Monthly Archives: December 2016

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: 2016 Review

This is the official day on which to ‘review the year’, so here goes, a very quick whirl through a little of what’s been and come and gone Stanwise in 2016. Apologies to everyone and everything that is missed out – we mean no offense.

The year kicked off with Improbable’s Devoted and Disgruntled Open Space conference at The REP set us off in a positive ‘can do’ frame of mind. This positivity continued with through the great young people we pulled together from across Birmingham to conclude the Trailblazers project by taking over the Council House.

Rowena went off on maternity leave and was soon blessed with the lovely Imogen. Jessie stepped in to help run the office. Craig led a team presenting Of All The People In All The World in Freiburg. While James collaborated with Kerry Murdock on Matholympics at Washwood Heath and Saltley Academies. We battled the elements to install Shakespeare Steps on the Streets of Stratford-upon-Avon (we won – just).

We undertook First Aid training and hosted a couple of scenes of A Passion for Birmingham @ A E Harris. A brand new studio theatre show Made Up opened at The REP complete with green screen and live make up. It went on to tour across the North East of England.

We attended the Doing Nothing Is Not An Option climate change conference at Warwick Arts Centre and Mark Anderson’s amazing Furious Folly performance promoted by the Hippodrome in Sutton Park (more on this later). We hosted two medieval plays staged by PLS from Toronto.

Kerry returned to run an Ancient Egyptians project with Lakey Lane School. James and Jim Morris worked with Year 6 students at Tiverton academy on a puppet show called The Worm in the Grass. Lucy helped out by Jack supported all 240 members of Year 8 at Saltley Academy stage twin productions of The Tempest. Craig made a Superfast Shakespeare who with Year 5 from Billesley Primary. These last two productions were staged on our Slot Together stage outside the RST in Stratford. The stage remained in place through the summer as a site for outdoor productions including a set of four commissioned by the RSC according to criteria we set out for them.

Over the summer James helped members of the Lyng Media Club become Junior Commentators for the Sandwell Arts Festival. Of All The People In All The World was performed in London as part of the Great Fire 350 anniversary festival and in Basel where it was joined by The Cardinals as part of Theaterfestival Basel.

School was back in September with a City Adventure for Central England Teacher Training, talks for Universities and Gift Session workshops for local artists. We recruited new board members and a PhD student to fill a Warwick University studentship researching the potential for arts in contemporary schools.

There was snow on the ground when we performed Of All The People In All The World in Riga but not when we did so in Leeds. On 30th November we hosted a big party and exhibition to celebrate our 25th Anniversary, launched the Scheming Friends individual giving scheme and opened a new show Time Critical. Rowena got a new job. Jessie returned to London and we recruited a new General Manager – who we will tell you about soon.

Next post – Future Plans…

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Christmas Concerts


School Christmas Concerts are my new favourite thing, last week I attended two and loved them both. It is wonderful to see the results of hard work, the anxiety, concentration and relief. Bum notes, squeaks and scrapes are not imperfections, just part of the texture and character.

There was a soulful piano soloist and another whose dazzlingly complicated piece was tackled as if it was an Olympic event judged with a stopwatch. One young man played his own impressive keyboard composition. A composed sixth form boy introduced his guitar solo “this is a beautiful piece, if I play it right”. There were ensembles of guitar, saxophone and clarinet. Friends sang with each other. A girl filled in the drums to an Oasis track sans lyric. You couldn’t get much better than the brass band mixing teachers and students the former trying to drown out some of the less assured charges. There was the pocket size lounge singer belting it out and cued into each verse and chorus by an anxious teacher trying to remain out of sight. Eve sang a solo so wracked with pathos at the end she made me cry. There was an uplifting Gospel Choir with super tight drummer and harmonizing leader, Imagine, Halleluiah, “thank you all for your hard work, thank you for coming, Happy Christmas”.

But that wasn’t all, there was a powerful Christmas Assembly at Saltley Academy with a keynote of hope from the Headteacher and that hope enacted by Muslim students respectfully explaining and celebrating the Christian festival.

To wrap up the week we went carol singing around our neighbours’ houses, a rabble doing their best with good cheer and goodwill to all people. REVIEW: FAT PENGUIN IMPROV


For several years Fat Penguin Comedy Club has run in the Patrick Kavanagh pub in Moseley.  It now has a younger brother, hosted by stand up comedian and improviser Ben Hall, which is run with a focus on unscripted comedy.  Each night includes a range of acts, including a different headline every month, and is all funded on a pay-what-you-can basis.  This provides the widest range of laughs in the Midlands.

The show started with short sketches from the in-house group.  The style here would be familiar to regulars of improv comedy nights, where each scene has rules explained to the audience which the performers must then follow.  This also included some styles of sketch I’d not seen before such as Two Headed Stand-Up, where Zahida Ali & Ben Hall took turns saying alternate words to create jokes based on an audience suggestion.  These two combined to give the cleverest moment of the night, a “Doctor Doctor” joke about knitting and needles.  Each other member of the group (Ross Golightly, Melanie Bradley & John Guelke) had their moments to shine.

Next up was Mike Brown from New York, who performed with Ben in an extended series of scenes based on the word “elephant”.    The bulk of the action revolved around two elephant brothers, the elder with a loud trumpet call and the younger who failed pathetically whenever he tried.  I was impressed at the skill involved in keeping the scenes simple and on track, as we explored how the simple difference in trumpet skills affected the relationship between the brothers & how it reflected their wider family ties.

After a break, the headline act The Same Faces filled an hour with comedy goodness from a strong team of performers.  After a quick introduction to everybody by being interviewed as experts on topics suggested by the audience, we moved into a mixture of longer scenes covering silly situations, music and gags.  At a wildlife sanctuary we met one employee (Tom Young) explaining to the other (Dave Gotheridge) why it made perfect sense to serve hedgehogs for Christmas dinner.  In a bar we overheard a depressed customer (Kiran Shah) singing about what it was like to only fall in love with people who had the same name as you.  And tuning into an infomercial, we heard Jen Kenny, Safia Lamrani & Tom Young sing “Songs of the sex workers”, a fake history of the music that surrounds the oldest profession.  It was a treat to be there for the world’s only performance of “You’re not Richard Gere”, along with all the other musical creations composed by Douglas Deans.  This section was funny and engaging without being coarse, building on the audience suggestion and avoiding making weak or obvious jokes.  A fine showcase for all the talents on stage.



Little Earthquake: Orlando Rehearsal Diaries – Production Week

We’re currently in rehearsals for Orlando, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Virginia Woolf’s epic novel to the stage and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. For more details about Orlando, click here.

Monday 28th November (Morning Session)
Lydia Marshall

So the last week of Orlando is here! It’s hard to believe that five weeks ago we were all nervously walking into the rehearsal room for the first time. To say that the time has flown is an understatement, but the whole experience has been so amazing and I feel so lucky to have been part of such an amazing cast.

This morning was spent going thorough the list we had put together on Friday of any problems or questions that had come up during our week in the space, both logistical and any personal issues we wanted to address. These mainly revolved around the movement of the crates – who puts which one where, and whether there was enough room to move around them in costume etc. By going through the list and solving all these problems it meant that everyone was 100% confident in what was happening at every moment. I personally found this extremely helpful but also very reassuring that I did actually know all the timings and box movements. With the pressure of this evening’s first tech session looming over us I did not want to make any mistakes that might slow down proceedings. After spending a good couple of hours this morning going through the list, it was a confident and excited cast that left the rehearsal room ready to face the rest of the week.

I am beyond excited to show an audience what all our hard work over the last five weeks has been for, and to show off the rest of my cast mates who really have put their all into creating a piece of theatre that we are so proud of. I will be eternally grateful to Little Earthquake for all the laughter, fun and (in my case) tears the process has brought. As excited as I am to share what we’ve been working on, I am certainly going to be a soppy mess on the last night!

Monday 28th November (Technical Rehearsal Session 1)
Satya Baskaran Iyer

This is it! Today we’re officially in production week!

The week continued with the first of two technical rehearsal sessions, which are notorious for being long and meticulous. Nevertheless, they must be done in order to ensure that all the technical elements of our show are spot on. The evening began with introductions going around the cast, crew and first year students (who were observing), each saying our name and our role in the show. This was followed by the cast going back into the dressing rooms to prepare for the beginning of the tech session. Since we were going to be focusing on the first half of the show today, I spent the session watching from the audience. It was mesmerising to watch the final pieces of the show come together using the lighting and sound effects – it made all the hard work we had done so far become a whole lot more worthwhile!

We almost got to the interval during this tech session which bodes very well for the second session tomorrow! I cannot wait for everyone to see the culmination of the blood (yes, blood), sweat and tears everyone has put into this production – your enthusiasm will make it all the better!

Monday 28th November (Technical Rehearsal Session 2)
Holly Golightly

These past few weeks have gone by so quickly! It’s unbelievable to think that we’re finally here, on stage, doing our technical rehearsal. But no time to think about that! Time to concentrate…

Technical rehearsals are funny things… It was one of the hardest rehearsals we had to do! Focus was requisite. We had to be on point at all times, ready and waiting to do exactly what was required of us by the stage management, technical and design teams. However, the four hours rushed by! Saying I am proud of the cast and crew for everything they have put into this production would be an understatement. What a beautiful, intelligent and hilarious production it is.

Wednesday 30th November (Dress Rehearsal)
Fiona Larcombe

After so many weeks of everyone’s hard work, we finally got to see how it paid off in our one and only dress rehearsal. It seemed to whizz by after the stop and start of the technical runs, which I think took everyone a little by surprise.

As ever, pace and bold offers were at the forefront of everyone’s minds. It is these things on which the show either flies or sinks, and the dress run has been the best opportunity so far to practice being snappy with our cues and experimental with our offers. However, as this was our first time going through the whole play with full lighting, sound, costume changes, etc., I think we were all a little more reserved than normal whilst acquainting ourselves with the spectacle of the whole thing.

This being said, it was such great fun and was amazing to see how beautifully the set is transported from location to location through the lighting and sound (and the acting, of course, but we already know plenty about that). Now that we’ve practiced with all the different bits and bobs, I (and hopefully the other cast members!) am chomping at the bit to do it all over again with all the pace in the world and the boldest offers I can muster.

In all, the dress has just made me even more excited to get cracking on the real thing. It was such a joy to see it all come together like this and know that everyone on every team is working just as hard as each other to make a fabulous show. The final component to add is an audience, and I can’t wait to show them what we’ve all managed to achieve!

Thursday 1st December 2016 (Notes Session)
Madeline Walker

After last night’s dress rehearsal I felt a buzz, for me it was the best performance we’d done so far and I felt the rest of the cast agreed with me. We entered our notes session feeling rather optimistic. We were glad to hear that Gareth and Phil were very happy with our performance and admitted that if this had been opening night, they would have been more than satisfied. Gareth had some notes for us to help us perfect certain areas. It was really useful to look at details after performing it all the way through, it helped us to reign in on parts which needed more focus. He gave us overall feedback on the two things he believes integral to a performance, “Pace” (how quickly and efficiently we pick up cues) and “Offers” (our intentions and how we feed off each other). He said he was really impressed with the offers we were making but pace could still be improved. We agreed with his statements and are determined to really raise the standard even further for our opening night!

The last part of the session was reserved for going over a few scenes we felt needed a little more work. A couple of details were adjusted and we left the session feeling excited and enthusiastic for our opening night.

Thursday 1st December 2016 (Rehearsal Session)
Shristy Das Roy

It is opening day and there was a palpable sense of anticipation around the building! We had a notes session earlier in the day to go over the notes Gareth had from the dress rehearsal. Gareth’s main concerns overall, were the pace of the piece and the boldness of offers we made to one another during the dress and the volume of the actors at certain points of show. One thing I noticed during the dress rehearsal was that I had gone back to auto-pilot mode, forgetting a lot of what we had explored in rehearsals about playing off each other’s offers and responding in the moment. Lydia and I had to go over our ice-skating bit again because we looked miserable doing it last night. It’s really hard to enjoy the skating because I find myself constantly thinking about the next move but today’s session helped because we simplified the “infinity turn” section, which makes the sequence a lot simpler now!

I am so thankful to each and every single person working on this production for their relentless support and encouragement throughout the process. I’ve had the time of my life working with the best people and I can’t wait for all you lovely folks to see it!

Friday 2nd December 2016 (First Night Feedback Session)
Matthew Johnson

On our opening night we were absolutely blessed with a large, warm and welcoming audience. The nerves and adrenaline of the first show were sensational, and the next day we had an hour to discuss audience feedback and a couple of notes on the performance. This was such a lovely time to go round and talk about what individual audience members got from the show, which was so positive to hear. One audience member describing the play as “like a film” was very uplifting, really demonstrating that the pace was there, and that the stage could be transformed so rapidly from place to place.

The real task to take away from the first performance is remembering to keep the energy of the first night, and to build on that and maintain it for the rest of the run. The audience for the Friday, the matinee and the final night ALL deserve the energy and fun and wonder of the first night. We have every intention of delivering this and more.

Saturday 3rd December 2016 (Matinee Performance)
Karina Hunter

After the highs of the first couple of performances we knew that the Saturday Matinee would be a tough show with probably our smallest audience of all four shows. We all knew it would be a challenge and in the foyer before the performance we all said we need to up the energy and keep the storytelling new and exciting. But above all we knew that this audience deserved 110% from us just as any other audience would. We did everything we could to make it happen and open the show with pace and bold offers and from the audience responce and how much they laughed and interacted with us, we think we did it. We concluded from this performance that no matter if you have a sell out or 5 people you have to give them a great performance and rise to the challenge in which ever way you can. It was such a joy and so rewarding to see people come to the show and enjoy it as much as they did. After every show we were on top of the world, and just so immensely proud of what we had done and the team behind it all. So after this afternoon’s performance it was on to the the final performance of Orlando… safe to say we never wanted it to end.

Saturday 3rd December 2016 (Final Performance)
Annie O’Brien

‘It is time to make an end.’

Last night marked the final show of Orlando. The atmosphere was electric and the show itself last night ran smoothly. The audience was with us every step of the way.

Last night also marked the end of our five-week process together as Little Earthquake, cast and crew. This process has been longer for the production teams working out wonderful ways to stage this wild show, and even longer for Gareth and Phil who saw Sarah Ruhl’s version of Orlando in Sydney last year and thought it would go down a treat at UOB. How right they were!

‘How do you eat an elephant?’ Among the wealth of lessons I have learnt over the last five weeks, this question has chimed with me most – not just as a way of approaching a challenging production like Orlando, but as a perspective I can carry with me every day.

What a process, what a show and what great people to spend it with. Thank you to everyone who brought it to such vibrant life.

This isn’t a Sasha/Orlando goodbye, but an Orlando/Marmaduke see you soon.

‘That was it. The end.’

The post Orlando Rehearsal Diaries – Production Week appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Graeme Rose's Blog: More Hands to Feed

A handful of songs from our Food Crime musical “The Hand That Feeds” were performed recently at Birmingham Food Council’s second AGM, hosted at the Impact Hub in Digbeth. Organised and presented partly by myself and largely by New Optimist all-round superwoman Kate Cooper (self-styled ‘the lippy granny’) the evening prompted talks from enlightened specialists (q.v.) about global food security, it’s impact on health/ the economy / political stability, etc. and the opportunities/challenges that exist for Birmingham and its million-stomach-sized food system. Birmingham City Council CEO Mark Rogers then facilitated a second half discussion which covered concerns about food waste management, the difficulties of implementing mandatory Food Hygiene ratings, insuring against agricultural uncertainties and future price hikes as a result of Brexit, etc.

Kate founded the BFC – as she did the New Optimists – as vehicles for bringing together able minds and able motivators to problem-solve the big issues of our time. By her own admission she says that ‘Global Food Security’ was a non-starter for discussion a few years ago. Today, however, in the wake of the furore over Horsemeat, and the  trickle of scandals of ‘lesser’ interest to the media such as the contaminated ‘cutting’ of Paprika/chilli powders, livestock rustling, fraudulent labelling of Manuka honey, etc. the spectre of Food Crime hangs over the health and wellbeing of us all.


Without intervention, without monitoring, without effective policing and without consequences unscrupulous traders will always find ways of cheapening our food while at the same time making profit at every transaction point in the chain; ultimately making millions for the gangsters at the top. In Kate’s words “If it looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is”. The evening on the 28th Nov was a small gesture towards raising the profile of Food Security and prompting serious discussion about the scale and impact on our food environment.

“The Hand That Feeds” will be revived in the spring of next year and we hope it will continue to bring the idea of Food Crime, (as Prof. Chris Elliot – author of the Elliot Review, who flew over from Belfast for the premiere – suggests) to life for a truly broad audience in ways that academic articles and reports can rarely do.

Here is the complete performance, as captured by Mat Becket’s River Rea productions.

Saturday 14th May 2016. St.Martin-in-the-Bullring, Birmingham. #StopFoodCrime

Click to view slideshow.

Graeme Rose's Blog: Stanniversary


Stan’s Cafe is 25 Years Old.

In the Autumn of 1991 James and I moved into the terraced house at 85 Ombersley Rd., Balsall Heath, Birmingham, and the Stan’s Cafe adventure began in earnest. By the end of November we had started rehearsals for the very first project, Perry Como’s Christmas Cracker, and the first performance took place at Emmbrook Secondary School, Wokingham, Berkshire, on the 9th December, if my memory serves me correct.

On Weds 30th November 2016, Stan’s Cafe hosted a party at mac Birmingham to mark and celebrate the event. Stan did what Stan does best, staging a big production number for 350 invited . An archival exhibition curated by Ana Rutter; gallery installations – including a DIY It’s Your Film and mini versions of the Scalextric, Of All The People In All The World plus the dominoes from Finger, Trigger, Bullet, Gun; Food Stations, designed around specific show-themes by Denise Stanton, a cinema screening of the 4-hour Twilight of the Freaking Gods (Stan’s interpretation of Gotterdammerung), and performances of a new piece, Time Critical, in which Rochi and Craig splice the Stan’s Cafe timeline against a chronology of critical events whilst James monitors the Chess-Clock timing mechanism which will determine the climax of the show.

Following the ‘official’ speeches from James, Roisin and chair-of-the-board Rob Elkington, I invoked the spirit of iconoclast Stan himself and ‘cut’ the cake with a blunt cricket bat.

“Stan’s Cafe is dead! …… Long live Stan’s Cafe!”

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Stan’s Cafe is dead, long live Stan’s Cafe


To be honest I was sceptical about the anniversary idea, was ‘not dying’ a sufficient excuse for a party? Isn’t celebrating an anniversary tantamount to become smug and self-satisfied? Fortunately the counter arguments started to mount up: people like parties, we like parties and parties are a good excuse to see people again. The tipping point was reached when it was agreed we would make new show for the party. Who can ever resist making a new show?

On Wednesday we had a party and shared an early version of a new show. Time Critical pits world events against Stan’s Cafe events with a chess clock restricting each side of the show to a strict 25 minutes. Fragments of old Stan’s Cafe shows are scattered through Stan’s Cafe time to link the two worlds. Rarely has a show opened to a more partisan crowd, so it went okay.

The party did its job, allowing us to say thank you to a lot of people who have helped us over the years. Within proceedings there was the obligatory moment in which the thanks implicit in the party were made explicit in a series of speeches and when everything was threatening to topple over into a formulaic cliché we called in Mr. Graeme Rose.

I’d put together a bit of suggested script for Graeme in which he complains that the fancy party catering is a betrayal of Stan’s Cafe’s founding vision. At the conclusion of the rant he takes a cricket bat to the delicious looking anniversary cake.

Of course in the true spirit of the company Graeme took these words and added a great spin and edge to them. He invoked the mythological Stan himself and just before laying into the cake cried “Stan’s Cafe is dead!” At this point in rehearsals I did think ‘that’s a bit harsh’ but then came the cry “Long live Stan’s Cafe” and immediately that felt great.

So that’s what happened, except now it no longer feels great, it feels perfect. In classic ritual structure Graeme smashed the hell out of old Stan’s Cafe and Stan’s Cafe is reborn anew. The anniversary is gone, we are looking forward not back, we’ve eaten no cake, we are as hungry as we were in 1991.