Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

A New Year, A New Play

December 9, 2018

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Having two relatively succesful (Corbyn Island and A Door Should Be Open or Shut) Festival productions under my belt emboldened me to propose to the Crouch End Players committee that we should put on a version of a full length French classic. Seeing a production of Marivaux’s Le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard at the Théâtre Saint Martin earlier this year inspired me to tackle another of his plays.

Le Jeu de l’Amour at the Porte Martin, played in a style that Marivaux would have recognised, was outstanding. I had no intention of competing with the French on their own turf. No, I felt that I had to find a way of presenting his work that made it resonate with a contemporary London audience but wasn’t as directly political (or sweary, we’re looking for a larger audience after all) as our update of L’Ile des Esclaves.

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At first glance Les Fausses Confidences – in which a penniless young man who has fallen in love with a rich widow attempts to scheme his way into her heart – can seem a distinctly queasy proposition in these #MeToo (or #balancetonporc) times. To be blunt the way in which the leading man and his ex-valet scheme to serve his master’s interests, if entertaining, is nevertheless difficult to approve of. ‘His rampant mendancity has little jusitification.’ * For some critics, no matter how much they admired Marivaux as a writer such dubious morals ‘gâte toute la pièce’ or ruin the whole play. **

How to get around such a flawed leading man? By updating the action to 1919 and making him a serviceman recently returned from the Great War – our version is called A Soldier’s Song – I hope to have given a psychological motivation for such iniquitous behaviour. Hector (renamed from Dorante in the original) has developed an obsession for Harriet (Araminte, now a wealthy widow and music hall performer) for reasons that are hinted at though never over-explained during the course of the plot, thus elevating him from the rather amoral schemer of the eighteenth century original. Music buffs may also see the resonance in French culture of having a Hector obessed with a Harriet.

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Hector Berlioz – not a stranger to romantic obsession

And to my delight when I discussed the play with the director Victoria Welsh she took on this idea further, situating the play in a much more radical staging than I had envisaged that will reference the original Marivaux production by the Comédie-Italienne that will allow us to see Hector as just as much manipulated as manipulator. But more of that as I trace the development of the production over the forthcoming months.

We are in the process of auditions at the moment and my next blog post will be to give my own take on that process, which was entirely new to me. (Casts for previous shows, excellent though they proved to be, were assembled from the resources available rather than via the luxury of selection). The show will be happening in the last week of March 2019 at the Moravian Church Hall on Park Road, N8. If you’ve read this far please do come along and say hello. Or if you have staged or watched Marivaux yourself I’d really welcome comments and questions on your own experience of Les Fausses Confidences.

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My research into other adaptations, purely to see what had been done recently on the British stage, led me to a version that foreshadows a piece that the Crouch End Players will also produce later in the year. In 1983 Timberlake Wertenbaker translated the play pretty much straight for a production at the Lyric, Hammersmith, giving it the title False Admissions. In the autumn the CEPs will stage Our Country’s Good, her account of Thomas Kennealy’s novel The Playmaker, which concerns a group of officers and convicts putting on a play in colonial Australia. Which goes to show that the Players have a wonderfully diverse repertoire to offer the public in 2018.

* Kenneth McKee, The Theater of Marivaux (Peter Own: London, 1958), p. 211.

** Edouard Thierry, La Revue de France, March15th, 1881.

Musset update!

August 6, 2018

New Writing Image for Programme

Doing a bit of housekeeping on the homepage I noticed that last year I put a copy of the script for the festival on the Corbyn Island post. So if you want to download this year’s Musset translation click A Door (Should Be Open Or Shut).

If you’re interested in producing the play please contact me at geoffreylevett@me.com

The Crouch End Festival and Alfred de Musset

June 10, 2018

As anyone who read the post on Marivaux and last year’s Crouch End Festival piece, Corbyn Island, will know in adapting pieces I like to do some half-arsed research in the milieu of how the originals came about. And in contrast to Corbyn Island the update of A Door (Should be Open or Shut) is nevertheless a period piece rather than being located in contemporary Britain. Mid-century London wasn’t too much of a stretch for the update and fortunately the background and context for Musset’s play, Il Faut Qu’une Porte Soit Ouverte ou Fermée, was less unfamiliar to me if only because I’ve been something of a Delacroix obsessive for some time.*

Where’s the connection with Delacroix? Well, of course they’re both French Romantics though working in different disciplines, but the connection is much more personal than being inspired by the same mid-nineteenth century ideas. Delacroix was a great friend of the musician Frédéric Chopin and his lover, the writer Georges Sand. And Musset was previously a lover of Sand.

It was good to hear that Paul Kildea’s new book on Chopin’s Piano is in part concerned with recovering Sand’s reputation (in popular writing that is, it’s been a task undertaken with relish by feminist academics for decades) from its traducement by followers of Chopin (and Musset, especially his brother Paul) who have trashed her literary reputation largely out of unthinking misogyny.**

So as well as reading de Musset’s work I’ve been reading Delacroix’s diaries (an ongoing project over the past few years***, Sand’s memoirs and Paul de Musset’s (very) partial biography of his brother.

Props for 'A Door (Should be Open or Shut)

Props for A Door (Should be Open or Shut)

What did I take from this reading into the new production? Our production is set in 1940s Soho and when I realised that the production of Absolute Hell  would be using pretty much the same setting, and running at the same time as us, I was rather fearful that people would think that I’d been inspired by that. But in fact I was inspired by de Musset’s own life.

De Musset himself was a drinker. A serious drinker. As in he died of it. But this aspect of his life doesn’t bleed into the literary works that he created so I decided that to make the connection with his life I’d update the play from an aristocratic salon to somewhere more modern. Since we had a pub bar as a set it seemed natural that the setting I’d update it to would be one of London’s drinking clubs of the 1930s/40s.

Although there are references to Soho stalwarts such as Francis Bacon the model I was actually thinking of wasn’t the Colony Club. Rather I had in mind Foppa’s, which appears in A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. So we’re more in 40s Fitzrovia than 50s Soho. To someone who never knew either in their prime Fitzrovia offers a rather more literary locus which looks back to the 19th Century (and de Musset) rather than forward to the late twentieth and Jeffrey Bernard. Although the female lead is an artist.

A fun part of the production has been assembling props – a 40s Woodbine astray, an old-fashioned bottle of scotch, a cigarette case and a whiff of 40s in the costume of the characters. And the cast – Anna Rogers, Matt Griffin and Ruari Johnson – have been extraordinarily successful at bringing Musset’s characters to life in a faux-Fitzrovian setting.

If you’ve read this far why not book a ticket now to see the show? You can visit the Crouch End Players website or email cepfestival@crouchendplayers.co.uk 

Thanks to Paul Travis for the photo of the props, and for other shots of the preview night.

#Theatre #London #crouchendfestival

* I’ve written about him before and I’m looking forward to visiting the blockbuster show of his work at the Louvre later this month.

**You can listen to an excellent podcast with Kildea here.

***i.e. the French unedited edition lies next to my bed. And has done for some time! The Phaidon edition in English is what I’d recommend if you want to read pretty much the best writer on art of the nineteenth century as well as one of its key practitioners.

Translating Musset

June 3, 2018

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After having had a pretty good experience producing Corbyn Island in 2017 I found myself in the dull gloom of January turning over ideas for the Crouch End Festival in 2018. Again, it being a Festival piece, I wanted something relatively short and preferably fewer characters than the Island. If I was going to be directing it myself (a new experience) I thought it’d be a lot easier with less traffic to manoeuvre on stage.

I’d seen a production of Alfred de Musset’s Il Faut Qu’une Porte Soit Ouverte ou Fermée in Paris the previous autumn in a production by the Comédie Française. A one act two-hander, it concerned itself with an on-off relationship between two French aristocrats at a Parisian salon in the 1840s. The CF had updated it to contemporary France, setting the actor in a sculptor’s studio, while retaining (naturellement!) the original language of Musset’s masterpiece.

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Musset’s Confession – a classic of romantic literature

Further research revealed that de Musset hadn’t written the piece with the intention of staging it at all – rather it was theatre de fauteuil, that is ‘armchair theatre’ written to be read as a literary piece like a novel or a short story. But it had become established as a classic of the French theatrical repertoire by the end of the twentieth century, produced every year by the Comédie Française to the extent that it was part of the social calendar in the early twentieth century.

However, post-World War Two it was performed much less frequently. Presumably the market for rom coms about brittle aristocrats was in decline in the age of Camus, the theatre of the absurd and existentialism. In fact I beleive that the production that we saw was the first at the Comédie Française for some forty years.

So my challenge was how to make it relevant to a Crouch End Festival audience. My initial instinct was to make the couple same sex but to wangle Musset’s text into the correct shape to do that proved beyond my translation abilities. I gave it a few hours of grappling on the commute to Leicester and then gave up.

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The tool’s of the translator’s craft – a biography, an autobiography and a Pléiade edition of the original. All that’s missing is the Chamber’s dictionary.

I then toyed with the idea of just translating de Musset’s original and staging it as a work of art. I would designate a chair in the Great Northern for people to read a printed translation of the play which they could borrow from the bar. But then if I was going to the trouble of translating the play (a much simpler business than tackling Marivaux, though with the peril of ruining the exquisite poetry of de Musset’s language) I did rather see it acted out.

So I needed to find some other way to create tension in the potential pairing (or not) of these two characters. And I think I came up with a good solution. But to find out what that solution was you’ll have to come along to the show!

But I can tell you that I updated the action to 1948 London, with the characters now meeting in a private club on a wet Sunday afternoon.* I’ve added a third character of a barman, played by Ruari Johnson. The female lead is taken by the director of Corbyn Island, Anna Rogers, and a newcomer, Matt Griffin, takes on the role of her suitor.

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Part of the fun of staging a period piece is assembling (and drinking) the props.

This year we’re producing the show as part of the Crouch End Players’ contribution to the Festival with our show running with an original piece of writing by Jen Richardson, The Road Not Taken, as part of a rom-com double bill. Running time will be around an hour in total with a break for drinks.

Performances are again in the upstairs bar of the Great Northern Railway Tavern, who have once more proved to be excellent hosts, and take place on 15th, 16th and 17th June 2018 at 7pm and tickets (which are FREE!) can be obtained by emailing crouchendplayers@hotmail.com. More details are also available at the Festival website.

It’ll be the perfect evening out for World Cup widows and widowers but if you are a football fan don’t worry, the Great Northern will have the games on the big screen in their back garden and the shows are timed to make sure that you miss very little of the action from Neymar and his chums!

#Theatre #Comedy #London

*Yes, I know this has shades of Absolute Hell! But our production has an entirely different sensibility.

The Crouch End Festival

May 29, 2018

Another post very quickly (as no-one likes a whinger) to talk of much more positive things associated with the Crouch End Festival. Last year’s Festival was my first experience of putting on a theatrical show and it was such a tremendously fun thing to do that I’ve decided to do it again.

But I’ll talk of that another time. The purpose of this post is to flag up other shows which are being put on by the Crouch End Players, who are a fine company of individuals who have just come off the back of a very successful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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As part of a double bill with my play, A Door, Jen Richardson (the director of AMND) will star in an original piece of work of her own called The Road Not TakenBoth works are romantic comedies that discuss the nature of love and relationships. And both use the upstairs bar of the Great Northern Railway Tavern as their setting.

Another show that I’ve had a small part in producing (as co-writer with the highly talented Victoria Welsh) is The Trial 3: The Dinner Party. Regular Festival goers may have already seen a previous edition of this show which stages a courtroom thriller as an interactive piece of theatre which lets the audience question the suspects.

While not an official CEP production Storm in a Teacup, created by Sue Irwin-Hunt and Denize Levett, is from the same stable and again is a revival of an established format. It’s an improvisational comedy set in the homely surroundings of the Haberdashery.

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And last but by no means least CEP present What’s the Point?, another original work created by Virginia Vassura and her co-star Caroline Allouf which combines song, comedy, drama and a unicorn to talk about mental health and relationships.

Both The Trial and What’s the Point are to be staged in Hornsey Town Hall so this may be a final chance to get a shufty at the place before it is subjected to the developers. I hope to see you there!

Go to the Crouch End Festival website for details of all timings and venues, and of course to book your tickets! And look around for other great free stuff going on at the Festival. June isn’t only about the World Cup!!

#theatre #comedy #London

 

Crouch End Festival 2018

May 14, 2018

New Writing Image for Programme

Now that A Midsummer Night’s Dream has finished it’s time to flag up my own next production with the Crouch End Players as part of the Crouch End Festival. As part of an evening of new writing I’m directing a new translation of the French classic, A Door (Should Be Either Open Or Shut).

The original is a short play by the Romantic writer Alfred de Musset, perhaps most famous in this country for being the lover of Georges Sand which inspired both of them to write classic memoirs of their time together.

The original concerns the romantic tribulations of a pair of aristocrats in mid-ninteenth century Paris but I’ve updated it to post-War London with saltier dialogue and a real period feel.

The venue once more is the Great Northern Railway Tavern, who were such excellent hosts for Corbyn Island in 2017 and there will be three shows at 7pm on the 15th, 16th and 17th June. Tickets are free and available from crouchendplayers@hotmail.com. It would be great to see you there!

#theatre #London #Musset

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

May 2, 2018

 

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I’d meant to write a post about seeing Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in April but never quite got round to it. So now I can use it as an intro to a forthcoming production of Shakespeare’s classic with which I’m involved on the production side of things.

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to see the opera. I love Britten’s music (especially his rarely performed St. Nicholas) but three hours of sung Shakespeare? Mebbe not. As it turned out it was one of the best nights at the theatre for a long, long time. The singing was excellent but what stood out for me was the clarity of the production. This was aided by the way in which Britten had adapted the text – the plot and characters came across with perfect lucidity.

It was also a triumph of stagecraft. The use of bold colour to delineate the different groups in the play (aristos, mechanicals, fairies) had both utility and beauty. When ENO revive it (and I’m certain they will) I’ll be getting another ticket so I can enjoy it again.

But if you need a fix of Shakespeare sooner than that then don’t miss out on the Crouch End Players’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which runs from Wednesday 9th to Saturday 12th May. While not having quite the same budget as a West End opera house the same boldness of approach to design and text has been taken, making this a quick-moving, contemporary production.

Details of how to get tickets are on the poster below …

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#Theatre #London

Resto 3 Prezzo, Trafalgar Square

January 23, 2018

Prezzo

Looking for somewhere near the Playhouse Theatre prior to Glengarry Glen Ross we chose to walk towards Trafalgar Square rather then the cluster of places by Embankment. Prezzo was the first resto we came to and it being January we ducked in for fear of worse weather ahead.

First impressions were not good. The room is cavernous like a provincial airport lounge. And peopled like one too – the air rang with an estuary twang and I realised that we were in the heart of a specific locus of Tourist London.

The menu is standard Italian – pizza, pasta, risotto and a few meaty/fishy things. We like to share a calamari up front but as I was quite ravenous we opted for breaded mozzarella too. The calamari was average, the flaw was in the batter not being crispy enough. The cheese on the other hand was pure evil. Like deep fried Dairylea. It was a struggle to eat it but being a completer/finisher I stuck it out to the end.

Mains were better – pork belly across the way met with a thumbs up while my Vesuvio pizza, if not quite Vesuvian in heat, was at least a recognisable pizza with plenty of pepperoni.

I couldn’t resist getting a bottle of Andrea Bocelli’s Pinot Grigio, as I suspected it might not be worth the 10 quid premium over the house white and wanted to be sure. Were Prezzo scooping the profit or was it Bocelli himself, spurning his public image as the Stevie Wonder of opera (actually, that’s a disservice to Stevie, who is/was a bona fide genius rather than a bland populist) to chisel mid-table restaurant grazers? Well, whoever it was they’re robbing folk, it was on the level of a Tesco BOGOF.

Service was the star of the visit – friendly and efficient for a place this size – and we left with plenty of time to take a digestif in the excellent Ship and Shovell. As to the play, Christian Slater may nowadays resemble a hamster in a toupée but he’s got star power for sure. And a convincing American accent. The rest of the cast lacked the ferocity that I was expecting from a Mamet show – those boys wouldn’t have lasted 10 minutes on the IPE.

#food #London

4/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016-18 check out my GoogleMap

The end of Marivaux

June 20, 2017

This being the first time I’ve produced a play I don’t know whether it’s a common phenomenon but I definitely feel like I have a case of post-show blues. From coming up with the idea to adapt Marivaux on a train to Paris in January to seeing the idea realised on stage in June has been an at times turbulent but always rewarding experience. And now all’s to be done is to think about how it went and come up with a new idea for the future.*

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The script – and direction notes

One of the things I was concerned to do in putting the play on was to position it for a twenty-first century audience. This meant throwing out Marivaux’s finale of reconciliation and replacing it with something much angrier. I feared that perhaps I’d misread the level of anger in this country but recent political and social events would seem to suggest otherwise. Although the snap election and its result did necessitate rewrites. And a change in direction for Jeremy’s character, who went from being a simple figure of fun (for some sections of opinion) to a genuinely inspiring figure (beyond his usual constituency) not just in reality but in the way that he/she was portrayed by us on stage.

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Jeremy in inspirational mode in Corbyn Island (© Emma Hare)

I certainly wasn’t the first to see the potential for a socialist reading of L’Ile des Esclaves. It was picked up in the 30s, a time when France was strikingly polarised between left and right, as representing a radical precursor to calls for social reform. But Marivaux was no socialist and definitely no revolutionary. Those on the right could take comfort from his apparent final advocacy of social hierarchy – for him a  paternalistic version of fraternity trumped equality as a means of attaining the common good.

But Alex/Cléanthis, who is the character I most drastically altered, is not content to live within Marivaux’s or Trivelin/Jeremy’s social order. I envisaged someone whose liberalism was more informed by a Thatcherite urge for individual liberty. Someone who chafed at the way in which Thatcher’s opening up of social mobility in the 80s – whether by the breaking down of the power of unions or of the opening up of professional bodies and the City to state school entrants – seems to be being increasingly closed off in our own age.

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Alex has an issue with Jeremy’s pacifism (©Emma Hare)

 

 

 

 

 

Or at least that’s what I thought, I’m sure the audience would have taken various views of what was going on on stage. If the plot lacked clarity then that was purely my fault as a writer, I couldn’t have asked for a more committed group of actors to take on a novice’s work and turn it into a coherent show that got a lot of laughs. I only wish we’d had a couple more nights to iron out the inevitable wrinkles that crop up in the transition from rehearsal to final production.

But I’ve learnt a lot and I’m grateful to Anna, our director and to all the cast for giving up their spare time to make it happen. Now, what next …

I’m also very grateful to Emma Hare for these fantastic images from our preview. I can heartily recommend her to anyone who is looking for a professional photographer.

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Eve and TC have a touching moment in the seduction scene (©Emma Hare)

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TC and Inglis don’t quite see eye to eye (©Emma Hare)

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Douggie doesn’t like the new ending (©Emma Hare)

*I have a couple or few.

If you’d like to read the script of Corbyn Island it can be downloaded here.

Corbyn Island – Final script

#Theatre #London

The Crouch End Players and the Comédie-Italienne

May 24, 2017
Corbyn Island with Cast 2

Artwork © Nick Kobyluch

Since translating Marivaux’s comedy L’Ile des Esclaves for the Crouch End Festival I’ve been immersing myself in the culture of the early eighteenth century in France, partly with an eye on working on something more ambitious sometime in the future but also with my mind on costumes for Corbyn Island, the updated version that’s in production with the Crouch End Players. One way I felt that I could tie the modern adaptation to the work that inspired it would be by having two of my modern characters in fancy dress that had a whiff of Baroque France about them.

Naturally my thoughts turned to the Wallace Collection in Marylebone, whose building is a little bit of France in the West End. The 18th Century French rooms I’d tended to skip through on previous visits – all that flouncy, sleazy Boucher is a bit quease-inducing even if you have the reward of the more civilised Watteau alongside.  I prefer the more sober pleasures to be had in the company of Poussin and De Hooch.

So it was a surprise to find that not only did the Wallace have plenty of canvases depicting eighteenth century French fashion it actually had a picture of our antecedents as interpreters of Marivaux, the Comédie-Italiennes.

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The Italian Comedians by a Fountain, Nicolas Lancret

The painting depicts the actors in theatre dress with the stock characters Pierrot and Arlequin most obvious – each in his distinctive costume with Arlequin also masked. Arlequin appears in L’Ile des Esclaves as the slave to an Athenian aristocrat and displays all of the attributes that his audience would expect whichever production he appeared in. He’s a cheeky, rustic joker who has simple tastes – food, drink and the ladies, not necessarily in that order.

In Marivaux’s production he would have been played by Thomassin, the most famous Arlequin of his age and probably the man depicted by Lancret in the painting above. Our own Arlequin (who now goes under the name of TC, a little nod to the Assistant Coach of my football club, Ipswich Town) is played, I have to say magnificently, by Ric Lindley. He doesn’t have to perform the acrobatics that would have been expected of a seventeenth century Arlequin, nor did we direct him to adopt a ‘high-pitched voice like a parrot’ as described as being characteristic of the part by contemporary accounts.* But I think he definitely captures the earthy qualities of Arlequin, as well as his sentimentality and good-naturedness.

Lancret is one of those artists who seems to be permanently overshadowed (like de Hooch by Vermeer) by a more illustrious peer for seemingly no good reason. Watteau of course is the big name here but they had very similar backgrounds starting as apprentices under the theatre scenarist and artist Claude Gillot. For some reason Lancret seems to be treated as the apprentice to Watteau whereas in fact he was much more of a rival. So researching Lancret’s painting was a lot more difficult to do than if it had been Watteau’s. There are (justifiably) books by the yard on Watteau in the library but very little, even in French, on his fellow painter.

Lancret’s ability is shown by many canvases in the Wallace but is nowhere more apparent in London than in the marvellous Gallery A at the National. Tucked away either side of a large canvas from the studio of Boucher (isn’t that telling of Lancret’s neglect, he could probably chat to Guardi about it who has a little picture up the row) are four canvases depicting the four ages of man. Philosophical pieces describing childhood, youth, maturity and old age, they are little gems that deserve a wall of their own.

They also led me to reflect how one would depict the life cycle in the modern age. Childhood and youth separate? It hardly seems that a tot is out of nappies before it is turned into a consumer and given a screen to suck on. But then how to separate youth and maturity when middle-aged men go shopping in the supermarket in leisure wear and spend their cultural capital yarning the ins and outs of superhero franchises. So, it would seem, we go straight from youth to senility. But I digress.

True, Watteau was the pioneer of the fête galante but it was a genre that Lancret developed and proved to be a master of very quickly, as shown by the portrait of the Comédies-Italiennes. The vividness of their characters brought them into the modern age for me as I was standing in the Wallace and gave me the feeling that even if I’ve twisted and mangled Marivaux out of shape as an author, as a company we’re still communicating with these people through four centuries of theatre history and revivifying the roles that they created. It’s a tremendous credit to Ric, Sophie, Richard, Mia, Victoria, Mike, Nadia and Vic that they’ve taken this project on and given it life beyond the page. If only we had Lancret around to immortalise them.

#Theatre #London

*François Moreau, Le goût Italien dans la France tocaille: théatre, musique, peinture (Paris, PUPS: 2011), p. 40


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