Getting site-specific

Getting site-specific

BOLDtext’s Liz John talks about her latest site-specific piece in Behind Bars at Birmingham’s Lock Up.

There’s nothing like a ghostly Victorian building, echoing with strange tales and past voices, combined with the rampant enthusiasm of other BOLDtext writers, to give you Writer’s Block.  Where to start?  The Lock Up practically oozes Brummie history – countless possibilities of character, story, theme, era (it only closed two years ago!) – plus there’s the added question of setting.  Which corner of this fascinating Victorian building should I focus on? Whose experience in this place can I depict?  We really want to feel the Lock Up burst into life.

Lucky for me this wasn’t my first time in the Lock Up on Steelhouse Lane.  Before you ask, no I wasn’t there as an inmate!  In fact I attended a wonderful presentation by the Ikon Gallery relaying research conducted by the late Pete James, Birmingham’s foremost photographic historian.  The talk was about the history and role of photography in our region’s policing – from mugshots to surveillance. Turns out we practically invented mugshots in Birmingham. Who knew?  So when I stood again in this eerie building, tasked with creating a very short but meaningful piece of theatre that could mesh with other writers’ stories, my mind flew back to that lecture.  A police photographer could be my focus, someone who was a vital part of the fabric, actively participating in an offender’s journey through the Lock Up.  And that’s when Detective Charles Muscroft, ARPS, stepped into the light.

Man on a Mission

Down-to-earth Yorkshireman Charles Muscroft (above) was a CID officer turned police photographer, based at the Lock Up from the 1920s.  He embraced his role with dedication and delight, producing hundreds of perfectly crafted ‘mugshots’ over his career.  He regularly gave lectures to local photographic societies and even offered his ‘portrait services’ to the general public!  When he was awarded Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society in the 1930s, he was overjoyed – despite his exemplary record as a Birmingham City Police Officer, he viewed RPS recognition of his professional photographic talents as the ultimate accolade.  As a playwright, I was fascinated by the quiet intensity with which Muscroft undertook his work, and his unshakeable love of his ‘art’ even when he was having to photograph dangerous offenders and gruesome crime scenes.

Behind Bars, Ghosts of the Lock Up from BOLDtext Playwrights runs 19-21 October at the Lock Up on Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham.

Book your tickets at: www.lockupbehindbars.eventbrite.co.uk

Supported by Arts Council England and the Sir Barry Jackson Trust.

If you’re interested in Mugshots and their history, take a look at Under Arrest by Giacomo Papi – a collection of mugshots of celebs like Hugh Grant, Al Pacino, Ozzy Osbourne and Janis Joplin; prominent figures like Martin Luther King, Bill Gates and Fidel Castro; as well as notorious names like Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Ronnie Biggs and Lee Harvey Oswald.

 

Advertisements

Bringing the ghosts of Birmingham’s criminal past back to life

By BOLDtext writer Tim Stimpson

If you’ve ever walked down Steelhouse Lane in Birmingham you more than likely  have no idea what lies behind the front door of the unprepossessing redbrick building on the corner of Coleridge Passage. Unless you’re a police officer or have been arrested, it’s even less probable you’ve seen inside. But the old Central Lock-Up has been the first stop for many of the city’s criminals for 125 years. As such it’s an important and fascinating part of Birmingham’s heritage.

https_cdn.evbuc.comimages479385751291457249231original

The Lock-Up closed its doors in 2016 and West Midlands Police are now in the process of transforming the grade II listed building into a new home for the force’s museum. All being well it will start welcoming the general public in the next few years. In the meantime BOLDtext have been busy writing short plays about some of the people who would have passed through the Lock-Up during it’s first few decades. Some of them are well-documented, such as Chief Constable Charles Rafter who (as well as inspiring Sam Neil’s character in the TV hit Peaky Blinders) championed the introduction of women to the Birmingham City Police. The first of these was Evelyn Miles who, having been a lock-up matron, became a constable at the age for 50 and didn’t retire until she was 72. Or there’s Tommy Tank, a notorious drunkard who potential inspired Ozzy Osbourne by biting the heads of live rats, or Sarah Bernhardt, the famous French actress who had to register at the Lock-Up as an enemy alien when she performed at The Grand.

However, there are also characters who are little more than a name. One of these is Frederick Ratcliff. As you enter the Lock-Up you’ll see a large wooden Roll of Honour on the wall, commemorating the Birmingham police officers who served in the First World War. Fred’s name appears with a ‘W’ next to it, indicating that he was wounded. Many more have a ‘K’ next to their names, indicating that they were killed, or ‘M’ for missing, or ‘DW’ for died of wounds. We know nothing else about Fred, but in writing my play about him I’ve assumed he returned to the force and may well have been involved in the strikes of 1918 – 1919, which precipitated the banning of the police’s right to strike. It’s remarkable how much can come from a name on a wall, but it’s also a responsibility. My Fred is probably nothing like the real one, but I hope I have a least done justice to the battles he and his fellow officers fought.

IMG_0745 (1)

You can meet these characters and many more at Behind Bars: Ghosts of Past, which is being performed in the Lock-Up from October 19th – 21st. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to take a theatrical journey through Birmingham criminal past.

Book your tickets at: www.lockupbehindbars.eventbrite.co.uk

The Bingo Caller

The Bingo Caller

BOLDtext’s very own STEPHEN JACKSON (aka Ted Pigeon) has a fab new show previewing at Hall Green Little Theatre this Saturday and Sunday 2-3 June 7.30pm.  It’s called The Bingo Caller – and the box office opens at 7pm.  All tickets £10 pay on the night…. http://hglt.co.uk/bingo.htm

….before the show moves to Soho Theatre next week  on Thursday 7 till Saturday 9 June at 7pm.  https://sohotheatre.com/shows/the-bingo-caller/

Welcome to the Binley-on-Sea Caravan Park and Social Club, where Buster Bingham is calling his last game of bingo.  After 23 years, he has been sacked – and the audience play bingo as Buster crumbles on stage. 

The Bingo Caller is back by popular demand, having premiered at HGLT in 2013 starring Marcus Hendry.  Writer Stephen Jackson is the Winner of The West End Wilma Award for Best Comedy 2017 and The Verity Bargate Award 2015.

Who’s faking it now?

Who’s faking it now?

The last two BOLDtext Open Door shows at The REP couldn’t have been more different on the surface but again reflected the strange times we live in.

On September 19th 2017, the theme of the four short plays was Fake Times, inspired by the fake news that had exploded into our consciousness and set the tone for the year. We were certainly not short of material. Brexit fake facts, Trump and the Russian election interference continue to rumble on into 2018, and trying to sort fact from fiction remains a problem. Four of our playwrights – myself (Julia Wright), Liz John, Nicola Jones and Tim Stimpson tackled the theme, reflecting the difficulties we all experience in sorting out who we can trust for our information.

Our January 8th 2018 show was called A Mouthful of Rhinestones to mark the birthday of one Elvis Presley. How is The King relevant today? The theme of separating fact from fiction again raised its head but this time in relation to the myths and truths surrounding celebrity: ‘Elvis might be gone but he ain’t never left the building.’ Continue reading

Win a copy of Roller Diner!

All you have to do is complete our quick 10-question survey to help us develop our programme of work.  Our own Stephen Jackson’s Roller Diner was showcased at The REP and went on to win the Verity Bargate Award.  It had a fantastic run at the Soho Theatre, and we’re incredibly proud of our mate Steve.

Click on the link to do our two minute survey.   Please complete before November 15th so we can get cracking with our planning.  Thank you!

RollerDinerPublicity

Our next show is brewing – 8pm Monday 8th January 2018 at The REP, followed by our ridiculously popular Unwanted Christmas Present Swap.   Save the date and watch this space for more info.

 

Doubled Up 3

Doubled Up 3

For our 17th night at the Door –  yes that’s right, 17th – Boldtext Playwrights presented their third Doubled Up evening.

These are occasional evenings where two of our playwrights showcase longer extracts from work in progress to help with the development process of full length plays. This is invaluable for the writers, as it gives a chance to see the staging, the characterisation and the plotting working in front of audience and assess the way all these aspects can be improved/ changed/developed. Having said that, it is always a tense time as you see the audience react to your words for the first time but it often brings real surprises as sections you have struggled with seem to work effortlessly and unexpected moments of humour emerge which bring laughs rather than smiles. Of course, every audience is different but a number of real insights are always there for the writers. It is also a chance to work closely with directors and actors who bring their ideas and interpretations to help in a collaborative process and make work a real joy.

ww3-jalleh-oli

For our May 22nd ‘Doubled Up’, myself (Julia Wright) and Liz John presented the first 40 minutes of our full length plays. Liz’s World War 3 looked at the challenges of the environment facing young people and the lack of power they can feel at being able to decide their own futures. Liz had two days of workshop and rehearsal before the showcase, giving her time to develop and rewrite as the time progressed and see the characters arise as individuals, each with their own stories to tell. All the cast were playing teenagers/early 20’s and seeing the world from their viewpoint which gave Liz  the chance to immerse herself in that world. The digital age has changed life so much for them, while some aspects of their emotional responses remain universal and easily able to be identified with.

ww3-oli-phoebe2

My play ‘Unfollow Me’ (Julia Wright) was about the worrying consequences of stalking and its profound effect on, in this instance, a 25 year old young woman. I had one day of workshop/rehearsal before the evening and, as I directed it myself, I found the insights of the actors  into the characterisations invaluable. The character of the male stalker was, obviously, really difficult in order to strike the right  balance between understanding and condemnation so that he could be believable and not just a product of careful research. Each actor was able to look at the relationships within the play from their character’s viewpoint and make brilliant suggestions to enable me to make subtle changes to the script to produce major shifts of tension and complexity.

As usual, the show was sold out but on the night, there were 8 or 10 empty seats. Please can we ask our very loyal audience to cancel your reservations if you are unable to attend, as we are always having to turn away people who want to come but have no tickets. Our next show, Fake Times, is on September 19th and we look forward to seeing you there.

Julia Wright

DOUBLED UP  3

DOUBLED UP 3

Bold Text Playwrights return to The REP on Monday 22 May 2017 with Doubled Up –  two plays-in-progress from BOLDtext writers Liz John and Julia Wright.

WORLD WAR 3    by Liz John

Zoe is fighting for the planet.  James yearns for a career.  Kat needs her sister to be ok.   Ella just wants it all.   But no-one listens to young people so now it’s time to make a stand.   Can the fiery enthusiasm of youth overcome the cynical politics of today’s Britain?   A challenging, acerbic tale of conflicting ambition in the 21st Century.

Liz’s work ‘shone out as a masterpiece of compression’ – LichfieldLive  (about ‘Perversion of Science’)

UNFOLLOW ME   by Julia Wright

What is the tipping point where obsession becomes truly dangerous?  Ayesha, Natalie and Sam have to make the choices which will determine all of their futures.  Who is really in charge? Who is losing the fight?

Follow Julia on twitter @JuliaWriting  

A5 Front DOUBLED UP 0417 Ultimate

Come along and catch extracts of these two plays-in-progress at 8pm on Monday 22nd May as part of The REP’s Open Door season.  Continue reading