SYMPHONY last leg: rocking Soho Theatre, sending audiences home singing

Well it's been an amazing journey for SYMPHONY, which began as a small commission to create a theatre show for outdoor festivals in 2012, and has gone on to be seen by more audiences in more places than we had ever imagined. After our Fringe run this summer, and our short UK tour visiting various venues in the south east, Edinburgh, and Birmingham (where we also chucked in a deliciously dark Halloween Arts Club), we have rounded things off with a run at Soho Theatre in the ever-so-fitting downstairs cabaret bar. The London run finishes this Sun 30th Nov, so this week is your last chance to catch the show that has been delighting audiences around the country. If you're after a good dose of festival vibes to warm up your winter, this is the one for you. Just look at how audiences have been reacting to it - here's just a small selection of the amazing responses we've been getting:

audience quotes

And if you need any more persuading, check out the trailer featuring the amazing Katie Elin-Salt singing one of the show's original songs composed by Ed Gaughan.

Tickets can be booked here.


Writer E.V. Crowe talks about her inspiration for VIRGIN

My first experience of going ‘online’ was going to a ‘cyber café’ with my older sister in about 1996. We paid what seemed like a lot of money, in this backroom down an alley, with a load of computers in it. I was about 14. We ‘sat’ on a ‘chatroom’ and talked to this grown up man, who it turned out lived in the US. After a while he started to rant at us about the Second World War and how we’d be ‘speaking German now’ if it wasn’t for them. He was angry and weird, but I’ve not forgotten what it felt like to be SHOUTED AT from beyond. It felt like a very small abuse... My sister and I felt ashamed. Like a line had been crossed that we didn’t know was there. A threshold. We didn’t want to be abused, but we wanted something to happen.

At school, I was prolific letter writer. I had multiple pen pals – Crystal in the States, I can’t remember how I ‘met’ her. A girl whose name I forget who I met at a caravan park, who would write and tell me about her conquests. Those letters were amazing. A boy, Sasha, in the Ukraine who had trouble with his ‘teknik lessons’, and I sensed was intending to propose. His first letter was addressed ‘a school in England’. It arrived at ours. The teacher wrote the address in Russian letters on the board. I was the only one bored enough to write it down, and then write back. For years. I wrote to my parents, later my sisters, my friends during the holidays, and then I just migrated easily onto email in 1999. I sent long journal style emails from Latin America. Hotmail was my best friend and my portal to home and other traveller friends. Email became my forte, until a boy once told me that I was better on email than in person, at which point I realised I must be a little too adept ‘on paper’, and disappointing in real life. I should be careful.

Earlier this year, I read an article online, alerted to me by a feminist tweeter, written by the journalist Laurie Penny. It made a lot of sense to me: It’s about men who aren’t against women, but equally don’t acknowledge that they benefit from system that does oppress women.

I became a feminist while working in a job after university, inspired by a colleague who fought for me to progress, I feel, to her own detriment. She told me that being a feminist isn’t ‘anti men’, it just means ‘equality’ and women can be just as good or bad as men in this regard. Knowing this, enabled me to call myself a feminist. She has continued to be a voice of guidance and inspiration, through email.

These are some of the ingredients of the play VIRGIN, for Watford Palace and nabokov. Most of the play’s story, is ‘made up’, but I wanted to write it because I felt like all these things are connected and the play, in a way, joins the dots. I’ve made sense of it now for myself as a story, and I’m scared but hopeful in the act of sharing it first with a director and actors, which they will then share with an audience.

After a play goes on, I always feel a burning sense of shame for having exposed myself too much, said too much, been too ‘loud’. The play is in some ways about that sense of shame, what it does. I already feel ashamed for having written a ‘blog’ about writing a play. There is something grotesque about my relationship with the internet, there’s a vanity implicit in my (our?) interaction with it. ‘Sorry, sorry’ that’s what I want to say. And disappear again, but I can’t. This will just sit there, like a question mark against my name. There’s a line in the play where the central character, Emily, says:

“Promise me you won’t make a fuss. You won’t tell them it was me who complained. Please. I shouldn’t have said anything. I should’ve kept my mouth shut about all of it. I can put up with anything really if I try. I don’t need to get promoted or to be able to sleep. I can handle it. Wherever I go I seem to stir things up. I really do… it’s a problem”.

I’m always surprised why people say they go to the theatre when I ask them (impertinently?). It’s never the same response, but always instinctive, and then maybe grasping for a higher register explanation. But perhaps it’s similar to asking why we log in, go online, open windows, new tab, search.  Because we’re looking for something in the darkness, and we’re calling out, and we don’t know what strange sound is going to answer us back, but we want to feel it, we’re waiting for some kind of threshold to be crossed.

E.V. Crowe

Speeding ahead with VIRGIN - week 2 rehearsal blog

Simon Darwen gives his take on last week's rehearsal room shenanigans

So into the fray we threw ourselves. E-mails had been sent with the latest draft of the script from Emma and we were now in a position to start poring over the play in more detail.

From last week's beginnings we were now getting down to the nitty gritty of the work with our director. Joe Murphy loves to get to the details of the scenes through a process called ‘Events’. This is where you work out the main event/action in the scene and then go through each event that led up to the main one exploring each one's consequences. The events in this process become as important as the lines. With such a short rehearsal process they proved very useful, in fact vital when breaking down each scene.

Two of my biggest scenes are with the Queen of Sunderland Laura Elphinstone. We get to work reading the scene, before eventing it, and before you know it we’re up and it's on its feet.

Other dynamics of the cast also began to come to light as the second week progressed:

- We realised that the 3 bags of sweets for £1 from the corner shop over the road was going to aid us hugely in the coming weeks. However, we knew that any consumption of sweets before 11 could prove massively detrimental and induce ‘crashing’.

- On the above subject, we discovered that Michael Shelford's peak hours are between midnight and 2am. This means that he will struggle to speak let alone act in the mornings. Once a much needed lunch has been consumed (he starts to cry for it around 1pm), Shelford will demonstrate huge Lethargy in the rehearsal room till the final stretch (or ‘witching hour’) begins around 5pm. The witching hour gives actor and director alike a licence to speak in tongues and start quoting the god particle.

- I seem to have established a penchant for cockney rhetoric and insist upon righting all the wrongs in the world of theatre with huge volume and aggression.

- ‘Secret Theatre’ at the Lyric  dominates conversation as does Edward II at the National and Fleabag at the Soho.

- Three of the four of us are now talking in ‘Sheffield’ accents!

Towards the end of the week we do our first stagger-through run. It is genuinely amazing how we were able to do that after 9 days. Elphinstone has more lines than anyone and her performance is already being described as the female Hamlet.

I love this play and this crew and have forgotten how much I missed a small company. We have to work hard and fast to get there but get there we shall. My first professional job was with nabokov back in 2003 and I’m genuinely thrilled to be back working with them. As Rosie touched upon last week, there is simply no bigger thrill than knowing you are the first actor to work on a piece of new writing and developing that character for the first time.

Lets Ave it Watford...

Simon Darwen

Week One of rehearsals for VIRGIN

Rosie Wyatt shares news hot from the Watford rehearsal room for E.V. Crowe's VIRGIN

So today is the Saturday of our first week of rehearsals and we were due to be in the Barn in Watford rehearsing all day but we’re not and that’s a great thing. Not because it means we get a weekend off, but because it means we actually got ahead of ourselves, schedule-wise and have reached a really exciting point in the rehearsal process. It also gives me a moment to look back at the week that was and share with you a bit of the experience…

I say ‘week’… Rehearsals for Virgin didn’t actually kick off until Wednesday because one of our awesome cast members, Laura Elphinstone, is so in demand that we had to wait until we could steal her away from another project before we could get going.  Fortunately she was absolutely worth the wait and as it happened she was the only member of the cast that I did have to wait to meet. Having already worked with actor Simon Darwen and already knowing actor Michael Shelford, I was feeling pretty confident as I hopped on the 9.24 Euston – Watford train. Add to that that I had previously worked with director Joe Murphy on two other plays, had been a long time admirer of writer EV Crowe’s work and had heard nothing but wonderful things about the aforementioned Ms Elphinstone, I wasn’t feeling those first day butterflies that you could normally expect to be a-flutter in your stomach – but they showed up eventually.

Virgin is part of the Watford Palace’s Ideal World Season and we weren’t rocking up just to put our own play together but to join in an on-going project, so of course there was a whole host of brand new people to meet. There was even a whole other company of actors to meet and size up. They were the cast of the first play in the season, Perfect Match, and the verdict was that they were ruddy lovely. Once we’d stood in a circle and loudly and clearly declared our names and our job titles (a few of us definitely nearly stumbled over this simplest of tasks… as my turn to speak edged ever closer around the circle I could see the fear in Michael, Laura and Simon’s eyes and knew that we were all thinking the same thing: "What’s my character called? What’s my character called??") and viewed our model box, it was time for the read-through (there was another brief moment here where we bonded over our collective first day fear, as our wide-eyed stares to one another said… "They’re not ALL going to stay to listen to the read–through, are they??") The room emptied slightly (we then gave each other ‘phew’ eyebrow raises… not because we didn’t like the look of the fantastic team we’d just met but because whatever group you’re in, first reads are nerve-wracking) and we got reading. It was bloody exhilarating actually. It was a brand new draft that none of us actors had seen before so we weren’t just hearing the other characters come to life for the first time, we were discovering brand new things about the play together. woo yeah…

And the week carried on in much the same exciting vein! I love working on new writing.  It’s such a privilege to have such a complex and intelligent script to pore over and such wonderful sparky colleagues to bounce ideas around with. It is so satisfying to have our writer Emma in the room with us for our script work and then see the play shift and change as each morning Emma brings in a tweaked version of the script (resulting in a lot of printing for our DSM Neil). We’ve quibbled over ellipses, delved in to the worlds of our characters, shared a few good anecdotes and just really started getting to grips with the play.

And that brings us to where we are now. LOCK DOWN. Or awaiting it… We’ve reached a point in the process where all the talking about the play is done and we need to start doing it.  So to proceed with the final two weeks of rehearsals (Two Weeks, AH!) we need a locked down version of the script so that we can begin to make firm decisions about our characters and about the staging and so we can begin to learn lines. So today whilst I’ve gone to the gym and watched the X Factor, Emma has been hard at work and tomorrow evening we will get the definitive version of our rehearsal script ready to begin work again on Monday morning… Can’t. Wait!

Rosie Wyatt