Archive for January 31st, 2010

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Interview – Paul Caister

Sunday, 31 January, 2010

Paul Caister is the Director of The Poor School established in 1986 which offers short term acting classes to the enthusiastic and long term training to the talented… interview with Wendy Thomson

Wendy Thomson (Fringe Report) attended Poor School’s four day acting course of which Paul Caister is the director.  Paul Caister is a charismatic and plain-spoken individual.  His interesting manner is matched by his attire – linen jacket and trousers in the height of winter, this is a man blessed with thick skin and warm blood.

Fringe Report (FR, Wendy Thomson): Thank you Paul for sparing the time to talk to Fringe Report and I’d like to say in advance, thank you for your honesty and openness with your answers.  I know you’ll be direct, as you were on the course.

Paul Caister:  I get myself into trouble speaking with journalists.

FR:  I’m not really a journalist.

Paul Caister: I’ve heard that one before.

FR:  [laughs]. Do you mind me asking how old you are?

Paul Caister: I’m 54 and I enjoy being older, this is better than being 24.

FR:  Why?

Paul Caister: Because I’ve found something to do.  I’m younger at heart now.  At 24 I was a very serious, intense person.  I’ve chilled out a bit and done some of the experiences and absurd obsessions that I wanted to and got them out of my system.  I’m more relaxed now.  I have libertarian sympathies.  I think there’s too much officialdom and meddling in personal lives.  I’m not a Tory economically.  I admire people like George Orwell and George Bernard Shaw who were individually minded.    But I’ve also got more realistic.

FR: Can you tell me about your background and where you grew up?

Paul Caister:  I was born in North London.  My parents were first generation, middle class teachers.  My grandparents were working class, one was a miner in South Wales and another was a shopkeeper in Kent. My parents were post war communists, this  wasn’t particularly unusual. There was a global landslide in 1945 and Churchill was voted out because of a huge surge of sympathy with communism.  There weren’t any opinion polls then.  There was a lot of sympathy with Old Labour.

FR: How did this affect your upbringing?

Paul Caister:  I wasn’t christened.  I went to grammar school, about 20% of kids did then.  I didn’t do very well at school and I left at 16 without any qualifications.  I assumed I would be an actor.

FR:  What were your first jobs?

Paul Caister:  They weren’t interesting, whatever I could pick up, mainly office work.  I counted cars for Camden council.  I went to Bristol Old Vic for a two year training but left after four terms in 1975.  I knew I didn’t want to act, I wanted to direct.

FR:  What made you change your mind?

Paul Caister: I’d done some directing prior to going to Bristol.  On a good day I felt like I knew what I was doing [with directing].

FR:  We’ve gotten up to 1975, but The Poor School wasn’t founded until 1986.  What happened in these 11 years?

Paul Caister:  I found Fringe venues and put on plays in London.  I didn’t make any money then.

FR:  How did you survive?

Paul Caister:  I don’t know – I always ate and had a cigarette when I wanted one – I’m not sure how I managed financially.  My parents got divorced.  I opened a pub theatre called The Grove in Hammersmith but I overworked and had to give it up.  It was an interesting experience but it was too much.

I had a girlfriend from New Zealand so I went to New Zealand for a year, specifically the North Island – Wellington and Auckland – then onto Australia for four years.  I directed and acted and got TV jobs there.  I wrote a play which I also directed and I put that on.  But I became ill and anxious and developed a tranquiliser addiction.  There was a great deal of drugs and sex.  Not all with the original girlfriend.

FR:  [At this point FR interrupts to check that Paul is happy for these personal details to go into the interview and he says yes its fine.]

Paul Caister: The difference with Australian girls is that that would pull the blokes rather than the other way round.  They were more forward.  Or less reserved.  That was a revelation to me.

FR: So why did you come back to Blighty?

Paul Caister:  There was a sense that I was playing truant.  Also, to get off the drugs.    I did some directing and teaching.

FR:  You set up the Poor School – why?

Paul Caister:  Because I could and I could do it better than other people. I had three staff at the start and I’ve got better teachers now.  I’m very happy with the teachers.    Some teachers have been with the Poor School for longer than others.  Clare Davidson [teaches voice] has been with us for 9 months.  Trudi Rees [who teaches Jazz] graduated as a student in 97 and came back later to teach and direct.  Grantley Buck [teaches musical theatre] since 2003.  Christopher Dunham [directs] has taught at the Poor School for about 9 years.  Toby Spearpoint [stage fighting] was a student and has been teaching since 2007.  Marcelle Davies [movement] has been with us for over twenty years.

With other companies what the drama student gets at the end is a piece of paper.

[FR note: The Poor School does not offer an academic qualification].

Drama training is a practical training.  It includes those who aren’t academically as bright, as those who are.  The important factor is how committed and imaginative is that individual.  The aim of The Poor School is to do our best to train an actor and bring them as close to their potential in a short period of time.

FR:  The Poor School has been running for 25 years. How has it changed or developed in that time?

Paul Caister:  There’s not been a fundamental change in what the school tries to do.    I’m wiser and better at it, having been through various ordeals and crises.  I still make mistakes.  That’s the nature of doing things.  I’ve got less energy than when the school started.  Last Wednesday I taught 9 classes in a day but I got through on adrenaline. I’m delighted to have something to do.  The Poor School has a good reputation now.  We have a few hundred graduates.

FR:  You mentioned crises; does any particular one stand out?

Paul Caister:  No one particular crisis – every day is a battle.  If you do anything worth doing you’re going to make enemies.  It can be vulnerable in this business if you receive negative word of mouth or press.  In running anything: to make a decent omelette you break some eggs. Regarding the acting classes, you cannot get more out of it than what you put in.  Some people drop out, those people tend to have flabby temperaments.

FR:  How do you juggle running the school with the demands of personal life?

Paul Caister:  I don’t cook or do housework.  I’m old fashioned that way.  I let my woman do all the work.  When I have to do things I do them, like looking after kids.   I’m no good at multi-tasking.

FR: How many children do you have?

Paul Caister:  I have six children.  The eldest is 21 and they’re at Sheffield Uni, my 18 year old daughter is about to go to university.  I have 15 and 12 year old daughters who live with their mum in Brighton.  A boy and girl of 6 and 2 with Trudi.

I was 34 when I started a family.  I never had a plan.

FR: The classes on the 4 day course were a mixture of stage fighting, voice, movement, Shakespeare, musicals, jazz, rehearsal of pieces – are there any different classes in the full time course?  Is the full time course a higher standard?

Paul Caister: The four days are not a dumbed down version of the full course, it includes the same classes.  There is a different atmosphere on the two year course.  Students have made a commitment to go through the six terms.  There is a difference between playing football at the weekend and being signed to a premiership team.  The Poor School is taught in the evenings on the two year course.  This enables students to work during the day and act in the evenings.

FR: Who are your heroes?

Paul Caister: That’s a good question.  I saw Alec Guinness on stage twice, both were modern plays.  He’s the only actor I’ve ever seen that can speak quietly and intimately but also reach the back of the theatre.  He is astonishing on stage.

FR: What does Shakespeare mean to you?

Paul Caister: Shakespeare is a very good playwright.  It’s depressing when people make a dogma of him or do it badly.  There are people who don’t have an insight into him and some teachers don’t understand Shakespeare.  I think there is a diminishing importance of words particularly expressive words.  Brevity is popular.  Texting.  I love words. In the last 450 years our heritage has developed.  In all that time except the last 30 years words have developed.  Language sets you free and the use of it feeds the soul.  It’s very sad that so few people have love for it or use it.  It’s partly me being an old fart.  It was different in my day.

FR:  How do you choose which students should be offered a place on the full time course?

Paul Caister:  I’m looking for evidence of an imagination which manifests dramatically.  It’s tangible but hard to define.  It exists in impressions and attitudes.    When most people act they look ill at ease, they look like a fish out of water.  Some people look at home.

FR:  How can someone learn to act?

Paul Caister:  Can acting be learnt?  Anyone who works hard at anything will get better at it but you need a natural aptitude as well e.g. you could run 100 metres but not get a great time.  Is it worth someone committing themselves to acting if they have no natural ability?  No.

FR:  What if people enjoy acting but don’t have natural ability are you saying they should they give it up?  What about amateur dramatics?

Paul Caister:  Acting can be enjoyed as a hobby and there is the whole social side to amateur dramatics.

FR:   For students and auditionees who aren’t chosen for the two year Poor School training, what advice would you give to them?

Paul Caister:  Try.  Prove us wrong.  Plenty of people do careers they don’t want to.  Most people come round to it in their own way.  They’re a square peg in a round hole.  If someone is convinced they can act they’ll have the motivation and drive to prove people wrong.

(c)Wendy Thomson 2010

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Going Postal

Sunday, 31 January, 2010

A Discworld Drama

Reading – Progress Theatre – 28 January to 6 February 10 – 19:45 (3.00)

Going Postal the play is a thinly veiled satire on the closure of post offices and corruption within the Royal Mail and government officials.

Director Christine Moran keeps the story moving in a character-heavy production which includes a vampire, a zombie, wizards, golems and a pirate, through many scenes and much set changing, which distracts from the action and makes it confusing.  Those unfamiliar with Discworld could get a bit lost.

Moist Von Lipvig played by Owen Goode is a likeable anti-hero who manages to save the post office and win the heart of alpha female Adora Dearheart.  Zsuzsi Kingsnorth is the fearless strong willed Adora Dearheart with chain smoking ease.  Unfortunately the couple lacks chemistry with more heat emanating from the tip of Adora’s cigarette.

Lord Vetinari played by Dan Clarke forces Lipvig to become the Post Master as a punishment for forgeries.  Dan Clarke is dressed as a B movie villain with dark slicked back hair, goatee and a long black coat with buttons to his feet.  A suitably Hammer Horror menacing performance but licence for more ham and extra cheese.

Costume design by Tom Bradbrook and Aidan Moran is impressive from Moist Von Lipvig’s gold jacket, trousers and winged hat to Alex McCubbin’s Mr Pump who’s attired in an orangey red clay outfit with bright green LED eyes which shines when the lights go down.  The golems – there is another one – Anghammarad played by Carole Brown are modern day slaves who attempt to purchase their freedom from Adora Dearheart.  The sarcasm, futility and acceptance of their situation with the faint hope of self emancipation is well delivered.  Reacher Gilt played by Rik Eke is in charge of rival postal company The Trunk and dressed as a pirate, with an eye patch, red silk coat, white shirt, and white parrot on arm.  He has an authentic gravelly pirate voice which must be wearing on his throat over the run.

Liz Carroll as Junior Postman Groat is believable in a male role with fake gray hair and matching goatee.  A sweet silly character obsessed with rules, regulations and red tape rather than getting post delivered, but quickly won over by Lipwig’s new methods after getting promotion.  James Mould presents Apprentice Postman Stanley as a reasonably mixed up kid, obsessed with pins then stamps.

Fun portrayals and outfits from Louise Banks who played Wilkinson, Young Mrs Parker, Deaconess of Offler and Dan Clarke as Old Mr Parker, Robed Man with Boots, Mr Spools, Maitre D’ and Ponder Stibbons.  The wizards look suitably wizard-like and there is a very enjoyable magic window with a wizard stood at a jaunty angle.

Lizzy Nash played Sacharissa Cripstock the reporter for the Ankh-Morpork Times.  An accurate portrayal of an accurate reporter, it felt like looking into a mirror (one of those flattering ones) – hair tied back, glasses.  Sensible black dress.  Little notepad and pen.  Pertinent questions.

Set design by Aidan Moran and Martin Noble is not as successful as the costumes.  There were multiple set changes, nearly one for every change of scene, fifteen in the second half, which felt unnecessary for the story and broke up the action.  The walls are painted in a shade of dirty yellow which look – perhaps deliberately ugly – and induce a mild vomiting sensation.  Coloured lights are shone onto the stage when Lord Vetinari is in his chamber, the bright blue, red and green squares of light were a strong contrast with the yellow walls and aesthetically displeasing.  It was cold in the theatre and there was a bad smell.  The seats were comfortable.

The stage adapation of Going Postal by Steven Briggs retained the witty dialogue which Terry Prachett is renowned for, such as when the letters and parcels want Moist Von Lipvig to save the Post Office, they ask him to ‘Deliver Us’.

But the story became confused with the retention of too many characters, there were thirty nine speaking parts plus additional non speaking roles for a two and a half hour play plus interval, with upwards of thirty scenes.  It felt over complicated for the plot.  However tempting it is to retain all the wonderful funny silly characters from the Discworld universe, this production could have benefitted from a dispassionate cropping.

Cast Credits:  (alpha order):  Louise Banks – Wilkinson / Young Mrs Parker / Deaconess of Offler.  Karen Bird – Stowley.  Carole Brown – Anghammarad / Miss Maccalariat.  Ali Carroll – Nutmeg / Coachman Harry.  Liz Carroll – Junior Postman Groat.  Dan Clarke – Old Mr Parker / Robed Man with Boots / Mr Spools / Maitre D’ / Ponder Stibbons.  Trevor Dale – Mr Slant / Mr Pony. Matthew Drury – Igor / Devious Collabone.  Rik Eke – Reacher Gilt.  Owen Goode – Moist von Lipwig.  Jesse Harte – Drumknott.  Philip Herbst – Young Mr Parker / Gryle / Sane Alex.  Christopher Hoult – Trooper / Pin Customer / Senior Postman Aggy / Archchancellor Ridcully.  Mandy King – Greenyham.  Zsuzsi Kingsnorth – Adora Belle Dearheart.  Alex McCubbin – Mr Pump.  James Mould – Apprentice Postman Stanley.  Lizzy Nash – Sacharissa Cripstock.  Peter O’Sullivan – Big Dave / Voice of the Poet / Coachman Bill.  Dan Powell – Lord Vetinari

Company Credits:  Writer – Terry Pratchett. Adapated by – Steven Briggs. Director – Christine Moran. Artistic Director – Aidan Moran.  Assistant Director – Matt Wellard.  Lighting Designer and Operator – Martin Noble. Sound Designer – Aidan Moran. Sound Operator – Martin Noble.  Stage Manager – Laura Mills. Assistant Stage Managers – Laura Gavin / Tony Powell / Emily Proctor / Emma Walsh. Set Design – Aidan Moran / Martin Noble.  Set Construction and Painting – Louise Banks / Ali Carroll / Liz Carroll / Dan Clarke / Rik Eke / Jamie Gilmour / Christopher Hoult / Pete Hughes / Mandy King / Alex McCubbin / Christine Moran / Aidan Moran / Heather Noble / Martin Noble / Peter O’Sullivan / Naomi Sykes / Helen Udale-Clarke / Michael Udale-Clarke.  Costume Designers – Tom Bradbrook / Aidan Moran.  Costume Team Leader – Zsuzsi Kingsnorth.  Costume Team – Liz Carroll / Sandra Gough / Jo James / Fiona McNeil / Emma Walsh / Helen Wright.  Make-Up Design – Emma Thomlinson.  Props Team Leader – Laura Mills.  Props Team – Laura Gavin / Glen Mills / Aidan Moran / Tony Powell / Emma Walsh.  Publicity – Dan Clarke / Fiona Dempsey / Christine Moran / Heather Noble / Abby Salter / Emma Walsh.  Poster Design – Aidan Moran.  Photographs – Mandy King.  Programme Editor – Graham Mitchell.  Box Office, Bar, FoH Rotas – Heather Noble.  Rehearsal Space Co-ordinator – Dorothy Grugeon.  Production Manager – Heather Noblehttp://www.progresstheatre.co.uk

(c) Wendy Thomson 2010

reviewed on Saturday 30th January 2010

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