‘Character’ Post-Show Q & A

We had a lovely post-show Question and Answer session with…

– The writer of ‘Character’, Florence Vincent

– ‘Character’ actors, Angela Ferns & Clare Harlow

– ‘Character’ Director Ellie Pitkin

– ‘Character’ Assistant Director, Oliver Gordon

You can listen to the session here.

Photos by Andrew Crane.

Reviews of ‘Character’ – WAFF 2014

“an odd-couple comedy…plenty of laughs” – What’s Peen Seen

Read the full review here.

 

“a classic odd couple double act” – Public Reviews

Read the full review here.

 

“played with great energy and conviction…a fantastic chemistry on stage…laugh-out-loud funny…a stark reminder of what is so fun and exciting about fringe theatre” – Remote Goat

Read the full review here.

 

“a funny and moving story” – Loose Lips

Read the full review here.

 

 

The Deceptive Wistfulness of The Selkirk’s Nachos

It’s Friday 9 May, the 5th performance of Character has just come down and I’ve just consumed what I estimate to be my tenth or eleventh order of The Selkirk’s Nachos in a two-month period.  Its fair to say if there was unofficial sponsor for the Blackshaw’s current duo of productions, or at least its production team, it would be The Selkirk’s Nachos (which if you’re catching the shows in the final weekend, you may guess I can highly recommend). I’m now sat here with the overriding fear that I may end up writing a blog exclusively about nachos and for the first time in the six months since I first read Character, find I have a newfound empathy with Michelle, staring my own writers block in the face.  Although unlike Michelle, its not that I have nothing to say, rather I have too much.

Back in October I received a proposition from Blackshaw’s remarkable Commander in Chief, Ellie.  Blackshaw were mounting two productions for WAFF 2014: one a newly written play; the other a beloved children’s story in a wonderful new adaptation; with one cast, performing them in rep, above a pub and would I be interested in joining the adventure? What was there not to like? (And this was before I’d found out about the Nachos).

I think what I excited me the most about the project was the opportunity to work on two shows and the contrast between them.  Character is a darkly comic two hander with two incredible female roles, while Alice in Wonderland reimagines Lewis Carroll’s classic for its events to take place in the confines of a junk shop.  Starkly different (Character certainly isn’t for children) but somehow incredibly complimentary of each other it has been, and remains. a joy to discuss how men are like doughnuts one evening and the logistics of a gaggle of talking flowers the next.

We have had the rare and wonderful benefit of creating these two productions in the space in which they will be performed, creating ourselves a little home from home above The Selkirk just off Tooting Broadway. Over the last few months the space has slowly transformed itself simultaneously into Wonderland and Michelle and Freya’s secluded Cotswolds hideaway with a busy local pub still buzzing away below us.  Piece by piece our sickeningly talented company of actors have begun to flesh out the inhabitants of these worlds, now in full visual fruition thanks to the deign genius of Zahra Mansouri, to the point that I feel I will never be able to look at it in quite the same way again.  Indeed, once our affectionately nicknamed ‘cat wall’ is no longer in residence, something will definitely be missing.

We have another weekend of performances to come, before this particular adventure down the rabbit hole draws to a close, and this little jotting has been an amazing opportunity to reflect on a whirlwind and rewarding process. It’s been hectic, eclectic and downright hilarious at times, occasionally equitable to falling though a looking glass, but always gratifying.  I may have also consumed what I can only assume is an unhealthy amount of guacamole (although probably less than Emily, our Alice).  However, my inevitable avocado overdose is instantly made worthwhile every time a child chuckles through The Walrus and the Carpenter or you feel someone’s twinkling recognition of themselves in Freya and Michelle’s ‘mid-life’ crises.  Sharing those moments with those who’ve come to visit us above the Selkirk (and those who have yet to do so) is something that will certainly stay with me.

It’s now I realise that I was drawn to this project because of the differences between these two shows, but maybe they’re not so different after all, and perhaps I finally understand Ellie’s stroke of genius.  Both these stories are about getting lost, sharing the adventure along the way and finding your way back.

My only hope is that we can all share them again.

Oliver Gordon, Assistant Director, WAFF 2014.

A word from ‘Character’ writer, Florence VIncent

Character Blog SONY DSC

Think of some female archetypes. Bitch, mother, virgin, whore, femme fatale. Easy right? Now think of some male archetypes. Soldier, maybe? Science geek? World leader? In films, books, plays, fairy tales, songs and comics, traditional characters of both genders crop up over and over again, put there to fulfill a set role and drive the narrative forward. There’s just one pretty huge difference between male and female archetypes: set roles for men aren’t necessarily associated with gender, while set roles for women always are. Though it might seem an obvious point to make, female archetypes – like those listed above – are always inherently linked to female sexuality. And that is getting really rather tiresome.

I don’t think I set out to write Character with a specific agenda in mind. It came about the same way everything I write comes about: I had a good idea and thought “I should probably write that”. About a year later it was finished and I realised that I’d been writing something with an agenda at its heart all along. That being, the promotion of female characters who aren’t defined by their gender, bodies or sexuality.

Further to this, I find myself increasingly keen to see more roles for women that challenge the audience’s expectations and evade easy definition altogether. The two women I created for Character represent (admittedly exaggerated) versions of womanhood that I recognize and know to be true. They are both flawed, both funny, both struggling, and at times seriously unlikeable. They are multi-faceted, hard to pin down and, I hope, ultimately sympathetic.

More than anything, I see Character as a play about the complicated relationship between its two leads. A while ago someone told me that the most interesting friendships to portray are those between two men. But isn’t it just the case that we haven’t had the opportunity to see real friendships between women portrayed on the stage and screen; ones that not only pass the all-important Bechdel test, but challenge saccharine Sex and the City-style notions of “sisterhood”?

Writing this play, and seeing it produced by the excellent people at Blackshaw, has made me realise just how much I care about seeing more complex, interesting roles for women crop up in film, theatre and TV. I only hope that the characters I’ve written resonate with people, and go some way to challenging existing ideas about what it means to be a woman.

And beyond that? I’d just like to make people laugh.

– Florence Vincent

Quick Questions with Angela Ferns (Michelle, Character)

What do you like best about playing your character in Character?Angela Ferns

Michelle has no internal filter and can go off on a bit of a tangent, which is great fun to perform. The piece is so well written and it is just hilarious to play.

What are rehearsals like?

Laughter-filled.

What was the last project you worked on?

Much Ado About Nothing at Park Theatre. It was set just after the Second World War and I played Margaret as a man-hungry fallen aristocrat

Besides Alice, what’s your favourite past role?

Ophelia in Hamlet at Dalston Bunker.

What’s the best play/show/concert you’ve ever been to?

Market Boy at The National – it was a complete joy – just impeccable theatre. Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death is a close second as I love immersive theatre and that was my very first experience of it.

Not a lot of people know that…

I’m a Richard Curtis rom-com addict. I can’t get enough.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Chai Tea lattes. They are just so warm and comforting.

What really grinds your gears?

Alarm clocks. Yuck!

Quick Questions with Zahra Mansouri (Set & Costume Designer, ‘Character’ & ‘Alice in Wonderland’

ZAHRA MANSOURI – SET & COSTUME DESIGNERSONY DSC

What do you like best about working on Alice in Wonderland and Character?

Alice was a favourite childhood book, so it’s having the opportunity to rework it, as well as staying true to the aspects we know and love (younger people can see a reimagining of the piece, but adults can delight in finding details from the original). With Character I like the fact that it’s such a different challenge; the fun is in creating a reality that relates to real people and pinning down that level of detail in set and costume.

What was the last project you worked on?

The curious tale of Pablo Picasso at the Brockley Jack – a surreal piece about two historic events merging – Pablo Picasso discovering his Art whilst in prison for stealing the Mona Lisa. Absolute madness, with many of the props I made based on art of the time, oversized objects and detailed pieces, were a joy to make.

Besides Alice and Character, what’s your favourite past production? Blackshaw’s adaptation of Gormenghast (another favourite book of mine). I had a whole church to create the world in, whilst of course being loyal to Peake fans, I created detailed costume designs that really pinned down the larger then life characters within the story.

What’s the best play/show/concert you’ve ever been to?

Best show I have been to was Faust at the Colosseum, by Terry Gillingham. We all loved his animations for Monty Python, and to actually see that level of interchanging madness within an opera was spectacular.

Not a lot of people know that…

It’s bloody hard work convincing young actors to wear their trousers on their waist and not round their arse if they want to successfully look like they are in a period drama.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Working in my pyjamas whilst listening to 80s power rock.

What really grinds your gears?

Young male actors arguing the toss about where the waistband should be worn if they are in a period piece.

See Zahra’s work at www.zahramansouri.com