Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation

Recommending: Growing your own vegetables

Katie Mitchell’s process

“…A turning point came in 1999, when she began to study with Tatiana Olear, an actress who had trained under Dodin, and with Elen Bowman, whose own training came in a direct line from Stanislavsky.This translates into a very particular modus operandi. With every text that she works on, she reads it first (with the cast) for things that are “facts, non-negotiable facts: it is Russia; there is Moscow; Arkadina married Gavril Treplev”. Then, “all the grey areas you put down as a list of questions. You have to be aware that you might have affinities that might take you in subjective directions.” The process at this point is diagnostic, almost scientific, rather than interpretative, she says. Mitchell and her cast will do exhaustive research, building the histories of the characters and studying the background to the text and writer. The point is to avoid “over-subjective, therapeutic connections”, to produce a “cool, steady analysis” that will lead to an understanding of the “machine of the text” and its main ideas. The key themes of Women of Troy, she says, are “war, family, collapse of moral certainty and death. Lovely themes!”

Next comes interpretation: “It’s like adjusting or fine-tuning on a complex machine. You can never turn off the volume on one of the ideas of the play, but you can adjust it; for instance, I might lower the volume of ‘family’ in the articulation of this play today. It is confusing that people have a picture of me smashing things up for the sake of it. That isn’t the case. The first step I take is careful consideration and detailed study of the material, then I work out how to communicate it now.”

Because of the specificity of her process, Mitchell tends to work with the same core of collaborators. “It will normally take one performance for an actor to use the process efficiently,” she says….”

From a Guardian interview with Charlotte Higgins 

De Jongh has written a play, Finborough to stage

Nicholas De Jongh, currently Evening Standard Theatre critic has written a play to be staged in Feb 2008 at the Finborough. I wonder what all the other critics will make of it?

Plague over England
In Autumn 1953, Sir John Gielgud, then at the height of his fame as an actor, was arrested in a Chelsea public lavatory. He pleaded guilty the following morning to the charge of persistently importuning men for immoral purposes. Poised to appear in the West End in a play he was directing and recently knighted, his conviction caused a national sensation – breaking the great taboo of public discussion of homosexuality.

More than just a dramatisation of a scandalous event in one actor’s life, this new play shows how Gielgud’s arrest played a small but distinct part in the battle to make homosexuality legal.

As a companion piece, the Finborough Theatre will present the play Gielgud was performing when he was arrested – A Day by the Sea by N.C. Hunter – for five Sunday and Monday performances in April.

We are all Rwandans

My friend, Debs Paterson-Gardner co-write and directed a short film in Rwanda. I went to see it at its first screening last night. It is very good. I’m not sure where it goes from here but do look out for it.

We are all Rwandans. The story is:

In 1997, three years after the Rwandan genocide, a large refugee camp was disbanded over the border between Rwanda and Zaire (now the Congo), causing a mass repatriation of genocide refugees and rebels back into Rwanda.

A group of rebels bent on destabilizing the new government infiltrated the north, an area called Kibuye, and carried out massacres, mostly against Tutsis.

On the night of 18th March 1997 they raided Nyange Secondary school in the North West of the country. The rebels surrounded the school dining hall and classes when all students were doing their night studies. Students in class 6 were made to lie down and asked to separate themselves into two groups: Hutu and Tutsi.

They refused.

This is the story of those students – whose refusal to separate cost many of them their lives…

Production blog and website.


I recently went to see Wicked. I enjoyed it. I don’t go to musicals that much. I seem to forget how much dancing there is. All the performers are skilled and it is impressive seeing them move, sing, dance and act their way through at full pelt with seldom a dull moment.

A friend of mine was playing one of the leads and he is normally in the ensemble but is understudy and it was great to him see have his chance to shine.

From a structural point of view, I found it interesting to note it used a type fo “circular” structure. Like the Titanic film.

This seems to be used particularly well when the audience are likely to know the story well.

We all know the Titantic sinks, so you can not easily build suspense up to that conclusion. Instead, you start with the conclusion, explain how you arrive at the conclusion and then add a little twist slightly beyond the conclusion to give the story a different and satisfactory ending.

A “circular with a tail” dramaturgical structure.

In Wicked, we all know the Wicked Witch dies in the Wizard of Oz, so 98% of Wicked tells you the story of how the Wicked Witch gets to the point we all know and the play starts just after the Witch’s death and then goes back in time but ends up finishing a little time after her death with new revelations (if you want to know what, go and see the play – different to the book ending).

Free Rice

Quite fun vocabulary game which also means advertisers donate a little bit of rice.

Try it out: Freerice


The blurb: FreeRice is a sister site of the world poverty site,

FreeRice has two goals:

  1. Provide English vocabulary to everyone for free.
  2. Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

This is made possible by the sponsors who advertise on this site….

Spaced, series 3, Simon Pegg: an ending?

I was a Spaced virgin until last weekend. I sat amongst loyal Spaced fans at the NFT to watch both series 1 and 2 back to back. Only interrupted by quick loos breaks, snatched red wine, chip butty sandwiches; and a Q&A with most of the cast and director.

In the Q&A it was asked: OK, there’s no series 3 but where would the characters be now? Where would they have ended up…?

Don’t read further if you don’t want Simon Pegg’s view

Simon Pegg, co-writer and one of the lead characters (Tim) commented about where the characters may possibly have gone in the end. No series 3… but from his writer’s point of view he thought:

Mike Watt eventually moves out and joins Dexter somewhere in south London – just because his best mate Nick Frost has actually moved to south London is not necessarily a read through…

Brian Todd does one day end up back with Twist but his art is generally not a success during his lifetime. But when Brian dies he is recognised as a genius and his work sells for millions which it never did when he was alive.

One day… Daisy and Tim realise… and they have one of those moments… one of those fragments of time which makes your hair stand up on the back of your neck… a kiss… but a kiss that seems to end all screen kisses… bringing together a moment which should always have been… in the greatest kiss there ever was – a realisation that they were in love with each other. (I paraphrase, Simon said something like that though)

Simon said if the series had continued he would have liked to have given watchers a moment like that.

It reminds me of how William Goldman described the kiss between Buttercup and Wesley in the Princess Bride.

So for all you Spaced fans who might want to speculate on where the charcters end up this is one possibility…


Medea in ancient Greek

In a very late response (I’ve been out of the country and squashed by an increasing plethora of things-to-do) to Stephen Sharkey‘s question on Medea in ancient Greek, I enjoyed it immensely.

I have the advantange of having seen a few Ancient Greeks plays now.

One crucial experience that you miss in English is the poetry and musicality of the ancient Greek. It is far closer to song than it is to speech. Perhaps in some ways it is akin to a musical theatre form (!)

One advantage is the timelessness of the story. The Greeks knew the story and the ending and so do we, so the actual exact meaning of any sentence is perhaps not so important as it would be for a new play.

In that sense, Faust, Romeo and Juliet, Greek tragedy and the Titanic all have that in common. You know what is going to happen: the ship hits the iceberg. So, you do not have to worry about the story in the same way as for most new plays. [This from a structural point of view is an important difference between Punchdrunk's Faust and Masque of the Red Death.] This is also a structural difference often between some musicals eg West Side Story, Dirty Dancing and a new play. The audience that goes to Dirty Dancing knows the story.

Medea is well-known but for those who do not quite know the details the ending may be problematic. Medea is taken away in a chariot. It is a “God intervenees” moment.

For a modern audience this can be somewhat disatisfying as we find it harder to believe in such events. However, I thought this was resolved well by the use of a helicopter in the play but I know some in the audience found this confusing but I think it is probably a structural feature of the original story. Medea is plucked away by her God relatives.
The actual performances were brilliant. My one potentially critical thought was compared to previous years, I thought the chorus in this version of Medea were not as coherent or as musical. There is a quality very beguiling, sonorous and beautiful when I have heard the chorus chant/sing in unison or with an aspect of chorus character.

The power of Medea particularly shines through. A woman so wronged that she would kill her children in an act of revenge. I would put the performance on a par with Fiona Shaw’s. My viewing of Shaw’s performance was equally powerful but I felt Shaw in places manipulated the audience into laughing or gasping, where as Marta Zlatic used the power fo the language and obvious desperation of intention to draw you into Medea’s version of events.

The direction was inventive and strong as ever but perhaps not as fluid as the previous Greek play mainly due to more static nature of the chorus and less musical choice of delivery but perhaps it suited the play more.

All in all, a brilliant show to see. Perhaps it feels like a Russian only-speaker knowing Shakespeare’s play but only in Russian going to the Globe to hear them in English for the first time. An experience worth going for.

  • About me

    I'm a playwright and investment analyst. I have a broad range of interests: food, gardening, innovation & intellectual property, sustainability, architecture & design, writing and the arts. I sit on the board of Talawa Theatre Company and advise a CIS investment trust on socially responsible investments.

  • Recent Work

    Recent plays include, for theatre: Nakamitsu, Yellow Gentlemen, Lost in Peru, Lemon Love. For radio: Places in Between (R4), Patent Breaking Life Saving (WS).

  • Nakamitsu

  • Yellow Gentlemen