Endless featuring N:Dless at The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

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On Tuesday evening I was kindly invited to the press night of Endless featuring N:Dless, a brand new, documentary style piece of gig theatre about a fictional band who nearly rose to epic stardom, produced by Trifle Gathering Productions (a local Cornish company). I love supporting new writing in the South West, and it was great to visit The Drum for the first time in years – it definitely made me feel as though I was back at the Edinburgh Fringe!

The cast was comprised of four performers, each of whom contributed something unique to the overall performance, yet they also worked together brilliantly as a dysfunctional unit. Sally Crooks (manager and co-producer of Trifle Gathering Productions) portrayed Eggy, a youthful yet wise member of the group. I adored her enthusiasm and of course, those dungarees!! Mary Woodvine played the role of Sarey, a stunning Irish-woman with an incredible voice… and that accent was flawless. Dean Rehman was the angry and potentially misunderstood Malcom – the leader of the group (by his own description!). Dave was portrayed by the talented Joe Carey – potentially the most understated of the four band members, but in the most brilliant way. I very much enjoyed his forays into actor musicianship through his playing of both the saxophone and the didgeridoo! Not many shows can boast a didgeridoo, that’s for sure.

The show was split into two halves: the highs and the lows. Advertised as a music documentary for the stage, it begins with the four band members of N:Dless talking about themselves, their lives and the ups and downs of band life. I really liked the way that the audience learned about how the band came to life, and the time jumps between the past and present day were done very cleverly indeed, gradually piecing together a timeline of the band’s existence.

One element that I thought worked really well was the use of video on the back wall. The videos were often used to distract the audience during scene or costume changes, and it really did work! This further contributed to the documentary feel of the production, as we got to see interviews with the band’s supposed contemporaries such as Basement Jaxx and Chumbawamba (yes I did just have to Google that name – at times I felt a little too young to understand some of the 90s references!). The screen also worked well in informing the audience of time and location shifts, and the fact that a lot of the locations were local to the South West was a nice personal touch.

There were plenty of funny moments in the script (by Kyla Goodey and Sally Crooks), but it touched on several more serious themes too, including strained family relationships, mental health issues and terminal illness. I felt that Dave’s storyline towards the end was particularly moving, as the most easygoing and jokey band member suddenly had something terrible to deal with. The heated argument scenes between Eggy and Malcolm were brilliantly written too, and I’m sure that every audience member could relate to at least one of the complex storylines included in the script.

As I mentioned earlier, the small venue felt so ‘fringey’ to me. There was a strong connection between the on stage characters and the audience, constantly breaking the fourth wall, particularly during the gig scenes. The performers ran up and down the aisle, high fived people in the audience, and even directed certain lyrics at individual people! I also enjoyed the exchange between Malcom and the sound guy at the back of the theatre, yet again making the whole experience seem a lot friendlier than larger scale theatre productions. It was a shame that the audience weren’t a bit more hyped up though – this particular Plymouth audience was rather quiet and tame! (Especially during the ‘I say ‘N’, you say ‘Dless” sequence which I found very funny and definitely joined in with!).

I really enjoyed watching this production which felt half way between a theatre show and a gig. As a musician myself it was fascinating watching the scenes where the band were working out new songs and chord progressions, and I definitely believed that they were a real band at times! I would certainly recommend this production to anyone with an interest in what goes on behind the scenes in a band’s life, but also to anyone who enjoys theatre (especially new writing!).

 

Endless featuring N:Dless runs at The Drum at Theatre Royal Plymouth until 4th May, before embarking on a tour of several South West venues. View tour dates here.

Disclaimer: I was invited to the press night of Endless featuring N:Dless but all views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Seats at the Mayflower Theatre

As of March 2018, I have been to the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton 20 times. Being the local theatre to my old uni, I made the most of my student loan by seeing many touring productions there! I therefore think I’m in a pretty good position to comment on the pros and cons of different seating areas at this theatre, so here are some of my thoughts on the views I’ve had of various shows.

Stalls

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My view of The Addams Family from seat T32 in the stalls

When I first started visiting the Mayflower, I almost exclusively sat in the stalls. The stalls area of this theatre is enormous – much bigger than at most other theatres I’ve been to. The stalls are great for seeing shows close up – it’s the best place in the theatre for witnessing discreet facial expressions, and for appreciating every little detail. However, I found that sitting in any of the front 5 rows means that you have to crane your neck upwards to see the action onstage, because you are so close to the stage, so I would recommend sitting anywhere from row F backwards. But then again, if you sit too far back then the overhang of the circle can block some of the scenery up high. Another downside is that although the seats are slightly banked upwards, with the seats at the back being higher than the ones at the front, you may still suffer if a tall person sits in front of you! (Disclaimer: I am 5 foot 2, so I don’t have much of a height advantage anyway). There is plenty of leg room in the stalls, and the vast amount of seats in this area means that there are lots of different pricing options.

Circle

I have only sat in this area twice, and don’t have a photo (sorry!). The circle is the middle section of the theatre, and it is split into two sections: the dress circle and the rear circle. It is very much the middle option for seats at the Mayflower, and it feels more cramped than the stalls, with less leg room; and the floor of the balcony above the audience’s heads makes it feel a little claustrophobic. However, the view is pretty good, especially from the front section (the dress circle), and I imagine that the view from the front couple of rows would have all the advantages of the stalls, plus a bit of extra height and no tall people in the way!

Balcony

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My view of Funny Girl from seat H21 in the balcony

You can always find the cheapest seats in the balcony, so this is a really good option if you’re short of cash, or if you’re not totally sure if you’re going to enjoy a show enough to justify spending upwards of £50 on it! The balcony is very steeply banked, so you shouldn’t have too many heads in your way. However, the seats are very far away from the stage, so it can be difficult to see specific details on stage that you can see from the stalls. You also have to climb up over 80 steps to get to the balcony, so that can be a ‘fun’ pre show workout (ew). I would definitely recommend trying to get central seats in the balcony however, as you’ll get a much better view from these than from the sides, despite being miles away from the stage.

Boxes

I’ve never sat in one of the boxes, but it does look pretty fun to have your own little private seating area! The view however probably isn’t the best as you would be side on to the stage, meaning you’d have to look around to watch the show. I would love to sit in one for the experience though!

Band pit

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My view of Billy Elliot from… the band pit!

Unfortunately you can’t buy seats in the band pit, but having had the pleasure of sitting in the pit for a show, here’s the view!!

There are definitely pros and cons for all of the seating areas at the Mayflower Theatre. I would say that the best seats are mid way back in the centre area of the stalls, because you’re far away enough from the stage to take in all the action, but you can also see the close up facial expressions of the performers. However, the balcony seats are often brilliantly cheap, and due to the steep incline of this layer, the view isn’t that bad at all. My advice would be to choose what’s best for you and your price range, and be sure to return at least 20 times like I have to try out all of the seating areas (except maybe the band pit…!).

Post show blues

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Post show blues is a state of mind that the majority of theatre people have felt after a show they loved has finished its run. One feels empty, aimless, and often lonely once they’re no longer surrounded by a theatre family. It’s the inevitable crash after an incredible week or two of doing something you love and want to do forever, and the transition from being super busy all the time, to having to return to normal, often mundane life.

Having experienced post show blues several times after shows at school and university, I thought I was over it. After the last few shows I did last year, I was pretty fine, but this was very much down to specific reasons for each show (I went straight into rehearsing another show/I went straight into finishing my degree/I travelled to the Edinburgh Fringe the next day = three reasons why I didn’t really grieve for three different shows). As I mentioned previously, having a full time job not directly linked to theatre means that my opportunities to do shows have somewhat diminished, so I seized the opportunity to work through my half term holiday and play in the pit band for a youth production of Fiddler on the Roof.

The band included several old uni friends, and despite my challenging piano part which took a little while to get to grips with, and the LONGEST ACT 1 EVER, I had a great time performing the show for the week. I always love the way that everyone in pit bands bonds due to being in such close proximity with each other for such a large amount of time, and we, of course, developed our own in jokes and critiques of the writing of the show! It was also pretty cool to be working such different hours to my usual job (8am-5pm) – on matinee days I was working from 2-10:30pm, which meant I could get my much needed lie ins.

And then it ended.  I had one day to sort myself out between the show ending and returning to work, and I was already in a bad mood! Cue a 6:30am start on the Monday morning and all I wanted to do was return to my working life of the previous week. I missed the people, I missed the proper theatre and the proper pit (a novelty for me having performed in a space at the side of the stage throughout uni!), and I missed the thrill of playing a show or two every day. Don’t get me wrong, I do like my full time job, but having one solitary week of *exciting* work and then returning to the real world was always going to be a bit of a shock! It was also just a bit of a surprise to be experiencing post show blues after such a long time  having foolishly assumed that I was over it… I am not!

Thankfully I have two more shows coming up soon: a school show, and the revival of YMT’s Jabberwocky at the Other Palace. I’ve always found that having another show (or two!) to look forward to helps dull the post show blues. I guess it’s a good thing that we get so invested in shows that we miss them terribly once they’re finished, but damn they can be difficult to get over! Bring on the next one.

Backstage Tour at the National Theatre

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I’ll begin by saying that I LOVE going backstage at theatres. The few times I have done, I’ve been amazed by the winding corridors and seemingly maze-like routes behind and below the stage, as well as by the sheer quantity of space and rooms and goings on behind the scenes to make shows happen. So when I discovered that the National Theatre offers backstage tours most days, I seized the opportunity to buy tickets for myself and my boyfriend (the excuse being it was a birthday treat for him, but I knew we would enjoy it equally… but it was mostly for him. Honest).

We (and the other 18 people) were introduced to our tour guide Maya, who was so knowledgeable, engaging, and generally brilliant. We were given fetching orange high vis jackets to wear which was fun, and gave me a false sense of importance despite the fact that they said ‘National Theatre Backstage Tours’ on the back. Maya told us all a bit about the history of the building and when and why it was built – it’s much newer than I thought, with the building being opened in the 60s (despite the concept of a national theatre being in talks as early as the 19th century).

We entered one of the three auditoriums within the building: The Lyttelton Theatre. I was immediately struck by how modern the space is, but also by its simplicity. Maya explained that the whole idea of this particular theatre is to not let anything draw the audience’s eyes away from the action on stage, explaining the plain decor and the black box around the performance space. This theatre holds nearly 900 people, and it felt like such a nice intimate space from within the stalls.

Next we went into the main auditorium: The Olivier Theatre. Walking into the circle of this theatre was amazing – the view of the stage seemed to be perfect from every angle, and this is because the seating curves around the stage, somewhat hugging it, and the angle is exactly that of humans’ peripheral vision, meaning that the actors on stage can always see everyone in the audience. This space is where Follies was performed, and Macbeth is in technical rehearsals there right now. Sitting in the circle and looking down at the stage made me desperately want to see a show there!

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We reluctantly left The Olivier, and went backstage! We got to see several props from past productions, some of which never even made it on stage due to script and design changes. We also saw the carpentry workshop where many set pieces and props are made, and had a peek into some other workshops too. The National Theatre is a producing theatre, meaning that many sets and props are made backstage, which can be hugely beneficial when shows are rehearsing within the building, as things can be changed very quickly as the shows develop. It’s much like Theatre Royal Plymouth and TR2 in that sense, but on a much bigger scale!

We were taken back to the foyer and handed back our orange jackets, and said a big thank you to Maya (who was brilliant!). We discovered that there is a great theatre shop in the building, which I wish I’d found before because we spent at least an hour in there!

The backstage tour at the National Theatre was awesome, and I would recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in theatre. I learnt so much and now really want to see something in any one of the three theatres. I think it’s so great that a big producing theatre such as the National offers tours such as this, as it definitely sparked my love for theatre even more.

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk 

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The view from the third floor of the National Theatre

My YMT UK experiences

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Youth Music Theatre UK prides itself on being the ‘leading music theatre company for young people’, and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in two of their productions during the last two summers, as both a band member and as an assistant musical director. These shows have been invaluable to me as someone trying to get more experience in the theatre world, and with YMT’s auditions tour happening right now, I thought I’d write about the two projects I’ve done.

In 2016 I decided to apply to play keyboards in the band for one of the organisation’s eight projects that year. Although I already had an interest in MDing and had some experience of it at uni, my plan was to be in the band that summer, and then AMD the following summer (which I did!). Anyway, I auditioned in Southampton in January, and then found out in April that I had been placed on a show called The Dark Tower. So after much anticipation I travelled to a boarding school in the south of England to begin the residential rehearsals. The cast of the show had already been there for a week, so myself and the other band members had to slot into both rehearsals and the social life! It was awesome staying in a boarding school, and the fact the rehearsal period was residential was so beneficial, because it meant we were never missing anyone, unlike rehearsals for other shows I’ve done. I became good friends with the rest of the band (and the MDs!), and after a week we travelled to London.

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The Dark Tower was performed at The Bussey Building in Peckham, and it was an immersive experience for the audience, with the production being set over all three floors of the performance space. Obviously this raised logistical problems, such as having to have a keyboard on each floor! We also happened to perform the show during some of the hottest days that year, and sometimes the temperature was unbearable, especially with so many people crammed into the space. I absolutely loved my first experience of YMT, which totally inspired me to apply to be an AMD for a show the following year.

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So, in 2017 I applied for the Creative Trainee scheme, and went to an interview in London, and a few weeks later I was told that I’d been placed on a project called Jabberwocky. Being on the creative team I rehearsed the project for the full two weeks, rather than only one like the previous year. We started rehearsing the show at another boarding school, with our cast of 36 girls aged 11-17. I much preferred being on the creative team and getting to be treated more like an adult, as on The Dark Tower the band were still considered to be ‘young people’. As AMD my responsibilities were to accompany some rehearsals, work on solo sections with small groups of the cast, and to teach some songs to everyone. It was amazing getting to work alongside a professional creative team, who also became our friends!

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After a week we travelled to Kent, as the show was to be performed at Theatre Royal Margate – one of the oldest and most haunted theatres in the country! The theatre is beautiful and it was such a privilege to get to perform there, and it was so nice to be able to have picnics by the sea during breaks from technical rehearsals! The shows went so well and I had such an overwhelming sense of pride for all of the girls in the cast once it was all over.

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YMT projects are such a good way for young people interested in performing to spend their summers. I’ve really appreciated everything both the projects I’ve taken part in have taught me, and I’ve met so many good friends and industry contacts. To anyone interested in doing musical theatre in the future – get involved!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, I’m just passionate about the company!

My favourite new shows of 2017

Well it’s that time of year again when I come out of blogging hibernation to write about my favourite shows of the year! Although I saw overall fewer professional productions this year than in 2016, I did manage to fit in 12 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and another trip to West End Live. So here are my favourite new shows of the year:

Dreamgirls – Savoy Theatre, London

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This was one of my first shows of the year, and what a spectacle it was! Amber Riley was fantastic in the leading role, and the whole company worked together brilliantly to put on a stunning theatrical experience, featuring some highly impressive vocals from both the soloists and the ensemble.

The Addams Family (UK Tour) – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

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This was the first production of The Addams Family musical in the UK, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Andrew Lippa’s score is simply fantastic, and the cast were true triple threats, with stand out performances from Cameron Blakely and Carrie Hope Fletcher. I wouldn’t be surprised if a West End transfer is on the cards!

Half a Sixpence – Noel Coward Theatre, London

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Many people would associate this show with Charlie Stemp (who portrayed the lead, Arthur Kipps), but having experienced a flawless performance by his first cover, Sam O’Rourke, I can safely say that the show’s success was not totally reliant on one individual (as fantastic as I’m sure Stemp was in the role!). I adored this fun, cheerful show and really hope to see it again some day.

The Play That Goes Wrong (UK Tour) – Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Oh yes, a play has featured on the list!! This show was definitely one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and the fact that it was a touring production (with a touring set!) made it all the more impressive. I loved the way that the performance started as soon as you entered the auditorium, and it was so (hashtag) relatable for those of us who have put on amateur productions ourselves!

Showstopper the Improvised Musical (UK Tour) – Theatre Royal Winchester

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After seeing this show in Edinburgh I was so keen to revisit it – especially as it would, obviously, be a completely different show! I have so much respect for every member of the company, but particularly the band (led superbly by Duncan Walsh Atkins), who I could not take my eyes off! So. Clever.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (UK Tour) – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton and Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Yes, it’s another play. Yes, I saw it twice. Having read the book several years ago I’ve always been eager to see this show, and it was brilliant. I got to watch two different actors take on the role of Christopher in the two different venues which was so interesting, and I also got the opportunity to go backstage (read about that here). It’s such an enlightening and eye opening show.

School of Rock – New London Theatre, London

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This show is insanely good! I love any show with talented kids in it, and this production took that to another level! The adult cast complemented the child cast brilliantly, and the relations between parents and children were so interesting and often realistic. Oh yeah, and the children formed THEIR OWN BAND. Wow.

The Toxic Avenger – Arts Theatre, London

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So this is another show that I saw in Edinburgh and loved, and had to revisit in London in its full form without any bits cut out! I thought it wasn’t possible for it to get any better, but it absolutely did!! The five cast members were all hilarious, and the ridiculous concept of the show just made it even funnier. Also, the band were on stage which is always a bonus in my eyes.

3. ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ – an inside look at creating costumes at TR2

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As part of the Theatre Royal Plymouth bloggers’ scheme, I was invited to the wardrobe department at TR2, the theatre’s production and learning centre. We were shown around by Delia, the head of wardrobe, and we got to learn all sorts of things about how, where and why costumes are made, how much it costs, and even how to create realistic looking sick on clothes!

We were welcomed into the wardrobe workshop space, which was full of dummies wearing costumes, which I definitely mistook for real people a few times! Delia showed us some costumes from a production of Rebecca, which was at Theatre Royal Plymouth a couple of years ago, and explained that the costume budgets on shows vary hugely – from around £500 for small, local productions, up to £250,000 for high profile tours of well known musicals. On expensive shows just one garment can cost £1000 to make, especially when fabrics have to be made and printed specifically for a particular character in a particular show. Delia also explained that to work in wardrobe you have to be an all rounder – while individuals have their specialisms, they all need to be prepared to do a bit of everything – including doing the laundry, and even acting as a stand in dresser for performances at the theatre.

Next we went to the costume store: an enormous room full of thousands of garments. While the aisles and rails look crammed full and impossible to trawl through, the room is impeccably organised to make it easy to find any particular piece of costume required. Delia told us that they often hire out costumes to other organisations in the wider community, and that some garments are reused many times in different shows. She described them as ‘treasures I can reuse’, which I thought was a lovely way of putting it, because many of the pieces I saw were so versatile, and definitely ‘treasures’.

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We returned to the wardrobe workshop and Delia showed us some techniques to create special effects on fabric (her own specialism). She emphasised the attention to detail – like when creating fake mud to make clothes look dirty, she has to consider where the production is set, because the colour of mud in Yorkshire, for example, is quite different from the colour of Cornish mud! She used a dirty down spray to customise a pristine white T shirt, and showed us how to create fake blood by using a different spray, and also showed us some fake sick which was… interesting! She told us how different textures can be created using different substances, and stated that ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ due to the sheer amount of things it can be used to make! It was also interesting to find out that experimentation is a key part of creating the correct colour or texture, and that a lot of the wardrobe team’s work is trial and error.

Finally, we got the chance to have a go at creating some fake embroidery. This involved creating a piping bag full of acrylic paint and tracing over a print – it was harder than it sounds! The trick is to create a really small hole for the paint to come out of to maximise the precision when tracing over the lines. Then we filled in the gaps with paint and a brush which was much easier… GCSE art seems a long time ago! It was a really interesting and surprisingly therapeutic task to do and it certainly made us all be quiet for a while!

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Despite knowing very little about the business beforehand, I loved learning so much about the wardrobe department and costume making at TR2. I never realised how much detail goes into the costumes you see on stage, and the size of the costume store was simply immense. I’d like to thank Delia for showing us around and for being so helpful – I have a newfound appreciation for all that the wardrobe team do, as well as a newfound appreciation for PVA glue.

Get Ugly! – An interview with Tamar Broadbent

Get Ugly - courtesy of Rebecca Pitt
Photo credit: Rebecca Pitt

I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview comedy writer and performer Tamar Broadbent about her show, Get Ugly! which she is taking to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. Here’s what she had to say about it:

Hi Tamar. Your one woman show Get Ugly is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Could you tell me a bit about the show?

Get Ugly is a musical comedy about navigating newly single life after a break-up, with songs and stories about weird online dates, dodging hipsters, envying gym girls, freaking out about STDs and desperately trying to keep body hair under control. It’s about learning how to be a strong, independent woman (after figuring out what that actually means) and re-discovering your self-confidence after feeling (emotionally) like you’ve fallen bum-first in a dirty puddle.

How did the show’s premise come about? How much of it is rooted in personal experience?

 It’s all inspired by autobiographical events. When funny things happen that I believe are noteworthy, I try to turn them into songs. If they’re not a whole song, I try to turn them into a joke. For me it’s all about transforming life into lolz, trauma into un-tempo catchy tunes and a relatable lesson learned into something an audience can enjoy for an hour.

You’ve taken the show to Australia – how has the show been received so far by audiences across the globe?

At the Perth Fringe Festival earlier this year, Get Ugly was nominated for Best Comedy Show, which was incredibly exciting and made me spend ages dancing by myself on a train platform. I’ve also performed the show in Prague and Germany where it went down really well. I think certain things are universal… like heartbreak and vaginas.

How does it feel to be performing your own self written show at the largest arts festival in the world?

 Edinburgh is my favourite place in the world. I know it like the back of my foot – sort of and some bits of it still surprise me, but I’ve performed at the festival for five years running and it feels like my home away from home. To be performing this show there, having taken it across the globe and back, feels like what I’ve been excitedly waiting to do for ages.

Have you made any changes to the show for this year’s stint in Edinburgh?

I’ve added two new songs and am saying a lot of things I haven’t previously said (that makes it sound like they’re ground-breaking things – they’re not. Perhaps compost-breaking). The whole thing’s had a re-vamp and is finally where I feel I’ve always wanted it to be. I’ve very proud of the show and can’t wait to share it with everyone.

What is it like performing a one woman show every night? Does it get tiring being the solo performer?

It of course requires you to be in good shape (she says eating pizza and drinking wine) but I find performing a show that you love can give you more energy not less. I once did a student play at the Fringe that I hated and afterwards I slept until December. Now – I am very much alive and awake and not at all addicted to caffeine (stop shaking, Tamar!).

What do you think Get Ugly can teach audiences about 21st century female empowerment?

 I’m not a fan of the word ‘teach’ because I’m not sure I’m 100% qualified to impart wisdom when I still tie my shoelaces using the bunny ears method. However, I hope that Get Ugly will ‘show’ the audience that we all go through those ‘ugly’ bits of life that we hope people will never find out about, that you never see in a perfectly filtered Instagram existence. That we all have awkward, mortifying moments in life and that they don’t define us – that it’s possible to celebrate them and point and laugh at them and even turn them into songs!

I would love the show to teach that being bullied by the media, others and ourselves about how beautiful we think we are or are not is a miserable waste of time. Like many girls I grew up believing that beauty was value, and I allowed my sense of self-worth to be affected by how ‘attractive’ I thought I was, and especially how ‘attractive’ I thought other people (namely, boys) thought I was. Performing comedy was the first thing that really helped me get away from this mode of thinking and it’s something I wish I could make the teenage girls believe who I now see obsessively watching make-up tutorials on YouTube.

The show’s not overtly about this – I wanted to explore these issues and especially the relationship between appearance and female self-confidence whilst first and foremost telling a very real, human story about heartbreak and loss and, most importantly, making people laugh.

What is your favourite moment in the show and why?

At the moment, it’s a new song I’ve just added which involves an audience member that if you want to find out about you will have to come and see the show (!). It’s crazy and absurd and I love it (the audience seem to as well, which is a real plus!). My favourite moment of the show changes every day though, because the show changes every day.

Have you got any funny stories or mishaps that have happened during performances that you can tell me about?

In Australia, a guy who I’d gotten up on stage with me said, on mic, ‘there’s lipstick on your teeth, that’s why everyone’s laughing at you’. I called him a bearded c**t and we low-fived. It was all very good natured, but the irony didn’t escape me that I performed the rest of a show about how we shouldn’t care so much what we look like whilst trying after every other line to subtly tongue away a non-existent stain from my two front teeth, all the time crying on the inside.

Where would you like to take Get Ugly next?

America. Canada. Hull. Anywhere that will have me!

 Tamar Broadbent: Get Ugly will be playing at Underbelly Med Quad (Clover), Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG from Wednesday 2nd – Monday 28th August 2017 (not 14th) at 17:30.

Backstage tour: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

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Credit: Becca Pettit

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is a unique piece of theatre which has been subject to great critical acclaim since it first opened at the Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. Now embarking on its second UK tour, audiences all over the country are being swept up in Christopher Boone’s story. I was invited on a backstage tour of the show at Theatre Royal Plymouth along with five other bloggers to learn more about the play and to get a closer look at the props and set. We were met by Stew, the company manager, who talked us through the different aspects of the show and opened our eyes to how much detail has gone into creating this production.

We started by looking at the towering set, and Stew explained that it takes 6 hours to get it into the theatre, and 12 hours to put it all together and make it function. We saw the versatile white boxes which are used in various ways throughout the show, as suitcases, train seats, and even a toilet! Then we moved on to looking at the props, starting with Wellington, the four legged victim of the story, and I was amazed at the gruesome detail that been applied to the dog, as well as the detail on other set pieces, such as the model of Big Ben and the tiny houses. Stew told us that ‘Curious is all about detail’, and I saw first-hand that this is certainly true.

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Then it was time to go on stage! The floor is covered in tiny squares (892 to be exact), and the floor and three walls are all covered in grids. Although the set may look simple at first, there are eight projectors used in the show which really enhance the visual aspect, and LED lights are used to inject different colours and moods into various scenes. The grid squares are labelled with letters and numbers around the sides, and Stew told us that the directors used these squares during the rehearsal process to help with the precision of the blocking – for example, an actor would be instructed to stand in box A7 for a certain scene. I found it really interesting that a show so based in logic and maths is blocked in such a mathematical way – and this must play a part in enhancing the performance. As Stew told us, ‘it’s all grid work’.

Understandably, there are many people working on Curious to ensure that it runs smoothly for all 8 performances a week. There are 10 cast members in the show, plus an alternate Christopher, and 4 understudies. There are two Christophers because it is such a demanding role – the actor portraying him never leaves the stage except during the interval. There are also 16 crew members, unusually outnumbering the cast number! These numbers prove how technical the show is, and how although it has a small cast size, it requires many people working hard backstage to make the show happen. Stew said that audiences often forget that Curious is a play, because it is so much more than a play – perhaps even a ‘play with the infrastructure of a musical’. Although the scale of the set is so big, the intense detail of the props means that the performance still feels intimate and relatable.

A primary aim of the show is to introduce the audience to Christopher’s world. Stew told us that this is why the set is effectively a box, because this box represents his mind. We also learned about the music for the show, which is all based around prime numbers – for example, at the start of the show a drum rhythm is heard, and the accents are on beats 2, 3, 5, 7 and 11 (the first prime numbers). This makes the audience subconsciously inhabit Christopher’s world because he adores maths, and prime numbers – so it makes sense that the background music would be based around them too. I find this incredibly clever, and again, it’s something that the audience would not pick up on, making it another example of the show’s attention to detail.

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The backstage tour gave me and the other bloggers an invaluable insight into the world of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. The scale of the set and detail of the props is astounding, and it is clear that so much thought has been put into every tiny aspect of this production to make it unique and authentic. So many individuals work hard to make this show as good as it can possibly be, and I can’t wait for more audiences around the UK to experience this extraordinary piece of theatre.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time runs at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 1st July. 

The Wrong Side of Prohibition – Thespis Project Theatre Company, 25/02/17

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Photo credit: Luke Stratta

Thespis Project Theatre Company is a relatively new establishment which brings new theatre to the city of Plymouth. A few other bloggers and I were kindly invited to a performance of The Wrong Side of Prohibition which explores the lives of flappers and gangsters in 1920s America, performed in the brilliantly appropriate speakeasy bar, The Tigermilk, at The Duke of Cornwall Hotel. Thanks to the unique, immersive experience the cast provided us with, it was an exciting evening of exploring new writing which was performed by a promising cast.

The play was cleverly staged around the tables and chairs which seated the audience members, creating a totally immersive show and holding everyone’s complete attention throughout. The costumes were lavish and appropriate for the era, and the general décor of the bar created a stunning back drop for this historical piece, making it the perfect venue for this production.

Anastasios Chalas portrayed the authoritative, manipulative club owner Tony very convincingly, displaying some powerful dramatic acting and good interactions with the other characters – while allowing the audience to feel a small amount of sympathy for him at times. He was well supported by the smaller male characters, who collectively managed to convey the extremity of gender inequality within the society at the time.

Some of the most promising scenes came from the young women playing the showgirls – I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Frankie Hill as Jennie and Sarah Lawrence as Maggie, whose forbidden love was beautifully displayed in some tender scenes. They were complemented well by Heather Brown as Rose, the oldest and most experienced show girl who is even able to manipulate Tony, and Bryony Harvey who portrayed a believable mothering figure to the showgirls. These individuals displayed great promise within their roles, with Lawrence’s emotive acting proving particularly successful.

Another stand out performance came from Nicola Tyrer as Anna, the young Greek girl who is brought to the club at the beginning of the play. Her transformation from a timid girl into a confident singer was realised brilliantly, and Tyrer’s beautiful voice was showcased in her acapella solos, which she performed impeccably; remaining perfectly in key throughout and displaying a good level of acting through song. The contrast between her and the other girls was also evident, not only through their appearances, but also through their levels of experience.

This production was completely different to anything I’ve seen before – I loved the way that the actors broke the fourth wall through delivering their scenes in amongst the audience members – and lines which directly applied to us such as ‘what’re you looking at? Get back to your drinks!’ were both funny and believable given the setting we were in. The production felt far more intimate than your average show in which there is a clear divide between the cast and the audience; and getting to chat to members of the company afterwards was an added bonus!

I had a brilliant evening watching The Wrong Side of Prohibition, and it was really exciting to experience new theatre in the South West. The cast delivered the material impeccably, with some promising performers among them, and the location was simply perfect. I’d like to thank Thespis Project Theatre Company for inviting us to their performance, and I can’t wait to see what they go on to do next.

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Disclaimer: Thespis Project Theatre Company invited me to their performance of The Wrong Side of Prohibition, but all thoughts expressed here are my own.