DumbWise Theatre Presents: Sophocles’ Electra

Electra Banner

With their national reputation for re-imagining classic and modern stories into ground-breaking shows, DumbWise are one of the most exciting theatre companies currently creating new works for contemporary audiences. This month they bring their reinvention of the murderous Greek myth Electra, told as a lyrical modern epic with a live punk-rock score, to London’s newest Off-West End theatre The Bunker. We caught up with DumbWise Artistic Director John Ward on his inspiration for this brilliant new musical work.  

A few years ago I saw Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother, and it blew me away.
The opening was incredible; a string orchestra hovering in mid-air, suddenly hijacked by a full-throttle metal band which levitated above them, while down on the bare stage a troupe of dancers fizzed and crackled with energy. There was a punk-like energy to the choreography which was astonishingly original and very addictive. I’d never seen ‘dancing’ like it before, nor since. The world of music was also incredibly rich. Beautiful middle-eastern scales blended seamlessly with hard-rock drum rhythms and classical music; demonstrating perfectly how sound worlds can create vivid and pregnant theatrical atmospheres. As a director who works with actor-musicians and pursues the boundaries between live music and theatre, I always love seeing productions where the energy and the sound of the music are integral to the ‘life’ of the production.

Electra Rehearsal

Backstage on the Promotional Photo Shoot for Electra

The sheer scale and ambition of the piece was breath-taking, but there was more to it than that. Even though the cast was huge, it celebrated a kind of ‘poor theatre’ that is very brave; bodies in the space, music and layers of meaning. I was dreaming up our latest production of Electra at the time, and the themes of revolution, oppression and liberation chimed strongly with our adaptation. This production gave me the confidence to explore these themes through language and live music, and the license to do so whilst embracing DumbWise’s own brand of ‘poor theatre’.

Electra is playing at The Bunker theatre 27th February – 24th March.
Click here to buy tickets.
The play text will be published by Oberon Books on 27th February.
Pre-order your copy here.

 

Electra

The Bunker

Dumbwise

 

Advertisements

Jen Silverman: A Playwright in 5 Queeries

Jen Silverman

Jen Silverman is the award-winning New York based writer, whose formidable theatre work has been taking U.S. stages by storm. As independent theatre company antic|face bring to life the UK premiere of her outrageously funny, yet undeniably poignant new work Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties (showing at Southwark Playhouse until 17th February) we put our questions to of one of Oberon‘s most exciting new playwrights.

Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties showcases the lives of five Queer women who collide at the intersection of anger, sex and ‘theat-ah’. As they meet, fall in love, revel and rage, they realise that they’ve been stuck reading the same scripts for far too long. What are your thoughts on Queer representation in theatre? Have we been ‘reading from the same scripts for too long’? 

We’re finally seeing more queer protagonists in theatre, as well as in TV and film, which is thrilling. But we’re not there yet, especially as it concerns queer women. A lot of amazing material by and about gay men has entered mainstream culture — this of course is a good thing, but it highlights for me the relative invisibility of queer women even within stories about the LGBTQ community. I think this is partially the reason why queer women’s identities are seen in straight culture as more ‘negotiable’ than those of gay men. The gay male identity has been visibly established via a multiplicity of complex and sympathetic protagonists; queer women, however, are much less visible, and therefore still seem ‘up for grabs’. Gay male narratives are and remain crucial, but I would argue that we can do better on the *queer female side of things.
(*queer is intended here as an umbrella term for lesbian/bisexual/gender queer/trans women, etc.).

In Collective Rage Betty 3 finds inspiration and purpose after going to the thea-tah. What inspired you to write for the stage? 

Betty 3

Betty 3 Stages a Production of “A Summer’s Midnight Dream”.

I wasn’t raised going to the theatre – I stumbled into it by accident when I was 18 or 19 and was absolutely electrified. I thought I’d discovered something secret and magic, I thought that nobody else had ever felt the way I was feeling… and then I grew up and participated in the super-not-magical industry of making a living from theatre.
But I’m still inspired by that remembered feeling of theatre being a secret shared directly with me. When I’m making a play, that’s the feeling I write from: Let me tell you something that’s just for you. My work isn’t for everyone – it’s a little twisted, pretty queer, the comedy is dark and provocative – and I’m OK with the fact that some people love it and some people hate it. For me that’s the whole point of theatre: if you hear me, I’m talking to you. If you don’t hear me, there’s a bunch of other playwrights out there whom you might hear and love. We each need to find and witness the plays that were made for us, and that we were made for – the second you feel that down-the-spine thrill of ‘this is a secret made for me’, then you’re home.

After entering a rage that doesn’t make Betty 1 feel any better, she decides to throw a dinner party. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? What would you discuss?

My theatre-family and I spend a lot of time cooking dinners together – we often make work together, sometimes out of town, and we usually end the rehearsal day with a small family dinner. So I feel like in some ways I keep having the dream dinner party… but, if I could invite those who have gone before, I’d really want a chance to sit down with Sarah Kane and Ted Hughes. I have so many questions for both of them – about the things they made, about how much of themselves they put into their work and how much they tried to bury or encode. Oh yeah, and Edna St-Vincent Millay. She was wild. She’d be an amazing dinner companion.

Betties 4 & 5 spend a lot of time working on their trucks and discussing love. What are your other passions/pursuits outside of writing?

I write in a number of different media – I have a collection of interlinked stories coming out 1st May with Random House called The Island Dwellers, and my day-job at the moment is writing for a TV show in LA. When one form of writing becomes the thing that pays my rent, the other forms start to feel like hobbies – in a deliciously free, exhilarating way that makes me want to spend my free time practising them. Social media feels daunting for me, but the way I’ve been able to participate is by creating an Instagram platform for a particularly depressed panda who goes on adventures (@this_panda_is_sad, if you’re curious).

After watching a documentary about lions, Betty 2 is compelled to share something profound with us. What was the last thing you saw (documentary, film, play, etc) that made you to feel something profound?

I absolutely loved Ruben Östlund’s The Square. It’s incredibly subversive – you think you’re being taken on one kind of journey and it’s actually a completely different and much bleaker one, but hilarious. I love work of any kind that can successfully pull the rug out from under me. Recently, I’m obsessed with the poet Kaveh Akbar. I’ve been reading Calling A Wolf A Wolf over and over again. Everything that his brain does is surprising and beautiful and raw. I just keep going around like a lunatic, giving different friends copies of his book, saying, ‘read this, read this!’. The last time I did that was Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts – her entire body of work is an obsession of mine.

Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties is out now at Oberon Books, and is also included in Jen’s first plays collection Jen Silverman: Three Plays.
To find out more about Jen Silverman, you can visit her website.

CR Banner

Introducing The Believers Are But Brothers: The Award-Winning One Man Show From Javaad Alipoor

 

The Believers Are But Brothers is the bold new one-man show from writer and theatre-maker Javaad Alipoor, which explores the smoke and mirrors world of online extremism, anonymity and hate speech. This blog is taken from the introduction to the play, written by Madani Younis, Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre.

TBABB 3

 

Against the backdrop of fake news, Trump, Iran, Mugabe and the ongoing reality of Libya, Syria and Egypt, we are living through a time in which political ideologies on the left and the right are being both stretched and unpacked in new ways. Exposing, uniting and revealing both sides with unprecedented speed of reach are social media. These platforms have empowered both the alt right in the US and ISIS in the Middle East but also the people of the Arab spring who organised on Twitter and Facebook in 2011.

The Believers Are But Brothers reveals how important technology is to democratise, assimilate, re-imagine, provoke and disturb culture – in a word, it’s power. This play looks urgently and questioningly at the quality of the disruption of communication that’s taking place.

TBABB 4

As someone also from Bradford, who has known Javaad for many years, it comes as no surprise to me that an artist like him should be making work from a perspective that rarely reaches our stage. His voice has emerged in a city soaked in political resistance. It’s the home of The Mills, the Asian Youth Movement, the Chartists and the Independent Labour Party. He sits within a long tradition of artists like Noël Greig, Fun-Da-Mental and Albert Hunt, facing inequality of class, gender, sexuality and race.

To understand the play, we have to understand Javaad’s work in the city’s communities: his proactive engagement with government over counter terrorism policy since 9/11 and the grassroots activism he’s been engaged in with educating young people at risk of radicalisation. The Believers, like the rest of Javaad’s art, has been made from discussions with those who wouldn’t usually engage with mainstream theatre. This play reveals aspects of a narrative unheard and unspoken in the popular imagination, which extend from his involvement in the city of Bradford.

The Believers shows that the ideas of extremist fundamentalism are not ideas privileged to brown folk, or people of colour from the Middle East. It puts on blast the level of intolerance that exists online and exposes the homophobic, racist and grotesquely sexualised things people are willing to say in chat rooms and forums. There is deep cowardice in the digital anonymity of contemporary extremism. It is freedom of expression without accountability and so we each have our own responsibility to know about the dark web, 4chan and the unfiltered threads of reddit. We need to consider as a society how hateful voices can be made answerable, not to censor them, but so that they are not shielded by anonymity.

TBABB 5

Kirsty Housley’s collaboration with Javaad [on The Believers] has clearly informed the theatrical language of the play, a great example of artists tackling material together that feels so raw. The play shares with its audience the journey of its making from a sense of honesty. There’s no trickery. It doesn’t make you feel like a fool. It’s saying from a generous place, “I don’t know what these things ultimately mean but they surprised me and should surprise you. What are we gonna do about this?”

Having seen each stage of the development of this work, I had a real sense of what it was going to become visually and theatrically. What I couldn’t predict was how people would respond. It has been applauded for its ambition, technological innovation and divisive subject. Edinburgh Fringe tends to have pretty white, liberal audiences who in general are good people wanting to understand this stuff better. But for me, as someone who is brown, there was something powerful in knowing – with how few of us there are – the courage and the risk and emotional understanding expended to tell these stories in our own words.

The Edinburgh Festival has often been a harsh reminder to me of what privilege in British theatre looks like. But Javaad, alongside Selina Thompson, Yolanda Mercy, Urielle Klein-Mekongo, Inua Ellams and many more, stood out at Edinburgh in 2017 because they spoke of something that was uncomfortable but was so necessary. It confronted audiences with realities that were not their own. Before Javaad, we had not found a language to talk about the things in this play. Ultimately, it reminds us all of the importance of theatre.

The Believers Are But Brothers will be published by Oberon on 24th Jan, and is showing at The Bush theatre 24th Jan – 10th Feb.
Pre-order the book here.
Buy tickets to the show here.

 

The Writer’s Toolkit

 

Books for writers – to enlighten, encourage and inspire!

Oberon Books proudly announces the launch of The Writer’s Toolkit, which gathers together a list of helpful guides and inspirational memoirs to encourage and inspire professional and aspiring writers of all kinds.

Written by some of the finest practitioners in their fields, including David Quantick (Veep, The Thick of It) Ron Hutchinson (Moonlight and Magnolias, Traffic) and Glyn Maxwell (One Thousand Nights and Counting, Drinks With Dead Poets). Covering genres from screenwriting to journalism via poetry and drama within their pages, there’s a book for every type of writer.

As the UK’s foremost publisher of plays and books on the arts, Oberon Books is also fast becoming the go-to publisher for those who teach writing, and their students. The Writer’s Toolkit comprises six titles in all, with full details, blurbs and reviews being found HERE.

Books in the Series

Clinging to the Iceberg – writing for a living

Today’s the official publication day for a book that’s somehow managed to be funny and helpful in equal measure. Clinging to the Iceberg: Writing for a Living on the Stage and in Hollywood is wickedly funny, insightful, often absurd but always true. Writer-for-hire Ron Hutchinson takes us through his successful career via hilarious anecdotes including a near-death experience on Venice Beach, being paid by Dreamworks to not actually work for them, and struggling to stay sane on location on one of the great movie flops of all time. Here, Ron shares a checklist of sorts, for writers to consider before deciding if a draft’s complete. We hope you find it as helpful as he does!

What follows are some of the things you’re looking for when you read each draft. A stern warning. This is not to be read as a check-list, a series of mechanical actions to be ticked off. It’s a cloud, a swarm of suggestions put deliberately in no particular order.

The process of creation is messy, with mis-steps and false starts. It’s partly about your brain but it’s also about gut instinct which you’ll develop as you write. There are intestinal flora in the gut which react to stimuli faster than the organs of consciousness.

That’s why we say we feel things in our gut and I can confirm for you that one of my tests when I read a draft is whether my stomach is unsettled. When the writing goes wrong I literally feel my skin prickle and my temperature rise. In time you will be as attuned to the material as that.

The following are the things I watch for as I endlessly re-read my drafts. Sometimes quietly to myself, sometimes playing the characters. I do this not as an academic exercise but because they will help in going forward to the next draft. Anyone treating them as a tool for analysis will be escorted from the premises.

  • Does a scene seem to go on a beat too long?

  • Are all the scenes of the same length so there’s no rhythm to it?

  • Does a character you love have too much to say for themselves?

  • Are you assuming the reader/viewer will love him/her just as much and could you be wrong?

  • Do the jokes work?

  • Are you trying to do in dialogue what the camera will do with visuals?

  • Is what you think you are saying actually on the page?

  • Are you clear-eyed about the difference between what happens in a script and what it’s about?

  • Are two characters trying to do one character’s work?

  • Does A lead to B and B to C so that there is a chain of cause and effect from beginning to end?

  • Does what happened in scene three pay off in scene ninety-five or is it just there because you’re too lazy to strike it through?

  • Could you put the script aside and tell it from memory in one go? If you try that and keep stopping are you willing to examine why you hit a hiccup?

  • Could that be because there is no inner structural logic so it’s this page, this scene, this line where it’s all going wrong?

  • Have you understood that there’s real life time and movie time? That one of the joys of writing for the screen is that you can manipulate time, collapse it, and expand it but that one of its miseries is that even with the different conventions of movie time (the flashback, the flash forward, the reprise) you are locked into a linearity? That is, you can only have the viewer follow one darn thing after another and that split screens never really work as an attempt to get around this?

  • Are you clear that the screenplay is saying just enough to get what you see, literally see and hear, literally hear into the head of the person who is going to read it? That you haven’t mistaken it for an essay or short story or novel which must be complete in itself on the page? That it’s okay, indeed necessary, to have lots and lots of

    white space

    on

    the page

because otherwise the eye is wearied and your characters are talking too much and keep on talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and what the reader wants to know is what is going to happen next?

As in happen. As in event. Because if drama is indeed the impact of event on character you need to have an external event pressing on their inner life and you are going to need your character express what has happened to them in some externalized, physical way.

Ron Hutchinson & Jonathan Ross

Clinging to the Iceberg is available from our website, here.
You can listen to Ron Hutchinson’s interview with Jonathan Ross here.
Or read about his memories of Marlon Brando on the set of The Island of Dr Moreau here.

BRAVADO – a foreword

BRAVADO is acclaimed artist Scottee‘s first published piece for the stage. It is a memoir of growing up surrounded by alcohol, violence, and a culture in which there is only one way to be a man. This blog is taken from Scottee’s foreword to the book

Sometimes you have to say things that may annoy folk because it’s the only way into discussing a painful truth. My painful truth is that I fear working class men.

I don’t like being around them, especially when they are drunk. I fear their capabilities, their loose tongues, banter, unpredictability, fast tempers and their appetite for violence.

I don’t like being on a train or bus, or waiting in public when groups of working class blokes are present, I fear encountering football supporters, stag do’s and lads on a night out – I worry what they might do to me, what they might say, what might happen – I fear their potential.

I hate talking to working class men, being in changing rooms or public toilets with them, going into boozers, greasy spoons or DIY shops. Any space working class blokes dominate creates a recognisable response of sweaty palms, my eyes darting around the room pre-empting danger and an umbrella of worry.

However, this fear isn’t one sided, it’s a mutual exchange of fear. They fear me and my effeminacy and they find it hard to hide it. They stare, they point, they laugh and nudge each other. Sometimes they take photos of me, sometime they chant insults or point me out of a crowd.

I pose a threat – I look like a man but I’ve abandoned the rules of so-called normative masculinities. To use the thinking of Nando Messias, I “misalign masculinity” and in doing so I wonderfully fail at traditional maleness; men are competitive and so this failure, this weakness cannot go unnoticed. It’s exposed because, in their eyes –  why or how could someone get it wrong? This exposure is a veiled misogyny – why would you devalue yourself from maleness? Why would you “choose” effeminacy?

Scottee

To complicate matters, I also love working class men, I am working class and some people might call me a man (an identifier I refuse). I’m married to a working class man and I’m sexually attracted to working class men. For the record, I refute this to be fetishisation – I’m not a middle class tourist seeking some rough trade in adidas tracksuit bottoms. I am rough, I am common, they are me, I am them – perhaps that’s where the biggest threat exists, that I represent the fragility of their commandments.

I equally loathe and love working class men – I live with a complex version of Stockholm syndrome or ‘trauma bond’ because of my violent, dominant encounters with blokes. These thoughts are often only truly understood by working class femmes who sleep with men – an unspoken contract of love and hatred we share but cannot shake, leaving us in a complex head space of feeling loved and used simultaneously.

In 2016, sat in a pub in Yorkshire, I opened my laptop and decided I would attempt to cleanse myself of this unearthed fear, dread and worry. I purged all of my early, formative experiences with working class masculinity into a document, the result is my first text for stage.

BRAVADO includes four very graphic accounts of what happens when a child is subjected to working class maleness in a cultural climate of aggressive and sensitive masculinity. Its explores sexual and domestic violence, post traumatic stress disorder, abuse and revenge.

What you should know is that this work comes with a massive dead weight of familial guilt – the stories recounted are of family who have since changed their stripes, who have fought their addictions and demonstrated to me their capabilities of love, softness and affection. They have turned their lives around. But BRAVADO doesn’t explore that, only because this text explores my world from 1990 to 1999.

It’s important I mention that this work also comes with lashings of fear – I fear what might happen by putting my experience out there. I fear drawing attention to myself so men can see me plainly. I fear what the men in question might do should they find this text. What happens should they read the fact I’ve got brave enough to out them but not brave enough to confront them. This is how maleness and misogyny succeed: they live off our fear and off their potential – it’s time to relinquish it.

This book isn’t an easy read for you or me. You have been warned.

– Scottee, August 2017.

You can learn more about BRAVADO and order your copy here. Find out about BRAVADO on tour, and buy tickets here

Remembering Sir Peter Hall: 1930-2017

There will be many tributes to the great Sir Peter Hall. As his publisher it is only right that I add my own fond memories.

My association with Peter began in 2000 when his then agent, Mike Shaw of Curtis Brown, invited me to lunch at Bentley’s oyster bar in Piccadilly. The choice of a smart venue already told me that it was to be an important conversation. As Mike focussed his penetrating gaze on my every move, for about an hour the conversation seemed to meander around various topics until I asked “Mike you haven’t brought me here to talk about love, life, art and death. What is it?” ‘Peter Hall’, he said. Mike wanted Oberon to publish The Peter Hall Diaries and Peter’s autobiography Making an Exhibition of Myself. My first question was ‘How much?’, and I played cool when the answer came. But both books had already been published and allowed to go out of print. Not wanting Oberon to become a reprint house, I stuck my neck out and said ‘Would we get the next book?’

The swift answer was ‘That will be another £…..’ ‘Done,’ I replied, still acting cool. We shook hands on the deal and from then on Peter and I developed a warm and exciting working relationship.

Peter Hall Rehearsing The Oresteia, 1981, ©Nobby Clark

It was a turning point in Oberon’s history. We were 15 years old and the list was a lot shorter than it is now. But Mike had persuaded the great man that we were going places. It was arranged that I meet Peter with his publicist Lynne Kirwin at a small seafood restaurant in Chelsea. The meeting went well and the restaurant (Le Suquet, now gone) became the hideaway where Peter and I would meet from time to time and discuss his new ideas for books in privacy.

The overnight turn-around in Oberon’s fortunes was like Manna from Heaven. The great Sir Peter had turned to this small publisher in Holloway, while we were still struggling for credibility and prominence in the theatre industry. The mood changed. ‘If they’re good enough for Peter Hall, then they’re good enough for me.’ So went the buzz round the Business, in particular literary agents who had mainly dealt with the big publishers.

So we surged ahead with the Diaries, the Autobiography and a new book, Exposed by the Mask, Peter’s Trinity Lectures on Beckett, Pinter, Mozart and Shakespeare.

‘The wisest and most stimulating short book about theatre since Peter Brook’s The Empty Space’ Charles Spencer, Sunday Telegraph.

Peter became ever more loyal and ever more meticulous about the preparation of his books. As they say, he liked to get the ink on his fingers. He missed nothing, and he taught me many things about my own job. How does a book on acting become a real and useful teaching tool? It was Peter who shaped the layout and typesetting of Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players making a complex guide look simple. Often criticised for being an ‘Iambic Fundamentalist’ when it comes to Shakespeare, Peter stuck to his guns. He didn’t like actors inserting pauses and line breaks where none were intended. It all had to come ‘trippingly on the tongue’ as Hamlet says to the Players.  I understood what he meant when I once heard an excruciating recitation of a Sonnet by a student actor who inserted pauses you could drive a bus through. It broke the flow, we lost our focus, and it was an emasculated performance.

Peter Hall, Dec 2007 ©Nobby Clark

We launched Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players at the National Theatre. On the way I picked Peter up at a church hall in Clapham where had had been rehearsing all day. Arriving at the National just in time, Peter stepped out of the car, walked straight into the building to the vast stage of the Lyttelton, and delivered a thirty minute talk to a full house without using any notes. Afterwards, he patiently signed books for many fans waiting in a very long line.

Ever in awe of Peter I always topped my emails with his full title ‘Sir Peter Hall, CBE’ before the more familiar ‘Dear Peter’.  I once asked him why he chose Oberon to publish his work. His response was unequivocal. ‘You publish new writers.’ That enthusiasm for new work ran through his career. He must have known that he was giving new writing a massive boost by joining Oberon.

I tried to return his loyalty whenever there was an opportunity. When Peter and his team were in Denver mounting Tantalus, the ten play cycle by John Barton, there was a dispute over cuts. So I rang his secretary at the Denver residence in case any cuts would be made to the text. It soon became clear that happiness among the team was in short supply. So I offered to take everyone to dinner to cheer them up. ‘But you’re in London!’ Well, it’s only a six hour flight and I was in Denver by the next day. For politeness’ sake the booking had been made for the coffee shop in a smart downtown hotel. A coffee shop? This would never do, so I rushed to the other end of the building to the hotel’s grander restaurant. Passing Peter and his secretary in the lobby I heard Peter say ‘He sussed that out in thirty seconds.’ But there was still an obstacle ahead. The Maître D said imperiously that the restaurant was fully booked. I despaired. I had just flown in from London to take eight people to dinner and no table. Only a bold gesture could help me now – the time honoured $100 bill quickly produced out of my back pocket. A table was promptly found.

At the start of dinner I studied the wine list with prices soaring to $4000 plus. Peter leaned over and whispered in my ear. ‘James, a $50 bottle will do.’

I still adore him.

Peter Hall, 2009 ©Nobby Clark

– James Hogan, Publisher, Oberon Books