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

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

Blackout & Little Foot Diaries: Youth Theatre insight

By Kate Ganderton, Senior Education Officer & Youth Theatre Leader

As some of you may know, this is an exciting time of year for our Youth Theatre. Hopefully everyone will have seen the gathering pace of publicity surrounding The Jungle Book (Years 1 to 9, ages 4 – 13) and will also be getting excited about the upcoming A Comedy of Errors by our Senior Youth Theatre (ages 16+).

This blog is to let you know about this weekend’s double bill of shows by our Intermediate Youth Theatre (ages 13 – 16). Year 10 have been working with me on ‘Little Foot’ by Craig Higginson and Year 11 have been working with Ellen Dorsett on ‘Blackout’ by Davey Anderson. Both have been taken from the National Theatre Connections series of powerful, contemporary plays, especially commissioned for Youth Theatres. They will be performing on Saturday 23 March and Sunday 24 March at 7pm.

‘Little Foot’ takes place on New Years Eve, about thirty miles outside Johannesburg when a group of school friends decide to spend the night in a network of underground caves. The area is known as the Cradle of Humankind. The oldest pre-human remains have been found there, including a four million year-old ape-man called Little Foot. As the friends go deeper underground, forces are unleashed between them and around them. Part reality, part nightmare, South African playwright Craig Higginson’s dark and poetic play takes us on an unforgettable journey into our unconscious ancestral memory.

‘Blackout’ is a fictionalised account of the real-life events that led to a teenager being charged with attempted murder. Anderson created this hard-hitting play (literally) from interviews with a 17 year old from Glasgow’s East End who had committed a violent crime. The play raises the questions; what leads young people to commit violent acts, how they should be punished (or rehabilitated) and, crucially, how these kinds of crimes can be prevented.
Little Foot Blackout poster
Both groups have worked extremely hard for the last two terms on these shows, which have the very specific brief of being Studio Theatre-based, ensemble performances with minimal lighting and set. They have had to adapt to many new styles of theatre, including physical theatre and chorus work. Some of the members have been with us for nearly ten years (which is no mean feat when you realize they are only 14 and 15!)

The shows are nearly sold out but a few tickets remain via our Box Office.

And if you want to get a bit of insight into the performance process then read these diaries from a couple of our Youth Theatre members…

LITTLE FOOT //
At the Hereford Youth Theatre, we explore and perform different theatrical pieces and often compose our own short sketches. We also develop our own themes and ideas within a subject and perform them for the rest of the group. I think that the youth theatre is a fun and an exciting place where young people can express themselves and their ideas within a friendly and familiar environment.

By Leah Cottrell

BLACKOUT //
The blogs above give a great summary of the fantastic experience the Courtyard gives you as well as a good synopsis of the production ‘Blackout’ and the themes/messages designed into it, so I’m going to focus on the last rehearsal session.
I play the character of James (along with four other people) and due to the performance being majorly a dark, question provoking narration, I have little lines, and so try to portray James’ emotional and mental transformation almost all through the movements I make. In the last rehearsal session we put music to many of the scenes, this helped me to further my characterisation of James and try to become a teenager of his circumstance. The music helped me to find the deep anger, and soul changing emotions; it also helped to evolve the abstractness of certain scenes-what scenes? Well you’ll have to come and watch won’t you!
I believe the play is really starting to reveal its potential as it is taking shape more and more. Despite the ‘food for thought’ themes and messages contained in the play, as well as having to act out the frightening deterioration of James each rehearsal, we always have time for fun and a laugh; the people I’m with are really fantastic actors as well as people and it makes the Courtyard Youth Intermediate Theatre such a great place to be!

Joshua Smith

BLACKOUT //
Just under 2 weeks left now and it’s coming together. People are getting their lines and cues learnt and it’s looking really good! Last rehearsal music was added over a couple of the scenes for effect and it really works, it makes the actions of the characters seem much more dramatic and emphasized. The struggle of the main character and the people around him is working nicely. The performance is shaping up to be very exciting and I can’t wait for the day to come!

George Weston

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Poignant and powerful – a Courtyard co-production with Vamos Theatre, Finding Joy

Today I was fortunate to see a run through of Finding Joy – our co-production with Vamos Theatre that came from a conversation almost three years ago about our work with older people and our desire to work with people with dementia particularly.

Finding Joy - Touring Mask Production 2013-2014

Finding Joy – Touring Mask Production 2013-2014

What I saw was a beautiful and emotive piece of theatre that is an honest portrayal of someone living with dementia but is balanced with humour. The sad poignant moments are soon relieved by light-hearted ones and there were tears and laughs from many people sitting in the audience. The set design is clever and inventive and the masks are absolutely fantastic. Even if you have little or no experience of living or working with people with dementia you will still enjoy the narrative that has been created. It is deep-rooted in first hand research that Rachael Savage (Artistic Director of Vamos Theatre) did in the summer last year and it is the honesty within the narrative that makes Vamos a company with integrity.

The soundtrack to the whole piece takes the audience through Joy’s journey. The sound track is a pivotal element in mask theatre for the audience to go on the emotional rollercoaster. It’s something that Rachael is very passionate about getting right and having seen other mask companies it proves that the music is key element in the production to seamlessly pin it all together. Rachael and Janie Armour (the composer) have undoubtedly struck the right chord again.

All in all it is undoubtedly my favourite production from Vamos Theatre and to think the idea started at The Courtyard, by a chance conversation, is something we are proud of. This is our first co-production with the company, who are based across the border in Worcestershire, but I hope it won’t be our last.

Written by Grant Brisland – Education, Programming & Participation Manager

Join the conversation on Twitter #FindingJoy

Jens Lens ~ Behind the Scenes of Foxfinder

2013 has begun, and as well as getting back into work, I am also involved in 4Play Theatre’s latest production, Foxfinder

 4Play have always been a group I have watched and admired. Over the years they have put on some really challenging and stimulating theatre, which has ultimately led to their reputable image on the Hereford Drama scene, so it has been great to be involved in this production. 

 Foxfinder is a new play by emerging playwright Dawn King.  It was the 2011 Papatango award winner and debuted on stage at the Finborough Theatre in West London.  Set in a dystopian parallel, the piece is a gritty thriller which explores themes of desire, friendship, responsibility and passion.  The fox is a bad omen, one that can ruin harvests, disrupt working families and sever relationships.  That’s why the Foxfinder is here.

 The play has four characters who examine these themes from different perspectives.  Playing the role of the Foxfinder William Bloor is Youth Theatre graduate Jack Spreckley, who also works on The Courtyard Cafe Bar.  William’s character is one that reflects a repressed childhood, and has been taught what he knows through indoctrination.  He turns up at Sam and Judith Covey’s farmhouse, played by Rich Monk and Lorrayne McGuire Heath respectively, to investigate why their land and crops have been suffering.  Following a string of hard events, the couple battle against the Foxfinder to establish their own identities and happiness, as well as protecting what they have left.  Both go through the play on their own emotional journeys.  I play Judith’s best friend, and neighbour Sarah Box, contributing a subversive element to the plot, in that I don’t believe in the fox’s existence and challenge William’s perceptions.  The whole piece is full of complex themes and challenges which ultimately conclude in a nail biting and tense finale.

 We are into the last week of rehearsals now, which see us making use of space, testing each other’s conflicting character personalities and pulling pieces of set together.  These rehearsals have all been under the direction of Jonathon Legg, who appeared in 4Play’s last January production of The Pillowman

A tense scene at the Covey's farmhouse

A tense scene at the Covey’s farmhouse

Jack Spreckley and Rich Monk start the search

Jack Spreckley and Rich Monk start the search

Jack Spreckley as William Bloor, and Rich Monk as Sam Covey

Jack Spreckley as William Bloor, and Rich Monk as Sam Covey

Foxfinder opens in The Courtyard’s Studio Theatre on Wednesday January 23rd and runs until Saturday January 26th at 7.45pm each night.  There will also be a Q + A session following the Thursday performance, so come along and ask us more if this has been enough to make you curious about foxes!