Making tracks #3

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The rail-related charities we’re proud to be supporting

SUP and its production of THE RAILWAY CHILDREN are pleased to be supporting two charities: The Railway Benefit Fund, and Railway Children.

We will be promoting and collecting for both charities at all performances of The Railway Children, NST Campus 22-25 January 2020, and will be donating all profits from programme sales. We hope you can support SUP in supporting these very worthy causes.

Railway Benefit Fund (RBF) – ‘helping railway families through tough times’

Based in Crewe, a railway town in Cheshire, the RBF is the only UK charity that is solely focused on supporting current and former railway employees and their families when they find themselves in times of need.

An independent organisation founded in 1858 and incorporated by Royal Charter in rbf-master-logo-for-website1949, the charity offers financial help, practical support and wide-ranging advice, all in strict confidence.

The RBF president is Pete Waterman OBE – record producer, songwriter, DJ, TV presenter and a keen railway enthusiast.

Earlier in 2019, the RBF launched an updated identity, including a new logo, colours and font: “In the past 160 years the charity has evolved and changed depending on the needs of the industry. But in the last few years we’ve changed quite a lot: we’ve listened to market research and industry stakeholders to ensure we are relevant to today’s modern railway people. We’ve launched new services of support as well as looking at new ways in which we can engage and work with the industry to better look after its main asset – the people!”

“First and foremost, we hugely appreciate our supporters. Without your help we wouldn’t be able to do the work we do to change railway peoples’ lives.”

You can learn more and donate at https://www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk

Railway Children – ‘fighting for street children’

Helping more than 300,000 street children over the last 22 years, Railway Children provides protection and support for children with nowhere else to go, and nobody to turn to.

RClogo“Every year thousands of children across the UK, India and East Africa run away or are forced to leave homes that have become unbearable through poverty, abuse, violence and neglect. Reaching a child as soon as possible is crucial to getting to children on the streets before an abuser can, and before they become entrenched in street life. We race to get to children before the streets get to them.”

Working at street, community and government level, Railway Children uses research to inform its work, influence policymakers and plan effectively, and works closely with partners on the ground.

The charity launched its third UK project in Leeds in summer 2019, looking out for children at risk on and around the rail network:

“Since we started this work in 2016 at Manchester Piccadilly, adding a base at London Euston in 2018, we have been able to help hundreds of young people and keep them safe from harm. Some have been running away from care or home or groomed by people planning to abuse them. Many have been exploited by criminal gangs into transporting drugs and money on the railways and others were just found at the station struggling with their own mental health issues. Wherever we’ve met them, we’ve been there and we’ve been able to make a difference.”

You can learn more and donate at https://www.railwaychildren.org.uk/


THE RAILWAY CHILDREN at NST Campus, 22-25 January 2020 – matinee Sat 25th Jan

Book now: call 023 8067 1771 or click here

Tickets from just £10


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BLOG: Making Tracks #2

BLOG: Making Tracks #2

Action stations!

SUP director Paul Green explains why he wanted to direct The Railway Children – and his vision for this immersive production

I’ve been keen to direct this particular adaptation of The Railway Children for quite some time. Let me explain why.

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Paul Green is directing THE RAILWAY CHILDREN for SUP Theatre Company

First, the place that its author E. Nesbit and this particular story hold in popular culture.

I read my first E. Nesbit  book at the age of nine and read virtually all her books in the next three years.

They were completely different from anything I had read before. As the previous blog explained, Edith Nesbit was a genuine trailblazer for what we now recognise as ‘modern children’s literature’. The genre, as we know it today, didn’t really exist before ‘Daisy’ got cracking.

Her style, structure, her approach and the way she presented her characters led the way, and many others followed in her wake. 

And for generations of adults, the 1970 film version starring Jenny Agutter, beautifully directed by Lionel Jeffries, is a touchstone for their childhood. It’s still a family favourite.

I felt we could not only bring the story to a new audience in Southampton, for all ages, but that we could also do something interesting and a little different with this well-known and much-loved story.

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SUP is promising “an immersive experience”

Which brings me to the second reason I wanted to tackle this story: this adaptation by Mike Kenny.

It was first produced as a site-specific piece at York Railway Museum, featuring a live steam train. The show then moved into London for two highly successful runs, at Waterloo station and then Kings Cross. Both, again, featured a steam locomotive.

His main surprise was that the children are played by adults (20 year olds),  to emphasise the family aspects and the humour that runs through the whole play.

We have a few surprises up our own sleeves. We plan to recreate ‘The Golden Age of Steam’ live on the NST Campus stage with an immersive experience, in the same way we created that distinctive atmosphere for our Agatha Christie production – but it’s the writing that really marks this adaptation out.

It’s fast moving and it’s funny. It moves along at a cracking pace like, well, like a train.

The structure is clever, and the dialogue directly involves the audience. As a result, we feel emotionally invested in the story. It really is for people of all ages.

It has some marvellous moments. Twinges of sadness, flashes of anger, moments of tenderness.

All the characters are beautifully drawn, in particular the central trio of children. If you haven’t seen this version, I think you’ll love it. (And we also have some fantastic actors rehearsing their socks off right now.)

My overall vision for the show is based on open staging with very fluid changes, projections, and fast-paced action, with evocative lighting and special effects. The emphasis is on fun and, for the cast, team work.

I want to give audiences a dynamic experience, gathering them up and taking them through the story. With a few surprises along the way.

So, how am I going to tackle the set-pieces on stage, those moments you may remember from the book or the film?

The simple answer is “you’ll have to wait and see”. But expect imaginative and inventive effects.

We are planning to give you the sense, sounds and visuals of a full-sized steam locomotive coming your way. We want you to feel a part of it. Expect immersive sound, lighting and special effects. We’re working hard to present the landslide in a very interesting way. The five-bar gate the children watch the trains from is the easy part.

Hope to see you there!


SUP proudly presents THE RAILWAY CHILDREN at NST Campus, 22-25 January 2020 – matinee on Sat 25th Jan

Book now: call 023 8067 1771 or click here

Tickets from just £10

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BLOG: Making Tracks #1

Welcome to The Three Chimneys

SUP Theatre Company is taking audiences back to the Golden Age of Steam: SUP co-chair Stephen Fenerty introduces our January 2020 show and its author.

E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children is an acknowledged classic. Originally serialised in The London Magazine in 1905, it made its debut as a book the following year.

The story, in case you didn’t know, is about an Edwardian family forced to relocate from London to a house near the railway line in Yorkshire – the house is called The Three Chimneys – after the father, a high ranking civil servant at the Foreign Office, is imprisoned after being accused of spying.

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A classic image from the 1970 film version of THE RAILWAY CHILDREN

The narrative follows the central trio of children – Bobbie (Roberta), Peter and Phil (Phyllis) – in their various adventures and with the colourful characters they meet in and around the railway.

The book mentions the then-current Russo-Japanese war, which dates the events to spring, summer and autumn of 1905.

The railway setting is believed to have been inspired by the author’s walks to Chesfield railway station in the London Borough of Bromley, near where she lived, and her observing construction of the railway cutting and tunnel.

Described by her biographer as “the first modern writer for children”, Edith Nesbit (1858-1924) wrote or collaborated on more than 60 books. Incidentally, even though her name was Edith, she was always known as Daisy.

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Edith Nesbit – ‘Daisy’

A follower of the Marxist designer, poet and novelist William Morris, she was also a political activist and co-founded the Fabian Society, a socialist organisation that was later affiliated to the Labour Party.

The Railway Children is perhaps her most famous work, closely followed by The Story of the Treasure Seekers and Five Children and It.

Noël Coward was an admirer of her work, writing that she had “an economy of phrase, and an unparalleled talent for evoking hot summer days in the English countryside.”

The Railway Children has been adapted for the screen six times, including three serialisations on the BBC in the 1950s and 1960s, and a TV movie in 2000. The most famous version is Lionel Jeffries’ 1970 film. Jenny Agutter played Bobbie in both the BBC’s 1968 and the 1970 film version—and was re-cast as Mother for the TV movie in 2000.

The Olivier Award-winning stage adaptation being presented by SUP at NST Campus in January 2020 was first staged in 2008 and 2009 at the National Railway Museum in York, and later enjoyed highly successful runs at London’s Waterloo and Kings Cross rail stations.

Almost one hundred years after her death, E. Nesbit’s work is still with us, and continues to delight successive generations of children. As her biographer Noel Streatfeild wrote:

“When an author dies, as E. Nesbit did in 1924, too often their books are forgotten. This did not happen in her case, for the books have gone on, loved by generation after generation of children. Not all her books were great, but enough were for her name to belong forever to children’s literature.”


SUP presents THE RAILWAY CHILDREN at NST Campus, 22-25 January 2020

Book now: call 023 8067 1771 or click here

Tickets from just £10

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Checking In #3

Diana and Sidney

This week’s guest blogger Hannah Wright is directing the third section of LONDON SUITE – a bittersweet comedy that brings two old flames back together

When Chris Hawley, an established director with SUP Theatre Company, approached me with the prospect of directing for Neil Simon’s LONDON SUITE, I was thrilled.

Why? Well, the concept of London Suite is fresh and innovative, carefully allowing the audience an intimate view into the personal lives and stories of a vast array of characters.

I first met SUP members at the first reading of the play.

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Hannah Wright, Director

I was instantly surrounded by friendly and welcoming people, who all share a love for the Arts and who, most importantly, have a cracking sense of humour.

There is something different about SUP Theatre, in comparison to other companies alike. They are highly professional, inclusive, with high standards and expectations for those involved. Everybody is included, stretched and challenged to the best of their ability.

There are so many opportunities made available for all.

During the first play reading, I instantly connected with the story of Diana and Sidney.

I loved their relationships, their story, and how in just 20 minutes, I was taken on an emotional rollercoaster. Their relationship is so honest, comical, and relatable. I was really excited to start exploring these characters with my cast.

As a new member for SUP, I was pleasantly surprised at how professional the audition process was. Every audition was held in the Lecture Theatre auditorium. Chris, Ali, Stephen and myself were able to meet everybody auditioning, discuss the characters they would like to audition for, and what skills set they could bring to the role. We were also able to audition people in pairs and groups, to better assess the dynamics of casting people, prior to the decisions being made.

During our first few rehearsals, I wanted the cast to get to know their characters.

We played around with different intonation and tone until it felt natural, and right.

We trialled different movements, different gestures and physicality, until eventually, a pattern started arising. The movement soon became second nature, and with regular yet small adjustments along the way, the characters flourished.

This was a collective project from the start for me, I wanted my actors to actively contribute and in doing so, we have bonded well along the way. The story and its characters now feels believable and incredibly honest for me, I’m emotional every time I see it. 

Come and enjoy this evening of sparkling comedy at the Rose Theatre, Eastleigh, 18-19 October 2019 – book tickets here


CLICK HERE TO BOOK FOR LONDON SUITE

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BLOG: Checking In

SIMON SAYS

Stephen Fenerty takes a look at the author of SUP’s upcoming LONDON SUITE: a bona fide comedy legend

Neil Simon – acclaimed author of LONDON SUITE – wrote more than 30 plays and almost the same number of movie screenplays in his lifetime. He received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.

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Neil Simon in 1974

In one theatrical season alone, Simon had four successful plays running on Broadway at the same time. In 1983, he became the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named in his honour.

Revered as a comedy legend, his other hits included BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1964), THE ODD COUPLE (1965) which became a hugely successful film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1972), BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS (1983) and many more. His autobiographical play LOST IN YONKERS (1991) won a Pulitzer Prize.

Growing up in the Bronx in New York City during the Great Depression of the 1930s times were hard for the young and extremely shy Marvin (his real first name).

He took refuge in movie theatres, where he particularly enjoyed screen comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. An excellent grounding in comic timing and pathos for his later career.

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Poster for the movie version of Simon’s breakthrough hit

After graduating from high school, and a few years spent in the US Army Air Force Reserve, Simon quit his job working in the mailroom at Warner Bros. to write writing comedy scripts for radio and early TV shows with his brother, Danny.

A big deal in the USA, you may not have heard of these classic shows from the early years of television: Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows (with Simon working alongside other young writers including Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner) and The Phil Silvers Show, more commonly known as Sergeant Bilko in the UK.

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Simon in 1966

He began writing his own plays in 1961 and, by 1965, his Tony Award For THE ODD COUPLE had made him a national celebrity and “the hottest new playwright on Broadway”.

Writing stage plays and original screenplays until 2003, Simon’s “style” ranged from romantic comedy to farce and more serious dramatic comedy. All three styles and more are covered in SUP Theatre Company’s production of LONDON SUITE.

Written in 1995, LONDON SUITE is a standalone play but also a sequel of sorts – in terms of its hotel setting, structure and, indeed, a few characters – to Simon’s previous plays PLAZA SUITE (1968) and CALIFORNIA SUITE (1976). In the movie version of the latter, the characters of Diana and Sidney were played onscreen by Maggie Smith and Michael Caine. In LONDON SUITE, we have the brilliant Marilyn Dunbar and Jez Minns in these memorable roles.

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Michael Caine as Sidney and Maggie Smith as Diana in the film version of Simon’s CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978)

Able to blend comedy with drama, Simon’s characters have been described as “imperfect, unheroic figures who are at heart decent human beings.” As you’ll see for yourself in SUP’s LONDON SUITE. His plays are  quirky and extremely funny.

Marvin Neil Simon died in New York City on 26th August 2018 aged 91.

Come and enjoy this master of comedy at the Rose Theatre, Eastleigh, 18-19 October 2019 – book tickets here.


Stephen Fenerty is co-chair of SUP Theatre Compoany, and is directing the first section of LONDON SUITE – “Settling Accounts”


CLICK HERE TO BOOK FOR LONDON SUITE

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BLOG: Checking In

LONDON SUITE: ‘GOING HOME’

Director Alison Wells reports from rehearsals…

Rehearsals are well underway for this female two-Alisonhander, Going Home.

An hilarious but also poignant account of a middle aged woman’s ‘date night’ with Dennis (or is it Kenneth!!?) Cummings and his numerous ‘habits’!

We have two fantastic actresses.

Lisa Dunbar is Laurie, the daughter – on the trip to London with her mother and setting her up on the date from hell.

Lisa is new to SUP but not to community theatre – having trod the boards regularly with The Chameleon Theatre Company of Chandlers Ford. Welcome Lisa!

Sarah Fergusson is Mother, in London to visit old haunts and shop till she drops. An established member of SUP, Sarah has appeared in a number of our shows as well as being an active committee member and keen SUP supporter. Welcome back Sarah!

With lines already learned, we are working on making our audience laugh out loud and perhaps shed a tear as Mother tells Laurie all about her night out at the theatre.

We’re gathering all our props at the moment – we need lots of shopping bags so I’m taking one for the team and volunteering to do a massive shopping spree – just for the bags, honest! The American accents are proving a little tricky; however, a few You Tube tutorials and we’ll get there!

At the first production meeting last week, the four directors – LONDON SUITE is four one-act plays that all take place in the same location – decided on the final set design and furniture.

We’re excited to bring a full-on 90’ ‘luxury’ hotel suite to the Rose Theatre in Eastleigh. Construction starts this week and we are currently sourcing furniture – creating that ‘luxury look’ from charity shops and Gumtree can be challenging but we love a challenge!

We also expect to see the contents of SUP members’ houses on the stage as we generously suggest our own furniture and then realise we’re sitting on the floor at home for the week of the show….

Anyway, back at our rehearsals, we’ve been focusing on the second scene of Going Home – Mother returns from her date  – and Laurie makes her tell the story of her evening in great detail.

The story is already very funny and I’m keen to bring as much physical comedy into the scene as we can. The actress, Sarah, has to get rid of all her inhibitions and really ‘inhabit’ the character of Mother. We, the audience, needs to feel like we are on the date with her – and then we want to enjoy all the ‘juicy’ details…

When I find myself laughing out loud at rehearsals, I know we’ve got it! I hope you can join us in October for a great night of theatre.


Alison Wells is co-chair of SUP Theatre Company


CLICK HERE TO BOOK FOR LONDON SUITE

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BLOG: Ghosts & Queens 3

Breathing new life into a Ravenhill play

Our latest guest blogger is Troy Chessman: a brand new SUP member and director of the upcoming GHOST STORY

Although I’ve trained as an actor, I’m no stranger to directing. I have directed a number of one act plays for drama festivals in Surrey.

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Actor/Director Troy Chessman

I made my debut in 2015 with an abridged version of ‘Macbeth’ which went on to compete at the next round of the All-England Theatre Festival in Oxsted. Since then, I have directed ‘Brighton Beach Scumbags’ by Stephen Berkoff and co-directed ‘Almost Nothing’ by Marcos Barbosa, which I also won ‘Best Actor’ for.

Beyond the festivals, I have also directed a new modern contextualised version of Titus Andronicus, ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ by Adam Peck at NST City, and my own original brand new play ‘Won’t Fade Away’ about Alzheimer’s disease and memory.

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Macbeth (2015)

When I heard that SUP was looking for a second play to enter into the Totton Drama Festival, my ears pricked up. ‘Ghost Story’ had been on my radar for a while. I then heard they were ideally looking for an all-female play and I knew I had to put it forward.

When choosing a play to direct, I always like to pick something that stirs something within me (and that can mean an array of things).

I ask myself, does this play make me think? Does it provide me with an opportunity to challenge myself as an artist? Are the themes relevant to me? Will it provide opportunities for my cast to create interesting characters? Is the message of the play something I advocate? Or is it something that bothers me, that I can address?

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Troy in ‘Almost Nothing’

‘Ghost Story’ by Mark Ravenhill is, in its essence, a dark play with moments of comedy and embers of light.

Although the play is centred around the subject of cancer, it is NOT ‘a play about cancer’.

Rather , it’s a play that explores three women’s responses to having/dealing with/loving someone with cancer.

The play also goes against the conventional ‘Mark Ravenhill’ content that one might expect. There is no swearing, no profanity, no sex, just a stark insight into the characters’ responses to cancer.

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Troy’s ‘Titus 2017’

The play questions the lies and truths that we tell ourselves and others in times of adversity. It offers three fascinating characters, each with their own motives and objectives.

Meryl is now a healer and a strong woman who had once overcome cancer but it is back  (is she a con women?).

Lisa is suffering from cancer and is looking to Meryl to coach and heal her to wellbeing (did her success in pushing Meryl to ‘cross the line’ impact Meryl’s fate?).

And there is Hannah, Meryl’s younger, naive and doting girlfriend, caught up in the impact of Meryl’s cancer (is her need to lie masking other issues?)

The play is not straightforward, the narrative leaves a lot to be deciphered, which is what makes the play so interesting.

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Rehearsals for SUP’s ‘Ghost Story’ – 2019

As a director, I am free to unpick, explore and interpret the text as I see it. The text raises a lot of questions, which was exciting to discuss in rehearsals.

Who is the ‘villain’ of the play? Why does Meryl do what she does? Why is this character lying? Why is this character telling the truth? IS this character telling the truth? Who is dead? Is anyone dead?

The more you delve into the writing the more questions appear, more opportunities to make the performance interesting and dynamic.

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Rehearsals for SUP’s ‘Ghost Story’ – 2019

In my rehearsal process I like to play with and explore new ideas.

I draw a lot of inspiration from the work of practitioners like Berkoff who choose to utilise the use of body and physicality, lifting the language of the text. I have tried to incorporate the use of breath and pace into the world of the characters.

The dialogue in this play is very important. I have stripped the set back to a minimum, giving us a suggestion of Meryl’s home in order to allow the performances, the dimensions, the chemistry of the actresses to be the focus of the piece.

I am incredibly lucky to have been able to cast three brilliant actresses who have taken on everything I have thrown at them and created three wonderfully compelling characters.

I can’t wait to share this piece with you and I hope you enjoy it.


SUP is proud to present GHOST STORY on a double-bill with Tennessee Williams’ AND TELL SAD STORIES OF THE DEATHS OF QUEENS for one night only.


SUP presents STORIES OF GHOSTS AND QUEENS at Totton Drama Festivaland FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY at the Rose Theatre, Eastleigh on Sat 6th April – 7.30pm

Tickets from just £9.50 – no booking fee payable

Click here to book tickets

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