THE GOD OF SOHO Special: with director Raz Shaw

Raz Shaw, director of The God of Soho

Raz Shaw, director of The God of Soho

In part two of our special feature on The God of Soho, director Raz Shaw tells us what it was like bringing Chris Hannan’s wild and raucous script to life for Shakespeare’s Globe.

You have previously directed productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet for the Shakespeare’s Globe, but this is your first contemporary play. How did you come to direct The God of Soho for the Globe’s distinctive space?

Dominic Dromgoole, Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe phoned me up in November last year. He sent me Chris’s treatment version, which was gloriously mad – it made wonderful sense and at the same time didn’t make any sense. It was brave and courageous and rude, and funny and moving – and yet, in some ways, indecipherable. I thought there was so much in it, it was bursting at the seams. I had no idea what the end result might be, but there was something about it that was intriguing, exciting, unique and scary. And I only like to do work that scares me or there’s no point, I think.

'The God of Soho' Rehearsal Shot

Iris Roberts (Clem). Photo: Simon Kane

What has proven the biggest challenge, or surprise, in bringing the script to life for the first time?

I’ve discovered that doing a new play at the Globe means two things. One, you have to be very respectful to the author’s words. And two, you have to embrace the Globe in all its forms. Sometimes that means you need to direct a scene in a slightly different way, from how you might have done had it been indoors in a ‘conventional’ theatre. I think that what the Globe gives any play, especially a new play, is an extra resonance and relevance because it reaches out immediately to the audience, and the audience responds right there in the moment. In a really positive way, we hear the words more, we feel the emotions more and we listen to the story of the play more. So for me, the biggest challenge has been to imagine where it needs to sit – how it can resonate best in the Globe. I think the biggest surprise to me is that despite its huge moments – very funny moments, rude moments, very sexy moments – it’s actually about tiny emotional details. The story of the play is very real, it has three very real love stories; the biggest challenge is to make sure we focus on that and at the same time allow it to breathe in a theatre the size and style of the Globe.

With its large cast, sharp topicality and brash language, do you imagine that The God of Soho will be a popular choice for amateur performance in the future?

I do! It’ll be a fun journey to take. There are eleven actors in our cast, with two what are called ‘supernumerary actors’, who only come in for the final rehearsals and do simple, non-acting things, like opening doors and all that kind of stuff – but still feel part of the cast. With thirteen actors, and seven in the band, there are over 120 costumes in this show, as there are actually loads of characters.

The God of Soho: trailer image

Click to view The God of Soho trailer

Part of the fun of doing a play with loads of roles is that all the actors can have a main character, and then they can all kind of let go and have mini-characters too. For instance, there’s a song in the play called ‘Sexier than Sex’, which is very rude. It’s about the Goddess of Love’s journey into King’s Cross and Soho for the first time, and she’s looking for something to hold onto because she’s been rejected by her lover in heaven. One of the things she is hoping to find out is what sex is on Earth. The song is quite vulgar, and requires an assortment of characters from the sex trade, from prostitutes onwards, and would certainly be lots of fun for amateur performers.  Almost every single one of those little parts has something about it that would make it unique and fun to play. Even if those parts don’t have many lines, they certainly have some memorable moments.

Chris Hannan’s new playThe God of Soho – opens tonight (27 August) at Shakespeare’s Globe, running till 30 September. Click here to purchase tickets. NHB are proud to publish the playscript alongside this production – to order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).

The God of Soho: jacket

The God of Soho by Chris Hannan (£9.99)

*The God of Soho ticket + drink offer!*
A Yard ticket & a Post-Show Cocktail for just £10 when booking directly through the venue. Use the code ‘pcdsftw’ or quote ‘Something for the Weekend’ when calling the Shakespeare’s Globe box office on 020 7401 9919. Cannot be claimed retrospectively. Usual terms and conditions apply. Purchasers must be over the age of 18. Please note Yard tickets are standing only, but have the best view of the stage.

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THE GOD OF SOHO Special: with author Chris Hannan

Chris Hannan

Chris Hannan, author of The God of Soho (photo: Carol Gordon)

Chris Hannan’s new play for Shakespeare’s Globe, The God of Soho, is a wickedly funny morality tale for the modern world. Sexy, feisty and real, it is a story about love at its dirtiest, maddest and most bittersweet. Here, the author talks about writing the play specifically for the Globe’s unique stage.

When the Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Dominic Dromgoole, asked me to write a new play for his wonderful theatre, I spent a couple of years finding polite ways to say no.

It seemed too odd to put contemporary characters in contemporary clothes onto an authentic reproduction of an Elizabethan stage. Wouldn’t it just look like some ropey time-travel story?

Clearly, this was a space that called for big characters and big emotions and I began to sketch out the idea for The God of Soho, setting the story in a celebrity world where my celebrity couple fought each other in the front pages of the tabloids, hoovered up cocaine in celebrity nightspots and rocked up to the funerals of celebrity friends in dark sunglasses.

Where the Elizabethans had put kings and courtiers on stage, I thought I would put their contemporary equivalents – stars and their publicists. The inherent theatricality of the celebrity world – the constant performing in public – had an irresistible attraction. And of course celebrity worship is now at the core of our culture and economy, so it seemed an ideal topic for such a public space.

Celebrities could not have become the gods and goddesses of our mags and the staple of our news and gossip unless they answered some core need in all of us and The God of Soho is about what that is. It’s about what we worship and do we even know.

The God of Soho: jacket

The God of Soho by Chris Hannan (£9.99)

I kept going to see shows at the Globe to learn about the space and how it works. And, whether it was The Merry Wives of Windsor or Henry IV, I was struck by the magical relationship which exists between the actor and the audience – a frankness, an ease, an equality. Time and again it is a relationship which throws up unrepeatable moments of ‘liveness’.

It happened again during a recent performance of The Mysteries. The actors were telling the story of the Crucifixion – the episode where Judas repents of his betrayal and returns the blood money to Pontius Pilate. 

In the Globe production, the thirty pieces of silver is represented by thirty pence, and the actor playing Pontius Pilate – Matthew Pidgeon – joked amenably with the audience that he didn’t need thirty pence and would be happy to give it to a groundling. But when he placed the coins under the nose of a woman leaning on the front stage she viscerally recoiled, wanting nothing to do with the money or the betrayal.

The actor almost rocked back in amazement, and for me – looking on – the two of them created a moment that was deeply touching because I felt the emotional power of the story and understood that it mattered.

Other playwrights will see it differently, but to me the Globe stage requires a non-realistic story that has grand scale. It is not interested in minor details; it gobbles up narrative at considerable speed and you have to keep feeding it more. It wants movement, sweep. Because there is no stage lighting, you cannot get actors on and off in blackout – they need to be driven by some inner urgency

I enjoyed that. The God of Soho starts out in a heaven which is losing its sense of reality, plunges into a fetishistic Soho and heads out to celebrity Essex. The characters are gods and homeless people and rock stars; and the stage allows those disparate worlds to coexist because the characters are motored by the same story and the same needs. There can be realistic elements, yes, but only so long as they don’t distract from the sense of storyness.

Sections of this post by Chris Hannan first appeared in The Independent (18th August 2011).

Chris Hannan’s new playThe God of Soho – opens this Saturday (27 August) at Shakespeare’s Globe, running till 30 September. Click here to purchase tickets. NHB are proud to publish the playscript alongside this production – to order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).

Have you seen the production trailer yet? Click here.

*The God of Soho ticket + drink offer!*
A Yard ticket & a Post-Show Cocktail for just £10 when booking directly through the venue. Use the code ‘pcdsftw’ or quote ‘Something for the Weekend’ when calling the Shakespeare’s Globe box office on 020 7401 9919. Cannot be claimed retrospectively. Usual terms and conditions apply. Purchasers must be over the age of 18. Please note Yard tickets are standing only, but have the best view of the stage.

Coming up next…  THE GOD OF SOHO Special: with director Raz Shaw – on bringing the script to life for the first time.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe special: with Gareth Armstrong and HighTide’s Steven Atkinson

Gareth Armstrong

Gareth Armstrong

Rounding off our Edinburgh Festival Fringe special, our third and final post features writer, director, actor and Edinburgh regular Gareth Armstrong, whose newly published book So You Want To Do A Solo Show? is an essential resource for both aspiring and seasoned solo performers, especially those wanting to make it big on the Fringe. Also offering his behind-the-scenes insight is HighTide Artistic Director Steven Atkinson, whose latest production is Dusk Rings A Bell by Stephen Belber (published by NHB), opening this week at Assembly George Square.

Gareth Armstrong: There’ll be a ghost coming with me to this year’s Fringe.

A dozen years ago I was performing my one-man show Shylock at the Assembly Rooms. This year I’ll be watching my play Shylock at the Assembly Rooms, and I’m not sure which will be the more nerve-wracking experience. In between I’ve taken the play around the world several times, seen it performed in half-a-dozen languages and directed it in America. But seeing it back where the journey began will have me on the edge of my seat. That ghost will be up there on stage reminding me of one of the most rewarding months of my professional life.

The show had opened at Salisbury Playhouse where Guy Masterson saw it and added me to the bulging portfolio of plays he was taking to the festival. We played in the late-lamented Wildman Room – alarmingly intimate, unbearably hot and with an electric atmosphere of expectation. We pulled it off, Guy covered his costs, and I spent the next ten years making, for an actor, a reasonable living from that show.

So You Want To Do A Solo Show? jacket

So You Want To Do A Solo Show? by Gareth Armstrong (£10.99)

But the Fringe is a fickle mistress.  A one-man show that takes a revisionist look at a major Shakespeare character and plunders the original text for all the juiciest bits was, I thought, after my first attempt, a winning formula. After Shakespeare’s infamous Jew the magisterial Prospero seemed within my range and, two years after Shylock, working with a talented writer friend, we created a piece based on the man who many think inspired Shakespeare’s magus, Dr John Dee. Among many other things Dee was an astrologer and chose auspicious dates for momentous events. The omens were good. Ignoring Max Bialystock’s advice I used my own money to finance the project (Dr Prospero) and with high production values and high expectations we assaulted Edinburgh again. I lost £15,000.

It was no consolation to me that Dr Dee ended up broke too. He did at least hold the faith to the end of his long life. I am not made of such stern stuff and abandoned the capricious Fringe for a decade. And when I came back to it I was wearing a different and less conspicuous hat. As a director, with no financial stake, and without the burden of performing every day I could actually enjoy the festival for the first time. Once up and running the shows looked after themselves and even found some glory.

This year I’m a milliner’s dream because I will be wearing three hats. As well as being the playwright of Shylock, now performed with wonderful synchronicity and also with enormous verve by my original producer Guy Masterson, I have a production of The Rape of Lucrece playing at The Zoo space. Gerard Logan is proving once again that revisiting Shakespeare in an original way can still work. He is, as far as I know, the first actor to tackle this epic poem in a one-man performance and he proves that even in a text as obviously aimed at the reader as Lucrece, Shakespeare’s sense of theatre, his thrilling characters and his sublime language cry out for dramatisation.

My third hat makes its debut at this year’s Fringe. I’m promoting a book I have written called So You Want To Do A Solo Show? and as the title says it all, I am hoping it will speak for itself.

Dusk Rings a Bell production shot

Paul Blair and Katherine Kingsley in rehearsal for Dusk Rings a Bell

Steven Atkinson: Unlike other festivals and theatres, the Edinburgh Fringe can boast the most diverse of all audiences. It’s a premier platform to premiere a new play, thanks to the intense focus that the industry, press and audiences afford it. There’s the chance of winning a Fringe First or a Herald Angel or any of the number of awards that helps ensure the play lives on in the consciousness. There’s also the impact on audiences, and many a professional artist has been introduced to a writer at the Fringe whom they then go on to work with professionally. I saw Stephen Belber’s Tape several years ago, and comparable to Mamet, Stephen’s dialogue is unforgettable because it’s his own original voice. Dusk Rings A Bell is playing in a sizable three-hundred-seat venue at Assembly, so the show will be enjoyed by a large audience. But I hope it also inspires others to stage it and explore Stephen’s back catalogue, so that we see Belber rivals popping up on Fringes and campus scenes and, hopefully, future Edinburgh Festivals.

Gareth Armstrong has directed two solo shows for this year’s Festival Fringe, including a production of his own play Shylock (4–29 August, 3.45pm) at Assembly Hall, and The Rape of Lucrece (5–29 August, 5.15pm) at Zoo SouthsideHis new book, So You Want To Do A Solo Show? is available now. To order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed). Copies will also be on-sale at the Fringe alongside his two productions through the venues’ box office. 

Dusk Rings a Bell  jacket

Dusk Rings a Bell by Stephen Belber (£9.99)

NHB proudly publish the playscript alongside HighTide’s production of A Dusk Rings a Bell – to order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).

Edinburgh Festival Fringe special: with Lynda Radley

Lynda Radley

Lynda Radley, author of Futureproof (photo: Simon Conlon)

In part two of our Edinburgh Fringe special, in which a handful of our authors involved in some way in this year’s Festival Fringe frenzy tell us what it all means to them, we hear from ‘rising star in Scottish theatre’ (Scotsman) Lynda Radley, whose latest play Futureproof premieres at the Traverse Theatre this week.

I started coming to the festival as a student. When I was nineteen I saved up the pennies I had made from my summer job in Cork and volunteered at The Quaker Meeting House Theatre. The venue was run as a charity and they gave me bed and board in exchange for four hours of front-of-house duties a day. It was a wonderful system, though I think the elderly couple who put me up might have been shocked by the late hours I kept.

The following year I returned as a performer with a group from my drama society. We had devised a play named after a Tom Waits’ song and it featured a whole section lit by torches; very cutting edge. I had a monologue entitled ‘Attack of the Five Foot Woman’. There were about eight of us in the cast and often less than that in the audience. Some foolish person allowed us to rent their beautiful New Town apartment, and between the cast, crew and various hangers-on there were as many as twenty of us sleeping in a three-bedroomed space. Needless to say, I don’t think we left it as we found it. I saw as much work as possible. I remember an epic day of seeing seven shows with a friend. We started with Shakespeare for Breakfast and criss-crossed the city till one in the morning. Every year I learned more; both about myself and about theatre. I associate the festival with growing up. I can vividly recall, during those years, seeing a one-woman show at the Traverse called The Gimmick and the profound effect it had on me. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to write and perform for that stage.

By 2007 I had moved to Scotland, and spent two wonderful weeks at the festival performing my play The Art of Swimming in Traverse Two. I tried not to think about where I was and what I was doing – for fear of jinxing it – but I enjoyed every second of performing that year. A festival audience is something special; people who care about theatre, who want to know what you have to say, who are excited by the possibilities of performance and willing to engage with whatever you might throw at them. Speaking to them, and with them, every day was a pleasure. Again, I learned a great deal.

Futureproof playscript (9.99)

Futureproof by Lynda Radley (9.99)

And here I am now, three years later, about to have my first main-stage production premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe; in a co-production between Dundee Rep Ensemble and the Traverse itself. Futureproof, and its peculiar cast of side-show characters, has been with me for some time and as I write this I am in the process of handing everything over to the wonderful cast and production team. The festival has taught me the myriad possibilities of what theatre can be, and that it is at core a collaborative art form. I can’t wait for opening morning (ten o’clock? on a Sunday?) when I can sit among the audience and see what unfolds.

Lynda Radley’s new play, Futureproof, will premiere at the Traverse Theatre, 6–29 August, part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, click here to book tickets or call 0131 228 1404. NHB proudly publish the playscript alongside this production – to order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).

Edinburgh Festival Fringe special: with Hywel John

Hywel John

Hywel John, author of Rose

To celebrate NHB’s involvement in this year’s vibrant Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme, we’ve asked a handful of our writers who have either performed, written, directed or produced work for the Festival Fringe to tell us what it means to them. First up is Hywel John, whose latest work Rose, a heartfelt study of heritage, grief and family, opens at the Pleasance Courtyard on 3rd August.

It’s been six years since I was last in Edinburgh for the Fringe. The Festival in 2005 has turned into a bit of a personal and professional benchmark: I’d recently left drama school and the theatre company I co-ran, MahWaff, took two shows up, Guardians by Peter Morris (which won a Fringe First) and Angry Young Man by Ben Woolf, both of which played to packed houses at the Pleasance. Before that heady summer, I’d performed or visited the Fringe every year since 2001, and my memories are the usual intoxicating Edinburgh brew of rain, battered haggis, all-night drinking, performing through sweaty hangovers, and wild uncontrollable euphoria at getting a three-star review or for having more than twenty people in the audience.

My first year in 2001 was a peculiar introduction to the Fringe. I was acting in a Bristol University production of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters at C Venues. We had stoically prepared for our month-long run by regularly reminding ourselves that the average Fringe audience was about ten people, so if we did better than that we’d be doing okay. Our vigorously ambitious director had chosen a 250-seater theatre, so our stoicism seemed particularly necessary. Come first preview though, we were collectively a little unsettled when we were faced with a healthy crowd of twenty-five. None of whom we knew personally. Perhaps our four hours of flyering in the rain dressed in our homemade Discworld costumes had done the trick? The warm lager of the C Venues bar tasted sweet that evening. But then come show number two, we had a house of around forty. Show three, seventy people. By the end of the week, we were pretty much sold out to cheering crowds. Without a single review. It was extremely odd, but as we were all mostly drunk ninety per cent of the time, we didn’t give much time to consider why this might be. Our collective greatness, no doubt. Next stop the West End, obviously. It was only after someone mentioned that this was the first time that a Pratchett play had graced an Edinburgh stage and that Terry Pratchett was at the time the UK’s bestselling author, that the winning formula really became clear to us. I think the director had selected Wyrd Sisters because she thought it would be a bit of a laugh. And she was right, it was. But as for three weeks of sell-out crowds, it was an accident, and a glorious one. We all ended the run a few hundred quid better off. We felt like we had conquered the world.

Each year thereafter was wildly different from the last, but in some respects I look back at those initial years as unsteady, mostly drunken, but consistently determined steps towards working professionally. The Fringe is like an unholy theatrical Petri dish where anything can flourish, but for me by the end of August 2005 I felt like a proper actor for the first time, whatever that means.

Rose play script

Rose by Hywel John (£9.99)

The irony is that despite attempts to get myself cast in an Edinburgh-bound show several times since, I haven’t been back for six years, and now I’m returning as a playwright. I don’t really know what to expect, but I predict some fairly heavy doses of nostalgia. Certain aspects feels oddly aligned: the producers of my new play, Rose, Alex Waldmann and Jess Malik, are both friends and colleagues from 2005; and again we’ll be at the Pleasance, this time in the new Pleasance Forth venue. A homecoming of sorts then.

It’s impossible to predict how a play will go down at the Fringe, but we’re all hopeful we’ve got something good on our hands. I’m certainly lucky enough to have two amazing actors in Art Malik and Keira Malik, and an excellent production team led by the wonderful director Abbey Wright. Unbelievably, none of them have worked or performed in Edinburgh before, so I’ve been busy prepping them for the bear pit of the Festival, to lessen the shock. Taking a show to Edinburgh always feels like a big deal, a bigger deal I think than a more traditional run of a show in a ‘proper’ theatre, and I know we all feel like that in our team.

But I think if you treat the Fringe like you have nothing to lose, it will repay you handsomely. Although it’s true that the payback could possibly be penury, a two-week hangover, and in the case of 2003 for me, a hefty bout of non-specific urethritis.

Good times.

Hywel John’s latest play, Rose, will premiere at the Pleasance Courtyard, 3–29 August, part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, click here to book tickets or call 0131 556 6550. NHB proudly publish the playscript alongside this production, as well as the author’s debut play Pieces. To order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).