March 8th marks 2019’s International Women’s Day and we are certainly feeling the empowerment here at From The Box Office. This year we’ve teamed up with Tina – The Tina Turner Musical and Wicked to talk to the cast members and production teams about the importance of the day itself and the progress of women in theatre. Check out our exclusive quickfire interviews below!
The cast and production team of TINA talk about women’s roles in theatre
He’s the man behind the show that is currently taking the West End by storm: From The Box Office chatted with Misty writer and star Arinzé Kene about the success of the show, diversity in the West End and what we can expect from him next… Read his answers below.
Misty opened on the West End to rave reviews and standing ovations after every performance. Did you imagine when you were first trying to write the play that this would be the outcome? No, not at all – that doesn’t really cross my mind when I’m working. I try not to let that come into the creative process; I try and keep the creative process as pure as possible and focus on the art. That sometimes means having certain people in the room at certain phases [of creation], some at early stages, some at later stages. We have created a piece that was very honest. I think that having a piece that is as pure as [Misty] is, as untamed as it is, that was the dream, and the success is really just a bonus of that.
What have you most enjoyed about working on Misty?
Firstly, the way that we’ve managed to continue to improve the show, even now that it’s on. Mostly I’ve enjoyed the creative process, though – from the very beginning it’s been an artist’s dream. We began in a bubble, but we’ve been able to go with our instincts which has been really liberating. I’d also say that the getting here and getting to play to this audience every night. The play is structured, but there are elements within it that can change every night, depending on how I feel every night, and I love playing the audience back and forth. I also love the comedy, that’s definitely in the top 3 bits that I love. When I’m on stage I love playing the comedy because it’s so much fun.
What would you say was the most challenging aspect of the play’s creation?
It was a combination [of things] actually, because the play is quite unique in its structure, and so I had to battle some insecurities that I had about writing this piece. I’d also never made anything like it before, so it’s not tried and tested and that was intimidating. In many ways, though, the actual subject matter was the most challenging part; I’m putting my life on stage, and I’ve been quite a private person. I’d never put myself on stage before, and to do that, to put [my life] on stage was quite intimidating but it’s also been really rewarding.
You’ve spoken candidly about the gentrification that you’ve seen taking place as you’ve grown up in London, do you hope that this play can raise awareness of this to a wider audience?
Yeah (sic) definitely. I hope that as an artist I can shed some light on it and open a discussion about it. I think one of the jobs of the artist is to bring something that’s in the dark, into the light, and so that’s what I’ve done. I don’t think the play is answering any questions, I think it’s organising ideas and looking at what’s happening. Gentrification has happened the world over and will continue to, but it leaves a lot of people feeling displaced and, in a way, homeless. It erases people, and it erases their culture. There’s many ways of looking at it, though, and we do that in the play, and we laugh about it too. Half the time [of the play], we’re laughing at a serious matter. You know, one of my favourite books ‘Not Without Laughter’ [by Langston Hughes] deals with some serious issues, but does so in a way that inspires people to see the best of a situation. That’s what I wanted to do [with Misty]: say “let’s look at this” and explore ways to cope with it, but not without laughter.
When you were writing the play, did you consider your audience? Did you hope that you would attract a new audience to theatre?
Yeah, it was considered. The theatre wasn’t somewhere that I’d always felt welcome growing up in London, and I thought Misty was an opportunity to open [theatre] to other audiences. I didn’t exactly step out to do that, I think it’s just the kind of work that I create. I don’t write or create art for any one person, it’s inclusive. I look out every night and see so much diversity in the audiences and that’s what I want. That’s my London. We always knew Misty had the capacity to do that. All the extra marketing and press that we did was just to make sure that those audiences knew that they were included.
You’ve got an upcoming show at The Old Vic, can we expect more Misty-like shows after that?
Well you can expect some more work from me. It might be Misty-esque just because it’s going to be my play, but I don’t know. I’m really focused on telling the stories that I want to tell. I’m constantly trying to find new stories that I want to tell and that I think people need to hear. I love seeing stories and telling stories with people that are misrepresented or under represented. I think more diversity is definitely needed [in the West End].
Do you hope that Misty will be the beginning of a more culturally and racially diverse West End?
It could be. I hope it will be. I think it will help to open doors. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for people before me and [the West End] is getting better. We’ve got Kwame [Kwei-Armah] over at the Young Vic, for example, and others on their way up. I hope [Misty] opens more doors for creators and for people looking to make less mainstream work. The nature of the play in itself isn’t what usually would makes it into the West End, so I hope it changes what people think will make a successful West End show.
Still haven’t seen the smash-hit sensation that is Misty? Book your tickets now and get a free seat upgrade* here!
★★★★ ‘Arinzé Kene is blazingly charismatic’ (Evening Standard)
★★★★ ‘Inspiringly individualistic’ (Daily Telegraph)
★★★★ ‘This firecracker of a show arrives with a bang in the West End’ (Metro)
With thanks to Arinzé Kene.
*Upgrade offer ends 17th November
Following an immensely successful run at the Almeida Theatre, we asked ‘Summer and Smoke’ director Rebecca Frecknall how it feels to see her latest production of the play transfer to the Duke of York’s Theatre…
Your production of Tennessee Williams’ classic has achieved incredible success, when you decided to work on this play for a second time, did you imagine that it would garner such critical acclaim?
Never! If someone had told me the week I started rehearsals at the Almeida what the trajectory of this production would be I would never have believed them. I was just thrilled to have the backing and trust of the Almeida and to be able to have the opportunity to make this piece in the way that I wanted. The way it was received took me completely by surprise. I’m still pinching myself!
Was working on the play easier the second time around?
Yes in many ways. It was great to be able to go into rehearsals knowing the play so well and so intimately and with a much clearer idea of why I was doing it and what I wanted to achieve. I had such a brilliant team around me too and we very much made the show together. Obviously the stakes were much higher the second time round as this was my first big production in London and I really wanted to prove myself and make something special. The pressure can make things harder but we all loved what we were doing so it was easy to have moments of forgetting what a big deal it was for me!
You’ve said in previous interviews that you started out dreaming of acting in theatre productions, is that a dream that we’re ever likely to see you revisit? No! Definitely not. Honestly, the first time I ever directed something (it was in my first term of university) I knew that was what I was built for. I suppose I had wanted to be an actor when I was younger because I loved plays and the theatre so much and I maybe confused the two. It’s definitely the creating that I’m addicted to, I’ll leave the acting to the experts and stay in awe of them.
This is the first show that you’ve directed and taken to the West End – how does it feel? Unreal. I honestly don’t think it’ll really sink in that it’s transferring to the West End until it opens and people (hopefully) start turning up to see it!
Your love for theatre started with musicals, could we ever see you working on or directing one? I would really love to direct a musical one day. I was a complete musicals nut when I was a teenager and I think I probably owe it to my younger self.
Do you have any particular plays that you dream of directing? Yes of course, I’d love to do more of Tennessee Williams’ work and I also love the plays of Eugene O’Neil and Arthur Miller. I’d love to do a Greek tragedy one day, too, and a Chekhov – the ‘big’ plays I grew up with I suppose. There are of course new playwrights I’d love to work with too. I hugely admire the work of Alice Birch and Cordelia Lynn and think they’re both making important, sophisticated work.
You’ve commented before on the lack of female presence in theatre, did this affect the direction that you took with the production at all, particularly with the character of Alma? I suppose I am often drawn to plays that have female protagonists. I don’t think that’s an active choice, more a subconscious attraction. In the case of Summer and Smoke I certainly angled my production towards Alma. I wanted the audience to experience the play from her point of view, to be able to take them in and out of her head. I don’t, however, think that Alma’s experiences in the play are specifically female. Lots of young men who saw the production at the Almeida really saw themselves in her.
Was it hard to adapt a play that was written in the 1940s for a modern audience, or did you find that a lot of the themes are still prominent today? I just really wanted us to focus on the characters and to take away all the trappings and signifiers of the time in which the play was written and set (it’s set in 1916). I didn’t want the audience to be able to take any assumptions about what a ‘Tennessee Williams’ play is into their experience of watching the production either. I think that the fact that we were able to create such an open and exposed production and that people were moved by it is a testament to the fact that Williams’ themes transcend the time in which the play was written.
Do you think if you were to direct the play again in another 5 or 6 years your interpretation or direction would have changed again? I hope so. I think that as artists we change with time, experience and influence, and therefore the work we make inevitably evolves, changes and hopefully improves! In my 20s I read this play in a particular way. In my 30s this current production is my answer to it. In my 40s…who knows? I’m sure it would speak to me differently.
Summer and Smoke opens next month (November 10th) for a strictly limited engagement. You can get your tickets to the sultry sensation right here!
It’s the story that shaped not only a young man’s life, but the understanding of life as we now know it. Now, Charles Darwin’s inspiring journey will be put on stage for all to see in the first show of its kind at the Natural History Museum. We asked playwright David Morton for all of the exciting details, ahead of the production’s historic opening on Tuesday 2nd October…
The Wider Earth tells the story of Darwin’s voyage on HMS Beagle. How did that voyage affect the rest of his life and work? On 25 October 1831, a 22-year-old Charles Darwin boarded a ship preparing for a voyage around the world. What he saw on the five-year voyage that followed led him to think deeply about the natural world, and to question received opinion about its origins. He also collected specimens – thousands of them – and these specimens, studied in the field and on his return to England, provided vital evidence in support of his ideas, especially on the theory of evolution.
Since this play is based on a real, historical voyage, how did you find the balance between giving a historically true account and telling a good story? To strike the balance we’ve tried to include nothing in the story that doesn’t at least have some reference to actual events. There are definitely some leaps of imagination to heighten the drama but we’ve tried to keep true to the memories of the characters and the contributions they all made.
David Morton’s The Wider Earth
Was there any part of the writing or development process that you found especially challenging? The most challenging part was trying to work out which parts of the history to use. The records of the voyage are so rich with information that it was hard not to include everything.
What do you think will surprise audiences most about the Darwin you’re presenting versus the Darwin they think they know? In the show we try and capture Darwin’s energy, his drive, and his excitement. We wanted to show the Darwin behind the long grey beard, and paint a portrait of Charles as the young man.
In your opinion, what do puppets add to the story (or to theatre in general)? The process of bringing a puppet to life on stage takes an incredible degree of commitment and discipline. Unlike an actor who spends a rehearsal period developing a character, a puppet has to first learn how to be alive before we can even start to wonder as to what its character might be. Ultimately, the process isn’t complete until the imagination of an audience turns the movement cues that we give into the illusion of life. I think that puppets deepen the possibilities of storytelling in theatre, and can provoke a real sense of wonder in an audience.
Of the 30 puppets featured in this production, do you have a favourite? The Galapagos tortoise! And the flightless cormorant.
Since it’s a bit unconventional to stage a play in the Museum, have there been any logistical challenges? Converting the Jerwood Gallery into a theatre for the first time has been a challenge, but the outcome is absolutely worth it!
What has it been like working with the Museum’s scientists? Working with Professor Adrian Lister has been an absolute honour. To receive input into the story from someone who has lived and breathed everything Darwinian for so long has allowed the script to flourish. Adrian has an amazing sense of Charles as a person, and has been just as excited as us about making the story fresh, and bringing the voyage to life.
There are so many incredible and unique aspects to this production: its staging in the Natural History Museum, its 30 hand-made puppets, its blending of animations and live performance. What are you most excited to share with audiences? The experience of the whole thing. I think what’s so special about this work is the integration of the elements. There’s so much to look at, and the world of the play is so rich. Also the amazing cast, their dedication to the characters and the story has been just awe inspiring and I’m so grateful to the whole team.
If you’re as excited as we are for this groundbreaking new production you can book tickets now! Watch the trailer below:
Janique Charles officially replaces Ava Brennan in the role of Nala, Simba’s childhood friend, in Disney’s The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre. We sat down with her to discuss her journey in getting the role, what it’s like to work for Disney and, ultimately, how it feels to be part of the most successful musical in history.
Congratulations on getting the role! Has musical theatre always been the ultimate goal for you?
I’ve always wanted to work for Disney. Whether it was through performing in a Disney musical, on the Disney channel or on a Disney cruise ship – I just knew I wanted to work for Disney. Having grown up endlessly watching Disney movies and Disney TV, I’ve always felt very connected to it – so this is a real dream come true for me.
So how did you get the role of Nala?
I’ve been working on The Lion King for 4 years. I moved here from Trinidad and Tobago in 2013 to join Disney’s The Lion King UK tour, which also stopped in Basel, Switzerland, and that’s where my journey began! About a year ago, I made it to the West End, playing a number of different roles in the ensemble: the banana lady, a white bird, a hyena (which was so much fun!) and a lioness. Once I had a taste of playing a lioness, it became clear to me how much I’d enjoy playing Nala.
What do you particularly like about her?
She’s sweet, but fierce. She stands up for herself and those she cares about. It’s not in my character to be this fearless, so I love that in this role, I get to be fierce every day.
What’s your favourite thing about being part of such a successful musical?
I think the thing I appreciate the most is having the opportunity to work with so many professional and truly talented people. I learn so much from these world-class performers, whilst playing a part in a story that I adored growing up. It’s a wonderful experience.
If you could see any other film made into a musical, what would it be?
I’ve always liked the Prince of Egypt, I think that film has potential to be an incredible musical. There are some really underrated, beautiful songs. In terms of Disney films, The Lion King is of course my favourite, however, The Little Mermaid comes a very close second! I love the innocence of Ariel, but if it was made into a musical, I’d have to play Ursula – I have so much fun playing these bolder, more daring characters.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Well, working for Disney is what I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve been working for years to get here. So I often have to remind myself to breathe, relax and enjoy what I’ve worked so hard to achieve.
I think on a less serious note, falling over most days in rehearsals is a challenge. It’s a very physical show – particularly the fight scene between Nala and Simba – so it’s bound to happen. It’s past the stage of embarrassing now, but it sure does hurt!
So what’s your relationship like with Nick Afoa (Simba)?
Nick’s great – he’s a really funny, cool guy. He’s from New Zealand – so it’s really interesting learning about his culture and hearing all of his stories from when he played rugby professionally. We’ve had a lot of laughs since beginning rehearsals. But I love every member of the cast; they’re all so inspiring and bring so much to the show.
For people who haven’t seen the show yet, what can they expect?
It’s so beautiful. You just can’t even imagine how much you’ll enjoy it. There’s one particular scene with white birds that makes me fall in love with the show more each time; their costumes flow out like a flower in bloom. You can’t put into words how beautiful it is. The music, the costumes – it’s all mind-blowing.
One last question – is there any advice you’d give to aspiring actors/actresses?
To put it simply, never give up. Keep trying, auditioning, playing the smaller parts. I played so many characters in the ensemble for the show and I learned so much. I had to know the show in and out; that experience was truly invaluable.
Janique performs her role of Nala for the first time tonight at 7.30pm.
Book tickets for Disney’s The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatrehere.
Scenes From the End is a powerful solo opera starring the virtuosic Héloïse Werner. Described by Classic FM as “extraordinary” we were dying to know more about this gifted performer, so we met Héloïse to delve deeper into the highly unusual world of opera-for-one, and discovered a truly unique talent with a flair for the dramatic and a gift for communication.
Hi Héloïse. How would you describe your style of performance?Read more →
Will Brexit boost or break West End shows? Would This House characters have voted Trump or Clinton? Who secretly wants to date Chukka Umunna? Read our Q&A with the cast of the West End’s top political drama This House as the stars reveal all!
This House previously played two sell-out runs at the National Theatre, and received unprecedented critical praise. Set between the fateful years of 1974 and 1979 with fist fights in Parliament and Labour facing a vote of no confidence, This House strikes a chord today as we once again lurch from crisis to political crisis.
This House is directed by Jeremy Herrin (People, Places and Things) and written by James Graham (The Vote at the Donmar Warehouse and Channel 4’s Coalition). Graham’s play Privacy is set to open in New York, starring Daniel Radcliffe.
Giles Taylor (The Members Chorus)
Speaker 1, Sergeant 2, West Lothian and Ensemble
What was your first professional job? Aladdin at the Thameside Theatre, Grays
This House deals with party politics in the 1970s. Do you think parliament is a very different place today? I think it is filled with far more careerist politicians now, out for their own personal gain. In the 1970s MPs really believed their party’s policies and felt passionately about them.
If your character could vote in the US election, do you think they would have voted for Clinton or Trump? Clinton
How do you think the Brexit vote will affect West End Theatres? I hope it will mean that punters reach for theatre either for escapism or to reflect their own fears and insecurities in this uncertain age, and to reconnect with their humanity.
In a single sentence, why do you think audiences love This House? I think they are surprised by how entertaining it is, when they expect a dry, political drama.
Can you name your own MP (without using google!)? Catherine West
Politics is often described as show-business for ugly people. If you HAD to go on a date with a politician, who would you choose and where would you go? Chuka Umunna – and we’d go to see This House, of course!
David Hounslow (Joe Harper)
What was your first professional job? Soldier, served seven years in the Royal Corps of Signals
If you were standing for parliament, what would your manifesto promise be? A huge social housing building program.
Would your character have voted for Clinton or Trump? Clinton
How do you think the Brexit vote will affect West End Theatres? In the medium term could see a slight dip in European numbers but will recover.
In a single sentence, why do you think audiences love This House? The outstanding writing, fast paced, funny and moving.
Can you name your own MP (without using google!)? Chuka Umunna
Politics is often described as show-business for ugly people. If you HAD to go on a date with a politician, who would you choose and where would you go? Dennis Skinner and take him to Brasserie Zedel!
Malcolm Sinclair: Humphrey Atkins
If you were standing for parliament, what would your manifesto promise be? There IS such a thing as Society.
This House deals with party politics in the 1970s. Do you think parliament is a very different place today? Somewhat different. Class divisions are less obvious.
Would your character have voted for Clinton or Trump? Clinton, reluctantly
How do you think the Brexit vote will affect West End Theatres? Badly.
In a single sentence, why do you think audiences love This House? In the form of a brilliant comedy thriller, it tells a wonderful story, which surprises us with its relevance.
Can you name your own MP (without using google!)? Jim MacPatrick?
Christopher Godwin: The Members Chorus
Batley, Woolwich West, Belfast North, Western Isles and Ensemble
If you were standing for parliament, what would your manifesto promise be? To make sure funding for the Arts and Music in schools is kept up. The Arts keep a culture healthy.
This House deals with party politics in the 1970s. Do you think parliament is a very different place today? I do think Parliament is different. MPs have become more career focused and less ideological and altruistic.
Would your character have voted for Clinton or Trump? Definitely not Trump. It would have to be Clinton. Not an ideal choice but a damn sight better than the demagogue they’ve elected.
How do you think the Brexit vote will affect West End Theatres? It could go either way. The weak pound may encourage visitors from abroad which would favour Musicals mostly, I suppose. It will make it more difficult for straight plays. If the funding for Theatre gets cut any more the long term effect will be a diminution of quality and it will be harder to get a proper fee.
If you HAD to go on a date with a politician, who would you choose and where would you go? I would choose Tracy Brabin who’s just been elected MP for Batley. She’s taken over from Jo Cox, so tragically murdered in June, and is now representing the Doc’s old constituency.
In a single sentence, why do you think audiences love This House?
The opportunity to peep behind the scenes of Parliament is irresistible, and thanks to James (the show’s writer), it’s all true!
Running time 2 hours and 55 minutes, including one 20-minute interval.
Casting includes Phil Daniels (Les Miserables, EastEnders), Nathaniel Parker (Wolf Hall), Steffan Rhodri (The Mentalists, Harry Potter), Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey) as Michael Cocks, Malcolm Sinclair as Humphrey Atkins, Sarah Woodward as Lady Batley, David Hounslow as Joe Harper, Ed Hughes as Fred Silvester and Lauren O’Neil (Silent Witness, Midsomer Murders) as Ann Taylor. Further cast members include Christopher Godwin, Peter Landi, Matthew Pidgeon, Tony Turner, Giles Taylor and Orlando Wells.
Stepping Out charts the lives of seven women and one man who, once a week, try to tap their troubles away in a dance class. Fame beckons when the group is asked to take part in a charity gala but there’s only one problem…they’ve all got two left feet. Over the course of several months of rehearsal, we get to know the group with all their quirks and neuroses; Perfectionist Vera, gobby Maxine, uptight Andy, bubbly Sylvia, shy Dorothy, eager Lynne, cheerful Rose – and not forgetting Geoffrey!
Stepping Out won the Evening Standard Comedy of the Year Award, 1984 and was also made into a musical which became a film in 1991, starring Julie Walters and Liza Minnelli. Prior to the show’s West End return in March, we took a moment out of their pre-London tour with two of the stars of this wonderful, heart-warming comedy – Angela Griffin (Waterloo Road, One Man Two Guv’nors) and Tracy-Ann Oberman (Eastenders, New Tricks):
Hi Tracy-Ann. Did you have to take any special dance classes for Stepping Out or could you tap already?
I’ve never danced a step of tap in my life. I was in a play at Royal Exchange Manchester and a lovely tap teacher called Daniel came and showed me a few basic moves pre rehearsal.
If you could “step out” on a date with anyone, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
Mel Brookes – so we could re-enact scenes from Young Frankenstein, The Producers and Blazing Saddles. Love that man!
Which dancer do you most admire?
Matthew Bourne. Oh and Isadora Duncan (the scarf thing).
The show was written in 1984 with only one man to seven women in the class – do you think plays like Stepping Out and shows like Strictly have changed that?
Yes. It’s become Postmodern mainstream and almost cool! Look at Aljaž Škorjanec on Strictly. Who wouldn’t want to be him!?
Do you have any superstitions when performing?
None it’s a load of twaddle.
If Stepping Out was a cake, what kind of cake would it be?
If you could master one skill that you don’t have already, what would it be?
To sleep for eight hours solid. And wake up refreshed.
Hi Angela! Did you have to take any special dance classes for Stepping Out or could you tap already?
I wasn’t able to tap, so i booked my daughters dance teacher to give me 6 hours of lessons before we started rehearsing and hired a community centre hall to practise in.
If you could “step out” on a date with anyone, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
I would step out with my husband at this moment in time, because I’ve barely seen him whilst being on tour… but if he was busy I’d give Ryan Gosling a tinkle.
Stepping Out was written in 1984 with only one man to seven women in the class – do you think plays like Stepping Out and shows like Strictly have changed that?
I still think that women dominate when it comes to local dance classes.
During rehearsals, lots of things go wrong. What’s been your own worst on-stage disaster?
I’ve had so many!!! I’ve smashed glasses, had my chicken fillet boobs come flying out…. and a classic on this tour is when I came off stage and thought it was a costume change, only to realise when I was half dressed that my cue line had just been said on stage and I had to run on (very late) dressed in the wrong costume.
Do you have any superstitions when performing?
I try not to.
If Stepping Out was a cake, what kind of cake would it be?
If you could master one skill that you don’t have already, what would it be?
On-stage calamities, trips into space and a French bulldog hidden in a handbag – no two days are the same for the cast of Peter Pan Goes Wrong. We asked the stars of the hit West End comedy, Harry Kershaw, Bailey Patrick and Bryony Corrigan to share their real-life disasters and tell us what makes them laugh their tights off:
Hi Harry, Bailey and Bryony! Peter Pan never grew up…can you think of one thing that you never grew out of?
Harry: As a child I bumped into things by mistake quite a lot. Sadly I haven’t grown out of that! Bailey: Being excited about everything and anything. I still struggle to sleep on Christmas Eve or the day before I go on holiday and get pretty excitable around a swimming pool. Bryony: Biting my nails. Unfortunately, Horrid habit.
What’s the worst thing that’s gone wrong in Peter Pan Goes Wrong that shouldn’t…and did anybody notice?
Harry: There were two days of carnage during previews here at the Apollo. On the first day Bailey (who plays Trevor) and I collided with each other and my hook (which is heavy and metal) smashed into his face. He had a massive bruise on his face for some time but was back on stage the next day because he’s an absolute tank. Bailey: I was hit in the eye with Captain Hook’s hook but covered it up with a bandage that I was wearing during the last 5 mins of the show and managed to make it through to the end using one eye whilst negotiating a spinning stage, catching Wendy, putting out a fire and unclipping Peter Pan. Members of the cast didn’t even notice until I disappeared rather sharpish just before the curtain call to A&E… Bryony: It looked like an old school horror the way the blood had splattered. I think the audience thought it was just fake red blood…fortunately Bailey is fine now!!!!
If you could fly like Tinkerbell, where would you most like to go? Harry: I’d watch the northern lights. Bailey: I’d spend most of my time overlooking my beautiful city – London. Bryony: I’d fly up to the solar system to look at the planets and stars!
What’s your favourite scene in the show?
Harry: I particularly like the parts of the show which are different every night. The audience really are an extra character in this show and that’s very fun to play with. Any of the scenes which are painful for Chris are great… So most of the show! Bailey: It’s very difficult to answer that without spoiling the surprises and because I have so many favourite scenes in the show. However, I find it very hard to keep a straight face when Captain Hook and the pirates are all on stage together – especially the conversation between Hook, Cecco and Percy. Bryony: Harry as Captain Hook has a scene on his own where he often ends up interacting with the audience. It’s hilarious and great for us to listen to as the cast as it is one of the parts that is truly different every night.
If you went to Neverland, what’s the one thing you’d take from home that you just couldn’t live without? Harry: Contact lenses. Bailey: My girlfriend and my French bulldog Alfie hidden in her bag. They both come everywhere with me and always have me in fits of laughter and make me smile every day. Bryony: I have a sheet like a small blanket that I’ve had since I was little for bed. Probably that. Yeah, I should probably do some growing up too.
Captain Hook was afraid of a crocodile. What are your phobias?
Harry: I get very nervous of standing too close to the yellow line at tube stations. If somebody is standing too close to the track I hate it. Bailey: I don’t really have any, although I’m not particularly keen on snakes. Bryony: Spiders – isn’t everyone?
Apart from Peter Pan (obviously!) what was your favourite story or book as a child?
Harry: My grandfather used to read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ on Christmas Eve every year to all the family. I would hold a candle. It was excellent. Bailey: Peter Pan was and still is my favourite. If I had to pick another I’d have to say Robin Hood. Bryony: Green Eggs and Ham. Dr Seuss!!!! (“I do not like it Sam I Am”)
Who should someone bring with them to see the show?
Harry: I think it would make a brilliant date. If you enjoy watching people fall over you’ll have a great night. It’s a great alternative Christmas show. Bailey: It’s been so skillfully written that the adults laugh and cry just as much as the children and are often even more enthusiastic to get involved with the mayhem. We’ve all been in situations where things go from bad to worse: It’s watching how the characters deal with these constant mishaps and push through their pains to ensure they finish the show that produces such face ache for the audience who always have such huge smiles on their faces as they leave. Bryony: My grandparents come and love it, my 6-year-old cousins come and love it…anyone who has done amateur theatre or watched an amateur production or even a professional production where something has gone wrong. It’s a silly Christmas Bonanza completely driven by the heart!
“JOYFUL DISASTERS FROM COMEDY MASTERS. GORGEOUS!” Libby Purves, BBC Radio 4
When Ruth inherits her Aunt’s hair salon, she gets more than she bargained for: Belligerent blue-rinsers demanding their weekly shampoo & set, an untimely visit from Health and Safety and a snooty judge from FAB HAIR all pale into insignificance with the discovery of a dead body under the drier! Read more →
Have you ever thought about writing for children? Do you have a Fantastic Mr Fox, James and the Giant Peach or The Twits inside you? Join us for part two as David Wood takes us back inside a world of Whizzpoppers, Quogwinkles and Mugglewumps:
Are you ever influenced by Quentin Blake’s designs?
I’m really led by the text. When I began to adapt Dahls work, there were several books which Quentin Blake hadn’t yet illustrated, they’d been done by other people. But after Dahl died, his estate decided that Blake should do all of them and so they got rid of all the illustrations by other people which I think rather annoyed them. In my head there may have been occasional times when I pictured characters like Blake’s illustrations, but our designer, Susie Caulcutt didn’t use those illustrations apart from as a guide to the odd thing such as the sandals that the BFG wears which are actually the type of moccasins that Dahl used to wear. Dahl’s parents were Norwegian so there were occasional little references like that which could be used.
Have you ever had any knock-backs?
Yes! Patrick Garland who was running Chichester at the time wrote to me and said “we’re seriously thinking about doing The BFG here in Chichester for Christmas”. So I wrote back and said I thought that was an interesting idea and as it was on tour, I gave him the date list and a few weeks later he wrote to me again: “Dear David, I went to see the BFG and I’m very very sorry but I really don’t feel I can do it at Chichester because I do feel that it’s a complete cop-out that you never see a real giant”. It was then I realised that he’d left at the Interval! I thought, well I can’t put him right, so I wrote back and said I was sorry!
After Dahl died, I actually thought the show might never be done. But it was. And luckily his widow, Liccy (Felicity) came to see The BFG about six months later and thank god she loved it. The real Sophie also liked it. And subsequently I came to be given another one to do, The Witches. That was my second Dahl adaptation, and I’ve adapted eight now.
What do you make of big budget adaptations like Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
It would be lovely to write a huge hit musical like that but the point is I probably couldn’t. Matilda is a show that I admire very much but I don’t feel that it’s written for children – it’s broader and more sophisticated. Stiles & Drewe and I worked on Matilda over 20 years ago – they wrote some lovely songs and I wrote a lot of scenes. We did a little showcase, just the three of us without actors – I read, George played and Ants sung, but everyone you can think of was applying for the rights and eventually Dahl’s estate gave them to the RSC.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a different kettle of fish. When Warner Brothers got the rights to do the original Willy Wonka film with Gene Wilder, they were given the stage as well as the film rights. Nothing happened stage-wise for quite a long time until Warner Brothers did the second film, the Johnny Depp version. The realisation that they had the stage rights and that Disney had done rather well with Lion King and Beauty and the Beast led to them agreeing to collaborate on a stage version.
Have children’s shows changed dramatically over the years?
I’ve been writing children’s plays for 49 years now and when I started there was very little around specifically for children. At Christmas there might be Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland but it really was mainly Pantomime. Peter Pan was only ever really done in London – nobody was allowed to do it as a regional production. So my dream was to do work that children would respond to – particularly primary school children who don’t normally get the chance of going because their parents won’t take them. I had a belief that theatre was a trigger to the imagination and that every primary school child should be taken to the theatre for free at least once. Well we’re still not there yet but what has happened is that there has been an explosion in the work and now it’s looked upon as commercially viable which it never was before.
It intrigues me that if you look around now at the big musicals, Lion King, Shrek, Mary Poppins, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they’re all based on children’s books. And what Producers realised, as the scales fell from their eyes is that if you took a children’s favourite classic title you had the widest common denominator as far as your audience was concerned.
What, for you, is the difference between a children’s show and a family show?
The difference between those big family musicals and what I do, is very simple. A children’s show is a show to which children are taken, whereas a family show you would have no hesitation about going to on your own as an adult. And you can tell very often too by the performance times – a children’s show you would normally expect to be a matinee show. My Dahls actually do go on at seven o’clock because Dahl does have a wide appeal and sometimes adults do come on their own. There’s a sort of crossover there.
How important is it that theatre is entertaining for children?
I am aware that every audience will contain first-timers and I want to keep those first-timers. If I bore the pants off them, or do something which they won’t understand, they’re going to turn off. I call it “The Loo Count”. If any child leaves to go to the loo then I’ve failed! They’re devious creatures, children – they know if they say “I want a wee” most adults won’t risk a wet seat and will take them out! Everything I do is about wanting them to want to stay to know what happens next, it’s the equivalent of the page turning quality of a book. And it’s the same with an interval – if I’m adapting a book, what’s the first thing I look for in that book? It may sound flippant, but I look for the interval. Because I’ve got to have a good moment where you can stop, leaving people wanting to come back. Otherwise they might just say “well, that’s it then” and leave – which would be terrible.
What are the key elements in a show, or a book, for children – and why does Dahl get it so right?
Amongst all things that children like, for example food, animals, magic and music, one of the things they like most is justice. They are very hot on justice, children, and one of the first things they learn to say is “it’s not fair” – if you give a child one piece of chocolate and another two pieces, “it’s not fair”. And this is why so many of the classic stories, Cinderella being an absolutely perfect example, are to do with unfairness. We root for Cinderella because she’s being unfairly treated and we want her to win through. It’s not rags to riches so much, it’s her getting her happiness because she’s a good person. So in many of my plays a similar theme comes up whereby one character is being unfairly treated by another. I know that will trigger something in the mind of a child just as it would in an adult.
What Roald Dahl does so brilliantly is look at things from the child’s point of view, which is what Roald Dahl does so brilliantly. He understands how children’s minds work. And it’s very significant that a lot of children are the protagonists in his stories: Sophie in The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Danny the Champion of the World, the boy in The Witches who isn’t named in the book, and George’s Marvellous Medicine – children are the main characters. And why does Dahl do that? Because he knows that the reader is going to identify with them. It’s very basic and very clever – he used every ingredient that I could ever have thought up – they’re all there. He uses food a lot – James and the Giant Peach, and in The BFG there’s Frobscottle the drink and Snozzcumbers which the giants don’t like eating.
He uses magic and fantasy in the books, and animals like the Mugglewumps in The Twits. I think that when he decided to write for children, which wasn’t an automatic decision for him at all, Dahl genuinely drew on classic themes – the Giant Peach is like the Beanstalk, Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge – they’re the Ugly Sisters and the whole idea of the giant in The BFG – giants are very classical. And there’s nothing wrong in that – they are all ingredients and they work with children because they will emotionally involve them. A lot of people criticised Dahl early on and didn’t want their children to read his books because they were dark and subversive. The heads of the Army and the Airforce in The BFG are mercilessly satirised. You could question whether The BFG and the Whizzpop – the whole idea of farting being a thing that you celebrate – is something we want for our children? Well he enters those taboo areas but at the same time, nobody could say that those books are proclaiming immorality or badness because every single time, evil is overcome.
Do you think you’ll ever stop writing and just put your feet up?
I’ve always said I will go on doing this until I stop getting a buzz from being at the back of the theatre when the children are really enjoying themselves, because that, to me, is such a challenge and such a difficult thing to do. There are so many actors who wouldn’t survive if you put them on at ten o’clock in the morning in front of a thousand children!
Mark Dooley is an Australian Film & TV Producer who has worked on shows ranging from I’m A Celebrity to Gogglebox. Mark’s new documentary, Repeat Attenders, delves deep in to the world of Musical Theatre Superfans: fans who take theatregoing to a whole new level. Read more →
Ring the buzzer of a little black door just off Leicester Square, climb a flight of stairs and you may just glimpse the future of Musical Theatre: Perfect Pitch, a UK Theatre Company dedicated to the creation and development of the New British Musical. The passionate and focused team behind Perfect Pitch is husband and wife Andy and Wendy Barnes – and if you’re serious about British Musicals you’d do well to remember their names.
Hi both. How did Perfect Pitch begin and how did you meet?
If you’ve ever wondered how a West End Musical makes the leap from the page to the stage, then you’ll love our interview with Olivier Award winning writer, David Wood. From Goodnight Mister Tom to Fantastic Mr Fox, David’s career writing & adapting for Theatre and Children’s Literature spans six decades. His latest show, The Go-Between opens next week at the Apollo Theatre starring Michael Crawford.
Hello David. Can you tell us how The Go-Between became a West End musical?
Ever thought about writing a theatre blog? In the past, we’ve chatted with top bloggers Mark Shenton and Libby Purves OBE about how they got started. Now, Matt Trueman, regular contributor to The Guardian, New Statesman, Time Out and The Stage has agreed to share his insider tips with us!
How bloggers get started?
How long should a review be?
Which blogs do the bloggers read?
How long do bloggers spend blogging?
Why it’s not always about the big hit shows.
Hi Matt! When did you start writing a blog and what do you wish you’d known then?
*Update – The Stage Review recently announced that Michael will be reprising the role of Joe Gillis on Broadway in 2017*
It’s the role every West End leading man wanted: On 1st April 2016 Michael Xavier will step onto the stage of the London Coliseum to play Joe Gillis opposite Hollywood Icon Glenn Close in Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s Sunset Boulevard. We joined this most charming of West End heart-throbs for lunch to talk Hollywood legends and life-changing moments. Read more →