Saturday, 17 October 2009

Surrey Mirror: Review of 'The Family'

The first official review of 'The Family' is available here:

Or read it below:

Review: The Family at The Archway Studio Theatre, Horley
Wednesday, October 14, 2009, 17:33

'The Family'
The Archway Studio Theatre, Horley

Reviewed by Tony Flook

Redhill-based Bradley Barlow is a man with a fertile imagination. A massive creative leap took him from him seeing Paula Rego's painting entitled 'The Family' which, he says, was one of his inspirations, to him writing his first play, recently premiered at The Archway's Studio Theatre.

Very little in The Family is as it seems. The only certainties are that England is at war with itself (indicated in the programme to be a civil uprising against Parliament) and that Peter, a soldier for the rebels, has come home to his sister Beth after a long absence. It is a dark, near-humourless piece that builds tension slowly, inexorably and grips through to the end, rather like a book in which one can barely wait to learn the next revelation.

As Barlow directed the production himself, he knew exactly how he envisaged its staging. He could not have hand-picked a better cast to interpret his characters.

Mandy Humphrey brought Beth frighteningly to life as she applied her ever tightening vice-like hold on her brother. Peter Westmacott (Peter) showed the trauma of a man who has been involved in the horrors of prolonged guerrilla warfare but who, even now, cannot escape his personal demons. His initially raw leg wound and, later, stained bandage were reminders of the bloody action he survived.

Emma, a local girl, seems to offer Peter some respite from his waking as well as sleeping nightmares. Ella Sowton was convincing as this, the play's only well balanced personality.

Athletic David Robson was the enigmatic, menacing Soldier who arrived at the house unexpectedly and whose presence was definitely unwelcome.

The set, largely housed within the stark curve of the studio's arched wall added a claustrophobic dimension to the kitchen, cluttered yet basic after years of shortage. Peter and Beth's clothes reflected this deprivation, while Emma's summery attire introduced a lightness, reflecting at least some semblance of normality. John Hankin's vertical bed, where several crucial incidents were played out, was an inspired idea.

Some works by new writers are aired once then sink from view. The Family deserves to be considered by other groups willing to take risks with a challenging but worthwhile play.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Just like that...

Just like that...’s all over! Done. Finito. Kaput. Well, sort of.

I am, of course, talking about ‘The Family’. After three nights of fantastic performances, the cast and crew took down the set on Sunday morning following a sell out show the night before.

Naturally, I was a bag of mixed emotions on the opening night (and the rest of the run too). My primary concern was the audience’s reactions. As a newly written text, the audience for ‘The Family’ had no previous reviews to judge by – their reactions would be the first. Ever. And my, what reactions they were!

Thursday’s audience of 37 were mainly made up of Archway Theatre members, with a huge support for Ella from the Young Adults Workshop. During the interval I spoke to some of the group and I could tell they were loving it – asking questions, debating what would happen next, saying how they loved the set and the music, how good the cast were... Not just the Young Adults – so many other people saying how much they were on the edge of their seats. The responses at the end remained hugely positive, with many commenting on how excellently Mandy Humphrey portrayed Beth. My biggest fear was that the audience would walk away describing it as “a play about incest” but, luckily, the riskier content of the play appeared to be understood in the extreme context of the play. One audience member, who shall remain nameless, told me that they weren’t often interested in attending fringe projects that appeared in the studio and very nearly didn’t attend – but was so incredibly pleased that he did. One thing stuck in my mind: “It’s a shame the rest of the run is sold out because it’s the kind of play that would get an audience in through word of mouth”.

Word of mouth seemed to work - Friday’s audience grew in number to 49 – just four seats shy of a sell out night. The audience this time was a mix of theatre members, and friends to support me; mainly work colleagues. Again, there was a buzz in the interval but the bulk of the compliments came at the end – a lot of people seemed to be in awe of how professional and slick the production was. One commented that she had seen a lot of professional theatre that wasn’t half as good as ‘The Family’. Obviously, very good to hear! We also had a couple of workshop attendees in the audience – one had a couple of minor negative points (that the first and last scenes were a bit too lengthy) and the other mentioned how glad he was that I stuck to my guns and didn’t change some things following the workshops; he was of the opinion that I had “pulled it out the bag”. One particular Archway member (a long standing director) said that it was the best performance by Mandy that she had ever seen – high praise for both Ms Humphrey and the director.

A rowdier audience attended the sell out (53) final night on Saturday. Once again, the cast and crew pulled a blinder and coped well with the distractions from the front rows. Tony Flook, Theatre Reviewer for the Surrey Mirror, also attended the evening. It was a tricky position for me as it was clear that Tony had a lot of questions but I also had other guests that I needed to speak to (note for future reference: family will also be there but press will not so make the most of it!). Being sat behind him (unintentionally) I was able to see that he was making lots of notes, laughing in the right places and straining to see what was happening at the most dramatic moments. At the very end I heard the word “Brilliant” uttered from his mouth – can’t ask for more than that really! Tony and I have sent a few emails to one another since – his editor may not print the review due to space but he hopes that he will; his last line apparently says that it is the type of play that should be staged at other venues with an interest in edgier works, and he has offered to put me in contact with other dramatic groups. I don’t have a lot of experience with the press but I can only imagine that this is a positive sign...! Definitely a contact worth keeping in mind in future...

Once the majority of the audience had left the bar the show (and once the pizzas were in) the cast and crew presented me with a miniature replica of the bed, with each person having placed a bloody fingerprint on the latex bed sheets – a really lovely touch. There was also a running joke about the number of times my name appeared in the programme, so Emma Ladd had gone to the painstaking effort of replacing everyone else’s name with my own and covering most faces with my ugly mug. Very, very funny! (I’ll upload the original programme to my website soon – see how many times you can find my name. Maybe play it with the kids too – fun for all the family!).

We’re now finalising how much money was spent and how much profit made, but I’m pleased to say that for the whole run we reached 87% capacity. Photos from the performance will appear online soon. I’m feeling very emotional now – after nearly two years of work, it’s coming to an end. We’re currently looking at the possibility of staging the play elsewhere, exploring the option of selling performance rights to other companies, and generally seeing what can be done next with it. I’m definitely going to forward the play to some reputable companies but it’s now a case of working out the next steps. In one major respect it’s the end, but in another it may just be the start...

Onwards and upwards.

I’ve got two ‘next projects’ that I’m going to being concentrating on over the coming months and I intend to keep the blog going whilst I work on them both. First, I shall be directing Patrick Marber’s ‘Closer’ on the Archway Theatre main stage – curtain goes up on 24 August 2010 – 4 September 2010. I’m going to begin prep work for that in the next week or so. The other is my next writing project: ‘The Woods’ is scheduled for early 2011 in the Archway Studio Theatre. It’s also early days for this one too but I commenced research for this one earlier this week. It’s already thrown up a couple of interesting strands that I’m going to be tugging on very soon. If you want to know more about it, visit my website (, click ‘writing’ and then ‘The Woods’. If that doesn’t get you rushing for a peek, perhaps the teaser poster below will?

As you can tell, I’m very much going to keep the blog going as I embark on my next nervous yet excitable steps and I hope you’ll all join me in the walk (although I can’t offer piggy backs I’m afraid).

Monday, 5 October 2009

I'm not sure what to say...

It's fairly rare for me to have nothing to say. And it's not that there's nothing on my mind (the opposite is true), but I'm not quite sure how much more there is for me to say.

On Saturday, we added a few lights to the play and almost instantaneously it switched from being 'A Play That We're Rehearsing' to 'A Proper Production'. The set is also looking wicked, looks like a proper little home. Tonight we had some fuller lights and had the first run in complete costume. The costumes and make up look great but - oh. my. god. - just wait until you see Act 2's costumes; they'll blow you away!! Look out for one particular character (I shan't say who) - their costume looks superb.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's kinda reached a point where everything is slotting into place. We're in the position now where it's just lots of little things rather than anything too major - voices need to be a little louder here, lights need to fade slower there, blood needs to be....... etc. Sure I could list you all the things that need to be looked at, but then they're all relatively trivial. The performances are fantastic, the set looks brilliant and I just know that the cast and crew are going to do the script justice.

This isn't me signing off just yet (I'm hoping to update the blog after each performance this week) but in terms of preparing a production I don't think there's much more for me to say. If you have any specific queries then let me know but I guess the next time you hear from me will be when I tell you how the shows have gone.

And I can't end without telling you the ticket sale news: Thursday has sold about 20, Friday only has 6 tickets left and Saturday is SOLD OUT! A. Maze. Ing.

So I hope to welcome you along later this week; otherwise, keep an eye open for when I tell you all about how each night goes. Can't believe it's all happening now. It's time for the real thing...

Friday, 2 October 2009

A quick treat for you...

Very big apologies for the lack of posts - rehearsals have been great and keeping me busy. I'll give you a more substantial post soon...

In the meantime, by way of a small apology and to whet your appetite, here a few promotional images.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

"My balls are stuck"

I'm a very happy bunny today, I must say! I may have a sore, hoarse throat and feel like I haven't slept in a month, but the last couple of rehearsals have been, well, pretty darn fantastic.

On my way to Sunday's rehearsal I was mildly worried that we wouldn't get everything done - we only had Peter for the first four hours and I was hoping to get through the entire play in that time, before focusing on other elements in the afternoon. It kinda worked: we managed to get seven of the first eight scenes done before Peter had to shoot off. That afternoon, we also focused on two more scenes - which meant the only scene we didn't touch on Sunday was the final one.

Much of the afternoon was spent testing the limits of the bed and working out how brave David was willing to be. We had a lot of fun working out how David would get on top of the bed, how he would get done, how he would move, who would support which leg and when... The audience obviously won't see it but Daniel and Mark are working hard backstage to support David and make it possible for him to create some pretty beautiful images. Risking having no future offspring (see this post's title!), David really pushed his limits on Sunday and the result is going to be brilliant.

We also spent a little time with Ella and David choreographing their dance. Neither of them are trained dancers and I sometimes forget that performers won't have had the ten years dance experience I've had. Often, even if something that I think is easy and that my body is capable of, doesn't necessarily translate to someone else. However, they're both willing to give things a go and it's starting to get close to what I'm after. From experience, I've also found that non-dancers find repetition a lot easier to work with - so while the dance is very short, we may just choreograph half of it and then repeat. We'll see.

I've got to be very careful what I say regarding a particular item of set but what I will say is that on Sunday we tested it to destruction (literally) and it's going to amaze the audience. I can't wait for you to see it...

Sunday ended on a high and last night (Tuesday) we had an evening rehearsal. We started with Scene 10 and I warned the actors to not be fazed by the addition of some music. There are only three words I can use to describe what happened: God. My. Oh. (you may need to rearrange them yourself). I got genuine goosebumps watching the scene, verging on tearful. The actors performed it beautifully with a gorgeous sense of emotion to the events in the scene; the music elevating it to another level. From the view of the writer, the scene has quickly gone from my least favourite to possibly the complete opposite.

The rehearsal continued at the same very high level. The actors are starting to know their characters and lines a lot more now so they're able to immerse themselves in the scene more fully - Mandy, in particular, was even better last night than I've seen her before. We got through the first act and finished shortly after 10pm, ending on Scene 6.

I've always had problems with Scene 6, long before we started rehearsals. At times it can feel a little hammy, although with the actors up and performing the scene it works a lot better than reading it from the page. I told the actors last night that they were doing a sterling job with the scene - they're performances are great but for me it feels like we're polishing a turd of a scene. We'll look at it again tonight and maybe rethink some of it. (Sorry to bring it down! The last rehearsals have been fantastic so please don't let this make you think otherwise!!)

Another rehearsal tonight and Stevie Pickering is coming along to take the actors' profile photos for the website, blog and programme. She also came on Sunday to take some rehearsal shots which will hopefully be up on this blog soon-ish. Stevie gave me a massive confidence boost on Sunday when she whispered to me, with a massive grin on her face, the wonderful words "It's looking really good!" Big smiley face for Bradley!

(P.S. Last week the counter for this blog jumped from just over 300 visitors to well over 11,000!! Not sure why this is, definitely don't think it's had that many hits - and I promise I haven't been repeatedly refreshing the page...!)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Tricksy Tale of Customer Services

Last time we spoke, Peter Westmacott had joined the cast, I told you a hilarious joke about a fish with no eyes that you told to all your friends (remember how she cried when you told her? and how he wished he was as funny as you?), and I had collected some props. Onto the next thrilling instalment...

So, Peter has settled very quickly into the cast and is throwing himself into the role. Inevitably, as we've been blocking the role for a third time this has caused a little bit of a delay in rehearsals. But now, with all but one scene blocked, we're pretty much in a position to start running the play through during each rehearsal. This Sunday I shall be completing the choreography with David and Ella, and also focusing on some of David's physicality. The character of Soldier is quite an odd one in that we don't really know much about him or necessarily even his purpose, but David has worked wonders and brought the character to life. Actually, the entire cast have been fantastic at moving the characters away from these ideas in my brainbox into the physical world and bringing them to life. But you'll see for yourself when you buy your tickets, yes? Hehe...

Some backstage info for you now: bed sheets! Whilst I don't want to give too much away at this juncture, the sheets for the bed are not made from a material you would normally expect to find on a bed (unless you're into some really naughty stuff...). We got a pretty 40% discount thanks to some sweet talking by Louise, and now Mark and Louise have the task of working out how to attach it to the frame - I'm looking forward to seeing the results this weekend.

Also, I've managed to sort out all the costumes. A mix of eBay, charity shops and Primark have yielded some very good bargains. The cast tried them on for the first time this weekend and they're looking great. Ella's costume in particular is stunning - good job Brad!! Not so good, however, were the two occasions where I changed my mind and queued at Primark Customer Services for an exchange. I've no quibble with the quality of the service, but 45 minutes of queuing is not my idea of a fun Thursday evening...

Another issue we had recently was the musical accompaniment from the first entrance of Soldier. Now, I'm the first to admit that the play could be perceived as a Bradley Barlow Egofest so it was with some trepidation that, when I couldn't quite find the right sound I wanted, I decided to write that particular piece of music myself. By way of an apology for the delay since the last blog entry, regular readers can get an exclusive peek at the track by visiting my Myspace page and listening to 'Destruction' here.

Just coming up to three weeks until opening night and we've got about eight rehearsals left. Bricking it? Sure. Will we pull it off? You betcha!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Peter and the Props

(Not to be confused with Pete and the Pirates, Peter and the Wolf, or Dave)

A busy few days have passed with a number of very good actors interested in taking on the role of Peter. As regular readers may be aware, on Saturday I auditioned Joe Burns, a talented young actor from Worthing. That evening I saw Private Lives at the theatre and was informed that two actors at Archway Theatre (Tom Robinson and Peter Westmacott) might be interested in being involved. I'd also been chatting with a friend of David's (Tom Clear) about the possibility of auditioning.

Tom C sounded up for it but, as he is a professional actor, I decided that I couldn't run the same risk as I had with Peter Russell dropping out and with regret had to take him out of the running. In a similar vein, Tom R's schedule for September looked incredibly full on and we both agreed that it wasn't really feasible.

Which left me with two options - a new, younger actor who I could mould into what I wanted (Joe), or an actor I had seen perform and would be able to step into the role easily and had brought something quite different to the character during the first workshop (Peter W).

Following some shifting and adding of rehearsal dates, I'm very pleased to announce that Peter Westmacott will be playing Peter in next month's production of The Family. Peter was unable to do a couple of weekend dates which we switched and actually worked in our favour regarding availability of the studio. We've also added in a few evening rehearsals where the primary intention will be to concentrate on the relationship between Peter and Beth.

I'd like to thank Joe Burns for coming all the way to Horley for the audition and have suggested he might consider joining Archway Theatre as I'm sure there'd be plenty of directors interested in casting him in the future.

So with a full cast I popped up to the Props Store at the theatre and found a selection of fairly vintage bits and bobs for use on the dinner table and display on the dresser. I also found a couple of rugs that would work.

(Erm, maybe the title was misleading but I don't really have much else to discuss on props right now. I might take some saucy photos of said props at the weekend. Ooer missus!)

The next rehearsal will begin at 10am in the Rehearsal Arch where I shall be choreographing the dance between Emma and the Soldier. At 12, when the Studio becomes free, we'll move into there and be joined by the rest of the cast to crack on with the rehearsal. A full report that evening (or the following day).

Just want to sign off by thanking the cast and crew with sticking by myself and the production during all the changes. It gives me faith and confidence that it's all worth it. (I feel I should lighten the mood with a joke... Hmm... What do you call a fish with no eyes? Fsh. Hehehehe) Till next time.