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.

Film reviewers: Half-price tickets

Always have a startlingly passionate opinion on film? Could you give Mark Kermode a run for his money?

We’re enthusiastic about audience feedback, your opinions on film – what you love and what gets you riled! So send us your film reviews, short or long and we’ll get them posted up here on our blog.

Reviewer half price icon 250

Getting your review to us and your half-price ticket couldn’t be easier. Wherever you see this logo we’re looking for your thoughts.

1. Call up Box Office on 01432 340555 and let them know you’re booking a reviewer’s half-price ticket for one of the films below.

2. Come along and enjoy your film – the first screening of the selected film is the only applicable one for this offer.

3. Write your quick-fire review and email it to us within 18 hours of the film to competitions@courtyard.org.uk subject titled with the name of the film.

Films in the offer this season:

robot&frankweb

Robot and Frank |  Sat 4 May 6pm

Compliance | Sat 18 May 5.30pm

Caesar Must Die | Tue 21 May 6pm

Jack The Giant Slayer | Tue 28 May 2.30pm

Much Ado About Nothing | Mon 24 June 6pm

The Reluctant Fundamentalist | Sat 29 June 2.30pm

The Courtyard reserves the write to publish or not publish reviews. Any questions send us an email or tweet us @CourtyardArts

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.

Dave’s Fave: Fire in the Blood (film screening and discussion)

Our programmer David Gillam gives a bit of thought to this eye-opening documentary. Hear his thoughts:

And come along to the screening this Friday and join in the short discussion afterward with Concern Universal:
Fire in the Blood, 22 March, The Courtyard

Guest Blog: Borderlines 2013

Written by Neil Oseman www.neiloseman.com

Borderlines Film Festival draws to a close this weekend. The UK’s largest rural film festival, centred around The Courtyard here in Hereford, is an event I have a long-standing association with. At the inaugural festival in 2003 I had a little stall selling VHS copies of The Beacon and displaying a few pieces of early concept art for an ambitious fantasy action movie called Soul Searcher. Two years later Soul Searcher premiered at Borderlines with great success. (Read my blog entry in which I total up the Ego Puff Points I acquired that weekend.)

Kes (1969. dir. Ken Loach) - photographed by Chris Menges

Kes (1969. dir. Ken Loach) – photographed by Chris Menges


Aside from a screening of Stop/Eject’s trailer, my involvement in this year’s festival was purely spectatorial. And although I normally avoid reviewing films on this site, I’m going to make an exception and say a few words about each of the events and screenings I’ve seen at Borderlines 2013. I should point out that Borderlines isn’t a film festival in the normal sense of the term; rather than inviting submissions of unreleased work, the organisers choose the best films released in the last twelve months along with some classics.

Chris Menges in Conversation

Chris is the Herefordshire-born director of photography behind Kes, The Reader, Notes on a Scandal, The Killing Fields and many others. I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t seen a single one of his films, but I was still keen to attend to further my understanding of the art of cinematography. In this respect I was slightly disappointed, as time constraints and a quite understandable desire not to bore what was largely a lay audience meant that there was little opportunity for Chris to get into the nitty-gritty of his approach to lighting. That being said, there were one or two useful gems and I came away with a general impression of an extremely modest man with a profound respect for the fragility of natural light and a gentle touch in moulding it.

Sightseers

Sightseers (2012, dir. Ben Wheatley)

Sightseers (2012, dir. Ben Wheatley)

Directed by Ben Wheatley (The Kill List) and starring Alice Lowe (Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place), Sightseers is a black comedy about a woman who escapes her overbearing mother to go on a caravanning holiday with her closet pscyhopath of a boyfriend (Steve Oram). The boyfriend promptly begins murdering people at the slightest provocation (e.g. littering) and Lowe soon joins in in an attempt to impress him. While not the kind of film I’d normally choose to see, I’d heard good things about it and, sure enough, it was great fun. Lowe and Oram, who also wrote the script, give brilliantly judged comic performances in a film which soundly lampoons the stereotypical British holiday (rain, crap caravans, even crapper tourist attractions). Heartily recommended.

Silver Linings Playbook

Winning Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence at the Academy Awards and Best Adapted Screenplay for David O. Russell (who also directs) at the Baftas, Silver Linings Playbook has certainly been much talked about in recent weeks.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012, dir. David O. Russell)

Silver Linings Playbook (2012, dir. David O. Russell)

I was surprised to find the film is really just a formulaic romantic comedy, albeit one that starts off in darker territory than most. Bradley Cooper plays a manic depressive just out of a psychiatric hospital who strikes up a relationship with Lawrence’s recently widowed character after she tells him she can get a letter to his estranged wife. In return, Cooper must learn to dance so he can partner with Lawrence in an upcoming contest. Silver Linings Playbook is solidly acted by both the leads and the great supporting cast, which includes Chris Tucker and Robert de Niro. It’s also consistently funny throughout, but like many romcoms it sheds its unique elements as it enter its third act – forgetting the mental health issues of its lead characters – in order to play out the same old clichés. This is particularly disappointing from such a lauded film, but depsite this flaw I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

Blackmail

Although not a particular fan of Hitchcock, I was keen to see Blackmail – one of the portly auteur’s silent films – because it was a unique opportunity to see a movie with live musical accompaniment. This came courtesy of Stephen Horne, a master of the art – so much so that he somehow played the flute and the piano simultaneously at a couple of points. What staggered me was the revelation that there was no score; the music was entirely improvised.

Blackmail (1929, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Blackmail (1929, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

As for the film itself, it had been digitally remastered to such a high quality that I sometimes forgot that I was watching a movie over 80 years old – often only the captioned dialogue, under-cranked gaits and occasional clunky pacing gave it away. The cinematography was beautiful, with some typically inventive camera moves from Hitchcock and a lot of charming humour which held the attention despite a very slight plot (detective’s girlfriend commits murder in self-defence and tries to escape the law). All in all, this screening was an enriching experience and it was very gratifying to see the accompanist’s amazing art kept alive and kicking.

A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman

A Liar's Autobiography (2012, dir. Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson & Ben Timlett)

A Liar’s Autobiography (2012, dir. Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson & Ben Timlett)

Best known as the dead one from Monty Python, Graham Chapman succumbed to cancer in 1989, but not before writing his autobiography and recording it as an audiobook. That recording forms the spine of this film, as Chapman narrates his (alleged) life story from beyond the grave while fourteen different animation houses provide the visuals. While not a Monty Python film, there are many common traits – surreality, silliness, rudeness and the vocal talents of messrs. Jones, Gilliam, Palin and Cleese (but not Idle). In a non sequitur worthy of Monty Python, Cameron Diaz cameos as the voice of Sigmund Freud. And like much of the Pythons’ work, A Liar’s Autobiography is never quite as funny as you hoped it would be. This fact, coupled with a highly episodic narrative, meant the film was just starting to outstay its welcome when it wrapped up and ended. Nevertheless, it’s a delightfully creative film and one which seems a fitting tribute to a man who was not the messiah, but was definitely a very naughty boy.

Herefordshire Media Network

The network presented five pieces by its members: four short films and the trailer for Stop/Eject. The first short was Injured Birds, a gentle tale of an 11-year-old boy’s search for adventures in a rural town during the summer holidays.

Men Can't Make Beds (dir. David Jones)

Men Can’t Make Beds (dir. David Jones)

This was the second time I’d seen it, and I again enjoyed its charm, warmth and humour. Two short films directed by Rachel Lambert for The Rural Media Company were screened, both made on a participatory basis with people living in sheltered housing. Getting Close was a low-key drama highlighting some of the issues faced by the participants, while A Letter Every Day took the form of an oral history in which an elderly lady recounted her brief marriage to a man who was tragically killed in the second world war. This latter was an engaging story and cleverly illustrated with tableaux of miniature figurines found by the camera amongst the ornaments of the lady’s living room. But the highlight of the evening for me was Men Can’t Make Beds, a live action slapstick comedy in the vein of Tex Avery cartoons. Directed by David Jones of Wind-up World Films, the film made great use of a delightfully rubber-faced lead actor (Lawrence Russell) and exaggerated music and sound design to produce five minutes of wonderful silliness.

Side by Side

Side by Side (dir. Christopher Kenneally)

Side by Side (dir. Christopher Kenneally)

Keanu Reeves produces and interviews for this documentary about the transition from photochemical to digital technology, not just in capturing motion picture images but in editing them, manipulating them for visual effects, exhibiting them and archiving them. Views are canvassed from some of the biggest names in the business: George Lucas, who drove much of the change, James Cameron, a staunch supporter of digital 3D filmmaking, Christopher Nolan, one of the few directors still shooting on film and physically cutting his negative, and many others. Sadly, the film doesn’t let any of these filmmakers go into great depth, instead giving a history of the last twenty years’ technical upheavals, with which most viewers (if they’re interested enough to see Side by Side in the first place) will already be familiar. So while containing a few telling nuggets (such as several DPs bemoaning the lack of mystique and power they now wield when everyone can see the images they’re capturing immediately on set), this documentary overall has the feel of a slightly overlong DVD bonus feature.

Thanks to the team at Borderlines for a great festival.