2012 Blog Archive

2012 marks my forty years in the business since leaving college. These news items reference people events and places where the threads of my history cross or interlink with other lives and stories…

Hello…and best wishes for a happy Christmas and prosperous new year!

DECEMBER: What a delight to start this month on home turf, at the Dukes, involved in a two day ARC funded development workshop on a script in progress by Sussex based playwright Sara Clifford about Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, who orbited the earth for three days in 1963. I took on the role of the father of the Russian space programme Sergei Korolev, my TAG colleague Nicola Jayne Ingram was Valentina and Lisa Howard fellow cosmonaut Valentina Pomomaryova. With Sue McCormick directing we worked practically with Sara in depth on three key scenes, giving her lots to think about during the next stage of development. A refreshing return, however brief, to creative input and collaboration as a theatre performer…More please!

Roleplay work came to a head for this year with a new set of scenarios for the ADC examination at Lancashire Fire & Rescue for DPA (Demi-paradise Associates) on December 11th in their assembly hall at the service’s Washington Hall Training Centre, Chorley. I had assembled the largest team to date for these scenarios, half of them new to the work, so was delighted it all went well on the day. Firefighter Line up goes l to r: Murray Taylor, Nicola Jayne Ingram, Helen Longworth, myself, Ian Blower, Andrew Blake, Julia Rounthwaite & Sarah Thurstan.

Deck the Hall… went down a treat at the Shire Hall of Lancaster Castle. My 13th concert as a producer to date. This year’s director, Sue McCormick, had devised a classic selection of pieces and Jude Glendinning’s musical selection matched her eclectic and integrated choice perfectly. Our capacity audiences were even more thrilled with the entertainment than normal and the atmosphere in Shire hall was as warm and convivial as the season deserved. left to right in the line-up are Carole Wood, Jude Glendinning, Val McConnell, Richard Sails, Sarah Thurstan, Charlotte Dalton, Anne Green, Sue McCormick, Mike Coombes, & Di Sammons. For background to this year’s show, review & gallery visit: www.demiparadiseproductions.co.uk

And finally….Having now de-decked the hall of its holly & done my accounts I’ve a little more time to catch up with the rest of the acting fraternity at leisure. Highlight of The Actors Group (TAG) party, held this year at the office in Oldham Street Manchester, was the arts and entertainment quiz which I set them every Christmas….Fiercely contesting teams of TAG colleagues put a class of inner city delinquents to shame! More sedate but equally engaging was the first ever Xmas party our newly formed North Lancashire & Cumbria Equity General Branch held upstairs in the Olive bar of the Gregson Centre in Lancaster. Met old friends and made some new ones over drinks and nibbles at this most convivial and easy going of dos. A big thanks to old friend Helen Longworth and union regional organiser Jamie Briers for getting this successful social off the ground, which is surely destined to become a seasonal fixture.

NOVEMBER: Lovely to hear that extraordinary force of nature known to the world as Blanche Marvin on Desert Island Discs on R4 on Friday 16th. An American born actress with 50 years of London theatre going under her hat she has a well earned reputation as one of our most influential reviewers. An outstanding champion of ground breaking fringe theatre companies, one of Blanche’s achievements was to get Peter Brook to head up the prestigious Equity ensemble, for which Demi-paradise were honoured to be runners up in 2008.

Blackpool Coastal Housing is a major housing association with some 5,500 properties on the Fylde coast and is a new client for our old friends at Preston based Real Results Training Agency. They asked me to put a team of Forum Theatre players together for a series of training days on de-escalating conflict situations for BCH employees. Myself, Julia Rounthwaite, Robert Garrett, Gillie Kerrod and Charlotte Dalton are really enjoying this sort of improvisation work with a great bunch of delegates working on the front line of social housing. With the other company I’ve cast we will be donning uniform again and doing new single and multiple roleplays for another bespoke promotion selection exercise on behalf of regular clients Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service at Washington Hall International Training Centre. We held our induction/training day there on November 5th – Bonfire night. In Lancaster that also means THE big annual firework display, sponsored by the council, which was launched this year from the roof of the Norman keep of Lancaster Castle on Saturday 3rd. Another local initiative, since the castle closed as a prison, which would not have been possible before. Joined my neighbours to enjoy a truly spectacular display playing out in the clear night sky above us.

OCTOBER: The Duchy of Lancaster mount an exhibition of their plans for the future of Lancaster Castle in the old visitor centre, recording a general approval (with reservations) by those members of the public viewing for turning the former prison into a boutique hotel, restaurant, wedding venue, conference centre, craft galleries and museum of law and order. Expected date of completion 2017. More at the dedicated website www.lancastercastle.org

A raft of roleplay work for public sector clients takes shape this month which makes one’s professional life even busier than normal. These range from Steps Learning, continuing deliveries for the Judicial Appointments Commission, which this month takes me to North Shields, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and a chance to work again with fabulous team mate Clare Kerrigan (pictured).

Meanwhile, Demi-Paradise attracts full houses on 19th & 20th for the fourth annual Ghostly Tales story reading event. For the first time ever I am not out there to present my production, as I was away at a family wedding, so my good friend and company associate director Victoria Brazier proved an invaluable replacement as host. Set in low lit rooms at Shire Hall the supernatural classics I’d chosen by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell proved real crowd pleasers. Doing the honours in bringing these superbly crafted tales to life were readers Robert Garrett, Gillie Kerrod (pictured) Adam Garrett and Jenny May Morgan.

Monday 15th and a flurry of activity in the Dukes Theatre Gallery Lancaster as Kim Lewis, Cathy Duncan, George Coupe and myself hang Drawing on Much Ado, an exhibition of images inspired by our production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. The private view next day goes with a swing and there’s a very positive response from public and professionals alike which continues to the show’s closure on Sunday 28th. Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake will be taking an expanded version of the exhibition for their main gallery next year and Cathy has been appointed artist in residence at next year’s Keswick Jazz Festival! More information on these and other projects at www.demi-paradiseproductions.co.uk

SEPTEMBER: Culmination of many weeks of part time work on my latest labour of love editing, producing and directing my friend and castle colleague Graham Kemp’s first ever play – The Trial of the Pendle Witches – which premiered in Shire Hall on Friday 28th. The seven strong acting company (self included on this occasion) had its readthrough on Wednesday night with a rehearsal on Thursday evening. This included a site visit t’other side of the wall to visit the medieval dungeon where the wretched women of Pendle convicted of witchcraft in 1612 were held for six months prior to their trial & execution. Pictured here outside the gateway are (l. to r.) James Dunn, Cameron Baird, Julia Rounthwaite, David Dale, Dinah Handley, Stephen Tomlin, Paul Slater, Stephanie Greer, & Graham Kemp. Produced with a tiny budget from the castle and a hefty subsidy from Demi-paradise reserves we premiered the play before a rapt and absorbed full house with a short Q&A to finish. I was pleasantly surprised and relieved – having been so close to the emerging work for so long – at the overwhelmingly positive & passionate response our rehearsed reading had evoked. Graham’s powerful retelling of the dreadful events that took place between March & August of 1612, closely based on the known facts of the case, had certainly struck a chord with our audience and we were urged to either repeat the exercise for a longer run or better still mount a full production!

September 19th. The duchy of Lancaster announces its plans for the future of Lancaster Castle. A boutique hotel, signature restaurant, arts and craft studios and outlets, museum of law and order, conference and study facilities and even a wedding venue are key features of the regeneration. The law courts are expected to remain open and Shire Hall along with key historic parts of the castle will be reunited to form a museum of crime and justice. The large inner courtyard is earmarked for licensed open air public entertainments. There are hopes to have the building re-opened fully to the public in its new guise by as early as 2017. Meanwhile the old prison remains closed to the public – except on special open days – as it still receives prisoners on a daily basis for trial at Shire hall’s crown court.

Dubbing various characters in a pilot episode of an Iranian TV drama. I had assembled a small team of experienced colleagues from The Actors Group (TAG) to work with me – Robert Garrett, Gareth Cassidy and Gillie Kerrod. We recorded for producer Martin Hughes (pictured) of Voiceovers-UK at his a state of the art studios housed in a converted redundant church, set in the rolling green pastureland of North Lancashire. A wonderful location.

AUGUST: Last two weeks of the month handily taken up with my first assignment for Steps Learning, one of the UK’s top roleplay companies. Colleague Clare Kerrigan & I were respectively appellant and G.P. in an in depth role play exercise devised by the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC). These sessions were delivered in the training suites at the ultra modern Civil Justice Centre (pictured) situated in the Spinningfields quarter of central Manchester. The testing 30′ long roleplays were undergone by a wide range of professionals shortlisted through interview for the position of judges on the new social security appeal tribunals. Oddly,  It’s not the first time I’ve played here. Back in the summer of 2010 I filmed for a week on Waterloo Road, six floors up and enjoying great city wide views between takes, playing the court usher in a big trial story for an episode of the popular BBC TV soap.

There’s something extra special about having your birthday coincide with the start of the world’s largest arts festival. A long lovely weekend in accommodation just a short walk from the centre of Edinburgh. This year’s highlights (in various categories) as follows: One Person Show: Excuse Me I’m Trying to Please You is the heartfelt cry of my old friend and former TAG colleague Fiona Paul. And she does too in serving up for our delight a handful of wonderfully observed characters without once falling out of her little red dress. Being one of the lovely Fiona’s many mini sponsors I can safely report that she got me – and I think most of the rest of the audience – up to the requisite pleasure level 10 in the bar of The Zoo Southside. Art: Weaving the Century, 1912 – 2012: Tapestry from the Dovecot Studios. A real eye opener to the form and its extraordinary capabilities, demonstrated here through technical brilliance and artistic imagination by a wide range of international artists. A lovely venue too in Infirmary Street – recently converted Edwardian baths – with a super cafe serving the best chocolate brownies I’ve ever tasted! Theatre: Newly hatched Dotted Line Theatre were in a class of their own with The Lonely One. A fabulously seductive piece scripted and directed by Rachel Warr who also performs with her three colleagues. Making a virtue of simplicity they cleverly used shadow puppetry and light manipulation to underpin and inform strong narrative drive. Set in late 20’s mid town America, this gripping noir tale has its genesis in an extract from a Ray Bradbury short story, Dandelion Wine. Being presented in the labyrinthine heart of the Underbelly in Cowgate only added to the extraordinary atmosphere.. Music: As ever the unexpected cultural run ins are often the most memorable and engaging. The rhythm driven celebratory buzz generated by Zimbabwe song and dance troupe Zimbabwe Express, promoting their show on the corner of Princess Street Gardens, was a truly uplifting and joyful experience for we fortunate passers by. Pure Festival serendipity.

JULY: Fantastically realised ‘job of a lifetime’ for super successful TV & film director Danny Boyle who delivered big time with the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony on Friday 27th. In another time and place – BBC Manchester Oxford Road Studios in the early 90’s – I spent a happy half hour in Danny’s delightful down to earth company being interviewed for a part in a TV drama he was directing, ‘Mr. Wroe’s Virgins’. I didn’t get the part as it turned out but we had a great conversation nevertheless about the project and Radcliffe – the Lancashire mill town where my dad and Danny both grew up and where I spent a year working working in Radcliffe Paper Mill when I first moved north to live with my young family in the early 1970’s. Seeing the industrial mill stacks in the show rise out of ‘England’s green and pleasant land’ brought those memories back to me. Congratulations to the thousands of inspired participants  for working together so spectacularly to create an ambitious once-in-a-lifetime take on British history to share with the world. A ‘chance to shine’ indeed!

On holiday in Devon where planned to be helping my old friend Michael Gee harvest his first ever commercial crop of peculiar North Devon cherries or mazzards. Michael was my landlord when I was based here touring regionally with Orchard Theatre. Having previously spent many hours strimming the steep south facing slopes of the green (orchard) I was keen to finally taste the fruits of my labour but this year’s weird and troublesome weather meant the crop was drastically reduced in scale and began ripening too late to coincide with our stay….Hopefully we’ll enjoy better luck next year and pick enough to make a classic mazzard gin to see us through the winter.

We experienced a certain type of English Summer Sunday morning relaxing in the impressive medieval great hall at Dartington at ‘Ways With Words’, listening to the wonderfully entertaining tales and observations of novelist and playwright Michael Frayn. This was followed by a stimulating and well argued case for a new understanding and interpretation of our great houses by the president of the National Trust, Simon Jenkins. In the question session that followed I raised the possibility of reviving the key work of the now defunct Young National Trust Theatre Company, (see: ‘Theatre’ page), whose pioneering work during the 1980’s embodied the virtues of the reforming measures Simon Jenkins had been outlining in his talk. Afterwards, at the book signing, I promised to send our speaker a resume of the company’s work and methods as he was not aware of its existence up until now.

The ferry from Dartmouth is the ideal way to visit Agatha Christie’s perfectly sited retreat at Greenway, set in its own mature gardens and woodlands, overlooking the graceful and luscious Dart estuary. We discovered this other classic form of transport at the gates. Some 25 years on I still receive small but welcome royalties from around the world for an appearance as the Vicar of Keswick in the ITV Hercule Poirot story ‘Dumb Witness’ so here’s a big thank you to Agatha and her most famous creation…

A few days later we visited another NT property and one I know well. Buckland Abbey near Plymouth was the home of national hero (and my 1991 Mastermind finals subject) Sir Francis Drake. He was born near Tavistock, my home town and lived at the former Cistercian Abbey, converted at the reformation into a private house and estate. I played Drakes younger bother Thomas (who eventually inherited the property) in a YNTT production staged here in the medieval Abbey’s Great Barn in the early 1980’s. The young school audiences were fully involved in our recreation of the great sailor’s circumnavigation of the globe (1577-1580) as both participants and audience. We had a lot of fun here as you can see, though you won’t see me dancing so energetically today I’m afraid!

JUNE: Delighted to settle down to watch the first of the four Shakespeare history plays on BBC 2 being presented under the banner of ‘The Hollow Crown’. Richard II launched Demi-paradise as a company in 2000 so it was terrific to hear Patrick Stewart as ‘time honoured Lancaster’ deliver so effectively the famous ‘scept’red isle’ speech. I’d had the privilege of sharing screen time with him in an episode of the ITV Sci-fi thriller series ‘Eleventh Hour’ in which he starred. Likewise I have happy memories of working with David Suchet – a real gentleman – in an episode of ‘Poirot’ shot in the Lake District some years ago who gave a masterclass in acting here as the Duke of York. Amusing to recall I’d also worked alongside the fearsomely talented Rory Kinnear (Bolingbroke) in the ITV version of ‘Mansfield Park’ and last but not least that wonderful classical performer David Bradley (The Gardener) in the BBC Radio 4 production of Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’. Realising the production was filmed on location in Pembrokeshire was another, unexpected, pleasure. I’ve been visiting friends and family there since 1985 so seeing the action played out against settings like Freshwater West and St David’s Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace were a real bonus. I particularly appreciated the substitution of a CGI enhanced Carew Castle for Lancaster Castle as ‘Gaunt’s embattled pile’.

I was sad to learn that legendary American science fiction writer Ray Bradbury had died, aged 91. Best remembered for his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, the haunting dystopian vision of a totalitarian society where books are banned and burned. A few years ago, in 2003, I played Guy Montag, the hero of this iconic story, in a Radio 4 single drama adapted by David Calcutt and directed by Rosemary Watts….Will the BBC repeat the play I wonder?

Joined other regionally based actors who gathered at the Storey Creative Arts Centre for the inaugural meeting of the North Lancashire and Cumbria Equity branch. Peter Rylands is our chair and we unanimously endorsed his candidacy for the northern area seat on the Equity council in the upcoming elections. We are the latest members branch to be formed – another happy outcome of our highly successful campaign last year to save the Dukes Theatre annual summer show in Williamson Park after arts council cuts had threatened its continuing existence. Our highly successful campaign received widespread public and local authority backing as well as wholehearted endorsement by the union leadership in London.

Back on the guiding trail, and to mark the Queen’s Jubilee, I was once again usefully occupied in my day job leading tours around the previously inaccessible part of Lancaster Castle, site of Her Majesty’s former prison, which closed in 2011. For the first time we were able to take the paying public into C Wing, built to a panoptican design and used to house female felons between 1822 – 1916. Lively conversation, lots of questions and comments and with the benefit of (mainly) dry weather a great time was had by all. Part of the tour included reference to the Lancashire or Pendle witches who were held in the dungeons below the medieval Well Tower. The 400 anniversary of their trial and execution is being marked this year. My thanks go to Don Burnett who caught me full flight re-telling the grim story of these wretched folk outside the place they were held and his witty photo catches the moment wonderfully.

MAY: Two Coronation Street episodes I filmed in March went out over the May Bank Holiday weekend. I’m seen as Julian Westbrook, a consultant at Weatherfield General Hospital, giving mixed news to regulars Brian & Julie. This is my seventh character appearance in Britain’s best loved soap. The first time, in 1983, was as a policeman bringing news to The Rover’s of Len Fairclough’s death in a road accident.

An unusual job, but a highly satisfying one, acting as Master of Ceremonies at the wedding of the daughter of my old friends and role play colleagues Dave & Leonie Pearce. Marianne and Adam’s actual wedding had been held the previous week in Leeds and this was their official celebration, set in the magnificent setting of ‘Utopia’ – a state of the art pavilion set within the walled garden of Broughton House near Skipton. Over a hundred guests were entertained in helping the bridegroom go through three separate ‘tests’ of love and knowledge before he gained his lovely bride. What a wonderful occasion and Dave, Adam & I had a lot of fun in the process with our scripts and roles.

At The Actors Group (TAG) AGM in Manchester the membership voted me in as Chair for 2012-13.  I Follow in the footsteps of much respected colleagues whose wonderful example has set the bar high so hope I can continue the good work they started. Thirty years after it was founded and the first Actors Co-operative to be founded outside London, TAG is in good heart, despite the economic downturn. The twenty five strong membership play active roles in its organisation. A great group of fellow pros, all of whom I can call friends.

Returning home from Pembrokeshire could not resist another visit to that most beguiling and characterful of medieval mansions, Stokesay Castle at Craven Arms. Built by a wealthy wool merchant at the end of the 13th century this magnificent fortified house (now in the care of English Heritage) and the ancient parish church next door make for a picture perfect pair. If I lived nearby it would be my keen ambition to generate site specific classical theatre at this dream of a site.

APRIL: Much of my work life centres on Lancaster Castle. At the Easter weekend (7-9 April) I lead the first ever tours into the main part of the building, occupied for the last 60 years as a Category C prison for 240 male inmates. Up until 1916 it was the county jail with a history stretching back to Norman times – Britain’s oldest working jail and the only one left in a castle in Europe. My fellow guides & I chaperoned some 1300 people into the prison yards, via the great medieval gateway, and around the walls.

Two plays with history as their central theme were my theatre treats for April. In the late 1970’s I worked with the late Alan Plater on a new comedy he’d written for the company at Humberside Theatre (‘Well Goodnight Then’) and later the much acclaimed ‘The Beiderbecke Affair’ for YTV. While resident in the North East in the early 80’s I’d also had the pleasure to meet one of the region’s other great native sons, Sid Chaplin, when I appeared in a stage adaptation of his novel ‘The Day of the Sardine’ for Durham Theatre Company.

Hence the pleasure of being part of a capacity house on one of the opening nights of Close The Coal House Door at Northern Stage, Newcastle. This revival of Plater’s play, based on Chaplin’s short stories, had taken the theatrical world by storm in 1968 and is a co-production with Live Theatre, directed by Sam West (Who, due to cast illness, took to the stage that night, which was something of a bonus). Shot through with Geordie humour and an array of Alex Glasgow’s pungent and witty songs – ‘When This Pub Closes’ and ‘The Socialist ABC’ as well as the haunting title number – the eight strong cast of actor musicians worked hard and fast to fill a wide stage, getting an appreciative home turf audience on side with ease. We were treated to broad stroke characterisation, bold polemic and bravura performances in the great agit-prop tradition not seen on most main stages in Britain for at least a generation. But for me it was Lee Hall’s deft complimentary updating which really delivered. His assured writing shifted the action up a gear and used theatrical devices to full effect in putting across the devastation caused by the fall out from the 1984-5 Miners strike. He brilliantly encapsulated the huge changes wrought on the region which has seen colliers converted to call centre operatives. An ironic but uplifting finale and a timely revival of a political classic set for a national tour.

My other history lesson was at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake for Alan Bennet’s The History Boys, directed by Ian Forrest, which is set in a northern grammar school in 1987 where a group of sixth formers are preparing to sit their Oxbridge entry exams. I’ve played on this site when it was the old Blue Box Theatre, with Pocket Theatre Cumbria, so always a pleasure to be entertained at the most picturesquely set professional performance venue in England.

‘The History Boys’ is the most absorbing and intellectually satisfying production I’ve seen here since the new theatre opened in 1999. Fabulous ensemble playing by the twelve strong company and a faultlessly realised revolve of a set (designed by Martin Johns) which kept the action moving seamlessly. A joyful roller coaster of a theatrical ride. Brilliant writing of course from a master playwright on a subject and a context he knows intimately. Deeply heartening too to see this in a non metropolitan venue – a big cast in a serious thought provoking play performed before a full house in a sell out run.

Every actor should get the chance to play at least one role which is a career high and my old friend and colleague Peter Rylands achieved this as Hector, the boys wayward and passionate teacher. A delight to witness such a finely judged and beautifully realised central performance. (We’re both ex-teachers so I knew exactly where he was coming from). A masterful role indeed…Congratulations Pete!

Lancaster City Quiz League has been going since 1969. Four a side pub and club teams compete on a home and away basis from September to April. Last year, in 2011, the team I’ve captained for the last decade – Gregson B – won the knock out challenge Tony Clare Cup, for the first time ever. Our worthy opponents then, Black Bull A at Brookhouse, we only beat on the last question of the last round. This season they got their own back in defeating us at the semi-finals (held on St. Georges Day, 23rd April). We shared their disappointment at not going on to win the following week at the finals, which would have been great for all concerned!

MARCH: Once the paying public are with us the atmosphere changes subtly and each show yields riches beyond reward in reactions to what they experience in the course of three hours traffic on our changing stages and settings. There is always a thunderous round of heartfelt applause at the musical finale in Shire Hall and in bidding our happy audiences farewell I am the recipient of further deluges of congratulations, thanks and comments as they melt away into the night. By the end of the first week in March the rest of the run is sold out. This is our longest run ever so there was a risk we may not have done the business. But I need not have worried; our reputation along with word of mouth ensured we’d sell out and create a waiting list for returns. Read our contributors entertaining and informative words on the MAAN Blog at www.demi-paradiseproductions.co.uk

This production has inevitably occupied my life over the last few months so it’s always great to have diversions. Hence the pleasure of working with old friends from Lancaster on a management training programme exploring performance review for Millenium Inorganic Chemicals, based on the Humber estuary in North Lincolnshire. This fascinating roleplay job came courtesy of old colleagues Steve Ripley at Leading Edge Management Training Consultants and Sarah Thurstan, one of my directing/performing team at Demi-Paradise, whose business Performance Link specialises in training and personal presentation.

FEBRUARY: Work deepens and the pace quickens in rehearsal for ‘Much Ado…’ Illness has put us a few days behind schedule but our company is nothing short of resilient. We rehearse each weekday evening from 5 after the courts and tours have ended. Half the company are based in the Greater Manchester area and they share transport whenever possible. This entails a round journey of some 130 miles at each rehearsal call. And this is on top of daily work commitments. Those who live further away are staying over in the week and going back home at the weekends.

Director Sue (McCormick) is there every night and I’ve asked her to keep a blog of the rehearsal process and also ask Jude (Glendinning) to fill us in on how she chose the music and worked the process with the actors. David Frederickson contributes his thoughts on playing Leonato for what has become the ‘MAAN blog’ on our website. The wonderful stage management team of Louise and Jan are a force to be reckoned with in getting the show up and running so Lou’s take on things is another welcome addition to the blog.

Other new ventures include open rehearsals for schools and families held in Lancaster Library plus  a ‘Family Friendly First Night’ where a family ticket knocks a third off the standard price. We get a very positive response and its a big thrill to have that degree of contact and engagement from a younger audience built into the rehearsal process.

We consistently engage with artists work – contemporary and classical – to add character and resonance to each Shakespeare production’s posters, flyers and programmes. How exciting then to have, for the very first time, not just one but two artists in residence. Kim Lewis (www.kimlewisart.co.uk) & Cathy Duncan (www.thehearth.co.uk) with our photographer George Coupe (www.georgecoupephotography.co.uk). set out to capture the essence of this production from first read to to last night and I am delighted to make a feature about their work in the theatre programme. In fact, putting the programme together with my wonderful designer Andi Chapple (www.design.freakout.biz) is one aspect of the producer’s role I enjoy greatly.

We premiere a rehearsed reading at the Dukes.  Sue McCormick’s version of Act 6 of ‘Measure For Measure’ a one woman piece, performed by Demi-Paradise regular Amy Rhiannon Worth, entitled Isabella went down very favourably with capacity audiences over its two night airing.

Production weekend is a long slog as you expect but everyone gives of their all, well into the early hours, in order to get it right. We then open the show in a graduated way; from dress rehearsal to an audience of family friends and castle colleagues, to exclusive performances before a variety of international educationalists academics and students attending the biennial conference of the British Shakespeare Association at Lancaster University. We then have an official guest night where we say a big thank you to production partners, sponsors, industry guests and company friends before giving, on the following night, an exclusive performance for sponsor KPMG and their guests from the regional business community.

The family friendly night on 28th February a great success and the actors respond warmly to the presence of young people in the audience. I share that warm glow and hope this magical encounter will grow into a lifelong passion for performing arts. End the month exhausted but happy knowing we have a resounding winner of a show on our hands.

JANUARY: Janus, the Roman god of doorways, after whom this month is named: simultaneously looking back over the old year and forward into the new. My cultural highlight of the last twelve months was undoubtedly Durham Lumiere last November. I was absorbed into a slow flowing mass of humanity to experience wonderfully imaginative and beautifully realised light displays, fire sculpture and illuminated art in Durham’s squares, cobbled streets and high bridges over the river Wear. The great cathedral washed with wave after wave of colour and sound as the iconic building’s history was played out over every surface of its imposing bulk. Once decanted inside we walked under hundreds of candles encased in miners vests hung aloft like stars, softly illuminating the magnificent high nave. Other artworks ranged from the startling to the sublime, which for me were the ethereal flying figures suspended over our heads outside the close. I’d not been back in the city since being based here in the 1980’s premiering one new show after another for Durham Theatre Company so it seemed right and fitting to be reminded of past glories and to be inspired for the future.

Monday January 16th. The day I’ve been planning and preparing for with my production team arrived at last when the Much Ado About Nothing company gathered for the first time in the convivial surroundings of The Merchants 1688 cellar bar below Lancaster Castle. We enjoyed a fabulous buffet provided by our ever generous sponsor before being inducted to Lancaster Priory Church by ex-actor now Vicar of Lancaster, Rev. Chris Newlands. (The perfect setting for our play’s wedding scene). Then back to the Barristers Library at Shire Hall for the readthrough. A great sense of relief and pride to have assembled such a wonderfully talented ensemble, many meeting each other for the first time tonight. Ideally too, half the actors are new and half are returners. Now, at last, they start the complex and testing process of creating their own version of theatrical magic that will eventually be realised in front of the fortunate 60 people who will be our capacity audience for each show from 21 Feb to 24 March. More, at www.demi-paradiseproductions.co.uk

Ironically I appear more times on TV than is usual this month and in my day job as a part time tour guide not as an actor. On January 11th the Government lease of HM Lancaster Castle Prison reverted to its owner the duchy of Lancaster and I fronted a news item filmed on location for BBC1 North-West Tonight, talking about its history. Second appearance was as a host interviewee in a programme recorded last Summer for the latest series of Great British Railway Journeys on BBC2 in the week commencing 23rd January. Following in the footsteps of Victorian railway pioneer George Bradshaw, the latest excursion for presenter Michael Portillo took him from Berwick-Upon-Tweed to the Isle of Man. My improvised interview with him on prisoner transportation to Australia and public hanging was the core piece on the castle. I enjoyed conversing with our VIP presenter off camera too, mainly about the role of the arts and culture in our lives. Clearly Mr. Portillo is now a figure bordering on elevation to national treasure status, since he quit high government office and set about reinventing himself as a popular broadcaster and political commentator. Each episode of GBRJ is a near perfect half hour’s viewing – I happily confess to being a fan long before I had this happy chance to make my own minor contribution.