Tag Archives: Upstairs at the Western

Journey’s End … ish

5 Dec

Like one of Raza’s curries, Stranger in the Kitchen has been simmering over the summer, the different ingredients of the play merging and blending together.

In August, Artistic Director Gary Phillpott and writer Azma Dar reviewed the latest draft of the play with Max Stafford-Clark and Stella Feehily. This was a time to test the building blocks of the play: distinct characters, clear motives, plausibility.

Azma said of the overall experience:

“Working with Gary on the script has been fun and inspirational – the workshops with the actors in particular were invaluable in bringing the play to life, highlighting its flaws and in developing the play further.

“Max and Stella’s feedback and ideas were gratefully received as they made me think about certain aspects of the play in more depth, and will definitely help me in writing the next draft.”

Late November, Upstairs at the Western played host to a script-in-hand reading in front of an invited audience including writers, programmers, actors and directors. We were delighted to welcome back Sharan Phull following her involvement in our June workshops at Curve, together with Subika Anwar, Andrew Joshi and Amirul Hussain who were new to the the text. Performing key scenes, the audience got a good feel for characters, plot and tone and their subsequent feedback will help Azma as she takes Stranger in the Kitchen further on its journey.

Azma added: “I feel very privileged to have been given this opportunity to work with Off the Fence and Out of Joint, and the experience has taught me a lot, not only about this play but also about my writing in general.”

Teresa Jennings England Expects photo by Sean Goldthorpe


And while Stranger in the Kitchen is at the early stage of its development, what of our two World War I plays?  Teresa Jennings has packed up her pince nez after a great run playing Vesta Tilley (and eleven other characters) in England Expects. Likewise, Jonny McClean has put away his puttees as Clamber Up the Crucifix’s tour for 2014 is over.


Gary said: “It’s been a productive year both for Stranger in the Kitchen and also Off the Fence as a producing and now a touring company. We’ll be reviewing the WW1 tours with our actors, writers, stage managers and other stakeholders. We’ve all learnt so much from this process, making connections with venues and audiences around the UK, the highs and lows of touring – all things that will help us as we take the next steps in our own journey.”

IMG_7446Many thanks to everyone who has supported us and got us this far – as well as the great thrill and privilege to spend time with Max and everyone at Out of Joint, we have collaborated with so many talented people in Leicester and around the UK and it has been a huge thrill to welcome new audiences to our work.

With two plays toured and two plays now in development this is most definitely not the end but the beginning, the starter to what will hopefully be a rich and satisfying banquet  (if we’re going to get back to food metaphors).

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by Sally Jack

Images of Stranger in the Kitchen – Emma Penney
Images of England Expects and Clamber Up the Crucifix by Sean Goldthorpe

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.”


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