Before The Party comes together in week four of rehearsals

JMK Assistant Director Flora Longley-Cook feels the play coming together as the company marks off week four of rehearsals for Before the Party

Another week over, another week closer to opening, and with set construction on stage and the first full run in rehearsals everything is buzzing and building up to opening night.

A wonderful part of the JMK assistant role, any assistant role for that matter, is that a budding director, without the experience to put on a complete show themselves, gets to learn from the more experienced. And great assistant roles like these are often hard to come by.

BEFORE THE PARTY in rehearsals Photo Lydia Stamps Photography2

Philip Bretherton, Sherry Baines, Katherine Manners and Bathsheba Piepe in rehearsals for Before the Party

Within the Salisbury Playhouse I am involved in a show that has a set/costume designer, a lighting designer, a sound designer, as well as SM, ASM, and DSM, (without writing all the words those are three parts of a stage management team, one – the lovely Lisa – who stays in the rehearsals, and two – Rickie and Sara-Lee – who are in and out of it), also costume supervisors, technicians, set builders, the list goes on – a huge team which I am unlikely to be able to work with on a normal day, all charging towards the goal of creating this production, and all with banks of knowledge and experience that I can try to prize out of them.

With the help of the JMK bursary, Salisbury Playhouse and the JMK Trust can allow someone like me to learn from all these people and, significantly, from someone like Ryan – our Director – whose ‘pearls of wisdom’ (including the comparison between the actor and the shark which I haven’t quite grasped yet) it’s suggested I write down with a sarcastic grin on a daily basis. Laughter and energy, all produced or encouraged by Ryan, get us through the difficult decisions and hard parts of rehearsal. By osmosis those qualities have become absorbed into the play and it has become alive!

Before the Party runs in the Main House from Thursday 4 May to Saturday 27 May. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit

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The rehearsal room fills up for Before the Party

The rehearsal room is filling up as the cast get to grips with their Before the Party scripts. JMK Assistant Director Flora Longley-Cook takes us behind the scenes of week three.

With bellies full of chocolate after the Easter weekend, we continue the ‘Before the Party’ journey by once again returning to the start of it! And we are adding more and more detail in every department.

The set is growing in and out of the rehearsal room. Walls and hallways get built in the workshop, and in the rehearsal room, set fills the space – a bed head here, a stuffed parrot there.


Philip Bretherton in rehearsals for Before the Party

Finding the right furniture is a bit like the fairytale of Goldilocks and the three bears: first the sofa is too big and the chair is too tall, and the actors create a ballet of bumping into things. Then we get in some hobbit sized furnishings, which result in many a giggle in the room – particularly when one actor sits on the sofa and the other goes flying off it. After the wonderful stage management team spend Easter Sunday scouring antique markets, and most of Wednesday driving to and from Brighton on collection duty, we finally have our ‘just right’ furniture!

The sound of the room changes as costume builds too, the actors are given their shoes – an important addition to a character – and the clacking of 1940s heels is introduced.

And last but not least, the detail grows in the action of the play itself. As we rocket towards the end of rehearsals our actors create ever-developing characters and as we unearth nuances and specificity within the piece, all the humour, comedy, and darkness starts to clarify and ring true.

Before the Party runs in the Main House from Thursday 4 May to Saturday 27 May. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit


Week Two of rehearsals for Before the Party


Bathsheba Piepe (foreground) in rehearsal for Before the Party

JMK Assistant Director Flora Longley-Cook takes an overview of week two of rehearsals for Before the Party.

Week Two moves quickly, with an especially deceiving pace due to the Easter Break, but despite that we’ve stormed through Act Two.

The atmosphere of the rehearsals room focuses and shifts subtly with the plays changing tone. The darkness of the piece creeps in and the comedy starts to become shocking. With this shift, the characters humanity starts to become more apparent and we can begin to see who they really are.


JMK Assistant Director Flora Longley-Cook with Director Ryan McBryde

Characters that we have cringed or laughed at show their real sides, or more accurately, we can see them more clearly. We’ve laughed at them and now we need to take them seriously … for the most part – there are still a lot of jokes!

We have a fun start to our last day where Ryan sets up an Eater Egg hunt with the chocolate eggs hidden around the set. An impressively quick (and manic) search and the actors are ready for a run of Act Two to end the week.

Before the Party runs in the Main House from Thursday 4 May to Saturday 27 May. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit

Behind the scenes of rehearsals for Before the Party

On Monday 3 April rehearsals started for Before the Party, a sizzling portrayal of the upper middle classes adjusting to post-war life, based on the short story by W Somserset Maugham. JMK Assistant Director Flora Longley-Cook takes us behind the scenes in week one.

A sunny Monday morning welcomes us to rehearsals of Before the Party – our funny and slightly mad play that we’ll be rehearsing for the next month. Let’s hope the happy weather doesn’t deceive us the same way it deceives the wacky Skinner family whose antics we follow.

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It’s an exciting first role here for me at Salisbury Playhouse – I’m assistant director in conjunction with the JMK Trust, which supports young directors at the beginning of their career – as everyone is buzzing to get working on this play!

A meet and greet and a tour around the theatre welcome the new cast to Salisbury and the Playhouse, our new home for the next few months. Then we settle down for table work.

A first reading full of stifled laughs from listeners, cast and myself (I’m reading stage directions) tells us we’re onto something good. Our director, Ryan, aptly described it as a mix between ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ and Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’. It’s comic and mysterious in equal measure with plenty of physical humour involving a door-knob.

In our first week, set starts to filter in, the actors start to get on their feet and we start to see the play come to life. Playing around with these mad characters is great fun and they should be great to watch on stage!

Before the Party runs in the Main House from Thursday 4 May to Saturday 27 May. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit

“Fear of doing something ‘wrong’ must be replaced by fear of ‘doing nothing’ ”


Theatre Fest West Symposium 2017 (Credit Simon Ward) 2

In partnership with Theatre Bristol, Take Art, Somerset and Activate Performing Arts

On 10th February over 100 artists and industry professionals gathered from across the South West for practical action and meaningful conversations about what we are doing in our region to ensure there is diversity and equality (of all forms) in the arts. If you were unable to make it along or would like to catch up on the conversations, you can listen to the opening provocations here and images of notes from discussions here.

“Fear of doing something ‘wrong’ must be replaced by fear of ‘doing nothing’ ” Jamie Beddard (Co-Director, Diverse City)

Jamie Beddard’s rousing provocation opened the South West Theatre Symposium at Salisbury Playhouse on 10th February 2017, alongside Paula B Stanic (writer), Cassandra Wye (storyteller) and Hannah Petley (director) who each shared inspirational and insightful words about their experience making work.  Jamie’s was a powerful reminder that in these times of political uncertainty “we must paint the world differently, shine lights in the shadows, understand and empower those on the peripheries, include and highlight the untold stories and ensure we are not playthings for the rich and powerful.   Our responsibility has never been greater if we are to ensure diversity, equality and fairness underpins the world we want to be part of” (Jamie Beddard).

Theatre Fest West Symposium 2017 (Credit Simon Ward) 3

We celebrated the brilliant things people are already doing to drive change – Heather Williams and Nathan Bessel from Myrtle Theatre gave a presentation on their journey making Up Down Boy and Up Down Man, and Nathan reminded us that these explorations and conversations need not be limited to language, performing a beautiful movement piece and at another point in the day standing and raising his fist in the air, promptly joined by everyone else in the room – united, joyful and empowered.

Anna Coombs spoke about her journey setting up Tangle,  South West England’s African Caribbean Theatre Company as a response to the community in which she grew up, bringing the work of African and Caribbean artists to areas where there is little inter-cultural interface, about how collaboration is key to achieving artistic excellence.

Sarah Blowers from Strike a Light spoke with Sarah O-Donnell and Naomi Draper, who shared their stories about creating GL4 Festival on the Matson Estate, Gloucester. How, after Sarah B impulsively drove to the estate and gate crashed a Residents Meeting at the community centre, Naomi and Sarah O became festival producers, brought theatre to their estate for the first time and championed it for their local community.

Jamie Beddard and Becky Chapman ran a session on Losing the Fear and Shame, exploring ways to overcome barriers to change, ran a What If session where we could break out and think big, and guided people to write pledges on postcards which were posted back to them a couple of weeks after the event. We had break-out sessions run by Mark Helyar from Take Art and Dave Orme from Salisbury Playhouse, Wendy Petitdemange from Activate, Richard Conlon from Blue Apple, Phoebe Kemp (Equity Deaf and Disabled Members’ Committee), Ruth Kapadia from ACE (who also ran surgery sessions throughout the day) as well as spontaneous sessions which came about as a result of the day’s conversations.

At the end of the day we gathered together to write a new manifesto for making work in the region. Here it is:


Diversity is integral to excellence

Leave the building/ silo

Have honest conversations

Don’t be scared of failure

Avoid assumptions

Hold each other

Communicate without fear or judgement

Trust ourselves that it will happen

Offer and ask for help

Create a space for us all

Create with integrity

Collaboration and co-operation over competition

Expand time

Bring whole self to each process

The overwhelming message from the day was just to start doing something, no matter how small, that it’s OK TO FAIL – we can learn something from our failures, that collaboration is key to artistic excellence, and that some things take time, so start small and keep going.

For Jo Newman’s full blog on the event click here

Photos by Simon Ward

The Echo’s End cast visits Beacon Hill

Last week, the Echo’s End cast, along with the director and stage management team, headed up to Salisbury Plain to visit the area where the play is set. Oliver Hembrough, who plays Jack Howard, tells us a little more about their visit. 20170302_120255

There’s a moment in the brilliant new BBC show This Country where Kurtan lies on his back on the grass, cloudspotting, and says to the lads lying either side of him – forgive me for misquoting – ‘you look up at ‘em, and it makes you think how insignificant they are, doesn’t it’.

It’s a brilliantly complex, poignant joke, and its intelligence was driven home yesterday when the company of Echo’s End visited Beacon Hill above Bulford, where our play is set.


We travelled out in two cars, surprising a stoat that hared across the road in front of us, then trekked up Beacon Hill past the vast chalk kiwi, first dug by New Zealand soldiers in 1919 while they waited to be demobilised. The view from the top leaves you thinking of Kurtan. The metaphor was emphasised when a tank lowered hugely past us where we stood, attended as it rumbled through the vast landscape by a slightly less poetic sort of motorway breakdown white van that seemed to have been cast in the role of 20170302_122826cheerleader, or hype man, to its enormous master. Around us, buzzards circled in a sky that will be more densely patterned with birds in another month’s time, when spring arrives in full force. On the Norfolk Broads and on Salisbury Plain, the skies loom larger than anywhere else. Makes you realise how insignificant they are.

Echo’s End runs in the Main House at Salisbury Playhouse from Wednesday 29 March to Saturday 15 April 2017. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit

A playful exploration of how we perceive time

We asked Sylvia Rimat to tell us a little about her latest production, This Moment Now.


What inspired you to create This Moment Now?

I’m very interested in processes of the mind. With previous projects I explored for instance memories/remembering and decision making. The show on decision making, If You Decide to Stay, opened up a number of questions around time and the universe so I felt inspired to develop a new project that looks at time more closely. I’m interested in our personal experience of time, which changes depending on situations and over a lifetime. But I’m also fascinated by broader concepts of time, in physics and philosophy, such as entropy and Einstein’s space time. I wanted to explore how/if we can connect our personal experiences with those concepts and wanted to raise questions around what time is as such.

What can audiences expect from the production?

this-moment-now-photo-credit-paul-blakemoreThere will be live drumming, video interviews with young and elderly people, movement/dance, Skype calls to test space time, a very special guest and some nice cups of tea.

What do you enjoy most about creating work in the south west?

I love the network of inspiring athis-moment-now-6_18098667966_ortists and arts organisations which have been crucial for developing my work. I live in Bristol and am a member of artist collective Residence. We share space, equipment, knowledge and opportunities. We support each other rather than seeing each other as competitors for funding and opportunities. This is crucial, especially in times when it’s harder to get funding.

This Moment Now is in The Salberg on Thursday 16 February as part of Theatre Fest West. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333.

Photos by Paul Blakemore.

A gig for kids

We asked Kid Carpet a few questions about The Super Mega Rockin’ Rock Show – the perfect half term treat for 4-10 year olds.

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How did you start producing theatre shows for family audiences?

I started making theatre for children and families as a kind of naturally organic accident. After making a bunch of albums and touring non-stop to rock venues, festivals and nightclubs for 4 or 5 years, my partner and I decided to start a family. After the baby popped out I found it really difficult working at night. A year or so later as I was having that serious chat with myself about where my career was going I noticed that I had about 200 recordings of songs and skits made on my telephone whilst child-caring. Listening to those recordings I thought maybe I should make an album for kids. A few weeks later I saw a shout-out from Theatre Bristol and The Tobacco Factory asking for fresh ideas for theatre shows, especially from non-theatre artists. Looking back over those recordings I decided to apply for the residency to make a theatre/rock show/cinema experience that would make me feel like I was in The Muppets, Bagpuss, Tiswas and The Beastie Boys all at the same time. A year later and Kid Carpet & The Noisy Animals was on tour and my ‘career’ was rescued from impending oblivion.

Can you tell us a little about The Super Mega Rockin’ Rock Show?

Super Mega Rockin’ Rock Show is like a ‘best of’ my work for children and families. There are songs, videos, interactive audience participation bits, games and puppeteering, all presented as a gig for kids.

We get to meet Gorilla, Badger, Bear and Hedgehog (The Noisy Animals), we adventure through the story of their first show while occasionally nipping off into space, having a quick Penguin Race and flying on some Golden Eagles before we end up at a gloriously anarchic stage invasion and Dance Contest. Bring yer Dad, he’ll love it.

Actually, a Dad wrote to me yesterday after seeing Super Mega Rockin’ Rock Show in October and this is what he said: “We loved the show. So many children’s events are patronising, boring or just a bit rubbish. Your show is the opposite of all these things.”

What will the song writing workshop involve?

In our song writing workshop we will make up some brilliantly simple songs from scratch, brainstorm ideas, write lyrics, form bands, choose a really good band name and do our first gig. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got no experience of making up songs or playing music, we’ll make something fantastic and have plenty of fun doing it.

The Super Mega Rockin’ Rock Show is in The Salberg on Wednesday 15 February as part of Theatre Fest West. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit The song writing workshop is now sold out.

Destiny, choice, friendship… and tap dancing Vikings.

Award-winning comedy cabaret duo House of Blakewell will be spending a week in Salisbury working on a new musical as part of Theatre Fest West. We asked Harry and Alice to tell us a bit more about the production and the process of creating the show.


Tell us a bit about yourself and your relationship with Theatre Fest West

We’re Harry and Alice, also known as House of Blakewell – we’re a duo that make alternative musical theatre with a strong comedy-cabaret flavour. Harry went to school in Salisbury (his first job was as a Box Office Assistant at the Playhouse!) and has worked here as a composer/sound designer on Bike, Hedda Gabler and Night Must Fall. Alice also trained in Bristol, but strangely we haven’t performed in the South West until now, so we were really excited to be included in the programme. It’s such a great opportunity for us to share our work with an audience while we’re still in the process of making it.

Could you briefly describe what your show is about?

thor-loki-2It’s loosely based on the Norse gods Thor and Loki, as described in the Eddas (collections of myths written by Icelandic poets in the Middle Ages.) It’s about the two characters and their attempts to prevent the day of Ragnarok – the end of the world – but really it’s about destiny, choice, friendship and embracing change, in order to create a better world. With tap dancing Vikings.

What do you expect audiences will take away from your piece?

Hopefully they’ll leave with a smile on their face, humming the tunes!

What’s been the biggest challenge/most exciting moment so far?

We normally work as a duo, but in this show we have a cast of five. It was initially slightly intimidating allowing other people into our creative process, but the first time we had the full company in a kick line singing in four-part harmony was amazingly joyous!

How important are Research and Development weeks and sharings when creating a new musical?thor-loki

Very important! There’s an old showbiz saying, ‘Musicals aren’t written, they’re re-written’. This is probably because there is so much to coordinate – music, lyrics, choreography – while also making sure that the dramatic rhythm works and the story is clear. Some of these elements are things you can only discover once the show is being performed live in front of an audience. In the old days, musicals used to have out-of-town tryouts, where things would get rewritten and restaged before going into town, but the advantage of workshop performances is that they allow us to try stuff out, adapt and gather feedback as part of our writing process. We can’t wait to share it with you!

House of Blakewell will be sharing Thor & Loki  at 6pm on Friday 17 February as part of Theatre Fest West. Tickets are FREE and can be booked via the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or at  

A tale of nosiness gone wild


Nikki Sved, Artistic Director of Theatre Alibi, talks about Fish Eye – a tale of nosiness gone wild.

Can you tell us a little about Fish Eye?

Fish Eye is about a one woman mission to discover the whereabouts of a stolen side6g5a0135board. Pam justifies extreme measures with her deep suspicions of her neighbours. When she knits surveillance cameras into hand-knitted toys and plants them in her neighbours’ houses she discovers that things are even worse than she initially suspected…

What was the inspiration behind this production? 
Daniel Jamieson, the writer, was alarmed by the notion of the Snooper’s Charter which gives the government access to a huge amount of our data. All our emails,
our search history – it’s all at their disposal.  He wanted to explore whether it’s possible to find the truth amidst all the information, and whether it’s worth losing our privacy over.

maggie-obrien-in-fish-eye-credit-steve-tannerTheatre Alibi has been producing theatre for 35 years – what do you find most exciting about the south west theatre scene?

There are a lot of great storytellers in the South West; Kneehigh and Travelling Light to name but a few. There’s a strong culture of Theatre Making, with work that is created in a collaborative way using all that theatre has to offer from puppetry to music to film; all the means we have at our fingertips to tell a good story.

Fish Eye is in The Salberg at Salisbury Playhouse on Saturday 18 February as part of Theatre Fest West. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit

Production photos by Steve Tanner