People, Places & Things – Five minutes with Jeremy Herrin

The UK tour of People, Places & Things has officially begun and to celebrate we caught up with Headlong’s Artistic Director Jeremy Herrin to get sneaky behind-the-scenes insight into the company’s ★★★★★ smash hit…

Portrait. 2012, Credit Johan Persson/Why did you decide to tour People, Places & Things?
I think it’s important to share this story around the country. It made such an impact when we did it before that, as a national touring company, Headlong should invest in getting the show out and about.

Tell us a little bit about the play.
It’s a tale of one woman’s battle with addiction. She’s a challenging person who happens to be an actress. Her struggle to survive involves her addressing fundamental questions PPTabout who she is, but who is that?

Why is addiction an important story to bring to audiences across the country?
If people aren’t directly affected by it, they know someone who is. We can all relate to a direct or indirect degree.

People, Places & Things was originally a piece of new-writing commissioned by Headlong. What initially attracted you to Duncan Macmillan’s script?
Its humanity, its intellectual rigour, its jokes, its opportunity for great performances, its thrills, its theatricality, its soulfulness, its wisdom.

Who do you think this production will appeal to in particular?
Everyone will get something out of it: first time theatre goers as well as regular attendees. Older audiences will appreciate the conflicts and tensions in the piece and youngsters will enjoy how visceral and explosive it is. And vice versa.

PPT - Social Media

The characters in this production are complex. What do you hope that the new cast will bring out of the production?
Their own insights and truths, to find their own ways of communicating the power of this piece.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this production?
A sense that theatre is the most entertaining and lively way to grapple with complex subjects. That whether we are addicts or not we all understand Emma’s contradictions. Her will to survive and overcome her obstacles speaks to us all about the challenges we face in life and how we all hope to survive with dignity and self respect.

Following a critically acclaimed, sold out season at the National Theatre, People, Places & Things hits our stage 24-28 Oct. For more info and to book, click here.

Little Tim | Meet The Wardobe Ensemble

Ahoy there sailors! Greetings from S.S. Bubbletub! Here we find out all the Little Tim low-down from our co-producers, The Wardrobe Ensemble.

Six years ago The Wardrobe Ensemble formed through piloting the first Made In Bristol project at Bristol Old Vic. This year we are making their early years Christmas show as part of their Studio Walkabout – a dreamy thing that we couldn’t be more excited to undertake.

Four years ago I was introduced to the world of children’s theatre making by the super-duper wonderful Toby Hulse. It was totally and utterly joyous and rewarding. An audience of under 10s is the most challenging, honest audience you will ever get. When they are having a good time they laugh out loud and sing along. When they’re in awe their eyes widen and their jaws drop open, and when they are bored or confused they wriggle around on their seats and shout ‘I WANT TO GO HOME’ very loudly! For the majority it is probably one of their first trips to the theatre. Now that is something very special. And important.

This show came about from a drive to make work for young audiences with the same integrity and substance as you would for anyone else; creating an experience that all ages, big and small, can enjoy and share together.

These past two rehearsal weeks I have felt fortunate to be working on such a positive piece of art. The rehearsal room has felt like a real antithesis to the scary realities of our uncertain world — we have been pumping out the tunes to accompany our morning yoga and dancing extra hard when we’ve needed to. It feels good to be putting our energies into something that we hope will bring people joy.

Ruby Spencer Pugh’s fab costume designs | Prepared for anything, Helena is staying afloat in her Directing Chair

Making a younger years show means constantly pulling yourself into the mind-frame of a child — would a 7 year old find this engaging? Would a 1 year old find this too scary? (0–7 years is a broad age-range to cater for!) Helena is normally a good gauge for this, embracing her inner child in her Director armbands. But there is nothing like the feeling of first performing your children’s show to actual children — so it was great to perform it to group of Year 2s at St Werburgh’s Primary School this week! Even with minimal props and set, it was integral to the process to have little faces to perform to… and we got some super positive and very useful feedback from them! It was heartwarming and hugely relieving to see the reactions and interactions we had hoped for actually work. Phew! It was also exhausting, with a sudden realisation that we have to perform this twice a day for a month!

“So you mean we are the first people in the entire world to see this play. We are SO lucky!”

“It was fiiine. But maybe you could put a bit of cardboard up so we can’t see you changing costume” Noted.

The crew on deck — photos by Jack Offord

So we’re full steam ahead and nearly there! We’ve created a Tim who’s full of beans, a boatman with a funny beard, a cook who has magical ingredients and a Captain who loves a good boogie. All inspired by Edward Ardizzone’s fantastic book of course! We’ve made some very catchy songs. We’ve created some very silly sailors. We’ve got bum wiggling, burping-on-demand, an epic rescue scene and a lot of audience participation. Although we did just cut the moment of anarchy when 180 fish get thrown on to the stage! We have definitely stayed true to our previous younger years show, ‘The Star Seekers’, in which the audience are fully immersed into the world of the show. So whether you’re sat at the Portside, Starboard or Bow , be prepared to come along on the adventure, help Tim out when sailing life gets tough, and maybe even earn your own sea legs. All aboard!

Jesse x

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain sets sail on his courageous voyage at Colston Hall 2 Dec-15 Jan. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Invisible Ink talk ‘The Terrible Things I’ve Done’


Tell us a little bit about Invisible Ink and how The Terrible Things I’ve Done came to be.
We’re a company made up of Sita Calvert-Ennals (director), Nia Skyrme (producer) and Alan Harris (writer). Alan and Sita have been working together for about the past four years on various projects (Nia joined recently), and our first production was an adaptation of Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop – a sell-out success at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, supported by the Arts Council of Wales, co-produced with Theatr Iolo.

Clarity of storytelling is at the heart of our collaborations and the audience experience is integral in the development of any Invisible Ink production; we are as happy making work for a village hall as a main house auditorium.

It’s important for us, as a company, to collaborate from the outset – trying things out in the rehearsal room to develop the storytelling/narrative and creative choices right from the beginning. We will always strive to tell that story in the most effective, engaging way and we will never be afraid of exploring a variety of art forms/genres in the pursuit of clear storytelling.

The starting point for The Terrible Things I’ve Done was an initial brainstorming meeting by Alan and Sita at a residency hosted by Bristol Old Vic Ferment.

During January 2015 we set up a “confession” booth at Ferment and invited the public to share their terrible things with us – the results were remarkable in both range of stories and the theatrical experience of confession.

And, following on from that, we applied for a successful Arts Council Wales R&D grant and split that research into two sections; another week of story gathering at various locations throughout South Wales and a week of seeing how these stories could be turned into a show, working with three actors. The show was taking shape…

What made you want to create a story about people’s guilty secrets? What makes you fascinated by this?
At that initial meeting, and added to since, we wanted to answer certain questions and areas of interest regarding “terrible things”:

– Exploring the dignified humility of admitting that you did something wrong.
– How you befriend your inner wrong. As hard as it is to admit you’ve done wrong, it can be liberating. Confession is good for the soul, isn’t it?
– Can we really forgive people/ourselves?
– What is a terrible thing?
–  What are the positive outcomes of our terrible actions?

What’s fascinating for us is how terrible things are buried away, sometimes never to emerge and the effect that has on people and society. Also how do you show this breadth of emotion and confusion in a theatrical way? We love a challenge.

What would you say the audience can expect when the show debuts?
Because of the nature of the variety of stories it is a show of variety – it has to be. Audiences can expect three actors who convey the truth of these stories (and even though this is not a verbatim show, these are stories that are being related back to the audience).

What’s the most scandalous thing you’ve uncovered in your two years of collecting these stories?
That inaction can be as terrible as action. We’ve had some amazing, terrible stories (from druggings to infidelity to the injuring of pensioners to the regrets about death and internet porn). But, we’ve found, a lot of the time the most touching, scandalous, affecting stories are those in which someone regrets not doing something. We’re, of course, not going to give away any specific secrets in this blog…

It’s an exciting time for us as we start work on redeveloping our Studio. How does it feel to be a part of our very first Studio Walkabout season?
There’s something special about being part of Bristol Old Vic that’s being shared with the rest of the city. The Wardrobe Theatre is a wonderful space and if we had to go “walkabout” from the Studio, we couldn’t have wished for a better home. Exciting stuff.

The Terrible Things I’ve Done continues our Studio Walkabout Season at The Wardrobe Theatre 29 Sep-1 Oct. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Madame Bovary: A note from Jon Nicholson, Adaptor

Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Peepolykus production of The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! Directed by Gemma Bodinetz. Cast: Emma Fielding, John Nicholson, Javier Marzan, Jonathan Holmes

Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Peepolykus production of The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! Directed by Gemma Bodinetz. Cast: Emma Fielding, John Nicholson, Javier Marzan, Jonathan Holmes

We’re so pleased to be returning to Bristol Old Vic with a co-production. We last performed at the theatre in 2004 (with a sold-out retrospective of our early comedies). Since then we’ve been co-producing larger shows with theatres up and down the country (including a West End transfer of our adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles).

Peepolykus have secured an international reputation for delivering a unique brand of entertainment.  Now in our 20th year, we are staging one of literature’s most controversial and tragic novels. Why Madame Bovary?

Because it wrestles with the human condition – the aspirations we have for ourselves, delusions, passions, loneliness, disappointments, our struggle for autonomy and happiness. And comedy, for us, must start from a place of honesty and truth. Emma Bovary, the protagonist, has flaws, like us. She isn’t always easy to sympathize with, like us. Flaubert’s original is a non-judgmental and alarmingly honest account of a woman determined to have some control over her life in 19th century France.

In our adaptation, we wanted Emma (played by the double Olivier nominated, Emma Fielding) to have a voice outside of the confines of the novel. We wanted to amplify her emotional journey. We wanted to be more faithful to the heart of the novel than many of the film versions have been. This resulted in a piece of theatre that swings full pelt between clown and tragedy. For some, both the endeavor and the outcome of this will jar. But for the vast majority of the 10,000 or so people who have already seen the production, it doesn’t.

The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary might be an untraditional theatrical offering but it has been immensely gratifying to see both school parties and coach parties of over 60’s by turns moved, by turns belly laughing at the unfolding story, and sometimes both at the same time. Most importantly, YOU DON’T NEED TO HAVE READ THE NOVEL!

We very much hope that you will come and see the results.


The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary plays at Bristol Old Vic from 27 May-11 Jun 2016. Find out more and book tickets here.

All That Fall: Persuading Beckett

One of Samuel Beckett’s most acclaimed and accessible plays, All That Fall is also one of his least known. The writer’s friend and biographer Jim Knowlson explains why – and why it is “too good, too funny and too moving” to be left on the shelf.

Michael Gambon and Eilenn Atkins in Trevor Nunn’s 2012 “radio-style” staging

When Beckett’s first radio play was broadcast in 1957, Roy Walker wrote in The Tribune that ‘All that Fall is, I insist, the most important and irresistible new play for radio since Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood three Januaries ago.’

Inspired by boyhood memories of his native village of Foxrock, County Dublin, it is certainly one of Beckett’s most accessible plays but it is not nearly as well known as his stage works. Radio plays are rarely re-recorded or indeed replayed, and because Beckett was firmly opposed to the live staging of his radio plays, it has only occasionally been performed in theatres.

His letters to friends reveal clearly why he did not want it to be staged. To his American publisher Barney Rosset, he wrote that the play was ‘a radio text, for voices, not bodies’, commenting ‘it is no more theatre thanEndgame is radio and to “act” it is to kill it.’ In fact, it depended, he added, on ‘coming out of the dark’ for any quality it had, saying ‘frankly the thought of All that Fall on a stage, however discreetly, is intolerable to me.’

In 1963 he refused the eminent Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman permission to stage it with another of his radio plays Embers. He refused his favored American director, Alan Schneider, writing in 1974 that the play ‘is really for radio only’.

He even held out against Laurence Olivier.

When he allowed his friend Deryk Mendel, to stage a production in Berlin in 1966, he thought what he was authorizing was a straightforward reading. Mendel once admitted to me privately that he was ‘praying to God that Sam wouldn’t see any photographs, as I rather cheated on it, you see’.

He agreed to a film because he understood it would be directed by Alain Resnais whose documentary about the Holocaust had thought “very fine”. But he bitterly regretted the ‘disastrous results’ of the eventual television version broadcast on ORTF in 1963, directed by Michel Mitrani.

However, he sometimes referred to the changes that would be required if it were to be staged, and so it may be that, given time and a director whose work he respected, he might just have relented, as he did in many other cases. If Alain Resnais had gone ahead and made a success of the transfer from radio to film, his attitude to a staging in the theatre might have altered. We shall never know.

Pan Pan theatre company sat its audience members in rocking chairs under light bulbs to listen to the play. Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Since Beckett’s death, the literary executor and the Beckett Estate have continued to oppose the staging of All That Fall. One or two variants have been allowed. Trevor Nunn’s 2012 production at the 70 seat Jermyn Street Theatre simulated a radio production, with microphones and sound effects visible as if the audience were evesdropping on a recording. In 2011, the Irish theatre company Pan Pan sat its audience in rocking chairs, naked light bulbs above them like stars, but with most of the play taking place in the dark.

The most fully staged production was the late Bill Gaskill’s, with RADA students in 2008. In a thrilling production, no-one pretended that they were part of anything other than an imagined theatrical world. Mime, caricature and farce ruled and though there were young actors aged artificially by make-up, there was no insistence on making them look convincingly old. It was authorized as a ‘one-off’ and non-commercial production, and Gaskill himself was turned down when he wanted to restage it.

One can understand why Beckett did not want to ‘mix his media’: he had specifically chosen what he thought would work on the radio. In this light, Max Stafford-Clark’s idea of giving the spectators eye masks is a genial one. The audience remains free to imagine Mrs Rooney as, in her own words, ‘a big fat jelly’; and the various picturesque characters she encounters on her way to the railway station live in the mind’s eye as distinctive figures through their voices only.

Max’s other key idea is that the actors move around and among the spectators. This shift in the location and direction from which the voices come creates a fascinating aural landscape: Mrs Rooney can at one moment be quite distant from you, at another very close, perhaps even resting in a nearby vacant chair; blind Dan Rooney’s stick taps past you on the return journey from Boghill station once his train has delivered him there after its significant and ominous delay.

With a live audience present to respond collectively, the play emerges as even funnier than it did on the radio; yet its dark themes of death and dissolution still come through.

Does All that Fall have a future on stage? Opinions will vary on this and whether indeed it should, but approaches such as Max’s are to be welcomed as a way of introducing newcomers to areas of Beckett’s writing that are less well known than Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape or Happy Days.

The play is just too good, too funny and too moving to remain the sole preserve of the scholar.

Jim Knowlson is Emeritus Professor of French at the University of Reading. He was a friend of Samuel Beckett for 19 years and is the author of many books on his theatre. He also wrote his biography, ‘Damned to Fame. The Life of Samuel Beckett’ (London: Bloomsbury, 1996).

Experience All That Fall in the Paintshop of Bristol Old Vic from 8-12 March. Find out more and book tickets here.

The original blog can be viewed here: