Theatre book group

Inspired by the fact I’m currently reading Harriet Walter’s latest book (Brutus and other heroines) and would love to chat with someone about it, I’m planning to start a theatre book group, specifically for people working in theatre in the region.

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My plan is for the group to meet once a month or once every 2 months, with members taking turns to choose a book about theatre or a playscript for the group to read and discuss. I’ve got lots of books on my shelf I’ve started and never finished or scripts I’ve wished I’d read and I think a group like this might be good motivation to commit to some more reading as well as leading to some good discussions. (I’d suggest that availability and cost should be factors to take into account when choosing books and people could share copies where possible – I realise no one working in the arts has an unlimited book budget!)

If you think you might be interested I’m planning an initial meeting in Nottingham January 2017. Contact me if you’d like to be kept in touch about the details.

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Lots happening – November 2015

I’ve got some new projects I’m really excited about happening this month, as well as existing shows out on tour.

End to End, the Gramophones show I directed is heading back out on tour again, this time up in Scotland.

Ava Hunt is off to New Zealand to perform Acting Alone at the Performance of Hope conference in Auckland. When she returns the tour continues in the new year with dates in Buxton, Halifax, Camarthan, Nottingham, Chesterfield and Frome. Tour dates here.

From 9-20th November I’ll be directing the R&D for a new show, working title The GBS ProjectThe piece has been conceived by Adam Pownall and is about his experience of and recovery from a rare condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. He’s pulled together a brilliant team and we’ll be working at Deda in Derby and ARC in Stockton. You can read all about the project here, and follow on twitter: @GBSProject

The final week in November I’m working on a development week for a new script by Leicestershire-based writer Marilyn Ricci, called Soi DisantYou can read about the piece and the team here.

Man to Man – an extraordinary play and an extraordinary coincidence

Man to Man – a UK premiere (sort of!)

I’m currently directing Man to Man by Manfred Karge at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester. It’s an extraordinary piece of theatre, telling the story of a German woman who disguises herself as her husband in order to do his job and claim his income. Karge was inspired to write the play by the same true story which prompted Brecht to write The Good Person of Sichuan, and both plays are being produced together at the Mercury in order to highlight this link. (Good Person is being directed by the brilliant Nikolai Foster and if the sounds we’re hearing coming through our rehearsal room ceiling are anything to go by, it’s going to be ROCKING). Man to Man is rarely staged in the UK and is best known for the 1987/88 Traverse/Royal Court production which gave Tilda Swinton her big break in theatre.

Tricia Kelly with Manfred Karge

Manfred Karge with Tricia Kelly

Man to Man is a one-woman show, and the fantastic actor Tricia Kelly is playing the role of Max Gericke. As part of our rehearsal process we were fortunate to travel to Berlin to research the background to the play and the world of Max Gericke. While we were there we visited the Berliner Ensemble, hoping to get hold of a copy of the German text of the play to aid our understanding of some tricky sections. However, by a wonderful coincidence, when we explained we were working on a production of Man to Man, we were pointed in the direction of a man in a black overcoat and cap sitting on the other side of the courtyard, and told that this was the playwright himself! Although Karge’s English was as limited as our German, luckily he was with Berliner Ensemble dramaturg Herman Wündrich, who was able to translate some of the questions we had about the play. In the course of the conversation they also mentioned that Karge had written a new section for a recent production at the Berliner Ensemble. Man to Man was originally written before the Berlin Wall came down, but this new section brings the play up to date, dealing with that unforgettable night in Berlin’s history when Germany was reunited, and what it meant for Max Gericke. Karge sent us on his way with his blessing to use the new scene, and his final words were “toi toi toi!” – good luck! The Berlin Wall was still standing when Tilda Swinton played Max Gericke; our production will be the first in the UK to use this new scene.

Man to Man opens on October 4th and is on until the 19th. Book tickets here.

Exciting news!

The University of Nottingham and New Perspectives Theatre Company Receive AHRC Funding For Collaborative Doctoral Award Researching New Forms Of Theatre For Rural Touring. 

New Perspectives Theatre Company’s Associate Director Tilly Branson has successfully been awarded funding by The University of Nottingham as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Collaborative Doctoral Awards for her to complete a PhD Research project.

The research project, entitled ‘Re-imaging the Rural Tour: New Forms For New Audiences’, is a collaborative project in which the School of English Studies at the University of Nottingham and New Perspectives Theatre Company, the leading rural touring company in the East Midlands, will work together to investigate, pilot and share innovative models of making theatre for rural audiences with the aim of building new communities of spectatorship and engagement.

Tilly completed a Masters in Theatre Research at The University of Nottingham in 2009, and shortly afterwards began a working relationship with New Perspectives.  After working with Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd as Assistant Director on their critically acclaimed production of Those Magnificent Men she was later offered the position as Associate Director, leading for the company on talent development and audience engagement; delivering opportunities for emerging artists in the region and new strategies for engaging with audiences.

Dr Jo Robinson Director of Teaching and Associate Professor in Drama and Performance commented:.

Tilly already has a strong relationship with both partners involved in the Collaborative Doctoral Award. Her Mres topic Contextual Dramaturgy: providing theatre audiences with opportunities for active engagement’ which she successfully completed at Nottingham and her freelance work for New Perspectives provides a fantastic foundation for this project. Her experience of working on a wide range of experimental theatrical forms, both in the UK and in Canada, means that she is ideally placed to deliver the innovative performance work which is central to this Collaborative Doctoral Award.

New Perspectives are sector leaders for Engagement and Talent Development and this collaborative project offers the company, for the first time, the opportunity to put high quality research into new ways of making work with and for rural audiences at the heart of its development processes. The project will have a direct impact on the future programming policy of the company, with the work produced offered as part of New Perspectives’ programme, and audiences taken on a journey which challenges what they expect from theatre in their community.

Out-going Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd is thrilled at the news:

 Tilly has a proven aptitude for both research and practice; she is resourceful, committed and articulate, with not only a high degree of expertise but also the skills necessary for building and extending relationships as well as unearthing ideas and material in this field. New Perspectives is delighted to be able to work together with the University of Nottingham to support Tilly with this project. 

The project will officially begin in October, with a completion date for 2015.

Some great feedback on my recent work

I’ve been incredibly busy in recent months, particularly with two big directing projects. The first was Goldfish for New Perspectives – a piece exploring memory which combined the winning and running-up scripts from the DREAM UP script-writing competition.

New Perspectives Goldfish poster

The show did a 4-date mini-tour of East Midlands venues including arts centres and rural village halls; and was incredibly well-received every night. We had a lovely feedback from audiences, including a great audience review: ‘an intelligent and intriguing production… a feat which shows Branson as a promising director with her hands securely on the helm‘. Read the full review here.

The second show I’ve been directing is End to End with The Gramophones – the true story of a journey from Lands End to John O Groats.

The Gramophones End to End poster

End to End is currently part of Buxton Fringe, and will be heading up to Edinburgh in August, after an Edinburgh preview at Lakeside Arts Centre on Saturday 4th August. This week we were at the fabulous Create Theatre in Mansfield as part of the Mansfield Arts Festival, and we had lovely feedback from our audiences in person, and on facebook and twitter. We had a brilliant review on the Buxton Fringe website: ‘truly sensational… pitched perfectly… brought to life with a real sense of energy and vibrancy‘. Click here to read the full review.

Current work

End to End  - The Gramophones Theatre CompanyI’m working with The Gramophones directing End to End, a piece based on a journey made from Lands End to John O Groats as part of the Theatre Writing Partnership Making Tracks bursary scheme. It’ll be on at Circuit Festival, Buxton Fringe, Lakeside Arts Centre and Edinburgh. More information on dates and tickets here.

goldfish poster image

I’m also directing Goldfish at New Perspectives. This piece has been created by the STEP UP Creatives training ensemble, a group of talented emerging creatives from the region, using the winning and running-up scripts from the DREAM UP writing competition. It will be performed at Derby Guildhall, Lakeside Arts Centre, Glentworth Village Hall and Aslockton Village Hall. More information on dates and tickets here.

Arletty Theatre TiG workshop

On Sunday 30th October, Arletty Theatre held a one-day workshop on TiG, a new play written by Arletty Theatre Artistic Director Imogen Joyce. Imogen and I co-directed on the day, and had a fantastic cast of local actors who really brought the script to life. TiG is set in Nottingham, and is about gang violence and the people who work with victims and offenders. The story of Antigone is threaded through the play.

TiG workshop. Ava Hunt and Martin Berry

Eve (Ava Hunt) and Mike (Martin Berry)

We used The Space at Nottingham Contemporary for the day, and loved the “concrete cave” feel of the space – especially as TiG is inspired by Nottingham’s underground network of caves.

We’re now working towards a rehearsed reading of the play in December. For more photos from Sunday’s workshop, please visit the Arletty Theatre facebook page.

Edinburgh Highlights part 2

I wrote about my favourite pieces of theatre in yesterday’s blog post, but there were a few more I saw which are worthy of a mention:

Theatre highlights (cont.)

The Girl with the Iron Claws at Underbelly – very glad I managed to get a ticket, I loved this gorgeous retelling of an early version of the Beauty and The Beast story, which made clever use of a variety of styles of puppetry, and incorporated songs, and multiple scene and costume changes, and yet the storytelling still felt beautifully simple and uncluttered. It’s a show that would work brilliantly for rural touring.

Tomboy Blues: The Theory of Disappointment at Zoo Southside – a funny, honest and poignant account of growing up a tomboy, and dealing with disappointment. I loved the recurrent undercutting of the expectations of love stories, and the incorporation of the set and props. My favourite moment was a really touching bit of writing about how tears have hands which they use to push their way out of your eyes.

The Seagull Effect – I really really wanted to love this show, but I found myself just really liking it. And the horribly unfair thing is that the only thing I can really criticise about it is that there were just too many good things going on – some great writing, talented actors, accomplished physical theatre and so many clever uses of the set and projected imagery and animation – I think I just hit saturation point, and there were moments where there were so many interesting things going on on stage that I missed some of the narrative.

Theatre I wanted to see but couldn’t:

Even if you’re in Edinburgh for the entire month, it’s inevitable that there will be some shows you’re desperate to see but just can’t get to. There were a few things I really wanted to see, but couldn’t get tickets to – I’m really hoping some of them will tour or have a life after the Fringe.

Scary Gorgeous 

You Once Said Yes (I actually had a ticket to this but the Underbelly Box Office sold me it for the wrong date so it was after I left! Luckily I was able to sell it on)

Hotel Medea

The Oh F**k Moment

The Time Out

The Vanishing Horizon

Tickets and programmes, Edinburgh 2011

Comedy Highlights

Tim Key: Masterslut The funniest person I saw in Edinburgh by a long stretch and probably one of my favourite people full stop. His poem/recipe for Raspberries Tart had me in stitches. I saw it the night before I left, but if I’d been there longer I would have gone again without a moment’s hesitation.

Dave Gorman’s Powerpoint Presentation Deservedly selling out, I only got a ticket because an extra show was added on Saturday afternoon. I’ve always loved his found poems, so it was great to see one performed live, I also loved the analysis/take-down of mobile phone adverts.

Alex Horne: 7 Years in the Bathroom Delightfully bumbling show playing on those much-repeated statistics about how we spend one third of our lives asleep and so on. Possibly the most charming use of audience volunteers I’ve seen – complete antidote to the idea of getting nastily picked on if you sit in the front row of a comedy show.

Comedy I wanted to see but couldn’t:

Lots – but mainly Josie Long and Isy Suttie – I’m hoping both will tour their shows soon.

Edinburgh Highlights part 1

Despite telling everyone who would listen that I didn’t want to leave, I grudgingly boarded my train at Waverley station yesterday morning and left the city and the festival with a fistful of ticket stubs and a mind fizzing with lovely memories, after a hectic and brilliant week. When I wasn’t doing my part to look after the two New Perspectives shows on at the Fringe, I saw some brilliant theatre, music and comedy; and fell in love with the city for the umpteenth time in my life. (I’ve wanted to move to Edinburgh since I was about sixteen, and I’m still not sure why I haven’t yet).

Here are some of my festival highlights…

Festival highlights: Miscellaneous Category

The Poetry Takeaway

The Poetry Takeaway at Bristo Square

The Poetry Takeaway at Bristo Square – a simple yet delightful idea. Simply order a (free!) poem on a theme of your choice and collect it later in a handy takeaway container. Every town should have one.

Festival highlights: Theatre

I don’t know if it was luck or going on good recommendations, but there was nothing I saw that didn’t have something brilliant about it. My two favourite shows were Allotment and You Wouldn’t Know Him, He Lives in Texas. The former took place on an allotment at Inverleith Park on a typical Edinburgh August evening – typical in that it encompassed beautiful blue sky and sunshine and a fairly hefty rain shower all in the space of sixty minutes. The rain didn’t come close to taking the shine off the experience of sitting and watching this superbly written and acted two hander about sibling rivalry while sipping a complimentary mug of tea and munching a scone with homemade rhubarb jam.

You Wouldn’t Know Him…. also took place away from the main cluster of Fringe venues, instead being located in a basement flat in Newtown. Upon arriving the audience were immediately cast in the roles of friends of Lizzie, who was hosting the party in order to introduce us to her long distance boyfriend Ryan who was hosting a similar party with his ‘friends’ in Austin, Texas. The two parties linked up via Skype, and the result was a blend of rehearsed narrative and interaction with and between the two transatlantic audiences. Fun, immersive, and charming.

Other highlights:

Thirsty – Explored the relationship between women and alcohol using real stories left on a hotline set up for people to call after a few drinks. I saw a work in progress version a few months ago and it was great to see the ideas being explored then come to fruition. Funny, sad, ingenious set and gorgeous live music. I love how The Paper Birds incorporate their experience of the process of theatre-making into their shows, this was no exception as you felt and heard their resistance to tell the darker stories people told them. Despite their reluctance I thought the integration of the fun and laughter alcohol brings with the shock and poignancy of excessive drinking was handled with a delicate and intelligent touch. And the finale was just genius.

7 Day Drunk – Bryony Kimmings spent a week getting progressively drunk to see if it made her a better artist. The show is a collection of her reflections on the experience, footage taken during the week, and the art she made – all performed sober. I was worried it would be self-indulgent, but Bryony is so likeable and upfront it’s hard not be charmed. I loved her comedy songs and bonkers outfits, I questioned the ethics of some of the audience participation but the night I was there it felt like if anyone had hesitated there wouldn’t have been any pressure to take part beyond their own comfort levels

Bones – Fifth Word show about a young man in Nottingham pushed to breaking point by his harsh past and grim circumstances. Brutal, bleak and hard to watch, but a phenomenal performance by Joe Doherty. Feels full of contemporary relevance in light of the recent riots and subsequent media furore surrounding anyone who sought to understand why a generation might be growing up without hope for the future or any sense of responsibility towards their own communities.

More to come tomorrow!

My picks for Edinburgh

Somehow it’s August already, and my twitter feed is rapidly filling up with of some of my favourite theatre companies and comedians excitedly announcing their imminent departures to Edinburgh. I won’t be heading up myself until later in the month, but my list of what to see is growing. Below are some of the shows I recommend.

1. Those Magnificent Men, New Perspectives Theatre Company. Udderbelly’s Pasture, 13.15 every day except Weds 17th.

This comic two-hander retells the story of Alcock and Brown and the first ever non-stop flight across the Atlantic. Okay, I admit it, I’m biased. I was assistant director on the original tour of this in 2010, and for this remount, and I work for New Perspectives. So don’t just take my word for it – it’s had great reviews from The Times, The British Theatre Guide, and The Stage, and last year New Perspectives had a Fringe Sell-Out with Farm Boy. You can watch a trailer here, and book tickets here.

2. How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup, New Perspectives Theatre Company. Gilded Balloon Teviot, 13.15 every day except Tues 16th.

New Perspectives’ second offering for the festival is the story of how a small unknown Fenland football team came to win one of the sport’s biggest trophies. Having watched a preview this weekend I can vouch for the fact this hilarious one man show with over 60 characters is not just for football fans. You can watch a trailer here, and book tickets here.

3. Anything to Declare, The Gramophones. Laughing Horse @ Cafe Renroc, 21.50, Fri 5th- Tues 11th. (FREE)

The Gramophones are an emerging Nottingham based company who already have a huge following on home turf – the venue for their preview show last night was bursting at the seams. Anything to Declare sees the all-female company demonstrate their comic chops as multiple characters brought together by their shared experiences of airports and holidays. More info here.

4. Thirsty, Paper Birds. Pleasance Courtyard, 17.45, every day except Mon 15th.

I’m a huge fan of the Paper Birds, and have been since doing a Devising Theatre workshop with them in 2008. They are committed to devised work that comes from a female perspective, and incorporate beautiful physicality, imagery and haunting live music. I loved their previous show In a Thousand Pieces, and having seen a work in progress version of Thirsty at the Junction in Cambridge, I’ll definitely be booking my ticket in advance for this piece exploring our culture’s relationship with alcohol. Watch a trailer here, and book tickets here.

5. Bones, Fifth Word Theatre Company, Zoo, 16.10, Fri 5th – Sun 28th (not Mon 22nd).

Another local company run by women, Derby-based Fifth Word specialise in working with new writing and creating performances using multimedia technology. The online trailer for Bones offers a chilling glimpse into the extremes a nineteen year old carer will go to “find a place in a world that doesn’t want him”. Book tickets here.

6. Tomboy Blues – The Theory of Disappointment, Mars.tarrab. Zoo Southside, 18.30, Sun 14th – Sun 28th.

I’ve yet to see a show by Mars.tarrab (performer/writer Rachel Mars and visual artist/live artist nat tarrab), but I’m excited to see this one. Exploring gender identity, love and disappointment and promising to be “funny, confessional and a little bit sad at times”, it’s had great reviews from audiences and critics. You can watch a trailer here, and book tickets here.

7. F*ck Off and Die – Tales in Teen Angst Poetry, Sara Bynoe. Royal Oak, 13.00, Mon 22nd – Sat 27th. (FREE)

I came across professional funny woman Sara Bynoe while living in Vancouver, after seeing a listing for an event called Say Wha?! Readings of Deliciously Rotten Writing being held in a bar. I dragged along some recently made friends, and we laughed until our faces hurt at the collection of local performers gathered to read extracts from crimes against literature including a self-published zombie novel called Thin Ice: Zombies in LA – Nowhere to Run or Hide; and a self-help book titlled How to Good-bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? or Efffective Way? Sadly I never made it to a Teen Angst show, where Sara shares gems from her collection of heartfelt poetry written when she was a teenager, but the selection published in the Teen Angst book had me in stitches. More info here.

Phew! That’s it for now but please let me know your recommendations for when I head up there (15th-22nd) – what are the shows I shouldn’t miss?