An interview here on the New Writing South site, where Neil Noon sent a questionnaire to five writers, including me, about their pieces in the Brighton Fringe. I talk a bit about A Glass of Nothing.
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.
Here’s a nice piece in the Daily Mail about Dylan. For an 18 year old, he is already extremely mature and professional. His grandfather, the much-loved performer Ronnie Corbett died during the period we were rehearsing the play. Although very sad, if anything his grandfather’s passing made Dylan more determined to succeed.
This week was so important for Dylan for all kinds of reasons. And as a cast, Beth, Kitty and I are really proud he did so well.
Absolutely chuffed by a great review of ‘A Glass of Nothing’ by Charley Ville.
“Writer Peter Kenny’s and actor-director Beth Symons’s A Glass of Nothing knows exactly what it’s doing – and who it’s doing it for. The very first lines pop like a Formula 1 celebration and we are delightfully bathed in a stream of deliciously fizzing jokes and observations. Featherweight bliss, this is a real Babysham of a show.”
Too twitchy to take photos, but I snapped Beth moments before the doors opened. She is set on stage as the play begins, and as people file in. In retrospect I think this is quite a sadistic thing to inflict on an actor, but then she directed it so she only has herself to blame. Of course everyone was nervous. My own approach was a kind of numbed pseudo-calm. I sat rigidly watching the actors (in the bare few minutes we had left after setting the stage) pacing about on stage muttering lines to themselves.
I find it hard not to resort to X Factor cliches, but the cast undeniably smashed it . We had a great audience – warm and supportive – and a full house. Thank God people laughed lots when it was funny, and got sucked into the drama of the darker bits. An absolute result for a first night.
Everyone gave it their best. With the pivotal role, Beth was daring,hilarious and chameleon-like. And she kept the play glued together. Dylan exuded humour, confidence and is completely loveable. While Kitty was note perfect in the weirdly bitchy parts we’d inflicted on her, and her own improvisation of a hungover office worker was really funny. I managed not to screw up my tiny role too.
After the audience had gone, I poked my head into the tiny wing and found Beth, Kitty and Dylan sardined into the tiny stage wing, giggling hysterically about having made it through the first night.
A fantastic first show. But by God I needed a beer afterwards. Seems the next two nights are full houses too so bring ’em on.
And last, but not least… The Argus has picked up on Dylan’s story here. We’re all proud of him too.
This morning I thought I’d write an update from the safety of the duvet.
At the end of our last rehearsal (we crowbarred four complete run throughs plus a tech rehearsal into the weekend) I told Beth, Kitty and Dylan how proud I was of them. They’ve expanded the play and added so much. Beth has the pivotal role, and is onstage most of the time, but she still has been able to direct proceedings, with me also chipping in. Casting Kitty and Dylan was a big win, and spending hours in rehearsal rooms is much easier when everyone is so easygoing and professional.
Happily, we’ve pretty much sold out the Theatre Box. This means we will have covered our venue costs, promotion costs and so on. There’s little money to be made from this malarkey, but doing better than breaking even means we can put the money towards our next venture.
After we sold the bulk of the tickets there has been a small wave of publicity surrounding Dylan, who is the late Ronnie Corbett’s grandson. The Daily Mail, the Argus and no doubt some other places are picking up on Dylan’s ‘taking to the stage’. We all had a laugh at the photo from when he was about 15 that the Mail used for him. Dylan has a naturally loveable presence, a fine asset for an actor – and has been entirely professional about carrying on despite being very sad about his loss.
My nerves are just about under control. I’m trying not to twitch like Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther movies. Naturally my excitement is seasoned with the odd flash of panic… Visions of everyone forgetting their lines, a stony-faced audience, haywire sound and lighting, and then how an unexpected tsunami rushes in from the English Channel and washes the Theatre Box and the rest of Brighton away mid-performance…
One good thing was that Beth, Kitty, (see above in their white coats) my wife Lorraine and I went about the Warren at the weekend asking people if they’d like to drink a glass of nothing. Several people drank it and commented on its flavours. That the glass could be full of possibilities, imagination and fabulousness seemed to be readily understood. Get that, you get the play.
Right. No more displacement activities. Better get up, and get on with the day. We’re on at 8:30 tonight. Breakfast, then a spot of work, then gym then… YIKES!
PS: I did my first meme last night…
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.
Watching 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!
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.
So, this play then… ‘A Glass of Nothing’ Its first staging will be at The Warren, Theatre Box, Brighton on Tuesday 17th, Wednesday 18th, and Thursday 19th May. I will be obviously trumpeting this from the rooftops before it happens.
To give you an idea of what it’s about, here is some blurb:
Have you ever watched an actor on stage drink from an empty glass? See how she wipes her hand across her mouth and belches appreciatively.
When a young woman’s life is blighted by no money, no job and no one to love, what choice does she have but to drink from a glass of nothing? But what really is in this glass? Not nothing, oh no. It’s brimful of imagination and fizzing with dark comedy.
Beth Symons plays our heroine, gulping from a glass of nothing to transform herself into anything she desires. Tonight she is the most beautiful woman in the world, a woman whose love life is a tapestry of intrigue and excitement, whose career ascends to dizzying heights…
But what happens when her imagination invites argumentative, wrong-headed people on stage who refuse to follow her script? Watch as Beth battles to keep her vision pure, and stave off the dangers of self loathing and the banal challenges of life in a rented room.
Dare you join her in a glass of nothing?
The play is a three-hander. Beth, who I am writing it for, is pictured below. Beth and I will be auditioning for two parts ‘1F 1M’ starting this Thursday. Through her networks Beth has arranged for several people to audition over the next few weeks. We’ve booked a room and (among other things) will be asking people to read a snippet of early dialogue (which still needs a bit of polishing). As the dialogue is pacy we’re obviously looking for good timing.
I’m still working on to complete the first draft, which will then be thrown to the actors to see what works, what can be funnier and so on. I am fairly pragmatic about all this. The play has a strong structure, and in my, um, vast experience (of having a few plays performed in fringe theatres) I want the play to work as a drama as well as making people laugh. If the story intrigues people that’s a real bonus. I also like a disturbing current to flow through the narrative so the funny bits sparkle.
Beth’s part will call for bravery. She is going to have to be a complete vamp at times. We have been looking at everything from Burlesque dancers to the amazing Eartha Kitt for inspiration. When people are playing a comedy grotesques is that you can’t do anything with self-consciousness. It communicates itself to an audience, and they start squirming on your behalf. And we can’t have that!
I’ll let you know how the auditions go…