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My Stagey Week 36

It felt like quite a short week for me, on Monday I was meant to be at the press night for Mamma Mia The Party. But I was still recovering from a heavy weekend and was feeling a bit run down and a bit sorry for myself. So I stayed in, made bangers and mash with my flat mate and watched Netflix.

On Tuesday, I still didn’t really fancy seeing any theatre, so I took myself along to watch the Downton Abbey movie.

I originally spent two years working on Downton Abbey, and have fond memories from the experience. At the time, I remember adoring the series, and thinking it felt like a lavish soap opera which likeable characters and compelling story lines.

Like any great TV shows, it did lose its steam towards the end, and I wasn’t surprised nor did I miss it when the series eventually finished. This new cinema release does a neat job of bringing back all the old characters as well as a couple of new ones including a turn for Imelda Staunton, opposite her real life husband Jim Carter. Some characters do feel shoe horned in, and some plot points aren’t given enough time for any great pay off. But all in all, it was a pleasant enough film, which Maggie Smith rightly steals.

On Wednesday, I was at Above The Stag to watch a rehearsed reading of a new play called After the Morning by Don Cotter.

This was part of a week long season of new work presented in the studio space at Above The Stag.

It’s a brilliant initiative by new Artistic Director Andrew Beckett to introduce and develop new writing.

I first met Don, when he played Louis B Mayer in Ray Rackham’s Judy.

Don went on to write Freddy, Ted and the Death of Joe Orton which Ray directed at London Theatre Workshop. Which I thought was marvellous. It starred Helen Sheals who was also in Judy!

Ray returned to direct this reading which starred Tom Whittaker, William Tippery, Oliver Roy, Jo Wickham, Charlie Mackay and Joshua Coley, who I last saw perform here in Boom Bang A Bang.

The reading was followed by a Q&A hosted by Gene David Kirk.

On Thursday I was at Upstairs at the Gatehouse to watch Madam Butterfly by Opera Loki.

I am not the biggest opera fan, I admit, and shamefully I must also admit that I have never seen an opera staged. Despite this, obviously I do know of Madam Butterfly I have heard bits of it used and referenced in other work, and I have seen Miss Saigon which bases it story from Madam Butterfly.

One of the things I love about making this blog is the opportunity to discover for myself new forms of theatre that I don’t or wouldn’t ordinarily see. I love trying new experiences and so when I was invited by Opera Loki to watch this production, I thought I would give it a whirl.

Having said that, in hind sight I don’t think this was the right production to introduce me to Opera.

Directed by Jane Gray, has toured France and Alton before arriving at Upstairs at the Gatehouse for four days.

It has been translated into English and although still set in Japan, they have used an all white- all English cast that includes Kirsty Taylor-Stokes, Thomas Birch, Olympia Hetherington, Stuart Orme, and Hannah Crerar.

My lack of experience in opera left me genuinely wondering whether this was normal.

As I sat and heard the familiar score sung here in English, it felt butchered by the translation.

I know and recognise how difficult it is to translate music, the original intention of each line has to be adapted to try and coney the same meaning but altered to fit the exact music without changing the notes. It is a skilled craft to successfully translate lyrics, and with this version I felt they were not successful. The translation felt compromised and crude.

This was even before the white actors came out with their faces literally painted yellow.

Yellowface is a commonly known term that originated in Hollywood where Asian characters were played by white actors, often using makeup to approximate East Asian facial characteristics. It has since become an unpopular and unacceptable choice of casting.

It’s surprising and alarming to find that it still has a place in British theatre, and can be found here at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Although I must point out that this in not an in-house production, and that John and Katie Plews who run Upstairs at the Gatehouse are not responsible for this, however as Andrew Keates pointed out on Twitter, by hiring their theatre out to Opera Loki they could be seen as endorsing yellowface casting.

From my experience with them, John and Katie are lovely people, and perhaps were not aware of the casting when they booked Madam Butterfly.

I assume the intention by Opera Loki in casting British actors and translating the music to English, was designed to appeal to people who don’t normally see Opera. People like me, so I can only say in that regard they failed miserably. Although the performances were strong, I was appalled by the production and even wanted to leave during the interval. But out of respect to the work that the actors were putting in, and out of gratitude for being invited and given a free ticket, I stayed to watch the second act.

I was also interested in seeing how the puppet was operated by Rachel Leonard, who did a brilliant job. This is the first production I have watched involving puppetry since taking part in a puppetry workshop at the Tower Theatre’s open day.

On Friday I was at the Bread and Roses Theatre for a rehearsed reading of a new play called Mercy, as part of the Clapham Fringe Festival.

I knew nothing about the play and had been invited through Twitter. I was hoping it wasn’t going to be terrible.

Fortunately, it was utterly brilliant.

Written by Mandi Riggi and directed by Nicky Allpress, it had an exceptional cast that included Andy Lucas. Mandana Jones. Adam Sina. Peyvand Sadeghian. Louise Young and David Charles.

What impressed me the most about the writing was how Mandi had skilfully written for a variety of nationalities and accents. The performances were all very strong, and the story was moving and very engaging.

It’s testament to a great show when the actors who were not in the scene were in tears watching it.

After this, I went to meet my friend Rob West for his birthday drinks.

Rob is an old friend who is now on tour in On Your Feet, he has spent most of this year performing with the Choir of Man.

It was lovely to catch up with him as we continued the evening at Freedom bar.

On Saturday, I began work on a very exciting new project.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Kat Kristensen, the mother of Charlie Kristensen the nine year boy at the heart of the #CheerUpCharlie campaign.

Kat asked me whether I would interview Charlie to help spread his message of defiance against the bullies who picked on him for liking musical theatre.

I suggested to Kat, that would me interested in interviewing her and Charlie’s father as well as Jacquline Hughes in order to get a full insight into Charlie’s story.

Kat then invited me to visit and stay with them at their family home in Reading, we arranged to do this on the eve of a performance that Charlie was making where he would sing ‘Giants in the Sky’.

So, on Saturday evening, I took an over night bag and traveled to Reading.

Kat and Charlie collected me from the train station and took me back to their home, where Charlie’s father Gary was cooking dinner.

After Charlie had gone to bed, I sat down and interviewed Kat and Gary. It was quite a difficult interview listening to them recall some of the experiences Charlie had been subjected to by school bullies.

The next morning, Kat, Charlie and I collected Jacquline Hughes and made our way in to London where they were rehearsing for their evening show.

The interviews will be part of a special video called Charlie’s Story, that I will be releasing next month to raise awareness for Anti-Bullying Week, Monday 11th November - Friday 15th November.

The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my YouTube channel here:

And the audio version can be found as a podcast here:

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