Keep Calm And Carry On (Performing)

Keep Calm And Carry On (Performing)

Can community theatre survive COVID-19?

e8a8b137-ebea-43b7-8665-5fe07ccf23bbSUP co-chairs Alison Wells and Stephen Fenerty reflect on the last few months

We hope this blog finds you and your loved ones safe and well.

We’ve been co-chairs of SUP Theatre Company for three years now, and we love the group for many reasons – but mainly because of the people we get to meet, work and socialise with. We come together through a shared love of theatre, the arts and performing, to make new friends and have fun.

Pre-coronavirus and like most people, SUP’s year was pretty well planned. We had a great mix in our programme that included festivals, outdoor theatre, regular plays, murder mystery events and socials – all of which went immediately on hold, like most of the rest of the country, in late March.Cast_StephenBW

Someone said to us, ”Well, I guess that’s it for you guys, for a few months at least?” Far from it.

The challenge for us and the SUP Committee was how to keep our society ‘going’ when we couldn’t actually get together physically and do what we came together to do in the first place: engage in theatre as a collaborative activity.

How do you run an amateur theatre group when there are no theatres and no audiences, when actors can’t be in the same physical space?

Of course, this is a massive challenge facing theatre groups and venues up and down the country, in so many cases magnified, and some – sadly including our own Nuffield Southampton Theatres – have already stumbled and fallen. We have performed at NST Campus for over fifty years. The future is uncertain and we can expect a lot more of that. But, as they say, the show must go on, in some form or another. We must try to stay positive.

So that is what we have done. Like many others, from the National Theatre to stand-up comedians, we’ve taken it online. In fact, we’ve been thrilled to see the SUP community thriving online.

These days, we hold our monthly committee meetings using Zoom. Of course we do.

But we also planned lockdown social events via Zoom, hosting two well-attended quizzes that also involved friends and family, as well as online play-readings, scripts provided. The second play reading was open to the wider public if they wanted to join us. Yes, reading a play online as a shared experience does take a little getting used to, but once you get that flow and pace, it works extremely well. And it’s fun. It brings us together. And together, we are stronger.

As part of our community remit, we also used our lockdown quizzes as opportunities to raise funds for charities including the Alzheimer’s Society and Rowans Hospice.

On Facebook, for our members’ only group, we’ve run ‘Lockdown Challenges’ for members to provide short video clips or images that are, for example, associated with a famous scenes or dialogue from plays and movies. It’s creative, it’s a distraction, it’s fun.

Back in March, we were disappointed when we had to cancel our rehearsals and public performances for our new wartime anthology ‘For The Fallen: Home Front’ that presented voices from the Southampton Blitz, D-day and VE Day.

Instead, our fantastic cast members of all ages performed the poems, letters, sketches, monologues, first-hand accounts and songs from the safety of their own homes, recording their brilliant efforts on video, some using virtual backdrops and other effects. We’re all learning.

Volume 2. Page 70, Picture 6. World War II. 8th May 1945. Whitehall, London, England. VE Day crowds are in high spirits after Prime Minister Winston Churchill+s speech.

Many of these clips were part of Royal Victoria Country Park’s live stream for its VE Day celebrations. We were even interviewed about our “virtual VE Day performances” on BBC Radio Solent. Take a look at the video playlist on Facebook, some clips are a little over a minute, none more than three minutes – https://www.facebook.com/watch/SUPTheatre/841452699676177/

We’re continuing to try and think of new ways to engage with our members and reach an audience. Members can dip in and out as they like, and we’re delighted to see them when they do join in.

Our next challenge will be online auditions and casting for our next production, which will take place in a theatre – we just can’t be 100% sure where and when right now – and we’re also thinking about other online performances we can put together as a group. As our technical prowess grows, so do our ideas.

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It does take a bit of work, time and planning but trying to keep the group together and active as best we can, while the country emerges from the Covid-19 crisis, is a priority for the two of us and for the rest of the Committee. SUP has been around for over 55 years and we’re still going strong! In fact, we even welcomed two new members this week: Jan and Greg, it’s great to have you on board.

Why not join us?

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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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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Christie on Campus #9

Christie on Campus #9

A killer writer

You think you know the story. Think again.

Nobody plots and executes a murder mystery like Agatha Christie. In fact, writes cast member Stephen Fenerty, she pretty much defined the genre – and set the template for generations of ‘stalk and slash’ thrillers to come

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As part of our preparations for rehearsals, director Paul Green asked the cast to read Christie’s original novel of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

Although Christie adapted the play herself – and the play hits virtually all the main beats of the novel – the detail and depth of characterisation in the book make for a different experience. I have a 1966 Fontana paperback edition (costing 3/6) that retains the book’s original UK title. It must have been one of the last to do so.

ATTWNAND THEN THERE WERE NONE is the Christie novel that is most often mentioned by readers as being “the one that stumped me” when it comes to working out ‘whodunit’.

The main narrative ends with the killer still unknown. The reader only discovers who and how in a lengthy epilogue, which includes a chilling confession.

It’s all very clever: how Christie structures the plot, and plays with the reader.

This structure is distilled and ramped up in her play version, which has a running time of just 95 minutes. A great deal is packed in, I can tell you.

Christie builds the tension like a rollercoaster: the prolonged click-click-click of the carriages being pulled to the top of the first drop… that tiny pause… then the drop comes, you’re rushing over peaks and through tunnels at high speed, screams around you – until that sudden, shocking stop at the end.

Christie is a forward-looking writer in many ways. I was surprised more than once by the deftness of her writing, and by what a trailblazer she is.

Here’s an example. The preamble in the novel has the characters travelling to Soldier Island. In his train carriage, Blore meets a fully-fledged ‘harbinger’. Or to give this trope its proper name, a “Harbinger of Impending Doom” – and this apparently drunk old man plays a blinder. “There’s a squall coming,” he cackles. “Watch and pray… The day of judgment is at hand!” Lovely.

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Mordecai: the harbinger in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011)

In narratives like this, the harbinger plays a specific role: to warn the main characters about what’s about to befall them in the house, holiday camp or whatever location they’re heading for. The threat may be non-specific but the danger is very real. I was delighted to see this small but satisfying incident in the novel make it through to the play, in a brief recollection by Blore.

What follows in the novel is a template for the countless “murderer on the loose” stories that came in the decades after. A group is isolated, cut off from the world in a specific setting, and picked off one-by-one by a merciless killer. Revenge is generally the motive. All is revealed at the end.

And as Christie wrote, “it’s always more exciting to have a girl at the end” – whether that’s Jamie Lee Curtis or Neve Campbell.

Indeed, like the harbinger, the ‘final girl’ is another slasher convention that came to the fore in the 1970s when this set-up entered the post-Vietnam era with a cycle of increasingly gory horror films

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HALLOWEEN (1978) – ever spotted the screaming face made by the knuckles? Eyes, nose and mouth…

The setting could be an archetypal small town, as in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) – a film that further solidified the template, opening the floodgates to a thousand imitations – or a summer camp, as in Sean S. Cunningham’s equally successful FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Along with high schools, hospitals, shopping malls, and so on.

Described as “stalk and slash” they soon became known simply as “slasher movies”.

Violent, bloody (and often misogynistic), they generally match the Christie template in that victims are often ‘punished’ for a previous crime or transgression. These might range from the minor (sex outside marriage, tut tut) to the major (previous actions resulting in the death or disfigurement of the future killer).

Agatha Christie laid the foundations.

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FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

And while avoiding the excesses the genre would later feature, and generally writing (for the times) from quite a progressive pro-woman stance, Christie also takes the time to deliver ingenuous deaths. They are often clever and grisly (and sometimes funny) – like the FINAL DESTINATION films, a supernatural variation on this narrative – and in playing to those themes of revenge and/or delayed judgement or punishment for past misdemeanors.

So you can see a clear line from AND THEN THERE WERE NONE right up to today.

While SCREAM (1996) and its sequels cleverly subverted the genre, playing around with our expectations, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) does this even more intriguingly: a smart, funny and ultimately unsettling film.  The poster – shown at the top of this blog – shows the cabin (as seen in the EVIL DEAD films, CABIN FEVER, etc.) as a tricksy Rubik’s cube.

The house on Soldier Island might as well be a cabin in the woods.

happy_death_dayChristopher Landon’s HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) brings the slasher movie bang up to date with a blackly comic and clever mash-up of GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) and HALLOWEEN, featuring a brilliant central performance by ‘final girl’ Jessica Rothe. Watch it. It’s not very gory – and it’s huge fun.

The sequel, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2018) is out this February. I’ll be in the cinema.

In these modern takes on the genre, things are not always what they seem. And that brings us right back to the Dame of Death, Agatha Christie. As the poster for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS says: You think you know the story. Think again.

This applies, completely, to SUP’s new version of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

Think you know the story already?

Well, it’s true: we are using Christie’s original text and her original ending, and the characters you probably remember. But we are going to make you think again.

I promise.


SUP proudly presents Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE at NST Campus theatre from Wed 23-Sat 26 January 2019 – tickets from just £10

Concessions and group bookings also available

You can book your tickets here

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Christie on Campus #1

Welcome to suspicion, fear, paranoia and ‘get to know you’ games

Kicking off our latest series of production blogs, Paul Green is our first victim: a director and actor with a long and impressive theatrical CV, he also has some distinctly sinister plans to bump off cast members

This being my first show for SUP, I wanted to get to know the cast, and to help cast who were members new to the company to get to know the more established SUP players. The cast for AND THEN THERE WERE NONE includes performers who joined SUP in the last few months working alongside more longstanding members – it’s a 50/50 split, really, between “old” and “new”. And of course, I’m a relatively new member of the team myself. 

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Paul Green is directing Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE for SUP Theatre Company

To me, simply starting rehearsals “cold” can throw everybody slightly, so we started the entire process with a four-hour session of exercises, on a Sunday, to get to know each other. This was, in part, about developing trust and team-working among the company members.

The first exercise, the “Name Game” – which we still play at the start of every rehearsal session – has a number of purposes. It’s for everyone to learn everybody else’s real name as well as their character name, to get them used to establishing eye contact, and getting them used to doing and thinking three things at once (which is, as I keep telling them, the basis of acting). If you can imagine mentally patting your head and rubbing your stomach and reciting the alphabet all at the same time, you get the idea. The cast has embraced this after persevering and the determination shown has been impressive. Much hilarity is also derived from identifying who is establishing eye contact and where you should walk and to whom (it takes too long to explain, but you should play it some time).

I also introduced the cast to “Flying”, which is pretty much as it sounds. Only one intrepid cast member did it to begin with, but after seeing what it entails, everyone took part, with one or two people still having to be convinced. You’ll see some pictures here.

We then played a game known as “Killer” or “Wink Murder” to introduce the cast to the feelings of paranoia and suspicion that I’ll be foregrounding in our production. In this game, one person is secretly chosen as the murderer and winks at their victims when no-one is looking. The victim then “dies” as spectacularly as possible in a way that also misdirects. So, as you can imagine if you know any members of this cast, the “spectacular death” aspect was really underplayed (the longest death scene was timed at more than two minutes). The more you play it, the more extreme the deaths are, and the more paranoid everyone becomes… precisely what I was aiming for.

Of course, we got through far more than just these games on the day, with everyone throwing themselves into the activities wholeheartedly – and we had a lot of fun while working hard to build a strong basis for teamwork and the underlying themes of the production.

Please follow our continued progress in future blogs from various people and different directions and of course, please remember to tell your friends, family and colleagues about the show – and don’t forget to book early yourself.


SUP proudly presents Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE at NST Campus theatre from Wed 23-Sat 26 January 2019 – tickets from just £10. Concessions and group bookings available.

You can book your tickets here

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Two Murderous Comedies

It’s a wrap

This week’s guest blogger is Stephen Fenerty, SUP co-chair. He reflects on the performance nights for our October one-act plays – and on a great audience reaction

First and foremost, a huge thank you to our wonderful audiences. 70-plus people enjoyed the Friday night double-bill, with that number swelling to more than 90 on the Saturday – which meant we were almost at capacity in the Rose Theatre and, more importantly, ensuring a great audience response for our casts.

And what a group of performers! 13 actors and actresses across the two plays, with more than half appearing in their first productions for SUP. And everybody did us proud, so a big thank you to our wonderful casts. Here’s a slide show, from rehearsals to get-in, show nights and after-show party…

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In the four-handed 1920’s murder mystery spoof A JOLLY SINISTER JAPE, the daft gags, double entendre and fast pace had the audience laughing and groaning in equal measure. The cast – experienced SUP hands Kerrie Brady and Naomi Scott alongside new members Martin ‘Timber’ Kelly and Michele Zadra – delivered Elliot Strange’s script with aplomb.

With the Rose Theatre at Barton Peveril College providing a bar for the first time, our audiences refreshed themselves at the interval before returning to their seats for THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND by Tom Stoppard.

The longer of the two plays – 65 minutes compared to 35 minutes for the first half – this had the audience in stitches with its smart blend of satire, word play and slapstick, with excellent surreal performances and comic turns from an ensemble cast: Nick Hayward and Tim Ellwood, Paul Jones, Sarah Fergusson, Lee Barden, Jake Williams, Meg Britton, Carolina Scott, and not forgetting Andrew Clarke as the most convincing corpse on an SUP stage since Sophia in Dirk Gently.

Special thanks, of course, go to our brilliant behind-the-scenes team and tech crew, who make it all happen, including directors David Green and Kevin Bowers, along with Duncan Lang, Clayton Peters, Steve Town, Olly Trojak, John Peters and others. Thanks for all your help and continued support: we couldn’t do it without you!

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Lady Stoppard, Sabrina Guinness, with the SUP secretary and co-chairs

We were also delighted on the Friday night to welcome Lady Stoppard, Sabrina Guinness. While she’d read THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND she had never seen it performed – and said she enjoyed the show hugely. Sir Tom, who couldn’t attend because he’s currently immersed in writing a new play, sent a handwritten ‘good luck’ message to cast and crew.

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A sneak preview of our next production: the Ten Little Soldiers themselves. Click here to book for Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

When we plan and perform these one-acts, in addition to our ‘usual’ annual cycle of Totton Festival and January production at NST Campus, our objective is to provide more opportunities for SUP members to get involved, especially our new members, and to give audiences more opportunities to see our work.

There are obviously costs associated with putting on a show: licensing for the scripts (per night) plus set, costumes, props, van hire, and of course venue hire – the latter tending to be the main budget item. While we always try to “beg and borrow” wherever possible, using items for low or no cost, some of these costs are fixed. And there’s always a risk we may lose money on a production: you can never really tell if you’re going to attract an audience, despite your best marketing efforts and word-of-mouth.

Our objective is to at least break even, because it means we’re not eating into our reserves – but making a little profit is always great news, as it means we can carry on what we’re doing and provide even more opportunities.

I’m happy to report that while the final “profit and loss” accounts are still being finalised, it appears we have made a small profit on our Two Murderous Comedies. So thank you, once again, to all cast, crew and others at SUP who make it all possible – and, of course, to our audiences.

We hope to see you all at NST Campus 23-26 January 2019 for what promises to a rip-roaring production: Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE – with tickets from just £10

CLICK HERE TO BOOK

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