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.

Monday, 31 August 2009

38 days, 2 hours and 33 minutes...

...until 'The Family' opens on Thursday 8 October 2009 at 7.45pm (according to a little ticker on the Archway Theatre page for the play). Note to self: DO NOT CHECK THE TICKER EVERY 20 MINUTES - YOU WILL DO YOURSELF A MISCHIEF!

Last week was a rather unusual and mildly stressful week - have a read of the previous post and you'll understand why. I began Saturday's session with a visit from John who is doing some work on securing the bed frame. We now have a couple of pairs of floor clamps and the headboard is further secured to the main frame. The next step are a couple of wall brackets for the bed legs to slot into which will then be further secured by rope. Once this has been done we'll start to play with the frame and see what limitations we have. But it's getting there.

At the previous rehearsal I asked Ella and David to arrive at 11.30am to allow Pete and Mandy time to work on Scenes 10 and 1. As Pete is no longer in the play, Mandy and I took some time to hunt for bits of costume and set around Horley town centre. We found two beautiful dressers that would be perfect for the set - a dark brown wood, not too high, wide or deep - both for sale in different charity shops. Neither store has hired furniture out before so the kind ladies behind both counters have taken my details to pass on to their managers. Both should be giving me a call this week. We also found a red skirt for 'Beth' for a bargain £4. I've always imagined Beth in a brown skirt and can't decide if red is too brazen for her character. Will have to think this one out...

Following our mini shopping trip, Mandy and I returned to the studio to meet the gathering actors. I have spent most of this week trying to find a replacement for Pete and had hoped for an X-Factor style gathering of wannabes who I'd audition before casting one and sending the others crying into the bosoms of their families; the Chosen One would then ideally stay on for the rest of the day's rehearsal. Due to the short notice, only one actor, 17-year-old Joe Burns from Worthing, was able to attend.

As I had the rest of my cast I asked Joe to read a scene or two with Ella, David and Mandy while I watched. To a certain extent I felt a little sorry for Joe - you've got three cast members who have begun to gel, a production assistant, the guy you're replacing, and the director (who has also written the play you're reading for!). It was also a little odd for me - I've now grown slightly accustomed to how everyone else reads each part and here was another new voice reading the play. Quite surreal.

Joe read very well and, following last week's excellent rehearsal of Scene 7, I wanted to see how he'd cope with the intensity of the scene. We did the scene in two parts: I showed Joe the basic moves for Peter and asked him to act alongside David as Soldier and Mandy as Beth. Again, he did very well.

The audition lasted about an hour and after Joe left I asked for everyone's opinions, which were all very positive. However, I always like to play devil's advocate and am reluctant to go after the first person I see. David has a couple of friends interested and a couple more Archway members have thrown themselves into the ring, so I'm just waiting to hear back from them. I intend to make a final decision before Wednesday evening so that I can have someone in place before this weekend's rehearsals.

After the audition (and lunch) we went back to the beginning and rehearsed Scene 1. As Pete is no longer in the cast I focused on Mandy's portrayal of Beth. In all honesty, I can't off the top of my head think of anything particularly huge that I asked Mandy to do or change; generally little things to work on here and there.

We then moved onto Scene 2 - the Soldier's entrance. We played around with a couple of tracks (Nine Inch Nail - 20: Ghosts; Dust Brothers - Hessel, Raymond K from the Fight Club soundtrack) but neither quite worked to create the atmosphere that the intensity the character needs. There's a track I started writing about a year ago that might work so I'm going to play around with that. We then focused our time on how Soldier moves - the way he walks, crawls, stands, sits. David has come up with an almost broken skeletal movement that is good but needs a bit of definition in places - Louise Adams has added the video to Facebook so if you're a friend of hers on there then take a look (I'll see if I can post it on here too).

After that we moved onto Scenes 3 and 4, with David stepping in as Peter when Pete had to leave. I've really struck lucky with Ella - at the moment I'm finding that I'm having to direct her very little. Part of me wonders if I should be doing or saying more, or if I'll pick up on things more as we progress, but as it stands now I think she's ticking all the boxes. It was also interesting to see David as Peter instead of Soldier: he's clearly a very good actor who is more versatile than the part of Soldier might show (that's not to say Soldier is a two dimensional character..... come see the play, you'll get what I mean!).

Overall, Saturday was a mixed bag - I'd been a little worried the night before as I really had no idea how things would go. But by the end of the day we'd managed to get some work done. As we're recasting Peter it's now a certainty that we'll need extra midweek rehearsals.

Just a quick addition to say that in the evening I went to see Private Lives at Archway Theatre, written by Noel Coward and directed by Michael Beach. The play was witty, well-directed and brilliantly performed and I'd like to say a huge well done to everyone involved (the cast being Paul Richard Simmonds, Joy Andrews, Peter Westmacott and Laura Marie Martin). And thank you to Michael for all the lifts to theatre while I shadowed him as director in preparation for my main house directorial debut in 2010.

So that's all for now but expect another thrilling instalment in a couple of days when I'm hoping to have what will hopefully be the final casting announcement! Third time lucky n' all that!

38 days, 1 hour and 45 minutes. And counting.........

Monday, 24 August 2009

From brilliant to bugger...

Apologies to those of you who have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment of 'The Adventures of Bradley Barlow and the Play Wot He Wrote and Did' - more regularity over the coming weeks I promise...

I realise that I haven't updated you on how rehearsals have been going since Pete Russell joined the cast. The first one nearly a fortnight ago (crikey, has it really been that long since I updated this?! Again, apologies!) was great - Pete stepped into the role with ease and was eager to know as much as possible about the character, always asking questions and thinking things through. The chemistry with Mandy and Ella in the female roles was also great.

The following week, at Saturday's rehearsal, everything shifted up another gear as we focused mainly on Act 2 - it was David's first rehearsal as 'Soldier' and he jumped into the role with great relish. It was also clear that David and Pete would work fantastically well together - this was particularly apparent when choreographing a short fight sequence between the two of them: their combined ideas far outweighed my own in terms of excitement and physicality and the final sequence should work brilliantly. There were also a few moments whilst rehearsing Act 2 where I got genuine goosebumps - as did Mark (the SM), Mandy and Ella: our eyes transfixed on what we were watching - creepy, intense and brilliantly performed. Speaking of Mark, he's leapt in with gusto and came up with (among others) the genius idea of having our crew in balaclavas too - I love it!! John Hankin (Mandy's dad) also popped by to work out just how the bed will be secured so I'm looking forward to seeing what he can come up with. The problem we found with the bed that it's all very well saying ideas and discussing what we'd like to happen but until the bed is in place and the actors can actually physically use it, it's just food for thought really. I think I can safely speak on behalf of everyone when I say that we walked away at 5pm on Saturday positively buzzing with excitement and I for one couldn't wait to get start the next rehearsal.

And this is where the shocking 'Sixth Sense'-style twist comes in (but without Bruce Willis being dead)...

I had a call from Pete yesterday evening - he's been offered some paid professional acting work (one of which is the latest Harry Potter film) which would clash with the performance dates for The Family. I could tell that he'd been having conflicting thoughts on the matter - should he go with his head and take the money, or go with his heart and stick with the play he's been supporting for so long (and he really has supported the play right from the start)? Sadly, he has reluctantly decided to step down from the role of Peter. Whilst it's obviously come as a shock following our fantastic rehearsals and I'm totally gutted that he can't stay in the cast, I 100% respect and understand his decision - hell, if it were me I'd do the same thing!! So best of luck Pete! :-)

I find that at times like these it's best to stay positive and work out a plan of attack (not on Pete, might I add - on how to approach this glitch). David has a few people he knows that are interested and reading the play as we speak. I've sent another 'call to arms' through the Facebook 'Theatre Performers in Sussex' group (the same group that got me David) and this has proved fruitful with a couple of young lads interested too (christ, I'm 26 and using phrases like "young lads" - wtf?!). Gary has come with another possibility through a contact of his, and Mark's husband Chris is also interested, so there should be a few to audition.

So all is not lost. I refuse to use the cliche of 'the show must go on' but I'm going to make sure it does. Pete will be standing in during rehearsals until the replacement is found so this means I can concentrate on the other actors' performances. And I'm sure within a week or so I'll have my (hopefully) final Peter. As they say, third time lucky.....

Friday, 14 August 2009

Every cloud

It is with sadness that I report that Dan Woods has stepped down from playing Peter in The Family. As I've previously said, Dan is also appearing in Dick Barton in September and his schedules have meant that rehearsing for both show would have been difficult. The rest of the cast and myself would like to wish Dan the best of luck in Dick Barton.

The silver lining, however, comes in the form of Peter Russell who will be taking over from Dan to play Peter. Peter (the actor) was involved in the first workshop for the script and has had an active interest in the play ever since. I'm very confident that Peter will slip into the role with ease and look forward to welcoming him to the cast.

This now obviously means we'll pretty much be starting again from scratch at Sunday's rehearsal. Dan has given me his copy of the script with his notes on to hand over to Peter so with a bit of luck there won't be too much old ground to go back over. We'll also try to firm up a rehearsal schedule this Sunday too - I'll have a full report for you on Monday...!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

All hands on deck!

So far the blog 'announcements' have focused on casting, but I can now give you some info on who'll be assisting me on the backstage side of things. Mark O'Halloran has accepted the role of 'Stage Manager', his first at Archway. Ably assisting him is Louise Adams (she's been a fantastic source of knowledge for me during this process) who will be supporting Mark in his role. On the lighting desk is the talented Alex Gibson, and I understand Mark has also roped in Emma Ladd for his crew!

I'd also like to say a quick thank you to Neil Hunt for his assistance in locating a bed frame and to John Hankin for offering to do some work on it.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Casting Announcement (the final piece of the jigsaw)

I am extremely pleased to announce that the role of Soldier has been taken by David Robson. David recently graduated from the The Southern Theatre Arts Centre and has been performing as an actor for many years, both as a student and professionally. David's recent theatre credits include Demetrius in the five star rated Midsummer Nights Dream for the Brighton Fringe Festival and the title role in Roberto Zucco at the Northbrook Theatre in Worthing. David has worked as a performer for outdoor site-specific theatre company Periplum for the last two years, performing in their critically acclaimed The Bell, Arquiam and Snowglobe, throughout the country. In late 2008 David directed the musical theatre show Shattered at The Northbrook Theatre and is interested in creating new collaborative devised theatre in the future.

This now means we've got a full cast - the jigsaw is complete! (A pretty poor jigsaw, mind - it's only got four pieces! Shall we say we got it from the Early Learning Centre? Good, I'm glad you agree)

So the official cast line-up looks like this:
Peter - Dan Woods
Beth - Mandy Humphrey
Soldier - David Robson
Emma - Ella Sowton

We may have a Stage Manager confirmed very soon too...

Thursday, 6 August 2009

(Slightly) Extended Run!

Tiny bit of exciting news - the decision has been made to extend the small run for The Family from two nights to three! This means that opening night will be Thursday 8th October 2009 at 7.45pm. The feeling is that we may be able to generate enough interest in the play to attract a wider audience. Ticket reservations haven't opened yet but details will be posted on here once confirmed.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Rehearsal #1

The date: Saturday 1st August 2009.
The time: 10am.
The venue: Archway Studio Function Room.
The reason? The first rehearsal for The Family!!

Over the last few days I've had a lot of people ask me "Ooh, how did it go?". I stand there. I look at them. And I have a little think. "Yeah, it went really well, thank you". And they continue to look at me, and I think to myself Crikey, that's not enough! They want more from me! So I smile, pause a moment. "Yeah, really really well. Really pleased with it. It's looking good. Thank you". A brief silence, before "Oh good". And off they trot.

And when I say a lot of people, I really do mean quite a few. And it's brilliant that they're showing an interest and offering support etc and I'm not for a single second slating anyone for that because it's a huge confidence boost and fills me with hope that we'll actually have a few people show up and watch the thing. But my problem (and it really is my problem and nobody else's) is that, well, I just don't know what to say! Even now, writing this blog, knowing that people are reading this word here - and now these ones - I just don't know what to write.

The night before (and the hours and minutes leading up to) the first rehearsal, I was bricking it. What if they've changed their minds? What if they refuse to do as I say? What if they laugh in my face, tear up the script and declare they're going to put on 'Cabaret' instead?! Clearly irrational, I convinced myself and headed off to Horley with my folder and duplicate scripts. I arrived to find the Function Room locked and no caretaker in sight - luckily, the main theatre was open for the flat wash for Private Lives, so we borrowed the key from there.

Mandy, Ella and Dan all arrived, raring to go and we entered the Function Room to be hit with the smell of fresh paint - Mandy's hangover was about to get much worse! After opening all possible doors, I took the cast through to the studio to explain how the revised staging would work. There is a bit of a gangway down the side of the stage at floor level - the entrance for which will now form the upended bed. The steps from bedroom to the main room of the house (on stage) will be the stairs at the other end, with the "front door" being stairs at the back of the stage. (Not sure that makes any sense - I'll draw a diagram at some point for you...). We returned to the Function Room and got to work on the first scene - and very quickly we hit our stride. Dan and Mandy have great chemistry and should work well together. Towards the end of the first scene, Peter goes to bed followed by Beth. As the bed is upended, the actors must stand instead of lying down. I moved the actors to the wall and, assisted by Ella, held their scripts so they could position their arms properly - in effect, the first small bit of choreography in the play.

We skipped Scene Two as Soldier hasn't yet been cast (it's in italics for a reason...!!) and moved onto Scene Three. Again, Mandy and Dan were great. It was pointed out that, as the stage is a lot deeper than expected, there would be room for a dresser or shelving of some sort at the back for Beth to potter around at etc. Ella entered as Emma and was great - and again, her and Dan look like they'll have some great chemistry together, with Mandy throwing in a bit wicked sister action.

During a quick lunch we chatted about forthcoming rehearsal dates before starting on Scene Four - a dinner scene with Emma and Peter. As we're mainly only blocking at this stage, I'm not really focusing on performance - but at the moment, I've no worries on that score. At 2.15pm Dan had to dash off to work, so Mandy and Ella went through their couple of short bits together with me reading in for Dan.

Hopefully this blow-by-blow account wasn't too dull a read...?! I think once blocking is out the way I'll be able to tell you a bit more about the practicalities and performances.

And there may be an announcement in relation to Soldier this coming weekend - watch this space... ;-)

Thursday, 23 July 2009

More casting news!

What a brilliant start to the day!

I am very pleased to announce that this morning Mandy Humphrey agreed to join the cast of 'The Family' as Beth, the sister of main character Peter. Mandy will playing a pivotal role in the play and I'm absolutely delighted that I shall be working with her. You may have seen Mandy in the Archway Theatre productions of 'The Danny Crowe Show', 'The Crucible' and, most recently, as Dolly West in 'Dolly West's Kitchen'.

This now means there is only part to be filled: the Soldier. But it also means that we can start rehearsals on Saturday 1st August - if I have the Soldier by then that'd be great, but if not then we can make a start and it'll give me an extra week to find an actor.

Good times.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Casting announcement

I am extremely pleased to announce two confirmed cast members for 'The Family'.

Yesterday afternoon I was being a bit cryptic regarding the casting of Emma as I wanted to ensure that the unsuccessful candidates had been informed. Ella Sowton read the part beautifully in Monday's audition and, having seen her brilliant portrayal of Nancy from 'Oliver Twist' in Archway Theatre's Young Adults Performance 'Twisted Tales', I know she'll be a fantastic addition to the cast. I'd like to thank Katie Dunbar and Emma Ladd for auditioning for this role and hope that I am able to work with these talented actresses in the future.

I'm also chuffed to bits to announce that the role of the lead character Peter has been accepted by none other than Dan Woods. I choreographed Dan in 'Privates on Parade' back in 2007 and have been hoping to work with him again ever since. In fact, whilst writing 'The Family', Dan was the first person that sprung to mind to play the part. He's also got a part in the forthcoming 'Dick Barton' so there'll be plenty of opportunity to see him perform at Archway this autumn...!

Two down, two to go... There should be more news later this week - keep 'em peeled!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

It's audition time!!

I ended the last post on a cliffhanger about the auditions and, before I knew it, the evening of auditions was upon us!

Last night (Monday 20 July 2009) in the Archway Theatre Bar, a small group of us had a bit of a readthrough of the first act of the play. One of the male actors had called me earlier in the day to say he'd been called in to cover a shift at work and I shall be meeting with him on Thursday instead. Unfortunately, he would have been the only other male in attendance. Luckily, Emma Ladd had brought along her friend Phil who read all of Peter's lines - allowing me to be able to sit back and listen to the girls do their thang...!

For the role of Beth we had two auditionees: Roz Ingrams from the Young Adults Workshop, and Mandy Humphrey from the main theatre. I also asked Emma Ladd to read for her as well - more on that later... For the role of Emma I had three auditionees: Katie Dunbar and Ella Sowton from Young Adults, and Emma Ladd. In all honesty, I had been expecting a few more faces to show up - but that's the nature of the beast...! I'd already had emails and texts from various male and female potentials to say they'd not be auditioning - and they all seemed genuine in their liking of the play - but, sadly, due to time/work/commitments, they would be able to commit to the play. But I don't begrudge them at all - much better to bow out very early on than to dive in and find it becomes too much.

So we went through scenes 1, 3, 4 and 6 of the play (i.e. the first act minus the scenes between Peter and Soldier) with the girls taking it in turns to read. Very quickly I knew who I wanted to play Emma. Because I haven't told the unsuccessful auditionees their fate I shan't publicise on here just yet who has been cast - but I am happy to announce that I have a quarter of my cast confirmed! Hoorah!

For the part of Beth, Mandy Humphrey has asked for a little time to work out if she'd be able to commit to it, and I've also asked Emma Ladd if she'd reconsider playing the part (although she feels that learning the lines and the emotional weight of the character may prove too much - entirely understandable) andshe is going to take a couple of days to do so.

I'm hoping to be able to confirm the castings for Peter, Beth and Emma later this week, with Soldier shortly afterwards - watch this space!

Also, the first rehearsal has been booked for the Studio on Saturday 1st August. This hopefully also means that I'll be updating the blog on a weekly basis - it's all becoming real now...!!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Second Workshop

Has it really been that long since my last post? Oh dear, I knew wouldn't be very at this 'regular' thing!! On the assumption that at least one person is reading this, apologies for keeping you waiting!

When I started writing this blog I wanted to make sure I was honest and upfront about the whole writing-workshop-performance process and that's exactly what I'm going to do - especially about the second workshop...

The Second Workshop
...was a very different experience to the first workshop. The first one had a real air and buzz of excitement - a brand new never-before read script was about to be explored and the day as a whole was very positive with a lot of encouragement for me as a writer and for the play in it's own right.

That isn't to say I didn't receive praise and encouragement in the second workshop - because I did, and I'm incredibly grateful to those that turned up and supported the play. However, the second workshop was a lot more critical of the text. I don't want to sound like I only want praise for my work - far from it; the only way I can grow as a writer is to be criticised, questioned and pushed on my decisions. But compared to the first workshop it was a sharp sudden shock.

Some points raised were valid - a character called 'Josh' has had his name dropped as it's pretty hard to say when used in the sentences it was placed in (e.g. "Josh just disappeared..."); the indication of wealth from the description of the cooker needed revising. Then there were other opinion-based criticisms, and the questions, and the nit-picking. Frankly, at the time it just felt like an onslaught, and I could feel the patches appearing in the pits of my t-shirt with the shame/embarrassment/pressure.

But in hindsight I learned two valuable lessons:
1. Even the best work has it's flaws and it sometimes takes other people to point them out before you spot them, and
2. If they didn't think the play was worth it then they wouldn't have turned up in the first place!!

One interesting point was that the group didn't realise it was a civil war and thought Peter had returned from abroad. This has meant a few clarifications and additional dialogue early in the first act but hopefully it should work.

The best outcome was that the play, based on the draft seen at the workshop, has been approved for performance. Hoorah! I'm going to keep rewriting and working on the text throughout the rehearsals as I'm sure things will need to change but we'll see...!

More to come later about 'Auditions' - check back this evening!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The original inspiration

I've realised that I haven't yet uploaded the painting that originally inspired The Family - and here it is.

Painted by Paula Rego, The Family tells the story of a father returning home and being manhandled by the females in his family. The narrative is ambiguous with the viewer unsure if the man is being helped or hurt.

Another work by Rego, Girl Lifting Up her Skirt to a Dog, shows a young girl doing precisely as the title suggests and implies that she is exploring her sexual boundaries at a young age.The two paintings' narratives have strongly informed the play's story and this should be evident in the final work.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

The First Workshop

First off - crikey, over a month since my last post?!

And back to business... Today was my first opportunity to get 'The Family' into a public domain. I was extremely grateful to have a bunch of actors come along to a workshop I held with the intention to explore the play in a bit more depth. My original intention was for a day something along the following lines: read-through the script en masse; in groups and pairs, read a couple of key scenes again and re-improvise the scene; eat; spotlight interviews on the two main characters - Peter and Beth. And that's basically what I got, but with a few very interesting deviations...

I found the read-through absolutely fascinating - this was the very first time my characters had voices, the first time they became more than typed words on a page. I think I managed to contain my excitement... As the read-through went on, I found myself concentrating on how the words were read - for example, Peter W read what I originally envisaged as a very angry section of text, quite softly and calmly and, ultimately, quite beautifully. Like I say - fascinating! And then there were the cringing moments - the realisation that whenever Peter starts to reminisce, he begins by saying "I remember..."; or when Soldier tells Peter that he wants his skins or that he is coming - it sounded a bit more gay than creepy (that being said, we were all sat round so on it's feet it may have an entirely different feel). Interesting, exciting and very useful.

I then intended to launch straight into improv - two pairs working on the opening scene, one trio doing the last scene of Act One. I explained what I wanted, asked if there were any questions and it came: "Yeah, erm... What's it about?" Of course! In my excitement I'd entirely failed to ask for their opinions, their thoughts, their objections and their questions!! Oops!!! So I explained the background of my initial ideas of the play (inspired by The Family by Paula Rego) and how it evolved into the 46 pages sitting in front of them. I also explained that I'd read a couple of interesing news articles this week that I thought could direct and justify Beth's actions a lot more. My answers appeared to satisfy everyone and the improv began.......

Now, I haven't done improv for quite a few years and, judging by the fear in a few people's faces, neither had the actors. But they were great, really getting stuck in to the task. Quite naturally they stuck to the text for a while (there's direction and dialogue there for them - of course they'd be drawn to it!) but as time went on it was apparent that they were growing in confidence and felt able to lose their inhabitions. They took on the task well and seemed to have an understanding of the characters. A couple of things came out that I really liked, a few one liners here or there that spoke volumes about the characters ("You silly little girl" immediately springs to mind). One pair had an almost bickering brother-sister relationship which I'll almost certainly add to the opening scene - they felt natural together and, whilst their behaviour at times may not necessarily be appropriate, you could see their love for one another. I had my trusty camcorder on hand to film the lot so I shall rewatch in the coming days and see what I can take from their work.

The intention for the afternoon was to generate fresh material for parts of the text - first off, I needed to hear more about Beth's relationship with her father and was keen to see how the actors saw her and what she had been through. I also knew I wanted another 'war story' for Peter and pretty much asked them to come up with one, keeping in mind the landscape the play had already created. This time, the two groups took very different approaches - one dived straight in and started interviewing each other; the other group sat down and began to map out a background for Beth, making notes of their decisions about her to be used. And it was this that pricked my interest - I could tell that they each had very differing opinions and thoughts about Beth, her past, her relationships, and were debating about the route they should go in. I reacted to this and happily dropped the improv and asked both groups to focus on creating character profiles.

I went between groups, spending five or ten minutes with each, just listening - unless directly asked a question, I just nodded or smiled and intentionally remained as vague as possible. And I got so much more material from this than any improv could ever create!! They asked the questions I'd already asked myself but, more importantly, created questions that I'd never dreamt of asking. They began to question the reality of what Beth had told her brother; discussed how Peter's experiences of war had made him the man he was; interrogated the reasons for both characters' actions. After about 45 minutes of discussions I sat both groups round the table and asked them to relay their findings to the other group. This, in turn, raised more questions and will without a doubt help me write more material. The discussion ran on to the point of running out of tape in the camcorder - talking for nearly an hour! I'm going to watch the tape back tomorrow and my next post will be about these discussions...

Ultimately, an extremely valuable day for me. I'd like to thank all the actors that attended today for everything they gave me - in no particular order: Jo Ord, Jo Pickering, Sam Mansi, Emma Ladd, Peter Westmacott, Peter Russell, Stuart Martin, and Jo O's writer friend 'Gerard' for popping by for an hour or so too. They gave me the voices I needed to hear and raised the questions I needed asked. I'll be honest - I was shitting it a little bit: we were going to spend the day dealing with this thing I'd written and I had no idea if it was any good. But I've come away so incredibly encouraged and very excited about what is still to come. So thanks again - you've made my day! :-)

Sunday, 29 March 2009

What a week!

Quite a few developments this week - I finally completed a full first draft of the script (more on that in a sec), a production page has been created on the Archway Theatre website, and I've got the ball rolling on workshop dates and actors.

So the full first draft has been done and delivered to a few interested parties and I'm awaiting their feedback. My view? It's a loooong way from being ready! But that's not necessarily a bad thing - at least I'm able to see that it needs work and know how I'll do so. I've spent a fair bit of time re-writing sections of the first act, so that's shaping up quite nicely. The second act, however, was very much 'bashed out'. My thinking for this was simple - although the rep committee need to approve the script, I've got a few months to do so. For me, it's better to get the story out and on paper so that I know the general shape, and then go back, rewrite, edit etc. On top of that, I'm going to hold at least one workshop with some actors to tear the whole thing apart, right down to the bare bones of it, to really test the text. Who knows, maybe it'll evolve into something else entirely - we'll soon see...

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Beth's story?

So I've had some pretty great news today - the rep committee have agreed that publicity can begin for the play. Just means I need to finish writing the damn thing! As it stands now, Act 1 is six scenes and 29 pages long; Act 2 has three out of four scenes written and is only 12 pages long - eek. But I'm not too worried, I'm expecting the final scene to be the lengthiest but I reckon I'll gain a lot of material from the workshops with the actors.

Speaking of which, I had a quick drink with Emma this evening who I've worked with briefly before. As a woman she read the play differently and had an interesting perspective on the characters. Interestingly, she felt the male characters were more well rounded but Beth just comes across as a bit of a bitch. It is possible that the actress that plays Beth will need to work hard to bring through her sensitivities. However, she does go from quite nice to very nasty in a very short space of time so I think I'm going to go back and add a bit of backstory for Beth.

I also need to establish what makes Peter stay at the house - why doesn't he just up and leave; what's keeping him there? What drives the magnetism between Beth and Peter?

It's going to take some fiddling around with the whole thing but this is why I'm going to workshop the play - it's highly likely that the actors will be able add to the characters and story (and probably help remove things too) that I'm not too worried at this stage.

Plan? Finish a complete draft in the next fortnight and workshop within a month. Easy, eh? (Yes, you're right - those are indeed my Famous Last Words.....!!)

Friday, 6 February 2009

The Coma and the shadows

The FamilyFinished reading 'The Coma' by Alex Garland. Very interesting book with some really clever ideas about perception of reality and dream-like states - both of which are themes that 'The Family' tries to explore...

I'll read you the blurb from the inside cover: "A young man is brutally assaulted late at night on an Underground train by a gang of thugs. Beaten unconscious, he lies for days in a hospital bed - but appears to make a full recovery. On discharge from hospital, Carl picks up the threads of his daily life, visiting friends, seeing his girlfriend - until he starts to notice strange leaps in his perception of time, distortions in his experience. Is he truly reacting with the outside world, or might he be terribly mistaken? So begins a dark psychological drama that raises profound questions about the boundary between the real and the imagined."

The book's more surreal moments contain an essence of something I'm trying to capture in the play. Whilst reading it I kept thinking how good it would be as a short film - and this raised an interesting question for me: 'does my writing contain an element of screenwriting as opposed to/well as playwriting?' It would be fair to say that I have more experience of watching film and TV and studying the quality of words. It's no secret that I'm a huge Doctor Who fan - at times when watching it I hear specific lines that leap out: often fantastic, sometimes cringing. But there's something magical about what is written for that show - perhaps that is a feature of writing for sci-fi? But I've noticed a similar trait in my writing - specific lines that leap off the page (hopefully not into the cringe category!).

On the other hand, ITV's Whitechapel debuted Monday night and was, without a doubt, brilliant. The performances were excellent and the writing superb - but I don't remember any of the lines. But then does that matter? Does remembering a line mean it's good? Or does it stand out for another, more negative reason?

In other news, I've had some flashes of inspiration for the final scene of the play. Shadows will play a part so need to go back into the first act and add some hints to it. This actually comes from the poster design - when I made it about six months ago I knew I wanted the image of dark shadows appearing to push through - I had no idea why but that it had to be included. And now, it all slots into place... 'citin' stuff!

Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Family - The Poster

The FamilyJust a quickie - here's the teaser poster for The Family. 99% certain that is going to be the title - nothing else could be more appropriate really...

Currently reading 'The Coma' by Alex Garland. 2 quid in Fopp and proving to be very useful study material... It's a very short book and it's taken me an hour to get about a third of the way through so expect some form of review shortly.

Playwriting-wise it's all going very well - currently working on Act 2 Scene 2 at the moment. It's crap at the moment and definitely needs work - but at least I'm able to admit that!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The frustration on his face...

Joined a band recently as their lead singer. The songs are fantastic - all written by our drummer. Just come back from a rehearsal and it's really interesting to see his face while I'm singing. Ultimately I know he wants me to be able to reach the notes he's hitting but, as I'm quite new to this singing malarkey, my voice just isn't flexible enough yet. So when the harmonies don't work out or something isn't right I like to have a quick look at his face to see his opinion. And it got me thinking - how will my face look when the actors don't quite do something as I envisaged it - will it be an expression of annoyance and frustration or of surprise and excitement? Only time will tell I guess...

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Giving in to temptation

I've spent the last week taking charge of my life. I'm starting to speak my mind a lot more (not that I was particularly shy or retiring before) but I just feel like it's time to grow up and get on with things.

I've never really seen the point of blogs before. I get the whole personal diary thing, or blogs from public figures and organisations - but never really understood why people would want to read a complete stranger's most intimate thoughts. I've also thought of it all as a bit of an ego-trip - to big yourself up into thinking that anyone would give a shit about what you've got to say.

Earlier this week (Tuesday 20/1/09) I had a chat with Gary from my local theatre group. Last summer I sent him the first draft of the first act of a play I'm writing - and then I just left it. The theatre were keen but for some reason I just pushed it all aside. Then I bumped into gary while choreographing the panto and he seemed sooo enthusiastic about getting a meeting together. So I went to the meeting with a little trepidation - I genuinely didn't know what to expect, would he shoot it down in flames and tell me I couldn't write for toffee? Would he think I was a perverted deviant for the 'adult' nature of the text? Or would he just say that it was good but not what they were after, do I have anything else...?

Well, as it turned out - none of the above. There were a few grammatical things and a few writing tips (personalise this bit here, why say this when you could say more with a look or gesture, that kind of thing) but it was all incredibly encouraging. We talked about potential actors, chatted about deadlines and I left the house buzzing. I've made some changes to the first act and now moved onto the second act (it's a bit similar to that 'Second Album Syndrome' bands get but I'm on track now).

Part of my problem has been that I don't really have an outlet for my ideas and thoughts - I'll go to bed at night and not get to sleep cos I've all these ideas in my head. So what I'm hoping is that this blog will act as an almost 'Making of' for the play, what's influencing my writing, how the writing is going, and for me to have a bit of a rant about my frustrations. I'll probably chuck in one or two reviews of stuff I've watched/read/listened to etc.

And so begins my blogging. 2009 has got potential.

(Temptation-wise, I've also given in and shall shortly be acquiring an iPhone - more on that as and when!)