Thursday, 14 April 2016

Not for me: Chris Thomson on Shakespeare, Wotsits & creating Twelfth Night

I’m semi-excited.

Chris Thomson in rehearsals for Twelfth Night
I’m sitting in a temporary pre-fab English block that might conceivably be made out of quite thick paper, there is no heating, and it’s January sometime in the late 90’s. We have to endure a double period of English before lunch, sat in our hats and coats, under the jurisdiction of Mr Harrison; a six and a half foot, lanky, sad-sack of a man whom is visibly terrified of the modern teenager and always wears a look on his face that is very similar, I would imagine, to that of a balding and particularly melancholy basset hound. The present mood, in this room of under-insulated 12 year olds, is that of ‘not-excited’. However, the rank of the excitement is promoted to ‘semi’ (ooh-er) when Flop-Sweat Harrison hauls the VCR and TV set into the room, rattling along on its crappy little trolley.

We have been studying the Scottish play. Lanky Harrison has been doing his best to get us to engage and understand some of the text but he’s struggling. We have been particularly focused on the scene involving the drunken gatekeeper, which is supposed to be comic relief apparently, but I can’t see it at all, I don’t understand it. In fact, I don’t really understand much of the play at all, we have been looking at it for two months and I’m still not quite sure what the whole plot is. I know there are witches though, Big-and-Long Harrison has tried to push the witches; ‘Witches are cool right?’ In a presumably desperate attempt to get us to engage with the play, he has found a video of it in the school library and he’s whacked it on before slumping down behind his desk in a clammy crumple. We sit through it, because anything is better than doing actual work. We are all agreed that it seems terrible; the gatekeeper scene is still not funny, probably because we still don’t understand what the hell is going on. It finishes, Mr Tall-and-Moist heaves himself up from his chair ejects the cassette.

“So, what did we think of that then?”

“Well Sir”, Danny Wiggum, class anarchist, “I thought it was wank.” A giggle arises from the small hoard of his mates through a heady haze of pre-pubescent sweat and Lynx Africa.

“And why is that Danny?”

“It’s just not for me, Sir.”

‘It’s not for me.” Well, isn’t that the problem? 400 years since Shakespeare started writing, with the intention of entertaining everyone, and here we are at a point where the world has skewed the intention to the point where Shakespeare seems to be perceived as for the academic, artsy and privileged audience. Looking back at that classroom I can see it starts right there. I don’t know how it is approached in school now, but if it hasn’t moved on then I’m sure the young teens of today are on the back foot about the whole thing, just as I was. Now, in fairness to Sop-Flop Harrison, that version of Macbeth was crap. I have seen it since and it is still ‘wank’. But look at that gatekeeper scene now and I can see it as no other thing than an absolute gift. A gift for me; the actor, and for everyone else; the audience.

Richard Soames as Feste in Twelfth Night
Grassroots open with Twelfth Night today. It has been nothing but an absolute privilege to watch and help our company build this show from the text up. I am slightly sad; as many of the moments I have seen flourish over the past few weeks I probably won’t be seeing again, as I will probably be neck deep in card games and Wotsits in the dressing room. I won’t get to see Toby drunkenly dancing along to Feste’s love song again, or to watch Malvolio pondering wittily through his letter, or to appreciate Olivia chasing Cesario around the room with abandon. I shall have to enjoy them all in an audio manner. What I can promise you from all of this is that Grassroots do not do theatre ‘for them’, which is certainly what seems to happen more often than not, I have seen enough heavily conceptualised Shakespeare to know. They take Shakespeare right back to its roots, where the highest priority was the audience and to tell them a story.

Emily Jane Kerr as Maria in Twelfth Night
Jim Conway brings you a pompous yet charming Malvolio. Darrel Davy has built you an Antonio in the form of a tender gentle giant. Richard Soames’ Feste is a wonderful pondering puppet master. Emily Kerr’s Maria is ballsy and endlessly energetic. John Pickard brings to you a brilliantly bumbling and oblivious Sir Toby Belch alongside Benjamin Bonar’s precision comic delivery of the tragic underdog, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Kit Lloyd has found a Sebastian that is curious and impulsive with an infectious energy that is a joy to behold. Tamaryn Payne’s Olivia is clever and refreshingly light and an excellent match for Ellie Nunn’s fearless Viola. Duke Orsino appears in the smouldering form of Louis Labovitch. I’m there as well, lolloping around, playing the Priest and the Captain, both of which I’m told are passable incarnations at the very least.

We made it for you. All of you.

Twelfth Night runs at Leicester Square Theatre from the 5th April to the 14th May.

Come and see it. It is really quite good.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Benjamin Bonar on rehearsals, Grassroots style!

We are currently in our week of previews and as we look forwards to celebrating Shakespeare 400 from the heart of the West End, that you would like to have a last glimpse into the Grassroots rehearsal room! Take a peek.....


Friends, Romans, Countryman lend me your ears! Gather around, pull up a pew, take a load off, maybe grab yourself a beverage? Or a light Snack? Light some candles? Put Enya on. What I am trying to say is make yourself comfortable, it’s blog time.
Benjamin Bonar in rehearsals for Twelfth Night as Sir Andrew Aguecheek

I deliberated over whether quoting Mark Antony was appropriate considering we are currently working on Twelfth Night, but then I remembered we are Grassroots, and we do things a little differently.

Last night the springs in my mattress decided to buckle, essentially creating a vortex in the centre of the mattress that no matter how hard I tried to fight I could not escape that blackhole of uncomfortable-ness-ness. I have no idea why this happened? I was not, despite what my landlord may think, doing back flips or engaging in any other vigorous activity… Sigh… This resulted in me getting about 2 hours sleep, and considering I have recently had to give up caffeine I’m sure I don’t have to explain what it was like coming into rehearsals this morning. 

But I will anyway, it felt like this:

If you can’t be bothered to follow this link it’s basically of a deer screaming like a human. I suggest you watch it. It’s funny. 

Richard Soames (Feste) in rehearsals for Twelfth Night
So by all accounts today should have been awful. But it wasn’t. In fact, I would go as far as to say that today I had a great day. From the moment I walked into the room and was greeted by my fellows I couldn’t help thinking how lucky I am. You see we actors are a funny bunch. We live to work. We are truly happy when we get to practice our craft, and make no mistake, it is a craft. We work

tirelessly to make what we do look effortless. To make you smile, laugh or cry. To remind you what it is to be human. We are but your humble servants. All that we do, we do for you.
Tamaryn Payne (Lady Olivia) & Chris Thomson (Captain)
in rehearsals for Twelfth Night

I hope to see you all at Twelfth Night. I believe we are creating something magical. The cast and crew are some of the finest people I have had the pleasure of working with. I am inspired by their talent, their passion and their bravery. I am sure you will be too.

And with that, blog time is over. It should be noted I am currently writing this whilst sitting on my new mattress. 

All’s well that ends well…

Just to be absolutely clear we are doing Twelfth Night.

Ellie Nunn (Viola) and Louis Labovitch (Duke Orsino)
in rehearsals for Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is at Leicester Square Theatre, celebrating Shakespeare 400 from the heart of the West End until Saturday 14th May.

Tickets are available from