Lighting up Paris
Hi, I'm David Plowright, and I've been delighted to have the fascinating role of designing the lighting, sound and projection for 'April in Paris'. Together with the set designer, we've been creating the visual and auditory surroundings for our actors' voyage of discovery from Yorkshire to Paris and back.
The vision of the original director, Melvyn Bates, who sadly had to drop out of the production, was to use a small number of images in the background of the scenes in Paris. We already have a projector in the auditorium ceiling, used with a screen for lectures, parties, etc., but its images would shine on the actors and cast shadows on the backdrop. So, back projection was the answer, and hiring the equipment was the obvious but expensive means. However, after much careful research, Millgate Arts Centre is now the owner of its own large back-projection screen and a second hand projector.
Has the effort been worth it? Come and see for yourself - and while you wait for the curtains to open, listen to a selection of French singers, from Aznavour to Zaz! Book your tickets here.
The more we see, the more we don’t know
John Godber’s two-hander April in Paris is the latest offering from Saddleworth Players and runs from 7th-14th April 2018 at the Millgate Theatre, Delph.
Al (Paul Dawson) and Bet (Liz Travis) are a couple whose relationship is marked by boredom, bickering and a lack of joint interests. Unemployed Al’s passion for painting in his shed irritates his long-suffering wife, Bet, and similarly Bet’s penchant for entering magazine quiz competitions frustrates Al. We quickly discover that neither Al nor Bet listen to each other and have their own priorities.
An unexpected quiz success sees a thrilled Bet win a ‘Romantic Night in Paris’ travelling on North Sea Ferries and she persuades a reluctant Al to join her for this exotic adventure. The rest of the play follows Al and Bet trying to come to terms with ‘la vie Francais’, with some references to the French bordering on stereotype.
Although initially bleak due to the constant bickering between Al and Bet the plot becomes increasingly comic as these naive travellers’ struggle with a new culture and feel obliged to be romantic for the weekend.
The initial scenes nicely set up the situation in their relationship and are well played by Dawson and Travis, some arguments seem to arise too suddenly to be realistic rather than develop over time. This is largely due to the sporadic nature of the dialogue and could have benefitted from some awkward silences to highlight the tension and weariness of this couple after 10 years of marriage.
Both Dawson and Travis displayed great comic timing and are confident performers and very watchable throughout this ‘tour de force’. The scenes in the North Sea Ferry Disco, French Restaurant and at The Louvre were particularly well played, showing the disparity between the couple and their surroundings. There are innate challenges in trying to create distinct playing areas on a small stage such as this but this was handled well and visual projections helped transport the audience around a whistle-stop tour around Paris.
The whole play was directed with pace and sensitivity by John Matthews who makes his directorial debut at the Millgate Theatre. The play demands careful handling to avoid crude stereotypes and Matthews succeeds in this and delivers a nuanced production.
The Mondrian inspired set is simple yet effective and adds to the claustrophobia in the couple’s living room scenes and provides a more expansive feel, suggesting various Parisian locations in Act 2. Generally, the scene changes could have been slicker and music used more creatively throughout the piece to add to the atmosphere.
It is interesting watching this 1990s play through post-Brexit lens as Al and Bet wonder about both their own relationships and the relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe. This is a comic yet thought-provoking evening of theatre which explores Al and Bet’s troubled relationship and we are left wondering whether their romantic Parisian adventure will save their marriage.
April in Paris: a blog by co-director, John L Matthews
Well it’s been a roller coaster week of final rehearsals, two dress rehearsals done in the last two nights. Both shows, even though they were completely different performances, would have been great live shows.
It has been fascinating how much the play has changed in four days. Liz and Paul, the actors, are able to change things really quickly. All I am doing as the director is sitting there as if I was you the audience, making sure it looks credible. It if does not look or feel right we stop and try a different way. That is where it gets tricky as if you are the one that stops it, you had better have some better ideas that might help it work. Otherwise you make it worse, not better.
For the last rehearsal, I ended up leaving work several hours earlier to go through the notes I made five weeks ago. I kept a diary and the prep notes for the opening scene alone were thirteen pages. Going through them a few weeks after making them, this was now an entirely different play! It’s also very funny.
Liz, Paul and myself have become thick as thieves, often talking at length on the phone, [sometimes for two hours!] about ideas and sending messages to each other non-stop. The best bit of directing the play goes on in the pub after the rehearsal. There we can reflect away from any pressure. But the temptation to have a pint is too great so I have been drinking far more often than I would normally. Also starting rehearsals at seven o-clock, even earlier like this week, which was often five, I have been eating processed rubbish, firing a whole pizza down in the White Lion, Delph the other night in five minutes flat.
My work is now done. The play is now the actors, and to be honest, it has been for the last few weeks. I wanted them to own it entirely. All I have done is help them find something that resonates and something they have confidence in and believe in. Rather than find a show, we tried to find some hard truths about relationships as that is what this play is about. The conversations in the interval last night were very revealing about what we have achieved. I hope you enjoy it. I’ve loved directing it, very much so.
Now what am I going to do?!
April in Paris is directed by John L Matthews and Verity Mann. Ticket are available from https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/ELGEFM
Photo by Jonty Wilde
You don’t get this good at being bad without having a great team
Murder at Checkmate Manor is a play within a play put on by the ‘Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomens’Guild Dramatic Society’. As with all of the Farndale plays, this one doesn’t always go right. The problem is that the rights have to be wrong and the wrongs have to be very right, which requires talent and timing.
The very hard working cast of five produced quite possibly the worst murder mystery ever performed and you don’t get that good at being bad without having a great team.
Leading it all and trying to keep everyone in check is Phoebe, primly and properly played by Alayne Whitworth who also takes on five other characters, most of whom end up dead ... or do they? Then there is Audrey, played by Verity Mann, who shows some excellent timing and comedy in her many different roles.
June Holmes plays Thelma, who gets the most out of her two roles including being one half of a very funny mimed song and dance duet. Felicity only plays two roles but Lorraine Reynolds and her extremely expressive face had the audience in stitches. Gordon, played by John Tanner, who is a last minute replacement for Sylvia! He gave a lovely portrayal of Inspector O'Reilly, completely getting the lack of facial and vocal expression. His mimed song and dance with Thelma was a triumph but the highlight had to be his outfit in the fashion show.
A fantastic set, great costumes and beautifully timed sound and lighting cues gave the audience some very funny moments. What a great team effort all round! There was even time for some audience participation with the raffle and quiz with prizes to be won. I was just disappointed that I didn't win the homemade marmalade!
Annual fundraising lunch announced
The Saddleworth Concerts Society is holding its Annual Fundraising Lunch at the White Hart, Lydgate on Sunday 18th March 2018.
Entertainment will be by 'Etta' which is a lively, versatile and experienced piano and saxophone duo based in Manchester, with a diverse repertoire. Emily Owen (piano) and Hannah Corcoran (saxophone) specialise in performing pop and jazz music for any event or function with the utmost professionalism and taste. Both musicians are in their third year of study at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), where they met. They also perform together as part of Manchester's Smudge Big Band.
Price £33.00. Further information and booking details by phone from Brenda Roberts on 01457 875917 or Lynne Edge on 01457 872429 & Marion Deighton on 01457 874296