Behind the beast 


Recently, we introduced you to our latest home-grown production, Run The Beast Down. Here we speak to our co-producer, Libby Brodie, to find out more about this exciting new play.

“I would say to expect the unexpected. I don’t want to give anything away, but I can say it’s unlike anything anyone will have seen at The Marlowe before. Or will have perhaps seen before anywhere,” says Libby of Run The Beast Down, which will be performed in The Marlowe Studio in January.

Although she doesn’t want to spoil any surprises, she is prepared to tell us a bit more to whet our appetites: “One of the major things about the show is the fact that a musical soundscape is being created for the production, this is actually going to be DJ-ed live on stage, while the actor is performing. So it sort of creates a gig-theatre hybrid piece, that kind of dynamic. It’s very exhilarating. It’s very interesting seeing how the words work with the music. What’s being created is truly original and truly unique.”

It sounds like the perfect fit for Libby, who left her job with a large commercial theatre producer, in order to: “challenge myself and do different types of theatre,” and to work on things that are, “different and new and outside of the box”. She was attracted to this particular play: “Firstly because of the writing. Titas Halder’s script is fantastic. It gave me goose bumps reading it. It’s almost like poetry itself, and it’s totally thrilling, and also quite funny, and also the end – obviously I’m not going to give anything away – but, wow! Working with The Marlowe is exciting as well. I’d taken shows to The Marlowe before, in the main auditorium, in my old job, and it’s a really gorgeous theatre. I thought it would be excellent to work with such a respected and renowned regional theatre and I was quite drawn to what The Marlowe are doing with developing new work.”

Libby got involved with this production through Hannah Price, the play’s director, with whom she founded Theatre Uncut in 2011. Libby says: “I was looking for productions that excited me and interested me, something that I would enjoy getting my teeth into, and she sent me the script, and I thought it was fantastic, and very different to what I’d been doing in the commercial world. I thought it was intriguing.”

Intriguing it certainly is… We’ll be bringing you more about Run The Beast Down in the coming weeks, so watch this space!

Run The Beast Down: The Marlowe Studio, Tuesday 24-Saturday 28 January. Book here.

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.

Are you ready for this jelly?

Private View Plunge Theatre

Making their way to The Marlowe Studio soon are Plunge Theatre with Private View. This powerful feminist comedy explores the rituals we go through in a futile pursuit of perfection, and how women (and men) are judged. It’s had great responses at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in London, and has been recomended by both The Guardian and Elle Magazine. Now, the Plunge girls come to Canterbury. So, are you ready for this jelly?

When people ask us why we made Private View they get more than they bargained for, because, at this stage we know it better than we know ourselves.

Private View is about our predicament as three young women, do I wax or do I shave? Am I sexy? Jesus, where does that go?

Underneath the humour of the piece bubbles the raging discomfort we, and women everywhere, are forced to feel every day. From patronising protein ads to the glances your pencil skirt gets you on the way to that meeting – it all boils down to one specific notion: that women are objects, that their only value is in their beauty and that if you’re not quite beautiful enough, you’d better get to work on yourself.

These ideals have permeated our society for long enough. Young people, both male and female, are born porous to this information, it’s damaging them and it’s damaging us. Since 2008 the number of eating disorder patients has increased by 7% every year. Do we really want to be a part of the generation who sat back and let this happen?

At Plunge we don’t know whether or not to laugh or cry most of the time and therefore we present to you Private View: part love song part hate mail, part comedy part tragedy, and all heart.

In the two years we’ve been working on this show the scale and honesty of our audience’s responses has been as unsettling as it has inspiring. Every G&T washed down with tears has been chased by a meeting where we stand excitedly over A3 paper, wielding pink marker pens, so excited we can’t cope, actually just shouting ‘WHAT ELSE CAN WE DO? WORKSHOPS!? PANEL DISCUSSIONS!? LETS GO DIRECTLY TO THE SCHOOLS.’

So, we’re coming for you now. For one night only. We’ll be holding a discussion after the show (we LOVE to talk) and we’ll be planning future workshops too. We’re demanding a space in your theatre, school, heart and soul – because we got bored in the kitchen and we don’t have the right figures for Vogue.

So join us, we’re not here to accept society, we’re here to question it, preferably via chocolate cake and Beyonce…

Private View is at The Marlowe Studio, Canterbury, on Friday 22 May.

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.

The Paper Birds’ Broke: from gambling addictions to beans on toast

The Paper Birds Broke at The Marlowe Studio

Production photo from Broke by Richard Davenport.

Words: Dawn Kingsford

The Paper Birds will be serving up another thought-provoking feast of after-dinner conversation matter when the company return to The Marlowe Studio next week with Broke.

Personal testimonies and harrowing first-hand accounts of hardship make this piece of verbatim theatre pack a mighty political punch as it gives an unclipped voice to the debt crisis in Britain.

I spoke to Artistic Director Jemma McDonnell about The Paper Birds’ quest for ever-more inventive ways of presenting political theatre after both its productions of Blind, performed by UK beatbox champion Grace Savage, and Broke, returned rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

With Blind you worked with Grace Savage on a solo show, but here you’re returning to your core company?

Yes – we’d heard so much about Grace Savage and wanted to use her skills in a more theatrical way. Blind leant itself so well to being a one-woman show because it was Grace’s story about growing up.

Broke will see the regular Paper Birds team back on stage, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll be acting alongside Kylie Walsh, and Shane Durrant [the company’s composer and musician] gets an even bigger part than last time. We felt his personal experiences growing up deserved a voice in their own right.

So where did your research take you this time?

We spent weeks talking to people up and down the country; we visited food banks, Salvation Army halls and ran an online questionnaire that received 200 responses in two days. People were incredibly honest, telling us how much they earned and spent and their views on debt and the poverty trap in Britain.

I gather the banks come in for some particular stick?

The British banking and finance system was of particular interest to us and the way it works, essentially encouraging debt. The view is, as long as everyone’s spending, the economy is good. We felt very strongly that desperate people are being backed in to a corner to borrow more and more, with few perceived alternative options, and at some point this has to stop.

The play sets out to expose some of the lies surrounding poverty. What do you mean?

There is a lot of tabloid scaremongering and misconceptions about the welfare system and people abusing this. The play sets about undoing those misconceptions with the facts, which include: of the 13 million people in poverty in the UK, over half are from working families.

You willingly admit your scripts are politically charged, but was this your original driving force?

When we first formed The Paper Birds, we were a group of students studying at Bretton Hall, keen to make theatre and hone our skills. We graduated in 2003 and about three or four years later we began to realise that we were fortunate in that we had a stage on which to tell our stories but were not necessarily telling the stories we wanted. It was then that we decided to look at the issues we wanted to talk about. Making political theatre is now our driving force.

The Paper Birds Broke

Production photo by Richard Davenport.

How important to you are the issues you choose to highlight?

Kylie and I spend about a year of our lives making a show, so we have to do something we are passionate about.

Since meeting at university we’ve worked really hard to build the company and now people are starting to respond and we are very proud of that. But, it’s been a long slog, during which time we’ve experienced times when we haven’t been paid and had no rehearsal room, so, for us, the word Broke really resonates.

Even now, Kylie and I are always broke compared to our other friends. We have to really watch our money as individuals and as a company because we are funded from project to project.

So how does your life influence your political agenda?

We tend to want to discuss issues that feel relevant and current to us at the given time – at the moment we are working on a trilogy about class. Before that, it was about the binge drinking culture, with Thirsty, and, who knows, in 10 years’ time it could be about care in the community.

So what social issue will The Paper Birds focus on next and what ideas have you for it?

Our next production from the trilogy will look at social mobility. We never look closely at the content until nearer the time because we want our scripts to be as responsive to what’s happening socially and politically as possible, so watch this space!

Broke is at The Marlowe Studio on Tuesday 27 (with post-show Q&A) and Wednesday 28 January.

The production is co-commissioned by and developed at West Yorkshire Playhouse and Greenwich Theatre. Funded by Arts Council England. Supported by 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.