Monday, 7 July 2014

Sad News

In the spring of 2010 I did a favour for a friend. She was offered a tour in the autumn and this project included two weeks of work in the summer. She was booked for another job on those two weeks. I hadn't heard of the company but she made it sound like an interesting project. So I said 'I'm not working then. If the company are happy with it I don't mind covering those two weeks'. I have to say I'm so very glad that I went and had a cup of coffee with her that day. Because that company was Propeller and they did indeed use me for those two weeks. The production I worked on was Pocket Dream and it was a revelation. An hour long version of Dream with just 6 actors. It was fast, it was furious, it was funny and I understood every minute of it. I had seen and worked on a number of Shakespeare productions over the years but this was something different, something a bit special and I really loved working on it. I was made to feel so welcome by the company, who had all worked together before, that by the end of the first day I felt like one of the family. I really enjoyed my taster of Propeller and when I was asked to DSM the 2011-12 tour I jumped at the chance.

Over the three tours have done I have been asked many times 'What is like touring with 14 boys?' Well it's like touring with 14 brothers. We are all together day in, day out, from the start of rehearsals in October until the end of the tour months later. You get to know who'll give you a hug when you're a bit down, who'll be able to finish the crossword you're struggling with and who to avoid sitting next to at breakfast when all you want is a bit of peace and quiet until you've had your third cup of coffee. We might annoy each other from time to time but you know there is always someone who has your back. And that sense of family, of brotherhood comes from that first day of rehearsals in October. The whole company are together in rehearsals all day, every day. We all sit and get to know the text together, when we're comfortable with that we get up and start to work on our play. Everyone has voice in the room, everyone can contribute their ideas and that sense of sharing and ownership of the work shows through. Ideas that have been worked in quiet times or over the lunch break are brought into the room and shared. No suggestions are stupid suggestions. Well, maybe some of them are but everyone feels safe enough to make them and takes the good humoured teasing when your fellow cast members point that out to you! I think this way of working, the foundation stones of the text work and the community spirit of our casts and crew are what makes Propeller's shows so strong. Ed once made a comment in rehearsals that when a cast member is on stage they shouldn't be thinking about themselves but about the rest of the cast. That you don't try and put yourself in the best place for your bits but make sure that others are in the best place for theirs. That way, when it's your moment to shine there are 13 others making sure that you are in the best place. (He put it much more eloquently than I, obviously). A true ensemble spirit.

So having had the pleasure and privilege to work with Propeller on three international tours it was with shock that I received last week's news that the Arts Council had decided to cease funding Propeller. I have seen the quality of work that has been produced and the audience responses to that work. I have seen an audience sit 3 abreast on the steps of the auditorium because the show had sold out and they wanted to see it, I have seen the articulate and intelligent conversations we have had with school children at post show discussions, I've heard elderly audience members leaving the auditorium declaring that 'I've never understood Shakespeare before'. I think that it is a really sad decision that leaves this exciting and innovative company with such an uncertain future. I really hope that the Arts Council listen to the voices of our audiences and to those of us who have had the privilege of working with the company and reconsider their decision to cut our funding.

You can add your voice through Twitter using #savepropellergroup  

Or write to the Arts Council

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Istanbul - Part 1

Don't tell anywhere else we've been but I think Istanbul is my favourite. We were spoilt here with a super swanky-pants hotel.

Look at the bed. It's ENORMOUS and so comfy.

And the bathroom, shall I have a shower?

Or a soak in the massive bath?

Which ever I choose I can use my posh complementary toiletries!

I mean, what's not to like? No strange breakfasts of cold omelette, radish and spring onion, well unless that was what you really wanted.

And then there was the theatre.

Not bad for a view from the dressing room?

The hotel we were staying in was just off Taxim Square,

and while the riot police and water cannon that were in the Square and along Istikal Caddesi (a pedestrianised shopping street running out of Taxim Square) on our first night were testament to the recent violent protests here there was no hint of that whilst we were there. And wandering around the city even after work we felt perfectly safe. We had a very warm welcome from our hosts and audience and had an interesting week in this vibrant city. Istanbul is definitely on list of places to return too.

Saturday, 7 June 2014


At the opposite end of the spectrum to the large, dusty, communist era theatre in Craiova is this little chocolate box theatre in Caracal.

The theatre is even too small to house our truss.

I had a day off whilst we were here, however as it mostly rained that day my sightseeing was confined to a walk to the supermarket with Bridget and a quick walk on the final morning.

There are a number of churches and government buildings here. Whilst these buildings seem well looked after a lot of the buildings are in a really bad state of repair, a good number falling down.

I saw this building from my hotel room and set off to try and find it. After a couple of false starts I finally worked out which street it was on.

The building is part of a complex of official looking buildings and unbelievably the right hand section with the turret is occupied. There were even plants on the window sills.

This lovely park was next to our hotel and a cut through to the theatre. It was really well tended and here along with the park in the centre of the town there had been gangs of people mowing the grass and tidying up.

All around the lake there were people fishing.

The journey to the airport was by bus again. This time as it was light outside we were able to see some of the countryside. The first section of the journey was through small villages and we saw lots of carts being pulled by horses or donkeys and people stood or sat outside their houses or working in their gardens. There were also lots of animal in the fields. Unlike the UK for each group of animals there was a person looking after them; shepherd, cowherd, goatherd; it was like a step back in time. As we got closer to Bucharest the roads began to improve a little, although they were mostly single carriageway. Close to the airport we were caught in slow moving traffic and a stream of people were walking along the centre of the road trying to sell items to drivers, trainers, socks, water and 1 man with a chainsaw!

Another fisherman

A row of bee hives along the side of this field.
We had a nice time in Romania. It was hard work as we had two different venues in a week, but it was interesting to see the country and all of the people we met were really friendly.