Tag Archives: Etcetera Theatre

The Storytellers and the Scouse Suitcase

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The Box Clever cast, hard at work.  Or something.  From left to right: Helena Bumpus, Benjamin Ridge, Christopher Montague, George Weightman and (partial) Julia Yelland.

Dear reader!  How lovely to see you!  Do come in and get warm.

Storytelling is a great thing, and it takes many forms.  From pop-up books to anecdotes, we all love a good yarn (although after a certain age the pop-up book does tend to attract pitiful glances.)

A couple of months ago I decided that I wanted to explore storytelling for grown-ups, because I don’t think that enjoying a good story is age-specific.  So I emailed my long-suffering Company Manager, and we booked ourselves a show slot at our favourite venue, the Etcetera Theatre in Camden.  The initial idea was to get a group of actors together, ask them to write stories around a theme and then stage the stories using a box of weird props, hence the name Box Clever.

The best laid plans of mice and directors gang aft off-piste, and this was no exception: during rehearsals, it became clear that the stories were fascinating and fun to tell without considering props.  The only “props” we really needed were each other, so what we’ve ended up with is five actors interacting and retelling narratives in completely separate styles.  (There will also be party poppers, but then what is theatre without party poppers?)

The stories are all very different, but equally engaging.  I gave the actors a theme to work with, and under the umbrella of “endings” we have developed a show about friendships, death, robots, Edinburgh and carrying suitcases for a stranger.  (The suitcase in question is being represented by one of our actors, who inexplicably decided that this particular suitcase should a) talk and b) hail from Liverpool.)

Working with stories from real life is a very sensitive business.  Luckily, my actors are all very open, honest and good-humoured people, who may not have known each other before the project, but who have all become very close as they work together on their tales.  It is a privilege to be in a room with these people, and I can’t wait for them to share their stories on stage this week.  There are disturbing moments, thought-provoking ones, and a lot of very funny ones.  (And party poppers.  Did I mention the party poppers?)

Tickets are selling pretty sharpish, but if you’d like to come and join us then click here.

Autobiography is Irrelevant

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Hello, lovely reader!  How’s everything going with you?  Did you get that essay/presentation/murder trial sorted out in the end?  Oh good, glad to hear it.

Last night I went to the Etcetera Theatre in Camden to see a play called Leaves of Glass.  While it was hardly light-hearted mid-week viewing, it was a very powerful and incredibly well-written play.  The story featured disturbingly empathetic ideas of dishonesty within families in order to keep the peace, and papering over bad memories in order to enjoy the present.  It was so riveting that I didn’t notice almost two hours slip by without an interval (and an audience always notices stuff like that).  I love it when you see a play, or film, or read a book that completely takes over your head space for a few days.  Even if it’s because it’s disturbed your inner well-being a bit, it’s good to really digest stuff like that.  It means it was good.

One of the first comments I heard when I left the theatre was a woman walking in front of us who turned to someone and said “God, d’you think it was autobiographical?”  Strap yourselves in, kids, I’m going in for a rant:

1) If it were autobiographical, would that make any difference to the quality of the play?  Would you enjoy a well-written, energetically performed and cleverly directed play any less because you found out that these things did or didn’t happen in real life?  Theatre is ABOUT life: the whole point of theatre is to show us something that could actually happen.  That’s why we have political plays.

2) It’s really none of your business.  If the playwright has been through any of the things that the characters have then s/he should not have to go into detail about it to gratify your morbid curiosity.  Also, you just watched a whole bloody play about it; how much more detail do you really want?  Wise up, as my friend Carly would say.

(I’m not really cross, by the way.  I know I sound it, but I’ve actually got a very nice day planned, so I’m pretty chipper.  Sorry for ranting.)

I love it when people see elements of themselves in my plays, because it means that I’ve managed to write characters who are sympathetic (and more importantly, empathetic).  But that’s about having a good experience as an audience member and relating to the piece, not trying to look behind the curtain and undermine the story.

Playwrights get very annoyed when people try to detect people they know (or themselves) in their work, because it implies that we don’t have the imagination to come up with our own characters.  Sure, we take inspiration from our real lives and the people in it, but we’re not writing Made in Chelsea here.  Give us a break.   If you switch your brain off to stop worrying about whether your friend’s play is about you or someone you know, you’ll probably enjoy it more.

By the way, I know that in my blogs and articles I talk directly about my friends and family all the time.  I’ve named Carly in this one, for example.  Oh look at that, I did it again.  (Hi Carly!)  But this is real life, not a story I made up.  I don’t have to use my imagination to tell you about annoying my vegetarian friend on an Underground train.  (Sorry – read this blog if that reference baffled you.)

Have an amazing day.  Go to that slightly posh place near the office for lunch; you deserve a mid-week treat.