Birmingham Stage Company

Neal's Blog

Benedict Cumberbatch

12 August 2015
I have been filled with horror at the experience Benedict Cumberbatch is going through in Hamlet. The reason someone filming you is so disturbing is not just because of the little red lights waving around the theatre but because of the fundamental disconnection it creates between you and the person filming you.

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A new play

18 July 2015
One of the things I love about theatre is that no matter what experience you bring to a production, there comes that moment when you bring it in front of an audience and you have absolutely no idea how they are going to react.  Particularly a new comedy.

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Ambition

5 February 2015
I was struck by this comment from Robin Whitefield, the original creator of the Cadbury’s crème egg, when his expressing disappointment at the chocolate being used in the new confectionery:

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The Birmingham Stage Company is on the move!

20 January 2015
PRESS RELEASE FROM THE BSC Following the most successful show in its history with HORRIBLE CHRISTMAS and after twenty-three years at the theatre, the Birmingham Stage Company is taking its final bow from The Old Rep where it has been the resident professional company since 1992.

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Christopher Jefferies

10 December 2014
I posted his blog while waiting to hear news about my teacher Christopher Jefferies who is the subject of a TV drama tonight in which I was invited to appear. If you don’t blink, you’ll see me playing the lawyer representing The Sun! It seems timely to post it again:

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Horrible present day

19 August 2014
On Sunday we were performing Horrible Histories in the West End, when a cold thought crossed my mind.

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Abuse

16 July 2014
I have long held the view that child abuse is much more common than acknowledged.  The scale of the problem was brought home to me a decade ago by a Newsnight report that devoted its entire programme to a woman who was frightened her estranged father was going to abuse his new grandson.

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Diane Abbot

30 May 2014
I long ago lost faith in Diane Abbott but her reprimand of Ed Miliband in yesterday’s Guardian was her finest hour.

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Mad

30 May 2014
Yesterday I had the maddest thirty minutes of my entire mad life.

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UKIP

26 May 2014
“Many people – many nations – can find themselves holding, more or less wittingly, that ‘every stranger is an enemy’.

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Biceps

19 May 2014
I really enjoyed a recent visit to see PYJAMA GAME at the Shaftesbury Theatre but it left me with a question. The director, designer, costume designer and musical director have done everything they can to evoke the 1950's in which the show is set - the hair is just right - the shoes spot on - the whole ambience perfectly 1950's. But their work is strangely dented by the broad shoulders and pumped biceps of some of the female cast. Whether male or female, a muscular physique is a marvel to behold, but in this case it completely undermines the effort to take us into the period. Why is something so obvious, so obviously ignored, when there has been such rigorous attention to every other aspect of the era? I wonder why actors aren't more sympathetic to the play they are in and why the creative team seem oblivious to this outstanding issue?

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Inspiration

4 March 2014
My teacher Christopher Jefferies, wrongly arrested for the murder of Joanna Yeates in Bristol, gave an excellent talk last week on the British media. At the time I was astonished how even broadsheets wilfully peddle lies simply to corroborate a story they are determined to tell, no matter how misleading. The Daily Telegraph reported that Christopher showed pupils a violent and horrific film. The film they were talking about was the acclaimed Nuit and Brouillard by Alain Resnais, the first and perhaps the finest film ever made about the Holocaust.

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Clothes

20 October 2013
I didn't realise how moving it would be to see clothes from Tudor times which are now on display at a wonderful exhibition of Elizabethan's at the National Portrait Gallery. There is something strangely poingnant about looking at an ordinary cloth cap worn over four hundred years ago and even more remarkably the jacket of a seaman, which was only preserved because artists down the ages have been using it as a costume prop. There are also some highly ornate gloves of a noble woman, apparently the best preserved in the world. There's a fabulous painting of a fete in Bermondsey looking out over the Thames towards the Tower of London, where every occupation is included mid-festivity. My great acting teacher Rudi Shelly gave us the priceless advice to remember that every generation thinks it is the most modern and to look at an historic painting as if it's the very latest in fashion, as that is how they would have thought of themselves. Meanwhile when you're surrounded by five different portraits of Queen Elizabeth, you really do get a sense of what she must have looked like.

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Horrible Times

8 July 2013
It was only today as I sat on a bench overlooking Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge that it occurred to me that over the weekend BSC has been performing in London's Hyde Park, Derby, the Isle of Wight and Sydney Opera House. It's just a little extraordinary that a company whose only ambition is to put on good shows should be performing throughout the world, not forgetting Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai earlier this year. Yet the spirit of the company remains unchanged. Two weeks ago we performed BARMY BRITAIN at the Chalke Valley Farm history festival and it was one of the happiest days of my life. Surrounded by fabulous personalities including Charles Moore and Martin Brown, and playing to a packed tent of 700 people, in the heart of the British countryside, it could only be topped by the best burger I've had this year! The sun was shining, the kids were smiling and you couldn't have picked a better spot for a theatre event in Britain. I am hoping BSC will always be happy in whatever tent or theatre we are performing. So long as the audiences are as great as we've experienced this year, it doesn't matter where we pitch up. I think all of us involved in the events of 2013 - big and small - are feeling very lucky indeed!

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Kingston

28 April 2013
I love it when my stupidity is revealed in all its glory. I went to Kingston yesterday to see PROPELLER's production of Twelfth Night (incidentally a classic case in my view of a company which has no interest whatsoever in getting underneath the characters or the story but loves to busy itself with tricks and stunts) and after the show wandered past a church where six or seven kings were crowned in the 10th century. When I met up with my friend I told her of my exciting discovery. Who would have known, I said, that Kingston had once been so important to the Kings of England? "Presumably that's why it's called Kingston" she said "King's Town". And thus my complete inability to make this obvious connection was joyously revealed. What it is to be magnificently stupid!

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The Book of Mormon

11 April 2013
Interesting! Once again it feels like the entire audience are committed fans who have seen the show fifty times, as everyone is falling about laughing/cheering before the lights have come up. Personally, I thought the production and cast were fantastic – one of the best West End casts I’ve seen for a long time. Boy, do these actors work hard and it’s a joy to see such unbridled commitment from such talented individuals. The set, lighting, choreography, sound are all terrific. But the production itself is really a one joke show. Having never taken the story of Jesus very seriously, I can't say I was scandalised or found it hilarious to see the Mormon’s belief’s satirised: all religion seems fairly bizarre to me now. And I just couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable in the way the Africans in the story are portrayed. There are some good jokes and fun scenes, but not in a million years would I have guessed this pretty thin material could have become one of the biggest hits of modern times. Which just goes to show how little I know! Hats off to a great cast who give it everything they’ve got.

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Margaret Thatcher

9 April 2013
I'm finding the exhaustive discussions about Margaret Thatcher very interesting, because in essence it's a discussion about Britain over the last forty years - who we are, how we got here, what do we want for our country and how do we see ourselves as a nation. Whatever we think of her, it clearly shows the phenomenal influence she had on the direction of Britain and her enormous impact on every aspect of national life.

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Time to lay off the bankers

7 April 2013
Nearly five years after the crash, we are being urged by some quarters to stop bashing the bankers. The men (and they are mostly men) who brought the world to its knees in an exercise of hubris, greed and plain deceit are asking to be left alone. Given the pain and misery they created for ordinary men and women who took no part in their bizarre and inane grab for cash, it seems to me the bankers have got off scot-free. Their bonuses remain tightly wrapped up in their personal bank accounts, unaffected by the disaster their activities caused which secured their bonuses in the first place; those with knighthoods for Services to Deception remain part of the social elite; and nothing serious has been done to stop the crisis from happening again. Far from laying off the bankers, governments around the world should be encouraged by public anger to properly tackle the root causes of the crimes committed against ordinary people by the banking industry which has absolutely failed to acknowledge its role in creating the catastrophe. The banks are still too big to be allowed to fail and if they go down they will take us all with them, unless once again ordinary people are asked to save their necks. This period in history will surely be regarded as a time when governments took leave of their senses and allowed the people they are supposed to serve to be hijacked by the most malign of corporate influences.

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The Joy of Comedy

7 April 2013
It's happened again! Alison Fitzjohn and I have been performing BARMY BRITAIN since May last year. We have learnt a huge amount since those first performances and the learning continues: while performing at Kensington Palace last week we accidentally split one of the lines between us - and got a laugh which the line had never received before. We deliberately repeated the mistake the next night and sure enough the laugh was there again. It's one of the glorious mysteries of comedy that we will never know why this particular line normally said by one person is suddenly much funnier when split between the two of us. It's why doing the same show for twelve months remains as interesting now as it was in the opening week: the production has never become a finished product - we've discovered something new from every single performance. It's a show unlike anything I've done before. And it's another example of the joy of working with Alison Fitzjohn

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How a building can change your life

23 March 2013
I’ve just returned from a fabulous speech given by John Harrison at The Old Rep Theatre, as part of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s 100th anniversary. Deprived of their own building while it is being redeveloped, the Rep have remembered The Old Rep and used it as the base to celebrate their centenary. John started his acting career at the Rep in the 40's, became Artistic Director in the 60’s and was brought out of retirement to direct five of our best and most enjoyable productions, including She Stoops to Conquer, Proof, Speed-the-Plow and Oleanna. Today I sat listening to John as he brought alive his memories of Sir Barry Jackson, Paul Scofield and Sir Derek Jacobi. Both Paul and Derek became the founding patrons of our company and a hugely important part of my life.

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What's the point?

26 February 2013
In an article about the incredible Alice Herz-Sommer who I had never heard of before, I was touched by what Stephen Hough wrote about what music can achieve: "To lift us out of ourselves, to point beyond, to awaken a sense of the 'other'." I think the very best theatre strives for the same thing - to illuminate the human condition, to help us understand what it is to be human. Alice Herz-Sommer was 110 when she died last Sunday. Amongst a lifetime on earth, she was in Theresienstadt concentration camp for two years where her piano playing saved her life. I was struck by the photos of her enjoying life in her centenary. Not long before she died, she said "I think I am in my last days, but it doesn't really matter because I have had such a beautiful life. And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love." You can see it all in her face.

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2012

1 January 2013
So here we are in 2013. I actually never thought we would get to this day with five productions going so wonderfully well over this period. Staging five shows was a tall order by any measure but to have staged all five shows with such fantastic and happy companies, such great stage management teams, such brilliant work by the creatives, with such fabulous reviews and audience feedback and great success at the box office, is quite astounding. I went to see Roger Haines' production of CHARLOTTE'S WEB at Derby Theatre yesterday and it was such a delight. Everything about the show is beautiful and the cast are fantastic - such sincerity, integrity and commitment to the story - all told against a glorious backdrop created by Jamie Vartan and Ben Ormerod. And to find everyone having such a great time - it's as good as it gets. It's rewarding too for the success of the shows to be reflected in the reviews.

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Guns

16 December 2012
I'm struck by the thought that 9/11's horrific events killed 2996 people. Each year. before and since then, about 9,000 Americans shoot each other with hand guns. So since 2001, some 100,000 Americans have killed each other with guns. Following 9/11, America launched wars against Afghanistan and Iraq - killing thousands of children along the way it should be said - to stop the events of 9/11 happening again, but has done nothing to try and stop thousands of American's shooting each other every year. One must draw the conclusion that American society loves guns - and loves the right to shoot each other - more than it loves its own people and 9,000 more people are going to be shot before next Christmas. That's the equivalent of three 9/11's in the coming months - and Americans are now preparing themselves to do absolutely nothing to change it.

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Acting

16 December 2012
I've been performing in HORRIBLE HISTORIES - BARMY BRITAIN at The Garrick Theatre since April and yesterday enjoyed two glorious shows, nine months after my first performance. I'm blessed with an amazing acting partner in Alison Fitzjohn and we both knew that the two audiences in yesterday's packed performances where willing participants of the drama and comedy and we had enormous pleasure in working with them to create something special. People ask if you can get bored doing the same show for 9 months but because I'm working with someone who is ready to start from scratch every single show and because the audiences are often so willing to enter into the spirit of the production, each show becomes something uniquely different. The challenge comes not only from making the characters live and genuinely interact each show, but also from the comedy lines which you are shaping every time for the audience in front of you. And each laugh, gasp, silence is unique to that audience, so that throughout the show you are doing something different - and experiencing something different - minute by minute. Both Alison and I came off stage after both shows yesterday exhilerated by the communal experience we had all had. And what makes theatre so special is that tomorrow afternoon - we do it all again! - starting right back at the beginning, listening to and working with the group of people who have unwittingly decided to all come to the theatre together that day.

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Directing

16 December 2012
I think I’ve had an insight into why director’s theatre has become so prevalent in British theatre. By director’s theatre, I mean productions where the director’s “vision” swamps the play and the production. I often feel that directors have asked themselves not "what is this play about?" but "what can I do with this play?" I’ve just directed TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN, where my focus has been to find the best way to tell the story. Each day we got nearer to opening, the actors took their performances to new levels and all the different designers moved in to do their work. And by the opening performance I felt I had achieved my aim – the production was telling the story. In my view, if the director has done a good job, they disappear from the production. I don’t know why you would want the audience to notice your direction. You want the audience to become engrossed in the story, not to be aware of the technique you have used to tell the story. And so you become unseen. Which is quite challenging to the ego. The whole focus of the show is now on the actors and the story - and the director disappears. In my view this is exactly as it should be, but I can see why some directors – many of whom wanted to be actors – resist this disappearance act and want to impose themselves onto the production so that everyone sees them. They want to remain at the centre of the show. To be acknowledged. To be seen. And critics love director's theatre because it gives them something to write about. Done well, a play speaks for itself. But critics love writing about how it's been done - and it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle. It’s been a small revelation as to why British theatre has moved in this direction (no pun intended).  

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Romax

4 December 2012
If it's worth saying once, it's worth saying again! We will never EVER use Romax mailing house again! So may I take this opportunity to recommend Mailbird mailing house who offer a reliable and excellent service.

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The BBC

10 November 2012
John Humphreys' interview with George Entwistle on the TODAY programme this morning was car crash radio. Never have I heard such gross incompetence admitted live on air. It was a brave interview by Humphreys that nailed Entwistle to the mast. It was also truly shocking and you could tell from the stress in the voices of Humphreys and Naughtie afterwards that something seismic had happened at the BBC. It's just been announced that Entwistle has resigned. It was inevitable from the moment the interview ended. Well done the TODAY programme for doing their very difficult job this morning so professionally.

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Russia and China

20 October 2012
Congratulations are due to China and Russia for supporting Syria and the unspeakable atrocities it is committing against its own people. Thanks to their support of the regime, the conflict is now spreading into Turkey and Lebanon. We complain about America, but it is frightening to imagine a world run by Russia and China. 

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The Nobel Peace Prize

14 October 2012
I don't think the EU should regard the award of the Nobel Peace Prize as an accolade. I think it's a warning.

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Sir Jimmy Saville

01 October 2012
Like many people, I feel very angry about the revelations concerning Jimmy Saville. I have just watched employees of the BBC talking about how they knew there were serious concerns surrounding Saville - some even saw events happening first hand. So why, oh why, has it taken so long for these concerns to be properly investigated and addressed. On the other hand, I totally understand the anger of Saville's family - the man is now dead and has no ability to defend himself or answer these accusations. But as with the Catholic church, the more important crime here is the total abrogation of responsibility from the senior people in the BBC or the Church to deal properly with difficult situations. The fish rots from the head down and the people at the top of any organisation have ultimate responsibility to act swiftly and properly when confronted by uncomfortable or difficult situations: anything else is a collusion with the actual crime. For bad things to happen, all that is required is for good men to do nothing. You cannot look away.

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King Lear

25 September 2012
And so I'm sitting here, late into the night, watching Peter Brook's film KING LEAR with Paul Scofield as the King. And Barry Stanton as Oswald. I've rarely felt luckier.  Barry played Big Daddy in our production of CAT IN A HOT TIN ROOF. Paul Scofield was our patron. Paul came up to see the show with his wife Joy - Barry predicted they would only say a brief hello afterwards - but Paul and Joy were the last people to leave the building! Paul was overjoyed with the performances of Sandra Reinton and Marcus D'Amico and Maggie and Brick. It was the first of four BSC productions they came to see. So to see Paul and Barry performing together in this film - it's something special. Paul is excoriating in the role - he strips everything bare, down to the raw bone. And everyone is soooo good. Irene Worth as Goneril is unforgettable, Patrick Magee as the Duke of Cornwall - terrifying. Peter Brook has created a truly recognisable world and distilled the essence of the play. And the internet being what it is, you can watch Paul play "Oh reason not the need" and then turn to see Olivier do the same speech - with such a contrast. Paul is like granite. Olivier in weak desperation: it made such an impression on me when I first saw it when I was 17. I love these actors. It is a marvel that the internet brings them into your living room, performing some of their greatest work, while you sit in your armchair. What an unconditional treat!

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Richard Burton

16 September 2012
Richard Burton's diaries have just been published and what joy it was to discover this entry on 2 November 1971 about my friend and patron Paul Scofield. It says so much about Paul - and so much about Burton! "Why do the audience look at Paul Scofield and not me? He walks like a pimp, he's got a patently false voice, he's elephant-arsed and thin chested and minute-shouldered and here stand I the shining and superb son of a hundred earls and yet they look at Scofield and his apology for acting." I've no idea what performance it refers to and the internet doesn't help, but it's a discovery of sheer bliss!

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Moon Bears

16 September 2012
I've just returned from China to visit the sanctuary for moon bears which have been rescued from China's bear farms. You may not be aware, but since the 1980's, Chinese 'farmers' have kept thousands of brown Asiatic bears in cages in which they cannot move at all in order to extract bile from their stomachs. Around 7,000 bears are currently trapped in these nightmare conditions, stuffed into horrific, tiny cages, a metal jacket fitted around their body and a tube shoved into their stomach to extract the bile which is sold for Chinese medicine. The horror increases when you know that these huge bears can live for thirty years in these conditions, slowly going mad and enduring appalling pain at the hands of these 'farmers'. An English woman called Jill Robinson found out about what the Chinese were doing and started rescuing the bears from farms that were closing down. She managed to secure premises to keep them in Chengdu, where she and her amazing team look after these battered and wounded bears in the most extraordinary way. Those that are beyond care are put down - those that are still able to enjoy their lives are given everything possible to provide some joy in their final years. I can't imagine any animals in the world being cared for with such detail and dedication. I had never been involved with an animal charity, but one day I opened The Daily Mail and saw a picture of a bear in one these cages which shocked me beyond words. So it was fantastic to find that there was this woman called Jill who was giving people the possibility of  being able to help - that I was actually going to be able to do something to help the bears being tortured in this way.

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The Edinburgh Dream

16 August 2012
We have previously staged two shows at the Edinberg Fringe Festival - SPEED-THE-PLOW in 1999 and THE DICE HOUSE in 2003. By sheer good fortune both shows went amazingly well and they remain amongst my favourite theatrical experiences. So I've always been extremely hesitant about attempting a hat-trick - a hesitation that has lasted nine years until we decided to take the plunge with an Edinburgh run of HORRIBLE HISTORIES - BARMY BRITAIN. My naivety knows no bounds, so when the Pleasance put us into the Pleasance Grand I had no idea it was the biggest venue on the fringe. Would I be able to remember how to market shows here? Madolyn from the Pleasance provided wisdom at the launch party and so a plan evolved, into which we printed an excess of leaflets, which still feels to me the most effective way of advertising a show here. Except our leaflet organiser ran off with the money three days into the run having failed to pay his young leafleters. Fortunately the girls he roped into his enterprise were fantastically level-headed and so having paid them what they were owed (again) we simply did it together. We have the brilliant ArthurLeone PR team arranging press and reviews - and here we are, half way through the run, with eight 4 and 5 star reviews and countless articles which have packed the theatre from day one.  

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Past to present

12 May 2012
Wow! There's an extraordinary exhibition at Lambeth Palace at the moment: taking us through their library of the Book of Common Prayer, you can peer through the glass at Richard III's handwritten entry in his copy of the Book of Hours "On 2 October Richard King of England was born"; Henry VIII's handwritten response on the front page of Invicta Veritas which sets out why he couldn't divorce Catherine: "this is a load of rubbish" (in Latin!) and Charles I's handwritten note to the Archbishop to include his children in national prayers. There's something astonishing about looking at the handwritten notes of these men from centuries past - suddenly time dissolves and the men are standing before you. In fact it was actually hard to believe I was looking at the hand writing of Richard III - who incidentally I had never realised was only 30 when he became King. (Note to self: must find out the name of the Tudor courtier who lived to 100!) London is a palace of treasures!

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Horrible Histories

7 May 2012
I'm getting excited about Thursday. Last year Nimax Theatres asked if we would produce a new production of HORRIBLE HISTORIES for the West End and I began working on HORRIBLE HISTORIES - BARMY BRITAIN. Twenty-one years ago I wrote my first and only sketch about Shakespeare for a compilation of comedy scenes for a show called HAMLET - AS SHAKESPEARE ALWAYS WANTED IT PERFORMED - SO HE TELLS ME. By a strange accident the show ended up at The Duke of Yorks Theatre where our glorious cast had a fantastic fortnight and made a minor profit thanks to a rave review from Time Out. It's still one of my favourite experiences but I have never put pen to paper since. Yet for some reason the offer from Nimax stirred a interest to go back to the writing desk to create four new scenes for a one hour show put together with Terry Deary and Ciaran McConville. Having had a strong instinct about how to stage it, I put on my directing cap and together with a great creative team took inspiration from Tommy Cooper to produce a show centered on the art of the actor, with loving support from sound, lighting, costumes, props and a deceptively simply set.

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2012 onwards...

01 April 2012
A busy time for the BSC. It’s been non-stop since four shows played over Christmas – three in Birmingham and one in London – which also coincided with the launch of the new tour of HORRIBLE HISTORIES, followed by the world premiere of BARMY BRITAIN at The Garrick and the launch of a HORRIBLE HISTORIES tour to Dubai and Hong Kong, which finished today. As always, the four of us in the office have managed the shows between us, with a lot of fun along the way. Our eyes are now turned towards four new productions for the summer and autumn – a new production of BARMY BRITAIN for The Edinburgh Festival, a new production of JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH for Birmingham and a national tour, a new production of TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN for London, and in spring 2013 the launch of the world premiere national tour of OCTONAUTS. Not forgetting Dubai and Hong Kong which are both looking forward to a return visit this time next year! HORRIBLE HISTORIES - BARMY BRITAIN is proving to be enormous fun at The Garrick. Based on Terry Deary’s fantastic books and co-written with the man himself, we explore eight periods from British history in the glorious style of the HH books, visiting Roman, Viking, Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, late and early Victorian eras and the Great War.

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Peter Wolff

18 March 2012
There are so many things I could write about Peter Wolff, who very sadly died this week. Here was a man in his 80's, an age which you would normally think would be twilight of a man's life. But not the extraordinary Peter Wolff. Coming out of a long and successful career in textiles, Peter founded a writer's trust to help emerging British talent. In 1998 he put £1 million into a fund and invited writers and theatres to apply for help. I called him to meet about the five plays I'd just commissioned. He couldn't consider helping me until the plays had been written but we got on well and kept in touch. Two years later he asked if I would be interested in running the Trust with him. I knew very little about new writing, but Peter was intrigued by the success of the BSC and wondered if I could apply the same judgement to his Trust. I widened his remit and together we chose plays from Hampstead, The National, The Donmar, Soho Theatre, Coventry Belgrade and Theatre Centre. It was a special three years in which I learned an enormous amount. What impressed and surprised me so much about Peter was that despite his great success in business, he came into the theatre world with a completely open mind and a vast eagerness to learn - he was never one of those clever people who knew it all.

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Acting

7 December 2011
How come whenever you start a new role, you suddenly find yourself wondering whether you will ever remember how to act?! It’s like starting from scratch every time. I am currently rehearsing the role of the King for THE FIREWORK-MAKER’S DAUGHTER and I am standing there feeling I have never been on a stage in my life. Is all art like this?

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Excitement

4 December 2011
In September 1992 I sat at the back of The Old Rep Theatre and watched our new patron Derek Jacobi being interviewed by Midlands Today for the launch of the Birmingham Stage Company as the new resident company of The Old Rep.  It was an exciting day. Yesterday I sat in the same chair at the back of the theatre and watched our production of THE JUNGLE BOOK unfold in front of a packed house who cheered it to the rafters. And it occurred to me that the level of excitement I feel today is the same as it was nearly twenty years ago when I sat in the back row watching the birth of the BSC. Theatre is extraordinary.

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The Jungle Book

13 November 2011
Every so often you stumble across a part which feels like it fits you like a glove. And so it was on Friday. Except this is a part I’ve taken some time stumbling into… We first performed THE JUNGLE BOOK in 2004 – so who knows why it took so long for me to think about playing Shere Khan in the show. The truth is I never thought about. But when the actor playing the part in our current tour requested a day off for a special occasion, my eyes began to light up, and I began to wonder whether this would be an enjoyable part to play. My goodness! With only four hours of rehearsal, and just two performances on Friday, Mr Khan has become one of my favourite roles. But maybe something helped it all make sense. Just a few weeks ago I sat open-mouthed and with the rest of the world watched the videos of Gaddafi in his final hour on earth. My friend Graeme (who originally directed THE JUNGLE BOOK back in 2004) remarked that it was like watching an old, desert lion in his final throws. And knowing I was going to be playing Shere Khan, that image must have somehow fixed. A ruthless predator, at the end of his days, with those dead, dead eyes, lashing out in one last attempt to stay alive. Given the anthropomorphic style of THE JUNGLE BOOK, that grizzled and bloodied dictator seems to have become the perfect inspiration for this old and dangerous tiger. And maybe one other inspiration – from one of my favourite poems by Yeats – The Second Coming Somewhere, in the sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds…. And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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Theatre Life

13 November 2011
One of my favourite quotes about the theatre, from Shakespeare by Ivor Brown. Theatre life, with its quarrels and muddles and vanities, is a form of lunacy: but the moonbeams of that lunacy can be of a radiance that does indeed reward. Out of the tantrums and tornado or – even worse – out of the dreary flatness of a really bad rehearsal, out of the egotism and jealousy of the green-room, out of the delay and frustration and confusion inevitable in the staging of plays, grandeur may suddenly spring when the great day arrives. Then the play, which seemed to be possessed by Caliban, becomes and Ariel and ‘flames amazement’ on the audience. The occasional miracle of the theatre its inhabitants know: indeed, by it they live.

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Imagine

09 November 2011
The BBC 1 programme IMAGINE stunned me again last night with a fantastic programme about Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel and their making of the album Bridge Over Troubled Water. One of the best programmes about the creative process I've seen...since the last IMAGINE programme which blew me away. Inspirational!

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Skyfall

5 November 2011
I appear to have joined that small club who were disappointed with SKYFALL. I know many have loved it and the critics are raving, but I confess to being bewildered. The actors are fantastic and I enjoyed their performances. My problem lies with the script and the leaden direction. Films are very rarely boring but Skyfall...? (If you haven't seen the film, look away!) The plot: Rogue agent wants to kill M. Judi Dench is a marvel, but taking the plot on it's own merits...who cares about M? Bond villains want to take over the world, hold Presidents to ransom, steal the world's money. This guy just wants to kill M. And takes two long hours to fail. Bond: Bond get's killed (obviously not) and then takes an hour of film time to recuperate until he is ready to take on our villain. Marvellous as Craig is, I struggled to find anything very interesting about watching Bond retrain. His hand shakes. His hand stops shaking. We're all getting old. Is that it? Bond girl: Berenice Marlohe is a perfect Bond girl - and lasts five minutes. No romance, no drama...she has one scene and dies. The only shocking thing about this moment is that you realise they've lost the plot! Action sequences: the shoot-out in Parliament is so amateur it would have been cut from The Bill. The grand finale: Bond villain walks endlessly around a house throwing the odd bomb through a window. The Bourne Trilogy is a brilliant example of action drama with a thrilling lead actor under threat. It makes Skyfall feel very old fashioned. It seems to rely entirely on our love of Judi Dench - and I adore Judi Dench - but I really don't care what happens to M! If they want to kill Ralph Fiennes in the next film, be my guest, but please do it in the first 5 minutes and get on with a film! And what genius thought of the title? "I know, we'll name it after the house James Bond was born in". Who in their right minds would ever name a house Skyfall?!  

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Barmy Britain

3 November 2011
The BSC has always had a reputation for being cheeky – I can’t think where that’s come from?! So when we were deciding where to launch our West End premiere of HORRIBLE HISTORIES - BARMY BRITAIN to coincide with Bonfire Night, there was only one place we wanted to do it – Parliament! But how were we going to persuade the authorities at the Houses of Parliament to let us launch BARMY BRITAIN from their Palace? Enter Lord Plumb of Coleshill, a wonderful man from my home town, who generously offered to host the launch. So yesterday morning the BSC performed WHO WANTS TO BLOW UP PARLIAMENT? with contestant Guy Fawkes, in the Houses of Parliament. I have rarely been so nervous in my life! A wonderful start to an exciting West End adventure!

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Gaddafi

23 October 2011
Hasn’t the world grown to love sanctimony! It is being suggested the fighters in Libya should be prosecuted for war crimes for killing Gaddafi. Every hour that he lived, more people died. But when the ordinary civilians he was trying to kill finally and unexpectedly captured him after eight months of horrific fighting, they are supposed to show restraint and hand him over to the proper authorities. These men are not part of a professional army, they hadn’t been trained or taught the rules of warfare: they are ordinary men thrown into a battle they didn’t ask for by the actions of one tyrant: a man they finally caught up with on the streets of Sirte. And for ten minutes or so he experienced the terror and brutality he had been dispensing for forty-two years. It would have been a glorious thing to see him on trial, although like Milosevic, Hussein and now Mladic before him, no doubt giving his valedictory address, revealing nothing, regretting nothing. By contrast, in the heat of war, Gaddafi’s fate was decided not by Western powers but by the ordinary Libyans he had been desperately trying to kill just minutes before he was captured. There’s a phrase – you live by the sword, you die by the sword. The self-styled ‘King of Kings’ got off very lightly indeed.

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Bold Steps

23 October 2011
The BSC is entering a very interesting stage of development. You could almost say we’re growing up. On a board in our office is a list of current and forthcoming productions. There are twelve at present – in an office of four people – so that’s three productions each? Not quite! The team that runs BSC is working wonderfully well together and collaborating every step of the way. What makes 2011/2012 so interesting is that we’ve never been involved in developing so many plays from scratch – starting with original ideas, leading to new scripts and different forms of production – and working with a wide variety of creative artists, many of them new to the company.   It feels like we’re taking very bold steps towards highly imaginative theatre, from stripped-down pure acting shows, to high-tech ambitious productions that will push theatre into unique ways of presentation. It feels like one of the most creative periods we’ve experienced. Meanwhile the shows currently running are generating wonderful reactions from audiences and critics alike. I sat amongst school children in London and gawped as groups of children gave HORRIBLE HISTORIES a standing ovation: it’s not something children normally do. Meanwhile THE JUNGLE BOOK continues its migration across the country and the reaction is tremendous. We’re very lucky to have such excellent companies showing such commitment to their craft and their audiences. And everything we do is funded by you! There are no investors, no sponsors, no public funders backing our work. Just pure ticket income generating new and ever more exciting productions. In less than two weeks we’ll be launching the first of these exciting adventures. Stay tuned!

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Understudies rule!

11 October 2011
It’s been a good month for BSC understudies! Jennifer O’Neill is to play the lead role in THE FIREWORK-MAKER’S DAUGHTER in London after understudying the role so wonderfully in Birmingham last year. Daniel Thomas was on stage playing a main role brilliantly in London on Saturday for three performances of HORRIBLE HISTORIES. And it’s great to watch Greg McHugh, who understudied the tour of HORRIBLE HISTORIES in 2008, playing a lead role in FRESH MEAT on C4. We are very proud of them all!

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Ghost

12 August 2011
Saw Ghost last night and it works. I didn't believe the two leads had even a passing interest in each other as chemistry proves elusive. But the show is well put together and it's a good story with a tense second half. Paul Kieve has produced some wonderful effects which takes the production to another level. The music comes and goes but there's a great number from Sharon D Clark which deservedly brought the strongest applause. As you can probably tell, despite not finding anything in it which I would normally want from a show, I enjoyed it and yep, I'd  recommend it.

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Norway

26 July 2011
I always wonder why there is always so little mention of the psychopathic condition when events occur of the type that have happened in Norway. It was playing Iago in 2007 that led me to study psychopathy - and to discover with amazement that Shakespeare fully understood a condition that wasn't formally diagnosed until 1940 - and not properly characterised until 1992. The more I read, the more I began to understand why men like Iago - and Anders Breivik - behave in the way they do. It is estimated that approx 2% of the population is psychopathic. That's about a million people in the UK. Only a very small proportion of them go on to kill people.

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A Second Chance

8 July 2011
David Cameron says he wanted to give Andy Coulson a second chance. When I was about 12 I remember my father driving me to school and telling me never to give anyone a second chance. I protested. He explained he didn't mean don't give them a second chance when someone had made an honest mistake - people make mistakes everyday. But if someone is lazy, the chances are they will always be lazy. If they are unreliable, it will be hard to trust them again. If they make a habit of lying, you will always have to be careful. I didn't agree with him. And when I started running the BSC I was always ready to give someone a second chance. In fact I've done it many times. It has never worked.

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Theatre

1 July 2011
I am very unsure about the move towards broadcasting live shows over the digital network to audiences around the country. It seems to me the essential nature of theatre is its live component. But not just for its own sake. Theatre is about communication between the actors on stage and the audience: a three way conversation. Remove the audience from the actors and it becomes something very different. All good actors respond minutely to their audience - but in a digital context the actors have no idea of the effect their show is having on the remote audience and no way of adjusting or playing their role in tune with an audience's reaction. This is not theatre to me. It's something different and if I'm honest, something far less interesting and potentially dangerous. A lot of theatre is boring - and there is a risk that it could become even more boring when played over cinema screens under the pretext that this is 'live' theatre. It isn't - and no child or uninformed theatregoer should be told they are involved in watching a 'live' show - or else we may never see those people in a theatre again. I understand why theatres want to do it and I know that people enjoy watching the transmissions, but I hope that the word 'live' is treated very carefully when marketing these shows. The only 'live' thing about the show is that it is happening somewhere else at the same time as you're watching it. And that has very little to do with theatre to me.

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Shrek

15 June 2011
~~I am probably over-reacting but I was pretty ashamed to watch last night's opening of SHREK. What is happening to British theatre? Once again we were forced to watch unqualified 'stars' attempt to entertain us without any of the necessary talent, skill or charisma. And in Drury Lane of all places! I am sorry to get personal but Amanda Holden seemed a very strange choice for the role of Fiona. Amanda is an attractive, sexy woman who can sing well, act a little and with a lot of concentration can just about move around a stage. Witnessing her routine was like watching the Queen Mother on the dance floor. More worryingly, it appears that she is no longer able to smile, which is not useful for the leading love interest. Richard Blackwood looked understandably terrified. What on earth was anyone thinking when they offered him the role of the donkey? - a gift of a role, utterly squandered by someone who has absolutely no idea about characterisation. It is not his fault that he was offered this challenge - once again the cynicism of the producers was laid bare. The two Nigel's were great. They are actors, not 'stars'. They know what they're doing - and it showed. The music was deeply average, the sets uninspiring, the choreography woeful. How did one of the greatest stories in film history become such a mediocre production? As a producer who shares this responsibility every time we start a new production, the message was loud and clear: when you take a well known title you have to deliver. There must be no compromise. If you fail, at least fail honourably. Last night came across as a cynical exericise by people who demonstrated small disregard for their audience. There was no love on that stage.  

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The Talented Mr Jefferies

1 June 2011
Watching the media's treatment of my old English teacher Christopher Jefferies has been an education. Mr Jefferies you will recall was arrested in connection with the tragic murder of Jo Yeates. It is clear from reading the newspaper articles that the press had no intention of reporting the truth. They were interested in taking particular facts and reporting them with the aim of painting a background against which one could imagine CJ being guilty of this awful crime. And I am not just talking about the tabloids, who you would expect might enjoy this approach. The Daily Telegraph for example 'reported' that Mr Jefferies liked "dark and violent" films. Are these slasher movies, sadistic DVD's he hides in his drawers? No, this 'dark and violent' film is actually a reference to the celebrated French film Nuit et Brouillard by Alain Resnais about the Holocaust. Why didn't the Telegraph simply say so? Because it wants the reader to wonder whether there might be something 'dark and violent' about Mr Jefferies. There is no interest in reporting the truth here, just the desire to create a sensational story. Who needs the truth when you can spin a good yarn for your readers to enjoy? The same rubbish was trailed in The Times and other newspapers. But should we continue to call them 'news'papers with a straight face? This isn't news - it's gossip, innuendo and twisting the facts to suit their cheap motives which should have no place in serious journalism. They should hang their heads in shame. For the record, Mr Jefferies taught me for five years in English, film and theatre. I would be staggered if the man all of us knew had anything to do with this awful tragedy - nothing could be more unbelievable.

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2011

1 June 2011
It doesn't feel like it could get any better with our three shows this Christmas. Staging BAGPUSS was fraught with our fear about touching a national icon, but the show produced with Soho is quite faultless and has an extraordinary effect on its audience. I sat next to a 2 year old on Sunday who didn't take her eyes off the stage for 45 mins. I sat there wondering what was going through her head: she was utterly captivated by the actors and the puppets and seemed in a heavenly dream world. Quite a wonderful experience. THE FIREWORK-MAKER continues to blaze in Birmingham. I cry everytime I see it - it's such a good story which ends with the lesson that suffering can bring wisdom. How many children's shows deal with such important themes? I've invited the cast over for food and fireworks on Friday - they've been fantastic! And GEORGE continues to mix his MARVELLOUS MEDICINE at the Bloomsbury, where we've added new shows to cope with demand. Another superb cast who quite unbelievably have been performing this show twice a day since October 2009! My old teacher Rudi Shelly said acting is not about whether you can do it, but whether you can do it again - and again - and again - and again - and still make yourself and the audience believe it is happening for the first time. The cast of GEORGE could give a masterclass in the art of acting. We are very lucky to have such fine teams front and back stage who have acquited themselves so beautifully over these frosty weeks.  

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Ratko Mladic

29 May 2011
If you have ever wanted to understand the war in former Yugoslavia, one of the greatest documentaries ever made is now on youtube. The Death of Yugoslavia is made by my favourite documentary makers Brook Lapping. Their outstanding work includes The Second Russian Revolution and The Fifty Years War. They seem to have the astonishing knack of getting all the major players to speak freely to camera, so that the viewer is placed at the heart of the drama. Watching their programmes are amongst the most memorable and important experiences of my life. Highly recommended.

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The Cherry Orchard

27 May 2011
I saw 'The Cherry Orchard' last night at The National and had a good night of theatre: it's a clear, intelligent, beautifully designed production, but I have a serious question. And bearing in mind that Howard Davies is one of my favourite directors, I write this blog with trepidation. Despite an excellent cast of actors, with Zoe Wanamaker and James Laurenson getting the aristocratic mixture of arrogance, insouciance and incompetance spot on, I had a strong feeling that all the peasant roles were miscast. It's always difficult to write this when you have watched and enjoyed such excellent actors at work, but as Lopakhin, Yasha and Dunyasha delivered their performances, I sat there scratching my head over the absence of the working class. So many of the lines made no sense at all: Lopakhin talks endlessly of his peasant background but wouldn't look out of the place on the front bench of the Tory party. Dunyasha, whose yearning for sophistication should evoke pity and pain, could have come straight out of Brideshead. All of these characters are certainly trying to elevate themselves into 'society' but surely the whole point of the play is to chart the rise of the peasant and the fall of the governing class. Instead, to my bemusement there didn't appear to be anyone on the stage who could properly represent the proletariat. Which may have led to my disappointment at the lack of danger in the production. Chekhov seems to have been writing about a huge crack that was appearing in Russian society - trees would be felled, people would die - but that tension and danger was absent. Which didn't stop me enjoying the show - but left me wanting more.

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The Jungle Book

19 April 2011
THE JUNGLE BOOK is out again and has had a fantastic start to its tour. Rave reviews and a rapturous response has put the production on an exceptional footing for its journey around the country. THE JUNGLE BOOK is one of the most difficult shows we've ever staged and it's no surprise that it's taken this fourth production for me to be fully satisfied that we have brought together all the elements essential for the show in the most successful way. Each production has brought us one step closer to the script, music, lyrics, incidental music, set, costumes, movement, sound, lighting and company that the show needs . Disney's film set a high bar for any company attempting to create a new stage version of the story without Disney's amazing songs.

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New York

5 March 2011
It's been an interesting week. SKELLIG is blessed with the most wonderful cast and crew both on and off stage, so we were always going to have a chance of doing something great out here. But after a very successful rehearsal last week, somehow the weight of New York began to hold us back. There was uncertainly about how the audience would react and I almost felt that we were giving a presentation of last year's show instead of seizing the opportunity to perform the show with fresh thoughts, fresh impetus, and new discoveries, despite our wonderful director Phil Clark encouraging us to do so since we started. Somehow we had lost our electricty, our danger - and though there had been many flashes throughout the week, it hadn't properly come together. I expressed my thoughts to the cast on Friday morning and repeated what Phil had been telling us - the challenge he had given us. We only needed to discuss it once: that morning's performance was electric - it was the first time we really worked as a team here - and far from sitting back on it in the evening's performance, the cast went even further and flamed amazement on themselves, each other and the audience.

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Showcase

10 February 2011
It's showcase season and I am trying to see them all - but I hope never to see anything like the final showcase of Queen Margaret. The course is closing this year and not before time if the direction of the showcase is anything to go by. The actors appear to have been asked to do every scene as if it were a panto. It was impossible to judge anyone by the work they had been asked to perform. I think we all accept that there are too many drama schools offering poor quality training to wholly innocent actors, people who are being asked to pay serious money for serious training. On the basis of the show today, QM should not be missed and the directors should be ashamed.

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We Love George

10 February 2011
We've received some wonderful comments from Laburnam Grove Junior School who saw George's Marvellous Medicine in Worthing. My favourite is: 'It really made us laugh when Grandma grew and grew and went through the roof and then when she shrank away to nothing. Our teachers said they would like some of us to shrink away to nothing! And that made us laugh too!'  

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Groupon

07 February 2011
A word about Groupon, which is sweeping the nation. If you are a business, I would suggest you think carefully before dealing with the most incompetent and disorganised company I have ever come across. We have yet to find anyone in the organisation who knows what they're talking about. Their one field of expertise seems to be wasting everyone's time, which they do remarkably well. Not an experience we will be repeating!

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Frankenstein

7 February 2011
It's a wonderful experience to see great acting from the new generation and watching Benedict Cumberbatch in AFTER THE DANCE was the most exciting performance I'd seen on stage since Matthew Macfadyen in MUCH ADO, so I was greatly anticipating Ben C as the Creature in Frankenstein. The roles of Frankenstein and the Creature are being swapped nightly and I'd be interested to return to see Ben C as Frankenstein. The problem with the performance I saw on Saturday is that you didn't really care about anyone, with the exception of the excellent performances by Naomie Harris as Elizabeth and Karl Johnson as Delacey. It feels like they have the best scenes, but I'm not sure if that's because they're the best written, or the best acted. I think the complexities of the story may have got swamped by the tremendous effort that has gone into the physical characteristics of playing the monster, which is frankly the least interesting aspect of the character. Personally I am much more interested in the internal struggles faced by a monster 'born' into human society, revealing what it is to be human. And in order to achieve that I think we have to care about him, as in many ways he is 'our' creature, a creation of not just science, but of society. I suppose it's the same with all drama: you can spend a lot of time on effects, but if we don't care.....?  

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Horrible Audiences

31 January 2011
The brand new tour of Horrible Histories opened last week and first reactions are coming in from our audiences: 'I went to see Ruthless Romans today and it was amazingly good. The actors were great, the 3D effects were brilliant, it couldn't have been any better and I give it 10 out of 10! Will Horrible Histories be coming back to Horsham soon? I really really hope so'. Marc Burgess (aged 8)  

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Tony Curtis

28 December 2010
My friend was given Tony Curtis' new autobiography for Christmas, but before he had a chance to open it, I knicked it! And what a fabulous read it is! If you like Curtis, you'll love this book. I couldn't put it down.

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The Waiting Game

27 December 2010
We've got three reviews for GEORGE and SKELLIG due to appear in The Guardian and The Times. You could say there is a sense of anticipation in the air...!

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Judgements

26 December 2010
It's wonderful to have friends who have faith in your abilities, but I do have to wonder about my friend Fiona, who believed me when I told her I'd entered the television competition SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE and won!

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Hmmmmm!

20 December 2010
Must admit I enjoyed convincing one of the (experienced!) actors in SKELLIG that by some strange quirk in the wiring, all our backstage calls at The Bloomsbury get played over the loudspeakers in the auditorium at the London Palladium, so that at that very moment the audience for SISTER ACT were hearing our beginnners call for SKELLIG....

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The Jungle Book

20 December 2010
Those involved with the last tour of THE JUNGLE BOOK will be pleased to hear that Gidon Fineman, who at just 16 years old created the incidental music for the show, has just received a scholarship for the prestigious four year composition course at the Royal Academy of Music. Well done Gidon! (good ol' BSC - always spotting the talent early!! Like young Dean Logan - currently playing Michael in SKELLIG - another bright spark to look out for!)

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Skellig

18 December 2010
I love hearing the comments from the kids as we leave the stage after the curtain call: "Skellig! We love you Skellig!" and my favourite so far "What happened to the toilet?"

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Small Island

14 December 2010
I don't watch enough British drama to know - but it doesn't seem that often that you can enjoy such excellent acting as portrayed by Ruth Wilson, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Oyelowo, Shaun Parkes, Ashley Walters - and Naomie Harris - in SMALL ISLAND. What a cast!

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2010 and all that

29 November 2010
The BSC has had an extraordinary year. Back in January things were still tough but in October 2009 we had turned the corner and were fighting back against the recession. It's interesting being an unfunded company in the midsts of a downturn - every ticket counts!  

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Goethe

29 November 2010
Here's someone else who had something interesting to say. This had a huge influence on me when I read it in my early 20's. And nothing has been more true.  

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Peter O'Toole

29 November 2010
Back in the early 90's I interviewed some well known actors to help raise money for the BSC. One of them was Peter O'Toole. Here's something interesting he had to say...  

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Spike Milligan

16 November 2010
 Climb every mountain...  

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The Firework-Maker's Daughter

12 November 2010
The reaction we are getting to THE FIREWORK-MAKER'S DAUGHTER from the schools that have seen the show this week is unlike anything I have ever seen in eighteen years of producing theatre for children.  

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Success

9 November 2010
When I was given the role of Ronald Cave and three smaller parts in ONE NIGHT IN NOVEMBER at the Coventry Belgrade I began to wonder during rehearsals if I could disguise myself in the smaller roles without using any facial disguise, just using my voice and a different energy. One character would be easy - he wears a gas mask! The final character is very similar to my main role and difficult to differentiate without it becoming caricature. But could the local policeman be the one...?  

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George's Triumph

8 November 2010
We like receiving emails like this on Monday mornings....!  

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Working

28 October 2010
Interesting! I wondered if working with people who are colleagues rather than employees would be different, but it isn't. Which is making me reflect on both experiences with a smile. It's a great group of people here in Coventry in every department which has made the fist day of tech for ONE NIGHT IN NOVEMBER actually enjoyable! (I know, an enjoyable tech?!). It's great to be out of the rehearsal room and onto a beautiful set for the show. Everyone had their hair cut 40's style today and they look fabulous!

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Fireworks

27 October 2010
The cast, creative and stage management team behind THE FIREWORK-MAKER'S DAUGHTER have pulled off a terrific coup with a fantastic production of Philip Pullman's wonderful story.

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The First Grader

27 October 2010
Saw the premiere last night of a wonderful new film THE FIRST GRADER, the true story of an 84 year old man who goes to school to learn to read in Kenya.

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World Events

27 October 2010
The BSC sometimes seems strangely connected to world events. Back on 11 September 2001 we were finalising the set for JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, which ends in New York. Our designer had created three profiles to create the backdrop of the city and half way through the meeting we reluctantly decided to cut the World Trade Center. Fifteen minutes later the first plane hit....

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Acting - Chapter Two

6 October 2010
Of course the big difference between acting with your own company and working freelance is that on the first day you have no idea who you’re going to be working with. So could my first two jobs have been any better? Working on HUSTLE, my first time on set, was a dream. My scene was with Adrian Lester, Kelly Adams and Robert Vaughan – just the four of us – so no pressure then. And all three couldn’t been gentler or more welcoming. The entire team was unbelievably slick, without any sense of rush. And even lunch was good!  

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Skellig

03 October 2010
Interesting article about the BSC's forthcoming production of SKELLIG on the Birmingham Post's online site, which goes on to say: "The production is yet another example of the special touch BSC brings to children's shows. I always find it odd that the company seems to be lauded far more outside Brum for the excellence of its work - Skellig transfers to London in November - and the words 'prophet' and 'own country' spring to mind". For sixteen years I've been the only person from Birmingham running a major theatre company in Birmingham - yet we've always been taken more seriously outside of Brum than in it! I take heart that Sir Barry Jackson had exactly the same problem when he created the Birmingham Rep in 1913! Birmingham suffers from an inverse snobbery - that no-one from Birmingham could be as fine as someone from outside the city. Being the second biggest city is our greatest curse - constantly suffering the unspoken notion that we're second best. When, I wonder, will it change. Full article at http://blogs.birminghampost.net/lifestyle/2008/10/family-magic.html

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George

22 September 2010
The most wonderful report has come through from Swansea following our recent visit with GEORGE’S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE.  

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Banks

18 September 2010
If HBOS hadn't been rescued yesterday, the BSC would have stopped trading today. Every penny owned by the BSC is sitting in the banks owned by HBOS. 16 years of the BSC could have come to a shuddering halt. And all because of those clever men and women who thought it was clever to bundle debt into obscure packages and sell them to other men and women who thought it was clever to buy them. And clever banks who thought it was wonderfully clever to lend money to people who hadn't got a hope of paying it back if the housing market didn't keep rising by 20% a year. It's good to know we're all in such safe and clever hands. Yesterday felt like a very long day.

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Praise Indeed

20 August 2010
"The cast have been a joy to have around. The whole production, as always, just oozes quality and class. If only all companies were like BSC!"

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The Actor's Life

16 August 2010
I suppose I thought I knew how hard it was to be an actor. I’ve auditioned many thousands of actors in my time with BSC, I have scores of friends at different ends of the business, I’ve watched careers rise and fall over the years. But it was sitting on the steps of the American Church with nine other actors waiting for my five minutes with the casting director for the programme HUSTLE, that the scale of the nightmare that makes for an actor’s life sank in. This is hard. Very, very hard.  

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Burn The Floor

27 July 2010
Don't be put off by the marketing for BURN THE FLOOR at the Shaftesbury.

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The 39 Steps

25 JULY 2010
There's a very fine cast performing in THE 39 STEPS at the moment - and Tim Speyer is excellent in his latest West End role. Big congrats Tim - your performance is bold, barmy and brilliant!

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Bureaucrats Rejoice

25 July 2010
Bureaucrats around the world - you have a new leader! Philip Colechin, Senior Customer Services Officer of Gospel Oak District Housing Office, has successfully transformed himself from a human being into The Man Who Knows The Rules. So even though a 99 year old woman needed help, Philip reminded me (at length) of the Rules and thank goodness - otherwise I might have gone through life putting other people first. And what a fool I would have felt!

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Ian Tomlinson

22 July 2010
Is there anybody in Britain who could have got away with forcibly pushing Ian Tomlinson to the floor and got away with it....except a British police officer? Er, no. What's really sad is that it isn't a surprise.

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Acting Lessons

16 July 2010
I sometimes get asked if I give acting lessons, so over the summer I'm happy to provide acting lessons for anyone who is interested. Please drop an email to the BSC at info@birminghamstage.com if you'd like to arrange a lesson. Birmingham lost out to Derry for Capital of Culture last night. A big shame for us all but here's to next time!

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Question

12 July 2010
Is it me or do we live in a very weird world where people eulogise a narcissistic murderer, a man is given copious airtime to claim he could have saved a brother he hadn't spoken to for seven years and the police are blamed for not saving a man who sat with a shotgun aimed at his head for six hours?

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Brilliant food and service

09 July 2010
I'd like to warn people about my experience of eating at the fabulous Belfry Hotel. Five hours after eating duck at the Belfry my friend spent the rest of the night in the bathroom. When I rang the hotel, I was introduced to the Dashing Debbie and Dave. Speaking to the wonderful Debbie Evans and her fabulous boss David Toulson-Burke (yes, his real name) I was informed of the Belfry's practise in dealing with people poisoned by their food.

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Tom Jones

08 July 2010
Alan Yentob's excellent programme on Tom Jones is well worth watching on iplayer if you missed it on TV. I had no idea what a huge star TJ was at his height - and how his comeback was organised by his son. It's an amazing story of an extraordinary professional career of a highly interesting man.  

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Books

10 June 2010
I've never read so many biographies in my life. But now I'm onto David Niven - so who's complaining?!

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Poetry

07 June 2010
These are Alec Guiness' favourite four lines of poetry. Very apt for me at the moment: We shall not cease from exploration...

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Reading

7 June 2010
I tend to read in spurts of five books every five years. Something hooks me into a book and then I'm off until I hit a dud...

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Good Theatre

07 June 2010
Another good show at The National with AFTER THE DANCE. Wonderful to see Benedict Cumberbatch on stage as Scott-Fowler in this superb Rattigan play. And I thought John Heffernan was excellent as Peter.

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Autographs

2 June 2010
I stopped collecting autographs when, at 21 years old, I asked Olivier to sign a book which I'd been given for my 21st birthday. I reckoned that was the last autograph I needed.

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Actors

1 June 2010
I've just finished Garry O'Connor's book on Paul Scofield and it's been wonderful to 'hear' the old man's voice again. It's been like having an extended conversation over some of the things we never talked about. Sitting under the apple trees in Paul's garden on a summer's day eating all kinds of wonderful cakes home made by Joy was joy indeed. I cannot think of a better definition of 'bliss'.  

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Organs

1 June 2010
I read an article over the weekend which reminded me to register to donate my organs when I'm gone. It takes 30 seconds and will save someone's life when you're no longer in need of them. So here's a quick plug for  www.organdonation.nhs.uk  Quick, easy and could be the most important website you ever clicked onto.

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Applications

18 May 2010
We received a wonderful application for actor/musicians in THE FIREWORK-MAKER'S DAUGHTER. I've decided it needs to be shared - I hope you will agree.  "Dear Neal  I have seen your ad in PCR for The Firework-Maker's Daughter. At first I thought it was not for me, as Birmingham is a bit out of my way, the London address has inspired me to offer my talents, especially as I have recently attended an audition in Regent Street, so should have no trouble getting to the audition...

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Olivier

18 May 2010
I am enjoying the most marvellous treat at the moment in the hands of Terry Coleman's biography of Olivier. It is quite the most fantastic book. And one of the things I'm struck by is just how hard Olivier worked throughout his life: it is quite phenomenal. Regular 15/16 hour days. Acting, producing, managing, filming - and a whirlwind social life, especially when married to Vivien Leigh.  

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Expenses

10 May 2010
I share the nation's reaction to the revelations about how MP's have been spending public money. And I am enjoying the delicious irony that the issue is being so gloriously exposed by the press. Before rehearsing my role as a journalist in THE FRONT PAGE at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, I managed to organise three days experience with The Independent and a couple of days with a major tabloid. On my first day at the tabloid I was lucky enough to be assigned to their top journalist; he'd recently won Reporter of the Year and was an institution on Fleet Street. First off, he handed me about fifty receipts and six different coloured pens. "Right then, do me a favour Neal and sign all these receipts with different names, using different pens. I'll fill in the amounts. And welcome to Fleet Street!" The Independent was a lot less fun.

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Wonderful

02 May 2010
Last week I received a letter from a marketing company which stated they were leaders in their field for marketing and promotion. They suggested they could turn my company around, boost our business and raise our profile. It started "Dear First Name"

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NY NY

28 April 2010
We're pleased to announce the exciting news that our production of SKELLIG has been invited to perform at The New Victory Theater in New York next March.

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Drama graduates

27 April 2010
Saw the graduation show from Guildhall today at The Comedy Theatre. Felt to me that there were a couple of future stars up there today and it's not often you feel that. Some very nice actors indeed. Is Freddie Fox related...?  

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Author Author

23 April 2010
It's very exciting to be staging our first story by Philip Pullman. We are hugely priviliged to be producing work by David Almond, Michael Morpurgo and Terry Deary; they are amongst the most wonderful novelists in the country.

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Syria

6 April 2010
How to describe this experience? They say travel is the fastest way to broaden the mind, but I could never have believed how this trip to Syria would change my perceptions of an entire people. Syria is the home of the devil. 'The Axis of Evil', as that notable Arabic scholar George W once said. All my life I've been brought up to regard Syria as the great enemy. And what do I find? It sounds romantic. It sounds implausible. But in ten days I have not come across a single Syrian I didn't like. Everywhere I have been, everyone I have met.

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Twelfth Day

23 March 2010
Why bring Shakespeare to Dubai? Because the audiences are so engaged with the show that it makes performing any play here a profoundly enjoyable experience. This young audience has got some of Shakespeare's jokes that even the Brits missed (I had to hold on for several seconds before I could continue after Maria's line "Marry sir, I have not you by the hand" got a massive laugh).

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Twelfth Night

21 March 2010
This doesn't happen very often: you pick the phone and you are asked if you'd like to bring a new production of a play of your choice by Shakespeare to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain followed by five days in Damascus. You find yourself saying, "Er, yes" and six weeks later you're in rehearsals with a brand new director rehearsing Shakespeare's great comedy with a fantastic group of actors.    

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Jerusalem

26 February 2010
So disappointed with JERUSALEM last night. And nothing feels worse than disappointment with a celebrated play/production.  

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The Tudors

21 February 2010
Reading THE TUDOR AGE by Jasper Ridley for TWELFTH NIGHT, an excellent book which has some fascinating information about the period. Three facts struck me as suprisingly bizarre: It's not only Gordon Brown who likes to create unnecessary laws. Four statutes passed by Parliament between 1510 and 1533 dictated that no one except the royal family was to dress in cloth-of-gold or purple, on pain of a fine of £20 (£10,000 in modern money). No one under the rank of a knight or lord's son could wear a silk shirt, unless he owned land worth £20 a year in rents; and if the land was worth less than £5 a year, he could not wear any garment that was scarlet or violet in colour.  

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The Dream

21 February 2010
 A review for Tim Speyer in the Independent:  "The lion is a little, bald, bewildered chap"  Not many reviews have made this reader smile as much!

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Sheffield

18 February 2010
Daniel Evans pulled off a magnificent coup last night with the best crowd scene I've ever seen, using a marvellous group of community actors to portray the townsfolk in AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE. Ibsen's play is quite extraordinary, with Tony Sher in fine form as Dr Stockmann. The refurbished theatre looks and feels fabulous!  

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Studying down under

14 February 2010
It's often one of the forgotten aspects of theatre life - but thank goodness for good understudies. Both GEORGE and HORRIBLE SCIENCE have relied on their understudies in the last fortnight - and thank goodness we took the time to find the two brilliant actors who have stepped into the breach of their respective shows. Rik Warren had just four minutes to step into a lead role in HORRIBLE SCIENCE in the second week of the tour - and was a marvel. He has been in the show since then and done an amazing job - no-one would know he hadn't rehearsed for the role. A perfect performance. Jason O'Brien meanwhile has been amazing audiences (and his employers) with a stunning performance as George and then Dad in GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE. From Giant Chicken to leading role in one svelt step! Rik and Jason - you have our undying admiration and appreciation!

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Tim Speyer

12 February 2010
Tim has done about 57 shows for the BSC over the years - FANTASTIC MR FOX, THE BFG, GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE, SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER, COLOMBE, TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN, HORRIBLE HISTORIES, THE WITCHES, BRIDGES AND HARMONIES, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH - so how wonderful it was to see him on stage at The Rose being marvellous in The Dream...

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

12 February 2010
What a treat we had last night! It was fabulous to see The Rose Theatre packed to the rafters and this theatre works best when it's full. This is the best Dream I've seen, with Oliver Chris as as superb Bottom, William Chubb playing a wholly convincing Egeus doubling as a well disguised Starveling, a great Peter Quince by James Laurenson, the lovely Tam Williams as a gorgeous Lysander, the indomitable Tim Speyer as Snug and the incomparible Judi Dench as Titania. I've been in the show twice myself but I heard lines last night I've never 'heard' before. I've not seen Shakespeare at The Rose but this is clearly its primary purpose as a building - the set by Elizabeth Bury used the fabric of the building with simplicity and beauty and it worked wonders. It's a fun, clear, poetic, magical production. This show was an event - just as all theatre should be. How lucky we were to see it!

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Acting

9 February 2010
 Julian Fellowes wrote a good article about Carey Mulligan for the Telegraph on Saturday, in which he said:  "I did everything I could to warn her off a profession which, all too often, is the thief of lives"  What a perfect way of describing this very, very strange profession.

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Justice

8 February 2010
Four years in jail for Metropolitan Police Commander Ali Dizaei who genuinely thought he could away with assaulting and falsely arresting someone he owed money. I had wondered whether our system of justice could deal with a case like this. What a relief that a corrupt, vicious bully hiding under a blue cap has been treated so firmly. Hurrah for British justice.

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A Dark Day

7 February 2010
 ...I have finished the second series of DAMAGES.  Not sure what options are left open to me. Please don't say THE WIRE.

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Twitter

7 February 2010
 It had to happen. I have resisted. No way back.  ActorNealFoster is coming alive

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Columbo

7 February 2010
One of the actors in SKELLIG was talking about COLUMBO in the Green Room. She had no idea why everyone loved it so much - she said she always managed to work out who had done it within about 15 minutes.  

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Skellig

29 January 2010
Loved these comments from children who filled in questionnaires after seeing the show: HOW DID YOU THINK IT COMPARED TO THE BOOK? "It was the same as the book, and if you didn't read the book, it told you exactly how the book was". HOW DOES SKELLIG COMPARE TO OTHER BSC SHOWS YOU'VE SEEN? "It wasn't the best but it wasn't one of the worst, it was kind of lower down".

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Children

17 January 2010
A lot of people - including very experienced practioners in children's theatre - have been commenting on how concentrated the audience of 500+ children, sometimes as young as six, have been watching the two hours of SKELLIG; a play that delves into evolution, illness, angels and William Blake...not the obvious subjects to hold the attention of a rowdy audience of children as they enter the theatre. And yet there they have sat, in complete, concentrated silence for two hours. You can cut the intensity with a knife. Quite unlike those children we constantly read about who have apparently lost the ability to focus on anything longer than a few minutes.  

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Critics' Choice

17 January 2010
 Very handsome of The Times to make SKELLIG their Theatre's No.1 critic's choice. We like that!  Just one week to go - and close to sell-out - so if you're interested, book quick!

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The Real Skellig

17 January 2010
Awful, awful, awful. I was driving down to HORRIBLE SCIENCE rehearsals on Saturday when I saw a tramp falling over and unable to get up. I stopped the car to help him up and noticed a huge lump on his back - what looked like a football-sized tumour - sticking out of the top of his coat. I helped him to rest against a shop window ...

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Damages

17 January 2010
Avid readers of this blog (hi Dad) will know how much I loved the American TV series THE SHIELD. Actually 'love' does not adequately describe the strength of my feelings towards THE SHIELD and all who sailed in her. So how pleased am I to have come across the American series DAMAGES starring Glenn Close - and watched the first series. Lummy me! Wonderful acting, editing, scripting. Sheer television bliss - from a man who never watches television! (PS Claim to fame: I interviewed Glenn Close on stage on Broadway in an event to raise money for the fledgling BSC. Her wonderful piece of advice that was given to her when she started out: "Never compare your career to anyone else's. A complete waste of time and life. There'll always be someone doing better than you.")

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Skellig

15 January 2010
What a wonderful audience we had this afternoon. I had to record the voice of The Intelligent Machine for Horrible Science this morning, so I have rarely been so tired before a stage show. So I decided to relax into the tiredness in Act 2 and enjoyed one of those miracles of theatre: the one scene which I have never properly understood suddenly became clear to me.  

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Twelfth Night

6 January 2010
The BSC has been invited by The Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation to present a brand new production of TWELFTH NIGHT at their 2010 March Festival in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain, followed by a visit to Damascus. The production will open at The Old Rep Theatre in Birmingham before its international tour.  

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The Waiting is over...

6 January 2010
The Guardian is in...so there's just over two weeks left to see "a darkly glittering production that makes you see the extraordinary in the everyday and the turbulent intensity of childhood". A bit like watching Celebrity Big Brother...

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Horrible Science

5 January 2010
A fantastic first day for HORRIBLE SCIENCE. It's wonderful to have an idea about producing a show and 18 months later sit round together in a rehearsal room reading a marvellous new script with a group of great actors and the A-Team creative team.  

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You again!

4 January 2010
On a cold winter's morning, a warming 4 star review for SKELLIG from The Times for "the always reliable Birmingham Stage Company": "There aren’t many shows around that offer a bit of uplift. Skellig delivers just that." I am, it says, an "unnervingly angry" Skellig. Perhaps that's because we're still waiting for The Guardian!

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Reviews

2 January 2010
The first of the three reviews we've been expecting are in: "Enters into the quirky, fantasy world of the story with aplomb and an enormous sense of glee" says The Times about GEORGE. Well done all! The Times review of SKELLIG could well appear on Monday And The Guardian? - who knows!

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2009

11 December 2009
This year has been hugely difficult for the BSC, as for many companies. Yet since September things have rapidly improved and it is with huge relief that we approach 2010 in extreme good health. The support BSC has received over this period from its employees, suppliers and collaboraters has been unprecedented - and without this support I don't know how we would have got through it.  

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George the First!

4 December 2009
The Dahl Estate came to The Old Rep Theatre on Monday and the wonderful news we received today is that GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE has been given approval to make its London debut next Christmas following a year long national tour! Big congrats to everyone involved in creating this truly fantastic show! An exciting adventure lies ahead...

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George Feedback!

1 December 2009
A comment from Carrie who has seen the show: “It was the first time I’ve been to the theatre, it was fantastic. I enjoyed the ice cream.” The Old Rep serves such good ice cream!

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George

1 December 2009
I saw GEORGE again yesterday and was bowled over. What a fantastic show. What wonderful performances. The audience adored every second of it. With eleven weeks still to go, GEORGE is already the best selling Christmas show in BSC's history. A great way to end the year! It is also the longest run in the history of The Old Rep Theatre - having now been extended to 13 February - a fourteen week season!

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Acting

29 November 2009
I'm often asked how often Actor/Managers get to act, so I'm tempted to list the highlights from 17 years. These are also the shows where the acting companies where as wonderful off-stage as on-stage. Lord Harpenden in WHILE THE SUN SHINES - the first BSC show, with a very special group of actors - Lucy Scott, Tom Hodgkins... Mean Mr Bean in FANTASTIC MR FOX - our first Christmas show and the first indication that BSC had a chance to succeed Gooper in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF - working with Marcus D'Amico and Barry Stanton was a dream come true - I watched their confrontation from the wings every night    

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Jak

29 November 2009
Our musical director, Jak Poore, has come up with the perfect title for a Vincent Van Gogh movie MY LEFT EAR

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Skellig

22 November 2009
A fabulous week in Guildford ended with another blazing performance on Saturday night - with a perfect audience who drank it up. This play is such an extraordinary story to perform. I've rarely encountered a role like Skellig: it just keeps surprising you: on Thursday I finally worked out how to say the final line of Act 1, something which has elluded me all this time... We have been blessed with the most wonderful cast who have kept it gloriously alive throughout the tour and we approach our London in excellent form. This week we are all staying together in a large house in Brecon - which seemed like it could have been one of those 'good ideas' back in rehearsals! - but which we're all thoroughly looking forward to. It promises to be a wonderful way to end our travels around Britain.

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George

14 November 2009
The first two reviews for GEORGE are in - with 5 stars from the all important Birmingham Mail and a rave in The Stage. Top marks for a wonderful cast! It was a big decision to commission a new adaptation for what has always been a very successful show - and so big congrats to David Wood for his superb new adaptation which is going so wonderfully well with audiences and critics alike. Well done Phil Clark and the A Class Creative Team that put it all together. It looks like we're in for a fabulous run!

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Worthing

12 November 2009
Couldn't resist trying the November sea here in Worthing. Thank goodness Charlotte (Mum) from SKELLIG was there to hold my hand! And the good thing about swimming in an autumn sea, is that when you get out, the wind and rain don't bother you Hoping I wake up tomorrow morning.

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A reveiw and a half!

12 November 2009
Georgia Brown is 8 years old. Here is her review of SKELLIG. She is clearly a talent to look out for in her own right! "Tuesday, 10th November was a very boring, dull day. School wasn’t brilliant, the sky was grey, even my appetite seemed to disappear as I watched the dreary rain pattering against the windows. All I was looking forward to was going to The Connaught Theatre to see Skellig in the evening. When I entered the theatre, not really knowing what to expect, the stage set was also dark and gloomy – like the inside of my Dad’s shed! There were no pretty lights or magical castles… but I sat back in my seat ready to enjoy it, even if the scenery didn’t help lift my current mood. Strangely, the noise of the waiting audience, made up mostly of young teens, was indescribably different and somehow told be Skellig was going to be good… very good.        

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Sad news from the news

2 November 2009
I heard today that Terry Grimley is leaving the Birmingham Post after many, many years as Arts Editor. This is a huge loss to the arts in the West Midlands. This once great newspaper, which had national status, is about to go weekly. There could hardly be a sadder tale told of how the mighty have fallen in Birmingham. It's fair to say that without Terry Grimley - and Fred Norris at the Mail - the BSC could never have survived its formative years.    

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Skellig

23 October 2009
Tuesday night at Sheffield Lyceum was the sort of night you dream about. A completely packed house, who were totally up for it and a group of actors and stage management who sensed and rose to the occasion. It was theatre at its best and most exciting. Wow! What a privilage to experience.

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Skellig

8 October 2009
I've hesitated to write anything about SKELLIG. When something goes so well the first time round, it's always cause for nerves when you assemble again with a new cast and tackle the show a second time. Thankfully all has gone wonderfully well. It's a fantastic group of people/actors and the show has been getting an ecstatic response from the audience. We're enjoying our first week of touring at The Lowry and reviews are coming in. It's also great to tackle a role after a year's break. Suddenly all those things you never quite understood become clear - lines that seem utterly obvious now. And the experience of life over the last year has informed the character. Strangely, this is only my second national tour and I'm not used to it. But you couldn't ask for a nicer group of people so I'm settling into the routine! Next week, we're off to the home of David Almond and SKELLIG - Newcastle!

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Even more horrible

19 September 2009
A great start to the second part of the HORRIBLE HISTORIES tour with a review from the Liverpool Post "It's such a pity that the Horrible Histories series wasn’t around in my day, or I might have passed my A-Level. This is history as it should be delivered – lively, engaging and hugely creative. Great entertainment. And, if we learn something along the way, then so much the better." Well done all on a great start to the autumn

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Horrible reviews

25 August 2009
I've never found my way around the internet very easily so it's no surprise that it took our partners Amazing Interactives to draw my attention to the wonderful reviews we've been receiving on the Ticketmaster website for HORRIBLE HISTORIES. The audience have given us 4.3 stars out of 5 over the three Live Nation venues visited so far. A nice example below: 5 stars. "Great Entertainment". Alexandra Theatre We went as a family to see this - my son (10) and daughter (8) were mesmerised. Very informative and entertaining. My son particularly enjoyed the second half which was in 3D - it was all very well done. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. Favourite moment: The empty 3D shells seeming to fall into our laps!

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Long time...

13 August 2009
...no post. So it's lovely to come back having seen a great production of WE'RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT at The Duchess. A fabulous cast, an excellent score by Benji Power and wonderful, simple, very effective staging, directed by Sally Cookson. Any show that enchants the parents as much as the children has done the trick. What a treat!

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Auditions

12 June 2009
We are currently casting three different shows and unfortunately we require actors to re-submit for each show. So if you applied for GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE and want to be considered for SKELLIG, then please write in again. All CV's are given full consideration - nothing goes unread! Full details of the shows now being cast are on our casting page.

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Things are changing...

11 June 2009
Things are changing... ...he said, enigmatically. Things are changing.

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Different tastes

11 June 2009
My 22 yr old nephew came round at the weekend. "Seen any good films?" he asked. "Er yes, I said. Synedoche. Or Syn-e-dokey - I don't know how you pronounce it. It's an art film really. With Philip Seymour Hoffman. Touched quite a personal nerve. Very heavy". "Oh" he said. "Seen Drag me to Hell yet?"

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Quote

17 May 2009
Just found this quote from Babette's Feast which I wrote in my diary in 1991: "Through the world goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: give me leave to do my utmost"

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Question

2 May 2009
Having recently walked out of two acclaimed theatre shows (not managing to make it to the interval) I am left wondering what is it about modern theatre's insistence on being clever. Where did truth, humanity and tenderness go? The amount of times I sit in a theatre and wonder why no-one is actually speaking to each other, why nothing is really happening between people, where clever tricks and self-conscious staging has replaced the struggle to illuminate the human condition. And it seems to be getting worse. When I see the type of theatre to which I aspire, such as the performances being given by the cast of TIME AND THE CONWAYS at the National, it's like a rare blast of warmth in a cold and increasingly desolate landscape. The rest of the time it's like living on another planet. What is it about our modern society that has driven theatre in this direction? Will we ever recapture the simplicity that makes theatre genuinely powerful? There are plenty of good-night's-out available in venues across the land, but how often are we providing theatre which can nourish the human spirit? Surely, in the end, that's what it's all about?

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Acting

30 April 2009
Lovely to see such good performances all round in TIME AND THE CONWAYS last night at the National. My ignorance is so great that I didn't know Hattie Morahan but what a wonderful actress she is to watch. And there's a beautifully judged performance from Paul Ready. So enjoyable to see high quality period acting from so many people. But 'eee, Mr Priestley ain't 'arf a gloomy bugger!

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Review

29 April 2009
HORRIBLE HISTORIES - FRIGHTFUL FIRST WORLD WAR “A startling, haunting, beautifully staged production” Telegraph and Argus, Bradford Well done all!

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Tax

25 April 2009
Darling's new tax rate won't work. It never has. When Nigel Lawson made his historic reduction of the higher tax rate from 60% to 40%, the Treasury ended up taking more money in tax, not less. Those earning high salaries didn't need to pay their accountants so much money to find ways of avoiding paying the tax - they just paid it. The same will happen this time. Darling won't accrue the tax he predicted. It's not serious politics, it's backward thinking pandering to the uninformed and makes the Treasury look foolish. All energies should be concentrated in helping the low paid (such as bringing back the 10% tax band which should never have been abolished) and encouraging the rest - everything else is window dressing.

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Shakespeare

25 April 2009
I've never been convinced by the scene in TWELTH NIGHT when Malvolio forces himself to smile, even though I saw Derek Jacobi do it so well in the West End recently. It's always seemed to me to be improbable that someone - anyone - wouldn't instinctively know how to smile. But as always, whenever you doubt the Bard's genius for understanding human behaviour, he proves you wrong. Gordon Brown's appearance on Youtube to announce his new expenses proposal for Parliament is extraordinary. Here is a man who doesn't know how to smile - doesn't know what smiling means - doesn't understand when it is appropriate. He smiles - and smiles - and looks totally bonkers. Even Sir Derek couldn't do it better. Did Shakespeare know someone like Brown in Elizabethan times? My bet is that he did.

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Britain's Got Talent

20 April 2009
The nation is shocked: a not-pretty woman can sing! Whatever next?!

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Madame de Sade

02 April 2009
It was great to go backstage after seeing Madame de Sade this week. I just wish someone had told me I had humous on my nose!!

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Horrible Skellig

26 March 2009
The books on which two of our productions are based are in the limelight this April with the broadcast of the brand new and brilliant HORRIBLE HISTORIES series starting on CBBC on 16 April - and the premiere of the wonderful Sky TV movie of SKELLIG on Easter Sunday, starring Tim Roth, Kelly MacDonald and John Simm. Look out for the broadcasts if you get the opportunity - both Terry Deary and David Almond have been richly served.

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Jungle Law

05 March 2009
This week Jungle Book is being seen by 11,000 people in Birmingham - our best-selling week at The Alexandra Theatre. And the audience response has been fantastic! Well done team! Meanwhile the Sheffield Star has praised "the ever reliable BSC" for Why The Whales Came. Another good week for the BSC companies.

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And more...

20 February 2009
The BSC companies should be feeling very proud of themselves this week. Three more 4 star reviews appeared today for Whales and Jungle Book - and as the Whales review put it "BSC have done it again". Six rave reviews in two days for all three shows. Big congrats to all the actors and technical teams on the shows! And the creative teams who put the shows together!

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Press

19 February 2009
It's good to get three 4 star reviews on the same day. Two reviews for Frightful First World War, our new HORRIBLE HISTORIES show which is currently in Coventry, and another for The Jungle Book, which this week is in Cardiff, as it nears the end of its 7 month tour. The Guardian were in tonight to see Why the Whales Came in Richmond, so we'll have to wait for their verdict!

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Photos

13 February 2009
Ian Tilton's fabulous photos of HORRIBLE HISTORIES are up on the site! Well done Ian for a great shoot!

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The BSC

05 February 2009
I love it when the BSC is at the top of its game! With Why the Whales Came, The Jungle Book, the newly opened Horrible Histories and the forthcoming tour for Skellig, the company is riding high! Well done to everyone for working wonders on these fabulous shows!

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Horrible Histories

05 February 2009
A fantastic start to HORRIBLE HISTORIES WW1 and WW2. One teacher could hardly speak at the end of WW2, she was so choked. The children were rapt throughout and beautifully involved. It just shows, in this age of pop musicals and TV off-shoots, that children can still be utterly entranced by well-told stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. A wonderful way to begin the tour

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Why the whales came

05 February 2009
It's lovely to get an email like this: I accompanied a school party from St John's school in Lacey Green, Bucks. I just had to say I thought the performance of Why the Whales Came was truly magnificent. I thought it mesmerising and somehow haunting and was grateful that my child amongst others had been party to seeing this book come alive. The set, whilst bringing the sea to you left enough to the imagination as did the cast. The birdman was portrayed with humanity but with enough individuality to be believed as being an outcast. The cast were superb, as was the sound effects they created - especially the bird calls. I have to say the cellist perfectly interpreted the story and enhanced the performance. I have never enjoyed anything so much and would just like to say thank you for this. Thank you Mrs Holman for taking the time to write to us!

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Age Concern

03 February 2009
It's coming up to the first anniversary of my weekly visits to an elderly woman living in my local area. Elderly is the right word to use here - she is 98! I mention this because these weekly visits have been amongst the most rewarding and important hours of my life. If you are at all inclined, or interested, in joining Age Concern's volunteer programme, I cannot recommend it more highly. All it requires is just one hour each week. The person you visit knows that whatever else happens in their life, they will have a visitor each week to hear their news, relay messages through Age Concern and simply be a friend. But the client doesn't have your phone number - your role is clearly defined and there is no need to feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities, which are confined to the weekly visit. As I've said, my client is 98! Her resiliance, optimism and sang froid is astonishing and humbling. It's made me realise what a terribly soft lot we've become in the modern age. And to put her life in perspective, she was four when World War One started! I have to thank Age Concern for introducing me to one of the most important people in my life.

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Schools

03 February 2009
I must admit I despaired when the news came through at 6pm on Monday that Birmingham City Council had decided to close all its schools on Tuesday - the day after the snow fall! Do they never learn? I looked out the window at midnight and there was no snow falling. I looked out the window at 6am - no snow falling. Not one flake of it. In fact, no snow at all, just a beautiful sunny morning. Thank goodness the children of Birmingham had been saved from sunburn. Something so strange and sad is happening to this country. Everyone is terrified. It's amazing that anyone is brave enough to get out of bed, considering all the dangers our leaders insist are out there. I'm not that old, but I know it wasn't like this 20 years ago. Even 10 years ago. What happened? Who decided we should all live in fear? Whoever it was, it's working.

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World War

26 January 2009
I don't think there can be a harder subject to bring to the stage than the First World War - an utterly futile and hopeless episode in human history. Even harder to bring it before an audience of 11+ teenagers, who must be slightly bewildered and perhaps a little jaded by the black and white images of people who lived so long ago. But in a week's time we will do just that with the Frightful First World War - our latest HORRIBLE HISTORIES production in conjunction with the Woeful Second World War for 6+. Thankfully we've managed to pull together a fantastic team of actors and creatives and judging by the rehearsal on Saturday, it will hit exactly the right note between humour and horror, bringing out the absurdity of the conflict while hitting you squarely between the eyes with the sheer waste of ordinary young lives. In the middle of cheery of war songs I suddenly found myself welling up at one song which captures the situation swallowing up millions of men. And the story of Paul, a young man who never made it to the end, is beautifully created in the drama of the production.  

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Drama

22 January 2009
Every so often you're reminded that drama has a power way beyond the obvious. Yesterday I held a workshop for WHY THE WHALES CAME with an entire school, about two hundred 4yr olds to 11yr olds. I asked them to show me their best scary face. Having picked out eight kids of all ages, I let the school choose who they thought was best at looking "scared"! Among them was a 4 year old boy who when his turn came looked like he was going to bust! The whole school broke into rapturous cheers and applause. I don't know if and when that young boy will again experience an entire school cheering him to the rafters. But the smile on his face seemed to suggest the accolade will last a lifetime. It felt like a brief but important moment in that young man's life. All because of 30 minutes of drama.

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Obama

21 January 2009
I still can't quite believe that a black man is now President of the United States. It still feels like a dream. One sometimes loses hope about the human race, but occasionally we defy the sceptics and take an undeniable step forward in the advancement of humanity

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Once again...

19 January 2009
Once again I've been bowled over by the standard of our understudys who have been out in force this week. Hasan Dixon took the role of Mowgli on Friday and delivered a tremendous performance. While Andrew Thompson was playing the lead role of Daniel in Why The Whales Came last Tuesday and was back on again today playing Dad and Big Tim - and no-one could have possibly guessed it was his first day on stage playing these two roles. And now Lyndsey Orr will be on stage tomorrow playing Tabaqui. There's nothing more interesting than watching talented actors rise to the challenge of leading roles at short notice. Their hard work behind the scenes has had the chance to flower beautifully. I'm lucky to have had the chance to see them all at work.

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The Dice House

11 January 2009
The latest production of THE DICE HOUSE opens on Tuesday. It's already selling well, so if you fancy it, get yourself down to Islington!

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Jack Lemmon

11 January 2009
Richard Dreyfuss' performance in COMPLICIT reminded me of Jack Lemmon in VETERAN'S DAY in 1989. Another extraordinary performance by an actor who was very much having to fill the void left by a weak play. I have rarely seen an actor working so hard in all my life! It was brilliant and humbling. I was lucky enough to interview Mr Lemmon six weeks later to help capitalise the BSC and since both he and now recently Harold Pinter have died, I can finally tell the story he told me that morning. The play had been slated by the critics but, much to his enormous credit, Lemmon was supremely loyal to the show - declaring publicily how much he liked the script. However, before we went on stage he told me a different story: in truth he hadn't been at all sure about the script when he was first sent it, but Harold Pinter had called him to say how good he thought the play was and he successfully encouraged JL to take the role. Jack Lemmon's advice to me that morning was simple: he told me with a wry smile - "Never take advice about a play from Harold Pinter!"

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Richard Dreyfuss

11 January 2009
I went to see Richard Dreyfuss in COMPLICIT at The Old Vic last week. It was their third preview and a fascinating evening of theatre: RD is not yet on top of lines - he has a lot! But it was the sort of performance you don't see on the English stage very often - completely inhabited, utterly open/vulnerable and sincerely felt. Certainly one of the best performances I've ever seen. I was front row of the stalls and now that the theatre has been configured in the round, you're three feet away from the actors. I could have watched another four hours of his performance. It was a priceless opporunity to witness such a watchable actor at work. I almost wonder if it will be as interesting when he is fully on top of the play, because part of the joy was seeing him work through the role, right in front of you. (I had the same experience when Albert Finney, Tom Courtney and Ken Stott first previewed ART - it was electric (particularly when Stott forgot half of the famous speech!) - and when I saw the show again three months later it had lost much the neurosis of the characters and become a comfortable comedy). David Suchet is also excellent in COMPLICIT and in complete command of his performance. I just wish the play had been better, given that it's more of an intellectual debate than a drama, albeit about an important subject. I walked out of the theatre as high as a kite - a genuine dramatic thrill of the first order.

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2008

24 December 2008
By any reckoning, we're ending the year in pretty good shape! Today there are performances of three excellent BSC shows - JUNGLE BOOK, WHY THE WHALES CAME and ELMER, in London, Birmingham and Horsham - and we've also produced SKELLIG, GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE, TREASURE ISLAND, HORRIBLE HISTORIES on tour and HORRIBLE HISTORIES Nottingham. Next year beckons with plenty to get excited about! The downturn has probably come into effect, but the last four months have performed better than I feared in September, meaning we're in no worse shape than we were when the pips started to squeak. 2009 is clearly going to be the test - I think it's going to be horrific for all businesses - including many in the business of show. Our equally exciting plans for 2010 mean that our task is to get there! But not at any cost: I remain convinced that the only strategy worth pursuing is providing the very best theatre we can, without compromise, so our audiences can continue to trust us. That trust is probably going to be more important than ever as people choose where to spend their hard-earned cash. 2009 will be our 17th year. That's starting to feel like quite a long time. If we can keep having as much as fun as we've had over the last 17 years, then I'll be happy! Postscript: Arena are presenting a programme on Paul Scofield tonight. I miss him.

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The Dice House

20 December 2008
In 2003 I had the time of my life playing Dr Ratner in THE DICE HOUSE at The Arts Theatre. We first produced the play at The Old Red Lion and then took it to The Edinburgh Festival, followed by its West End run. It's always been one of my favourite theatrical experiences. And it's how I met Luke Rhinehart, Paul Lucas, Jim Low, Chris Fisher, Elizabeth Scott, Jeremy Crutchley, James Carcaterra - the list goes on. About two months ago I was driving up the M1 when the play came into my mind and I thought how great it would be to play the other leading role in the show, the extraordinary Dr Drabble. As sometimes seems to happen in my life, about two weeks later I got an email asking if I'd like to audition for Drabble in a fringe production of the play runing in January. I didn't need to give it a second's thought. And so here we are, after the first week's rehearsal, and I am slipping back into the play like a fish into water. What a glorious script Paul has written - some of the best dialogue I've ever had the joy of speaking - and a lovely new cast - including a great Ratner. Happy chances like this don't come along often - and The Dice House is all about the glory of chance!

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The Year of the Understudy

15 December 2008
It's clearly time for the understudy to take over! As the fuss continues over Hamlet's understudy Edward Bennett (who sounds like a lovely chap) we've had our own experience with THE JUNGLE BOOK, in which our lead actor had to miss several weeks of the tour - leaving the door open for his understudy to take over Mowgli. And what a wonderful job Steve Castelaz is doing. So much so that when it became clear the original actor could not return, we had absolutely no hesitation in promoting Steve to the leading role. I agree with Edward Bennett that all producers should think seriously about their understudies and ensure they are right for the role. We've always searched hard to find the right people for this very difficult job, so much so that in previous productions, our understudy for Tom in TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN went on to secure the title role when the tour went out a second time (the wonderful Cameron Slater). As one of my mentors Nat Brenner used to say: there's no such thing as small parts, only small actors!

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The Boy

12 December 2008
Needing something to do, I popped in to watch the last 30 minutes of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a film I'd sort of avoided. I started crying after about 3 minutes. What a beautifully structured story and what a simple, expertly executed film. It is still almost incomprehensible, after everything we now know, and despite the best efforts of deluded and fascistic idiots like David Irving, that a group of men went about the systematic destruction of 12 million people as if they were constructing a large housing project. It's why films about the holocaust are so hard to pull off - and why this one is so remarkable for picking a simple story to illustrate the mind-numbing horror of what those people - people who still walk the streets of Germany today - did in the name of their Fuhrer. It's a story that can never be told enough - because it will always be impossible to properly fathom. How did it happen? Can we really be sure it will never happen again?

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Turkey

29 November 2008
Just coming to end of a fabulous week in Antalya in Turkey. One of those cheap package deals from the internet that you have know real idea about. But turned out to be a week in a 5 star Sheraton (excellent hotel) and evening meals in three of the best restaurants I've ever eaten in, anywhere. They are: 7 Mehmet (some of the best fish I've ever had) Marco Polo (some of the best pasta I've ever eaten) and Club Arma - most certainly the best creme brulee in the world. Amazing staff and service - felt like old friends immediately - and all for a pretty reasonable price. Then you're just 20 minutes away from one of the best preserved Roman theatres in the world, Aspendos. Quite incredible. And the ancient city of Pergo - in which you can walk down a miraculously preserved Roman street, paved with mosiacs, lined with columns, and with a hundred shops on each side of the road. As near to going back in time as it is possible to experience. A pretty good internet find which I thoroughly recommend.

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Auditions

22 November 2008
We've been auditioning for the new HORRIBLE HISTORIES this week and I can't remember meeting such a nice bunch of people over four days of auditions. It would have been much more fun just to chat rather than get on with the speeches but what made it even more fun was finding that people were as talented as they were socialable. A very good few days in theatre world.

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Time Out

13 November 2008
A good way to end the London run - 5 stars in Time Out. The day before we finish! All being well, London will get it's next chance to see the show next year!

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The Producer

07 November 2008
A great comment from Michael Deeley in his new book when asked what a producer does: "Everything necessary".

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Obama

05 November 2008
They did it! They actually did it! Everything was saying they were going to, but I can't believe they actually did. Amazing things can still happen in this weird world. It's certainly the first time I've ever got emotional about a Presidential election. Hats off to you America. The world has rarely needed a leader more than it does now.

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Choosing Plays

29 October 2008
I'm often asked how I chose the plays we produce. They come to me in a variety of ways but some of the more curious include: FANTASTIC MR FOX, which began our enduring relationship with Roald Dahl. When I left the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School my first job was an amazing season at The Haymarket in Basingstoke. Laertes in HAMLET, Yasha in THE CHERRY ORCHARD, Tim in NOISES OFF and Mean Mr Bean in FANTASTIC MR FOX. When I launched the company in Birmingham four years later I really wanted something different to the usual Christmas fare, and then I remembered how much I'd enjoyed FANTASTIC MR FOX. It was a good decision: 17,500 people poured the theatre, which hadn't had a Christmas show for 20 years. Now we play to over 40,000 each Christmas - not too bad for a venue that seats 376. CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, our first anniversary show which sealed the arrival of the BSC in Brum. I took a friend to see a show at The Royal Exchange and noticed in the programme that three of the actors had been in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. I asked my friend if the play was any good. When she told me it was one of the best plays she knew, I sort of decided it would be right for us. When the director I had in mind confirmed her opinion, it was a done deal. I definitely got round to reading it a week later.  

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Elmer

27 October 2008
The BSC is in Dubai this week with ELMER THE ELEPHANT! There's been a lot of new work on the show including a new score and two new songs, so we're excited to see what the sold-out houses in Dubai are going to make of it. It should be a fun week. This is our fifth visit to Dubai: THE JUNGLE BOOK, GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE, KENSUKE'S KINGDOM, HORRIBLE HISTORIES and now ELMER. A great experience for all those lucky enough to get the gig. Meanwhile SKELLIG is selling fantastically well in London. We open next Tuesday and run to 13 November. The author has been to see us and is coming again in London. It's wonderful to have the author around when you're staging their work - feels like we're all in it together. Catch it if you can - and come and see ELMER is you're down this way!

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Skellig

11 October 2008
A great show, full houses, excellent reviews - it looks like we've got a hit!

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Skellig

16 September 2008
It's not often you get the chance to work with the original author of a play or book, so it's been a real thrill to have David Almond in rehearsals for SKELLIG for the first two days. Even more so when you're playing the title role yourself, getting the chance to be sure you're thinking along the right lines about the part! This is the first time the play has been produced since the celebrated production at the Yonng Vic five years ago, so there is a lot to live up to. The first two days have been great. Once again, the BSC is able to enjoy the fact that it has three fabulous companies in production and on tour. We couldn't ask for a better group of people in each show. Each production has a lot to live up to!

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An Amazing Adventure

18 August 2008
This September the BSC celebrates it's 16th anniversary - and faces the toughest twelve months of its history. 2008 will be the busiest year we've ever had, with nine productions, performing in Birmingham, London and on tour nationally and internationally. But at the same time the credit crunch is making itself felt and we are not the only British company saying: "We've never experienced anything like this before". Our intention is to ensure that all our forthcoming shows are among the best we've ever produced - it seems the only proper response to these very tough times. No compromises! We're extremely fortunate that several months ago we chose four new shows which have extraordinary potential. THE JUNGLE BOOK opens in a fortnight and we've been working on the production for six months to ensure this revival of our hit show is better than ever before. Only time will tell whether we've achieved this goal, but all the signs are extremely positive. Southend, here we come! Next up will be SKELLIG...

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Auditions

04 July 2008
Some actors may wonder why they don't get an audition. It's not always because they weren't picked to be seen. Sometimes going through the CV's we discover someone we know who has submitted themselves for the role and we think would be perfect. They will then be offered the role without that part being auditioned. There's no way around this: it's impossible for us to think about everyone we know each time we come to cast a show and we will often be surprised by submissions from people we are acquainted with. Indeed, I often tell people who have worked for us in the past that they should always submit their CV for a role they are interested in playing because they mustn't assume we will have already considered them when casting. That said, the BSC probably auditions more actors than most other companies, so the chances of being seen are relatively high. Next week we start auditions for SKELLIG. It's turning into an extremely exciting project!

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Bad News

03 July 2008
I unhappily bumped into one of the great conmen of the West End this week. A meeting with him is like having a barrel of oil poured over your head. He's slick and smooth but before very long you know you've come into contact with something extremely nasty, and it takes a severe mental scrub to get it all off. And just as with the price of oil these days, any encounter is likely to prove extremely expensive. However, he's hurt so many people in the past that, rather like the Exxon Valdez, I have hunch that one day he's going down!

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Jay Johnson

02 July 2008
I'm not sure if The Arts Theatre sells out anymore, but just in case, don't risk it! The Two and Only is a priceless show and I recommend you grab a ticket just in case the word gets round too quickly. A unique, hugely enjoyable show about one man, many voices and his glorious relationship with puppets! It doesn't get any better.

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Nelson Mandela

01 July 2008
Mandela is unsurprisingly one of my heroes. But I am surprised how often the media have sought to excuse his long silence on Robert Mugabe, only recently broken. As a child I remember being taught that none of our Biblical heroes are without flaws, that the very greatest men and women are inevitably human. It was argued that even Moses was prevented from entering the Promised Land because he displayed a flash of pride. Mandela is as near to Moses as any human being in our lifetime, but surely this is a case where we can legitimately question the great man’s long held silence on the crisis. Mandela makes clear in Long Walk to Freedom the immense value he places in loyalty and one senses it is this indestructible, misplaced loyalty to old supporters that has prevented him speaking out. The Daily Telegraph's political editor recently reached the bizarre conclusion that Mandela’s silence could have been because he felt “entitled to a few years rest and retirement”, which is surely as wide of the mark as it is possible to be. Is it not more likely that Mandela has made one of his very few mistakes, when his unique influence could have helped to rescue an entire country from the catastophe that has unfolded.

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The Team

14 June 2008
The BSC is blessed at the moment with four companies whose commitment to their productions belies the oft told adage that showbiz is rife with cynicism. I've seen all four shows in the last month and the companies' commitment to their productions, from the actors, stage management, wardrobe, sound operators - everyone involved in the show - has been palpable. This has been rewarded with wonderful reactions from the public and theatre professionals alike. You know it when you see it - and it's magic to behold.

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Oxford

12 June 2008
As it comes to the end of two years on the road, The Oxford Times has just given DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD ten stars out of ten. I happily concur!

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Champions

23 May 2008
DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD is just four weeks away from the end of its two year tour. The current cast have been performing since last September, so it is wonderful to receive this email from the most recent venue it has visited: Just wanted to say I took my two boys to see DANNY on Sunday and it is without doubt one of the best pieces of children’s theatre I have ever seen. The acting was superb, everything worked so well - it really was fantastic. Congrats again for a superb job from the DANNY cast.

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The Plan for 2008

19 May 2008
I've always fancied my chances on The Apprentice, but I am beginning to wonder! This year was supposed to be 'the quiet year' - a chance to re-group after a very busy 2007, which included PROOF in the West End and OTHELLO in Birmingham/London. So I have been somewhat shocked to work out that this year we are staging NINE productions, making it in fact the busiest year in our history. We are working on two major productions for adults in 2009 but this year it's all for children and their families: DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD HORRIBLE HISTORIES - TUDORS AND VICTORIANS TREASURE ISLAND SKELLIG ELMER WHY THE WHALES CAME HORRIBLE HISTORIES NOTTINGHAM THE JUNGLE BOOK GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE It means we're working with some wonderful writers: Roald Dahl, David Wood, Terry Deary, Robert Louis Stevenson, Stuart Paterson, David Almond, David McKee, Phil Clark, Michael Morpurgo and Rudyard Kipling. Even more exciting that seven of these ten writers are alive and well! I suppose we should be delighted about all this, but given the original plan, I don't think Sir Alan would be impressed!

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Olivier and Hoffman

11 May 2008
There's a famous story about Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman filming MARATHON MAN which has become mythic. But often retold incorrectly, as in the Sunday Telegraph today. "Why don't you just act dear boy" was the put-down Olivier was supposed to have given Hoffman, fueling a debate between two different approaches to acting. When I interviewed Hoffman at The Playhouse Theatre to raise money for the fledgling BSC, he told us the real story. A scene in the movie supposedly happens after Hoffman's character has been awake for three days without sleep. So Hoffman, who was curious, decided to keep awake for three days before filming the scene to see what it felt like. (He said two days was just about OK but by the third day he began to hallucinate). When Olivier arrived on set, he came across a very dishevelled actor. "My poor boy, what on earth has happened to you?" he asked the crumpled Hoffman. "I've stayed awake for three days to film this scene" Hoffman replied. "My dear chum" said a concerned Olivier, and with a strong affection for the young star "why don't you just act, dear boy, it's a lot easier". Soon after Hoffman told this story himself to a journalist as a dig at his own acting mania, but it was reported as a snide retort from the English actor. Hoffman has always regretted this interpretation. Whatever approach they used, they're both pretty sensational in the film!

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Auditions

11 May 2008
Those of you experienced at auditions need read no further. Those are are new to the game, this may be helpful: If you are coming to meet us for an audition this week, it's worth knowing we hold auditions in the old-fashioned way. The first auditions are quite brief and in most cases we like to see a prepared speech (sometimes two if the first doesn't give us enough to work with) and sometimes you will be asked to read a section of the script. We tend not to do too much talking at this stage, unless we've reached that stage in the day when we need a break from speeches! But however brief it may seem, it's your audition, so take your time and don't be rushed. Don't be afraid to ask any questions. And have a look at my blog entry about preparation a bit further down. Remember, the people you are about to meet need to cast their show. They are very hopeful that you will solve their problem. They want you to succeed!

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Feedback please

08 May 2008
It would be great to receive feedback about this website if you have time to spare a moment to comment. How easy is it to use, how useful, anything missing, anything needed? All comments welcome!

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In Bruges

05 May 2008
Well worth seeing. Even though it features Ralph Fiennes. Colin Farrell and Brendan Leeson giving two very enjoyable performances.

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Feedback

01 May 2008
A nice email from a happy visitor! Well done DANNY cast again! "I just wanted to say that we came to see your production of Danny Champion of the World in Norwich a few months ago and it was the best thing any of us have ever seen at the theatre (and us grown-ups have been to the theatre lots of times!) We all loved every minute of it; the set, the music, the story, the audience participation… It was wonderful. So much so that we’re going to come and see Treasure Island in a few weeks. We hope it’s not too scary! Please extend our thanks to your talented company and keep bringing fantastic children’s theatre to Norwich!"

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Depressing

30 April 2008
Just come back from RADA showcase where a top agent friend told me she was just looking for 'pretties'. "It's all TV and film directors are interested in now" she told me. How marvellously depressing is that?! And not only because it radically reduces the chances for the 'not-pretties' but also because its harder to find a pretty person who is an interesting actor - which is why those who are pretty and good usually become stars. Thank goodness theatre is still (just about) a meritocracy, or else what would have happened to Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redrave, Eileen Atkins, Brenda Blethyn...

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Showcase

24 April 2008
We're coming to the end of the showcase season for the drama schools. Given the unfortunate importance of these events for those involved, it would seem to me a good idea to present the showcase to 1) school colleagues and then 2) to friends and family, so that the presentation to the profession becomes the third time the students have performed the show. It would give the actors a fighting chance to relax, gain confidence and perform at their best. I also don't know why the drama schools don't ensure the first and second year students see the third-year showcase, so that they are aware of how it works, they can spot the pitfalls and plan for their own graduation showcase. When I was in my own showcase I did a speech from Konstantin in The Seagull. I got an enormous laugh on the first line, which I wasn't expecting. Had I known this was likely to happen, it would have helped!

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Gossip

23 April 2008
I don't really do gossip, but after the programme on Channel 4 last night, I feel this could be the right forum to reveal that, some years ago, I went on a date with Ms Heather Mills. I'm not sure she knew it was a date, but I did see all her legs (she had four - swimming, ski-ing, running and walking). I feel this is a wholly legitimate claim to fame and, just for the record, my impression was not of a bad woman in any way, although certainly one of the toughest women I've ever met. And memorable, for sure.

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Jesus and George

23 April 2008
If anyone was qualified to discuss the merits and mishaps of George Bush, it is Luke Rhinehart, the amazing author of THE DICE MAN. Luke is publishing a new book titled JESUS INVADES GEORGE which will be available from 12 May through http://www.authorhouse.co.uk/ And while you're about it, WHITE WIND, BLACK RIDER is another wonderful, unforgetable book by Luke Rhinehart. And LONG VOYAGE BACK is a great adventure read too. And of course, obviously, THE DICE MAN. That should keep you going for a week or so.

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Auditions

18 April 2008
With auditions coming up for our next three shows, it's worth mentioning that it's helpful - indeed vital - for people coming to the auditions to know the piece for which they are auditioning. All three shows are based on published books and in two cases the adapations have also been published. I've always felt the people who get the job are the people who have decided in advance that they are going to make it impossible for us to cast anyone else, by dint of their preparation for the role. Too often British actors (myself included) think their task is to present themselves and let the employer decide whether they are suitable for the job. In fact the opposite is true: the task of the actor is to prepare sufficiently for the audition that they present the employer with no choice at all!

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Mark Speight

14 April 2008
There are many terrible things happening around the world - most of them involving multiple thousands -but I can't help feeling a deep sadness about Mark Speight, following the death of Natasha Collins. The notion that someone would wish to forever remove themselves from the planet is hard to fully absorb. I have a strong sense that after death is simple oblivion. That he should want to walk into that oblivion is poignant beyond words.

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Wicked

13 April 2008
It would be hard to think of two finer performances in a musical than the current leads in WICKED. Dianne Pilkington and Kerry Ellis are exemplary. In fact everyone in the show is first rate, while these two actresses are outstanding. I can't say I loved any particular song - for me this is a musical in which the plot, the dialogue and the acting takes centre stage. An unexpected treat!

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Charlton Heston

09 April 2008
My idol for years! Michael Moore put paid to my boyhood admiration of Heston in his film BOWLING FOR COLOMBINE - plus the fact that Heston's autobiography (I have a signed copy!) is one of the most boring ever written. But BEN HUR was my favourite film throughout my childhood and I still find it irresistible - the music alone is one of the greatest scores ever written. And BEN HUR not only features Heston, but also one of my favourite actors of the 20th century, Jack Hawkins. (Hawkins' autobiography is gripping from start to finish, including the appallingly tragic end, which was completed by his wife)

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Busy

08 April 2008
Sometimes it's hard to keep up! Next week we will have five shows on stage - in London, Hull, Wolverhampton, Horsham and Kingston. Thirty-three actors, ten stage managers, three wardobe, three sound operators and a musician! There's a show coming to your town soon!

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Casting

06 April 2008
With three new shows coming up, we have to cast 27 actors before the end of July. I have to confess that casting is one of my least favourite activities: it's very difficult, often boring and terrifyingly important. If you get it wrong, the consequences are like being trapped in a speeding train with no brakes - there is no way of avoiding the crash. Thankfully, I would say that more than 95% of the time we get it absolutely right: and for this reason casting is at the very top of our priorities. Yet casting three shows, each needing about ten actors, in four months? My head is already in my hands! All three shows will be on our casting page soon.

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Danny the Champion of the World

04 April 2008
It's great when people write to us about our shows: this has arrived from Helen Tivey who saw the show in Bromley. Thank you Helen! I just wanted to say thank you for an absolutely fantastic show. I was hugely impressed and have to say I enjoyed it far more than many of the 'big' shows around. My 9 year old was mesmerized by it and found it very funny - a great birthday treat for him. We are now looking out for the next show we can goto with great excitement. Well done DANNY cast for keeping this show so alive over such a long tour!

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Age Concern

29 March 2008
I've recently joined the Good Neighbour scheme run by Age Concern and for the last few weeks I've been visiting an elderly neighbour for an hour a week to provide them with an hour of company. Within about ten minutes of my first meeting I realised it was going to be one of the most rewarding and important hours of the week. And so it has proved. Age Concern operates around the country and if were interested in the scheme, I would unhesitatinly recommend it, both for yourself and the person you would be visiting. Nothing I have done in my life has been quite so plainly rewarding, interesting and easy. And it only has to be an hour. Let's be honest, I don't think my neighbour could take much more of me!

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Education

28 March 2008
I was one of twenty-seven people in the UK who had still not seen THE HISTORY BOYS...until last night. It's so enjoyable to watch a good new play (does it still count as a new play?!) - and the performances, although a little tired, were still very good. Something strange has happened to me - I've watched both halves of three shows in the West End within a fortnight! Last week it was THE VORTEX - what a tremendous play (another one I hadn't seen or read before) - and another good production. And then INTO THE HOODS. HISTORY BOYS obviously concerns itself with education. My father always told me it doesn't matter what you learn, the purpose of going to school is to learn how to learn. And I surely agree. Do I remember any of the history, maths or physics I learnt from my favourite teachers? None at all - but they instilled in me a process, a love of learning, an approach to work. Alan Bennett couldn't have dramatised it better.

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Pelham

23 March 2008
Every so often (it's now happened twice to me) you turn on the TV and 'discover' a great movie you never knew existed. A fortnight ago I turned on the box on the Sunday afternoon and started watching The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, with Walter Matthau. My expectations were not high. But my jaw dropped. Rarely have I seen such crackling dialogue and such marvellous acting. If you see it come up again in the schedules, don't miss it! (The first time this happened to me was Midnight Run - a movie that started at about 1am, so the schedulers weren't exactly its biggest fans - which turned out to be one of the best movies I've ever seen, with one of the greatest moments in comedy history I later found out. Another one for the list)

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Paul Scofield

20 March 2008
The world has lost one of it's greatest actors, and on a personal note, I have lost one of the most influential men in my life. Thank you Paul for everything you have done for the Birmingham Stage Company. It has been a unique, life enforcing experience to know you.

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Into The Hoods

18 March 2008
If there are two better, sexier, more enjoyable dancers in the West End than Sarah Richards and Rowan Hawkins, I'd like to see them. Two people who make it look so easy - the hallmark of good stuff!

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Wrong

18 March 2008
It's just worth mentioning that I got it hopelessly wrong on HAIRSPRAY. Which just goes to prove I have very little idea what I'm talking about. Speaking of wrong, one of my favourite reviews was from Nat Brenner, the ex-principal of the Brsitol Old Vic Theatre School who saw my performance as Sir Nathaniel in a school production of LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST. When I asked him the next morning what he thought he smiled: "Marvellous. Very good indeed. Wrong" "What do you mean?" I queried "Why did you play him old?" "The director told me to" I replied. "You always listen to your director, do you?" was his enquiry. "Anway, you did it very well. Good performance. Wrong."

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Stand in

29 February 2008
Actor/Manager? I've now appeared in all three of our current tours to keep the show up to full strength - and the curtain up! Over Christmas it was Dad in DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD; I had to race down to Tunbridge Wells to cover Dr Dee in HORRIBLE HISTORIES when the actor hurt his leg - on this occasion it was too early in the tour for the understudy to go on; and last week it was Billy Bones in TREASURE ISLAND. There's no better way of knowing what is required for each tour than to spend some time back stage once the tour is up and running. And on all three occasions I came away utterly impressed with all involved. A new trailer for TREASURE ISLAND will be posted soon - and it looks great!

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Four Shows

21 February 2008
Of course this is when it starts to get mad. We have four shows performing this week - all for children - all over the country. What's more - they're all receiving a great reaction. We have noticed this year just how determined each cast has been to deliver the very best performance, each and every show. There is a temptation in long runs to start playing around with the production. It is a hugely destructive temptation which can wreak havoc on a play. On occasion we have had to address this issue with individual cast members. Not this year. Their dedication to the spirit of the production has impressed practitioners from every sphere of the profession. It's a great credit not only to the cast, but to everyone involved, as each contributer has imbued their own serious purpose into the enterprise. But it isn't going to get any easier in the short term. By April we will have five different productions in performance. I hope you can catch one!

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No Country For Old Men

17 February 2008
Some great acting in this gripping, exciting film but I am unsure why the film itself has been celebrated more than, for example, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH which seemed to me a much more important film to come out of America - and both featuring excellent performances from Tommy Lee Jones. The ending of OLD COUNTRY is so abrupt, you realise you've just watched a frightening, taught thriller, but regretably it doesn't add up to more than that, which you somehow hope it would. Among an excellent cast, it's the performance of Javier Bardem which will remain utterly memorable. This week we have four different shows performing around the country. Thank goodness for the extremely strong stage management, wardrobe and technical teams which are looking after these shows so well.

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Derby

15 February 2008
Derby Playhouse has closed. What a disaster. There have clearly been a lot of problems at the venue but by withdrawing its grant, the Arts Council sounded the death knell for the venue. I cannot understand the circumstances where this has been allowed to happen. One by one Britain's regional theatres are coming under threat - and the powers in charge can't think of anything more imaginative than closing them down. It is a disgrace to our profession.

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BAFTA'S

11 February 2008
Last night at the Bafta's I experienced the madness of the celebrity cult more acutely than I've been aware of it before. I arrived at the same time as Keira Knightly and was engulfed by the flash of 200 press cameras as we entered the Opera House. The red carpet was lined with hundreds of screaming fans and a phalanx of reporters and media cameras. It was a celebrity frenzy. After the ceremoney at dinner I sat surrounded by well known actors, all normal people relaxing over dinner, chatting happily to all and sundry. You couldn't have experienced anything more informal or casual. Only to be engulfed by the same mad circus as we left the hotel. I've never been confronted so strongly with the bizarre nature of celebrity frenzy. I know the profession has always found this kind of public and media interest useful in attracting punters to the theatre or cinema, so no-one's trying to discourage it, but what is it about being 'famous' that is driving this insatiable, ludicrous and growing fascination? It has never seemed more bonkers to me than last night!

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Gobsmacked

09 January 2008
The following theatre organisations have been reported in the press as in danger of being cut or axed by The Arts Council: Quicksilver, Pop-Up, London Bubble, Union Dance, Bush, LIFT, Queer Up North, Drill Hall, Watermans, Arts and Business, Total Theatre, Compass, ETT, Lip Service, Kaos, Orange Tree, Cambridge Arts, Derby Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic, Exeter Northcott, Eastern Angles, Pride of Place Festival, Norwich Puppet Theatre, Creative Arts East, Tara Arts, People Show, Stationhouse Opera, National Student Drama Festival, ITC, Yvonne Arnaud, Dukes Lancaster, Circus Arts Forum, Red Shift, Chisenhale, Mimika, Freehand. The BSC is not funded by anyone, but that doesn't stop me wondering what on earth the Arts Council is thinking?! If these cuts go ahead, our industry would be decimated. I am forced to wonder if this is some bureaucrat's warped idea of an April Fool - but it's January.

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2007

24 December 2007
Well what a year it has been! I had to miss the trip to Dubai with KENSUKE'S KINGDOM in order to join the cast of PROOF in the West End (Sally Oliver has gone on to take a leading role in 'Emmerdale' - not a bad debut year for her!). Our tour of HORRIBLE HISTORIES had a wonderfully successful year with two new productions, The Ruthless Romans and The Awful Egyptians. DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD journeyed from its first year into its second year of touring with a great new cast, now in London for Christmas. OTHELLO did amazingly well in Birmingham and then London, just before the Donmar got their act together! And now TREASURE ISLAND is knocking them for six in Birmingham, with a glorious cast, before they head out into the country. Meanwhile GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE returned for another outing and will be back early next year. And all of this run by five people in the BSC office, who have somehow managed to cope with changing positions and new additions as the year has progressed. Meanwhile the Arts Council set about its grand new vision of withdrawing its entire funding from two hundred theatre companies (one can only marvel at their expertise and foresight!) and the BSC thanked its lucky stars that it could produce all of the above without requiring their support. Sincere best wishes to everyone who has been involved in BSC shows this year: it has been twelve months of remarkable achievement and it demanded and received hard work, inspiration and dedication by everyone involved. It couldn't really have turned out much better.

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War Horse

23 November 2007
Luke Treadaway is giving a superb performance as Albert in WAR HORSE at the National. The horse puppets are tremendous, but it was Luke that delivered the coup de theatre that makes this show special. Michael Morpurgo has written a story beautifully tailored to counter the insanely materialistic world we now live in. Meanwhile TREASURE ISLAND has opened wonderfully well in Birmingham and we'd love to know what you think if you've seen it!

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Downfall

18 November 2007
I watched DOWNFALL again last night for another chance to see the performance of Bruno Ganz as Hitler. It's a performance of such depth and detail that, in every respect, it puts down a marker for great acting. Everyone is good in this film - so much care has been taken over every aspect of the production. It's a humbling experience to watch something so beautifully created and exquisitely performed. Ganz's performance must surely put him at the very top of his field.

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Michael Ball

31 October 2007
In recent years I have grown to dislike Michael Ball on stage - he's become a favourite pet hate. I loved him in Les Mis but his on-stage persona has grated on me as his career has ballooned. So I was somewhat anxious about seeing the first night of HAIRSPRAY. Thank goodness there had been no sign of Michael Ball as we arrived at the interval. And then as I wandered downstairs I suddenly realised - I had been watching Michael Ball throughout the first half, playing Edna, in drag, wonderfully. What a fabulous performance. Beautifully judged and perfectly delivered. It's so great to be proved wrong! I had really wanted to see HAIRSPRAY because of its huge success on Broadway but I wonder if this show will become popular in England. It's plot involves racism which feels much more a live American issue than it does here and elsewhere the story feels a bit thin. But it's delivered with full gusto, with fantastic performances from Rachael Wooding and Tracie Bennett. (Although I do have to say, I think Alison Fitzjohns (from HORRIBLE HISTORIES) should be playing the lead)

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Treasure Island

26 October 2007
I watched a staggered run through of the play today and was held on the edge of my seat. It may be the most exciting rehearsal I have ever seen in my life. I think this could be a great show – it’s crammed with so much. The quest for treasure, conflict, music, greed, mystery, surprise, humour, ships, pirates, honour, loyalty and island adventures. It's a beautifully faithful adapation by Stuart Paterson and under Greg Banks' direction the cast are playing it with sincerity and integrity, which differentiates it from all the other productions and films I've seen and is the key to its success. Could this be the greatest story ever told? It's defintely up there with the finest and it could provide one of the best shows the BSC has staged. All credit due to the remarkable Robert Louis Stephenson.

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Last Night

20 October 2007
What is it about last nights? The last night of PROOF in Birmingham was a particularly special experience, but somehow I didn't expect OTHELLO to move into that catagory. Yet about 15 minutes into last night's show - something clicked. Something I'd been hoping for since we first opened. For the first time I really was able to believe this was happening for the first and last time, that all Iago's dreams hinged on convincing his victims to go along with his plan, that there was no longer any certainty they would. This seems obvious and it illustrates the difficulty I've had of getting under the skin of this man, but it was a good way to end a run. The week in London played to 84% capacity. Quite unexpected. Who would have thought you could bring OTHELLO to London for a week and sell-out two of the shows, particularly with the Donmar's production looming. And to think at one point we cancelled the London week when the Donmar announced their plans. I'm very glad we didn't!

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Stealing!

12 October 2007
Olivier recommended that an actor should feel free to steal, so long as he/she only steals from the best. So with reference to an earlier entry in this blog, I have stolen something for Iago from Richard Burton from his film BECKET. But I'm not saying what!

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The actor's dilemma

12 October 2007
If you ask a director what he wants to do next and he replies: "I want to direct HAMLET", it will naturally prompt all sorts of questions: how will you stage it, what period, etc If you ask an actor what he wants to do next and he replies: "I want to play Hamlet", it will naturally prompt all sorts of questions: where does this man find his arrogance, who the hell does he think he is, etc Why are actors considered so much more unreliable in this arena? Why is it an instinctive reaction to regard the actor as pure ego? Is it impossible to imagine that an actor could have the same integrity as a director? In my position as actor/manager I am confronted by this prejudice all the time. It seems inconceivable that an actor could run a company with the same ideals as a director, that the art will always come first, that the audience will be considered before all else. My teacher Rudi put it best: Do you love yourself in the art, or the art in yourself? Like much of what Rudi said, it has been a guiding homily ever since.

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Iago

10 October 2007
Will Iago be one of my favourite roles when I look back? I'm not sure. There is something very strange about sitting on the side of the stage before curtain up, working yourself into a malevolent frame of mind. And just how much can you enjoy destroying people's lives? You couldn't have a more challenging, all-consuming role and yet the dark heart of this man is not an attractive place to go. When I compare it to John in OLEANNA, Fox in SPEED-THE-PLOW, Tom in THE GLASS MENAGERIE, Hastings in SHE STOOPS, Dr Ratner in THE DICE HOUSE, Hal in PROOF, Danforth in THE CRUCIBLE...it's strange to say but I'm not sure Iago will be in my top ten. But whatever else, there hasn't been a single performance where I haven't relished every second on stage!

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Ned Sherrin

01 October 2007
Sad to hear tonight of the death of Ned Sherrin. My first ever radio interview was 18 years ago on Radio 4's LOOSE ENDS, hosted by NS. I was terrible, but it gave me a crash course in the technique for doing future interviews. And whenever we met, he always remembered who I was and asked about the theatre - he was that kind of man. It's strange when someone who has been a remote part of your life is suddenly no longer here. Without doubt, the profession is going to miss him

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Othello

30 September 2007
OTHELLO has been running for two weeks in Birmingham. Excellent reviews have boyed the company and the show is being very well received. Last night I could hear people crying in the audience as the play ended - with great credit due to Emilia, played by Emma Christer, who is providing a strong emotional power to the final scene. I have never been as consumed by a part as preparing for Iago demands. The sheer amount of work required to bring it to the stage has been daunting - (it's the third biggest part Shakespeare wrote after Hamlet and Richard III) - and yet it is so beautifully written and constructed that it is not by any means the hardest or most tiring part to perform. Even though matinee/evening days mean I am speaking virtually non-stop for 4 hours, it never feels like hard work. Thank goodness again for Rudi Shelly from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. I could not have played this part without his instruction for three years at Bristol. Everything he taught us brings itself to bear on a part like Iago. For anyone interested in the process of getting there, I had never dreamed of playing this part. After PROOF finished in the West End, I asked the director John Harrison what he'd like to do next. He picked OTHELLO, saying he'd always thought I should play Iago. In fifteen years of running the BSC it's only the second time I've ever been 'cast' in something (the first time was John's idea too - Hastings in She Stoops to Conquer! - one of the happiest productions of my lifetime). The only problem was that I could not see myself playing Iago at all. My initial struggle with Iago was how it was going to be possible for me to enjoy being malicious when a malicious thought has never crossed my mind - and how such an evil man could be so charming: it is clearly essential that everyone in the play trusts Iago. Play him evil and it makes everyone around him look like idiots. Yet his behaviour is clearly heinous. How to get into this evil man's head and enjoy it?  

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Sugarhouse

25 August 2007
I feel for Dominic Leyton this weekend. His play COLLISION, which we premiered to great success three years ago and revived for a British Council visit to Malta, has been made into a film by Gary Love, titled Sugarhouse. The critics have been merciless. I couldn't face seeing the film so can only rely on watching the trailer and reading the reviews, but it seems Love has turned this excellent play about a young black, drug-addicted man and his confrontation with a middle-class failure, into a gangster movie. Which seems odd given that Leyton wrote a powerful, exciting and deeply moving potrayal of two men on the brink of despair, taking the audience into their lives with a painful but deliciously funny journey into darkness. The violence represented by the character Hoodwink is simply there to highlight the pit into which the character 'D' has fallen. Nathan Constance, who premiered the role of D in our production, gave an extraordinary performance which Time Out reckoned deserved an Oscar. Dominic Leyton is a very talented writer and I can't wait for the opportunity to arise to produce one of his next plays.

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Ex-Factor

25 August 2007
I confess to being a fan of most reality shows in their early days. One of my favourites was X Factor and normally I would be watching the new series. I enjoyed discovering the fantastic new finds and also uncovering those whose 'talents' were more hidden. I was constantly surprised at how shocked the singers were at discovering that Simon and his group didn't like them. There was always that flash of amazement on their faces, which had often puzzled me. Surely they couldn't be so foolish as to think he was going to like them? Now I know why. I feel naive! A friend recently told me that Simon and his gang only see people who have already gone through two rounds with the junior producers. Not only are they putting through the talented newcomers, they are also putting through those individuals who are going to 'entertain' us with their awful singing. Yet these hopeful people are unaware that they are being promoted to provide 'entertainment'. For obvious reasons, they will assume that their abilities are finally being recognised. They will have phoned their families, boyfriends, wives, to tell them the fantastic news. Support will be building. The family turns up for the third round. This could be their big chance. Finally they meet Simon, who after just a few seconds tells them they are perhaps the worst singers he has ever heard in his life. And now I understand the look of bewildered shock on their faces. "But I got through two rounds". It's acceptable for someone to be thrown out of the first round with Simon's withering words in their ear: everyone knows what these shows involve. But to put them through this rollercoaster suggests a degree of deliberate cruelty. Leaving a nasty taste in the mouth of this disillusioned, if naive, ex-fan!

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A favourite story

20 August 2007
I met Christian Slater's father once. He came up to Paul Scofield at an event we’d arranged and said he’d long admired Paul since he saw him perform on Broadway. He then came out with one of the best lines I’ve ever heard from someone in the profession. He told Paul: "I’ve been an actor all my life. I’ve done everything in this profession except succeed!" Priceless!

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Becket

20 August 2007
Did anyone see BECKET on TV at the weekend? I was completely bowled over by Richard Burton in the role of Becket. I've often heard it said that that he wasted his talent, but I'm not sure I've ever seen just how good he could be. The performance is a model of restraint and reflection, while the excommunication pronoucement is breathtaking in its vocal drama. In a film that also stars Peter O'Toole, John Geilgud and Donald Wolfit, Burton has a special magnificence. It has also lost nothing over the years and stands easily against every modern style of acting. Distilled excellence from beginning to end.

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Danny

20 August 2007
When any theatre company re-casts a show that has been fondly loved by all involved, it is always a nervous day on the first day of the new rehearsals. So it was a great relief to enjoy a fantastic read-through this morning from the new cast of DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD. Two actors from the first tour have re-joined the new company, but this time in different roles. The BSC has never been one of those company's that hires an actor to fit the costume (it does happen!) and it's great to watch new actors take their roles in a different direction. Rehearsals should prove an exciting time for all involved!

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Contracts

16 August 2007
All actors should be aware that when you agree to do a job or you agree to a deal, that verbal agreement becomes the contract. It is a common mistake to assume that you have only contracted yourself once you sign your name on a piece of paper. In truth, the piece of paper is purely a means to set out the terms of the deal which have already been agreed verbally. But the perameters of the deal were contracted the moment you agreed verbally to the offer. In the case of any Equity job, it is taken for granted that you know the terms of an Equity contract, so once you've agreed the money, dates etc, the rest is a formality. (It's amazing how many actors have never read an Equity booklet detailing the terms of the contract - Equity will send you one on demand). And it's not just people leaving drama school who make this mistake. Kim Basinger was successfully sued for many millions for pulling out of the film BOXING HELENA, even though she hadn't signed anything - she had simply verbally agreed to do the film. If you are unsure about anything when you are offered a job, don't say "yes" until you are sure you want to do it and you are clear about all the terms. For this advice and great mortgage deals, I charge $127 an hour.

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Fiona

15 August 2007
I met Fiona tonight. She is seven. Fiona doesn't like her name because Fiona is also the name of the Ogre in Shrek. She seemed to perk up when I told her that 'Fiona the Ogre' was voiced by Cameron Diaz. I asked Fiona what she was going to be when she grew up. A doctor? An astronaut? A scientist? "I'm going to be a hot chick," said Fiona. Fiona then produced her handbag which contained seven different types of glitter lipstick. She also told me she had over £100 in the bank. I asked Fiona's mother to tell Fiona to call me in twenty years time.

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John Harrison

12 August 2007
It seems I love people on the extreme end of the age-scale. I love children - and I love old people. Indeed I've always enjoyed the company of older people. When I was 17 and studying at Clifton College, I was asked to tidy the garden of an elderly woman living in Clifton. After tidying her garden once, I rarely stepped into it again: instead I spent hours each week chatting to her in her flat. She was Daphne Heard, an actress who I later discovered had worked at The Old Rep in 1930's with Donald Wolfit. Most people know her from TV as the old Czech mother of Richard De Vere, Mrs Pooh, in TO THE MANOR BORN. I only knew Daphne for nine months, which is when she died. But in that brief time we became extremely close - almost like grandmother/grandson. It's a great source of pleasure that I still use her old cigar box for my make-up. One of the greatest people I was lucky enough to have in my life was Rudi Shelly, the acting guru of the Bristol Old Vic who I met when he was just 75, a few years before I went to the school. Consequently we were friends before I became his student and he certainly become one of the most important people in my life, until he died at 90. It sounds strange, but I think of what Rudi taught me at least a dozen times whenever I am stage.

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Richard Harris

17 July 2007
I bumped into the Rachel Fielding last night. We were both at drama school together. Rachel and her husband Paul Rattigan were cast in HENRY IV with Richard Harris and on the first day of rehearsals Richard was there to welcome everyone into the company. "Hello, who are you?" he asked as the beautiful Rachel entered. "I'm Rachel and I'm playing xxxx". "Welcome to the company" said a beaming Richard. Then Paul entered. "Welcome and who are you" asks Richard. "I'm Paul and I'm playing xxxx and I'm married to Rachel". "Welcome aboard" said Richard, still shaking Paul's hand as he turned to his producer and shouted "Who the fuck hired this guy?"

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Education is dangerous

17 July 2007
I spent the weekend with my friend. When it began to rain heavily, her five year old daughter began to cry. As the rain grew harder, her distress increased. She put her hands over her eyes. She looked terrified. "She cries when it rains heavily" explained my friend. "Why?" I asked. "Two months ago they were taught about Noah and the flood at school. Nothing I say makes any difference - ever since then she cries when it rains heavily". A little education is a seriously dangerous thing!

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Regrets

16 July 2007
One of my biggest regrets is that I never put money on my prediction in 1993 that Tony Blair should be the Labour leader and with him they would win the next three elections, with the fourth one (the next one!) becoming interesting. This is when John Smith was leader of the party. Can you imagine the odds I would have been given for such an outlandish prediction?! I can't really complain because I've never put money on anything but looking back, it would have been fun watching New Labour win election after election and saying"I told you so!". Just for the record, Gordon will win the next election. I'd put money it!

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The Pain and the Itch at The Royal Court

13 July 2007
Acclaimed. Hyped. Sold out. Sadly I can only talk about the pain. I do not know what the rehearsal period involved. I have no idea what the director Dominic Cooke was trying to get out of his actors (a cast that included one of my favourite actors) - but for the first 30 minutes he seemed to be pushing for insincere, glib, wholly unconvincing performances. I cannot report what he achieved after the first half hour because we left. The last resort of the despairing punter. One performance in particular would be too big for panto - what on earth were they thinking? Once again I am left feeling I am on a different planet to the majority of the theatrical world.

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Pirates

01 July 2007
I've just seen the new PIRATES movie. What a mess! How can you waste so much money on such convaluted, unengaging, over-produced rubbish. It's strange: if you wait until the end of the credits, there is a final short scene in which you can see the kernal of an engaging story. So why didn't they concentrate on telling one good story that could actually involve you emotionally, instead of relying on mutiple plots, special effects, weak jokes and dodgy accents? Why did they think it necessary to kill-off the simple art of storytelling? But what do I know? The film took $400 million in the first two days. Which is more than I earn in a year! We have 0.005% of the their budget to create our production of TREASURE ISLAND. I actually think we have a chance of doing a better job. We shall sea!

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Reviews

27 June 2007
Writing about our visits to Edinburgh reminded me of one of my favourite reviews of my own paltry efforts! From the Scotsman: “This is a wonderful comic performance. Were he any drier he would start to flake. Few serious actors today handle the schoolgirl look, much less pink chiffon so well”. I continue to look for other roles to practise my schoolgirl look. Could Iago be the one? Let's hope the director doesn't read this!

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Film

24 June 2007
Not since Downfall have I seen something so good as The Lives of Others. It's still running in cinemas and is well worth seeing. A great story with superb performances by all involved. I can't help feeling jealous that they producing Speed-the-Plow at the Old Vic. It was one of my favourite BSC productions and also marked our debut at the Edinburgh Festival. I just had an instinct it would work at Edinburgh, even though as usual with me, this instinct was based on a distant lack of knowledge, as I had never been to the festival, even as a visitor! But intuition paid off and we were lucky enough to get three 5 star reviews within two days of opening, so enjoyed full houses. The Scotsman called it 'almost perfect theatre', the List said 'these actors take Mamet’s diamonds and buff ‘em till they shine like angel’s tears'. The Dice House was our second visit to Edinburgh and that ended up in the West End, so I should really have taken our production of Collision to attempt a hatrick, but I was fightened off by the huge amount of work involved in each visit. Collision is coming out as a film shortly - but like Speed-the-Plow, I doubt I'll see it - the memories of our own productions are too precious. I'm stupid like that!

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Treasure Island

09 June 2007
It's always dangerous to have a clear idea in your mind about what you're looking for from a cast, but I have a clear idea in my mind for TREASURE ISLAND. I am looking for a cast that look genuinely like pirates. I would like the audience to wonder where on earth we managed to find such a group of people. I have visions of Simon saying to his Mum "can we meet the actors after the show?" and Mum finding 327 reasons why they have to go home straight away. Of course finding ten men who look convincingly like pirates, who are also going to get along well with each other and be fabulous to work with, could be hard. But what I am desperately trying to avoid is the cast that look like ten actors trying to be pirates. There's something so intriguing about the characters in the book that it would be such a shame to stage a pale imitation of the sort of men Stevenson was writing about. The hunt begins in 10 days!

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The whole shabang!

05 June 2007
~~I think I must be the quintessential Actor/Manager. There can't be many actors who have enjoyed being on stage in DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD as much as I did for the last three weeks, who would also be so happy to be back in the office in Regent Street to pull together the organisation required for our next four productions. What do the office tasks involve? Finalising the poster for TREASURE ISLAND (and a great poster it is too!) pushing through the marketing plans for TREASURE, OTHELLO and DANNY, sorting out budgets, beginning the casting for TREASURE - it's the whole shabang! Next week it's back on stage in Nottingham with DANNY before a final performance as Dad in Richmond on 19th June. Will you be there?

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History in the making

21 May 2007
Of course I am always interested in creating a first in theatrical terms and nearly achieved this on my first performance as Dad in DANNY. Thinking I was late for a cue, I rushed towards the stage and hit my head on the corner of a piece of set so hard that not only did it knock a chunk off the set, it also took a wedge of skin off my head. It hurt so much that one word successfully forced its way out of my mouth: "***K!!" By sheer good fortune, my radio mic was placed exactly next to the spot on my head which took the blow. And hearing a crushing sound, the sound op turned down the mic, just before I uttered my immortal word. Thus were 500 children and teachers spared the delight of hearing Dad shout "***K!!" in the middle of his first performance in the show. This would no doubt have been a theatrical first. Some records are best unbroken!

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Danny

19 May 2007
I still think most people don't understand why I run this company. It's assumed that if you set up your own company that the acting must take second place to the overall operation. This would be wrong in my case. I love acting. And the last few weeks which have drawn me away from this blog have been a clear case of acting taking first place. I've been learning the leading role of Dad in DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD which I am playing for a month during it's two year tour. This was only possible if I could learn the part without rehearsal, as it wasn't possible to rehearse myself into the show while the play was on tour. So that has been the task - an extraordinary task that I wasn't sure could be achieved until, under Phil Clark's directorial guidance, we tried it this week. By some miracle it seems it is - and this week I've had the enormous privilage (after just 12 hours rehearsal which we managed to put together) of joining a truly wonderful show, which culminated in last night's performance in York at the end of an amazing week. DANNY is one of those special shows which immediately draws it's audience into a heart-warming and dramatic story. By the end, the audience have helped Danny and his Dad hold onto their home and beaten the chief villain in the process. The joy that pours out of the audience at the end of the show is so palpable it knocks your socks off. And a full house last night didn't hold back in expressing their delight. It was a knockout experience - amongst the most enjoyable I've had in a theatre. David Wood has written a perfectly structured adaptation. But it is only having been in the show that I discovered just how beautifully structered it is for an actor - taking you through a whole gamut of highs and pitfalls, leaving you and the audience to enjoy the triumph. And what an amazing cast. They have been doing the show since November and there isn't a moment where one feels the show has lost its innocence or freshness. The characters are as bold and driven as the first week it opened. Which is why it has been such fun to join it. Yep - it has been an experiment that despite all the odds against it succeeding has been as rewarding an acting experience as one could hope for. Next week we're off to Edinburgh, then The Lowry, then Nottingham and Richmond.

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Beginnings

19 April 2007
I have always resisted the notion that I am sentimental but each time I see a drama school graduation showcase I feel the same sense of moment. As a member of the audience you are watching a group of people on the brink of the rest of their lives. It’s normally during the closing number I find myself wondering what will happen to this group of people, this group of very different individuals. What has life got in store them; how many will achieve their burgeoning dreams, on and off the stage? It’s a moment of profound reflection and it never fails to move me. What it is to be a human being on this planet.

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America

18 April 2007
It illustrates the state America has got into that I am struggling to feel sympathy for the country in the wake of the massacre of Virginia. It’s hard to feel sorry for a nation that persists in a pattern of behaviour that repeatedly causes national disaster: gun ownership. It is incomprehensible in the wake of the tragedy that eminent senators and congressmen have seriously suggested the answer to preventing future calamities is to arm more people so they have a chance to defend themselves. That if the students had all carried guns, they could have killed this madman themselves. They insanely argue that increasing the number of people who carry guns will reduce the deathtoll that haunts their country. Are these politicians evil or simply deranged? 11,000 Americans kill each other with guns every year. That’s nearly four times the amount of people who died on 9/11. And they do it every year. America’s reaction to 9/11 has been catastrophic for the Middle East, yet they doggedly side step the disaster that happens annually on their doorstep. Their own ability to kill each other makes Bin Laden look like an amateur. I love many things about America and Americans. But their perverse attachment to weapons of violence is incomprehensible and indefensible. And it is hard to feel sorry for someone who despite all the evidence staring them in the face, still likes to play with guns, shooting themselves in the foot again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again...

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Even more!

11 April 2007
Rudi, my very great acting teacher at Bristol Old Vic, said many wonderful things about acting. Here are a very, very few: Acting is the gentle art of living - (later he would add 'the gentle art of living together') Everyone is an actor - we just call it 'good manners' Acting is the art of reacting Acting is playing -that's why you're called players You spell 'art' with a capital F

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Casting

10 April 2007
There is nothing guaranteed to drive you into insanity more convincingly than looking through thousands - and thousands - of CV's. We've just started re-casting DANNY - and my mind is already in jeopardy!

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There's more

10 April 2007
The other advice Mr Cleese gave me (he won't leave me alone) and certainly the most challenging: The hardest but most important thing to discover in your life: to find out what you need, as opposed to what you want. I think in this business, that advice is extremely to the point.

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Advice

02 April 2007
I was given a piece of advice when I was nineteen by John Cleese. Actually he gave me two pieces of advice but I never did take up tai chi. You can obtain the maximum growth from one initiative involving your emotions: do the thing you fear most. I think it's a wise piece of advice. Very hard to put into action!

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Showcase

29 March 2007
LIPA had their showcase today. It was a shame that so few people from the industry were there to see them. In recent years, two LIPA graduates have played lead roles in THE JUNGLE BOOK and TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN. Watching the showcase today, I saw another three actors who could take specific roles in our shows this year. It's weird to think how precious those two minutes on stage are to your future career. You've trained for three years - and then you have just two minutes to show the profession what you can do. Choose the wrong speeches, hit the wrong note, fail to connect and you leave empty handed. It's not the end of the world to leave a showcase without a result but it can be such a help to get a good start. My view is that every graduate has two years to get their first good job before I start to wonder if something has gone wrong. Contrary to expectations, I am happy to see people without agents, without experience. Some of the best actors I've worked with had slipped through the net and I was happy to catch them. I hope the actors I saw today don't get disheartened by the turn out today. It's not over yet! I first saw Sally Oliver for the role of Stella the dog in KENSUKE'S KINGDOM. In the event I gave her the lead in our West End production of PROOF. Her first job. It does happen!

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It's over

19 March 2007
If you read this blog you will probably be fed up hearing about PROOF, so you'll be pleased to know it ended wonderfully on Saturday. Last performances are not often the best: the play often gets distorted. Friday night is usually the knock-out show, but PROOF is wonderful to play the last performance: it has so many resonances about the past and the future. We had a great matinee and a very moving evening show. Followed by champagne! So my final comment is this: it has been one of the great theatrical experiences of my life.

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The weirdest post I've ever made

14 March 2007
This is quite certainly the weirdest post I’ve ever made, but it seems worth expressing. For some reason, unknown to me, I have secured the reputation of a man who has sought and successfully seduced countless women who have crossed my 41 year path. I have not the faintest idea where this reputation comes from, but it’s fair to say I have been accosted with this accusation for some years. So for the record I decided to work it out (and here comes the weird bit). I have slept with twenty-one women. In forty-one years. The interesting aspect of this exercise was discovering that I remain friends, indeed some of my very best friends, with sixteen of these women. Of the five women I am no longer in contact with, one lives in Romania and one has very sadly died. This is not, I suggest, the record of a man intent on casual encounters as he journeys through his life. So the question arises: where does this reputation come from? What makes people think my behaviour is so radically different from the truth? I have no idea. Life is full of these marvellous mysteries.

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Final week

11 March 2007
The last week of PROOF starts Tuesday. It's been a wonderful journey. Plays like this just don't come around that often. I have continued to discover new things in the play each and every performance. The audiences have universally loved it. I have yet to hear a single word of criticism throughout the entire run. Having lived with the play for so long, this final week feels the right time to say goodbye. It has been an amazing experience for all us of who have been involved in bringing the play to life again in England. I hope repertory theatres across the country will take advantage of the newly released rights to stage their own productions. Neither they, nor their audiences, will be disappointed.

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The Future

06 March 2007
Now PROOF is half way through its run, I find myself stretching my mind towards the future. We have several shows ahead this year - GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE in Scotland, OTHELLO in Birmingham and TREASURE ISLAND on tour. We are also working on HORRIBLE SCIENCE as the next step in producing our HORRIBLE shows. I don't know where the next new play will come from - we have been producing a new play each year since 1999. Most writers will obviously send their plays to the Royal Court, Soho Theatre or the National before they send them to us, so we have to be lucky to find that next great new play, although to be fair, I've been sent a few plays before they're produced elsewhere - notably Rebecca Lenkiewicz's The Night Season which went to the National, a gorgeous new play which just didn't have a resonance for me personally. So far we have been lucky and found the most wonderful new plays to produce - who knows what will happen as this year unfolds.

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The government responds

02 March 2007
Those of who follow this blog avidly - an elite and handsome group no doubt - will be pleased to hear that following my letter to Gordon Brown, suggesting it would not go amiss to receive the occasional thanks for sending him vast amounts of VAT, I have received a reply! HM Revenue & Customs have written as follows: Dear Mr Foster You wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 24 January about payments of VAT made by your company. Your letter has been passed to Revenue & Customs and to this team which is responsible for VAT payment policy. The tax system on the good compliance of businesses like yours and our aim in Revenue & Custms is to balance our duty to collect taxes on behalf of the Goverment with fairness to taxpayers who pay the correct tax at the correct time. Our strategy is to focus on non-compliance and we are committed to making the tax system as simple as possible for compliant businesses. To this end our contact with complaint businesses is kept to the minimum possible (Editor: and here it comes!) but this does not reflect any lack of appreciation for their efforts in meeting their tax obligations. Yours sincerely Paul Olive I love England! Where else in the world would you receive such a prompt, polite and pointed reply to a letter to the most powerful man in the land! I am tempted to pay a little bit more than necessary in our next VAT return to celebrate the joy of being a Brit!

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Do you like travel?

26 February 2007
When he was aggravated, my acting guru Nat Brenner used to ask: "Do you like travel?" To which the answer was normally yes. "Do you like sex?" To which the answer was normally yes. "Then fuck off" If you like travel, you can see four BSC productions this week: HORRIBLE HISTORIES in Wimbledon, DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD in Blackpool, PROOF in the West End and KENSUKE'S KINGDOM in Dubai. Let me know if you see them all!

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Reviews

21 February 2007
I think this could get boring, but if you're interested in reviews for PROOF, here is the news. I was wrong. Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph has warmed to the play and given a lovely review, especially for Sally. The Times still hates the play - hates it! And the audience appear to be loving it! I find it very hard to understand how you can hate the play. This is because I love the play - the audience love the play. I will set aside the Pulitzer Prize panel and the Tony Award judges - they're American, so don't count. The only person I know who didn't like the play is my cousin Ann - and her husband! The two of them. So I just don't know where Benedict Nightingale or Nicholas de Jongh are coming from. And neither, it seems, do the audience. But what do we know! Thank goodness the critics don't get to decide what gets presented or not in this country!

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Opening Night

20 February 2007
Opening nights are an exercise in mental control. Especially when you've been waiting six years. I saw PROOF on Broadway in 2001. As the show ended I knew that I wanted to produce it in the West End and play Hal. Six years later...! When we finished the very good dress there were two hours before the opening performance (which was also our press night!) and it seemed to be a matter of keeping my head clear of all unnecessary thoughts. Actually I closed my eyes...and stood up forty minutes later slightly dazed, which meant, quite happily, there wasn't a thought in my head! This continued until I sat in the wings, where I become absorbed in the play around me and found myself gently, mentally, warming up for my entrance. It was a good feeling and a very enjoyable performance. The audience were relaxed, concentrated and totally up for it. And the critics? Two reviews in so far. The Daily Mail reviewer, who hadn't seen the previous Donmar production, loved it. The Evening Standard, who saw the Donmar production, hated it. Saving the Daily Mirror, not a single critic liked the play when it was performed at the Donmar. So it was always going to be hard to present the play again in London. But I love the play - the audiences have always loved the play - so it seemed, in a pure way, the right thing to do. I reckon the reviews will be split between those who saw it last night for the first time and those who've seen it before at the Donmar. We'll see!

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Proof

17 February 2007
The more I live with this play, the more I enjoy the mathematical context, the less I think this play is about maths! At its emotional heart, this is a play about a father and daughter and Catherine’s role in helping her father cope with his mental illness, an illness she thinks she might inherit. Into the situation comes Hal, her father’s student, and the spotlight falls on their relationship. What is involved in trusting someone, what happens when that trust is broken and how hard it is for two people, who work in the same field, to deal with the fact that one of them is more talented than the other - just one of the ramifications of genius. It’s about what is expected from love and whether one’s perception of the truth is more important than the trust between two people. This week of re-rehearsals has been a revelation. It's wonderful to come back to a text which you have already spent so much time with and discover whole new aspects of the play you hadn't thought about. Every day of rehearsal has revealed another surprise for us all. Even tonight, just two days before we open, having already played it so joyously for three weeks in Birmingham, I've had the most marvellous discovery from re-reading the scenes. It seems to me that this is the sign of a good play, one that reveals itself layer by layer as you unconsciously delve into the characters, the situation, the stresses of the relationships. What a continuous delight it has been to work on. And we open Monday!

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Comments

14 February 2007
How marvellous! People are beginning to comment! It's the start of a big conversation! Thank you Chloe and Chris and George and Anon! (If you end up posting through the anonymous portal, please put your name at the bottom of the post, unless of course you want to stay anonymous!) The PROOF press night next Monday is now full, so if you're thinking of coming, please have a look at the rest of the week. There are tickets at £15 for anyone who phones Ticketmaster and quotes "NORMAN" at them. If you have any problems booking any tickets, please let me know. There have been difficulties with the service! I had an interview with C4 radio yesterday for PROOF with one of the most clued up journalists I'd ever met. She knew everything about the play and previous productions and we had a free and frank conversation. It was an extremely refreshing experience! DANNY CHAMPION OF THE WORLD began it's world tour this week, opening in Dartford. It's a truly wonderful and uplifting show, so catch it if you can.

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Brave people

09 February 2007
All was not lost! Three hundred children braved cold air and slight drizzle today to make it to The Old Rep for the two shows. How they did it, I'll never know. Thank goodness all the schools in Birmingham were closed again today so that no other children were put at such tremendous risk. Listening to the Birmingham councillor who closed all the schools was an exercise in frustration management. What would he have done if it had snowed for three weeks? And where was his answer to the fact that all the school children wouldn't be studying in school or quietly sitting at home - they will be outside throwing snowballs at each other! The world really has gone mad.

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Snow

08 February 2007
It's taken a while, but finally the snow caught up with us. For the first time in our fifteen year history we had no audiences for both performances of DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD at The Old Rep Theatre as schools were closed throughout the West Midlands. One wonders what has happened to this country: it was announced this afternoon that the schools in Birmingham would also be closed tomorrow. For a company like BSC it is pretty devastating. With no public funding to support us, losing four sold out performances is a major blow. Some children with parents are trying to come tomorrow but effectively four performances have been lost because the local councils are too scared to allow their schools to open in winter weather. It's shamefull. If a foreign country wants to terrorise us in the future, they won't need anthrax or bird flu or nuclear weapons. If they can just make it snow for five days, they'll have us on our knees.

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Rome

04 February 2007
Rome wasn't built in a day! I think it took five weeks! We've only had four weeks of rehearsal to recreate the Roman Empire for HORRIBLE HISTORIES so everyone has had to work that little bit harder than the early Romans! HH opened this week at Tunbridge Wells. When something has been so successful, it's a hard task to repeat the exercise. The Tudors and Victorians were such a success last year that the task of starting again with Egyptians and Romans was always going to be daunting. And yet what has been achieved is pretty remarkable. One could even say that the second half of Romans could be the best second half of the series so far. It's an extraordinary achievement for the creative team behind it. Those of you who get in early should let us know what you think. It was astonishing to see how many people in the audience this week had seen the first two productions - almost half of those I spoke to had seen the earlier shows. It makes the task that much harder, but that much more rewarding, as it proves that theatre can capture imaginations and bring them back into the theatre hungry for more. Time will tell if we have managed to pull off a second coup

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All change

04 February 2007
It's all changing at the BSC! Two of the great women of BSC are leaving for pastures new! Our assistant administrator Louise Eltringham, who has been with us for five years, has become the senior administrator of DV8 dance company - a great new post for the wonderful Louise. Ellen Mills, our education director, who has been working for BSC for eight years, is going freelance where she will continue to run BSC's education but will also have the opportunity to take on new projects. So into the company step two new people - Sally Humphreys, who becomes General Manager of the BSC and Michael Thorne, who becomes Administrator. Phil Compton steps up to become Executive Producer. It promises to be an exciting new era for the company!

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Traffic wardens

24 January 2007
Those wonderful men and women in blue have been causing chaos outside The Old Rep Theatre. They have had the brilliant idea of giving tickets to the coaches who are picking up the children after the show. They are being so assiduous in their task that the theatre staff had to persuade one coach not to drive away, leaving the children stranded. Sometimes you do wonder if we are in living in a bizarre fascist state where human beings no longer respond to each other as human beings, but as sources of income, regardless of circumstances. All being well the Birmingham Mail will be challenging this lunacy tomorrow.

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Gordon Brown

24 January 2007
With four shows on at the moment, we have never been more busy. But I just found time this morning to send Gordon Brown a letter! 24 January 2007 Dear Mr Brown I am just about to send H M Customs and Revenue a cheque for £65,923 for VAT this quarter. I started my theatre company fifteen years ago from scratch with no public funding support whatsoever. For some years now we have been sending you very large VAT cheques each quarter for money which has been generated out of nowhere, whether or not we make a profit ourselves. It would be nice if once in a while we got a thank-you! With all best wishes Neal Foster Actor/Manager The Birmingham Stage Company

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Trailers

17 January 2007
There's a lovely trailer for DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD now up on the site - and all the production trailers have been improved. We're currently working on a trailer for PROOF. None of them are easy - it's very hard to condense two hours of play into two minutes but it's an interesting challenge and I'm amazed at how successful they have been. Seeitfirst deserve a medal!

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Naomie Harris

13 January 2007
Naomie Harris has been nominated for a BAFTA in the catagory of rising star! It's the one award which the public get to decide. If you'd like to vote for her (or any of the other contenders!) visit http://www.bafta.org/site/page276.html

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Coram Boy

11 January 2007
There are some shows I book with dread and this was top of the list. Five star reviews and hyped to the gunwales. Which meant I entered the theatre with extreme trepidation and, like John Gabriel, waited for the iron fist of disappointment to grip my heart. Only something very strange happened. It was extremely goood! From the moment it started to the final black out. The story, the adaptation, the integrity of the acting, the music, the set, the costumes, the spirit of the production. There couldn't be a better showcase for public subsidy - every penny was spent to great effect - not one minute of drama wasted. I haven't stood up for show since DEATH OF A SALESMAN. There's nothing better for the soul, nothing more refreshing, exciting, invigorating, than a good night of total theatre. Meanwhile back in Birmingham (!), DANNY got a good review in The Times - great to see the entire team rewarded with a big thumbs up from News International. And there will be a happy trailer for the show available to watch on the DANNY page very soon. The boys at seeitfirst have done it again!

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Contraversial

08 January 2007
I am afraid I have to be controversial and it has nothing to do with theatre. I did not find the hanging of Saddam Hussein deplorable. I did not think the conduct of the guards scandalous. I have been against capital punishment ever since seeing the documentary "Fourteen Days in May". But my view is that in certain cases, the earth is a better place without some people on it. I would include Mr Hussein in that catagory - and Mr Mugabe in the future. I do not see any reason why a man as vicious as Mr Hussein has been for twenty four years deserves a dignified death. Whatever insults were thrown at him in his last moments, his death was painless, which cannot be said for the millions of people he slaughtered. I draw substantial comfort from the fact that this man is no longer on this planet.

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Kensuke's Critics

07 January 2007
Well we had to put up with being "solid entertainment" in the Guardian. Just as we received news that we are shortly going to be completely sold out for the rest of the run. Book now if you want to see "solid entertainment"!

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2007

07 January 2007
2007 is upon us. This is going to be quite a year! I wish LOVESONGS had been better. It features one of my favourite actors, Cillian Murphy. I left the theatre after 23 minutes, the second fastest I have ever felt the need to escape from a theatre in my life. A necessary recourse to preserve my fast dwindling sanity. Something must have gone drastically wrong for three such excellent actors to be acting so badly. I know there are four actors in it but one of them was being played by the understudy and - I cannot - bring myself - to speak about it. It took six seconds for my jaw to drop open - and 23 minutes to decide there was nothing else to do but run. This week should see a review from The Guardian for KENSUKE'S KINGDOM and The Times for DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD. Let's hope they are kinder than me!

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A lot of people

29 December 2006
The BSC will have entertained 70,000 people this Christmas at The Old Rep and The Bloomsbury. That seems like an awful lot of people! Time Out reckoned KENSUKE'S KINGDOM was "a class act" which may have helped sell a few tickets! We were characterised as "the reliable BSC". And that I suppose is the secret of sustained success - that the paying public can rely on you to deliver. Once you've gained their trust, it becomes easier. Although it also goes hand in hand with responsibility - and that's the bit that keeps you sweating!

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A date for your diary

28 December 2006
The press night for PROOF at The Arts Theatre is 19 February at 7pm! As a blog afficionado, just email me to receive a concession priced ticket of £15. neal@birminghamstage.net And see you there!

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Little Miss Sunshine

24 December 2006
If you haven't seen this film, I would highly recommend it. I have not laughed in a cinema like this since A Fish Called Wanda! It's a glorious film with an extraordinary performance from a young Abigail Breslin. Quite the best thing I've seen for a long time! PORGY & BESS was a disappointment. A really excellent cast but it somehow didn't connect and I was actually a little bored. Very hard to work out why it didn't reach me - and it didn't seem to reach the audience either, who were polite but once removed from the experience. How strange theatre can be.

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Kevin Spacey

20 December 2006
Whatever MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN was like when it opened, it doesn’t feel like it’s worn well. It took a while to work out what might have happened, but the principal relationships seem wrong. There’s an over-riding familiarity between everyone and hence no tension, no mystery, no tentativeness, no fear – there are a group of people who know each other well having a tumultuous chat. And why Eve Best in a role that seems to cry out for a less attractive actress? So often plays, TV and film cast the beautiful. Here for once is a play which demands an actress who is at least extremely plain, if not "ugly" as she is repeatedly characterised in the play. And they choose Eve Best? What a missed opportunity. I'd love to see Mr Spacey really deliver. DADDY COOL on the other hand has worn well! (Yes, I love the comparison too!). It’s still a fun night out with a spectacular West End debut from Yasmin Kadi in the chorus. And apart from Javine (what is she doing??) everyone is playing it with integrity and passion, two qualities which are missing from so many shows these days. Not from Laura Kersey who is playing the lead in KENSUKE'S KINGDOM while David is off. Heart and soul on display in all its glory!

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Great holidays!

14 December 2006
This year has been fantastic in many ways - and the last ten days have been as good as any. Three days in New York, then three days with Luke Rhinehart in the gorgeous Hudson countryside of woods and lakes, two days in magnificent Washington, then a final day in New York. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, on the spot where Martin Luther King gave his great speech, was a surreal experience. I have seen that view so many times, all through my life, that it was very hard to accept I was truly there. My brain could barely separate the sensation between the remembered and the real. It was only the following day that I felt I was in Washington and not in some cinematic reality. The weather was extraordinary - and in bright, warm sunshine I spent most of the afternoon wandering between Capitol Hill and the Washington Memorial. In the Arlington Cemetary, there is a large memorial for J.F.Kennedy, but it was the simple white cross standing alone on the grassy bank for his brother Robert that was particularly moving. KENSUKE has just opened in London, DANNY is doing amazing business in Birmingham, HORRIBLE HISTORIES starts rehearsals on 2 January and in February we open the West End production of PROOF. Here we go!

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New York

09 December 2006
I seem to be getting around this year! Now it's New York to see David Auburn (author of PROOF) and then my wonderful friends Luke Rhinehart (author of The Dice Man) and his wife Ann. I've already seen good theatre and bad theatre. Who would have guessed Julianne Moore could be so awful in David Hare's didactic play THE VERTICAL HOUR. Oy vey! Not one single inhabited sentence came from her lips. If she had been doing it for six months one could have given her the benefit of the doubt - but she opened last Thursday! You have no idea just how bad someone good can be until you see her 'performance'. What is she doing?? The day was saved the following night with NO CHILD off-Broadway - an excellent one woman show with Nilaja Sun - who inhabited not only her own body but that of several other characters with complete sincerity. As ever, Broadway and Off-Broadway display two distinct theatrical values. Nilaja's show was a lot cheaper and a lot better value!

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Malta

20 November 2006
We returned today after a fantastic week in Malta. This was the hat-trick we all hoped for, following COLLISION and THE RETURN - and GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE was to be the first professional show for children ever staged in Malta. It sold out! More importantly, the reaction was amazing. We've been producing GEORGE since 1995 (the only show we've ever wanted to repeat) and this was possibly the best reaction the show has ever generated. Granted it had a star cast (!) but the response was astonishing. It also reminded me just how much an audience can contribute to a production. A great audience encourages the actors to perform at their very best and the performances on Saturday were as good they get. It also becomes a genuinely communal experience, where the audience and actors are working together in synergy. We all knew that we had experienced perfect theatre. The fact that we should experience this in the oldest working theatre in Europe was particularly gratifying. Originally built as an opera house, it has six layers in the auditorium and you could see layer upon layer overflowing with eager and enthusiastic people. If you add sea, sights, sun and spaghetti, you have a pretty special week!

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Round up!

04 November 2006
It was confirmed this week that PROOF will be going to The Arts Theatre in the West End in February for four weeks. So anyone interested should put 20 Feburary in their diaries. We are still receiving great feedback from the show's run in Birmingham so we're very excited about the run in London. Rehearsals start next week for GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE which is going to Malta for a week and we've just started auditions for HORRIBLE HISTORIES which begins in January. Meanwhile preparations are underway for a major production of HORRIBLE SCIENCE, which I didn't think would be my cup of tea, as science was never my favourite subject, but I've got a feeling it could be a very exciting project. As ever, children's theatre gives you a chance to go bonkers, and that has always appealed to me! KENSUKE'S KINGDOM and DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD are going amazingly well. The feedback is tremendous for both shows and they are selling well for their respective Christmas runs in London and Birmingham. I think KK in London will be a sell-out. There's a debate at The National late November about censorship in theatre following BEHZTI and JERRY SPRINGER. My view is that people are trying to shut the stable door long after the horse has bolted. The men of violence won in Birmingham; the extremists succeeded in destorying JERRY SPRINGER. Whoever has to face the mob next time round is going to face incredible obstacles because of the failure of the theatre profession to stand up for freedom in the past. They took it for granted and now we are paying the price for their nonchalance. I say 'they' because I was appalled at the posturing of some of the leaders of our profession at the time of BEHZTI. It wasn't inspiring. However, if we follow the advice of Peter Sellers, there is hope in confronting complicated issues if the right work is done in advance. Let's hope people take a leaf out of his book.

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Good news

23 October 2006
For those of you who know Tim Speyer - hurrah! He has just become engaged to Rachel! Much love to both!

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George

22 October 2006
George's Marvellous Medicine is going to Malta in three weeks. We've been told that most performances have already sold out. This is the first time a show for children has been staged in Malta. I will be reprising my role as Grandma, one of British literature's greatest creations. Watch out, children of Malta: Grandma is coming!

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Unadulterated madness

22 October 2006
The Arts Council have funded an artist to furnish a room in a gallery with nothing. And the 'artistic' premise behind this empty room? In order that visitors can reflect upon their memories of art which they have seen in other museums. Have we finally reached the nadir of what is classified as 'art'? Public funding has become a public disaster. Who can stop the madness?

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Awards

22 October 2006
We've been nominated for awards twice this year and I'm not sure I like it. Effectively, a group of people nominate you for their award and then invite you to come to their ceremony so that they can tell you that you haven't won. They know you haven't won before they invite you, so why not cut to the chase: "you were nominated you for one of our awards but hey, you didn't win!". This seems more sensible and would cut down on catering. I am however developing the technique of looking extremely unhappy when we don't win. No "oh that's great, they deserve it" expressions. Anyone watching me as the envelope opens should be able to discern the words I am mouthing as the winner takes to the stage. It requires time and practise, but I hope to set a new trend for nominated losers.

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The Art of Acting

18 October 2006
Something I've often noticed: how little actors talk about the art of acting. Rudi Shelley, the world's greatest acting teacher, taught me a great technique. If you are in an emotional scene, don't try and repeat the emotion. Repeat the thought and the emotion will follow. If you try and find the emotion alone, you will have to dig deeper and deeper until you are exhausted and the emotion gets distorted. Repeating the thought is much simpler and more certain to produce the same emotion again and again. I think about something Rudi has taught me around twenty times every performance I give. There has never been anyone like him.

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Shock

16 October 2006
Something I've noticed a lot during the run of PROOF and after recent productions including COLLISION and THE RETURN: seeing the look of shock on people's faces after the show. People are startled that the show has connected with them so powerfully. I can only assume this is because people have got so used to being bored when they visit the theatre that they appear to be startled when they find themselves genuinely gripped or moved. (Even our shows for children generate the same reaction: KENSUKE'S KINGDOM often leaves the adults in tears. So many people have remarked on this that I can only guess it must be happening very rarely). When did theatre become so boring? I can't imagine people being bored in The Globe, so what has happened in the intervening 400 years?

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Extraordinary

15 October 2006
What an extraordinary night. The last night of PROOF. Last nights are very rarely the best nights. In most cases, the actors tend to go a little awry with the emotion or push too strongly. Not tonight. The indomitable Sally Oliver, in the lead role, charted our course with the stoicism that has characterised her incredible voyage through this play. Instead of it going awry, tonight's performance was freshly and deeply felt. I could not believe it. I could not believe our last show of this wonderful run was going to end so beautifully. As the last scene approached, I couldn't imagine it fulfilling all my dreams - but as I stood backstage, I worked out the key to holding it true for myself and pushing it even further. And boy! - did it unlock the most delicate playing we've ever done of that final scene. Tonight was a very special performance. The audience knew it. We knew it. I doubt I have ever felt like writing this before, but it was perfect theatre. For the first time in my life, I was crying at the curtain call (and no-one noticed, thank goodness). To be in this theatre, in this play, in this cast, with this audience - what an extraordinary experience.

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Third week

10 October 2006
After two great performances in London, PROOF begins its final week in Birmingham. It has been a dream production in every way and I'm going to miss it. But before I miss it, I get to do it four more times on Norman Coates' wonderful set in the wonderful Old Rep Theatre.

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The Old Rep

29 September 2006
Wow! I haven't performed on The Old Rep's stage for four years and I'd forgetten just how wonderful it was. Or perhaps four years in different theatres around the country has highlighted just what a beautiful theatre we have in Station Street. It just works! PROOF is going astonishingly well. It's a real gem, one of those theatrical experiences you dream about. A great play, in a gorgeous theatre, on a superb set, beautifully lit and exquisitely directed. Something special is happening in Station Street.

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Spaces

24 September 2006
I'm very excited to be performing again at The Old Rep because it's a space that works. There's such a difference between performing somewhere that works and somewhere that doesn't. The new Birmingham Rep building seems to put a distance between the actor and the audience. In contrast, The Bristol Old Vic works beautifully and nearly all Frank Matcham's theatres are wonderful - we played a lot of them on the tour of HORRIBLE HISTORIES. The Old Rep is another fantastic space. It has the two major qualities you need - its own energy and a focus. All great theatres manage to focus your attention exactly where you need it. The Pleasance in London is a prime example of a theatre which doesn't have any innate energy or focus. It makes everything on stage feel a spare. That's why I love playing the St James Cavalier Theatre in Malta - it's a new space in the round that works perfectly. Another new theatre that works very well is The Lowry - and that's one of the biggest theatres in the country, with a capacity of 1700. I could go on and on - but you'll be pleased to discover I won't!

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Daddy Cool

23 September 2006
Against expectation, DADDY COOL proved everyone wrong on Thursday and delivered a very enjoyable show. DADDY COOL? It's the new Boney M Musical and excepting the occasional sticky moment provided by the plot and dialogue, the numbers are good, the band is good, the singing is good and the whole show is a fun night! (More fun, I have to say, than VOYAGE ROUND MY FATHER which opened the same night!) We start our tech for PROOF on Monday and I realised I haven't acted on The Old Rep's stage since 2002 in our production of ROMEO AND JULIET, in which a talented cast was let down by a maverick director I hired who didn't have a clue. Not a clue! The BSC hasn't done especially well with Shakespeare, which is all my fault as on both occasions I asked an American to direct it. First Richard Dreyfuss, who could have been wonderful but wasn't and John Sheehan, who couldn't have been wonderful under any circumstances. This sounds unfair but no-one involved with the show would disagree, except John. But the buck stops with me and I take full responsibility. Thank goodness I asked John Harrison to direct PROOF - who's turned in three hits for the company - SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER, SPEED-THE-PLOW and OLEANNA. He's 82 and has infinite good taste. Let's hope the public agree!

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Awards

17 September 2006
In the week KENSUKE'S KINGDOM begins the second part of its tour, the production has been nominated for a TMA Award for Best Play for Children and Young People. And its Christmas run in London is heading for a sell-out. Not a bad start to the autumn! I planned to see a dress rehearsal of DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD yesterday but Birmingham kindly cancelled all its trains to Cardiff! "Is there any station running trains to Cardiff near me?" I enquired. "London" was the helpful reply. So I have missed the run. On the plus side, it gave me an extra day of rest. Going to Cardiff last weekend meant the weekend was too busy to provide me with the rest I needed for rehearing PROOF and running the rest of the company. By Wednesday I was knackered, so I spent three hours gardening as a break! This weekend is giving me a chance to re-charge batteries for the final week of rehearsals for PROOF, which continues to be a joy. We're doing four performances of PROOF at The New End Theatre in Hampstead if you fancy seeing this great play in the capital; the first time its been seen in London since it's six week run at The Donmar. There's more to tell, but as it's still a sunny September Sunday outside, I'm going back out to catch more sun!

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9/11

10 September 2006
I suppose companies often use blogs to promote themselves. But believe me, if I am disappointed with any of our work, this will be the place it will appear. I saw a run of DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD on Saturday and it was great. I saw a run of KENSUKE'S KINGDOM on Friday and it was also fabulous. With a great first week of rehearsals for PROOF, I can't believe we have three shows opening within three weeks that are all looking so good. I'm sure it doesn't happen often. Three very different plays. Three very different worlds. All looking like they will have a great impact on the audiences to come. The anniversary of 9/11 reminded me of what we were doing five years ago. On September 11th we had a production meeting for JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. The city of New York, where the peach lands, had been created by our designer Jackie using three separate pieces of set to create the Manhatten skyline. We decided we only wanted to use two pieces. So at 8.30am New York time, we cut the Twin Towers from the set. At 8.46am the first plane hit.

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Proof

06 September 2006
PROOF is going to be good! It's a remarkably well cast show that feels right throughout. Dad feels like Dad, sisters feel like sisters, lovers feel comfortable - it has tremendous potential. And what a wonderful play! It purrs off the page...I've not done anything that reads so well for some time. It's so clever, so funny, so intriguing. A joy to unfold, piece by piece. Talking of Theatre Crimes...my letter to The Stage was printed today about our friend Jonathan Ogden. A man who likes to ignore facts! Well, one could say we've sorted that out!

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Theatre crimes

02 September 2006
In my view, boring an audience should be a criminal offence. My White Paper would set out the following: It should be mandatory for all theatres to provide evaluation sheets in their foyers. Should more than 70% of the audience that night say the show was BORING, the show would be forced to close at the end of the week. (Equity would have a Boredom Fund to pay actors two weeks notice should the show be closed due to audience boredom). There would be a right of appeal and the theatre would have the chance to make the show more enjoyable. A committee of regular theatre-goers would then judge if the show should be allowed back on stage for a final reprieve. But if more than 90% of the audience said it was boring, there would be no appeal. The directors and producers would then be prosecuted and banned from presenting theatre for two to five years, depending on the severity of the boredom. The percentages would be open to debate. Perhaps a show should close if 50% of the audience are bored? Perhaps there should be levels of boredom: 1) BORED 2) VERY BORED 3) I HAVEN'T BEEN MORE BORED THAN THIS SINCE I WENT TO THE RSC IN 1982 4) MORE BORED THAN I HAVE EVER BEEN EVER Anyone walking out would count as BORED. Any suicides amongst members of the audience during a performance would count as VERY BORED. Should my White Paper be introduced as law, I just have a feeling that more theatres around the country would start staging a surprising number of interesting, entertaining and challenging shows!

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The Stage

01 September 2006
There are a couple of articles in The Stage this week about the BSC. One is an article about the BSC and its productions. The other concerns Jonathan Ogden, a promoter who booked THE JUNGLE BOOK to appear at the Bournemouth Pavilion and then decided he wouldn't pay us what he had agreed. A second payment of about £14,000! Many people get into trouble in the theatre world at one time or another - the question is how do you deal with it? Most people would apologise and try to arrange a series of smaller payments until the debt was cleared. Mr Ogden's way of dealing with it was to avoid all our calls and emails and to disappear with the money he owed us and everyone else associated with the show - money he had taken at the box office but was refusing to hand over! Meanwhile Equity were having the same problems in getting money which he owed to a stage manager for another production. We heard nothing from him until we instructed our lawyers to see if they could do any better. Suddenly he has surfaced! Not to say he would pay us and not to apologise - but to propose an idea that he cuts us into the profits of a show he had to abort this year (with considerable debts) but plans to re-stage next year! Amazing! Needless to say, his offer hasn't proved overly tempting. If he still refuses to pay up, we have instructed our lawyers to close down his company. At least he won't be able to do the same thing again to someone else. Not until he sets up another company under another name I suppose! Why do people behave so badly? The profession is hard enough without people in it like Jonathan Ogden. At the very least, remember his name.

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Kensuke's Kingdom

01 September 2006
When a show has been as successful as KENSUKE'S KINGDOM, it's always terrifying to see the first run of the new cast. I was almost shaking as I walked towards the rehearsal room this afternoon to see how rehearsals were progressing. But from the first few moments my nerves abated as the new cast confidently brought the story to life all over again, bringing with them a gentle difference and feel to the play which communicates extremely well. It's great! And with DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD beautifully underway in a rehearsal room in Cardiff, these two tours look set to create magic. Once you've chosen your director, it all comes down to casting. And what two great casts we have got with these two shows. Extremely exciting, knowing what effect they are going to have on the forthcoming audiences. Now PROOF awaits us. The read through is on Monday!

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Danny and Dubai

30 August 2006
I don't know how we got back to Dubai so quickly - but walking into the Novotel a week last Sunday it didn't feel like we ever left. This time we were here to perform THE JUNGLE BOOK with five of the second cast and three of the original cast plus myself as Tabaqui. Unusally we met the audience after every show and we all fell in love with the adorable Alice, who at four years old asked Shere Khan the most interesting question ever posed by a child seeing one of our shows: "When you were dead, could you hear Mowgli saying you were dead?" Dubai is strange place. I wouldn't want to live there for more than 30 minutes, but being there on vacation with a show, it once again provided some of the most wonderful nights in the desert, on the the river and the glamorous bars. Most notably, everyone is extremely friendly and polite and perhaps it is this that makes it so strangely enjoyable. And so back to reality! We now have to produce three shows in three weeks. KENSUKE'S KINGDOM started rehearsing last week, DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD started this week and PROOF starts next week! We arrived back from Dubai yesterday and immediately drove to Cardiff to see the read-through for DANNY. Peter Brook says that the terrifying thing about a read-through is that it reveals whether or not you have the potential for a great show. An average reading can still produce a good show - but a great show is only possible if the signs are there at the very first read-through. It looks like we could have a great show on our hands!

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Roald Dahl

14 August 2006
Wow! I've just spent the afternoon at Roald Dahl's house, home to his extremely hospitable widow Liccy. We were filming a news item for Roald Dahl day (13 September) about our forthcoming production of DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD. It was a gentle afternoon so we had time to chat to Liccy, play with the dog and his ball, eat delicious brownies and drink copious amounts of tea! But the special moment came when Liccy allowed us to enter Dahl's 'hut' - a small brick building where he wrote most of his work. It stands exactly as he left it in 1990; the cigarette stubs still lie in the ashtray. I would liken it to finding the house where Tolstoy wrote his novels. For here was where some of English literature's greatest characters were born. Charlie and his Chocolate Factory, George and his Marvellous Medicine, The BFG and his Wizzpoppers.... There were goosebumps on my arms as I stood in this small room and thought of everything that had been created by the man who once sat in that old chair. The universal legacy of the human race still puzzles me - I doubt anything will be excited about our creations except other humans. But as a human being, it was genuinely awe inspiring to get close to something so special - and something that had played such an important part in my personal and professional life.

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A Little Known Fact

14 August 2006
I didn't know this Little Known Fact until my publicist Judith pointed it out today: The BSC has staged more productions of Roald Dahl than any other theatre producer in the world. :End of Little Known Fact

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New Laughs

5 August 2006
It's a strange thing to find three new laughs in one week - and they are fabulous new moments in the show. But it makes you wonder what other laughs are lurking within the show, waiting to be discovered. If you can make 600 people laugh loudly in a place where there was previously silence, could there be other unearthed treasures just waiting to be found. Of course there's no prize in creating an inappropriate laugh that takes people 'out' of the play, but having found three this week, there must surely be others. The problem is that discoveries of this kind are usually accidental and often unrepeatable because you are sometimes unsure as to what exactly caused the laugh - the feed? the situation? the unconscious look? With only a week of the tour left to go, I'll probably have to settle for what I've got so far. But you never know..!

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Jungle Beat

3 August 2006
THE JUNGLE BOOK is coming to an end this Saturday, after two years on the road, although it's not quite over. We all travel to Dubai for a week from 20 August for our third trip to that extraordinary place. Well, not quite all! Five members of the company decided Dubai was not for them (!?!) so four members of the first tour, plus myself playing Tabaqui, will join the remaining five to make up the company. We rehearsed last week in Chester and it was very strange to be performing in a play I have been watching for two years. But there's no denying it's a great show and it's marvellous to be up there singing the last number! I'm really glad to be playing Tabaqui, who is mad as a march hare and perfect for me! This week we're doing HORRIBLE HISTORIES in Southampton and having a great week. It's another huge theatre which is wonderful to play and the audiences have been great fun. We threw in a new line today to get a laugh we've been looking for and it worked a treat! Doubtless this will be one of those annoying shows where I'll find myself trying something new on the last night and it will work wonderfully - which only makes you think "why didn't I think of that three months ago??!".

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Storm Clouds

22 July 2006
This tour of HORRIBLE HISTORIES certainly hasn't stopped being interesting! Today it was nature's turn to kick-start the fun. Half an hour after the arrival of storm clouds over Oxford, cascades of water started pouring into the back of the theatre. When I arrived at the half, it had already flooded the dressing room corridors and was creeping onto the stage. Quick action by the theatre staff using a hoover - and the abatement of the storm - meant that after a wait of 45 minutes, the audience were able to enjoy their matinee performance. And there was ample opportunity to ad-lib about the strange afternoon!

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Oxford ho!

16 July 2006
So those of you out there who lives near Oxford - we're here this week and would love to see you! Word of mouth on this tour has been remarkable. Contrary to what you would expect, shows for children often take less money during the week they are playing than in the weeks leading up to the show, as parents need time to book in advance. Not HORRIBLE HISTORIES! Last week Edinburgh took more than double its average the week we were there, entirely due to word of mouth. I loved the Edinburgh Playhouse. Its huge - 3000 seats - but it really works. You are easily able to engage with the audience and the theatre doesn't lose its intimacy with the actor. One of the great pleasures of this tour has been playing all the different theatres - and York, Sunderland and Edinburgh are certainly my favourites of the tour (York and Sunderland having been built by the Victorian Frank Matcham, the greatest theatre designer this country has ever seen! He was certainly not a VILE VICTORIAN!).

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Naomie Harris

9 July 2006
I wouldn't recommend you rush to see the latest PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN but if you happen to find yourself in a cinema which is showing the film, you'll have the chance to see a fantastic performance by Naomie Harris as a weird gypsy woman! I have rarely seen any actress do so much in just four minutes - it's a fantastic performance which manages to be clever, sexy, mysterious, dangerous and funny all at the same time! I believe she also trained at the Bristol Old Vic, which obviously explains why she's so good!

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The Wrong Show

9 July 2006
I suppose it’s not often in an actor’s life that someone will walk up to you in the wings and whisper: “We’re doing the wrong show”. But half way through The Terrible Tudors on Thursday morning at the Sunderland Empire, my stage manager walked up to me as I was about to enter as Henry VIII and said: “We’re doing the wrong show. We should be doing the Victorians”. My face became frozen in a temporary stare of astonishment. “I think we should carry on, but the theatre want us to stop” he offered further. “I’ll stop it” was my single response. There weren’t even two seconds to think what I was going to say as I walked on stage and declared “I’m bored of doing the Tudors. Let’s stop now and do the Victorians instead”. I will long remember the stunned look of utter bemusement on the faces of my fellow actors. And so, twenty minutes later, we were back on stage, in Victorian costumes, feeling slightly surreal and forgiveably giddy. When all the lights went out just before the end of the afternoon performance (a workman had drilled through a cable in the city centre!) we did begin to wonder whether Sid James (who died on stage at the Empire) was having one of his memorable laughs. Now that we have started this theatrical fashion, it will surely only be a matter of time before actors throughout the country will be walking on stage saying “I’m bored of playing King Lear – let’s do Hamlet instead!”

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How to deal with hot weather

2 July 2006
...Go on tour! I have realised that touring in the summer has to be the best time to travel the country. You get to visit some of Englands finest towns when they are at their best. I have to confess that walking around the Roman walls in Colchester beats an afternoon in Regent Street hands down. Suddenly hot weather isn't about sticky trains and stiffling corridors - it's cool breezes on a river in Canterbury! You have to suffer a little bit on stage, especially when you're playing Henry VIII in full regalia, but it's worth it to wander through the stage door into England's garden of Eden! However, I will have to endure London at it's hottest tomorrow, but for a good cause. I've been invited to the premiere of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN in Leicester Square. Presumably pirates put on a proper party?!

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The Palace

26 June 2006
Sunday at the Palace was as delightful as any day could be. The atmosphere inside the Palace walls was relaxed and peaceful. It had a strange calm, surrounded as it is by the busiest roads in London. And so unfolded one of the most wonderful days one could imagine. Our company were in great form, performing excerpts from THE JUNGLE BOOK for hoards of children (and Trevor Nunn). I spent most of my time wandering around soaking up the atmosphere of the place. Even with more than three thousand people enjoying the grounds, this amazing place remained idyllic. Meeting the authors of some of the country’s finest children’s work was an amazing treat – and I confess I’ve always wanted a good look at Her Majesty. She is quite something – charging through the crowds with an intense concentration on what she picks out to engage with and an easy ability to pass by the rest! I stayed for the BBQ in the evening and met the man who arranged and paid for much of the event - Peter Orton. Quite apart from the extraordinary treat he has given two thousand children, he has done something extremely important – bringing children into a special area where they have never collected before and putting them first. They so rarely are in this strange country of ours. When the buggy took me back to the gates, I was suddenly aware of the outside world over the walls. "It's still there", I said to the driver. Inside those walls, it was easy to forget. One could not have wished for a better day.

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Sweet news - bad timing

19 June 2006
Just when you think it can't get any better, you get invited to LA for the premiere of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN in Disneyland! Which is taking place on the same weekend you're going to Buckingham Palace! Don't you just love it when two things come along at once! The theatre conference was excellent. The debate itself on Freedom of Speech could have gone on all day - it was fascinating. The director Peter Sellars was truly inspirational - he has such a wealth of experience in the field that his ideas for approaching difficult subjects was a text book guide of HOW TO DO IT and HOW NOT TO DO IT! I was lucky to hear his ideas first hand. Canterbury this week. Will just have to cope with more countryside, castles and cathedrals! A tough job but someone has to...

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VIP

13 June 2006
As if our forthcoming visit to Buckingham Palace wasn't enough, we now hear that Cherie and Leo Blair came to see GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE in Aylesbury last week! Clearly the time is not far away when I will be writing as Dame Foster!

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York

12 June 2006
I could get used to touring! This is going to be the longest time I've been out of the office in fourteen years. There's a certain stress at not being at the point of contact for everyone, but there are marvellous compensations. It's great to be doing two different shows - there is no sense of doing the same show twice. And when you're in a fantastic city like York, there is no end of wonderful places to go between or after shows. Pims at Plonkers, a trip up Clifford's Tower, a walk round the Minster, tea at Betty's, a stroll through Fairfax House, a boat ride up the river and great restaurants for every meal! Yes, touring has its attractions! And with Canterbury, Edinburgh, Oxford and Bristol ahead of us - this could be judged as a good idea!

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Whoosh!

08 June 2006
Have you ever opened two new shows on the same day? Have you ever had to say every other line in both of them? With sixteen costume changes in each show? Neither had I until Tuesday, when we opened The Terrible Tudors and The Vile Victorians on the same day! I now know what it must be like to cross the Grand Canyon on a tightrope. You can feel the wind up your trousers!! Fortunately we were blessed with two fantastic audiences which got us off to a roaring start. The evening audience contained schools that were slightly less well behaved than usual - and I loved it! Rowdy audiences always present a wonderful challenge - and within a few minutes we had them under our spell. By the time we got to Henry VIII the expectant silence was palpable. It's why I'm often suspicious of actors who say "it was a bad audience". In my experience, there are few audiences who can't be turned round by a concentrated effort of attack. Peter O'Toole once described the stage as 'a battlefield'. He's surely right. And all rowdy inclinations were slaughtered on Tuesday night! We couldn't be in a better city than York. It's quite beautiful in it's historic way. And a boat trip up the Ouze last night rounded off the day. It's fantastic to be with such a lovely and extremely funnny group of people. A great start to the tour.

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Debuts and Debates

3 June 2006
I've just received the brochure for the panel discussion I've been invited to join in Ireland's Theatre Forum conference. The panel includes Stewart Lee (writer of Jerry Springer the Opera) Janet Steel (the director of Behzti) and the director Peter Sellars. That's what you call a line-up! I'm already interested to know what they're going to say! But before that - the slight matter of two shows opening on the same day - and I'm in both of them! Someone had the clever idea of touring two shows under the banner HORRIBLE HISTORIES. This brilliant fellow even conceived the idea of opening these two shows on the same day! Now this ambitious fool gets everything he deserves by having to perform in them himself. We've spent the last four weeks rehearsing and we open in York on Tuesday. It will be my first ever full scale tour - I did mini tours of THE CRUCIBLE and SPEED-THE-PLOW, but not ten shows a week, for three months. It may go towards tackling one of my greatest fears - being alone in a new city. I have never found travelling easy on my own, unless I clearly have somewhere to go and someone to meet. It has sometimes induced panic attacks. Yet Mr John Cleese told me when I was 19 that the greatest growth a human being can find comes from facing your biggest fears. It's taken me 21 years to do anything remotely close to touring like this so I clearly didn't pay enough attention to his advice. But finally I'm off. Of course it's not like going away on my own - I am part of a full company - but there will still be nights when I will find myself on me todd (is that one 'd' or two?) and it will be a test. A touring test with the Terrible Tudors. If you are in any of the cities we are visiting, come and say hello!

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Interesting Times

20 May 2006
Couple of interesting days coming up: I've been invited to Ireland to join a panel discussion on Freedom of Speech at the Theatre Forum conference. I guess this is because of my comments about BEZHTI, the play that was cancelled by the Birmingham Rep after violent demonstations broke out at the theatre by Sikh protesters. I immediately felt and still do that it was terrible mistake by the Rep to cancel the show, which they felt they were forced to do because the continuing threat of violence. Yet people all over the world are constantly facing up to the threat of violence against freedoms which we in this country sometimes take for granted. I strongly felt that all sides in the dispute ducked their responsbilities. I wasn't very popular amongst some of the theatre community, who were sympathetic to the Rep's position. But where does it stop? How many other freedoms do we sacrifice in the face of intimidation by people who don't allow for alternative views or beliefs? In my view the country changed on that day. It was a bad day for Birmingham, a bad day for theatre, a bad day for the Sikh community and a bad day for the country. On a brighter note (!!) the BSC are off to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Queen's birthday on 25 June. THE JUNGLE BOOK is forming part of the backdrop in the palace garden's and Mowgli and his friends will be in a jungle enclave. Let's hope the weather is equally tropical!

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New Beginnings

7 May 2006
Tomorrow I start rehearsals for HORRIBLE HISTORIES. I feel like I have never rehearsed before in my life - and this must be the 76th play I've been in! A very strange, albeit fresh taste in my mouth. With four shows running at the moment, this is what they call Extreme Actor/Managing. It's only undertaken by foolhardy enthusiasts who need that extra kick of excitement. I am sure I shall find out very quickly just what a 'rush' it can be!

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Dubai Dreams

2 May 2006
And so we return from Dubai. The first two evenings there were amongst the best of our lives. On Monday we all went on a boat trip, which was shaping up to be one of the worst evenings we've ever had! The boat was awful, the food inedible and it all seemed to be topped off when my chair started slowly collapsing beneath me. Strangely, I couldn't stop laughing, thinking no-one could be having a worse evening of 'entertainment' in the world! But then, out of nowhere appeared an aggressive pantomime horse, which proceeded to attack us, followed by two wrestling dummies, an Egyptian Mr Blobby and a man spinning a plate. It was truly one of the funniest nights any of us had ever experienced. Unrepeatable. Indescribable. And then the bus got lost taking us home. The perfect ending to an extraordinary night! The following evening couldn't have been more different - or perfect. We travelled into the desert, or rather everyone else went into the desert in cars across the dunes. I had to go the short way to camp because of my dodgy neck - and had an hour alone sitting in the desert as the sun set. It was magical in such an easy way. Then everyone arrived at camp and we had a seamless evening of riding, smoking, eating, dancing and laughing in the darkness of the desert. It ended much too soon. And I got a hint of why people fall in love with the desert. The peace. The isolation. The community. The day before we left we went in a river taxi along the creek for one breath-taking hour and enjoyed a superbly relaxing night-time drink in the open air of an Arabian bar. Dubai is a very strange place but it does seem to offer these extraordinary possibilities. Meanwhile the show sold out, we received rave reviews and between shows the cast relaxed on the beach, swam in the sea or flopped by the pool. It was just like Birmingham.

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Travels

17 April 2006
This Friday the BSC heads for Dubai with our production of Horrible Histories. You can see us at The Madinat Jumeirah Theatre. In November we're off to Malta with George's Marvellous Medicine, which will be Malta's first major show for children. We have been to Malta twice now with Collision and The Return at the St James Cavalier Theatre and we're delighted now to be going to the The Manoel Theatre, one of the oldest working theatres in Europe. It's fantastic for the BSC to have a relationship not only with a city, but with a country. Malta has made us wonderfully welcome with every visit. But first Dubai! If you are out there next week, come and say hello!

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The Best of It

14 April 2006
Someone asked me today what sort of theatre I like. My taste is pretty broad but I tend to find I only see one piece of great theatre every year. Last year it was Death of a Salesman at The Lyric and (in no particular chronology) I loved Jesus Hoped The 'A' Train at The Arts directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman which had some of the best acting I've ever seen; Much Ado About Nothing with Matthew McFadyn's superlative performance (one of my favourite stage actors - too bad he generally sticks to TV); Mary Louise Parker in PROOF on Broadway; the first cast of Art (Albert Finney and Tom Courtney) which was at its best during the previews when an air of uncertainty pervaded the stage; Paul Scofield and Vanessa Redgrave in John Gabriel Borkman;  Liam Carney in Bedbound at The Edinburgh Festival - another astonishing performance; Alec Guiness in A Walk in the Woods; Richard Eyre's production of Guys and Dolls with Julia McKenzie, Bob Hoskins and David Healey; Bill Wallis in Brecht's Arturio Ui at The Bristol Old Vic; and Slava's Snowshow. Four of my greatest theatrical moments were provided by Tony Hopkins painting on his make-up before committing suicide in M Butterfly; Wendy Hiller simply turning her head to take a good look at Vanessa Redgrave in an extact of The Aspen Papers; Irene Worth being clasped by Ian McKellen in Coriolanus and Daniel Massey and Diana Rigg glaring at each other in The Follies. (I would also like to add Sammy Davis Jr singing Mr Bojangles in Las Vegas but I don't think this counts!). This list could leave you with the impression I see a lot of theatre - but sadly that wouldn't be true. I find bad theatre so difficult that I rarely venture out unless the show has been recommended by someone I trust - and there's only one person I trust. So I don't get out much! My favourite actors are Olivier, Colin Blakely, Charles Laughton and David Warner. My favourite theatres The Bristol Old Vic and the Haymarket in London. I guess that answers the question!

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Auditions

13 April 2006
We’re in the middle of auditions at the moment for three shows. It’s always amazing that so many actors come to auditions so unprepared. It’s surely obvious that you give yourself very little chance of getting a job if you haven’t fully prepared for it. Every audition should be approached with the same attitude: “I am going to show them that I am the best for the job and they need look no further”. That’s going to be difficult to achieve if you haven’t read the play or the book or found an appropriate audition speech. Most actors come with the attitude: “I’ll show them what I can do, if they like me, great – if not, there’s always next time”. Whenever I’ve worked with American directors they are always amazed by the lack of preparation from British actors. Perhaps as a nation we’re simply lazy? But there’s no doubt, the ones who come most prepared are the ones who get the job. I think some actors wonder if there is any point in preparing too hard as the odds suggest they are likely to get rejected. But this creates its own vicious circle – and the less they prepare, the less chance they have. When you’re up against 100 people for one role, you’ve got to pull something out of the bag to grab the part. But it’s not all doom and gloom – we’re already half way to casting all three shows and they are looking very exciting. There are some great actors out there and we’ve grabbed them!

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A Horrible Future

13 March 2006
One of the biggest decisions I seem to have made this year is to appear as Dr Dee in the next tour of HORRIBLE HISTORIES. It will be the first time I've gone on one of our national tours, something that has always seemed impossible because of running the company. But I have always loved appearing in our shows for children and indeed some of the happiest times of my theatrical life were in FANTASTIC MR FOX, GEORGE’S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE and THE BFG. Apart from plays for children, modern theatre provides few opportunities for actors to be larger than life, to be a grotesque, to be silly. HORRIBLE HISTORIES is an opportunity to explore all three! As it happens, I spoke to Mr Dahl once on the phone when I was fifteen. (At that time, before the age of celebrity had dawned, you could find almost anyone’s telephone number in Who’s Who). Unfortunately I asked to speak to Ronald Dahl and the man on the other end was quite clear that no-one of that name lived at that address. Even when I checked the number, the voice at the end was adamant that there no-one called Ronald Dahl at this number. There’s a Roald Dahl living here he offered pointedly. When I acknowledged my embarrassed mistake and asked if I could speak to Roald Dahl, the same man didn’t miss a beat: Speaking! I was able to play Grandma again when we visited Dubai with GEORGE’ SMARVELLOUS MEDICINE but since 1997 all our plays for children have enjoyed long tours which have prevented me taking part. So the relatively short twelve week tour of HORRIBLE HISTORIES starting in June is the first opportunity that I’ve had to consider a show for children and I’ve jumped!  

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Decisions Decisions

12 March 2006
As you can see from the date of the entries below, I'm not very good at keeping up to date with diaries! I stopped writing my own personal diary in 1992 and clearly I haven't picked up the habit again easily! My March resolution will be 'try harder'! It looks like I've achieved my aim to map out the future of the company and we have now agreed what we are producing for the next two years. There's a wonderful feeling about knowing what is coming upon you, although at the same time I resent the lack of immediacy that long-term planning brings into your life. Thinking ahead reduces the chance of surprises and I like surprises, so long as they come in innocent, easy to handle, thoroughly enjoyable packages! If you've looked at the Welcome page you'll know what we're doing this year. I'm delighted that for the first time ever we'll have five different productions appearing in Birmingham - HORRIBLE HISTORIES just sold-out at the Alexandra Theatre and they are soon to host a return visit of THE JUNGLE BOOK. This autumn we are staging PROOF and if any of you are desperate to see a new, gripping and intelligent play, you should make sure you get to see PROOF when it comes to The Old Rep. They don't come much better! If you are an actor reading this blog, look out for casting reports soon in SBS, PCR etc. We have three shows to cast in the next two months: you can always send us an SAE and you'll receive the details as soon as they are announced. And in the meantime, I'll try and keep to the resolution..!  

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A New Year

1 January 2006
2005 was the most prolific and in many ways succcessful year in the BSC's history. We staged six shows including four world premieres and one British premiere. Two of our shows went to Malta and three shows are currently playing as I write: they will be joined by a fourth show in mid-January. The biggest show currently running is THE JUNGLE BOOK and tomorrow night we're taking the cast for their New Year dinner. I never expected THE JUNGLE BOOK to do as well as it has, but it is without doubt the most popular show we've ever staged. There is something very powerful about this story which captivates the audience in a unique way. Watching a young boy go through so much, learning so much and finding a way through his difficulties, succeeds in drawing you into an adventure of the soul: combined with BB Cooper's new music and Barb Jungr's lyrics, it's also an adventure of the heart. The problem now is to start thinking about what we're going to do in 2007. I've been mulling this for some time and already have one idea. When I have five I will begin to plan!  

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Don't let anyone tell you acting is hard

29 November 2005
It's amazing how often the public will ask you if you are exhausted after seeing you in a show. The answer is 'very rarely'. In my current production, I am on stage for about 55 minutes, and only start talking after another 15 minutes. Am I exhausted afterwards? No, not really. Acting is not like going down the Welsh mines. And now that we are in Malta with THE RETURN, enjoying an amazing adventure at The St James Cavalier Theatre, I feel less and less like a miner! There is however one role which I can state quite confidently is the most exhausting part in the British theatre. And that is the role of Dad in GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE. You are only on stage for 20 minutes but it feels like you have climbed a mountain. Our current climber is Jim Low and you can see him this week in New Town. Catch him at the stage door after the show and ask him if he is exhausted. He will only just have enough breath to answer!

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Kensuke's Kingdom Reviews

28 November 2005
First reviews for KENSUKE'S KINGDOM are out:  The Stage newspaper says it’s “a joy to watch!” and the Birmingham Mail says its “a powerful piece of children’s theatre”.  Today we are pleased to announce The Birmingham Stage Company are providing up to 4 free tickets for a performance of KENSUKE'S KINGDOM to ex-Longbridge workers who are still out of work, as a gesture of support for people experiencing difficulties this Christmas. The performance will be 22 December at 2.30pm. Anyone wishing to receive these tickets should go the Central Library ticket shop with proof they were at Longbridge.   With all best wishes from The Birmingham Stage Company!

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The critics have been...

23 November 2005
The critics have been (and are still coming) to KENSUKE'S KINGDOM so we will discover shortly what they think of it. If any of you haven’t experienced what it is like to be judged for your work – and that judgement to be made public to millions of people – it’s an interesting experience to say the least. KENSUKE'S KINGDOM is being reviewed nationally and locally – look out locally for The Evening Mail or nationally The Sunday Telegraph among others. Meanwhile HORRIBLE HISTORIES has been nominated Best Special Entertainment by Manchester Evening News. I have never attended an awards ceremony before but I can already imagine the experience – it must be similar to reading reviews!

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Kensuke's Kingdom

21 November 2005
Time has told! This simple tale of a boy lost on an island has proved a total hit. On the very first performance of KENSUKE'S KINGDOM the children sat transfixed by the adventure. One of the teachers, who has seen nine BSC productions, said this was her favourite show! You might think I would be unconditionally delighted by this news, but despite my pleasure, I also wonder if I have any idea of how to produce a show! After all, this production has no songs, no magic, no special effects, no audience participation, no puppets - nothing in fact that one would normally seek to hold the children's attention. It is relying purely on the art of story-telling. It is a chastening lesson that all you really need is a great story - and I should have known that Michael Morpurgo knew what he was doing when he created this story. Stuart Paterson has done a brilliant job in transferring it to the stage and the creative team behind the show have produced some extraordinary work! It is as pure as children's theatre could be and I am delighted that it has all come together so well. If you see the show, please post your comments. We'd love to know what you think of it!

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Theatre is a strange business

13 November 2005
Theatre is a strange business. I get so many questions about what we're doing and why we're doing it that the blog seemed the perfect way to provide the answers. So here I am three days before we open our production of KENSUKE'S KINGDOM. The real challenge with theatre for children is that they are merciless. If children are bored they don't follow theatrical convention and read the programme or gaze up at the ceiling or quietly fall asleep. If children are bored, they talk. Or go to the loo. Or throw sweets. This seems an eminently proper way of expressing boredom in a theatre. I would encourage everyone attending West End shows, productions at the RSC or their  local theatre to follow their child's example. If ever you should find yourself wishing you were strolling naked around the Antarctic rather than watching the particular show you've mistakenly tumbled into, make it known to everyone involved: talk, throw sweets, ring your friends on your mobile, get up and stretch your legs. It is surely the correct response to boredom. So every time we produce a children's show, I sit anxiously at the back of the stalls, listening for any moment when the children could start to fidget. At the first sign of impending distraction, we immediately address the scene in question to ensure it keeps their attention. Hopefully by the end of the first week we have eradicated any moments where our drama loses tension. It is terrifying but rewarding. Success means we can relax as the coaches pull up outside the theatre, knowing that thousands of children will be safe in our dramatic hands. But there are three days to go and, as always, I have no way of knowing if this time we will succeed. Time will tell.

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Skellig

17 Decemer 2010
I love when you arrive for your early morning show feeling just a tiny bit underwhelmed at the prospect and the audience turns it into one of the best shows of the run! They were such a rowdy bunch this morning you almost felt they wanted to be on stage with you. What's great with an audience like that is having a part like Skellig - who can be engaging, funny, and then frightening, so they never really know what you're going to say or how you're going to react. As the Americans would say, it's a part you can turn on a dime. And as the show went on, the audience fell more and more into silence. Grand stuff!

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Awards

01 November 2009
The BSC is in that wonderful position again of having three excellent shows on the road. David Wood's brand new adaptation of GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE opened this week in Horsham and went beautifully - a wonderful cast and crew doing a fabulous job - and the audiences loved it. Big congrats to the HORRIBLE HISTORIES team for the Manchester Evening News Awards nomination for best family show. It's the second time HH has been nominated in Manchester - awards night is Dec 8th. HH, SKELLIG and GEORGE - three shows to be proud of - and all directed and designed by that clever duo Phil Clark and Jackie Trousdale.

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Richard Dreyfuss

18 Jnauary 2009
My friend, who is not an actor, had an interesting point of view concerning the fuss over the delayed opening of COMPLICIT: "Surely RD unsteady with his lines is still more enjoyable to watch than a lot of actors who are on top of their lines?" Certainly a view that could start a debate...!

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TV

11 Janaury 2009
I have fallen in love with an American cop series called THE SHIELD. It has certainly the best scripts, the best filming and the best acting that I have seen on TV in a loooooong time! Having tuned in late into the series, I was always behind on some of the plot, so I bought the first series on DVD. What a treat! Thoroughly recommended.

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There Will Be Blood

04 March 2008
Well no-one who reads this blog expects me to be conventional, but I was a surprised to find myself sitting outside of this film. I was once told and have since believed that a true test of whether a film or a play works, is if you forget you are in a theatre and you are transported into the world and along the journey of the play or film you are watching. So I've always felt it's a sign that something isn't working when you never feel you've left your seat. Even more obvious is that lovely feeling when you leave the venue and think "goodness, it's London on a Monday night" when for the last couple of hours you've imagined you're in America in 1892. Sadly this wasn't the case last night. What's more - and I am really sorry for being contrary - I didn't really believe DDLewis. I was always aware I was watching someone performing. A very fine performance, but a performance nevertheless. Worse still, I wondered if a different actor would have been more suited to the role. For my money, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is certainly more gripping and has more convincing and interesting performances within it. Despite the fact that I still don't know what NO COUNTRY was all about! (Interestingly, I read an extract from Cormac's book and I reckon this mystery is probably solved by reading the book! So that's me out!) I am now even more certain that I shouldn't go and see ATONEMENT!

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Edna

02 Junw 2012
Walking past the Coliseum in St Martin’s Lane today I suddenly remembered an evening from my teenage years that brought a broad smile to my face. In 1983 London theatreland staged a tribute to the armed services for the victory in the Falklands. To be introduced by Laurence Olivier, it would feature stars from opera, ballet, theatre and music. I saw it advertised on TV and knicked my Dad’s credit to buy three tickets for my Mum and Dad to see it with me. Unfortunately they were not amused and not at all interested in seeing the show, but eventually allowed me to go to London to see it with my best friend Jonathan in the hope we could sell the third ticket. When we arrived for our first ever black tie event, we realised there was no way we were going to be able to sell it – crowds of people were waiting behind barriers to see the arrival of Prince Charles – and we realised it was a much bigger night than we had expected. So with only five minutes left before it started, I suggested to Jonathan we just give the ticket away. Then behind one of the barriers I spotted an elderly woman, dressed in her raincoat, clutching a carrier bag. I crossed the road and asked if she wanted to join us for the show.

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