Tag Archive | "Interview"

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Feature: In the ring with James Ashton’s ‘Shadow Boxing’

Posted on 26 June 2013 by Joe Raynor

Joe Raynor speaks to James Ashton about Broken Souls’s new production Shadow Boxing...


James Ashton is one of two members of the South Wales-based theatre company, Broken Souls. Ashton formed the company with good friend and actor Alex Harries after the two met while studying at Queen Margaret’s in Edinburgh. Harries is not only an actor but also an ex amateur boxer – so no messing about then. Harries’s boxing doesn’t just come in handy when settling a theatrical debate, but also fits perfectly with the role of Flynn in Shadow Boxing.

Ashton explains: “Broken Souls was specifically formed to put on this one production.” Shadow Boxing, written by James Gaddas, is described on Broken Souls’s website as a “tough, energetic, fast-paced 50 minute ringside performance”. Shadow Boxing follows the life of Flynn, a boxer, living in the shadow of his father’s failure. Flynn decides he must train to become a better fighter than his father ever was, and in doing so he must come to terms with his identity, facing up to his past and prejudices.

Ashton tells me that the ethos of the company is about “getting people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre to come to the theatre. This time, because we are doing it in a boxing gym, we are focusing on boxers and getting people that are interested in sport interested in the arts.” For Ashton, theatre is not an exclusive art-form and Broken Souls is doing everything it can to reach out to the local Cardiff community, where Shadow Boxing is set. “We just like taking theatre, taking stories and putting them in environments they are actually meant to be in, I guess, which is the site-specific part of the company,” says Ashton. Broken Souls does not classify itself as a solely site-responsive or -specific company, but its ethos and love of stories means taking performances to the public is central to its work.

The name Broken Souls came from the realisation that everyone is flawed, and that the characters which displayed this are the most interesting to explore. Ashton says: “We went for Broken Souls because we were discussing what it is we love about drama and theatre, and in particular stories were key to us, we love a good story, but within that the characters we were particularly interested in were flawed characters, the broken characters, the ones that have just got something that isn’t quite right are the ones that really grab us… there is so much imperfection but something really engaging about that, knowing that there is good in everybody. It was the broken souls that really captured our imagination.”

Ashton saw Shadow Boxing at the Edinburgh Festival in 1997 and says “it was the one show which I’ve ever seen that I was just mesmerised by, this man goes through this physical workout as well as delivering a story and it was just a spectacle to watch, that for me really wakened my imagination as a 17-year-old lad.” This was only the beginning of Ashton’s theatrical journey, as he explains, “a few years later I went to drama school and met Alex, an ex-amateur boxer and thought, what better piece of theatre to get involved with than Shadow Boxing?”. It seems that Ashton was destined to do this piece from a very young age and now, 16 years later, he is doing it.

Audience members will pick up their tickets for the show at Chapter Arts Centre and will then be taken on a bus to the site of the performance, a few miles outside Cardiff. Ashton explains: “we thought, why not make the experience like that of going off to a fight? There will be a few of us looking like boxers, we’ll have a fight up on the DVD player, it’s to create a buzz and the thrill of not knowing where you are going.” This fully immersive piece about a son who wants to eradicate his father’s failure will open your eyes to the endless possibilities of theatre. Bringing theatre to community and vice versa is incredibly important to Ashton and he cannot praise Phoenix Boxing Gym, in Llanrumney, enough for its support. The themes may be dark, but it is clear that this company has a bright future ahead.


Shadow Boxing is on from 23–27 July, and tickets are available from Chapter Arts Centre. The show is suitable for ages 16+.

Phoenix Boxing Gym is campaigning for an extension to its present building. To find out more about the gym and its campaign visit:!support-us/c65q.

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Theatre news: Award-winning playwright Lolita Chakrabarti on what makes good theatre and why it’s important to take your time

Posted on 12 January 2013 by Becky Brewis

A scene from Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti @ Tricycle Theatre. Directed by Indhu Rubasingham.<br /><br /><br /><br />
(Opening 16-10-12)<br /><br /><br /><br />
©Tristram Kenton 10/12<br /><br /><br /><br />
(3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550  Mob 07973 617 355)email:

Lolita Chakrabarti, who recently won Most Promising Playwright at the 2012 Evening Standard Theatre Awards, first came across the story of Ira Aldridge in 1998, when her husband, Adrian Lester – who would later play the part of Aldridge in Chakrabarti’s play Red Velvet – did a reading about him. Aldridge was born in America in 1807 but made his career in Europe, where he had huge success as a Shakespearian actor and became Britain’s first black actor of note. Chakrabarti will be discussing Red Velvet at the Bloomsbury Institute later this month. She spoke to AYT about acting, writing and taking your time…

I go to the theatre a lot and I hate theatre that doesn’t include me. It might be because I’m not clever enough or I’ve not read the right books, but some theatre can feel quite exclusive and I didn’t want to write anything like that. I wanted to write something that meant you’d be able to come and get something out of it no matter what your experience.

When Adrian [Lester] did a reading about Ira Aldridge, he came home and told me about this actor, and both of us thought, “Wow, who’s that?”. We hadn’t heard of him. I was just at the initial stages of writing then; I hadn’t admitted to anyone publicly that I was doing it. I was starting secretly and quietly to have a go, and the story just hooked me. I thought this would be a fantastic film but I didn’t know where to start. So I did the research for about three years and then I put it away in the attic, and for four years I just left it. But I would tell people, “Gosh, there’s this extraordinary man…” and of course most people hadn’t heard of him. When I told Indhu Rubasingham [Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre, where Red Velvet was produced] she said, “Write the play! The play will be easier [than a film]”. So I did, but it did take me seven years – so she lied!

I’m always really interested in older people and what they were. We often judge older people on what they are now and we know nothing of who they were in their heyday. So I was really interested in where Ira would have come to, and what would have made him that. You’ve got the older guy – with all his grandeur and success and money – and so I thought, well what’s the crux where it changed? As an actor the whole world is the theatre and performance and you are constantly singing for your supper: you have to prove yourself in every single job you do that you’re good enough for the next one. It’s a wonderful life but it’s a hard one too and there are lots of elements of that that haven’t changed. So I combined my own contemporary experience of acting and touring with what [I imagine] would have changed Ira’s life when he was a young man to make him what he is [when we see him in the play]. The story took time to come through, and that was frustrating, but actually in retrospect it took that long to be told properly I think.

I feel old enough to handle it all [winning Most Promising Playwright at the 2012 Evening Standard Theatre Awards] and think, “Oh I got a prize, how lovely!” But I was always going to write. I mean, I’ve written for years and years, but I guess it has competed with my acting, because acting is how I make my living and I love it, but writing gives you a blank sheet of paper and you can tell the stories. So I want to do them both and I guess now what’s lovely is that there’s an expectation for me to produce writing whereas before, as a writer, people weren’t that interested. It’s hard to break through.

Lolita Chakrabarti will be discussing Red Velvet with Adrian Lester OBE on 28 January at the Bloomsbury Institute.

Photo: Tristram Kenton

Becky Brewis

Becky Brewis

Becky Brewis is Commissioning Editor of AYT. She is a freelance writer and editor and has written for Huffington Post UK and IdeasTap and reviews theatre for Broadway World and One Stop Arts. Sub-editing includes IdeasTap, Nick Hern Books and fashion and art magazines Nowness and Wonderland. She has worked for theatres and arts organisations including the Finborough, the Pleasance, the Southbank Centre, Cecil Sharp House and the Barbican Centre.

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TheatreCraft: Interview with Michael Grandage

Posted on 30 November 2012 by Eve Nicol

“When I started out” Micheal Grandage tells the room full of 16-25 year olds at the opening of TheatreCraft, “I entered an industry that was apologetic.”

A career in theatre was not seen as a a career at all and not looked upon as a sustainable or respected job. But things have changed, the theatre director and producer asserts. The industry around theatre has grown and become professionalised. Jobs which previously didn’t exist are now taught in universities and colleges across the country. Nowadays, Grandage says, the industry is confident, proud of the itself and the “wonderful gift” is possesses which enables it to reach out and touch people.

“Who wants a career in banking?” Grandage quips to the audience of young people interested in a theatre career beyond the stage. “We have an opportunity to show that theatre is something that matters and changes people’s lives.”

After his inspiring opening speach at the TheatreCraft careers fair at the Royal Opera House, Grandage spoke to A Younger theatre’s live blogging team, Abigail Adeoti and Annabelle Lee, about embarking on a career in theatre.

What advice would you give to any young person wanting to go into theatre?

Michael Grandage:The most important thing is to genuinley make sure that you do really want it. Make sure its something that you’re passionate about and not just interested in. You’ve got to have more than just a passing interest. The theatre industry isn’t the place to go if you want to make money. It is a vocation, it has to be something that you want to do because you believe in it.

The idea of a career in theatre has to be something where you don’t looking forward to Friday afternoons or holidays. You need to want to do it as a life.

What inspired you to pursue a career in theatre?

MG: It’s partly to do with the first time I ever interacted with a theatre event. It was such a different experience to any that I had ever had and I realised that I wanted to be a part of it somehow.

The inspiration came from the energy of all the people creating the performance. Not just the actors on the stage, but all the people putting it together. I was very aware I was in the presence of something that was motivated in a different way to anything I had ever experienced before. and all I knew was I wan’t to be a part of it – and that was it!

How did you find yourself in the position of being a director?

MG. One of the reasons I’m an advocate for events like TheatreCraft and other events not just aimed at young people is that I changed my career mid-life. I was working as an actor, but then I didn’t want to do that anymore and I changed to directing in my 30s.

When I talk about bringing on people into the theatre, I tend to say, bringing on “new people” rather than just “young people”. It is quite important that people can have a change of career and decide to get passionate in the middle of their lives and not just at the start of it. I find myself continually evolving into another place. It is never to late to get started.

Eve Nicol

Eve Nicol

Eve is the Scottish Regional Co-ordinator of A Younger Theatre. Working from Glasgow, Eve tweets to eat, managing social media for artists and theatre companies, including the National Theatre of Scotland She blogs about social media in the theatre industry and vlogs about productions she’s seen. Eve is on a mission to find the best interval ice cream.

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Flourishing on the fringe: new writing in London

Posted on 21 May 2012 by Chelsey Burdon

Despite the economic gloom and cries of austerity, London theatre is thriving. But beneath the glitz and glamour of the West End lies the heart of artistic experimentation and revelry. In studio spaces and pub theatres across the capital theatre-makers of tomorrow are sowing the seeds of their careers. A Younger Theatre met with Ziella Bryars, founder of LoveBites (a series of new writing events with the theme of love and relationships) and emerging playwright, to talk about breaking into writing and working on the London fringe.

What do you consider to be the greatest hurdles facing new writers in the theatre industry right now?

A lot of the time, with the opportunities you see advertised, there’s a lot of importance on names helping you; if you’ve been involved in one project or initiative and it’s with a decent ‘brand name’ then you get the next one. If you’re going into something just based on your script it can be really tough. If you did something at Latitude for example you’re just up that little bit higher on the pile. It is a hurdle to feel like if you don’t have the right credits you don’t get your foot in the door or you don’t have the attention given to your piece in the same way. But I think that if you write something that really works you have a good chance.

Also, it’s important to hit the right theme at the right time. If you’re trying to break in you have to have that hook that means that you’re different, and that your piece is political and timely, and that’s harder if you’re starting out. You might want to do a story that’s personal to you and that you find interesting. and it might be a great play – but if it’s not about something that is ‘sell-able’ right now, unfortunately I don’t think you’ll get noticed.  You could be a worse writer and write a play about, for example, the London riots and you’d get way above somebody who had written a great family drama.

What about the representation of women on the London stage?

I think they maybe have a better chance in fringe than in the West End; there are a lot of women who produce and put things on themselves, and that’s much more popular on fringe. A lot of the comedies that I hear about are often run by girls who are creating their own work, and their own writing.

I don’t know how well they are represented in the content of plays. That’s a different problem because a lot of the time when you hear something is a ‘female play’, it’s a bit worthy; everything is overly seeped in female stories and themes, and I don’t think you get that with men. Plays that have more men in wouldn’t necessarily be about stereotypical males – they wouldn’t stand around and talk about football for the whole play. So yes, I would say it’s definitely a good area for women to try and work in, and produce and write in but it’s hard to have a story or a play be focused on women without that being the marketing edge.

A lot of theatres seem to be embracing new writing now and we have seen a renewed interest in contemporary British playwrights. How do you think this is shaping the industry?

I suppose I’m a little bit cynical with some of the bigger theatres because I think it’s a really good PR exercise to have that on your website - to have photos of happy young people going to the theatre and taking part in something.  The new writing theatres like the Bush, the Royal Court and the Finborough, they’re doing it because it’s good PR but also because they really care and they want to find good writers. Whereas a lot of the big theatres, it’s not their focus it just becomes an additional element to their work.

I think that what will come out of it is probably the most interesting writers will come out of the smaller venues. And although it must be really exciting if you’re a writer and you have a big theatre take you on with one of these programmes, I would say it’s important to focus on the smaller theatres because they will nurture your writing more. Lovebites is doing a showcase at the Southwark Playhouse of the best pieces we’ve done over the years and I think that’s a wonderful way of a bigger venue helping fringe. It’s a lovely way of stepping up – if you’re working in fringe and you get these little moments of being in a bigger space it’s invaluable.

So what do you believe to be the fundamental differences between writing specifically for the fringe, and for example something that you might submit to the Royal Court?

There’s the basic element of size; if you’re in a smaller venue you’re going to write differently because you know that it’s going to be more intimate. Also the expectation of the audience is different – that can really work in your favour in fringe. There is so much stuff that’s bad, often when people turn up they’re not expecting something really great. So if you work hard and write something that really matters then you can make a massive impact, which I think is really exciting. Writing for a big theatre - I can’t imagine it evolves in the same way as it does in fringe.

Doing fringe you get to edit so much; often the actors writer and directors are working so closely together because it’s a friendly set up. No-one’s getting paid a lot of money – you might even be rehearsing in your living room! If you’re working in fringe you have to really enjoy it. You have to do it for the love, at least that way if you’re going to spend a long time struggling you are also having a really good time. I think that must be the way most people work in fringe – they really love writing and they love putting on theatre.

Bryars is currently producing a showcase of new writing, LoveBites at Southwark Playhouse on Sunday 27 May at 8pm. Tickets are £12 and are available on the theatre’s website.

Image credit: LoveBites

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