Thursday, 29 March 2012

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu

Well, its been fun Blogger but it's time to say goodbye.

If you wish to keep up with my continuing antics as a writer-in-training and waffling blogger then please come and say hello over at my brand new website. We've still got a few bugs to work out but it's shiny!

Hope to see you there, if not, all the best!
Jo x

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

You'll Find It Impossible To Fly Your Fate - The Duchess of Malfi

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed below are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the company. As with all my insider reviews, call me biased if you want, but I wouldn't write about a show I'm working on if I didn't enjoy it.

It has happened again. Galleon Theatre Company have taken me completely by surprise with their latest production, The Duchess of Malfi. Despite having been partial to a number of planning conversations with Bruce Jamieson (the director) and Alice De Sousa (the producer), I was under the impression that we were doing a traditional, classical Jacobean tragedy. Even after the first read-through I still believed so. When will I learn that that is simply not Galleon's style???

The Duchess of Malfi, written by John Webster and first performed 400 years ago is of course a classic Jacobean tragedy, full of betrayal and murder, but though our production uses modern dress, it's direction is sensational enough that I believe it would hold the attention of its original audiences in 1614.

And tis a fitting bang with which the Galleon Theatre Company will be leaving the Greenwich Playhouse for good, dividing the critics and sending audience members fleeing from the auditorium in tears, hopefully a production we will be remembered for.

Ferdinand and the Cardinal
The play documents a family's undoing at it's own hands. A sister is left widowed by the Duke of Malfi, and her two brothers, the cruel and immoral Cardinal and the sadistically unhinged Lord Ferdinand, wish to secure her fortune for their own use by forbidding her to remarry, leaving the slime-ball Bosola to watch over her.
But of course the wilful and passionate Duchess will not be dictated to, and the ultimate result is the death of pretty much everyone, as one would expect from any Jacobean tragedy worth it's salt.

Bruce Jamieson's adaptation of The Duchess of Malfi as always cuts to the heart of a select few story lines, allowing the audience a much easier and dramatic journey through the story. Aided by Natasha Piper's modern day-ish costume choices it is made clear that many of the themes explored in the play are still more than relevant today.

Cariola at the mercy of Bosola and Castruchio
As expected, there has been some outcry at the portrayal of women in this production, something which amuses me. Those that have protested seem to forget the fact that this story was written four centuries ago, when women were considered the possessions of their husbands, fathers or brothers, and in order to gain any amount of freedom oft had to take measures into their own hands using the only guile they had available to them; their femininity. The women of The Duchess of Malfi also suffer a great deal of abuse at the hands of men. However, the story is not so outdated that such issues are not translatable to a modern day audience.

The company for this production have proven outstanding. We were lucky to have some Galleon regulars join us for this final show, as well as some brilliant new additions to the company. Charlotte Randell's minimalistic set design makes excellent use of the space with rich curtains enhancing the pretence of civility in the first half of the show, and the amazing painting on the studio's back wall as stark evidence that everything is crumbling to ruin in the second half. Philip Jones's lighting design starts bright and cheerful, growing gradually more shadowed and dark as the plot thickens. Jamieson's selection of music to underscore the action, expertly edited by Robert Gooch, sparks off and reinforces the emotion generated by the cast. 

The Duchess
Alice De Sousa, producer and co-founder of the Galleon Theatre Company, takes the title role of the show with the same passion and fire she gives to all her endeavours. And that passion has been her greatest advocate over the recent weeks as De Sousa has been balancing her role in the show, with the ongoing campaign to find the company a new home, as well as negotiations with her film company and other businesses.
The Cardinal

Bruce Jamieson is the only choice for the irreverent Cardinal of Aragon. Heavily tattooed and not adverse to a spot of BDSM, Jamieson's portrayal is bold and loud and has no problem using his societal position for his own purposes.

Duke Ferdinand
Robin Holden (Hamlet in September 2011) returns to the company playing the younger brother Ferdinand. A little obsessed with his sister, his lust for treasure and the Duchess's seeming betrayal sends him on a rapid downfall into madness and lycanthropia, ultimately being responsible for the death of both his siblings. While Holden had to act a little crazed as Hamlet last year, the contrast between these two roles is great, and his switch from overbearing devotion to his sister to cowering pup under his brothers gaze is a delight to watch.

Daniel De Bosola
Another regular Galleonite, Damian Quinn, takes on the role of Daniel De Bosola with an aplomb that would be at home with the RSC. Although you know Bosola is one of the bad guys you can't help but like him, with his cheeky asides to the audience and impudent opinions of those that pay for his services. Quinn masterfully carries off Bosola's gradual development of a conscience, which results in him being one of only two characters left alive at the end. Not the way this story traditionally pans out, but it works.

Lord Stamford sorry Derek I mean Darren Stamford has been promoted from trusty sidekick Horatio in last years Hamlet to the Duchess's love interest Antonio, and he plays the part brilliantly. One of my favourite parts of this show is watching the tender and playful interactions between the Duchess and her secret second husband. Stamford's Antonio is simply an honest and good fellow who wants nothing more than to protect his wife and child, and his reaction to the news of the Duchess's death is one of the most genuine performances in this production.

The Duchess's companion, Cariola, played by Emma Grace Arends, is such a sweet and innocent little character that she almost seems out of place among the darkness and betrayal of the story. A delightful troublemaker backstage, Arends is a joy to watch, especially in the background, where her performance is as faithful as when she delivers her lines. Cariola's semi-witnessed death is by far the most harrowing in the production, to the extent I've been known to miss a lighting cue that shortly follows it.

Alexander Neal, playing Delio, is another great addition to Galleon Theatre Company. Delio is one of those characters where you're not entirely sure what to make of him. Being Antonio's best friend you hope he's one of the good guys but his dealings and connections do make you wonder from time to time, and Neal gladly plays with this concept throughout. Ultimately, he is one of the hero's of the show, taking part in and surviving the final slaughter scene and it is his reaction to this that gives you a clear sense of his character. When all the violence is done with, reality hits him and he collapses, delivering one of the most poignant lines of the play. 

The Doctor and Castruchio
Barry Clarke is back doing what he does best; the comic relief. Though both the characters he plays in The Duchess of Malfi are amusing, they have their darker sides that Clarke gleefully toys with. As Castruchio, an ambitious but dull-witted politician, he's a fine old cuckold who's wife will gladly go off with most any man, yet he has no qualms being involved in the almost rape of Cariola at Bosola's hands. As Ferdinand's Doctor, the comedy is in his demise due to his overconfidence in his abilities, while his blood spattered appearance and manipulation of his patient is oh-so sinister.

However some of the best performances in the show come from three gentlemen with barely a handful of lines between them.

The Cardinal's Men
Alex Reece (left), Phil Gerrard (centre) and Martin Foreman (right) form three fantastic groups; the Cardinal's men, the executioners and the Doctor's keepers.
Their ominous and menacing presence keeps the audience on their toes. As the characters have no names, I hope it's clear that here I refer to the characters rather than the actors themselves. Alex you know must have been some bully's muscle at school, Phil has somehow ended up as the bitch of the trio, though he's no less scary, and Martin is the really quite creepy ringleader.
The keepers
I truly hope that these three return in future Galleon productions so we can see what more they've got for us.

This, sadly, is the last production that will be produced and presented at the Greenwich Playhouse due to it's closure in April. At present we do not have a new home to move to. For more information on the closure, and how you can be of help please read the press release on the Galleon Theatre Company website.

The Duchess of Malfi is performing until March 18th at The Greenwich Playhouse. Tickets are available here.

All photo's courtesy of Robert Gooch.

Monday, 27 February 2012

The Apple Diary - Part 3

It got cold again. So cold we had snow on the ground for a week, although it only actually snowed three times. Watching the buses lining up outside the pub because none of the drivers were confident enough to drive down the slight hill to continue their journeys into central London was amusing, as was the simple fact that Boris's promises that London was ready for snow didn't stop the transport network coming to a halt that Saturday night. But the chill weather, and my negligence, took it's toll on the little orchard.

Behind the curtains, perched on the back of my sofa has so far been where they've thrived the best, but this also means they're out of sight and thus out of mind, and while being sorely distracted and overtaxed by working four jobs at once, I forgot about them instead of moving them back onto the dresser where they would be warmer.

And so I've lost 6 members of batch 1 and 1 of the 2 sproutlings from batch 2, as much from a lack of watering as the the cold. Yes I admit I'm a bad plant mummy. Fortunately a generous drink of water revived a few of them. One is still touch and go but all fingers and toes crossed.

However, there was one sproutling that seemed totally unperturbed by the circumstances that claimed his batch-mate. The late-arriving cox sprout was fortunate enough to have been insulated by the clingfilm over his cut-down milk carton and thrived while the others withered. Out of all the sproutlings I've grown so far this little bugger has grown himself the finest set of leaves yet, far bigger and healthier than any that have grown beyond their sprout leaves.

Saturday was a day of new beginnings for the little orchard. My little friend above was carefully transferred out of his carton and into a proper pot. The soil from the pots of the perished, as well as from the pots that never sprouted, was recycled into the 30 cells of my brand new propagator.

It's hardly a state of the art piece of equipment, but with this piece of plastic I know that the new seeds I've planted, 15 royal gala's and 15 braeburns, will be protected from anymore cold snaps, they'll stay watered better and they can each sprout without me worrying about them strangling each other in separate cells.
However, I've recently been informed that a lot of supermarket fruit, which all my gatherings have been thus far, are more often than not infertile, meaning that even though the seeds have sprouted, it's unlikely they'll ever bear fruit. Thus my mission for this week is to seek out London's real food markets and buy some properly grown apples, in the hopes that the little orchard may someday produce fruit of its own.

In the meantime the other plants seem happy enough. Miraculously, the chilli plants were unaffected by the cold snap, or the lack of water. The aloe vera babies are thriving still in the mother pot, when they are a bit bigger I'll transfer them to pots of their own. The oak tree is still bare but is ready to produce buds for this years leaves. This hearty little fellow has spent its whole life outside and so was undaunted by the cold, and is no doubt going through its natural seasonal cycle. My plan is that once the little orchard are in their own pots and a bit stronger, I'll move them outside into the back garden so they can do the same.

The weather has been noticeably warmer the last few days. It's weird to think that three weeks ago I was bundled up trudging through the snow to get to work and for the last two days I've been walking to the tube station without even needing a sweater.

And of course the sproutlings have been loving it. Even in just the last three days all but one have put out new leaves and have been heartily enjoying the warmth and sunshine. I just hope the little fella at the front will catch up with his batch-mates over the next couple of weeks. Despite being healthy and plump it has always struggled to produce leaves beyond it's sprout leaves. I don't know what this will mean for it's future development, but I hope it will start growing more leaves soon.

Later this week I'll be starting the next stage of my planting endeavours. In our back garden there's always been  two herb troughs which contain nothing but some stick-like chives and a lot of moss. I intend to requisition them to plant up my own herb troughs. I've already bought some coriander and basil seeds, as these are the one's I use most when cooking, and once this months bills are out of the way I'll be broadening the range.

I've also been set another challenge: to win the regard of three reptiles that have recently made their way into my life.

Evel post-tomato!
Gorak (centre) is a placid matriarch of a bearded dragon who will tolerate your attention and affection, as long as you don't prevent her from face-planting the floor after leaping off the edge of the sofa. Calcifer (right) is a bolshy little heir to the manor who disdains all human attention unless he is bribed with a tasty worm or two. Evel the tortoise (left) is a fussy eater after being fed only pellets for most of his young life, resulting in malnourishment. Since being adopted by my friend Ella, he's only eaten red things, so they're trying to persuade him to give green things more of a chance. So we're currently researching plants that all three of them would enjoy. At present my back garden is very sparse after some unknown person cleared it last summer so it's the ideal place to work on growing some reptile treats.
Now that spring is well and truly on its way, I look forward to seeing where all this growing of stuff will take me.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Me vs. Story - A bit of silliness

Evening folks,

This is just something a little bit daft that was inspired by a sleep deprived conversation with Milli at the end of Wednesday's 10K Day. Milli did a similar piece a little while back called Inner Kid and Igor Converse About Writing.

I hope this little piece of rubbish makes you smile, it's made me feel better today :-)


Story: *tap tap tap*
Me: Hello?
Story: Hi, umm, I was just wondering, could I get written sometime soon?
Me: Certainly. Do you have all your material together for me?
Story: Not really, no.
Me: Oh, well then I can’t write you right now I’m afraid. I can make notes of what you’ve got if you like?
Story: Well, see the thing is, I really really want to get written.
Me: I understand that, but when you first arrived I did explain that you’d have to get your material together before I could write you. You’re welcome to stay up there as long as necessary to do that, but you’ve got to do the work, I’m just the typist.
Story: But surely it’s my turn by now, I’ve been up there a while!
Me: You’ve been up there a week…
Story: But it’s getting really crowded.
Me: I’m well aware of that fact, believe me.
Story: But but…but how long do I have to wait then?
Me: As I said, that’s up to you. Pirate’s Daughter has been up there since 2004, it’s only in the last two years that we’ve started making progress together, and we’ve made a lot of progress in that time, but we’re not quite ready for the 1st draft yet and she’s happy with that.
Story: I have to wait two years???
Me: Of course not, you’re a short story, if you get your material together you can be written in a few hours.
Story: But I want to be written now!
Another Story: Umm…excuse me?
Me: Yes?
Another Story: Sorry to interrupt but I think I’m ready to be written.
Story: What??? I was here first!
Me: Actually she’s been here for nearly 3 weeks now. Have you got all your material together?
Another Story: Most of it, there’s two small gaps though…
Me: I’m sure we can work with that. Please make yourself comfortable.
Story: Wait wait wait! What about me?
Me: What about you?
Story: I need to be written!
Me: Get your material together and I’ll sort you out, I’ve told you that.
Pirate’s Daughter: Everything all right in here hon?
Me: Hi mate, sorry, can it wait a while?
Pirate’s Daughter: Sure thing, just had an outline element arrive earlier. Ummm…want some help with her?
Me: Feel free to let a couple of your characters loose on her if you want but I think I can handle it.
Pirate’s Daughter: Ok, but just yell if you want a hand.
Me: All right that’s enough!
Story: I WAnt…
Me: Thank you. Now then, you’ve got two choices. Either you go back upstairs and wait until you’ve gathered all your material, or you get out and go find another writer. Either way, you’d better stop pounding on the back of my skull! So what are you going to do?
Story: Umm…

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Apple Diary - Part 2

Hey hey folks!

The little orchard has certainly seen some drama over the last month.

A couple of days after the last instalment my seven happy apple sproutlings were joined by 3 more. With the 28 cox seeds and 10 chilli seeds I'd just planted the top of my dresser was starting to get pretty crowded. Due to not having enough pots, I'd gone and and made my own seed trays out of cut down plastic milk bottles with scored bases to allow drainage.

I was pleasantly surprised two weeks later to find the first chilli sprout coming through. When the cardboard seed holders that they'd been planted with ( as per instructions on the packet) started growing furry I was worried that the soil was bad. This was the same pot and soil my aloe vera had been in when it failed, but within three days of the first sprout appearing, six happy little chilli plants were standing tall.  Their pot was the closest to the radiator so I'm guessing they had just enough warmth coming through to encourage them.

Impatiently I waited for the cox sprouts to make their appearance. A little over 3 weeks after planting the first one popped it's head through the soil, and the next day a seventh chilli sprout joined the pot.

And then nothing. As we saw with the batch 1, once one sproutling comes through the rest usually follow quite quickly. But not this time. I can only presume that the weather had gotten too cold. Goodness knows there were a few nights were I was shivering under my duvet, so it may have been too cold for the other seeds to germinate. So I wrapped the pots in clingfilm to give them a bit more insulation, and placed a blanket over them a short distance from the radiator.

On Sunday night I was delighted to see another sprout appear. Still no sign of life from the rest of them, so I'm not sure whether to just give up on them and go buy a real propagator for batch 3, or to just leave them and see if eventually something else comes through.

Random scientific observation for you here. When the royal gala sprouts emerged from their seeds, they all had two lovely big leaves. The coxs however sprout with one big leaf and two smaller ones.

About the time we started radiator therapy on batch 2 I began putting the gala and chilli sprouts by the window to get them a bit more sunlight. A strange little fellow had popped up in one of the gala pots.

I can only presume that little Stumpy here was planted too deep and that his nice big seed leaves are still under the soil. He's grown very little, and I was really hoping that the extra sunlight would encourage him to put out some nice big leaves, but so far nothing, and the ominous brown tinge he's taking on around soil level makes me think he's heading for the same fate as one of the other batch 1 sproutlings.

Yesterday I was very saddened to see one of the tallest sprouts had flopped over. At soil level the stalk had turned brown and soft although it was still nice and healthy below the surface level and above. The soil around the stalk had developed a yellow colour to it, possibly some sort of fungus which I immediately dug out to protect the other sprout in the pot. I cut the dying sprout off above the discolouration and after digging out the root, replaced the healthy part of the stalk in the soil. I know it's unlikely, but I'm hoping it might put out new roots.

Four of the sproutlings that were planted in a Philadelphia tub have also started developing brown spots on their leaves and generally looking a bit wilty. They've been moved back to the dresser rather than the window sill, in case it's the cold that's causing them to struggle.

So not quite where I was expecting to be with this little orchard at this point, but it's all a learning curve.
At present the total stands at 7 healthy looking sprouts across batch 1 and 2, and 7 very happy looking chilli sprouts.

We also had a nice fertile aloe vera join us over Christmas, along with a 6 year old oak sapling (it's been in a pot all its life, hence the size) courtesy of my aunt and uncle who wanted good homes for them when they moved house.

The oak sapling was originally part of a project started by my secondary school back in 1997. Every student was given an acorn and told to plant it and nurture it. The resulting trees would be planted on the grounds of the school as part of a millennium regeneration project. But the staff forgot all about it. My uncle had nurtured two acorns for me, which we donated to the school shortly before I left. This little one however was just to see if we could get another one to grow after the success of the other two.
It's now sat quite happily on a sheltered ledge in the garden where it has already weathered 3 days of gales.

The aloe vera on the other hand is trying to take over my dresser top. Since I've had it it's grown 3 new little sprouts on the stem which, once they're a bit bigger I will transfer to their own pots.

It's going to be interesting to see where we're at in a months time!

By the way, last week my latest article went up on Milliver's Travels, Sunrise at Rangitukia, New Zealand.

Monday, 2 January 2012

2012 - Bring It On!

London's New Year fireworks

HAPPY 2012!

Firstly, what do you think of my new banner? My mate Lee McGeorge made it for me, and though at first I couldn’t believe he’d used that terrible photo it’s really grown on me. Now I just need to persuade him that I need series banners as well. :-)

Secondly, a lot of people have stated that 2011 wasn’t exactly the best year. I have to agree. I’m going to refrain from whining but 2011 wasn’t the best year for me, it certainly had it’s ups and downs. So I’m going to do my best to make…sorry I WILL make the most of 2012!

I’m coming to realise more and more that my attitude needs to change. Actually I’ve been aware of this for some time and whether it was a case of being unwilling or unable to make that change I’m not entirely sure, but the change is going to happen, and it’s going to happen now!

I’ve spent the last few days thinking carefully about what I want and need to achieve this year, and here are the main ones.


Just some of the titles I plan to read this year!
Reading is so important for a writer-in-training, and though I love to read I know I can do more. I’ve noticed myself becoming more critical of my reading material. 
For example, the book I’m currently reading, and determined to finish reading today, really could have done with another proof-reading pass! Part of me is itching to take a red pen to all the mistakes that have jarred me out of the flow and send it back to the publishers.
In this category there are two very simple goals:

- Read at least 2 books per month. This shouldn’t be difficult at all. Since I’ve doing a lot of travelling for work I typically have one book going on the Kindle, and a paperback by my bed. I may also start doing some book reviews on here.
- Read more widely. Try new genres and read books that I wouldn’t normally even pick up.

I also need to limit my fanfiction intake! Once you stumble upon an archive of good stories it’s very hard to get out of it!


Signed posters from the best shows I've worked on.
Right now work is a major concern for me. I’ve been fortunate that since May I have had almost continuous theatre work, even though it’s been stage management rather than sound but still for the most part it’s been a lot of fun. However, because it’s been all fringe theatre since August, my finances have suffered greatly. 
At my stage on the theatre technicians ladder it’s not unusual to get stuck with the problem of either taking a decent job and as a result being unable to take theatre work, or take theatre work and really struggle for money, but at least you’re working in theatre.
So in this category there are four goals:

- Work on a show that lasts for more than 6 weeks. Until May, any theatre work I had typically only lasted a week and then it was back to hunting for another job. Working for Drama Studio London from May until the end of July was hard work but sheer bliss. I had assured and well paid work. Since then my shows have lasted 3-5 weeks which has been pleasant enough, but I would love nothing more than a longer gig to look forward to.
- Get onto a West End show. Even if it’s just for work experience at first, at least that’s a foot in the door. Better print off the CV’s and start doing the West End walk again.
- Become financially independent again. I’ve been guilty of using the Bank of Dad to stay afloat the last couple of months.
- Bunker down for the Olympics. Originally I’d intended to skip the country for the Olympics, go and find some work in New Zealand to escape the Hellhole that London will become in the coming months. I’ve heard some worrying talk that theatre is likely to decline during the Olympics so I will need to either be secure on a big show by the time it comes round or just skip town! 


My new writing journal. Great start eh?
This is the major one for this year. As much as anything I’ve got to get myself into better writing habits.
So here’s the plan:

- Minimum of 15 minutes writing, 5 days a week. This is one of those habits that can be a great starting point. I spend far too much time thinking “I really need to write this, but I don’t have enough time”, so I’ve got to force myself to start using shorter amounts of time constructively.
- Finish everything I start. There’s a stack of short stories that I’ve started writing this year but have not yet finished. This is not good enough and must be remedied!
- Write the 1st draft of The Pirate’s Daughter. This novel will get written! I know I’ve been threatening it for nearly two years now, but this is the year that it will happen!
- Blog more regularly. The first few months of this blog produced a lot of rubbish but I’m now working to change that. Rather than use this blog as a journal, I want to use it to blog about more specific things; reviews of shows and books, dedications to inspirational people, documenting the growth of my orchard, and my new series, Pirate Profiles.
- Migrate to WordPress. I’m not entirely sure why I want to do this, but I do, so will be working on that over the coming months.
- Get paid to write. Or at least look in to possible avenues of getting paid to write. A lot of the US bloggers I follow make it sound relatively easy to find work like copy-writing over there, but I have no idea how to go about finding such work over here.
- Sort out my desk! It’s become a dumping spot again, not ideal when it needs to be a spot of creativity and business!

So there you have it. I think that’s the worst of it.


    What do you want to do with this year?