Interview with Michael Pinchbeck – EP’s “A Fortunate Man” Project

Theatre maker Michael Pinchbeck  talks about his involvement with the 2017 Emerging Perspectives’ artist development project inspired by John Berger’s masterpiece A Fortunate Man

1. John Berger’s 1967 book, A Fortunate Man is often described as a masterpiece of social observation. How did this project come about?

New Perspectives’ Artistic Director, Jack McNamara thought there might be a creative response we could make to the book to mark its 50th anniversary in 2017. I read the book twice cover to cover and thought it was a really beautiful piece of writing with evocative photos that give a vivid sense of time, place and one man’s life. It speaks of the way a doctor works, but back when the relationship between a doctor and their patients was very different to today. There’s a kind of romanticism about it, between the doctor and his work, the author and his subject. Since John Berger died in January, I think that romanticism has grown slightly and it feels timely and important to revisit the book and see how we can interpret it. At the same time, there is a lot of topical debate about the state of the NHS so we want to mark the 50th anniversary of the book and look at how things have changed since it was written.

2. John Berger’s work has influenced an illustrious line of theatre-makers. When did you first become aware of his work?

I know he worked closely with Complicite and also wrote his own plays. I actually read his book Ways of Seeing when I was doing an MA at NTU. I then cited his work quite a lot for my recent PhD at Loughborough University. He says something that is really important to artists working on a project: ‘to understand a landscape we have to situate ourselves in it’. I think about this when I make a show. You have to try and understand the world you are writing about, through research, through visiting places, through talking to people, and that is what we will do for this project.

3. This project sees you pair up with your frequent collaborator, photographer Julian Hughes. What do you hope to explore together through this project?

Because the book was a collaboration between John Berger and a photographer, Jean Mohr, I wanted the core of this project to be a collaboration with a photographer too. I have worked with Julian for over 10 years now on performance projects and he brings a brilliant visual awareness to the work and documents it beautifully. I am hoping he is going to be able to work with the selected visual artists and share with them how best to capture life in doctors’ surgeries, sensitively and discreetly, while also revealing a little more about the beauty of the everyday. I will work with the writers and theatre makers and then we will bring our work together.

4. The project is part of New Perspectives’ engagement programme, placing you as an established artist with emerging artists from the East Midlands region. What skills are you looking for in these creatives?

An ability to think creatively and find interesting solutions to challenging situations. I enjoy working with people who think on their feet, where the doing is the thinking. I don’t like talking too much about the work, I just like getting on and doing it. I hope we can find a group of artists who are all on the same wavelength and who can bring their complementary skills to the process. It is going to be a bit like a jigsaw.

5. These emerging artists will be working with you over a four-month period. What can they expect from the project?

They can expect to become a cross between artists and detectives, as we go out on a kind of field trip to visit different surgeries in different communities, like the one John Berger writes about in the book. His doctor, John Sassall, would visit people’s houses and know different generations of the same family and we want to see what doctors now are like. In the book, John Sassall says that he sometimes wonders how much he is the last of the old traditional country doctors and how much he is a doctor of the future. He asks if you can be both and I suppose we are exploring what this idea of a doctor of the future might look like. I want us all to bring a different lens to the process, as writer, photographer or artist. And I want us to be able to tell the story of John Berger’s book and the doctor that inspired it. Tragically, the doctor in the book took his own life, and I think this might be our starting point.

6. Lastly, what advice would you give to creatives who are thinking of applying to this project?

Make the work you want to make. Be the artist you want to be. Be yourself.

 

The A Fortunate Man project will run from April – July 2017. Keep a look our for project updates on  www.newperspectives.co.uk 

 

Creating The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord

I am often asked by children, parents and teachers what made me think up the ideas for my books. Many of the ideas for my picture books seem to have come out of small experiences in my life that I have wanted to reflect upon and then the wish to turn part of these memory glimpses into fantasy stories for children. My father has a loose connection with some of the stories I’ve done: with his advice as to how to get rid of wasps at picnics (for The Giant Jam Sandwich); the fact that I was too scared to tell him that I had lost one of my new roller-skates when I was a boy at school (for Mr Ellwood’s chase in The Runaway Roller-skate); and his annoyance at his next door neighbour for chucking snails over the garden wall (for the exploits of Mr Mead and his Garden).

I am describing here the background and evolution of events that led to the publication of The Giant Jam Sandwich, as this will probably be the most familiar of my children’s books. The story tells how a village called Itching Down is invaded by wasps one hot summer and of the residents’ efforts to rid themselves of their unwelcome guests by baking a huge loaf and spreading a slice of it with jam. As the wasps begin to gorge themselves on the strawberry jam, a second slice of bread is dropped on top of them from a great height (with the aid of helicopters and a flying tractor) and squashes flat most of the wasps, trapping them inside the sandwich. While all the villagers rejoice in a celebration, the wasp-filled sandwich is finally taken out to sea by hundreds of crows for the rest of the birds to feast upon.

The idea for this story was prompted by an event, which took place during an August holiday in Devon. My family was staying at a fairly remote farmhouse in Milton Damerel with a couple of friends who had two young boys, Alexander and Jonathan, aged five and three years. These young lads were terrified by wasps and, whenever there was a buzzing sound about the dining table or picnic cloth, they would squeal with alarm until the offending insects were removed from the scene.

One afternoon, during a walk across the fields, Alexander started to scream and shout because a wasp insisted on hovering continually about him. In order to quell his anxiety and divert his attention I settled the two boys and our three girls on the grass and, on the spur of the moment, proceeded to invent the bare bones of the story of what came to be The Giant Jam Sandwich.

wasp-and-jamThe germ of the idea must have sprung from my own childhood memory of my father’s habit of placing a slice of jam-covered crust some distance away from where we were picnicking in order to encourage aggravating wasps away from our food. My father was a baker, who had a bakery and cafe in Glossop in Derbyshire and you can see his old shop at the end of the book when the villagers are dancing. In the book my father can be seen in his familiar white coat, puffing upon his pipe and standing at the door of ‘Bert’s Cafe’.  I spent many hours working in his bake house on Saturdays and during the vacation period when I was an art student and I can remember hurling lumps of discarded dough at any wasp that dared to venture in and hover about the white tiled walls.

Over the years I have often received letters from children. On the first page of the book we can see the wasps swarming towards the village; ‘four million’ of them it states in the text. I once had a letter from a classroom of school children asking me why I had not drawn all the four million wasps as stated in the text. I wrote back saying that it took me on average about 45 seconds to draw a single wasp and I suggested that they should work out how long it would have taken me to draw all four million wasps. The answer is 180 million seconds, or 3 million minutes, or 50 thousand hours, or 2,083 days, making it nearly five years and nine months (if you were working on it 24 hours a day!).

John Vernon Lord originally presented this article as a case study at Bookquest in 1984; it was re-produced in ‘An author’s view: John Vernon Lord talking about picture books’ published in Reflections on Early Reading by Collins in 1990 and updated for a paper presented in Barcelona in 1999.

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The Giant Jam Sandwich opens as a half term treat in association with Derby LIVE at Derby’s Guildhall Theatre on Saturday 11 February with performances daily at 11am and 2.30pm through to Saturday 18 February – you can book tickets here.

The production moves to Polka Theatre, Wimbledon, followed by tour dates around the country through to Saturday 25 March – you can see a full list of performance dates with booking links by clicking here.

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John Vernon Lord is an author, illustrator and teacher. His children’s books have been published widely and translated into several languages. His picture book The Giant Jam Sandwich has become a classic, having been in print for over forty-four years. His career in education includes being head of various departments and schools during his many years teaching at Brighton. He was Professor of Illustration at the University of Brighton 1986-99, where he is now Professor Emeritus. He was the chair of the Graphic Design Board of the Council for National Academic Awards 1981-84. He is allergic to wasps!

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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.

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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…”.

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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.

THEATRE IS…

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 info@newperspectives.co.uk. We will add it to our ever-growing list of illuminating reponses.

THEATRE IS…

… 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

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