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Tag Archive | "Edinburgh 2012"

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Spotlight On: Last Chance Saloon

Posted on 11 October 2012 by Laura Turner

Fresh from a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, absurd comedy theatre group Last Chance Saloon are preparing for the London Horror Festival, where they’ll be introducing audiences to a rather scary sex symbol: Dracula himself. But the ultimate gothic maestro is about to meet his match in Last Chance Saloon’s show, Dracula: Sex, Sucking and Stardom, as he embarks on a quest to star in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Co-founder Sam Dunham tells me more about the compay’s unique brand of guilty pleasure theatre, keeping the Michael Buble spirit alive and how what they do is about so much more than making people laugh. Though they certainly manage to do that too.

Where did the idea for sexing up Stoker come from?
We love taking classic stories and giving them a modern, comic twist. The Count is a mysterious, ageless, elusive creature. I mean, he’s automatically a sex symbol and who better to play him than young Jack [Faires – co-founder and cast member). I was, yet again, overlooked. Anyway, vampires are having a real moment, thanks to Twilight, Being Human and the very post-watershed True Blood. But we thought, instead of casting Dracula as the classic archetypal villain we could make him a camp Michael Buble wannabe. We want to appeal to Robert Pattison fans but also to those seeking an antidote to vampires that sparkle.

So how would you describe the show?
It’s about the battle between the world’s most famous count (and his desire to take over the world and star in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical) and his arch nemesis, the strangely accented Professor Abraham Van Helsing. We create an hour of slick, deft theatre comedy using liberal interpretations of pop songs and ridiculous characters that’s a mix of Charlie Chaplin meets The League of Gentlemen. Lastly, it’s about having a good time, letting yourself go and laughing.

Do you find that a blend of comedy and horror work together well on stage? Audiences obviously respond well…
Horror and comedy are one of those things that you maybe don’t expect to go well together but just do, like peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Both subvert the audience’s expectations but when blended together can actually be very powerful in taking the audience on a roller coaster of feelings – hopefully one which will leave them laughing after!

How did the company itself come together?
We spent three years at Italia Conti together, and Jack and I founded Last Chance Saloon in 2009 a few years after we graduated. Our first production was A Wet-Wipe, a Dog and a Caravan, which we took to the Udderbelly for the Fringe Festival in 2009 and then transferred to London. As an actor in the industry you quickly realise how much of a small cog in the machine you are and how little control you have over your lives. Forming Last Chance Saloon and writing shows for ourselves was a way of wrestling back the creative control, so we could create our own work and put it on in the way we wanted to.

And what you created was “Guilty Pleasure Theatre”?
Guilty Pleasure Theatre’s sole purpose is to put a smile on your face. It has its roots in Vaudeville and turn-of-the-century music hall performance and continues through the work of Charlie Chaplin, Morcambe & Wise and more recently can even be seen in The League of Gentlemen. It can be a mix of high-octane physical comedy with audience-pleasing quick-witted knowing humour. We try and continue in that tradition. Last Chance Saloon aren’t here to educate – we want the audience to forget about their woes and their bad day at work, and indulge in a bloody good laugh.

I’m imagining that using pop songs helps with that?
We got tired of the hard-hitting serious theatre we were watching so decided to create a show that was fun and, first and foremost, made us laugh. This turned out to manifest itself as Count Dracula singing Barry Manilow numbers and local Transylvanian Gypsies talking about goats. The fact that a lot of other people found this as amusing as us is fantastic but I don’t think Last Chance Saloon will appeal to everyone.

Your performance style is pretty quirky. Was that intentional when you started?
We didn’t really tend to think about our performance style; we just wrote a script, which we then discarded in the rehearsal room and started to devise some routines both physically and vocally. Once we’d found these routines we drilled them to make them as slick and precise as we could. We are massive fans of physical comedy and believe greatly in the power that even the smallest gesture can say an awful lot about what you’re trying to achieve. So while the routines in our show could be seen as choreographed, they all start from a place of fun, play and messing around!

Your “messing around” certainly went down well at the Fringe…
For one awesome month you suddenly feel like a mini-celebrity, people who came to see your show the night before stop you in the street to congratulate you, you get recognised when you’re having a drink afterward, your picture is in the paper. And no, nobody sleeps for the whole month. And then it all comes crashing down when you arrive back in London again. But it’s an amazing experience – it’s like summer camp for comedians and actors.

Now it’s over and you’ve got good reviews under your belt, is the pressure on?
The pressure is on us to write another great show, but that is something that’s never going to leave. However, we all thrive on it and it’s a pleasure to do. Good reviews are just a lovely bonus and something to show our mums.

What’s next for Last Chance Saloon?
We’ve had such a good time this year and we’d love to keep building on that. We’re starting to plan our next show (already!) which we may take up to Edinburgh again. In the meantime though we’re transferring Dracula to the Etcetera Theatre as part of the very exciting Horror Festival. After that we’d love to keep performing in London and developing new comedy skits and new work. One of our favourite companies is Spymonkey, they have a huge fanbase and consistently produce phenomenal, funny shows and have been doing that over 10 years and we’d love to be able to build Last Chance Saloon over the years like that.

Dracula: Sex, Sucking and Stardom plays at the Etcetera Theatre from 16 to 18 October at 9.30pm. For tickets and more information visit www.londonhorrorfestival.com or for more about the company, www.lastchancesaloon.org.

Image credit: Idil Sukan – Draw HQ

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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Guest blog: finding space to work

Posted on 23 September 2012 by Ellen Carr

Virginia Woolf asserted that to have a room of one’s own was a necessity in order to write; not only a room with a window and four walls, but space to think, imagine and create. As Artistic Director of a theatre company in the very early stages of its creative growth, I am realising how challenging this can be. The search for a space to play, develop and grow seems to play a formative role in the early life of a theatre company. But is this hunt beginning to stunt creative growth?

Trying to find rehearsal space has been a constant problem for Witness Theatre, a worry that we could do without as we attempt to find our own theatrical identity. In rehearsal for The Importance of Being Earnest at Brighton Fringe this year, I was lucky enough to be given some free rehearsal space by the organisation Somewhereto_. Set up as part of the cultural Olympiad to help young people find space to do the things they love, the lifespan of this organisation is limited, but it’s an inspirational model.  Despite being a basic, ugly, council-owned building that always smelt strangely of yeast, the space we were gifted was lovely. It was a glimpse into an ideal world, a brick-walled warren of space where we could clear the floors and cover the walls with research and development material. This was invaluable for a theatre company that works as we do, allowing ideas to bounce around before being pinned down. But the financial ramifications of excessive use of space are huge, and finding somewhere to play isn’t easy.

Theatre companies and individual theatre makers need a home, but only those with proven experience and expertise seem to be able to find them. Most of us have a place we call home, but combining living space and work space can be difficult. If you’ve ever tried to rehearse in someone’s house you’ll know it normally ends disastrously and if you work freelance you’ll know how maddening it can be spending all day chasing an idea around four walls and a sofa. But for the financially struggling, what (other than choosing a more lucrative career path) are the other options?

One way young theatre makers can find space is in a digital capacity – BAC’s new digital scratch programme, for example. The value of digital space is huge, but its availability doesn’t importance of physical space and real people. Currently it seems having such space is a measure of success, afforded only to very large companies or those dubbed as emerging new talent. This is fair enough, credit and rewards for hard work where they’re due. But, similar to Lyn Gardner’s recent argument in the The Guardian for more grassroots funding, I’d argue for more offers of space at a grassroots level. Unlike funding, there is a lot of space out there not being used – what we need are the people taking a leap of faith and letting young companies make the most of it. I know it’s idealistic to ask for all this space to be given for free, but as a member of a young company who have benefited from this, I know how vital it is.

Recently there’s been a rise in shared office space being provided, either for free or very low rates, for those working in a creative capacity. A similar scheme with larger workshop/rehearsal space is certainly something to consider. Understandably, this is more challenging – as space increases, so do overheads. But there must be other companies feeling the same; if so,  maybe we should try doing something about it. Peter Brook said all it takes is an actor and an empty space for theatre to exist. There are certainly enough empty spaces in this country, maybe it’s time we started claiming them as our own. A co-operative of young theatre makers running a shared play space might seem like another idealistic notion, but it may be worth a try.

Find out more about Witness Theatre at www.witness-theatre.co.uk or follow them at @witnesstheatre.

Image of Lothian Road, Edinburgh by Lee Kindness.

Ellen Carr

Ellen Carr

Ellen is Artistic Director of Witness Theatre, a company she established after graduating from the University of Sussex in 2011. Ellen writes, directs and produces for Witness Theatre and spends the rest of her time doing more writing. She is currently writing her own blog witnesstoexperience daily, contributes regular features to One Stop Arts and can also be found writing the occasional screenplay.

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Fringe guest blog: It’s all over…for now

Posted on 31 August 2012 by Ellen Carr

So that was it: that blurry patchwork month of 47 shows that will slowly begin to knit themselves together into a more coherent whole in my mind was Edinburgh Fringe 2012. Witness Theatre’s The Darkroom has been performed 24 times with an audience every time – which is quite an achievement considering the struggle with audiences young companies faced this year.

Since writing my previous blog in the happy haze of early Fringe, I can now confidently say that Edinburgh is a huge challenge and talk about these challenges with a little authority. Edinburgh Fringe is a brilliant place where your work will get noticed and given much sought-after support – but only if it’s really really good. If, like us, it’s your first time at Edinburgh as a company then it’s likely to be a different place entirely. It can be brutal and utterly lovely all in the same day (much like the weather).

Witness Theatre has dealt with a mixed bag of reviews, audiences ranging in number from two to 27, crises of faith on the Royal Mile and a cast member illness that resulted in my debut Fringe performance. Not to mention the technical difficulties only to be expected when playing with projected film in a Fringe show.

I think a lot of people (and I’m not exempting us from this) go to Edinburgh expecting things to go really well (or in fact just well). The show will run smoothly, audiences will magically appear and golden opportunities will rain down from the sky. Well, yes, in such a theatrical melee opportunity is present, but it is there for the finding and not the taking, and sometimes it comes in different (smaller) guises than you were expecting.

Naively, when we made our way to Edinburgh our heads were filled with dreams of rave reviews, awards and (primarily) Witness Theatre getting noticed and becoming something. What our experience over the past month has taught us is that becoming that something is entirely down to yourselves. Our Edinburgh journey has not ended with us being picked up and taken under anybody’s wing, but with us becoming more determined, focused, driven and aware of what we want the company and our work to be.

The best of the reviews we received have included vast amounts of constructive criticism that we can use to develop our future work. None of them are the kind of reviews a commercially-driven show would want to receive, but for an emerging company in their first year they’re perfect. It is the comments on our promise – along with a lovely mention in Lyn Gardner’s blog – that are the opportunities we will take away from Edinburgh. Opportunities to grow and develop into a stronger company delivering more focused work for next year.

Will there be a next year for Witness Theatre at Edinburgh Fringe? Definitely, and we will take the following lessons with us. Firstly, be organised – even if you think you are already you can probably be ten times more so. Socialise and make the most of being around so many brilliant people (but be aware you have to get up and be organised the next morning!) Be prepared for every crisis – it probably will happen. Finally, only attempt to tackle Edinburgh if you’re absolutely 100% madly head-over-heels in love with what you do. To quote performer Tess Waters from Lyn Gardner’s blog on how to survive Edinburgh Fringe: “the secret of fringe success is a passion for what you’re doing”.

For more about Witness Theatre and their future work, visit their website at www.witness-theatre.co.uk or follow them at www.twitter.com/witnesstheatre.

Image credit: Witness Theatre

Ellen Carr

Ellen Carr

Ellen is Artistic Director of Witness Theatre, a company she established after graduating from the University of Sussex in 2011. Ellen writes, directs and produces for Witness Theatre and spends the rest of her time doing more writing. She is currently writing her own blog witnesstoexperience daily, contributes regular features to One Stop Arts and can also be found writing the occasional screenplay.

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Spotlight On: Maxwell Golden

Posted on 26 August 2012 by Sophia Milone

CountryBoy’s Struggle offers an interesting concept: mixing hip hop with physical comedy and spoken word, one man plays over 40 characters to narrate a fast, funny and honest story of a young MC’s journey to the big city from his rural roots. Maxwell Golden, the man behind CountryBoy’s Struggle, is just that: fast, funny and honest.

Golden’s journey into hip hop was by no means a normal one, as he spent the majority of his childhood in Cornwall, a million miles away from his current London base. “I grew up between Cornwall and London, and I’d been into hip hop for a long time and when I was in Cornwall there was no hip hop scene. It just occurred to me that if you were an aspiring rapper in Cornwall: what would you do? It was quite a funny premise, and I talked to a few people about it and they thought the same. I mean if you were 18 to 30, what were you going to do? So a guy moving to London became quite a relevant story.” Initially, Golden’s main interest lay in MC-ing and music, which saw him collaborating on drum and bass tracks. However, he got an opportunity that opened up more avenues to him.

“I got the chance to recite my lyrics without a beat at a performance poetry slam, so I did that and it went down really well. Someone saw me do that and said they wanted to put me in a theatre piece. I’d never really done acting before, but I thought I’d give it a go – and that was eight years ago! Since then I’ve been working in the theatre, and hip hop theatre.” Golden hasn’t had any formal training, however: “I’ve learnt music, and how to write songs and then lyrics off the back of that. The rest of it I’ve learnt as I’ve worked on new projects.”An important element of CountryBoy’s Struggle is the certain stigma attached to hip hop and the way it can be represented in the press. Golden explains: “So many people have come to the show who don’t like hip hop, or thought they didn’t, and come away afterwards saying ‘I didn’t think I’d like that but I absolutely loved it’.”

Golden’s enthusiasm and excitement about this project is infectious and it is clear that he truly believes in his subject. “What attracted me to hip hop culture was the sense of community, it does have a rebellious spirit, but it also has the sense of the collective as well, like we all want to create a better world. Everyone knows about the rap battles but not many people know about cyclers, which is the other side of it. Everyone getting together and freestyling, supporting each other to come up with the best rhymes they can and work together, and that is part of my training of being a lyricist, being part of that.” Golden is undoubtedly incredibly passionate about hip hop as he predominantly sees it as being part of a community, and his desire to share this with the general public is infectious: “Community: that is the essence of the movement, and you should experience it. That is not what is portrayed by the media, at the expense of others.”

Briefly touching upon the riots last year that caused mayhem and saw a certain class of society damned, Golden offers his insights: “I think it is rubbish to talk about the youth like they are a homogenous entity, it is ridiculous. You only have to meet two young people to know that they are two different people. Everyone is different and that is what makes life interesting. It upsets me when people generalise about whole groups of society, be it based on age, or anything, abstract concepts. The riots did happen and that was a wake up call for every young person in society. A lot of people think hip hop is about materialism and misogyny, but that is more linked to Hollywood than it is the actual culture of hip hop.”

Golden moves on, discussing who inspires him and demonstrating his extensive knowledge of artists and music: ‘‘For knowledge and power its KS1, for conscious stuff  there is QTIP, for more comedic stuff it is Farside. Big Pun for his writing, he has these crazy internal rhymes, it has a complicated rhyming pattern. He does next level. For flow it is Notorious BIG. He has a kind of authority and flow that is really inspiring. There is just so much out there to listen to and get inspired by!”

On contemplating what this success has meant to him personally, it’s clear just how seriously he takes his work. “When you create something in the studio, you hope that people will enjoy it and that you’ll be able to take it out and enjoy it, and show it to people. You want it to be a benefit; be entertaining, yes, but also to maybe help someone see something in a new light. Whether it is something about their own life, or a perception they had about someone. All these things have come out doing this show and that’s what I hoped for. The audience’s response is what is important. I make work for people, I don’t just make work for myself. That is what it means to me – that sense of it all being worthwhile.”

Our interview concludes with Golden telling me: “The original four principles of hip hop culture were peace, love, unity and having fun.” And you can certainly hand it to him – hip hop has never sounded so much fun.

CountryBoy’s Struggle plays at the Pleasance Courtyard until 27 August. For tickets and more information, visit www.edfringe.com and for more about Maxwell Golden, visit his website.

Image credit: CountryBoy’s Struggle, Contact Manchester and Maxwell Golden

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