Two very strange brothers face police truncheons, gruesome playground injuries and the perils of mutual masturbation in “Gary: a Love Story,” a caustic and moving new play about brotherly love, brotherly hate and a Criminal Justice System which eats the poor and kills the young for sport.
The performance on Sat 25, 9.00pm is followed by a Q&A session.
Reuben’s TV/Film credits include Prisoners Wives, Casualty, Doctors, Doctor Who and Weekender. Reuben has performed in theatres across the UK, including: The Lowry, Royal Exchange, Soho Theatre and Pleasance Edinburgh. As a writer, Reuben’s debut play, Territory, won the NSDF Best Emerging Artists Award 2009. Territory was subsequently made into a feature film and released in 2014.
Craig spent three years at The Arts Educational School, London. His career highlights include Coronation Street, the Bruntwood Prize Ceremony (Royal Exchange, Manchester) and the film Territory. This will be Craig’s third role alongside Reuben and he is proud to be performing in his hometown of Manchester.
James Harker is an award-winning young writer from Weymouth, Dorset. In 2010 he was named ‘Writer of the Year’ at The Guardian’s student media awards. In 2012 he won the inaugural Jo Powell Prize for crime writing. Between 2012 and 2014 he was Writer-On-Attachment at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre. His work has received rehearsed readings at London’s Theatre503 and the Liverpool Playhouse Studio.
Danielle trained at Birkbeck College. She was the resident Assistant Theatre Director at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. Credits there include: Crime and Punishment, Miss Julie, The Libertine, Jungle Book and Scarfed for Life. Directing credits include: The Misanthrope, Miss Shamrock’s World of Glamorous Flight (both at Oran Mor), Embarrassing Circumstances (Lyric Hammersmith Studio) and Festen (The Space).
Chloe is about to graduate from The University of Salford with a first class degree in Performance: Drama and Theatre. She has been involved in a variety of theatrical projects including To Russia With Love at the Contact Theatre; a Salford-set murder mystery, which she wrote and performed in; and a one-woman verbatim show about hate crime. An actress and writer by training, Chloe is enjoying learning more backstage skills and feels privileged to be part of the Gary: A Love Story team.
Naomi is heavily involved in community theatre through her own Leeds-based company Fall Into Place. She is part of the JMK regional directors group at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Most recent directing credit is Luke Richards’s Madcap Laughs (2015 Nowt Part Of Festival) and she was involved in the Follow the Herring project. She is excited to be involved in 24:7 Big Festival Weekend and feels privileged to be working alongside such a dedicated and generous team.
It was the moment we’d all been waiting for, the moment we’d all been anticipating, the long awaited 24:7 Big Weekend was finally here.
Walking into the Martin Harris Centre on Friday morning I almost immediately felt a new ‘buzz’. A buzz of excitement at what was to come, a buzz of creativity as everyone anxiously awaited their first performance, and a dose of nerves – and all of this combined made us all feel, what I like to call, a little nervxicted.
With the final dress rehearsal done, there was nothing to do but wait for our call time. It arrived quicker than any of us could have imagined – one minute I was enjoying a Fentiman’s Cherrytree Cola (Very nice, I assure you), the next I was carefully placing boxes into set rows, placing props in the correct boxes. Checking them, double checking them, triple checking them, quadruple checking them – and checking them a bit more. But alas the time came and so with it, the first performance of Gary: A Love Story.
It was with a huge relief that the performance went as well as we could have imagined with beautiful performances by both Reuben and Craig. As the night drew to a close I felt a deep sense of pride. We’d done it, suddenly it felt real.
The following nights went just as well if not better, and Gary was well received by each and every audience member. But around Gary, I was thrilled to be able to fit in a plethora of other performances and activities. It was a joy to see what everyone else had been up to and watch and then celebrate their creations with them. There was a true sense of community spirit as everyone rushed around, Artist or Staff Pass in hand, trying to catch each and every bit of magic 24:7’s Big Weekend had to offer.
For me personally, two of the most memorable shows I saw were the monologues (which I attended on Sunny Saturday – hurray! Good judgement and timing there!) and the children’s show, ‘A Butterfly’s Adventure’ by Scallywags. Both were styles of theatre I wouldn’t usually indulge in – the first because I hate getting rained upon and so any such risk is avoided and the second? Well, when you don’t have any kids and your nieces are a bit too cool for ‘that’ – you don’t get the chance to see children’s theatre. However, I thoroughly enjoyed both – in fact, I probably enjoyed the Scallywags’ performance a little too much – I’m definitely a big kid!
But alongside brilliant shows and rehearsed readings sat workshops and on the Sunday I was fortunate to attend an ‘Acting Q&A’ with the brilliant Julie Hesmondalgh. I spent a thoroughly enjoyable, insightful and inspiring hour listening to Julie speak about her journey and it was a joy to talk to her later on in the day.
But Sunday also held a tinge of sadness. It was Gary’s last performance and therefore our last day with our brilliant director, Danielle, who had to return to London and also the closing party of 24:7 (which was a thoroughly enjoyable event).
Following 24:7 Team Gary went to Liverpool, where after another super performance, we all went out and finally celebrated. One quick drink turned into lots of quick drinks… Soon regretted the morning after when we all had to get up early and return to our various hometowns.
Working with Team Gary has been an utter pleasure, a joy and a privilege. We’ve had our ups (Finding Jukeboxes on eBay), our downs (Reuben falling through the boxes), we’ve had our 5 star reviews (Next to The Skriker’s 4 star review in the Skinny – thanks guys!) and finally, we won the Equity Vicky Allen Memorial Award for Best 24:7 play. I am honoured to have played a part in Team Gary and will be forever thankful to everyone at 24:7 for allowing me the opportunity to take part, live new experiences, but most importantly? Make new friends.
As the rehearsal period draws to a close, we say goodbye to our little purple rehearsal room in Salford where we have spent 8 hours a day for the last 2 weeks.
I can’t help thinking about the first day, the nervous excitement which we all had and the ridiculous time we spent getting lost in the maze that is Salford University (we have mastered it now) while we hunted for endless supplies of coffee and twirl bars.
Packing up the boxes, sad to leave the rehearsal period.
So technically after tonight that’s it for the director, of course Danielle will stay and watch the performances but her job is done and therefore (not including a quick relocation to Liverpool for one night only on Thursday) so is mine.
It’s over to the actors now to perform their little socks off and deliver a cracking performance – which we have no doubt they will do! It’s always a bitter, sweet time in the process as we finally reach the point we have been working towards for the last 3 weeks. Of course we are excited to put our hard work in front of an audience, however as the performance opens its hard not to feel a bit sad that it’s the end of the process.
So I have babbled on for a long time, actually saying very little – that’s what sleep deprivation does to you! So I though I would leave you with a few of the things I have learnt during this rehearsal period:
2006 Wigan Athletic Football players and The Bill can cause endless conversations, not everyone knows what pacman is (looking at you Danielle) you can get practically anything from eBay, the M62 is the worst road in the UK, it is possible to survive on a diet solely consisting of Twirl bars and coke (James is the evidence) and porn magazines are really expensive (don’t ask!)
As opening night nears, director Danielle McIlven and writer James Harker look forward to seeing their creation in front of an audience.
So, James. Today is the dress rehearsal and then you open on Tonight. Could you talk about how you as the writer feel at this stage?
Excited, scared …
I sat in on a full run-through of the play this afternoon and the performances and direction were fantastic. So I feel like it’s very much all on me now to keep up my end of the bargain and hope the script does its job tonight. This is my first time rehearsing for a full-length piece, so perhaps Danielle you’re better-qualified to talk about this one.
It’s interesting you use the phrase “your end of the bargain.” In a way I think that ended with your production of the beautiful script … and I feel it was my end of the bargain to deliver on it! There is a point — in fact the ideal point — at the end of rehearsals where you feel the missing component is an audience, and I think that’s where we have reached. For me the it’s now very much about transporting the effective and coherent decisions made in an intimate rehearsal room to the theatre space.
On that note James do you think you will you be watching/responding to the audience or the performers when we open? What audience response would be ideal for you?
Oh definitely the audience! I’m a total secret show-off and narcissist so I suppose actually managing to amuse and entertain any group of people for 50 minutes or so is the response I’m most hoping for. That’s my fear actually … my recurring nightmare: no one finding any of the jokes funny. Which is a bit weird considering this is ostensibly a play about the criminal justice system … and a play with such political intentions.
Richard Wright — a fantastic American writer from the 1940s — had a really good line about how he wanted his audience to react. He said he’d had enough of making people cry through sentimentality. Instead he wanted to present stories so unflinchingly honest that anger would be the only possible response. I think that’s great. I’d love to write a play which makes an audience really, really angry. Maybe ‘Gary’ could do a little of that too.
But I’m not as good as Richard Wright. So I’ll happily settle for laughter.
What do you want from an audience Danielle? And does it change play-to-play?
The degree to which is changes between plays is in part due to what the text demands as a genre. So yes to laugh in a comedy or be moved by a drama, and maybe angered by politically. And funnily enough this piece has the potential for all three — so I want the production to serve these elements. And it’s quite a profound question really isn’t it- is this achieved if you sense that in an audience regardless of what we think we have discovered in rehearsal? Actually that isn’t profound at all, it’s very obvious, it is entirely about whether an audience respond to these intentions and the potential within the text.
I imagine (and hope) there could be a little laugh or fuelled silence at times we hadn’t anticipated. That’s the risk of an audience, but also the power of finding out whether the production works. And for this piece given the very conscious relationship between our protagonist and audience a lot relies on how they connect with Andrew, played by the very talented Reuben Johnson.
And James in terms of the actors — how have their interpretation of the characters shifted your understanding of them?
Ha! Well the character of Andrew was pretty much modelled on the worst aspects of myself for: a slightly whimpy bloke who makes terrible jokes and seeks validation from anyone who’ll give it to him.
Reuben Johnson, by contrast, is a lot cooler than that! So his version of Andrew is naturally a little wiser and a lot more authoritative. Funnily enough, and in a very good way, I think this will actually make Reuben’s Andrew a lot more vulnerable in the eyes of the audience by the play’s end. To see such a self-assured and likable person completely broken and destroyed by his decisions and his circumstances is quite powerful I think.
Craig “Moz” Morris, who plays the title role of Gary, probably has a lot more freedom with the role because Gary is a much more enigmatic character. But I really can’t see anyone other than Reuben and Moz in the roles now!
When I accepted the task of finding props for Team Gary, I foolishly assumed it would be the ordinary, run of the mill stuff. You know, the usuals – a chair, a table, a pint glass. However as the props list began to grow I had a realization – I had almost certainly been mistaken.
Prop Mission One – Find a Jukebox. Easy peasy I thought, I can definitely hire one of those from- then James added “Cheap or Free.” Ah. Now we had issues. Most jukeboxes were super expensive even to hire, never mind buy! Where on Earth was I going to find a jukebox?
I tried the usual haunts – Preloved, Gumtree, eBay but alas all the jukeboxes were all so far out of our price range that we would probably need a telescope just to catch a glimpse of them. Panic was building as more and more searchs and emails turned up nothing. But then it hit me – not everyone has an iPhone, that means not even has autocorrect and not everyone can spell. So I crawled back to eBay and began to type in variations of spelling jukebox. Nothing, I was about to give up when I decided to try one last dodgy spelling. One result – 99p starting bid with no reserve. Perfect, but now for the moment of truth – the location. It had to be near enough for us to drive and pick up in a van. I was bracing myself for yet more disappointment – London, Brighton, Plymouth or maybe somewhere super cool like Aberdeen? I look and then… elation! It was only down the road in Accrington! Hurrah!
Thought the trauma was over? Think again, now it was time for a bidding war, but Team Gary came out victorious and the jukebox was ours for just £25 – BARGAIN. Then of course came storing it but thankfully I have a key to my Mum’s shed and where does she live? Burnley which is next to Accrington. SORTED.
Now I thought after that mammoth task the rest would be simple and some props were – alcohol, clothes, toys, but the hardest was yet to come… in the form of let’s say a certain callibre of magazine that you might traditionally find stored high above your eyeline. This was not going to be an easy task, it was going to be a Herculean task. It would be a test of endurance and how well I knew Salford’s scummiest shops. James and I jumped into our formidable chariot (aka Fanny the Ford Ka) and I drove him to every grim newsagents I knew, each time dumping James and locking my car doors but seven shops later with only one shop left we were empty handed. Not one magazine, nothing, nada. The shops were evidently not as grim as they appeared. Then we saw it, the grimmest shop of them all, so grim I couldn’t even park near it, I had to drive down the road onto an even grimmer estate. James set off, and I sat nervously tapping to ‘Two Tribes” until James arrived with what I will describe as some interesting reading.
Along with a Woolworths carrier (which are £3-5 each on eBay just in case you have any lurking around) these props were without a doubt the hardest I have ever had to source. But Team Gary now have all their props, and I have learnt a number of skills in being resourceful and how to get good props cheap. Opening night is just around the corner and the excitement is certainly palpable.
Bring on our first performance! Go Team Gary!
One of the most intimidating parts of being an actor is auditioning for roles and so it was nice to be on the other side of the table for once and watch other people audition.
The casting call for my placement Gary: A Love Story had generated a lot of interest and on the first day of auditions at The Town Hall Tavern we saw around eight actors and following these auditions we auditioned a few actors individually at a later date.
I found it interesting to act as an assistant in these auditions as I had never been on the other side of the table before – I’d always been the one in front of it feeling what I like to call ‘nervcited’. It was great to see how it worked on this side of the table and how the writer and director prepared for each actor – what they brought, how they set the room up and the general conversations that they had.
I helped out by reading in the other part for the actors. Our play is a two hander and as such, much of the play relies on the characters feeding one another dialogue. Performing this role helped me to really appreciate how different actors take different approaches, something prior to this experience I might not have considered if I was to facilitate auditions.
The most notable thing for me though was the way in which small details could affect the bigger picture. There were things we noticed and picked up on that to the actor probably seemed unimportant or that they maybe hadn’t even considered. For example, the actors who had done their research, read the entire play and brought their audition pieces annotated and with a good attitude stood out from those who turned up with nothing ready. I also learnt that it’s not always about being the most talented, but being the best suited to the part.
I definitely feel that this experience has been one of my most valuable to date and has given me a great deal to think about the next time I go for an audition. I guess, the main lesson I have learnt as an actor is to ‘not forget the finer details’. As a practitioner, I’ve also learnt a great deal including an understanding of how to conduct myself as the person auditioning.
After a couple of weeks of auditioning some fantastic actors we have finally got a full cast. I’m really excited to see Reuben and Craig bring Andrew and Gary alive and the rehearsal process can’t come quick enough.
Roll on July, roll on the rehearsals!