Elsewhere…

I’ve been quite on here for a while, but that’s partly because I’ve been so busy. I haven’t been to the theatre that much (trying to recover after a glut), but did get to see The Railway Children at Waterloo Station. It’s really, really good, but must put my thoughts together more coherently on that one…

I have written one or two things as part of my day job, though. Arthur Darvill, popularly known to BBC1 viewers as Rory Williams in Doctor Who, is currently playing Mephistopheles in Doctor Faustus at Shakespeare’s Globe. I interviewed him for The Stage:

“We have giant puppets that are going to take over the whole space and small puppets that are devils. It’s hilarious. There are people walking around on stilts all morning trying not to fall over. What Matthew’s done brilliantly is to bring all those elements in immediately. I think if those things were just added on, it’d feel like they weren’t serving the story. But everything is geared towards telling the story in the most concise, interesting, entertaining, brilliant way.

“It’s quite lucky for me because I’m just playing Mephistopheles. There are so many other people who are playing numerous parts. They can turn up as a monk, a demon goat, a fiery devil. There’s going to be a lot of running around. I spoke to the costume department and they said that, for the 16 of us in the cast, there are over 110 costumes. I’ve only got two.”

Away from the Globe, it is difficult to broach the subject of Darvill’s future plans without running into problems with Doctor Who spoilers. Such is the secrecy around future storylines that the actor can’t discuss whether or not he will be returning to Cardiff. One newspaper interview started parsing the tenses in which Darvill talked about his role in Doctor Who to try to determine whether he was done with the show. Darvill finds the situation hilarious, saying all he has to do to fuel more speculation is “just keep my mouth shut”.

Also Doctor Who-related, today I wrote a piece in praise of the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, which is a wonderful and highly emotive issue celebrating the joyous life of Nicholas Courtney:

One of the sadder duties of working at The Stage is occasionally having to report on the death of an actor whose work you have loved. But when it’s someone who evidently was adored, not just as a character, but as a person by just about everybody who ever met them, the loss can be immeasurable.

If we devoted as much space to the recently departed, their legacy and a commemoration of the lives they touched as those people deserved, we wouldn’t have the time or space to devote to anything else. So I think it’s only right that we should commend another publication for producing a marvellous tribute to a man who, as actor, Equity councillor, husband, drinking partner or friend, has left a profound hole in the acting profession by leaving us: Nicholas Courtney.

Do buy the latest issue of DWM: it’s a wonderful memorial to a man who quite clearly touched the lives of everyone he met.

Happy talk (and a bit of singing)

Something I’ve been working on for a couple of months (longer, counting the times I had to stop and either go on to other projects, or go off and be ill) went live on The Stage website today.

Rodgers and Hammerstein in London is an audio documentary looking at how the famous musical theatre pairing’s shows have been received in London, using archive material from The Stage’s extensive archive of back issues. I was aiming for a half-hour, Radio 4-style arts programme: the finished product ended up as just over 38 minutes, but I didn’t want to edit it down any further.

The project had its genesis when the publisher of Helena Blackman’s Rodgers and Hammerstein album asked if I wanted to interview Helena about the CD, and possibly include some short clips of the musical tracks. While I didn’t mind the idea, it was a format we’d done before – and we’d also been talking about ways in which we could promote The Stage Archive, an amazing resource which stretches back as far as the paper’s first issue in 1880. So the idea moved away from a straight interview to an exploration of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s works, with Helena presenting.

Although The Sound of Music’s 1961 opening was the spur, the documentary reaches back to the late 1940s and the debut of the groundbreaking Oklahoma!, as well as coming (relatively) up to date with How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, the reality casting show that gave Helena her first break.

It’s been good fun putting it together – I’ve been interviewing people from the Dean of Southwark Cathedral to Stephen Sondheim – but the main focus is the archive readings, which my friend, actor Adam Lilley, very generously did for me. We kept in the original idea of including extracts from Helena’s album, as it helps break up the long, talky bits with a bit of music.

It’s available now from The Stage website, as a free MP3 download or streamed direct from the web page. It’s also available in iTunes as part of The Stage Podcast series.

Party pictures

Recently, I’ve been starting to do the occasional night as a photographer for The Stage‘s back page party pictures section, Scene Around. After Wolfboy and Smokey Joe’s Cafe in July, last week I was at two events on consecutive nights.

On Wednesday I was invited a long to a preview screening of the first two episodes of Series 2 of the E4/Left Bank Pictures sketch show School of Comedy, which stars a number of young people who have all come from the after-school club at The Harrodian School:

The following night, The 39 Steps was celebrating its fourth birthday at the Criterion Theatre with an evening of cocktails, beautiful cakes and lots of period detailing:

Some of these photos will be appearing in this week’s issue of The Stage. It’s not exactly the most glamorous of jobs, disrupting people’s conversations in order to snap them, but at least I’m getting to meet more people than I usually do at events like this…

My first iPhone app, a week in

Earlier this week, I blogged about how an iPhone app I’d written was now live. A week in, and things are moving on quite quickly.

Midweek, The Stage Jobs & Auditions was selected as a “staff favourite” on the UK App Store, which meant that it got a slot on the App Store main page within iTunes, albeit one well below the fold. Still, that certainly contributed to an increased number of downloads and a peak of number 3 in the “free apps” version of the Business apps chart.

At least, I thought it was a peak…

Continue reading “My first iPhone app, a week in”

My first iPhone app

UPDATE, 2 July: the app has been added to Apple’s ‘Staff Favourites’ list, and is currently no. 2 in the Business charts for free apps!

Over the weekend, my first iPhone app went live on the App Store. A free download, it’s a simple little app that allows users to browse The Stage’s jobs and auditions that are advertised online (and, in most cases, also in our weekly print edition).

The Stage Jobs and Auditions app (which we call just Stage Jobs for short) is free to download and use (save for your own 3G/internet connection costs). It briefly hit number 3 in iTunes’ chart of free business apps, which probably says more about the small number of downloads in that category than any soaraway success.

The bulk of the app takes the data from The Stage’s recruitment section, served up as XML via a private API (thanks to our web developer James, who implemented the server side of the API). This is converted to the iPhone’s standard drill-down format of clickable lists which, when clicked, slide off to the left to reveal more information – either a list of subcategories, a list of adverts, or the advert detail itself.

Going from proof of concept to a workable prototype was remarkably quick – a matter of weeks – thanks to a few things.

Continue reading “My first iPhone app”

Education by X Factor

Watching this year’s revamped version of The X Factor was an experience. For those who missed it, the “audition room” section of the show has been opened out into a Britain’s Got Talent-style show, complete with highly vocal audience.

BBC News reporter Genevieve Hassan detailed her experience of the initial audition stages — the ones we don’t see, as the production team select the acts that will get onto the televised stages. It really lays bare how the show takes the notion of the cattle call to real extremes.

Continue reading “Education by X Factor”

Lessons from The Street: We had a bargain, and we forgot

Cross-posted on TV Today

And so we say goodbye to The Street, Jimmy McGovern’s remarkable series of standalone, but inter-related dramas relating the extraordinary tales of neighbours on the most ordinary of streets. After three years, ITV Studios, which made the BBC-commissioned series, has made so many talented people redundant that McGovern doesn’t want to try and continue.

But while the series drew to a close last night with a moment of sad reflection, it also went out on a dramatic high — one that, in a way, reflects not only the end of The Street, but the end of an era.

Given that many people may have the episode stacked up on their Sky+ or on iPlayer, I’m going to continue this after the jump — so be warned, from hereon in there are spoilers

Continue reading “Lessons from The Street: We had a bargain, and we forgot”

Building a trailer

For the fourth year running, _The Stage_ has joined forces with Ewan Spence and The Podcast Network to produce [The Edinburgh Fringe Podcast](http://edinburghfringe.thepodcastnetwork.com), a daily podcast covering the best in theatre and comedy from the world’s largest arts festival.

The top and tail of each show will include adverts for various parts of _The Stage’s_ publishing activities. I’ve made the first, which heads up Friday’s first full episode, to promote [The Stage Podcast](http://blogs.thestage.co.uk/podcasts/), using excerpts from some recent interviews:

Advert for The Stage Podcast

The excerpts are, in order:

* Sally Lindsay, talking with Neil Bartlett about the Manchester International Festival about _Everybody Loves a Winner_
* Arthur Smith, who talked about his autobiography, _My Name is Daphne Fairfax_
* Omid Djalili, interviewed just prior to taking over as Fagin in _Oliver!_
* Daniel Dae Kim, the star of _Lost_ who played the King of Siam in _The King and I_
* Suranne Jones, who I interviewed about Unforgiven (although the clip concerned mentions her role in Coronation Street
* And we finish with a great quote from Arthur Smith again.

The Stage Podcast is available in iTunes, as is the Edinburgh Fringe Podcast.

Torchwood, Ianto and fandom’s big heart

Spoiler warning: Don’t read further if you have not yet seen episode 4 of Torchwood: Children of Earth. Of course, if you want to watch it, chances are you already have, but still…

Fans of any persuasion can be an odd bunch. I know, I am that person. There are so many huge benefits to be had from bonding with other people over your love of something, whether it’s football (a passion I must admit I don’t share) or **Doctor Who** (which I do).

I get it. And I’ve come into contact with the best of fandom in recent years. From reviewing the BBC’s **Any Dream Will Do** every week, I came into contact with many subgroups: fans of Daniel Boys (his ‘[kittens](http://www.danielskittens.co.uk/)’), who took my good-natured comments [about them being “quite mad”](http://blogs.thestage.co.uk/tvtoday/2007/06/any-dream-will-do-week-11-the-final/) in the spirit it was intended. And of course there are the Loppies — fans of that series’ eventual winner, Lee Mead, who started talking to each other in the comments section of our blog and have stayed with us ever since.

There are negative associations, of course. If you incur the wrath of the hardcore supporter, then you know about it sharpish. On [TV Today](http://blogs.thestage.co.uk/tvtoday/) we’ve been on the receiving end from fans of Rupert Grint and Jonas Armstrong. In neither case were the attacks particularly justified, but there comes a point where, to the hardcore fans, that hardly matters.

Something similar happened over the last few weeks, following **Torchwood: Children of Earth**’s fourth episode, in which regular character Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) came to a sticky end. A lot of anger was directed at Torchwood writer James Moran, on [his blog](http://jamesmoran.blogspot.com) and on Twitter, not because he wrote the episode (he didn’t) but because he had an open door policy with his web communications.

Thankfully, that particular method of attacking individuals died down pretty quickly, although it has led to James [taking a step back from his blog](http://jamesmoran.blogspot.com/2009/07/stepping-back.html) — and please read that link, it expresses his feelings and reasons far better than I could.

But the hardcore Ianto fans are not giving up. They have set up a website, [SaveIantoJones.com](http://www.SaveIantoJones.com), in order to coordinate various forms of peaceful, polite protest.

And one way they’ve decided to show their support for their favourite character is unusual — by raising money for the BBC’s resident charity, [Children in Need](http://www.saveiantojones.com/children-in-need.php). As I write, the total they have raised to date is just under £3,000. And that’s an impressive amount of money whatever the reason for its collection.

Again, it shows that within fandom, there is the potential for much goodness. Although I do believe that the organisers are mistaken when they say:

> While the BBC have remained polite and well-mannered, in response to a very peaceful campaign, Mr. Davies has made it clear in recent interviews that he views his fans with contempt, and as disposable, which saddens us.

I don’t think anybody could be more wrong; I truly believe Russell gets it. Watch [Love & Monsters](http://matthewman.net/2006/06/18/love-monsters-mister-blue-sky-thinking/), part of Series 2 of **Doctor Who** written by Russell T Davies, and you’ll see a group called L.I.N.D.A., a group of people who start meeting for one reason and gradually become people who meet up because they are friends. It’s one of the most perfect representations of fandom you’re ever likely to see. And anybody who writes like that really, truly, does not consider fans to be worthy of contempt. That doesn’t mean that fans are bigger than the subject of their support, though.

The SaveIantoJones fans are doing some great work and their fundraising efforts will do enormous good — even though their ultimate aim, of bringing a dead fictional character back to life, is doomed to fail. If their work brings them together as friends too, then that will be a further upside.

A photoshoot for Edinburgh

Yesterday, The Stage undertook the photoshoot for its annual Edinburgh Festivals issue. We’ll have ten ‘acts’, for want of a better word — actually, it’s seven actors, one cabaret duo, one writer and one director — who were photographed separately, as well as in a group shot that will be used on the cover.

Organised by Paul and with Stephanie on photography duties, I was on hand to do a few audio interviews with which we’ll be putting out as a podcast.

I also took my camera along, though, to (a) take some candid shots, (b) have a bit of a practice photographing people rather than still lives and architecture and (c) to have something to do in between interviews.

I’m not going to bung the whole load of photographs up on Flickr, as to do so would compromise the publication of the full photoshoot, which will be in _The Stage_ in two weeks’ time.

However, a few bits and pieces:

Frisky and Mannish and Paul
Frisky and Mannish and Paul
Photographer Stephanie Methven
Photographer Stephanie Methven
Mannish in make-up
Mannish in make-up
Performer Inua Ellams
Performer Inua Ellams
Frisky (from Frisky and Mannish) and Charlie Cameron
Frisky (from Frisky and Mannish) and Charlie Cameron