An Insomniac’s Guide to Ambulances

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         Hiya readers! I was lucky enough to be able to attend yet another performance in the Camden Fringe festival called, “An Insomniac’s Guide to Ambulance,” written by Rachel Creeger in collaboration with Aryeh Myers. It took place in yet another pub theatre but this room, upstairs at the “Gatehouse” pub, was significantly bigger than the last pub theatre I had occupied. In fact, it was an extremely wide stage, which the director used to her advantage, placing three different sets next to each other in the space.

            The story itself was an interesting concept. Following the character “Leo” and his struggles to deal with a previous trauma in his high-stress career while juggling a family as well. Here’s a little blurb from the program further describing the plot:

            “ …there’s no let up for paramedic Leo but that’s not what keeps him up at night…As he prepares for his exciting new post training student paramedics, he is terrified that his childhood sweetheart will realize he is imperfect. Dom is not who he appears to be. Lisa can’t breathe. Sam needs to man up. Jude is broken…Are Leo’s experiences real, or are they figments of his sleep deprived imagination?” 

Pretty intense subject matter. But the writing plays off the intensity at lovely points where the group of paramedics relax in the paramedic lounge area. This dialogue was acted nicely, although some of the content may have been a tad cliché. The intensity of the play builds throughout multiple scenes of Leo’s encounters with paramedic patients. Scenes like one woman thinking she is being poisoned when really she is just sitting on her shirt and it is causing the shirt to choke her. Another one is a heart attack victim and his left-behind wife, who goes into a heartfelt monologue about the struggles the couple, had starting out as an interracial couple. The play culminates with a rather tragic car accident scene (the audiences discovers that this is the accident that has been haunting Leo), and finally Leo “breaks,” releasing all the torment and confiding in his spouse his worries about his imperfections and regrets. I have to say the ending seemed very abrupt to me, but then again, I am a musical theatre girl at heart who loves a (sometimes literal) neon sign signifying the end of a play.

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            Overall the acting was very good. All of the actors, save Leo, played multiple roles in the many different ambulance scenarios throughout the play. My favorites were Josh Burdett, and Stacey Evans, whose biggest roles were Leo’s group therapist, and Leo’s wife (you can guess which actor played which). Burdett had a great scene where he spoke out directly to the audience about their personal sleep troubles. He also played a troubled soldier with PTSD and had a wonderful monologue describing his horrific memories. Evans played all of her roles very well, but approached all of them differently using interesting choices, like posture and pace of speech. These two were my favorites, but all of the actors did a great job handling their roles.

            I also really liked how the play was interactive. I liked Burdett using us as the group therapy members. Especially since he asked questions and actually responded to the audience’s answers. Also, upon walking into the room, I was given a mini flashlight (ahem… “Torch”) and when the final accident scene, was told to provide light for the actors on stage so they could see the casualties of the crash. A very interesting concept.

            Overall, I think this second experience with the Fringe was really great for me, because I got to see the variety that the “Fringe” offers. I also really enjoy seeing plays that are not perfect, because they are a lot easier to analyze and in those analysis, I feel that I come to understand the specific choices better whether it’s the actor’s choices, or the director’s. A big thank you and congratulations to Rachel Creeger for inviting me to the performance. Check out my next post to read an interview with Rachel herself!

Cheerio,

~A

*photos from telegraph.co.uk, and thepublicreviews.com

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

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            Guess what? My persistence paid off! Last Tuesday, after a sunny morning stroll and brunch in Kensington Gardens, I made it my mission to go to Shakespeare’s Globe yet again, to try to convince them to let me see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I got there at about 1pm, about an hour before the afternoon show, and what-do-you-know, they had standing tickets available! Now, I am not normally keen on standing to watch a show, especially when it is for a 3 hour-long show. But, in this case I had to make an exception. Like I mentioned before, it was a beautiful sunny day with a nice breeze coming off the Thames. Probably the best type of day possible for an outdoor performance!

            Anyway, to add to my luck, I had probably two of the shortest people I’ve ever seen between me and the stage so I had an almost perfect view of the performance. And thank goodness! It was absolutely fantastic! Even if I wasn’t a theatre major with an obvious (I would hope it would be obvious by now anyway) love for theatre, I think this play would have sparked my love forevermore. There was so much going on! Wood sprites wreaked havoc among the spectators, singing and shrieking simultaneously, dropping lanterns from the open ceiling into large butterfly nets, and of course, frightening the silly mortal characters onstage. Musicians played various instruments such as the guitar, flutes, tambourine, etc., the group of “actors” in the play all sported metal clogs that they clomped around in merriment. There were even ropes on the two large pillars on the stage that characters would climb up on and swing from!

            The actors and actresses in the show were all very talented! I especially liked Oberon, King of the fairies, and his commanding presence (and skill climbing up a rope!) and Lysander, one of the young lovers who had great comedic facial expressions and got tons of laughs from the audience. But, no one could top the performance given by a man named Joe Dixon who played the infamous Nick Bottom. If you haven’t read/seen the play before, Nick Bottom is an over-confident fool who thinks he is intelligent but is really a focal laughing point throughout the entire play (culminating when Puck turns his head into that of a literal Ass, the donkey kind, and bewitches the fairy Queen to fall in love with him).  Mr. Dixon played Bottom is such a sarcastic and slow non-chalant way, I actually laughed out loud at some points (and I do not “literally” lol pretty much ever). All of the silly “player” characters were hilarious and complimented each other very well. The very best scene was when the players performed their play of Pyramus and Thisbe. The crowd (myself included) was beside itself with laughter for the straight 20 minutes that the “play within a play” endured.

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            The one negative I have to say about the play, and it pains me to say it: Puck. He was absolutely awful. Although he looked the part (super skinny, kind of like a dancer, perfect for a sprightly fairy), he seemed to make absolutely no acting decisions whatsoever. If I hadn’t known he was supposed to be mischievous and cunning, I would have had a really tough time figuring it out. And I think the audience would have agreed with me. When Puck would deliver a line that is typically meant to be funny, the audience would slightly chuckle, but seem altogether confused as to what the actor was doing with his body. It was literally like watching a parody of someone reciting Shakespeare “with feeling” but actually evoking no true emotion or creating any action whatsoever. The only thing that saved Puck was his fun scenes with Oberon, where Oberon would yell at him and such. Every time Puck opened his mouth I rolled my eyes and glared at some stage prop, conveniently in the opposite direction, to show my silent protest. And when he spoke the very last words of the play, I about wanted to cry.

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            But then I looked at Lysander, Hermia, Helena, Oberon, Hippolyta, the Players, and my saving grace, Bottom, and the smile came back to my face. Thankfully, after a couple hours rest, the feeling came back to my legs as well. A fantastic experience I would recommend to everyone! THE number one theatre to visit in London, England, and one of the best shows I’ve seen!

And as it is pretty late in dearest London, and I am a very cheesy kind of girl, I shall leave you with this,

 

“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow!”

 

(Not from “Midsummer” but one can appreciate my gesture)

Adieu Readers,

~A

Interview with writer Anthony Fairweather

Hello Readers!

            Did my last post peak your curiosity? If yes, (and of course the answer is yes!) then do I have a treat for you! I was lucky enough to be able to as the writer of the Camden Fringe play “Nuclear Winter.” Some questions about his play, his writing history, and what he plans for the future.

A- Can you explain a little bit about your writing background?

I started when I began writing poems as a way of coping with a breakdown that I had. All the poems were about my mental state and some of them appear in the play. I found writing the poems very helpful and as time passed I started to write lighter stuff, which I started to perform at open mike poetry events. Later I joined a scriptwriter’s workshop run by a wonderful lady called Angela Street where I learnt more about the ins and outs of the scriptwriting process, and following the suggestion of an actor who I met through them I ended up writing this play.

A- In the program it mentions that the play is based on real events, can you go into a little more detail about that?

The play is based on various events that have happened to me throughout my life as a result of the mental issues I have had. The play looks at the different ways that various people have reacted towards me because of who I am and what they perceive me to be. The back-story of one of the other characters (Jenny) is based on an interview I conducted with a friend of mine who was also a member of the above-mentioned scriptwriter’s group.

A- Explain the message you are trying to send audiences with this piece (if any).

I want to try and show the reality of mental illness in contrast to some of the many myths that some people believe about it. Mental illness is one of the last great taboo subjects and yet statistically 1 in 4 of us will have to cope with at some point in our lives. That contrast is quite mystifying.

A- Can you explain the process you went through in creating this play?

The process was a gradual one. I started writing the play when I was a member of the above-mentioned scriptwriter’s group, and every so often I was able to workshop small sections of it in front of an audience. Later on I moved to London and through weird series of coincidences I came to know Lennie Varvarides who helped me workshop more of the play at her Sunday Surgery group. We worked on it (on and off) with various directors and actors for about a year or so, editing the script and making refinements to it. 

A- How were you able to get your work into the Camden Fringe? Can you describe the process a little bit?

The Camden Fringe Festival is an annual event and it was a case of applying, then finding a venue, finding people, and then doing all of the preparatory work for it. It is quite hard work to sort all of the tasks involved, and Lennie was invaluable with help and advice as it is the first time I have organized anything like this.

A- I see there was a separate director working on this piece. Did you also put in your direction or did she do all of it? Also, how do you feel about the choices made throughout the play? (Anything that you liked or hated about the sound, staging, way flashbacks were introduced, etc.)

I was always free to make suggestions about how things could be done and to explain how I had seen things “in my mind’s eye”. Alice Williams (the director) was happy to listen to me, but there were several occasions where she was able to do things differently to how I had envisaged, but make the play better as a result. Some of things in the original script had to be cut for reasons of timing and there were some things that I was sad to have to leave out, but it was a case of having to. Alice made the final choice on these things, and I am glad she did, as she was able to look at the play from a more objective stance.

A- How did you feel about the finished product?

Very happy.

A- Do have anything planned for the future (either with this work or with future plays)?

I am considering the future right now. I have enjoyed this experience immensely owing to the goodwill, support and downright hard work of all the people who have worked with me over the development of the play and in particular Alain English, Siobhan Schulz, Ed Degaentano, Anna-Maria Geogiades, Alice Williams, Elaine Lau, Lennie Varvarides, Kaz Bielecki, the National Autistic Society and the Arts Council who have made this production of it happen. I certainly want to take things further.

Thank you to Lennie Varvarides and Anthony Fairweather for making this interview possible!

Till next time!

~A

The Camden Fringe

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            Today my post is about an exciting London-based theatre festival, the “Camden Fringe.” The “Camden Fringe” was created by female producers Zena Barrie and Michelle Flower (go women in production!!). The two had previously produced live shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. In August 2006 they set up the first Camden Fringe Festival, which included 57 performances by 22 acts over 4 weeks. The Camden Fringe now encompasses the full length and width of the borough of Camden with participating venues stretching from Highgate to Covent Garden!

            The Camden Fringe show I was lucky enough to see was called “Nuclear Winter” by Anthony Fairweather. The show program describes the plot as follows,

            “Daniel has been surviving his cold and dark Nuclear Winter in a Fallout Shelter constructed only of words; words both desperate and uplifting, so confused and yet so clear…He is now trying to transmit these confused and clear words to a world that is clearly confused…Jenny is a journalist who is trying to help him do just that in a strange tale of life, love, deception, and lies where nothing is quite what it seems…”

 Basically, the main character Daniel has had a mental breakdown and has compiled a book of poems that he wrote post-breakdown. Jenny is a journalist who is interviewing him about his book and the inspiration behind it. Jenny has her own skeletons in the closet, and it is revealed that she too has had a breakdown, though under entirely different circumstances then Daniel. The content is pretty intense but the writing is quick and sharp. Usually I find myself caught up in the spectacle of a show and tuning out of the words. But in this case, it was the words I focused on and the performance I tried to tune out.

            Not that the performance itself was that bad. From what I gather the actors and the crew had only a few practices a week before the performance was set in front of an audience. But it could definitely have been more polished. Actors interrupted each other (unintentionally) and faltered with lines. The two leads, even though their memorization wasn’t perfect, each had great, emotional moments in the play. Especially Siobhan Schulz, the woman who played Jenny. I loved the emotionally strained scene where she finds out her husband has been cheating on her with her sister for four years behind her back!

            Side note: This play was put on in a nice pub down in Camden and was set in a very small room. Now I’ve been to a couple of shows where cell phones go off, but at this particular show, there must have been 5 people who’s phones went off. One man even had the nerve to answer it! As the Brits would say, very cheeky indeed!

            Regardless of the etiquette of the audience and the roughness of the blocking/technical errors in the performance, I really did enjoy my first experience of the Camden Fringe. The play itself was really enjoyable and I thought the message was very important and came across in a smart and intelligent manner. Congratulations to Anthony Fairweather, (this play is his very first!). I can’t wait to see what he has in store for the future!

xoxo

~A

** More information about the “Camden Fringe” past and present can be found below:

http://www.camdenfringe.com/?id=2

It’s Magic! Harry Potter Studios, London

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         Good morning all! It was a great morning for me last Saturday when I bought my tickets to see the Making of Harry Potter: Warner Brothers Studios in London! It was kind of weird going without my HP-crazed mother and sister, but I managed. The studio looks like a giant warehouse, with huge statues of the giant chess pieces used in the first HP movie (the rather violent life-sized chess match at the end ring a bell?). Once you go inside, there’s a Starbucks (very nice touch), and a huge café area boasting normal, Muggle food. Then, across from that is a HUGE gift shop with tons and tons of overpriced, Harry Potter themed goods for sale. I arrived rather early, (via a Harry Potter-decorated double-decker bus complete with Harry Potter soundtrack playing on the inside!), so I decided to spend my excess time reading one of  J.K. Rowling’s lesser know books “A Casual Vacancy” (in the spirit of Harry Potter of course) and nibbled on a yogurt snack until my entry time came.

By the time 11am came around, the lines (ahem… “cues” rather) had grown from kinda longish to extremely long with a lot of the people involved in the line  lacking the concept of personal space. But luckily the excitement of it all led me to be particularly forgiving. The tour starts with a brief video telling audiences how the HP movies were at the studios for 10 years making all of the films. It also sets the tone for the kind of experience we were going to have which was less American theme park-like, and more European museum-like (vibe supported by talking mostly about the people who worked on the film besides the cast, ex: Art Department, Prop Department, Costume Designers, Make-up artists, etc.).

The tour began in the great hall and then led to multiple rooms holding what seemed like thousands of costumes and props (Sorcerer’s Stone, Goblet of Fire, to name a few). Other big attractions were Diagon Alley, the big emerald chutes leading to the Ministry of Magic seen in the last movie, 4 Privet Drive, the Knight Bus, and a giant replica of the Hogwarts Castle itself. I also experienced “Butterbeer” for the first time, and may I say, not J.K.’s finest work. If you like the concept of drinking a foamy, chilled version of melted butterscotch candy then this drink is for you. I forced myself to drink half of it (I did pay for it after all) before I had to throw it away.

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I enjoyed myself immensely but I have to say I came away from the tour with less sparkle in my eyes and more ideas to re-market the Studios. After conferring with my mother and sister, it seems that most of the details I was thinking of, can be seen at Harry Potter World at Universal Studios Florida. Who would have thought? I guess no matter how long I live in London, I’m still American at heart (don’t tell anyone!).

Till next time readers!

~A

Stroll Down the SouthBank…

This post doesn’t really have anything to do with theatre except to relay my bitter disappointment in my lack of planning ahead. It was a Friday and, as all of the students who studied abroad with me last semester know, Fridays (and Thursdays and Saturdays) are the best days to plan a trip to Borough Market. Borough Market is an AMAZING food market that had food stands boasting all kinds of delicacies and indulgencies (Is “indulgencies” a word? Now it is!).

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Now my mission was to go to Borough Market for Linner (lunch/dinner, duh) and grab the meal I have been dreaming of since I left London in April; toasted cheese sandwich and mango cheesecake. Thank the Lord I am not lactose intolerant. Here are a couple of choice photos from Borough Market. It’s enough to make one hop on a plane. Trust me.

I also decided to walk off my dairy-heavy lunch by moseying around the South Bank and hitting up Shakespeare’s Globe and the National Theatre. Background story, my school is putting on the show “Midsummer night’s Dream” this year and I want a role in it. Only problem is, I’ve never seen it performed. This may hinder or help my pursuit of a role, but regardless I desperately wanted to see “Midsummer” at the Globe’s outdoor venue. No available tickets. I hate myself. National Theatre: same thing.  What’s a girl to do? Guess I’m going to have to camp out at the Globe till they give me what I want.

Wish me luck!

~A

**some more photos below for your enjoyment!

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.. The Musical

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          My first 3 days back in London, and my schedule could not be busier! But of course I must make time for the theatre! My latest show is a musical based on a classic move (and ok…book too) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Ever the avid fan of musicals, I was super excited to see this show! It was also in the Covent Garden area at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. I had to lean forward in these seats as well, but the make up of the theatre was more practical so I could see basically all of the theatre without being too uncomfortable.

            I have to say, I was a little underwhelmed by the music quality. While the musicians and singers were excellent, I found the songs themselves to be uninspiring. That is, until the traditional “Come with me…” song that Willy Wonka sings to Charlie at the end came on. That gave me goosebumps.          

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            One warning. Do not go to this show hungry. You know, scratch that. Do not go to this show if you are on any kind of calorie counting eating program. The first half of the play made me literally run to the concession stand and buy whatever kind of overpriced chocolate I could find (they didn’t sell Wonka bars, can you believe it? I had to settle for Rolos).

            Great for kids and families and of course, kids at heart. There were just as many adults and teens in the room as children. And this show’s sets are so fantastically detailed and whimsical, you’ll think you’ve swapped your theatre ticket for a Golden one, and entered the real Wonka factory yourself. 

Chocoholics Rejoice!

~A