Reflections on The Rights Of Others

The Rights Of Others, The Marlowe Theatre

Just a small group of our The Rights Of Others cast!

Words: Sarah Munday

Through blood, sweat, but no tears, our community production was a big success, in more ways than one.

More than 240 participants took part in The Rights Of Others, which played to full houses earlier this month (8-11 July).

As The Marlowe’s Press Officer and mum to one of the younger participants (more from him later), I guess I have a unique take on the piece. But it doesn’t matter which hat I wear, my resounding opinion is the same: what an amazing feat! How did it all come together so smoothly …

One of the people responsible for this is our Arts Management Trainee, Emma Nicholas, who produced The Rights Of Others. Two mornings after the night before, she described herself as “the legs of the swan under the water.”

The production was a steep learning curve for Emma, who only joined us in September. “Even though I worked on things like The Marlowe Young Musician Of The Year and Canterbury Children’s Festival, this was a huge leap for me, mainly because of the scale of it,” she says.

“It was stressful but I relished that. So much rested on my shoulders and there were a few moments where I wondered how we’d pull it off. Seeing it all come together was so satisfying.”

Chairing production meetings, organising schedules, licencing and risk assessments are some of the more practical aspects and even at this point, Emma still doubted her abilities: “I was a little unsure of my role and I thought I’d just listen and learn. I like being terrified!

“It wasn’t until the dress run when I realised I ‘did a thing’. And then when I saw the audience on opening night …”

A tearful moment for some, but not Emma: “I never cry!”.

On performance days, Emma’s focus was on Desperate Measures, the Studio play, rather than the promenade performances. She left the latter in the capable hands of Rose Bonsier, our Theatre Technical Trainee.

Andrew Dawson, our Head Of Creative Projects, has praised Rose for her “excellent and gracious approach to production management”.

Desperate Measures, part of The Rights Of Others at The Marlowe Canterbury

A production photo from the latter half of The Rights Of Others: Studio play Desperate Measures.

I caught snatches of The Rights Of Others through the week (and before), but it wasn’t until the Saturday that I watched the promenade all the way through (twice) and Desperate Measures. The atmosphere around the building, in both the public and private spaces, was great: a real buzz of nerves and excitement.

My lasting images: the whole company kitted out in their boiler suits; the bloodied face of Justice; the young dancers; the comradery; Robin Hood in the On The Banks Of Runnymeade scene; many stand-out performances in Desperate Measures.

But what did those taking part think? I briefly chatted with some of them and just loved their enthusiasm, honesty and dedication.

Henry Deighton, one of our more senior participants, belongs to our adult acting class The Marlowe People’s Company (and has done for some time; he took part in last year’s inaugural community production, The Garden Of England): “Yet another great experience for everyone – those taking part and hopefully, those watching. Andy’s vision is amazing.”

Another member of The People’s Company is Ryan Hill (29): “What I’ve liked is that it gets me out of my normal life [Ryan is a lifeguard]. I’ve had a lot of worries in the last few months, but thanks to this I’ve been able to forget them for a while. It’s been great meeting so many different people, and getting to know them.”

Connor Fentiman (19) is a member of The Marlowe Senior Company: “It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this and it’s been brilliant. The best bit is that we all came together and were able to express ourselves without being judged. It’s been hard work but in the end we have produced something that touches the heart.”

The Rights Of Others

Holly Lobban (11) is a member of The Marlowe Junior Company: “I play King John and had lots of lines to learn. It took me a while to learn them but now I know them without thinking about them. It’s really exciting, especially when it was being filmed.”

Edward Mairs (my boy) is nine and also a Marlowe Junior: “It was really interesting and I learnt a lot, especially about the Magna Carta. I liked working with Martin [Gibbons, practitioner] and I learned a lot working with the older ones – that they can be really sweaty!”

The last word is from our Head Of Creative Projects Andy, the man behind the vision for the project, and the writing and directing of Desperate Measures: “These projects are never easy and yet the invasion of 240 non-professionals across the theatre site was welcomed with generosity – it really is a privilege working with such a diverse group of participants. We all can’t wait for the next one, which will be even bigger and better!”

Finally, some advice for our Finance Manager, Paul Turner: you can’t always have your cake and eat it (especially when it’s a prop for Desperate Measures!).

Find out more about the project here.

The Rights Of Others was developed with the support of The Kobler Trust, Furley Page Solicitors and The Marlowe Theatre Development Trust.

Beached: an interview with actor James Dryden

James Dryden as Arty during Beached rehearsals. Photo by Ludovic des Cognets.

James Dryden as Arty during Beached rehearsals. Photo by Ludovic des Cognets.

With just a few days to go until the premiere of our homegrown dark comedy Beached, we had a quick chat with the brilliant actor playing lead character Arty – James Dryden.

What did you first think when reading the script?

I thought, “they do know I’m not 67 stone right!”. I was also genuinely excited about the prospect of being a part of it. I love a good dark comedy and this ticked all the boxes for me.

Tell us about Arty.

Arty is lovely. He is a 67 stone 18-year-old who seems to be quite happy plodding along with life as it is living with his mum. Throughout the course of the play he realises that he perhaps wants to change the way he lives his life in order to be a “human being”. I think Arty is a gentleman.

How do you feel about, and how have you prepared, for playing Arty?

I feel very excited to be playing the role of Arty. It is a big challenge having to be sat down for most of the play as I need to keep my energy up. I suppose I’ve been preparing myself by having to eat lots and lots of cream buns and chocolate eclairs (which is quite nice). I’ve got a feeling that I may need to renew my gym membership after the play ends…

Why should people come and see Beached?

It’s a great play, packed full of cracking scenes. It’s very funny and also very moving. It’s one of those plays that will get people talking afterwards and I think that that is important.

You can also read an interview with director Justin Audibert and an introduction to all our cast members.

Beached is at The Marlowe Studio from Tuesday 28 October to Saturday 1 November, and at Soho Theatre (Soho Upstairs) from Tuesday 4 to Sunday 23 November.

*The production contains adult themes and language.

Beached: an interview with director Justin Audibert

Cast in rehearsals

Robin Weaver, James Dryden, Justin Audibert (director), Alison O’Donnell and Rhoda Ofori-Attah.

In our previous blogpost we introduced you to the brilliant cast and director of Beached, the first play to be created by The Marlowe – premiering at The Marlowe Studio next week before a transfer to Soho Theatre.

We managed to sneak in during a break from rehearsals to find out more from director Justin Audibert.

What did you first think when reading the script?

The first thing that struck me on reading Beached was just how funny the script was. Mel writes some absolutely fantastic lines but what is so unusual about the piece from an emerging writer is that the humour shines through because it comes from a place of truth. You completely believe that the characters are fully rounded people inhabiting a real, if highly eccentric, world and you empathise with them in all their various dilemmas.

Mel sent me the script after seeing a play that I directed and from the moment I read the opening page I had that itch that made me really want to tackle it and bring this world to life.

Beached explores some sensitive issues in a darkly comic way – do you feel any pressures around that?

Beached is a big play – in many senses of the word. It explores obesity, addiction, dependency, pathology, voyeurism and manipulation by the media but above all else it is a play about love and loneliness. Everyone can relate to being lonely and most people can relate to what it feels like to love and be loved both in a romantic and familial manner.

I absolutely relish research so finding out about the various psychological conditions within the play was fascinating. I have a friend who is a psychiatrist, Dr Norman, and he talked me through the cycle of change which is the label that psychiatrists use for the circular nature of addiction – that was really interesting.

I also got to watch lots of reality TV documentaries about obesity, which was revealing if at times very hard watching, and really made me think about just what our fixation with these documentaries means as a society.

In rehearsals we spent a lot of time working out the back stories of all the characters so we felt that we could justify the choices that they have made in the play. It soon became clear to us that all of the characters believe that they have Arty’s best interests at heart and are motivated predominantly from a belief that they are doing him good. We hope that this leaves the audience in a position to make their own judgements and not to feel as though we are telling them what to think.

The nature of addiction and the way we view and treat the obese, the lonely and the marginalised as a society seems to me to be an increasingly urgent question. Humour is actually a wonderful tool in asking questions about this because people don’t feel preached at and are often more receptive to thinking about bigger themes when they are presented in an entertaining way.

I would say that as a theatre maker I am interested in stories that portray the complexity of life’s choices. And I would also say that I am predominantly fascinated by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. This brings with it a huge responsibility to portray those characters as accurately as possible and to try to create nuance in that depiction.

James Dryden as Arty and Robin Weaver as Jojo, during Beached rehearsals. Photo by Ludovic des Cognets.

Robin Weaver as JoJo and James Dryden as Arty, during Beached rehearsals. Photo by Ludovic des Cognets.

How has it been working with the cast been so far?

On this show I was extremely lucky in that although the casting process took quite a long time every actor that I offered a part to accepted and so I have the four actors I most wanted to work with which is a real privilege.

We started the process with Melissa [Bubnic] in the room, sat around a table, exploring the script together and we were fortunate in having Mel there to help answer questions about the character’s motivations. Then after a few days Mel left us and we started standing the play on its feet. We finished a rough sketch of the whole piece in about five days and are now adding detail, refining the scenes and deepening the work.

The company worked incredibly hard to get themselves ‘off book’ (ie learning all their lines) quickly, which always makes the work richer because only when you know your lines are you able to act with your whole body which adds so much to the storytelling.

We also have a wide range of accents in this play so the company have been assiduously mastering those – particularly Robin who is learning James’ native Lancastrian burr in order to play JoJo.

Now we are at the stage where we’ve arrived in Canterbury, ready to get on the set designed by the brilliant Lily Arnold, so that we can work out the various challenges that will present. We are all very excited about this even though we know that with such a particular design we will have new challenges to overcome and will have to alter some of the choices we have already made.

What would you like people to take away from the play?

I think if the audience come away with a sense of empathy for all the characters in the piece, get provoked into thinking about the themes it explores, admire the multi-faceted performances of the cast, celebrate Mel as an exciting new writer, admire the design team’s work and have a really good evening full of belly laughs in the process, then I will be a very happy director.

Who would enjoy Beached?

Rather wonderfully I think that anyone over the age of 12* who has a sense of humour will enjoy the piece – it’s one of those plays to which you can invite all your friends and family as it’s humorous, clever, theatrical and only 75 minutes long. It’s a bit of a short, sharp, very funny shock!

Beached is at The Marlowe Studio from Tuesday 28 October to Saturday 1 November, and at Soho Theatre (Soho Upstairs) from Tuesday 4 to Sunday 23 November.

*The production contains adult themes and language.

Beached: an introduction to our first production

By Amy Jane Smith, Marketing Officer

Beached. Photo by Tim Stubbings.

Beached. Photo by Tim Stubbings.

You may have seen the news, or read in our new brochures, that this autumn we will be producing a play for the first time.

So far we have been pretty much a receiving house, so to be able to be part of the creative process is a thrilling prospect: we get to lead decisions on the production, and create marketing materials (the above photo came out of a 4.30am photoshoot at Camber Sands, but that’s a story for another time…).

The darkly comic play Beached, will be at The Marlowe Studio for six performances before moving onto London’s Soho Theatre for a three-week run.

Beached tells the story of 18-year-old Arty, who, at 63 stone, is morbidly obese. A television company films his journey towards surgery, in a sensitively titled documentary – Shocking Fat Stories. The subject matter is unsettlingly familiar, in this era of reality TV.

Providing a platform for the issue, these documentaries often masquerade as being sympathetic to the real-life protagonist while all the time they’re zooming in, closer and closer, past the point of acceptability and into the realms of freak show.

The play is also a love story, as a care-worker-turned-love-interest looks past Arty’s weight and the stigma around it and sees a sensitive and imaginative young man. Ultimately this is a story of hopes, aspirations, and of love. Arty dreams of a better life, one where he’s the romantic hero, but then what 18-year-old boy doesn’t?

We’re also happy to be uncovering an emerging playwright. Australian Melissa Bubnic has never had her work performed on this kind of scale before. She says: “I wrote Beached back in 2010. Ultimately you write a play to see it performed and to see an audience react. I’m so glad, and thankful for the opportunity, that so many people will get to see the play this autumn.”

While a gritty, and potentially sensitive subject, the play itself is also darkly comic. Arty is charming in both his real-life interactions – the humour flitting between dry and fantastical. We are transported from his house, where he is bed-bound, to exotic beaches and action-filled James Bond-esque sequences.

It makes you think, but from reading the play it seems like it will equally be a delightful watch. I can’t wait to see how the creative team will bring the piece to life.

And the creative team themselves are an exciting and crucial part of the project. The play is produced in association with Paul Jellis, Executive Producer of new writing theatre companies nabokov and Bad Physics, and directed by Justin Audibert, a previous associate of the RSC and winner of the prestigious Leverhulme Bursary.

We’re proud to be staging this brilliant work and to be moving into the world of producing. The Marlowe Studio really is going from strength to strength. If this is your first visit to our intimate 150-seat space then it’s a perfect introduction. If not, we look forward to welcoming you back.

Beached plays at The Marlowe Studio from Tuesday 28 October to Saturday 1 November, then transfers to Soho Theatre (Soho Upstairs) from Tuesday 4 to Sunday 23 November.

Beached is supported by public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England’s Grant for the Arts programme, and philanthropic funding by The Marlowe Theatre Development Trust.

A version of this article was originally published as part of Spotlight Magazine, Issue 10 Autumn 2014.

Modern Heresies: continuing our celebration of Christopher Marlowe’s 450th anniversary

Modern Heresies rehearsal.

Members of The Marlowe People’s Company rehearsing for Modern Heresies.

This year marks 450 years since the birth of Christopher Marlowe, our theatre’s namesake and one of England’s greatest playwrights.

Earlier this year we held Marlowe450, with stagings of Faustus, The Massacre At Paris and The Jew Of Malta from Fourth Monkey Theatre Company alongside accompanying talks from leading authors. This weekend we continue to celebrate and think about Marlowe’s life in Modern Heresies.

This mini-festival of new writing features six plays written by our participants and performed as rehearsed readings by The Marlowe Senior and People’s Companies.

Directing the plays will be Paul Ainsworth and Grace Irvine, recent graduates of the University of Kent’s MDrama programme. They have both worked with us previously, assistant directing on National Theatre Connections and The Garden Of England respectively. Paul talks us through the experience of working on the project.

2014 has marked the 450th anniversary of the birth of Christopher Marlowe, allowing us to celebrate his important contribution to early English theatre. Although today he is rightly considered as writing some of the most important plays of the period, to many of his contemporaries Marlowe was seen as a dangerous heretic with radical ideas.

It is this aspect of the man that has inspired the current new writing project taking place in The Marlowe Studio, Modern Heresies, asking writers to explore what is considered heretical or radical today.

The six plays that have been selected certainly tackle the concept of Modern Heresies in a variety of creative ways. Some of the writers have focused on a character that challenges the status quo, or have introduced a plot point that could be seen as radical for a modern audience. Other writers have tried to marry the old and the new to create a more fantastical world. What has struck me is how varied the individual writing styles are and how they have managed to use the term Modern Heresies as a springboard for their ideas.

For myself as a director the most rewarding part of the process has been working on three new plays that have never been performed before. Rarely do you get the opportunity to work on a piece of new writing – so getting three to work on at once is extremely exciting.

The writers have been very involved throughout the process attending rehearsals with the cast. The dynamic of having writer, director and actor in the room is a fantastically creative one and all three groups are able to gain a lot from the experience.

An actor may deliver a line in a particular way, which inspires the writer to edit the script, or a writer may reveal something about a character giving the director a greater insight into the text. It’s a process that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

I am so thankful to the writers, for approaching the project with such an open mind and a willingness to get involved, and to the cast for their dedication and patience.

Modern Heresies will take place at The Marlowe Studio on Friday 1 and Saturday 2 August at 8pm. Our new term of acting and writing workshops begins week commencing Monday 22 September. Click here to find out more.

A day in the life of… Andrew Dawson, Creative Projects Officer

Creative Projects Officer Andrew Dawson at The Marlowe Theatre

Andy leading a session for our adult acting class, The Marlowe People’s Company.

In this series we’re going to take you behind the scenes at The Marlowe to find out about our staff. Whether you’re looking to work in the arts (but not sure what’s out there) or you’re just curious about what goes on within our building, we hope you’ll enjoy getting to know our wonderful team.

Our first colleague under the spotlight is Andrew (Andy to us) Dawson, our Creative Projects Officer. Having joined us just over a year ago, Andy’s schedule has been pretty full on.

From working with local schools on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Learning and Performance Network, directing The Massacre At Paris at Canterbury Cathedral and our community production The Garden Of England, to more recently leading a “monster hunt” during Canterbury Children’s Festival, there’s never a dull moment!

What does a typical day for you look like?

The days are very varied and that’s what I enjoy: the variety of the job. One day I might be writing a new plan for a project or a script, speaking to teachers or partner organisations, rehearsing with a company or our creative classes. Inevitably there’ll also be the more mundane tasks such as getting through emails and admin. There’ll be coffee (to help with the admin) and there are bound to be meetings.

What inspired you to work in theatre?

Let me take you back to 1994…Oasis had just released Supersonic and television had four channels: I was a suburban teenager full of righteous indignation at the way the world didn’t work. One day, probably when my Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine tapes were wearing thin, I signed up for a trip to see a young Michael Sheen as Jimmy Porter in Look Back In Anger at The Royal Exchange, Manchester.

What I saw was raw angst resonate in that theatre – vital and defiant. It was a play, forty years on from its opening, that still managed to rip off the smothering pall of establishment respectability, of manners and mannerisms, and scream “I won’t do what you tell me!”.

To me it sounded like Rage Against the Machine, Chuck-D or punk rock but looking and sounding a bit more like me and still grappling for a purpose. It was still shocking, still uncertain, a blow to the stomach…and I was hooked.

I’d slightly distrusted theatre at school. It was something you did for a pat on the head – being told to walk on stage, stand in the right place and say your lines nicely so your parents could clap. I now had a very different model. I auditioned for the school plays and got the lead. I kept doing plays, started directing my own and discovered Shakespeare, Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter: ruining my parents’ hopes for me of a steady, respectable career.

So how did you get to where you are today?

It’s a long and winding road…I was an actor, teacher and freelance director. I won’t regale you with too many stories of selling buttons, baking bread and all the other jobs I did between acting gigs!

I was always in search of a better sort of theatre that was is in genuine conversation with a community: listening, challenging and debating; championing aspirations and dreams; celebrating its culture and opening its embrace.

Theatre is a vitally communal experience – it must be about people and how we relate to each other. It is live, in the flesh, unmediated by technology or governed by authority. I wanted to find space to make theatre that was interested in truth as well as beauty and doesn’t reduce art, artist, audience to mere commodity. The Marlowe was a new theatre – or at least a new incarnation of a theatre – with a new space in The Marlowe Studio. I strive to make theatre like that here.

What is the best part of your job?

Seeing the work come together: the actors, participants and audiences delight in the experience.

What would you say has been your proudest moment since working at The Marlowe?

Our community production The Garden Of England in April this year saw a gargantuan task realised. It was great to see our professionals, participants, partners and volunteers working together to create an eloquent conversation on important ideas that involved so many in our community, from the very young to the very young at heart. Seeing that come together was a moment of tremendous pride, relief and also excitement at the possibilities this suggested for the future of The Marlowe.

Seeing the performances grow and develop within that week was particularly gratifying. It was engaged with serious issues that affect us all yet simultaneously managed to be fun and playful.

Favourite production you’ve seen at The Marlowe?

The Paper Birds Theatre Company’s Blind (back this Autumn) moved me to tears but Soho Theatre and nabokov’s Blink was breathtakingly beautiful. Both of these have been in our Studio.

And the production you’re most looking forward to?

That’s a tough one. There are some great things coming up such as Matthew Bourne’s Lord Of The Flies and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Henry IV Parts One and Two (two of Shakespeare’s finest and most underrated plays).

It’s The Marlowe Studio that really excites me as it’s where the new, bold writers, performers and artists get to develop their work and share it with an audience. Our new season will be announced soon…

Any advice for someone looking to get into theatre and education work?

Always strive to do the work that excites you but remember as far as everyone else is concerned, it’s not about you and that’s how it should be.

Click here to learn more about our writing and acting workshops, and our work with schools. The Marlowe Teachers & Schools Programme is supported by The Samuel Feldman NEC Fund.