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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BLOG: Ghosts & Queens

I Want Candy

And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens

Director Paul Cresser explains his choice of play for this year’s Totton Festival of Drama – and reports on rehearsals

When choosing the play for my directorial debut at last year’s Totton Festival of Drama, I looked for a play that would suit the dynamics of our group.

I settled on ‘Darlings, You Were Wonderful!’ – an all-woman piece to complement the all-male ‘Bully Beef and Whizzbangs’ that we were also entering.

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Paul Cresser: SUP Secretary and director of AND TELL SAD STORIES OF THE DEATHS OF QUEENS

Having found that, for the most part, I’d enjoyed the directing process, I started looking for another play to propose for the 2019 Festival.

This time I looked for a play that interested me rather than one that would suit others, and the proposal I came up with was rather different to our previous entries!

One of the things I decided early on was that I wanted to direct a play with an LGBT+ theme that wasn’t another (as I call them) ‘angsty coming out story’.

I wanted to direct a play that had a strong LBGT+ character that wasn’t about that character being gay. That’s when I found Candy: an out gay man and transvestite, perfectly comfortable with who he is in that respect.

The story of the play explores Candy’s character flaws that, although coloured by his sexuality, are simply ‘human’ flaws: the need for love and the fantasies that he constructs in order to find it.

In ‘And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens’, I have set myself some challenges: a lead character who must be a convincing transvestite, as well as recreating late 1950s/early 1960s New Orleans and the Japanese-style home of an interior designer – all on a very limited budget.

I have found myself having to research wigs and sailor’s underwear as well as seeking out make-up tips and helping my lead actor try on various dresses. I’ve also had to pull together a co-ordinated set, worthy of the home of a talented interior designer.

These challenges aside, I’ve really enjoyed getting inside this little-known Tennessee Williams’ gem.

The play was never performed in his lifetime due to its subject matter, and it’s a play that is decades ahead of its time. It was written in 1950s/60s pre-civil rights America, yet many of the issues addressed are still as relevant today and it has been interesting to explore and discuss those issues.

I’m also delighted to have pulled together a fantastic cast – all of whom are playing parts outside of their normal experience.

They are working together extremely well and I’m enjoying seeing the characters from the pages of the play coming to life before me. Jonathan Shepherd has bravely stepped into Candy’s high heels and is gradually revealing more and more of his inner diva. Paul Jones is exploring what it means to be a bisexual hustler, whilst Stephen Fenerty and Chris Aland’s gay couple is a match made in heaven (not the nightclub!).

I have certainly found directing this play more stressful than my first experience with SUP, but that is because I feel so much closer to it and that in some way what I am producing here is an extension of my own personality.

It’s my baby, I love it and I’m just really hoping that everyone else will love it too.


SUP presents STORIES OF GHOSTS AND QUEENS at Totton Drama Festival in March 2019 – and FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY at the Rose Theatre, Eastleigh on Sat 6th April at 7.30pm

Tickets from just £9.50 – no booking fee payable

Click here to book tickets

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Dirk Gently blog archive

It’s the end – but the moment has been prepared for

Kevin puts pen to paper for the last time: it’s the Dirk finale…

Well we’re here, the journey that started in July with auditions and the scripts being doled out is about to come to an end. We’ve done four shows and are in the dressing room getting mentally ready for the big finale.

This has been a great show to be a part of, both in the cast and as the production manager, blogger, delivery man and numerous other tasks that have fallen on my shoulders. I’ve learned a lot and know I’m nowhere near ready to direct on such a large scale, at least not without someone to hold my hand.

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The cast have uniformly been superb: from Paul Cresser as Dirk, wonderfully enigmatic and fully understanding the interconnectedness of everything, Paul Jones as Richard caught up in the whirlwind of the story, and Phillip DG as the forgetful professor Chronotis, in his 50th anniversary on the Nuffield stage – to Lou, Darcy and Beth as the impish Sarah complete with a yo-yo and of course the myriad of supporting players, everyone on the stage has given their all to make this the success it has been.

We were also lucky to have some amazingly talented people back stage and working on props and effects. Without the likes of Ollie, Clayton, Mike, Adam (both), Steve, Dave, and Tom we would look like fools running around in dress up. Their craft makes the unreal real and creates the illusion that we are in the world of Dirk.

All of this of course needs someone to be the puppet master, someone to pull the strings and we had someone colourful and larger than life to corral us and keep us in line. It’s not always been plain sailing, rehearsals with lots of sickness, line learning not where it should be, SFX taking a little, ahem, longer than hoped – but in the end almost 1,000 people will have left the theatre with a smile on their faces and mild feeling of confusion as they work out what they’ve just seen…

Lorraine, it’s time to get the sofa off the stairs and sit down and have a cuppa. Phew!

Dirk Gently’s Casebook – File #13

Here we go: Dirk is about to take to the stage

Cast rehearsals have ended and the theatre and audiences await… production manager and cast member Kevin Bowers reports from the final Dirk Gently rehearsal

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The get-in and technical rehearsal are almost upon us, and we’re gathered at the Annexe – very close to NST Campus – for our last run-through before we enter the Nuffield theatre proper. We are live, onstage, and ready to rock from next Tuesday 30th January! And you only have until Saturday 3rd to catch all the fun, craziness, colour and comedy of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. You can book here.

The Annexe is a great space to work in, with a wonderful lecture theatre giving the cast a real sense of the space they will need to fill once they get onto the NST Campus stage. Voices will be raised, gestures slightly exaggerated and sight lines worked out.

So, as exam time at the University of Southampton draws to a close (and the students head to the bar) the cast and crew of Dirk Gently still face their greatest test: we are about to see just how well the months of preparation have been used.

Do we know all the lines and our moves?
Are we ready for our cues?
Is the stage crew ready to set the scenes?

Our audiences are in for a treat, that’s for sure. Yes of course, it’s a nerve-wracking time for our director Lorraine – but one in which she also sees the fruits of her labours. Everybody involved in the production has put so much into it – and the excitement is really building.

Transporting scenery and props has been planned like a military operation; everyone knows where and when to be. It’s going to be a mammoth logistical task, for sure, but one we’re ready for. We’ve also got a couple of days of promotional walkabouts at the University, with cast and other SUP members – some in full Alien costume – accosting students and staff near the Students’ Union building, handing out leaflets, promoting the Save The Rhino International charity, and trying to tempt students one last time with a special ticket offer.

It’s been great fun getting Douglas Adams’ weird and wonderful characters from the page to the stage, and the whole team now is missing only one element, but it’s the most important one: the audience. When all the elements are mixed together, we can’t wait to experience the reaction…  we’ll see you next week!

 

 

Dirk Gently’s Casebook – File #12

Lead on, MacDuff: Paul Jones has this week’s SUP blog

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Paul Jones (centre) in rehearsals, flanked by Dirk and Professor Chronotis

Ever since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by the idea of acting on a stage but never plucked up the courage to act myself, due to being dyslexic. I would, however, always overdress for costumed parties – my personal favourite is my Adam Ant costume – or be up singing Karaoke.

It wasn’t until 2014 when the acting bug finally sank its teeth into me.

After a drunken night at Rockaoke (live band but you’re the singer – I sang “Tribute” by Tenacious D), I finally decided that the feeling of being up onstage is as exciting as it is terrifying. So naturally, I rushed out – once the hangover cleared – and found the nearest theatre group to me.

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“Not Paul Jones” – but his favourite dressing up character

I started at the sound desk at the Chameleon Theatre Company of Chandler’s Ford, pressing the all-important buttons during a pantomime version of “The Wizard of Oz”.

Shortly after that show, I was swiftly dragged away, thrown onto the stage, put under lights, given a script and took my place in the cast for “Fawlty Towers”.

Next, I was given the part of Johnathan Harker, in a chilling retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula which was a huge challenge for me, being onstage for the first 15 pages!

My approach to acting is very much a head on approach… But, even after preforming in a few plays and being nominated for a few awards in festival plays, I still get nervous about the first step onto the stage.

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Paul (far right) joins the SUP murder mystery team in 2017

I’ve recently found  joy in the chaotic world of unscripted shows: Murder Mysteries. I was never thrilled with the idea of murder mysteries (it’s normally the butler, after all) but I was given the opportunity to perform in one by SUP and I grasped it firmly – and it surprised me how much fun they actually are!

As a bit of a nerd, I was super excited to hear that SUP was auditioning for Dirk Gently by Douglas Adams.

I originally wanted to go for the title role of Dirk  himself but after the read through and auditions I’m glad that Paul Cresser was given the role – especially after I had seen the amount Dirk that has to say!

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Paul wrestles with his part – and Phil de Grouchy’s – during a tense rehearsal

In this telling of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency I am playing the role of Richard MacDuff.

The character has been a bit of a challenge for me, mainly talking about Schrodinger’s Cat and computer jargon – but I hope I can play the part well and keep everyone entertained!

 

 

 

Editor’s Note: Paul has recently been cast in a leading role in SUP’s new one-act play BULLY BEEF AND WHIZZBANGS, to be performed at this year’s Totton Drama Festival and beyond…
P.S. We know “Lead on, MacDuff” is a misquote of Shakespeare

Dirk Gently’s Casebook – File #11

Tempus Fugit: meet Reg

Our guest blogger and SUP veteran Philip de Grouchy plays the enigmatic Professor Chronotis in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

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Mad Professor? Phil as ‘Reg’ Chronotis

Despite knowing little about Galaxy Guiding and Star Trekking – I am more of the ‘Dick Barton’ generation (not that I listened to him much either, I preferred reading ‘Biggles’), I am greatly enjoying my role in ‘Dirk Gently’ as Professor ‘Reg’ Chronotis.

Apart from indulging in his hobbies – which include somewhat ham-fisted conjuring tricks, smoking, leeches (?), and time travelling by abacus, Reg has managed to live for at least 200 years undetected in his Cambridge college rooms, since being appointed to his Chair by mad King George III.

img_4525.jpg Much fun has been had at rehearsals trying to video the above-mentioned conjuring tricks, involving clay pots and disappearing silver salt cellars, so that when projected on screen, the projections will show marvellous close-ups and, hopefully, distract the audience’s attention from the actually execution of the tricks on stage… IMG_4533

Reg is a delightfully shambling, forgetful character, who is nevertheless able, by intense concentration on his abacus and mathematical calculations, to transport himself and others four billion years into the past: prehistoric Earth. And, thanks to Dirk Gently’s extraordinary feats of deduction, ultimately saves… spoilers!

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Taken with a pinch of salt?

I am personally pleased to be appearing on the Nuffield (NST Campus) stage this year, it being the 50th anniversary of my first treading those venerable boards.

Quite apart from my contribution to this show, we have a highly talented company portraying many dramatic activities in the various scenes in which I don’t take part, including hypnotism, ghostly possession and murder – to mention only a few!

Dirk Gently’s Casebook – File #9

A New Year’s message from our director – and a show preview by The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Appreciation Society


Director Lorraine Biddecombe writes…

It’s less than a month away from my second show at the Nuffield theatre in Southampton with SUP Theatre Company, and things are getting exciting… Everyone has worked really hard finding their characters and learning their lines, and we now move into full-run rehearsals, which are good for everyone – and especially poor Dirk himself, who until now has had to cope with rehearsing scenes (and running all of those complicated lines) out of order! Paul Cresser has stepped up to the challenge magnificently – and we’re all expecting great things of the entire cast and crew!

There is so much going on in this production – much like Douglas Adams’ writing! We are using a large screen for animation and film, we have magic tricks, time travel – and even a full-scale dance number! What more could audiences want?  So… have you bought your tickets yet?

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Members of the SUP Dirk Gently cast rehearse a complicated dance routine…


From ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, the club for fans of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy… http://www.zz9.org

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: live onstage in 2018

NST Campus theatre, Southampton – Tue 30th Jan to Sat 3 Feb 2018

Adapted for the stage by James Goss and Arvind Ethan David

ZZ9ers may be interested to know that a new stage version of the original Dirk Gently novel is being performed by Southampton’s SUP Theatre Company in the New Year.

“We’re thrilled our production follows so closely on the heels of the reconstruction and release of Adams’ unfinished Doctor Who story, Shada – parts of which, of course, he re-used along with elements of City of Death to create Dirk Gently,” says Paul Cresser, who plays Dirk in the new show.

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Paul Cresser (above) in character as Dirk Gentl

Paul describes himself as “a huge Douglas Adams fan – and we want to make sure that we do justice to him. Everyone involved is giving 100 percent. For me, that means making sure I capture the essence of the character and that I get his rather long and complicated speeches and explanations spot-on.”  

SUP is an award-winning community theatre group affiliated to the University of Southampton. It performs at the Nuffield Theatre on the University main campus, raises money for charity and appears at other venues and local events including the Totton Drama Festival.

In January 2017, the SUP stage version of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment – which featured a seven-foot Troll – was extremely well-received by theatregoers including the many Pratchett fans who came along, with Discworld Monthly giving the show the thumbs up. SUP hopes to achieve the same success with Dirk Gently.

“Some changes have obviously been made in this adaptation for the stage,” says Lorraine Biddecombe, director, “however, it remains faithful to the story and the spirit of the novel. We want audiences to revel in the imagination and wit of Douglas Adams.”

The brand new production mixes live action with specially commissioned computer graphics, film and effects – plus some dazzling alien costumes.

▪ You can book tickets and learn more at the NST Campus website

▪ Call the NST Campus Box Office on 02380 671 771