The Crucible, The Old Vic – Performance review

by Rachel Creaser
Star rating
****
A heartening piece of pure drama.

There's great physicalistation from the ensemble (Credit: Johan Persson)

There’s great physicalistation from the ensemble (Credit: Johan Persson)

Last night’s thunderstorm may have been forecast, but I have a feeling it may have been the doings in The Old Vic which spurred the storm to build to such intensity …

The design really sets the tone for this production: the space is awash with a dreary sepia tone and a constant smokiness in the air – there is no bright and lightness in the place. The Crucible is part of The Old Vic’s second in-the-round season – it fit the world of the play very well, and drew the audience further into the murkiness.

Directed by Yaël Farber, she hits us hard from the very beginning, and doesn’t let up throughout the three-hour production. With a story of Salem witch trials, false accusations, lies, revenge, power, God and the devil – how could it not be hard-hitting?

Richard Armitage’s portrayal of John Proctor is authoritative yet touching: he’s just as compelling to watch in quieter moments as when bellowing out in anger. Armitage has great chemistry with both of his leading ladies: Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, played by Anna Madeley, and the formidable Abigail Williams, played by Samantha Colley. Both women have great presence: Madeley has a gripping emotional intensity, while Colley forcefully commands the attention of the audience.

Armitage's turn as John Proctor is commanding to watch (Credit: Johan Persson)

Armitage’s turn as John Proctor is commanding to watch (Credit: Johan Persson)

The movement in the play is a real highlight. Marama Corlett (playing Betty Parris) kept me engrossed as she contorted herself during a fight with an internal spirit. The movement work from the other young girls in the ensemble was also engaging and bewitching.

What I found most impressive about the production was that I found myself involuntarily shaking my head in disbelief on several occasions; I was utterly frustrated with Judge Hathhorne and his cronies – showing that the power of Arthur Miller’s storytelling is yet to dampened by time. The play may have left me feeling slightly depressed at the unfairness of life, but the most important outcome of this production is that it left me feeling something.

For people looking to go and see some impressive theatre this summer, this production has a lot to offer, and is highly recommended.

The Crucible runs at The Old Vic until 13 September 2014. Visit www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2014/the-crucible to buy tickets and for more information.

Michael Gove replaced as education secretary

David Cameron’s final cabinet reshuffle before the 2015 election has seen some significant changes.

Michael Gove, who had served as education secretary since the 2010 general election, will be taking up the position of Commons chief whip. According to a tweet posted by David Cameron earlier today, Gove will now have ‘an enhanced role in campaigning and doing broadcast media interviews.’

Replacing Gove is Loughborough MP Nicky Morgan, who was appointed just three months ago as financial secretary to the treasury, and minister for women and equalities. Morgan will be retaining her women and equalities portfolio alongside her new post as education secretary.

Born in south London, Morgan attended Surbiton High School before studying law at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. She was elected MP for Loughborough in 2010, appointed assistant whip in 2012 and economic secretary to the treasury in 2013.

In his time as education secretary Michael Gove has been responsible for the biggest shake-up of England’s school system for decades. He has constantly faced opposition from teaching unions, and general secretary of the National Union of Teachers Christine Blower has stated that the union will be looking for a change of direction from Ms Morgan.

Written by Miriam Levenson
This news story was originally published on
Music Teacher magazine’s website 

Last chance for Latitude Festival – Starts this Friday

Claudine Nightingale reports on the theatre offerings at this weekend’s Latitude Festival

Arts of all genres are catered for at Latitude (Credit: Danny North)

Arts of all genres are catered for at Latitude (Credit: Danny North)

It’s that time of year again … school summer holidays, yes, but also festival season! If you’re wondering what to do with your weekend now there are no exam papers to mark, perhaps a trip to Latitude Festival in Suffolk is what you need to help you forget the past busy year. For those of you who aren’t really in the mood for a more conventional music festival – and I know you’re all passionate about theatre – Latitude is the perfect solution. As well as some great music acts, they have equally strong offerings in the field of theatre, poetry, comedy and film. Plus, if you’ve got your own children to entertain over the summer, this couldn’t be better; Latitude provides award-winning facilities and entertainment for children of all ages, ensuring that both you and they have a great weekend.

Young people can work towards an Arts Award while at the festival (Credit: Steve Hunt for Culture Works East)

Young people can work towards an Arts Award while at the festival (Credit: Steve Hunt for Culture Works East)

For children, there is an Inbetweeners teen area, designed for young people aged 12 and over. There’s loads for children to get involved with, including working as a reporter for the festival, or even performing on stage in the tent. It is organised by Culture Works East, the company that have helped to facilitate the Arts Awards possibilities for children attending the festival (see the forthcoming issue of Parent Guide to Drama Education published free online in August 2014 to find out more).

It’s also really encouraging to see that Latitude have branched out this year to actively cater for school groups. Although the deadline has passed for this year, they have been offering discounted day tickets for the Friday of the festival for local schools, with a free teacher ticket for every ten students, to allow them to take part in the Arts Award scheme and other child-friendly events. Let’s hope this goes well and is developed in future years so that more students can take advantage of this opportunity.

Forced Entertainment's The Notebooks features at 2014's Latitude Festival (Credit: Tim Etchells)

Forced Entertainment’s The Notebooks features at 2014′s Latitude Festival (Credit: Tim Etchells)

Most importantly, of course, there’s loads on offer for you. As well as a host of acts and artists in other fields (literally and figuratively!), there are some big names in theatre appearing during the weekend: on Friday, Clean Break and Forced Entertainment will each be performing two different productions; the Royal Shakespeare Company are performing a brand-new show on Saturday and Sunday, directed by Erica Whyman; and there are many others worth watching out for, including the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Battersea Arts Centre and the Royal Exchange Theatre.

There’s not much time left, but if you’re the spontaneous type then Latitude is the only place for culture vultures to be this weekend. Tickets are still available for camping, but you can also purchase day tickets for Friday, Saturday or Sunday if you just want to sample the experience. All the information you need is at www.latitudefestival.com. Maybe see you there …

The Tiger Who Came to Tea – Performance review

by Rachel Creaser
Star rating
****
A perfect first theatre visit.

Tea time with the tiger (Credit: Alastair Muir)

Tea time with the tiger (Credit: Alastair Muir)

David Wood’s stage adaptation of Judith Kerr’s classic children’s book is visiting the West End this summer. In 2012, the show was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment and Family.

The production, for children aged three upwards, has been carefully crafted to help make the young audience’s journey through the story as interesting and stimulating as possible.

Many theatrical conventions and devices are introduced in the play: the show opens with the cheerful ‘Hi, Hello’ song, where the actors welcome the audience to the performance and thank them for coming along. They then explain that they are here to tell a story, which will be about a girl called Sophie and her mother – it is at this point when they begin to adopt the role of their character in front of the audience. The gesture and characterisation throughout the performance is strong, providing an interesting and animated visual picture. The passing of time on this day where the story takes place is marked by clearly and is a recurring motif with a sing-song ‘tick, tock, tick, tock’.

While the narrative of the play is quite simple – a small girl’s unremarkable day at home with her mother, interspersed with visits from the postman and the milkman, is turned upside down by a visit from a well-mannered and very hungry tiger – it very clearly functions as a well-structured piece of theatre, with considered lyrics, movements, mimes, characterisations, costumes and everything else in between.

(Credit: Jane Hobson)

(Credit: Jane Hobson)

The story is brought to life by the characters, but the set, costumes and props work as fantastic accompaniments, looking as if they have come from the pen of an illustrator.

Among the use of common theatrical devices (mime, movement etc), the show also offers perhaps the most exciting theatrical element of all – magic. Food suddenly disappearing from plates, a bag which was empty becoming full without an obvious slight of hand – these are moments that children will remember and treasure as they recall their first theatre experiences.

This is a warm, friendly and fun show which is perfectly pitched for its age range. The Tiger Who Came to Tea would be a great introduction to some of the conventions of theatre, as well as its most important quality – its magic.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea runs at the Lyric Theatre at Shaftesbury Avenue in London until 7 September 2014. The show will also have a Christmas season at Birmingham Town Hall this December. For more information, visit www.thetigerwhocametotealive.com.

New initiative seeks to develop contemporary theatre output from south-east England

A new three-year initiative called greenhouse has been launched to develop contemporary theatre and its audiences in the south east and east of England. Over three years, greenhouse will invest £420,000 into 30 projects.

The scheme, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Arts Council England, is being led by house, an organisation which curates and underwrites a programme of around 20 contemporary theatre productions each year for their network more than 125 venues.

This year has seen greenhouse seed-fund ten projects with over £50,000, awarding grants between £3,000 and £8,000 to projects. The ideas put forward for investment had to involve a partnership between a theatre-maker and a venue. The projects chosen for investment were selected by a panel of theatre industry professionals.

The first ten greenhouse projects include: Root Theatre bringing an emerging writer to her home town Gillingham to explore ideas for a new play about the town with the support of new venue LV21; South Street in Reading working with artists based in the town to create a piece for the recently decommissioned Reading Prison; and Take the Space is going to Norden Farm Arts Centre in Maidenhead to work with a boxing club and local Quakers for ideas to develop their new play, White Feather Boxer.

Richard Kingdom, greenhouse project manager says: ‘There’s no shortage of theatre being made, venues to present it or people to see it, and yet theatre-makers struggle to get bookings, programmers tell us that they can’t find suitable work and attracting an audience is everyone’s biggest challenge.

‘This is where greenhouse begins. We are seed-funding new pieces of theatre that respond to the ambitions of the theatre-makers as well as the venues and connect with people that they might ultimately hope to speak to as an audience.’

SOLT awards over £50,000 to 2014 Laurence Olivier bursary recipients

The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) has awarded the latest round of Laurence Olivier Bursaries to 16 drama students worth over £50,000. The bursaries provide support to students who are facing financial difficulties in their final year of drama school.

The Laurence Olivier bursaries range from £500 up to a maximum of £7,500. Applicants are nominated by the principal of their Drama UK accredited school; they are then asked to audition for a panel of industry professionals led by West End producer and Olivier Bursaries Committee chair Lee Menzies. Previous high-profile bursary recipients include Paterson Joseph, Ewan McGregor and Michael Sheen.

Other grants, such as the Behrens Foundation and Carmen Silvera bursaries, are awarded in conjunction with the SOLT scheme. This year saw the inaugural Clothworkers’ Foundation bursary awarded, worth a total of £37,500 over five years, with £7,500 awarded to a student annually.

The 2014 Laurence Olivier bursaries were awarded to:
Edward Bluemel (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama)
Jammy Bulaya (Royal Central School of Speech and Drama)
Rhianna Compton (Manchester School of Theatre)
Kate Dolan (The Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts)
Georgina Downing (Birmingham School of Acting)
Lottie Finklaire (East 15 Acting School)
Emily-Jane McNeill (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland)
Megan Pemberton (Oxford School of Drama)
Juma Sharkah (Arts Educational Schools)
Lauren  Soley (Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts)
Elena Valentine (The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts).

2014 OLIVIER BURSARY WINNERS

Back row (L–R) Georgina Downing, Matt Jessop, Michael Jarvis (Clothworkers’ Foundation), Hannah Morrish, Jordon Kemp, Jammy Bulaya, Emily-Jane McNeill, Celeste Veazey, Elena Valentine, Juma, Sharkah, Lauren Soley, Lee Menzies (chair of the Olivier Bursaries Committee); front row (L–R) Stuart Crowther, Kate Dolan, Lottie Finklaire, Edward Bluemel, Megan Pemberton, Rhianna Compton

Additional bursaries were also presented: The Clothworkers’ Laurence Olivier Bursary was awarded to Matt Jessup of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School; the Behrens Foundation Bursary went to Stuart Crowther from The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, Hannah Morrish from Drama Centre London and Celeste Veazey of Rose Bruford; the Carmen Silvera Bursary was awarded to Jordon Kemp from Drama Centre London.

The winning students were presented with their bursaries by Lee Menzies in June. Speaking at the ceremony, Menzies said: ‘The standard of applicants this year was, once again, extremely high making the selection process very difficult. With the erosion of educational funding nationally, the support we are able to offer students through the Olivier Bursaries is needed more than ever.

‘We are extremely grateful to all our donors and, for the first time this year, the Clothworkers’ Foundation for the significant amount of money they have pledged for the next five years in support of these objectives via the Clothworkers’ Laurence Olivier Bursary. Financial support of this kind, via all the bursaries, allows the recipient to continue their studies with a small financial cushion.’

Theatre casualties in Arts Council national portfolio announcement

Richard Frame (Hermia), Thomas Padden (Theseus) & Sam Swainsbury (Demetrius)

Propeller in performance: the theatre company’s future is thrown into doubt without Art Council funding

Arts Council England (ACE) has revealed the organisations who will, and will not, be part of their national portfolio for 2015–18. All-male Shakespeare company Propeller, Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond and radical touring company Red Ladder have not made ACE’s portfolio list, resulting in loss of funding.

Propeller were told by the ACE, ‘’We decided that, taking into account the quality and level of your artform provision available nationally, we preferred other applications.’ Responding to ACE’s comments, the company and Propeller’s director Edward Hall said: ‘Whilst a lack of commitment from ACE to high-quality touring theatre on a financial basis is perhaps understandable, Propeller’s national reach and quality of work cannot be called into question as our track record amply demonstrates. I am sorry that this decision will prevent us from continuing to pursue our national touring programme which has delighted so many thousands of people and which will prevent our company from pursuing its commitment to delivering affordable, high-quality drama in the regions.’

News of Orange Tree Theatre’s funding loss from the ACE came as the new artistic director Paul Miller began his first day in the role. He told BBC news: ‘I think the big, national contradictory pressures that are on the Arts Council were just so great that something had to give – and on that occasion it was us.

‘Once upon a time, the Orange Tree was a fledgling start-up company that had its first Arts Council funding. For new younger companies to get into the system, it means that existing organisations cannot simply take for granted that they will continue to be regularly funded. There are still many ways in which we can continue to take wonderful theatre in our lovely space. We just have to find a financially different way of doing it.’

Other organisations face smaller cuts: The Barbican will lose 18% of funding, while The Southbank Centre, National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company will each receive a 3.6% reduction.

Some theatre organisations enjoyed a boost, with increases in funding for Unicorn of 28% and Hull Truck of 46%; welcome news for Hull Truck following the ACE’s assessment of the theatre company earlier this year as facing ‘immediate and serious financial risk’.

This year saw a 2% rise in the allocation of funding to regional companies, with 47% dedicated to organisations in London and 53% to those outside of the capital.

ACE chair Sir Peter Bazalgette said of the portfolio announcements: ‘We are in the premier league of creative nations and this portfolio will keep us on top in an era of tight funding. We can delight in our arts organisations and museums for the sheer inspiration they bring to our daily lives as well as their contribution to the creative sector. I’m proud that we’ve been able to deliver such a strong and well balanced portfolio.

‘With 46 new entrants to the national portfolio, with increased funding for grants for the arts, and with creative people and places being maintained at its current level over the next period, this settlement represents a commitment by Arts Council England to new talent and building England’s arts and culture capacity all over the country. When funding is declining you have to set priorities – this we have done.’

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre: Twelfth Night, Re-imagined – Performance Review

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Iain Johnstone leads the Twelfth Night cast as Feste in a musical rendition (Credit: Johan Persson)

by Rachel Creaser
Star rating

*****
Same stage and sunshine, but a new adventure each year at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s ‘Re-imagined’.

Around this time last year, I attended The Winter’s Tale: re-imagined for everyone aged six and over. I recall (helped by re-reading my five-star review of the show) having a great time.

With the ethos the same each year, it could be feared that the ‘Re-imagined’ shows get samey or stagnant. This is definitely not at all the case with Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre: the energy and techniques used to deliver the desired outcome for ‘Re-imagined’ feel completely fresh. There’s an ease in what ‘Re-imagined’ does to connect with young audiences; the relationship between Shakespeare and young people isn’t forced – it’s genuine.

I felt that Twelfth Night had a slight more sophistication about it than A Winter’s Tale, which is still had the age-appropriate introductions to characters and plot, they felt more part of the world of the play – character’s introduced themselves in character, but in the third person. The production is colourful, energetic and fun without being brash.

One of the most enjoyable elements was the live music. Feste (played by Iain Johnstone) playing the accordion added a atmospheric ‘folksy’ feel to the piece. It also helped the audience dance participation feel more at home within the play. One of the ways in which this felt like a real ensemble piece was how the actors swapped instruments – once even during mid-song.

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Sarah Ridgeway and Guy Lewis as parted twins Viola and Sebastian (Credit: Johan Persson)

Performances from the whole cast were very enjoyable and engaging: Sarah Ridgeway’s ‘boy’ impersonation was funny, but not overdone or distracting; Riann Steele had great confidence and presence as Olivia; and Wayne Cater’s drunken Sir Toby Belch and Iain Johnstone’s Feste and pirate Antonio added darker notes to what was largely a fun and upbeat character make-up.

The set evoked the feel of a folk-esque funfair. The ‘love-o-metre’, which rang each time a character fell in love, was a fun set piece but also helpful at marking key moments in the narrative.

This production acts as a great introduction to Shakespeare for young people: it has mistaken identity, love, madness, humour and a man in yellow stockings.

Even if the rain had poured down, I can’t imagine that I would have enjoyed the show any less.

Twelfth Night re-imagined for everyone aged six and over runs until 12 July. There is an accompanying education resource pack available on the website, containing rehearsal images and post-show activity ideas: https://openairtheatre.com/production/twelfth-night-reimagined

Free theatre performances at West End Live this weekend

If you are in the capital this weekend, you might want to drop by West End Live in Trafalgar Square where the event will be celebrating its tenth anniversary.

West End Live provides two days of free taster performances of shows from London’s West End. Show taking part this year include: The Commitments, Once, Wicked, Billy Elliot, The Pajama Game, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, MAMMA MIA!, The Bodyguard, The Lion King, Stomp, Thriller Live, Jersey Boys, and many more.

A first for this year’s event will see a series of talks with people in the theatre industry. The talks will take place in West End Live’s Theatre Emporium, hosted in a 1920s Spiegeltent in Leicester Square. Scheduled to speak are director Jamie Lloyd and the casts of Handbagged and forthcoming production Shakespeare in Love. 

To mark the significant anniversary, there will be a cabaret performance of ten songs which have been performed at West End Live throughout the last decade.

West End Live is a free and non-ticketed event. The event runs on Saturday 21 June (11am-6pm) and Sunday 22 June (12-6pm); www.westendlive.co.uk.

Backstage Academy recruiting for staff

B-A MASTER LOGO (COLOUR) HIGH RESBackstage Academy is looking to recruit teaching, admin and industry staff ahead of the new term commencing in October 2014. The academy, based at the LS-Live rehearsal studios in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, deliver industry-based training in lighting, sound, staging, live visuals, networks, show control and event planning

Backstage Academy’s courses are validated by the University of Bolton. It runs an FdA in live events production, a BA (Hons) top-up year and, new for 2014, a BA (Hons) in visual production. The academy focuses on employability, practical experience and industry-relevant skills.

Director of courses Robin Watkinson: ‘We are looking to add stage engineering, automation, stage management, film and TV location management, and sports events management to our portfolio of validated courses.

‘We are currently seeking applications from: industry professionals interested in delivering lectures, seminars or masterclasses in their field of expertise; experienced teachers with experience of lecturing and supporting students studying at HE4 or above; and admin staff to support our growing education portfolio.’

The academy has part and full-time positions available, as well as opportunities to run masterclasses. If you are interested in a position at Backstage Academy, submit your CV to robin.watkinson@backstage-academy.co.uk.