Meet The Writer – Tony Hobbs

Hobbs in holiday mode

Hobbs in holiday mode

A retired public relations manager, Tony Hobbs, who lives in Dilwyn, is one of the original members of the Writing for the Stage Group at the Courtyard Theatre and over the years has been reasonably successful in getting his plays performed. Among short plays he has had showcased are Edric the Wild, Wilfred and the Wood, and the Godmother. Other longer productions include King Offa, performed by the Courtyard Youth Theatre, and Jolly Holidays, a joint effort with the cast from the Courtyard Community Company. He has also had two plays performed at the Crown, his local pub, – Save our Pub and The Invaders and The Royal Visit at the Village Hall. At last year’s Write on Festival his play Pull the Other One was performed, which later went on tour to Ledbury, Dilwyn and Abergavenny. He has also written Elgar and the Lunatic Society which is being produced at the Coach House Theatre, Malvern on 16th, 17th and 18th May, 2013.

His other writing includes nine non-fiction books, mainly about walking and pubs, with the latest being The Pubs of Malvern.  He is currently working on a History of Dilwyn. Four years ago he gained a BA Hons degree in creative writing after studying with the Open College of the Arts.

For this year’s Festival Tony has had two plays, Einstein and the Horse Girls and Clausewitz and the Talk, accepted as a double bill on the evening of Wednesday, 3rd July. The first play is based on a true episode in Einstein’s life. On his way to America in 1933, he stayed for a short while in a remote corner of England guarded by armed horse girls protecting him against Nazi agents. His liking for young women and his dislike for America finds him having an ill-fated affair with one of the girls. Clausewitz and the Talk: When Arthur loses his wife he goes to stay with his daughter who, fed up with his fits of depression, persuades him to join the British Legion to meet other war veterans. But when he is asked to give a talk about his own war experiences, Arthur starts thinking of the bigger picture and the teachings of military philosopher Clausewitz, which gets him into deep trouble.

When asked why he enjoys writing for theatre, he answers “Good question! I suppose it’s something to do with the fact that I find writing dialogue easier than writing narrative. Once I’ve got the seed of an idea in my head, very often inspiration comes to me on the computer as I bash away. Characters certainly take shape and develop, often in contrary ways. It is satisfying when the script is finished, but even more so when it is accepted for performance and a director and actors begins working on it. Finally, that magical moment arrives when the play is actually staged and you think to yourself, ‘wow, did I actually create that?’”

As well as entertaining the masses with his Write On Festival double bill, he is also hoping that audience members take some important messages home with them.  “In Einstein and the Horse Girls I put forward the fact that geniuses are still very much human beings often with strong emotions,” he says, “a person may be able to come with up mathematical equations very few other people can understand, but they are often devoid of common sense and can act in an immodest way.  In Clausewitz the main message is that war is wrong and every effort should be made to seek out ways of resolving the problem diplomatically. Also, the question is asked why servicemen are regarded as heroes particularly when they are killed. Why not the other way round – honour them for surviving?”

Tony recognises that Herefordshire has always enjoyed an abundance of culture and the Courtyard Theatre is very much the hub for this activity, but has seen that only within recent years that new writers for the stage have been encouraged. With the introduction of the Write On Festival two years ago this is beginning to change and the opportunities for new writers is growing, and “should also be nurtured” says Tony.  “And with all the local actors, directors and stage specialists available it makes sense to combine these different factions and come up with something challenging,” he adds.

“I usually write on the computer,” he says “but I also use pen and paper as well. I usually jot things down in a pocket notebook which I always carry with me and try and capture interesting conversations and sudden thoughts and ideas. Quite often some flash of inspiration will occur to me when I’m out walking, trying to get to sleep, or at the computer. I try to be my own man, writing the way I want to (usually the only way) and not be influenced by any other playwrights.”

Upon quizzing of his favourite playwright, Tony comes up with a large list of influential names in the theatre biz. “Of course Pinter has to be up there together with Samuel Beckett, but I’m also impressed by Mamet, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Brian Friell, Chekhov, and Ibsen to name just a few” he lists.  “One of my favourite all-time plays is Waiting for Godot.”

Does Tony suffer from writer’s block?  Well, the result is mixed.  “I have sat down at the computer and knocked out a play in five days. This doesn’t happen very often. At the moment I’m really stuck on a play I really want to write because it’s personal. I’ve got lots of research material such as letters and diaries but these seem to get in the way. And I am having a problem in even starting with different options open to me and how to keep the number of characters down. So you could say that at the moment I am suffering from writer’s block. Sometimes a visit to the pub helps, but in this case all I am doing is consuming a lot of beer!”

Einstein and the Horse Girls and Clausewitz and the Talk  will be performed as a double bill in The Courtyard’s Studio Theatre on Wednesday 3 July from 7.30pm.  To book tickets for this performance, or for more information, contact The Courtyard’s Box Office on 01432 340555.

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What we’re looking forward to: Teechers

Presented by Blackeyed Theatre in association with South Hill Park

“there is only one fitting description of Teechers…winner” ~ Daily Telegraph

Teechers Brochure Image 2 (Dec 12) 640

Fast-moving, inventive and highly entertaining, Teechers is John Godber’s brilliant take on life at a modern comprehensive. Through their hilarious end-of-term play, three Year 11s exuberantly sketch the new drama teacher’s progress through two terms of recalcitrant classes, cynical colleagues and obstructive caretakers. Disillusioned, he departs for the safe waters of a private school, and leaves behind his students, whose youthful irreverence gives way to despair.

Brought to the stage by highly acclaimed Blackeyed Theatre with high energy, break-neck comedy and breathtaking ensemble performances, Teechers is a modern classic with something vital to say about education for the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

Reviews…

The Stage

“The effusive cast of three execute Adrian McDougall’s direction with timed precision and hilarious interpretation. Donna Preston’s facial variations are wonderfully expressive from her portrayal of head teacher Mrs Parry to the sniggering student Simon Patterson, while Nicole Black injects excellent physicality into each of her characters from PE teacher Miss Prime to school bully Oggy Moxon and deputy head Mr Basford. Jacob Addley is the lynchpin of the piece as new drama teacher Jeff Nixon and all three actors switch effortlessly into Scott Jenkins’ brilliantly choreographed interludes.”

The Good Review  ★★★★

“All three actors project the kind of presence that says they’re completely comfortable on stage, with bags of energy, ingenuity and impressive physicality. Entertaining song-and-dance set pieces punctuate the evening, including a memorable Gangnam style routine and a hilarious take on Glee’s Don’t Stop Believing.Teechers Press photo 4 640

On the night I attended, most of the audience seemed to be school pupils of around the same age as those depicted on stage. From what I saw, they absolutely loved it, particularly the bit just after the interval when they, and some of their teachers, were urged by the cast to get up and dance. Amidst all the fun, and frenetic energy, this play carries serious messages about education and art, and how they can give hope and direction to otherwise listless lives.”

Bracknell Times

“A mass of energy is needed to keep this fast-paced show going and the three stars did not fail to disappoint, with stellar and flawless performances from Jacob Addley, Nicole Black and Donna Preston… I wouldn’t want to see another production because I doubt any three actors could match the performance of Addley, Black and Preston.”

Tempted? Tickets can be purchased online here or via the Box Office on 01432 340555

Meet the Writer: Anthony Jenkins

To celebrate the upcoming Write On Festival for new play writing in Herefordshire – we will be featuring each of the writers that are submitting pieces into this year’s festival. First to give us a snippet was Land of Mines director and writer, Anthony Jenkins.

ANTHONY JENKINS

Anthony Jenkins

Anthony Jenkins

Anthony Jenkins is not only a stage technician at The Courtyard, but is also a theatre graduate and enthusiast.  Having been affiliated with the organisation for 12 years and performing in past production titles such as ‘The Crucible’, ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’, ‘Dracula’, ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ and ‘Guys and Dolls’, he has seen it all, from musical theatre to psychotic drama, from the lighting desk to the principal role.

After graduating from East 15 Acting School in 2008, Anthony eagerly came back to The Courtyard ready to perform, and took on the role as the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk and has been part of the crew ever since!  Hereford born and bred, Anthony recognises “the Courtyard is a small yet gargantuan step for young performers, who like me, wanted to pursue this amazing subject.”

“I joined the Youth theatre in 2000 and it was great meeting and performing with guys and girls who were on the same page as me, Anthony says.  Whilst being involved in Youth Theatre he claims his favourite performance as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, without a doubt!  The cast, set, the music, everything was so breathtaking.  I was immensely proud to play ‘Chief’ and to be a part of that show.”

Anthony has not only been a performer in Youth Theatre drama’s and stage adaptations, but has also had his share of tongue-in-cheek Panto performances, including the aforementioned Jack and The Beanstalk, The Emperor of China in Aladdin 2010/11, The Beasts’ double in Beauty and the Beast 2009/10 and The Dragon in Sleeping Beauty 2011/12.  He has also worked first hand on many performances at The Courtyard as part of the stage crew.   His favourite piece to work on , he says, was “the Tommy Cooper tribute show with Clive Mantel as not only was it a brilliant piece, but working alongside such an actor inspired me to pursue my dreams within this field.  It was so good, I almost missed a few cues along the way as I was that enthralled!”

In 2011, Anthony set up his own theatre company called Exit Fool Productions, a move which allowed him to explore his love of theatre and his idolisation of playwrights such as Shakespeare, Waterhouse, Steinbeck and Miller.”  When asked to elaborate on why these playwrights really strike a note, Anthony says it is because “they can switch from comedy to tragedy in the turn of page.  My favourite plays are Jeffrey Barnard is Unwell by Keith Waterhouse and The Crucible by Arthur Miller.”

 On opening in 2011, Exit Fool’s debut production was a UK premiere of Angel: A Nightmare in 2 Acts in The Courtyard’s Studio Theatre.  “I picked this play because it was a piece of writing that had never touched the English shore’s since it was written in 2004.  Even though the content was about the holocaust, which can be quite a heavy subject, I wanted to make the audience feel like they were part of the show by being the jury, and having the characters use direct address to make them feel like they were at the Belsen trials in 1945,” says Anthony.

Anthony is in fact one half of Exit Fool, the other co-founder being friend and schoolmate Pete Bird.  “Pete and I take it in turns to direct, and last year it was his turn for our 2012 production of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, where I played the lead role of Lennie.  We chose this piece because it is a classic title, and a character driven plot that we felt could reach audiences of all levels and theatre experience, such as schools.  In the end the piece even brought in theatregoers from London!”

Now  Anthony puts all of his experience and inspiration on to paper, as he debut’s his first written piece at The Courtyard’s new theatre writing festival, Write-On.   “For the past two years I’ve been the general technician for The Courtyard’s Write On Festival but this year I’ve decided to write and direct as part of the festival.  Land Of Mines is on the 5th July and is based on true events during the Bosnian War of 1992.”

The synopsis is as follows:  Set in Sarajevo 1992, four characters are trapped inside a derelict house awaiting rescue from NATO.  The U.N soldier is trying to uphold the peace agreement while the Serbian and Croatian refugees argue and taunt each other as shells constantly fall around them.  Among the refugees is severely wounded Muslim, whose secrets affect everyone around him.  Anthony says “the inspiration behind Land Of Mines came from an acting friend who lived through the war.  The idea of four characters trapped in a dilapidated house came from his personal experience.  The dialog and events that unfold is authentic as I enlisted a relative of mine who was in the British army and worked alongside the U.N at the time who has helped me develop the piece and keep the script as close to the real thing as possible.”

Land of Mines is on in The Courtyard’s Studio Theatre on Friday 5 July from 7.30pm.  It is the second part in a double bill.  To book tickets for this performance, or for more information, contact The Courtyard’s Box Office on 01432 340555.

Interview compiled by Jennifer Booton

Guest Blog: How to get your dreams on the stage!

Blog by local author Barbara Hockley about dreams generally and her play The Dream Makers originally performed at The Conquest Theatre in Bromyard, April 2008.
Find out more at The Offbeat Theatre Blog.

My favourite dream - flying! So beautiful to recreate on stage

My favourite dream – flying! So beautiful to recreate on stage

My favourite dream – flying! So beautiful to recreate on stage

You know when you wake up and you’ve just had the most amazing dream. You’ll never forget it! Until, of course, a few minutes later when it’s completely slipped away and no matter how hard you try you can’t get it back. So you try to keep a dream diary, but half the time you don’t write your dream down (the pen doesn’t work/isn’t there at the right time and/or a cup of tea/coffee/more sleep beckons….) When you do write your dream down you’re really not sure where to go with it next? One of those generic online/in-book interpretations maybe? Then what? Analyse it, understand the message (there’s a message?), use it as material for your next piece of creative writing (ummm, maybe). Dreams are strange and slippery things, maybe we should wake up and bask in them before they leave us, just absorb some of the dreamy fabric of the night and not try to hold on too tightly. And maybe, whilst basking, you could use this strange dreamworld to inspire a stage production? I did, it was fantastic fun – let me share a bit of the journey.

The Dream Makers is a play for large cast (24+) of 9 – 14 year old and it contains wonderful opportunities to recreate dreams. You can read the whole thing at the bottom of the post (should you wish!). I put 5 dream sequences into the play – all very reasonable considering the play is set in a dream palace (a magical place where you go when you dream – bit like a theatre). The first dream was an ANXIETY DREAM – we’ve all been there! I don’t advise the standard ‘no door on the toilet’ sort of anxiety dream, or the ‘I’m on stage in a play and I can’t remember my lines’ dream (don’t tempt fate), but anything else goes. We had a wonderful soundtrack of pneumatic drills and other ghastly noises that get on your nerves, lots of umbrellas (and why not?), a seriously odd ballet, running and getting nowhere – it’s a great opportunity to create a sequence that makes no sense, has no plot and you don’t need to worry about motivation. Best to have lines (if there are any) on a soundtrack as well – sounds much weirder.

Then we moved onto the ROMANTIC DREAM. Never had one? Not sure I have either … But a damn good excuse for a quick tango! Some of the characters in the play are somewhat inept, so I seem to remember my romantic dreamer was slightly put out when the leading man tangoed with a mop instead (these things happen with inexperienced dream actors). She wasn’t happy. Moving on we next had a NIGHTMARE (more fun than you should ever have on stage). Not just a nightmare in fact – but a NIGHT TERROR masquerading as a dreamer to infiltrate the dream palace. My nightmare sequence involved all sort of ghouls, ghosts, creepy soundtrack and some chickens…. See page 31 to find out how the dream actors and crew (of course they exist) all escape the clutches of the Night Terror.

Into Act II of this wonderful adventure in dreamland we start off with the SWIMMING UNDERWATER AND FLYING DREAM – your chance to get really relaxed and stage something beautiful. A soundtrack of gorgeously relaxing sounds including whalesong made the sequence my favourite moment of all. Lucky dreamer. We finish our dreams with a truly HEROIC DREAM where the dreamer in my version) has to survive all sorts of ‘weather’ (cue large fan), climb mountains, struggle through storms etc .. to get to the top (of the mountain … it’s symbolic).

Personally, I LOVE dreams. I love the idea of a world beyond the waking world where all these crazy things take place. I love the idea of the dream palace (where, incidentally, if you know the way in you could get a job). If I can’t be there the next best place is to be on stage creating magical, dreamlike shows.

Designing the Jungle: Carl Davies talks us through his costume concepts

I caught up with Carl Davies, Jungle Book costume designer, to find out what he has in store for our upcoming Courtyard production…

Carl Davies with one of his favourite costumes for Jungle Book, Chil the Kite.

Carl Davies with one of his favourite costumes for Jungle Book, Chil the Kite.


“It’s quite fun to do the Jungle Book because you can do anything with it…. you don’t necessarily just dress them up as an animal, they’ve got their own individual characters which is quite nice…. for instance, Baloo the Bear is going to be a geography teacher in tweed.

“Most challenging costume is probably Mowgli. Mowgli, you’d almost imagine a loin cloth and nothing else but because it’s for the stage you have to… we’ve made it quite ‘patchworky’ and given him a top.

“I think my style is very layered…. especially with the Jungle Book, there’s a lot of fur, a lot of leather, a lot of layers, but it works because everything has to move in the right way.

“The main characters will stand out, they’ve each got their individual colours…. Chil the Kite is going to be an air hostess!”

Written by: Toki Allison, Deputy Marketing Manager

Jen’s Lens ~ Through the keyhole and into the archives…

It has been a while since I last posted, and that is purely because I have been far too busy digging through old sets, props and costumes at The Courtyard’s archive store.

My reason for attending the building unit of productions past was also to have a nose at how the set is shaping up for our current show, The Jungle Book.

Firstly though, back to the old.  Whilst our amazing set builder Carl Davies and Jules ploughed on with designing pollen stems and village huts, and Les and Jenks of technical fame got to grips with some tropical leaves, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and see some of the old fantastic costumes and set that have been saved from their last appearance on stage.

Walking in to the archive store I was met with lots of old set, including part of the ship from our most recent pantomime, Dick Whittington.  I also saw Aladdin’s treasure chest buried among many tiger suits, and trucks and wheels and houses and wings a plenty.

The next room I uncovered was the room of all things hats and wigs and faces.  Many model heads sat with tiara’s placed amongst a head of princess hair.  Stetsons were sandwiched between sequinned turbans and Caribbean hats made purely of fruit.  It really was fantastic to see.  I even managed to swipe a rat’s tail, worn by none other than the 2012 panto baddy, King Rat for our circus workshops over Easter.

The many hats of The Courtyard

The many hats of The Courtyard

Once I was done trying on top hats and cane’s I decided to make my way upstairs and well, I HIT THE MOTHERLOAD.  Yes I did.  Because my friends, I found all the old costumes from pantos been and gone, as well as old costume bits and bobs recovered from The Courtyard’s community producing days.  The rail that first caught my attention was the rail of old Dame’s outfits, because it is fair to say that these are really the most outrageous costumes ever worn on stage.  I mean, it is perfectly normal to wear a dragon on your shoulder, and to also go on stage resembling a giant Battenburg when you are a Dame.  And I have a photo to prove it!

A dragon shoulder pad for a Dame!

A dragon shoulder pad for a Dame!

I then found tonnes of mice outfits, mini matadors and lots of sparkly shiny princess dresses.  All of my childish inhibitions came out in a tour de force as I examined red velvet ballgowns and Jasmine’s sequinned midriff tops and baggy trousers and thought about

Costumes and sequins a plenty

Costumes and sequins a plenty

sneaking some in my handbag to take home for the odd occasion that after a bad day I may need to dress like Rapunzel and let my hair down.  But rest assured, I resisted.

In the other room I was dumbfounded by rails and rails of shoes.  Yes SHOES ladies, and not just ordinary shoes either.  Gold shoes, tap shoes. Sparkly sandals, ballet pumps.  It was pretty much a walk in wardrobe or every woman’s dreams, just with more jazz. The amount of stuff we have in the store is very astounding, and for myself, as Courtyard Youth Theatre alumni, it was great to feel nostalgic and encounter things that allowed me to hark back to the days where I trod the boards and see that while they are no longer on the stage, they are not forgotten.

But now I must return to the exciting world of what is to come, and that being…The Jungle Book!  Seeing the set was amazing, and I really started to feel the jungle vibes by looking at vibrant jungle flowers and the remains of old Indian temples with ornate patterns.  The lush greens stood out.  What fascinated me the most though, was how these crafted set designers could build an entire set from basic materials.  It is extremely authentic, down to the very last leaf, and I will be very excited to see this on the stage amongst the very talented casts of children this Easter.

The set mid creation

The set mid creation

Don’t forget, the Jungle Book runs from 10 – 13 April, with performance times of 2pm and 7pm.

Dashing through the Jungle: Diary of a (rogue) Director

Written by: Grant Brisland, Learning, Participation & Programming Manager

We’re coming very close to the production weeks now where the young people will start their intensive rehearsals, the set will be built and the final alterations to the costumes are done. The process in all takes about a year, once we have been able to agree a title, and the time has flown by. This is my third year in the producing seat for our Junior Youth Theatre production and the process is different every time. This year is particularly special and there haven’t been too many bumpy rides so far (famous last words?!).

Jungle Book rehearsals

Jungle Book rehearsals

I don’t often attend many rehearsals – I tend to dip in and out and mainly ensure that everyone is happy with how things are going. However, this year, whilst David was celebrating a good friend’s marriage, I was not only in the producing seat but the directing one too. For a director to hand over the reign, even for a day, is a difficult one. This is ultimately David’s (metaphorical) baby (his actual one is due during the run!) and it is my responsibility to ensure that this rehearsal is as productive as the previous weeks. After all, the young people only have 48 hours in the rehearsal room before we start the production week and there is a lot to learn in a very short space of time.

So, at 7am on Saturday 23 March when my alarm went off I jumped out of bed and eagerly awaited what the day had in store. Now, for anyone who knows me will know that this level of excitement and anticipation is not my regular response to having to get up early (yes, getting up at 7am is early!). However, I knew that I was going to enjoy getting to know our Youth Theatre members better as well as seeing their talents on display. At the end of an exhausting day with a wine in hand and some time for reflection it was clear that we have another great production on our hands. The commitment, passion, enthusiasm and drive shown to me from the young people throughout the whole day was extraordinary. This has only been mirrored by David and the rest of the production and creative team who are working tirelessly to ensure that The Jungle Book is a huge success.

Jungle Attack

Jungle Attack

The production and design team have been in situ (in a freezing cold warehouse at Rotherwas) for just over a week and the early results are very exciting. Working with Carl Davies, a friendship I forged on another Courtyard Youth Theatre production for Alice in Wonderland in 2005, has been a real pleasure. Originally from Herefordshire but now living in Sheffield, Carl is creating what looks to be our most colourful set to date and although this isn’t a blog entry to thank people I should also credit Richard, Adam, Jules and Les for their assistance in the first week too. Indeed, I even got my own hands dirty on Friday!

I also owe a huge thank you to our Assistant Director, Jack Spreckley, for his help throughout the rehearsal day on Saturday. Having come up through our Youth Theatre and taken on main roles in previous productions, it was great to see him in action with the young people. He has been a great asset to David throughout the whole production and I was very grateful for his support on the day. We’ll miss him later in the year when he goes to Camp America but know that we have trained him in good stead to carry The Courtyard flag on US grounds.

I just hope David likes the alterations I have made to his direction… Mwhahahahahaaaaa