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Hello and welcome to the new and improved website for Duncan Clarke PR.

If you’d like to find out more about Duncan Clarke PR please click the ‘about us’ menu item. As always if you’d like a chat about your project – small or large – or if you’re after some profile work then please don’t be afraid to get in touch, I’m always happy to chat with new companies and venues to see if we can work together.

Thank you and speak soon!  Duncan

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Q+A with playwright Emma Reeves about her new adaptation of the Ugly Duckling

 

IMG_6175-Writer Emma Reeves. Photography by Hannah Carter-Brown

Playwright Emma Reeves. Photo by Hannah Carter-Brown

How did you get involved in writing Ugly Duckling?

Wendy Harris, the director, asked me. We’d previously worked together on Snow Child, and I was very excited at the thought of working for tutti frutti again, and on such a wonderful story.

Can you tell us about your version of the classic tale?

It’s a story about identity, being a fish (or duckling!) out of water, the pressure to conform and fit in and finding your own voice and self-confidence. Having worked for years on Tracy Beaker and The Dumping Ground for CBBC, I’m very aware of all the fostered, adopted and looked-after children in the audience, and I didn’t want the story to appear to be telling them that finding your biological family is some sort of magic solution to your problems. So, the emotional heart of the story is the relationship between Ugly and Mummy Duck (who’s basically his foster mother) and Ugly learning to trust his instincts and his true self, rather than trying to emulate others.

How challenging is it to write a new version of a classic children’s tale?

I think you can only ever tell the version of the story that makes sense to you. I don’t consciously approach the material thinking “how can I make it different to every other version of The Ugly Duckling that’s ever been made?” – I’d never finish the research, for a start! Ultimately, all you can do is think, what does this story mean to me and how can I tell it in a way that feels right and authentic?

If you have to sum up the play in 3 words what would they be?

Funny, sad, hopeful

How does Ugly Duckling stand out in a crowded children’s show market?

I used the word “authentic” before, and I think it applies to all tutti frutti’s work. It’s not about gimmicks, celebrities or even “big brands” from film and TV – it’s three incredibly talented actors, dancers and musicians working with a simple but clever set – I hope it inspires children to develop their imaginations and get excited about the potential of live theatre.

 How did you start your career?

I was an actor, and the first play I wrote was an adaptation of the classic children’s book, Little Women. I wrote a few more stage adaptations including Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather, and also wrote for TV – I wrote episodes of the Hetty Feather TV series, The Story of Tracy Beaker, Young Dracula, The Dumping Ground and others, and was lead writer on Eve and The Worst Witch.

 Who were and are your inspirations when it comes to writing?

I was inspired by all the books I read as a child. I read a lot of Doctor Who books and Russell T Davies, who revived the TV show for a modern audience, is a big hero of mine. But perhaps my biggest writing hero as a child was L M Montgomery, who wrote Anne of Green Gables. She also wrote a trilogy about Emily Byrd Starr, an aspiring writer, which, although it’s 100 years old now, I think is still one of the most inspirational and realistic books a young person could read about the business of becoming a writer.

What do you think are the biggest challenges of writing for children?

They’re the same as writing for adults – keeping stories and characters feeling fresh, meaningful and engaging. Giving people a reason to keep watching! Children are very honest and won’t necessarily be polite if you’re boring them, so you need to make sure that every moment is earning its place.

How important is theatre for young children?

I think it’s important. Getting the experience of seeing live performers is something that stays with you all your life. I still remember the shows I saw when I was young – seeing live actors encourages children to explore ideas through play and their own imaginations. Being in the same room and interacting with the performers is a vital experience.

Do you prefer writing for television or the stage?

They both have advantages and disadvantages. Theatre is much more immediate – you have a lot more contact with the actors and you can try things out on the spot to see if they work. You also get to experience audiences’ reactions, night after night. It’s very visceral and in the moment but when it’s gone, it’s gone. Which is part of the joy but also a bit heartbreaking – recordings of a theatre performance are never quite the same. TV exists forever and you also have the fun of writing lots of episodes for the same characters and seeing the actors develop their characters over many years and different stories.

How heavily are you involved in the rehearsal process for your shows?

Quite heavily – I always attend some days of rehearsals and am in constant contact with the team. For Hetty Feather, I was in rehearsals every day; for Snow Child I was in for part of the first and part of the last week. I’m always talking to the director about changes and challenges!

 What have been the highlights of your career?

Being nominated for an Olivier for the Hetty Feather adaptation, and winning two Writers’ Guild awards – one for Eve and one for The Dumping Ground.  I was proud of the Dumping Ground episode in particular as it was a storyline about a refugee girl being sent back into a dangerous situation as they didn’t believe she was underage – it was an important topic and I was delighted that the episode was also nominated for a BAFTA.

What is the most important piece of advice you could give someone who is thinking of starting to write plays?

I know everyone says this, but it’s true. Read loads, listen and watch as much as you can. Try to get to the theatre as much as you can but if you can’t afford it, get books from the library, watch TV, listen to radio, watch stuff on the internet. Join a drama group if you can, acting really teaches you how a play works. And write as much as you can, all the time – writers are lucky in that it’s something you can do on your own and it’s free…

Why should audiences come and see the production?

It’s a lovingly made, imaginative piece of theatre by a brilliant company that will inspire children and feed their imaginations.

What’s next for Emma Reeves?

Hetty Feather is being revived at Southampton this Christmas, and I’m working on some new shows for CBBC including a new adaptation of a classic book.

The tutti frutti and York Theatre Royal production of Ugly Duckling is at York Theatre Royal from the 28 Sept-14 Oct then touring till Feb 2018. The production will at the Albany Theatre in London from the 4-31 December

Q&A with Narvik Director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder

 

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Photo by Decoy Media

What is the play about?

Narvik is a play about one man’s experience of war and how those few years have shaped the rest of his life. It’s also a play about memory and the fact that we don’t necessarily get to choose which people, places and images stay with us throughout the years – some ghosts refuse to be laid to rest no matter how hard we try.

What made you want to you to commission this play?

I wanted to commission Lizzie to write a play where music and text were of equal importance as I was excited by the prospect of working with a playwright/singer/songwriter. When I approached Lizzie with the idea of creating a play with songs she responded with the idea behind Narvik – an exploration of wartime, bravery and betrayal.

Why do you work with new plays?

I think working with new plays is a particularly rewarding experience as it’s a genuine collaboration between writer and director – you’re both on a voyage of discovery throughout the development and rehearsal process. I also like the fact that a new play is a totally blank slate for all the creative team and the actors, no-one has to forget or ignore previous productions of the work or try to be innovative for innovation’s sake, our only job is to serve the text and the playwright’s vision.

How does Narvik fit in with your previous work?

I think there’s a definite through-line to the plays that I’ve developed and directed with Box of Tricks. The same themes crop up time and again: trust, betrayal, intimacy, vulnerability basically all the perils and pitfalls inherent in being a human having relationships with other humans!

What do you hope audiences will get from watching the play?

I think I’ve got the same hopes for an audience’s relationship to Narvik as I would have for any play I’m directing – that they connect with the characters, and care about their fate and that the themes of the piece in some way cause them to reflect on their own life and experiences.

And, obviously, I’d like them to enjoy their couple of hours in the theatre and in the case of Narvik come out humming some of the songs!

 How did you get into directing?

I directed my first piece of theatre while at sixth form, did some more directing at university and after graduation went to Mountview to study on their Postgraduate Theatre Directing course. I had a pretty clear idea of the career I wanted to pursue from a relatively early age so tried to plan my route into theatre, making the most of the opportunities that presented themselves along the way.

 How does it feel to see your work on the stage?

I like watching my productions, seeing the shared vision that you and the playwright (along with the cast and creative team) have developed over weeks and months come to life is just wonderful. It’s obviously nerve-wracking sharing productions with an audience for the first time as you don’t know whether they’ll share your love of the piece, but watching a good performance of a show you’ve directed when an audience is connecting with it is just brilliant.

What was the best bit of advice you were given when you started out?

I think the best piece of advice I was given early on was to get actors up on their feet as soon as possible in a rehearsal process. Although I do a lot of textual analysis in the rehearsal room I’m someone who learns by doing, so it’s only when actors are given the chance to move around and start to inhabit characters that I see a play come to life.

Why should people come and see Narvik?

People should come and see Narvik because it’s a beautifully written play by a talented playwright with the bonus of some gorgeous live music – what more could you want?!

What is next for Box of Tricks?

After Narvik, Box of Tricks will be remounting last year’s site-specific rural touring piece – Chip Shop Chips by Becky Prestwich – on a national tour. The last tour sold out each and every night, so we’re looking forward to hitting the road again and tucking into more fish and chips!

Narvik opens at HOME from the 31 Jan-4 Feb and then tours till the 25 March

Award winning playwright Deborah McAndrew on Cyrano

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INTERVIEW WITH PLAYWRIGHT DEBORAH MCANDREW

By Steve Pratt

Her First World War drama An August Bank Holiday Lark won both UK Theatre Award and Manchester Theatre Award for Best New Play 2014. Other credits for Broadsides include The Grand Gesture, A Government Inspector, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Vacuum and The Bells.

As an actor, she has worked extensively in television, radio and theatre. She is best known for her role as Angie Freeman in Coronation Street in the 1990s.

Did you know Cyrano de Bergerac before working on your adaptation?

I am just very familiar with it, the story is something I kind of get. When things make a mark they stay very vivid in my imagination and that’s how it is with Cyrano, particularly the film with Gerard Depardieu. It’s one of those stories that I felt like I knew. I knew him and I knew her and they are characters I can inhabit, spend time with and re-imagine

What are the practicalities of writing for Northern Broadsides?

There’s always a couple of nuts and bolts things to pin down – like how many actors have I got?  which is a key thing for me in doing this kind of adaptation because it affects the style. If they say you have four you’d be doing something like a 39 Steps pocket version. Cyrano has 13 in the cast, meaning the main characters don’t have to double up roles. There are six main characters who don’t double and an ensemble of seven. I have done plays with similar size casts. I am quite confident handling big cast. All the Broadsides shows with the exception of Vaccum have been large casts.

What’s it like being part of the Broadsides ‘family’, having written and acted with the company?

I began my work with the company in 1995 and have been part of Broadsides stable. Conrad (Nelson, the director) and I met in the Dream. Within the Broadsides family I have developed my writing career and it’s home, a place where the style and approach is very comfortable for me. It has been a very important part of my career and life. When Con is directing Shakespeare I am person he sits down with to do the cuts. We cut Hamlet together and Winter’s Tale. It’s a collaborative thing

What sort of working relationship do you have with director Conrad Nelson, to whom you’re married?

It helps having Con directing because I do trust him. He reads the script I have written and he knows what I need. He knows where the ideas come from, especially with the original plays. He just gets it. When we are talking about theatre we use the same language and have the same view of things. Our approach is absolutely unrelenting in its rigour and we don’t forgive ourselves any imperfections we identify. I’ve not been in rehearsals very much for my plays, partly a geographical thing and also I have a home to deal with. But the partnership has really worked.

The original Cyrano is entirely in rhyming couplets but you’ve changed the form.

It’s pretty much still all in verse but I’ve jazzed it up so there are different kinds of verse forms within it and some prose. It’s quite an instinctive thing in trying to make the form fit the content. It’s what serves the play and not what’s pickled in aspic although it’s important a lot of this play is in verse or a kind of heightened prose. I wanted what serves the story right there at that moment rather than dictated by the verse form which makes you add syllables you don’t need. I hate having to look for rhymes and put stuff that’s really awkward into actors’ mouths,

Sometimes you write roles with specific actors in mind – why?

You can make it fit beautifully like a tailored jacket. It’s part of the pleasure for me. I love writing for actors I know and giving them a part that fits them. I know when it goes out there on stage it will work and, for the audience and story, will be told fluidly and seamlessly. I don’t want to see the mechanics, I don’t want to see acting.

Why re-examine the role of Roxane, the girl with whom Cyrano is in love?

I suppose I am coming at it from 21 century woman’s sensibility but I have not done anything that is not there in the original. She’s still a woman of her time but I have seen a couple of productions in recent times where Roxane, not just on the page but in the production, was lamentable because she was portrayed as being an airhead. It’s not what’s in the play. She’s not a stupid girl. I want to make sure we get what’s in the play.

Why is Cyrano relevant to today?

The themes of love, loyalty and disguise are timeless. But I also think this is about a bloke with what we today would call body dystrophic disorder. Okay, he does have a big nose but he’s the only one who has a problem with it. Everyone else stops noticing it after a while. Cyrano is a man who can’t get past his own nose. His fear of rejection and ridicule is absolutely crippling and that’s something we can all identify with to some extent.

Do you ever consider writing roles for yourself?

I’m not interested in writing roles for myself or directing my own plays either. Theatre is a collaborative form and as a theatre-maker I have inhabited the extreme ends of the process – the beginning, as a writer, and the end, as an actor.

A you happy with the roles you’ve had as an actor?

I suppose I have spent my whole acting career living with the frustration of being a short woman because roles for them are very few. There are only so many parts I can get to play but as a writer I can be all of them. As a young woman I went to see Hamlet but didn’t identify with Ophelia. Just like the boys we want to be Hamlet but those roles are not there for you when you are a short girl with a northern accent. The field is so narrow. Interestingly in my imagination I want to be all those people and when you are a writer you can be all those people. I have done a lot of radio acting where I am not so limited by what I look like.

Do you still get recognised from playing Angie Freeman in ITV’s Coronation Street in the 1990s?

The punters still recognise me. But it’s not a case of how does a girl in Corrie end up as a playwright? More how does a playwright end up in Corrie? I went to university not drama school. I wrote plays at school and at home. Corrie happened and sent my career in a different way.

What’s next?

The Chester Mystery Plays for 2018, an adaptation of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for Bolton Octagon and I’m also working on a new play. I’m also,author-in-residence at a high school. As an actor, I’m doing four more episodes of the BBC Radio Four drama Stone with Hugo Speer, which I’ve been doing for ten years. I play a copper – if you could see me you would never cast me but it’s only my voice. I’m busy but you wont hear a word of complaint from me.

Cyrano opens at the New Vic Theatre from the 3-25 February and themn tours till the 27 May