Signs of Life

Well, so, um, that last post was a long time ago…  Oops. Am delighted to declare to the wide open spaces of the internet that things have taken an upturn in many ways since then. Hoping to be able to mention one of them next week, but in the meantime, here’s a flyer for a forthcoming poetry gig. It’s at The Mill in Banbury on Thursday, July 9th. John Hegley’s headlining. That’s John Hegley. Eeek. So very excited!

Poetry at The Mill, Banbury, every 2nd Thursday

Poetry at The Mill, Banbury, every 2nd Thursday. John Hegley and Claire Taylor, July 9th

 

 

 

Waggling on…

This time last year, I was finishing the script and the music for The Magic Tea Kettle and starting to think about how to make all the bonkers props for the first Waggly Tales production. Now, Waggly Tales has two successful runs under its paws and a great local reputation thanks to the group of wonderful collaborators who made it all happen.

It was so lovely to be involved in a theatre project that simply *worked*. If you have anything to do with theatre, you’ll know what I mean. Small, self-supporting theatre is mostly battle after nightmare after trauma, but with Waggly Tales, everything fell into place. People wanted this kind of work. They came back and saw it again. They sent us emails saying how much they’d enjoyed it. It worked. It made money. It had a future. However, the personal factors that have been making me an utter misery guts for the past few years have now made it impossible for me to continue taking a creative lead in the company. I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t incredibly difficult stepping back, but I know that Eilidh Beaton and Helen Goward will do a marvellous job. They’ve got a brand spanking spangly new show lined up for the Easter hols as well as some rather special prop-making workshops, so keep an eye on the website for booking details.

I really, really hope to be able to do some small solo stuff for children or adults in the vaguely foreseeable future, but I’m not sure when or how at the moment. I’d love to do some comedy again but my funny bone keeps breaking. Hmm. That came out rather more self-pityingly than intended, but it’s *true* and I’m tired of pretending otherwise. Tediously, the ongoing mission is to try to get both body and brain operating in a vaguely helpful manner, however they’re both a bit on the stubborn side (well, gosh darn, who’d a thought it?*) so, well, we’ll just have to see how it goes. Not an approach I particularly enjoy, but that’s how it is. Chin up, shoulders back, best foot forward etc etc.

*This was the name of a pub outside which my brother and I spent many hours in the late 70s and early 80s in the car with the tape player on with a bottle of pop and a bag of crisps while my dad was inside arm-wrestling or whatever dads did in pubs in the late 70s and early 80s. The pub sign featured an astronaut discovering a bottle of beer on the moon. I thought this pub name and the sign and sitting in the car with the tape player on (Beach Boys Summer Dreams) with a bottle of pop and a bag of crisps and my brother were all simply brilliant things. I just did a quick search and discovered that the pub is no more! The site now boasts a group of rather attractive houses. Progress and all that…

Half-term Hallowe’en frolics!

The Magic Tea Kettle by Claire Taylor

Heck, I’ve been so busy doing other stuff, I’ve neglected myself! This is getting to be an all-too-common occurrence… Must be more self-absorbed. Or more organised. Or maybe simply more!

So, a quick plug for The Magic Tea Kettle round two!

This zany, bonkers, badger-filled romp for the under 7s (and their grown-ups) which sprang fully-formed from my zany, bonkers, badger-filled mind, is going on a southeast London family-friendly pub crawl for a few days this half-term, ending with a show at The London Theatre as part of the Lewisham Fringe Festival.

That’s this coming week! Zoinks!

Shows start on Thursday 31st Oct (come in your Hallowe’en outfits!) at The Ivy House, the UK’s first co-operatively owned pub. Friday, November 1st, we’re hosted by the lovely folk at newly refurbished Herne Tavern in East Dulwich, while on Saturday 2nd we’re back under the benevolent – and slightly cheeky – gaze of The Old Nun’s Head in, you guessed it, Nunhead! Then, on Sunday, 3rd November, we’re going to do a most peculiar thing and perform a play in a theatre! The London Theatre, no less, in New Cross.

Full details, as always on the Waggly Tales website!

Oh, we’re doing some fun workshops for the under 7s after most of the shows, so there’s yet another reason to come along!

Happy Hallowe’en, Pumpkin Fans!

The Magic Tea Kettle bubbles on

I’ve been neglecting my online presence, but it’s been a bit hectic of late. I’ve been on jury service, which was very much not what I expected. I thought I would enjoy it and find it fascinating. It was fascinating but, blimey, being responsible for making a decision about someone’s life is utterly exhausting. And not helped by the dreadful canteen. And the lack of any sort of  post-show drinks, chat or other form of debriefing or decompression made for a few interesting days once it was all over. However, it now seems quite unreal and long ago – a strange experience in  parentheses.

So, back to the business of getting on with things. Waggly Tales’ first run of The Magic Tea Kettle at the Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead was a delightful and successful experience.  Super venue, super audiences and super team! We’re now organising more local shows for the coming months and a tour for spring 2014, plus another new show is in the pipeline. In case you missed it, here are a few snapshots of the magic kettle-based frolics:

Sophie the Witch and Prince Arnold

Uh-oh, Sophie the Witch and Prince Arnold in trouble again

The Moody Fairy

The Moody Fairy about to show Arnold who’s boss

The Moody Fairy, Sophie the Witch and Prince Arnold - and a smelly old kettle

The Moody Fairy, Sophie the Witch and Prince Arnold – and a smelly old kettle

The Badger Tea Kettle

The Badger Tea Kettle – he’s wise and brave and bold and hundreds of years old!

Time for a Bath!

Bubbly-wubbly, bubbly-wubbly…Time for a Bath!

Prince Arnold and the Narrator

Prince Arnold and the Narrator searching, searching everywhere

Sophie the Witch and the Badger Tea Kettle

Sophie the Witch and the finest Badger Tea Kettle the world will ever see!

 

 

 

 

When the bustle stops…

I live in the Borough of Greenwich in Plumstead, which is about a 15 minute-walk from Woolwich. It’s an unsung part of London, with acres of open space, woodland, amazing views, steep hills, stunning sunsets and affordable housing.

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be part of a preview audience for A High Street Odyssey, a new show from the amazing Inspector Sands. This innovative, hilarious and warm ‘invisible’ promenade show (with headphones for the audience and stunning, highly technical sound play) is touring UK high streets this summer. It was developed and previewed in Woolwich and will be returning there on 28th and 29th June for the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival  – go see! It’s free, but you need to book and it’s ace!

If you stroll down Woolwich’s main shopping streets, you’ll see a pretty much classic example of an urban British town centre – people shopping, harassed office workers having a quick fag, kids pointing at the cakes in the baker’s window, tough guys in vests walking their Staffies, mothers and nannies corralling herds of children, a man helping a lady pick up the onions that have escaped from her string bag, people running for a bus, buskers trying out a new song, a church choir praising creation, elderly ladies pushing their canvas shopping trollies in front of them, teenage boys pretending they’re not looking at girls, couples bickering about the amount of time they spend shopping, couples having a canoodle, toddlers distraught at having let go of their free McDonald’s balloon, a queue at the traditional ice cream stand, parents taking snapshots of their terrified three-year-old riding on a mini big wheel, market traders yelping unintelligibly about fruit or maybe vegetables, religious people tenderly pressing leaflets into your hand, more religious people tenderly expressing concern for your immortal soul, gleeful schoolgirls dashing out of Primark with glints in their eyes and bulges under their coats…

During the preview of the play, people on the high street who weren’t part of the audience were so interested in what was going on; asking what was happening, wondering whether it would be on TV, wanting to join in, wanting to be part of it, loving the weirdness and unexpectedness and gentleness of it. Human reactions from human beings. Who feel safe and comfortable and at home in their neighbourhood and on their bustling high street.

And then sometimes the bustle stops.

The first time I saw Woolwich stop was the day after the 2011 riots.

The second time I saw it stop was yesterday, after the indescribably horrendous murder of the soldier from the barracks.

What can you do?

Carry on.

Carry on shopping. Carry on wanting a cake. Carry on being willing to stop and help people. Carry on running for that bus. Carry on yelping about fruit or maybe vegetables. Carry on caring about strangers’ souls. Carry on picking up onions. Carry on being curious about what’s going on. Carry on shoplifting. Carry on eating traditional ice cream. Carry on doing plays in the streets. Carry on riding miniature Ferris wheels. Carry on having a sneaky fag. Carry on bickering. Carry on canoodling. Carry on. Carry on living. Carry on living in Woolwich.

The Magic Tea Kettle – coming soon to Nunhead

TheMagicTeaKettleE-Flyer

 

One of my current projects is Waggly Tales, a company making exciting, fun and funny theatre for children and their adults. The Magic Tea Kettle is our new show and you can see it at the end of May in Nunhead. Inspired by a Japanese folktale, the play has words and music by me and is directed by the magnificent Lora Davies. The hilarious and adorable Helen Goward plays Sophie the Witch, the ever-succulent and cheeky Eilidh Beaton portrays Prince Arnold, the debonair and dextrous Martyn Barmby brings the Magic Tea Kettle to life (and also plays the Moody Fairy) and I pop up as the narrator. With gorgeous costumes from the sensational Lois Ireson and a healthy sprinkling of good, old-fashioned magic, we’re hoping this show will be a hit with southeast Londoners aged 3 and up.

We’re giving a local school two free previews tomorrow and the official run is at the end of the month.Come see!

 

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GOD/HEAD at Ovalhouse

I’m delighted to be contributing a little to someone else’s work this week.

The ever-succulent Chris Goode is currently doing a show about doubting his atheism. It’s called GOD/HEAD and it’s a true story about God, neuroscience and, well, all manner of other things. This is the official blurb:

So there’s this writer.

Thirtysomething, gay, lefty metropolitan writer. Atheist, obviously. History of mental health problems, but those are all in the past.
Sure of himself and his world view. Comfortable in his assumptions.

And then one day, suddenly, without any warning…

There’s God.

In this brand new documentary piece, award-winning writer and storyteller Chris Goode explores the flipside of the familiar crisis of faith: what if there really is a God after all?

GOD/HEAD is a humane, candid, radically unsettling piece about the tensions between religion and neuroscience, and about the limits of language and the edges of desire.

Each night a different guest performer participates in the piece. I’m very excited to be the guest on March 1, so if any of you can make then, it would be lovely to see you afterwards! And, if not, there are plenty of other nights to choose from!

The piece is on at Ovalhouse at 7.45 Tuesday to Saturday from until March 10. You can book tickets via the Ovalhouse website.

Maybe see you there.

**Update** Well, I survived that, but it was an astonishing experience. Being on stage in a show, talking to the audience and not knowing what you’re going to be doing next is quite exhilarating yet simultaneously comforting; you’re totally in someone else’s hands and you simply have to open the envelope and follow the instructions, or answer the question, or build that card house, or read that bit of script – just do it there and then without analysing or fretting or thinking. Just do it. Honestly. Naturally, I managed to blubber at one point. Tsk. Chris admitted he’d put a box of tissues on the set thinking of me and one other guest (the lovely, and lachrymose-as-me, Maddy Costa).

2011. Grrr. Argh.

So. 2011.

In summary:

The best of times:
– Feeding mice with a paintbrush at 4 in the morning.
– Spending hours scraping all the chewing gum off the carpet at The Woolwich Grand Theatre only to be presented with a steam cleaner that had been there all along for the last section, which took moments.
– The glorious day trip to Cambridge to vote for the new Chancellor (Brian Blessed woz robbed): lunch in the Maypole, an impromptu tour of the new (to me) ADC, a spot of dressing up in gowns, tea and cake and memory lane.

The worst of times:
– Well, clearing houses of heaps of stuff.
– And repeatedly trying to guess what the church might actually permit on my father’s gravestone. (Still haven’t managed a good guess).
– And being in the middle of a riot zone.
– (And some other stuff that I talk about in an anonymous blog which I might link to one day. But might not).

So, pretty much on the pants side of poo.

Roll on 2012!

Theatre-wise, I’ve been mostly ambivalent about things I’ve seen this year. I loved The Adventures of Wound-Man and Shirley, which is touring in 2012, I believe, so take a gander at that. And a Cinderella at the Battersea Mess and Music Hall was absolutely delightful, but big shows pretty much left me cold this year as so many lacked heart and humanity. I will accept that 2011 has been pretty extreme in very real ways for me, so I guess my emotion- and compassion-o-meters have become recalibrated, but all the same, I found myself gawping at what I perceived to be alarming cold-heartedness really quite often.

For example, two shows which have been raved about left me feeling empty. The Animals and Children Took to the Streets was beautiful to look at, technically superb, but just lacked heart. I felt no emotional connection to any of the characters – well, OK, maybe the caretaker a little bit – but the rest of the world thought it was amazing. And it was. Technically astounding. But surely there’s only so long you can marvel at a person’s ability to pat the head of an animated dog? Actually, there might not have been an animated dog, I can’t remember, but ultimately, this play would have been the same if it was a cartoon. There’s no doubt that all the members of this company are hugely accomplished, but the fact that there were some real, live, breathing, thinking people in this piece didn’t seem to add to it. The piece had to be precise and regimented because of the technical side of it, and that left no room for it to be fresh each time. No room for real connection. It has to be replicated – like a film – each night rather than be alive. If that makes any kind of sense.

I was also one of apparently only two people on the planet who thought London Road (a verbatim musical about the residents of the road where the man who committed the Ipswich murders of 2006 lived) was bizarrely tedious and unexpectedly nasty (sorry, Adam – you’re brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, but even you admitted in the programme notes that it was, by its nature, boring) in stark opposition to the rest of the world who seemed to side with the critics and deem it the most wonderful musical ever. Like The Animals and Children… it was undoubtedly technically superb, but it was uncomfortable to watch, not as in ‘Heck, I feel uncomfortable because this is making me confront all sorts of uncomfortable issues’ but uncomfortable as in ‘Heck, I feel uncomfortable because I cannot fathom why they made this’. Some of the choices made by the creative team seemed bizarre. For example, the big musical comedy set-piece was all about a reporter trying, failing and eventually succeeding to not say the word ‘semen’. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s a rude word and everything. But his report is about the bodily fluid found inside women who were raped and murdered. Context does matter. Some might say it’s everything. But this didn’t stop half the bloody National Theatre audience roaring with laughter and clapping when he finally managed not to say semen. Yes, we all know funny, inappropriate things happen in the direst circumstances, but this song didn’t point that up; it was a comic number about a man getting frustrated with his inability to not say a certain word. The context had been forgotten. As people around me guffawed, I was sitting there muttering ‘This is disgusting’. Disgusting and boring! Wow! Bring on the awards!

Verbatim theatre seems to have gone mainstream now,  but a verbatim piece that is, well, verbatim, will surely always need work (beyond editing and, in this case, composing music and setting conversations and [endlessly] repeated phrases to it) to become a play, otherwise, why not just make a documentary? You can make compelling documentary theatre – ask Richard Norton-Taylor. I found it incredibly telling that the one time when London Road really came alive with humanity was when recordings of interviews with local women working as prostitutes were played. This was directly after, if my memory serves me correctly, the actors had delivered the same words, with the same vocal nuances, but with no connection to the words and therefore no soul. That brief burst of recorded speech highlighted how unreal the rest of the piece was. And demonstrated beautifully that replicating vocal patterns aint enough  – you still need to connect body, mind and soul to the words otherwise you end up with a bunch of people shuffling about looking and sounding like they’ve had lobotomies. Which is sadly, what I saw when I witnessed London Road.  And all the way through, I couldn’t help wondering about what Alecky Blythe, the verbatim theatre practitioner who co-created this piece might have been thinking when she started travelling up to Ipswich to record interviews while bodies were still being found. It reminded me of how, when I finished reading In Cold Blood, I felt that the title also applied to Mr Capote.

On a happier note, I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2011 (yes, that’s rather more than fashionably late to the party, I know) and its sheer brilliance, wit, intelligence, inventiveness, compassion and character development  pretty much knocked all the theatre I saw into a cocked hat. I have a suspicion that it might be quite tragic that I’ve never identified with a fictional character as much as with Spike (seasons 5-7). Or maybe everyone feels that way?

Three cheers!

The Woolwich Grand Theatre is Go!

Having had the planning meeting scheduled for the end of September and then moved to October, it was suddenly brought forward to earlier this evening.

And, earlier this evening,  the arts centre application was passed unanimously by Greenwich Council.

Thank you, Councillors and Planning Officers!

Hurray! Phew! Gosh! Eek! Now the fun really starts.

And something else I wanted to say…

You know how it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind?

Well, I want to change my mind about the council. At least a bit. Recently, I had been feeling  that big business was their major interest, and the people on the Woolwich omnibus were not too high on the agenda, but I was so impressed by their efficiency, pragmatism and good-spiritedness at the planning meeting tonight. There were several applications under consideration and each was dealt with quickly and directly. All questions raised were completely appropriate and, if answered satisfactorily, then the applications were passed with no further ado. I don’t know why, but I expected it to be a much more adversarial process with all sorts of shillyshallying and bluster. There wasn’t any of that. At all. And the councillors even looked quite pleased when we all gave their decision a large round of applause.

Three cheers! Hip hip! Hurrah! Huzzah!

Permission granted!

Permission granted!

The Woolwich Grand Team

The Woolwich Grand Team