Category Archives: Theatre

Some tips about applying for an Arts Council grant in England.

Last night’s marvellously useful session at Oxford’s Old Fire Station ( #OFS) was with Will Young, producer of Snowflake, the play Mike Bartlett has written specially for the OFS.  Young is an experienced producer who is also under contract to the Arts Council so his contribution was of value to those wanting to learn more about promoting a play as well as learning how the funding arm of the Arts Council works. Interestingly, the budget for Snowflake ran to £50.000 with the Arts Council grant amounting to £15.000, a tidy sum which will allow the play to run for two weeks, unusually long for a theatre as small as the Old Fire Station.

Below are a few paraphrased pieces of advice given by Young on how to apply for an Arts Council grant.

Read carefully what the Arts Council is looking for. It can take three days to fill in the application form so factor this in when applying. Submitting early will allow you adjust your application and resubmit if it is rejected.

The Arts Council gets something like 100,000 applications a year so brevity is the name of the game.

Make it easy reading by using  bullet points and sub-headings. Think of your application as a project so say clearly who will it reach, who will it benefit etc. Be specific. Focus on the project rather than on your own glittering theatrical career.

Finally, the best advice of the session:  ask a friend to read through your application. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes. If it does, then shave off the offending minute or two.

You can get preliminary advice from  the Arts Council on 0161 934  4317


Let me know if you find this useful. I’m on:

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Always the bridesmaid?

Went last week  to see Pinter’s No Man’s Land at London’s Aldwych Theatre, starring Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan.

Patrick Stewart had lost his voice and so his understudy took over.

At the end of the play. Ian McKellan came forward and praised the performance of the understudy. And quite rightly as it was excellent.

Two points: as the cast were taking their curtain calls ( there were three) McKellan kept the understudy’s hand  in his – a brotherly gesture or an attempt to prevent the understudy from stepping forward to take a well-earned applause of his own? Still, that’s the theatre for you.

And the second point? McKellan got the understudy’s name wrong so here it is:  Andrew Jarvis.

If you’re interested in the plight of the understudy – always the bridesmaid never the bride – have a look at David Weston’s excellent book Covering McKellan. He spent a year as understudy to Ian McKellan when the latter was touring Lear.

Poignant but a story that has to be told. All part of the theatre canon.

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Bob Crowley’s sexy set.

I was lucky to see the production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Stratford, directed by Howard Davies who, sadly,has just died.

I returned Stratford  a week later having persuaded the Irish paper for which I was then freelancing that it should be reviewed, pitching  it to the paper as something that should be covered since the set designer was Irish, from Cork.

Bob Crowley was his name. Still is. And it was his set that mesmerised me:  a larger than life chest of drawers  out of which was spilling an array of white, gauzy female underwear.

Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson were in the lead but I couldn’t take my eyes off that chest of drawers. Brilliant.

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Hisham Matar and the lost father.

His latest boook, The Return, has just been broadcast on BBC R 4.

It is heartbreaking and for that reason I don’t think I can now read the book. On the other  hand, it is so heartbreaking that I know I must read it.

The Return is  a memoir about his search for the father he fears he will never find.

In the Country of Men, a novel, is about a child’s search for his father. It ranks high in my chosen books and I have always been glad I read it. I am now reading it again.

It is about a marvellous man – the father in the story – who disappears from his home in Libya, is sought in Cairo and disappears again.

Since writing the novel, Matar has gone in search of his father again and so found out more about him.  The memoir is about loss and also about the man who has  been lost.  Lost forever? Only the writer knows.

The final sentences in the radio broadcast were so powerful that I was left alone, in the silent kitchen, the only other person there with me Hisham Matar.



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Two plays this week and one was a disappointment.

Went to see Richard lll in a small London theatre – the New Diorama Theatre near the Euston Rd.

The company specialises in physical theatre which seemed to involve a lot of miming and mock battles with mock swords when really the words had already made that clear. You can’t improve on Shakespeare’s words.

What’s good about this company is that it is both colour and gender fluid so we had six women in a cast of 19 and some of them playing male parts.One or two good touches included Richard’s physical defects become more pronounced when he was threatened.

No sets which was a challenge and actors wore their own clothes apart from the main female parts and they wore frocks of a certain vintage.

But despite all the company’s good intentions, the actor playing Richard remained unconvincing. Pity.


Our second outing was to the Royal Court – where else – to see  Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill.  Four women ( all over 70 the programme tells us) sit in a summer garden and hold conversations with each other about this and that. It’s the dialogue that is arresting. No one talks in full sentences and some of the characters begin their sentences in the middle and some never finish theirs. Every so often the  stage darkens and one of the characters appears alone and delivers a string of monologues about various disasters in which charred remains were reused as pieces of art. I think.

The funny thing is that after you’ve come out of the theatre you notice you yourself – and your companion – are speaking in half sentences that barely make sense. Listen yourself to see what I mean.



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What is it with older actors? Three women to watch.

Three theatre women worth watching:

Diana Quick: just finished a run at the Theatre Royal in Bath – The Big Meal. This is a challenging play by US writer Dan LeFranc which tells the story of a family through five generations with all the actors playing multiple parts.

Quick was married  to fellowe actor Bill Nighy for some 27 years and her daughter, Mary, is also an actor.

Diana Quick played the part of Margery Kempe in a radio play of  mine that BBC Radio broadcast a few years ago. I liked what I heard but I really wanted to see this character in the flesh. One day….

Clare Dunne: currently playing Hal in the Donmar Warehouse production of Henry lV parts l and ll.

Dunne has worked a lot with Gary Hyne’s Galway-based Druid Theatre Company.  I saw her play Major Barbara at the Abbey in Dublin and she gave it all that that part needed. The Donmar production, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, has an all-female cast and is the second of three such Shakespearean productions with Julius Caesar the first.

Henry lV runs till Nov 29


Eileen Atkins: currently playing the lead in The Witch of Edmonton at  the Swan Theatre, Stratford on Avon.  In a recent interview in The Observer, she was asked if playing a witch was typical casting for ” a mature actress.” And she replied: ” Of course. Even today  there’s a resentment  of what you call mature and I call old people.They are thought of as witches. ”  Atkins is seventy-something. Directed by Gregory Doran, she  plays the part of a woman , in 1621, who takes up witchcraft in self-defense. As the Observer notes “…tiresome, isolated, loquacious, she is the sort of neighbour you might prefer to avoid.”  Sounds a bit lke Margery Kempe to me. I’ll know next week – I have the ticket bought.

The Witch of Edmonton runs till 29 Nov



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Othello: ” I took by the throat…”

A few weeks ago I got up at 05:00. And why? In order to get to the National Theatre, in London, so that I could buy a £12 ticket to see Othello. These reduced tickets are available only on the day. When I got to the theatre at 07:30 there were already 15 people ahead of me in the Q – but by 09:30 I had my ticket. Success! Was it worth the dawn start? Absolutely.

The two main actors – Adrian Lester (Othello) and Rory Kinnear ( Iago)  were brilliant.


In fact, they were so brilliant that I am now going to see it all over again when the filmed version will be shown at a venue near you – and me.

The play is about jealousy and envy but there’s another interesting theme:Othello was a general, given the task of holding back the advancing army of the Ottomans, also known as the dastardly Turks. And there’s not a city in Christendom that doesn’t have a pub called the Turk’s Head, the theory being that the only good Turk was  a dead one.

Here are two images of the Turk’s Head in Dublin.



The film of the play is being shown this coming Thursday, Sept 26th. Click here to find a cinema near you that will be showing it.

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24 September, 2013 · 7:57 pm