The Circus is Coming to Town

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 by Tricycle

Lionboy Company Photocredit MARK DOUET copy

Last year Marcelo Dos Santos adapted the Lionboy trilogy for the stage. This winter the production will be revived at the Tricycle, and Marcelo is here to tell us about what first attracted him to the books and how he brought them to life.

Tell us what Lionboy is about – in two sentences!

Lionboy is the story of Charlie Ashanti, a boy who can talk to cats (and lions) and whose parents are kidnapped by sinister forces. With the help of his cat friends Charlie sets about rescuing them, facing all manner of danger and excitement along the way.

What made you want to adapt the books for the stage? Were there any challenges involved?

Zizou Corder’s Lionboy books are part ‘adventure yarn’, part ‘political fable’. They span continents, and are populated by a huge cast of characters both human and animal. The stories are almost boundless in their ambition. All of which makes them fantastic reads but present challenges in terms of adaptation. Which episodes do you follow? How do you structure it? Where do we finish the story? Oh and what does ‘cat’ sound like?!

How did you solve these challenges?

Rather than showing every moment of Zizou Corder’s novels acted out, I worked with the company to develop a language of storytelling that relies on our audience’s imaginations. When you watch Lionboy, you are being told a story – using just a few props and some circus skills, our ensemble of actors ask you to imagine a circus ship, a futuristic London, a Moroccan forest and more. Having the audience engaged in this way makes the show a truly theatrical experience, like Complicite’s previous award-winning work.

What most attracted you to adapting the books?

Although Lionboy is definitely an adventure story, the issues and themes are very resonant to what is happening in the world now. The books describe the depletion of natural resources and tackle the powerful forces of corporate self-interest. They ask where our responsibilities lie. For me, the real interest and excitement was in Charlie negotiating this dangerous moral labyrinth and learning about the difficulties of the adult world but also realising his own power to effect change.

Complicite has always been about collaboration and the play was partly developed with the company through a combination of improvisation and devising work. So it was also really exciting for me to work with such intelligent and talented actors and directors!

It’s been an adventure in itself getting Lionboy here, I hope you enjoy the ride.

Marcelo Dos Santos

Lionboy is on stage from 17 Dec – 10 Jan. Click here for more information about Lionboy, to watch the trailer and to book.


Industry Insights: Sound Designer Carolyn Downing

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 by Tricycle

The House That Will Not Stand at The Tricycle Theatre. Photograph by Mark Douet  I80A3596

Today we have a guest blog from Olivier award-winner Carolyn Downing, the Sound Designer for our current production The House That Will Not Stand, as part of our #IndustryInsights series. Carolyn tells us about her career and how she became a sound designer, as well as what inspired her when working on The House That Will Not Stand.

I was enticed into theatre from a very young age and originally wanted to become an actor. This all changed when I realised I wasn’t having much success with acting roles in my school days and I knew I wanted to be pro-active and actually work rather than just wait for the right thing to come along… I met the late Steve Brown at an open day at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester and he invited me to spend a week shadowing him and the team in the sound department. This was completely inspiring, I loved the whole atmosphere, especially the fact that I was surrounded by people doing wonderful things, it was such a social environment, very addictive.

I have always been drawn towards the live element of theatre, the coming together of people, backstage, onstage and front of house. Live music, live bands and gig culture has always been a passion of mine and was a huge part of my life in my teenage years and early twenties. I was driven by the excitement of the live atmosphere and would much rather spend my last £10 on a gig ticket than buy the studio album, so my record collection was never particularly reflective of my musical interests.

Once I’d caught the theatre bug and realised that sound design was a real option and an exciting part of the industry to be involved in and with much help and support from Steve, I managed to score a place on the sound design course at Central School of Speech and Drama, London which was pretty wonderful and meant I was able to fulfill my ambition to earn a degree at drama school, surrounded by talented artists and crafts people, having the chance to experiment in a safe environment, meaning mistakes were huge learning opportunities rather than failures, which is very important, especially in what can be quite a cut throat industry at times.

From there I was lucky enough to land a No 1 operating job in the West End enabling me to gain invaluable technical and interpersonal skills that I still rely on now. Once I flew the nest into the volatile freelance world to hopefully start a full time design career, I was again lucky enough to meet some amazing and very inspiring sound designers who supported me and were generous enough to allow me to develop my skills on their watch, namely Gareth Fry and Paul Arditti, to whom I am forever grateful. I was also privileged to work with a number exciting and fascinating directors of varying degrees of experience, giving me a solid and thorough training in all aspects of the job whilst allowing me to be able to experiment and develop my own passions and styles.

The House That Will Not Stand at The Tricycle Theatre. Photograph by Mark Douet  I80A3969
I have worked with Indhu previously on Handbagged so had built up a good relationship with her already. When there was another opportunity to create with her I barely batted an eye! This time round she brought composer Paul Englishby on board so the dynamic would immediately be different. During our first meeting together it soon became clear that Paul and I worked in a very similar way. We were both very keen for the sound design and musical composition to be of the same world and always complement each other to create a score and sound palette such that the audience would not know where the music ended and the sound design began. It seemed that Indhu trusted us from the outset and tended to give us broad strokes of direction and leave us to fill in the details which is a real privilege and very exciting to have such freedom. Marcus’s text provided us with rich textures to draw from and although he had seemingly been fairly prescriptive in the way he’d described the environment and atmosphere, I found him to be very open to our interpretations so the text became this incredibly inspiring world to set us off on the journey.

I took inspiration for the design from a number of places, certainly from the text initially but also Tom Piper’s set design / visual references – I began to collect metallic textures to chime in with the cage imagery he had developed. Paul Englishby intended to use piano as a strong element in his orchestration and was keen that any accompaniments would be distant and haunting pianos / keyboards. With this in mind, we decided to explore the sounds of broken and smashed pianos as part of the language and voice of the house shaking / moving and Lazare’s hauntings, again working hand in hand with the metallic palette already established.

I would say my biggest challenge of the production was the final song. We were not sure how this would play out as we were definitely keen to keep it live although the story structure and the nature of the auditorium presented a number of challenges. It worked out very well however and I was very happy with the end result.

The people involved in the show have definitely been the highlight of the experience. Everyone of them is highly talented and professional, such a joy to work with, making the whole experience so easy and enjoyable.


The House That Will Not Stand is now on stage until 22 November. Click here to watch the trailer and to book.


True West: Audience Reactions

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 by Tricycle

Sam Shepard’s modern American classic True West has been getting great reviews and stunning audiences in our theatre… but don’t take our word for it!

We caught up with some theatregoers to hear what they though about the production.

True West plays at the Tricycle Theatre from 4 September – 4 October. Click here to watch the trailer, for more information and to book. #TrueWest


How to do a Soft Texan Accent by Alex Ferns

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 by Tricycle

Alex Ferns plays Lee in Sam Shepard’s True West, directed by Phillip Breen and on stage at the Tricycle Theatre until 4 October.

Here, he gives us his top tip for doing the soft Texan accent his character talks in.

True West plays at the Tricycle Theatre from 4 September – 4 October. Click here to watch the trailer, for more information and to book. #TrueWest


Returning to True West by Eugene O’Hare

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 by Tricycle
'True West' Citizens Theatre  Photo by Pete Le May

Eugene O’Hare as Austin with Steve Elliot at Saul Kimmer

With True West opening for previews in just 2 days on 4 September, we welcome actor and writer Eugene O’Hare to the Tricycle blog with a thoughtful piece about reviving one of America’s modern classics for the Tricycle stage.

Leaving a place, leaving a person, leaving a thing.  
Forced to leave.
Unable to stay.
Unable to stay without the desire to leave.
What do you do about the thing you have left with such conviction which then becomes the thing you are increasingly unconvinced about leaving in the first place? A thing you were so convinced about leaving, you can’t understand your compulsion to return to it afterwards?

Forced to leave. Or decided to leave. Or had to leave but still can’t explain why you had to leave. At that time. That place. For that thing. That thing.

You could remember the reason. If you were honest enough with yourself that day, that night, that day. Or you could forget it for a while. Fictionalise it. Discredit it. Re-invent it. Disparage it. Intellectualise it. Complicate it. Deny it. Repeat it. Or all of the above and more.  
True West?

Every character in Sam Shepard’s True West has a place they have decided to return to: Austin to his Mother’s home. Lee to his Mother’s home with Austin in it. Saul to Austin’s Mother’s home with Austin in it. Saul to Austin and Lee’s Mother’s home with Lee and Austin in it. Austin and Lee to their Mother’s home with their Mother in it.

I’m returning to my favourite London theatre doing one of the very best plays of the last century.

Eugene O’Hare

For more information about True West, to watch the trailer and book tickets, click here. Join in the conversation with #TrueWest.


The Authorship of the Self by Phillip Breen

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 by Tricycle

'True West' Citizens Theatre  Photo by Pete Le May

Today we welcome Phillip Breen, the director of True West, to the Tricycle blog. Phil gives us his insight into Sam Shepard’s ‘Great American Play’.


Austin: There’s nothin’ real down here, Lee! Least of all me.
Lee: Well I can’t save you from that.
The authorship of the self is the biggest business on the planet.

Facebook homepages and Twitter profiles communicate to the world who we think we are. Is this an example of people sharing their thought-through integral selves with one another? Or evidence that in a digital age, as our virtual networks supercede our immediate geographical ones, we have never been less sure about who we are; and the extraordinary energy expended on daily acts of digital self-definition desperate attempts to find out?
I’m not sure I organically know who I am. I guess if I did I wouldn’t need pictures of posters of previous shows, books, trinkets, old tickets to football matches and other fragments of memories all over my walls. I wouldn’t carry photographs of my loved ones on my phone, I wouldn’t tell so many God damn stories about myself to people. Surely if we take away all that, the stories and the photos and whatnot; what will be left will be the ‘real’ me. The ‘true’ self. Yes? Perhaps beyond the ‘fictions’ that that shape our ‘reality’, there is nothing. An abyss. An unknowable and untamable self.
At the opening of True West, Austin, bespectacled, sits at a type-writer with piles of paper nearby, steam rising from a freshly poured cup of black coffee and a cigarette burning in an ashtray. It’s night. He looks like a writer. He acts like a writer. So he must be a writer, yes? Lee standing on the other side of the stage looks like a drunken hobo – so he must be a drunken hobo. We learn instantly that they’re brothers. One all self definition, the other elusive, ambiguous, contradictory.
Much is written about True West as The Great American Play. Lee and Austin representing the schism in the psyche of the American male, between urban sophistication, society, money and the wild frontier spirit; nature. That Lee and Austin (L and A, LA) are the dialectic at the heart of American culture, the struggle that gave birth to the Western. While all that may be true, I am not American.

For me this dramatic poem has a lot to say to an age obsessed with the idea of authenticity, but somehow unable to be authentic. ‘What does it mean to male these days?’, I ask myself. I type this listening to Mumford and Sons, after finishing my Maldon sea salt and balsamic vinegar crisps, my dry cured organic Wiltshire Ham and Wensleydale on freshly baked focaccia, washed down with fair-trade Peruvian Coffee. Real Coffee. From the bean.

Photo by Pete Le May  Photo by Pete Le May

Actors Eugene O’Hare (left) as Austin and Alex Ferns (right) as Lee

Sam Shepard’s written a Western. A man turns up out of the blue, a life is saved, there’s a double cross, a showdown and lots and lots of violence. But the bleak, harsh, unknowable wilderness is in the souls of two boys coming to terms with their father’s mysterious abandonment of them. When the boys ‘realities’ are destroyed, when they understand their father is unknowable and unsavable, and they stare the wilderness square in the maw – they desperately attempt to recover something of who they are. They do this by connecting with the land,  their past, to each other – they are hopeless at being each other. They contrive to render their domestic situation literally and figuratively absurd.

Beyond the flimsy fictions that shape our subjective reality, they ask, “who are we?”. It’s important that they want to know. They seem to understand that the greatest tragedy, as Kirkegaard tells us, is “to lose oneself”.

The knotty opposites that play out in True West – craft / inspiration, male female, mind / body, chaos / order, thinking / instinct, reality / fantasy, urban / rural, rich / poor say much about contemporary American life. But it’s in exploring the penumbra between all of them that Shepard offers us a play that is universal with much to say about life in 2014. A reminder that among all the noisy self definition, the quiet, wounded, anxious, delicate human soul can never be wholly known.

True West plays at the Tricycle Theatre from 4 September – 4 October. Click here to watch the trailer, for more information and to book. #TrueWest