Shirley Readings – September 2016

To quote the great American composer Leonard Bernstein:

To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.

We gave ourselves only three days to prepare the first ever stage adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley to be performed script-in-hand to audiences at the Lass O’Gowrie in Manchester and the Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Woodkirk, Leeds (as part of the Morley Arts Festival), and, even then – due to prior commitments and a last-minute recast – we were missing a third of the company for our first rehearsal!

Three days may seem a reasonable amount of time to rehearse for a reading, but given the length and complexity of the text (still a lot to get to grips with even having been whittled down from Charlotte’s hefty and dense work!), our approach of editing as we went, the necessity of working out travel logistics and other technicalities, AND the influence of DTK’s characteristic attention to detail, we were flying by the seats of our pants and no mistake!

The result was extremely rewarding. Wonderful moments of great depth, pathos and comedy were discovered on the fly, sometimes even during the performances themselves. The performers often played by instinct, lending everything a fresh and energetic feel. Director Helen Parry prioritised perfectly, knowing which moments to guide and shape, and understanding which would fall into place “on the night”. I must say that I absolutely cannot imagine how everything would have come together without Helen’s intuitive and discerning direction!

We were lucky enough to play to two very different but equally excellent audiences. The lovely intimate space above the Lass O’Gowrie pub felt full – but not uncomfortably so – and the concentration of the attendees was palpable. The room seemed to buzz! In the larger space at St Mary’s the next day there was a fantastic sense of community and support, and the comedic moments in the text were bolstered by some really rewarding laugh-out-loud responses! I’d really like to take a moment to thank Vicky – the manager at the Lass O’Gowrie who opened the space to us so enthusiastically, Ella Wild, who arranged the slot in the Morley Arts Festival for us, and the vicar at Saint Mary’s, Rev’d Sharon Wilkinson, and her team for making us feel really at home and providing the beautiful venue. The most disappointing thing about the evening was that – as the performance had run over very slightly – the company had to absolutely leg it for the exits after the “curtain call” and summing-up, randomly shaking hands and shouting thanks as we went. Having travelled in from all over – Todmorden, Macclesfield, Salford, Didsbury, Wigan, et al – many cast members were banking on catching the last trains of the day and were likely to be stranded! Luckily everyone made it on time, but that regrettably meant cutting very interesting conversations short. With any luck, we might welcome some returning audience members to the next incarnation of the piece (watch this space!) and find ourselves with a little more time to discuss everything!

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The hard-working cast of Shirley

DTK’s involvement in the Morley Arts Festival is far from complete, however. On 8th October, the company’s founder and resident playwright Caroline Lamb will join local poet and fellow Brontë enthusiast Simon Zonenblick at Morley Library to deliver an event entitled Exploring the Brontës; an evening consisting of readings of work and letters by the famous literary family itself as well as pieces inspired by them. For more details and to book, simply follow the link below:

EXPLORING THE BRONTËS

All in all, the positive responses over the last few days have really helped us to feel like we’ve hit the ground running, so do watch out for future updates about Shirley and other projects!

Shirley Readings – September 2016

Book now for Shirley!

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Grab your tickets for the first ever airing of our new production – Shirley – while you can, as numbers are limited!

AVAILABLE HERE

Shirley is an unapologetic, all-guns-blazing conception of Charlotte Brontë’s 1849 novel of the same name.

Set during the perfect storm of British workforce rebellion and violent international unrest, the piece reveals that the politics of work, war and love will not change while we are short of powerful, unified and positive calls to action. An eerie pre-echo of the UK’s current zeitgeist, this adaptation moulds Brontë’s hyperactive, multilinear plot into a slick, eloquent but vociferous appeal for reason and alliance.

This performance will be script in hand – the perfect opportunity to see Dangerous To Know’s latest work-in-progress!

DATE: 27/09/2016

TIME: Doors @ 7 to begin at 7.30

The Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Woodkirk, Dewsbury Rd, Leeds WF12 7JL

St Mary's

Book now for Shirley!

Latest Activities

Thank you for your patience, everyone!

We’ve had a lot to get on with throughout the first few months of 2016, including moving base (we’re still in Greater Manchester), but discussions are still ongoing regarding the future of our latest piece, The Dissolution of Percy, along with other possible future activities, so please do keep your eyes peeled!

As a rather belated start to the year, Caroline recently travelled up to Cumbria to deliver one of her talks in the place where she grew up, Sedbergh – a town steeped in history, nestled amongst the Howgill fells, perched on the Yorkshire border.

The talk was extremely well-attended and received by members of the Sedbergh Literary Trust, there was a fantastic spread of refreshments laid out and the evening was thoroughly enjoyable. Some fascinating discussions were had after the reading also, especially surrounding events at the Clergy Daughters School in relatively-nearby Cowan Bridge, where the Brontë sisters were schooled, and where the two eldest, Maria and Elizabeth, contracted the tuberculosis that would very shortly end their young lives.

Interesting theories were covered surrounding the presence of the Brontës in the area, including the possibility that some of the ideas for their books, including the concept of a foundling child introduced in Emily’s Wuthering Heights, may have been products of the local rumour-mill during the brief time they lived in Cowan Bridge. A story that echoes that of Heathcliff’s discovery on the streets of Liverpool was at that time doing the rounds of nearby Dent village, and may have reached the ears of the then-eight-year-old Emily and remained with her for the rest of her life.

It was fantastic to begin to get the ball rolling once more, and we look forward to seeing what the rest of 2016 will bring!

Keep checking back for more updates.

Latest Activities

Feedback!

Well, now that we’re just about ready to send a summary of our activities over the last few months whizzing back to the Arts Council, we thought we’d share with you a few choice comments from our audience feedback forms. We’re not big-headed, we just appreciate that our audiences have excellent taste!

“A very well written, well produced and well performed piece.”

“Very professional and very enjoyable.”

“We loved it! Beautiful.”

“Sam Redway’s performance of Branwell was superb – he did “drunk” very well indeed. I particularly liked Caroline Lamb’s Emily, stomping on set in search of powder for her musket.”

“Fantastic. Brilliantly written. Moving.”

“Totally absorbing!”

“Exceptional performance from all – well written and acted. Tears and laughter – well done!”

“A detailed and honest performance with a multitude of emotions portrayed. A beautiful insight into the lives of such a notable literary family, the sorrow and hardships behind the brilliance!”

“Original and dynamic storytelling. Beautifully written and acted. Thanks.”

“A terrific play, actors & script. More please!”

“Brilliant play. I look forward to more.”

Congratulations to Team Percy for achieving these brilliant results, and many thanks to our audiences for your overwhelming support! In response to those calls for more, do keep an eye on this site, along with our Twitter account (@DTKManc) and our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/DangerousToKnow) as the New Year will bring new opportunities for us, and new ways for you to get involved!

Thank you all once again. Happy Holidays, and we’ll see you next year!

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Feedback!

Last Two Months at a Glance!

Well, we’ve enjoyed a whirlwind of activity recently and, in the paraphrased words of Branwell Brontë, “It is only just now that we have had time to turn ourselves round and know where we are”!

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Last month held some truly exciting experiences for us. on 21st October, we were invited to read extracts from Jane Eyre in the very building that once housed the Clergy Daughter’s School; the stark template for Lowood School in the novel. The Brontë School House, as it is now named, boasts exceptionally tasteful decor that proffers a suitable nod to the period in question, and no longer bears the chilling atmosphere of the infamous establishment that claimed the lives of poor Maria and Elizabeth Brontë in 1825. It is cosy and homelike, and when the fire is on in the sitting room (which boasts a selection of dangerously comfy seating and shelving loaded with fascinating books!), it’s extremely easy to forget the blustery weather outside. The best news is that you can stay there! The lovely Sandra runs the building as a holiday rental cottage, and you can find details via: www.bronteschoolhouse.com

It was a characteristically atmospheric evening as we travelled to Cowan Bridge on the Cumbria/Lancashire border.

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We arrived in good time at the School House, where we were treated to a very warm welcome and a lovely tour, provided by our host, Sandra.

Information about the Brontës, their time at the school and various other items of contemporary interest lay on the table in one of the rooms. On the wall in the same room was displayed a variety of artifacts discovered while renovating the historic building. These included knives and forks, marbles and even “horse-shoe”-shaped metal inserts designed to reinforce a very small pair of clogs or pattens!

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I performed the readings in costume before a roaring fire, and, with flickering lanterns outside glowing out into the wet chill of the darkening night, the event seemed to take on an almost secretive and thrilling atmosphere. I was unprepared for quite how emotionally involved the experience would be, particularly considering the significance of the passages on Jane’s friend Helen Burns, who served as a fictionalized homage to Charlotte’s ill-fated elder sisters.

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Despite the wonderful coziness of their seats and the glorious warmth in the room, the audience retained consciousness throughout the event and held a very interesting conversation about Charlotte’s writing and the significance of the school and the young Brontës’ experiences there within their work. It was a fantastic event, and we left hoping that we might get the opportunity to spend the night in the wonderful building sometime not too far in the future!

In the meantime, the company were heading into the final few rehearsals for The Dissolution of Percy, which was to be performed in Salford and Haworth at the beginning of the following month, but that didn’t stop us arranging another fantastic event the night before the dress rehearsal! That night was Hallowe’en.

Our good friends at Ponden Hall had been extremely enthusiastic at the suggestion of a spooky set of readings, the partaking of pie and parkin and the sharing of true ghost stories to celebrate this auspicious night, and the event did not disappoint!

Under ethereal strings of glowing lights and before the hall’s impressive hearth, I read from Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and a selection of Emily’s poetry. The atmosphere was electric, with the added threat of a glimpse of the hall’s grey bearded man or flaming-barrel gytrash adding to the otherworldly feel.

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A welcome break for one of Julie’s delicious spreads was extremely welcome, and we were delighted to be handed plates of steaming pie, peas and lashings of gravy! Over this fantastic repast, we began to share tales of our own eerie experiences with zeal.

The informality and communal nature of the event was testament to the ancient hall’s fantastic atmosphere, and its owners’ warmth as hosts. Ponden is another exceptionally popular guest house, and a stay there is highly recommended, especially considering that it boasts the famous “Box Bed” room from Wuthering Heights, as well as many elements of interest for the Brontë fanatic. Sketches of its rooms and windows crated by Branwell and Emily may be found in numerous reference books, and its library afforded the young family an even wider opportunity to read and learn.

You can book to stay at Ponden Hall via www.ponden-hall.co.uk

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Of course, only a few days later, the company were to launch into their run of The Dissolution of Percy which, as you may have seen from our previous posts, went exceptionally well if we do say so ourselves. We’ll update you further on the play’s successes and potential future life as we traverse this uncharted landscape that is life “post-Percy”, and we hope you’ll continue to follow us and see where the adventure leads!

If you know of a venue that would be interested in booking a talk, a reading or a staging of The Dissolution of Percy, or have any questions about Dangerous To Know and our work, don’t hesitate to contact us on dtkmanchester@gmail.com!

Last Two Months at a Glance!

First review is in!

On Wednesday night, Dangerous To Know opened our doors to the public for the first performance in our run of The Dissolution of Percy and, as is always nerve-wracking, we invited press and reviewers to tell us what they thought of our work!

Brontë Sisters

Now Frank Hill, a reviewer for RemoteGoat, has delivered, and we are absolutely thrilled.

Under the heading “Gripping, original Branwell Brontë drama”, he writes:

“There’s a painting of the Brontë sisters, posed woodenly around a small table, with a figure standing behind them smeared out of all recognition. This figure was the artist himself, their brother Branwell, who had defaced his own image in some bout of self-loathing. As a student I was fascinated by this ghost-like image hovering ominously in the background, so was particularly interested to see a new play at The Kings Arms, Salford where Branwell takes centre stage.

I knew Caroline Lamb’s drama (‘The Dissolution of Percy’) was going to be interesting when one of the sister’s asked where her powder was. Instead of entering with objects from her boudoir she came onstage carrying a gun. The material in question was gunpowder. That’s when I realised this was going to be an unusual perspective on the Brontë women and their much-neglected-by-history brother.

The play began at an unusually stable period in Branwell’s life when, thanks to the efforts of his sisters, he had obtained a post as tutor to the Robinson’s family’s son. All seemed well, but it soon became clear that he had not forsaken his spendthrift, drunken ways and stories of his behaviour reached the ears of Mr. Robinson. Although not one to smooth over troubled waters, Branwell managed to retain his position, only to then embark on an affair with the mistress of the house, Lydia.

Branwell was a dreamer, trapped in the fantasies of childhood stories and a great admirer of Lord Byron. But without that poet’s panache and fame, being ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ could be disastrous. Detached from reality, narcissistic, and drawn to alcohol and laudanum, it became the task of his sisters to save Branwell from himself. But had he already reached the point of no return?

The play is about unfulfilled ambition, self denial and desire. It’s well written and tightly structured with fine performances (I’m sure the few occasions when actors spoke over each others lines will soon be ironed out).

Alison Flevill, Marcella Hazell and Caroline Lamb brought Jane (Ed. read “Emily”) , Anne and Charlotte vividly to life and Jane Allighan’s sensitive portrayal of Lydia showed a character desperate to survive in a world where wealth and poverty were frighteningly close neighbours – particularly for women in Victorian England.

Sean Fitton provided solid support with characters ranging from Rev. Brontë to Branwell’s drinking partner John.

But the play stands or falls on the portrayal of Branwell himself, and Sam Redway gave a riveting performance as the vulnerable, selfish, frustrating artist. To give just one example of his skill – I have seen some terrible interpretations of drunkenness on stage – by some renowned actors. It’s extremely difficult to do well and Sam managed to pitch it perfectly, getting the nuances just right. A great performance throughout, and director Helen Parry must take credit for that.

An unusual subject then, focussing on characters usually ignored by history and thereby also creating a new perspective on the famous sisters themselves. Excellent.”

Thank you, Frank! It’s wonderful to get this type of feedback for an inaugural production. We hope our work continues to impress for the rest of the run, and for the play’s future life!

If you would like tickets to the production, we highly recommend booking in advance via the link below.

BOOK NOW!

First review is in!

Our Beautiful Flyers!

We thought we’d share these lovely things with you. We’re dead chuffed with them!

We’re well into rehearsals now, and the production is shaping up to be a corker! Seats are limited for our performances in Salford (4th – 7 November) and Haworth (14th November), so you’d best CLICK HERE to get booking your tickets! We wouldn’t want you to miss it!

The Dissolution of Percy Flyer 2015

The Dissolution of Percy Flyer Back 2015

Image © George Hill Photography 2015

Our Beautiful Flyers!

Scarborough Delivers Yet Again!

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It was an absolutely gorgeous day in Scarborough yesterday – it’s always a pleasure to visit but the weather truly made it special this time!

Naturally, we had to pop up to visit Anne Brontë’s grave, and it was lovely to see that some sweet little trinkets had been added to the tributes that already adorned it.

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We enjoyed a wander along the beach and a bit of exploring through the historic town.

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Unearthing a few hidden gems off knowledge along the way!

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Readings? Good grief, Dickens, have an original thought for once!

But time was of the essence, and we arrived at the library on Vernon Road well in advance. This was definitely necessary, as not only did we need to set up, but Caroline was performing the readings in costume and had to get changed! (Pictures to come. Of the costume, not the changing – what kind of site do you think this is?!)

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We were blessed with a warm, attentive and sizeable audience and were very well-received! Used to performing in a T-shirt and jeans, Caroline certainly struggled to avoid wilting in the sweltering costume she’d picked out for herself and admitted that she was unsure whether or not she was fully-conscious throughout the readings, but the energetic applause that followed seemed to suggest that it had all gone swimmingly!

It was fantastic to meet new friends and speak to established Brontë enthusiasts and “first-timers” alike, as it always is when our events are so well-attended, and we really hope to see some of our lovely audience members from Scarborough at a couple of our performances this November!

If you wish to book a ticket for our production, The Dissolution of Percy, please click here!

Scarborough Delivers Yet Again!

West Yorkshire: Two in One!

Well, it was only a matter of time before we were back in Brontë country!

After a very early start, we found ourselves in the lovely little town of Morley, in the very well-kept and well-attended library. Our thanks go to Simon Zonenblick, who offered us the opportunity to take the readings there. Simon is currently working on a documentary film about Branwell Brontë’s time on the Manchester to Leeds railway at Sowerby Bridge and Luddenden Foot, so please keep your eye out for it! Visit the website here or follow @CaterpillarPoet on Twitter for updates.

The audience filtered in – a chatty, upbeat lot who helped themselves to tea and coffee and seemed very much up for a morning of entertainment! The event went swimmingly, and the ladies and gentlemen in attendance didn’t make it easy for us to leave afterwards, indulging Caroline’s penchant for being quizzed in Brontë trivia to the point where she had to be virtually dragged away when it was time to go! Interest certainly seemed to be piqued by the biographical side of the talk, and we enjoyed giving recommendations for various books on the Brontë family. Our sincerest thanks go to the staff of Morley library who rounded up such a superb crowd and really made us feel at home. It’s definitely not goodbye forever!

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Alas, however, we did have to go, and our next destination was a famous one. We travelled along the Thornton Road to Haworth, retracing the route Caroline took on her 130 mile walk three months ago and doubtlessly the one taken by the young Brontës when they moved to the town in 1820. We were starving upon arrival, but that was easily and comprehensively fixed by a brief trip to Cobbles and Clay, the wonderful art cafe that hosted one of our readings in June. Tuscan Bean Stew, Bean Burritos and an absolutely divine warm sticky apple cake were very much enjoyed!

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After that, we paid a visit to the always atmospheric and affecting Parsonage Museum, examined the original bullet holes blasted by Patrick “If I Hit Anyone In The Churchyard They’ll Already Be Dead” Brontë in his own church tower, and paid a quiet little visit to the memorial above the Brontë crypt. After all, it was quite a special day.

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A faint rainbow ends on the moors.

24th September, 1848, marked the sad day of Branwell Brontë’s death at the age of 31. 167 years later, we were on our way to read work by himself and his famous sisters at Ponden Hall, one of their favourite childhood haunts and the site of some of their happiest memories and most intense inspiration. It is likely to be one of the properties that inspired Emily’s Wuthering Heights as well as the probable template for Darkwall, an affluent home mentioned multiple times in the Brontë children’s Angrian saga.

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The evening was beautiful and calm, and the house was warm and homely. We were safely shut away from the ghosts that many say wander its grounds. (We’ll be reading there on Halloween though – let’s see what happens then!) We were very pleased to see that the Collections Manager from the Brontë Parsonage, Ann Dinsdale, had come along to see what we were up to! Again, we really enjoyed performing the readings, but what turned a fun night into an excellent one was the exemplary spread laid out by Ponden resident and owner, Julie Akhurst. No fewer than FOUR cakes – including a traditional Victorian “seed cake” flavoured wonderfully with caraway, as well as scones, sandwiches and tea brewed the proper Yorkshire way graced the table and the guests tucked in heartily! However, the evening was not over, and Julie then took us on a tour of the ancient house. Utterly spoiled, we were treated to a glimpse of the famous “Box Bed” room from Wuthering Heights and the library that allowed the young Brontës to further develop their love of reading.

Another fabulous day sharing the works of the Brontë family with other enthusiasts had certainly worn us out, but it’s not over yet! We’re at Scarborough Library on Thursday 1st October, then we’ll retrace our steps to Cowan Bridge to perform a Jane Eyre-themed reading in the famous Clergy Daughters’ Schoolhouse – the template for Lowood School in Charlotte’s classic novel – on Wednesday 21st October, and finally we’ll be back at Ponden Hall for our eerie Halloween event!

Watch this space for more information, and take a moment to remember poor tragic Branwell, 200 years old in 2017. See our original production about the end of his life in Salford and Haworth this November.

West Yorkshire: Two in One!

Over to York

Yesterday was a really beautiful day, and I’m glad I mad the most of it by heading over to York, one of the most beautiful cities I can think of!

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I started off by creating the cover of my next folk/grunge/indie album on the city walls: IMG_0013

I’d come on a really good day – it was the York Food Festival and the whole city smelled delicious.

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To distract myself from my only weakness – food – I entertained myself by indulging my other weakness – old stuff. Ok, I have two weaknesses. But York is fab for antiques, and look at this!

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Seen in the window of an armour shop. An armour shop. Let that sink in.
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A nice little collection of weaponry for the discerning 18th/19th century shopper.

Once I’d messed about enough, I headed over to my venue for the evening. The library, York Explore, is absolutely superb, with oak-panelled events spaces, interactive whiteboards, a cafe, full seasonal programmes of events and, of course, a staggering collection of books, archives, records… I really enjoyed myself there!

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And they actually gave me my own little room to prepare in! Now, I’m not going to get too big for my boots and call it a “dressing room”, but…

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York is always a lovely day out, and this was a great way to end it. The readings went very well, and the audience members had some really interesting questions at the end. Citing Branwell’s influence on his sisters’ literary interests at an early age, as well as their later habit of drawing on a few of his experiences as a basis for happenings in their work, one lady asked whether I thought there would BE a Brontë canon if it wasn’t for their brother. A question without a sure answer, as we knew, but an interesting one to consider. I responded that I like to think there would have been, though it would be very different, particularly in the case of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

We’ve only a couple more readings to go – one at Ponden Hall in Haworth tomorrow (email talks@ponden.force9.co.uk to book!), and one at Scarborough Library on 1st October.

Following these, we’re back at Ponden with a great set of readings for Halloween. You can bring your own ghost story, enjoy a delicious autumnal feast and snuggle up by the flickering fire before an atmospheric tour of the ancient house. Again, email talks@ponden.force9.co.uk to join in!

We’ll hopefully see you at one of our upcoming events, or you can come along to our production, The Dissolution of Percy, which is in Salford and Haworth this November.

Now we need to hurry off and prepare for our trip to Haworth tomorrow, so, in the words of that big girt church someone stuck in the middle of York:

Video: Bong Bong For Now

Over to York