28 Mar 2011

Fast & Loose 5 with QU Players and Accidental Theatre

On Friday and Saturday, I took the opportunity to join up with the precocious talents in Queen's University Players and Accidental Theatre again to be part of Fast and Loose 5, their latest 24 hour play venture. Unlike last time, I decided to be a director, given that I would like to be able to move into that area at some stage, and this was a great opportunity to see if I could take the reigns on someone else's script.

I was handed Darragh Cotter's Last Choir Practice, a bittersweet tale of innocence lost between two schoolgirls, played perfectly by Christina Martin and Karen Quinn. It was nerve-shredding taking over someone's writing, but Darragh said he was pleased with how we approached it, and I hope I did it justice. It was great working with two fine young actresses, who approached the rehearsals and line learning with impeccable professionalism and were simply great natural performers, which took the pressure off me immediately.

The second play of the evening (Pirate Radio) was by Fast and Loose veterans, Leana Arrell, Brian Charity and Neal Cahoun, and they maintained their mischievous ways with a dark comedy about two cousins (David Heatley and Amy Poole) having to face the possibility that they will have to repopulate the planet. The performances and direction by Claire Mason were spot on, and the audience was in stitches. These writers are not afraid to broach taboos, and I said to them I would love to perform something they write, and hope to get a chance to sometime soon.

The third play, Danced Myself Into the Tomb, was a tragic exploration into the fragile state of the human mind, centred on a gut-wrenching performance from Josh Cuddy. Unfortunately the writer, James Pelan, was unable to see Jordana Maguire's expressive take on his piece, but I'm sure he would have approved.

Minerva by Seamus Collins finished the evening on a rapturous high. Seamus, fresh from winning a BBC Writersroom competition to be a writer for the Lyric Theatre, and premieres for his two plays, And of the Sun and Please, Patricia, is on something of a role at the minute, and long may it continue. His play was about two daughters coming to terms with their gregarious mother's philandering ways. A tour de force performance from Nuala Donnelly as the mother, along with Catherine Lambert and Ruth Wilson brilliantly playing the daughters, is a testament to director Colm Doran and the actresses themselves.

The production team, and overall outlay was considerably smaller for Fast and Loose 5, but the mercurial Emily de Dakis and Justyn MacKay still managed to put on a great show. Along with the lone stage manager, Simon Welch - who also provided some voiceovers for the plays - and writing mentor, Phil Hurst - who is also a writer on a role, having got through the first round of BBC NI's PrimeTime competition - assisting the writers overnight. Of course I and the other directors owe a huge debt to the men behind the tech desk, John Beecher and David Kane, who had to overcome missing equipment and theatre lock outs to get the tech runs and performances done. Hat tips all round.

The idea of doing a play in 24 hours really is frightening, but the energy is invigorating, and it's inspired me to attempt directing again soon.

12 Mar 2011

Filmed TG4 show, Éalú, in Armagh and Vichy performance

This week I was in Armagh Prison filming Éalú with Magamedia for TG4. Éalú is a documentary series focused on famous prison breaks, with actors providing visuals to accompany interviews.

I was playing the role of Sean Bourke, a political activist who planned and executed the escape of George Blake, a Soviet double agent who was incarcerated in Wormwood Scrubs prison. Their plan was ingenious, involving a rope ladder reinforced with knitting needles, forged documents, uninhibited derring-do and a walkie-talkie hidden in a pot plant.

Bourke was a live wire character, being imprisoned for mailing letter bombs to senior police officers, and having difficulty dealing with a drinking problem.

The other main actors were Shane Morgan and Mark Byatt and we were improvising scenes throughout the two shooting days. They were great actors and it is always great to be working off such great performers.

Part of the escape plan involved me making a quick escape in a vintage Ford Prefect, which was great except I had only one driving lesson in my entire life! It took about seven takes, but we eventually got the shot and I got invaluable driving experience!

Overall it was an incredible experience and to date the most significant screen work I have done. I can't wait to see it completed.

Now I go from one performance to a completely different one as Fringe Benefits revives Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy in the Belfast Synagogue (The Wolfson Centre) tomorrow and Monday nights (13th and 14th March). These will be the last time I perform as the downtrodden artist Lebeau, which will hurt since he has been a part of my life for nearly a year now. The production has really kicked into gear, and the adrenaline rush the actors will get from performing in front of a Jewish crowd will spur the production into greatness, I am certain.

It is free and starts at 7pm, so it'll be first come first served so take the opportunity to see this show while you can.

3 Mar 2011

Marcia Carr Workshop with QU Players

On Monday I was fortunate to be among only eight people who were selected to take part in a workshop facilitated by Marcia Carr, a professional actor, musician and dancer from the National Youth Theatre.
She was incredibly energetic and got so much activity packed in to the class that I was shocked to see that when we had finished we had only been there for two hours! We covered physicality, voice and authority, and the fact that it was suck an intimate group, she was able to help us each address some of our weaknesses.
It was certainly one of the best one-off workshops I have been to and it is a testament to the work put into the Queen's University Players that they are able to invite facilitators of such magnitude to take classes, so hat tips to Justyn MacKay, Shiraz Engineer and the others for that.
No doubt there'll be more great workshops from them in the future.