Tag Archives: Clamber Up the Crucifix

Talking workshops

9 Jul

With our Two Plays for World War I, England Expects and Clamber Up the Crucifix,  preparing to tour this Autumn  (fourteen venues confirmed so far), our attention during June turned to our new play Stranger in the Kitchen (SITK).

PlayingGames Sean GoldthorpeWriter Azma Dar originally submitted the text for SITK in late 2012, we organised a script-in-hand read through in Spring 2013 and Arts Council England funding was secured in August 2013 to develop the play further, aided by a mentoring programme with Max Stafford-Clark and Out of Joint.  And this is a relatively quick progression in theatre-time.

SITK was submitted as a forty minute play and it was always the intention to extend and re-write. There’s many a quote and mis-quote concerning re-writing, suffice to say a general rule of thumb is no more than 10% of the original draft makes it into the final submission; Ernest Hemingway re-wrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms thirty nine times. Writing, therefore, might more accurately be described as ‘editing’.

One method used to extend, develop and challenge a play text is to workshop it. Bringing together actors, writer and director offers opportunities to improvise scenes and really dig into the dialogue. Writers benefit greatly from this process as possible scenes and character interpretations play out in front of them, informing how a scene may or may not work.

SITK certainly delves into some big issues: tackling the lives and loves of Asians in Britain (three British-born and one who came to the UK following an arranged marriage) and exploring themes of identity, domestic abuse and what it means to juggle many different cultural roles and expectations in today’s society.

Mona by Sean GoldthorpeAzma, director Gary Phillpott and our four actors Sharan Phull, Mona Goodwin, Ali Zaidi and Sartaj Garewal spent five days at Curve, Leicester to workshop SITK.  How did the actors feel about the writer being present while they took the text apart?

Sharan said: “As an actor it can be daunting but reassuring to have the writer present as they can correct and clarify things. It keeps a focus whilst allowing some freedom for the actors to explore within and outside the text.”

Mona added: “In a play such as this with a strong cultural and religious thread it’s fantastic to have the writer present to tap into a pool of knowledge on the subjects the play touches upon. Azma has given us the freedom to improvise away from the text and play with her work freely.”

Did the actors’ views on the themes of the play change during the workshop process? Ali said: “Absolutely! And they should. We’ve discovered a lot of new themes that could exist in the story and have asked questions that needed to be asked which can eventually lead to a more in-depth discovery of the story by Azma.”

Sartaj added: “Improvisations have added depth, clarity and plausibility to the work and I’ve also gained an insight into male domestic abuse.”

Reflecting on the workshop process the actors felt overall this was an invaluable experience. Mona commented: “The workshop has been structured brilliantly. Working on a piece which plays out can be challenging and confusing at times but Gary has helped us establish a clear timeline of events and allowed us to discover the characters organically without any restrictions from the play.”

Ali added: “I’m glad Gary enabled us to make those decisions and play them as and how we felt. To be given that kind of freedom is rare – it was a wonderful challenge!”

Stranger in the Kitchen is due to tour in Spring 2015. Follow this blog, follow us on Twitter @OfftheFenceTC or click here to subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date with our productions.

Whole group by Sean Goldthorpe

by Sally Jack

All images by Sean Goldthorpe

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What goes on tour …

9 Apr

It’s been a busy few months and for Off the Fence, this meant preparing for our Two Plays for World War I season.

WWI - Clamber up the Crucifix. Jonny McClean by Sean Halidy (6)

Jonny McClean, Clamber Up the Crucifix

Clamber Up the Crucifix by John Kitchen and England Expects by Tom Glover debuted at Upstairs at the Western at the beginning of March. All four shows sold out and we had some wonderful reviews too which, although not the reason to do any performance, are naturally nice to read (links to a selection are provided at the end of this post).

And Azma Dar (writer of Stranger in the Kitchen which we’ll be working on next with Out of Joint) has been rather busy herself. She has re-written her original text following feedback from our read-through way back in Spring 2013 and subsequent discussions with Gary and Max Stafford-Clark. We’re also delighted Azma has been chosen as one of eight playwrights in Curve’s Playwriting Competition and we are sure she will do brilliantly.

So, what next? The idea since before rehearsals began was to tour England Expects as an outcome of a discussion with Graham Cowley during our December meeting.  As it turned out, because both plays were so well-received we will be touring them both this Autumn and that is testament to actors Jonny McClean and Becca Cooper who committed themselves so well to their characters. And it is definitely characters in the plural for them both: Jonny with five and Becca a whopping twelve.

Gary said of the rehearsal process: “This was a big learning curve and fear for Jonny, Becca and me with the question is it possible for an actor to develop and create up to twelve characters at the same time, for them to be believable and not fall into stereotype? How can each character be defined and expressed? It was therefore vital to understand both the text and the physicality of the characters and both actors proved during rehearsals and performance that it was possible to do this successfully.”

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Becca Cooper, England Expects

Gary added: “We have now re-cast for England Expects with the next performance at Curve on 19th April as part of their Inside Out festival (tickets available via link!). Becca did an outstanding job as Vesta Tilley (and eleven others) in this play, however, the character is meant to be in her fifties and we therefore needed a more age-appropriate actor. One thing 23 year old Becca can’t do is look thirty years older than she is and it would probably breach numerous health and safety regulations for us to recommend an intense course of 100 fags and 2 bottles of whisky a day to try to achieve this in a very short space of time. We are delighted Teresa Jennings will be taking on the role of Vesta and we are looking forward to seeing how a different actor changes the dynamics of the piece. Teresa has already played Vesta on stage and is familiar with many of Vesta’s trademark songs.”

So, it’s back to rehearsals ready for April at Curve and then out into the world. Clamber Up the Crucifix will be touring initially in East Anglia and Leeds in Autumn 2014 and England Expects will be off to Brockley Jack in London in May. This will set us up well when we begin work on Stranger in the Kitchen ready to tour in Spring 2015.

Follow us on facebook, Twitter @OfftheFenceTC or subscribe to our mailing list – and wherever you are in the country, we hope to be coming to a theatre near you soon.

Clamber Up the CrucifixThe Public Reviews

England ExpectsHere Comes Everyone

Sally Jack

Image of Jonny by Sean Goldthorpe, Becca by Nathan Human