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.

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.

Jen’s Lens – Get ready to be #Courtlaughing!

Beer & jokes - a perfect partnership for #Courtlaughing!

Beer & jokes – a perfect partnership for #Courtlaughing!

Well, you are very lucky this week, as there are now 2 Jen’s Lens posts!  And this one is by no means less exciting, because if you follow us on Facebook, keep an eagle eye on our tweets, or indeed know someone at The Courtyard, then you will know we have been revealing the big names involved in our 2013 #Courtlaughing festival, our comedy event that is being held over the weekend of the 7 – 9 June this summer.

I, however, had to keep the exciting news to myself as we launched the event last

Local comedienne Vikki Stone gets us giggling

Local comedienne Vikki Stone gets us giggling

Thursday at Wye Valley Brewery to invited press, VIP’s and staff.  This was in fact, the very first moment we could share with others in the county who would be making us laugh out loud this June.  The launch event was held at Wye Valley Brewery in Stoke Lacy and we enjoyed curry, fine ale and joke props as the headliners were revealed, and also enjoyed live comedy from last year’s Wye Valley Brewery Open Mic winner Phil Pearcy, and newly local comedienne Vikki Stone.  Vikki had everyone in stitches as she sang break up songs based on Jurassic Park and declared her love for Professor Brian Cox; songs which were also extremely catchy and resulted in strange looks from my folks as I forgot my place and sang them making the tea.  The evening was a triumph, as everyone socialised, ate, drank, and a few were even papped on camera #Courtlaughing!

So, without further adieu, let me introduce you to our comedy class of 2013.

Phill JupitusOpening up for the festival and kicking off the trio of comedy talent is comedy veteran and star of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Phill Jupitus.  He will be bringing his new show You’re Probably Wondering Why I Asked You Here… fresh from last summer’s Edinburgh circuit to have you all chuckling.

Saturday night’s entertainment comes in the form of dry witted American ironist Rich Hall,

Rich Hall

Rich Hall

who is known for his observational comedy on people both sides of the pond, and is star of such TV shows as QI and his own TV programmes such as How the West Was Lost.

Rounding up the big named comedians and bringing the festival to a close is emerging talent Josh Widdicombe.  Known for appearances on shows such as Mock the Week and 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Josh moves away from supporting the likes of Alan Carr and brings his debut solo stand up to our #Courtlaughing festival.

Tickets for all of these comedians are currently on sale and available to book now – so, what are you waiting for?  Get in fast and be sure to be #Courtlaughing this summer. 01432 340555 or http://www.courtyard.org.uk

Josh Widdicombe

Josh Widdicombe

Other events taking place over the festival period is a Sunday evening screening of Monty Python’s jewel the ‘Life of Brian’.  A film which caused much controversy at its time of release but now is widely accepted and has us all singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ when faced with crucifixion.  Children’s comedian James Campbell and ventriloquist for the younger ones, Kieran Powell will bring some pre-watershed laughs, and there will also be two of The Courtyard’s renowned #Courtlaughing comedy clubs if you fancied having a beer and scouting some emerging talent.

Returning after its success last year is the Wye Valley Brewery Open Mic competition, introducing local budding comedy talents to have a go in front of our Courtyard panel in a bid to be crowned the local King (or Queen) of comedy!

Live music will also be taking place over the three nights, and we are currently on the scout for musicians and performers to put themselves forward to play on the Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights.  If you are a musician and fancy showing us what you are musically made of then send us your facebook pages, soundcloud, myspace or youtube links to competitions@courtyard.org.uk or alternatively drop in your demo’s and CD’s to Box Office or post them to Jennifer Booton, The Courtyard, Edgar Street, Hereford, HR4 9JR by Monday 15th April.

Phew!  I think that’s it.  So, like I said, what are you waiting for?!  See you #Courtlaughing.