In the Shadow of Orgreave by Martin Miller

And so it’s all over bar the shouting. After 4 weeks of intensive work on John Harvey’s excellent stage adaptation of his final Charlie Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness, we now leave the relative safety of the New Perspectives rehearsal room in Basford and move into the Nottingham Playhouse from next week to start the technical and dress rehearsals for what will be the next show of the Sweet Vengeance season. If anything, this is where all the hard work needs to come together. The actors need to adjust their performances from the intimacy of the rehearsal room to the theatrical space without losing any of the subtleties and truth of their characterisations that have been developed through the rehearsal process (so rule one: don’t panic, rule two: don’t start shouting). Our hardworking technical crew including Kathryn Wilson (Deputy Stage Manager), Drew Baumhol (Sound Designer), Azusa Ono (Lighting Designer), Ruth Sutcliffe (Set Designer) amongst many others will be collaborating with our director Jack McNamara to bring the world of the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike and Harvey’s CWA Dagger award – winning Detective Charlie Resnick seamlessly to life, and from Friday 30th September audiences will see the finished product.


Actors Emma Thornett & Martin Miller in rehearsals

I have been impressed throughout this process by the collaboration between Jack McNamara and John Harvey. It is rare for directors and writers to cooperate so effectively. I worked with Jack on a previous New Perspectives play about Alfred Hitchcock and he has a strong sense of how to engage with a piece visually, almost filmically, and in collaboration with our Video Designer, Will Simpson, audiences will find themselves transported to the heart of a mining community bitterly divided by the strike, and of a murder investigation 30 years later which threatens to open these divisions once more. Harvey’s skill has been in not only placing Resnick front and centre of this action in the theatrical space, but also in bringing the world of this torn mining community to life. One could argue that the work is even more politically charged and relevant today with the recent announcement of an inquiry into the events at ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ . Harvey’s play explicitly references Orgreave and its aftermath, indeed Resnick finds himself conflicted by the police conduct on that day, and we see the casual brutality of the Met. The recent inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster laid bare the failings of South Yorkshire police and the Hillsborough families had to fight courageously and persistently for years to get any semblance of justice. The Orgreave families have had an even longer wait. Indeed, post-Brexit result, it appeared the issue could conceivably be dropped from the government agenda altogether. How can one even begin to disentangle the bloody events at Orgreave, of systematic and systemic state and police collusion, the very worst example and excess of what Tristram Hunt MP called ‘legalised state violence’?

Over thirty years on, the events of the Miners’ Strike still divide communities and we see in the play how these divisions are just as raw today. All of this plus at the heart of the play we see the dogged determination of Charlie Resnick to solve one last murder case before his impending retirement. John Harvey first created his famous Nottingham Detective back in 1988 and I am confident that with the team Jack McNamara has put together and the strong collaboration between cast, production team, director and author that we can do it justice. As we head into our final rehearsal week, John Harvey’s beloved Notts County have just beaten Leyton Orient 3 – 1. Surely a good omen? Hope to see all you Resnick afficionados in the theatre bar afterwards for a drop of Highland Park. “No sense arguing, Resnick raised his glass and drank…”.


David Fleeshman as Charlie Resnick in rehearsals

Darkness, Darkness opens at the Nottingham Playhouse Friday 30 September until Saturday 15 October. Tickets available from the Nottingham Playhouse website and at their Box Office on 0115 9419419.

Shedding Light on Darkness, Darkness by Elizabeth Twells

I was born and bred in Nottingham, and for my first play in Notts to be John Harvey’s Darkness, Darkness with both New Perspectives and Nottingham Playhouse, is a real privilege as it’s a very personal story for me and my home town.

Set in Nottingham, the play focuses on Detective Charlie Resnick’s last case following the discovery of the body of my character, Jenny Hardwick; a young woman who disappeared during the bitterly-fought miners’ strike 30 years earlier. It moves between both 1984 and present day, opening old wounds sustained on the Nottinghamshire picket lines for many characters.

I was born after the miners’ strike and my first experience of it was seeing footage released of The Battle of Orgreave years after the strike had finished and thinking ‘that can’t be real’.

orgreaveOrgreave 29th May 1984

Only recently I found out I had a connection with the strike through my Mum. I always thought that Nottingham miners had gone on strike, but only a very small percentage actually joined the pickets, the vast majority had continued to go to work. My Nanna mentioned that when she went away to Yorkshire during the strike she was told not to say she was from Notts because we were a ‘scabbing’ city.

Our play shows both sides of the strike; the miners who kept working and those that went on strike, including the flying pickets who came down to Nottingham from Yorkshire to persuade the men to stay away from work.

My character, Jenny, is married to a miner and chooses to go against her ‘scabbin’ husband to join those on the picket line, creating a huge rift in their relationship. Jenny is the kind of part you dream to play in that she’s not your average young female role. She’s a sparky, unpredictable, driven woman who is politically awakened throughout the play.

During rehearsals Harry Paterson, who wrote Look Back in Anger: The Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire, came in to speak to us about what the strike was like in Nottingham. He told us how the strike galvanised many women, who were used to building their lives around their home, to suddenly become independent, ambitious activists. These women then went on to attend University, become leaders and MPs, the likes of which they never thought would happen to them. Jenny represents those women and her journey through the play encapsulates that liberation.

The cast are a bloody brilliant bunch and Jack McNamara (the director) has established a very fun and creative environment in rehearsals for people to explore, play and take risks. Today we’ve been working on ‘the murder’ scene which is going to be so exciting. I’ve definitely come up with a few daft ideas which, thankfully, you won’t see!

liz-twellsBeing very serious in rehearsals…

I was sat in the Nottingham Playhouse the night I decided I wanted to be an actor and being able to finally tread the boards in there is a real honour. Plus, the whole family’s coming too so the pressure’s on…

Please come and see us so it’s not just me Dad in every night.

Darkness, Darkness is on at the Nottingham Play Fri 30 Sep – Sat 15 October. Tickets are available from the Playhouse website or at their Box Office on 0115 941 9419.



IMG_20160520_121904Over May and June Nottingham city was even more alive than usual with arts and theatre, as it hosted both NEAT’16 and FONT Festival. We thought there was no better time than now to release issue #2 of New Perspectives NPZine! With a theme of ‘Theatre Is…’, we got in touch with as many East Midlands (and beyond) creatives as we could to ask them ‘What is Theatre?’ With the responses we gathered, we created NPZine #2, which can be found around the city now, in arts venues and various Notts haunts.

Our #TheatreIs project doesn’t end on the page however; we have taken to cyberspace to encourage more people to tell us their #TheatreIs. Because Theatre Is For Everyone. If you would like to contribute then you can tweet your #TheatreIs to @NPtheatre, write to us on Facebook or email us at We will add it to our ever-growing list of illuminating reponses.


… the moment when you start to listen to the couple at the next table.

(Jack McNamara, Artistic Director, New Perspectives)

… the construction of elaborate lies, in real time, that work to tell the truth about who, what, and why we are.

(Inua Ellams, Spoken Word Artist)

… the excitement of learning about ourselves, our world and how to change it for the better!

(Edward Boott, Artistic Director, Nonsuch Theatre)

… an infinity of ‘what ifs?’

(Hilary Spiers, Writer)

… hearing for the first time something that you have routinely witnessed previously …. and vice versa.

(Tim Elgood, Writer)

… a window into a play space.

(Will Drew, Associate Dramaturg, New Perspectives)

… the world and the stage and everything in between.

(Sam Thorne, Director, Nottingham Contemporary)

… a roomful of mostly strangers gathered to play.

(Tassos Stevens, Director, Coney)

… a brief cessation in the rhythms of everyday life wherein one world drops away and another – with all its intricacies of speech and movement – is briefly brought into being.

(Philip Jones, Founder of Words For Walls)

… a direct engagement in other lives, experiences and emotions – making us challenge our perceptions and attitudes in ways that both inspire and move us – it can uplift or shake us to the core.

(Michaela Butter, Director, Attenborough Arts Centre)

… a way to animate our story telling and inspire children and families to read more.

(Peter Gaw, Chief Executive Officer, Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries)

… Connection.

(Sarah Brigham, Artistic Director, Derby Theatre)

… where freedom, and fires, start.

(Henderson Mullins, Chief Executive, Writing East Midlands)

… life – life is theatre, Long live life and long live theatre.

(Sharon Scaniglia, Principal Arts Officer, Nottingham City Council)

… bloody difficult!

(John Harvey, Writer)

… a window and a mirror.

(Amanda Whittington, Writer)

… the inside life of humans acted out on stage so we can hopefully better understand ourselves – our drives, motivations and emotions.

(Rachel McGrath, Deputy Chief Executive, Northamptonshire Community Foundation)

… my teacher, my amusement, my challenger and my solace.

(Barbara Matthews, Pro Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities, De Montfort University, Leicester)

… a way of asking in public the questions we don’t know are worrying us.

(François Matarasso, Writer, Researcher, Consultant)

… an A-Z of life. Theatre is an alphabet of emotion. Theatre is a time machine. Time, like space, is pliable in performance and words and actions can rewrite it.

(Michael Pinchbeck, Writer)

… anything you want it to be.

(David Longford, Creative Learning Manager, Nottingham Theatre Royal and Concert Hall)

… magic.

(Emma Pegg, Set Designer)

… indestructible and always will be.

(Martin Berry, Artistic Director, New Street Theatre)

… at the heart of my world!

(Mark Humphreys, Managing Director, Magna Vitae)

… exciting and challenging experiences, potentially changing your view of the world.

(Gerard Rogers, New Perspectives Trustee, Volunteer Promoter)

… a place where I feel alive, where for the time I’m onstage I forget everything else, all the worries that normally course through my head are distinguished and something electric takes over.

(Hannah Stone, Artistic Director, The Gramophones)

… all about people coming together to think, feel and share, to experience imagined worlds and change the real one into something better.

(Ben Spiller, Artistic Director, 1623 Theatre Company)

… an alchemy which transcends culture, age, language and reason, creating a momentary community, which never forgets.

(Imogen Joyce, Writer)

… a living mirror and a collaborative conversation which tries to suss out what it all means; which fails; which tries again, ad infinitum.

(Ollie Smith, Theatre Maker, LaPelle’s Factory)

… like your first experience of falling in love and heartbreak – all consuming, full of feelings, intimate, private and yet completely public and common.

(Natalie Ibu, Director, Tiata Fahodzi)

… is one of the rare opportunities available to us nowadays when we can stop being customer and provider of services and come together as a community of something more, citizens.

(Alan Lane, Artistic Director, Slung Low)

… transportation from the hum-drum of everyday life to be challenged, enchanted or, simply, entertained.

(Susan Rowe, Trustee, New Perspectives Theatre Company)

… lives you may recognise, or have never imagined; theatre draws you into new worlds. It can make you laugh, cry, think, and dream.

(Jennie Jordan, Senior Lecturer, School of Arts, De Montfort University)

… able to connect you closely with others in other times in real time in a different space.  Each performance is unique.

(Lady Diana Meale, Labour Councillor for Mansfield West)

… live. Theatre is skill, and embodied energy, and the sharing of ideas both big and small. Theatre is the indrawn breath of anticipation and the shared whoop of applause.

(Dr Jo Robinson, Associate Professor in Drama and Performance, University of Nottingham)

… an adventure for your mind.

(Gordon Fleming, Treasurer, New Perspectives Theatre Company)

… the freedom to escape for a bit.

(Katie Redford, Writer)

… story-telling writ large and can only take shape, to move, amuse, make angry, make sad, as a shared experience.

(Robert Sanderson, Managing Director, Nottingham Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall)

… one of the few things left in this world that brings people together in the same space, to share something with each other.

(Ruby Glaskin, Creative Producer, InGood Company, Derby Theatre)

… the cosiest place to have your brain poked.

(Nic Harvey, Director, The Television Workshop)

… entertaining, thrilling and challenging and, at its best, allows us to walk in other people’s shoes and experience their lives.

(Jane Morgan, Trustee, New Perspectives Theatre Company)

… a performance that can only be seen live and in the flesh and can only work in that environment, not on TV or film.

(Andy Dawson, Manager County Youth Arts, Inspire)

… a way for children to express themselves and explore ideas in a creative way.

(Rachel Grafton, Year 1 Teacher, Westglade Primary School)

…  the word that sports commentators reach for when things get really exciting.

(Andy Barrett, Writer)

… putting on a red sparkly thong.

(Martin Miller, Actor)

… a tupperware box full of stories that we’ll never find a matching lid for.

(Jayne Williams, Unanima)

… for the audience, all communities great and small.

(Sally Anne Tye, Executive Director, New Perspectives/Northants Touring Arts)



EP’16: Cuckoos and Madmen

12933116_10154128376150746_8314256211463293566_nThis year, EP Company’s production, written by Cathy Grindrod and further devised by the company, looks at themes of teen pregnancy and motherhood, exploring the motif of the cuckoo’s nest. EP members Lytisha and Tony did some site visits to old Mother and Baby homes in Nottinghamshire, and the village of Gotham.

On 10th April Tony and I set out to look at the location of some of the former Mother and Baby homes in and around Nottingham. They have all changed use now, and the majority had been knocked down and rebuilt. One of the remaining buildings, The Croft, was covered in scaffold as it is under redevelopment. This was the one on Mapperley Road. Co-incidentally I knew someone that had recently lived there in its latest incarnation as rented flats. She shared some of the images of the inside of her flat to give us an idea of what the spaces were like.

Tony discovered this link about The Croft, via a friend who studies local history. We also drove out to Gotham to follow up the Cuckoo theme and investigate the local myths. There is a pub called The Cuckoo in the village and the sign illustrates the myth we were looking for. Speaking with locals, we discovered more details.

944007_10153421444032595_1910866062557549978_nWe learnt about The Mad Men of Gotham, known locally as The Wise Men of Gotham. There is a tale of the locals discussing the arrival of the cuckoo denoting the arrival of spring. Hoping to capture the benefits of the abundance of spring, the Mad Men of Gotham had the idea of trapping the bird in Gotham, so the crops would remain plentiful.To this end they built a wall around the tree that the cuckoo lived in. Unsurprisingly the cuckoo simply flew over the top and continued its’ annual migration to southern Africa. The response of the Mad Men of Gotham? Next year, we’ll build it higher! That’s the tale of the Mad Men of Gotham. However, the alternative version shows how this very same action proved the wisdom of these very same fellows. At this time it was believed madness was contagious. SO, to deter the King’s Men from calling at the village to collect taxes, the locals spread rumours that madness was rife, and illustrated it with tales such as this. The King’s men never came and the village escaped paying their taxes. The Wise Men of Gotham.

12998484_10153421378687595_5090871040234524054_nTo learn more about EP Company, visit our website.


Introduction to Directing with Unanima – weeks 2 & 3


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Today we worked with two actors – Phoebe Brown and Sam Warren – to explore different texts and how we might go about staging them. The focus of the session was to learn how to speak to actors in a way that could influence their performances, as well as to explore the different meanings that emerge from a scene when played in different ways.

The first scene we looked at was the one directly following King Duncan’s murder in Macbeth; a good example of two characters pulling in different directions in a situation. Lady Macbeth is pragmatic and urging them to leave the scene of the crime, Macbeth insists on staying. Why Macbeth won’t leave the scene is one of the questions we first debated, as would any acting company. Is he in a state of shock with what he has done, or has he had a moment of absolute clarity? Does he blame Lady Macbeth for the deed he has performed or is he staying here to invite his own damnation? We got the scene on its feet and tried out each of our various questions. A number of the participants had instinctive reactions to how the scenes should be played; that an actor should be faster or angrier or move around more. We discussed the limitations of giving direction that only commented on external factors (speed, attitude, movement) as it can make actors only focus on solving their appearance rather than what lies behind it. Instead we explored finding narrative reasons for the direction we gave. For more speed someone gave Lady Macbeth the note that dawn was already breaking and people would be awake soon to discover them. For more movement in the scene someone offered the idea that Lady Macbeth continually wanted to touch and calm Macbeth who in turn could not bear to be touched.  We played it end on and then traverse, the latter giving the scene “a tennis match” quality as one participant described it. One participant wanted something from the scene that she couldn’t find the words for, so she got up and improvised the scene with Macbeth herself.  As Macbeth spoke his lines, she interjected forcefully throughout, eventually backing him into a corner. While actors aren’t always happy about being fed lines, being fed the attitude behind the lines was quite useful here, as it led the actress to think about why Lady M might use these lines to push back her husband.

We then looked at the opening scene from Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information. With no setting or character description, nor even allocated parts, the scene was beautifully mysterious. However, the subject of someone withholding and then sharing a secret was something everyone could relate to. Having listened to the almost abstract scene, the group then pitched in their ideas of who the couple might be (friends, lovers, ex-partners, colleagues) then where they might be (home, a restaurant, a loud nightclub) and what the unheard secret was. We looked at how these readings totally changed the performances, the relationships, the body language, the tone of voice and the use of the space. We saw how new meanings came out and new resonances that certain words had. We started to explore underscoring the scenes with sound and music, looking at how we could use music to manipulate the audience and also to steer the tone of the performances. Taking this theme of a disclosed secret, the participants then devised their own scenes in collaboration with the two actors. Following on from the Churchill exercise we decided our three focuses were on relationships, place and event. Once these things were clear they could build a scene and would have markers to focus their direction as they watched each other’s work.


Armed only with some plastic chairs, the group split into three and were each tasked to create a representation of a space; domestic, public and external. We then wandered through each of the spaces, receiving a quick descriptive tour of their features. With plastic chairs as their main material, the spaces looked aesthetically basic but functional. The groups then rotated so that each would devise a scene within a space created by another group. After they had rehearsed their scenes and presented them, we started to realise the spatial limits of each environment and how we could alter space to become more playable to actors and watchable to an audience. In each group a person was a designated director. This was the first time in our sessions that participants were working as stand alone directors, rather than offering direction as part of a group. They showed great facility for discussing actions and motivations with each other, though I noticed that many of them directed the scenes very close to or sometimes inside the action. After the first run-throughs, the directors were asked to step out of the action to watch it from an audience’s point of view. This again opened up new ideas about staging and making action more visible. We discussed the notion of ‘cheating’ action, so that while it may lose some authenticity it becomes readable to more of the audience. “Why do you need to always see their faces?” one person asked. “Because the story is told through reactions” was someone else’s answer. One participant directed a scene with such attention to detail, guiding every movement and gesture to the exact second. However, she continued to give a running commentary of direction during the run-through which, although aesthetically quite fascinating to watch and listen to, left the actors slightly struggling to establish where to place their attention. This led to a conversation about trusting them to negotiate their own way through a scene and how a director’s goal is ultimately to create self-directing actors.  The director felt bad about over-imposing on the scene with her voice, though her rhythmic and spatial precision had been pretty astonishing.

Having looked at the functional use of space we then explored what was possible in terms of the use of material and objects that were more expressive. Each of the three groups were given two quite arbitrary materials; Group one received red and white knitting wool and two plastic buckets, group two received some green garbage bags and a large bunch of red and white carnations and the final group were given some fairy lights and a bag of lemons. They were then tasked to make a space that did not correspond to a functional logic, but had an internal logic between space, colour and texture. Each group set about making three quite beautiful mini-installations, balancing colour, texture and shape. Each of the pieces, viewed at model box size, would have made for exciting staging propositions. We then adjusted and expanded each of them to become playable spaces within the studio theatre we were working in. They therefore had to rethink the elements in relation to the wider environment and the human bodies that would interact with it. The knitting wool became and explosion of red and white entwined around the hands of the first group. “It’s the Macbeth murder scene!” one of them pointed out. We then discussed who in this environment would most likely be Macbeth and how could this be altered or reinforced purely though positioning. We went around to each of the newly playable spaces and made similar observations and adjustments.

We looked at another enigmatic scene from Churchill’s Love and Information, this time called ‘Fan.’; a dialogue in which two people obsessively compare their respective devotions to an unnamed celebrity. We explored how the scene meant different things in different spatial formations and how the actors based the tone of their performances depending on their setting. Effectively we directed the scene by directing the environment. We then placed the scene within one of the spatial installations one of the groups have made to see what chance encounters took place between performer and object. Playing the scene surrounded by flowers and debris added a broken sadness to their obsession. As the setting wasn’t functional, we saw how the actors were forced to make expressive use of the environment, rummaging through flower heads and garbage bags as they frenziedly competed in their love for the idol. Someone suggested projecting a large image of Justin Bieber’s face over the scene. Fandom has never looked more desolate.

Introduction to Directing – with Unanima

FullSizeRender Session 1

Each year New Perspectives offers tailored mentoring to an East Midlands theatre company – this year we are working with Unanima Theatre. They are an inclusive Community Interest Company based in Mansfield working with people with and without a learning disability and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder. New Perspectives have been supported by the Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme to run a five-week ‘Introduction to Directing’ course led by their Artistic Director Jack McNamara with Unanima’s participants. Over the next five weeks he will keep a short blog on their work together. 

Love. Life. No Sat Nav
My first encounter with Unanima’s work was seeing their production of Love. Life. No Sat Nav; an impressive mixed media show built out of the participants own experiences of disability. During one scene a young performer, who had remained noticeably silent throughout the show, started communicating with the audience through words written on cards. Through this simple device she was suddenly able to talk to us, giving a strong sense of the personality that lay behind her silent demeanor. I was reminded of how actors fundamentally need clarity from a director, and how many of them might relish being directed through a selection of carefully chosen words on cards. I became keen to explore how this group might be able to harness their individual modes of communication in a directing context.

As a result I was pleased to get a grant from the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme to run a  five week ‘Intro to Directing’ course with ten of Unanima’s participants. The scheme is the one I trained on some years ago, and it has now been expanded to include entry-level programmes for directors less represented in the wider industry. While there is a lot of conversation and activity at the moment surrounding the creative case for diversity, what is specifically exciting about this opportunity is its focus on leadership. This is not simply about making people feel included or adding a sprinkle of diversity to mono-cultural institutions, but about investing in future decision makers, be that in a rehearsal room or leading an organisation. It’s exciting to think that, if enough people support and embrace it, the scheme could genuinely change what theatre directing in the future looks like.

Session 1: Scenes

IMG_0019 Session 1 We started with  a basic question: What, as directors, are we working with? A cluster of words came together: actions, words, actors, characters, changes, music, light, story etc. We put them on the floor as a reminder of what our business is and ultimately what scenes are made of. We then played a few games that each said something about the nature of scenes. The first involved standing in a circle with each person taking turns to walk to the opposite side. As they crossed the centre something discernible had to ‘happen.’  The event or moment of change could be as minimal as they liked, as long as we could somehow read it. While some could not resist the urge to break into a dance when they crossed the centre others decided on smaller gestures that left all of us debating our various readings of them. It opened up a conversation about physical language; is it easier or harder to express something physically and how do we talk to each other about achieving physical clarity? I like this game as a small version of what most narrative scenes are: a journey from A to B interrupted by a change (or a dance).

The next game was the usual crowd-pleaser ‘Bomb and Shield’, in which you secretly select someone as your ‘bomb’ to keep away from and another as your ‘shield’ to keep between you. This created a bit of noise against the more studied earlier game, but it was also a crude demonstration of the balance of relationships that can make up a scene. We then did an Augusto Boal exercise in which we arranged chairs in the space in order of the least to the most important. The participants then entered one by one and attempted to position themselves as the most prominent figure in the space. While the first few adopted high status positions, the others attempted to undermine them with increasingly disinterested and low status poses. The last person entered the space and simply stood in front of the others with her back to the audience, instantly becoming the most prominent.

This led us to thinking about stage composition. On a large screen we projected the same scene from Hamlet over four different contemporary productions and discussed how the elements were managed differently by each director. The participants each came into their own, relishing the complexity of the tableaus and the differing choices across them. We analysed eyelines and body language, we talked about who was in the most and least prominent position, we discussed how individuals were lit and dressed. We talked about the feeling we get from a scene, and the society reflected in a staging. We then discussed the more subliminal features of a scene, the design decisions that brought less logical ideas to the surface; how shiny walls were being used to cast ghost-like reflections or how soil on the floor brought death and burial into our thoughts. Some of the participants became passionate about how ‘wrong’ certain stagings were. “That is not my Hamlet!” someone called out at an image of a French production. “What is your Hamlet?” I asked her. She launched into a passionate tirade about the anger of the characters, the ghostly atmosphere, the pain of having parents who disappoint you. Hers was a Hamlet I definitely wanted to see.

I encouraged the participants to make their own short scenes, drawing from their background as devisers. The content of the scenes, prepared quickly with little thought, were less important than their staging. Group by group they presented their scenes and the remaining participants gave notes to each one; our aim was to gain greater narrative clarity, rather than embellish what was there. Which key moment of change do we have to mark to make this story clearer? What happens if we alter the characters formation or whether they are still or moving? What object or environment can we add to the scene to open it up? Soon these fragments began to take shape into focused mini-scenes, each participant making clear contributions to improve what was in front of them. It was a safe environment where each voice mattered and none of the suggestions offered were taken personally.IMG_0020 Session 1

Given the company’s devising background, I had initially feared that the processes of directing might be too low energy for group members over a sustained period. Yet it seemed the more focused and studied the exercises the more active their contributions became. There was a real appreciation for having the space and time to look, think and talk as a group, and a basic joy in being able to constructively influence what is in front of you and make stories clearer and more engaging. It struck me that directing simply calls for a sharper focus on the imaginative and communication skills that we all use daily. There is no foreign language being learnt here, just a bit of room to put our heads together and explore what’s possible.

Next week: Working with actors

Artistic Director Jack McNamara’s Journey Through Hood

Marian as an activist in the sixties

Like many things, this all began with a phone call. The Theatre Royal Nottingham calling out of the blue one day, to ask if New Perspectives would be interested in collaborating with them to create a new production of Robin Hood to mark their 150th anniversary. We were flattered, honoured, surprised and also a little doubtful. As a company devoted to the new, be that new writing or new angles on existing work, it was a struggle to see how we were the perfect fit to provide a traditional production for a commercial space. And Robin Hood in Nottingham? We like to surprise ourselves, but this sounded like a step too far.  However on talking further, it became clear that a traditional production was far from what they had in mind. Their vision was to engage six or seven major playwrights from the region to contribute to a new version of the Hood legend. It would be a show for a wide age range, though not a children’s show nor a green tights pantomime. The writers they were thinking about were all known for social and political concerns in their work. The Royal wanted something genuinely new, fresh and very Nottingham. Our involvement began to make sense.

John Fitzwaller and Alan A DaleThe characters as Privates in the Sherwood Foresters RegimentWendenel and Marian on a trainDevelopment planned for Sherwood ForestGenerally speaking, single plays don’t want to be written by seven people. Usually one, sometimes two or maybe devised by a performing company. But the idea of seven individual playwrights all writing one piece sounded like chaos. And while chaos can be good fun for those creating it, the audience needed a cohesive experience otherwise we would be wasting their time. We didn’t want this to be a sketch show nor a variety act. Even if the play was to be put together by seven heads (eight  if you include my own), it had to have an ultimate point of view. Yet another risk for such a project would be that it flattens out the writers’ individual voices in the name of democracy. My task was therefore to find a way to give each writer creative freedom, yet within a structure that would amount to a single coherent vision.

The solution I eventually came  to, which now seems very obvious, was to give each writer a period of history from the last 150 years, as well as a designated portion of the story and a facet of the Hood myth (the outlaw, the agitator, the romantic, the industry etc). Within these constraints the writers had the freedom to write
the story they wanted, yet I knew that there would be a forward movement both in history and in terms of the basic Hood narrative. Moving through history made sense in terms of the
Theatre Royal’s birthday, but it also gave us an opportunity to examine how the Hood ideals have changed and adjusted alongside the wider changes of society. Who would these characters be in, say, post-industrial England or the 1960s? The answer largely lay in what injustice they would have been fighting against. The play that has emerged is both the story of Robin Hood and the story of our developing city. Once the writers had created their worlds, the plays could be knitted together to become a single shape-shifting voice.

Starting in newly industrialised England, Mufaro Makubika brilliantly sets his piece during a train robbery in St Ann’s. This is a subversion of one of the earliest medieval Hood ballads (Robin Hood and the Potter) in which the outlaws hold up a merchant cart as it passes through the forest. The baton is then taken by James Graham, who ingeniously lands Robin in early twentieth century Nottingham as the first labour MP; a role that takes on a whole new significance post 2015 election. Tim Elgood then skilfully moves us on to 1940s war-torn Britain, with Robin and his men as soldiers in the Sherwood Foresters regiment. When we meet the characters again after the interval we are in Laura Lomas’ civil rights sixties, with Hood and Marian as key protesters against the creation of what would become the road Maid Marian Way. By the time we get to Andy Barrett’s 1980s, the fight for social justice has been lost and there is no longer such thing as society (although there is such a thing as Hollywood heroism so Robin ultimately saves the day). In the final surprising scene, set in 2015, the world is turned upside down for us to observe the industry that Hood has become today. It is a return to the forest, though a forest with a wholly different meaning. TAlan A Dale plays his mandolinhe pieces are strung together by the wandering ballads and narrations of Alan a Dale.  He is our one nod to the medieval world where these now modernised characters have sprung from. He serves as a guide for the audience, a helping hand as they pass through time. In the forum theatre sense of the word, he is our ‘joker’, with one foot in the world of the play and one in ours.

The reasoning behind the set was not so much about finding a ‘setting’ but about creating an environment that could tell the audience its own story through the course of the action. A story of wood, structure, trains, tunnels and trees. I never like to look at a set and know exactly what it means or how it is going to work. I prefer it to surprise us and change, depict as well as suggest. Most of all, it should provoke unexpected performances from the actors and unleash new possibilities from the text. Designer Rhys Jarman has done (in my view) a terrific job of developing both a specific and open-ended environment for these six stories to play out with increasing momentum.

Purists be warned: This production couldn’t be further from a straight telling of the Robin Hood story. We came to the decision that the green tights fairytale was something that most of you will have seen before. And if 1000 years isn’t enough time to permit a bit of creative tampering with a myth, then our great stories will remain forever trapped in the vaults of ancient history. When I was an assistant director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, a portion of my job involved politely fielding letters from outraged patrons expressing their disapproval of changes made to Shakepeare’s text. A woman even once wrote saying that our cutting of a line from Act 1 Scene 2 of Macbeth had “ruined” her birthday. We certainly don’t want to ruin any birthdays with this production, quite the opposite. Our aim is in fact to celebrate the birthday of one of the country’s major theatres; a theatre with the vision and courage to offer you something quite different.

Robin and Marian kiss

Jack McNamara, Artistic Director

Tickets available at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham’s Website