Peter Pan

Peter Pan is a very difficult production to stage. If modernised it looses a lot of its magic. If left alone it can alienate a PC theatre crowd with its 20th century imagery and possible racism. It is a technical nightmare with fights, flying, pirate ships, water and almost anything else you can imagine.

As a fight director it is a particular challenge since the tone of the fights turn on a dime second to second. One  moment its children playing, the next its life and death then its some kind of slapstick clowning. This is however, what makes the show great. 

Mark Ruddick had a lot of fun directing the fights for Paul Jepson's production of Peter Pan. The show was ambitious and experienced a lot of set backs due to technical issues came together well. Mark created a range of fights ranging from the brutal to the ridiculous and the cast rose to the challenge. The favourite fight of the whole piece was between Smee and Tigerlilly which took place eight feet above the stage and pitted cutlass against tomohawk! 

 

The final battle between Pan and Hook

The final battle between Pan and Hook

Peter Pan. Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Lost wires, lost lines and lost voices – let alone the lost boys. Peter Pan is a highly ambitious production probably two dress rehearsals short of a first night. Already cancelled on Friday for being “not ready” the Exeter Northcott Theatre’s Christmas family show will surely improve and within a week will be a slick operation. However, on its second running, some changes need to be made.

Projection and diction. Two of the fundamentals of the theatre need to be addressed. Much of the dialogue was hard to catch from all but the main characters. Although some of the cast were mic’d-up which helped when their diction was clear (Tootles take a bow) but for others the amplification simply creates an annoying buzzing voice that is difficult to hear. For those at the back of the auditorium much of the dialogue was lost and thus the narrative too.

Paul Jepson the artistic director will no doubt sort out those issues in what is a visually exciting and creative version of J M Barrie’s 19th century fantasy play. A practical, evocative and period piece set that looks good and with its props, its different levels and doors is a masterpiece by designer Ellan Parry – one of the show’s triumphs.

There is much more to be admired in the production. The back projections blended neatly into the action adding an overall fusion of the senses. Peter’s shadow projections were exquisite. And the music and lighting blend into a visual and audio experience to give the right tone to the drama as we pitch headlong from London to Neverland, Indian encampments and the ocean awash with sea creatures. So much is pitch perfect in the production – and for the child who is experiencing live theatre for the first time it is a feast for the eyes and ears.

It was a joy to see Steve Bennett back where he belongs: centre stage at the Northcott as Mr Darling and an unlikely but welcome Tinker Bell as the frisky drag fairy.  His entrance by high wire is something that everyone in Exeter should witness. They may well say to themselves: “did I really see that?”

Talking of high wires, Peter Pan played by Laura Prior coped well with technical glitches, staying in character and winning the audience over with improvised lines and movement. Can Peter Pan be played by a female? Well in the sense that the titular character is an in-betweener aged around 10 or 11 then why not? After all Pauline Chase played the part for several years on the stage until 1913 and by tradition women have frequently played the boy who doesn’t want to grow up.

As for Captain Hook, well Kerry Peers certainly slings her hook upon the stage. In terms of being the pantomime villain perhaps she’s not frightening enough. The chief baddie of the drama is supposed to relish murdering children and Peers needs to up her fear factor although her visual persona is wicked pirate. As the children’s mother she is everything a mother should be.

Macy Nyman turned in a satisfying big sisterly performance as Wendy connecting well with the children and Peter Pan although with her harness strapped in under her lace trimmed pyjamas looked a little bulky. She like Peers, Prior and Bennett were also clearly heard with well defined voices and characters. One of the highlights of this show is to see so many children on stage – playing children. Yes, some of the voices disappear in the ensemble, but the costumes, the energy and the sheer youthful presence is just what is needed in a play about children, play acting, fantasy and make-believe.

The audience buy into the show’s ambition with applause for anything that goes wrong, or when the children fly up into the heavens, as well as the well-rehearsed set-pieces. There’s a very good fight scene when the children take on the pirates in which small boys appear to have the upper hand in fencing buccaneers. The audience would have liked to have seen more of the mermaids whose brief appearance complete with song added a musical note to the drama, and the pirates revealed they too can create music and were again underused. Missed opportunities perhaps, but in general a production that children new to the theatre will love as it improves and gains confidence and flies off to Neverland.

Harry Mottram

Continues to January 1, 2017.

For more details visit exeternorthcott.co.uk and www.childrenstheatremagazine.co.uk Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Reviews will also appear in the January edition of the online magazine.

A review from She Who Lives Theatre Blog 

Welcome to December! I can’t tell you how excited I was to wake up on the 1st and open a door on my advent calendar. You may have noticed that She Who Lives has a brand new banner for the festive season – I hope you like it!

Every year, I love filling December with fun, Christmas activities and what could be more festive than going to the theatre. Last year, I visited the Exeter Northcott Theatre to watch the wonderful Christmas Carol and last night, I returned to watch Jim Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Directed by Paul Jepson, the cast perform the classic tale of Peter Pan, a boy who can fly and never grows up. Laura Prior (Peter Pan), Kerry Peers (Hook), Steve Bennett (Tinkerbell) and Macy Nyman (Wendy) play the leading characters and are joined by a wonderfully charming cast. I thought it was great to have women playing the lead males and Bennett in a frilly, pink dress playing Tinkerbell was a humorous twist on the usually feminine and rather sassy fairy.

Of course, there was plenty of flying across the stage which added to the magic, particularly for the young children in the audience. Unfortunately, during one of the first flying scenes, their seemed to be some difficulty with attaching Peter to the safety wire resulting in Prior not being able to act out the magic of the scene. However, I have got to praise her for how well she handled the mishap. It must be awful as an actor/actress to have something unexpectedly go wrong live on stage and you have to quickly think how you are going to carry on with the scene. She recovered perfectly, being really quick off the mark and shared a joke with the audience.

Considering that most of the cast was made up of children, they all acted brilliantly! Every one of them remembered their lines perfectly and acted with wit and charismatic charm.

Usually, I hate intervals! I’m always enjoying the play too much that I can’t be bothered to sit and wait for part two to come on. However, during the interval of Peter Pan, there was some brilliant entertainment from the pirates! Smee and his fellow crew members sang some great pirate songs and even played their own instruments. It was great entertainment for those of us who couldn’t be bothered to wait in a long line for the toilet!

Part two featured a well-executed fighting scene to conclude the show. Everyone was well choreographed and everywhere you looked there was something going on.

I must also praise Ellan Parry and the team for the production design. The stage was cleverly put together and almost flowed into the audience so we felt like we were really sat in the children’s bedroom. Despite going to Neverland, the set didn’t change that much but clever visual effects and some shifting around helped us to use our imaginations.

Peter Pan is showing at the Exeter Northcott Theatre until Sunday 1st January so you still have plenty of time to go and see it. I definitely would recommend this show to children and families!

Mens Health Article

This is an article written several years ago for a workshop Squire took part in on behalf of RC Annie. 

This is an article written several years ago for a workshop Squire took part in on behalf of RC Annie. 

GET FIT WITH STAGE COMBAT

Fancy the adrenalin rush of a fight without the black eyes?

Mens Health’s Ed Vanstone steps into the firing line to see if stage combat is a satisfying alternative to the Saturday night punch-up... 

The black curtain is drawn back on the studio revealing Seb Morgan and Mark Ruddick poised a metre apart – squaring off. After a deafening war cry the two men attack. And to all those watching without an expert’s eye, they appear be beating the crap out of each other.   

After blocking a flurry of punches to the face, Morgan ducks his head and charges forward. He headbutts Ruddick square in the stomach and follows up the surge with three quick blows to the midriff. Grunting in pain, Ruddick yanks Morgan's head upright and attempts to break his neck. But after a few seconds’ struggle, during which the air is filled with effortful grunts and groans, Morgan releases a devastating elbow jab just above Ruddick's hip, causing him to stagger away.  

As the fight goes on, the blows grow more savage. Ruddick gets slung spectacularly hard against the wall, arms splattering into the unforgiving brick. He manages to get away a couple of punches to Morgan's chest as his opponent presses in, but is finally decimated bya huge, arcing hammer-blow to the face after failing to recover from a jab to the belly. Beaten, he slumps slowly to the floor to a chorus of sympathetic moans from the gathered audience.  

Enter stage left: Men's Health's Ed Vanstone (trembling): "In a few hours' time, I’ll be subjected to a beating like this myself... I'm groaning already."

"Luckily for me, I’m in no real danger. Ruddick and Morgan – along with our diminutive but deadly female instructor Haruka Kuroda – are professional stage fighters; a trio of experts with skills in every form of stage combat, from classy broad sword melees to gritty barroom brawls, whose job it is to create armies of Jason Bournes in less time than it takes to watch the agent’s frenetic fighting trilogy.   

Every punch and kick, every yank and twist, and every single one of the elbow jabs so viciously thrown by Ruddick and Morgan are meticulously controlled: either missing their target by a precisely calibrated inch or, at the last split-second, slowed to a manageable speed before impact, with their hand switched from damaging fist to flimsy open palm.   

Evil-looking head yanks and grappling moves are all dictated by the perceived victim of the attack, who drags their supposed assailant around while unleashing the best guttural groans and tortured shrieks they can muster – all to better bolster the realism of the scrap.  

So – it’s simple when you know how, right? Well, not quite…" 

"For one thing, Ruddick, Morgan and Kuroda might be professionals, but the 10 of us who have gathered at this special Fight Club workshop are resolutely not. As such, our punches are raggedy and wayward, our switches from closed fist to harmless palm sluggish and half-baked. Within an hour, I’ve taken an insufficiently slowed elbow to the hip bone, a couple of scuffs to the forehead from overenthusiastic hammer-blows, and my belly and chest have turned the colour of well-cooked salmon courtesy of a hundred floppy slaps.   

These blows are administered not only by my sparring partner, but are also self-inflicted. As I swing each fake punch just past the head of my fellow combatant it is necessary to make the impact noise – the 'knap'. A tentative suggestion by one budding Bourne that stamping or slapping your hands together is an effective method of 'knap'-creation is greeted by glowers from the three professionals. This, we’re told, is the old school, amateurish way of stage fighting. These days, if you want to make it in the world of fake scrapping, you grit your teeth – and then slap yourself to a pinkish pulp.”

"After a while, though, the body seems to numb itself to the endless assault of smacks, and it’s the exertion of practising the routine we’ve been taught – the very same series of moves showcased by Ruddick and Morgan upon our entry into the 'Fight Club' – that begins to wear me down. Pretending to take and deal out a pummelling, it seems, is a pretty punishing workout.  

Though, of course, no actual blows are being properly landed, the effort of the endless pretend punches and pretend grapples, the pretend theatrical crumplings and pretend careenings away while emitting howls of pain, not to mention the pretend slamming of myself into the (very real) wall, has me absolutely exhausted. I doubt this kind of training burns quite as many calories as nine rounds in the ring with Ricky Hatton – but at times it feels close.

But it’s also, without doubt, an incredible amount of fun. Not once does boredom tempt me to accidentally slide my fist a crucial inch to the right during the periods when Ruddick steps in to finely nuance our routine – and not only because he’s proficient in innumerable martial arts and combat disciplines and could probably kill me using just his ears."  

"As the day goes on, we’re taught some tips and tricks to polish the routine – simple things such as where to place our bodies with regard to the camera, and how to use a lychee to make it appear we’ve just gouged out the jelly of an opponent’s eye.   

And finally, we’re invited to customise the finale of our fight. “Something to think about over lunch,” says Kuroda, as the morning session draws to a close. “How would you like to kill your opponent?” I opt not to strangle or be strangled to death. My fighting partner has succumbed to a slight shoulder strain after one too many frivolously unleashed roundhouses, and I’ve learned I will now be fighting Ruddick for the final, video recorded bout of the day – the culmination of all we’ve been taught.   

The thing is, I know that Ruddick doesn’t really want to strangle me to death. I know that he does this for a living and if he’d killed anyone he would have been fired by now. I know that when we practice choking I am, in fact, pulling his hands as hard as I can around my jugular while he strains to pull away, creating the illusion of strangling. I know all this. But I also know that Ruddick's eyes do want to kill me. He’s just a little too good at the psychotic stare.  

Thus, I resolve that, rather than be asphyxiated to death against the wall, I’d like to finish the routine with a surprise stamp to Ruddick's foot before smashing his face into my knee – it’ll be a nice change after taking a pretend pounding for the majority of the bout." 

"I haven’t got the stomach for perhaps the most eye-watering move in the stage combat repertoire: the malicious kick direct to the gonads. This, we’re taught, can be safely executed by a combination of the ‘kickee’ thrusting their pelvis forward, and the kicker arching their foot backwards as they zing it harmlessly into a fleshy buttock with a satisfying thud.  

Kuroda and Morgan's demonstration of this move, which when done properly looks horribly, horribly real, is enough to rule it out for me. Instead, I stick to perfecting my punches and harmonising my screams of pain.  

When the time comes for the final bout (which you can view here), things go relatively smoothly. I’m far from a master, but have managed to pick up the basics and thanks to Rudick's expertise take a couple of fake punches that look very nasty indeed.   

I can’t yet flip to my feet without using my hands, as Ruddick does regularly (apparently the best way to learn is to practice with a slope, then gradually decrease the incline). But if anybody ever needs to be pretend-killed by a skinny guy – perhaps due to the sudden onset of frozen feet before a wedding – I’m your man.    

The workshop was organised by Jameson whisky to herald the beginning of their Cult Film Club, which opens appropriately with a screening of David Fincher’s magnum opus Fight Club at Village Underground, London on October 6. All events are free and readers can apply for tickets and find all the information for further events, at www.jamesoncultfilmclub.com.   

Roll Up! Roll Up! Join the Squire Circus

Over the years Squire Stage Combat has worked with all sorts of people across the country. The friendships we have forged along the way make Squire the company it is today and we are very proud to always support and collaborate with performers of all kinds. Some of our favourite people to work with are carnies and circus folk. These men and women continue to amaze us with their skill and passion, and so we have come together to create a new range of workshops for schools, theatre groups and corporate clients.  

Just as with our stage combat workshops Squire insists that every instructor is a working performer at the top of their game. These are no birthday clowns or hobbyists but seasoned professionals with credits including The Glyndebourne Opera, National Theatre, BBC and many more. 

Students will have the opportunity to learn juggling, unicycling, hand balancing, poi, diablo, plate spinning and many other skills in our action packed workshops. From enrichment weeks to drama classes, inset days to summer schools we have something for everyone.

We are really excited to be collaborating with some amazing performers and know that this will be the start of something great. 

Don Giovanni at ETO

Squire had the great pleasure of working with the ETO in March of 2016. We choreographed a series of fights for their production of Don Giovanni and had a lot of fun in the process. The show opened to great reviews from critics and audiences and we all feel very proud to have been involved with such a great show. 

You can read the Guardians review below: 

 Going down … Tim Dawkins and George von Bergen (front, in the title role) in English Touring Opera’s Don Giovanni. Photograph: Richard Hubert Smith

 Going down … Tim Dawkins and George von Bergen (front, in the title role) in English Touring Opera’s Don Giovanni. Photograph: Richard Hubert Smith

 

Lloyd Wood’s English Touring Opera production of Don Giovanni relocatesMozart’s tragicomedy to 1900s Vienna and sets it in the system of underground tunnels that served as makeshift housing for the city’s disenfranchised proletariat. It’s a striking concept that reminds us that the opera is as much about class as it is about sex.

George von Bergen’s sensualist Don descends to this underworld from the Klimtian city above in search of conquests, dragging his fellow aristocrats with him. Elvira (Ania Jeruc) sets out in pursuit, ostensibly to rescue Lucy Hall’s Zerlina from his clutches, though in reality she of course wants the Don back. Anna (Susanna Fairbairn, replacing the indisposed Gillian Ramm) and Ottavio (Robyn Lyn Evans) are out of their comfort zone here as they build a memorial near the spot where her father met his end.
 

Wood trusts Mozart’s ambiguities, though, and his interpretation has none of thearty glosses that have muddied many recent stagings. Von Bergen and Lyn Evans are both handsome, both bearded, so that Anna’s narrative of catastrophically mistaken identities for once rings true. Matthew Stiff’s dirty-minded Leporello carries not only the infamous catalogue but also endless changes of his master’s clothes in his knapsack.

It’s beautifully acted and for the most part finely sung. Von Bergen is utterly charismatic, though conductor Michael Rosewell, swift and urgent in his approach, pushes him hard in the champagne aria. Stiff is excellent. Jeruc sounds good, but we could do with more words. Fairbairn is really commanding, though Lyn Evans can occasionally be effortful. The original Prague version is used, albeit with a few cuts. Even so, it’s a fine achievement, and the best UK staging of Don Giovanni for some time.

Jedi Duel at The American Museum in Britain

Ed Gamester (our resident Lucha Wrestler) and Mark Ruddick had a lot of fun entertaining the crowds at The American Museum in Britain last weekend. The museum was celebrating the opening of its new exhibit exploring american toys and pop culture. The duelling Jedi put on a great fight display and ran taster sessions exploring the intricacies of lightsaber fighting. 

We look forward to returning for more workshops in the summer and you can find out more about the museum via their website American Museum in Britain Website

 

 

 

MACBETH AT GLYNDEBOURNE: KNIFE FIGHTS AND PLENTY OF GUNS

light_room (13 of 23).jpg

Glyndebourne has over the years become a second home for me. The company is a wonderful collective of talented people and it was with great pleasure that this year I have had the opportunity to work on two operas in one season. Ted Hoffman’s Macbeth has been a pleasure to work on and has resulted in some truly badass fights. As Fight Director I created sequences ranging from tactical room clearance using AK47’s to fist fights as well as some down and dirty knife fights which proved a highlight of the show.

The production closes next week and will then be moving to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden for a one off performance. Check out the sneak peak here of the final knife fight. Tickets can be bought here: