Rod’s Blog 28.01.14
I don’t want to bore you with yet more enthusiasm for our one woman musical (called Wrong ‘Un) but we kicked off the main national tour last week with press night at The Lowry and the reviews have been outstandingly positive – with lots of admiration and praise for Ella’s performance, Justin’s direction, Ali’s design and Boff’s writing. For a little show that was meant to be an easy to tour, low maintenance, and constant presence – the show has had sell-out audiences, national reviews, telly interviews and lots of talk of “should be nominated for an award”. It’s more than we expected or hoped for.
Hope and fear: we spend our lives in one or the other, especially in this theatre business. Neither hope nor fear are useful energies and yet we are constantly planning, predicting, budgeting – hours of energy devoted to activity which is entirely in the future and is subject to many unpredictable factors. The planning of our artistic programme should be a reflection of our hopes and ambitions as a company – and in some ways it is – but often it is a response to opportunities that we could never have planned for. 2014 is entirely a year of gifts and opportunities.
Wrong ‘Un sprang from a conversation between Boff, myself and Steve Rowlatt of Unite at the Durham Miner’s Gala in 2012 after Steve had asked us what we planned to bring to the Gala the following year. The Durham Miner’s Gala wasn’t even in our plans for 2013 – we were only there because we’d been invited to perform Sex and Docks and Rock n Roll. By pure chance Boff had been toying with the idea of setting himself the challenge of writing the smallest scale musical possible – one performer and no musicians. Suddenly, here was an opportunity and we had to take it.
Late in 2013 Anthony Clavane had been commissioned to write a short one act play for West Yorkshire Playhouse’s ‘A Play, a Pie and a Pint’ and he invited Chris and I to see it. ‘Playing the Joker’ is a slightly surreal 45 minute play about Eddie Waring; the famous Rugby League commentator. Chris Lloyd realised that there were no plans to take the piece out and, in the same way that Wrong ‘Un has the flexibility to play non- theatre spaces such as pubs, lecture halls and conferences, Chris could see that Anthony’s play should play to Rugby League social clubs. Another opportunity we just had to take – with the blessing of James Brining of course.
Finally, not only is 2014 the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, but it is now also thirty years since the 1984 Miner’s Strike and again Unite have asked us to make a piece to be performed at the 2014 Durham Miner’s Gala. This was an opportunity to make a piece of theatre which provoked a different perspective on a strike which still scars communities across Yorkshire, Lancashire, the north east, Kent, South Wales, Derbyshire. In a stroke of genius, Boff proposed to write a musical about three sisters, a play about the miner’s strike with no miners or police onstage, a play about the women in the communities and how their struggle was in many ways harder than the men on the picket lines. After the Gala in July it would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t tour this play to mining and ex-mining communities across the UK.
So we enter 2014 with three projects that we could not have planned for – they could not have sprung from hopes or ambitions, they were gifts.
But we are still in a place of hope and some fear. We hope that our bid to the Arts Council for National Portfolio funding will excite them enough to share our ambition. We hope that our bid will look like a sound and safe investment for the Arts Council in their sharing of limited public funds. We hope that our track record of making work which reaches a wide audience will count and make the funders feel confident in us. More than ever, I realise that work like ‘The Thing About Psychopaths’ by Ben Tagoe, ‘Wrong ‘Un’ by Boff Whalley and ‘Hurling Rubble at the Sun’ by Avaes Mohammad speak to a young generation of politically articulate people – the next generation of citizens who want to have a voice in democracy. I haven’t even started to describe the work we are doing now to prepare for this new play by Avaes Mohammad – it needs a blog all to itself – suffice to say it will be produced right at the end of this funding phase at the very beginning of 2015. My hope is that it will be one of the most important theatrical explorations of the state of this nation. Read my next blog for details!
About Rod: Rod became Artistic Director of Red Ladder Theatre Company in 2006, following his role as associate director at the Barbican Theatre in Plymouth. He has also ran The Hub Theatre School in Cornwall and been an actor with several companies including Kneehigh Theatre. Directing credits for Red Ladder include Where’s Vietnam?, Forgotten Things, Riot, Rebellion & Bloody Insurrection, Ugly, Sex & Docks & Rock ‘N’ Roll, Big Society! and Promised Land. Rod is both a life-long Liverpool supporter and a believer in Proudhon’s principles of anarchy – the two might be connected.