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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