Rave On – Interview with ‘Nightingale’ Director Miranda Cromwell

This week Bristol Old Vic Young company present their modern interpretation of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Love of the Nightingale, a play that challenges perceptions of consent, gender and sexuality. Wertenbaker draws on the Greek myth of the rape of Philomele: our Young Company shift the action in time and space to a modern-day nightclub with a cocktail of original rave music, dance and a twist of humour. Bristol 24/7 caught up with Director Miranda Cromwell earlier this month to find out more.


Director Miranda Cromwell in rehearsals

Tell us what drew you to this play in particular.
Timberlake Wertenbaker is a brilliant writer. She writes about themes that are difficult, and very resonant today. She’s unafraid to write flawed characters who are fun and interesting to play – as well as difficult to direct. She also strikes a brilliant balance between writing for the ensemble and creating brilliant individual characters. And she has created a story that is powerful and insightful, but isn’t afraid to entertain.

Where and when you have set your version?
The Love of the Nightingale is based on the lost tragedy of Tereus by Sophocles, and is from the Ancient Greek myth of the rape of Philomele. On reading, the play follows elements of those versions, and also has some modern references – which are very occasionally spoken through the chorus.

Aside from that it’s set in Greece, and it’s set essentially in an ancient time. We have rest the play to a nightclub in the late 1980s/early 1990s. We realised that so many of the characters and themes – rape culture, victim shaming, the bystander effect – are themes that we’re grappling with at the moment. We’re trying to understand why sexual violence is still so widespread, and yet somehow we still find it so difficult to talk about it.

What are the play’s big themes, then?
Censorship, the nuances and difficulties aligned with gender, and the difficulties of asserting yourself and your sexuality. What happens when we set this in a more modern, recognisable time, and a location that carries a lot of sexual connotation and energy, is that we look at the play afresh. We still have a long way to go in terms of dealing with sexual violence – how we talk about it, whose responsibility it is.

Is there room for humour among all this?
Yes! Part of the humour does come from playing with stereo types around our attitudes to gender. Laughs often come from the women talking about men before they really understand what sex is, and from looking at the actions of both men and women and finding humour in how we play up to those gender stereotypes. It also comes through the characters. Initially the play itself is quite funny, and I think our choice of setting, playing with music and other elements, has further embraced that.

The Love of the Nightingale is a Bristol Old Vic Young Company production and performs at The Bierkeller Theatre from 10-13 Jan. Tickets and information available here.

This article was originally published in Bristol 24/7, Jan 2017.

Under A Cardboard Sea | 3 Minutes with Assistant Designer Jenny Davies

Spill - Production - Photos by Paul Blakemore (1)As we enter the final hours before the show’s debut, Assistant Designer Jenny Davies provides a final update on Under A Cardboard Sea, in our Theatre until 6 Aug.

Hi there! My name is Jenny and I am Assistant Designer on Under A Cardboard Sea. My first involvement with the young company was designing the Made In Bristol show Wild Men by Hotel Echo. I saw the great work they were making and how much they were enjoying themselves and thought – “I want to do that!”

I was lucky enough to get onto the Made in Bristol programme a few months later, and what a fantastic time it has been! Since then, I’ve performed, designed, become a young company session leader and, alongside Hal (Assistant Music Director) and Dale (Assistant Stage Manager), graduated from the Made in Bristol programme where we founded Propolis Theatre.

As Assistant Designer on Under A Cardboard Sea I help Max Johns, the Designer, to create the world where the play is set. This means lots of prop making, painting, costume fittings and being on call for things that need fixing or gluing back together. I first met Max when I was performing in the last Young Company show he designed – The Light Burns Blue.

Working with Max has been really exciting. He’s a fantastic designer and it’s such a privilege to work alongside him and learn as we work. Before this process, most of the things I’d learnt about design had been whilst designing for my own shows or small companies. If I didn’t know how to do something, I’d have to find a way to make it happen and learn as I went – which can be pretty nerve wracking!

Under a Cardboard Sea Rehearsal Room - Photographer Jack Offord - Low Res-3343  Under a Cardboard Sea Rehearsal Room - Photographer Jack Offord - Low Res-3327

I’ve never had the opportunity to work alongside a designer like Max so I was extremely grateful when the Outreach department invited me on-board. Max is a Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate and since graduating has been very successful, designing for companies all over the UK, so I was really excited to have the opportunity to learn from him. The experience has been extremely valuable because Max has been able to show me how things work when designing a large scale show, and show me some design tricks and shortcuts along the way! I’ve designed for amazing smaller venues such The Wardrobe Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic Studio but the Theatre Royal is a lot bigger, which means you have the opportunity to be more ambitious in what you create. The Theatre Royal stage is an incredible stage to design for – there are so many options!

We’re in production week now, so the set is in, the costumes are ready and its incredible seeing the final product after months of determination and hard work. The fantastic thing about Young Company productions like this is that it introduces young people to the workings of a professional theatre production and gives them a chance to work alongside experienced industry professionals. For a lot of aspiring young theatre makers, it creates a much needed bridge into that world. Like myself, many of the other crew members on this production are Young Company or Made in Bristol alumni. I am overwhelmingly grateful to the Outreach department for the ongoing opportunities and support that they continue to give myself and many others. I’m sure that many of the talented young people involved in this show will go on to take part in many more and I look forward to seeing them on the Theatre Royal stage once again in the not-too-distant future!

Bristol Old Vic Young Company celebrate our 250th birthday with their latest show Under A Cardboard Sea 4-6 Aug. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Photography by Paul Blakemore and Jack Offord.

Under A Cardboard Sea | 3 minutes with Writer Silva Semerciyan

It’s the final countdown to Under A Cardboard Sea! In a moment of reprieve, we sat down with Writer Silva Semerciyan to find out all about our Young Company’s exciting new family adventure debuting 4-6 Aug.

Hi, I’m Silva Semerciyan, writer of Under a Cardboard Sea.  This is my third show for the Bristol Old Vic Young Company and once again, it’s been an exhilarating creative process.  It isn’t often that a playwright has the opportunity to write for a really truly BIG cast, and so, new baby notwithstanding, I just had to do it.  It helped that we already had a lead.

Last year, whilst researching The Light Burns Blue, Young Company director Lisa Gregan and I visited the University of Bristol’s theatre archives where we poured over Victorian scenic paintings framing hundreds of children in elaborate costumes.  It spurned us on to investigate further, and the more we learned, the more we realised it was a great starting point for a show.   We carried on reading and messaging each other with our findings: Morning, when you’ve got a sec, check out this link to the Elementary Education Act of 1870…  Then one day, while daydreaming home from the school run, I suddenly saw a Victorian girl and her dad staring up at a suspension bridge.  I knew I had to find out who they were.

It’s been a challenge creating a story from scratch with enough interesting parts to allow the talented cast to shine.  As the writer of the show, I’ve been responsible for structuring the narrative, offering ideas for scenes, inventing characters, and creating dialogue.  The devising process helps me to do this in a number of ways.  Sometimes the cast provides the answers to questions e.g. ‘What is the dangerous work that Michael is now forced to do?’  Sometimes they offer backstory for their characters which we discuss on a one to one basis.  Sometimes they even conjure speeches which I rework from improvisations.   Less obviously, the process helps to discard ideas and material.  Thank you very much for that, we’ll definitely NOT be going with ghosts on this occasion.  Assistant writer, Hattie Taylor, has been an enormous help, giving feedback and discussing every aspect of the story but also offering great ideas.  Lisa, Matt (co-director) and the rest of the creative team have all, in their turn, helped by interrogating the script and making suggestions.


My favourite character in the play is Crazy Jane, someone who is mocked and dismissed in the city.  I feel a certain kinship with her muttering as I’ve been caught out trying to surreptitiously test dialogue under my breath.  I’m also very partial to the protagonist, Addie, as she is the agent of her own curiosity, and although this gets her into trouble, she never stops looking around her and wondering about the world.

For anyone interested in what it’s like to manage a small baby in a rehearsal room, I discovered that it can be done.  My son was two months old when the devising process began and so every Wednesday and Friday and during the intensive weeks, he was with me in rehearsals.  It was a bit like weight-lifting for several hours and occasionally stopping to change the barbell’s nappy, but he was good as gold.  He’s now almost nine months old and can hardly believe his luck at the grand spectacle being laid on for his entertainment.

Bristol Old Vic Young Company celebrate our 250th birthday with their latest show Under A Cardboard Sea 4-6 Aug. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Photography by James D Kent

Under A Cardboard Sea | 3 minutes with Assistant Stage Manager Dale Thrupp

Spill - Production - Photos by Paul Blakemore (56)As the company add the finishing touches to Under A Cardboard Sea ahead of its 4 Aug debut, we caught up on all the latest with Assistant Stage Manager Dale Thrupp.

Hi! My name is Dale Thrupp and I am working on this summer’s Young Company show as Assistant Stage Manager. I’ve been working for the Outreach department on various projects since graduating from the ‘Made In Bristol’ program last year as part of Propolis Theatre. Before that, I was a member of Bristol Old Vic Young Company, performing in several shows as an actor. Under A Cardboard Sea marks the second time I’ve worked as part of the Stage Management team for a Bristol Old Vic show, having previously Stage Managed and performed in Spill last year.

For those who don’t know, a Stage Manager is someone who organises and coordinates the different facets of a show. This can involve liaising and leading communication between all of the different departments and team members, sourcing props, maintaining the company’s well-being and running pretty much all of the backstage aspects needed to run the show. It sounds like a lot and, if I’m honest, it really is. Thankfully though, on this show there are 3 of us working together. Rosie Giarratana is the Stage Manager, Debs Machin is the Deputy Stage Manager and I’m the Assistant Stage Manager.

Under a Cardboard Sea Rehearsal Room - Photographer Jack Offord - Low Res-3327  Under a Cardboard Sea Rehearsal Room - Photographer Jack Offord - Low Res-3251

I’ve been in rehearsals pretty much from when we started back in January. During the first few months I was in the room devising alongside the cast. That’s not something a member of the Stage Management team usually does, but the directors and writer wanted as much creative input they could get and, as I’ve been a performer on previous Young Company shows, they were happy for me to join in.
Around April/May time the script was starting to take shape so I started doing more and more of the backstage work needed for the show. Rosie joined us full-time around June, just as things were beginning to get busy, and Debs came on-board at the beginning of this week, just as intensive rehearsals started. Working alongside Rosie and Debs, who are both freelance professional Stage Managers, has been amazing. Rosie has been so patient and kind to me throughout the months of rehearsals. She has taken time to not only teach me how to do a lot of things she usually does, such as create a blocking/prompt book or complete a floor mark-up etc. but she then allowed me to actually go and do those things for the show. It’s meant that I’ve learnt an incredible amount about the role and at the same time have a feeling of accomplishment, that I’ve really contributed to this show despite not having a single moment actually onstage.

The cast have been great to work with; they have so much energy and creativity. The sheer number of young people involved, (around 100 cast members aged 4-23) is astonishing; however it has been really tough managing them in rehearsals. Keeping track of who is in each scene, who they play in that scene and what they are doing has been a massive task. Once we had a draft of the script and began blocking the show, we created a casting sheet with every cast members name and the title of each scene. It has been my job to constantly update and change the spreadsheet, through multiple script changes and reworking’s of blocking so that everyone has something they can revert to if they forget or are confused.

Under a Cardboard Sea Rehearsal Room - Photographer Jack Offord - Low Res-3389  Under a Cardboard Sea Rehearsal Room - Photographer Jack Offord - Low Res-3283

Every single character in the play is so well rounded and thought out. One character which I really love is Michael King, the protagonist’s father. It’s already played brilliantly by George Descaillaux, but if I could choose any role I’d like it to be this one. Michael King is a gentle and entertaining man whose love of sharing knowledge with his children unfortunately outweighs his own understanding of the world. He resorts to outlandish stories and ideas of how things work but at his core there is a kindheartedness which is really appealing about the character. It’s his eccentric facts and notions which set the events of the play in motion but to understand just how that happens you’ll have to come and see the show.

Under A Cardboard Sea, I think, really showcases how invaluable the work the Outreach team do actually is for young people who want to work in or experience the performing arts industry. This show has pulled together nearly 100 performers and musicians from around the city, who’ve been given the chance to perform at one of the best theatres in the country, working alongside the professionals based here. They’ve made friends they would never have otherwise met and I have witnessed first-hand the increase in confidence in every single one of them. They are so much more willing to speak their own mind, think creatively and express themselves which can only benefit them whatever they choose to do. The fact that there are members from 3 different years of either past or present Made In Bristol, working on the show (as Associate Director, Assistant Composer, Assistant Designer, Assistant Stage Manager and even as performers) is proof that Young Company and ‘Made In Bristol’ really is helping to form the next generation of theatre makers, something I myself am entirely grateful for.

Bristol Old Vic Young Company celebrate our 250th birthday with their latest show Under A Cardboard Sea 4-6 Aug. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Photography by Paul Blakemore and Jack Offord.

Under A Cardboard Sea | 3 minutes with Associate Director James Kent

Under a Cardboard Sea Rehearsal Room - Photographer Jack Offord - Low Res-3292

With technical rehearsals for Under A Cardboard Sea in full swing ahead of its 4 Aug debut, we caught up with Associate Director James Kent for a quick update on what’s to come.

Hello! I’m James Kent, Associate Director on Under A Cardboard Sea. I’m a Bristol Old Vic Young Company alumni and graduated from the Made In Bristol program in 2012. I currently make theatre with Bristol Old Vic, Bristol Old Vic Young Company and other theatre companies as an actor as well as a director.

As Associate Director on the show, my job is to help the two Co-Directors Lisa Gregan and Matt Grinter to make the show, written by Silva Semerciyan and the company, a reality. On a show of this scale it can mean many things, like working with actors on lines, groups of actors on choral scenes and helping to facilitate the rehearsals.

I feel very privileged to be the associate on such a huge project and to be working with both Lisa and Matt. I’ve worked with Lisa before on The Light Burns Blue and as a part of Young Company and not only is she hilarious and extremely clever, it’s exciting to make work with her as she is so ambitious and passionate.  It’s my first time with Matt, but I had seen shows of his before and his writing and directing is so powerful and emotive that to be involved in a project with him is great. It also helps that he’s ridiculously comical too (sorry Lisa, the competition has stepped up).

James Kent Rehearsal

Being in a room with the two directors and Brian (the Musical Director) and Silva (the Writer) has been so stimulating and dynamic. We’ve managed to overcome some huge obstacles, like making a machine that overlooks a whole city and a fire that burns down a theatre and somehow struggled with not having enough people despite the 100 strong cast. I think the main challenge now will be managing to keep it together around Lisa. As I already admitted (and in writing too!) she really is hilarious.

The cast play a huge part in making it possible to overcome the many obstacles that we’ve faced as it’s often them and not the creative team that have found the solution. I think this is what makes projects like these so special; the ownership that 100 Young Company members have over and what they bring to a show of this size. Not only are they performing, but they’ve also made and developed it into what feels like such an entertaining show.

Under a Cardboard Sea Rehearsal Room - Photographer Jack Offord - Low Res-3345.jpg

The story is home to an enormous array of characters, but if I could be any of them, I think I’d like to be Benji, the rogue sailor. His journey from the seas to the theatre is exhilarating and warm, plus the relationships he strikes up on the way with the different characters are delightful.

The whole process has been a challenge unlike any other I’ve faced, but one that I would definitely do again without a second thought. The creatives, cast, band, producers, designers, parents and stage managers have really put in a huge amount of time, skill and dedication and I hope you enjoy what we’ve made.

Bristol Old Vic Young Company celebrate our 250th birthday with their latest show Under A Cardboard Sea 4-6 Aug. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Photography by Jack Offord.