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Spotlight On: Julie Atherton

Posted on 30 January 2013 by Joe Raynor

julie_atherton_in_rehearsal_as_cinderella_-_photo_by_helen_maybanks__647z240

Actress and West End star Julie Atherton has certainly had a busy career since graduating from drama school in 1999, appearing in shows as varied as Avenue Q, Sister Act The Musical and Mamma Mia! But what sparked her interest in the stage in the first place? Atherton chatted to me during rehearsals for her critically acclaimed performance in the Lyric Hammersmith’s pantomime, Cinderella.

“Well, it was basically all I could do! My drama teacher at Sixth Form got me so interested in it. He really fought for me.” Driven by this passion for the stage and her determination to become a professional actress, Atherton decided to apply for drama school and was offered a place at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. She reveals with a laugh, “once I’d got in to Mountview I didn’t turn up to the rest of the auditions because I knew I wanted to be there. There’s just something about it.”

It was at Mountview that Atherton’s talent for acting and singing were nourished. Atherton’s advice for young people who want to appear on the West End stage, as she has? Hard work and want it more than anything else; there’s no escaping the fact that competition will always be fierce.

With a history of West End appearances behind her, as well as two studio albums, what prompted the decision to transfer her skills to pantomime at the Lyric for Christmas 2012? She says of this particular production: “there are no football stars to pull in the audience, it’s simply a really good panto with brilliant people in it and brilliant writing. It’s traditional.” If pantomime’s the theatrical equivalent of Marmite, Atherton’s very atuned to how she feels about its traditions. “I hate audience participation. I’m quite shy really. I know that’s weird when you’re an actress, but when I see something with audience participation I always think, ‘Oh no, please please don’t pick on me’.”

Despite her reticence as an audience member, the process of being actively involved in Cinderella has softened Atherton to the genre as a whole – thanks in great part to the fun the cast had in rehearsals. “We all really get on – a bit too well! It’s hard to keep a straight face on stage; it’s a really fun process.” She was well-prepared for those occasions of audience interaction that might call for some quick-thinking improvisation by herself and the other actors.

So what gets you in the mood for a demanding pantomime performance regime? A high-octane rehearsal routine, of course. Atherton reveals that the cast of Cinderella braved the Insanity Workout challenge as part of their warm-up; Atherton sums up this military-style exercise challenge in one word: “horrendous”. “But,” she continues, “it’s keeping us strong and fit. We don’t have understudies so we have to be well.” Clearly, Director Sean Holmes is aware of the physical and mental strength needed to survive a show that runs for weeks at a time. Although the Insanity Workout may not be for everyone, Atherton has obviously come to appreciate the results of improved stamina on stage.

The Lyric’s Christmas production of Cinderella also featured a young ensemble supporting cast, and there was a real community feel within the production. The Lyric has become known for this kind of inclusivity with its programmes for young and local people, so it seems only natural that its pantomime is a fairytale rooted in modern British culture. Atherton tells me: “She [Cinderella] is a bit more loveable because she’s not just this pretty, pretty Cinderella that will obviously get the prince. She can’t dance and, well, actually she can’t do a lot!”

With comedian Mel Giedroyc on board as the wicked stepmother, comedy, fun and frivolity were the buzz words of Cinderella, but Atherton’s taking on a very different challenge now the new year has dawned, as she stars in new musical LIFT, premiering at the Soho Theatre.

LIFT plays at the Soho Theatre until 24 February 2013. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/lift/.

Cinderella was the Lyric Hammersmith’s 2012 pantomime. For more about the theatre and its current productions, visit www.lyric.co.uk.

Image credit: Cinderella in rehearsals at the Lyric Hammersmit by Helen Maybanks

 

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AYT Editors’ 2012 Highlights

Posted on 31 December 2012 by A Younger Theatre

AYT-2012-Highlights

 

Eleanor Turney
Managing Editor

Making a four-hour round trip to Stratford-on-Avon might not be the most sensible way to spend a Wednesday, but when the RSC’s A Tender Thing is at the other end, it’s more than worth the trip. Interviewing Edward Bond was a personal highlight, although he remains my most terrifying interviewee to date… Organising the Edinburgh Critics Team with Jake and C venues was wonderful – I’m delighted we were able to offer eight young people the chance to go to the Fringe and to get so much out of their time there. The Chekhov revivals across London (especially Uncle Vanya at the Print Room and The Seagull at Southwark Playhouse) have made me a very happy bunny, and in a year of Shakespeare, Theatre Delicatessen’s Henry V  and Filter Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lyric are my standout shows. I’ve rounded off the year seeing two wonderful Christmas shows: NIE’s Hansel and Gretel at the Tobacco Factory and Bristol Old Vic’s wonderful Peter Pan.

NT Connections Festival

Laura Turner
Features Editor

2012 has been a busy and really exciting time for the Features sections. We’ve chatted to Michael Grandage, Philip Ridley, Kate Tempest, Steven Berkoff and Jack Thorne to mention just a few. We had our biggest and best yet coverage of the Edinburgh Fringe and over the year our growing team of writers have profiled the work of Simon Stephens, The Paper Birds, English Touring Opera, Northern Broadsides, Edward Bond, the RSC and the Old Vic New Voices – and that’s just the tip of the ice berg as we went behind the scenes at theatres across the country and had exclusive content from the National Theatre Connections Directors’ Weekend.

As Features Editor, there have been so many highlights over the year and it’s been a privilege to work with the AYT team and all the dedicated features writers who invest so much time and energy into the pieces they write, whether they’re interviewing DC Moore, getting the exclusive info on London’s newest theatre or blogging about their experiences of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. On a personal note, I’ve loved some of the recent features I’ve worked on from TheatreCraft to Talawa Theatre Company’s new take on King Lear earlier this winter. In terms of stand out performances, Love Love Love at the Court was pretty unforgettable, as were Sixty Four Miles and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at Hull Truck. I’ve still not seen Matilda – number one aim for 2013!

inside globe theatre


Becky Brewis

Commissioning Editor:

My AYT year was gently ushered in with a few words from Coney practitioners, scrawled on a scrap of paper: “undertaker”. This was one of the theatre company’s famous “days of play”, held at Battersea Arts Centre, where a group of us became immersed in the life of a small town, taking on roles and spreading gossip.  It was a chance to meet people, to interact in new ways and to experiment. Things got raucous but I didn’t have to take out any dead bodies.

For another AYT feature earlier this year I met Fiona Lindsay, the Creative Producer of Digital Theatre Plus to hear about how this brilliant online theatre tool is putting great British theatre on a global stage, by making artistic, high-quality films of stage shows. I got to watch Frantic Assembly’s Lovesong in my own bed. It might not be able to bring it to your bedroom, but Shakespeare’s Globe is similarly keen to extend its reach, as I discovered when I spoke to the Education department’s Jamie Arden about Merry Meetings, the programme that brought seventeenth-century drama to Latitude Festival. They had to fight off the groupies.

Another annual festivity – for those involved at least – is the Old Vic New Voices, 24 Hour Plays, and it was a real pleasure to talk to some past writers, actors, producers and directors about the legacy of the project. I heard how being part of what director Steve Winter describes as the “OVNV family” has shaped them: “I always refer back to the 24 Hour Plays as being the project that made me realise anything was possible,” said Sophie Watson, one of last year’s participants.

And as the year draws to a close it’s looking like anything is possible for AYT too. It was a pleasure to represent AYT at last month’s TheatreCraft conference at the Royal Opera House, where we met so many budding theatre writers. But the main personal highlight for me this year was sub-editing the truly excellent work of the AYT reviewers up in Edinburgh over the summer. At my computer in South London I could practically smell the rancid beer mats, and it was a real treat to have the festival brought to life by such a talented team.

Les_Misérables_Movie

Ryan Ford Iosco
Reviews Co-Ordinator

The reviews section of AYT has grown quite a bit over the last year. Our reviewers now attend shows regularly at venues such as the National Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre and the Almeida Theatre as well as promoting new/young companies that are just emerging. 2012 saw AYT review our first film, Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables (which will be out on 11 January 2013), as well as attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a team of reviewers who covered an unimaginable amount of shows. AYT’s reviewers have been all over the UK and have covered many different aspects of the theatre world this year. As 2012 closes we are preparing for a 2013 that already looks busier and more exciting.

Louise Rennison

Catherine Noonan
Blogs Editor

What have been the best AYT moments of 2012? Well, from a personal point of view, the articles I enjoyed writing the most tend to hail from the beginning of the year: interviewing Louise Rennison, who was both wonderfully mad and incredibly interesting; finding out more about female-led theatre with Shared Experience’s Polly Teale; writing about crowdfunded theatre and subsequently getting my first article published on the Guardian website. There have been many wonderful moments working with AYT’s bloggers: the great content that our regular contributors turn out week after week; connecting with theatre lovers from across the Atlantic; publishing brilliant guest blogs (such as this one and this one). And, finally, I couldn’t round up the year without mentioning how rewarding it is be part of a site that has produced outstanding Edinburgh coverage and collaborated with some wonderful organisations (the Royal Opera House! The Guardian! C venues! TheatreCraft!) So, a big thank you to all of AYT’s editors, writers and readers of 2012. It’s been a pleasure.

 Thomas Ostermeier's Hamlet

Jake Orr
Founder and Artistic Director

Reading through the AYT Editors 2012 Highlights above, I am left immensely proud. When I founded A Younger Theatre in 2009 I had no idea that some three years later we’d be partnering with the Royal Opera House, unleashing a team of critics at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival or that we’d pass 8,500 followers on Twitter. AYT is built and maintained by a wonderful team of young people who pour their time, hearts and energy into making it a success. So firstly, a big thank you to all our writers and Editorial Team.

2012 was a curious year for theatre. We saw an influx of German practitioners shaking up British theatre with the likes of Thomas Ostermeier’s HamletSebastian Nubling’s direction of Simon Stephens’s Three Kingdoms and Cate Blanchett in Gross und Klein. LIFT Festival threw up some challenging pieces including Back To Back’s Ganesh vs the Third Reich, and an epic eight-hour performance of Gatz by Elevator Repair Service. In children’s theatre I was transfixed by Little Angel Theatre’s The Tear Thief and Mark Arends’s Something Very Far Away at the Unicorn Theatre. Whilst in Edinburgh I was left weeping at And No More Shall We Part at the Traverse Theatre, and positively bursting with energy at Charlotte Josephine’s Bitch Boxer. Let’s not forget the flop that is Viva Forever! which made me question why we even make theatre, terrible, terrible theatre.

In my blogging I found myself questioning how I respond to theatre in an apology to Melanie Wilson, and later considering how theatre and emotion are entwined after the death of a family member. Then there are the numerous events AYT hosted with our readers, including a digital takeover of the Royal Opera House, live blogging The Junction’s Sampled Festival, and two trips to the Old Vic Theatre. We were media partners with C venues at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and also for TheatreCraft at the Royal Opera House.

Our writers have contributed 905 posts to A Younger Theatre, generating nearly a million pageviews. All of this delivered by volunteers under the age of 26, and showing that young people have a passion for theatre just as much as everyone else. Bring on 2013.

Article image by Jen Collins.

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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All the world’s a stage: LIFT

Posted on 03 July 2012 by Ellen Carr

There’s no doubt that London is a multicultural city. Walking its network of interconnected streets you’re hit with a myriad of scents, the essence of culinary pickings from around the globe mingling to create the substance of this great capital. The London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) celebrates this multiculturalism by opening up London to world wide theatrical experiences; nations, cultures and theatre-making practices collide in a festival that proves the slipperiness of the term ‘border’ and probes at our cultural heritage.

LIFT presents a programme of work from New York, Belarus, Iran, Romania, Tunisia, Germany, Australia, the UK… the list goes on. It offers work that pushes boundaries both geographically and theatrically, and that celebrates the power of theatre and the joys of being culturally curious. Whilst bringing the world to London, however, it is also a festival that stands out – in the words of Artistic Director Mark Ball – for being about “London for Londoners”.

There are three factors that influence programming decisions and one of these is including work that is site specific, using London as a stage in such a way as to make the city be seen differently. Requardt & Rosenberg’s spectacular Motor Show takes place in “an acre of forgotten land” by the North Greenwich landmark that is the O2 Arena. Iran based Hamid Pourazari’s Unfinished Dream uses a car park in Croydon as its stage, and Look Left Look Right use the hidden alleyways of Camden for their one-on-one performance of You Once Said Yes. In just these three examples the diversity of the festival is highly evident; a motoring/dance theatre spectacular, a promenade performance telling the stories of local refugees and an intimate adventure through the streets of Camden.

Taking routes trodden everyday, locations seen routinely and transforming the way they are seen – and even used – takes audience members out of themselves and their habitual ways of seeing. London is shown in a new light, forcing audiences to consider the makeup of their home city and this notion is played with in extremes in Germany’s Rimini Protokoll’s 100% London. Cast from 100 everyday Londoners selected based on specific criteria drawn from demographic data the production pits views from ‘experts in daily life’ against this 1% of London’s population. The result is a questioning of official reality and an exploration of the human truth behind this city.

Truth plays a vital role in a lot of the work on offer at LIFT, particularly that selected based on the factor of being from parts of the world where changes are happening. Belarus Free Theatre are an excellent example coming from a place where “theatre is vital to their existence”, not because it’s celebrated and enjoyed but because it is an absolutely necessary means through which to vocalise certain truths. Belarus Free Theatre are banned in their own country, they suffer death threats, perform in secret and still carry on because they believe – as does Ball – that “theatre can be a catalyst to inform and change public opinion”.

In such work can be seen a stronger political side to LIFT, bringing work from countries where the theatre is imbued with “bite and urgency” and reminding us that we often “forget our privileged position”. Such urgent work as Belarus Free Theatre’s Minsk 2011 with such vital messages to utter can lead to a questioning of the work made here in our privileged country. But LIFT also presents work from emerging, and leading, UK based experimental theatre-makers such as Forced Entertainment and dreamthinkspeak. In programming the two together Ball aims to show there are “intrinsic links” between breaking theatrical and geographical boundaries.

Interestingly LIFT features a number of Shakespearian productions, alongside dreamthinkspeak’s The Rest is Silence there’s an Iraqi Romeo and Juliet and a Tunisian take on Macbeth entitled Macbeth: Leila and Ben. Discussing this latter production and such use of Shakespeare Ball simple remarks how “the man was a genius”; his work is universal and it does relate to contemporary life and problems. Macbeth: Leila and Ben presents a “direct comparison between Macbeth and the Arabic dictator”, it creatively blends Shakespeare with verbatim interviews using this pinnacle of British theatre to understand the unstable world around them. Using Shakespeare in this way not only gives these individuals a theatrical voice through which to speak, but revitalises traditional British theatre.

In complete contrast to this is Romanian documentary piece 20/20 telling a “historically specific story which barely got any attention” at the time of it happening. The story is that of the ethnic conflict on the Hungary-Romania border in the 1990s. Ball feels it is relevant now due to the enormous changes currently happening in Europe, and the way this story tells us how it “doesn’t take much for things to go horribly wrong”.

LIFT may present a diverse range of productions but all of them have the common element of commenting upon- altering – the world in which we live. Be that our own personal worlds or a larger society. The programme embraces spectacle, theatre as a means for political expression and theatre as storytelling to be enjoyed. Definitions of theatre’s purpose that many of us struggle to choose between, but perhaps that is within the remit of festival to celebrate. When asked what feeling he wants the festival to exude, what experience he wants its audiences to have Ball proclaims the “wild energy” driving this “intense four week period where you can really immerse yourself in the experiences of people from around the world”. He cites intense excitement, a feeling of everything being magnified and of fun.

Presenting theatre in a myriad of forms LIFT demonstrates the immense possibility of theatre and a new truth behind “all the world’s a stage”. It’s a festival one can only see growing and taking over the city of London.

The festival continues until 15th July. For more information and details about shows, visit www.liftfestival.com.

Image credit: Gatz by Elevator Repair Service

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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Review: The Coming Storm

Posted on 25 June 2012 by Douglas Williams

“A good story needs a clear beginning. It needs something strong, something dynamic to get the ball rolling.” Such are the opening lines of Forced Entertainment’s newest journey into the inexplicable, The Coming Storm. These words are delivered by one performer with neither emotion nor a sense of the irony they entail. It is only once another character chooses to snatch the microphone away that this stunted introduction gives way to a rolling, democratic series of bizarre and unbelievable anecdotes, told in turn by each of the six performers.

The Coming Storm places more emphasis on narrative than some of the company’s previous shows, such as last year’s dance-heavy The Thrill Of It All, but the strands of stories are infinitely fragmented and deliciously bamboozling. This is not a theatre of structured scenes and happy endings. A dull man drawls about falling in love with a foreign girl on a European coach trip; a woman plays through the same phone call again and again, each time changing the location, tone or respondent; a crocodile costume is dragged casually across the stage and then forgotten for another half an hour. The overall meaning of events is unclear but the atmosphere is one of impending doom as characters’ pasts and futures weave in and out of one another like a beautiful yet abstract tapestry.

Music plays a huge role in this textural, experiential brand of theatre. Whether it is a repeating drum beat or a dissonant chord on the upright piano around which much of the action centres, music punctuates, illustrates and complements the multiple narratives of The Coming Storm. It is not played with finesse or flair (indeed most of the company were previously unable to play an instrument) but with steady atmospheric determination and a strange, shy kind of soulfulness. What really makes the show exceptional, however, is the way in which its company’s performers bounce off one another, often to hilarious comic effect and sometimes with stark isolation. One performer interjects that she has forgotten to do her ‘dance,’ at which point she proceeds to cover herself in a thin sheet and move around the stage like an infantile ghost in slow motion. Performers fight for attention like children dancing in and out of the spotlight, one man makes half-hearted attempts to commit suicide by hanging a noose from a clothing rail no taller than himself.

The Coming Storm is sad, funny and beautifully hypnotic throughout. Perhaps its two uninterrupted hours of engaging nonsense drag a little at points, but the company is nothing if not challenging towards its audiences and the final moments, including a revelation with the ominous crocodile costume and the show’s final haunting piano chords, make every minute worthwhile. Forced Entertainment is certainly not for everybody, least of all those who like their theatre to answer its own questions (one spectator even left the auditorium muttering “well I’m sure they entertained themselves!”). For those who take pleasure in the surreal, however, The Coming Storm is a darkly devised moment of wonderment.

The Coming Storm was at Battersea Arts Centre as part of LIFT, which continues until 15 July. For more information on the festival’s events, visit the website here.

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