Archive for the ‘Tales of the Country’ Category
Firstly, Happy Saint David’s Day everyone (or should that be Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant Hapus?). Anyway, we’ve been out on the road touring Tales of the Country for several weeks now. By the end of last week we were a very tired team but I’m pleased to say we were still delivering. In fact I think some of last weeks’ shows were the best of the whole tour. Our Director Kate Budgen came to see the show on Friday night at the Severn Theatre, Shrewsbury and seemed delighted with where the show was at. It was a great night; another sold out venue with over 400 happy theatre-goers. Also the people who’s lives we are portraying were in too – Brian, Jane and the children had come along to see the show for one last time. The only hickup of the night was some twazzock lighting a cigarette and setting the fire alarms off! It was quite a surreal interval standing in the rain outside the theatre with 400 punters. After a prolonged interval we were given the all-clear to enter the building for the second half. It was a great show and everyone seemed very happy. On Saturday, after another sold out performance at the Edge Theatre, Much Wenlock we all went to our favourite Ludlow pub The Church and enjoyed several well deserved late beers. In a way it seemed like a last night knees up because we won’t get to celebrate when we actually finish the show on Saturday.
In was lovely returning to the Severn Theatre as that’s where our previous tour started last year. I know I’ve said this before but I’ve loved doing this job. Partly because I so enjoyed Brian’s book and it’s been a pleasure getting to know him and his lovely family. It’s also been hugely rewarding to be working with such a talented company and two of the best directors I’ve ever worked with. More than anything it’s been hugely rewarding to hear and feel the audience’s reaction to this show. At lot of our local audiences have grown up with Pentabus Theatre’s work. Plays like Strawberry Fields, Kebab, Origins and now Tales of the Country have appealed to audiences both locally and nationally and even enjoyed success in London (by no means an easy thing to do). The work of Pentabus has such a broad appeal and I think Tales has enjoyed that broad appeal. It’s therefore been an absolute pleasure and an honour to tour this show again and when I take off my cloth cap for the last time after next Saturday’s show I’ll feel more than a little sad.
I am on a very packed train back to London, after a swift visit up to Northumberland to see how the ‘Tales of the Country’ gang are getting on. They are just over half way through the tour, and have been travelling many a mile to take the show to village halls far and wide. Yesterday they made their brief home in a village hall in Howick, a lovely little hall and very welcoming people, but my god it was cold! Saying that, it was the first venue where an open log fire sat in our back stage area- in between costume changes, actors could spend a few brief seconds warming themselves by the fire before braving the cold onstage again!
I arrived as Jo was setting up all the lights-apparently some village halls have not enjoyed our set up as it kept tripping the electricity, meaning Jo has had to get creative on the lighting desk and use minimal lights to avoid it happening during shows. So when I arrived they were in the process of realizing that this was going to be another one of those venues-minimal lighting and the potential for everything to suddenly switch off! Ah the realities of village hall touring! But by now, everyone took this in their stride and just worked out what would change as a result. After an amazing curry cooked for us by our hosts, the village hall began to fill up with audience. It was a lovely show, and an attentive audience, with the obligatory raffle (no I didn’t win. Again. Gutted. There was a pretty delicious looking coffee cake I had my eye on.). It was great to see the show again and to see the company working so well together, both onstage and off. For those who have seen the show, you will be aware of how proppy it is-boxes and boxes of the things, which all have to be carefully packed and unpacked each time. But what was so amazing was that the show finished, the contented audience made their way home (many had brought torches for the dark walk home-no street lights here as no streets!) and the company got cracking on taking the set down and packing the van. They were like the slickest of slick machines, serious business. I sort of sat around in the background pretending to be very useful, but actually was pretty much the opposite-everyone was so clear and efficient as to what had to be done, that my intervention would have just held things up. So I mainly watched as they transformed the village hall back to its original state in under an hour. Awesome. And by 11pm we were back at our B and B, glass of wine in hand, in front of an enormous log fire. Delightful.
This week, they are all staying in an incredible place called Alnwick Lodge, and what a place it is! The owners specialize in furniture restoration, so everywhere you look is a beautiful piece of lovingly restored furniture (all for sale in case you are tempted during your stay!). Breakfast was an event to remember-walking into a converted stable, with massive round banquet like tables, another log fire, candles all over the room and a table heaving with breakfast goodies. We tucked in to tea and toast while cooked breakfasts were made for everyone. I’ve never had breakfast by candle light before, but I think I might make a habit of it, a very atmospheric start to the day! It has been really important considering the amount of driving, performing, packing and unpacking that the company are doing, that they have a nice place to go back to and everyone has said that they have stayed in some wonderful places, from old cheese and cider houses to cosy little cottages, all with warm and welcoming hosts. So I left the company this morning, all sated after their breakfasts, with plans to go for a walk in the cold misty morning, before heading to their next venue. Its back to stay in Ludlow next week, and I will next see the show at Theatre Severn, where they will have to make that great leap from tiny village hall and half a working light, to a huge stage, separate dressing rooms and technical wizardry at their fingertips! It is apparently sold out already, hurrah! It will be great to bring the show back there, as this is where it first opened last year.
Meanwhile, the company can look forward to a couple more days candle lit breakfasts at the Lodge, before they make their merry way back to Ludlow.
This week has seen us take “Tales Of The Country” out of Herefordshire
and Shropshire, down to Somerset – where the show has been received
really well. We have been made to feel very at ease in all the venues.
From the beautiful village hall of Wootton Courtenay nestling on the
side of a valley just outside of Dunster, to the very welcoming
village of Hatch Beauchamp where a very active local community decked
the hall out with bunting and hay bales and each candle – lit table
bore a big wooden board groaning with a generous ploughman’s lunch.
Bathed in soft warm light on a cold winter’s night, the venue looked
completely magical. Here we met the sparkly eyed Tony (78 years old, who
initially took credit for cooking the wonderful Shepherds pie we were
given for tea. It was his wife who had actually put in the graft of
making said massive Shepherd’s pie which was the size of The Isle of
Wight and well tasty!!) It was Twinkling Tony who kept us company and
furnished us with an interesting fact he had discovered when listening
to a programme on the radio. Take the last 2 numbers of the year in
which you were born, add it to the age you will be when you have had
your birthday this year, and you will find that the total will come to
111 in every case!!
It is a real priviledge to be part of this production which toured very
successfully last year and which I saw at The Conquest Theatre in
Bromyard. This second tour has 3 new actors in it including myself,
Charlie Buckland who plays Brian Viner and Oliver Mott who plays a
multitude of great characters and is no slouch in the sound-effects
department – dogs, chickens, flies, owls, you name it, Olly’s your
man. The three of us had to get up to speed quite quickly in
rehearsals as we only had 2 and a bit weeks to re-rehearse it. Thanks
to Kate Budgen’s brilliant, calm and spot on direction as well as great
support from Sean and Sarah who were in the last tour we were quickly
made to feel that this would not be a problem.
Next week we venture up to Northumberland and it will be really
interesting to see how “Tales Of The Country” goes down there. It is
certainly a joy to perform, and is so beautifully adapted from Brian
Viner’s lovely book that I’m hoping we continue to have great fun with it!
Angela Bain (plays Capable Woman, a Cat…and other characters).
Touring jobs always mean that you venture to places you’d never ordinarily go to. And therefore I’ve just discovered that Wiltshire is the most beautiful county. Obviously not as beautiful as Herefordshire (I’ve got to say that in case Brian happens to read this). But to be fair, in general the countryside on this island really is spectacular and in the past week alone we’ve been treated to the delights of rural Wiltshire. We stayed in 2 beautiful cottages on Wick Farm near Lacock (of the Cranford fame) and had a really lovely art-imitating-life few days with the requisite woodburning stove, toast rack, torch by the bed (complete with bed head), butterdish and enough cutlery to set the table for a three course meal – thank you.
That will make no sense if you’ve not seen the show but if you have like the farmer and his wife who own Wick Farm then you’ll chortle like your sides are going to split. They had the tourist board in the week before we arrived and were sat on the front row with their son on Friday night at The Pound Arts Centre in Corsham (which, incidentally, is a lovely little venue and was so thriving with activity all day that it made me think every town should have one). It’s like this show was written for Sue and Philip. And when you can connect personally with something you see on stage it turns a good evening into a fantastic one. So I’m so glad we’re going to rural areas all over the UK. Although I have so far discovered that the Wiltshire audience seems rather shocked by the word a*******s.
PS. Oh and I forgot, we saw Camilla and Charles in a car. And Seán was staying in a B&B owned by one of Camilla’s neighbours. And rural legend has it that she was pelted with buns at the local shop after Diana’s demise. How terribly English.
SARAH STANLEY (Jane Viner in ‘Tales of the Country’)
There are very few theatre companies, I imagine, where the vehicular access is via a fantastically muddy and odoriferous farmyard replete with cows, silage barns, and resting tractors – but then what could be more appropriate when you are working on a production titled “Tales of the Country”.
As a native Crouch Ender I am also rather proud to playing an ex Crouch Ender (even if he did only live in N8 for 8 years…….), the very self deprecating and general all round (in an elliptical sense) good egg, Brian Viner, the Independent journalist of repute.
Playing a living person gives one a sense of onerous responsibility – you want in the most basic sense to do them justice, to be fair, to be truthful, to be honest.
Brian has already refracted himself and the story of his relocation in print in his own book, “Tales of the Country”. Nick Warburton, the writer who has brilliant adapted Brain’s book into a superbly crafted and brilliantly realised play, has further distilled a stage version of the written version of Brian. Furthermore, in the previous original production that toured last year another actor created the original stage character of Brian. And what’s more his original stage wife, Sarah Stanley, is returning for the new tour.
So driving towards Pentabus HQ through the rolling Salop countryside on the first day of rehearsals, I feel a considerable weight of Brianess upon me.
Can I serve both the real and fictional Brians?
Pentabus is based in an old school building in the small village of Bromfield which I discover was once home to a Benedictine Priory sitting on the confluence of those two deeply Housmanesque rivers, the Teme and the Onny. The A49 is a busy road which splices the village but HQ is quiet and faces out onto the relentless beauty of the Marches Hills.
Working here fulfils a long held ambition. Pentabus has consistently commissioned and developed wonderful new writing into outstanding productions – in particular as an enormous fan of Mary Webb I desperately wanted to work on the much feted “Precious Bane” and did audition, but it was not be. As an audience member I sat enthralled watching “Silent Engine” and “White Open Spaces”.
So there is a certain frisson on entering the portals of such a theatrical powerhouse, whatever the burden of Brianess I might feel.
Our welcome is warm and encouraging. I have already met my fellow male actors as we share digs in Ludlow. And I know fellow cast member, the wonderful Angela Bain as we recently worked together for Forest Forge, but it is the first time I have met Sarah Stanley, the original Mrs Jane Viner.
Now goodness know what she makes of her new Brian……………..
CHARLIE BUCKLAND (Brian Viner)
Sunday. A day off for the company after a hectic, but brilliant week. Orleton Village Hall was just the most brilliant place for our first show- a packed out audience, a raffle in the interval, the Viner’s in attendance, and a very appreciative crowd all round. When we did the show last year, I didn’t get to see it in a village hall, so this was a real treat- such a different atmosphere to a theatre-tea and coffee and biscuits and bring your own booze (some people seemed to bring full on picnics-a wise move!) all hands on deck to set the seating out, and a sense of everyone coming together to catch up and have a good evening. Joyful. What a great start to the tour.
And then onto Saturday for a totally different kettle of fish as we transported our set to the Courtyard in Hereford. From the intimate, cosy confines of a village hall, to a big 400 seater theatre. Upon arrival, we were told we had sold out, something that seemed to be a big achievement according to the staff, which was incredibly encouraging and maybe a little bit nerve wracking. Nothing like a bit of adrenaline for the second show! A lovely space, and we spent the afternoon testing sight lines, acoustics and making sure that the company felt comfortable playing in this bigger space while Alex made it look lovely.
It was a big night for Pentabus as it saw the launch of our new Patron’s scheme, so we had lots of special guests coming to watch the show, some who were interested in getting to know the company and some who were already providing us with vital support. It was a great second show, the company really pulled out all the stops and were fantastic, and the audience seemed very responsive to the story. Nick Warburton was in the audience too, so it was nerve wracking for us all seeing how he would respond to the new company and to see how the new version of the script went down. I think he approved! After the show, we all headed to a drinks reception where Orla O’Loughlin and Kate Organ, the new chair of the board, each said a few inspiring and important words about the history and future of the company and we all raised glasses of fizz and ate delicious Herefordshire themed canapes (locally grown apple muffins, local bacon and cheddar quiches. Yum.)
So, as I head back to London, the company embark on their 5 week tour. I will not see it for a couple of weeks, and very much look forward to seeing how it grows in my absence!
A quick update on our progress. As I write this, (in a vain attempt to feel busy) the Tales company are downstairs in the rehearsal room, packing up props, costume and taking the set down for the first time. They will then load the van and head to our first venue; Orleton village hall, about 10 miles away from here, where we will do our first show in front of an audience. Tomorrow night. Very exciting. After the smoothest tech in theatre history (I imagine), we managed not one, but two dress rehearsals! An excellent chance to get to know the show with added lights and sound, and to perfect all those ridiculously quick costume changes. It is lovely to see the sudden shift in the show as a result of lights and music, it is looking and sounding lovely-all that’s missing now is an audience. And we have but 24 little hours left before this final and crucial stage is complete! We are all sold out tomorrow, which is excellent news, and the Viner family will be part of that first audience-they saw the show 4 times last time round, so it will be great to have their support. As no audience is the same, it will also be really interesting to see what people connect to and laugh at. I can’t wait!
Right. It is all sounding very productive down in the rehearsal room, I might go and try to make myself useful and make everyone a cup of tea! I am very good at that.
Watch this space to find out how our first night goes, and some blogs from members of the company on their way…….
It is Saturday. End of week two. Everyone is tired, but satisfied that we are making excellent progress. I meant to write at the end of the first week, but things have been so hectic, it is only now that I can sit down and think about the last couple of weeks rehearsal.
It is just incredible how much we have managed to pack into such a short space of time. It has been a really interesting process, re-creating a show again with some original, some new, cast members. Originally we, had 5 weeks to find the show, this time, we have 2.5 weeks to re-find it. Not very long, considering it is the most prop filled show ever AND there are also what feels like hundreds of split second costume changes. We have worked quickly and methodically, starting in the first week with finding the general shape of the show. I decided we would break the play into sections, and work on a section per day, working out in the broadest of brush strokes who comes on from where, who takes on what props, who would make the sound effects of Milo, chickens, dogs, flies……. I had ambitiously thought that we would get to the end of the play by the end of the first week, secretly thinking that this was totally unrealistic and I would have to throw my plans out of the window. However, I had underestimated just how excellent the company were, as we moved at astonishing speed and not only did we reach the end of the play by the end of the week, but were able to fit all the sections together for the first time. All with 5 days rehearsal. And a lot of coffee. And of course, cake.
Just as important as the blocking and general geography of the show, has been investing in the world, lives, and relationships of the people we encounter in the story. So in between trying to remember how a table fits together, and how a vase of flowers gets offstage and back on again, we have talked a lot about each character, (even those who only make the briefest of appearances) and the Viner family, and thought carefully about the realities of moving from city to country. For research purposes (of course) we all took a trip up to Docklow Manor, where the Viners hosted a wonderful evening with lots of food, wine and conversation-a valuable chance for the new cast members to meet the people they would be representing onstage.
After a couple of days rest and relaxation (or actors furiously learning their lines), we hit week two with full force, going back over every moment in the play, working from the beginning in great detail. Having never directed a show that a) has been done before and b) has a mixture of old and new cast members in it, it has been really interesting to have both perspectives. Sean and Sarah obviously bring with them memories of how it was originally done, and have been incredible in helping the others get into the world of the play, both technically and creatively. What’s great is that everyone seems to be continually learning about the play from each other. The challenge for me is to make sure that everyone feels like they have total ownership of the material. We learnt such a lot from doing it the first time round, which has enabled us to make some short cuts in how we work, but it has been important to balance doing it ‘like last time’ and working with the choices and experiences of the new company.
There is such a lot to remember, and it is brilliant to see how the actors have been keeping on top of the vast amount of stuff this show seems to require. Angie and Ollie (who play over 30 different characters between the two of them) have developed the most amazing crib sheets which chart their journeys on and off stage-they are the most intricate and complicated documents I have ever seen, but I guess when you have but seconds to go from 6 year old boy to 80 year old gardener, you need something to keep you right! There is still the odd moment where we wait for a character to enter, look expectantly towards the entrance, then hear a flurry of swearing and scuffling, before they appear, frantically pulling on a cardigan, or doing up a button. Or coming on to do a scene as a policeman, only to discover that they are dressed in a flowery skirt. But these mistakes are surprisingly few and far between, I cannot tell you how fantastic everyone has been in getting to grips with how busy they are throughout the show. I sort of wish I could watch what happens backstage as well, as I get the feeling there is a whole other show going on back there……
Orla and her baby Greta came to see a run through yesterday, and although nerve wracking to have an audience (Greta was an excellent audience member) it was brilliant to get a sense of where we were in the process, what still needed work and what seemed to be working. Orla had some brilliant things to say, just in time for the weekend, where a well earned break from the play is required!
Next week, we have a couple of days rehearsal, before we tech and head straight to our first venue. Exciting. I know that by then all we will need is to put it in front of an audience.
I guess I’ve been very fortunate in that a large number of the plays I’ve rehearsed over the years have been based in Ludlow. I first came to this wonderful part of the world when I spent a year with Pentabus Theatre back in 1996/97. Since then I’ve returned to do various plays at the Assembly Rooms as well as Shakespeare productions at the Ludlow Festival (always a great gig provided we get a dry summer, something of a rarity these days!). Of all these shows the one that is perhaps closest to my heart is Tales of the Country. So of course I jumped at the offer of the re-tour as it’s means working with the ‘excellent’ Pentabus (and they really are excellent in my humble opinion) and being back in Ludlow working on a play I love. Ludlow has become a home from home for me and it’s wonderful to be back.
The other exciting thing about this re-tour is that it’s being directed by the very talented Kate. We also have new actors (also very talented!) and a revised script!
The slightly scary part of this undertaking is that we have less than three weeks to rehearse. But with a lot of hard work, long hours and late nights I know we’ll get there and I for one, can hardly wait. It’s not all hard graft though; we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Docklow Manor courtesy of our protagonists Jane and Brian Viner (all in the name of research of course) as well as enjoying a few beers in my favourite Ludlow pub The Church.
I do love Ludlow and I do feel at home here. Home of course is an important theme in our play. In fact it’s the very last word in the play; home, family, friends, belonging. All Easily taken for granted. I think that’s one reason I love this play, it makes me reflect on things I value and am fortunate to have.
But with our opening night only a week away perhaps I’d better end this blog and go and study my script!
Sean Carlsen-OWEN in ‘Tales of the Country’.
Hello and Happy New Year to all and everyone. It seems very strange to suddenly be launched into a new decade. Actually, someone said the new decade started last year, but for me, moving into 2011 feels like a bigger shift for some reason. So, while not factually accurate, it kind of works for me to think of it as a new decade. Either way, I’m now older and wiser, having just hit the big 30. And what better way to begin my 30th year than to start rehearsals for ‘Tales of the Country’. In late 2010, Sarah (who plays Jane Viner in the show) joined me for some very intense days of casting (at the good old Drill hall, and also in some very freezing caves in South London, where I was doing some workshops) and we have managed to find some pretty excellent new cast members who will be joining myself, Sarah and Sean (who plays Owen) from Monday for the start of rehearsals. I have to say I am really excited!
Thomasina and Jenny have been working so hard to put together a fantastic tour around the UK, and we are going all over the shop, and interest seems to be high, so it will be brilliant to take it to places further afield than when we did it last year. When we toured locally in 2010, it was incredible how well different audiences in different venues responded-it seems the story is one that resonates with many people who live in rural areas, and that many of the characters that the Viners encounter in their new country life, are pretty recognisable in many a community! It will be really interesting to see whether the story has the same potency on a wider scale-will audiences in Somerset laugh at the same things as those in Cheshire? Will they share similar stories? or will they bring a different insight to it?
Well, we don’t have long to wait as our rehearsal period is a mere 2 and a half weeks, before we are hit with our opening night. Eek! But this in itself is exciting. It will be a challenge, with lots of lines to learn, lots of costumes to get used to changing in and out of, about a million props, and a lot of physical action. Of course, the show has a shape, and we know how it works, but what I am really looking forward to is how the cast this time round rediscover the story, and how they find their characters, and what new discoveries we might make. I think there will be a really exiting mix of having Sarah and Sean, who were part of creating the show first time round, with Charlie (who will play Brian), Oliver (who will play the children plus about another 21 characters….!) and Angie (who will play Capable Woman, plus a great many others!), who will be finding the show for the first time. Then of course, there is learning how the set is put up, and got down, as actors and stage management will be doing all of this themselves. Yes. We are looking at a few very full few weeks, but I for one cannot wait to get cracking. It is such a fun show and I am very much looking forward to getting to know the company in (hopefully not too snowy) Shropshire.
In between actors learning their lines, they might just find time to write a blog for us, in which case watch this space to see how rehearsals develop!