Telling stories that matter in Art and Business



Two events in St Petersburg this week really got me thinking about how we tell our stories – or rather – how we engage.

My ‘main job’ as a theatre director is in many ways about creating and telling stories. Not stories that are necessarily fairy tales or epic adventures.. but rather experiences and performances that create vivid images and use powerful text to challenge thinking whilst exciting and provoking the audience.

The Theatre Director and writer Tim Etchells (Forced Entertainment UK) wrote a ‘play’  for us (Menagerie) once way back (in 2002?), it wasn’t a typical three act drama with a prologue followed by some conflict and nice resolution – it was a series of challenges to “form and thought” .The presentation was  three actors speaking statements that were or were not funny. The decision of the level of humour is of course in the control of each audience member.

“ A Painter that is allergic to Paint”

Is that funny or not funny? The list builds…

“A boy writing his name in pee in the snow”

“A girl writing her name in pee in the snow”

“Tying your shoelaces whilst drunk”

“Cancer of the throat”

“Testicular Cancer”

A world emerges of cruelty, love, anger and beauty, the audience’s reactions build the stories. Each experience is pondered, contextualised (“well it would be funny if I was 15 and had been drinking beer “). What Tim  did was create non-linear stories by building up a jigsaw or mosaic of experiences that frustrated, touched , endeared  or angered the audience.

What were their reactions based on? On their mood? Their age? Background? Cultural reference points? As the list grew so did our (the audience’s) capacity to think, to absorb and to imagine… What if…

What was great about Tim’s piece (called MFI by the way) was that it had a universality. A hypnotic quality. Although the three actors who recited each statement appeared to be randomly selecting their comments, we started to build up a picture of each of them according to what they found funny about their own comments and about each other’s.

And isn’t that the point? Create something that people can react to, that they can visualise, personalise– feel  something about. Of course for many this isn’t storytelling – its “Performance Art”

Yes this piece was challenging, but it was also mesmerizing and human. Too often we hear the same things over and over again. In business, as in art we should look to create a reaction – a response to what we think, feel and say.

My two classes in St Petersburg on storytelling in the business context were certainly more traditional than Tim’s work…

For the Creative Agency BC Communications my “lists or statements” were transposed into  Challenges  or games – for each member of staff to respond to – to really think about their own story – what makes them laugh? Scared? To want to take a risk? To want to focus on? Each exercise was its only little “statement” – how do you feel ? – is this Funny? Is this thought-provoking?

At ITMO University I challenged business students to think about their framing of stories in terms of how they and others see the world. The simplest framing  being The World as it Was, as it Is and as it Can Be… the statements are built – challenges set.

Is it funny?, that doesn’t matter – is it going to get a reaction? THAT matters, because then someone cares about what you’re saying…


Below is a description of Tim’s work …

Across the range of my work I use strong, simple, sometimes comical means to get to serious ideas.

My practice shifts from performance to visual art and fiction and concerns itself with questions of contemporary identity and urban experience, our relation to fiction and the media, as well as with the limits of representation, especially in respect of language.  Working across different media and contexts opens up new possibilities and allows me to approach the ideas that interest me by different routes, shifting my perspective on the themes and experiences I want to investigate.

I have created a body of work exploring contradictory aspects of language in playful and poetic ways. I’m drawn both to the speed, clarity and vividness with which language communicates narrative, image and ideas, and at the same time to its amazing propensity to create a rich field of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Infiltrating galleries, street corners, shop windows, rooftops and other locations the neon sign and LED works I have made spell out simple-but-intriguing phrases, messages and instructions. Appearing to address the viewer directly through these works, I’m interested to create moments of thoughtfulness and playful encounter in a public setting;  the work is public but private at the same time, trying to draw each person that encounters it into a space of intimate reflection.


Blog: Summer 2015 – New Writing, New Horizons, New Thinking from Cambridge to Montevideo

The summer is over and a new focus is upon us…A heady mix of theatre, training and teaching.

Following the success of Hotbed, our New Writing Festival in July with excellent new work particularly from Craig Baxter with Pictures of You, a play developed in alliance with Martina Simplicio. This was presented as part of What’s Up Doc? Series where playwrights are paired with Academic Collaborators.

Inspired by the ‘mental imagery’, emotion and the study and treatment of bipolar disorder, Pictures of You presented the intriguing meeting of two friends after many years apart. Full of unexpected lightness, warmth and love, the play explored the challenge of recalling the past and picturing the future…

The partner was Dr Martina Di Simplicio of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge

The best work from HOTBED in Cambridge was then transferred to London’s SOHO theatre where it ran for a week alongside the brilliant play from last year: bloominauschwitz.

Following bloominauschwitz’s award as the best new play at Brighton Festival it is now heading to the National Theatre Festival of Czech Republic in Brno. The play is now fully matured and ready for National Touring next year. We also hope to perform at The Edinburgh Fringe next year … watch this space. See the awards – we are in at 25 minutes:

and here’s the new video trailer of the play- hope you can catch it next year (or in Brno!)

Meanwhile we are focussing back on training too this autumn including developing new programmes for CEDAR and the Judge . At the Judge I have been made a Fellow in The Arts (Creative Engagement)…

Following its awards as Entrepreneurial University of the Year Anglia Ruskin has been going from Strength to strength and in particular the centre ran by Professor Lester Lloyd-Reason at CEDAR .

This unit remains a beacon in Enterprise thinking and projects and I get such a kick being around these guys. There is always a crazy project around the corner.

This week working with CEDAR I have been delivering Creativity and Curiosity workshops to Managers of Incubators from Montevideo in Uruguay!

Working with Peter Taylor from TTP group, we delivered a workshop about how to bring creativity into the workplace

Four great managers from Uruguay included “Good Cop” Paola Rapetti and “The Rule Man” Sergio Delgado.

Here’s twelve great stories of entrepreneurs in Uruguay Great people – great ideas and looking forward to heading to Uruguay to meet them again soon and more colleagues.

So, many projects on the go, will get inside them all in the blog over the next few weeks.

Here’s a reminder of what we do and how we do it;




What lies Underneath?

So a quick catch-up blog which will have to cover December…

At the end of December I had two key events – Creative Team building training in Zilina (Slovakia) and visiting Limerick to see a new piece of theatre …

Zilina was the residential training event supporting Akademia Zilina.

Working with Peter and Suz of NaPerone Theatre Company of Kosice.

The training was for 25 secretaries from a German automotive firm. Most of them worked as PAs and all were female…It was an interesting dynamic!!!

Peter and Suz were the Actors and the task was to work with the secretaries on their communication skills. We did some fun role-plays which mostly seemed to involve the girls abusing Peter (the boss) or instructing Suz (the PA) to abuse him!! Mostly I think they used the opportunity of training to say and do all the things they wish they could in the real world.

It was fun when the girls instructed Suz to give the boss an annual review on his own management style and skills  – it was very funny and very harsh… and who knows maybe some of the fun stuff will seep through to have an impact on how they work in a challenging environment when so much is expected of them?

Our training partners Akademia Zilina provided the translation and support for me and I worked with the actors to bring the whole thing to life in a dynamic way – and they were very good.

Peter and Suz also ran exercises – which included two classic moments. Firstly we went outside  of the hotel onto a terrace (it was a Ski Resort) and did some vocal training which included projecting our voices towards the mountains. After ten minutes of throwing voices we heard a voice come back from the other side of the mountains “Help!” – maybe they were training too???

The other classic moment was also outside when Miro (one of the other trainers) was trying to do a creative thinking exercise – with eyes closed “imagine yourself doing… so and so..” but the whole time we were doing the exercise we had one of the other trainers shouting “Kubo” “Kubo” “Kubo” as her dog ran madly in between 25 bemused (and hung-over secretaries).


Overall less about art and creativity and more about team-building and dog handling but an interesting challenge.

And most importantly I trained up actors to deliver this type of training – this is now an income stream for them as we build up Arts and Business Connections in Slovakia as part of Creative Kosice.

As 2015 evolves I will be training more and more artists to use their skills in Arts and Business cross-over activities which we hope will expand with international projects galore – watch this space!

The end to the Zilina trip was a three hour wait on the train station  to get the train back to Kosice – very cold … but i did feel like i was in a European Art Movie … stuck in a station in the middle of nowhere…



In December I was also in Ireland for the premiere of Underneath by Fishamble Theatre of Dublin.

Limerick is … well… who knows I spent the entire time in bars or in the hotel spa!!

But I am sure the rest of it is very nice!

Pat Kinevane was the actor starring in Underneath a one-man show he has penned about life death and judging (or not…) the book by its cover.

I love Pat as a performer (and writer) having produced his last two solo plays Silent and Forgotten at Hotbed Festival over the past couple of years:

One first viewing I was not totally convinced by Underneath. It appeared to be covering familiar (similar) ground in terms of both subject and particularly style,  as the previous piece Silent.

However I got sucked into it enough to care and to be challenged by the notion of how we see each other –particularly physically. And to be honest it has been a slow burner for me – watching it on opening night is always a little difficult and material needs to settle, but the material has stayed with me – now six weeks later I am still with the heroine as she battles societal ‘norms’.

Pat is a truly mesmerising performer and the material is strong and relevant. My only true criticism is the insertion of jokes which don’t come directly out of or feed into the story. They are unnecessary and really break the rhythm. This aside, Underneath is a modern parable brilliantly told that will challenge the way you view ‘beauty’ .

I hope to grab it for Hotbed – and I know it will be in Edinburgh at the fringe in 2015 – so definitely catch it before it gets its Fringe First!

OK, travels since Limerick include Czech Republic, Germany and Holland – more to follow… let’s see what lies beneath…

Blog: Thinking Outside the Box Office (Part Two)

Warsaw 23rd October 2014

I am in Warsaw with colleague Paul Bogen, former director of The Junction;

We are delivering Masterclass workshops on Audience Development for Polish Cultural organisations.

We meet up with Agata and Aga from Impact Poland, which makes us Paul, Paul Aga and Agata…

Impact is an audience development agency

Since 2011, Impact promotes the audience development concept in Poland organising conferences, workshops and individually working with art organisations and institutions in Poland. We have published 2 books in Polish about audience development concept and tools including good practices from Polish organisations.

I am first up on day one with a Key Note speech on Audience Development. I have 90 minutes to inspire and engage a room full of Polish artist and Arts Administrators…

My trick of course is to be interactive and I win my bet with Paul Bogen as I was told that I couldn’t make Poles laugh or say/do anything other than complain… I manage to get them to laugh (mostly with me…) and interact and… complaining is kept to a minimum. (although I note now a week later, that the feedback on my session was great including the line… you were a star… of course some people walked out of your session, but this is not a problem…!!!)

Despite the overall success of the session things don’t start well…

I introduce my brilliant and hilarious title to my talk with a fanfare which goes down like the proverbial lead balloon …

” yes folks my talk is called… Thinking Outside The Box Office”.. “

Brilliant!.. total silence…

Oops .. it is only two days later that Agata tells me no one knows what Box Office is… must research more next time

One minor incident (ok.. . accident) during the session as the head of a cultural organisation takes a tumble off a chair whilst balancing on it during one of my demonstrations about Instinct vs. Logic in thinking processes – oops- she instinctively hit the floor!

Well that was memorable – audience development bruises are I feel a fine lesson…

Lecture/Keynote focuses on challenging the audience over the notion that people will come to their event because “Art Matters” – not good enough.

I focus on who are our audiences/ who might be our audiences and who will never be; analysing who and why?

I adapt Aristotle…

If you want to avoid criticism

Say nothing…

Do nothing…

Be nothing…


To a Paul Bourne-ism…

If you want to avoid audiences

Say nothing…

Do nothing…

Be nothing…

And one PB original:

“If no one comes and sees your work… its not a performance… its a

rehearsal… and Life is not a rehearsal”

For me Audience Development is about capturing Hearts and Minds – understanding your product and organising your audience  – with great programming, great marketing and buckets of engagement opportunities – whether through education, access or inspirational activities and opportunities…

But mostly it is about an awareness that programming what you want and then assuming audiences will come to it,  is not enough…

I go through case studies; starting with The Greeks at the festival of Dionysia which saw pretty well the whole of Athens involved in Theatre contests through to:

Open Studios in Cambridge, an artists co-operative which opens up studios and houses to the public to engage with art in the artist’s home turf:

London’s Orchestral Marketing Consortium. Which collaborated effectively on cross – marketing initiatives through interrogating shared box office data, and combining their experience and know-how, learning how to work together effectively with collaborative approaches for growing audiences.

Our Menagerie production of Stand By Your Van (where we added audiences by offering the prize of a real vehicle to audience members) in Florida

And how we sold 100% of our tickets (one Performance member to one actor).

And some interesting thoughts on what audiences want and what audiences don’t know what they want. This is a nice article from Steve Waters in The Guardian about our Hotbed Festival and encouraging audiences to engage with new work:

Through to National Theatre Live as an example of bringing new audiences in (3.5 million new viewers)

And on to my favourite piece of programming where Street Artist Banksy takes over The Bristol Museum – boosting the museum audience by tens of thousands:

Along with Apps for museums, street marketing campaigns and all that lies in between I explore and challenge the notion that it is not enough to simply programme an arts event then put it on…

What do all of these have initiative have in common… thinking outside the Box Office of course!

A day of workshops is followed up by Paul Rex Bourne warm-ups and then a classic Wrap-up and Evaluation where the audience makes promises, give statements, find objects do performances and give feedback…

 After a day and night in Warsaw (including the litre beer specials) we head to Wroclaw for thinking outside the Box Office Part Three…



Arts and Business Battle Blog: Interview… Moi?

23rd October, Cambridge

I am just back from Poland where I have been in Wroclaw via Warsaw and the week before that Prague and Kaiserslautern- lots to report on Arts and Business development in Prague, a new script in development in Germany, and a double dose of Audience Development in Poland…

So, all being gathered and will be shared over the next couple of days…

Meanwhile I have a couple of archive blogs- this one is from an Interview in St Petersburg in May 2014 with a PR agency for various Russian Publications..

I had completed Judging a ” Theatre Battle” ;a kind of Russian X-Factor for serious Theatre!. The questions are from the Journalist and the answers… are moi!

Q: You are not only a theatre director but also a trainer, a business consultant and a coach.  Once you said that whatever the topic of your training session is, eventually you teach communications. Why so? What is the reason behind it?

A: Communication is the greatest tool we have as humans. The ability to challenge people, to teach them or to let know we love or loath them.

The core of our human behaviour is articulated instinctively in our bodies and minds through our physical and psychological actions and words.

Wrapped up in this is instinct supported by the dynamic of knowledge and experience. In other words communication is what we say or show and how we say or show it!

These thoughts and actions are prevalent in great theatre, shaped and articulated by playwrights as reflections on our lives; how we live, love and fight together and what our value systems are. So when I ‘teach’ communication or theatre I am not really teaching, I am exploring…our mindsets, our cultures, prejudices and attitudes. This is a value system common to both theatre and business.

I have directed over 100 plays in 25 years. What I have learnt is that you can be profound and clear as long as you understand the stakes involved and what you are prepared to risk to get what you want for yourself and for others. In theatre this is shaped by a playwright articulated by an actor.

In business we are acting too. Articulating our thoughts and feelings and shaping them to suit our audience

When I teach theatre or business communication I am essentially doing the same thing… shaping clarity of message, creating a desired reaction from those we communicate with. Action and Reaction.

A reaction caused by what we say and how we say it.

Clarity of voice

Clarity of content

Clarity of body

I explore “What if..” Seeing communication not as a task but as an opportunity.

So what if… we say this or that… now or later… or not at all..?

In theatre these questions are explored on stage. In life they are explored for real. In everything we say and do in is how we think and how those thoughts are articulated and with what energy and purpose..

So in life I explore the collision of Art and Business and enjoy the cross-overs and contradictions that exist in both worlds.

 Q: Recently you came to St.Petersburg to take part in  the Theatre Battle. It was the second time you arrived to work in the jury of this competition. What is special about this project for you that makes you undertake the long journey..


I support it for the same reasons you do. Theatre is an exciting, dynamic experience that reflects our lives, engages our senses and challenges our thinking. It inspires and provokes us, it makes us laugh and cry.

So to see young actors inspired to undertake theatre a as public sport is fun, engaging and vital.

There is nothing like this in the UK so to see actors pitted against each other in non-mortal combat is inspiring whether it is in the UK or in Russia.

This battle happens to be in Russia. I am interested and intrigued by Russian Culture and theatre. I studied Russian Theatre at school and so have a sense of what Russian theatre stands for.

So as I sit and watch and absorb the Theatre Battle I feel I am part of an experience which is my destiny but also enjoyable, engaging and one where I can learn a lot as well as contribute ideas.


– What do you think of such events?

The theatre battle is fun, inspiring, frustrating and glorious all in one night! All because of the mystery and possibility of improvisation. Having to work together to engage with the material, the audience and the judges. A challenging, but ultimately rewarding experience for all.


And what is your attitude to creative activity of the youth in general?

Well done to the young people.! They take it seriously and gracious in defeat and victory. It is like watching a sport as they clearly have tactics, training and insights into difficult challenges.

These young people are inspiring, as they battle in a friendly but serious way. We see their energies positively used and that has to be good.


The last Theatre Battle you attended was called The King of Improvisation. What are the improvisations meant for? Are they needed on the stage, in everyday life, in business?

Yes of course. Quick thinking. Rapid response. Instinct and content combined. These are often the key to successfully negotiating challenging situations. Meetings, negotiations, sales… all require a structure that can be altered.. a framework that is flexible.

Improvisation is like a conversation that flows… you accept and build upon the previous moment. Or if you can’t accept, then you challenge and build upon that new moment. You need to be truthful, specific and clear. But also you are looking to move situations forward with an authentic style supported by dynamics such as humour or serious intent. 

– Do you teach improvisation?

Yes..! no .. I am improvising now… YES!


Q: You teach communications. You come to the Theatre Battle at invitation of BC Communications agency… Is the key word “communications” a mere coincidence here? Can you give three definitions characterizing our agency?

There are no mere coincidences. One of my favourite words is serendipity.

It is often mis-understood as being lucky. Actually it is more akin to being in the right place with the right people with the right tools to be lucky. So therefore making your own luck. Improvisation requires serendipity so I would describe BC Communications (who run Theatre Battle) as a company of serendipity – they create luck by working hard and creating the environment where great things happen. You sponsor or support a theatre festival and good things happen, exciting things with exciting people.

Another definition or characterization for BC Communications comes from Shakespeare –

All the world’s a stage ..

I think of the organization as having a global outlook with a dynamic approach to performance – performance in life and in work that is focused on effective communication.

And so lets do one more Shakespeare..

To be or not to be…

that is what communicating is all about – who do you want to be or not want to be – destiny is in your hands and BC Communications help that destiny happen!!!


 – When interviewing our employees and friends the last question we always ask is about the person’s motto or a quotation which encourages him or her for success, gives an energy boost or simply supports in an hour of need. Now it’s your turn to share it with us.

Ok How about …


 When asked why he would not cut funding for the Arts in favour of the war effort, he simply replied … “then what are we fighting for?”

– Paul, we wish you great success in everything and look forward to seeing you  in St.Petersburg soon.



“Bully Busters”… The Power of Theatre…

So I read the report that confirmed I was right! Luton is OFFICIALLY the worst airport in Britain (see previous Blog from Luton to Goa…)

See report:

This morning heading to Kosice. It was chaos at Luton with total dis-organisation as per norm. But the biscuit–taker was the unnecessary ‘cruelty’ of staff demanding money at the gate from passengers for extra luggage … so aggressively.

Come on WizzAir lets have some sense of compassion, common sense and understanding … you are damaging yourselves and gaining nothing by this power trip of aggression.

Yes you want the money, yes it is printed on the poster and website that you can only take one bag on the plane but this is like some form of Torture Sport and you are trying to take the gold medal away from Ryanair … Yes I know this has all been said before and there are so many ways to approach challenging situations …blah blah blah… but the fact is that the way you act towards someone is so easy to adjust to get a cleaner more efficient response…and I’ll say it …nicer and more professionally handled too.

OK .. breathe …

… better…

So on my way to Kosice again for an Arts and Biz event… Creativity and Business…

And indeed this week has been the week of Slovakians as I have also been working with a Kosice 2013 study group in Cambridge too. More of that later.

BTW I am listening to new Kate Tempest album – great…

Before the Slovakians come and go .. I have briefly been over in Germany (Kaiserslautern) on a big US Army base… !!!

I am working with an “old” friend Dane Winters on a project using theatre as a tool for combating Bullies (should do one for WizzAir never mind US Army).

This project is right up there in terms of left field I have to admit.

But what can’t theatre be used as an instrument to explore…clearly very little!

We are going to work up an interactive Forum Theatre piece which can be used by local communities in American Schools in Europe (Armed Forces families) to help understand and hopefully have an impact on combating Bullying.

We will be working on cyber bullying and the “old school” bullying… “give me your sweets (candy?)”… playground stuff.

Aimed at two age groups 8-11 and 12-16, we will create a framework theatre piece that kids will then take ownership over and promote their own solutions for each of the characters and situations.
I am working with Playwright Craig Baxter to produce a quality play and hopefully a quality product. Craig has written many pieces for us and a while back won a v. prestigious award for his play The Altruists (and $10,000!)

Working within sensitive but dynamic boundaries I hope we can create something of real value that the kids have ownership over.

This type of Forum Theatre – interactive style – has of course been used for centuries in community environments.

At College we study Augusto Boal as the architect of modern forum theatre where social and political issues would be explored on the streets of Rio or Sao Paulo. Essentially he sought to make the people /audience/witnesses active participants in the theatrical experience:

His work fusing theatre with citizens had a great impact – establishing large and small-scale work on the streets of Brazil focusing particularly on issues of Human Rights through the Theatre of the Oppressed:

Our bullying forum project is more controlled/sanitised and certainly on a smaller scale, but using these techniques we can get closer to this community approach and potentially have a high impact through “ownership of ideas” .

Indeed my maddest use of interactive discussion was at the British Consulate in St Petersburg, Russia where we explored “Bullying and Harassment in the workplace” as part of staff professional development. This sounds strange, but of course is as relevant to train people in all elements that can put pressure on organisational culture. These challenges arise in a Consulate as in any other workplace environment and in fact it is sensible and important to explore. It just sounds weird taking the phone call … “can you do a work a workshop on Bullying and Harassment for the… British Consulate, Russia.”.

 In workplace scenarios “bullying” can often be about mis-understanding of culture and expectations. For example additional workload which is acceptable for one side is not for another and tensions can easily rise.

When tensions rise in a Consulate, the Playground or the Airport – it is about communication – and making sure that the communication is clear and fair and yes … even empathetic!

It is not about being just nice to people, it is understanding the impact of your actions.

The saying goes you are being bullied if you think you are being bullied.

So our focus is to establish measures to understand the dynamics and not allow outside pressures (time, money, culture, background, looks etc.) to prejudice us in our interactions.

Yes… we feel stressed, angry, mis-understood … but the aggression and wilful injuring of a 2nd or 3rd party is then when it becomes bullying.

And then what…? Well you need the power of theatre to solve the problem – of course!

Bully Busters are on the way..!

Final Edinburgh Blog… List of talents

Edinburgh Fringe is now finally …finally… over!

So a few interesting tie-ups before diving forward into next phase of work in Slovakia, Russia and good ol’ UK…

Firstly I got quite a lot of flack from artists I gave negative reviews to in my series of blogs about Edinburgh Fringe shows – not happy that I was “slagging” their shows off.

Quite right too – on both counts. If you are not happy about what I wrote – fight for your right to defend yourself, but not for me to edit the blog.

However one artist – Valerie Hager who performed Naked in Alaska… got in contact…

She did convince me that writing she only “had one talent (pole-dancing)” was a bit harsh, so…edited .. (need to increase her talent list to include tenacity as well!).

Actually her response about her show was interesting and challenged my thinking on how and why she told her story as a stripper and the empowering nature of ‘true stories’. There is a place for that in the theatre of course – just the night I saw the show it got under my skin and stayed there. Gosh I feel like this is an apology.. not quite – as they say if you have opinions you have enemies .. but I don’t want to harm anyone in my blogs just say it as I see it … when I see it!

So I leave 2 stars for Naked in Alaska but encourage people to see the show and decide for themselves (it got great reviews from everyone but me!) and one day maybe  I will see it again too…

But Andrew O’Neill at Pleasance, your compering of late night comedy was shit, and you are still getting only 0.5 stars and don’t come fucking moaning to me about it!!

Having said all that the final twist for our production  of Swimming, was getting an amazing five star review on the final weekend from one of the main national papers – Edinburgh Evening News:

Of course we had to cancel the next three performances as the queues formed around the theatre.!!!!

One of our actors hurt herself (back) moving set pieces at the end of a show – the curse of Edinburgh- and couldn’t perform. The final show was performed, but I was determined that we made sure she didn’t do it for us, but because she wanted to. Anyway she did the final show with limited movement which included having to stand for an intimate scene. It was fine, but just reminded me how delicate movement and space in particular are. Just standing there doesn’t cut the mustard!

So what will happen with Swimming? I would like to see it carry on – maybe with some re-writes.. but it will be back! It was great to produce a play by a young writer with a young cast talking about issues that really challenge young people’s sense of the future.


So back in Cambridge…

Picking up emails – Artist Chris Dobrowolski let me know that he had included a section on his website on how I had forced him to be a performing poodle…!

Not true of course … he has lots of other talents… woof! woof !


Fun for Everyone at The Fringe ..

August 7th – 15th 

Our play Swimming is going well. An interesting review in The Scotsman newspaper that somewhat bemuses me…as it says that it is a good play, well written, well acted but then criticises the piece because is that it doesn’t reveal key information until the end..???

I understand it is good to give key information at the beginning of say… a flight – “this is the emergency exit, crisps will cost you 5 euros” etc.

but not so much in a play… “it was a cold and rainy night the butler was about to commit murder…”

Although I agree the play could have an echo beyond the final resonance it is well-balanced I think (given the time restrictions already alluded to). Audiences have remained steady, responses positive.

Other shows seen

Tim Key: Single White Slut:

Really interesting, fuuny piece from established stand-up, this was very different – including interpretive dance! Funny and engaging. This is coming to The Junction in Cambridge next month and I 100% recommend it.

PB Star Rating 4.5



Live music supporting mime and character work about an LA barman. Actors interesting enough but quality of writing lets it down – it doesn’t achieve enough or take us into the dark places it should be capable of. Sure, acting is good and use of music and singing interesting… but not enough. One thing – this lead actor has to understand how to use his voice – he is singing every word but this is not singing it is acting –the voice is a tool that has to be mastered and respected, both as a tool and an instrument. The breathing of this actor has to be controlled. Breathe, Think, Speak.

PB star rating 3


Near Gone

This was very engaging, it is a story told by two performers in two languages – Bulgarian and English. The two actors are warm and engaging and the storytelling powerful and direct. It has a strong visual component too as flowers are strewn across the stage and the movement and use of space is also well judged.

It is a true story and has emotional punch. There are elements of this that could definitely be developed further to retain audience engagement – you could feel the audience losing connection at certain stages, but it is powerful and I left with a smile on my face and admiration for the concept in particular.

I also loved the last lien … “Well done Ginger…well done!”

PB rating 4 stars


The War


This production from Moscow was by a company I had seen before at Gogol Centre (awesome venue in Moscow), SounDrama.

They are a company that uses sound as a foundation for their work and here it was really amazing as they brought WW1 to life through the story of an Englishman who committed suicide during the war. This was an emotionally devastating and technically a truly astounding production by director Vladimir Pankov. Really more of an opera with text than a play, it was immense in all respects.

The production was an eclectic jigsaw of sound, light, fierce ensemble acting, echoey band music and a startling reanimation of familiar staging tricks: the huge swinging chandelier, fluttering papers in a wind machine, suspended ghosts.

Starting with an elegantly presented tableau of artists and poets discussing the future of beauty and the world in 1913, the show dissolves into the story of Great War officer, George, who committed suicide; his case is investigated by a re-telling of Homer’s Iliad, the two stories overlapping, one a psychodrama, the other an invocation of the Trojan war, the glories of Achilles and Hector.

In the most unforgettable sequence – the production plays for three uninterrupted hours – the beating shields at the death of Hector collide with a distorted chorale of “Amazing Grace”…tear jerker and truly an extraordinary piece of work…

PB star rating : 5


Another Fucking Variety Show

An all singing all dressing up hostess introduces series of acts in an inappropriate space badly lit and very un-atmospheric. Please don’t do this show in this space or in this way – cabaret requires a controlled environment that puts you in the mood to be transported into that special place – a 1930’s Berlin club or whatever.. not a classroom on Edinburgh University campus.

Acts were mixed from funny to embarrassing with the embarrassing being truly awful – how do some people survive – someone needs to tell them… but hostess engaging and a nice enough way to end an evening…

PB Star rating 3


Late Show Comedy

Shit – not even going to give you a link unless you get drunk and want to hear diatribe about fucking an octopus…!

PB star rating 0.5

(only not 0 because it was raining so I was dry for the 20 minutes I survived)


He Had Hairy Hands

This was a production we premiered at Hotbed from a talented and totally committed young company. A theatre of the grotesque set in middle England in the 1970s, it is a detective come horror spoof and plenty of fun for it. I actually preferred it on the bigger stage at the Junction at Hotbed but it still played well with a good enough script embellished by great fun performers…

PB star rating: 4


So there you go … Fun for everyone!!


The War at Curtain…


Annoying and talented…

August 2nd-6th

Back at the Fringe…Our show SWIMMING is now up and running and settling down well

In true ‘team’ play I have moved on from driving the van and am now operating the lighting and cueing the sound!

I have always had a good eye for lighting and actually enjoy adding that layer to all my work. It is a big drag for me when I have to get another lighting designer in (as in Egusi Soup this year) but it did look good…

So, after our previews we are now up with bigger audiences and indeed better performances and… the audience members stay awake!!! More than that they laugh and there is a great atmosphere at the end of show one and going forward. It is a complex play and shifts significantly from comedy to drama. I like it, but feel we have maybe squeezed it too much into the Edinburgh formula of being an hour in length and so the whole is not totally satisfying.

Truly this time squeeze has compromised part of the breadth of storytelling. It should be a 80-90 minute piece but has been distilled to 60. Indeed when Jane the writer turned up on day one, we had to break it to her that we had removed two monologues from the piece. Partly to help clarify story focus but also to make sure we hit our 60 minutes.

With ten shows programmed into our space, that is ten x one hour slots plus 20 minutes of turn-around and anything that messes up that formula causes a real problem.

I won’t do this again. If a play needs 90 minutes we will give it 90 minutes or not bring it. It is compromising for the work and also when it comes to touring shows later in the year people want a 90 or 120 minute piece with an interval (bar sales!).

Despite the timing issues we have a good piece which is a clever and clear character study about being a teenager working to live and not knowing what to do next.

It is rude and heart-breaking…

Edinburgh is all about momentum and confidence…

Actors pleased me relieved and almost immediately the first review comes out. It is a good one

With actors happier, flyering is better so hopefully audiences will build. But still a way to go to get to our 50% over 25 days…


The rest of the fringe…

Almost 4000 shows to choose from not to mention hundreds of concerts, exhibitions, book-launches and the streets and pubs packed with entertainment…

As performers we get a pass that entitles us to go to any show being produced by our organisation (The Pleasance) for free.

The only proviso is that it isn’t sold out. So we choose shows and queue up in the hope that we can flash our pass and get in for free.

I immediately go anti-theatre for the first period of time (my first week) then work my way slowly into the theatre pieces…

So starting each day at 11 am and working through the day I have seen a fair bit of comedy and sketches in the first week.

In order of favourite – down…

(viewing bias based entirely on the fact that the shows were free to me!)


  1. Adam Riches: Sketch Comedy

PB Rating: 4.5 stars

Five words: Crazy, Funny, Annoying, Intriguing, Clever



  1. Mark Watson: Stand–up comedy

PB Rating: 4 stars

Standard, Clear, Amusing, Engaging, Safe

(An extra star tonight as a woman in the audience had Tourette’s and kept shouting out “Biscuit!)


  1. The Noise Next door: Sketch Improv

4 stars.

Ingenious, Funny, clever, quick, slick


  1. Pete Firman: Magician /Comedy:

4 stars:

Magic, funny, clever, engaging, head-scratcher



  1. Imaginary Menagerie: Kids Show:

4 stars

Engaging, strong story, nice performances, sweet


  1. He Had Hairy Hands: Family Horror:

4 stars

Theatrical, quirky, 70’s, quick, intriguing


  1. Civil Rouges: Drama

3.5 stars

Engaging, inconsistent, confident, confused, fun


  1. This is Brazil: Dance and Music


  1. 5 stars


  1. Dead Poets Death Match:

3 stars

OK, engaging, fun-enough, hard-working, satisfying


10. Red Bastard:

2.5 stars

Mad, bad, sad, aggressive, intriguing


11. Lights Camera Improvise:

  1. 5 stars

Standard, quick, OK, whatever, hhmm


12. Morgan and West :

2 stars

Not funny, OK tricks, boring, predictable, tedious


13. Vocapeople: 2 stars

Annoying, talented, annoying, annoying, annoying


So, mostly annoying.. now onto Theatre… and the other 3987 shows..


Dependency… me?

1st August 2014

Apologies for gap in Blog.

Bad form.

Won’t happen again!


Today I am in Edinburgh at The Fringe Festival preparing our new show Swimming at The Pleasance:

Just received our first review which is nice:

I will quickly conclude on Escalator project in Slovakia…Skip over the extraordinary training day with Barrister’s Clerks in London … (but I will come back to this) and our own festival:  Hotbed …which I will come back to in detail

So, finishing up in Slovakia…

29th June ….

On the final day on the scheme we debate the value of Art and Culture.

Paul Bogen weighs in with that fact that we confuse Art and Culture – the labeling is a mess, its wrong and worse than that that it is damaging…

We have Artists but we don’t have Culturalists???

Art is from Artisan: Maker. It is about doing, making, performing, showing, telling.

Culture is about so many things; values, beliefs, religion, food…

I weigh in… Culture is the stories we choose to tell each other. What we choose to share…

Nods of approval and understanding. It is a clear concept?? I like it.

It reminds me of a famous Art Critic in New York who, when asked how he could define good art (particularly modern art), simply said it was determined by how much time he wanted to spend on it…

Thinking about it, looking at it, and talking about it.

It also reminds me of the Joke about the English City of Norwich.

Two things :

Firstly it applied to Europe to be a capital of culture – it didn’t get very far

So the joke goes…

The last time I experienced culture in Norwich was when I had a yoghurt …

and then there was the time I was in Norwich at the unveiling at the promotional Branding event for the city to enter the competition for city of culture —its tag line from the PR company??

“Britain’s Other City”

It is no surprise that Norwich didn’t make it.

Why did Kosice?… because it had a strong campaign that was focused and dynamic and there was a perceived need to connect Slovakia dynamically with the rest of Europe.. and put Kosice on the map.

The discussion on Art and Culture continues…

There are the challenges around how we view Artists in society especially in popular culture:

Warhol and Hurst = we have a problem with them making money through Art.

But Dylan or de Niro, we don’t..?

A contradiction in terms of commercialism and “popularism”.

The discussion moves onto one of funding dependency:

Funding dependent = potential for constant crisis or poor art. It is simple. There are examples all over Europe where bad art is a result of bad funding decisions. If you are dependent, you protect what you have and provide art that gives you guaranteed funding… that satisfies policies not artistic achievement and endeavour. no boundaries are pushed.

So you are not taking risks…

After a hard night of partying and taking risks (Paul Bogen DJ), drinking far too much and trying not to wander off (bears in the hotel grounds).. we put the tables and chairs back in place and head back ‘home’ to Kosice.

Whether it is Art or Culture we have been supporting on this programme doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that we have energised and professionalised some of Kosice’s creative people.

The fact is that they all have stories to tell and hopefully now they can tell them coherently and dynamically. And maybe they will even get funding.. not to be dependent but … to support their art (or culture?!) and engage and challenge…




and the final discussion we have on the way back …

The artist who put his own poo in a tin and put it on display then sold it…

Art, Culture or just…shit? I wonder if he got fiunded to do this???


Any way. We (Menagerie) got funding to go to Edinburgh !!! So, here we go…