THE ORACLE OF THE TAPROOMS which is presented as a free pop up performance on the streets on Nuneaton.

Director Mark Evans of Coventry University: There is inherent theatre in the man who berates you on the street corner. This intriguing and fascinating performance piece blends together our curiosity with the famous and the poor, the talented and the ne’er-do-well. It is a wonderful piece of writing – funny, engaging and at the same time asking difficult questions about fame, celebrity, ownership and place.

The public are invited to come along RAIN OR SHINE and MEET THE INFAMOUS WELL EDUCATED LOCAL LAYABOUT MR. JOSEPH HENRY LIGGINS as he tells us his extraordinary story.

After being asked to leave Cambridge, Joseph Liggins (1801–1872) struggled for years to make a living before being wrongly identified as the author of ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’ and ‘Adam Bede’.

In 2010 while playwright Vanessa Oakes was working with local teenagers who were photographing the George Eliot statue, a homeless gentleman who was bedding down for the night in Debenhams’ doorway called over with a warning, don’t you go taking the p*** out of my George Eliot or she’ll come back and haunt you!, which inspired her to write this short play.


11am Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery

12noon George Eliot Memorial Gardens (obelisk)

1pm George Eliot Hotel (archway)

2pm St. Nicholas Community Centre

3pm Griff House, Coventry Road CV10 7PJ

Press Enquiries call 07974984374 or email m.evans@coventry.ac.uk


This project is funded by Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough Council, Arts Council England and is supported by Coventry University School of Art & Design

These performances are part of Vanessa Oakes’ residency at the George Eliot Collection. For more information visit www.desperatelyseekinggeorge.wordpress.com


The Game Anew

A playwright can wait ages for a script to get to the stage of its first read through, then just when you think it’s never going to happen two come along at once.

Following on from the read through of His Naked Eye at The Citz, I headed South to The Bush for a read through of The Game Anew which is part of May Fair (Pentabus at Latitude).

If you’re heading to Latitude you can catch May Fair on Friday at 2pm and/or Sunday at 7pm – hopefully see you there!

Last Tuesday we finally managed to get everyone together for a read through of the first draft of the script. Prior to the read through we had a mini production meeting at my house….

Anna and Ness have only met once before so it was a chance for them to get acquainted and a chance for us all to sit and go through how we are going to approach producing this piece with regard to venues, staging, funding etc

It went pretty well – at least Anna and Ness were still smiling by the end of the meeting!

Ness (foreground) and Anna still smiling!!

After a spot of lunch we headed to the Citizens’ Theatre where we had secured the Stalls Studio space for the read through thanks to David’s contacts! We did an audio recording of the whole thing including the post read through discussion which was invaluable.

It was fantastic to finally hear the words spoken – there is so much to be gained from a reading with actors and great that they were prepared to participate…

From left to right the participants are: David O’Neill (Director), Hazel Crawford, Ashley Smith, Mark Price, Ian Cameron, Kate Brailsford. (Mark will actually be composing the music for the show but kindly stepped in to read the part of the Ambassador)

I can now go as far as to say that the working title of this piece is……

and a little background reading might help you determine the subject matter……..

Any ideas?

Shepard Tone

I came across these You Tube pages a while ago.   There may be relevance to our project at a later point.

I’d been reading How Music Works by John Powell (ISBN 978-1-846-14315-1) and he mentioned “The Devil’s Staircase” – Etude 13 by Ligeti

It was from there that I came across Shepard Tones;

To get the basic idea – Dash To The Car

Taking it on a bit – Rain Hat On

WARNING – GEEK ALERT – This one is – Full Blown Anorak He does go on a bit.

and to round off again, the intro to the Devil’s Staircase with a spectrograph image.

Anyway, we’ll see if any of this crops up later on the project.

A favourite part of the country for us is the Borders, particularly around Coldingham.   A few years ago, when returning from visiting my sister near Hull and Mary-Jane’s brother in Bedlington, near Newcastle, we decided to take a meandering route home over several days.    Along the way, something that struck me, in many of the small coastal villages and towns along the way was the continued prescence of the memory of “Black Friday” – The Eyemouth Disaster, 14 October 1881.   Ultimately we chanced on Coldingham and have been returning there and there-abouts several times.    On a recent trip earlier this year we came across the latest memorial to that disaster in the village of St Abbs;


A couple of days later we were heading home and decided to make a detour to see the Capon Tree in Jedburgh.    It had come up in the discussions that Ness, Suzanne and myself had been having and it was a great opportunity to view it first hand.

Apparently named from a corruption of the name of the Capuchin monks in the nearby abbey in Jedburgh, it stands by the main road and not far from the river Jed.   Among many notable local residents that it has outlived is James Hutton, the father of modern Geology.   Was he given that title because he discovered the Mother of all geological features on the farm he inherited from his father?   I’d seen pictures on tinternet and had thought it an impressive looking tree – perhaps 500 or so years old, it had been around when Shakespeare had written “Hamlet”; before humans looked at the stars through telescopes.

However, the pictures don’t really give you the scale of how big this tree is.   Even with a person standing beside it for comparison (me in this instance) it’s sheer size still doesn’t come over.

There have been attempts over the years to keep it upright (most noticeably concrete and telegraph poles) but to varying degres of success.


Obviously second hand telegraph poles – I somehow like the incongruity of the old cable clips still embedded in the once living trunk of a pine tree now serving a second use in it’s death.   Up close there are many delightful details like the small sapling (beech I think) growing on one of the oak’s limbs (yet more sylvan inter-connectedness) or the amazing textures and patterns of bark, moss and rot (not unlike some of the renderings from the Myst computer games).


And from thence to Glasgow and to bed.


Tramway Meeting

Yesterday David and myself had a meeting at the Tramway with Anna who has recently joined our project in the capacity of Producer. We all worked together many years ago but have been persuing different career paths for some time. This project is the perfect opportunity for us all to work together again bringing with us new skills that will be pertinent to the producing of a new piece of  theatre/writing. This meeting was really an opportunity for us to sit down and discuss how we will take the project forward with regard to funding and the sort of venues we will be looking at to take the show and to clarify which areas we will each take particular responsibility for.  I am excited to announce that we will be holding a read through in the Stalls Studio at the Citizens’ Theatre in 2 weeks time. Ness will be travelling up from Coventry to attend and we are hoping for some useful feedback from the 5 actors participating. Outside the 4 of us (Ness, David, Anna and me) no one has any idea about the project, the subject matter and the form it has taken so it will be really interesting to see the reactions to the material. Hopefully we will all be updating this blog on a more regular basis as the project gathers momentum! I am looking forward to revealing the subject matter very soon! Until then here is a visual teaser…….


Draft No.1!

I am delighted to report that Ness delivered Draft No.1 of the script to David and myself a couple of weeks ago – very exciting! We are all agreed that the next step is to get some actors together for a read through to get a feel of the shape of the piece and to get some feedback on the characters. It will also be an opportunity for the three of us to meet face to face to discuss in more detail the sort of timetable we are working to and when we should start bringing in the rest of the team who will be working with us.

Ness has done her bit and it is down to David and I to do our bit to move the project forward – a very exciting prospect!

For me, the most exciting time for live theatre is always February/March when Glasgow plays host to the New Territories International Festival of Live Arts encompassing the National Revue of Live Art, TIPA and BMI. The only downside is that I do not always have sufficient funds to see all the amazing shows on offer that I would like to!

I am fortunate enough to live a stones throw from the Tramway – my favourite venue of Glasgows’ many great venues! This year the festival is not only city wide – encompassing Tramway, CCA, Ramshorn, Arches etc but extends as far as Edinburgh and Aberdeen. I have only booked for 2 events so far but hope to see many more than that.

I am very excited to see Louise Lecavalier as due to an unfortunate mix up with ticket dates I (and several of my friends) missed the one and only time La La La Human Steps played Glasgow (1993?) ! A fact that no one has forgotten and is bought up on a regular basis although I still swear it was not entirely my fault!

‘Mae West – In Her Own Words’ by Ayshe Raif
Director: Leslie Finlay
Designer: Suzanne Field
Lighting Designer: Bevis Evans-Teusch

Mae West – Pene Herman-Smith

A chance meeting between my good friend Leslie Finlay and actress Pene Herman-Smith at a retirement party for the Ramshorn Theatre’s Artistic Director Susan Triesman led to the opportunity for me to dip my toe into the world of theatre once again after many years working mainly as an Art Director for TV.
Pene had previously commissioned Ayshe Raif to write a one woman play based on the life of Mae West which she had performed several times before but was planning to do a totally new production of at Oran Mhor in Glasgow.
Oran Mhor is an interesting venue in the heart of Glasgow’s West End and the performance space is in continuous use as a club, a gig venue and a venue for daily theatre performances as part of their A Play, a Pie and a Pint programme of events. The stage area has really low head height and is a tiny 5m x 5m space with hardly any wing space but for our purposes was more than adequate. There is also some extra rostra and treads that can be used to create a tiny thrust stage which we decided to use. The audience area has comfy leather sofas around the perimeter and individual chairs can be laid out in any configuration on the dance floor. There is a bar at the back that the audience have access to throughout any shows taking place.
‘Mae West – In Her Own Words’ was an evening performance and the audience seating was set out like a cabaret club with circular tables lit by candles which leant itself really well to the way the play was staged and performed and also to some extent how it was received by the audience.
The action started off at the back of the auditorium by the bar…..

And progressed through the audience, the actress addressing the audience directly, until she finally arrived at the stage……….

The budget for this show was tiny and I spent a lot of time trawling around Glasgow’s many charity shops to find suitable furniture and props. Both set and costume were purchased as Pene intends to tour this show possibly taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. The furniture was then painted white and reupholstered using a cheap damask print fabric. The play is set in the hotel suite that she lived in for many years which was decorated in gold and white (mentioned in the script so no deviation from this scheme allowed!!)…….

A lot of the small hand props (vintage atomiser/compact/fan etc) were bought for buttons via eBay – a complete godsend!!
The costumes were a mixture of items that Pene already had like this black lace dress……

I just had to repair the many holes and add some shoulder pads and a little bit of decoration that I removed from some cheap headbands bought from Primark. The addition of a long diamonte earring completed the look! All the faux diamond jewellery was bought from either Primark or a cheap as chips wholesalers that I use for prop shopping.
The hat was an eBay purchase (£10) It was a bit 1980’s so I just cut out the crown and added a feather boa bought for £1 from a charity shop to make it work. I made the fur stole from some good quality faux fur lined with a heavy steel grey satin – this cost around £20.

For the next costume the corset was bought from a Goth shop and the slip was a nightie from BHS to which I added a deep frill in black satin to match the corset.

The play takes place in 1954 – Mae’s long-time Manager Jim Timony has just died, movie offers are drying up and her star is on the wane…….


The only hire was this Chinese robe which I hired along with the fluffy mules from Scottish Opera…….

We wanted to show the passage from the old image of Mae West to the one she cultivated for her new Las Vegas show – a sort of phoenix from the ashes type idea. I found an image of her from this era on youtube and decided that this would work well for our purposes.
We bought a long, straight up and down dress with a split up the back for £20 from a vintage shop (I didn’t realise that 1990’s are now classed as vintage!) It swamped Pene but the basic shape was OK and the fabric was very bling which was what we wanted so I took it in and reset the sleeves. I then sewed up the split up the back and created a new split at the front and added a fur trim and cuffs.

The headdress base was created using the leftover crown of the hat I had chopped up, to which I attached one of the hairbands I had taken the decoration off for the first dress. I bought 2 long black feathers and 3 shorter white feathers and attached them to the hat base and finished with the spare earring from the pair I used to decorate the first dress. Total cost £7.40 – a bargain! Best of all nothing was wasted!

The wigs were the biggest expense but well worth it as Mae West had such recognisable hair that you cannot do a show about her without them. They are pretty good quality and should last some time hopefully.
I really enjoyed working with Leslie and Bevis again – we have collaborated on many shows in the past, the last being the World Premiere of ‘The Reader’ by Bernard Schlink adapted for the stage by Chris Dolan which was staged at the Assembly Rooms during the Edinburgh International Festival about 10 years ago!! All of us work in different areas of the arts now but I think I can speak for all of us when I say it was great to be back working in theatre again – albeit only briefly!

I was pleased with the overall look of this piece but inevitably some compromises were made – things could have been a little more polished but given the constraints of time and budget I think we did pretty well. The show was really well received and Pene, with the aid of some great direction from Leslie, really made the part come alive. I must admit that when I read it I was less than impressed – it does not read well, but when I saw it performed for the first time (the dress rehearsal!) I was totally engrossed and thoroughly enjoyed it.

PS I took all these photos on my little crap camera during the tech rehearsal so excuse the poor quality images!! Also she didn’t have her proper make up on!

Chouf Ouchouf

On a recent trip to Belgium, Suzanne and Ness saw a great show ‘Chouf Ouchouf’ at Maz in Bruges. It is visually beautiful, funny and totally engaging and more importantly it is touring the UK in April starting at Eden Court, Inverness on April 12th. We highly recommend it!