A hilarious madcap dash around the world

Travels with my Aunt (Credit Peter Gurr) 2Creative Cow visits the Main House with Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene from Tuesday 5th to Saturday 9th April 2016 as part of a national tour. We talk to Katherine Senior, actor and founder member of the theatre company, about their latest production.

 Tell us about your latest production of Travels with my Aunt.Travels with my Aunt (Credit Peter Gurr) 5

The play takes its audience on a whirlwind tour across the world and it plots one very ordinary man’s extraordinary journey of self-discovery – and change. Henry Pulling is a retired, risk averse and rather dull bank manager. His journey from a man effectively retired from life and the world to active participant in the swinging 60s and the vast changes those years brought is begun the moment his Aunt Augusta turns up at her sister’s funeral.  From then on his travels begin and his eyes are opened to a whole new – and dangerous – world.

Why did you chose this particular play?

We love Graham Greene’s thirst for adventure and risk – everything that, in the beginning, Henry Pulling is not. Greene described ‘Travels’ as ‘the only book I have ever written for the fun of it’ and we like the way this work is a kind of parody of his more serious books. We chose this play because of its timeless appeal – we know it’s going to delight audiences all over the country.

What are the themes of this play?

There are two kinds of journey going on – one physical and geographical, the other a journey of self-discovery and change.  The power of travel to transform lives is undeniable. 

Travels with my Aunt (Credit Peter Gurr) 4What kind of productions do you normally go for and why? Does ‘Travels’ differ from this and have you added your own touches to it?

We actually toured Travels With My Aunt 6 years ago on a very small scale to village halls, pubs and studio spaces. So we are very excited to be taking it out again to these beautiful theatres and with a fresh script that Giles Havergal adjusted for the Menier Chocolate Factory three years ago. Giles has been very much involved in the production this time and has allowed us free rein to certain extent.

 What are you looking forward to most about this tour?

We are very much looking forward to visiting our regular haunts and also going for the first time to Salisbury Playhouse, Cambridge Arts Theatre, Theatre Royal Winchester and Churchill Theatre, Bromley. We have a lovely cast on board which makes for an enjoyable tour and a great opportunity to check out all the local pubs after the show!

 Tell me a bit about Creative Cow – why are you called that?

Creative Cow happened because the first play we produced (The Private Ear and The Public Eye) was on our director’s farm and when thinking of a name for the company we looked out of the window and there was our answer! We hope it is a memorable name from a marketing point of view! We still rehearse on the farm when the weather allows.

What’s been your greatest success?

Success is a hard thing to determine, isn’t it? Each tour we do seems to build on the previous and most recently we produced our own version of A Christmas Carol with Exeter Northcott Theatre and played a 4 week run over Christmas with an adaptation which I adapted. We played to over 16,000 people and had a broad range of ages come along which was great.Travels with my Aunt (Credit Peter Gurr) 3.jpg

 The play is produced in association with Malvern Theatres.  What does this mean?

Malvern Theatres have been a great support to us. They do not offer any financial support but any money we have already made on the box office they are able to give us as an advance to help with rehearsal running costs. The Chief Executive has been a great mentor for us and helps us with contracts and putting us in touch with other theatres and contacts which helps us move up the touring ladder, as it were.

Travels with my Aunt is produced by Creative Cow in association with Malvern Theatres, adapted for stage by Giles Havergal and directed by Amanda Knott. It runs in the Main House from Tuesday 5th to Saturday 9th April 2016. For more information or to book please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit the show page

Productions photos by Peter Gurr.

Celebrating theatre making in the south west

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This year’s Theatre Fest West kicked off with the South West Theatre Symposium. Jo Newman tells us more about the day.

On Friday 18th March Salisbury Playhouse, Theatre Bristol, Take Art and Activate invited anyone working in theatre in the South West to come together for a day to celebrate the launch of Theatre Fest West. Artists and industry professionals from across the South West gathered together to celebrate live performance made in the South West, to have meaningful conversations, to unpick the challenges and current opportunities in making art and making a living and ways to continue to make brilliant work across the region.

We wanted to document the event as much as possible to share and continue the conversations, so if you were there or not, you can share in the discussions. Below is a bit more about what we got up to during the day and the conversations that were had (and huge thanks to everyone who came along, we had some really interesting, thoughtful and provocative conversations)

We started the day with a panel of fantastic artists and makers at various stages in their careers: Anna Himali-Howard (theatre maker, director, performer with Breach Theatre), Gemma Paintin (Action Hero), Tim Crouch (actor, writer, director) and Nikki McCretton (Artistic Director of Stuff and Nonsense and Lyric Theatre, Bridport) facilitated by Mel Scaffold from Theatre Bristol.

The artists were asked:

– What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome as an artist?

– How do you sustain your practice, and yourself as a person (is there a difference)?

– If you could demolish one barrier you come up against when making work, what would it be?

 We’ve recorded that here 

All the conversations from the rest of the day were written in break-out groups on big pieces of paper which can be found here.

The context of these conversations:

In the late morning we divided into groups with each of the speakers to explore a question which came up in the morning, looking at reinventing your practice, staying alive (sustaining yourself and your health as an artist), aspects of branding yourself as an artist and ways to keep exploring and working without being limited by definitions of your work, and exploring new models for touring and funding, looking at how we investigate and remodel the current structure – how to teach venues and funding bodies what artists need.

20160318_143313In the afternoon industry professionals led various sessions:

The Realities of Touring

Niki McCretton, Artist, Artistic Director of Stuff and Nonsense, owner and director of The Lyric, Bridport

Taking it Outdoors

Kate Wood, Executive Director of Activate (Dorset, Bournemouth, Poole) and Co-Artistic Director of Inside Out

Wendy Petitdemange, Producer at Activate (Dorset, Bournemouth, Poole)

Artist & Producer Development

Emma Bettridge, Producer of Ferment at Bristol Old Vic

Mel Scaffold, Co-Director of Theatre Bristol

Katie Keeler, Co-Director of Theatre Bristol and Chair of the Independent Theatre Council

Doing it Yourself

David Lockwood. Artist, Co-founder and Artistic Director of The Bikeshed Theatre (Exeter)

Rural Touring

Sarah Peterkin, Director of the Rural Touring Service and Co-Director of Take Art Theatre (Somerset)

Mark Helyar, Co-Director of Take Art Theatre (Somerset)

Russ Tunney, Director Pound Arts (Wiltshire)

The Benefits of Working in a Cultural Cold Spot

Sarah Blowers, Creative Producer, Founder and Co-Director of Strike A Light Festival (Gloucester)

And Phil Hindson, Arts Council Relationship Manager, Theatre, held individual Grants for the Arts surgery sessions

A vibrant tale of an extraordinary man

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Stuart Cottrell, Literary Manager at PaddleBoat Theatre Company, explains more about the production.

Can you tell us a little about According to Arthur…

According to Arthur… is the story of an extraordinary old man who needs reminding of just how extraordinary he is. It is our second show, and we developed it over the course of a school term working with the pupils of White Rock Primary School in Torbay. It combines mime, music, puppetry, object play and storytelling, and requires engagement from the audience to help Arthur along the way. We’ve been touring it now for about 6 months and the responses we get in schools, theatres and libraries is something very special – we don’t want to give too much away but all our audiences, no matter their age, seem to find something to love in old Arthur. We’ve also turned the show into a storybook, published under PaddleBoat Theatre Press – you can buy copies from our website or after the show.

The play was developed with the help of primary school children – how much influence did they have on the final piece?

The year 5 pupils that we worked with were so helpful in narrowing down what the show was really about. We performed the first 10 minutes of it to them and then led a term’s worth of workshops exploring what might happen next. Before we went in we had loads of ideas – too many ideas – about where the piece could go; it would be about travel and memory and different cultures and be really interactive and so on. The final piece is all of these things, but the classes we worked with were very clear that the story was really all about Arthur – all they wanted to know was who this old man was, where he had come from, what he had done in his life, and why he lived in his attic. Within 10 minutes they identified that he was the heart of the story, and his character and story flourished under their curiosity.

According to Arthur Press Image 1What do you enjoy most about developing work for young audiences?

It feels entirely natural to be making theatre for young audiences. Theatre is the perfect art form for them – at its heart it relies on imagination and play and that makes it a space where young audiences are actively engaged and encouraged to embrace what comes naturally to us all. You cannot dumb down, you have to be creatively ambitious and tell the very best story you possibly can. The stories we share with children are rich in imagination, vibrancy, ambition and courage, and so to make work for them you have to be all of those things. That’s a big challenge, but it is an absolute delight to push ourselves to be imaginative, vibrant, ambitious and courageous.

According to Arthur… is performed in The Salberg at Salisbury Playhouse on Saturday 2 April 2016 as part of Theatre Fest West and suitable for those aged 4+. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit the show page on our website

A magical world of puppetry

_T1_8689Charlotte Bond, producer and director of The Magic Beanstalk, writes about the use of puppetry in the production.

There are two worlds in this story: Jack’s world in present day Cornwall; and the giant’s world over the rainbow. Jack is a puppet and the giant is a scientist.

Puppets are a great example of how theatre magic works. Often the more transparent the mechanism of the theatre magic is, the more satisfying the effect can be. More often than not you can see exactly how a puppet is being operated and when a production is good, the audience is transported by the theatrical magic inherent to the form – the puppet is alive and not alive at the same time.
For The Magic Beanstalk I was fortunate to work with Lyndie Wright, the UK’s foremost puppet maker. Lyndie co-founded The Little Angel Theatre over 50 years ago and continues to make puppets for companies as varied as the RSC and Kneehigh. Lyndie has made all the characters in Jack’s world, including Daisy, a gorgeous Jersey cow and the Magic Man who sells Jack the beans and pulls off a mean salsa. These puppets are all hand carved and in some respects the puppets are like masks as the designs distil and reveal the essence of each character. A hard stare from Jack’s Mum would certainly make me cry. Together this set of puppets creates a tangible world that is both recognisable and timeless._T1_8848

The Magic Beanstalk from Light Theatre is performed in The Salberg at Salisbury Playhouse on Wednesday 30 March as part of Theatre Fest West. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit the Salisbury Playhouse website

Students perform at Theatre Fest West

We asked Pete McAuley from the SPB Ensemble to tell us a little about the BTEC Variety Performance which is being performed at this year’s Theatre Fest West festival.

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The SPB Ensemble is a group of first and second year performing and production arts students. The course is run in partnership by Wiltshire College and Salisbury Playhouse. As part of Theatre Fest West the second year students have created a number of short pieces of work ranging from physical theatre and devising to four original scripts based on poems

Courtney Brownless, one of the students, said “My favourite is the disconnected piece, because we based it on the style of Frantic Assembly and that is a company I wanted to explore. Because it is an improvisation-based piece we don’t really have a script but we have basic lines which are said that move the performance on”.

Josh Pratchett, one of the Production Arts students, said “It’s great working alongside a professional Salisbury Playhouse technician. We get to learn so much and to practically have a go at things. I like seeing things in a plan and then watching the plan come to life. It was nice to transform a basic and generic space into a versatile performance studio with lights and sound”.

The BTEC Variety Performance takes place on Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 March at 6pm. Tickets are FREE and can be booked via the Ticket Office or on the Salisbury Playhouse website.  

A fast-paced ride across Ireland

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Bristol-based Travelling Light Theatre Company will be bringing its latest production, Into the Westto Salisbury as part of Theatre Fest West. We find out a little more about the production. 

Can you tell us a little about Into the West?

Ally and Finn are Traveller children living in a high-rise flat on the outskirts of Dublin with their widowed and grief-stricken father. Here they are visited by their grandfather, bringing them a white horse which had appeared on the seashore and followed him to the city.  He tells them that she is called Tir na n’Og, after the legendary land of eternal youth lying under the sea off the west of Ireland.  Ally and Finn’s efforts to keep the horse in their flat are thwarted by disapproving neighbours when the law is called in. What happens next is a fast-paced, wild ride across Ireland as the children escape with Tir na n’Og, pursued by police, dogs, helicopters and their own troubled past.

This tour celebrates the 20th anniversary of the creation of the play – why do you think this story continues to enthral audiences?

Because it’s a heartfelt, funny and really moving story! Based on Jim Sheridan’s screenplay for the film Into The West, it takes us on a huge journey of loss and discovery that reaches out to audiences of all ages and stays with them long after they leave the theatre. Apart from that, what audiences connect with is the style of storytelling. Into The West is a fast-paced adventure with multiple characters and locations created by only three actors, a musician and a simple set.  So both the cast and the audience have to be imaginative and creative in order to experience the story.

What do you love most about the south west theatre scene?

The south west is a great place to live, with wonderful countryside, a spectacular coastline and a mild (if rather damp!) climate. So a lot of artists choose to live, interact and make work here, resulting in a wonderfully fertile and vibrant creative scene, which in turn attracts more artists – and so it grows. As theatre makers we are privileged to be surrounded by so much talent. I love the fact that we can dip into this talented pool and create so much brilliant, home-grown theatre.

Into the West is performed in The Salberg on Tuesday 29 March 2016 as part of Theatre Fest West and is suitable for those aged 7 and over. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit the Salisbury Playhouse website.

A glimpse of what love leaves behind

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Two Destination Language explains more about their installation piece, Landed.

What inspired you to create Landed?

A couple of years ago we were working with Wiltshire Libraries across the county (and in the county archives) on a project which looked at mark making and the marks we leave behind. During the numerous workshops and sessions we ran at the library in Salisbury we met incredible characters with long and fascinating life histories, some of whom lived on their own or in isolation. Those meetings unlocked an interest in their memories, knowledge and the lives they’ve lived. So, we began to think about making Landed, not just as a piece of art, but also as a way of working with a fascinating group of people which is growing fast in Wiltshire but is still often perceived to be marginal. Lots of work with older people focuses on trying to fix ‘problems’ faced by ‘the elderly’ and we wanted to unlock some of the immense value elders have built up, an incredible store of knowledge and wisdom. Landed developed slowly over a year and was first performed in May 2015 as part of the Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival.

What kind of stories can people expect to hear?

All stories in Landed are stories of love. Landed is a piece about love. But love in the broadest of terms. We have four beautiful performers each telling their own story of love – and that means we’ve four very different experiences. Love isn’t always best expressed by talking about a person: there are objects, places, activities and shared histories that are extraordinarily significant, and our stories include some hope for the future and some yearning for irretrievable pasts. You don’t know what you’ll get until you’re inside it!

It is unusual to have a performance for just one person at a time – how do you find audience members respond to this?

I guess shows for one audience at a time are an unusual way to experience a piece of theatre but there are festivals across the UK and mainland Europe where all the work is for one audience member at a time. And aside from that, not every show is appropriate for every theatre format. In that vein, Landed was made to be experienced by one audience member at a time for a reason. This format gives each audience member a unique experience of a fragile moment in time, a precious 10-15 minutes where the show allows for a very immediate and intimate situation, where the show asks you to slow down a bit, and experience a story which may, just may, make you think or experience the world around you in a slightly different way.

So we look forward to welcoming you all to the piece, to see the show as well as to contribute to the installation of love stories written or drawn by passers-by which will grow throughout the day.

People normally really like the format, but if anyone is worried about experiencing Landed alone, we can sometimes squeeze in a friend so it’s less unfamiliar – although they usually tell us afterwards they wish they’d done it alone!

Landed is performed outside Salisbury Playhouse on Saturday 26 March 2016 as part of Theatre Fest West. FREE 10 minute slots are available 11am-1pm and 2pm-4pm and can booked via the Ticket Office on 01722 320333.