A Brief Hiatus

I just wanted to quickly address the fact that this blog is very briefly on hiatus as my life has been going a bit crazy, but that I'll be back within the next couple of weeks with lots of exciting new posts.

Essentially the last few weeks have been filled with visits from family and friends, a trip to Disneyland Paris, and my first time attending Summer in the City, the UK's biggest YouTube convention. I'm currently in a mad dash to finish my dissertation before it's due next Friday and start packing to move home in the first week of September.

I should have my SitC vlog going up on my YouTube channel this weekend, but this blog is effectively on hiatus until I finish my dissertation. I just didn't want anyone to wonder what's going on. Wish me luck and I'll be back with a new post hopefully very soon! x

Interview: ASHLEY MILNE, Bad Dog (Edinburgh Fringe)

I'm so excited to have my first theatre-themed interview on this blog and especially thrilled that it's with my dear friend, Ashley Milne, the writer of Bad Dog which is currently on at the Edinburgh Fringe. Ashley is a student at the University of York and I can't wait to see what plays (and musicals) she will write in the future.

Bad Dog is on at the Edinburgh Fringe to 18 August. It is an original psychological horror exploring sisterhood and trauma. It is co-directed by Alice Lloyd-Davies and Ben Wilson and stars Sophie Lorraine Parkin as Eve and Jess Corner as Grace.

How did you become interested in writing plays?
I've loved theatre for as long as I can remember, and was acting for basically all of my childhood. At the same time, I was journalling obsessively, writing very sad poems about girls I thought were pretty and whacking out little short stories and the like. At A-Level, my Drama/Performing Arts courses involved some low-level writing and devising, and me and my good pals (Rhiannon Culley and Charlie Pittman!) ended up realising we wanted to try this writing malarky outside of school and wrote a musical called Bridge Over Oblivion. The experience of that and the support of my family and friends made me realise that if I wasn't writing for theatre, it was a big old mistake, and so I've been trying to write for the stage ever since!

(Fun fact: I did a monologue from Bridge Over Oblivion for my Acting for Non-Majors class last year.) 

What's it like studying at the University of York? 
Dreamy. I love my course, Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance, and all the friends I've made there -- including my collaborators Alice Lloyd-Davies and Ben Wilson! -- but I mostly just really love the Drama Society for letting me play silly parts and mess around, but also for supporting my writing inside the Drama Barn and externally, by taking it to the Fringe.

What plays or playwrights are you really excited about right now? Whose work do you admire? 
No surprise to anyone who knows me at all, but I think Alistair McDowall is the most exciting, interesting playwright to come out of British theatre in the past decade; is the most fascinating relationship drama I can think of, and I reread his Plays One whenever I feel like I'm hitting a creative wall. 

I'm also hugely inspired by the work of Lucy Prebble, Simon Stephens, Lucy Kirkwood, Nick Payne, Polly Stenham and Stacey Gregg to name a few. I wish I could be a little more eloquent as to why, I just think they've been telling incredible stories. I also think Bad Dog probably has echoes of Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill in there -- and by echoes, I mean blatant theft.

Sophie Parkin in Bad Dog
Can you describe Bad Dog to us?
This is the kind of question that has a tendency to flummox me, because in my head it's about some very specific things but also not very much at all. I hope it's a spooky story about two sisters trying to reconcile themselves to their past, but I also think it could probably be about quite a few other things. 

How excited are you to be bringing this show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival? 
Just reading that sentence made my heart do a little flip. I really, really, really cannot wait to see all the incredible theatre that the Fringe has to offer, meet people who have made amazing work, and watch the amazing Sophie Parkin and Jess Corner say words that I wrote every day. 

Can you talk about its trajectory from being written to going up to Edinburgh? 
I wrote first drafts of Bad Dog to be assess for my degree, which feels like a very long time ago really. It was performed in a one night show in the University of York's Drama Barn, and we got quite a positive response, so me, Ben, and Alice decided to stay up till half three in the morning writing a pitch for DramaSoc to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe. And then the next night, we did another all-nighter making a presentation. The next day, Ben texted me at work to say it'd been selected and I cried behind the till. 

What's your favourite thing about this piece? 
The people who are working on it. I don't know anyone I trust more than Ben, Alice, Sophie, and Jess; they're all such committed, sensitive people who really bring the best out of the text and add more to it than I ever thought possible. It really is beyond my wildest dreams. 

What's been the most challenging thing about it thus far? 
I really am trying to think of a challenge and am struggling. Other than my little fears and worries about the rug being pulled out from under my feet and everyone laughing because I'm not a writer after all, and all the shaking I do anytime Bad Dog gets performed, I really have loved every moment of it. 

Sophie Parkin in Bad Dog
Why should people come see Bad Dog
Because a lot of people I truly believe to be the future of British theatre have worked on it. I think it'll probably suck you in for its forty-five minute running time, just because the atmosphere the team have created is so intense and nuanced and wonderful. 

Are you working on anything else right now? Anything exciting coming up? 
I'm currently nearing the end of writing my newest play, called Snort, Inhale, Dissolve to be performed in the Drama Barn next term -- also directed by Alice and starring Sophie Parkin and James Chetwood. I hope people like that one as much as they've liked Bad Dog. And I submitted some of Bad Dog sometime ago to the Royal Court Theatre and -- somehow -- managed to get into their New Writer's Programme, so that's also a fun and exciting writing thing I get to do! 

You can find Bad Dog on Facebook and Twitter and buy tickets online. You can also find Ashley Milne on Twitter. Let me know if any of you go see the show! 

Bad Dog's show poster was made by Eleanor Hibbert. Photos of Sophie Parkin by Greg Tiani. 

Review: Broken Wings, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Rob Houchen and Nikita Johal
RATING: ★★★★★

There is nothing more exciting that when you've hyped up a new piece of work to all of your friends and family and then it's even better than you expected. From the moment I first heard about Broken Wings, I was hooked. I love supporting new musicals and especially diverse work so an original musical based on the life of the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran sounded amazing to me.

I fell in love with the concept album and was so excited that the short four day run the musical got to do at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (my favorite theatre!) coincided with my family visiting from the States so that they could see it as well. (They're all as in love with it as I am.) In June, I got to interview co-writer, associate producer, and star Nadim Naaman for BroadwayWorld UK about the new work he'd created.

Broken Wings is an emotional, soaring musical based on the semi-autobiographical poetic novel of the same name by Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, first published in 1912. (If you didn't know, Gibran is the third best-selling poet worldwide.) Its book was written by Lebanese West End actor Nadim Naaman and its score by Naaman and the Qatari composer Dana Al Fardan.

It tells the story of a young Kahlil Gibran who has returned from Boston to his native Beirut to further his studies. There, he runs into his father's friend Farris Karamy and spends much of his time with him and his beautiful daughter, Selma. The two easily fall for each other, but there are barriers to their love. The themes of immigration, women's rights, religion, relationships between parents and children, and the freedom to love who you love are sure to resonate with a modern audience.
Soophia Foroughi, Nadim Naaman, and Rob Houchen
One of my favorite things about Broken Wings is that it's narrated by an older heartbroken Gibran in New York City, looking back upon his youth. I love musicals that are told in retrospect (like Phantom of the Opera and Hamilton) because I think the sense of impending trouble can add to the energy of the show. This production brilliantly staged the older Gibran in the background of many of the scenes, watching as his younger life plays out.

While the book is really rather wonderful, it's the music of Broken Wings that I fell head over heels for. The score itself reminds me of Maury Yeston's music (particularly Titanic) but with a Middle Eastern element. Many of the lyrics are clearly taken from or inspired by Gibran's poetry so they have a clear poetic influence in them. "Selma", one of Young Gibran's solos, is easily my favorite song of the whole show but I also love "'Til Death Reunites Us", "The Spirit of the Earth", and the "Prologue". You can read my review of the whole album here.

In addition to writing and associate producing the show, Nadim Naaman played Kahlil Gibran, aged 40, a role he's perfect for. His vocals are very well-suited to the music and he brought both a charisma and heartbreaking devastation to Gibran. I often found myself watching his reactions to the events unfolding before him. It's strange to think that the narrator Gibran we see had only eight more years left before his death.

The young Nikita Johal did an impressive job as the beautiful and intelligent Selma Karamy, particularly considering that she stepped up from the ensemble only a week before when the actress originally cast in the role had to pull out of the production for personal reasons. I appreciated that she somehow lent both a fragility and strength to the character and was touched by her acting in many scenes.

I've been a fan of Rob Houchen's work since seeing him as Marius in Les Mis years ago, so I was thrilled that he was playing Kahlil Gibran at the age of 18. Houchen has one of the best voices in the West End and his "Selma" was fantastic. The way that he portrayed Gibran's journey from a fresh-faced, optimistic boy to a heartbroken, melancholy man was astounding.

Adam Linstead was wonderful as Selma's father, Farris Karamy, with an appropriate warmth and lovely voice. Nadeem Crowe lent a great humor and charisma to Gibran's friend, Karim Bawab. He easily stole the scenes he was in. One of the standout performances was Soophia Foroughi as Gibran's mother (and a few other assorted roles). She has one of the best voices I've ever heard on a stage and brought me to tears with "Spirit of the Earth".
Soophia Foroughi and Rob Houchen
The cast was rounded out by a wonderful ensemble, with Irvine Iqbal as the evil Bishop Bulos Galib and Sami Lamine as his wastrel nephew Mansour Bey Galib. Broken Wings was one of the shows that is improved by the obvious love the cast has for it.

While this was a short 'semi-staged' run at the Haymarket, it boasted an impressive yet simple set and costumes. The beautiful costumes, designed by Nik Corrall, helped to ground the action in the place and time period. The set was also gorgeous with many moving set pieces that helped to fully realize the action, designed by Claudio Rosas and Mira Abad. I can't imagine anyone directing the show better than Bronagh Lagan and I'd love to see her design a large-scale production in the West End.

I loved that they gave out free programmes to everyone who came to see the show. As an American who is used to Playbills, I'm often frustrated that it's hard to learn more about the show you're seeing and who is in it without buying a programme. I thought it was a very nice gesture to give all the audience a programme so that they could learn more about Gibran, Broken Wings, and the talented people who put this show together.

Broken Wings is a beautiful well put-together musical in its own right, but the most important thing about it to me is that it brought a Middle Eastern story to a West End stage, written by Middle Eastern creators. I believe that sharing diverse stories on the stage is important, especially those by diverse creators, particularly because of how it can help people see themselves represented.
Nadeem Crowe and Rob Houchen
It was amazing to be a part of an audience that had more Middle Eastern people in it than I'd ever seen in a theatre before and know that many of them probably had grown up with knowledge of Gibran and were getting to see that part of their history represented on the stage. I felt that I actually learned about early twentieth-century Lebanon and Gibran himself and I am definitely planning on reading the novel the show is based on within the next few months.

I will never forget the way the audience leapt to their feet at the beginning of the curtain call the night I saw it, the first night of its run, or the look on Nadim's face when it happened. I hope that this show goes on to have a long life -- I'd love to see it have a full run in the West End or on Broadway, but I'd especially love to see it have a life in Lebanon and the Middle East.

Broken Wings ran at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from August 1-4. You can find the cast album featuring many of the actors from its run on iTunes. 

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner
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