Life Begins at Fifty?

And so ‘Jumpy’, the 105th Matchbox Theatre production has come to an end. A departure in terms of tone and subject matter but undeniably a successful run that entertained, amused and provoked much thought throughout its three day run. Presented with minimal set, the piece flowed slickly through the crises of Hilary and the various characters with whom her mid-life intersects. Adultery, teen pregnancy, the waywardness of youth, feminism and belly dancing (obviously) were amongst the themes on show and there is no question that the audience enjoyed the strength of cast performance alongside the fluidity of the set transferring from bedroom to beach, coffee shop to cottage. Very much an ensemble piece, there was a great camaraderie within the company and crew, though there is no question that K’s dynamic, engaging, nuanced performance as Hilary was the glue that held the storytelling together – that, and her lightning fast skill at slipping in and out of different costumes for virtually every scene. This, along with beautifully apposite sound and unflashy but perfect lighting, ensured that this would be a soiree to remember. I have said before that Vicky Pearce brings a holistic vision to any plays that she directs and that was very much the case with ‘Jumpy’. Having worked on it from the very beginning the concept remained firm and, despite  challenges, remained so even if a short cut was prompted here or a rethink there.

So, another great show.

Nonetheless, to lour some clouds upon our house, it must be said that much of its success was ‘in spite of’ rather then ‘because’. These challenges thrown up are becoming increasingly problematic and this in turn throws up questions, questions that prompt some weighty discussion….

But that is for the near future! Suffice to say that the group’s reputation for quality and varied theatre remains safe, not because of my own subjective bias, but from the numerous positive comments and observations made by the exiting crowd across all three days. And, as is customary on such occasions there are many  memorable moments that made ‘Jumpy’ such a great night, some of which can be seen above.

M x

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Leaping Back on the Bandwagon

Well, it’s not an unusual thing for me to apologise about being behind with bloggage but with a gap of nearly half a year…I have been remiss. Very remiss. So, much to catch up on then as you might well imagine.

Foremost is of course our upcoming December production, Jumpy, which goes up this Thursday (30th November). Indeed, I am writing these words as the technical rehearsal unfolds, the usual melee of pdychedelic light, random effects and the soundtrack of our lives!

The play is a bit of a departure for the group- keeping in with the recent trend of experimental, off beat and out of the ordinary choices of play, it provides something novel for cast and audiences. Debuting at the Duke of York in 2011 and written by April de Angelis, it enjoyed a great deal of popularity and critical success and is therefore a perfect choice for the Matchbox. Described as a tragedy played like a farce it takes at it’s heart the mid life crisis of Hilary and her struggles with a stale marriage, the threat of job loss and, not least, her 15 year old daughter Tilly’s provocative sexuality and utter contempt for her mother. Played by Tamsin Grieg originally, Hilary’s menopausal journey is a bittersweet series of encounters and misadventures that offers many instances of hilarity but also relatability.

The male mid life crisis is fertile territory for theatre, less so that of the woman’s equivalent and Jumpy therefore offers exciting challenge for the group. Directed by Vicky Pearce, well known for her creative staging, with K Isom as Hilary, this promises to be an excellent night of theatre. With a small but perfectly formed cast of young and old(er) it has unquestionably been rehearsed to a refined polish that brings out the very best of the humour, and the poignancy.

More mature in content than some recent fare it is nonetheless neither vulgar or crude and anyone over the age of 14 will be able to appreciate the various beats and moments at the heart of the play. It’s certainly a great one for the blog to return to after such a long hiatus, and we are looking forward to once again entertaining audiences with something a little different. Tickets are still available for this Thursday, Friday and Saturday so if you haven’t got hold of one yet, make sure you pick them up sooner rather than later.

So, hello again, thanks for having me back, sorry for the absence, it won’t happen again. Promise.

Until the next time.

M x

Talking and Trainspotting

Talkingtrains

So the curtain goes up tonight on The Matchbox’s Trainspotting Meets Talking Heads’ . If you haven’t got your tickets there are still some available for tonight, tomorrow and Saturday; I can wholeheartedly recommend the show as a splendid evening out.

As stated previously the evening comprises three monologues each with a healthy balance of comedy and the bitter sweet poignancy born out of both Alan Bennett and Stephen Dinsdale’s perceptive observational writing. I know everyone involved with the production has wholly dedicated themselves to the three characters portrayed throughout the evening. It goes without saying holding the stage for 25-30 minutes alone is no small feat but Helen, Zack and Dot have shown themselves more than able to draw an audience in  and give them a window into particular points at each of these distinct character’s lives.

Therefore, may legs be broken for all involved in the run and if you are able to get along to the church hall I sincerely hope you enjoy. I’ll be back with feedback and responses in the next day or so.

Until then keep well and take care,

M x

 

 

Of Lentils, Crackers and Thermos Flasks.

As promised I recently watched the dress rehearsal for the upcoming ‘Talking Heads/Trainspotting’ triple bill which runs from this Thursday to Saturday. All three vignettes promise laughter and poignancy in various measures with the brilliance of both writers’ dialogue delivered by a trio  of fine performers fully  deserving their opportunity  to strut and fret their hour upon the stage (although each is probably about half that length). If you haven’t got your ticket yet I can only encourage you to remedy  that and book sharpish – it’s going to be another cracking night of theatre for everyone!

Hope to see you there.

M x

For Love of the Game?

dramatics

 

Disclaimer: This is going to be one of those post; you know the ones- the general philosophical musings usually conceived at 4:45 in the morning (though this one has eveolved over five days). If you are looking for more Matchbox specific content, it will be available in the next couple of days so hang on in there. Viewer discretion is therefore advised.

For the first time in an age, a large number of the Matchbox are ‘resting’. As outlined in former posts, the forthcoming ‘Talking Trainspotting’ is a lower key show than many in recent years, three performers largely self-directed with a steer from Annie and Tim alongside a small but perfectly formed tech crew and there you have it. That is not to say that the upcoming show is set to be any less enjoyable or engaging of course but larger scale has definitely been ‘en vogue’ of late at the Church Hall.

So, how has it been for all those who are currently getting on with ‘real life’? Who don’t have to panic or fret about learning lines? Who aren’t required at rehearsal once, twice or thrice a week?

Interestingly the most regular take has been, “I am enjoying having the time but, you know, I am missing it”.

Missing what, though? The camaraderie? The aesthetic fulfilment? The chance to play dress up? This got me thinking, as oft it does – why do we do this? What is it about amateur theatre that compels so many of us to give up so much time and impose such fierce pressure upon ourselves for those few nights of ephemeral pleasure?  As someone who has just come off the back off pretty much eleven months continuous theatricalising with  five shows in quick succession, I imagined that ‘I am missing it’ would be the last thing I would be saying – but there is a part of me that is. Writing this blog is the purest exemplification of that. I know my dedication can be a little out of the ordinary, I am well aware of that: my name is Mike and I am an amdram addict!

On more than one occasion I have likened my theatricalising to a hard drug habit, and I am only half joking in that analogy. Like powerful narcotics this whole putting on a play lark can be overwhelmingly euphoric alongside inducing the most horrendous crashes and downers and when one is without it, there is that feeling of being bereft, that something is, well, missing. Now I don’t mean to trivialize  drug addiction but bear with me when I say that, as someone getting used to having nights and weekends back and not worrying about where to source props, what colour to paint the backdrop (and sorting who is going to paint it) and when I am going to have to learn certain lines, it all feels a little odd. This article, then, is a sort of am dram methadone. It’s not the real thing but is related to it and so stays the anxieties at least until the next one.

So, to go back to that opening question, why?

Well, I have to add another disclaimer here; most of this is going to be written from the perspective of actor and director. I know for sure there are numerous reasons for those working behind the scenes to get involved, some of them listed below, but with limited experience of these areas I do not have the knowledge to write authoritatively on such matters so please do forgive.

Anyway, let’s begin with a universal: for many, amateur dramatics is a hobby which allows them to meet others, possibly- though not always- with a shared interest. As a teacher I have found it can be very easy to find one’s life centred on the profession in both work and play which can be a good thing but which can lead to too much ‘talking shop’ at times; I imagine it is the same with many jobs. Of course there are family members and those other friends that one has accumulated over the years but they invariably tend to be well established by that certain point in one’s history when many of us take up the hobby. The Drama is, therefore, a variation to the norms of life which can leads to a coming together of folks from all walks. Butcher to banker to brickie to barrister, putting on of a play has introduced me to a galaxy of people over the past 18 years, many far removed from the world of education and who I would have very unlikely met in everyday circumstances. Some have become firm and very close friends (although invariably this has mostly occurred in the close-knit environment of the Matchbox); others acquaintances to happily greet in passing on the street or to be satisfied upon seeing  you have been cast in a play with them; some you never see again. I have written already about the ephemeral nature of plays, how a group of people are thrown together for an intense period where emotions can run high and tensions are invariably part of the process (Popular ‘Fiction’ Part 2: The Slough of Desponde) – but it is certainly a curious wrench when one has worked for a month or two for 3/4 nights a week and then all come together for a run of 3, 6 sometime 9 nights and then with a cheery goodbye or hungover shake of the hand once the set is down, it’s over. I guess it’s a fairly unique sensation in  hobbies- I doubt philatelists or photographers or fisherman or many other pastimes feel anything quite like that. But whilst it is going on it can be so richly rewarding.

Let us also not forget those other aspects of…er… camaraderie that come with working so closely on a piece. Some plays I have been involved in over the years have had more twists and turns than a popular soap opera. Am dram is a hot-bed of gossip and intrigue  – budding romances, blistering break ups, drunken flings, clashing egos and unrequited loves to name but a few. Indeed, as with all hobbies, there are those who tread the board or press buttons or build sets for just such intrigue. My first forays into the Matchbox, I readily admit, were prompted by the romantic aspirations of my matchmaking flat mate in the days before Plenty of Fish and Tinder! But, ultimately, it ended up being a different sort of romance that sucked me into that world.  Which brings me nicely to the next of my thoughts:

The passion of creativity.

There are all sorts of theories about the pleasures of creation and undoubtedly it is a big lure to many. Incredible satisfaction can come from a simple idea: “What if I say it this way?” or “How about if I walk over here?”  or “What do you think about me sitting louchely on the chaise longer whilst imagining myself looking plaintively  at the ducks flying to Moscow ?” Sometimes it doesn’t  work – no matter how hard you look into the nether  you will never convey the wistful melancholia of Tsarist Russia as embodied by wildfowl. But sometimes you hit paydirt. And the satisfaction that YOU have imprinted something upon a scene or a character that is uniquely YOURS can be priceless. Perhaps no other performer has ever considered that interpretation and you are offering something never before seen or maybe it IS just more of the same but whatever it is, it’s yours for this run.

This concept can be extrapolated significantly when one is directing. The role carries with it multiple decisions and with it the potential for dozens of little moments in performances, stage design or composition that maybe no other soul but you will notice (although you hope at least one person might pick up on it). It can be wonderfully satisfying to imprint meaning and interpretation on a piece – that the underlying sound of that clock conveys the existential angst of a society spinning into The End Times or the triangular organisation of actors on stage reflects the distancing in relationships or that the statue looks pretty good against a beige background – whatever the case the fulfilment, intellectual or otherwise can be a great lure at times when perhaps in life outside of the theatrical there are fewer opportunities to flex that creative muscle.

It is no secret I am a fully paid up, card carrying member of the ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ club. Since 1983 I have enjoyed playing as someone else (although let’s be honest, like most of us, I was roleplaying a long time before that!), whether it be across the table throwing funny shaped dice or on the stage in borrowed finery. One person’s carpets and curtains are another person’s royal regalia and I have worn more than my fair share of reworked upholstery over the years as well as occasionally enjoyed the odd wig, tunic or pair of (tight) boots that have been appropriated at some sizeable cost from a costumier to the stars. To be blunt, a lot of us like dress up, and to BE someone else!

In an age where fashion marches on there is something just, well, ‘cool’ (if I can use that word unironically in 2017)  about dressing up in something timeless .  There is something even more fulfilling when you ‘get’ that person one is playing.  Every so often one hears actors saying, “I AM such and such “, I have  said it myself occasionally, and it can be sad to say goodbye to a particular role at times I can tell you. So what does that mean?

Well, let’s make this clear that this is by by no means every character someone plays, and I have phoned in a fair few over the years, but when it does occur and you get that sense of identification and fulfilment (being dressed up to look a million dollars is an optional bonus)  it can be invigorating. That feeling of ‘being’ a particular individual and knowing where he or she is coming from has certainly been something that brings me back  to the smell of the greasepaint time and again.

But if the putting on of a mask and being something else- that greasepaint – is one part of it, the other part of the famed adage can be considered just as important: the roar of the crowd. Yes there is definitely something of the ego in this whole process, the affirmation that all eyes are on you and those eyes are appreciating all you do. Sometimes the best way of ascertaining this is in a good comedy, laughter  is the best yardstick by which to measure if you have the viewing public on your side and it is a natural reaction to feel good if you know you are making other’s feel good.  But equally there is something powerful in drama or tragedy where the reaction you want is silence and when one feels that rapt focus – it’s an odd thing to articulate but you know when you have it – or better still hear that surprised gasp in the audience or an exclamatory cry,  it can be as thrilling as peals of ringing laughter.

To know you have done a good job is a reward unto itself, though this leads to the dichotomy of the ‘after show ‘ meet, something I am not very good at. ‘Tis one thing to let your ego drink in the unspoken plaudits on stage, I just get a little awkward in those ‘You were marvellous’ conversations when the curtain has gone down, particularly when you know you weren’t, or, worse still, when no such conversation is forthcoming as your friend/ relative/ guest/random audience member proceeds in a politely stifled fashion to talk about everything BUT the past two hours traffic of the stage. Yet there are plenty who enjoy it and love to know their work was appreciated in that way, and why not after all – after you have put weeks or months of hard work into something why shouldn’t it be applauded?!

And then there are those times when walking down a street or in a queue or dully minding your own business when a stranger comes up  and says ‘You were in that (fill in play where applicable). Oh I/we thought you were wonderful.’ And that I suppose is most rewarding, the appreciation unprompted. Sure Sainsbury’s car park isn’t quite Mann’s Chinese Theatre,  but for a brief moment one can feel like a star and that  surely is a reason for many to get involved in this hobby of ours, to know you have made an impact and an impression and someone is happy enough to take time out of their day to thank you for it.

So, there we are, my thoughts on the matter thus far. It’s not exhaustive and, as said, very much from the actors’/directors’ perspective  – again sorry . If you have any additional or alternative or additional thoughts please feel free to add.  Whatever the case, it seems fairly clear to me that there are plenty of good reasons why we do what we do and long may they carry on.

I am hoping to look in on one of the dress rehearsals for the upcoming triple bill starting this Thursday. I will be sure to report in on them in the immediate future but in the meantime you good people, take care, keep well and g’bye for now.

M x

Choose Bennett, Choose Dinsdale, Choose…

trainspot

It’s been over a month and the best part of two plays since last I was here but it would be appalling to let June pass without a Matchblog update particularly with our next show just around the corner. As intimated previously the evening,  vaguely alliteratively entitled Trainspotting Meets Talking Heads, is a triple bill in more intimate vein. In keeping with the previous Talking Heads event four years or so ago this offers a less formal and theatrical style event whilst providing three ‘monologues for a summer evening’. A Cream Cracker Under the Settee and Bed Among the Lentils, and a third monologue, not by Bennett but an equally entertaining piece by Stephen Dinsdale: Anorak of Fire: The Life and Times of Gus Gascoigne, Trainspotter.

I know that Dot, Helen and Zack have been working extraordinarily hard over the past few weeks, in many ways living the characters and have heard nothing but good reports from the rehearsals thus far. The curtain goes up next week, the show runs from 6th-8th July, so I am well aware that al involved are firmly gearing up for what promises to be an evening of hilarity, bitter sweet observations and the truths that so characterise the works of these two celebrated writers.  The Box Office is, as ever,  0845 680 4568 with tickets being priced £8 for adults and £6 for children.

Look forward to seeing you there.

M x

 

Iambic Pentameter is Go

Though I referred to the April/May lull in my post yesterday, that is not to say that members of the company haven’t been busy with Matchbox matters outside the theatre. As reported previously in these pages, we are regularly in attendance at one of the stations during the biennial St Christopher’s Hospice Walk which takes place through the countryside of Keston and surrounding areas. This year was no different with the group being steadfastly represented by a number of members throughout the day- Mike, Annie, Gillian, John, Kate and Dot and most notably Tim with his almost legendary freeform sonnet recitals, a spiritual uplift for many a walker over the years. I was reliably informed by one such group passing through that this year’s recitation was cheerily accompanied by a flute of champagne: I suspect they must have had a touch of the sun to imagine such decadence from our resident Shakespearan scholar.




This year also saw a marvellous contribution to the event in the shape of the Reeve clan who come together in memory of their Dad, whose company name was AREGO, and thus took to donning Thunderbirds costumes, having a bit of fun dressing up and raising much needed funds for the Hospice.

So, another worthwhile venture showing that it isn’t just about what happens on stage. But, more of that anon.

M x

(Please note permission has not been sought from the owners to use the above pictures and should they wish them removed please drop me a line and I will be more than happy to do so.)