10 questions for 10 years – David Ralf

The Bunker Theatre may have announced its impending closure but its executive director Dave Ralf certainly has a lot to say! 

  • Where were you 10 years ago?

    Ten years ago, 2009, I was in my second year at university, writing an essay on John Donne’s poetry and desperately trying to impress my professors because I’d seriously slacked off the previous few weeks while rehearsing the first play that I’d written. I learned that year that directing your own work is a bad idea as a new playwright – frankly it’s probably not the best idea at any stage. The following year, I learned that directing theatre was not my calling at all – I couldn’t make myself care about the pictures on the stage, and only listened to the voices. Many years later, I’d find a good fit for that instinct: directing the radio dramas for Hotel Europe, which I made with Isley Lynn, David Loumgair and Philipp Ehmann and five extremely talented writers. But back in 2009, I was learning the jobs I wasn’t best suited for, concentrating on what I could offer and give to the theatre world I was then immersed in – and writing and producing had the edge over acting or directing.

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The finalists of The Offies 2018

The finalists of the The Offies 2018 have been announced and as ever, there’s much of interest there, in the choices made and the breadth of Off West End theatre celebrated. Play-wise, I’m delighted at the love for The Revlon Girl and An Octoroon here, nice to see the Bunker’s Eyes Closed Ears Covered rewarded too, plus Will Pinchin’s work in Frankenstein.

With the musicals, I’m not down with the love for Promises Promises, an ill-judged revival that added nothing to the conversation (and even less in these #MeToo times) and I’m disappointed that none of the boys of Yank! were recognised. The rest of the Southwark Playhouse’s spectacular year does get the appropriate plaudits though, with Superhero, The Life and Working all getting multiple nominations.

And lastly, at times it can seem like all you have to do is sing in your bathroom and you get an Offie nomination ? so it is interesting to see how the numbers break down, albeit somewhat vaguely. These 80 or so finalists have apparently been whittled down from over 350 nominations from over 190 shows – there’s clearly just a lot of Offies love to share. Should you wish to join in said sharing at the IRL award ceremony on Sunday 4th March at The Albany, Deptford, you can buy tickets here.

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Review: Winter Solstice, Orange Tree Theatre

“A new world which will last for ever…”

I’m pretty sure every time a German production is mounted in the UK, it is slapped with the mantle of ‘most popular contemporary German playwright’ (see Franz Xaver Kroetz’s The Nest from late last year) – a sign that audiences here still have to be led gently by the hand towards European drama with whispered encouragements of ‘well he is the best they have, you know’.

This time, it is Roland Schimmelpfennig’s turn, as his 2013 play Winter Solstice receives its British premiere at the Orange Tree in this Actors Touring Company production directed by Ramin Gray. And it is well worth the effort as though it may flirt with the experimental, it also cuts through to the elemental – as piercing an insight into the rise of the far right as we’ve seen on any stage. Continue reading “Review: Winter Solstice, Orange Tree Theatre”

Review: VOLTA Festival 2015, Arcola Theatre

“The problem with Hannes is…”

One can always rely on the Arcola to bring interesting writing to light and in the form of the VOLTA International Festival, Artistic Director Andrea Ferran has managed that four times over, bringing together new work by four celebrated international writers, translated into English for the first time – Christopher Chen, Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Ewald Palmetshofer and Roland Schimmelpfennig. With four directors, James Perkins designing and an ensemble covering all the shows, it proved to be a fascinating festival and one which deserves more attention than it received.

Caught by San Francisco-based Christopher Chen twists wonderfully around notions of truth and fiction as three separate but interlinked scenes toy with how art plays with and changes under our perceptions. Cressida Brown’s direction cleverly plays up how we all find our own truth in everything, no matter how the subject is approached, preconceived notions shaping us even as they’re deconstructed and always, always making us think about what we’ve just seen. Chen takes no prisoners in the complexity of some of his thinking but it’s fascinating stuff indeed. Continue reading “Review: VOLTA Festival 2015, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Idomeneus, Gate Theatre

 
“All could be well. Everything could be difficult.”

There’s a wonderful synchronicity in the arrival of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Idomeneus at the Gate Theatre at the same time that the divisive Mr Burns is in residence at the Almeida, both plays toy wonderfully with ideas of cultural narrative and how stories get passed down through the generations. And it is tempting to think that had this opened first – with its reference point being classicist-friendly Greek tragedy as opposed to the apparently alienating The Simpsons – the response to that latter play might have been a little different with the larger theme already established in the mind.

Who knows though and in some respects, who cares. It really feels like there’s a current vein of theatre that is striking out on its own – it may leave critics scurrying away at intervals or declaring their worst nights ever but by the same token, one might argue that that is how these theatremakers feel whilst sitting through the latest lauded revival of a Noël Coward play (I may or may not have borrowed this idea from someone… ;-)). But at the Almeida, the Royal Court and now the Gate, you can find theatre that really is unafraid to be different – it’s not to say that it is automatically good but even the mere act of stretching what we know as theatre in the UK feels important. Continue reading “Review: Idomeneus, Gate Theatre”

Review: The Golden Dragon, Arcola Theatre

“Please, not the red spanner!”

First things first, Studio 1 at the Arcola is flexible! I have frequently bemoaned the new main room at the Arcola’s new premises for its awkward seating arrangement that provided a restrictive playing space which unfortunately seemed to fly in the face of the playfulness of the old theatre. But for the first time Studio 1 has been reconfigured, into an end-on setting in this case, which hopefully means that the Arcola will continue to explore the new possibilities of their new home. The show that it is currently housing is the ATC production of The Golden Dragon, fresh from a successful run at the Traverse in Edinburgh and subsequently touring the UK.

It is a German play by Roland Schimmelpfennig, translated here by David Tushingham, which defies any easy definition, the website blurb says deconstructed soap opera, I’m thinking more fantastical yet modern fairy tale. Five actors play a whole host of characters and indeed animals, frequently switching gender, ethnicity and age in the smoothest of multiple transitions as the storytelling weaves gently around the heart, only revealing just how powerful and moving it is until its closing scenes by when we’re fully enchanted and in the tight grip of this ensemble. Continue reading “Review: The Golden Dragon, Arcola Theatre”