Friday, 4 May 2012

The Day The Badger Growled.

I was at a meeting the other day and someone asked about the one moment, the epiphany if you like, that made you fall in love with live Theatre (yes, it was that kind of meeting...). So, naturally, when someone asks you a question like that, you start to think...

In the end, I went for a slightly strange example.

It comes from when I was at school, probably around 13 or 14 years old, and I was taken to see a Panto. Now I need to explain a few things. First off, no 13 or 14 year old in the world wants to go to Panto, or wants to be seen wanting to go to Panto, and I was no different. I was far too old for that baby stuff. The fact that I was going with a group of friends of the same age didn't help - they didn't want to be there either.

On top of this was the fact that we weren't actually seeing a Panto (bear with me). We were going to our local Rep Theatre, the Octagon in Bolton, and the Octagon was far too Right On to put on a Panto. Instead, they had a Family Show, and this particular year it was a version of The Wind In The Willows. Now, if any of you out there know The Octagon, you'll know that it is an excellent theatre with great repertory productions. It also specialised in Theatre In The Round - where the audience sit all around the playing space and are frequently just a nose hair away from the actors. This can make for a wonderfully vivid experience but it can also be an eye-opener...

So, the night came and my friends and I trotted off to the theatre and took our seats. Now, one more thing you should know about 13 or 14 year old boys is that they have extremely smutty minds. Or at least, we had. Panto frequently employs double-entendre for comic effect, but this Family Show didn't. Not that it mattered to us - we just added our own. We giggled in the wrong places; found smut in the most innocuous phrases. I'm not proud of it, but it happened. I'm sure the audience around us noticed.

The actors certainly did.

There came a part during the show, in the first half, where the characters on stage sung a song and invited the audience to join in with the chorus. So they started it up, gave us all the chorus once, and then - well, then the actor playing Badger (who I remember as quite burly and wearing faintly scary make-up) walked straight up to the four of us and loudly announced that we should stand up and sing it for everyone else! I'm sure you could have heard a pin drop. As one, we shrank into our seats and tried to pretend we weren't there. But Ratty joined in now, and got the audience to applaud us, so - shaking, and with very quiet voices - we did as Badger said and sang the chorus.

We were perfect audience members for the rest of the show.

Now I'm sure this story would put the terrors into some people out there and they would vow never to go near a theatre again, but for me it had exactly the opposite effect. Suddenly, I realised what live theatre could do. It could affect you on a very immediate level; yes, it could scare you but deep down (or even quite close to the surface) we knew we were doing wrong. I think we thought that it was like talking in front of the TV. With theatre, however, there could be consequences, for at it's most basic level a performance is a dialogue between the actors and the audience. It's just that, this time, the dialogue was more obvious. And I realised also the power that an actor can have. For not only did Badger quell us, he gave the whole audience a reason to engage with him and to join in a common purpose : showing up those little upstarts who had been spoiling the play for them. Furthermore, he did it without breaking character. And that one act opened up a whole new world to me, full of possibilities and one that I still find surprises in today.

So, that's my epiphany. What's yours? Add your comments below by clicking where it says 'comments'.

Friday, 30 March 2012

You Always Remember Your First Time

Thinking about my favourite film the other day (as detailed in an earlier blog entry), I also found myself recalling my first visit to the cinema.

This would have been when I was 4 or 5 yrs old, which places it at the fag end of the 1960s, and the cinema was in a nearby town in the North West. I know that we would have had to get in the car and driven there, which made it a big event, and that both my Mum and Dad were there (which, as my Dad worked night shifts, was remarkable in itself).

I remember thinking the cinema was huge, and not really understanding what it was (was it a giant tv? I know that the film I was coming to see had been seen - briefly - on television, on Clapperboard with Chris Kelly. Or was it Screen Test? I was an avid watcher of both. But if we were going to watch a tv, why did we have to come all this way, and what were all these other people doing there?). In my memory, we were quite close to the screen and it was huge - the size of a double decker bus, at least.

And I remember people smoking around me, my Dad probably amongst them. There was a constant haze of smoke hovering above our heads from all the nicotine being expelled, but even that was magic - not knowing the health hazards back then, it added to the feeling of being allowed into another world, a more adult world. The light from the projector cut through the smoke like a beacon.

There was something already playing when we got there - I don't remember what, probably a trailer, or a public service film, not what we had come to see. In those days, film programmes ran continuously and you could come in half way through a presentation and leave halfway through the next showing of it if you wanted; there was a constant flow of people getting up or arriving (and we complain about people texting!).

The other thing that was different back then was that you didn't just have one film... For the young ones out there, I should explain that you had the main feature and a 'B' film (often with no relationship to the one you'd come to see, often much lower budget, occasionally quite wonderful). My Mum and Dad had brought me to see Bambi as my first cinema experience - a heart warming tale of cute furry animated animals (and yes, we're ignoring the wholy traumatic 'Mother' sequence in that description) - but what I actually got was another Disney film, a live action tale called Doctor Syn, Alias The Scarecrow.

As you might guess, this was not cute and cuddly. Although made for TV originally, as part of The Wonderful World Of Disney hour, it was released over here as a fully-fledged film. Starring Patrick McGoohan, it was a tale of Smugglers outsmarting the King's Men in Olde England - and it's opening shot has stayed with me forever:

A blasted heath, windswept and dark, and the King's men searching for the smugglers they know are nearby. But there is no sign of them and eventually, frustrated by an empty landscape punctuated only by scarecrows, they give up. Once they have gone, the camera returns to the heath, and the scarecrows, one of which moves...

Yes, smugglers evading capture by dressing as farmyard furniture is a bit far fetched, but for the 4- (or 5-) year old me it had a dramatic effect. It scared me half to death. But I loved it still. I still credit that film as the reason why I have an abiding interest in and love of Horror Films, evidently imprinted from an early age. My first visit to the cinema was therefore also a formative one for me, and one which (you can tell) has stayed with me. It shows the power of film - or at least, of images - and I'm sure many of you out there have had similar experiences, even if it wasn't with your first visit.

But I have to wonder what I would have been like if Bambi had been on first...

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Many Faces of Love

So... Gordon Ramsay, Brad Pitt, Pierce Brosnan, Hugh Grant, Simon Cowell and Chris Evans. What do they all have in common?

Well, according to our Valentine's Day Beau Board, a combination of all the above holds the key to one woman's heart. As she puts it, "Food to die for, beauty, an older man, charm, money and humour all rolled into one!" (I knew Simon Cowell had to be in there for some reason - of course, money!).

The Beau Board spent the day in the Foyer of the Hawthorne Theatre on February 14th and anyone who wanted to could answer the question, My True Love Would Be...? Amazingly, we got a lot of answers and from all age groups. The youngest entries all seemed to focus on the same thing - their family. Often their were whole lists of family members (and pets!), or statements like "I love my family and cousins because they love me and I love my Mum, Dad and brother the most". All together now... aw!

As the respondents got older, however, the comforts of home and hearth gave way to more specific ideas. Sometimes they gave away more about the writer than the subject - "I like my boyfriends because they are always smart and kind" - and sometimes they seemed strangely precise - "Riding very fast on my scooter, sucking my thumb".

A few stars raised their heads: one person wanted "a mix of Suggs, Bruce Willis and Tommy Walsh" as their ideal (I can't help feeling DIY was preying on their mind at the time), whereas someone else would happily settle for Daniel Craig and yet another wanted Ryan Gosling. Another respondent - it must have been an inside job - just posted a picture of Cheryl Cole onto his form.

At least one entry may have been setting his sights a little high: "Having Mozart play his Clarinet Concerto followed by Tomaso Albinoni playing the Adagio in G Minor; watching Leonardo da Vinci complete the Mona Lisa; walking on the lost world of Atlantis; being in the cockpit with the Wright Brothers; and an audience with the founders of all religions".
Really? And not World Peace?

But the last word goes to a lady whose true love would be "my girls, Lola and Poppy. Oh, and the Arsenal". And then, tacked on the end, the words: "and my husband"...

Monday, 30 January 2012

Caption Competition!

Ah, February. Season of mists and mellow... Oops, wrong season.

The cruellest month...? No, that's another one.

February, erm... of course, Valentine's Day!

You can find out what we're doing to celebrate the day elsewhere on the site, but for the moment, here's a quick caption competition for you. Leave a comment with your idea and we'll choose the best to garland this picture in the foyer on the night.

There'll even be a prize!

Friday, 13 January 2012

"What's Your Favourite Film?"

I was asked this question the other day and straight away I answered "Singing In The Rain". No hesitation.

And it is my favourite film, or at least it was at that moment.

But hard on it's heels came the realisation that the film I own several copies of (VHS, two dvd's - different special features!, blu ray, download), and watch at least once a year, is The Long Good Friday. And I really love that film, but it didn't pop immediately into my head.

So, with that in mind, I thought I'd find out what everyone else's favourite films were - the first title to pop into your head, not a list, no prevarication. The answers were interesting:

Penny (Box Office / Usher) : Notting Hill
Zach (Box Office / Bar) : Inception
Phil (Stage Manager) : Psycho, "original version, obviously"
Mark (General Manager) : Cinema Paradiso
Sarah (Marketing Manager) : Singing In The Rain
Simon (Conferencing) : Taken
Debra (Administration) : Groundhog Day
Nina (Conferencing) : Seven Brides For Seven Brothers
Rita (Finance) : The Color Purple
Terry (Bar / Backstage) : V For Vendetta
Rose (Box Office) : Calamity Jane
Jaiminee (Marketing) : Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
Louise (Usher / RollerCity Marshall) : Life Is Beautiful
Carmen (Usher / RollerCity Marshall) : Curse of the Golden Flower
Ahmed (I.T.) : Schindler's List

So, how many of those would be on your list? And what is your favourite film? Answers in the comments below, please...

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

CONTAGION spreads to Hawthorne Theatre

*** EYES ONLY ***

On 11 & 12 December 2011, the Hawthorne Theatre was the site of an incident that required the attention of the Council's CDC-trained staff. A virulent outbreak occurred just as a film was about to start, leading to a quarantine situation and decontamination protocol for all patrons.

The incident was contained and no one was harmed, but it was decided to keep the details hidden so as to avoid mass panic. However, one lone cameraman was able to take the following footage and the truth has emerged.

CONTAGION - the truth needs to be told!