Open letter to a disruptive Twitter user

“You read my tweet saying that I would be going to a play, and decided to impose your view before I had even stepped anywhere near the theatre. Your actions were designed to shut down the possibility of coming to a conclusion that was in any way different to yours. You decided to exploit your experience of having seen it to try and suppress a stranger who had not yet had that opportunity.”

To the person who decided that he would respond to my Twitter feed today:

Yes, I tweeted on Monday that I had booked tickets to see the new play, Teddy Ferrara, at the Donmar Warehouse. I did so partly because the Donmar’s so small that it can feel that securing a ticket can be an achievement in itself. It was also prompted by the cast including an actress whose work I admire, and whose friendship I feel privileged to enjoy.

So I decided to share with my friends and others who follow me that, at some point in the future, I would be seeing the play.

And yes, I know that the play has LGBT themes. And that perceptions of the play have been decidedly mixed. And that the reasons for the criticisms have varied, from story events to characterisation to dialogue.

I also know that some audience members agree with those reviews. Just as I know that others, including friends of mine who have seen it, disagreed with them.

All of which I am sure I will discuss with those same friends – once I, too, have seen it. After all, talking about the merits of a play before you have experienced anything about it is not the greatest endeavour for anyone concerned.

So I am open to discussing the play.

But not yet.

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Rodgers & Hammerstein in London

Back in 2011, I wrote and produced a special podcast episode for The Stage, celebrating Rodgers and Hammerstein on the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music‘s debut in the West End. We no longer publicise or distribute our podcasts, so I’ve gained permission to include it here. Of the 90 or so podcasts I created for The Stage, this is by far my favourite.

Presented by Helena Blackman, who had just released an album of R&H songs (excerpts from which are dotted throughout the programme), the feature also includes contributions from The Stage/Sunday Express theatre critic Mark Shenton, readings from The Stage archives by Adam Lilley, an exploration of the legacy Oscar Hammerstein left to Southwark Cathedral – and an exclusive (if short) clip of Stephen Sondheim himself talking about the influence of his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II. More background on my original blog post about the podcast.

Presenter: Helena Blackman
Archive Readings: Adam Lilley
Archive Research: Catherine Gerbrands
Writer and Producer: Scott Matthewman
Excerpts from The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein by kind permission of Speckulation Entertainment

The podcast is copyright © 2011 The Stage Media Company Limited. All rights reserved. Uploaded and made available on this site with permission.

Pulling Faces (script version)

I’ve just finished reading the script of Helen Goldwyn’s Pulling Faces. This play, about a TV presenter in her mid-fifties facing up to pressure to go under the knife, has previously been recorded as a full-cast audio play in Big Finish’s Drama Showcase range starring Louise Jameson, which I reviewed upon its release.

But the piece had genesis as a one-woman play, performed by Jameson, who also edits this edition – and who recently excelled in Gutted at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. And what a sight that must have been: seeing the words in black and white make you realise how little had to change for the audio version, and yet also how much must have been lost. I’ve never seen Jameson perform this piece on stage, but you can’t help but admire the tenacity. Several scenes feature fast-paced back-and-forth dialogue that is hard to get right with two actors onstage, let alone one playing both sides of the conversation.

At some point in the future, I’m sure I’ll see a new stage production of this play, whose themes will I’m sure remain sadly relevant for far too long. Where that’s a full cast piece, a one-woman performance or maybe even as a hybrid, with a central performance as Joanne assisted by a couple of supporting actors playing the other roles. However it gets back on stage, it’ll be exposure for a cracking short play. Until then, reading it is a great substitute. Even better, at the moment it only costs 99p for the Kindle ebook version…

Someday, Someday, Maybe

Lauren Graham will be a name familiar to some viewers of American TV shows, most notably for seven years as Lorelei Gilmore in Gilmore Girls, one half of a close mother-daughter relationship in an eccentric New England town.

Now she is striking out as a novelist. The heroine of Someday, Someday, Maybe is Frannie, who gave herself three years to make it as an actress in mid-1990s New York, and is now just six months away from her deadline.

Anybody who has even the slightest tangential knowledge of the acting industry, on whatever side of the Atlantic, will recognise the difficulties that Frannie finds herself, from struggling with auditions, humiliatingly embarrassing showcases, and potentially life-changing interviews with agents. And while there’s an occasional retro feel to the time setting – the reliance on landlines and answer machines in particular – that also lends the feel that these are stories plucked from the actress-turned-novelist’s own life, that nevertheless ring true nearly 20 years later.

Like the characters Graham projects on television, Someday, Someday, Maybe is smart, warm, funny – and often all three at once. In Frannie, Graham has created a character you can’t help but root for, even as it’s clear when she’s making a bad decision or ignoring a situation that you suspect she’d spot coming a mile off in real life.

I’m currently listening to it on audiobook, which is read by Graham herself – and that just adds to the enjoyment, although the tradeoff is that you don’t see the facsimiles of filofax pages that are printed in the book (they’re available on the CD as PDFs, apparently, but I get my audiobooks as downloads from Audible, which excludes the extras).

Update: If you buy the book from Audible, a link to the PDF can be found in your ‘My Library’ page.

What’s your problem with musicals?

Great video from Mark Kermode’s weekly video blog, asking why some people have problem with musicals. If you find it odd that the characters in Les Misérables sing, how about Cabaret (where the songs are performed on stage)? How about All That Jazz, where they’re part of dream sequences?

Then how about sci-fi? If you can cope with light sabres, why can’t you cope with a few songs?

Off Cut Roots

For the last couple of years, I’ve been privileged enough to help select a few plays for the Off Cut Festival of new theatre writing.

The Festival isn’t happening in the same form this year. But instead, the organisers have announced Off Cut Roots.

The aim of Off Cut Roots is to bring writers into the heart of the process of developing a play for performance.

The plays we are looking for do not need to be perfect, not ready-for-stage. Our panel of readers will be looking for two plays with the potential to benefit the most for the Roots project.

Once the two plays are chosen, the writers will be invited to a first read through with each play’s cast and director. Also in attendance will be Off Cut’s Artistic Director, a dramaturg from Theatre 503, and, depending on availability, an established playwright, director and actor. This will probably take place on Monday 8th July, but may be subject to change.

Review online: Brendan Cole – Licence to Thrill

On Sunday, I went to the first night of Strictly Come Dancing star Brendan Cole’s new dance show, Licence to Thrill. My review for The Stage went up a couple of days ago, but I forgot to link to it from here.

A stringent 250-word count forces you to leave out some things. In this case, it was any mention of the 12-piece orchestra, and two singers, who contributed so much to an enjoyable evening. The tour continues on Friday, with two dates at Truro’s Hall for Cornwall, with dates running until March. See the website for details and ticket sales links.

Live and unplugged: Scott Alan & Pentatonix

I hope you’ll enjoy this beautiful a cappella track as much as I do:

I really, really like Scott Alan’s music. I believe I may have mentioned this once or twice. There’s something about his complete lack of reserve that makes his songs pack the sort of emotional punch that many British musical theatre composers struggle with.

That same intensity means a whole evening of his songs in concert form can be overpowering. It takes a deft hand to programme his songs in such a way that the introspective, even mournful, qualities of his most searing numbers are counterbalanced by the joy – and occasional frippery – that he also does well.

To see (or rather, hear) how it’s done, you can really look no further than Scott Alan Live, a double CD of Alan’s songs, recorded at New York’s Birdland club.

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