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

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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.)

The Season Ahead

It’s quiet – that lull after the March show. Time to rest up, reflect and regroup for the summer show to come. Often an ambitious production it is one that invariably sees the company marshalling its resources in terms of performers and producers, leading to a magnificent and spectacular show in the first week of July, every stop pulled out.

But, of late, there have been quite a few ambitious productions- you need only to look at the titles which have graced the church hall over the past four years and it is clear that each one has drawn on the talents of a large number of Matchbox folk both behind and in front of the scenes.

Time then for a slight change of pace.

This summer sees a return to the highly successful formula of ‘Talking Heads’ established in 2013, with another triumvirate of splendid monologues, two from Alan Bennett and a third from Stephen Dinsdale.

Under Tim Pearce’s gentle steer, ‘A Bed Among the Lentils’ sees Helen Roffey taking on the role of Susan, a dissatisfied vicar’s wife who strikes up an unexpected friendship which throws a new light upon her life. In ‘A Cream Cracker Under the Setee’, Dot Pullan, who also appeared in the first Heads, plays Doris, a widow who is put into a difficult position which provides opportunity for reflection on things past and things present and of the future to come. And rounding off the trilogy, Zack Stiling takes on the role of geek culture folk hero, Gus Gascoigne, trainspotter extraordinaire, in ‘Anorak of Fire’.

Here then is a wonderfully contrasting clutch of pieces which will certainly provide a poignant, engaging, thoughtful and humorous night of theatre in early July. Rehearsals are under way now and more details will come as they emerge over the next few weeks but here again is another ambitious project, smaller in scale but definitely not to be missed.

Until next time.

Mx

FOUR YEARS ON.

A big update is coming in the near future with the final word and an expanded gallery from our Farndale Farces as well as information about what the summer has in store. 

Today’s post, however, is simply to mark the fourth anniversary of this blog. 

Yes, this page started as a little fancy in a classroom back in 2013 but am glad to say that, though sporadic, it has become a great repository of all things Matchbox old and new. Heaven knows how many words, pictures and articles have been committed over the past 48 months but hopefully, if you have a bit of time, you might take a look at some of the writings on the productions we have done in that period (alongside plenty from beforehand) and enjoy a little nostalgia.

In the meantime:

See you soon.

Mx

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d

Macbeth_and_Banquo_encountering_the_witches_-_Holinshed_Chronicles

So, opening night! Wow.

It was unquestionably a success and the majority of the audience loved it, many laughing all the way throughout the show. A play about a play going wrong covers a multitude of sins and, if we are being honest here, there were a few last night, whether it was electric circuits breaking at a moment of supposed pyrotechnic brilliance or the whole lighting system going into disarray, one cannot say it wasn’t interesting backstage. In fact, at times, it was as fraught and kinetic as the action going on in front of the curtain. But, the show must go on and go on it did with everyone, cast and crew, rallying together to ensure that audiences got value for money and left either not noticing or not caring about the gremlins in the hall. In fact the most melodramatic performance came from yours truly backstage, swilling red wine and looking wistfully like some Chekovian heroine waiting for ducks to fly to Moscow. That was when not falling through ladders.

It’s odd this directorial lark, I have written about it before and I will certainly write about it again, but that point when it all goes up can be the most distancing. After all the hard work, the weeks of preparation and planning, a play goes out into the world and, unless one is taking a significant role, there is nothing much that can be done once it is up and running. The house of cards has been built but when it is blown into a different shape, it can still look good as a house of cards and people appreciate it, but it isn’t YOUR house of cards! And that can frustrate.

As an actor you invariably feel the reaction of the audience, the warm glow of attentiveness, the baited breath or laughter and, it must be said, the occasional snoring. Comedy, therefore, can be one of the most rewarding styles for a performer because, if it is going right, you hear and feel that reaction regularly with every guffaw that rings out. In my opinion that immediacy isn’t quite there as a director, which is why some like to get involved during a show’s run, whether behind the scenes or in cameo.

Naysayers and superstitious types would say that I should snap out of it anyway as it is, of course, the curse of Macbeth . I am not sure I would agree with that but, I must admit, it did get me thinking a little bit about the reputation of this play. I remember reading something about it when I was studying Shakespeare many years ago at university- it was one of the few seminars that I dragged my lazy ass to – and I recall writing something about it in a lesson when I was teaching The Scottish Play a few years ago to a Year 11 class. My memory was a little hazy and I wasn’t sure I knew the whole story. Thus, at a time when sensible people suffused with red wine would be sleeping, I poured another one and let the fingers fly over the keyboard entering a world of search engines, spirits and sorcery.

There is no question this ‘curse’ has resonance within the acting community. I know people in many amateur groups – and that includes a few in the Matchbox- that stiffen with horror if someone says the name of the play out loud instead of ‘The Scottish Play’ and they will not be satisfied until the culprit has gone out of the room, spun round three times, spat, swore and then asked to be allowed back on (or assorted variants of that theme). Thespians are a superstitious lot.

So, it seems, was King James I – the first Stuart King of England, and who undoubtedly served as an inspiration for many aspects of the play hailing as he did from Scotland with a suitably anti-witchcraft stance which characterised many of the legislative and political decisions of his early reign. He banned the play for five years owing to its occult and supernatural content.

Much of the mystique behind the play’s curse, therefore, is derived from just this- Shakespeare’s alleged use of authentic spells and incantations spoken by witches of the period:

First Witch

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d. 

Second Witch

Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

Third Witch

Harpier cries “‘Tis time, ’tis time.”

First Witch

Round about the cauldron go;

In the poison’d entrails throw.

Toad, that under cold stone

Days and nights has thirty-one

Swelter’d venom sleeping got,

Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

All

Double, double, toil and trouble;

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

All

Double, double, toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,

Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf

Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,

Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,

Liver of blaspheming Jew,

Gall of goat, and slips of yew

Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,

Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,

Finger of birth-strangled babe

Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,

Make the gruel thick and slab:

Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,

For the ingredients of our cauldron.

All

Double, double, toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch 

Cool it with a baboon’s blood,

Then the charm is firm and good.

                                        (Macbeth IV. I 1-38)

This is about as legitimate as it comes to some theorists and critics. As such there are those that believe these words have marked the play for all time, whilst others allege a coven of witches cursed the play for eternity following Shakespeare’s misguided appropriation of such secretive and occult rhymes. It does, however, also seem that many of these early urban legends, and that is what they have become, also came from similar stories about Doctor Faustus, Kit Marlowe’s Mephistophelean tale which had seen notoriety on the stage 13 years earlier (with Kit Harringtons version achieving a different sort of notoriety a little more recently than that).

The reputation has built over time, fuelled by incidents that seem to reek of ill fortune associated with the piece. Some are apocryphal, some mythical: for example the belief that Abraham Lincoln was reading the play, apparently his favourite, before he was shot at the theatre whilst watching Our American Cousin. This seems rather tenuous guilt by very loose association. And why doesn’t anybody talk about the curse of Our American Cousin? Macbeth has, thus far, not been responsible for a single presidential death at time of writing.

Of course, some incidents did, in fact occur. One of the most notable was the riot at New York City’s Astor Opera House in 1849, caused by rival productions of the play. Twenty-two people died, including some who just happened to be walking past the theatre, when glass-and-bottle armed fans of American actor Edwin Forrest descended on Astor Place, where English actor William Macready was performing his version of Macbeth. The two sides clashed and Macready fled, never to return to America again.

Or in the 1937 production where Laurence Olivier, playing the Scottish King, was nearly brained by a stage weight which mysteriously became untied and crashed within inches of the actor. And, in in the same production, when the tip of a (real) sword flew into the audience in one of the fight scenes causing the viewer to have a heart attack.

And what about the 1942 Macbeth starring John Gielgud in which three actors died during its run and the costume designer killed himself after the premiere. And then there was the 1953 run where Charlton Heston suffered severe burns on his legs having discovered his tights had been mysteriously soaked in kerosene.

Or perhaps one could look to the complete disaster which was Peter O’Toole’s notorious gore soaked 1980 production which, in its over the top execution and stage bathed in gallons of blood, became an object of hysterical laughter earning the titles ‘Macdeath’ and ‘Macflop’.

Even the recent Michael Fassbender film has its own contribution to the enduring tales of the play’s ‘curse’, with Marion Cotillard as Lady M apparently being pulled into a bog during one of the scenes and later being rendered too unwell and exhausted to attend the premiere in Cannes.

Perhaps she was just working too hard.

Or perhaps there is some truth in it.

Either way, all these events and many more have contributed to an aura about this play which has seen it tarnished with a reputation for bad karma and damnable evil!

For myself, I consider its fearful reputation to be something to do with matters more secular. Traditionally, theatre owners would replace struggling productions with Macbeth, a proven box-office draw; actors in any other play feared any mention of the play’s title because it usually spelled the end of their present job!

However you look at it, if there is a curse on this play then I certainly feel that writing about it has reversed it – the cathartic experience of research and writing into the wee small hours has undoubtedly driven away the melancholia and left this director enthusiastic and looking forward immensely to tonight’s show. The Farndale Avenue Estate’s Ladies Society have two more nights of the play, alongside our rendering of the classic ‘Umlaut’, but whatever goes amiss tonight, I can feel satisfied that we are in eminent company and relish in the fact that it will just be another story to add to a very long list.

…The Storm

And so it begins.

Months of preparation, dedication and (occasional) frustration culminate in three nights of cracking theatre. ‘The Farndale Farces’ promises to be an entertaining evening – no great messages, no intellectualising about the human condition nor moments of emotional reflection, it is fast paced comedy pure and simple. Tickets are nearly sold out, a handful are still available for each night, so if you fancy a laugh or three and you haven’t, as yet, got your ticket there is still opportunity.

And for those already in possession of one, we hope you enjoy and have as great a time watching it as the cast and crew will have putting it on. And to that cast and crew, all that is left for me to do is to firmly encourage you to ‘break a leg’ and enjoy.

I’ll leave you with a few shots from the dress rehearsal to set the mood and will be sure to catch you…

Anon, M x

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