Tag Archive | "Lee Hall"

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Review: Spoonface Steinberg / Krapp’s Last Tape

Posted on 30 April 2012 by Laura Turner

The pairing up of two short plays always requires a delicate balance. Hull Truck Theatre has selected two monologues that address questions of life, loss and mortality for its latest offering in the building’s main house. Spoonface Steinberg by Lee Hall takes us into the life and mind of a young autistic girl who has terminal cancer, whilst Beckett considers the immediacy of death from the perspective of a 69-year-old man, unable to stop himself from looking back over his life.

Points of view are contrasted in this double bill. Spoonface, by the writer of Billy Elliot, deals with the difficult subject of life being cut unduly short, yet there is a strong sense of optimism in this simple and straightforward piece. Hall strips death of all pretension; there is something starkly real about Pippa Duffy’s innocent Spoonface. Duffy engages well with the tricky combination of innocence and awareness that Spoonface grapples with throughout the piece, prefiguring Krapp, who is torn between looking forwards and getting lost in the past.

As with any monologue, the challenge here was always going to be to create a visual life. Delivered direct to the audience by Duffy, Spoonface felt deliberately static. The microphone stand on stage pays tribute to the piece’s conception as a radio play and reminds us of Spoonface’s own love of singing, but acts as a physical barrier between us and her. Activity was limited, as Spoonface gradually adds ornaments to her initially simplistic costume. This sketched out the progression of the narrative well, but at times Fabrice Serafino’s set design and Katherine Williams’s lighting became a little too interesting in the quest for something to draw the eye. However, Duffy is believable as a seven-year-old, and delivers many lines with a wry understanding of adult behaviour, revealing that when doctors smile, “it means there’s something wrong”.

Krapp’s Last Tape was also brought to life behind the physical barrier of a desk laden with a hefty tape recorder and boxes of tapes. However, Alan Williams brought this claustrophobic environment beautifully to life with a performance alive with a delicious staccato rhythm that kept the audience guessing throughout. Pauses were relished, as they should be, and frenetic activity matched with more laid back, languid moments. Williams’s pacing is pitch perfect throughout, and entertains with a banana as proficiently as he haunts with his staring, empty eyes. He embodies Krapp’s staunch need for control in every movement, every word, and is genuinely quite mesmerising. The sense of space and situation was particularly strong here, with Krapp’s ventures off stage to pop a cork and pour a drink evoking an eerie sense of his entire house within the auditorium.

An evening perhaps not of high drama but certainly of questions and emotions. Two insightful pieces into the human mind and the human condition; Spoonface may have benefitted from a little more movement and freedom, but it set up an interesting contrast to the wave-like fluidity of Beckett’s text, and both certainly tackled troubling topics head-on.

Spoonface Steinberg and Krapp’s Last Tape were at Hull Truck Theatre.

Image credit: Hull Truck

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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Opera North IS Homophobic – An Opera’s Fiasco

Posted on 04 July 2011 by A Younger Theatre

Editor’s Note: The below is written by Thomas Hescott, a long-standing supporter of the work we do on A Younger Theatre.  I have allowed Thomas the space to publish his thoughts on the current Opera North Fiasco, despite his age falling outside of AYT’s guidelines. I feel that on this occassion it is important to give opinions such as Thomas’s the space it deserves.

I was saddened to read that an exciting community project at Opera North involving 400 participants has been axed due to a school having issues with the depiction of homosexuality. I was, however, dismayed and appalled by the response from Opera North and their comment “we can appreciate the viewpoint of the school about when they make the decision to teach PSHE to their pupils”.

Schools in general tend to be slow on the uptake. Whilst many have inspirational teachers and a few have extraordinary leaders, schools, as an institution are rarely forward thinking. They conform to the moment and are usually fearful of pushing expectations. For years Section 28 was left unchallenged by formal education, and even now for many schools it is as if Section 28 were still in place.

When I was five, I asked my Mother if two men could get married. I was told no. I then asked if two women could get married. Again my Mother answered no. I persisted asking if it was therefore wrong for two men or women to marry. The answer came back that no it was not wrong – the law was wrong. I was amazed that my mother would tell me that something illegal was good and right, that the law was wrong. This is one of my earliest memories, I was a long way from understanding my own sexuality but even at five I was starting to connect with the adult relationships around me. Formal education is fundamentally wrong to put an age onto discussions about gender, sexuality and homophobia, it confuses these conversations with the ‘nuts and bolts’ conversations of sex education, and it fails to understand that sexuality has very little to do with sex.

At the age of five we are taught about right and wrong, and we are taught about discrimination in broad terms.  Plays and literature tackling bullying for this age group are everywhere but the moment the bullying or discrimination being discussed is attached to sexuality teachers become scared – they think they are talking about sex when they are really talking about equality.

I have worked in theatre, and with young people for many years now. Questions of sexuality often rear their head, just as they do for heterosexual people. The only difference is the heterosexual community are so used to answering questions about straight relationships they don’t notice. I was once asked by a boy, of about eight or nine who was playing a Munchkin in a production of The Wizard of Oz if the actress playing Dorothy was my girlfriend. The answer ‘no I’m a friend of Dorothy’s’ was going to go over his head, so I simply responded with ‘no. I have a boyfriend’. He looked at me in amazement and exclaimed ‘But that makes you bifocal’

Time and time again when working with young people and being open when asked I have gently offered a view of homosexuality that is non threatening, and non predatory and I have often been the first openly gay man a young person will meet. I don’t do this in order to be a positive gay role model just as the straights aren’t consciously offering themselves up as positive ‘straight’ role models. I do however see it as an absolute responsibility to answer questions of sexuality honestly when asked. Schools should do the same.

Of course a school objected to the subject matter. As one teacher said to me on twitter  “teachers are too narrow minded to be trusted with children’s minds”. It was however the responsibility of Opera North the engage with the topic and to educate our educators. Left to their own devices schools will never evolve or change – education partnerships like this have the ability to move the curriculum forward.

Opera North offered hundreds of young people the chance to perform in an opera – what an extraordinary opportunity. This opportunity was coupled with the chance to explore issues and ideas that are hard to discuss in a classroom environment. The school that pulled out deprived their pupils of a life changing educational experience. Within that school there will be many children who will grow up to discover they are gay and this act of censorship will send them a clear message that growing up to be who they are is unacceptable to society. By allowing this to happen, Opera North have condoned a homophobic act. They should have been standing alongside Lee Hall offering to pay to bring Stonewall in to help discuss the issues. They should have been doing everything possible to ensure that the issue of discrimination was treated with the respect it deserved. Instead they condoned homophobia, and their later response confirms that their education department have little or no concept of how important this subject is, and how badly they have dealt with it.

Disagree with this viewpoint of the Opera North Fiasco? Read Eleanor Turney’s opinions on why Opera North is not homophobic on her blog here.

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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Opera North isn’t Homophobic – An Opera’s Fiasco

Posted on 04 July 2011 by Eleanor Turney

I have written in defence of Twitter before (here, if you’re interested), but the Opera North/Lee Hall fiasco today reveals something that’s bad about such an instant medium. Twitter encourages knee-jerk responses which are often misinformed and always unhelpful. These then get re-tweeted, and the outrage grows. Very few people bother to gather all the facts and read the offending article/comments/statement before weighing in with an opinion or a damning critique. Twitter has been full of criticism this morning for Opera North, a Facebook group has been set up in defence of Hall, and the vitriol being directed at Opera North is growing.

Let me make it very clear: I would never defend either censorship or homophobia, but it seems to me that neither of these things has actually been perpetrated by Opera North. Lee Hall wrote a piece in the Guardian this morning claiming that the community opera he’s working on has been cancelled over references to an adult character’s sexuality because he has reached “an impasse” with the school which is providing 300 children to perform in the opera. I would personally argue that schools have an active duty to teach children about homosexuality and thus begin to cut down on homophobia, bullying and the pejorative use of the word “gay”. Furthermore, to remove all 300 children two weeks before the performance was due to happen is unnecessarily disruptive, and must be incredibly frustrating for both Hall and Opera North, who have both invested time and, in the case of Opera North, money, in the project.

However, I fail to see how the school’s apparently small-minded decision is Opera North’s fault. Its statement says that it tried to reach a compromise which all parties were happy with, in order that the performance might go ahead. I admire Hall for sticking to his guns, and understand his anger that Opera North did not offer him unconditional support. The statement could certainly have been worded more strongly, and could have categorically stated that Opera North has no problem with the libretto and would like the school to reconsider. But, Opera North obviously has a lot invested in its relationship with the local community, and to dismiss or criticise the school’s decision outright could do it a lot of damage in the long run. This was an arse-covering decision, not a homophobic one.

If there is blame to be apportioned, surely we should be laying at the door of the school and the local authority who decided that it was “inappropriate” to mention then some men “prefer lads to lasses” in front of four-year-olds. Surely, this is the bigger issue? That a school, an educational establishment, feels that it cannot let its pupils be in an environment where an adult talks about being gay? As Thomas Hescott rather eloquently puts it, the school should view it as talking about equality, not sex. Sexuality and sex are different, and the school should have the wit to recognise this.

In short, Opera North has not “banned” Hall’s opera. It has been put in an impossible position as mediator between two sides who have reached an “impasse” and the school no longer wishes to discuss it. I don’t see how Opera North is supposed to magic a new cast of 300 schoolchildren out of thin air, especially as the previous cast had been rehearsing for months. It’s an unpleasant and tricky situation, but slinging muck at Opera North only muddies the waters and draws attention away from the real issue: why shouldn’t children “as young as four” learn that some boys like boys, some girls like girls, and some people like both? This is what we should be outraged about.

Disagree with this viewpoint of the Opera North Fiasco? Read Thomas Hescott opinions on why Opera North IS homophobic on his blog here.

Originally written on

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney is the Managing Editor of A Younger Theatre, as well as a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She has written for The Guardian, The Stage, The FT and Ideas Tap, and worked for the Poetry Society and the British Council.

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