Sunday, 27 June 2010

An Inspector Calls: Music Music Music

In the days when I was assistant director to Ollie, way before Chris came along I decided that I wanted to add things to the play which would make the production very much our own. I think the problem when you are doing a very well known play is that it can become stale and predictable ever so easily. Both myself and Ollie had already planned a couple of twists to An Inspector Calls to keep it fresh, but in my mind this wasn't enough.

In all my time in going to the theatre I had often noted how music was used in order to create an atmosphere and to heighten our senses to that particular moment on stage. Drawing reference to Avenue Q, "Theres a Fine, Fine Line", stylistically it is different to the majority of the songs, but is used to capture Kate Monster's heartbreak in the show. Its an effective moment in the musical and I wanted to have that same effectiveness in An Inspector Calls. I also knew that unlike many small productions we too would need music. Well its not so much small productions don't need music, rather they tend to overlook the benefits of using it. The only problem was who would do it? If you use other peoples music which has already been published, you risk having to pay royalties. Further more it would not be truly unique to our show. We needed something written for us.... easier said than done surely?

There was only one person with such a passion for both music and theatre who I felt could deliver this. His name - Tom Haggerty. Funny enough it was these very blogs that kindled a friendship between myself and Tom. Like me he very much enjoyed Billy Elliot The Musical, and somehow whilst browsing the Internet (one would imagine only for naughty sites he shouldn't be looking at) he landed on one of my blogs. Tom proceeded to read them, then contacted me. Since that day we have talked regularly and built a fairly solid friendship which is awesome. It was also a moment where I realised that these blogs reach far more people than I ever thought would ever read them which was quite a nice feeling.

Anyhow, back to Tom. I knew he would have some ideas, but I also knew it would be a big ask of him. When I approached him about this opportunity I was expecting a thanks, but no thanks kind of reply. After all he is 16 maybe 17 (I am rubbish at remembering ages) and studying for exams, which he has since completed. Tom instead grasped the opportunity with both hands... well not literally, I spoke to him online, so it would be hard to grasp it with two hands... unless he grabbed hold of his laptop at that exact moment in time or something to that effect... I'm drifting off topic aren't I?

With Ollie at the helm I asked him to contact Tom so as they could work together to make music which would fit Ollie's direction and visions for the play. Though as you will have read yesterday, Ollie was in fact useless. This meant that 3 or 4 weeks down the line from agreeing to do the music Tom still had no idea what was required of him. I therefore took it upon myself as my first big decision as covering director to get the music sorted. I believe it was a Friday evening when I sent Tom a list of what I needed from him or maybe a Saturday... it was the weekend anyhow. I have to be honest with exams in mid flow I didn't expect anything to be done before July.

The following day a facebook notification popped up "Tom Haggerty has written something on your wall". Tom surely wanted clarification on something I had asked of him. No not at all! In fact he had the first draft of a piece of music for the play. That's what you call service. It really captured the feeling I was looking for, and for what Tom described as a very rough draft piece of music I was very impressed, so much so I have lined him up for our society's future projects also. There is still more to come which I am very excited about.

Having Tom on board has allowed us to bring extra dimension to the play. We always wanted to make this as professional as possible and this touch will really help, so if you do decide to come see the show, listen out to the music... thats all the work of Tom Haggerty.

With the music in place we needed to get to work on the read through's, which no doubt I will tell you all about another day.

G x

Saturday, 26 June 2010

An Inspector Calls: Ladies And Gentleman We Are Currently Experiencing Turbulence

Here is where we start with the Inspector Calls bloggings. Its been a long time in the waiting hasn't it? You will have to excuse the fact I am almost 2 months behind, as usual these writings operate on a Gareth time scale, which inevitably is almost always late... a bit like the buses really. Anyhow we will begin right at the beginning... it seems a pretty logical place to start after all.

I must stress at this early stage, the purpose of this blog isn't to have a swipe at Ollie (who you are about to read about). He knows my feelings about him already, so nothing is about to be said which I haven't said directly to him! Anyone who knows me well will know that I don't hold back in letting people know what I think about them, more so if they upset me! The purpose of this blog is in fact to give you... the reader a truthful and accurate account of how the play comes together over the next few months. All I will say at this point is that the truth can sometimes be harsh... but thats life!

I won't lie the early day's were manic, and very stressful. There were changes in the cast as people weren't quite suitable for the roles they were casted in. Its strange, sometimes you can see a person in a role, in your mind... but when you try them out it simply doesn't come together. A further cast member left due to an unfortunate change in personal circumstances, which lead to a shuffle among the actors and the roles they were filling. Though the biggest setback was the group decision to sack our first director - Ollie Grant. The advantage of our society is that there is no one person in power, we all share that, which whilst could be seen as an unorthodox approach to structure and hierarchy... it works for us.

Ollie was taken on as he had a little experience in directing and seemingly had the passion for a new project. He had previously directed a play in Canterbury, I forget what it was called... but thats irrelevant really. We felt this experience would be beneficial, but it transpired he was about as useful to the group as a chocolate tea pot! It leaves you wondering whether his first project was actually any good? Never have I met an individual holding a role of such responsibility who was this useless. His organisation was terrible, and communication even worse! He simply had to go if this play were to succeed.

This left us without a director. I have to admit I think we were all a bit concerned, as its not the easiest role to fill, especially seeing as the foundation stones of the play had already been laid, and the cast was already in place. It would mean a new director would have to be versatile in using the resources he had acquired with the job and blending these with his own visions and directions for the play. I will be honest now, I did wonder whether we would end up just directing this as a group, as I wasn't so sure we could find someone who would be right for the job.

In the meantime I lead the group, seeing as I was assistant director to Ollie. I knew that this could only be a temporary measure as there would be no way I could direct whist carrying a lead role in the play also. I lead the group through the first read through's which I think I did reasonably well. I had been thrown in the deep end and without experience in directing I just used instinct to guide the group forward. The next big development came at the second read through, we decided to discuss recruiting an understudy for Mr Birling. A name came up - Chris Foran. Someone a couple of the cast members had worked with before at a course we had done in the spring.

The following week Chris was on board, and discovered our predicament. At an instant he said that he would be interesting in directing the group, as after all being an understudy he would have the time to do so. Well I was convinced, and also somewhat relieved. Whilst Chris lacked experience in directing, I knew his standards as an actor. I also knew he could lead a group from the days when we were on that same course together. He was well worth a shot, though with just a tiny amount of experience in directing between us, the pending handover of control was going to be messy.

It took in total about 4 weeks for the full handover to take place, but I think we are finally there now. Just like I was with Ollie I have filled the assistant director's boots and between us we have used some of the original ideas of the play and blended them with Chris' new visions. The outcome I think will be something rather spectacular. But more news on that another day!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Less Sometimes Really Is More

If you have been staying up to date with my write ups you will know that later this year I am in a production of "An Inspector Calls". With the lead role sat firmly on my shoulders, I was concerned that the recent West End run of the show would have a huge implication on the way in which we stage our production. This would naturally allow people to draw comparisons from both within the production team, and of course among our potential audience. Comparisons are not normally a bad thing but the issue from this arises when you take into account we'd be operating on a significantly smaller budget that that of the London show, which would mean huge changes to the way the production is staged. Wait... did I just say significantly? That is the understatement of the century.... we have a minute fraction of the money any West End show has!!! So there is no way we could have the same kind of lavish set in the same way the full scale production could have.

I wanted a greater insight to this, and what better way to do it than to see an amateur performance of a show I am extremely familiar with - Billy Elliot. To celebrate the shows 5th Birthday, the production team have allowed youth groups to stage their own interpretation of the show. There are in excess of 100 of these productions going on throughout the UK, one of these being in Woking which is 20 minutes from where I live... much closer than London anyhow! It goes without saying that I opted to go, I was interested in seeing how an amateur group would handle the pressures of performing at a large theatre with a show whioch people already know and love. I was also interested in seeing how the actors conducted themselves in front of the sell out crowd.

In the lead role of Billy Elliot was Max Bowden. I must admit I thought I would tear his performance to pieces seeing as the longest serving London Billy - Fox Jackson-Keen is one of my biggest influences to date. It was inevitable that I would draw comparisons between Max and his London counterparts. But remember what I said earlier? Sometimes comparisons can be a good thing!

Max was in fact very good... excellent in fact. I would actually go as far as saying vocally his rendition of Electricity is my favorite to date, certainly much better than any of the current London Billy's. Vocally he has immense articulation and a strict sense of timing, something that seems to be lacking among the current Billy's at times. He had a huge sense of spacial awareness in his dance routines, and delivered a confident performance throughout.

I know it is quite a bold statement to make, but I think Max is just as good as some of the boys who have played Billy across the globe in the full scale productions of the show, and I am certain that he has a huge future ahead of him in performing arts. I think its just a shame that he didn't have the opportunity to be a London Billy a couple of years ago, as I think he would have been superb in the role.

The other stand out performer for me was the actress playing Grandma. Unfortunately from the programme I couldn't quite work out who she was, which is a real shame as I would have loved to credit her by name. (there were 2 or 3 actresses rotating within the role). Either way she was a natural, confident and despite the huge age difference between the actress herself and the character she was casted as, she managed to recreate all that charm verging on dementia that grandma's have. It was simply fantastic.

I will be honest, I didn't agree fully with elements of the direction within the show, there were huge chunks cut from the West End performance, which I felt detracted from certain elements of the storyline. I wasn't keen on the arrangement in "The Stars Look Down" which is the opening number, and I felt Michael was too much of a diva within this production, which whilst funny at times, i think camped things up a little too much... I just feel that Michael should be more curious than being an outright diva, but that is just a personal opinion. However, within the script which he had to work with the actor playing Michael was fantastic, another natural born to be on the stage.

On the other hand there were some moments which I thought were better handled by this production in comparison to the West End. The moment where "the scab" donates money to Billy is one of these. It was much more realistic. The scab enter the scene as a group (where as in the west end there is just one single person). I feel this would be realistic to the times, as scabs were hated among the strikers. There is no way in reality a single scab would walk into a room of multiple strikers. He would get his head kicked in for Christ sake! So this was a beautiful touch giving the scab safety in numbers. Also I like the fact that Dad decides to use the money at the anger of Tony. In the West End production Dad chooses not to answer Billy when he asks if they can use the money. I like the decisiveness in this scene, it is ten times better than the London equivalent.

Furthermore the roles of Mr Braithwaite and Tracey Atkinson were brought to life and given much more character than the West End performance. They played on Tracey's love for food, which was a great touch, giving the ballet girls a little more importance. Though for me the moment which put the icing on the cake was Debbie's goodbye to Billy - she hands him a cuddly toy in the final scene. This was a nice touch, as Debbie throughout has a crush on Billy, I had always felt it wrong that in the West End production she never said goodbye. So in all there were some great touches which gave the show a lot of substance.

In terms of the set - it was simplistic. Nothing coming out of the stage, no huge chunks of the scenery moving. But it worked. A set of doors at the back of the stage which stood beneath a mezzanine floor accessed by a set of steps. I showed a lot of interest in this as in the London production of "An Inspector Calls" the set is very complicated and would be impossible to recreate without an extensive budget. I was therefore very interested in seeing how the group made such adaptations to the scenery in comparison to the West End set. I thought it was all rather good!

So in all what did I think overall? Well I was rather impressed. Songtime really know how to put on a show, which is no surprise seeing as Leon Cooke (one of the early West End Billy's was in the production team). I think the message from this is that an amateur performance, if done well can match the credentials of a West End show any day... this one certainly did. Lets just hope the show I am in can deliver also!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Some Call Me Gareth, But You Can Call Me Inspector Goole

its time for some big news!!! A couple of times I have mentioned this new and exciting project which I am involved in, but I have never quite got round to telling you all about it. I haven't deliberately been putting it off, but I felt it warranted a blog to itself rather than a swift mention in passing. But it was finding a fitting moment to write the blog thats taken all this time.

For the last year or so I have had my heart set on being in a show, nothing huge... but I wanted all my hard work to progress to something more than another class. I am now part of "The Black Fox Theatre Society". Now there are lots of differences about this group when compared to other drama societies, and in due course I will tell you all about them, but for now I don't want to drift off topic too much. This is partly because it is 1:20 in the morning, and I am sure there are better things that I could be doing than writing my blog right now... but then again who needs sleep anyway?

Well... the next Black Fox production will be their interpretation of An Inspector Calls, a J.B Priestly classic that I am sure many of you have heard of. The West End production of this play closed earlier this year, and I must say although very abstract, it was rather good. The irony is I can remember studying this play at school and not particually enjoying it! But tastes change with maturity,and I have grown rather fond of this little play. Though thinking back to my school days if truth be known before taking on the role in this play, I hadn't read the script in full. It wasn't rare for me to just read notes in English rather than the full book. I got two B's in my GCSE's which for someone who hadn't read any of the GCSE texts in full, I feel is quite an achievement! My approach to studying was always questionable but somehow I always managed to get the results I needed... a bit lucky maybe, but its a technique that has never failed me.

This meant that I would be reading the script in full for the first time in preparation for this play, in which I have the role of Inspector Goole. I guess in some senses this is the lead role, though by my estimations Mr Birling has equal if not more stage time though maybe not as much importance, at least in the audiences eye anyway... oh, I don't know... what I do know is it is all rather exciting and what a challenge for my first show eh?

We are in the early stages of rehearsals, having just completed our first read through's. I would say so far so good. We have a fabulous cast and I think everyone fits their roles so perfectly. Obviously there is a lot of work still to do, but I can see the team we have really gelling.

Now the inspector is a mysterious kind of character, which you would expect. However his mood and personality is also ever altering. This has made it a real challenge for me to get my teeth into. I am not going to be too revealing at this stage, as if there is anybody reading this who would like to see the show, I wouldn't want to give too much away. All I will say is that we have a slightly different take on the entire play in comparison to the West End performance, we just have to hope it goes down well!

The production will be played out in the autumn, provisional dates are set as is a provisional venue, and no doubt when things are confirmed, I will mention it in a blog on here. At the moment though our emphasis has been on fund raising... its not easy for a small drama group to put on a show. The costs involved are huge. So far we have had many donations from lovely members of the public. Mostly friends and family of cast members, but we still have a long way to go. So if anybody reading this would like to support our drama society, then please do let me know... e-mail me or something ( - any support is appreciated, big or small it all makes a huge difference to all the budding actors involved.

And on that little appeal I will call it a day - 1:44am... finished this blog much sooner than I would have hoped! So good night one and all!

G xxx

Friday, 11 June 2010

Liam: My Greatest Influence

"Its not how long you spend with someone its the fact you spent time with them at all"

That introduction of mine, isn't an epic piece of Gareth style philosophy, it was lifted from the TV series "Shameless" a few weeks back. For a show that is namely a comedy, that line struck some chords, after all it is incredibly deep. I am sure anyone reading this can relate to it in one way or another, I certainly can.

As you may have gathered, I have always been someone who generates motivation from others. Within acting and performance there are a select handful of influential people, the elite I suppose you could call them... who stand out over and above the rest, they are the people who guide and shape me within acting. To date I have mentioned all of them, except one. Why would I leave someone who is such an influence out of my blogs? I guess you could say that sometimes people go beyond being influential, and in fact become very special. Talking about people who influence me is just an extension of my acting work, talking of those who are really special to me, takes things to a new depth. A personal depth, which I am not too revealing about. Until now that is! Is it just me... or did that line sound like something you would hear on a TV advert for OK magazine? Like an exclusive or something.

At this stage I will say there are some questions I have left unanswered about myself, all I will say at this point, in the infinite words of a fantastic musical "La Cage Aux Folles" - I am what I am! I have always believed people can take me or leave me for who I am... so as I take these blogs to a new personal level, I will let you draw your own judgements.

So who exactly is this person I have avoided talking about in my blogs until now? His name is Liam Mower. To many he is the first Billy Elliot from the West End Musical of the same name. I have to admit, it does bug me when people only see him as this. Its just like when people think David Tennant did nothing before Doctor Who, he in fact is a fantastic actor who has spent a lot of time bringing to life the works of Shakespeare, having worked with the RSC among other things!

I appreciate actors do get type casted as the characters they are most famous for portraying, however beyond this narrow minded view lays an interesting person with much more depth and character than he is given credit for. Thats how I see Liam.... and yes I am very bias in his favour... I will admit this, but you have to be pretty shallow to think that there is nothing more to Liam than Billy Elliot.

Firstly and foremost he is a fantastic dancer and has been training the bulk of his life to get to the standard he is at now. Thinking back to the 5th Anniversary show, his turns were phenomenal. At this point you will have to forgive my lack of ballet terms, I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, though over the last 18 months I most certainly have acquired a greater appreciation of dance. Liam trains at The Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance in Twickenham, and his standards were head and shoulders over and above anyone else on the stage that night. The hard work he must have put in over the last couple of years is phenomenal.

As a performing medium, I never realised how enjoyable it could be to watch. Two or three years ago I would have laughed off me ever enjoying dance. Liam, among others opened my eyes to this, in essence expanded my horizons. Hell I have even dabbled with a bit of dance myself, I wouldn't have done that if it weren't for Liam. I say dabbled, I am frankly awful in my opinion, but I will always give it a go!

But beyond Liam the dancer is such a nice person also! Ok, I appreciate I don't know him personally, but you can tell a lot about someone by the way they behave around others. I have yet to find anyone who has a bad word to say about the guy! In my eyes he is the kind of person we would all like to know, someone who you are proud to know. Friendly, caring, has time for everyone. The only thing is when you set standards so high, you have to be prepared for your perceptions to be shattered.

I was prepared for this, although I am sure I would have found it hard to digest. I had decided that on the night of the 5th Birthday of Billy Elliot the Musical, I would arrive at the theatre much later than normal. I usually like to be somewhere in good time, however the inevitable crowd of over enthusiastic Billy and Elton John fans was more than I was willing to handle. I was excited however about the prospect of seeing and possibly meeting Liam, not that I knew what to say to him if I did have the chance, I was a bag of nerves and worrying far too much. As I arrived I saw a friend who filled me in on what had been happening around the theatre before the landmark show. I was gutted to find out that Liam had been mingling and chatting among fans, but had since gone back in to the theatre... my opportunity to meet someone so special to me... had i thrown it away in my decision to arrive later than normal?

This meant if I were to meet my idol I would need to meet him after the show... but there would be a party for the cast, and I am sure everyone would be hanging around especially the Billy Forum loyal. My chances were slim, but for me this meant everything. Only issue was whether he would emerge or not. I must admit I don't like hanging around unless there is a cause. But this was a cause and a very important one at that.

I was fortunate enough to be with Rob Carrington, a good friend of mine and his son Eliot who had been in the show a few months before hand. Rob is full of moral support and understood what this meant to me, he urged me to wait it out... and i did.... I waited.... and waited... I missed my last direct train, then the last indirect train home.... I was starting to feel at that point it could be a lost cause, and despite the still huge number of people around I contemplated heading home... well at least somewhere close to home seeing as I had missed my train.

Then at that very moment where I was about to walk away.... Liam appeared. Was it an oman of some sort that he appeared at the very moment I was about to give up? Despite all the chaos with the Billy birthday bash going on, Liam found time to talk to everyone who wanted to talk to him, and pose for photographs. You have to remember he was under no obligation to go meet and greet people, many former cast members opted not to socialise with the fans, so I find it really sweet that Liam built this into his evening. I know it meant a lot to so many people, me especially.

Needless to say this was my chance also, to meet someone who had made such a positive difference to me. I grasped the opportunity, I'd missed my last train home, but it was a price worth paying. I had a nice little chat with Liam, and a photo or two. In reality this was maybe 2 minutes, but to me it seemed to last forever, which is nice. So remember that saying i opened this blog with? "Its not how long you spend with someone its the fact you spent time with them at all", well thats how I feel. Sure I would love to get to know Liam better, I would love to be able to spend more time with him, but the fact I have had the opportunity to spend that little amount of time with him in the first place is something in a league of its own.

For me though it just felt great to thank him for inspiring me so much. A thank you is priceless and can mean a lot to someone. I know if I had ever inspired someone and they told me it would mean a hell of a lot to me. Whats more that evening has inspired me further, think back to that oman i talked of, when he appeared just as I wanted to give up. Now every time I feel like giving up in anything that I do, I think back to that moment and it makes me realise that giving up will bring me nothing.

So there you have it, my biggest inspiration and someone who means so very much to me. Trust me I have only just scraped the surface on why he is so special in my eyes, there is so much more. None the less I hope you have enjoyed this new deeper and more personal blog... its been a hard one to write, its taken a long time to complete purely because its dug deeper than I have ever needed to dig before in my writings. But you know its about Liam... so its worth it!