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    Interview: There’s Always Room on Our Broom

    Tall Stories’ Olivia Jacobs on producing Room On The Broom

    Fans of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s fabulous children’s books will be delighted that acclaimed theatre company Tall Stories are bringing their adaptation of Room on the Broom to the West End this summer. We asked company co-founder Olivia Jacobs to land the broom for a minute and magic up a bit of information about the show.

    Olivia, Room on the Broom is an absolute favourite picture book for children worldwide; you must feel such a responsibility to adapt it well? How do you go about bringing it to life, from page to stage?

    When Room on the Broom was first published, we were hooked immediately, and asked the authors and publishers for the rights. It’s such a brilliant adventure story – with just enough danger, a whole heap of fabulous characters and a hugely positive message about working together. Thankfully both Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler had enjoyed our previous stage production of The Gruffalo and felt that there was room on the broom for us!

    I was definitely nervous to start work on the show and I still feel that same sense of nervousness and responsibility every time I go into the rehearsal room with a new company. I want to ensure it’s always full of life on stage and that audiences leave the theatre happy and grinning.

    It was hard to know where to start developing this beautiful but complex story. We needed to create seven characters: a witch, a cat, a dog, a bird, a frog, a dragon and a mud monster, with a cast of four… We also had the tricky task of flying all of our characters, as well as creating magic spells and appearing a magnificent broom from thin air. No small challenge! We tested ideas in a rehearsal room with some very talented performers and a highly imaginative creative team – which is how we devise all our shows – trying to find the best and most entertaining way to tell the story.

    We finally settled on beginning with a camping trip; four campers setting off for a night under the stars. But nothing goes to plan when they see a witch on a broomstick flying down towards them at full pelt…This opening defines the way in which we tell the rest of the story. If audiences watch carefully, there are lots of things in the campsite scene which later find their way into the tale of the witch, the cat and their adventure.

    Tell us a bit about the music and puppetry involved.

    Puppets have a huge role in this production, and it was so important that we got them right. We had lots of questions to resolve. Which characters would be puppets? What type of puppets should we create? How big should they be? What do they need to be able to do? How many people would operate each puppet? And, of course, what happens when all seven characters are on stage with only four actors – would it be possible to operate more than one puppet at a time? Our puppet designer Yvonne Stone created prototypes for us and we played with these in a rehearsal room to discover exactly what looked best.

    Eventually we decided that Dog, Bird and Frog – all the creatures that Witch picks up on her journey – would become puppets in the show, but we determined that the design of Cat’s costume would link her to the puppet animals too.

    As the characters emerged in the devising room, the design of the puppets developed too. Bird developed long eyelashes, Frog’s leg length increased, and we finally found a way of operating Dog’s tail so he could wag it as enthusiastically as he wanted to. Whilst the puppeteers make it look easy, the puppetry in the show is really difficult. The actors develop very big muscles!

    The music followed logically as the characters became more defined. We wanted a song for everyone who joined Witch and Cat on the broom, so played with ideas of what they might sing about, and why they might want to travel by broom – especially Bird, who has her own wings!

    The show is aimed at ages 3+, but do you find older children enjoy it too?

    We’ve always tried to make shows that work for all ages. Over 60% of our attendees are grown-ups, so it seems absurd not to try to ensure that all of your audience have fun: the show needs to appeal to everyone. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and we often have older children watching alongside younger siblings. My favourite thing is actually when I hear parents talking afterwards: they often seem surprised to have laughed and had a good time, the expectation being that if it’s for their children it couldn’t possibly also be for them! We hope our shows work on different levels and remain a place where three or even four generations can enjoy being entertained together.

    Which is your favourite character in this story?

    This is an impossible question to answer. I love Dog’s enthusiasm for life, Bird’s desire to be loved, Frog’s endless charm, Witch’s scattiness and Cat’s ability to succinctly sum up and deal with any situation. And I’m pretty fond of Dragon too, for all his posturing and pretending to be brave – he’s a big softie really. I can’t pick one character – I have a soft spot for them all!

    It’s twenty-five years since Tall Stories was founded. Have things changed much since you started, and how did you get through the Covid pandemic in the last couple of years?

    When we first started Tall Stories, there were very few companies making work for a family audience, and fewer making cross-generational work. The advent of Harry Potter and Northern Lights (etc) made ‘crossover work’ a genre in itself, with new shows for family audiences springing up countrywide. I hope that we have been even a small part of improving the theatre landscape for family audiences and encouraging others to create great work for this brilliant, imaginative sector.

    Tall Stories itself has grown and developed as a company too. Twenty-five years ago it was just my co-founder Toby and I working from a spare room in a small flat in north London; now there’s a team of seven full-time staff based in the Tall Stories Studio in Highbury and Islington.

    Of course, the last few years have been hard for everyone in the entertainment industry. Our UK tour of Room on the Broom was cut short, and we rushed actors home from Hong Kong, Australia and America during the pandemic. But audiences have been very supportive and have returned to theatres to provide their children with the opportunity to see high quality performance. It feels very fitting that Room on the Broom, a story about pulling together in times of adversity, is back this year.

    Tell us a bit about your charity work, and the Tall Stories Studio.

    We’re hugely proud of the new Tall Stories Studio, which opened its doors last year after three years of searching and building. We now have our own beautiful, light, bright, ground floor accessible rehearsal space, with an office, meeting room and costume store all on site. I love that we are based within Islington’s Central Library, surrounded by stories.

    From our new home we work closely with the surrounding community, providing free accessible performances of our shows for local families who may not otherwise have access to touring work. As an example, we worked recently with local organisations The Hibiscus Centre, The Parent House and Homestart to welcome single parent families, families who have been victims of domestic abuse and refugees who are new to the community to free performances of The Gruffalo.

    Working alongside Islington council, we provide free productions for local school children, who also get to meet and greet the cast after the show and ask any burning questions that they might have.

    Within the Studio space we work with, support and nurture new and emerging storytelling artists and companies through our ‘Studio Share’ programme. We offer artists free rehearsal space to develop and share work, as well as opportunities for mentoring sessions with Tall Stories’ professional team.

    Outside of the Studio we collaborate with a variety of organisations and schemes, such as The Garden Classroom, with whom we’ve provided a unique drama and forest school experience for children aged 7-11, and Hackney Empire’s ‘Pay It Forward’ scheme which encouraged audiences when booking tickets to purchase extras for families who wouldn’t ordinarily visit the theatre. We continue to be amazed by our audience’s generosity: this year we were able to provide a free trip to Hackney Empire for over 100 under-privileged children and their families.

    As a charity, any income Tall Stories receive from our larger scale shows is routed straight back into the company. In this way, we can tour further afield, reach new audiences, offer free performances, accessible performances and develop creative work with young people, families, artists and those who don’t initially see theatre as a possible option for them.

    I may be a bit biased, but I think Tall Stories is an amazing company to be part of.

    You have a background of touring productions, so how does it feel to be settling in to a West End venue for a big long stretch?

    It’s wonderful that we’re flying into the West End for the summer with Room on the Broom and lovely to be working with Nimax and their fabulous team at the gorgeous Lyric Theatre, but we never rest on our laurels. The show will tour the length and breadth of the country between now and April 2023 – visit our website for details about the venues we’re touring to!

    Room on the Broom runs from Thursday 21 July to Sunday 4 September at the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, London. Further information and bookings can be found here. More

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    Guest Post: Quest for The Bed Sitting Room

    John Hewer tells us about The Bed Sitting Room

    On Sunday 3 July, Hambledon Productions, my theatre company, is holding a Spike Milligan Gala Night. A brilliant cast, fantastic guest speaker Jane Milligan, a pop-up Milligan Exhibition, plus more. The headline event of the evening will be a rehearsed reading of an updated version of John Antrobus and Spike Milligan’s post-apocalyptic dark comedy The Bed Sitting Room. But what exactly is The Bed Sitting Room? And why is it overdue a fresh appraisal?   

    2017, and I was looking for a new, big project for 2018 when a friend flagged up that it would be the centenary of the Mighty Milligan… Bingo! The Bed Sitting Room! Rather than trot out episodes of The Goon Show, it was Spike’s irreverent playscript that most tantalised me…

    The Bed Sitting Room seemed just too good to be true. In the early days of the internet (in our house, at any rate, about 2000) an IMDB search threw up this title. Directed by Richard Lester, it was the cast list that made my eyes stand out on stalks! Michael Hordern, Sir Ralph Richardson, Harry Secombe, Marty Feldman, Cook and Moore, Jimmy Edwards, Rita Tushingham… the list just went on. It was practically mythical. No TV broadcast since the 1980s, no VHS release… it seemed fated to remain ‘legendary’ without even being witnessed.

    Then I discovered eBay!

    The film instantly became a perennial favourite of mine. It’s a 60’s smorgasbord, not so much psychedelic, but bleak, garish, topsy-turvy and visually stunning. Yet incredibly, growing up through this nightmarish landscape, cutting through the grim and the absurd, were jokes. Good jokes. Bad jokes. So bad, they’re good jokes. Some jokes which haven’t aged well, true, but also some jokes which are still yet to come of age.

    The playscript and the film adaptation are very similar (John Antrobus, who co-wrote the play and adapted the screenplay, did a remarkable job at translating it to a different medium). However, by the sheer nature of live theatre, it is more stark (more Graham Stark!) while also being more ribald and surreal. The playscript, published to tie-in with the film in 1969, tries its best to ‘keep up’ with Milligan’s frequent liberal attitude towards the original script. However, Antrobus, the brainchild, had the ability to harness Spike’s creativity, while also maintaining his own distinctive style. Putting it simply, when working on The Bed Sitting Room, they were interchangeable and worked as one. Imagine my delight, then, to discover, that not only was Mr. Antrobus happy, and keen, to discuss a revival, but also he wanted to work on a fresh revision of his text alongside me.

    Spike’s rare but always tantalising dalliances with theatre are legendary; likewise, Antrobus’ theatre work is astounding. Arguably, however, their crowning achievement, for stage at least, is the co-creation of The Bedsitting Room. It’s a timeless text. The overall message I take from it is that, if civilisation as we know it were to end, we’d probably begin, in earnest, to restore it to what we already had; without seriously questioning what we were going back to. And there are elements of that as we continue to emerge from the pandemic, and there are certainly tensions revolving around that with the outbreak of war in Europe. And on this blank canvas of a new, theatrical world, Antrobus’ and Milligan’s writing, their surreal characters and their anti-establishment messages flourish.

    This was an amazing time. John, an extremely gracious, and also extremely busy chap, and I spent three months working on The Bed Sitting Room for a 21st century audience (the play had not been performed on stage since the 1980s). John’s enthusiasm matched mine, and Jane Milligan, who took time out from her own busy schedule appearing in the West End in a production of the musical Kinky Boots, put me in touch with Norma Farnes, Spike’s former secretary and now custodian, manager and promoter for Spike Milligan Productions for nearly forty years. Norma was now settled in Spike’s former office at No. 9 Orme Court (known colloquially as The Fun Factory); a roomy, ornate, bay-windowed Georgian terrace. Accolades and personal keepsakes were everywhere. I struggled to focus on our meeting, I was so in awe of my surroundings and the ongoing situation. It felt as otherworldly as Spike’s own Goon Shows.

    Norma ultimately had to decline the project; she was already co-producing another centenary tour; a bold and excellently executed recreation of The Goon Show as a live radio recording, co-produced by Spike Milligan Productions and Apollo Theatre Company (who, incidentally, we’ve teamed up with to co-produce a UK tour of Steptoe and Son Radio Show. Shameless plug!) This meant that, not only could she not afford the time to ensure that the show would be a fair recreation of Spike’s seminal work, but she was also concerned that there would be a conflict of interest when it came to tour booking. Like so many projects, the idea was postponed until parties were free… Never an easy task. For Norma, it sadly proved to be an impossible task; she passed away at the age of 82 in 2019.

    As we began to emerge from the pandemic, in early 2022, with the fifteenth anniversary of Hambledon Productions looming ahead, my thoughts were ‘go for gold’; ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ And so I approached Jane Milligan, now a director of Spike Milligan Productions, and John Antrobus. They were both happy for us to revisit the possibility of staging The Bed Sitting Room. Result! Coincidentally, 2022 marks sixty years since the play premiered, and also twenty years since Spike’s passing.

    The evening will star Jeremy Stockwell giving his quite dazzling interpretation of Milligan. I first saw him become Spike in his stage show A Sockful of Custard at the Edinburgh Fringe with Chris Larner, and, together with all the critics, I was amazed by his mimicry and sheer Milligan energy. Jane Milligan, having performed recently in the West End in Magic Goes Wrong, will also be joining us, in a live Q&A session as we salute the Might Milligan.

    Spike Milligan Gala Night will take place at Riverhead Theatre in Louth on Sunday 3 July. Further information and tickets can be found here. More

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    Interview: Shining A Female Light on Diversifications

    Kaara Benstead on bringing Diversifications to Old Red Lion

    Diversifications is a female centric play about three women who meet in the waiting room to receive the results of their genetic testing. Each has something that the others desire; children, career or freedom. And all desire change.

    A year on from that first encounter, their husbands and partners meet, this time to examine the choices the three women made on that fateful day one year ago.

    The play promises to look at the male versus female perspective on topics as wide ranging as marriage, love and parenthood. And it promises to do so with plenty of humour, however serious life may get.

    Ahead of opening at Old Red Lion on 16 June (tickets here), we caught up with the show’s producer Kaara Benstead to find out more.

    What attracted you to the script originally and made you want to produce this play?

    I really liked the journey the play takes you on through each of the couple’s stories. I also liked that two of the female characters are 40+ and 50+ in age range, as I do not think there are enough acting roles for the older female. The play made me feel all different emotions as there are laugh out loud moments even with the play being about a serious subject. I wanted to produce it as I wanted to have an all female creative team and I do not feel there are enough working class female producers in the industry.

    The play is described as female centric, does that mean it explores its themes very much from a female perspective?

    You do get to hear the men’s perspective and also what each couple went through and the different dynamics in the relationship. It is female centric as it is about the women’s choices and why they made those choices.

    Without giving too many spoilers, it appears that the three women don’t survive to the end of the play, does this make it a sad play or can you still be upbeat and celebratory even when there appears to be so much death present?

    The audience knows from the beginning of the play that the women are dead, as the men meet on the anniversary of Samantha’s death to try and understand why the women made the choices that they did. The play has a whole range of emotions including a lot of laughter as we explore the relationships between the couples, the women and the men. The characters are very relatable and I think people will resonate with the different characters and their approach to life.

    As producer, how much input do you have in how a play develops?

    I have been onboard with the project since 2020 and we have had two read-throughs, one on zoom, one with an audience. I have been a part of all the organising from finding a theatre, to finding the cast with help from Jane Frisby Casting. Sitting in on auditions, finding the creative team, finding a rehearsal venue and all the little things in between. Natalie Ekberg (the writer) has been a massive support with everything and we have regular meetings to make sure everything that needs to be done is getting done. I am also performing in the role of Corinna, so now we are in rehearsals that is when I focus on the acting in the rehearsal room and leave Jess (Barton) is in charge!

    That’s Jess Barton from Fight or Flight who is directing, what does she bring to the play that made you want her onboard?

    We had been looking for a Director for a while but none of them felt right. Jess came recommended first through a theatre contact (Miranda Harrison from Page to Stage) and then through The Old Vic’s call for theatre professionals on Twitter. We reached out to Jess and sent her the play. When we met afterwards, to discuss it, we were impressed how much Jess ‘got’ the play. She connected instantly to the topics we were exploring, she found the play funny yet emotional, she appreciated the pace we were aiming for and she was up for the challenge that the play offered – connecting multiple time lines through multiple characters, who never leave the stage!

    I felt from the beginning of the process that we needed a female Director. With Jess, we didn’t need to explain any intentions behind specific lines, she understood it all instantly.

    And what is it you hope the play will say to its audience, and what they will be discussing back in the pub over a drink come the end?

    When the play was first performed as a short play, the organisers of the evening had to halt the debate that followed. The whole premise of the play is about life choices. We believe the audience would discuss why the characters made their decisions and whether they were justified. They will discuss if they, as individuals, understand and support these choices or whether they condemn them. There will be parts of the audience who will disagree with the actions of some of the characters and that’s ok with us. We want to have a debate. We want the audience to think about the fact that we should pursue our dreams in life while we can and not wait for a specific moment.

    Many thanks to Kaara for taking time away from both producing and rehearsals for Diversifications. The play opens at Old Red Lion 16 June and plays until 2 July. Further information and tickets can be found here. More

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    Interview: Bringing Science Into Theatre

    Curious Directive’s Jack Lowe on Spindrift, merging Science with Theatre

    Curious Directive are an award-winning theatre company in Norwich, specialising in science-based theatre. Right now they are putting on Spindrift, the first play to be performed in their new Studio Theatre.

    Always keen to get out of London for a short while and smell fresh air, we took a trip to meet up with Jack Lowe, founder and Artistic Director of Curious Directive, to find out more about the show and this new theatre in Norwich.

    Curious Directive love a bit of science and discovery in their theatre, Jack! Can you tell us how that came about?

    I trained in France at the Lecoq school. In their first year there’s this amazing set of classes about the poetry of basically everything, from colours to words – finding physicality with all of them. That to me, as a young theatre-maker, was eye-opening. It made me realise that the challenge of revealing concepts – which can be perceived to be ‘dry’ or ‘abstract’ – can often in fact reveal achingly beautiful moments of theatre.

    This production deals with the story of one particular family living in Maine, USA. How are you able to bring them into the world of science?

    Our lead character, Carol, is a Quantum Biologist, having just won a Nobel Prize for her work. The show explores what happens when your research is suddenly brought into the world’s gaze.

    Spindrift is a rather unusual name for a play: what does it refer to?

    It’s a boat my Dad had when he was alive. It’s that moment two waves crash into each other, creating an elegant spray. The word, the idea, reminds me of him.

    Tell us a bit about the cast and how you’ve collaborated to devise the show.

    Kate Shention and Katherine Newman worked on the original production and Sophie Steer and Amanda Hadingue are new to the ensemble. They are all devised-theatre ninjas. They are more like four co-directors alongside me.

    The idea of Quantum Biology sounds a bit intellectual: will we be able to keep up with the smart stuff? Is it going to be all academic?

    If your readers have every been to a Curious Directive show, they’ll know we’re careful with this – i.e we’re careful with the particular challenge of the theatre area of science. It’s the same with this one. We make it funny. We make it profound. We press the point that even some of the greatest scientific minds to have walked this earth struggle to wrangle with it. But we give the essential stuff, the stuff that makes you feel welcomed into our storytelling space.

    You’re performing in a new studio space in Norwich; can we expect some of the cutting edge tech you’ve used in the past in this new venue?

    The show plays out over headphones because one of the narrative hooks follows two podcasters. Our work does use cutting edge tech, but we talk about it less and less – mostly because I don’t think audiences (I have the evidence!) are THAT interested in the tech.

    And is the show staying in Norwich, or do you plan to tour it?

    Plans are always afoot to take our work further afield. However the last two years have made us feel a little sensitive about grand sweeping statements about where the work is going next. But as always, it’ll be somewhere interesting!

    Thanks so much to Jack Lowe for taking time out to tell us about this fascinating production.

    Spindrift is playing until Saturday 4 June, 7.30pm at Curious Directive, 49 Elm Hill, Norwich, Norfolk, NR3 1HG. Tickets and further information can be found here. More

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    Interview: Hanging Around in Ealing

    Anne Neville on directing Hangmen for Questors Theatre

    Martin McDonagh‘s Hangmen first played at Royal Court in 2015. Richly praised for its writing, set and dark humour (including our own 5 star review), it tells the story of Harry, the 2nd best hangman in the country, at the time that hanging is abolished. The play would go on to a successful West End run as well as success in America.

    It’a a big play in so many ways, and so a very brave, yet exciting, one for Questors to decide to tackle. This lovely Community theatre in Ealing, with its auditorium main space, is an increcible place to have on your doorstep if you happen to live in West London, so here at ET we’re always happy to chat with them about their work.

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    It was our pleasure therefore to catch up with Anne Neville, the director tasked with the challenge of bringing this big budget play to their stage in June. (3 – 11 June, further info here.)

    The play was an incredible success when first performed, can we assume you saw the original production then?

    What made you decide you wanted to take on Hangmen?I had directed The Cripple of Inishmaan (another of McDonagh’s plays) in 2016 and loved it. I have seen many of McDonagh’s plays and being English born Irish like him, I know where he’s coming from.

    Yes, I was lucky enough to see the original production a Royal Court in 2015 and loved it!

    Hangmen feels a very daring play to take on, given it is only seven years old and widely lauded as something special at the time, do you find it daunting to be attempting it?Yes, especially the very demanding staging required for this production.

    How do you cast such a play, do you have a wide pool of actors wanted to take part in Questor productions?Well this is our second attempt at staging it. The first was cut short by Covid in March 2020. We lost several members of the cast due to other commitments but the main players are still with us. McDonagh is a real draw for actors . We do have a good pool of actors but some parts in this require very specific skills. And then there’s the accent!

    Rehearsal photo’s, courtesy of Evelina Plonytė

    The story revolves around the end of capital punishment, and whilst that may seem a dated concept, do you feel it still has plenty to say about 21st century attitudes towards punishment and retribution?Yes, I do. There are a minority of people who would have hanging back if they could,  but it is important to look at the effects on those who suffer it and who carry it out.

    The humour within Hangmen is rather dark, do you feel that’s easy to replicate?We find it very funny and in rehearsal it is a gift. It has aspects of Pinter and Joe Orton. PC it is not! It does require very precise timing and expression to get right and we hope we have achieved that.

    And is such dark humour something you think there is an audience for in Ealing?Yes, I do, especially in these dark times. Humour is often all we have to cling to.

    The play was highly praised for its amazing stage design, something we assume Questors budget can’t quite match? How do you get around such limitations with your production?We are fortunate in that our Artistic Director is a professional Set Designer. We have also had a professional set builder on board so the staging, we hope, will serve the play extremely well.

    Without giving too much away, there are also a couple of very graphic scenes in the original play (the title should give away what we’re referring to!), again, how do you replicate such scenes on your own stage without the recourse to all the technical equipment we assume was in use for Royal Court?We have had a professional flying company with us to set up and train us in its use.

    Our thanks to Anne for her time chatting with us. Hangmen plays at Questors Theatre 3 – 11 June. Further information and bookings can be found here. More

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    Interview: Dictating To The Estate

    Nathaniel McBride on his new play looking at events prior to the Grenfell Tower Fire

    Dictating To The Estate is Nathaniel McBride‘s play that looks at the housing estate where the Grenfell Tower sits. But it isn’t directly about the fire, but rather the years preceeding it, when the estate underwent major redevleopment. It explores how local resident concerns were ignored and how so many factors came together that would ultimately lead the the tragic fire.

    The play felt important and one we wanted to give plenty of attention to. So as well as this written interview you can also listen to Nathaniel tell us more about it on our Runn Radio podcast here.

    You can also support the production by donating to theie crowdfunding here, this will help finance all production costs and assist the play in reaching a wider audience.

    The play looks at Grenfell pre-fire – what made you want to tackle it from that angle?

    The play is about how the fire came to happen, and that means looking at the events that preceded it. It is often said that the Grenfell Tower fire was avoidable. This is true, but understanding how it came to happen means examining the many acts that could have been taken to avoid it, but weren’t. The play is partly about these: not only acts of omission, but also positive refusals to act, which were taken by wide variety individuals, from government ministers to council officers to building contractors, over an extended period of time.

    And what can you tell us about the sources you used to research your writing?

    The main initial source was the Grenfell Action Group blog, which was kept by Edward Daffarn and Francis O’Connor, two residents living on the estate where Grenfell Tower stood. I was also able to get hold of some minutes of council meetings, as well as its regeneration plans for North Kensington. But the original problem was a general shortage of information.

    This changed when Phase 2 of the public Inquiry came to cover the events dealt with in the play. Suddenly I went from having a relative lack of material to being overwhelmed by it. Among these new documents, the most revealing were the private communications among councillors, council officials and TMO officers, which showed the real attitude they held towards the residents they were supposedly appointed to serve.

    A lot of information came from blogs published prior to the fire, have you tried to use as much of the text verbatim where possible to keep the original words?

    My method is not to add or change any words, but I do edit, often quite rigorously. From a blog post that is several hundred words long I might, for example, use just a couple of dozen words. The issue then becomes one of ensuring the edited text retains something of the essence or intent of the one on which it is based. Whether I have done this successfully will be for others to judge.

    Have you had much involvement with local residents and those affected by the fire itself during the writing and rehearsals for the play?

    We have worked in contact with the residents we represent in the play. We asked their permission to use the evidence they presented to the Inquiry, sent them copies of the script when it was finished, and several have now met the actors who will be playing them. More generally, we have tried to keep all the bereaved and survivors involved in what we’re doing through Grenfell United, the organisation that represents most of them. We held an online reading for them last year, and this year we are holding a special performance for them at the beginning of the theatre run. We are also currently fundraising for a mental health worker to offer support to any audience members who may be affected by the content of the play.

    You’ve clearly tried to highlight that it was not one single thing that caused this tragedy – but do you point a finger of blame at individuals or have you tried to show it was not one event or one person but a series of them?

    What has most clearly come out of the Inquiry is that the failures which made the fire possible were systemic, and extended over a wide range of different institutions. It wasn’t just one thing that failed, but a whole series of things. In saying this, I don’t mean to exonerate the individuals involved,  but my own view is that it was the dysfunctional regulatory and supervisory systems, weakened over many years, that probably had  the greater influence on the outcome of events than any particular individuals. That is not to say that the arrogant and disdain attitude of the authorities towards the residents did not play a part. Nor is it to deny that, if we ask who or what made these systems so dysfunctional, we often find ourselves coming back again to certain powerful individuals. David Cameron boasting that his government would ‘kill off the health and safety culture for good’ is a case in point.

    How vital has the information that has come out during the ongoing public inquiry been?

    This has been key, and has enabled me to substantially rewrite and – I hope – improve the play. Perhaps the most important material to come out has been the revelations about what was going on behind the scenes at the council and the TMO, and in particular how senior officers and councillors were actively pursuing ways to silence residents and dismiss their concerns. At the same time, the Inquiry has been a vindication of the criticisms and concerns brought by the residents.  

    What is it you hope people who watch the play will leave thinking about?

    I am hoping the play might have particular relevance to people living in social housing, and especially those who find themselves in conflict with their landlord. I don’t know if it will be much practical use, but I would like to think that it will give them a sense that they are not alone, and that the problems they face are common. While the residents of Grenfell Tower were victims, they were not passive victims: they repeatedly warned the council about fire safety issues, and when they saw the refurbishment of their homes was not being properly carried out, they organised and fought to hold it to account.  It is important that people know this.

    And by staging it at Maxilla Social Club are you hoping that local residents will want to come and see it? Have you already had much feedback from them at all?

    This is what we are hoping. Maxilla is a North Kensington institution, and has been an important meeting place in the campaign for justice for the victims of the fire. The venue has also let us set our own ticket prices, meaning we can keep them affordable. Our hope is that some people who would not normally go to see a play at a conventional theatre will come to Maxilla.

    As for feedback, we did a stall last week on Portobello Road where we distributed flyers for the play, and I have to say the response was very positive.

    Our thanks to Nathaniel for his time to chat with us.

    Dictating To The Estate plays 31 May to 12 June at Maxilla Social Club. Further information and tickets can be found here. More

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    What are the Rules About Vaping at Theatres in the UK

    Watching a movie with friends is an entertaining and relaxing experience. Many add to this experience by sharing a vape while watching the screen. Many gatherings of young people include vaping, whether it’s a game night, movie night, or a party. This is just something fun that doesn’t require any effort or attention and improves the vibe of the place.

    While you have the freedom to vape whenever you want in your house, it’s not the same in public places. There is no blanket ban on vaping in most places, but it is frowned upon.

    For example, it’s unlikely anyone will ask you to stop vaping in a pub, but this might not be the same in restaurants.

    No Theatre Allows Vaping.

    Theatres are a great source of entertainment and people wouldn’t be wrong to want to vape while watching a movie on a big screen. However, no theatre in the UK allows vaping indoors.

    While many people like the smoke and smell of the vapes, not everyone shares the same taste. Even if they were to enjoy the vibe, one wouldn’t want their kids to be influenced by it. If you are vaping around kids in the theatre, it’s likely they would want to do the same.

    There is also talk about how the smoke can worsen the quality of air indoors and that it contains particles of nicotine. This means we can’t blame them if they don’t want vapes around them when sitting in a closed hall. If you want to enjoy a movie while vaping, you should look for a small local theatre that might not have any specific rules.

    Another option, which can be pretty expensive, is to get a home theatre. You will need to buy a big LCD and some good speakers. With the right setup, it can provide a better experience than the theatre.

    Follow the Etiquette.

    Just because you love vaping doesn’t mean that everyone shares the same sentiment. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and they have the freedom to choose their lifestyle. This world is just as much theirs as it is yours.

    If you want to do something that is still a little controversial, and rightfully to some extent, you should be one compromising instead of asking others to live with it.

    You should learn about the etiquettes of vaping indoors and follow them to the best of your ability. Respect others and educate yourself. If someone asks what you are doing or tells you how harmful it is for you and them, stay polite and answer them with facts. This way, they might become more open-minded.

    On the other hand, if you are to misbehave, they will associate this behaviour with vaping and vapers. It will only add to the superstitions and controversies already surrounding the vaping community.

    Vaping is Considered Almost The Same as Smoking

    Many people can’t differentiate between vaping and smoking. Some even consider it worse.

    This is one of the biggest reasons why many people have to avoid vaping in public. While it isn’t something a kid should do, many unjust negative stereotypes have been associated with it.

    The government hasn’t imposed any law on where you can’t vape. It’s the rules created by individual business owners. If we don’t follow their rules while on their property, they have the right to ask us to leave.

    If you are to find yourself in such a situation, it’s best to stay polite and adhere to their rules. If they are providing a good service, you have nothing to complain about. They create these rules to please the majority. If vapers were in the majority, they probably wouldn’t have these rules in the first place. More

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    Interview: Delivering For Arcola Outside

    Director Nico Rao Pimparé on Rainer

    Arcola Outside 1 – 18 June

    We’ve all heard of the gig economy, a labour market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. It’s certainly not new, but it is something that is becoming more and more normal in today’s ever-changing society.

    One of the big drivers that has grown the gig economy is our desire to have everything delivered immediately. Not just your Amazon parcel, but takeaways and last minute groceries needed for tonight’s dinner. Which leads us nicely to Rainer, a new play coming to Arcola Theatre Outside in June. It’s about a solitary delivery rider called Rainer, the type you probably see passing you on the street all the time but never really think about once out of sight. The play followers Rainer as she cycles from job to job, creating stories in her head to help pass the time. But what happens when someone close disappears, and what effect does such a job have on someone’s mental health?

    We slipped on our lycra shorts, hopped on our bike and headed out to meet up with director, Nico Rao Pimparé to ask more about the play.

    What is it about Max Wilkinson’s writing that attracted you to direct Rainer?

    Max has a unique, poetic and witty approach to text. His plays are as funny and incisive as they are dramatic. Rainer is the story of a young woman who stands for thousands of Millenial Londoners who love the city, but cannot seem to find their place in it. When first reading the script, I felt that Max had captured a very real part of London, that I belong to, and that I never see in TV, film or theatre. His frenetic, non-realistic writing mirrors the cynicism, but also the exuberance of our generation. Its disjointed nature makes it all the more closer to life.

    The play feels as if it is going to be set very much on the streets, and Rainer will be doing a lot of cycling. How do you plan to portray this on a stage?

    Rainer (the name of our protagonist in Rainer), does indeed do a lot of cycling! But I might disappoint you here – we don’t actually have a bike on stage. The story focusses on Rainer’s emotional and mental journey, on her friends, her family, her boss, her therapist and her love life. You will feel like you have travelled from the grimiest streets to the most exclusive parties, to clubs, to parks, and to chicken shops.

    From reading the press release, the play feels a mix between a look at the loneliness of the job and a tale of a missing person, what is it we can really expect when we come to see the play?

    Expect to laugh, cry and be moved by Rainer. The play does not tell you what to think. It is not an academic study. It is simply the story of one woman, struggling to find a direction in life, sometimes struggling to keep on going, and yet finding the resilience and humour to persist. Rainer is much more than a delivery rider – her brazenness and her curious and satirical outlook on life paint an unexpected and rebellious portrait of London. Expect to fall in love with Rainer, and to hate her. I can’t tell you too much without spoilers, but I know for certain you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.

    She is a delivery rider, which Max has experience of doing as a job – have you discussed the job with him so you can get those small details into your directing?

    Of course. And so has our actor, Sorcha Kennedy. But the reality is that most of us, me included, have lived under the poverty line (currently set at £276/week) for many years. That’s the real issue. The mentality and outlook on life that comes with that kind of subsistence living, is the more nuanced and complex thing to look at. You can’t make it up. We have a twisted view of poverty in this country, we don’t realise how eclectic and varied the people who live below the poverty line are. I have lived in squats, eaten food out of bins, and preferred walking to taking the bus to save money. I won’t speak for others, but I can guarantee that that’s the norm in our industry, and for many young people currently living in London. There are too many depictions of Millennials in the culture that romanticise their mode of life, and not enough that give an honest and realistic picture of what their life is really like. Understanding that picture is what I have in common with Max, and what attracted me to this project in the first place.

    Do you have much contact with Max as you rehearse the play, or is their role as writer now done and you keep them at arm’s length? Are writers all different in how they get involved at this stage?

    Max and I do like to discuss and collaborate. This project was first born as a work-in-progress showing last October. The script has gone through many transformations, which I have read and given feedback on. Similarly, I’m keen to get Max’s opinion on my work – he’ll see a couple of run-throughs during rehearsals. But for the most part, he sticks to writing and I stick to directing!

    How are you planning to get Rainer’s daydreaming across to an audience?

    Through the magic of theatre! No – seriously, the whole piece is like a very long daydream. It is monologue, so it lets us into Rainer’s thoughts and lets her dream with her.  But I can’t tell you too much without revealing the plot. Sorry. You’ll have to come and see it!

    It’s probably safe to say delivery riders are almost invisible to most of us, out of our thoughts the moment they are out of sight. Has working on this play given you a new appreciation for them?

    Yes. And I think it does to most people who’ve worked on the play or seen it. The world of delivery drivers is fascinating – you can have anyone from a Colombian PhD student to a mother of three trying to make ends meet. And more broadly the play gives you an insight into the psychology and the intensity of the gig economy, and of what it is like to be young and broke in London.

    The play is going to be on at Arcola Outside – does this space feel appropriate in gicing the impression of being out on the streets of London?

    Yes – the space has been an amazing find for this play. The sights and sounds of London provide the backdrop for our play. Sometimes you won’t even be able to tell whether a sound is sound design or actually a helicopter flying overhead. Also – the sun sets over the course of the play, so you begin in broad day light and end in a much more intimate, dramatic environment. All of these are really very exciting challenges to work with. The play is about the city, and distinctly set in the city. It’s very appropriate. But don’t let the ‘outside’ space worry you too much – it is a gorgeous, covered and very cosy venue!

    Our thanks to Nico for taking time out of his day to chat with us.

    Rainer will play at Arcola Outside from 1 – 18 June. Further information and bookings can be found here. More