poetry readings for about ten years. So I will be thinking of Tim tonight, but in a happy way. And thanking my lucky stars that I worked my way back to theatre again. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of witnessing an entire world being conjured up on stage. It an act of magic. And when people are laughing at a line you’ve written, to be the writer sitting in the audience is a fine thing.

A snap from rehearsals two days ago. James Kuszewski fascinating Beth Symons with a walking stick.

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

Nostalgia, and other news

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Categories
Actors Performance Reviews Theatre

Nina Conti on the edge of darkness

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I saw Nina Conti’s In Your Face tour at the Brighton Dome last Saturday. The climax of her show, when she had seven people up on stage, wearing her masks on demonstrated her sheer bravery, improvisational skill and speed of thought in remembering all the accents and attributes she had given them.

She had three moments of darker theatre in her show with Monk, her glove puppet. This monkey has such a strong identity, that despite frequent postmodern allusions to it being a puppet, the audience believes in it all the more strongly.  The shorter first half ends with Nina being hypnotised into sleep by the monkey. Of course when Nina is asleep, the monkey must remain silent and they are carried off stage.

Later Nina climbed into a black sack, with just Monk visible, and the puppet fielded audience questions. This was brave, especially in a large place like the Dome where it is hard to hear everyone, without first having climbed into a sack.

But most of all I loved the end of her show, when she puts the monkey away, then talking to her naked hand finds the monkey is still present, and beginning to take her over and puppet her. This was all over too quickly for me, but was nodding to a darker, more absurd territory that is clearly present for her. I’d be fascinated to see her enter it.

 

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

Better than I’d dared to hope for

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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.

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Categories
A Glass of Nothing Actors Comedy Theatre

A shiver of anticipation

 

Last blog about this show till the first night, which is Tuesday 17th May. All fairly calm offstage, while onstage things are hotting up. In two days our tech rehearsal, then a few more run throughs… Then we’re on. Typically, it was only last week that we discovered the perfect place to rehearse: Copperdollar Studio. Heartily recommend for other actors, photographers, dancers and anyone else who needs a clean, atmospheric and warmly-organic feeling place to work.

At the time of writing, the last night of A Glass of Nothing has sold out, and the other two nights are going well. My private OMG-please-let-the-audience-be-more-than-x number was passed a long time ago. Much to my relief.

Rehearsals fall into the usual rhythm of excellent and challenging. Fortunately, our last one was a cracker. I actually got shivers down my spine as we were running through it. The play seems so much bigger now than when I wrote it.

Last minute tickets from here, and a few more snaps of our cast below.

 

 

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A Glass of Nothing Actors Brighton Fringe Comedy Performance Theatre

Build it and they will come… we hope!

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On the top deck of the bus, travelling to rehearsals yesterday, I took a blurry snap of people assembling The Warren where our show will be staged. Seeing The Warren being built, focuses the mind more than it would if it were a permanent theatre. Bum-clenching proof that there are just three weeks till the show’s opening night.

Happily enough, we’ve already sold dozens of tickets which is making the Kenny twitchometer slightly calmer. If you’d like to come, and please do if you can, find a link here to tickets. The comedy play runs at about an hour, which is enough to fulfil Beth Symon’s three wishes of absolute beauty, having the perfect partner, and a glittering career. She’s ably abetted by the Kitty Underhill and Dylan Corbett-Bader who are playing several figments of her imagination with gusto and versatility.

Rehearsals have been excellent. Thankfully we’ve got to the point now where the stabilisers are coming off the bike, and we’re freewheeling through entire show in rehearsals. Lots to be done in the next few week, and I’m still tweaking the script, but we’re on track. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Below… Beth, Kitty and Dylan.

 

 

Categories
Actors Blowing my own trumpet Brighton Fringe Comedy Theatre

Definitely cup half-full

A Glass of NothingWatching actors rehearsing your script is like being at a birth. Messy, noisy but rewarding too.

Over the last few weeks in all kinds of venues (a big shout out to Brighton’s The Duke of Wellington where we have been using an upstairs room for the last few rehearsals and lapped up a few drinks too). Beth, Dylan and Kitty have been hard at work. The blocking (where the actors position themselves on the stage and work out what they’re doing) is mostly sorted now, and the script is becoming something that comes out of people’s mouths and from their bodies. I always love this moment when words on a page become something people are doing in the physical world.

I sit in the corner feeling a little bit proud. The play is alive and well, and full of character and interest and – mercifully – quite a few laughs too. The script I’d completed in a week of intense writing (after starting it a year earlier) actually works. Every creative effort is a leap of faith, but the moment when you can see the thing emerging, blinking in the light, and healthy and well is a huge relief.

Beth is directing the play. As she is on stage most of the time, I am also attending most rehearsal so I can add new dialogue or cut cuttable bits, sometimes reword lines to make them more natural.

Me being there saves time too. The actors don’t have to puzzle over what the writer meant. They can simply ask. Repairs can be done to the script on the spot, and more often than not the actors will improvise in a way that fits perfectly and is added into the script. The play belongs to all of us. For me, who spends lots of time alone writing things in my office, this is a really happy feeling.

I’m pumped that we cast Kitty and Dylan. Both are professional, highly creative, and a delight to know. Oh yes, and funny too. Rather important in a comedy.

Below Kitty and Dylan: Nooooo!

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A Glass of Nothing Actors Brighton Fringe Theatre

Gut decisions

Beth and I have our cast!

The audition process was fairly smooth. Slightly tangentially I found myself interested by where the auditions were held. The Brighton ones were done in the basement of a restaurant bar Neighbourhood on St James Street. The metal bull’s head on the wall felt, for me, like some kind of a good omen as we sat underneath it. The London auditions were conducted in the tranquility of the Kingston Quaker’s Centre. Entering the door code made the doors open automatically and all the lights turn on brightly, but there was nobody there, but the residual stillness of a place where people come to pray and meditate.

When the actors started doing their thing, I sensed little ripples in placid atmosphere. The actors however, seem to me to bring their own portable imaginary space, a bubble of energy to perform in. Some actors had energy that filled the whole room.

All actors were asked to read a section of the script and do some improv with Beth. From the snatch of script, we got an idea of people’s timing skills (essential as this is a comedy). Watching people improvise, however, gives you a rapid snapshot of people’s skill set.

Everyone we saw was talented. One or two people didn’t show up to their audition, however, which I found a bit surprising.

We chose two actors: a male and a female. Kitty Underhill, seemed a great fit for the parts we want her to play. She came to her audition fully prepared and totally switched on – she was hilarious and bitchy when the part called for it. A real live wire.We also chose Dylan Corbet-bader who is 18, but revealed a lovely depth and core to his performance. Some actors just have lovability, and Dylan is one of them.

There are few other walks of life in which you happily expect the success of a production to rely on people who are almost strangers. But in theatre that leap of faith happens all the time. Perhaps this is why Beth and I let listened to our guts when making these decisions. It affirms your faith in other people when it works.

Below: a space to be heard.

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Categories
Actors Comedy Performance Theatre

A space for Eddie Izzard

I saw Eddie Izzard on Saturday night. I love the proliferation of characters (all played by himself) that populate his stand up act. He carried the audience with him on fantastic imaginative journeys. I particularly liked the death of Caesar scene. Stabbed twice by a Roman called Tenacious and his dying gasp misinterpreted as ‘remember me as a salad’. Always impressed to see how one person can hold a whole theatre for the evening. And despite it just being one man with no props, it managed to be a properly theatrical experience.

He had a lovely stage too, simple but with its chessboard-like design gave him areas to work from or cavort lengthily round on an extended riff on Dressage for example, which he described as ‘non-mammalian’ sport. The backdrop made me think 1960s TV series such as The Time Tunnel. Pretty much in tune with Izzard’s brilliant time-travelling, polyglot, culture-hopping comedy. Certainly gave me a much-needed laugh.

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