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News

The Blue Elephant Theatre never ever does things by halvesIn-SpirelsMagazine.co.uk

Please see our past programme section for reviews of past shows.

News

Work with Blue Elephant Theatre!

Date published
Tuesday 4 September 2018

As the Blue Elephant gears up to celebrate its twentieth year in 2019, now is a very exciting time to join the energetic and busy theatre.

We're looking for:

Deputy Theatre Manager
This is a vital role within the organisation, providing essential support to the safe and efficient running of the theatre as an organisation, venue and community hub.
Download Deputy Theatre Manager Information and Application Form
Closing date for applications: 10am 1st October (Interviews second week of October)

Please note interview dates are indicative and may be subject to change.

News

Interview with Trojan Horse co-writer Helen Monks

Date published
Wednesday 18 July 2018

In just one week, LUNG come back to our stage with the Edinburgh Preview of Trojan Horse, that follows the real life stories of Muslim teachers and governors who were accused of plotting extremism in Birmingham schools. We sat down with co-writer Helen Monks to talk about the show and why it is so important for now.

1) Describe the show in one sentence.
Explosive!

2) What is your favourite thing about the show?
The amount it stretches your brain and challenges your perceptions. You will be pushed, pulled and outraged. As well as a play, this is a piece of investigative journalism. Ultimately, my favourite thing about this show is how much it uncovers.

3) Who should come to see this show?
This is a story that affects all of us. So anyone and everyone! But brummies are especially welcome.

4) Why is this show important for now?
In the current culture of prevent and 'British Values', we need to be challenging the narratives that are put out, particularly about Muslims. The UK is becoming increasingly divided, and Trojan Horse is just one example of how a story can be hijacked by the media, and certain voices get left out. We believe there is so much power in retelling these stories, with new voices and new perspectives at the forefront.

Trojan Horse will run on Thursday 26th & Friday 27th July at 8pm at Blue Elephant Theatre. Tickets available now: http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/trojan-horse

News

Refugee Week and beyond at the Blue Elephant

Date published
Monday 18 June 2018

As Refugee Week begins, the Blue Elephant is delighted to be taking part in the celebration of the contribution refugees make to the UK and to join in encouraging better understanding between communities, both this week and beyond.

On Friday June 22nd, the Blue Elephant is hosting A Very Elephant Afternoon from 3.30pm! Our Participation Officer Louise Dickinson is running a fun drama session for all the family. There’ll be the opportunity to play games, make up stories, laugh and have fun together. This workshop is particularly aimed at families from refugee backgrounds but all are welcome. Find out more here.

On July 1st, Maya Productions’ The Croydon Avengers asks how three teenage refugees can become the saviours of a doomed nation? A freak accident at Gatwick deportation centre gives three friends powers beyond their wildest dreams. This trio of masked vigilantes send Croydon’s crime rate plummeting, but Regina Rump and her media proclaim them to be a threat to British identity! Maya Productions find stories that don’t often get told and look for new ways of telling them. The Croydon Avengers/strong> is a vibrant, action packed and funny new play for young people aged 8-14, written by Oladipo Agboluaje.

Finally, Flugelman Productions’ Boxman offers another perspective, as Reice Weathers plays Ringo in this one man show by Daniel Keene. Displaced from his homeland, Ringo is sheltering in a cardboard box in an inner city park. Inside his makeshift ‘home’, Ringo lives a life rich with stories and songs of a childhood far away, a family tragically lost and the complicated promise of a new beginning. Flugelman Productions will be collecting for the Refugee Council after their performances from July 4th to 6th at 8pm.

★★★★★ This is my pick of the Fringe by a country mile. If I could give it six stars, I would. – Simon Lovat, Broadway Baby at Brighton Fringe 2018

Booking for all three of these events is still available. If you have any questions then please do not hesitate to get in touch by calling us on 020 7701 0100 or emailing info@blueelephanttheatre.co.uk.

News

Award Nominated Local Performer Brings His Latest Show to Blue Elephant Theatre

Date published
Wednesday 30 May 2018

Brain Rinse is a madcap, bizarre comedy sketch show that tackles all the big themes in life. But what makes this show really different is that local comedy actor Mike Raffone doesn’t perform to the audience; he performs with the audience in the ultimate immersive show with a cast of thousands. There’s war, mountaineering, a sex cult where the members are not allowed to touch each other, and a spiritual journey to discover one’s ‘inner ninja’. It’s all in there in this one-man show, which makes its London début at Blue Elephant Theatre in June.

You may know Walworth based Mike as the compère and brains behind the area’s monthly Cabaret Night Cabaret Rinse, but Mike has spent the last few years developing work for theatre audiences and Brain Rinse is the result. As an artist, he relishes facing new challenges and has always wanted to move his work into different areas. This cabaret promoter and ex-street entertainer has, however, not forgotten his roots. The show retains all of the energy, edginess and unpredictability of his former work and this is what makes it unique. Many comedy shows have interactive elements but this experienced and accomplished performer has decided to go the whole hog and do the whole thing not to, but with the audience.

Sure, the idea of joining in may fill you with more dread than the thought of two hours in the dentist's chair with Dr Josef Mengele, but you are in safe hands with Mike. He has over three decades experience, entertaining audiences all over the world with his interactive street comedy and cabaret.“Now I know”, says Mike, “that asking the audience to do the entire show is a big ask, but I’ve learned that if the audience are treated with respect they will almost always give more than they imagine they ever could.”

And as for performing his show at Blue Elephant Theatre, Mike says he’s really excited at the prospect. “It’s amazing to have such a vibrant, energetic and interesting theatre just down the road from where I live. Not only that, it’s a theatre that’s committed to putting on new and fresh work. Not many places outside of Central London can boast that, so it was the obvious choice when I was thinking about theatre venues for my latest show. It’s a chance to reach out to local audiences who would like this unique and fun comedy theatre show.”

You can catch Brain Rinse at Blue Elephant Theatre, 59a Bethwin Road, SE5 0XT on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd June at 8pm. Tickets are £10 (£8.50 concessions), £7.50 for Southwark residents and there is an earl bird offer of £6.25 if you book before 28th May. The show lasts about in hour with no interval.

‘I guarantee you will be in safe hands if you turn up to the hilarious Brain Rinse. He (Mike Raffone) had a fantastic presence on stage and supreme ability to get the best out of us all.’ Stephanie Billen, Buxton Festival Review

‘Top notch audience psychology, all hail!’ John Fleming

News

Talking Prune with Serena Flynn

Date published
Monday 12 February 2018

We caught up with Serena Flynn ahead of her latest work in progress showing, Prune in Progress.

1) What’s your favourite thing about your show?
This creature I've created (Prune) doesn't follow social rules and norms, so she's permitted to do and say things that I (as Serena) would never have the guts to. She's the product of a break up, so she's shriveled and bitter but also brave and fearless. She luxuriates in the drama and pain of heartbreak in a way that I never would have allowed myself to do.

2) What’s the best thing about Meadow’s show?
Meadow is pure pink, fluffy joy - she's an all-singing, all-dancing entertainer.

3) Who should come see your show?
Anyone who's ever had their heart broken.

4) The important question: cats or dogs?!
Dogs. Obviously. No comparison.

5) If you could describe your show in one sentence, what would it be?
Anarchic, grotesque and a bit nuts.

Split Bill: Meadow by Meadow and Serena Flynn: Prune in Progress shows on 22nd and 23rd February. More information and book tickets here: http://blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/split-bill-meadow-meadow-serena-flynn-p...

News

Our Resident Artists for 2018!

Publication
Blue Elephant Theatre
Date published
Wednesday 15 November 2017

Blue Elephant Theatre Announces Artists for 2018 Residencies

Blue Elephant Theatre is delighted to announce the artists chosen to be part of its inaugural residencies scheme. The residencies will support the research and development of four new pieces of theatre, chosen from nearly two hundred applications. These are possible thanks to a grant from the Idlewild Trust, which seeks to improve opportunities for young professionals working creatively in the arts at an early stage in their careers.

Decoupage Collective - @decoupageco
Découpage Collective explore the territories between the conscious and the subconscious, working with new writing, live music and physical performance practices to create theatre that is intimate, visceral and poetic. Outside deconstructs a singular character into multiple beings who together try to articulate the complexity of sex workers condition and the perception of such condition by themselves. This sensitive subject matter will be explored through music, images and writing drawn from statements from these women.

Grace Duggan - @GraceDuggan
Grace Duggan is a working class artist, born in East London who recently graduated from East 15 Acting School. Driven by local communities and their diversity, Grace has previously worked with vulnerable adults, children and young people. The Average Project interrogates our cultural double standards of 'body image' as we enter a new era of how our body image affects ourselves, our class, our diversity and our outlook on others. If we objectify men the same way we’ve objectified women, what does this mean for our future?

Monument Theatre Company - @MonumentTC
Monument Theatre Company is influenced by the work of Simon McBurney, Jacque Lecoq and Philippe Gaulier. They aim to bring untold stories to life with passion, vision and imagination. Windrush Square takes us back to 1980's, Brixton. When a young black man dies in police custody, racial tensions are at an all-time high. At the heart of this story we meet a young couple in an interracial relationship whose love blossoms as the tension increases. How do their families deal with this? Does their love outweigh conflict?

Maeve O'Sullivan and Cait O’Sullivan - @OoMaeve
Maeve and Cait are Geordie-Irish sisters. Maeve is a graduate of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and although she has worked a lot in theatre, this is her first exploring original writing where she is integral to the process. Cait recently graduated from her Masters in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester, and is excited to be writing this as her third play. Living With a Dark Lord is a precious and personal story told from siblings growing up with a Dark Lord for a brother. A very real insight into the world of autism.

Niamh de Valera, Executive & Co-Artistic Director of Blue Elephant Theatre, says
“We are so excited to be offering formal residencies at the Blue Elephant – it’s been a dream for so long! We were blown away by the quality and dynamism of the applications we received so deciding on the final four was incredibly tough. We can’t wait to see what comes of their time at Blue Elephant and hope it’s only the start of our working relationships with each other.”

Blue Elephant Theatre aims to continue offering residencies in future to nurture companies in their infancy. It recognises importance of providing opportunities to support emerging artists and the difficulties caused by increased competition for funds and space. Previous examples of companies supported by BET include Theatre Temoin and On the Run.

News

Strawberry Starburst & MHAW 2016

Publication
Dulwich on View
Date published
Thursday 19 May 2016
Author
Niamh de Valera

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and we’re showing Strawberry Starburst at the Blue Elephant.

Strawberry Starburst is a fierce new play about a teenager developing and battling an eating disorder. When Bram Davidovich first sent us his script, it hit a chord with us which has only strengthened as he has developed the play to include a more medically accurate description of Shez’ recovery process.

The Blue Elephant has had a strong focus on mental health and well-being for some time. Our forum theatre project, Speak Out, which tours to schools around Southwark has long focused on supporting young people to better understand their own mental health and how to cope in overwhelming situations and where to go to ask for help. We run 2BScene, an adult drama group predominantly made up of those with lived experience of mental health problems, which produces theatre pieces addressing the stigma attached to poor mental health and highlighting the isolation and vulnerabilities that can be both a cause and effect of mental health problems.

It follows that we were very receptive to Bram’s script and the story it contained. As a theatre, we try to address big issues and one of the strongest aspects of Strawberry Starburst, in our opinion, is that it doesn’t give a single reason for Shez becoming ill. There is a lot going on in her life; her dad leaving, her unfaithful boyfriend, her unwittingly harsh mother expecting certain things of her. But there are also chance remarks, certain memories, insidious thoughts, her own perseverance and her strength of character turning back on itself. Somewhere in this melting pot of reasons may lie the cause of her illness but the play isn’t going to give us an easy answer on that.

At the end of the play, Shez is in recovery and it’s tough. It’s not a happily-ever-after ending, but a step on a long road. Our mental health is fragile and recovering from bad times isn’t a simple thing. It can take a lot of time and effort and there may be setbacks and relapses – it’s not fair to make that look pretty or easy because it belies just how much strength goes into recovering from, and indeed living with, a mental health problem.

Strawberry Starburst runs at Blue Elephant Theatre until 28 May. For tickets, book here.

Eating Disorder charity Beat has helplines and an email service for adults and young people offering support and information about eating disorders and difficulties with food, weight and shape. We also have an email service and an online one to one service.

Adult Helpline: 0345 634 1414 or email help@b-eat.co.uk
Youthline: 0345 634 7650 or email fyp@b-eat.co.uk

News

Two New Directors for Blue Elephant

Publication
Southwark Weekender
Date published
Friday 3 April 2015
Author
Michael Holland
News

Kids Join Celebs for Children In Need Choir

Publication
Southwark News
Date published
Thursday 13 November 2014
Author
Amelia Burr
News

West Ham In the Community- and keeping it that way!

Publication
Over Land and Sea
Date published
Saturday 31 August 2013

Now it may surprise you to know that I’m not a full time journalist- although I do find talking to myself is becoming more and more of a regular occurrence. On weekdays, I’m often found at a buzzing little theatre in Camberwell, where community is paramount but so is bringing through young artists and enriching the local area with international talent. Sound familiar to West Ham yet? Okay, I understand that the areas are completely different in terms of product; my scintillating spiel about Guy Demel’s poor positioning goes down as well at the theatre as Butoh inspired dance would amongst these pages (although something tells me we’d be up for anything after the exciting signing of Andy Carroll). Still, I got talking to Blue Elephant Theatre’s very own Participation & Development Director, Jo Sadler-Lovett, over how important it would be for the club to keep engaging with the East End territories long after the move to Stratford.
I’ve known Jo for a number of years now and three words that you would use to sum up Jo are busy, energetic and extremely generous. As if to prove all of these points, she allowed me to speak to her over lunch which not only took up some of her free time but meant that she had to dodge the spray of Camberwell’s finest sandwich which I happened to be eating.

“While we are clearly different organisations with different personnel and budgets, there will be a lot of similarities between what we are trying to achieve at the Blue Elephant Participation Department and West Ham United” she begins.

I interject, saying that one of the reasons we were awarded the Olympic Stadium was because of our promise to extend our community programmes.

“Well this is it”, she says, “There’s a lot of benefit for communities when they have these kinds of programmes, regardless of whether it’s sport or the arts. One only has to look at the Olympics to see that the two have worked side by side to create excitement and good feeling- and those are just the more obvious benefits.”

That sounds good. I beckon her to go on.

“To start with charities can benefit from more flexible funding. They can suggest areas where funding is needed the most. In turn, businesses can see where their money is going towards and see that it is really helping.”

So in short, West Ham wouldn’t just be putting the money into their different initiatives and schemes but appropriating it effectively?

“Exactly. Businesses and individuals can also supply certain expertise. Bookkeeping for example. They can provide all the right personnel that charities may not have to make sure things are running smoothly.”

It’s fine to do this but on a ground level, how does it help people in the local community?

“More than you’d realise actually. For example, we give young people a place to go after school and at weekends. Not only do our activities give them a real sense of purpose and help them to learn about responsibility but it makes them more aware of the community around them and how they have an impact upon it. What is also satisfying for me is that I can help supplement their development as people but also get them interested in theatre and other aspects of culture that they may not previously have had access to.”

This is certainly food for thought. I can see what the Blue Elephant is achieving. Having worked there for the past two years, I know that the Blue Elephant isn’t a large theatre but its participation department is making huge leaps to help young children.

“It’s not just young children!” Jo smiles “We also have a community play for adults, we run projects tackling mental health and we go into primary and secondary schools and help to supplement their curriculum. We work with all kinds of age groups.”

So, one must consider the fact that if the tiny Blue Elephant is able to do this amount on quite a large scale, one can only dream of what West Ham can do as a club with their community projects.

“There’s no hiding that we get people involved in theatre. West Ham will be the same. Not only will people gain from their schemes but they will see the club as a great place and will more than likely support it back.”

So West Ham are reaching out to people and will more than likely be building their own ‘community’ of supporters and potential employees?

“It’s a win, win situation. If the people in the local area aren’t fans already, they soon will be. They feel a sense of cohesion and belonging plus they have role models in their facilitators and the players on the pitch.”

It does sound good. The club are helping the local community and creating a sense of unity. One concern is that all the West Ham fans have moved to outer Essex and that the East End is no longer dominated by Hammers, as it once was. It seems as if the locals aren’t involved with the club. These initiatives could not only help the local area but will help bring the community of Newham back into the West Ham community.

“It’s obviously great to involve locals but at the same time it doesn’t stop anyone else getting involved. Whether it’s time or money that you’re offering, everything will be appreciated. I know that we appreciate all the help that we get.”

I thank Jo for her time. It’s great to know that the club are trying to engage with the community. No matter how low key it seems to us, there is an awful lot going on. As discussed, this is participation on a massive scale. The Blue Elephant and Jo engaged 1,069 people alone in 2011 (the 2012 results haven’t been published yet but it’s expected to be a larger number!) If you’d like to get involved in volunteering projects you can go to www.do-it.org.uk . Community matters and the people in it make that community. Come on you Irons/Elephants!

News

Poignant Hilarity

Publication
Southwark News
Date published
Thursday 11 April 2013
Author
Susan Hallissey

WOW! HOW many ways can I find to tell you that I absolutely loved this piece of theatre? I guess I will just have to give it a go...

I've not been to the Blue Elephant Theatre before but if this production is anything to go by I hope to become a regular! The venue itself is tucked away in Camberwell like a lost gem. The staff are friendly and I sensed a passion for the work created here. Jimmy in the bar deserves a mention for his smile and attention!

Roger Simeon's You and Me is physical theatre in its most delicious sense. Music, dance, and expression beautifully crafted by Patricia Rodriguez and Merce Ribot. The energy of this duo did not diminish and they cleverly enticed us into their world. This was the sad and touching dwelling of bathos. It only took moments to believe that the two young actors were in fact two elderly Spanish sisters, bound together by age, history and life.

The dialogue moved swiftly from absurd conversations of death-'Life is a very tiring activity'-to what to wear when one dies (A red or green dress? Green brings out my eyes), to the issue of laziness, how shoes are made and so much more. This production never allows you to become bored and the coffin scene, amongst others, is brilliantly choreographed. Surrounded by brown cardboard boxes there is also the conversation of words versus numbers...Ingenious!

As I laughed my way through this couple's eccentric behaviour I was aware of something more poignant lurking beneath hilarity. These sisters were lost and isolated and as one looked after the other we felt the anguish and frustration that bound them: who really needed who?

You and me is basically a story of human emotions and lost lives, told in such a way that you will want to jump for joy one moment and cry with remorse the next. This is due in part to the skilful writing, the inspired directing and perfect timing and acting of Rodriguez and Ribot. My companion giggled then wept at the end-she had never seen physical theatre and was totally immersed and converted. Physical theatre can be misconstrued as slapstick or farce, this piece proves that the addition of imaginative movements, music and dance we can be transported to a magical, enchanting landscape with tender moments.

News

An Interview with Jasmine from the Blue Elephant Theatre

Publication
Dulwich On View
Date published
Thursday 14 March 2013
Author
Shapa Begum

I was fortunate enough to interview Jasmine Cullingford, Artistic Director at the Blue Elephant (BET), and find out a little more about BET, the theatre world, lovely old Camberwell and an embarrassing story or two.

What makes Blue Elephant different from other theatres?

The fact that we defy categorisation… Our work can’t easily be pigeon-holed, although it is usually non-naturalistic and off-beat. We also don’t just specialise in ‘theatre’ in the traditional sense, but value all art-forms, from music to visual art, creating theatre which crosses genres, from dance-theatre to ‘concert-theatre’, a term newly coined for Sonata Movements earlier this year which was simultaneously a recital by pianist An-Ting Chang and evening of plays directed by Jude Christian.

Describe BET in 3 words…

Ambitious, alternative, challenging

How did you get into Artistic Directing?

Through hard graft and an obsession with theatre from an early age! I did my school work experience placement at the Contact Theatre, Manchester, and during my student days was a Rep for the Royal Shakespeare Company and an intern at the Royal Court. After graduating I worked at the Orange Tree, Richmond and then Theatre Royal Stratford East before coming to the Blue Elephant Theatre. Despite their completely different remits, I loved the work of all of these companies – what they have in common is how good their shows are. I have tried to reflect this appreciation for all forms of theatre as Artistic Director of BET, by programming eclectic seasons united not by theme or genre but only by quality.

Describe yourself in 3 words…

Small, sociable and smiley :)

What’s the best thing about working at BET?

Being able to support amazing people to develop their art and careers. I love hearing how well our ‘alumni’ are doing, knowing we made a difference by giving them vital opportunities early on. Artists and companies we have nurtured are many and varied, including: Evening Standard Award-winning designer Mamoru Iriguchi, Paul Morris (who won the OffWestEnd Adopt a Playwright Award), Levantes Dance Theatre (who won the Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award), and Bush Theatre Associates Theatre Ad Infinitum.

…and working life in Camberwell?

Being part of the creative community in South London. A lot of people we work with live a short walk or bike ride away and I’m always bumping into them and stopping for catch ups on street corners! Being close to but not in central London is a bonus too. I can get into the West End very quickly, but can bypass it on days when I want to stay away from the hustle and bustle.

How do you select the productions shown at BET?

We receive proposals in lots of different forms, from an unsolicited script from a writer, to footage of scratch performances, to invites to see productions from companies whose next piece we might programme. We also have a lot of returning companies with whom we have an established relationship and can sometimes programme their work just from an idea that’s in their head. All our work is new so every show is a risk, but it usually pays off!

What does the BET do to encourage community involvement?

We have a thriving participation department which works with local residents from primary age upwards, delivering workshops in schools, providing after-school and holiday activities and producing community plays. All our education and outreach work is at no cost to participants. We also have a discounted rate for Southwark residents on all our productions.

How has BET changed over the years?

The theatre used to have an international remit, but since starting to co-programme the venue in 2006 and becoming Artistic Director in 2009, I have focused on home-grown talent: London-based, and Southwark in particular wherever possible.

Is your audience made up of the general London public or mainly south Londoners?

Much of our audience is South London based (because North Londoners often don’t seem to want to venture more than a minute from a tube station!) but we do get London-wide theatregoers as well. There aren’t many venues which feature the cross-platform & physical theatre work we do, so people do travel to come and see it.

What’s the future for the Blue Elephant? What are your wildest plans and hopes for 2013?

The theatre goes from strength to strength and, as ever, we hope to continue in this vein! We don’t programme too far in advance as we would hate to have to refuse an amazing project because of lack of space, but we’re very excited about our new season which has just opened. We’re working for the first time with physical company Glass-Eye Theatre, devising company Tattooed Potato (beat that for an unusual name!) and Joon Dance. We’re building on our relationship with Spanish company Little Soldier Productions, and we’re welcoming back Lazarus, our resident classics company, and Lecoq performer David Ralfe – working with newcomer Hannah Moss. We are also starting work on our in-house show, a one-man adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s ‘The Boy in Darkness’ with Gareth Murphy, directed by Aaron Paterson.

What’s your favourite London theatre/play?

I love outdoor theatre (when it doesn’t rain!) and festivals where you can see a variety of work, often site-specific. So I always try and get to see Steam Industry’s work at the Scoop, the Watch This Space season at the National and the Greenwich & Docklands Festival. I also enjoy going to other venues specialising in cross-art-form work such as Kings Place & the Barbican, as well as seeing ENO’s innovative work at the Coliseum.

What is your favourite place in south London and why?

Ooh, there’s definitely more than one so I’m going to have to choose a few! I think the Horniman Museum is fab (and free!), with its stuffed animals and instrument collection vying for your attention. I love the Bonnington Cafe in Vauxhall, a co-operatively run vegetarian cafe where you can eat delicious and cheap home-made dinners, but with other people making the culinary efforts! I also like the House Gallery & Cafe in Camberwell where you can do food and culture at the same time!

What do you like to do on your day off?

I’m not one to stay at home, nor to stay still for very long, so days off are usually packed (much to my husband’s chagrin! I do allow us a lie-in at least!). Typically I might go on a walk exploring areas of London I don’t already know, hoping I might find a hidden museum or gallery to get a bite to eat at and then look at their collection, and then meet friends for an evening out at some arts event.

What advice do you have for theatre newbies?

Get some good work experience… This will help you build contacts and gain an invaluable working knowledge of theatre. Sometimes placements can lead directly to paid work too. Southwark Playhouse Associate Director David Mercatali started his career as a volunteer with us, going on to assistant direct and then direct shows with us. Also see as much theatre as you can (it always helps if you have seen work by companies before you apply for jobs with them) and not just of one kind or at one theatre – go out of your comfort zone: this will either broaden your tastes or help you appreciate your preferences more and enable you to talk knowledgeably about theatre you do and don’t like.

Dinner before or after the theatre?

I’m going to sit on the fence on this one… Shows at BET usually start at 8pm and end at 9.30pm so you can fit in dinner either side!

Any embarrassing stories you would like to share with us?

In the middle of leading a post-show discussion once, I realised I had a big hole in my tights and had to position myself in such a way that it couldn’t be seen. I looked like I needed the loo the entire time!

News

Where Lang Lang led... Chopin and a dubstep dancer – and cross artform collaboration

Publication
Gramophone
Date published
Friday 19 October 2012
Author
Martin Cullingford

A promotional video for Lang Lang’s new Chopin album has the pianist playing Etude Op 25 No 12 while a dancer called Marquese 'Nonstop' Scott responds to the music (in what I now know to be dubstep style) across the floor of a voluminous warehouse. It’s not the first video to combine music and similar dance – in the past we’ve sent Gramophone readers links to the spirited video of Alexandre Tharaud playing Couperin’s Tic Toc Choc, accompanied by a hip hop dancer and beat boxer, and there’s also a sublimely surreal dance response to Yo Yo Ma playing Saint-Saëns at the White House.

Like them, Lang Lang’s video is a fun and thoughtful attempt to bring together two very different artistic forms – and, crucially, two very different audiences. When most people encounter such collaborations it is, however, almost invariably in short-form high-profile experiments such as Lang Lang’s, designed to grab wide attention. That’s not meant to belittle them – that’s part of their point. But elsewhere such collaborations can, and do, create something deeper and more meaningful.

At a formative, grassroots, level, I personally see this a lot. My wife runs a theatre, the Blue Elephant in London, which offers a nurturing home for this sort of cross artform collaboration. Having regularly accompanied me to classical events over many years, she possibly has a uniquely rounded perspective on both ‘worlds’; but it’s clearly an appetite shared by many young artists she works with, and for whom this isn’t so much cross artform as just art. Earlier this year she staged a performance by a group called ConcertTheatre, led by artists from the Royal Academy of Music and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which combined music by Chopin and Schubert with texts by TS Eliot and Chekhov. This was not a pianist offering background mood music - rather the words, their rhythm and cadence, were intricately interwoven with the score. It became something quite different to what either could achieve on their own – and was poignant and beautiful.

Talking after that performance with the principal of the RAM (and Gramophone critic) Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, I was thrilled to hear of his commitment to the potential such exchanges of ideas can have for creativity. The RAM has form here, whether that be links with the Bristol School of Animation, working with the British Film Institute on presenting a newly restored print of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film The Pleasure Gardens at Wilton’s Music Hall, or drawing on elements of choreographed design, theatre and puppetry for a new opera by Peter Maxwell Davies. It’s also currently working on a collaboration with the Wallace Collection to help explore and contextualise an exhibition. And, from a different group, earlier this month I reported on the first collaboration between The Sixteen and the Queen’s Galleries, linking Josquin and da Vinci.

Elsewhere, two years ago, Aldeburgh Festival’s ambitious enthusiasm for ignoring boundaries saw me walking through a rain-swept Thorpeness, from Britten concert to concert, beside sculptural installations floating in the Meare and young actors resplendent in vintage Fred Perry playing tennis or thwacking the rough, illuminating the Edwardian resort’s origins. Next year’s festival promises a Peter Grimes-themed walk through Aldeburgh itself courtesy of immersive theatre company Punchdrunk, about which I’m very intrigued but slightly apprehensive.

English National Opera is also to be praised here, the hypnotically meditative music of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha not so long ago given vivid visual manifestation by theatre company Improbable. The project attracted one of my theatre friends to his first opera – this is what ENO should be doing more of if it wants to attract the artistically committed and curious new audiences it seeks, not obsessing over what audience members wear (for the record, I doubt it even crossed my friend’s mind whether his attire was or was not suitable). And if any individual artist embodies such work, it must surely be Michel van der Aa, his compositions embracing film and movement not as a way of simply staging them, but as an integral part of the scored piece.

Cross art form collaboration is not always the right approach, and sometimes it doesn’t work. Blending genres, or adding elements to established works of art, needs to create something different and of worth in its own right – otherwise it detracts. Sometimes music requires an approach of uncompromising purity to achieve an entirely immersive level of emotional understanding and engagement. After all, what could anything other than a single violin add to the solo Sonatas and Partitas of Bach? Yet even there, I note Alina Ibragimova recently collaborated to critical acclaim with film-makers the Quay Brothers on a work involving the deeply spiritual Chaconne.

This article began with the headline ‘where Lang Lang led’. I wasn’t implying that he was leading the charge towards a new way of working – there are others far further down that road, though I hope that with his talent and ability to inspire others it’s a road along which he will continue to journey – but more that he’s led this article a long way from a short promotional film of a pianist and dubstep dancer. So let’s return to where we began: here’s the video.

News

Girl Talk

Publication
The Stage
Date published
Thursday 21 June 2012
Author
Susan Elkin

Blue Elephant Theatre’s Speak Out! Project gives disaffected students a means of exploring tough issues impacting on their lives, aiming to develop pupil’s aspirations, as Susan Elkin discovers.

“I’ll be the grandmother and my name’s Sue”, says one girl. “And I’ll be Lia’s boyfriend, Tom. I’m 20 and I’m a mechanic,” declares another, while a third decides to be the main character’s ten-year-old younger sister.

These girls are students at the City of London Academy in Bermondsey, South London. The drama group consists of about 12 girls, who look rather smart in their purple blazers. However, problems and issues are simmering not far below the surface.
The girls all year 10 students aged 14 & 15, have been handpicked by their teachers from different classes as being the young women most likely to benefit from Blue Elephant Theatre’s ongoing and developing Speak Out! Project.

Under the skilled and sensitive leadership of Jen Camillin, BET’s facilitator, the girls are sitting in a circle developing a story based around a made-up character named Lia. They decide that Lia doesn’t get on with her mother, doesn’t know her father, has had at least one abortion and is sexually promiscuous. Encouraged by Camillin to add positive ideas to make Lia a rounded character, they agree she is also caring, popular at school and quite intelligent.

This is the fourth week of the eight week project. The girls still find it difficult to take turns to speak, and there is much talking over each other and the adults. However, Lucy Oragano, head of arts at CLA, says their listening skills have improved markedly since the first session.

During that initial class, it emerged that what the girls hated most was being “labelled” or called names, with “slag” being the most detested term of abuse. So Camillin, calmly and assertively adept at focussing on the behaviour she wants rather than getting irritated by participants who don’t follow the rules, allowed the work to evolve around this name-calling issue. The fictional Lia typifies the sort of girls’ own lives and what they see going on around them.

The project will culminate in an informal performance so the students can demonstrate what they’ve learnt and have achieved. Oragano would like this to be a presentation for an audience of the academy’s female staff, on the grounds it would help to establish some woman-to-woman solidarity in the school and do wonders for the students’ confidence- the core aim of the Speak Out! project.

Based in Camberwell, South London, Blue Elephant Theatre has an extensive and imaginative education outreach programme. “Speak Out! is a forum that began at BET three years ago, funded by the Alan & Babette Sainsbury trust,” explains artistic Director Jasmine Cullingford . “The project has used forum theatre to tackle issues that affect young people, such as knife crime, bullying, confidence, anger and, most recently, the role of young men. We’ve usually toured with a 25-minute play followed by a workshop.

“Then CLA said they’d like to devise a project with us. Lucy Oragano was looking at using arts activities to find ways of encouraging young women to be more confident, outward-looking and to develop higher aspirations. So Speak Out! sponsored by Team London Bridge and the philanthropist Peter De Haan, was born.”

And it seems to be working. “Many of these girls have a history of poor attendance,” says Oregano. “But it’s improved noticeably in the last month because they like this work and make the effort to be in school for it.”
Although the sessions are partly about developing self-control and respect for others, Oragano also makes a point of it being fun. She provides a little feast of chocolate brownies and cola drinks halfway through the session, for example.

A special trip is planned for the group- to cost the students nothing- to Broadway Theatre, in Catford, a few days after my visit. They were going to see Present Theatre’s production of Stop Search, which raises issues around police powers and would probably have struck a chord with this group of urban young women.

Taking part in the project means the girls are withdrawn from their other lessons for two consecutive 50-minute sessions- a total of more than an hour and a half a week. Oragano tactfully placates her colleagues by moving the time each week so the students do not repeatedly miss the same lesson and thereby fall behind with other work.

Meanwhile, back at the school’s main drama teaching space- the girls are producing some pretty slick improvisation in which one or two characters and Lia argue, persuade, encourage and debate.

Yet another imaginative way of using drama in education.

News

Jimmy Chamberlain wins Rising Star of the Year 2012

Publication
Southwark News
Date published
Thursday 21 June 2012

Jimmy Chamberlain was the winner of the Rising Star Award 2012 and has been volunteering with the Blue Elephant’s Education Department since he moved to London to start university.

He is only twenty but the commitment he shows to the organisation, and the Young People’s Theatre in particular, is exceptional. He supports various groups for young people participating in our theatre giving encouragement to local young people, who might otherwise be unable to access the arts for social, economic or other reasons.

He also bends over backwards to help out whenever the need arises. This may be doing ‘front of house’ for a school performance at the theatre, rigging lights for a Young People[‘s Theatre performance, being an escort on a trip to the theatre or lending a hand to other education projects when needed.

He is completely devoted to any project he undertakes and a key part of the team at the Blue Elephant.
His award was presented by Cllr Dora Dixon-Fyle, cabinet member for young people and children’s services.