Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Grand Central Secret

The latest Stan’s Cafe website editorial makes great play of secrecy. This isn’t out of choice. The office is currently in a state of anxiety. A host of gigs are awaiting confirmation of one sort or another, a mass of decisions and actions are poised to be made and taken depending on the yeses or the nos.

It’s easy to get swept along by possibilities that subsequently fall through. It’s embarrassing to have shared your excitement only to have to confess later that it has come to nothing. The most recent example, which we did fairly well to keep the lid on, was an offer to perform Of All The People In All The World for two days at Grand Central Station in NYC. It all looked very possible except for the complication that the East Coast Premiere had already been optioned by another venue. We pitched them the Grand Central gig as great publicity but they saw it as stealing their thunder – that’s their prerogative and we have no complaints. We file this non-performance along with all the others as the history that could have been.

Where is the East Coast premiere taking place? We can’t say yet. The agreement is there but the publicity embargo remains until the venue announces the appropriate season.


Thursday, April 13, 2006


More God and Science Fiction

My off the cuff answers to the two new questions asked on Tuesday were/are:

Our shows reject the notion of a single unifying truth. There is no single correct reading or interpretation of any of our shows. If you approach them listening for a reliable authorial voice you will not find it. If you deem God to be The Author in a narrow sense then this figure does not exist in our worlds.

At the same time, we occasionally find it useful for figures in our shows to hold quasi-Godlike positions. The two figures in Ocean of Storms and the four figures of Home Of The Wriggler appear omniscient if not omnipotent.

Ally hit the mark with her comment on the last entry. Science Fiction allows the modelling of alternative worlds to reflect on this world. As we approached the year 2000 I started to think about how much of our and other peoples theatre work seemed backward looking and somehow nostalgic, tethered in some way to the very early 20th Century or Europe circa World War 2. Bingo in the House of Babel was science fiction, but dressed in 1940s clothing. It seemed time to try and look forward more than back.

I remain fascinated by the question of what Science Fiction theatre could be. It seems like a tough challenge to make because unlike Literature, Cinema, Graphic Novels and Gaming, theatre is bound to our present technological and corporal realities. Science Fiction’s major trope is that transcends these realities. How do we approach this without wrapping our sets in tinfoil?

Be Proud Of Me and Home Of The Wriggler are some kind of answer. Maybe my next job is to investigate Ken Cambell’s Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool and find out what that was all about.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Good Questions

Yesterday two students came up to Birmingham to ask questions about Stan’s Cafe for dissertations of various kinds. Hopefully it’s a mutually rewarding process. Some lines of questioning only require the well rehearsed answers, but usually there a angles of enquiry that make you think about what you do in a fresh way. Yesterday I was forced to think about the place of God in our work and how much of our work is Science Fiction – all good stuff.


Thursday, April 06, 2006


Two Days In Leipzig

Two days in Leipzig – another site visit. One of the intrigues surrounding Of All The People In All The World is the way its character changes according to its location. Werner had done a great job with his preparation. Every building we stepped into held the promise of a new fresh version of the show.

The church, grand from the outside, felt a bit distracted on the inside, the strange raised wooden floor was scratched linoleum, a but tatty. Places of worship have stiff competition, once you have performed in Birmingham and Worcester Cathedrals your standards are high.

The art gallery was beautiful, a safe bet, everything to hand, everything immaculate. The show would be great in there, yet maybe the venue is too safe, too clean, too blank. The show would just sit there.

The museum entrance hall was immediately impressive. Very long with a great stone floor it was heavy with a sense of history. As I spent time there I began to feel the show would feel like a squatter there. Although the space was large it was also compromised with the alternative attractions, coins in cases that would restrict where the rice was placed. Not here.

The main railway station is vast and spectacular, the left hand entrance hall alone is huge and if an area within it were roped off the show could work there. Passing trade would be phenomenal but it would be a tough show to run. It would be very exposed and tiring, it would feel difficult to put out the subtle stuff that makes the show sing. Would we have to take it all up each night so it wouldn’t be scattered whilst we were absent?

The old stock exchange is beautiful and the show would be great here. There is simple entrance hall, stairs and then show would fit snugly in the upstairs hall. The building’s history would work well with the produce based, weights and measures nature of the show.

The abandoned exhibition hall took my breath away. It has a maw of a proscenium arch and raked stage that the globe would look fantastic on. There is a balcony round the room’s perimeter and a very high ceiling. The show would have a similar feel to the Waggenhalle version – these people have been in this space doing this thing since long before you came in to see them. In truth the European scale version of the show would work better here, but the German version could be spread out.

Ultimately the semi-derelict curved shop unit won through. It requires a bit of work. The curled and rotting carpet will have to be ripped out, the windows cleaned and the place made to look inviting. The main advantages of this space are all about access. The show windows make the show transparent for an accidental audience who will pass by because this venues is right in the heart of the city centre. Ultimately having a great space is pointless if no one comes to see the show in it.

I’ve enjoyed imagining the show in each space taking on a different character. The short list has been drawn up in order of preference, now it is up to Werner and the team at Theater Der Jungen Welt to see which they can get permissions for and make work logistically.



You've Been Fourty

In retrospect I wish I had spent money on the glossy advertisement compendium that is a Birmingham Rep program. I want to know the story of the show. Not what happened, all that would happen was fairly obvious from two minutes in, but how it came to happen. What was the story of the making of?

Was someone inspired by the West End or aspiring too the West End? Was this the first or fiftieth choice? I haven’t been privy to any of the musicals that stitch together a compilation of a successful artist’s hit songs to spawn another hit; do they play fast and lose with original lyrics to meet their needs?

UB40 are almost certainly good blokes and impressively loyal both to each other and their home city. Did they have any hand in what was done to their material for this show? Maybe they are less loyal to that. They may be Balsall Heath boys at heart but surely edgy hasn’t described their work for a couple of decades. Was their cooption part of a notion to draw an audience new to The Rep? I’ve not been to a UB40 gig, but I’d be startled in the demographic is anyone much younger than me.

There’s a tricky etiquette surrounding free tickets but I had no reason to consult Debretts I had desire to leave at any point, even a return after the interval was motivated by curiosity and goodwill more than local politiking. I was both wishing the whole project well whilst paralysed by a morbid fascination.

Afterwards I was left wondering that they couldn’t find a way of cracking open the UB40 catalogue to deliver anything beyond a run of duets that could have been staged on a stage a eighth the size. Maybe they didn’t feel the chorus was strong enough to carry off more than a single number. What was behind the decision not to end the musical on a song? Surely there are some conventions that survive because they work and to ignore them is to invite a damp squib onto your stage. Hell I‘m as reluctant to be emotionally manipulated as the next cynic, and a healthy distrust of group catharsis underlies much of the satire in Lurid and Insane, but even I wanted something a bit more rousing than a limp joke. The Audience were perplexed and the cast were all lined up for their bow before a hand was clapped.

How different it could have been if, rather than the elder statesmen of UB40, The Rep had somehow persuaded Mike Skinner that a stage version of The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come For Free wouldn’t entirely destroy his credibility. It may have been possible. Sarah heard him being interviewed by Jeremy Vine on Radio 2.

Skinner’s album is, I think, brilliant. It is already through written as a narrative with a central protagonist and good cast of supporting players. You wouldn’t have to rewrite a word. You’d just play with the arrangements, many numbers could be expanded for a chorus. There are great set pieces waiting to be delivered. There is wit and humour. It’s very nearly current. Rather than the melodrama of Promises and Lies’ crazily fictionalised badlands The landscape of The Streets is full of the edginess of real people’s lives, trying to make it through the week without going broke, trying to make relationships work, trying to make your lives fun and better than they are. You could get a drug dealer in there if you wanted. You could probably also manage a prostitute and a pimp, but not The Rep’s stock cartoon kind, if you really had to. It could be great!

Careful, I’m talking myself into it. Does anyone have Mike’s number?


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