I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle
I Capture the Castle based on the novel by Dodie Smith Book and lyrics Teresa Howard music Steven Edis

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sovremennik's Cherry Orchard

On Friday I witnessed the final, and most moving, of the Sovremennik productions at the Noel Coward Theatre. I understand completely now why Chekhov wanted this to be played as a comedy (as it most certainly was in this production) - because as a comedy the real pathos is allowed to leak through. The final scene, with Mme Ranevskaya and her brother Gayev crouching in the candlelight taking one last look at their childhood home was heartbreaking. Neelova who played Mme Ranevskaya had a strange resemblance to the young Prunella Scales, in billowing organza. Her performance was agonizingly wonderful, girlish, sensual, passionate - a woman who has tried to hide from loss but it clings to her and drags her away.

I had an excellent stalls seat for the second half, in a deal I made with one of my fellow queuers, who took my standing place up in the gods for the second half. As I stood applauding this magnificent production, amongst the Russians in their furs, I realised that I would miss going to the theatre with them all. It has been an exciting week, steeped in Russian history, their wounded longings and wild passionate extravagance. With the Chechen bombing in Moscow overshadowing this trip I wonder what the next episode of their history will be.

Thursday, 27 January 2011


Last night I went to Kings Place to see MASS CARIB, a black mass written by Felix Cross, one of the members of the BML Workshop. It was performed by his theatre company, NITRO. The mass was part of an evening about Haiti, the terrible living conditions of the people there and their struggle to survive with the help of associations like PLAN. I was mesmerised by the stirring music, exciting harmonies and rich tones of the singers in this tapestry of musical form which stretched across many continents. My Catholic upbringing has left me with an affection for the art and music of the church, even though I turned away from its path long ago. The words of the mass, even spoken or sung in Latin, stir strange old memories and associations.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

MATILDA coming to West End!

The Whatsonstage Twitter has announced that the RSC musical of Roald Dahl's novel Matilda is coming to the West End in November! This RSC production is a sell out smash hit by a very original collaborative team - playwright Dennis Kelly (Pulling) wrote the libretto and the wonderful Tim Minchin wrote music and lyrics. It is directed by Matthew Warchus and orchestrated by Christopher Nightingale.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Into the Whirlwind

Last night I went to see INTO THE WHIRLWIND, a production by the Sovremennik Theatre, from Moscow, at the Noel Coward Theatre. Interestingly this was not a new production but a very old one, which has been part of the company's repertoire for twenty years. It was impossible to buy tickets for the production by the time I found out about it, so I queued up outside the theatre on the day of the performance and got some standing tickets for £12. Luckily someone in the audience decided to give up his seat and so I did not have to stand after all, although it was difficult to see well in the slips, where my seat was.

It turned out to be a gift in another way, because I found myself sitting next to a group of young second year actors from RADA. They were working on the stage adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov, based on the Novel by Dostoevsky, and had come to see this show to get inspiration. During the interval I found myself deep in conversation with Maria, a vibrant young Irish actress, discussing Beckett, Pinter, Buchner and or course the Russians and "Stan the Man".

The Sovremennick Whirlwind was based on Evgeniya Ginzburg's memoir 'Journey Into the Whirlwind', about the horrific journey Ginzburg went through in the prison system in Russia during the 1930's, on trumped up charges. It was a shock to see so many women on stage, telling their stories of that time - an Arabian Nights of Russian Prison life. Each woman represented a different attitude towards the government at that time and it appeared clear that there was no real reason for any of these women to be in prison, merely that they were to be sacrificed to the numbers desired to be sent away in order to cleanse the old system.

I was less excited by the play itself than by the production and the experience of watching actors who have given their lives to Stanislavsky's craft. In a Russian company like this, actors stay for life, and it did seem clear that there was very little young blood in the show. The main character Ginzburg herself was played by an actress (Marina Neelova), who was a wonderful actress but twice the age of Ginzburg in the story, and I could not help feeling that maybe we would have felt rather differently about the character if her playing age had been the same as her own. But it was moments like the suicide of one of the prisoners when we saw the full extent of the craft - there was no rope, her feet were not off the ground, we never saw her go into the space to hang herself, and yet her body appeared to be hanging in mid air and was a shocking and awe inspiring moment. The actors lived their parts so utterly it was breathtaking. As the applause came at the end, and the twenty standing ovations that followed, the actors never once broke from their characters, even as they took the flowers.

The company's head of literature Evgeniya Kuznetsova said of the Russian actors "There is an intensity, an emotional abandon that maybe Europeans like you are not used to. This combines with a detailed and organic exploration of each character's tragedy – the tragedy being that they understand the world only as a reflection of their own ego." I thought about this and wondered if perhaps she did not realise how intensely Stanislavsky, Meyerhold and Grotowski are studied by young actors here. But it is the fast turn around of productions and the death of the old repertory companies here which have changed things. In companies like Kneehigh though we have a similar ensemble form of theatre but they would never have the money and recognition to mount a production with so many actors or be able to keep them all together for twenty years. Even if they did, would this be a good thing?

The director Galina Vochek feels that Into the Whirlwind is as important now as it ever was "for me this play is primarily a warning. Yes, this method of destroying a human being and violating dignity is in the past, but what will the future bring? I am pleased when I see young people's faces after the performance. I think this play will serve as an inoculation: you cannot allow yourself to humiliate another human being."

I have always had a fascination with everything Russian and went to Moscow and St Petersburg in 1985, before Perestroika. Watching this production has made me feel that I want to go again and to see how much it has changed and feel certain this will all inspire new work in some way. How I am not sure yet, but I feel there is a lot to learn from Russian Literature and theatre and their struggle.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Book, Music & Lyrics Expands its Programme

The Arts Council Grant received by our Book Music & Lyrics workshop has enabled David James to expand its programme for 2011. Besides the Librettists Workshop, it will add a Composer/ Lyricst Workshop, which will be led by Tim Sutton, David Firman, Steve Edis and Joel Fram, to develop the craft of musical theatre songwriting.

It’s website (http://www.bookmusicandlyrics.com) is currently being updated to reflect these developments, and should be revised by the end of the week. Please check it for specific application criteria, dates and location. It will run over approximately 30 weeks, split into two terms. Deadline for applying for the Librettists Workshop will be 25 February  (to begin early March) and for the Composer/ Lyricist Workshop will be 11 March (to begin at the start of April).

Monday, 17 January 2011

Book Music and Lyrics all set for 2011

We have had confirmation that the BML (Book Music and Lyrics) Workshop, run by David James, has received an ACE grant for 2011.  This means that we will be able to add a lyrics and music workshop to the already running librettists workshop.

This workshop is based on the New York BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop which has been nurturing musical writing in America since 1961.  David James was a member of the New York BMI for many years and so is able to pass on his knowledge and expertise to this long awaited UK workshop.

This is the most exciting and productive workshop group I have ever belonged to as a writer.  David was very careful in his choice of writers and in the year that we have been together it has become a very close knit and productive group.  Many of us have had workshops and productions of our work and the workshop nurtures new writing and a hot bed of discussion about the forms and technique of Musical Theatre writing.   This is the kind of thing the Arts Council needs to develop and I am ecstatic that they have recognised that what is happening here is worthwhile.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Holman Hunt at the National Portrait Gallery

The Pre-Raphaelites are very much in favour at the moment.  Artist Ilinca Cantacuzino has just told me about an opening I missed, focusing on Holman Hunt's life and work, at the National Portrait Gallery.  It will be running until 6th March 2011.  The exhibition is to mark the centenary of of Holman Hunt's death in 1910.  It is a selection of photographs dating from the 1860's to 1890's of Hunt and his family and the Pre-Raphaelite circle.

Monday, 10 January 2011

THE POETRY OF DRAWING at Birmingham Art Gallery

It is definitely going to be a very big year for Pre-Raphaelite art in 2011.  Since hearing of the Exhibitions at the V & A and at Two Temple Place in London I have now discovered that there is going to be an exhibition on the Poetry of Drawing - Pre-Raphaelite Designs, Studies and Watercolours at the Birmingham Museum starting on January 29th.

Pictured above is a previously unseen drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  The model is clearly Jane Burden, wife of William Morris (the main character from our musical POSSESSED) and the Watercolour is entitled Mnemosyne.  It was painted is 1876 and has remained in a private collection since the death of Rossetti.  The watercolour is a study for the oil he painted, called Mnemosyne or The Lamp of Memory, which is now held at the Delaware Art Museum.  I saw the painting in Delaware on my trip to the States in 2008.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Before deciding upon I Capture The Castle as our next project I toyed with the idea of adapting Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, but discovered that the rights were not available.

I have now found out why.  There is a German adaptation of the show which is being translated by Christopher Hampton and is possibly coming to the West End at the end of 2011.  The German book and lyrics are by Michael Kunze and the music by Sylvester Levay.  The English version is going to be directed by Micheal Blakemore.

It has also been produced in Tokyo, Hungary, Finland and Vienna

Rebecca is set in 1930's England, like I Capture the Castle, and so I am very interested to see how they handle this story.  You can hear one of the songs from the show on the website at http://www.rebeccathemusical.com/