20 Years of Adventures in Story and Drama

This week I began a five week, fourteen workshop series in Guilsfield School near Welshpool. As these blogs will be paying a regular visit to update the project work I thought it might be a nice opportunity to remember some of the work I’ve done in the past. It was then that I realised that, give or take the odd month, it is more or less twenty years since I begun all this. So why not celebrate by remembering a few of the highlights of twenty years in theatre and story and select the odd photo along the way.

It began in the summer holidays, (remember them!) of 1995. Five of us gathered along with the local press in the skittle alley of The West India House, Durleigh Road, Bridgwater. where we were to begin rehearsing our first production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Two middle aged men who maybe should have known better, two young actresses – lately of my A Level Theatre studies group and one Exeter based musician. I no longer have that publicity picture of Brothers Tales, but the musician left after the first rehearsal. We remained friends but I don’t think we were for him.

This first picture shows the rude mechanicals in our production of the Dream and showcases Bottom’s impressive belly. The other mechanicals came courtesy of the local pound shop and how we got away with this I do not know, but they were certainly cheap labour! Later on John and I went on to produce a version of the play where four inmates from HM Prison Shepton Mallet played the parts the puppets couldn’t.

The Rude Mechanical Puppets!

The Rude Mechanical Puppets!

Alas and possibly fortunately, there are no existing pictures of our next production, ‘Dangerous Sports’. We were promised funding from the road traffic section of Somerset County Council, but all that ever appeared was three hundred pounds. John, Claire and I toured the show anyway in about 20 venues throughout Somerset, using a basic set, John’s home stereo system and two romper suits!, (don’t ask). The project was aimed at young drivers who had just passed their test. A series of comic vignettes followed our two heroes in pursuing ever dangerous sports and kept the audience chuckling. When things suddenly serious, our previous approach had all the more impact.

Instead here’s a picture to represent the History Days we perpetrated in local junior and primary schools for five years. A teacher from Wells Central High School phoned one day to ask if we did “Tudor Days.’ Needless to say it was the perfect excuse to invent one on the spot. It gave birth to a whole method of performance which I’ve used ever since. I invented our Potted Histories; a forty minute burst of facts, loud Hawaiian shirts and a series of wince making jokes. Accompanying that were workshops on the Armada and St Johns fair and our first fifty minute Shakespeare in pictures, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These children are trying their impersonation of professional Tudor mad girl Bess O’ Bedlam and Mad boy Tom O’ Bedlam. They’re good, aren’t they?

Various Attempts At Bedlam

Once or twice we actually did get funding for projects. One of these was from the Arts Council for the project we were commissioned to do by Sedgemoor District Council. “Splash’ was intended to encourage children to learn to swim before they reached secondary school. Claire’s wonderful seabird masks had been for an environmental project which never came off. I always intended to make use of all her hard work and in the dream sequence here I finally got the opportunity. The picture below it of a drunken Lizzie being greeted by her parents, (Nicky and Shaun) is every teenager’s nightmare.

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By the time we did Splash the old company Brother’s Tales had split and I had formed Skin O’ The Teeth. We were now the resident company at Bridgwater Arts Centre. Apart from a new production of Romeo and Juliet for Key Stage 3, one of our oddest ventures was Shakespeare Sacred and Profane, where we combined so called authentic Shakespeare with some more outrageous modern ideas. Here are Matt, Lesley, Lizzie, Annette and myself really getting our teeth into the Bard.

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It would be impossible to show a photographic history without more Hawaiian shirts so here they are again. This time Su, Paul and I are having fun in one of our arts centre showcases with our adaptations of two classic and silly English Folk Tales – Lazy Jack and The Three Sillies.

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Finally in this celebration of shirts and puppets, a chance to see me in a wig as Judge Jeffreys sentencing some children. I don’t think they’re taking it very seriously!  Our final project in Somerset was also the biggest. Bridgwater was celebrating its 800th anniversary and we were given a large amount of money to mount a major schools project for both junior/primary and secondary/further education. Nearly all the schools took part, producing their own pieces on an aspect of Bridgwater’s history. Tales with Teeth – as we were by now – contributed two major performances on both The Battle of Sedgemoor and Bridgwater Carnival. Even more exciting, (but alas no photos) was our production of The Eighteenth Day, a new play on the Quantock Murder by local playwright Stuart Croskell. The facts are history but  I asked Stuart not to write an ending yet. Instead after the secondary schools had seen what there was of the play, we workshopped possible endings with them. Then Stuart went away and wrote one from those ideas. Su, Alex and I performed the final result to a packed audience from the schools, (all the junior and primary groups having earlier performed their own pieces). I played John Walford, stopping for cider on his way to be hung and for a last farewell with his sweetheart Anne. It was one of the most moving performances of my life and a fitting finale for the Brothers and Teeth years.

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