Explore Sons and Lovers at this year’s DH Lawrence Festival

lawrenceDH1 (1)A festival celebrating one of Nottinghamshire’s most famous literary sons is returning next month with a host of different events planned.

The DH Lawrence Festival, which takes place between 6th and 21st September, will include exhibitions, lectures, vintage fairs, afternoon tea, walks, film screenings, music and activities for families in his home town of Eastwood and the surrounding area.

It is 100 years since Lawrence published his autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers and this year’s festival, now in its 10th year, is an opportunity to explore one of his most acclaimed works. Author Stephen Bailey will be leading a walk around Nottingham on 9th September when he will point out some of the landmarks depicted in the novel including Nottingham Castle and the Theatre Royal. On 12th September there will be another Sons and Lovers walk, this time around the countryside of Haggs Farm (Willey Farm in the novel) and Felley Woods. On the same day there will be a screening of the 1960 film at Broadway cinema. The landscape which inspired Sons and Lovers is also the subject of an illustrated talk which takes place at the DH Lawrence Heritage Centre, Eastwood, on 13th September.

For those who want to venture further afield I would recommend a trip to the picturesque Teversal Village near Sutton-in-Ashfield. As part of an open weekend event, which takes place between 6th and 8th September, there will be a chance to find out about Teversal Manor, which is thought to be Wragby Hall, the manor house in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. On 6th September, Dr Andrew Harrison from Nottingham University will be giving a talk on how the landscape of this region inspired Lady Chatterley’s Lover (call Denis Hill at Ashfield District Council on 01623 457426 to book).

Perhaps the event I am looking forward to the most is a screening of Inside the Mind of Mr Lawrence at Broadway. The film, which is set in 1928, stars Paul Slack who I interviewed two years ago ahead of his one-man play Phoenix Rising at Nottingham Playhouse in which he also played Lawrence. Paul, who is originally from Sutton-in-Ashfield, has a wonderful Nottinghamshire accent (there are few performers who can pull this off accurately!) and his shows are infused with breath-taking passion and energy.

Further details, including a full programme of events, can be found here. You can also find D.H. Lawrence Heritage on Facebook, on Twitter @dhlheritage and by using the hashtags #dhlawrence and #dhlawrencefestival.

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Edinburgh Fringe Preview Part II: Notes from the underground in Paradise

paradiseNottingham New Theatre‘s production Paradise premiered in February but I unfortunately I was away on holiday.

The piece of site-specific theatre, directed by Tom Barnes and produced by Gabby Carboneri, was performed in a disused tunnel on the outskirts of the city which would no doubt have been the perfect setting for this bleak tale of modern-day alienation. Although it returned to the relatively safe confines of the theatre for its pre-Edinburgh peview last week, it still had a tremendous energy and poignancy.

Set on the underground in London, the centre piece is a concertina-like chair which is expanded and contracted to make room for the revolving cast of characters. The only other prop is a piece of black and yellow tape which denotes the platform edge somewhat ominously.

On the busy train we meet a young Yorkshire man called Liam (played by Matthew Miller) who, breaking the etiquette of the tube, tries to strike up a conversation with his fellow passengers. But they are all wearing flesh-coloured, dummy-like masks and are unsurprisingly unresponsive; they are reduced to mere types, for example, he refers the banker on his way to work as ‘pin stripe’.

Over the course of the play, which is sound tracked by two female vocalists/guitarists playing buskers, we are given glimpses into the lives of the characters. There is the unconventional hen party, the arguing couple, the band mates, the French tourist. Their lives are interrupted by a tragic event which stops them in their tracks momentarily. But perhaps what is shocking about it is not the event itself – horrifying though it is – but the way in which the characters brush it off with little empathy.

Paradise was created through improvised rehearsals and this gave it a wonderful immediacy. The dialogue was sharp and rhythmical, veering from frenzied outbursts to quiet reflections. It is a play that captures the pathos and disconnection but also humour of modern life.

You can see The Project at Zoo Monkey House at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

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Edinburgh Fringe Preview Part I: Dystopian nightmare in The Project


It was clear from the beginning that The Project was going to be a disconcerting piece of theatre. Produced by members of the Nottingham New Theatre ahead of their stint at next month’s Edinburgh Fringe, this dystopian nightmare pushes the boundaries of conventional theatre and subverts the idea that we can sink back in the darkness and let it all wash over us.

As I took my seat I noticed that the cast members were sitting amongst us writing notes. A woman who resembled a mannequin stared straight ahead of us in the middle of the stage. She was wearing a jaundiced-yellow lipstick and it soon emerged that she was the subject of some kind of bizarre, quasi-medical experiment. The director – played by an actor – addressed the audience directly, telling us that the play would depend on our reactions to it. At various points the performance is deconstructed, forcing us to challenge our preconceptions of what a piece of theatre should be.

The experiment itself was extremely sinister. The woman is forced to do things against her will as the other characters continue on their quest to ‘cure’ her. Meanwhile, the director looks on, taking a perverse pleasure in his experiment, blind to the fact that he may be hurting someone in the name of art.

In many ways, The Project reminded me of  Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, an allegorical play which shows how people’s passivity allowed Hitler to rise to power. Like Brecht’s masterpiece, The Project makes good use of Verfremdungseffekt – or alienation technique – to remind the audience that like all art theatre is artificially conceived. By not getting too comfortable, we are able to consider some of the ethical challenges a performance can pose.

Overall, this was a fascinating piece of physical theatre and the actors made good use of the performance space. The dialogue was elegant and the narrative purposefully draws the audience in before reminding them that this was indeed a performance rather than real-life. A bold experiment – and one which paid off.

You can see The Project at Zoo Monkey House at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

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Review: Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys

voyageinthedarkAt first, Jean Rhys’ 1934 novel Voyage in the Dark reads like a coming-of-age story. The protagonist Anna Morgan has been brought to England from her home in the Caribbean by her step-mother. She works as a chorus girl touring drab English towns which all look alike to her. Her innocence is soon eroded by the people she meets and the seedy which she inhabits.

But the novel also explores the wider theme of how people can be displaced by colonialism while challenging western notions of superiority. The cold, grey and often dangerous streets of Edwardian London contrast with the vivid descriptions of balmy evenings spent in the Caribbean, surrounded by colourful, sweet-smelling hibiscus.

Anna is deeply unsettled in London and observes life with detachment. She is constantly cold and prone to falling ill; what’s more, she is consumed by a crippling inertia that leads her to mutter the line: “I am nineteen and I’ve got to go on living and living and living.”

London is imagined as a cruel, materialist and godless place, without any kind of moral framework. Victorian values are seen only in the tutting of Anna’s disapproving landlady; instead we see flawed characters forced to go to great lengths to survive in this brutal world where there is no hope of redemption.

But while Anna may long to be back in the Caribbean there is also the suggestion that life there is far from perfect. In one disturbing part, the first person narrative is momentarily interrupted by a description of the Carib people who inhabited the islands before the arrival of African slaves and western settlers. The passage reads: “The Caribs indigenous to this island were a warlike tribe and their resistance to white domination . . . was fierce. They are now practically exterminated.”

The novel is written in a classic modernist style, where perception and experience are foregrounded. This passage, however, is written with a startling ‘objectivity’ which resembles a history or anthropology book of the time – and it is this narrative of western superiority that allowed colonialism to flourish for so long and proved to be so difficult to subvert.

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Walk on the wild side: A tour around Poland’s Białowieża national park


‘Bison Street’ at dawn

It is 3am and the sun is just starting to rise in the sleepy village of Białowieża in eastern Poland not far from the Belarusian border. A light mist surrounds the traditional wooden houses whose inhabitants have not yet stirred while the birds chatter noisily in the trees and rooftops above us.

We are going in search of the bison, deer, wolves and boar that roam wild in the Białowieża National Park, which is home to Europe’s only remaining primeval forest.

Our guide Michał explains that there are no guarantees we would see any of these animals as he drives us to a clearing next to the thick forest on the edge of the village. The skies by now are a striking crimson colour as the sun continues to rise and we get out of the car at the appropriately named Żubrowa (Bison) Street where we are greeted by a small herd of grazing bison. Although they are Europe’s largest mammals, weighing as much as 900kg, they are also extremely shy and only come out at dawn and dusk to feed before retreating into the forest during the day-time away from the prying eye of humans.

With its abundant wildlife, Białowieża was, for many centuries, the hunting ground of the tsars and later, Hermann Goering. The bison were hunted to near extinction in the first part of the 20th Century and although they have been reintroduced again, they still remain extremely vulnerable not least because of their limited gene pool.


The big wooden gates which reveal a ‘Garden of Eden’

Our journey continues through the fairytale forest and we catch fleeting glimpses of rare woodpeckers, wild boar and deer along the way. We then make our way through the big, wooden gate to the special protection area of the forest, a Unesco heritage site which is accessible only with an accredited guide.

“Welcome to Europe 2,000 years ago,” Michał says as the gates close behind us. Sometimes described as a ‘Garden of Eden’ this swampy wilderness evokes romantic notions of what Europe was like before humans settled there and built towns and cities. Tall oaks, spruce and pines create a shaded canopy and the smell of wild garlic and rich, damp vegetation hangs in the air. Without human intervention, the forest is constantly regenerating and as trees die and fall, fungi, moss and other plants start to form in the nutrient-rich, decomposing bark.

Michał points out the footprints left by animals on the ground and my spine tingles at the thought of wild boar and wolves crossing this path just a couple of hours before we do.
Although the primeval forest is regularly visited by members of the scientific community and a small number of tourists Michał says that it could be under threat from foresters who want to use the wood for commercial purposes.

The forest may support a diverse ecosystem but some locals see the dead wood on the ground as a waste. Instead, they want to create areas of managed woodland containing the types of trees suitable for logging rather than those that occur naturally. The forest has been protected since the First World War; it has survived the turbulence of the Second World War (perhaps perversely because of Goering’s links to it) and the communist era. It would be a tragedy if it were destroyed at time when we are more knowledgeable than ever about this area of outstanding natural beauty.


Moss and fungi grow on the dead trees.


– How to get there: We flew to Warsaw from Stansted Airport. It takes around four hours to drive to Białowieża. There is good range of places to stay from camp sites to hostels and bed and breakfasts. There are also a couple of upmarket hotels including the Twin Peaks-esque Hotel Żubrówka.

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Review: No errors but plenty of comedy in New Theatre and Fine Frenzy production


In Shakespeare’s time, actors normally had 48 to rehearse a play which would no doubt have given it a raw energy and fearlessness that is sometimes lacking in modern productions.

It’s something that many performers may be reluctant to try but in a new interpretation of The Comedy of Errors, members of Nottingham University’s New Theatre and Fine Frenzy Theatre have created a pared down performance which captures the ‘anything could happen’ element that would have been familiar in Shakespeare’s day.

As we enter the theatre, we are greeted by the narrator, Ben Williamson, who is dressed as a baby (in a onesie) in a nursery full of toys – not very Shakesperean I hear you say. He explains that the actors had just 48 hours to put the play together and that a prompt would be helping if anyone couldn’t remember their lines (he wasn’t needed).

The play tells the story of two twins, Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, and their slaves, Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus, who are separated in a shipwreck. What follows is a glorious tale of mistaken identities full of bawdy characters, such as the courtesan played by Emma McDonald with her brilliant West Country accent.

All the lines were delivered superbly with an immediacy and raucousness; when Dromio of Syracuse (played by Aaron Tej) describes the maid who has fallen in love with him as being so fat that ‘she is spherical. I could find out countries in her’ the audience roared with laughter.

The toys made frequent appearances throughout the play. Ben Williamson, in his other role as the strong arm of the law, donned a police officer’s hat and as tempers fray a fight breaks out involving water pistols and glittter.

This wasn’t a clipped and polished performance and it was all the better for it. The actors weren’t simply reciting their lines –  they were really living them which was really refreshing to see and it created a fantastic carnival-like atmosphere.

This production of The Comedy of Errors will be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer.

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Review: Charlie Phillips captures a forgotten Notting Hill

Jamaican-born photographer Charlie Phillips, whose Urban Eye exhibition is currently showing at the New Art Exchange in Hyson Green, worked as a paparazzo for many years and lived by the code ‘shoot now, ask questions later’. His naturalistic portraits depict people going about their daily lives, occasionally stopping to peer into the onlooker’s camera.

Phillips captures life in post-war Notting Hill when immigrants from around the Commonwealth arrived in Britain hoping to make a new life for themselves. The Notting Hill they inhabited is a world away from the gentrified version we know today. Here, buildings stood in ruins and the bleak, urban landscape was one that was all too familiar in a city that was still feeling the effects of Hitler’s Blitzkrieg.

The newly-arrived immigrants injected a sense of vitality into war-battered, monochrome Britain. In Crowd Scene, Notting Hill Carnival, Phillips captures the moment when people of all backgrounds get together for a joyous celebration while in Kebab Shop Dandy, a gentleman dons his finest clothes and poses outside a rough-and-ready looking takeaway. There were the places where different communities would all congregate, notably the ‘Piss House Pub’ which Phillips says was ‘a meeting place for different working class people, both black and white, Caribbean and Irish’.

It is impossible to separate Phillips’ highly personal portraits from the socio-political movements taking place in London at this time. In Notting Hill Couple (pictured above), a young black man and a young white woman stare directly into the camera and their defiance is startling, reminding us that not so long ago a relationship like this would have been out of the ordinary. In this community, racism – both casual and institutional – simmered away and when coupled with the grinding poverty faced by many people, it proved to be the catalyst which led to the eruption of the notorious riots of 1958.

Charlie Phillips: The Urban Eye runs until 7th July.

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Review: Serenade at Antalya Turkish restaurant

There was a feeling of excitement in the air at Nottingham’s Antayla Turkish restaurant as the diners chatted over drinks. It was the first performance of Serenade, a production by the newly-formed 2Magpies Theatre company.

I had previously interviewed Tom Barnes and Matt Wilks – the company’s artistic directors – about their short play which encourages us to eavesdrop on the conversation of a young couple called James Pardon and Ginny Lee who are meeting up following his trip to the Far East. Over the course (excuse the pun) of the meal, we are given a glimpse into their relationship; there’s the awkwardness that comes after not seeing each other for such a long time, the humour of a shared life and also the cracks that have started to appear.

After speaking to Matt and Tom, I couldn’t help but wonder how they would create this piece of theatre in a restaurant. How would the actors be able to project their voices in a setting that was not designed for performance? Would the audience be engaged by the narrative? After all, when we eavesdrop, we only listen to snippets of conversation rather than a lengthy dialogue.

When we had finished our appetisers, James and Ginny entered the room. The chatter of the diners slowly died down when everyone realised that the actors had arrived. It was slightly strange at first – and you did feel a bit embarrassed gawping at these two people – but you soon relaxed and began to immerse yourself in the story.

That’s not to say you are encouraged to be passive. One of the best parts of the play is when Ginny turns our gaze back on ourselves by trying to guess what the relationship is between two members of the audience is.

It must have been nerve-wracking for James and Ginny. This was an improvised play and sitting right in the middle of the restaurant meant they were utterly exposed to the gaze of the audience. There’s no lighting, no microphones, no script and no curtains. But they both rose to the occasion and brought the subtle nuances of their fictional relationship to life.

Matt and Tom took a risk in putting together a production like this and while it was a fascinating and thought-provoking production, I did think it was a little raw in places. The fact that the dialogue was improvised meant that it wasn’t always tight enough and there was a tendency for it to wander somewhat. Of course, real-life conversation does deviate – but if it is going to sustain our interest for a longer period of time it needs to flow a bit more neatly.

That said there is huge potential for theatre such as this and it is refreshing to see something different rather than a safe rendition of a classic play. I can see similar pieces working in coffee shops or perhaps as a  fringe show to a production at an established theatre.

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Private lives in public: An interview with 2Magpies Theatre

serenade flyer front

Walking past a restaurant on Valentine’s Day gazing in at the number of couples sat there awkwardly can make you feel like something of a voyeur. Eavesdropping on a conversation in a café, imagining back stories and making judgements is something we all do but perhaps don’t like to admit.

But in Serenade, a play by the newly formed company 2Magpies Theatre, we are actively encouraged to lurk in the shadows as we watch a young couple having dinner. It’s the idea of ‘legitimising our voyeurism’ the show’s director Matt Wilks tells me.

“The audience are going to sit there, they are going to eat a meal and they are going to watch the actor and actress eating as well,” he said.

Serenade is the Nottingham-based company’s first production: it is a piece of site-responsive theatre which takes place at Antalya Turkish restaurant on 3rd and 4th April.

2Magpies Theatre is the brainchild of Matt and Tom Barnes, who are the company’s artistic directors. They have previously enjoyed success with New Theatre’s production Porphyria, which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.

Serenade stars Ginny Lee and James Pardon as the young couple. There is no script and the actors play themselves (though it should be pointed out that they are not a real couple). The story is based on the actors’ own life stories and they will also react to the real-life situation of being in a restaurant.

Matt says: “The actors play versions of themselves. They know they have got to get from A to B to C and they know the sort of stories they are going to tell to get there but they are encouraged to improvise. When you go to the theatre, you sit down and you know it’s very safe. But there’s an element of danger here and the audience don’t know how much it is improvised.”

Ginny and James did not audition for their roles in the conventional way – in fact, the process sounds like a secret mission devised by Tom and Matt to see whether they would be able to cut it in a play of this kind.

Tom said: “For the first rehearsal we got them to meet at the restaurant. We told James to get there at about ten past seven and Ginny to get there at about half past. We got them to meet at the Corner House and we were sat in the Theatre Royal bar watching them – it was all very manipulative. James turned up and we gave him an envelope – they had no idea what they were going to do. We told him we’d got a table booked for them, here’s some money, go and sit there and wait. People were watching him and he was getting very self-conscious.”

The idea of site-responsive theatre is something that Matt and Tom have already experimented with. In February, they both worked on New Theatre’s production of Paradise, which has also secured a slot at this year’s Fringe.

Tom says: “We did it in a secret location near Queen’s Drive. Under the flyover there are some tunnels. It’s a long, dark tunnel like on the tube – people had no idea where they were going but it went down well. It is the story of a group of strangers on the tube and somebody ends up getting hit by a train. All their stories weave together – their emotions range from being annoyed that their train is delayed to having the responsibility of it happening.”

Sadly, all the tickets for Serenade have now sold out – but Matt and Tom say the launch is only the beginning and they are planning to take the show to other venues and cities in the near future.

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Review: New Theatre’s Posh is a riotously funny production


With reports that some of our senior politicians were members of the Bullingden Club  – the notorious student club which had a reputation for drunken room trashing – it’s not surprising that Laura Wade’s 2010 play Posh has struck a chord with many.

The play, which is being performed by members of Nottingham University’s New Theatre this week, is a searing satire about those who belong to such clubs – in this case the Riot Club – and the consequences of power without responsibility.

Inside the private dining room of a gastro pub, members of the Riot Club have gathered for their annual dinner. They are all wealthy students from Oxford University who are looking forward to a night of drinking and debauchery.

Despite their obnoxiousness the antics of the young men are very funny indeed. They are highly intelligent people and the dialogue is sharp and witty. They poke fun at each other and the quick-fire jokes are endless.

But lurking beneath the surface is something much darker. As the conversation becomes political, Alistair exclaims that he is ‘fed up of poor people’. The boys even feel that they are hard done by because the middle classes supposedly hold all the power and they bemoan the fact that they have to open up their mansions for visitors to look round. Meanwhile, their solution, if they get into trouble, is to throw money at the problem and hope that it goes away. As the night wears on a sort of tribal misogynism is revealed in their dealings with the prostitute and Rachel, who is the daughter of the pub landlord.

Eventually the inevitable happens and the members of the Riot Club trash the dining room – and I mean really trash it. Glasses fly, champagne fizzes, books are ripped and tables are overturned in this spectacular piece of theatre.

A tragic twist causes them to crash back down to reality but despite the ghastly incident there is a feeling that because of their status and who they know, they won’t have to suffer the consequences of their actions.

Overall, this is a fine production by some exceptionally talented students. The actors captured the bullish arrogance of the characters perfectly and managed to provide much hilarity, while also giving us something to think about.

Posh is on until Saturday. For tickets visit the New Theatre website.

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