Category Archive: Sixty Five Miles

In praise of…Hull

Along with the SIXTY FIVE MILES company, I have been up in Hull since the beginning of January, rehearsing Matt Hartley’s beautiful play in time for its opening last week. One of the great joys of this job is the chance it offers to travel, getting to know the UK’s many towns, villages and cities along the way.

Despite having lots of friends who came to University here (Matt included), I didn’t know Hull at all before we decamped here for the month. Having spent three years living in Sheffield when at University myself (and a considerable amount of time back in the city for last year’s Sheffield Theatres collaboration, ROUNDABOUT), I’ve noticed certain similarities between these two Northern Giants; the warmth of the people, the positive effect of a large student population, the tension between historic and modern and the important place the theatre plays in the cultural landscape.

So in celebration of our collaboration with Hull Truck Theatre, here are my five favourite things about Hull:

Hull Marina

Whilst it feels slightly disconnected from the centre of town, the Marina is a beautiful new development where I have had the great fortune of living for the past five weeks. On cold, crisp days, with the sun hanging low in the sky, it’s a beautiful area for a head-clearing, pre-rehearsal stroll. Close to the old town and near to the brilliant The Deep (a sub-marium).

Princes’ Avenue

Much like Eccleshall Road in Sheffield, Princes Ave (as it’s known locally) is a residential area packed with independent restaurants, bars, cafes and shops and has been our first choice hang-out on Sundays. We tend to start with a drink at the laid-back Pave, with its choice of around 30 different international beers and live Jazz. Then it’s on to Brimbles for a roast where the informal atmosphere, good wine and well-priced beef and turkey combo goes down a treat. A contingent also enjoyed a great meal at Marrakech one night last week.

Shopping

For a town that has three different shopping centres, you’d expect to be able to pick up at least one or two choice pieces – not least during the January sales. The St.Stephens Centre in between the theatre and the station is the pick of the bunch, but Katie and Amy managed to dig out a few timeless classics at the two big city-centre charity shops. Needless to say we’re all a little lighter in the pocket but better dressed as a result.

Hull Truck Theatre

For several reasons, Hull Truck Theatre is a jewel in Hull’s cultural crown. The spirit of the theatre’s roots still lives strong in its audience – there is an ownership and investment in the informality of the company’s tradition that permeates the building and its patrons. Clearly the ethos of Mike Bradwell and John Godber of making fiercely entertaining, locally relevant, brand new and deeply personal theatre in a democratic space is cherished by the people of Hull. But now it’s got the added dimension of being complemented by a much bigger theatre, a broader repertory of work (including co-productions with neighbouring theatres, classic work and community projects) and a modern approach to collaboration and touring. Moreover, it does some of the best food in the whole of Hull. The Fish Pie (served with smoked salmon Caesar salad) is one of the best any of us have ever tasted. Craige is officially addicted to the Eggs Benedict, and between us, Ian and I just about drank them dry of locally brewed Wold Gold. A fantastic team of people, both front of house and backstage, only adds to the feeling that Hull Truck is a lovely place to work, eat, drink, watch and play.

The Star and Garter

The rule is that what happens on tour stays on tour, and never has this been truer than when we discovered The Star and Garter. On a Thursday night, the DJ will play whatever you want, there are free shots for every customer between 2 and 3am, and last orders is at 5. There’s enough haze to satisfy any lighting designer, the sound system is suitably deafening, and whilst the Guinness tastes like liquorish, its practically impossible to leave. No photos for this entry I’m afraid – The Star and Garter has to be experienced first hand…

Whilst we hope to have the chance to take the production on tour at a later date, SIXTY FIVE MILES is currently scheduled for a limited run in Hull only. You can book tickets here.

SIXTY FIVE MILES – Tech and Opening Week

Last week was tech week for SIXTY FIVE MILES at Hull Truck Theatre.

Tech Desk

Monday was our final day in the rehearsal room before beginning work in the theatre on Tuesday. In many ways, SIXTY FIVE MILES is a fairly simple show from a technical point of view. There are no major scene changes, relatively few sound and lighting cues (about 25 Sound Cues and about 40 Lighting Cues) and only a few costume changes. But as a result of having pared everything back, the choices myself and the creative team do make are more palpable, and as such, require a huge degree of craft to ensure they support and enhance the action of the play rather than distracting or detracting from it.

Having rigged and focussed lights and speakers as part of the fit-up, lighting designer Tim and Sound Designer/Composer Ed were ready to start trying out previously prepared ideas for in-scene states, music and changes as well as sequences for the transitions between scenes.

Technical rehearsals notoriously tend to feel slow. Unlike the rehearsal room tempo, where changes, ideas and problems can be discussed, rectified and tried out quite quickly, even the smallest of technical alterations take time to action, with many people involved and affected. The actors need the patience of saints, as they are moved around the stage, asked to repeat movements and sections of scenes over and over again, get in and out and in of costume and generally stagnate as we mould the production around and amongst their work.

By Tuesday evening we were ‘topping and tailing’ (running the show but cutting out sections of the action where there are no technical cues) in preparation for our Wednesday afternoon dress rehearsal. But then – as can so often happen – disaster struck, and we lost one of the actors to illness. Conversations took place between myself, Matt, Production Management and Producers Tara and Andrew, and a decision was taken to cancel our first preview performance on Wednesday evening to allow time for recovery. With two productions playing in rep for a further four weeks, we all felt that it was in the best long-term interests of the production that we opened with everyone in health. As such, we had to take the unfortunate but necessary step of cancelling the first preview and reallocating that evening’s audience later in the run.

Thankfully everyone who had booked for Wednesday night were incredibly understanding and, thanks to a little bit of penicillin and a lot of sleep, we were fighting fit again by Thursday night, when the World Premiere production of SIXTY FIVE MILES opened for its first preview.

In my experience, it’s always the case that a production will grow hugely over its first four or five public performances. That’s not to say that if you see an early performance you’ll be seeing an inferior version of the production, but there is a natural merging that takes place between the work in the rehearsal room and the work in the theatre, and that just takes a little bit of time. Over the course of these preview performances we continue to tweak the lighting, the sound, the costume and the staging towards the clearest and most impactful version of the production; even as late as the fourth performance we are considering moving the position of the interval and making changes to where, when and how the actors move around the stage.

If all goes according to plan, the production will continue to grow in strength and depth over the course of the three-week run. The way we have rehearsed the play is designed to enable the actors to repeat every night the work we have prepared and practiced with an increasing degree of accuracy but without it feeling stagnant, whilst leaving room for the performances to grow and develop.

Whilst we hope to have the chance to take the production on tour at a later date, SIXTY FIVE MILES is currently scheduled for a limited run in Hull only. You can book tickets here.

No show tonight folks

We’ve very sorry to say that tonight’s opening performance of SIXTY FIVE MILES at Hull Truck has been cancelled due to illness. We apologise for any inconvenience.

We very much hope to be up and running tomorrow.

Like vampires in the dark

It’s tech day, which essentially means we’ve become like vampires, scared to step outside into the light. Tucked away in the darkness of the auditorium, with only the glow of the parcans and 2Ks from the stage, and the red neon glare of the control desk, it’s here that we will feel safe.

Sixty Five Miles, is a play that most theatre’s would put in their studio. It’s perceived as being delicate and intimate. Hull Truck’s main auditorium is colossal. 400 seats. It’s as far from a studio as possible. Amy has created a sweeping, multi level design, that embraces the opportunities the space provides and allows the action of the play to step out of the confines of being a traditional studio piece. The journey between Sheffield and Hull that is central to the play, and the multiple locations that the action unfolds in, are allowed to merge seamlessly into each other, the play now has an epic feel. Tim’s lighting, enhances and compliments this idea, using a palette of colors to stamp strong visual images on the action. Add to this Ed’s delicate yet bruising score, and the play, still retains the subtlety that I hoped for but also has found a bolder, tougher and searing quality.

It’s thrilling to see this. As a young writer I’ve often been convinced that the only plays I will ever have produced are in studios. So it’s great to see the play fighting against this notion. I hope that when we open tomorrow the audiences will feel the same! And I also hope that in years to come, I will get a chance to see plays like James Graham’s ‘Albert Boy’ or DC Moore’s ‘The Empire’ revived in spaces that go against the preconceived image of where such plays should be produced.

I spent three of the best years of my life in Hull. Between 1999 and 2002 I studied at the University, my time was spent living and drinking on Beverly Road, watching Hull City at the old Boothferry Park Stadium, learning and making my first mistakes as an independent adult, and regularly making the trip back along the M62 to my parents home just outside Sheffield. It’s a city that has defined me in many ways, in terms of the choices I’ve made and the people that now occupy my life. It fills me with joy that my first full scale production will be produced by Paines Plough and Hull Truck, it feels like a homecoming.

I started writing Sixty Five Miles in 2006. It wasn’t the first thing I’d written by any means but it was the first thing I was proud of.  I sent an early draft of the play to Paines Plough in order to try and win a place on their Future Perfect scheme. At the time I was doing a job in London, that bored me to tears and writing at night, so I was delighted when I was offered a place on the scheme.

It was whilst on attachment at Paines Plough that I met George Perrin, who was then the trainee director in residence. George, having been to University in Sheffield felt a connection with the play and we worked on developing it together. The play’s had a long and windy journey, hundreds of rewrites, several attempted productions, an award, some fantastic advice and guidance from brilliant friends and actors but it seems right that it has come back to the company and the director it began with.

I hope the journey, from starting this play to getting it staged, gives hope to other writers. Patience and perseverance can often be the most frustrating of qualities to possess, but when they pay off, my oh my they are worth it.

For those of you that make it up to Hull, thank you, and do please pull me aside and have a chat. I’m normally found at the bar with a pint of Guinness.

SIXTY FIVE MILES – Rehearsal Week 3

Typically, we spend four weeks rehearsing a new play before we take the work from the rehearsal room in to the theatre to begin technical rehearsals. Party because of the Christmas break, and partly because we’re performing SIXTY FIVE MILES in repertory with Hull Truck Theatre’s production of ONCE UPON A TIME IN WIGAN, we have rehearsed Matt’s play for three weeks – albeit three incredibly focussed and productive weeks.

As previously reported on this blog, we spent week one of rehearsals discovering the world, themes time-period and backstory of the play and week two working out what actually happens over the course of the action of the play. Week three has been about practicing capturing all of this information in the performing of the play so that it’s all made clear and believable to the audience. This is no mean feat given how much detailed psychological and emotional information needs accurately communicating in order for the performance to form a believable whole, and for the full weight and significance of Matt’s beautiful play to properly land with an audience.

Thankfully, I’m blessed with five incredibly intuitive, insightful and unrelentingly hard-working actors who have made the process one of constant discovery and continual improvement. We were joined mid-way through the third week by Matt himself, who has provided a well-timed confidence-boost and invaluable outside eye. Also joining us at the end of last week were the brilliant creative team of Amy Cook (Designer), Tim Deiling (Lighting Designer) and Ed Lewis (Sound Designer/Composer), as well as CEO of Hull Truck Andrew Smaje and the Production Management team of Fran Maskell and our very own Bernd Fauler. With everyone assembled on Saturday afternoon, we ran our rehearsed versions of all 9 of the play’s scenes in the correct order for the first time.

After one more day in the rehearsal room yesterday, we moved in to the theatre this morning to begin technical rehearsals, whereby we practice our rehearsal-room work on stage, on the set, under lights and with sound. This piecing together of the various production elements will take us all of this week as we learn exactly how the production functions in front of an audience for the first time on Wednesday evening. There will be changes, mistakes, excitement and a whole lot of waiting around – but that’s tech week for you. All will be reported later this week once we’ve opened the show.

You can read more about the play in this interview with Matt.

You can listen to actor Ian Bleasedale talking about the production on BBC Radio Humberside here.

And here is a slightly inarticulate interview I did about the process of rehearsing two plays simultaneously.

Whilst we hope to have the chance to take the production on tour at a later date, SIXTY FIVE MILES is currently scheduled for a limited run in Hull only. You can book tickets here.

A stitch in time saves nine

Half (3 people!) of the PP team are up in Hull as George is directing Hull Truck’s production of ONCE UPON A TIME IN WIGAN by Mick Martin, which opens tomorrow night.

The play forms part of the Hull Truck Ensemble for its 40th Anniversary, of which the other play is Matt Hartley’s SIXTY FIVE MILES that we are co-producing and that opens on 1 February.

But the biggest PP breaking news is that our production manager Bernd spent the night in A&E after cutting his finger with a jigsaw. Avoid looking below if you’re of a squeamish disposition!

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Thankfully the good doctors of Hull Royal Infirmary bandaged him up and here he is looking much happier.

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And we thought we’d already had our bad luck for the week, having suffered a break in to our offices on Tuesday. They say things come in three…

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SIXTY FIVE MILES – Rehearsal Week Two

Last week saw half of team PP decamp to Hull to continue rehearsals for SIXTY FIVE MILES by Matt Hartley – the first production of our Programme 2012.

Before Christmas we spent about 10 days working through the text, gathered around the rehearsal room table at PPHQ, building a shared understanding of the world of the play (Greater Sheffield in 2005), the backstory of the characters (from 1940 until 2005) and agreeing what actually happens in the course of the action of the play. From there we were able to build a detailed time-line that recorded key moments in the lives of the characters (starting with when they were all born) as well as the events that take place over the course of the play itself, alongside important social, cultural and political events that help explain and contextualise the choices Matt has made in crafting the imagined previous lives of the characters in the play.

Alan Morrissey and Katie West in rehearsals for SIXTY FIVE MILES

One of the central themes of Matt’s play is family. Nearly all of the characters are related to each other by one form of familial bond or another. As such, they have vast numbers of shared memories and experiences from the lives they lived alongside each other, many years before the beginning of the play. These memories and experiences, like in life, have a huge impact on how they behave in the ‘here-and-now’ of the play – the choices they make, the feelings they have towards each other and what they say and do to each other. In order to accurately capture the characteristics of the characters, to truthfully portray their onstage relationships and to understand their behaviour, we went through a process of identifying these past lives, so artfully built in to the play by Matt when he wrote it. In other words, we aim to understand the action of the play by clearly and continuously uncovering and articulating everything that pre-dates it.

With the bulk of that work completed before Christmas, and digested over the festive season (along with lots of turkey, wine and chocolate), we reconvened on Wednesday last week to begin rehearsing the action of the play. Heavily informed by our research in to the world of the play and the characters’ backstory, we started to practice the words, actions, intentions and spaces of the play, all with the purpose of making Matt’s story clear, accurate and life-like. These have been the ‘first draft’ rehearsals of the scenes of the play, with the actors on their feet, acting out the scenes with each other for the first time. We will have three or four rehearsals of each scene before we start running the play in full.

As I wrote about in my last blog from the SIXTY FIVE MILES rehearsal room, this approach to rehearsing a play is rooted in a Stanislavskian approach to acting and is pretty much common practice in one form or another, as I understand it, throughout Western Theatre. I remember reading about it in An Actor Prepares and Building A Character when I was doing my Theatre Studies A Level. Then a few years ago I was offered an incredible opportunity by the Young Vic to better understand putting the ideas in to practice – David Lan arranged for eight directors to spend two weeks at the Maly Theatre in St.Petersburg, where we learned from the theatre’s Artistic Director Lev Dodin how they used the Stanislavky Method to rehearse their work (with the most striking revelation being that the company often rehearses productions for up to three years before opening them). Most recently I have found Katie Mitchell’s book The Director’s Craft to be the clearest and most practically applicable way of using the method within a British production model.

Whilst we hope to have the chance to take the production  on tour at a later date, SIXTY FIVE MILES is currently scheduled for a limited run in Hull only. You can book tickets here.

A rookie’s eye view..

Hello there! I’m Kate and this is the beginning of my first full week as Paines Plough’s new administrative intern. Luckily, the lovely previous intern Sean Linnen was here last week to ease me in and make sure I didn’t book 200 quid’s worth of train journeys on the wrong day or something. We had a nice send off for Sean who we know is going on to bigger and better things.

I’m (hopefully) starting to get to grips with how things work here. As you may or may not know, the office is stuffed to the gills with cake and other sugary edibles. Today it was doughnuts – it never ceases. There’s a white chocolate cake hidden in a drawer.

So far I’ve been answering a helluva lot of phone calls. I was very excited to see my biography go up on the website which made me feel proper welcome (as well as delighting the folks!) Everyone currently in the office: Claire, Tara, James and Bernd have so far been only lovely. I look forward to meeting Hanna and George in the near future.

Right, so, what’s on the horizon theatre-wise?

Well, I’m off to see Haunted Child by Joe Penhall at the Royal Court tonight along with some other members of the team. Looks suitably spooky.

Also, am rather delighted to be getting the opportunity to see Matt Hartley’s Sixty-Five Miles up in Hull when it opens on the 1st February. As an Irish lass only recently moved to London I am extremely glad to have the opportunity to sample some theatre outside of the capital.

Hope you all had a good new year and watch out for Programme 2012 coming soon.

Hello 2012

Well we hope you had a suitably slumberous and gluttonous Christmas, and that you partied like it was 1999 all over again as Big Ben tolled in 2012. Wishing you all a very Happy New Year. It’s going to be a cracker.

We’re back at our desks at PP HQ working off our expanded waistlines by putting the finishing touches to a bumper programme for 2012. All will be revealed soon, so keep ‘em peeled on our website and follow us on Twitter to get the news first. Needless to say, wherever you are in the UK, a Paines Plough show will becoming to a town near you soon.

Of course we’ve already announced a couple of 2012 highlights. George is currently holed up in a rehearsal room in Hull working with a superb cast on Matt Hartley’s brilliant new play 65 MILES. Our co-production with Hull Truck opens on 1 February.

And tickets are selling fast for Mike Bartlett’s award-winning LOVE, LOVE, LOVE which opens in a new co-production with The Royal Court in The Jerwood Theatre Downstairs on 27 April. Don’t miss out, book now.

We’ll also be announcing new dates around the UK for COME TO WHERE I’M FROM, but meantime you can listen to free podcasts of plays from the last two years here.

The critics have been making their predictions for highlights in the coming year, and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE has been picked by Michael Coveney in Whatsonstage.com, Mark Shenton in The Stage, and features in Time Out’s theatre we’re most looking forward to in 2012.

You can vote for LOVE, LOVE, LOVE in the Best Regional Production category in the Whatsonstage.com Awards.

Lyn Gardner picks 65 MILES in her 2012 preview in The Guardian, and fellow Guardian writer Maxie Szalwinska says she’s “licking my lips” at the prospect of catching Duncan Macmillan’s LUNGS, so let’s hope that’s part of our Programme 2012…

Post a comment and let us know what you’re looking forward to seeing in 2012. We hope to see you at one of our shows. We’ll reveal all very soon.

Onwards!

A week in the life of a…

Well here I am in the Paines Plough office on a work placement opportunity and what a great place it is to be at this time! It’s Friday and the week has gone so quickly.  One quick look at the recent productions shows how prolific the company has been this year, and even though it’s the end of the year there is no break in the pace as I found out on my first day.

Monday morning, 10am and the 4th floor offices are swarming with people already – fortunately for me as the ‘newbie’ it’s the first day of rehearsals for Matt Hartley’s new play, 65 Miles so introductions are needed all around the table in the rehearsal room. Barely had I chosen a choccie biccie and lifted my first cup of tea to my mouth then we were off with the first read through. The beginning of a new production is always an exciting time as the cast read through the script together for the first time and it’s an excellent way for me to come back to working in theatre. I can’t wait to find out about how it develops throughout rehearsals and to staging.

Back in the production office I am working with Claire on preparations for the year ahead and assisting with tour booking, finance administration and fundraising.  Thank goodness the team is very welcoming and open to my many questions!  Going through the less well known territories of fundraising and budget setting with Claire I’m staggering by the amount of research and time needed to make any fundraising application. Some of these tasks were new to me but all will prove very helpful in my next role I’m sure

I suddenly hear Sean talking about blogging and tweeting and he kindly agrees to bring me up to speed with the new techno-socio era. It’s not so difficult and I can certainly see how useful it can be, so soon I’ll be tweeting for England…well perhaps just for the next company I work for!

Besides the friendly atmosphere and busy pace, one of the best things about being in the Paines Plough production office for the week is that my sugar intake has increased (as has my concentration, strangely!). Between choccie biccies and mini chocs there is much talk of Christmas gifts, particularly those of the sweet variety. I don’t want to give the game away, but as a word of caution for anyone visiting the offices, don’t bring any Skittles with you!

Thank you everyone for being so welcoming and supportive, I wish I could stay here longer. Have a very Happy Christmas and best wishes for another successful year.