The magic of Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester

We caught up with Wiltshire Creative Artistic Director Gareth Machin, who has written a musical adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester along with composer Glyn Kerslake.

Gareth MachinWhy did you pick The Tailor of Gloucester, of all of Beatrix Potter’s stories, for a musical adaptation for the stage?

“This follows on from the previous two shows Glyn Kerslake and I have written together – The Night Before Christmas and Little Robin Redbreast – both of which focused very much on Christmas, so we were looking for one more story with the same qualities of anticipation and the excitement of Christmas that children love. We were drawn to The Tailor of Gloucester for that reason, rather than because it’s a Beatrix Potter story, although of course children love animals and the cosiness of Beatrix Potter’s world. It’s the same with Agatha Christie, there’s a real interest in reimagining those stories in a more contemporary way. That’s why we’ve had the different versions of Peter Rabbit through a contemporary lens. Our version of The Tailor of Gloucester is more traditional but it is a fresh retelling of the story.”

What are your own experiences of Beatrix Potter’s work, either as a child or as a parent?

“I lived in Gloucester as a teenager and I used to leave my bicycle outside the tailor of Gloucester’s shop by the Cathedral so I was very aware of Beatrix Potter as a figure. There was a museum there and her figures are very prominent in Gloucester. My son has been enjoying the retellings of Peter Rabbit.”

Why do you think Beatrix Potter’s tales endure?

“She creates worlds that children feel very safe inside. There are very memorable characters who children can relate to. Children relate to animals and cuddly toys and that all feeds into the success of the Beatrix Potter films. There are good narratives – enough happens to keep children engaged. There’s also humour and a sense of play and fun in her stories.”

The Tailor of Gloucester cast LANDSCAPE V4

What are the opportunities of adapting work by one of Britain’s best loved children’s authors and illustrators?

“There’s a lot of music in the The Tailor of Gloucester story. There’s a big moment where the cat Simpkin is being tormented by the other animals on the night before Christmas and in the book that’s all done through song and traditional rhymes. The bells of Gloucester also feature, so there was the beginning of a musical world that we could latch on to. Simpkin the cat is a wonderfully naughty character and that gives the opportunity to undercut the potential sentimentality of the piece. Children like to see bad behavior on stage and whoever is behaving badly realising they’ve done wrong and making amends so that’s useful. It’s a heart-warming story with a very simple moral. The opportunity to create something very theatrical is there because there are a lot of animals: mice, birds, fish at one point. So there’s an opportunity for puppetry which is something we haven’t done in our other shows. With the tailor we have a sympathetic character. In the other two plays we’ve written there were more traditional families and we’ve noticed the number of grandparents who bring their grandchildren to the show, so being able to have more of a grandparent figure in the show is an interesting dynamic. The character will be played as an older character who can relate to children in the slightly different way from the way parents relate to children.”

How important is it that Wiltshire Creative is making the whole show, including set and costumes?

“We’re really proud that we invest in this work for this age group. It’s hard financially making work for this age group, the performances are short and ticket prices aren’t high so we subsidise these shows. But it’s really important to be able to offer a higher quality theatrical experience to this age group and for the opportunity to share the resources that we have here. Often shows for this age don’t have those sorts of production resources behind them.”

You and Glyn have already written two successful Christmas musicals for young children, The Night Before Christmas and Little Robin Redbreast – what’s the process of writing with Glyn?

“It starts with us kicking titles around, we each pitch in different ideas. Then I write a synopsis with suggested song placements. That goes through a couple of drafts until we feel we have a solid story and an idea of the songs. I then write the script and I write what each song is going to do, and get the voices of the characters going. Once we’re happy with the script, we go back to the start and work on the songs. We work out what kind of song it’s going to be. With this show Glyn had a lot of musical ideas already. There’s a ballad that flows through the whole piece where I wrote the lyrics to his music. Normally I would write a draft song, a verse and a chorus. There are usually one or two songs where we struggle. They tend to be the simpler songs. The participation songs are tricky because they have to be so simple and it’s difficult not to make them sound like every other participation song you’ve heard. It’s really hard being simple, musically and lyrically.”

You’ve ensured over recent years that Salisbury Playhouse has something on offer for younger children over the festive period. Can you say why you think this is important?

“It’s really important. There are a lot of young children in Salisbury so there’s a big audience to reach. As brilliant as panto is, over the last few years it’s got louder and young people can find it a bit of an assault on the senses both in terms of the sound and visually. Our shows in The Salberg have grown in parallel with the change in pantomime. That’s why it’s so important that we offer these shows. There’s also something else about the space. It’s very different sitting in The Salberg with 150 people to sitting in the main house with 500 which can feel overwhelming. You’re closer to the actors, the actors interact with the children, it’s a very different experience. Even some older children find the quieter, smaller experience more engaging.”

What are the magic ingredients of a Christmas musical for this age group?

“Lots of participation opportunities to interact and for a young audience to feel they’re making a difference to how the story turns out. It needs to be no longer than an hour. It needs charming songs that work on two levels: great tunes with simple ideas but also jokes and witty lines that keep the parents engaged. Sympathetic characters with lovely actors who can represent those characters. It needs to be visually engaging so there needs to be magic in the set. Dancing, seeing the characters move around. And snow. There needs to be snow.”

The Tailor of Gloucester runs in The Salberg at Salisbury Playhouse from 9 – 28 December. For more information and tickets visit www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk.

Rosie Kay’s Fantasia

Diane Parks caught up with choreographer Rosie Kay ahead of her company’s performance of Fantasia at Salisbury Arts Centre in November.

Choreographer Rosie Kay’s new work Fantasia is just that – a colourful mix of fantasy, magic and surprise.

RKDC Rosie Kay's Fantasia image Brian Slater 5

Rosie, who is perhaps best known for her works 5 SOLDIERS and the Commonwealth Games Handover to Birmingham, is this time using dance to play with ideas, expectations and reality in the show which comes to Salisbury Art Centre on Saturday 16 November.

Set to music by classical composers including Beethoven, Bach and Vaughan Williams, Fantasia features three female dancers in a piece inspired by concepts of ideals and beauty.

“I had a sense that everything I was going to see, whether it’s dance or theatre or movies, was actually quite miserable and ugly and about how terrible everything is,” says Rosie.

“So I started thinking about beauty and I was reading philosophy and Nietzsche who talks about how beauty is so much more than we think it is now. The Ancient Greeks believed there was a strong relationship between beauty and truth but beauty now is seen as very shallow.

“Today beauty is just about superficial appearance but actually it’s about so much more than that. Beauty has become separated from all the other ideas associated with it. For example, beauty can be terrifying – if you think about nature it can be beautiful yet also awe-inspiring at the same time.

“There are three women dancers in the show and I play with the idea of them looking ‘pretty’ and presenting themselves but there’s a relationship between beauty and philosophy and melancholy.”

RKDC Rosie Kay's Fantasia image Brian Slater 2 RKDC Rosie Kay's Fantasia image Brian Slater 7.jpg

To explore these ideas, Rosie’s choreography sees the dancers performing together and breaking off for solos in a series of different scenes inspired by the idea of a classical fantasia.

“I used to play the piano a lot and I always loved Mozart’s Fantasia in D Minor – I was fascinated because the structure of it is really crazy!” Rosie explains. “I discovered that a fantasia is a piece of musical composition that breaks all the rules.

“I love fantasias that take you on flights of fantasy. The most famous is Disney’s Fantasia film but a fantasia generally is a chance to play and explore. Also, the word is just magical – we’re not in a ‘fantasia’ world at the moment. If we stop in rehearsals to talk about the news of the day we have to stop and remind ourselves we really want to be looking at truth and beauty!”

Rosie was born in Scotland and trained at London Contemporary Dance School. After performing with companies across the world she formed Rosie Kay Dance Company in 2004. Based in Birmingham, her works have included site-specific productions such as The Great Train Dance on Severn Valley Railway and Ballet on the Buses with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

And she has taken on some difficult subjects to explore through dance. Over the past decade Rosie has created and toured a trio of works all looking at the human body and how it is affected by external forces. In 2010 she created 5 SOLDIERS: The Body is the Frontline which examined war and the body, and which earlier this year was expanded into the larger production 10 SOLDIERS. In 2012 she choreographed There is Hope which looked at the body and religion, and last year she toured MK Ultra which focused on the body and politics.

For Rosie, Fantasia is a breath of fresh air after tackling such weighty subjects.

“These have all been really big narrative pieces and, as a choreographer, after creating these works, I need to not make work about ‘stuff’,” she says. “I need to come back to my craft and why I’m a choreographer and not a director. It’s like a physical need in me to make a piece which is just about dance.

“That’s the start point for Fantasia – I really wanted to make really complex dance material. And then it’s a question of ‘what is that about?’ which led me to Fantasia.”

That’s not to say that Fantasia isn’t also packed full of ideas. Rosie has been busy researching sources as diverse as philosophy, composition and art through to neuroscience and theories of modern beauty – then bringing them together into the work.

“We’ve been looking at John Berger’s book Ways of Seeing from the 1970s and how we bring our own perspectives when we look at art. For female dancers, who use their own bodies in their art form, this has been revelatory. We’ve also been talking about the Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi. She was a contemporary of Caravaggio and her work is just as beautiful as Caravaggio’s but from a female perspective.

“Her father was a painter who trained her to paint and his assistant raped her when she was a teenager. She took the man to court but she ended up getting tortured to see if she was telling the truth or not – despite the fact the crime was done to her!

“So in the piece we are finding moments where we can be a picture of beauty but we’re also looking at what’s really going on behind that picture. There is the Baroque beauty but there’s also anger and sentiment and pain and inner monsters – and then back to beauty again.”

Rosie has long been fascinated by the links between our minds and bodies and has worked with neuroscientists to test how people respond to dance emotionally.

“I was part of a big research project in 2009 which was trying to discover whether you have an empathetic connection with the dancer when you watch dance. I choreographed a piece which was then tested with detailed verbal feedback and also with brain scanners.

“The same three-minute dance was danced to Bach, just to breath and to more modern techno music. The research showed humans have a strong reaction to dance to classical music, but we also have a strong reaction to the dance just with the breath – it seemed to fire up a part of the brain which was the body-to-body response.

“So when people say they respond to dance such as 5 SOLDIERS from the gut, they really do – it’s an empathetic response to what they are seeing.”

All of these ideas and the music of composers from Vivaldi to techno have helped Rosie create Fantasia. But although the context is rich, Rosie is clear that audiences will respond to the piece even if they know nothing beyond its name.

“The dance, the performance and the performers will speak for themselves,” she says. “You could just come in and watch the whole thing and it doesn’t matter whether any of this research is in your mind. A lot of it doesn’t matter for the audience – it’s for us, as creators and performers, so we know what we are playing with. The audience doesn’t need to know it – but they should feel it.

“There should be an emotional journey, it should have peaks and troughs and climaxes and quiet valleys. I want people to feel really emotional but also to laugh and find it funny but by the end of an hour it should be like they hear the world and look at the world anew.

“In some ways it’s quite a traditional piece of dance, it’s even got tutus, but it also breaks all the rules so it surprises us. I’ve gone off in my own direction – this piece gives me the liberty to challenge myself as much as possible.”

Rosie’s work has seen her play venues across the country and she is looking forward to returning to Salisbury.

“We have a very strong relationship with Salisbury because of the army and its connection to 5 SOLDIERS,” she says. “We took 5 SOLDIERS there in 2010 and took 5 SOLDIERS there again earlier this year. Now we hope we’ll get some soldiers to come and see tutus! And I love the venue, it’s such a beautiful church – for us it feels like a little home-from-home going there.

“I’ve always wanted to keep challenging myself and Fantasia is just that. It’s like a cornucopia of so much dancing – everyone will be filled to the brim. I don’t think I’ve ever made a piece with so much non-stop technical dancing and yet it’s in this beautiful baroque world – it’s a real Fantasia.”

Rosie Kay’s Fantasia will be performing at Salisbury Arts Centre on Saturday 16 November at 8.00pm.

For tickets see https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/salisbury-arts-centre/ or call 01722 320333.

For more information on Rosie Kay Dance Company, please visit: http://rosiekay.co.uk/

Make a zip bag

We caught up with Teri Buxton ahead of her Make a Bag workshop

Please tell us a little bit about yourself…

My name is Teri and I work at Wiltshire Creative in the Wardrobe Department. I’ve been working in costume for over 10 years now and I’ve done all sorts of shows including youth theatre, touring, ice shows, outdoor theatre and musicals. In my spare time I’m still sewing but making my own clothes or doing various crafting projects!

When was your first experience of textiles and costume-making?

My first experience of textiles was when I was very young and my nan taught me how to do basic sewing and cross stitch. I didn’t get into costume making until I was about 16 and started helping my local amateur dramatics group make costumes. It was only then that I realised I could possibly turn my hobby into a career.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

The best part of working in the costume department is when a costume is finally on stage, and it looks just like the design, and the designer is really happy with it. It’s even better if it’s something you’ve made from scratch. The past few years I’ve been making lots of hats and headdresses for panto which are so crazy and fun to make.

What can participants expect from your ‘Learn to Sew’ workshop?

make a bag

They can expect to take home a bag they’ve made, learn new skills and gain more confidence with their sewing. I also like to make sure I’ve given them little tips and sewing cheats that they can use at home.

Using just 3 words, tell us why people should come.

Creative, fun, friendly!

Learn to Sew: Make a Zip Bag runs at Salisbury Arts Centre at 10am til 2pm on 31 October. For more information visit https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/workshops/make-a-bag/

Introducing gouache

We caught up with illustrator Francesca McLean ahead of the taster sessions she is offering in working with gouache at Salisbury Arts Centre.

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Please tell us a little bit about yourself…

I’m an artist / illustrator based on the outskirts of Salisbury, near the new forest. I am surrounded by natural inspiration which drives me to create new work based on the beautiful countryside we are lucky to have here in the South West. As an illustrator I create original artworks, pattern designs, and my own products, as well as working for clients such as Tall Tree Theatre to create illustrations for branding.

When was your first experience of painting with gouache?

During my MA in Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts, one of my tutors encouraged me to experiment with gouache, to create bolder colour within my work. I have never looked back! It was a natural progression for me from watercolours, as gouache is mixed with water in the same way, but I fell in love with the beautiful, vibrant colours I could create with this exciting medium, which lends itself so well to illustrating the striking colours within nature I love to portray.

What’s best about gouache?

The aspect of gouache I love is that it allows me to have more freedom than watercolour paints. This is due to the main difference between the two mediums, watercolour is light and transparent, and gouache is bold and opaque. The density of gouache allows you to layer lighter colours on top of darker ones, for example if you wanted to paint a light pink flower on top of a dark green background, the pink would keep its vibrancy. The colours you can create with gouache are excitingly beautiful, and it will spur you on to keep experimenting!

What can participants expect from your Introduction to Gouache taster sessions?

The sessions are designed for beginners, and we will cover various painting and drawing techniques, with the freedom to develop your own style. We will learn about gouache, experimenting with the medium to create different effects, such as layering, reworking dry paint, creating compositions and colour theory. We will create fun compositions, putting what we have learnt into practice to create final pieces which you can cherish at home! The sessions will allow you to build your confidence in this medium.

Using just 3 words, tell us why people should come…

Learn. Grow. Enjoy!

Introduction to Gouache: Taster Sessions run at Salisbury Arts Centre on 6 November and 4 December. For more information visit https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/workshops/taster-sessions-introduction-to-gouache/

Stand up for comedy

We caught up with Kevin Precious, our Barnstormers Comedy booker, to talk about a comedy workshop he has planned.

kevin with pink tie leaning

Please tell us a little bit about yourself…
I’m a stand-up comedian, promoter and teacher. I’ve performed at many of the top clubs and festivals in the country, and also oversee Barnstormers Comedy promotions, which largely consists of lovely arts centre and theatre shows. I used to be a full time Religious Studies teacher… and prior to that was very involved in music and bands. I dare say, if push came to shove, I could teach a bit of music as well.

When was your first experience of comedy?
It was at a try-out night in Islington. I’d prepared reasonably well material-wise, but was a virtual novice, from the perspective of performing. I got a really big laugh for my opening line, and was so surprised by it, none of the rest lived up to it really. It took about five gigs to have a consistently strong experience throughout, by which time I was hooked.

What’s best about it?
Most of the time, it’s very enjoyable… and on occasions, utterly exhilarating. Ultimately, it represents some form of creative satisfaction… the idea that one can make a living based upon one’s own ideas and creativity.

What can participants expect from your ‘Stand-up Comedy for Beginners’ workshop?
A very thorough, detailed and analytical approach to the business of writing and performing stand-up comedy. As a qualified teacher, with a wider experience of teaching, I can tailor the ideas in response to the individuals within the group. I will be well prepared in terms of teaching materials, but there will also be a level of flexibility in there, that can only come from being an experienced teacher.

Using just 3 words, tell us why people should come.
For life-enhancing fun!

Stand-Up Comedy for Beginners runs at Salisbury Arts Centre at 10am on Saturday 19 October. For more information visit https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/workshops/stand-up-comedy-for-beginners/

The Last Full Measure of Devotion Review #2

We’ve been working with two students from Noadswood School and set them the task of reviewing our exhibition, The Last Full Measure of Devotion. Here’s Ellis’ review.

The Last Full Measure of Devotion

Review by Ellis Quinn

The Last Full Measure of Devotion is a commemorative installation by Dr Kate Wilson by the main entrance of the Salisbury Arts Centre; it’s a highly impressionable but honest exhibition. It consists of row after row of hand-made Porcelain cups judiciously complimented by a set of kneeling cushions presented before it.

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The exhibition may seem uniform or mundane at first, but Wilson lures you into a false sense of security through the piece’s moving meaning. Wilson crafted each individual mug by hand from the same porcelain material; each item is constructed from the same weight of material (300 grams), which is, by no coincidence, the same weight as the average human heart; each ‘loving cup’ is engraved with a service emblem, a relevant age and the titular phrase: “The Last Full Measure of Devotion”. The cups do, on first glance, appear to be indistinguishable from the other, but upon closer inspection each one is individual in its style and design; every cup has its own imperfections, blemishes and contrasting numbers, the man-made object now feels more natural. Each ‘Loving cup’ represents the British heroes who died as a result of the Afghanistan conflict; the scale of loss is made evidently clear by the vast number of cups. The fact that each mug is individual in its design and age represents the individuality of each and every person who died; the people who fight for the country are seen as faceless fighters, with no personality, they are commonly portrayed as just uniforms, however in reality they are all unique human beings with their own shapes, beauties and imperfections.

The rows of cups are excellently enhanced by the kneelers, hand-stitched cushions with a rivetingly relevant and emotionally powerful poem sewn into the surface. The poem is titled “The Cost” and is written by the World War Two veteran Roy Tuck; the poet thoughtfully discusses the cost of war and the importance of commemorative acts, just like this art installation. The cushions follow a camouflage design, to mirror the idea of conflict, however one pillow is embroidered with the symbolic image of poppies.

The venue at the Salisbury Arts Centre superlatively suited the exhibition. A wide set of shelves stretched from wall to wall, each one was adorned with a large number of ‘Loving cups’; through this style of presentation the scale of loss, something that is usually incomprehensible, could be understood. The image of the cups, each representing a precious, human individual is such a shocking and touching sight; the presentation feels emotionally overwhelming. The installation was accompanied by an entire wall of information, elaboration on the intricate meaning and details. The refurbished church setting of the Arts Centre perfectly matches Wilson’s intention to present the items in a renowned setting.

Wilson’s use of the ordinary to portray such a heart-breaking message is highly memorable and poignant. You can imagine the connection Wilson must feel to her project as she individually moulded each commemorative cup. It seems simple but it’s superbly sorrowful.

The Last Full Measure of Devotion by Kate Wilson runs at Salisbury Arts Centre from 13 September to 16 November 2019. For more information visit https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/tlfmod/ 

The Last Measure of Devotion Review #1

We’ve been working with two students from Noadswood School and set them the task of reviewing our current exhibition, The Last Full Measure of Devotion. Here’s Louis’ review.

The Last Full Measure of Devotion Dr Kate Wilson

Review by Louis Manning

This exhibition is located in Salisbury Arts Centre, as you walk into the main entrance, the exhibition is lined on both walls around you as you walk up towards the café area. You will notice the large amount of porcelain cups on shelves on the right hand wall. “The Last Full Measure of Devotion” printed on the inside of every cup, gave the title of the exhibition meaning and memorability.

Each cup had an age painted on the front of the cup, these are the ages of each soldier who sadly lost their lives during the Afghanistan conflict. It was heartbreaking reading ages as young as 18 on the cups. There was information on why this exhibition was made and also, a poem, “The Cost” by Roy Tuck had been stitched into eleven kneeling cushions which were placed in white wooden boxes on the floor in front of the cups. Roy Tuck, being a WW2 veteran, wrote this poem about war intending an emotional impact on the reader or viewer.

The venue suited the exhibition very well, the Arts Centre is inside of a renovated church, this matched the theme of the exhibition perfectly as the Centre was a place of worship and peace. It enhanced the exhibition greatly.

Overall, the exhibition was a calm way to show the subject of conflict, the simplistic manner of the cups on the shelves helped to improve memorability and I know I will remember it.

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The Last Full Measure of Devotion by Kate Wilson runs at Salisbury Arts Centre from 13 September to 16 November 2019. For more information visit https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/tlfmod/

Further Education case studies

We caught up with two Further Education students about their time on our Performing & Production Arts courses. Here are their case studies:

Jessica started at Wiltshire College & University Centre studying the Level 3 Diploma in Performing and Production Arts, then chose to continue onto the Level 3 Extended Diploma. Jessica said: “I chose to study at the College as it was close to home, and I really liked the practical, hands-on element that the course offered in collaboration with Wiltshire Creative.”

Student JessJessica, aged 19, said: “Studying the Level 3 Extended Diploma has really helped me progress as an actor. It’s made me step outside my comfort zone and become more creative just by trying new things. Everyone on the course got on well which was brilliant. The teaching staff were incredibly encouraging and supportive and always happy to share their industry knowledge and experience with you.”

For those with a passion for performing arts, this course enables students to develop their skills and knowledge in all aspects of performing and production arts, helping to prepare them for higher education, employment or drama school.

After college, Jessica is planning to study European Theatre Arts at the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in London. Jessica said: “The performing arts course at college was great and I enjoyed every minute of it. It consolidated all of my knowledge I’d learnt so far and has helped to boost my confidence when performing – it’s really helped me to reach my full potential and prepare me for drama school.”

Amy first came to Wiltshire College & University Centre to do a Level 3 Diploma in Performing and Production Arts but chose to continue her study with the Level 3 Extended Diploma. Amy said: “I decided to study at the College as some other students on the course who I knew had recommended it to me and the practical, hands-on nature of the course really appealed to me too.”

Student Amy.JPGAmy, aged 19, said: “Studying the Level 3 Extended Diploma has enabled me to learn a variety of new skills and equipped me the technical knowledge that I did not get the chance to acquire at school. It was challenging at times, but the teaching staff were extremely supportive and allowed me to learn at my own pace to ensure I got the best out of the course.”

The Level 3 Extended Diploma is a practical, hands-on course designed for those who have a passion for performing arts who are keen to develop their performance and production skills in preparation for higher education or employment, in the professional environments at the Salisbury Playhouse and Salisbury Arts Centre.

After completing her studies at the College, Amy is going on to study a Production & Technical Arts Foundation Degree (FdA) at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art (LAMDA). Amy said: “Having the chance to work with technical and production management professionals at Wiltshire Creative really helped me to decide what direction I wanted to go in when progressing to higher level study at drama school. I wouldn’t have achieved what I have without the knowledge and opportunities I was given at Wiltshire College & University Centre.

For more information about our Performing Arts courses visit https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/take-part/fe/

Relatively Speaking’s Caroline Harker on returning to Salisbury

We caught up with Caroline Harker who plays Sheila in Alan Ayckbourn’s hilarious comedy Relatively Speaking, which opens the Autumn season at Salisbury Playhouse in September. Caroline played the Queen in our production of comedy Handbagged in April 2019.

Caroline Harker Headshot CH 4 - PLEASE USE THIS ONE Relatively Speaking

You’re coming back to Salisbury this September to perform in Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking. What can we expect?

“I’m playing a lovely part called Sheila in Alan Ayckbourn’s play. She’s a bit of a still point in a moving comedy world. Sheila and Philip are married and their relationship is clearly under strain. They’re at a certain age, they’ve got a lovely garden out in Buckinghamshire and into that garden come Greg and Ginny. And the situation becomes increasingly complicated and hilarious and it’s full of misunderstandings and you think all the time it’s going to fall apart but it doesn’t, it just sustains. It’s a very funny play.”

The play was Ayckbourn’s first big West End hit – why do you think that is? 

“I think it works like comedy clockwork maths. You just keep thinking that it’s not going to add up and it’s all going to fall apart. It delights because it teeters on the edge of collapsing but it never does. It’s just very funny and very clever. You just sit there in disbelief.”

You’re no stranger to comedies – both Handbagged and Relatively Speaking are comedies. Glenda Jackson is quoted as saying: “Comedy … is much harder to do than drama. It’s not true that laugh and the world laughs with you. It’s very hard to make a group of people laugh at the same thing; much easier to make them cry at the same thing. … That’s why great comic acting is probably the greatest acting there is.” Do you agree with this statement? Would you like to see more credit given to great comedic performances and comedic writing?

“Yes I do agree with what Glenda Jackson said. I wouldn’t tangle with anything Glenda Jackson said. And I do think that in comedy there should be an element of depth and in tragedy there should be an element of light. When you see an actor playing a huge tragic role and mining that tragedy for all the light and all the humour that they can, in my mind that’s the best sort of acting there is. Life is like that; sadness sitting right next to humour. You’ve got to believe the situation but you’ve also got to laugh.”

You were in Salisbury earlier in the year when you were playing the Queen in Handbagged – is it a happy coincidence or were you missing Salisbury so much you had to come back?!

“I was delighted to be asked back. I feel I’ve just scratched the surface of Salisbury and at the Playhouse the audiences are really warm and really buzzy and the atmosphere backstage is wonderful. I can’t tell you how much I like the wardrobe, everybody in there. All the backstage crew, the production office, all the offices. There’s a real mix of people but everyone is warm and welcoming and it’s been a pleasure to be there and I feel very happy to be there and have no hesitation about returning.”

What do you like about the city?

“Well I haven’t seen as much of the city as I would like because when we were doing Handbagged we never left the stage. At first I thought that Salisbury consisted of the ring road, the car park, Sainsbury’s and the rehearsal room. But it started to reveal itself slowly – and I feel that if I’d been there longer I would have discovered so much more. There’s that sight of the spire as you drive in. I used to drive in from Odstock where I was staying and I loved it although I never got up the spire because it was booked up when I tried to go.

“I liked the little market stalls that suddenly appear and I bought some sweet pea plants that are now growing very happily up a wigwam outside my front door in London and that makes me think of Salisbury. I loved the beautiful architecture. Suddenly you get this ancient beautiful building sitting there on the street. I like the nearby rolling countryside. I also like the way that Salisbury winds down at the end of the day. There’s this sort of closing up that goes on and I love that. The silence on the cobbly streets – whereas London seems to hot up at night – so I like that very peaceful feeling. And this whole crowd comes in to go to the theatre. You can see them arriving from your dressing room and I used to really like that. Our dressing room windows overlook the car park and you see people coming in to go to the theatre and they sort of pass people doing parkour at the car park. It’s just a real good mix. I found a very warm and happy atmosphere.”

Favourite places to eat? Cafes? Pubs? Any other nooks and crannies that you discovered in Salisbury? Could be hidden things, walks?

“I found a little café up an alley, but I don’t know what the name of it was. It was off Fisherton Street and it had cats in and lots of artwork and I found that a real haven. I absolutely loved that place (sounds like The Yard – Ed). I went to Boston Tea Party because they were incredibly friendly there and Eve Matheson who was in Handbagged with me, she used to go there and she told me about it and I used to sometimes sit in the window there. They were just very warm and friendly and relaxed and it was very buzzy and you could do your work. Families were out shopping for a cup of tea and a large piece of carrot cake. I loved that. We also used to go to the Haunch of Venison pub. Absolutely fantastic, we loved that place. If we could, we’d sit by the fire in the upstairs room by the little lit up hand in that little nook or we’d go downstairs. They were always welcoming and really warm and it was just perfect. We were a very small cast and we just used to sit there and chat over the day. Loved that. And I loved a Thai restaurant called the Rai d’Or in a pub. The food is so good, it’s completely fresh and delicious and they’re very welcoming. Our director told us about them and we went there a few times. I didn’t really have enough time to discover the hidden walks etc but I will do when I go there this time because that’s just my sort of thing. On the last day there I did sit under a tree in the shade under the Cathedral and thought back over my time in Salisbury and I thought it was absolutely beautiful.”

Anything that you didn’t get round to doing when you were here last time that you’ll be making a beeline for?

“I want to walk to Old Sarum, someone told me to do that, and I’m definitely going to get out, if I have a chance this time, to Avebury and Stonehenge. And I’ll find my secret café again with the cats in. I stayed out in Odstock as I mentioned but I won’t have the car this time so I’ll be living in town. I can do early morning walks across the Cathedral close, I’ll walk along the river and I’m looking forward to sitting in the Haunch with the rest of the cast and having a glass of red wine and, this time, I’m going to go up the spire. I really can’t wait to do that. There’s an awful lot more to discover about Salisbury and I’m delighted to be given a second go at it.”

Caroline Harker appears in Relatively Speaking in the Main House at Salisbury Playhouse from 4 – 28 September. For more information, visit https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/main-house/relatively-speaking/

 

Ross Wakelam – Insatiable Mind review

We asked work experience students to respond to exhibitions at Salisbury Arts Centre as part of their placement with us.

Here is a review of our Insatiable Mind exhibition by Ross of Noadswood School.

An exhibition named ‘INSATIABLE MIND’ lasting from the 24th May to the 13th July is calling Salisbury its home. INSATIABLE MIND is a collaboration between personal interpretation and the modern world, produced by Wiltshire Creative at Salisbury Arts Centre.

Walking through the classic wooden doors of the building doesn’t prepare you for the sensory adventure which is about to be experienced, exhibits including sound and moving image evoke feelings of both unsteadiness yet tell stories of political unrest and unique views regarding diseases which the artists themselves experience.

Against the empty white walls stand mixed medium works such as those of Dr Katayoun Dowlatshahi, which pair up both blueprints of a rocket testing site on the Isle of Wight printed on glass, with real life images from High Down Rocket Test Facility, where testing took place. The photos are complete with graffiti that reads, “WElCOME tO thE UNDERWolD”, contradicting the idea of the insignificance of the building in modern day.

Paintings by the artist Sophie Sample are completely interpretational, out of the five works displayed in the exhibition of hers, only one stands out against the others. The piece titled ‘Salisbury’ features a red painted canvas with a square window showing people wearing forensic suits, assumedly referring to the Novichok incident that affected the city in 2018. This work in particular stands out as her other works are on muted, calm coloured backgrounds. Another of her works titled ‘Palestine / Israel’, shows a window in which an idyllic city can be viewed, yet a sign labelled ‘Exit’ points away from this view.

The converted church venue of this exhibition couldn’t be any less suited for a technologically orientated interpretation such as the one provided by artist Eunmi Mimi Kim, where she finds herself both inside and underneath a glass dome, being on show herself accompanied by the ominous soundtrack she chose to accompany. Another example of the modern interpretation taken by these artists is by Susan Eyre, who has three works on display in this exhibition, centred and suspended is her piece titled ‘Pentacoronae’, which emotes a calm yet distant feeling for the spectator.

The experience felt after visiting this exhibition is difficult to rival and is definitely worth a visit for anyone who appreciates an alternative spin on art, and work down to interpretation, before its closure in mid-July.