31 August 2015

Paul Waggott and the Squirrel

The Travelling Squirrel by Robert Lord opens this week at Circa, with actor Paul Waggott playing the lead character, struggling writer Bart. Directed by Susan Wilson, this show is a satirical romantic comedy that follows Bart as he tries to get published and negotiates life with Jane his famous actress wife.  It then asks what happens when the tables turn and he becomes New York's hottest writer and Jane is axed from her soap opera job.

The play depicts a dangerous world in which fame and fortune are always, temptingly, just around the corner. Phillip Mann describes this show of Lord’s as "one of his funniest plays – just as it is also one of the most moving."
Paul Waggott, in rehearsal for The Travelling Squirrel.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.

To learn more about the show and what the process has been like, we’ve asked Paul Waggott to share his experience of working on this script over the past four weeks.

"Robert Lord was a name I had come across before while I was studying at Victoria University's Theatre Department. I spent many hours in The Robert Lord Library. But this is the first time I've had the opportunity to work on a play by him, and it's been an absolute joy. I remember when I first read the script I was struck by how ageless it seemed. It deals with so many concepts and situations that still ring true today. I could hardly believe it was over twenty years old.
Gavin Rutherford and Paul Waggott in rehearsal for The Travelling Squirrel.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.
"Bart is such an exciting character to play. As soon as I read the script I felt like I knew who he was, which is a testament to Lord's writing I think. I can empathise with Bart's central struggle: as the play begins he has finally finished writing his first book after five long years. His journey from here takes him through failure, to the depths of despair, out the other side with the promise of fame and fortune and beyond... It's a rollercoaster for the poor man that's for sure. I guess it speaks to me of a central question that all creatives must wrestle with at some point: to sell out or to not sell out? And, what even constitutes selling out? Is it worth holding on desperately to the integrity of your art if no one witnesses it? What if 'selling out' is the only way to get into a position where you can share your true art with the world? Bart doesn't manage to answer this question - I'm not sure it's ever answerable as such - but it sure is a good one to ask.
The cast of The Travelling Squirrel.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.
"Amidst all the intellectual facets of the play sit some very, very funny moments. The play seems to effortlessly run the gamut from poetic beauty to straight talking real world dialogue; from the interrogation of concepts and ideas to high farce. I'm not sure how Lord managed it but it seems to me he pulled it off. Bart is surrounded by wonderful characters, from soap opera superstar wife Jane, to the life in a New York minute agent Terry, to the hedonistic gossip columnist Wallace and more. There are multiple intersecting love (and lust) triangles that I'm sure we can all see ourselves reflected in to a greater or lesser degree - none of which I shall spoil here. 

"I think what excites me most is that the characters all feel human - heightened maybe at times, but humans, not caricatures. It really is a great script, and a great production - working with the cast has been a dream come true. There's so much talent on and off the stage in this production. I really can't wait to share it with audiences through September. Why don't you make sure you're one of them!"

The Travelling Squirrel opens on Saturday 5 September, and is on at Circa until 2 October.  Book now:  801 7992 or www.circa.co.nz.
Acushla-Tara Sutton and Paul Waggott star in The Travelling Squirrel.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.

12 August 2015

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This week in drama* on the waterfront, we learn more about writer, doctor and spiritualist, and author of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

An Old Norfolk Saying... "And a dreadful thing from the cliff did spring, And its wild bark thrill'd around, His eyes had the glow of the fires below, Twas the form of the Spectre Hound"
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Author Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 60 mystery stories with Sherlock Holmes and his loyal assistant Watson. He dreamed of being a serious historical novelist, yet he is best remembered for stories that he considered pot-boilers. He drew on many sources for his stories, and it was during a visit to Sheringham, Norfolk that he learned of the hound, Black Shuck, who is said to be one of the oldest phantoms of Great Britain which inspired him to write The Hound of the Baskervilles. There are many myths, tales, legends and sightings of this monster. Local legend tells of a huge hound, the size of a small calf with blazing eyes, who regularly prowls the coastal path between Sheringham and Overstrand.

The beast is said to track the steps of its victim and anyone unfortunate enough to turn around and meet its fiery gaze is said to die within a twelve month period. The Baskerville name was apparently from a local coach driver, Henry Baskerville, whom Doyle came across during his visit. The old man kept a signed copy of the book's original pressing as a sort of recompense.
Conan Doyle was born in Scotland. When he was nine years old he was sent off to England to a Jesuit Boarding school. It was here he found his flair for storytelling as a way of escape from bullying.

When he left school he decided to pursue a medical degree at the University of Edinburgh. At medical school, he met his mentor, Professor Dr. Joseph Bell, whose keen powers of observation would later inspire him to create his famed, legendary master sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Doyle’s first publication came in 1879 with The Mystery of Sasassa Valley.  At the same time as writing, he  pursued his studies and went on to become a physician at Southsea, Portsmouth. He eventually gave up medicine to concentrate on his writing career. In a series of stories - starting with A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four - he produced the memorable character, Sherlock Holmes, a detective who relied on facts and evidence rather than chance. In 1891, six Adventures of Sherlock Holmes were published in Strand magazine, with six more appearing the next year. By 1893, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, as the collected stories were now called, was a huge hit. Doyle however, wanted to concentrate on a more serious writing career and as he was somewhat tired of Sherlock Holmes he decided to kill him off.  As a result he wrote The Adventure of the Final Problem, in which Holmes and his arch enemy, Moriarty find themselves at the end of an intense pursuit, up on the top of the Reichenbach Falls in the Swiss Alps. This encounter ends with both of them apparently falling to their deaths.
Homes and Moriarty firghting at the Reichenbach Falls.  Illustration by Sidney Paget.
However, due to public outrage and financial pressures he was compelled to continue writing the Sherlock Holmes stories. The first to follow on from The Adventure of the Final Problem was The Hound of the Baskervilles, which remains today one of the most famous and popular of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
William Kircher as Sherlock Holmes in the current Circa production of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Photo by Stephen A'Court

Around the time he obtained his medical degree, Conan Doyle’s renounced his Catholicism and turned away from organised religion.  He began to attend séances and by the end of his life he had become an ardent spiritualist.

On one level, his was the story of a lapsed Roman Catholic troubled by an alcoholic father and never quite able to cast off his sense of the supernatural; on another it was the intellectual journey of an inquisitive man, dissatisfied with Victorian materialism but intent on using its tools to examine alternative forms of consciousness. His brother died in WW1 and his son died of ‘flu during the great epidemic round the same time, thus adding to the fervor of his convictions. This was also a time when orthodox religion was giving way to Darwin and science.
Conan Doyle died in Windlesham, his home in Crowborough, Sussex, and at his funeral his family and members of the spiritualist community celebrated rather than mourned the occasion. On July 13 1930, thousands of people filled London’s Royal Albert Hall for a séance during which Estelle Roberts, the spiritualist medium, claimed to have contacted Sir Arthur.

In 1902, Arthur Conan Doyle was knighted by King Edward VII. It was not for having created Sherlock Holmes, but for his writing a non-fiction work about the Boer War. However, his legacy remains with the amazing Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is on at Circa Theatre until 29 August.  Book online at www.circa.co.nz or by phone on 04 801 7992.

11 August 2015

Julie OBrien Improvises

Ask Julie O’Brien if she thought she’d ever perform in a totally non-scripted, unrehearsed show where the audience dictates the storyline and the answer would be a definite "never".

Most recently seen as Donna in Wellington Musical Theatre’s 2014 production of Mamma Mia, Julie’s career spans over thirty years. She is totally at home on the stage, but improvisation is a very different experience.

"Improv has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone", she says, "I’ve always worked with a script and a director and had weeks of rehearsal, but I’m absolutely loving this new challenge."
Julie stars as Donna in Mamma Mia.  Photo by Russell Dixon.
Born and bred in Wellington, O’Brien has worked in New York, Britain, New Zealand and Australia appearing in shows as diverse as Chess, Evita, The New Rocky Horror Show, Grease, Hairspray, Anything Goes, The Pirates of Penzance and Oliver. Julie was an original Australian cast member of ‘The Witches of Eastwick’, and received personal praise from Cameron Mackintosh when she played several performances in the role of Felicia, for which she was first understudy.

Before returning to NZ in 2005, Julie played the role of Rosie Greenwich in Leader Of The Pack, at Crown Casino, Melbourne.

In 2006, she took up the position of Course Coordinator of Musical Theatre for the Two Year Diploma course at The Wellington Performing Arts Centre (now Whitireia Performance Centre).

In Wellington, Julie has played the roles of Little Becky Two Shoes in the Downstage production of Urinetown, Mari Hoff in Stagecraft Theatre’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, and Velma von Tussle in Hairspray for Wellington Musical Theatre.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.  Photo by Jared Pallesen.
In 2012, she became a member of The Improvisors when they were contracted to undertake two of the largest training programmes ever to be run in New Zealand. "We rolled out the re-branding of Z energy to all employees in every Shell Service station throughout the country."  A year later, due to the overwhelming success of the Z Energy project, The Improvisors were asked to develop an HR programme for The Warehouse. ‘Love Your Customer' was a half-day programme for 15 – 20 participants hosted by a team of three Improvisors. It was run nationwide in 18 centres delivering to 5000 team members over ten weeks.  "It was very intense but a great experience", she says.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that O’Brien finally plucked up the courage to do Theatresports. "It’s a challenge and you definitely have to have your wits about you. The audience is primarily in charge of what we perform. We don’t know what the audience is going to throw at us, so it certainly keeps us on our toes."

Downton Aldib is different again from the format of Theatresports. Described as long form, a new episode is created at every performance. And with one show down and eight more to go, O’Brien is looking forward to seeing how it develops. "Each night, we supply the characters, the audience supplies the key plot ingredients and the result is costume drama as you’ve never seen it before and will never see again," she says. "The feedback from Sunday night’s audience was amazing. They were really engaged and after the show, people were already talking about coming back."
Julie O'Brien stars in DOWNTON AdLib, on now at Circa Theatre.

DOWNTON AdLib is on now at Circa Theatre, every Sunday night at 7pm until 27 September.  Book online at www.circa.co.nz or by phone 04 801-7992.