Igloos, Impresarios and Kafka

Introducing a new director…




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The Finale at the Camden Fringe

This coming weekend (27th-28th August) the Camden Fringe Festival will see the premiere of a play inspired by Kafka’s ‘The Hunger Artist'; its director, Arek Spiewak, talks about the process of bringing a story to the stage:


Where did the idea come from?

Back in Spain, I was working on a first draft for a play that in the end didn’t make it to the production process. One day I sat down to write a duologue between the main character (a Poet) and his Landlord. The words just came out of me and after an hour of writing, I wasn’t sure what I was holding in my hands. I read it few times. Had no idea where should I fit it into an actual play so I decided to call it Igloo. A short play set in the abyss of time and space where the main character is unable to achieve anything that he wants to.
A few years later I ended up in London looking for a play  I could direct  with just one actor. I’d read a dozen monodramas and none of them hooked me enough so I started to search for a short story that could inspire me. I  found “The Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka and immediately started work on staging its physical version. Unfortunately, no matter howsatisfactory the results were I was still unable to materialize the text.
I decided to write a play based on this short story and the more I wrote the more I realized the similarity between the Hunger Artist and the Poet. The Landlord and the Impresario. Igloo was chasing me through these years and thanks to the brilliant Franz Kafka I was finally able to give it a bigger meaning.


What is the objective of the play?

Every show should have one objective. To entertain. Not necessarily to make you laugh but to grab your attention and not let go until the “curtain” falls.


What is the subject of the play?
There are three main subjects:
Consumerism. In every aspect of our life we are used to taking things that we like but as soon as we find something new, shinier or more popular, we leave the old things behind. With no hesitation. We do it with food, art, clothes, relationships etc….
Fame. Our chase after it. On macro or micro scale. And what happens when it’s all gone?
Forgiveness. How do we forgive ourselves and others so we can rest in peace?


The idea for the stage design.
I believe in a minimal stage design. We should use only what is necessary and explore it as much as possible. If there is an opportunity I would like to play with the design of the audience space so they could have a more immersive experience.

Arek Spiewak

Director and Writer
Arek Spiewak trained as an actor in Spain, before working as assistant director to Theodore Stermin. After successfully staging a physical adaptation of Bukowski’s short story ‘The Most Beautiful Woman in Town’, Arek moved to London where he now directs and creates new writing.
Tickets available online from the Camden Fringe website

A Night at the Theatre – Journeys (London & Edinburgh Festival)

There’s a mad rush to pack, struggle through traffic and crowds, and make desperate attempts to understand the muffled station announcements – the crush to get on board,followed by fighting for a seat…the tale (and travail)of travel, as old as that of Ceasar and Cleopatra, Hamlet or – only ideally with a lower body count. It is certainly something we all experience every weekend, or every day simply by commuting, doing battle with public transport and all its idiosyncracies.
Everyone is on a journey somewhere, and in this play (almost) without words we follow an artist, a soldier, an actor and a housewife as they travel across a war-torn landscape. We get to see their backstories, why they are on the train, and what they are leaving behind – or running away from. Something we can all relate to in one way or another – whether escaping the pressures of work, hardship, failed relationships, or seeking a new life, new opportunities, new faces.
It is very much a period piece, with a definite Spanish feel to it which at first made me wonder at first if it were set during the Civil War – only the sound of marching boots at a certain point suggested the conflict of a decade later. The atmosphere is convincingly created, with a sense of nostalgia, home-sickness, and tension as well as humour and drama, and I was particularly taken with the creative and imaginative use of folding chairs as both props and sound effects.
Journeys is full of vitality, energy and fun, brimming with mischief, murder and mayhem, and to a degree, a homage to the silent era of films – in parts reminiscent of Jacques Tati, even down to the garbled station announcement which could have been taken straight from Msieur Hulot’s Holiday. It is also a fairly short piece, roughly an hour long, and felt ultimately like the introduction to a much greater story – one waiting to be told. There are layers to it, with the suggestion of more to be discovered than appears on the surface.
The Tristan Bates Theatre itself is a fun place to experience a play in : in addition to a handsomely-sized theatre space, it hosts a large bar area with comfy sofas and masses of books; rather like the play itself, in that it is actually bigger on the inside than it seems on the outside.
I hope anyone who is going to the Edinburgh Festival will find time to take a peek at this one, and I look forward to seeing it on stage again soon – perhaps with a sequitur on the further adventures of the four travellers involved. have fun everyone, this is one whacky ride!


More information at the Buckle Up Theatre website and/or

The Gilded Balloon (also for booking online).

“‘Him’ is unemployed and looking for romance.

‘Her’ works in a dead-end office job and doesn’t know where she’s heading.

They are lonely twenty-somethings, lost amidst the beating rhythm of the city.

After a chance meeting, they spend the night together. But can they find the connection they are searching for? Is there hope in this briefest of encounters?”


The Day After, by award-winning young playwright, Miran Hadzic, opened last night in the Cavern in the Vaults at Waterloo. Described as both darkly comedic and romantic, the piece, barely an hour long, covers 24 hours in the lives of two isolated individuals: office-girl and out-of-work bloke. The boy-meets-girl scenario is told in a combination of rhyme and present tense, giving  the effect of vocalised thought bubbles.

The play is a snapshot into the lives of two individuals who admittedly have not had that much time on the planet, let alone in London, to be able to establish where they are coming from and where they are headed, yet already have accumulated a series of unhappy memories; their painful pasts emerge gradually as the piece unfolds, further underlining their sense of isolation and need for comfort.

There is a sense of ballad, with verse and refrain; the whole being driven by fast-paced dialogue and action sustaining rhythm and rhyme. High quality acting is brought out by Juliet Knight’s energetic direction: Todd James’s rueful self-criticism, Ruby Thomas’s mournful recollections of schoolday trials and tribulations are both naturally paced and expressed.

Most of all, however, the play could read as an ode to London: there are sights and sounds, motion and emotion – and above all, sounds: further aided by the occasional rumble from overhead trains, that do service as a heartbeat, a distant roll of thunder, even as a giant hand, knocking at the door…

The Vault is the perfect venue for a play of this calibre: stark, yet warm, with the smell of earth and raw yet perfect acoustics to tickle the senses with; this is both  perfect sounding box and dramatic arena, inviting speculation and imagination to take a ride.

The Day After runs until 1st February. For bookings and more information:   The Vaults: The Day After

Sheridan’s Rivals at the Arcola


..Mrs. MALAPROP You thought, miss! I don’t know any business you have to think at all—thought does not become a young woman. But the point we would request of you is, that you will promise to forget this fellow—to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.

LYDIA Ah, madam! our memories are independent of our wills. It is not so easy to forget…


Fortunately for us, this is true indeed – and so Sheridan lives on. Just when it seemed there was a dearth of his work being performed on London stage, up he pops again. Deprived of seeing the likes of John Neville and Maggie Smith in this best loved of Sheridan’s plays, it was an absolute treat to be able to see it at the Arcola before it transfers to the West End (there will be a West End transfer, I hope? It surely deserves it ….): Nicholas Le Prevost, Gemma Jones led a strong cast including Carl Prekopp and Adrian McLoughlin (both brilliant in their double-ups), Ian Batchelor (Captain Jack Absolute), Adam Jackson-Smith (Faulkland), Justin Edwards (Bob Acres), Jenny Rainsford (Lydia Languish), Justine Mitchell (Julia Melville) and Hannah Stokely (Lucy). These gave their all in a fresh, vibrant, powerful and above all cheerful production, compact and versatile that bridges the gap between old and new – and even manages to imbue it with a certain child-like freshness and innocence.

It is hard to imagine the play’s original reception: roundly criticised for among other things its bawdiness and characterisation(the actor playing O’Trigger was even hit with an apple during performance); it might have ended there, an unhappy and minor blot in the history of stage. Instead, without hesitation Sheridan withdrew the play and re-wrote it in 11 days flat, and so earned himself and it a rather more rewarding place  in the collective affections of the nation.

With moppings and mowings a-plenty, with winks and smirks, direct contact with the audience, simple scenery and empathetic direction, the audience is transported back to the birth of modern comedy: it is taken by the hand and led through a door straight into 1775, with double identities and misunderstandings, duels and duplicity, sparring fathers and sons, wealthy young mamselles with their romantic novels and unwanted guardians. There is music, song, a gambol or two and a very handsome quadrille to finish off with. (It was a quadrille, wasn’t it?) The colours merge and complement each other, nothing clashes, and there is detail in everything, down to the increasingly petulant tossing of grass  and hay on stage to illustrate outdoor scenes. The Arcola lends itself to this kind of theatre, harking back to the simplicity of the Globe, while allowing for the intimacy and interaction of the later Restoration and Enlightenment. All in all, a sparkler of an evening, worth seeing more than once if you can. And the theatre bar is very comfy too.

All that was lacking was an extra candle-lit chandelier or two to complete the effect. Hang health and safety….


The Importance of Not Being Too Earnest

The Harold Pinter (or Comedy Theatre as was) is a box of delights – if a little cramped in the way of refreshment areas (everything  seems in miniature) – although the MoonLight Bar has a particular 20s charm; again, paucity of seats resulted in theatre-goers lounging picturesquely on the stairs leading up from it, wanting only beads, boas and boaters to complete the effect of a 20s-themed evening out.

It is also one of the few theatres still with binoculars to hire; these I took full advantage of, and with elbow room to spare (owing to a few empty seats on either side of me – and I hadn’t even eaten any garlic…) I was able to whisk out my charcoal and sketch block and practise ‘minute drawing’.

There were moments when I nearly succeeded: the actors did occasionally stand still just long enough for me to throw down the rough outlines, but most of the time they were bouncing about like spring chickens – which almost made redundant the added framework of an amateur company (The Bunbury Players)in its twilight years rehearsing a reunion production in a country home. This particular production has divided opinion amongst critics on that point – still, it does offer further opportunities to mess about with the cucumber sandwiches,  and hint at various off-stage debacles; there is sparkle, and laugh-out-loud aplenty as they leap, skip and wit their ways through the play which is allowed to proceed pretty much unhindered once the initial point is made.  If Oscar Wilde had, Gilbert & Sullivan-like, allowed free license with regard to age we might after all have lost the fun of the extraneous paraphernalia: the Test match results, carefully camouflaged by the drinks cabinet, the on-stage mending of costumes that will insist on splitting seams in the wrong places, and so on.

The set itself is a treasure trove of Art Nouveau and William Morris – it might almost be the Red House itself; there is no lack of detail, and the tantalizing view into the garden beyond allows us background tweets and chirrups to accompany the tea and cakes scene with Gwendolen and Cecily.

Poised and polished, the Young Ones are smooth yet fresh, their acting lively and intelligent and a treat to watch – with an added treat in the presence of Sian Phillips as Lady Bracknell.  Restrained and musical as ever and never resorting to caricature she makes the role her own with quiet, unassuming command.

It is another production where I have had the pleasure of watching Dudley and Bailey working together: in particular in the treatment of lighting, which is approached  as a persona in itself, with its own presence, cues and exits; as in their work on Turgenev’s Fool, there is a sense of real time, the passing of the day, rehearsal and story from morning through afternoon towards dusk, complete with a summer storm half way through.


Very much a fun evening out and recommended – go while you can, it runs until late September and is worth the suspension of belief of a septuagenarian John Worthing answering to the age of twenty-nine (he certainly sounds twenty nine).

A very willing suspension of belief on my part – it is theatre, after all.



Cast : Rosalind Ayres, Niall Buggy, Nigel Havers , Martin Jarvis, Christine Kavanagh , Cherie Lunghi and Sian Phillips.

The Importance of Being Earnest is booking at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 20 September.

An Evening with Sherlock …

I’ve been thinking recently about crime in the theatre—no, not the price of tickets for West End shows, but the reasons why crime stories and ‘whodunits’ in general seem to be so well suited for adaptation to stage and screen. That made me cast my mind back to 1976, when I was a student in Birmingham, and went to see a revival of William Gillette’s version of Sherlock Holmes at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre…  (Full article at johnbaylissnovelist.wordpress.com)

Adler & Gibb at the Royal Court Theatre

A satire on the art world and Hollywood combined.

A split narrative, the threads gradually merging together into one colourful collage; it might be a novel, it might be a film, it might be real, it is all happening on stage. More of a film script in parts than a stage play, it is a parody of parodies, playing off one cynical world against another.

An arts student, Louise, begins a presentation on the life and work of Janet Adler. This is interwoven – or interrupted – with scenes between a Hollywood actress (an adult Lou) and her coach Sam, breaking into the house of said Adler. The actress is there to make a bio-pic of her idol, dragging the reluctant coach behind her over barbed wire and through thick fog.  Comprehension is gradual, which is where it begins to resemble a novel made of many parts: there is more than one voice here, but it settles fairly quickly into a recognizable pattern.

It does begin rather statically – they might have been recording for radio in front of microphones.  This moved into a more naturalistic phase as the narrative unfolded – in fact, the direction appeared to move from radio through filmatic scenes to a form of realism, with the house gradually growing around them (or stepping forward out of the mists of time?) interspersed with the lecture notes of the increasingly frustrated arts student, still presenting her thesis. Both she, and to a degree the Hollywood coach, could be seen as mouthpieces for author and/or the public; he with a heartfelt speech to the audience mid-way through part two on truth and reality, she on her podium ultimately shouting at her auditors: ‘What do you want?’ before stamping off, screaming (which of us has not, at one point, wanted to do precisely that before yet another pile of empty plastic bottles pseudo-cunningly labelled as ‘Void’ or ‘The Ultimate Purpose of Being’?).

The art world has been selling its collectors installations, ‘moments’, ‘happenings’, ideas without physicality (and, alas, physicality without much idea) to saturation point  – some names have survived, others have agents desperately seeking new ways to promote works from 40 years ago to an audience that by now has seen it all. The old new has become new old, with ideas endlessly recycled, from the self-destructivism of the Dadaists to Fontana’s torn canvas and so on. Whatever the personal view of the beholder, it has certainly provided ample material for thought, debate, ridicule and reason, ranting and railing. It is at once divisive and collective. We can’t help being involved by it  – frequently we may find ourselves walking straight through it (if accidentally) – sometimes we are left perplexed by it;  confused, angered, amused. In short, it has something for everyone to respond to.  Not unlike the play, in fact. The narrative is satiric – and the satire is woven even into the very structure of the thing, suggestive of a self-parody. The themes  of art, cynicism and idolatry are explored, probed at, prodded and poked, via the medium of Louise the arts student, Lou  the  Hollywood actress (distinguished by a ruthlessness of  almost caricaturial proportions), and Sam her coach, armed with camera equipment and an increasingly volatile digestive system. Louise the student is out to get her grant – and walks out, in a fit of frustration. Lou the Actress is out to Make a Movie; nothing is going to stop her.

Has a murder been committed? Will a murder be committed? How far is anybody prepared to go to achieve their maximum, creative result?  These are almost side issues, wrapped up as they are in a tale of ambition, cynicism, creativity suffocated by greed – and about how the client (the public), whether as buyer or spectator, ultimately originates and influences that same creativity.

There were also puzzles and mysteries beyond that of plot: Sam, with distinct Scottish burr in the first part, goes over to American in the second – is this part of the act within an act? Then, the deliberate staticity of the first part : it is tempting  to wonder why the actors were not allowed to simply move about as dialogue dictated; to have Louise yelling out for Sam, with Sam standing right beside her, was slightly puzzling and not really explainable.

It is both playful and angry by turns – there is real frustration at what the art world has been made into by galleries, collectors and complicit spectators, coupled with mild farce both verbal and visual. It has divided the critics – and the odd section here and there might leave you wanting a little less than more; but perhaps, after all, it is only fitting it should prove as divisive as the art world it explores.

There is a very  complete world constructed around  the whole, with a colourful timeline in keeping with the general artistic theme – lovingly created, almost wholly believable, further emphasized by  the website dedicated to the two artistes des artistes. It is an installation in itself.  More self-parody?

As a bishop from Dublin once said of another satire: ‘I hardly believed a word of it.’ Well, almost hardly…


  Adler & Gibb runs until 5th July.

Fortune’s Fool at the Old Vic

While the 39 Steps at the Criterion is the rowdier side of the Greek amphitheatre where the audience is allowed, even encouraged to engage with the moment, with Turgenev, the audience is very much in polite society, permitted instead to look in through the parlour window at this very Russian comedy with its air of nostalgia, memories and sweet temper – covering up layers of envy, scandal and bullying.

An unorthodox awakening , the arrival of a wedding party, a permanent house guest (Kuzovkin) and a mischievous, snobby neighbour (Tropatchov) are the principal ingredients of Turgenev’s social satire set in a country estate. The sport does not begin and end quite there however, for this is  a satire with a secret,  one which the troublesome Tropatchov does his best to worm out of Kuzovkin – with disturbing results for everyone concerned.

The devilish Tropatchov in his whirling deep green velvet coat (and very natty it is too) charges about in total command and thoroughly malicious; he is perfectly counterbalanced by the gentle, yielding Kuzovkin, hanging onto his memories, his past, his love which hover about him, wraith-like, as both he and Tropatchov  stagger through the increasingly drunken wedding reception.

There is tomfoolery too, between house steward and footman, these are deftly orchestrated and break up the rhapsodic outpourings of Kuzovkin to his friend Pyotr, while simultaneously alerting us to the fact that a wedding party is about to arrive any minute (and those two are still cluttering up the sitting room with  their chess game).  Ah, the chess game – a motif of Turgenev’s, who was a keen player – and while chess crops up in other works, here it appears a more intentional metaphor – Tropatchov’s moves later on mirroring a gradual checkmate for Kuzovkin, who is verbally pushed and prodded into a corner from whence is no escape.

The lighting is used to particular effect throughout, becoming a proper narrative tool – from the coming of dawn at the start, with its eccentric awakening in a linen cupboard, through the warm sunset redolent with reminiscence, to the suddenly threatening shadows of Tropotchov looming across the walls as he turns bully, tormenting Kuzovkin into revealing his secret.

Cruelty and tenderness, memories and neglect are coupled in refined synchrony by Turgenev; the most biting satire being perhaps at the end, when everything is left with a question mark hanging in the air – is there true  sincerity in anyone ? Or can we all be bought for the right price? Turgenev is credited with being non-judgemental, never offering a solution or alternative, while gently critical of the foibles and vices of his society  – yet perhaps here in Fortune’s Fool, he makes a bolder comment, offering a message up however carefully veiled, a message taken up subsequently and with more vigour by later authors, not least of all of Shaw. There is something of Turgenev in works such as Mrs Warren’s Profession, where the politeness of a society obsessed with status quo can hide some very ugly truths indeed.




Fortune’s Fool at the Old Vic

Lucy Briggs-Owen – Olga   Daniel Cerqueira – Trembinsky      Patrick Cremin – Kuzovkin     Dyfan Dwyfor – Pyotr      Richard McCabe – Tropatchov

Director  –  Lucy Bailey                    Designer  –  William Dudley                  Lighting   –   Bruno Poet