Visiting Productions

FROM OUR FRIENDS: Dracula – An interview with Mark Bruce

Fresh from winning the prestigious South Bank Sky Arts Award for Dance Mark Bruce Company‘s Dracula is about to embark upon its second UK tour, calling at Bristol Old Vic this week. We caught up with Mark ahead of its opening here on Wednesday.
Have you made any changes to DRACULA for its second UK tour?

MARK BRUCE:   I’ve changed a couple of things; there’s slightly different material for the wolves and I’ve added a small scene – it’s an adaptation of a scene from the book, very small, very subtle. The new cast members will make it feel different, perhaps a little darker, I’ve had some time to reflect and push myself further into the heart of the piece .

How do you feel about presenting DRACULA to such a wide range of venues?

MARK BRUCE: I’m really excited about all the venues on this tour…we’ll be able to stage DRACULA in its full glory at all the venues which will be fantastic for us and hopefully for the audience, most of whom will be seeing it for the first time.

Tell us about some of the practical challenges about presenting DRACULA in different venues all over the UK.

MARK BRUCE:   The width of the stage will affect how we put the set together, how we drag the coffins on and off, how we then slide them into their narrow spaces onstage. Every venue presents its own challenges so we try to take in the aesthetic of each one and make sure it works. There are 12 or 13 of us on the road at any time – in fact this is the biggest show Mark Bruce Company has ever toured.

What do you think is the enduring appeal of Dracula?

MARK BRUCE:   Bram Stoker’s story has an elusive magic which taps into our imagination and dreams.   Dracula is a very strange novel and its flaws, or simple omissions, cause us to put ourselves inside the story. All I did was try to capture that magic and it seems to have struck a chord with people; you’d probably have to analyse every section of it to work out why but the fact remains that the story of Dracula gets under people’s skin. I think people identify with him, they find something of themselves in the character – perhaps there’s something of the vampire in all of us. I think it’s also very much a product of its time, fascinated in what was prevalent in Victorian society such as the emergence of science and its effect on religion; foreign travel; people’s fears and inhibitions; social taboos; the development of women’s roles…and much more.

You wrote much of the DRACULA score – tell us about the process and how you chose the other pieces of music

MARK BRUCE:   I wrote the music for guitar and marked out a coherent musical line through the piece. I used open tunings that have a slightly Eastern European feel. I responded to Jonathan Goddard’s movement as Dracula, hitting and bending the strings. The way all the dancers moved made me play in a certain way. Having a musical theme with the guitar gave me freedom to use varying music for other sections. I wanted there to be a sense of classical music because it’s set in the past and I made a conscious decision not to use any rock music this time.

Mark Bruce Company won this year’s South Bank Sky Arts Award for Dance – were you surprised and what was it like on the night?

MARK BRUCE:   We were up against some really big companies so when we won I was really surprised and very honoured. I found the whole ceremony very supportive of artists and as much as anything it was fantastic to get a piece by Peter Blake! I hadn’t written a speech but was aware of trying to thank so many people and just wanted to speak succinctly – I’d seen enough ceremonies to know I didn’t want to go on and on…

I think the award has helped and probably in ways I haven’t even realised yet; I really appreciated receiving it and felt it was honestly given and felt good about the whole production and cast and creative team.

This year Mark Bruce Company became an NPO – what does that mean to you?

MARK BRUCE:   It means some stability and the ability to plan long term. It’s interesting – when people say you must be over the moon I am, but I’m also very aware of the responsibility. Up till now each project has been done on a guerrilla basis; now I will be able to liberate the work which means being more ambitious in artistic terms as well as scale. I feel that we’re striving for something and it gives us three years to push further and see what we can do – it’s enormously exciting, challenging and I’m absolutely delighted!

What else have you been working on this year and what’s next for Mark Bruce Company?

MARK BRUCE:   I’ve been writing a lot of music, I’ve finished a novel, making a piece for Ballet Black and I may have a project in Singapore. And above all, I’m working on the next big piece for my own company.

1-4 Oct
(Running time: 120mins inc. interval)
£5-£20 (plus booking fee)
Ages: 14+

Visiting Productions

TOP DOG – An interview with Dead Dog in a Suitcase’s Mike Shepherd

Following rave reviews in Liverpool, and arriving in October, Kneehigh Theatre’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and Other Love Songs) is another hit for the high-spirited and much-loved Cornish outfit. We spoke to Director Mike Shepherd about the highs and lows of creating a new show…

We opened in Liverpool last month and thankfully, the reception so far has been absolutely brilliant – we had a full standing ovation each night. Dead Dog… is our radical new take on John Gay’s infamous Beggar’s Opera. Despite a few marketing departments telling us to the contrary, we wanted to make a statement by giving it a new name as our version is very much our own: it’s punk, it’s political, it’s hugely entertaining and very, very skilled. The audiences are really going for it and I’ve been hugely impressed at how intelligently politicised they are. In Liverpool, you have a pint with a shipyard worker and his wife who’ve been to see the show and you can talk Tony Benn, Syria, Lebanon, what it would actually mean to exit Europe… it’s been extraordinary, and you get a real sense of passion and identity. Too many of us have become depoliticised in my opinion. Theatre has become very safe. Very risk-adverse, as I keep hearing. It’s become harder to exist and independent voices are becoming rarer. We’re all trapped in this very ridiculous, but sadly very real world of needing to get four stars to make a living. For a company like Kneehigh, these days, we have to do an initial run of a new show, then try to book a tour a year after that. No-one’s taking any risks, especially on something unknown. Rolling out the classics and endless Shakespeare isn’t particularly healthy despite the fact that it’s proven, I think, that when people do new or different things, there is an audience out there hungry for it. I suppose the The Beggar’s Opera is a classic of sorts and it is recognisable in our version. Gay wrote it as a furious rant against the world, government and class system of the time – a musical of the streets. Brecht famously remodelled it to rail against fascism in The Threepenny Opera and his quote then: “the world’s poor and man’s a shit” is so relevant now. Me, writer Carl Grose and composer Charles Hazelwood wanted to have our own rant about the world that taps into the deep levels of corruption that surround us today. The plot of The Beggar’s Opera is actually fairly thin, dated and somewhat misogynistic and doesn’t really hang together as a narrative; our version begins with Macheath, a contract killer, who’s hired to kill the mayor and his dog whilst they’re out for their evening walkies. The women are powerful in our version, the ending’s very different, we have some new characters and plotlines and an amazing cast of 12 actor/musicians. And, of course, it’s full of Kneehigh’s typical brand of exuberance, energy, music and dance. Charles Hazelwood, who’s a genius, has added an inestimable amount, pushing everyone out of their comfort zones. You’ll also recognise a few Kneehigh favourites in the cast including Giles King, Patrycja Kuwaska and Ian Ross. I think Kneehigh has been able to survive so long because we keep reinventing and are determined to keep learning. But our methods for survival are an increasing worry – we survive at the moment by working in Australia and America. I have no worries that we will survive in some shape or form, but we’ve gone from doing two shows a year to one every two years. We’re less likely to get co-productions with theatres, all of whom who don’t seem to have any money at the moment. Arts Council funding is on standstill, or a cut in real terms, so we have to, and this might not necessarily be a bad thing, step into the commercial world a bit more. This throws up all sorts of new pressures and questions around how one is creative, or how one makes work and how one protects oneself from the deep anxiety and neuroses surrounding work in a world that’s all about money. Perhaps we’ll just have to go more and more underground! Under New Labour, I think it’s important to remember there was a bit of a bonanza time, and regional Arts Council officers were hugely helpful in building up audiences for us, but I do think the current investment into the arts is pathetic. It’s doesn’t make business sense. In America, where we’ve spent a lot of time, there isn’t the same culture of government subsidy, so places like the Guthrie or the Berkeley Rep in San Francisco operate very effectively through patronage and private donors. I’m certain this government would very much like to push the arts and probably health and education in that direction. There are so many incredibly rich people, certainly in America, where you know, if you have money, you’ll be supporting things like arts and education. Sadly, in this country, we haven’t got that culture. Yet. Our relationship with Bristol and Bristol Old Vic is important for us, we have an audience there and the potential for linking Cornwall and Bristol and developing the South West is huge. I’d like to develop it more. During the company’s long history, for me, the shows we’ve had to fight most for are the ones that have stuck in my memory; there was a show called the The King of Prussia by Nick Darke that first introduced us to Richard Eyre and Trevor Nunn and the National Theatre; The Red Shoes was one we opened and people thought “what the hell is this?” but that went on to tour the country and the world when the British Council were a genuinely powerful organisation and force for cultural exchange; Tristan & Yseult, which we’ve brought back has been extraordinary; Brief Encounter was our first foray into the commercial sector and has been another watershed moment for us; and The Wild Bride, which came from the times when Emma [Rice – Kneehigh’s Artistic Director] was exploring fairy tales was another great cast and really enjoyable piece of work. But I must admit, personally, I like some of the trickier, less palatable shows like The Bacchae and Don John – fantastic, flawed pieces. I have no interest in perfection. I think the more perfect and polished theatre becomes, the more likely I am to sleep through it. Perhaps that’s the secret. I love theatre with flaws! We’re so excited to welcome Kneehigh back to our Theatre, so be sure to snap up your ticket to Dead Dog in a Suitcase… before it’s too late! Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) Bristol Old Vic Theatre 8-25 Oct 7.30pm (Mon-Sat), 2.30pm (Thu & Sat mat, not 9 Oct) £5-£25 (plus booking fee) Ages 14+

Bristol Old Vic Productions

Juno and the Paycock: Roxanne’s Diary – Week 3

I am the production’s DSM (Deputy Stage Manager) and it is, in my opinion, the best job in the world; not least because I get to buy limitless stationary and spend my life making lists.

It’s Week 3, the point in rehearsals where all my lists have lists, and my diary is colour coded with no space left for extra scribbling. My pencils, brand new for the first week, are scattered across my desk surrounded by bits of discarding sharpening’s and piles and piles of rubber shavings.

Niamh Cusack & Des McAleer in rehearsal for Juno and the Paycock ® Brian Roberts

Niamh Cusack & Des McAleer in rehearsal for Juno and the Paycock ® Brian Roberts

In front of me, our play is taking shape; with props and furniture being added every day. It’s always a busy week, as well as rehearsing their scenes the cast have costume fittings to attend, music rehearsals and those pesky lines to learn! The rest of the stage management team are making new To Do lists as quickly as they can finish their old ones – and I feel as if I am straddling two worlds.

I have one foot planted firmly in Juno Boyle’s little Dublin tenement home in 1922. I know where she keeps every single one of her chipped, mismatching cups; where the leftover breadcrumbs are swept and the places where Captain Boyle thinks he can hide things from her. I know the warmest most comfortable chair in the room, where Juno’s injured son Johnny likes to sit and how many books his sister Mary owns, and how she likes them to be arranged on the ramshackle dresser.

Des McAleer,  Maureen O'Connell & Robin Morrissey in rehearsal for Juno and the Paycock  ® Brian Roberts

Des McAleer, Maureen O’Connell & Robin Morrissey in rehearsal for Juno and the Paycock ® Brian Roberts

But I also have to anchor myself in the rehearsal room in 2014. I need to pass on all the secrets I have learnt about the Boyle Family to rest of the SM team – so those cups are, night after night, in the same place for every performance. The Stage Manager and I must work out how many shows a single loaf of bread will last and which dresser drawers must be able to open, and what should be in them when they do. So I am constructing lists! A Settings List (for where everything starts), A Scene Change List (for where everything goes) and A Running List (for who moves it all around).

By the time the audience sees the show, the mechanics of these lists should be invisible. I love the analogy that the production is a graceful swan moving smoothly across the water with the Stage Management team a pair of legs, frantically swimming underneath – unseen!

- Roxanne Vella

Juno and the Paycock performs at Bristol Old Vic 5 – 27 Sept, and at the Liverpool Playhouse 1 – 18 Oct.

Rehearsal Photography (c) Brian Roberts


Last week, rehearsals got under way for our upcoming co-production of Juno and the Paycock. Beginning their journey at Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, before heading South West for the shows’ opening, cast member Jonathan Charles (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School Graduate and Peter O’Toole Prize Winner) has sent us his rehearsal diary. Follow along to see what life in the rehearsal room is really like (with a few ‘tenement stories of the day’ along the way)!

Bristol Old Vic Productions

Juno and the Paycock: Jonathan’s Diary – Week 1

Bristol Old Vic Young Company

Wodwo: An interview with Kieran Buckeridge

Bristol Old Vic Resident Composer Kieran Buckeridge

Bristol Old Vic Resident Composer Kieran Buckeridge



You are the Bristol Old Vic composer in residence, what does that entail?

Well, it all started outside of Bristol with the Music Theatre Network. Three theatres said they’d quite like a composer in residence, so they shortlisted all sorts of people and then a selection were given to Soho, Bristol Old Vic and the Watermill at Newbury.

It really is a six month period of continued conversation with Bristol Old Vic that allows me to get involved with anything I can. Wodwo is the first project that I’ve really worked on in the building. This also enables me to work on my own projects – so the freedom to do that is really valuable.

How have you found working with the Young Company?

It’s been great, I love it! When does a musician ever get the chance to work with 30 people in a room in professional theatre? You never do, it would cost far too much. So to work with the Young Company is brilliant.

It’s like constant creative explosions! After those moments, it’s just about how you harness that. I take a lot of creative input from them – it’s just a case of taking their idea and expanding it or forming it in a different way.


Kieran prepares for rehearsal

Kieran prepares for rehearsal

The music of Wodwo is very eclectic; can you tell us what we can expect?

I started thinking about organic sounds, which have been effected with electronic sounds. I took real forest sounds – wind and water – but they’ve all had things done to them to make them seem quite other-wordly. The music mirrors what the play is, a kind of forest that gets distorted and fractured and becomes a very strange environment.

I played with scoring important moments, a bit like a film really. There’s also vocal work from the company which I’ve coupled with these instrumental sections. At an hour, Wodwo is not a long play but it’s almost entirely scored.

I’m looking forward to the moment when everything gets put together. What’s good about using sound in theatre, and having a composer or musician in the rehearsal room all the time, is often a company will create a play and someone comes in during the last week and says “…and here’s the music you’ll be acting to”. The actors have done all this work and suddenly the addition of music presents them with something they weren’t expecting, or changes the atmosphere of the piece. What’s been good about me being in the room with Wodwo is we can make it all at once. The scenes and the sound happen at the same time.

What’s great, for me and for the actors, is to have music and sound instantly in the room. Music augments whatever is happening, whether it’s physical or speech. For me, that’s what sound in theatre should do; it should double what’s happening on stage.


What kind of things are you listening to at the moment? What has inspired the score?

Well, what I usually do is take three different styles or composers and I put them on a triangle on a piece of paper. I suppose I’ve done that a little bit with Wodwo. I’d put Philip Glass and a great French film composer Alexandre Desplat on my triangle for this I think. Alexandre Desplat would absolutely be a key influence, I love his music. He’s a fantastic film composer. I love film music. Those composers are like the Beethovens and Schumanns of our time because you don’t get much orchestral classical music written now.

Next, I take my triangle, and think, whatever I write, can this fit within my triangle? That’s a way of doing it and a way of making a show’s sound work together.


Kieran in rehearsal for Wodwo

Kieran in rehearsal for Wodwo

What has been your favourite moment working on Wodwo…or is that yet to come?

Learning all the new rules to Zip Zap Boing! There are so many more rules than I remember!

I think seeing what the actors come up with all the time, particularly when they’re creating text. Some of the text they have written, using the poem as inspiration, is really great and really beautiful writing. I love hearing that, and seeing what these young people can come up with.

Bristol Old Vic Young Company

Wodwo: An interview with Alistair Debling

Ahead of it’s opening this Wednesday, we caught up with Wodwo director Alistair Debling and discussed devising with a young company, marking the 20th anniversary of the Bristol Old Vic Young Company, and his 8 years involved with the Theatre.

Alistair in rehearsals for Wodwo with members of the Young Company. Photo by Kitty Wheeler-Shaw

Alistair in rehearsals for Wodwo with members of the Young Company. Photo by Kitty Wheeler-Shaw

You’ve been involved with the Young Company for 8 years – can you tell us a little about how your journey got started?

I first started coming to the Young Company in year 9, when I was 13. After my third summer school, I remember going home after rehearsal and fiddling around with bits of music and coming back in the next day and playing them with the stuff that was going on. The first piece I musically directed was Jason and Medea which went on to the National Student Drama Festival and the International Youth Arts Festival in London.

On my gap year, I was involved with Made In Bristol (forming the Tin Can Collective), which finished up with a production called I Would Not. In the same year, I assistant directed and musically directed Young Company’s The Grandfathers with Jesse Jones – which went on to perform at the National Theatre’s temporary space, The Shed. That was another great thing to be involved with.

This summer there was an open call for ideas for the Young Company’s summer show and I came up with this idea based on a Ted Hughes poem Wodwo.


How important has the BOVYC been to your professional development?

I never studied drama at school. For A levels you had 9 hours of lesson time per subject each week and in Young Company I was doing 12 each week!

Young Company is such a collaborative place, even when you’re 11 years old. If you’ve been asked to create a scene, you’re making directorial decisions yourself about how it should be played.

Going through the Made In Bristol year and going into assistant directing helped enormously with my workshop leading and how to run rehearsals. Those experiences have certainly formed how I work now.


How have you found the process of devising Wodwo?

It’s been hard actually! I’ve directed one other completely devised show, which was based on a story so the narrative was already there – there were still major plot points which we could create the show from.

Poems are a really hard thing to create theatre from because they leave the reader to do a lot of work. They don’t necessarily have a narrative pay off. The hardest thing has been trying to find that story beyond the one we hear about in the poem. How do these characters interact? What is the world they live in? It’s finding the theatrical in the story.

We’ve done a lot of work asking things like ‘What do people want?’ ‘What are they afraid of?’ ‘What’s stopping them from getting what they want?’ ‘What are their hopes, desires and what is the conflict that emerges when you mix these hopes and fears?’

We had a lot of time in the room devising from quite broad prompts from thinking about life cycles and different aspects of the forest, different things that might be living there. Once we found things that seemed interesting, like characters we imagined or abstract movement we’d created, these formed what has become Wodwo.


Rehearsing with a new generation of the Young Company must be fun, but full on! Describe your typical day in rehearsal…

I think it’s great! It’s always been quite an egalitarian room. Everyone is always given an equal say whether you’ve just graduated with a drama degree, like some of the Wodwo cast have, or you’ve just finished year 7.

It’s really nice to work with a group of people who are keen and able to voice their suggestions, but also to know when what they’re doing might not fit in. Toby, who’s one of the boys who’s just 11 years old, came up to me the other day and said “I think what I’m doing doesn’t fit, there’s too much going on stage”. You might think initially that they want to be on stage all the time, but actually they’re responsible to decide when what they’re doing doesn’t work.


Members of the Young Company devising movement for Wodwo

Members of the Young Company devising movement for Wodwo

Devising with such a young group of people must be different to devising with your peers? How do you go about tackling that?

That is the real challenge. And the new challenge! I guess there are two things that I’ve found challenging directing the Young Company for the first time.

The first is the challenge of having to plan every minute of every day and having to know what’s coming next. Then dealing with the struggle when you spend an hour on a scene and maybe it doesn’t make it any better.

The other thing is that responsibility that you have to be fair and making sure everyone is having equal opportunities. It’s a people management dilemma; how do you make sure everyone is on board and happy with what they’re doing while also making the show as good as it can be?

It’s a big mental thing to have to take on, but it’s totally worth it when you see it coming alive.


What can we expect from Wodwo?

I suppose the play at its core deals with the things that we want in life and how we go about getting them. There are three different groups of characters which we follow that through in different ways; A girl who wants a father, a wodwo who wants his senses and two lovers that want to be together and can’t.

Wodwo is born into the world without sight, without speech and without hearing. The play for him…or her…or it… is really a story of how wodwo goes about trying to acquire those senses. For the other two characters, it’s also about how they try and get what they desire. We explore what they have to give up, what they have to sacrifice, to get what they want; the consequences of taking without further consideration.

It’s set in this strange, yet familiar natural world. It has that feeling of what are we doing to our own planet around us – what do take, what do we want and what are the repercussions?

Wodwo is all about finding the senses. It’s a very sensory experience.


Bristol Proms

#BRISTOLPROMS Day 6 – Prombassadors: Guy Withers

Guy Withers

Guy Withers

Guy Withers
Guy is an experienced tenor and theatre maker from Bristol.

Bristol Proms Final Day & Round-Up

The Bristol Proms came to a close on Saturday 2nd August with a very exciting programme of theatrical based events, most notably Dido & Aeneas and intriguing fringe theatre piece Mimic. Jon James finished the week with his final talk on Purcell’s opera, and Wren Music held a workshop and performance for young people to explore acoustic and a cappella music.

Workshop Showcase

Workshop Showcase

First of the day was the showcase held by Wren Music, displaying work the young people involved in the day’s workshop had prepared. It is a fantastic idea to diversify the events put on at Bristol Proms, and an event of this type not only associates the festival with outreach but also does a incredible job in introducing young people to creating and performing music. It reminded me quite vividly of my time as a boy singing with a cappella groups and choirs, an education in music my school did not provide and that has lead to me studying music at university and forging a career in music and theatre. It was an enjoyable event, and I hope to see more young artist and outreach events being programmed for Bristol Proms in the future.

I have already through my blogs celebrated Jon James on his work with Bristol Proms in his educational and engaging music talks. His final talk of the week was centred around Purcell’s operatic masterpiece Dido & Aeneas, to be performed later that night. More than just guiding us through the music and biography of a man, Jon James expertly whipped up huge enthusiasm for Purcell’s great skill as a composer for voice and for the stage. If Bristol Proms’ sole aim is to bring music to new audiences and young people in particular, Jon James’ talks have been perfect in delivering that, all week. I ask anyone who has an opportunity to see Jon James talk to do so.

Jon James talks Dido and Aeneas

Jon James talks Dido and Aeneas

Mimic was one of the stand out events of the week. Quite different from a large majority of performances at Bristol Proms, Mimic is a one man theatre piece accompanied with piano playing throughout. A great example of how detailed music leitmotif and underscoring can lift a production and carry an audience through an hour long narrative. I was captivated. Raymond Scannell held the audience perfectly with his dynamic performance, his impressions and nuanced character work was a marvel to watch. Another Bristol Proms treat.

The stage is set for Ray Scannell's Mimic

The stage is set for Ray Scannell’s Mimic

The final performance of Bristol Proms was the sole operatic event of the festival; Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas. The Bristol Old Vic auditorium, it feels, is made for opera, and I was so glad to see some performed at the festival. With a stellar cast, including The Erebus Ensemble taking small roles and providing the chorus, there was no doubt that the production would be a success. The first half of the evening was an opportunity to introduce the audience, through songs and anecdotes, to Purcell’s diverse musical output in preparation for his masterwork in the second half. This translated very well and created a fun loving and relaxed atmosphere within the space. Dido & Aeneas is one of my favourite operas, and Bristol Proms did not disappoint. Standout performances came from the bullish Aeneas and Belinda, who in particular had a glistening voice and fabulous technique. The use of candles to dimly light the stage, and for flame to create a shadowed backdrop, very effectively fitted with the simple but emotive vision for the direction and production. A truly wonderful final night and a one to remember.

Lit by candlelight, the final night performance of Dido and Aeneas

Lit by candlelight, the final night performance of Dido and Aeneas

I have very much enjoyed this week seeing every single Bristol Proms performance and almost living in the beautiful theatre that is the Bristol Old Vic. I hope the festival continues to try new and sometimes very crazy ideas, and particularly showcases young talent. Next year, if I’m not prombassador-ing again, I will drag every person, young and old, to as many events as I can; not just for the music but the welcoming atmosphere of the Bristol Old Vic and its staff.