Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Casting Doughty

Suddenly the office is full again. Karen and Jake have returned from almost a month in Spain with Of All The People In All The World. Craig is back after a month clawing back time owed him by Stan and writing a play for Radio 4. Graeme has re-emerged from a bunker at Birmingham Uni. where he was devising a show with students.

He’s done well to get that gig; the University has been a notoriously closed shop for as long as we’ve been in town. This is either the dawning of a new era or the crumbling of Western Civilisation. The show, Casting Doughty, was an unknown quantity, a non-Stan enterprise. Craig and I piled over on Saturday for the last night.

I love watching these shows devised with teams of students. I love seeing large casts doing their thing. I love watching the range of performers that are necessarily involved. Having made a number of these shows myself I love spotting what tactics the director has used, imaging how the devising process evolved and how the show ended up being what it was.

Essentially Casting Doughty was the biography of a fictional film director told through scenes from his films. Bursting with ideas, the show was always watchable and engaging. It had great bits of set and the best costumes I’ve seen in a student show, so there were often scenes that looked great. Whilst there was only one section that really caught fire for me (a sequence of scenes evolving on a rotating set) there were plenty of other moments that I wanted to see more of. Naturally for me that is the ultimate joy of watching these shows – imagining what I would do if you had a week to rework the show.

I had a great time, unfortunately for Craig his natural talent shone through and on entering the theatre he got cast as Doughty (a different audience member is cast for each performance). The poor man ends up working when he’s visiting someone else’s show. To make matters worse his final moment – emerging from a wicker basket – was stolen from him by an ill-timed fire alarm. The last two minutes of the show were performed outside in the bitter cold without props, lights or sound.

Another memorable night out.


Sunday, February 26, 2006


John Metcalf Rocks The Emperor's Palace

Following last week’s observations about Award Ceremonies being blatant exercises in marketing, Our Man In Literature sent a couple of dispatches which are, as usual, eminently quotable:

“I think the book world is worse [than theatre] it seems it's decided prizes are the only way it can market itself. The most ridiculous award I've discovered is the Encore Prize, which is an award for the author who manages-not-to-fuck-up-their-second-book-following-a-reasonably-successful-first.”

He also notes that two years ago the Granta Best Young Novelist list included two unpublished writers; “In [the theatre] world this is like having a prestigious agenda-setting Best Independent Theatre Company list and giving two places to a bunch of students who were half way through devising their first play in some community centre somewhere”.

Anyway, part of the point of writing about Awards Ceremonies was as an excuse to mention having been taken to see John Metcalf perform with his band a couple of months ago. Dullard that I am, I find it easy when dodging The BAFTA’s, The Brits or The Turner Prize, to mutter about art forms whose advertising is other people’s content. “It must be so easy for them” my withered brain thinks, “they’re in cahoots”. Then there’s Metcalf and his great band playing a really strong set in front of an audience we’d be disappointed to pull anywhere on tour – it’s clearly not easy for most people in most circumstances.

There were some fantastic performances that night and some brilliant numbers, but what gave the whole thing an extra edge, that I warrant was unique to the gig we select few saw, was the setting. The venue had recently opened its Christmas show so the band were brewing up a contemporary musical storm beneath the portals of The Emperor’s exotically painted plyboard palace.


Monday, February 20, 2006


A Rush of Nausea

And with a rush of nausea the award ceremony season is upon us. Our days are darkening as they lengthen. BAFTA, to their credit, place Stephen Fry as a gatekeeper – if his introduction doesn’t cause you psychic damage nothing beyond can harm you. I turn off.

Geese Theatre won a BAFTA in 1988 for a CD-ROM they made together with Jubilee Arts. As I understand it they took to the stage approximately one day and eight hours before Robert Carlyle, Judi Dench and the rest. They then found they had to pay for their trophy because Jubilee wanted one too and BAFTA only give one away free.

Awards Ceremony as Marketing Opportunity is a concept now fully assimilated. Arvo is our sleeper, he’s been in on these things across the corporate world and reported back; golden envelopes are everywhere. To those who have shalt be given more – the winners will win again for winning.

The Teaching Awards remains the only televised ceremony that has warmed my heart, each winner genuinely humble and proud to represent those who could or should have been them.

Of course there are theatre awards out there, fistfights disguised as beauty contests, some snuggling up against television and film, part of the same corporate/industrial axis, others, left of the field, vying for attention by venerating themselves. Of course whilst resolutely un-nominated and un-honoured it’s easy be righteous, let’s see how the tune changes should we ever see gilt on the horizon.

In fact, a video we made with Fox Hollies School got nominated for a tiny award years ago. I had no compunction about attending. A day out in London with Carl and Jameela was impossible to decline. It was fantastic to be there with them seeing the sights, they were excited to be up for an award. We had explored the possibility of not winning, Carl had thought it crazy talk but afterwards, when we hadn’t won, he announced that it was sad but that we should be proud just to be nominated. It was a good lesson well learnt.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006


London Calling

Today the office received a slightly mysterious phone call from the BBC. The caller wouldn’t give Charlotte a hink of why he was calling; I had to call him back.

It turns out someone has an idea to make a documentary about the Rover and Longbridge and this guy’s sniffing around for angles and contacts and so on. I should have asked him why he was calling us – like witty reposts, stinging retorts and profound observations, key questions only ever present themselves when it’s too late.

There’s something in his cheery blankness that disturbs me. It rapidly becomes clear that this guy’s never set foot in Birmingham. I’m wary of giving opinions because this isn’t my land. So I issue string of warnings. There is no single story of Rover, there are as many stories as there are people to tell them. The story of Rover goes beyond the plant into the communities and supply chain. Birmingham isn’t a pit village it’s a dynamic evolving city. It’s easy for middle class aesthetes to romanticise manufacturing industry but there’s little romance in doing those jobs. How sad is it that in collaboration with a new partner MG-Rover isn’t building a car and a half for every family in China?

In Home of the Wriggler we only dealt with a tiny fraction of the material available to us. The fantasy four shift six hour version of that show still holds an awful lure. It is a fascinating and complicated mesh of stories to be mined. I don’t blame this guy and his mates for prospecting. When he asked how we got our contacts I should have said “just by being here”. If he stops anyone in the street and they don’t know someone closely connected to Longbridge then they will know someone who knows someone who is/was. I hope this guy gets on a train and makes a journey.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Rice in Madrid

Of All The People In All The World: Europe opened at the Chamartin Railway Station, Madrid on Monday. This is the first time the show has been staged on this middle scale and I think it's a great size. There is enough rice to put out some impressive statistics and these larger piles help give the piece a strong sculptural feel. At the same time, twelve tons of rice is far more managable than the hundred and four tons the world scale entails.

Our Madrid venue is impressive, it has a contemporary barrelled roof, decent natural light and the smooth tiled floor is ideal. Each time we take the show out we learn something new about it. Here the rice arrived in ten enormous sacks rather than the 20 or 25kg bags we are familiar with. This maked the get-in far more laborious than usual but a set of industrial scales, willing local help and an impressively committed Stan’s team ment we opened on time. The whole business of weighing out rice gets a bit obsessive after a while, especially when you're spending hours just filling up 20kg bags. I’ve had to go cold turkey, flying home to try and set up some fresh projects for the next few years, whilst the rest of the team stay on.

Hopefuly Amanda, Charlotte G, Heather, Jake and Karen will get to see some of the local sights, The Prado and a show or two from the festival before they close at the end of the week and the whole enterprise rolls on to Valencia.


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