Dancing through time

©Tristram Kenton

Our Marketing Publications Officer Kate Evans gives away her age with a look at eighties’ nostalgia…

Nostalgia, of course, is nothing new – it’s probably as old as humanity. When people first started building houses, there were probably people talking about the good old days when they used to live in a cave.

Slightly more recently, a whole industry has grown up to serve nostalgia. Sixties tribute shows have been a mainstay of the touring circuit for years – indeed, they’ve been so successful that many actual sixties bands (especially those that got ripped off by their managers back in the day) have been tempted out of retirement and back into the tour bus. Radio stations have sprung up all over the place, based on playing people the music they loved when they were fifteen (reputedly the year of our lives we feel most nostalgic about.)

Recently, we’ve seen the rise of eighties nostalgia. (Incidentally, why isn’t seventies nostalgia a thing? Was the decade really that awful?) As someone who grew up in that decade, it’s slightly alarming to realise I’m now a target audience for nostalgia shows.

Which brings me to Dirty Dancing. I wasn’t actually fifteen, when it came out in 1987 – I was nine (go on, do the maths on my age…I dare you) – far too young to see the film at the cinema, given it was a fifteen certificate. But even in those pre-internet days, video releases meant such niceties as age ratings could be ignored, and the film became a mainstay of sleepovers at friends’ houses long before any of us ever reached the age of fifteen. I loved the film back then, and – whether for reasons of nostalgia or not – I still do. And I’m far from the only one, as the success of the stage production has demonstrated.

Dirty Dancing UK tour - Lewis Kirk as 'Johnny' and ensemble - cTristram Kenton

Dirty Dancing UK tour – Lewis Kirk as ‘Johnny’ and ensemble – © Tristram Kenton

Of course, most of those coming to see the production are of a similar vintage to myself – putting Dirty Dancing firmly in the eighties nostalgia show bracket. Which is weird, given that it’s set in the sixties, even to the extent that it’s partly based on the real-life experiences of writer Eleanor Bergstein.

Thinking about the story now, what strikes me is that the whole story is actually an exercise in nostalgia in itself. Think about lead character Baby’s opening voiceover: “That was the summer of 1963. When everybody called me Baby, and it didn’t occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came…”  That line is nostalgia encapsulated in one sentence – looking back to something that felt like a more innocent time, to some mythic ‘before’.

But why did my generation (or at least the female half of it) come to invest so much in this story, set two and a half decades earlier? Well, I guess the themes of young love, and teenage rebellion are fairly universal. Perhaps it’s just a good story. Perhaps the nostalgic feel of the story has contributed to its longevity, meaning it’s survived in a way a story more obviously relevant to 1987 wouldn’t have. Either way, if you ever need anyone to carry a watermelon, you know where to find me.

Jessie Hart as ‘Baby’ (c) Tristram Kenton

Dirty Dancing is at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 22 August as part of a national tour.

One Last Waltz: a story about dementia

One Last Waltz

Something that I love about the Studio is how it really engages with issues that matter to people. One example of this is upcoming production One Last Waltz – a touching new play about living with dementia. Playwright Luke Adamson talks us through his personal inspiration for the piece.

One Last Waltz was an interesting play to write. Often when writing I set off at a million miles an hour and stall about five pages in with no idea where I’m going next but this was different.

I’d had an idea in my head for a while that I wanted to write a play mainly for actresses, I have never quite been satisfied with the female characters in my writing and there seems to be dearth of interesting parts in interesting plays for older actresses. So I set myself the challenge of writing a play that contained interesting, three dimensional characters for older actresses.

I began constructing the characters without any real idea where I was going to go with them and after a while I abandoned the early drafts and waited for some kind of inspiration. Unfortunately this came in the form of my Grandad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Grandad had long been somewhat of an idol to me, I was even given the nickname “little Ernie” as a kid as I was so much like him. Living alone as a widower well into his eighties, he was battling on admirably but small things had started to happen.

He’d forget little things. Not big things like who we were or who he was, but small things, like where he’d put his keys, what he’d had for breakfast. We chalked this up to ‘growing old’ at first but then things started to happen that we couldn’t continue to ignore, putting metal things in the microwave or plastic in the oven, these moments of forgetfulness began to cause tension, often leading to arguments, with Grandad becoming even more flustered and confused.

The eventual diagnosis of Alzheimer’s came as quite a relief to me, suddenly we understood why these things were happening, why he’d forget or get confused, and once he started on the medication we saw an instant improvement. I was just frustrated that we hadn’t known these things earlier, that we hadn’t spotted it. We’d be getting angry with him, insisting that he try to remember where he had put his jumper rather than simply helping him to find it.

I was reflecting on this one evening when suddenly I saw how the characters that had been sitting inside my head could come together. I remembered once seeing an advert about Alzheimer’s that said “the earlier we spot it, the more of your loved one we can save” that always stuck with me but when it happened to us we didn’t know what we were looking out for! One Last Waltz is my way of using humour and emotion to try and signpost the things to look out for.

The character of Alice in the play went on to become a kind of amalgamation of my Grandad and his late wife; my Grandma and Alice’s daughter Mandy is heavily influenced by all of the strong northern women in my life.

A lot of the content in the play is based on real life experiences, some of the dialogue even lifted verbatim from actual conversations I’ve had. Some is, of course, embellished for the stage, some is complete fabrication. Once I knew what I wanted the play to achieve and how my characters were going to help me do this I sat down to write the play and finished it within a month, without stalling.

After a little fine tuning and editing we held a rehearsed reading to an invited audience in Leeds and based on their feedback I made some more changes resulting in the script we have now: hopefully a funny, moving and enlightening look at how to spot Alzheimer’s and how to deal with it. I was delighted when a representative from The Alzheimer’s Society read the script and (with a couple of minor adjustments to some of the dialogue) gave it their seal of approval.

One Last Waltz is, if you like, a tribute to my Grandad, as he is now, and as he was. Hopefully now immortalised in play form.

One Last Waltz comes to The Marlowe Studio on Thursday 8 October as part of a national tour. The performance will be followed by a discussion with the company.

Our guide to Glyndebourne: Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

In our previous blogpost we got to grips with opera company Glyndebourne: who they are, how they started and why they’re so very exciting for us. Now, Kate Evans takes us through each of the three productions they’ll be bringing to us in November, starting with Die Entführung aus dem Serail.

So, we should probably start with the title! It’s usually translated as ‘The Abduction From The Seraglio’, seraglio being another word for harem. Yes, we are in the world of the exotic Orient, as imagined by the West in the 18th century.

In this opera we follow the story of a Spanish nobleman, Belmonte, and his attempt to rescue his beloved, Konstanze, from the harem of the Turkish Pasha Selim. As you may guess from the title, singing is in German – but those non-German speakers among you will be pleased to learn that this production does have English supertitles!

Die Entführung is part of a great eighteenth century fascination with all things ‘Eastern’ – possibly triggered by the failed siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks in 1683. It reflects the contemporary view of the Orient as strange, opulent and dissolute – but being Mozart, it’s never simplistic, and has (small spoiler alert!) a surprise ending which turns the audience’s expectations on their heads.


Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

So, that’s the plot – what about the music? The opera is in a style called ‘singspiel’, which means ‘sung play’. This means it contains spoken dialogue between its musical numbers, a bit like many modern musicals. It contains some of Mozart’s most spectacular and difficult to sing arias. The most famous aria is one sung by Konstanze whilst she is trapped in the Pasha’s harem – called Martern aller Arten (Tortures Of All Kinds). It is regarded as one of the great challenges for sopranos.

Mozart was just 26 when he wrote Die Entführung – an age when most composers would just be getting started, but Mozart was already something of a veteran. He was also desperate for money and needed to write something that would immediately be popular. First performed in Vienna in 1782, Die Entführung was exactly that  – despite the verdict of the Emperor Joseph II, who reportedly commented: “too many notes, my dear Mozart!”

Whatever the Emperor thought – Die Entführung has remained a hugely popular work – and this production has garnered some outstanding reviews. The Stage described it as ‘a vocal and visual treat’ whilst the Guardian said the production was ‘mesmerising’. We can’t wait!

Glyndebourne’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail comes to The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, on Wednesday 4 and Saturday 7 November, alongside performances of Don Pasquale and Saul.

Memories of Agatha Christie, from her grandson

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie: crime writer and loving grandmother

This September the legendary murder mystery, and the longest running show in theatre history, The Mousetrap, returns to us. We were really intrigued to find out about the modest, generous and enthusiastic woman behind these thrilling books and infamous plays, in this personal piece from Agatha Christie’s grandson Matthew Pritchard.

I suppose it took some time for it to sink in that I had a famous grandmother known to the world as Agatha Christie. I first remember her during the years when I was at preparatory school and her house at Wallingford was nearby. We used to have enjoyable ‘exeats’ on Sundays and it was, I think, then that the first glimmers of understanding came through.

Very sensibly, the headmaster of my school insisted on initialling all books that came into the school. I came back from Wallingford clutching the latest Agatha Christie and wondering, quite genuinely, whether the Head could possibly find any reason for withholding the coveted signature. He never did! There was, however, one occasion when my book took a terribly long time to re-appear. Later I realised that the headmaster’s wife had taken the opportunity to read it!

In such small ways, therefore, did I become aware that I had a talented grandmother. Not that it made a great deal of difference to me. She was just a marvellous grandmother and someone nice to have around. I think perhaps there were four things which, more than anything else endeared her to me. The first was her modesty. To the outside world I suppose this appeared as shyness, but to us she was always infinitely more interested in what we were thinking and doing than in herself.

She could manage to write a book almost without one noticing and sometimes she used to read the new one to us in the summer down in Devonshire. She did so partly, I suspect, to test audience reaction, but partly to entertain us on the inevitable wet afternoons when, no doubt, I was rather difficult to amuse. We all tried to guess, and my mother was the only one who was ever right. I think most of my friends who met her during those years were quite astonished that such a mild, gentle grandmother could really be the authoress of all those stories of intrigue, murder and jealousy.

The 60th Anniversary tour of The Mousetrap. Image: Liza Marie Dawson.

The 60th Anniversary tour of The Mousetrap. Image: Liza Marie Dawson.

Her next great characteristic was her generosity. It is by now well-known that she gave me [the rights to] The Mousetrap for my ninth birthday. I do not, I’m afraid, remember much about the actual presentation (if there was one) and probably nobody realised until much later what a marvellous present it was, but it is perhaps worth remembering that my grandmother had been through many times in her life when money was not plentiful.

It was therefore incredibly generous of her to give away such a play to her grandson, as in 1952 her books were only approaching the enormous success they have now become. It is also a mistake to think of her generosity only in terms of money. She loved giving pleasure to others – good food, a holiday, a present, or a birthday ode. She loved enjoying herself, and also to see others around her enjoying themselves.

The third thing I always enjoyed was her enthusiasm. Despite her modesty or shyness, it was never far below the surface. I think she always had a love/fright relationship with the theatre. Although I am sure she found the experience very wearing, she always enjoyed other people’s enthusiasm for her plays and found it infectious.

I went to The Mousetrap several times with her in varying company – family parties, girlfriends, and the Eton cricket team when I was captain in 1962. I would say we all enjoyed the play and my grandmother’s company in equal measure. But she was enthusiastic about other people’s plays as well, about archaeology, opera and perhaps above all about food! In short, she was an exciting person to be with because she always tried to look on the good side of things and people; she always found something to enthuse about.

When I had the pleasure of taking my own children, aged twelve and eleven, to The Mousetrap for the first time they enjoyed it tremendously, and crossed off assiduously in their programmes those whom they thought couldn’t have done it. It was a great evening for me, and would have been, I am sure, for my grandmother had she been there.

I think it tells us something about the success of the play, too: it contains so much for everybody – humour, drama, suspense and a jigsaw puzzle – suitable for all ages and taste; regrettably not too many plays on the London scene can say the same, and I sometimes feel that actors and actresses, anxious like everybody else for employment, must wish that there were more plays with universal appeal like this.

The 60th Anniversary tour of The Mousetrap. Image: Liza Marie Dawson.

The 60th Anniversary tour of The Mousetrap. Image: Liza Marie Dawson.

My grandmother died in January 1976. My family received hundreds of letters from all different walks of life and every part of the world, and I have never seen such a uniform expression of devotion and admiration. No doubt that was because she was a kind, generous and devout person, and preferred always to believe the best of people. She never had an unkind word to say about anybody. We were all left with many happy memories and, of course, all her books and plays, which I am sure will be enjoyed for many generations to come.

It would be remiss of me not to say, on this occasion, something about my grandmother and Peter Saunders. I myself remember Peter as a persistent producer of medium-pace off-cutters in my boyhood cricket days at Greenway in Devon. I am sure it is no exaggeration to say that many Agatha Christie plays would never have been written at all but for his judicious mixture of persuasion, encouragement, confidence and pleading. She adored it all, and certainly, we all recognise what The Mousetrap owed Peter in its earlier days. His confidence in it never wavered and its longevity is as much a tribute to his great partnership with my grandmother as to anything else.

It is inevitable perhaps that my own impressions of my grandmother are rather personal ones. She was, above all, a family person and though everybody, from the literary world, from the world of archaeology and from the stage, has good reason to be grateful to her, it is her family who have the most to be grateful for – her kindness, her charity, and for just being herself.

The Mousetrap is with us Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 September, as part of a national tour.

Glyndebourne: What’s it all about?

Don Pasquale. Photo by Bill Cooper

Don Pasquale. Photo by Bill Cooper

Ah, Glyndebourne…The very mention of the name makes opera-lovers go all misty eyed, but for the uninitiated, what exactly is it?

Well, Glyndebourne itself is a country house in Sussex. Its involvement with opera began in 1934 when the house’s then owner, John Christie, and his opera singer wife Audrey Mildmay decided to hold an opera festival in their own home. Since then, the Festival has developed hugely – not least with the opening of a new purpose built opera house seating 1200, which opened in 1994.

However, the Festival still retains many of its traditions, with many audience members choosing to dress up and have picnics in the grounds as part of their visit. The Festival – which runs from May to August every year – also still remains very much a family affair. Its current Executive Chairman is John Christie’s grandson Gus. And of course, Glyndebourne retains its reputation for producing world-class opera productions.

But what on earth, you may well be asking at this point, does this have to do with The Marlowe and Canterbury? The other half of Glyndebourne is the Glyndebourne tour, which takes productions direct from the famous festival and tours them around the country every autumn. We at The Marlowe are very proud to be a regular venue for the Glyndebourne tour ever since the opening of our new building in 2011.

Our relationship with Glyndebourne actually dates back to the days when our current theatre was still a twinkle in Theatre Director Mark Everett’s eye.

“We had been using Glyndebourne as an example of the scale and quality of the productions the new theatre could stage while we were still open in the old building,” Mark recalls. Two senior members of the Glyndebourne team even visited the site of the new theatre during construction, and pronounced that it would be possible to bring their productions to Canterbury.

“I knew it would be – and is – an immensely happy relationship. Glyndebourne love coming to The Marlowe and we love having them. Many of the artistes have said it is their favourite auditorium to perform in, because of its superb acoustics and sightlines,” says Mark.

The Glyndebourne Tour 2015 comes to The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, from Tuesday 3 – Saturday 7 November, with productions of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Handel’s Saul.

Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone

Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone

When I first read about Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone I was so intrigued. This new play tells the story of a mother and daughter: the conversations that they have both big and small, and what that relationship is all about. And yet the roles were played by men.

It’s a hard one to get your head around, but reading the reviews and then watching the show, you realise it’s kind of perfect. It’s moving (several reviews touch on how it makes you reflect on your own family) and it’s just a really gentle, lovely show.

I was excited to hear a bit more from director Selma Dimitrijevic about how the show was created. Read on then watch the trailer to get an insight into this gorgeous piece, coming to The Marlowe Studio on Friday 24 April.

What was it about the parent/child relationship that interested you most?

Probably the fact that everyone has experience of it in one way or the other, whether it’s an actual parent or a parent figure, we’ve all been there. I was really curious about whether I would get on with my parents if we all meet as peers? Would we even like each other? Would we have anything in common, anything to talk about?

Why did you decide to cast two men as the mother and daughter?

We were on tour with a different show for a few months and I kept observing Sean and Scott, both on and off stage, as they were behaving more and more like two members of the family. I also knew I had this play that was done a couple of times in the UK and abroad, and that I really wanted to direct it at some point. So when lovely Jenny Worton at the Almeida asked us if we have anything I’d like to do for their next Festival I sent her the play and just wrote “but played by two men”.

She said she absolutely can’t imagine what that would look like, which is probably reason to do it – so we did.

At each venue you’ve found a real-life mother and daughter to watch the show from a table onstage.  How has that been for them, and for you?

It’s a bit scary, and therefore really exciting. We spent weeks creating this little piece of art, looking at it from all sides, stretching it, changing it, polishing it, and as when we are about to show it to the audience, we ask two people we just met to sit in the middle of it all.

So far, we’ve had a fantastic experience with all the mothers and daughters. I am always amazed how ready all those women are to try something new together. They all say it made them look at each other a bit differently, and talk about things they never talked about before … which is more than I ever hope for.

I missed my chance to do that with my Mum so its exhilarating to see other people do it.

And how did that idea come about?

My partner and then Co-Artistic Director, Lorne Campbell, suggested it. I tried several times to shake off the idea, but it I never managed, and now it’s the thing that makes the show what it is.

Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone is a really interesting and intriguing title. Where did it come from?

When I was first commissioned to write this play, I was really struggling. I just had nothing to say. I missed several deadlines and the director was emailing me weekly asking for a draft and I didn’t even have an idea. I was reading John Steinbeck’s novel East Of Eden at the time, and near the beginning there is this paragraph:

“When a child first catches adults out — when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just — his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.” (John Steinbeck)

I saw that and wrote the play in three weeks.

Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone comes to The Marlowe Studio on Thursday 24 April.

Creating Rebecca: an interview with Kneehigh’s Emma Rice

Kneehigh Theatre's Rebecca, at The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury

Rebecca production photo

Ahead of worldwide acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre bringing us their stunning new production Rebecca from Monday 30 March – Saturday 4 April, we found out more as Al Senter spoke to the company’s Artistic Director, Emma Rice

When you think about it, it was surely only a matter of time before two such formidable women, both with deep-rooted associations with Cornwall, should have joined forces. Therefore it comes as no surprise to learn that Emma Rice, Kneehigh’s Artistic Director, had been planning a new show, based on one of the works of Daphne du Maurier, the author of the immortal Rebecca.

“I’d been thinking about Daphne du Maurier for some time,” she reveals. “Daphne and Kneehigh share a Cornish connection and it felt that a piece based on one of her writings was long overdue. I’d been looking at the short stories when producer David Pugh offered me the perfect apple. “How about doing Rebecca?” he suggested and I nearly leapt off my seat in excitement.”

Nature in all its moods is a constant theme in Rebecca; the ever-changing weather, the sinister woods that flank the driveway to Manderley, the perpetual roar of the sea.

Rebecca is elemental, almost a Greek Tragedy in the way Nature is represented,” says Emma. “If you walk along the beach at Menabilly, one of the models for Manderley, you can almost reach out and touch that sense of the elemental. Daphne must have loved that spot. It’s astonishingly beautiful. Her work is a bit like Cornwall itself – beautiful but threatening as well.”

Perhaps one of the reasons for the enduring popularity of Rebecca, first published in 1938 and still a bestseller, is the book’s refusal to be pigeon-holed in one genre or another. It’s a gripping whodunit and a social satire, a ghost story as well as a critique of the position of women in twentieth century Britain. Above all, says Emma, pointing to this production’s sub-title, it is “a study in jealousy” Daphne was characteristically sure of what Rebecca is and what it isn’t.

“According to her son Kits, it used to drive his mother mad when she heard Rebecca described as a “romance”. She insisted, and this is a direct quote, that it was “a study in jealousy”.

Kneehigh's Artistic Director Emma Rice with Daphne du  Maurier's son, Kits Browning.

Kneehigh’s Artistic Director Emma Rice with Daphne du Maurier’s son, Kits Browning.

There is also something of a fairy tale in the way that the second Mrs de Winter is whisked away from her tyrannical employer to become the mistress of Manderley.

“It’s Cinderella meets Bluebeard,” says Emma with a smile. “But this Cinderella feels that she is not good enough to be the new Mrs de Winter and what woman has never felt the same?”

Rebecca’s status as a classic, read and re-read by millions of devotees around the world, might make the task of adapting it something of a poisoned chalice. But Emma is undaunted.

“I’d argue that people think they know the novel when in fact what they remember is Mrs Danvers the housekeeper and the scene at the Manderley Ball. I felt that the Third Act of the book needed a theatrical overhaul. We have followed the second Mrs de Winter throughout the narrative, only for all those blokes to take over at the end and relegate her to the side-lines.

Working on the show has been fun and straightforward and the du Maurier estate has been hugely supportive. We have moved on from the time of Rebecca’s publication in the 1930s: we’re in a different century after all, so changes needed to be made.

However, I am never disrespectful. I love this period. It’s a bit of history which you can reach out and touch and I feel the link to the 1930s and 1940s very strongly. It is a time of great foreboding, a feeling of unease which you can sense in Rebecca. It was published a year before we went to war and I find the era very evocative. I’m also rather fond of the stiff upper lip. People were like icebergs with such a lot kept below the surface and a tension generated by what was implied rather than spoken.”

Kneehigh's Rebecca

Rebecca production photo.

Kneehigh’s many fans will know the company’s house style, a style that has been applied over the years to a number of classic narratives. How would Emma describe the company’s trademark to a Kneehigh newcomer?

“I always have – and I always will – call myself a storyteller,” she replies. “We use a number of different elements; acting, music, film, design to tell the story and we stitch together a great big tapestry of ideas. Audiences coming to Rebecca will see a recognisable 1938 world but with something of a twist.

Those experiencing Rebecca via Hitchcock’s 1939 film version may be surprised. The movie is confusing because Hollywood couldn’t stomach the idea that the leading man might also be a murderer. When I went back to the book, I was astounded by its detail and complexity. It is also a gripping read.”

On the surface Maxim de Winter would appear to be the romantic hero par excellence, a Prince Charming on the cusp of distinguished middle age. But Emma has been busy probing beneath that elegant veneer.

“Max deliberately gets himself a very young wife who is not going to challenge him in the way that Rebecca did, “explains Emma. “He wants life to be simple again. We talked a lot in rehearsal about Mrs de Winter’s lack of a name. Daphne teasingly says that it was given to her by the father and that it is hard to pronounce. I sense that it might be something botanical – like Floribunda. However, I think that it’s really important that we don’t know her name and that we don’t get on intimate terms with her. In a way, to know her name is to know her.”

Both Rebecca – and to an extent the second Mrs de Winter – fall into a pattern of behaviour which Emma argues has been a common theme in both fact and fiction.

“Why is it that so many female beauties; Ophelia, Carmen, Princess Di, Marilyn Monroe who have attracted the male gaze, have also ended up dead? We seem fascinated by the idea of the female victim. We never see Rebecca and all we know about her is what we hear from other people and I’d take what Max says about her with a large pinch of salt. I’m inclined to judge Max quite harshly: he represents a privileged class who feel they’re above the law.”

What kind of a future does Emma predict for the de Winters?

“They remind me of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, living quietly in exile. To an extent, their roles have been reversed. She is looking after him now. I think she’s destined to have a quiet death, the quiet little woman who can’t quite keep silent.”

Rebecca is at The Marlowe Theatre from Monday 30 March – Saturday 4 April.