In the Flesh

The Watcher and the Watched has been performed as a scratch piece for the first time Plymouth’s Barbican Theatre’s festival ‘In the Flesh’.

The theatre has a glass corridor leading to the dressing rooms which is visible through windows on the landing. This is where the audience stood, while we set the corridor up as 3 houses next to each other, with 3 sets of curtains and blinds.

The effect was particularly lovely with actual flats visible behind the corridor and really helped to give that sense of normal suburbia and of genuine voyeurism. Some audience members signed up to watch specifically while others were simply wandering past from one show to the next and stopped to watch for a few minutes.

Performing in a corridor is certainly a little odd and with the audience 20 feet away and through two panes of glass you really have no concept that they are even there, let alone be able to respond to them which was a fascinating if rather puzzling experience.

At this stage of development we are trying out many different ideas, tones, structures and logistical approaches to the piece and our In The Flesh version was a real mix of these. The feedback we got confirmed that we can’t simply mix and match and that it is jarring to change our rules e.g. being able to hear muffled speech, then being able to heard a person’s thoughts in the next scene and then a more cinematic soundtrack in the next! However we also got a lot of ideas about which of these worked better than others so we now be working out which direction to start working on next.

In the Flesh and there was a huge variety of work there and it really is worth a visit. Particular mention must of course go to our friends, Worklight Theatre’s performative presentation How to Start a Riot; and our very own Theo Fraser’s Pretentious, a truly hilarious one-man show satirising those ridiculous, ‘arrogantly artistic’ pieces we have all seen over the years


Review of Hometowns – by Nick Chowdrey

Review by audience member, Nick Chowdrey.

How do our surroundings affect who we are? How does our place of birth and where we are raised influence our nurture? Do we form permanent bonds with the places we reside, or can we move about freely, paying not much heed to what we have experienced in the places that we leave behind? These were the questions posed by ‘Hometowns’, a devised, light-hearted, multimedia extravaganza performed by the young, Exeter-based theatre company, SourDough, premiered in Barnstaple and performed at The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter, as part of the Exeter Fringe Festival.

The informal nature of the piece was encouraged from the moment you entered the theatre: the more familiar setup of an empty stage with the hushed rustlings of the audience underscored by non-offensive musac replaced by a relaxed, up-beat atmosphere and a warm greeting from the cast, who were already on stage. This set the tone for the entire piece which, although not delivering any particularly poignant message, was so delightfully light-hearted and visually interesting that the 45 minute piece whizzed by, leaving me enjoyably satisfied by the bows.

The piece took the form of disjointed scenes, following no through-story or characters, but instead exploring the theme of Hometowns through a variety of means, including shadow-puppetry, physicality and monologue. The scenes were delightfully playful, indeed, sometimes so playful that their relevance to the piece was somewhat confusing – a scene involving a Stone Henge made of cereal particularly coming to mind. This being said, the manipulation of light and the use of multimedia in the piece was nothing short of inspired; the ideas so varied and interestingly imaginative as to truly do credit to the art of devising, and specifically to the uniquely creative working relationship of this particular company.

Overall, I feel that ‘Hometowns’ embodied the essence of  what a true fringe performance is meant to be – an original idea communicated in an original way that challenges what the general public’s perception of “theatre” – something that, unfortunately it seems, can only be given a proper airing as part of a fringe festival. Although I don’t think the theme of the piece carried enough weight or substance to produce anything that imposing; indeed, I very much doubt that this was the company’s intent, the execution of the performance was slick, professional, funny and intriguing, leading to a thoroughly enjoyable 45 minutes of theatre and, at the end of the day, £5 very well spent.


End of Summer Festivals

Phew! An exhausting few weeks have just ended in Devon. What with the Barnstaple FringeFest and the Exeter Fringe going on it has all been go, go, go down here.

We have ended our first year by creating two shows. Hometowns, which was shown at both festivals and Four Man, which we took to the Exeter Fringe.

Exeter Fringe

Fringe TheatreFest

Both festivals were utter successes, we all saw lots of other people’s work and it was an excellent opportunity to be able to see lots of new and exciting shows and performances. It was inspiring to see so much good stuff and it gives us that infective itch to start producing more. The buzz in the air was palpable in Barnstaple as soon as you were within five minutes of the venues, seeing people scurrying about between shows and discussing upcoming, and recently seen, work. In Exeter I was gobsmacked by the sheer number of audience members –spread out over six venues- that the festival managed to attract and, more importantly, maintain. It shows that those involved were doing things right if people kept coming back and back for more. So a big thank you and well done to all those involved in organising and running the two festivals, a lot of people owe you a lot of thanks!

Four Man

As far as SourDough goes, it has been an awesome year for us all, working on a huge swathe of projects whilst trying to pin down precisely what it is we are all about as a company. We’re definitely heading toward finding that out and after every project we have a chat about the process and performance and each time we’re that little bit happier about it all and that is obviously the direction we want to be carrying on with.

Next up for us is a couple of weeks to think about what we want to do next as a company and then we will be back on the research run to start generating some material for a show which we hope will be ready for showcasing in autumn. There are a few ideas already for what this will be coming out of the SourDough Bakery and I, for one, am very excited to see what the rest of the guys come up with.

SourDough Presents Four Man

The boys from SourDough Theatre have written and devised four one man shows and have been performing them at the city gate as part of the Exeter Fringe Festival 2011. Four Man has gone down very well with audiences so far and today is your last chance to come and see it! 20:00 at the City Gate hotel on the Iron Bridge.

Connection Problems is first up, with a look at how people portray themselves on the internet and wonders whether you can be truly close to someone online. This piece takes on the look of a performative lecture, halfway between stand up, and theatre.

Letters To Myself takes a look at the ever personal world of diaries, dove tailing three different journals and linking them with physical movement giving the audience a glimpse into the lives of three people; A politician, a young girl, and a no body. Funny, moving and thought provoking.

The Death of err… That Guy looks at the legacy that a normal guy would leave behind if he were to die tomorrow. An autobiographical piece where the performer analyses his life by the possessions in his bedroom, from his slightly above average DVD collection, to his questionable choice of clothing.

 The Monster is a personal look at the rage that can lurk underneath the average male. A wonderful autobiographical piece that retells stories of past loves, acting and the heavy weight champion of the world. Wonderfully performed and a great way to finish the evening.

We hope to see you there!


Catch Up

I haven’t blogged in a really long time. And suddenly on this sleepy Saturday afternoon I feel a great need to. So here goes,  this is what’s been happening  with SourDough Theatre in the last couple of months.

The Bloodline

After the final performance of The Bloodline on Saturday 2nd April, SourDough Theatre hung up their sheep skin coats, wiped their faces clean from make-up, packed away their set, their complete works and moped the floor free from spaghetti. On Monday 4th April (My birthday!) at 6.30pm, we were back in the rehearsal room with a new show!

We felt very lucky to have an exciting new addition to the team; Dr Jerri Daboo as she invited us to work with her on staging Red Oleanders by Rabindrath Tagore to mark the celebration of Tagore’s 150th Birthday.

Jerri had been asked to stage something  for the Tagore Festival at Dartington, and for some reason she chose SourDough Theatre to be her actors in her chosen Tagore play Red Oleanders.In Rehearsal

Red Oleanders  was a totally new challenge for SourDough. Jerri had chosen it because the story paralleled to some current world issues, which forced us to present some bold political statements with the piece. Some of us were more comfortable with this than others in the group and it stirred some passionate debate.

We, as a group, had not yet attempted to be particularly political with anything else we’ve made this year. I’m not sure why really, but there tends to be a reluntance or prickliness between us when a political observation or interpretation is suggested. Lack of bravery perhaps.

Red Oleanders

So, with Red Oleanders, we had to find our comfort with the statements we were making which was a great challenge and by the end I felt really refreshed by it and looked forwarded to seeing how it would be received by an audience.

I couldn’t wait to perform at Dartington Hall for a lot of reasons. A few weeks before, I’d attended part of Jerri’s Michael Chekov conference at University of Exeter. She presented a film about the Michael Chekov Years at Dartington Hall. The film was so recent in my mind, I couldn’t help let the history of the place capture my imagination as we were there setting up before our performance. I was looking forward to performing to some Tagore experts, if not a little intimidated. Tagore’s writing was something I hadn’t come across before our process with Jerri, so I was certain the audience knew a lot more about the brave decisions Jerri had made in adapting the piece and I was eager to see how it would be received.

We were the only performers of the festival to perform one of Tagore’s plays. So we were privileged to be described (by someone, it might not have been true) as the head-liner of the day. Bizarre!

The Great Hall is massive! We had great fun performing there, we had to work really hard to fill the room with sound and energy and for me it was quite funny how much our performances changed or rather grew in intensity. Our little company probably won’t get the opportunity to play in such a large room for a while, so we owe Jerri a huge thank you for giving us that gift.

We learnt a lot, as always, about our group dynamic during this process. The big challenge and the thing that is an ongoing learning curve for SourDough is the sheer mass of the group. We are a LARGE company of 9, and we are used to working very collaboratively and in each process experiment with different approaches to and levels of facilitation.  To work with an outside director was an important move for us and it was great that we had the chance to work with someone as experienced and trustworthy as Jerri. She was one of our lecturers at University and even though she didn’t teach all of us, she still was able to carry an authority from the student-teacher dynamic and managed to mediate discussion and debate in ways that hadn’t been possible within SourDough before.

On reflection, it was nice to hear responses from Jerri throughout the process along the lines of  ‘it’s nice to work with a fully formed ensemble, it makes my job easier because you are all so comfortable with each other’ and I think it was only in working with an outside director that I realised how in tune we have become as a company.

By experiencing what it is to have our trust in a director’s vision and being able to focus more our individual roles, I think we are now able to understand better the ways in which we work collaboratively. With Rogues and Wanderers and The Bloodline, there came a point in the process in which we felt the need to map the ‘peaks and troughs’ of the  dramaturgy of the piece. This would be a group exercise where we would spend as long as it took to reach an agreement of where the journey of the piece should lie, where the light and dark needed to be placed and at which points in the piece the energy needed to shift. We would do this because it would be important for us to have a collective understanding and agreement of the dramaturgy. In Red Oleanders, because of our trust in Jerri’s vision, this collective understanding and agreement wasn’t always necessary and we could see the work Jerri was doing to make those decisions herself as the director.

For us, this discovery highlights the importance of exercises like that (that being merely an example) when you’re are working collaboratively without a director, and perhaps teaches us to have greater trust in the importance of these exercises. I really feel more and more that we are discovering our own practice as a company, which is a nice feeling. It gives us a foundation to keep growing and developing from.

Next is a piece called Home Towns, that we are developing for the two Devon fringe festivals, Barnstaple’s Fringe TheatreFest and Exeter Fringe Festival. It is a piece that will explore each other’s histories and memories of our Home Towns. Again we are treading new ground here in search of ways to make something that has a strong relevance to us as a group and perhaps even a stronger access point for our audiences . . . who knows.

Monique Luckman

Looking back at our First Project as SourDough Theatre!

We found this little recording this week of our first project as a company, Wings, Wasps and Feathers. It was a shadow puppet show made to entertain the families at the Falconry Festival at Poltimore House back in the Summer. We had a lot of fun with this little story that we created in keeping with the falconry theme of the day. The story tells of two birds who through their fight against a very intimidating swarm of angry wasps who have invaded their home, the learn to work as a team. . . just like SourDough Theatre (there is a parallel in there somewhere . . . ish.)

The Importance of Feedback

On Wednesday, we held a work in progress performance for some of our heroes. We invited our old lecturers, tutors and mentors from the University to come and see some of the material we have so far with the hope that they can offer us feedback and comment with fresh eyes on the what parts are working and what bits aren’t and how to push the piece further.

This is something we had been planning to do from right at the beginning of our rehearsal process. We wanted to do it for a number of reasons. In our experience of devising and performance making, it is easy to become precious and introvert about what your making and sometimes that is dangerous as it is easy to become too immersed in the process and lose sight of the an audience’s  journey through the piece.

Another reason is that, in devising, it is always vital to get fresh eyes on the work as they will always be able to pick up on something that you haven’t seen yourself and the feedback will tell you which aspects of the performance are working better and which aspects aren’t. This feedback then provides you with a new, fresh direction to push and develop your piece.

And this is exactly what happened. After a week of working on moments that have been born through play and work-shopping, we were beginning to develop a journey/narrative through these series of moments. But as we began to do this, I had started to feel my grip on what someone experiencing these moments for the first time will see slipping away. But just as I started to feel this, it was time for the work in progress session. Brilliant timing.

The feedback took the form of a lively discussion about physical language, relationships with text, sensual experience and how narrative and meaning is currently emerging. The discussion was fruitful and energetic and has therefore us given a revitalised energy to move on in our process.

The performance date is getting closer now and it is becoming more and more important that we don’t lose our energy and excitement for the piece and continue to work hard pushing and shifting and questioning and challenging. We have found that feedback helps you maintain that energy to keep running.

Monique Luckman

Wings, Wasps and Feathers

Wings, Wasps and Feathers

Wings, Wasps and Feathers

Yesterday saw our second visit to Poltimore House to provide entertainment at a fundraising event for the Poltimore House Trust. Due to the success of our shadow puppet show Tails of Exeter that we performed at the Big Lunch event in July, we decided to bring a new shadow puppet show for the Poltimore Falconry and County Crafts Day.

It has been a long and messy three weeks for the few in the company that have a particular talent for making shadow puppets, eventhough we all were having a go at times. We made 34 new puppets for the new show, many of which were made into the wee small hours in a very small cardboard cluttered kitchen, madly pinning stuff to the wall with a light bulb in tow.

Playing with Shadows

Playing with Shadows

At these Politmore House events we get the chance to perform for family audiences, something that we didn’t always get the chance to do at University. We find ourselves particularly draw to the challange of engaging children using age old forms such as shadow puppetry.

With both shows at Poltimore, we were experimenting with the idea of never sheilding the puppets or the puppeteers from the audience;  in fact, the audience were sat amongst the puppeteers with no boundary line between us at all. We played with making shadows on the wall in front of us and the audience placed between us and the wall. This way, the audience are free to look at the performers and material puppets as well as the shadows there were making on the wall. Our bodies were always visible in the shadow and the process of shadow making was never hidden.

This experiment was fuelled by the idea that the process of shadow making could be just as engaging as the shadows themselves. A big question for us was this: if a magician shows you a magic trick but afterwards shows you how he did it, which do you find more interesting? Is the process of the trickery just as interesting as the trick itself?

The children in the audience seemed engaged by both the shadows and the puppets as they kept switching from one to the other. Something we had discussed throughout the process of our two shadow puppet shows at Poltimore was the idea of dual-performances. Originally, Tails of Exeter was performed behind a screen, hiding the puppeteers and the other mechanics of the show, and framing the puppets on a modest screen. Deviating from this more traditional way of performing shadow theatre has allowed us to create shows which work much more organically and interactively.

SourDough at Poltimore House

SourDough at Poltimore House

I’m still not sure what it is about shadow puppetry that grasping our attention at the moment. We are all going through a fascination with the stuff you can do with just some shapes and some light. Eventhough I’m sure our attentions will shift and develop to lots of other forms as we continue to workshop for our November show at the Bike Shed, it will be interesting to see how shadow making might bleed into Rogues and Wanderers.

Monique Luckman

The SourDough Stamp

The SourDough Stamp