It has taken a while, but finally a page about the promenade show I made with Catherine Wheels last year in the basement of Summerhall in Edinburgh.
“everything a piece of theatre should be: not just funny, tense and alarming, but politically engaged, angry and inspirational.” ★★★★★ The Guardian
Writing a play for the Royal Court and the feeling overtakes me that everything is linked. At night I read War and Peace until it's one o'clock in the morning and the girls and boys from the pub are screaming on the street outside. Read Pitchfork Disney again to see what exactly happens in a play. Looking back at photos from two development weeks I realised that part of researching and exploring stories seems to involve me repeatedly taking my trousers off and running around various rehearsal rooms in my pants. And then War and Peace again and transfixed by Pierre's experience of the battlefield. Like Thomas Hardy it seems so modern. Everything it describes is with us now. I spend a week in Tramway, Glasgow with 3 incredible dancers and Natasha Gilmore looking at Little Red Riding Hood. Once more I take my trousers off. In the dark the wolf appears. He's so fascinating. I think I want to live in the woods. Argue with friends about using the term 'London' to mean a rich, powerful and isolated elite. People here in London say 'Scotland' and mean something equally untrue and vague. Hopefully on Wednesday there will be news about spring. Will I get to spend time in the woods, filming horses, bow and arrows and people in armour? Fingers crossed...
Today it begins! The lines are learned, the story ready, now we begin the mammoth task of lighting and getting the sound in place for The Voice Thief. It's incredible how the design team have transformed the entire basement of Summerhall into MIEVH (The MacKenzie Institute for the Encouragement of Vocal Harmony). There is a Vocal Cocoon, an aural and oral decontamination passage, a laboratory for the capture and treatment of difficult voices and under it all runs a dark, dark secret that threatens to destroy it all.
I've just walked through the facility and heard a few of the hundreds of voices that Doctor MacKenzie has captured, voices from all over the world that are sent to MIEVH for treatment. I was also given 5 minutes access to the Vocal Periscope, which can pick up sounds from across the city, where I heard what sounded like a dog licking a cobble stone on the Royal Mile. The detail is incredible.
With over 2,500 vocal containers/jars, 3 control centres, 45 speakers, 60 metres of dance floor, 312 sound cues, 34 metres of aluminium tubing, 47 feather dusters and more mirror-balls than a Shona Reppe show The Voice Thief is going to be a deliciously scary show you won't want to miss. Tickets are on sale here and the audience is limited to 30 at a time so book now or be disappointed...forever!
I wrote a new version of Peter Pan a couple of years back for Sherman Cymru. I'm delighted to see that it has been picked up by French publishers l'Arche who did a beautiful job of publishing Pondlife or Simon la Gadouille as it is know across la Manche. Simon is about to go on a tour of France directed by Phillipe Marteau of Theatre des Lucioles and someone else seems to be doing it in Geneva to 100 kids who all get blindfolded to listen to the show. What a great idea.
Two weeks has flown by and 16 shows of Pondlife have come and gone. After the slightly flying by the seat of your pants nature of Kappa, where you never knew quite how the classroom would be set up, it was nice to be in the controlled conditions of the New Victory Theatre. Indeed, the show took place right on stage, something that I think the audience for Pondlife found really exciting and once the air conditioning had been cranked up a few notches was also quite fun for Andy and Craig. The audiences have been great. I suppose it’s unusual to have a show quite as bare as Pondlife is when the intended audience is families and young people. Just a few rolls of carpet, 4 boxes and minimal sound and lights is all the theatre provides, the rest is done by Andy and his storytelling skills. It’s always a pleasure to see an audience slowly settle down, stop waiting for the other actors to come on and get lost in the world of the story. It was particularly nice to see New Yorkers enjoy this tale set in a distant Scottish primary school and only one girl asked Andy afterwards why he was speaking British.
This week I also led a workshop for New York artists interested in making work for young people. It was a blast. Workshop leading is often a case of making people feel comfortable enough to try out new ideas and not worry if they fail. They have to fail for it to be any good, but often participants understandably find it hard to dive in. Not these guys. They weren’t afraid to fail and fail and fail some more and as a result they were completely and wholeheartedly successful. All the participants had to make installations based around Little Red Riding Hood and as we were about to share the work I realised I couldn’t wait to see them all. They were thrilling. It was like our own tiny little show. I hope everyone involved goes on to make more work. I felt they had the skill and imagination to make some beautiful things.
So, now we fly back to the UK with copies of the New York Times under our arms. “acutely perceptive and quietly devestating”. Not a bad note to be leaving on. We’ve been to schools in the Bronx and Harlem, seen Penny Arcade screaming at her audience, walked the High-Line and performed on 42nd St, but most of all we finally had the 4 cheese gnocchi that Andy wouldn’t stop going on about. And it was DELICIOUS! MMMMMMMMMMM!
Artists Workshop at the New Victory
A great review and Critics Pick for Pondlife in the New York Times.
Okay…so here we are in New York and already it feels like something very strange is happening to the three of us. Seriously! It all began on the afternoon we got here. There we were wandering around Greenpoint (this cool neighbourhood full of hipsters, Polish ladies and intriguing warehouse spaces) when I noticed Andy looking in the window of a pet store. Before I could stop him he was in there enquiring about the price of a beautiful doggy raincoat. That’s right! A raincoat for a dog, complete with tiny rubber boots and a pooch umbrella. It was all me and Craig could do to stop him from buying the whole lot. He was waving his NatWest bank card about, insisting it was platinum. Later over a few dry martinis and a Pink Lady (Craig!) he said he didn’t know what had overcome him, but soon we realised we were all changing.
The next clue came on our way to the first classroom showing of Kappa. We were all super psyched to be going out to a junior school in Harlem but no one could find Craig. Then, just in time he came staggering down the street wearing the most gorgeous pair of Manolos you ever saw. I mean these babies were incredible; a six inch razor heel with seal skin flap-backs. I could’ve died and I nearly did when Craig toppled over and pinned me against the hire car. The surprise classroom show was FABULOUS and we were all relieved that the kids seemed to understand Andy’s cute British accent and Rob’s incredible (some would say “dazzling” (New York Times)) turns of phrase. Also, Andy managed not to fall off any chairs or desks. In fact the only damage he did was to rip some of the class work off the wall in his attempts to find a doorway to a different universe. A small price to pay, I would say. The surprise element of the show has worked brilliantly, although it was interesting to hear the kids this morning in the Bronx say that they were all ready to attack Andy when he first came in. Afterwards the teaching assistants from the New Victory theatre told us that all the kids have lockdown drills in case a strange person comes into their classroom. I thought we were lucky not to have been “locked down” as there’s not much stranger than Andy Manley at 8 o’clock on a Tuesday morning.
But anyway, back to us! (and by us I mean ME!) You see it all came to a head last night. We’d been sipping Tasmanian fizz at the Australian Consul General’s residence, slowly slipping further and further into the comfy couch, when I happened to look out of the window and saw the whole of Manhattan stretched out in front of us; a beautiful sunset making the towers of this wonderful city glow red like giant Cherry Lush lipsticks. I thought back on all the wonderful times this city had already given us - the hipster party we gatecrashed, the woman who would only talk to us while playing her tibetan singing bowl, the giant Cookie Monster in Times Square who wouldn’t let Andy go until he’d given her a tip - and I realised we were just at the beginning of something big. And as I looked back at Craig and Andy I thought how lucky we all were to be young, carefree individuals with great hair and amazing lashes and how we mustn’t waste it. New York was ours for the taking and that no matter how comfy the couch might be there comes a time when you’ve got to get in that serviced elevator, go down to ground level and get on with finding the next adventure.
And so that’s how it came to pass that we’re just three gorgeous girls, our lives and our shoes in our hands, skipping down 5th Avenue to the Lower East Side in search of who knows what. Sure, good things might come to those who wait, but until it does you might as well look great and order a cocktail. I recommend the Grace Kelly.
I'm in the strangest of times. I have my head in a play that is coming to its conclusion. I just need to know that last scene, or maybe I've already written it. And then tomorrow I fly to New York where Kappa and Pondlife are being performed by the wonderful Andy Manley. I am a mixture of head in the clouds and mouth wateringly excited to be back in NY and eating everything I can possibly find to eat. I can't wait to see what the classroom audiences for Kappa are like. The play happens as a surprise with Andy walking into a classroom who don't know anything special is taking place that day. In Scotland the kids were mainly just totally amazed to see this man standing on their teacher's desk. I wonder what they'll be like in New York. HA! Pondlife is then performing at the New Victory Theatre, so if you're in town, pop along.