A Playwriting Opportunity

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Just a quick one to share an open call for writers, designers and actors…

Off The Rock Productions Presents…

‘The Damask Room’

A macabre evening of short plays exploring the darker side of nursery rhymes.

And we want you to be a part of it…

At the core of every nursery rhyme beats a dark and poisoned heart. These are tales of abuse, murder, warfare, capital punishment and religious persecution. ‘The Damask Room’ will give directors, writers and actors an opportunity to scratch the frivolous veneer and examine what lies behind. The plays may seek to explore the relationships between the characters? Perhaps explore the theme or situation of a particular nursery rhyme? Answer unanswered questions? What happens next? What happened before? Engage with the historical context? Play with the language and/or rhyme scheme? There just has to be an identifiable connection to a particular nursery rhyme.

Plays can last anything between 1 and 10 minutes.

Directors: If you’re interested in joining this project as a director then please contact Matthew for more information at mwignall79@hotmail.com

Writers: Please submit your plays to Matthew at mwignall79@hotmail.com

Deadline for Submissions and expressions of interest: 5pm on Friday 7th August

Actors: Auditions will be in late August/early September. Please see our Facebook and  pages for announcements.


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Tiger, Tiger

Be wary of the beast in him
That tiger’s his to tame
Not yours, no matter
how he swipes or calls you names

Tender tongue strokes yellow teeth
placates the sleeping threat
worming through your tightened fingers
quelling out your breath

His strength is that you let him, dear
and that you can control
it is his weakness, simply put:
the tiger’s in your hold

Untitled poem

A case of shades of you
set in a stuck in an attic
sitting and waiting and
dead before they knew it
Why did you let them touch?
Strained into stressed into patterns
and flattened, vaguer and thinner,
now only innards and gasps of a thing
How could you settle?
You were a king and a queen in a packet
only to be pocketed, slotted assorted and
bottled like rockets making too much racket
pin this pin was not your fault
light text your design is cleansed
for the dirty masses to ogle

Theatre Review: Crossed Swords by York Footlights Theatre and Baron Productions

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Sun 12th July, 41 Monkgate, York

In to sea shanties and a pub sign for the Crossed Swords Inn, barmaids and punters enjoying a tranquil scene and inviting the audience into their world. A large white sail hangs at the back of the stage to host an effective, consistent use of filmed inserts. A small bar, a chest, a table and chairs are manoeuvred smoothly between scenes to create a number of different locations.

Olivia Jayne Newton writes, co-directs and stars in this heart-warming musical pirate romp. Newton’s feisty, rash Anne Bonny collides with co-director and co-star Daniel Wilmot’s refined, effeminate Captain Jack Rackham and the couple share a short-lived but tender unity in their hunt for the ultimate treasure – freedom. With the intention of “exhibiting history”, Newton explores themes of destiny, choice, gender identity and acceptance in a timely, charming fashion.

This is not your typical pirate tale, but is dipped with a healthy dose of drinking, singing, adventuring, sword-fighting and banter.

Live music is provided throughout by a multi-skilled cast on a variety of instruments from cajon to violin to harp, crafting an authentic historical atmosphere and accompanying the score made up of traditional folk classics. Chiffonnette-style barmaids (Chloe Anderson and BethanyAnne Louise) proffer handy interludes of narration including a development of their own personal stories, which makes for a nice touch.

One highlight is a drinking scene between Captain Barnet (Lee Gemmell) and Governor Woodes Rogers (John R Morgan), handled with perfect comic timing.

The secondary love story between Mary Read (Natalie-Claire Brimicombe) and Sam Kendrick (Richard Thirlwall) is the one that steals our hearts. Brimicombe’s gentle, serene, compassionate delivery of Read is absolutely delightful, and her version of When I Was A Fair Maid is wonderful. Thirlwall’s Kendrick is a loveable, loyal shipmate whose talent for falling over is second to none.

One pratfall of the production is this relationship’s outdated reaction to gender-confusion played for comedy, though this is received well by the audience; possibly saved by the innocent charm of the actors. Henry Smythe’s (Samuel Valentine) running misguided ‘compliments’ are another little red flag to feminism; sadly, his comeuppance isn’t at the hand of a ‘complimented’ woman, although this is perhaps balanced by the more riling James Bonny’s (James Tyler) demise at the hand of Mary Read.

While these romances are abruptly introduced and dissolved, sisterhood between the female leads prevails in a rare bond of courage, trust and personal integrity. This culminates in Bonny’s acute sense of loss when Mary dies next to her in prison while they are both pregnant and awaiting retrial, preceded by a moving full-cast rendition of My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean.

Newton’s script comprises a complementary blend of modern and historical language, making for an accessible story in which you are rooting for the protagonists all the way, especially when you realise that half the cast are actors who have heroically stepped into the roles somewhere down the line in rehearsals, the latest joining one week before opening night.

Find out more about York Footlights Theatre here.

Theatre Review: Richard II by Bronzehead Theatre

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Richard II by William Shakespeare, produced by Bronzehead Theatre
Wed 8th July 2015, Stained Glass Centre, St. Martin-cum-Gregory, York

Director Tom Straszewski pays apt homage to the garden of England so worshipped in this underperformed historical play by decking out a fully committed site-sensitive performance with vines, flowers, ladders and live turf lining the aisle of his actors’ traverse stage.

The concept really sings, not only providing the cast with a rich, live environment to interact with but also immersing the audience in the nostalgic musk of British camping holidays (it was a wet night on Wednesday), evoking an apropos sense of longing for a happier past; the days before Richard’s realm began to rot.

Live music is provided by one-woman-band Stephanie Hill, and at one point a capella by the entire cast, augmenting the driving motivations behind various powerful moments in the action. Lighting is also effectively, and sparingly, deployed: Richard’s lamp-lit musing in the darkness of his cell is incredibly intimate and commanding, and Bolingbroke’s closing speech, perched above green spotlights, is equally affecting.

Mark Burghagen plays a cream-suited Richard, sharp-eyed and feline, while Amy Millns is a pumped-up, righteous Bolingbroke. They are accompanied by a multi-roling ensemble: Geraldine Bell (Duchess of York/Salisbury/Bushy/Hotspur), Mick Liversidge (John of Gaunt/Green/Northumberland), Richard Easterbrook (Duke of York/Mowbray) and Elizabeth Cook (Aumerle/Willoughby).

Burghagen’s performance is truly delectable. Poetic speeches are elucidated with humanity, making this unusual hero entirely relatable. He is captivated, and thus captivating, in every moment.

The exposed nature of the production feeds the essence of humanity that runs ripe through its veins. The cast tread tenderly through their live set, forming a tight-knit collective to execute stunts and fights right under the audience’s noses. Though there is a tendency to drop into caricature to differentiate between roles, poignant and stirring speeches are delivered by both Liversidge and Easterbrook, and one cannot help but will on every character toward their disparate destinies.

This is a measured, thoughtful, inspiring take on a story that one could be forgiven for forgetting is an old one. It is fresh, alive and exciting.

Having now completed their York run, Bronzehead are now touring to:

Wednesday 15th July, 7.30pm
Richmond Friary Gardens
Tickets: £12, £10 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA)

Thursday 16th July, 7.30pm
Helmsley Walled Garden
Tickets: £12, £8 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA), available via Helmsley Arts Centre

Friday 17th July, 7.30pm
The Tudor Garden, Poppleton Tithe Barn
Tickets: £14 adults, £10 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA)

Saturday 18th July, 7pm
Pontefract Castle
Advance tickets: £10 adults, £5 children, £25 family (2 adults and 2 children)
On the gate: £12.50 adults, £6 children, £30 family

Sunday 19th July, 7pm
Harrogate Valley Gardens
Tickets: £14 adults, £10 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA)

Theatre Review: The Knot of the Heart by Anonymous Bosh Theatre Company

The Knot of the Heart by David Eldridge, produced by Anonymous Bosh at Friargate Theatre on 5th July as part of Love Arts York

This is a play about grief, family, addiction, recovery, shame, and change, among other things.

David Eldridge’s The Knot of the Heart is an unpleasant slice of life; his leading lady Lucy a wretched character. Neither is easy to like. Lucy (played by Anna Rogers) is abrasive, selfish, ungratefully privileged and utterly graceless. Eldridge does an artful job of turning the disgust so often directed at underprivileged addicts toward a young, middle-class golden girl seemingly without much in common with the generally supposed reasons that people turn to drugs.

However, some of the more poetic descriptions of her drug highs and the feelings they open her heart to are disconcertingly relatable. There is humanity we can connect to in Lucy, despite the crude front she presents. Rogers skilfully balances these two aspects of the character in a wholly convincing performance. Her Lucy is lethargic, aggressive, confrontational, tragic, and, at moments, shockingly mature. She gives realistic tribute to the tragedy of intelligent people making bad decisions.

Lucy’s mother and sister prove similarly uncomfortable presences. All three are hooked on harmful substances as well as self-destructive and unrewarding relationship patterns. Clancy McMullan plays a cutting, skittish, defensive Angela – Lucy’s overshadowed sister – craving her fair share of love and attention from their mother.

McMullan’s vulnerability and her insightful delivery drives home some poignant moments in the text, such as Angela’s remark, “I don’t know why the working class get such bad press. I find the middle classes infinitely crasser.” The fraught chemistry between her and Rogers is incredibly moving, especially in a later scene illuminating a landmark moment in their history where Lucy reveals that she once saw Angela self-harming, and declares, “I learned what to do when I was sad.”

Barbara is portrayed by Jo Wragg as a proud, protective mother whose steadfast upkeep of appearances teeters constantly on the brink of old, pent-up tears. Interestingly Barbara enables Lucy’s habit, denying and avoiding issues of culpability and shame throughout. Wragg carries out this tall order with humility and even comedic charm.

Director Anna-Siobhan Lewis allows for breathing time in a drama that truly depends on it, and introduces an effectively sparing use of film projection – starring Rogers herself alongside footage of her own daughter as a young Lucy – to emphasise the loss of Lucy’s vitality and potential. While driving home the impact of scenes like this, Lewis avoids drawing the story to a neat conclusion by cutting the final scene.

She states the desire to avoid the Disney ending that seemed too glib and centred around the achievement of an end-goal, and instead focus on the journey of recovery, the decision to make a change.

The script’s imperfections unfortunately remain; the appearances of nurses and psychologists do slip into diatribe and cliché, and Lucy’s frustration at these weak, insincere speeches was felt by the audience. These were handled with grace by the very capable Jane Allanach and Joe Feeney.

This is a perceptive, startling, moving production and I hope to see it go further than the York arts scene on tour.

More information about Anonymous Bosh Theatre Company can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/anonymousboshtheatre?fref=ts

Theatre Review: In Fog and Falling Snow by York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre

In Fog and Falling Snow by York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre
Fri 3rd July 2015, National Railway Museum, York

When York Theatre Royal come together with Pilot Theatre along with writers Bridget Foreman and Mike Kenny, you know you can expect something grand. Their most recent original community production In Fog and Falling Snow is certainly a spectacle, though sadly lacking substance.

Ian Giles makes his ostentatious entrance as George Stephenson atop a steam train arrogantly paraded into the centre of the great hall of the National Railway Museum, promising a grandiose, epic tale. This is quickly undone by the following pantomime banter with George Hudson (played by the brilliant George Costigan), which is mostly unintelligible due to the inevitably inhospitable acoustics of the space.

Audience are subsequently led to various spots around the hall in groups of around twenty by guides. Different personal stories are slotted into nooks and crannies, on staircases, in and draping off of carriages. There are some engaging performances that set up characters we can later sympathise with, though most enactments are distracted, and swallowed by the louder scenes continuing synonymously within the huge room.

Some inconsistencies jar the production from the immersive feat that is obviously intended; some guides wear Pilot Theatre t-shirts while others don period costume and characters. One vignette, serving as a sales pitch for shares in the railway, is undermined by its novelty-hugging setting in a 1976 Japanese bullet train.

This first half of devised scenes culminates in an inescapably rousing and loveable dance and song by the cast to ‘Oh, Mr Porter!’ (another conspicuous jump in history), framing the idealism with which our protagonist, George Hudson, was elevated to the status of ‘Railway King’.

Act two takes us to another world. The unveiling of the specially created Signal Box Theatre is nothing less than awesome. Platforms 1 and 2 between them seat a tremendous 1,000 audience members around the tracks that are used to convey cast and set through the traverse stage, or rather trench, on trucks. Balconies behind the audience and above the tracks provide ample space for the cast to frolic, panic and swell, for a 40-piece choir to deliver moody soundscapes and moving songs. Memorable performances are given by Costigan, Rosy Rowley as Elizabeth Hudson, Kane Hutchinson as Jimmy Gadd and Harriet Mayne as a jailor.

It is the design of the production that shines above all; a sea of black umbrellas trawling down the tracks, a flurry of swirling dresses dancing across the trucks, a pineapple’s grand entrance upon the blade of a coal shovel, a train crash portrayed entirely by human bodies. Sadly the aesthetics are not supported by a fulfilling story. The plot is long, predictable and imbalanced; all characters make the same journey from poor to hopeful to ruined, lives are lost and lessons unproffered. Cheap laughs and cheap tears are won, this show being more a circus than a drama. In Fog and Falling Snow would have benefited from a firmer focus on an intelligent script rather than relying on its technical glamour.

The next piece hosted in the fantastic Signal Box Theatre is to be a return of the York Theatre Royal’s Olivier-Award-winning The Railway Children, written by Mike Kenny and directed by Damian Cruden. More information here.