Thursday, 26 February 2009

Cityscape update

You may remember me writing about the line up for the next Cityscape Presents gig. You can read it here if you don't...

Anyway, it seems the event headliners, Merchandise, have been rather busy of late. Here's the latest news from Brad and the Merchandise collective:

Following on from Hew Stevens playing us a couple of weeks ago, we've been on Radio 1 again, this time courtesy of Rory McConnell. You can listen to it here.

We were in session on ALL FM last night, on the lovely Caroline Boyd's Drivetime show - you can hear the whole interview or download individual live session tracks for free here.

The Launch gig for the single will be on Friday at the The Aftershow in Manchester on the 27th Feb. The details are on the flyer below...

This should be an excellent gig - if you can make it make sure you come and say hi!

We're playing the Grapes in Sheffield on the 28th and The Octagon Theatre on 14th March (Cityscape Presents) in Bolton as great follow ups!

We've also just been down to London to record a radio session for Q Music which will be aired on 9th March - more info to come!

As usual there are loads of photos of our latest goings on at our facebook group and tons of news and reviews on our website.

And, if you haven't grabbed it yet, the current free download is Sunday Song - a great bit of catchy pop from our last album.

Hope to see you at one of the gigs!

Much love,

Brad, Con, John and Matt

Thanks Brad. Hopefully between all of this you might get some time to sleep...

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Caretaker - rehearsal diary week 2

Monday 16th – Wednesday 18th February
We thunder through the second half of the play at a pace. Monday sees Mick terrorising Davies with an electrolux – a thrilling scene that will ultimately be played out in the dark. Paul (Davies) practises this section by doing it with his eyes closed. His willingness to throw himself around the rusting set is astounding! Jeff (Mick) does a great sound effect of the electrolux in the absence of the soundtrack! He unleashes an energetic sense of charming chaos to this scene to the immense satisfaction of all in the rehearsal room. I spend quite a bit of time line bashing with Matthew (Aston) during the long afternoon.

Come the evening Jeff, Matthew and I retired to the pub and talked through ideas for the brother’s back-story. Pinter gives you so little about their relationship, yet a huge amount in their shared slight smile in Act Three.

Tuesday is a long line learning day for me! I have Jeff for much of the day. We work in the main house and hammer home a couple of scenes. We then work on some speeches – especially his rant to Davies which begins: ‘you’re stinking the place out’. The best way to gain clarity within this tirade of sales talk was to break it down into much smaller sections and find different energies within them. It is a brilliant section, which I personally love. Jeff is certainly starting to get to grips with it.
I later work with Matthew on his long monologue on electro-therapy. We discussed the process of this therapy and the treatment for manic depression or mental illness around this period. I had watched some footage of this kind of therapy recently – it was truly horrific viewing.
Wednesday leads us to the end of the play. Paul’s desperate, sad mumblings are spine tingling, and this was just the first bash at it. I spend more time during late morning working sections with Matthew and then Jeff in the main house. Scripts are beginning to disappear from the rehearsal room. Our hard work is paying off!

Now with the play covered once through we are planning to go through it all again. Each time we revisit scenes more layers of meaning, humour and invention are unpeeled. The next couple of days should be very exciting room in the rehearsal room.

Thursday 19th February
Today was dedicated to Aston and Davies’ scenes. Their banter at times is childlike in its simplicity, and there is such a difference in rhythms; Davies being a swirling tornado of energy and unrest, against Aston’s stillness. The first scene is especially intriguing to watch. The ignorant audience have to try and work out what is happening. Paul and Matthew’s interplay is a delight. Mark (Director) nudges them forward with some careful observations. The language and rhythm are really starting to fizz. Much more to come though.

Back in the main house during the afternoon, Jeff and I look at Mick’s character journey. There is a surprising amount of compassion within Mick in contrast to his tough exterior. His use of language is dazzling, and asks for a lot of vocal clarity and control from an actor. Jeff prowls around the stage as we attack some of the speeches.

Friday 20th February
I oversleep my alarm this morning, but manage to ride the 540 bus down to the Octagon just in time to start rehearsals. Matthew and I go over and over his long speech. He is essentially there on the lines now, and we try varying the speed of delivery. A line that comes up in discussion between us Aston’s admission: ‘I laid everything out in order, in my room, all the things I knew were mine, but I didn’t die’. This fascinating line gives us a potential insight into the internal workings of the character. Being surrounded by junk in the flat suddenly takes on a strange new meaning…Back in the rehearsal room Paul, Jeff and Matt embark on more bag snatching from Act Two. The tension and level of non-verbal communication is building.

Mark is very strict on observing the pauses properly and accurate with the text. This attention to detail helps gives the ‘elecrolux’ scene with Mick and Davies a pinging rhythm. The introduction of real sandwiches seems to make an incredible difference to the scene. Jeff (Mick) starts to relax into the zippy interplay. Amazing how a bit of bread can unlock so much!

Post-mid afternoon tea break, (Matthew is especially keen on his tea), we work on Mick and Davies’ scene in Act 3. Discussions on the best way to play the scene are at the forefront. Power and status shifts are explored. This is a scene where perhaps Davies perhaps seals part of his fate with his loud mouth. Plenty of energy buzzes around the room for a Friday afternoon. With another weekend for the good work of the last couple of days to settle, Week Three should be a treat.

Images: Joel Chester Fildes

Friday, 20 February 2009

Play in a Week February 2008

There are all sorts of things going on in the theatre at the moment. We have rehearsals for The Caretaker, Up Against the Wall is running and audiences seem to be really enjoying the night plus we have activ8's Play in a Week in the BNT. There is always a buzz when the young people are in the theatre and they are lucky enough to be working, not ony with the fantastic activ8 team, but also our new Artistic Director, David Thacker.

Play in a Week, this time, is focusing on the work of another Bolton institution The Bolton News. The young people have looked at the news over the last week in Bolton and are bringing some of the stories to life with the power of theatre. One of the Play in a Weekers has taken on a Communications role (hi Lewis!) and it has been his job to draw some designs for the programme cover and provide a little commentary to go with them. Below you can see the outcome of some of his efforts and also get a quick look at some of the stories that have been inspired by features in the paper. I have to add that the images and the scenes in the play used stories they found as a basis but there is both poetic and artistic licence involved in their development....

Story 1: Two people went to a newsagent to buy a paper. They saw a house that they liked in the paper and went to see it. But (dum dum duuummm) the house was haunted by Lewis (you can see the poetic licence coming in here) the mad scientist. The couple then went back to the agent to feedback their spooky findings and they all went back to the house together to check if it was just a hologram...and they were never seen again!

So let that be a warning to you house buyers, if the house is haunted probably best not to revisit it...!

Story 2: There was once a lady. She had a car crash because she was on the wrong side of the road. The kids managed to get out and called for an ambulance. Unfortunately, the ambulance came but couldn't get her out so they called a fire turk. The fire truck came to the rescue and cut her out of the car and into the ambulance.....

Story 3: There was an old mosque where people used to worship and that was used in the war for people to hide from soldiers. One day while on a walk with his dog, the dog ran off and into the mosque. The dog saw an old man reading the Koran.

The owner of the building wanted to turn it into flats but the dog owner wanted it left as it was a used for its original purpose. He commented 'It was used as a mosque, so let it be a mosque again'. A public meeting was called to decide the outcome of the meeting. Everyone came and argued.

I walked in and said 'Let's have 3 different parts. Leave the top floor as it is, ahve the middle as flats and have the ground floor as a mosque'. And they all agreed....

Well done Lewis for skilled and productive negotiation.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Tim Healy stars in Octagon Theatre World Premiere

Why-Aye man (ahem sorry about that!) but we are delighted to announce that the distinguished Geordie actor, Tim Healy, will be making his Octagon debut in the World Premiere of Alan Plater’s new witty musical play Looking for Buddy, which runs from Thurs 2 Apr - Sat 25 Apr 09.

Tim Healy's credits include the role of Dennis in the cult 80s TV drama Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Dad in the theatre production Billy Elliot – The Musical, where he was nominated for Best Performance in a Supporting Role – Olivier Awards in 2006. Tim is currently starring in BBC One’s Waterloo Road. You can read more about him here.

Tim Healy will be playing the part of Phil, a Geordie private eye who is searching for a lost recording by his jazz hero, Buddy Bolden. During his search he introduces a host of canny characters including a blonde 'to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window' and a whole hosts of witty toons, sorry, tunes (I am getting carried away with the Geordie dialect man).

Tim will be joined by a canny cast including some real some bonny lasses so divvent miss it. Does he find Buddy's recording and does he get the girl? Mebbe he does, mebbe he doesn''ll have to watch it to find out!

The Caretaker - rehearsal diary week 1

Paul Webster (Davies) Image: Joel Chester Fildes

One of the things I love about working here is the opportunity to meet new, creative and very lovely people. For The Caretaker, Mark is being ably assisted by the very lovely Hal Chambers.

Hal is a young theatre director who recently trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He has been as Assistant Director with the Theatre Royal Bath and is soon to be working at the Bristol Old Vic. He works as a freelance theatre director and workshop leader in London.

Over the next few weeks he is our inside man and will be keeping a diary of his time here and reporting on ‘Pinterland’, where director, Mark Babych, takes an experienced cast through a modern masterpiece.

Jeff Hordley (Mick) Image: Joel Chester Fildes

Day One: 9th February
The Octagon shines on a dreary, rainy afternoon in February. I, the eager young assistant director, am staring the terrifying play, The Caretaker, down the barrel and am consumed with both excitement and nerves! The latter largely disappears pretty quickly as I am greeted by the lovely atmosphere within the theatre. In turn I meet the different members of the team, including director Mark and the cast.

After some routine introductions and strong coffees the model box of the set is introduced. Richard, the designer, has done a great job - the set exudes a lot of the darkness and uneasiness of the play. People seem impressed. Paul Webster, who is playing Davies, has a lot of questions. Not surprising since he will barely leave the stage in over two hours!

Paul Webster (Davies) and Jeff Hordley (Mick). Image: Joel Chester Fildes

The read through arrives and it is lively. Debate and theories are on the table in the break. Everyone is bursting to get underneath the surface of this maze of language. When the read through is over I am guided by stage manager, Helen, around the Octagon building. The place has a friendly, local feel. Debate between Mark and the cast – Jeff, Matthew and Paul, continues in the rehearsal room. The day ends, thankfully, in the pub. Spirits seem pretty high….
I walk up a hill with bursting shopping bags with Assistant Stage Manager , Jake, and arrive at my digs. A huge house. Hello Bolton!

Day Two: 10th February
A beautiful sunny morning greets the city. Jake and I walk down to the theatre and meet Paul (Davies) who has been there since 8am. He is dressed in rehearsal clothes and looks every bit a professional tramp! Mark (director) and Matt (Aston) arrive and we launch into pages 1-7. Pinter’s words are so open to different readings. It is a minefield! We spend a bit of time discussing the many ways of saying ‘uh’. Mark leads the uncovering of meaning and we start getting stuff on its feet. The play presents so many possibilities, and we start decoding it like detectives!

Matthew Rixon (Aston). Image: Joel Chester Fildes

Jeff (Mick) joins us after lunch and we work through Mick and Davies first meeting. Mind games, shifts of status, and the threat of violence are in the air. Classic Pinter. We later have Matt back in the room and we attempt trying to change Aston’s rhythms and accent slightly. The results are very exciting.

Plenty of work covered on day two. I lie in front of the sofa watching a documentary on dreams in the evening. Both Davies and Aston claim they don’t dream when they sleep. Hard to imagine a life without them…

Paul Webster (Davies) Image: Joel Chester Fildes

Day Three: 11th February
Rain greets up this morning. I am not a fan of rain. (Lucky the North West is usually so dry then - Ed!)

The rehearsal room provides safe shelter. Part of the first hour of today’s rehearsal involves a logistical puzzle of how to best hide Davies’ bed, and how to take off all of the intricate junk later. We eventually find a good rhythm for this section and look forward to the end of the scene. Jeff arrives after lunch again and we start playing with Mick’s twisted persona. The psychological torture he inflicts on Davies is examined. Jeff enjoys freeing things up a bit. I find myself laughing a bit too much, after all, what is happening on stage is pretty nasty!

Paul Webster (Davies) and Matthew Rixon (Aston). Image: Joel Chester Fildes

Matt returns and we rehearse the bag swapping business in Act Two. I narrate through the precise directions from the text, and Paul, Jeff and Matt work through it. It is a bizarre and fascinating moment in the play - and the speed of it, both mentally and physically, may well provide an apt group warm up! Jeff leaves us around late afternoon, and we spend the remaining time going over the first twenty-seven pages of the play in detail. The play is already becoming funny and strangely haunting. Discoveries are starting to be made.

I spend the evening with leader Craig, and activ8 Youth Group. The 13-15 year olds are hugely energetic and intelligent. They even looked at scenes from The Caretaker. I wonder what they made of it!

Day Four: 12th February
A short day today as Jeff is away. I come in early to run lines with Paul (Davies) and Matthew (Aston). The director arrives and we work through a section where Aston leaves Davies all alone in the dilapidated flat. Mark gives a few suggestions and after a few runs of the section everyone seems happy. An early finish.

Jeff Hordley (Mick). Image: Joel Chester Fildes

I spend the afternoon exploring Manchester, and pay the Royal Exchange a visit. I then come back to the Octagon to see Paul in his one-man show about Hitler. An amazing transformation!

Day Five: 13th February
A very productive day. We reach the end of our first act and go over it. There is a good flow emerging although there is a general feeling that we have still only scratched the surface of this beast of a play. There are so many more layers to unearth.

During some of the afternoon I went through lines with Matthew (Aston). Many of his lines consist of ‘Mmm’ and ‘Yes’ and there are many random jumps in thought. I spend the time doing my best Paul Webster impression and Matthew feels a bit better for the hard work. Back in the rehearsal room we run a good section of our first half to finish the day and decide on calls for next Monday. Mark seems to be a happy director.

Back to the rush of London for the weekend. Bring on Week Two!
Thanks for this Hal. Look forward to reading about what's in store next week....

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Music, Merchandise and Otters!!

News just in! The lovely Brad B Wood (a great name whichever way you look at it) has been in touch with the line-up for the next Cityscape Presents event that takes place on 14 March. So without further ado here's the skinny...

Headlining are Cityscape band Merchandise, previewing material from forthcoming album For The Masses as well as firm favourites. Their set is sure to include new single Listen Up! - a life-affirming two and a half minutes which provides the perfect introduction to their pure pop gold. The single, released on February 23, has been generating a fanzine buzz and was recently championed by Huw Stevens on his Radio One Introducing show.

You can see the video for their single Sometimes below

Support comes from Leeds-based Albert Ross and The Otters. They cite inspirations ranging from Nick Cave and T-Rex to Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Belle and Sebastian…and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. As you might expect from a band with such eclectic influences, their sound is all their own.

Opening up the evening will be Cal Roberts, a 19-year-old singer songwriter from North Wales. Cal has supported Pete Doherty at gigs across the UK and Europe and supported The Courteeners on their recent sell-out tour. His music is raw and edgy with lyrics he describes as “through the eyes of a teenager stuck innowhere town.”

Compere for the evening will be comedienne Katie Mulgrew.

Brad B Wood, founder of Cityscape Records and member of Merchandise, said:

Merchandise have had a great year so far and it’ll be great to be back at the Octagon playing in front of a hometown audience. Cityscape Presents really seems to be getting a momentum of its own. We’ve had some great feedback and I’m chuffed we will be sharing the stage with two acts of such quality.

Albert Ross and The Ottters produce infectious pop music which deserves to be heard. Albert sent me a Myspacelink and I knew within two bars that it was right up my street.

Cal Roberts is also a big talent and definitely one to watch."

The show starts at 7.30pm. Tickets, priced £9 (£7 students/ concessions), are available from the Octagon boxoffice. Call 01204 520661 or buy online at

For more information about the acts, and a taste of their songs, visit their My Space sites at, respectively , ,

Monday, 16 February 2009

Hitler Not so Alone....

We had a really good turn out to see Paul Webster's one man show Hitler Alone. Now that I have met Paul (we sat in for a bit of the read through of The Caretaker) it is really hard for me to imagine this gentle and lovely man could play such a monster. Anyway, it seems that he can indeed become a tyrant for a night and does it very well...

The alternating anger and self-justification are variously terrifying and almost pitiable. Almost but not quite. And that is the strength of both the writing and the acting of this piece. BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE. You can read the rest of the review here.

If you missed him in Hitler Alone, then be sure not to miss him in The Caretaker.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Spotlight Cafe - the review!

Although, Spotlight Cafe could be a play title it isn't. However, if it were a play then I am sure it would receive excellent reviews and it, in fact, has. The lovely people from Afridiziak, who came to review Up Against the Wall (you can see the review as well as others under the reviews post) stopped for a bite to eat in the cafe. They had some nice things to here for the review

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Cityscape Presents...sounds and images

You may remember me posint some info on our next Cityscape event. If not it is here for your reading pleasure.

Anyhoo, one of the line-up, the young and talented Alex Hulme, took a trip across the arctic tundra that was the North West earlier this week (dedication you see) and he recorded a session at WFM. To hear a tune, see him or listen to the session in full then you can find more info on the Cityscape site here.

Up Against the Wall - the movie...

You've seen the photos, read the reviews so here's a little snippet of the show. We also managed to grab the choreographer, Mr Paul J Medford, to talk a bit about his role and to show you a few moves in case you feel the need to have a boogie. Once you hear that famous high hat and guitar riff with a wah-wah (thank you Keith for those technical terms for some nice guitar action) from Shaft or the intro to Boogie Wonderland your muscles will start twitching and your toes will tap whether you are in control of them or not. Resistance to the funk is futile....

The Caretaker

Although I have been posting about Up Against the Wall recently, which is selling fast by way, as the Monty Python crew might saw 'and now for something completely different'. Audiences have an opportunity to see the play that launched Harold Pinter as a major dramatist.

Why The Caretaker?

Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker was an immediate hit with audiences and the play that gave Pinter his first major success as a dramatist in the 60s. The Caretaker introduced Pinter’s style of dialogue – which, in time had drama critics coin the phrase ‘Pinteresque’ in reference to his unique use of pauses, silences and comedic confusion. This made a play of shifting balances of power and is now hailed as a post-war masterpiece.

As Mark Babych (Artistic Director) comments:

“The recent death of Harold Pinter makes this a particularly poignant moment to be staging one of his greatest ever plays. The Caretaker is a darkly comic unsettling drama that shows Pinter’s brilliant portrayal of territorial power battles between human beings at its absolute best. It is a real gem of our modern British theatrical heritage, and I'm privileged to be working with such a cracking cast, in my last season as Artistic Director"

What's the story?
A tramp, Davies, enters the lives of two brothers, Mick and Aston. While Aston sees him a friend, his elder brother Mick is unsettled by the interloper and plays psychological games with Davies to scare him off. Davies eventually begins to play one brother off against the other and as a consequence all three men attempt to manipulate each other as they manoeuvre in a territorial battle of supremacy.

Who's in it?

Returning to the Octagon is Jeff Hordley as Mick who last appeared in Oh What a Lovely War and And Did Those Feet, Matthew Rixon who last appeared in The Crucible and Oh What a Lovely War as Aston and making his debut at the Octagon is Paul Webster, a stalwart of the Royal Shakespeare Company for 16 years, as Davies. As Mark says a cracking cast and a great play....can't wait for this one!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Up Against the Wall - the word on the street...

well it's not just the word on the street but also the press. Here are some of the reviews for Up Against the Wall. For me, the songs were the real heroes of the show and the band and vocalists do a sensational job with some amazing tunes. I defy anyone not to tap their feet to Carwash or get a goosebump when Gloria (Ann-marie Roberts) sings Natural Woman. She also has to be praised for managing to sing, and sparkle, while climbing many a step in some huge platforms boots....

Gloria (Ann-marie Roberts) in those boots with Leshai (Danielle Henry) and Jenai (Shelley Williams). Image: Ian Tilton

Anyway, the reviews....

In fact you're never more than a couple of minutes away from the next number and my toes were certainly tapping. It was great to see so many youngsters in the audience, having such a good time to music that was created long before they were born. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face. MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS. Read more here...

If you like funk and soul music you will love the Octagon’s latest feelgood production. THE BOLTON NEWS Read more here...

As a trip to the theatre, shows like this couldn't be any more accessible or given a sense of occasion, especially when even the ushers are dressed as though they’ve just finished filming Life On Mars. It’s the perfect 70’s themed night as well as one that celebrates the musical culture of funk and soul music. MANCHESTER MUSIC. Read more here....

Be prepared for a lot of clapping as you rewind a few decades and relive those classic hits. AFRIDIZIAK. Read more here...