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Last year my Latitude journey started with a rush across South London (halfway through which I realised I’d forgotten my oyster card), complete with bags, tent and over-sized Cath Kidston roll mat in order to deliver the major component of not mine, but someone else’s, MA. After that, this year was going to be blissful and stress-free and, crucially, devoid of me swearing at a Goldsmiths College printer.
Or that was the plan.
Now it is raining in Suffolk, the trees are beginning to bend from the wind and I have been sat on a non-moving train somewhere in Essex for almost one hour. And it’s not that I’m stressed – I’m sitting down and not hitting a printer – but more that I’m stuck here whilst the teenage girls on the seats in front of me have begun hitting each other with their roll mats. Then – at the point when I’m considering mild physical violence – we’re unceremoniously dumped off of the train at Colchester station. Overhead line failure! Chaos! Teenagers bound for Latitude!
It continues in this manner for twenty minutes or so, but with added incomprehensible tannoy announcements that go something along the lines of “Baaaaaah…shufffle…rustle…THERE ARE NO TRAINS…rustle…shuffle”, before I’m back on a train with someone else’s luggage in my ear. Thankfully for both you and me (really, do you want another paragraph of my travel woe and increasing need to use exclamation marks?) pretty much the next thing I know I’m on a shuttle bus to the site (luggage taken out of ear), the sun is shining and all that is left is for myself and @cat_elliott to voice our not inconsiderable opinions on the changes that (from the online map) have been made to the Latitude site. For, yes, attendance at three out of five possible Latitudes has filled me with many opinions and views, of which I am not reluctant to share. Because – did anyone else notice that they’ve moved the comedy tent?
Flash forward to arrival and, being a two mallett campsite (smug, us? Well, yes), our neighbours have borrowed my mallett and we’re sat on the grass drinking Pim’s. Which is how any Latitude should begin. Albeit next year I’m going to make sure I check exactly how many of my tent pegs I’ve destroyed before arrival at a windswept campsite.
After the preliminary wander around the site – did I mention that someone moved the comedy tent?, the annual don’t look down toilet trip and a trip to the hog roast van (other than maybe Early Edition and blue splashback jokes, nothing says Latitude to me more than a hog roast. Which probably proves I should spend my time at Latitude eating less pig) it was time, in true WBN form, to check out the theatre tent. Which also has been moved! And only has one entrance! And a queue being marshalled by stewards as opposed to a random free-for-all survival of the fittest. If I could use the word without sounding like a numpty (and believe, I have tried) I’d say awesome.
We’re just in time for Les Enfants Terribles‘s The Vaudevillians which combines song, a murder mystery and pyschopathic puppet. Now before you read on here you should note two things: i)I spent the first half of this show standing at the top of the raked seating (more uncomfortable than it sounds) and ii)it is only partly in jest that a WBN catchphrase for new writing is “cut the first 15 pages!”. As @cat_elliott rather asutely noted the opening monologue of this show sounds like one of those vaguely poetic McDonalds adverts and though it is all very competently done I can’t help but feel that The Vaudevillians spends a lot of time circling before it gets to its point. If I were being flippant I’d say something like SHOW ME THE MONEY here. There are some lovely touches – the mime artist has the kind of pay off that must have made the company squeal with delight when it was realised (and if they didn’t squeal with delight then they should have, it’s good) – but touches can’t disguise a show which is a good twenty minutes longer than it should have been (I’m being a little bit polite here, at one point I thought it might go on forever and I’d have to spend all my Latitude watching it). Plus, and again this is a particular rant of mine, the show was being played on a thrust stage but had clearly been directed for an end-on audience. Not good.
Post The Vaudevillians there was a mass exodus (undoubtedly in a bid to not-quite-see Tom Jones play in the woods) whilst I staked my claim to a prime spot for the RSC’s The Thirteen Midnight Challenges of Angelus Diabolo.
[Interupting this broadcast for some backstory – I know, if I was dramturging this blog post I’d CUT it all: the RSC and I have some Latitude history of the not entirely pleasant kind. I came along to their 2008 show, ostensibly written by Anthony Neilson, fresh off the back of thinking that Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia was one of the most original, brilliant pieces of theatre I’d ever seen. It was midnight, my first Latitude and the RSC. I was expecting magic. And what I got instead were two actors wearing ill-fitting black leggings and reciting lines from Eastenders. By the time the zombies came out of the woods – the one moment when I thought theatrical magic might explode upon us – it was too late. I was filled with contempt that the RSC thought they could treat an audience in this manner just because we were at a festival. I raged at the most basic of misunderstandings. Cut to 2009 and the RSC did manage to pull it round slightly with a solid if not exactly spectacular midnight performance of witchcraft and witchburning that at least gave a nod to its Suffolk setting. Plus this was at least spooky enough that when I saw the lead actor in the foyer of the Globe a few weeks later I was sufficiently spooked by his presence to step backwards and hope he’d stopped the witch burning and all that]
Back to 2010, Angelus Diabolo is a reworking of the Faust story, with an under-talented but over-egotistical actor making a pact with the devil. And, you know what, I’m actually laughing. Proper, this aches slightly laughter. Whilst also cringing slightly for the poor audience member who is unexpectedly dragged on stage to have his bottom fondled. Plus as the play goes on I actually start to feel some of the huge emotional pull that the final minutes of the Faust story bring with it. But – and, oh I hate to have a but given how much more I enjoyed this than 2008’s effort – it still feels under-developed and, well, like the RSC aren’t taking their Latitude effort entirely seriously. Because this one could have been actually good (as opposed to ‘good for the RSC at Latitude’ which isn’t the tag they should be striving for) if they’d shaved off some of the audience indulgence and oh-we’re-the-RSC-we’re-going-to-lampoon-ourselves-for-being-serious-and-Shakespearean. Me, I’d have taken a real-time Angelus vs the Devil final confrontation (because the actor playing Diabolo was more than good enough for it) and had them thrill me to my core. Some times you really shouldn’t be scared of dropping the gimmicks and just being excellent.
And with that it was time to crawl back to the campsite to dream of actors having their fingers cut off…
WBN has grown in something of an organic way (no rolling eyes please for that use of the word ‘organic’) and I like how we’ve met people along the way thus far who have (inadvertently) shaped how (and what) we are as a company.
But now we’re wanting to shape the WBN team to help us with all the things we’ve got coming up in the next 18 months or so. Thus – we’re looking for Project Managers to join us.
The job advert is here, currently the roles are unpaid though, on a project by project basis, this could change.
We’re happy to answer questions, either about the roles or about the projects we’re hoping to match people to so feel free to drop us an email (or a tweet @WBNtheatre) if there’s anything you’d like to ask.
Breaking into heavy schedules of waiting for David Tennant to make his fifteenth appearance on tv of the day (Corinne) and frantic, mildly dispairing present buying (obviously Charlie) to say Merry Christmas!
Love Corinne & Charlie. x
Was rather pleased to discover today the name of the ‘street’ which our shop in Brixton Village is on:
I’ve put up some other photos of the market on to our Flickr page – which you can see here.
Just a little note to mark the fact that in rather exciting news, as of today, we have our Joseph for Reasons For Listing. Next week it’s into the rehearsal room to play with the script and see what comes up. Which is terrifying and exciting in equal measures…
A few days ago Mark Shenton blogged about the response of a ‘Creative’ (ouch, yes that term doesn’t roll off of my tongue either) to critics reviewing Previews. In some ways it is just a tale of bad communication between various departments, as well as that desire I know so well just to keep on tweaking and changing and well, only one more thing, just one more… Which is fairly standard. But it did get me thinking about Previews and the paying public – specifically the paying public who then go home and write a blog which I (and others) may read.
After all – lots of theatre blogger write reviews having seen what is technically a ‘preview’ performance. It’s inevitable – previews are when tickets are at their cheapest so it’s somewhat obvious that people who go to the theatre lots (and are thus the ones who know about the different ticket pricing) will go during previews. And unlike the critic being given the free seat and the paid column and thus an embargo on reviews, they can go home and write their review whenever they like. It’s their perogative and long may it continue.
Maybe some would say – does it matter what bloggers say? Well for some people no, just as much as for some people it doesn’t matter what Michael Billington says, and of course their quotes don’t look quite as good at the front of the theatre (let it be noted – I will whoop with joy the first time I see the West End Whingers quoted). But I – and I am sure many other people like me – get a feel for the shows through these people. If a show was generally being rubbished amongst the plethora of bloggers I read then I, quite probably, would give it a miss (unless it was reaching To Close to the Sun proportions of cult fame and then, hey, I want to know what I’m missing). Equally if a show that hadn’t initially sent me running for the Box Office queue generates some blogger buzz then the chances are I’ll make the effort to see these people. I went to see Attempts on Her Life on the strength of this review. And that production would make my list of ‘Productions which changed the way I see theatre’. In a way that you feel you know a bit about the person when reading good theatre critics in print, it’s the same with the best of the theatre review bloggers. Only they’re more likely to let you know where you should sit or who the cutest member of the cast is. And I like all that. That’s part of the experience of going to the theatre.
But does it matter that they’re reviewing a preview? In the days when I was a Duty Manager in a producing theatre in the North we had a big preview sign we would stick in front of the doors to the auditorium. It was big and bulky and utterly unmissable. And on the nights it was out I would get asked ‘What does ‘Preview’ mean?’ at least nine or ten times. I’d come out with the standard – changes are still being made to production etc etc but it remained that the person asking wasn’t aware they were booking for a Preview. So for them this was the production full stop. And why shouldn’t it be? Discounted though they may be preview tickets are not free (or even close to being free) and paying audience means – I want the technical bits to happen on time, I want the actors to know their lines and cues, I want this show, quite simply, to work. Okay, we can say we’ve put signs up about previews, and that it’s in the glossy brochure but it doesn’t really matter. Paying customer here, not test audience. Maybe, if you’re a producing theatre like the one I was in, this might be the first time this audience member has ever been to your theatre. This might be the one chance you get to make an impression on them.
I know time changes shows, things bed down, new ways open up. It was one of my great delights of last year that I saw the RSC’s production of Hamlet on its final Preview, again towards the end of its run in Stratford and then again during its final week in London. I didn’t blog my thoughts on my first viewing – but it would have been safe to say that I agreed with a friend who wrote at the time: “there is nothing to offend (well maybe the cuts), but there isn’t as yet anything which makes you hold your breath”. By the final time I saw the production I still had some reservations but the cast had become such an ensemble, absolutely attuned to their roles that it made me gloriously happy to have seen part of the journey.
One of the lovely (and some times terrible) things about the time I spent ushering was seeing a production develop and change and grow. During that time I did see shows change during previews but I never saw a bad production transform into a great one (or indeed even turn into a solid one). Of course some things get slicker and tighter but really it’s the performances within productions and the audiences who watch them which change over time. And what is a show if not everything which it is in its final performance? So, ideally we’d send the critics in then (the RSC almost achieved this this week) – but what use would that be for anything bar the scrapbooks belonging to actors and directors? Plus who can legislate for those odd evenings where everything just comes together; the evenings that pull me back to theatre just in the slight hope I may have one again. And – yes, another and – a good production is a good production is a good production. Even during a midweek matinee.
So Press Night, really, is just an arbitary date in as much as performances are never quite the same and, at least for those involved I would suspect, rarely – if ever – the finished product.
In another life I, as the half of Blogging By Numbers that wears flowery dresses and cries at rubbish films, write a weekly column for WhatsOnStage which rounds up ‘the best’ of what has been going on in theatrey-bloggery in the previous week. Any such round up (inevitably) can only act as a starting point but it’s something of a representation of what I’ve been reading and enjoying. Plus, I try to step off of the beaten path a bit and I’m rabidly keen to find new UK theatre bloggers (we are, it pains me somewhat, completely outnumbered by our US counterparts when it comes to blogs which are more discursive than review based) – though I would quite probably include Parabasis every week if I could, not least because he has great hair.
You can read my Friday 4th September column here and if you know of any wonderful theatrey blogs (or indeed write one) that might not be on my radar feel free to let me know.
Over on the Guardian Theatre Blog Tim Etchells discussed what makes an audience cry (or indeed laugh) and it couldn’t help get me thinking about my own experience.
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m a crier. There are very, very few people in my life who haven’t seen me cry. In my living room, in the cinema, on buses, in trains, in the middle of darkened streets, I’ve cried in buildings I’ve worked in, in front of people I really shouldn’t have and during pretty much every year that Tim Henman lost at Wimbledon in some close-fought five setter. So why, given my prediliction for crying at adverts and Neighbours and even, Lord help me, reality television show auditions, do I cry so rarely in the theatre?
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in a theatre this year (which might sound excessive but when you count up the number of times I’ve cried whilst reading things on the internet then you might realise that it’s somewhat out of proportion). Oddly enough two of the five times I’ve cried have been in the last couple of weeks (see, you open up the dam and this is what happens).
The first show to get me was Almost 10 at the Pleasance Courtyard during the Edinburgh Fringe and the reason it had me sobbing into my hands was just how unexpectedly its narrative changed. I’d come to expect one thing and then it took me somewhere else entirely, with barely a pause as what I’d thought was entirely a comedy that made me cringe with the memory of being a nine year old girl turned itself into a tragedy that looked you in the face so unflinchingly that I could do nothing but face it and cry.
Next up, Simon Stephens’ Pornography at the Tricycle (yes, we had some fun tweeting that one) when it wasn’t the actual production which got the tears rolling (though it did kick me in the stomach and left me with the feeling that this is an absolutely incredible play) but the footnotes on those who died during the 7/7 bombings which were projected at the end of the play. I sat, hardly able to read them as they flashed by so quickly and were obscured by set and moving audience members and techies beginning the clear up, and felt the tears begin. But this was hardly theatre (indeed, in what was really my only criticism of the production, the projections seemed more of an afterthought, and I was slightly horrified that all but maybe ten or eleven audience members left before the end of them), this was starkly, vividly real life. And it was for real people, not fictional ones, that I cried that night.
I cried during a performance once more last week but that was something rather different: during Michael Nyman’s The Musicologist Scores at the Royal Albert Hall. There’s something about such music that I can’t (and hope I never can) fully express that pierces me and makes me cry for reasons I can’t quite catch. It’s the same thing that captures me in the best of Wayne McGregor‘s choreography, when I cry for everything and nothing.
Of course, some times, the money moment gets me in theatre as much as it will get me in a film like Titanic (oh, yes, we could have a long conversation about how much that film makes me sob but it would be rather embarrassing for both of us). I’ve seen Blood Brothers enough times to be able to pretty much get up on stage and take over from a Nolan should Bill Kenwright need me to. But every time, Willy Russell pushes those buttons and I cry. Same with Les Miserables. But there’s part of me that, though I enjoy it, I rather resent the button-pushing nature of it, oh cue every time. It doesn’t take me by surprise in the manner that Nyman, or even Almost 10, did.
Neither am I immune to a bit of good acting and some rather good writing – David Tennant had me sobbing, tears dripping down my nose, the second time I saw him play Hamlet (but not to anywhere near the same extent either the first or the third time).
Maybe Etchells is right and there rarely is the space to cry at theatre, the reverse side of that, however, is that unlike all those other things that make me cry when theatre does I remember it explicitly. And that, I suppose, is what makes it a little bit more special.