Someone who only knew me as a theatre reviewer recently expressed surprise that I had been on the stage myself. They seemed equally surprised that I have a BA (hons) Degree in Performance and Visual Art. Where they thought I got all my theatre knowledge from is another matter!
So, in a manner of addressing this, here is a ‘get to know your reviewer’ loosely biographical piece. I haven’t included everything creative and every play I have been involved in, but here are the highlights of my life on the stage (as opposed to watching others act) so far.
In my late teens (early 1970s) I took part in two Scout Gang Shows in Derby which appealed enormously to something theatrical inside me. Subsequently, I joined The Littleover Players where I played bit parts in amateur farces and pantomimes and revues. Later on I was encouraged to join the then renowned Derby Theatre In The Round and found myself at the Derby Playhouse Studio and Derby Guildhall in a big variety of plays and learnt a fair amount of basic theatre craft in doing so. I discovered I had a latent talent for drama and comedy, especially the comedy. I practically haunted the Derby Playhouse and saw everything they had on offer for fifteen years! London beckoned with its allure of musicals and straight drama too. Later on came the predictable thoughts of any keen amateur player about going to drama school.
Encouragement came from the ‘teacher’ members of Derby Theatre In The Round for me to try for drama school or a drama based course at university. As a 30+ mature student, I was accepted at Nottingham Polytechnic (Now Nottingham Trent) on their BA (hons) Creative Arts three year degree course. The course engaged the students of all three years to work and learn together in three disciplines: Music, Performance Art and Visual Arts. Much emphasis placed was on inter-disciplinary studies and the student led development of performance pieces strongly in the mode of performance art. Nudity was optional.
For my first two years I studied performance art and visual arts and wrote and directed a variety of my own pieces including Taming A Cloud Of Butterflies about the radical composer Claude Debussy and Apollinaire about the surrealist poet Guillaume Apollinaire. These two were in my final year where I also wrote and performed in other students performances and student films. We worked with practitioners outside of University and in my second year I played the lead role in a production of Beowulf. This was shown in the Nottingham Fringe Festival of 1989.
For my placement I played Norman in The Dresser at a renowned theatre in Averham, Nottinghamshire. I was praised in the role by the local paper as a near professional performance.
Throughout the whole three years I experimented with theatrical and visual forms and developed my creative knowledge and intelligence. Like all the arts students I collaborated widely with others in all three years. Weirdness, shaved RSC actor heads and some nudity was de rigueur. As was talking loudly on buses and seeing everything as potential art.
We were encouraged to be critical and above all to document our work and our observations. We were lucky to see a great deal of theatrical works in London, Nottingham and Glasgow. Glasgow was the City of Culture in 1988. As well as our tutors on the course professional outside practitioners came in to do workshops with us such as Neil Bartlett and the David Glass mime ensemble.
Peter Brook had just directed The Mahabharata and his vision was very influential to the Creative Arts students. As all this occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the internet was in its infancy. Writing our dissertations on Word was deemed futuristic. Most students wrote their dissertations long hand. The honours course was not only practical but involved a fair amount of academic work too. Having left school aged fifteen with no qualifications the academic side was the most challenging for me. I also got involved in helping to organise Arts Festivals as a third year, enjoyed some comedy improvisation nights and I was a paid ensemble member of Nottingham Playhouse’s professional play production of Les Misérables.
Coming out of university I enrolled with an extras agency and found occasional work in television shows like Boon, Peak Practice and Doctors. I had a variety of speaking roles in student training films with Inter-Media connected with the Broadway Cinema. This paid tv/film work got me my Equity card. As a graduate, finding professional acting work without accredited drama school training was near impossible although I did attend several auditions mainly for adverts and profit share fringe shows.
Other, more satisfying dramatic roles came from joining a top quality amateur group called The Lace Market Theatre. Here I continued to learn about theatre and theatre writing. Below is a short listing of some of my major roles with this group and two with the Nottingham Arts Theatre.
A Doll’s House. Nils Krogstad. Comedians. Gethin Price. Play It Again Sam. Alan Felix. The Crucible. Governor Danforth. Abigail’s Party. Lawrence Moss. Anna Karenina. Levin. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Puck. Festen. Kim. Kindertransport. German language tutor. A School For Scandal. Mr Snake. Richard III. Derby, Bishop. Cardinal. Charley’s Aunt. Brassett.
Frozen. Ralph. The Diary of Anne Frank. Mr Kraler. A Bright & Bold Design. Ulik. Dead Funny. Nick. Poppy. Emperor of China.
A Chip In The Sugar. Graham. The Dresser. Norman. Breezeblock Park. Nick. Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Atillio. In Camera (Huis Clos) Valet. An Inspector Calls (NT) supernumerary.
As a theatre writer I have written and had performed a critically acclaimed full stage version of A Christmas Carol and two one man shows of the same story, one of which was partially in German.
Having strong connections with the Jakobus Theatre in Karlsruhe I devised, wrote, directed and performed (with actor/singer Emma Brown) a show about two soldiers from opposing sides in the Great War. This was called Grüße aus dem Schützengraben which means Greetings from the Trenches. It was partly in German and partly in English and was well received by the German audiences.
Looking for a connection with theatre where I could express my thoughts online and in journals, I started reviewing in 2013. Initially this was on another blog and I began reviewing for The Reviews Hub where I got plenty of experience and sound editorial advice. Making press contacts at the major theatres in the East Midlands got me work interviewing theatre related personalities and a good reputation for the quality and accuracy of my journalism. I have also reviewed for Big Issue online and Nottingham Post and wrote professional articles, features and interviews for the popular quarterly theatre magazine, Sardines.
Wishing to have a more professional vehicle for my writing I replaced my original theatre blog with this theatre website and I am now into the third year of writing on this Word Press site. Alongside the website I created the twitter handle @EM_Theatre and have a presence on Facebook.
All of this is done unpaid, in my own spare time. I have a regular job in the food industry and I dedicate my two days off and many an evening to my passions for promoting theatre in my region. The Word Press site gives me more professional credibility and I am delighted that the major theatres often quote my reviews promotionally online and on their posters.
Through Sarah Brigham at Derby Theatre and Nikolai Foster at Curve Theatre Leicester I have been able to attend professional rehearsals and learn from my observations.
This has led to cast/director interview possibilities and chances to promote their productions and styles through this website. I regularly promote the London and Nottingham Playhouse showcases for MADD College and I am developing my ballet/ contemporary dance education through opportunities given me by Simon Harper via Dance Consortium.
Well, I hope that has given you some insight into my theatrical pedigree and do continue to follow and read my writing on www.eastmidlandstheatre.com.
PS: Additional to this site I also run a comedy website and develop unique comedy characters through scripted ideas and improvisation.