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Review: Inside Wagner’s Head

Posted on 11 September 2013 by Ed Theakston

Inside Wagner's Head

Simon Callow’s one-man play Inside Wagner’s Head is an enthralling, dense and unpredictable attempt to examine the inner workings of the mind of divisive German composer Richard Wagner. Whether an opera aficionado or a complete newcomer to Wagner, Callow’s enthusiasm is infectious and the whole audience is guaranteed to be hooked within the first few lines.

On a stage cluttered with props, instruments and ladders, including a few items from previous Royal Opera House productions of Wagner’s works, Callow emerges and relays a recent conversation with a musician friend who, at the mention of Wagner’s name, guffawed and exclaimed his distaste. Wagner, Callow explains, is one of the few writers who still inspires strong reactions: productions of his operas sell out, but some vehemently loathe his music. This productions asks why, and, as the title might suggest, attempts to get inside the great man’s head to see things from his perspective.

The stage becomes a manifestation of the inside of the composer’s mind and Callow picks through the clutter and contradiction to chronologically analyse the major events in Wagner’s life, looking at the inseparable relationship between the life of the man and his music. Of course, Callow has a deep-seated respect for the musical talent of Wagner, but he presents all sides of Wagner on stage. From his seduction, wild hedonism and tempestuous relationships with his many women, to his revolutionary spirit and apparent divine inspiration, Callow paints a full portrait of the man that doesn’t shy away from the difficult inherent contradictions.

The show is undoubtedly fascinating. It doesn’t presume too much prior knowledge of Wagner, although of course most of the audience did appreciate the occasional classical music in-jokes. Callow is glorious: his delivery is conversational and humorous and he effortlessly flits between directly addressing the audience and becoming Wagner himself.

Aided by some climactic, emotive projections by Robin Don and Duncan McLean, Rick Fisher’s spectacular lighting design and Don’s detailed, thoughtful set design, Callow’s play is surprisingly epic for a solo show about a composer. It is a shame that there wasn’t more of Wagner’s music, but what music there was appropriate and effective.

At times the show is rather dense, and a newcomer to Wagner might feel the need to go away and do some Googling after the show, but it is a piece of theatre that is just as informative as it is entertaining. There are some discoveries made by Callow, director Simon Stokes and the research team that are genuinely surprising, and the level of depth and understanding that the piece achieves is truly inspiring.

This is a chance to see one of our nation’s greatest actors and writers in a piece about a fascinating and complex man.

Inside Wagner’s Head is presented as part of this year’s Deloitte Ignite Festival at the Royal Opera House, which is curated by Stephen Fry and focuses on the two great artists Verdi and Wagner. Alongside the ticketed events like this are a range of brilliant free events. Don’t miss out on all this festival has to offer.

Inside Wagner’s Head is playing at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House until 28 September. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Opera House website. Photo by Catherine Ashmore.

Ed Theakston

Ed Theakston

Ed has worked as an actor, director, lighting designer, and writer for a number of years. He is currently training at East 15 Acting School. He has a keen and diverse interest in theatre and has gained experience working in many different styles, from musical theatre to Stanislavski to devising. This year Ed has started writing reviews regularly for Fourthwall Magazine, and his blog ‘Into Training’ is available to read on the Fourthwall website.

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Blog: Is there a wrong reason to go to the theatre?

Posted on 11 July 2013 by Emily Webb


Is there ever a wrong reason to attend the theatre? Can your motivations be less than pure?Or are all patrons as valid as any other? With the return of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter himself) to the West End stage, these questions have been raised once more. Those who consider themselves avid theatregoers look down on the hoards of young women (and in the instance of Radcliffe, it tends to be young women) who attend the show to see the face of their childhood hero.

Theatres across the country are struggling to stay afloat, with cuts to their funding and ageing buildings in need of repair – therefore a full house is welcomed by all. However, it is sometimes hard to escape the degrading looks from “proper” theatregoers. Productions containing television or film actors are considered to be pandering to the “commoners”, removing the exclusivity from theatre. Surely this is something to be proud of? Inviting people who otherwise wouldn’t be keen on Shakespeare to see Hamlet because of David Tennant or Twelfth Night because of Stephen Fry isn’t a crime. It introduces a whole new generation of people to a fantastic art form. An appreciation for the theatre doesn’t necessarily need to come from a deep understanding of the writing or direction, although often that kind of snobbery does seem to exist.

Television shows such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? existed purely as a tool to build the profile of an unknown and bring them into the role of Maria, therefore pulling in audiences that otherwise wouldn’t have attended The Sound Of Music. Does this devalue the entire production? Is it a commercial money-maker rather than an example of pure art? Many people will argue this violently, just as many people will argue that The X Factor is ruining the chances of any real talent in the music industry. So are these people right, or is there room for both hardcore artistic productions and the more widely accessible, money making shows?

I have been known to shuffle quietly in my seat as I turn the programme to the page of my idol and slyly read it in awe, determined not to be derided as a hopeless fan girl by other theatregoers. Have you ever felt judged by your fellow audience members? Or have you felt embarrassed by your motivations to be at a performance?

Photo by Flickr user Ashley R. Photography under a Creative Commons Licence.

Emily Webb

Emily Webb

Emily is a graduate of Music and English Literature currently working in the music industry. She hopes to go on to study the benefits of music therapy once she has saved up enough money. She enjoys participating in amateur theatre, blogging and walking her dog

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Want to Write? The best of the UK’s Literary Festivals

Posted on 05 March 2012 by Marése O'Sullivan

2012 marks a major year for literature all over the world. From Shakespeare to Dickens to the best of Ireland’s authors, literary festivals offer a jam-packed few days of writing, reading and guest speakers, as well as the opportunity to indulge in the delights of each city. A Younger Theatre has checked out some of the best literary festivals that the UK and Ireland have to offer over the coming months:

The World Shakespeare Festival will celebrate the Bard as part of the Cultural Olympiad. Celebrations will be particularly centred in London as crowds flood in for the 2012 Olympics, but the event will also be marked in cities such as Stratford-upon-Avon, Newcastle, Birmingham, Brighton and Edinburgh. Beginning on 23 April, Shakespeare’s birthday, and running until November, theatres all over the UK will have productions and exhibitions on offer.

The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon – along with staging many plays – will host an exhibition, ‘The Stories of Shakespeare’, in association with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. There will also be many other events, such as the Swan Theatre’s Creative Dialogues (Translating and Transposing Shakespeare, Reinterpreting and Reimagining Shakespeare, and Shakespeare and the Contemporary Artist). Stratford-upon-Avon will also have its own Literary Festival from 22-28 April.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London will host all of the playwright’s 37 plays on stage in Globe to Globe: “a multi-lingual Shakespeare project”, from 23 April to 9 June. “Each [play will be performed] in a different language [and] each by a different company from around the world”, says the website. The official opening will take place on the 21-22 April. In September, the theatre will also feature Stephen Fry’s first performance on stage in 17 years, as Malvolio in Twelfth Night.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, from 10 August to 2 September, the Edinburgh International Festival will stage a Polish production with English subtitles entitled 2008: Macbeth, while Wales’s National Theatre will present Coriolanius in August.

The Dickens 2012 Festival will celebrate the two hundredth birthday of renowned Victorian author Charles Dickens (February 7) with myriad events over the course of the year. The main attraction is the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street, “the author’s only surviving London house”, but ensure you visit before 9 April when the museum will close for a refurbishment. It is also holding a special Flash Fiction Workshop for 16-24-year-olds on 11 March. Young Writer-in-Residence Femi Martin will run this workshop as well as a number of others. The event is free but places are limited. The Museum will also play host to If These Walls Could Speak… on 3 April, honouring the new work of upcoming English writers over wine and sherry (drinks that Dickens himself was apparently partial to). You can also follow in Dickens’s footsteps on the Museum’s ‘Dickensian London Walk’ until 4 April for £10, prior booking essential (Call 0207 405 2127 or email).

The V&A Museum of Childhood is collaborating with the English Association and the Dickens Fellowship to present the Dickens and Childhood Conference on 18 June. Held at the V&A, student attenders can look forward to a £25 concession rate, lectures from Dickens specialists and talks from children’s authors. The Museum of London is also getting involved: it is running  an exhibition called Dickens and London until 10 June, including “manuscripts of some of his most famous novels, his writing desk and chair, artefacts, paintings and audiovisual effects to create an immersive and exciting journey through Dickens’s imagination”.

Known as the ‘Literary Capital of Ireland’ and the home of celebrated writers John B. Keane, Bryan MacMahon, Brendan Kennelly, Gabriel Fitzmaurice, Maurice Walsh, Robert Leslie Boland, George Fitzmaurice and Seámus Wilmot, the town of Listowel, Co. Kerry, will host the forty-first Listowel Writers’ Week. The event will take place from 30 May to 3 June. There are 14 three-day Literary Workshops on offer, covering genres from creative writing to poetry to screenwriting to journalism to memoir. There are only 15 places per workshop, each costing €175. The festival will also have readings from several internationally acclaimed authors, including Belinda McKeon. A weekly ticket costs €100, or €180 for two, and concession tickets are available for students. You can make bookings by calling +353 682 1074.

Galway City in Ireland is well known for its arts, especially literature. The twenty-seventh Cúirt International Festival of Literature, on 24-29 April, will showcase some of the best writing talent to come from the island. The annual Cúirt/Over the Edge Showcase on 25 April is highly regarded and will feature the fiction and poetry winners of the Cúirt New Writing Prize 2012. More events will be announced on the website shortly so make sure to have a glance at its Twitter or like its Facebook page.

Cambridge Wordfest (Spring 2012) is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in style. Held from 13-15 April at various venues throughout the city, Festival Director Cathy Moore says to “expect a three-day party bursting with everything from big-name authors to debut writers, [to] personal inspirations [and] global themes”. They will be welcoming top-notch writers from all over the UK, including Julian Clary, Michael Portillo, Grace Dent, Charley Boorman, Ian Rankin, Michael Rosen, Cressida Cowell and Andy Stanton. The festival will also have a wide range of literary events during the weekend: Writing Creative Non-Fiction, Ghost Writing Masterclass, A Room of One’s Own Workshop and Walking Tour, Poetry Workshops, Getting Published Today Masterclass and Crime Writing Workshops are just some of the delights to choose from. The box office is now open for bookings: have a look at thewebsite or call 01223 300 085.

The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival at Christ Church, Oxford, has one of the most spectacular backdrops of any festival. From 24 March to 1 April, the festival will display a wealth of creative knowledge and entertainment, and more than 80 events that will take place. The guest speakers include Peter Carey, Vikram Seth, William Boyd, Robert Harris, Anthony Horowitz, P.D. James and Ian Rankin. Check out the website for more information, as well as its Facebook page and Twitter. Call the box office on 0870 343 1001.

The Bath Literature Festival will be held from 2-11 March. This year’s festival has a smashing line-up of authors and events, from Writers’ Surgery workshops for anyone suffering from writer’s block, to Britain’s only poetry pub crawl, to a talk with The Times columnist David Aaronovitch. A fun few days in one of the most beautiful English cities, this festival is certainly not one to be missed. You can follow it on Twitter for the latest updates.

This is only a selection of the fantastic festivals and events that are going on throughout the country this year. If you’re a prospective or established author, or just a lover of words, soaking up the rich literary atmosphere will do your writing the world of good!

Image credit: Dickens 2012 Festival.

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Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Posted on 07 December 2011 by Eleanor Turney

Photo (c) Jane Hobson.


Southwark Playhouse’s innovative and beautiful production of Howl’s Moving Castle is the first time that Diana Wynne-Jones’ novel has been brought to the stage. It is a visual treat, backed up by a strong cast, and rattles through its 80-minutes at a rate of knots.

The visuals are the most striking thing about the production, with Davy and Kristin McGuire’s intricately detailed projections taking us from creepy castle to mountaintop to forest in a second. The animations zip about the pop-up style cardboard set, embodying Calcifer the fire demon (James Wilkes) or the moving castle itself with wit and a real sense of magic.

However, even ignoring a few technical wobbles and the fact that the sound levels were a bit dodgy (it was a preview), there was a feeling that this production has sometimes sacrificed substance for style. The story has been cut back rather brutally in Mike Sizemore’s adaptation; the pace is extremely fast and often means that plot details are rushed through, unexplained or left frustratingly ambiguous. I can’t help but feel that if you did not know the story, through either the novel or Studio Ghibli’s gorgeous film version, that you might struggle to follow Sophie’s (Kristin McGuire/Susan Sheridan) adventures.

It is extremely stylish to look at, enhanced by Fyfe Dangerfield’s music and Jerry Ibbotsen’s sound, and Tim Bray’s atmospheric lighting. The piece is not lacking in heart, but the speed with which we are shown amazing visual after amazing visual means that the narrative gets a bit neglected. Parts of the plot are glossed over so quickly that they just didn’t make sense. Sheridan, as Old Sophie, is particularly adept at interacting with the moving backdrop, and Daniel Ings plays Howl with a kind of wry, camp amusement – but not much threat. We never feel that Sheridan’s Sophie is in danger, except when she falls into the clutches of McGuire’s excellently malevolent Witch of the Waste. I think this captures the heart of the problem, for me: the speed of the narrative means that we never really understand why Sophie is “special”, why the Witch of the Waste curses her, or feel that she is in enough danger to make us become emotionally involved. It looks gorgeous, but is a bit too light on plot.

However, I am sure that these niggles will be ironed out as the run continues, and that this will become the entirely absorbing and clever show that it almost was in preview. With Stephen Fry’s mellifluous tones echoing around The Vaults of Southwark Playhouse, this production captures the sense of wonder that our heroine feels as she is whisked along on a whirlwind adventure.


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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