Friday, 28 January 2011

Spotlight on... Jethro Compton and writing Quasimodo

Quasimodo is playing for two weeks at The Lowry, 1st - 12th Feb

INTERVIEW WITH JETHRO COMPTON, writer and director of Quasimodo

What are you hoping the audience will take away with them?

I don’t know. I’d hate to say that ‘I’d like the audience to look at people differently, to look past ugliness’, I think that would probably be a little pretentious. I guess if people can feel sorry for him in spite of who he is, of what he is, of what he does, that’d be great. I’d be really interested to see what people make of Frollo, he’s always seen as the real baddy. I’m not sure he is. Not in the novel, and not in this adaptation. He’s the politician that everyone’s happy to hate, if people can see the man behind that, that’d be great too.

How does Quasimodo differ from the other shows in the Belt Up repertoire?

The audience are cast as a role, not as in other Belt Up shows where you might get cast as an individual, but as a whole. It’s like a story told underneath a magnifying glass. In other Belt Up shows you’re asked to sit side by side with the characters, to go on a journey with them. In Quasimodo you’re asked to be the jury, to sit and observe the characters from a distance, and eventually to judge them.

What was it that made you want to adapt Notre Dame de Paris?

I’ve always loved the story. It’s a story that everyone can relate to. It’s simple and honest. It’s obviously a little more dramatic than reality, but the themes are simple. The themes are about love, about desire and lust, about rejection. It’s not the fairytale that everyone expects. It doesn’t end happily ever after, our hero doesn’t ride away into the sunset, girl in arm, to life happily ever after. He loves the girl, he’d do anything for her, she’s everything to him, but she loves someone else. I think that’s something that everyone experiences at least once in their life.

How faithful an adaptation is it? What can fans of the book expect?

One of the key things with all Belt Up adaptations is that they aren’t just versions of a story, they really do adapt the source into something new and different. That’s what I’ve tried to do here. I’ve tried to dig past the architecture of Paris that Hugo’s novel obsesses with and find the story that everyone really knows, and then I’ve twisted it. I’ve given it the Belt Up treatment, so to speak. I want to give the audience something different than they’ll get from any other version. There are little bits of the novel hidden away throughout the play, little treats for fans of the novel. But if you go in with no idea who Quasimodo even is, that’s not a problem at all, it doesn’t assume anything is a given. So I guess the overall story you get might not be totally faithful, but the emotions from the novel are there, the love is there, and the pain and suffering and the desperation is there. The essence of the novel is all there.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Accidentally a Misogynist: What the Press said...

I was very excited about The Boy James opening, almost in a childish way because it was the first play I’d written being performed in London. For me this felt important, at least for me it was important.

The other three boys have already had their shows run at Southwark Playhouse and so each have had to deal accordingly with the Press. This is, of course, true of any run. It is inevitable that you will get some good reviews, others bad; some that are fair and others that read like they were watching an entirely different show. I was prepared for this. In Edinburgh The Boy James and my adaptation of Antigone both received wildly varying responses. I have begun to think that the style of my writing might be a love or hate type affair.

However, the Press for The Boy James have levelled an opinion that I had never expected: that a strand of the play is misogynistic.

The first review which mentioned any possible misogyny was the glorious Tracey Sinclair from, who seemed to hate everything and so I took it with a pinch of salt: ‘It feels vaguely misogynistic; if only it wasn’t for all those rapacious females and their evil ways, the boys could stay uncorrupted and have fun forever!’ (Read the full review here).

However the accusation came again in Sam Marlowe’s review in The Times: ‘There’s also a whiff of sexism to the girl’s portrayal: in her demands to play house or mummies and daddies with the fearful and reluctant boy, and her threat to burn down Barrie’s study, there’s a faint suggestion that women are the natural enemy of male creativity.’ (Read the full review on our blog).

The third came from Ought To Be Clowns: ‘Lucy Farrett, with a great entrance into the show, coped admirably with what comes across as a rather uncomfortably misogynistic role’ (Full review here).

And finally a slightly less overt inference from British Theatre Guide: ‘She has only knocked him out but she thinks violence and hurting people can be exciting and then attempts to introduce him to sex: the female in the biblical tradition of Eve as the instrument of corruption.’ (Again, full review here)

Of course I am not a critic and everyone’s opinion is entirely valid. And obviously I know ‘The Death of The Author’ exists, but is it bad of me to read the above and think ‘You’re wrong, the play isn’t misogynistic’?

I know people interpret things in different ways, but The Boy James hasn’t a hint of misogyny in it. My main way of backing this up is simply because I am not a misogynist in any way shape or form.

There are two ways of approaching my defense, through the topic of the play and through my reasoning around it.

If you’ve seen the show you know what happens. A girl enters the world of James’ childhood self and effectively rapes him. This is violent and upsetting. A little girl rapes a little boy. Yes, this does resonate with the occasional discomfort of being unsympathetically brought in to the adult world by the forces of Time, and of the relative changes that come with that. It does not suggest that all young men are corrupted by young women. Surely if the Boy raped the Girl, that too is misogynist and sexist, subordinating the power of the female?

Sex is, and I’m sure noone will dispute this, a powerful tool and a powerful force. Just look at the amount of sex that is selling products in the media, it is something that adults are drawn to, seduced by, enchanted and obsessed with. Children don’t have this overt obsession. The introduction of sex in to someone’s life is a clear shift from childhood to puberty and to adulthood, not just physically but socially and politically too.

Of course in the play the symbol of this is the Girl, and the change happens rather quickly, but this is due to writing a play and not making a documentary.

Perhaps the above is the disputed point. Perhaps it is merely that the symbol of this shift and change is a girl, instead of a boy.

There are two characters in the play: James as a boy and James as a man. Although the events are not biopic, James is obviously a shadowy symbol of J M Barrie. Here again I split in to two arguments, one of his life and one of his fiction, as The Boy James mingles both.

J M Barrie was heterosexual. Some say a-sexual but he was married to a Mary and later became socially involved with the Llewelyn Davies family and the children’s mother, Sylvia. Apparently his marriage to Mary was unconsummated and also apparently he and Sylvia were engaged when Sylvia died.

There has been speculation as to whether Barrie had a paedophilic relationship with the Llewelyn Davies boys, but this speculation is by no means involved in The Boy James. However, had the Girl been another boy, had a more dominant male interfered or raped a little boy then suddenly The Boy James is about J M Barrie being a paedophile. This was never going to factor in The Boy James.

Considering the above points about any biopic sense in the play, it makes sense for the symbol of adolescence or danger to be a girl, not a boy.

Secondly and, perhaps more importantly, we come to the fictional allusions within The Boy James. In Peter Pan there is a boy who doesn’t want to grow up and a girl who wants him to. There is a boy who wants to remain forever young and careless and a girl who wants to kiss him. There is a boy who wants to stay in adventureland and a girl who wants him to come back to her house. There is Peter Pan and Wendy Darling.

When I watch or read Peter Pan I never think of Wendy as a symbol of misogyny.

The Boy in The Boy James is not a rewrite of the part of Peter Pan and the Girl is not a rewrite of Wendy Darling, but the parallels are there and they are clear and obvious. Wendy wants Peter to grow up, she wants him to kiss her and she plays Mummy to all the Lost Boys. But Wendy is not a misogynistic role.

In The Boy James the Boy wants to play, to go on adventures and make magic things happen, the Girl wants him to kiss her, to look at her, to play Mummies and Daddies. But here the Press have said the Girl is a misogynistic symbol.

I have to say that I disagree.

Alexander Wright

Writer of The Boy James and Co-Artistic Director of Belt Up Theatre

The Boy James runs at Southwark Playhouse until 28th January.

Extra performances have just been added due to popular demand.


We are very happy to announce that due to popular demand we are adding three more performances to the run of The Boy James here at Southwark Playhsoue.

This week:
FRIDAY 21st JAN at 9pm

Next week:
THURSDAY 27th JAN at 9pm
FRIDAY 28th JAN at 9pm

You can secure tickets for these performances at

This coming Sunday 23rd there is a chance to come meet the cast and creative team of the show at Southwark Playhouse after the performance. There are no tickets left for the Sunday show but you can come along at 8.40pm for a drink, talkback session and chance to ask any pressing questions you might have.

Hopefully see some of you there.

Monday, 17 January 2011

A Few More Reviews (inlcuding The Times)

So we had another handful of reviews come in over yesterday and today. Here is glimpse of what they had to say...

**** from whatsonstage:
'Belt Up have a knack for conjuring moments where hand flies to mouth in shock'

There Ought to be Clowns:
'thoroughly enchanting'

British Theatre Guide:
It's a nice review but there aren't really any good quotes from it. Here is a link so you can read the whole thing if you feel inclined to do so.

As The Times don't allow you to read their reviews without first giving them money very few people will be able to discover this review. So here it is in full:

To die will be an awfully big adventure,” Peter Pan famously declares. Yet in Alexander Wright’s hour-long play about Peter’s creator J. M. Barrie, staged by the immersive-theatre specialists Belt Up, death, both literal and figurative, is a source of scarring trauma. Directed by Dominic J. Allen, the piece attempts to tug its audience back into the world of childhood imagination, where enchantment lies, but beyond whose borders the terrifying adult domain lurks in wait. It’s occasionally harrowing, but the participatory element creates a self-consciousness that sometimes acts as an unfortunate barrier to involvement.

The setting is a small, cosy room that is part Edwardian study, part child’s den.
Overstuffed sofas and cushions provide audience seating, the ceiling and walls are hung with blankets and piles of books surround the oak desk. Here we encounter an eager-eyed Scots boy in striped pyjamas who winsomely cajoles us into playing with him: first, a game of tag, then I Spy. This had my personal inner child drumming her heels with impatience. Happily, the narrative livens up, with the arrival of a nightdress-clad, sulky-looking little girl who bursts in through the fireplace, and then of James (James Wilkes),dour- faced and haunted in pinstripes, the grown-up incarnation of our youthful host. Boy and man face one another, the first longing to be taken on a new adventure, the second insisting on agonising and perhaps overdue separation from his younger self.

The girl (Lucy Farrett), with the spite and mischief of Tinkerbell, dares the boy to drink “poison”, James’s whisky, before sexually assaulting him. It’s a startling and painful journey from innocence to experience.

Peter Pan is, of course, the boy who never grew up; and there are echoes, too, of Barrie’s own intriguing life. The death of his elder brother when Barrie was six and his allegedly asexual adulthood both seem to have informed Wright’s play — which could usefully have given such ideas more room for development. There’s also a whiff of sexism to the girl’s portrayal: in her demands to play house or mummies and daddies with the fearful and reluctant boy, and her threat to burn down Barrie’s study, there’s a faint suggestion that women are the natural enemy of male creativity. The performances, though, are persuasive, particularly Jethro Compton’s poignant boy; and when it’s not trying too strenuously to charm, the production has a penetrating melancholy.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Reviews: A Quite Interesting Endorsement

The reviews have been coming in from the blogs, and we're expecting the nationals to start coming in over the next few days.

We've had some positive reviews from SE1 and A Younger Theatre, a negative one from Arts Desk, and a bitter and twisted review from the Rt. Hon. Tracey Sinclair of Music OMH that is well worth a read purely for its comic value.

Our highlight so far is not actually a review but a message on Twitter that reads:

'Just been knocked out by "The Boy James" Belt Up's interactive show about J. M. Barrie at The Southwark Playhouse. Still drying my eyes.'

from Mr Stephen Fry.

Tickets available from Southwark Playhouse

Thursday, 13 January 2011

A few shots of The Boy James

We're now three nights into the run and things are going swimmingly.

A handful of press in tonight and a lot more in tomorrow... so we'll let you know how we get on!

In the meantime, here are some production shots courtesy of Nicholas Coupe, our sometimes stage manager, ocasional photographer and eternal gentleman.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Spotlight On...Dominic J Allen and The Boy James

You’re back in the directing chair at Southwark Playhouse after Lorca is Dead in November. What’s different about The Boy James?

The Boy James has been a much more intimate directing experience, partly because the cast is so much smaller (three actors instead of eight) and also the tone and texture of the piece is sort of the opposite end of the spectrum. Something the two plays have in common for me as a director is that they both require the audience to be given a helping hand on the journey. In Lorca, for instance, there was a lot of assumed knowledge about surrealism and history that it was important we made sure everyone in the audience was able to be filled in on things they missed. The Boy James doesn't necessarily assume any prior knowledge about anything but the subject matter can be somewhat oblique. This is the great joy of the piece; it's mysterious, intriguing, sinister – so it's important to make sure the audience are with us all the way so they get the full experience by the end.

Is it hard to switch between the two styles, the madcap nature of Lorca and the intimate tragedy of The Boy James?

One of the good things about having done Lorca immediately before Boy James is that I feel I've got a bit of practice in when it comes to pulling at the heart strings. Although Lorca had its topsy-turvy moments, it also had an emotional centre. The Boy James is very similar in this respect except the melancholy is more profound and perhaps more immediately visible. So, in a way, I guess it's not as hard as it may first appear. It's been an interesting learning curve though, taking the plunge into these darker areas.

Belt Up’s shows are typically interactive and involve the audience in the story. What is the audiences place in The Boy James?

It suits the piece that it's never made explicitly clear who the audience is or what they represent. The cast and I have got our own ideas about that, of course. The important thing about the audience's place in the play is their journey with the boy. They enter as old friends – perhaps even imaginary friends, or memories – and some audience members can expect to be cast in certain roles but their involvement will shift as much as the boy's experiences shift. You'll have to come and see for yourself where the audience end up.

Belt Up works at break neck speed, coming straight to Southwark after a rural tour of Octavia. How do you find the time to get a show back up and running?

It wasn't half as bad as I was expecting, actually. We had to rehearse in a new actress (Lucy Farrett, taking over from Veronica Hare) but it was easy for us all to slip back into it. It was also very useful returning to a play that's already had a good month long run in Edinburgh because there were things we knew we wanted to change and try out. As we all got back into it so quickly, it gave us some time to put a few new ideas to the test.

You were here in November, what makes The Boy James worth the return visit for the audience?

Because it's not what you'll be expecting. Lorca, Atrium and Quasimodo, even though they weren't directly related, fitted together in a way that's hard to describe. The Boy James on the other hand has something completely different to offer so its worth just coming for a look. It's neither mad nor scary. It's something else...

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Spotlight on... Jethro Compton and The Boy James

Tell us about The Boy James – how did it go in Edinburgh?
I think we’d all agree that the show was a success at the Fringe. We were lucky enough to play to full houses for every performance and received some really positive reviews (as well as a couple of comically awful ones). It was the first time ‘The Boy James’ had been seen by anyone; we didn’t do previews prior to Edinburgh so we literally had no idea what to expect. For us the play was about so
many things; we spent a lot of time in rehearsals trying to work out all its meaning and what lay beneath the surface. I think one of the most important things we missed was the emotional potential that the play holds. In our first public dress in Edinburgh we were shocked and delighted when half the audience left completely broken by the story. We hadn’t anticipated such a reaction. I’m glad to say that it was a reaction that continued throughout the month.

You played the Boy in Edinburgh. How does it feel coming back to a role after almost five months off?

I’ve loved every second of it. To be able to come back to the show after such a long time has given me the chance to look at it in a completely different way. I can’t just remember how I did it before; I’ve got to rediscover it. A lot of what existed in the Edinburgh production has returned but a lot more has been added. We’ve had the time to take what we already know and find more to build on top of what we have. The cast has changed slightly as well, so we’ve not simply been rerehearsing it. For Lucy as t
he Girl it’s been a case of starting afresh and I think that’s definitely challenged the rest of us to push ourselves even further.

You don’t sell yourself as an actor, rather a producer. Why do you want to take on and continue this role?

I’ve taken a break since the Fringe to give me more time to focus on producing but I always said that if the opportunity came up again I’d definitely want the chance to play the Boy again. I think part of the reason is that I felt in Edinburgh I didn’t get the chance to put everything into the character; as well as performing in two other shows, writing two shows and directing two, I also produced The House Above and the eight shows that were part of it. The amount of time available to me was so limited that I never even once had a chance to look at a script outside of rehearsals; working fifteen to twenty hour days for three weeks straight meant free time was such a rarity that I felt it should be used for sleep rather than anything else. Now there’s a chance to go back to the play and to the character with the time they deserve I couldn’t really say no.

It’s a very intimate piece. Is it difficult to create a relationship with the audience that is so seriously jeopardised, or changed, by the end of the play?

The first time an audience filed in for the show I was absolutely petrified. One of the real difficulties with any of our shows is that you can’t really rehearse until that moment. It says in the script to ‘play with the audience’, and until you have that audience you can only imagine what that moment’s go to be like. I was so relieved to discover that the audience seemed more than happy to oblige, they laughed and played along and offered
everything they could. I think creating a relationship with any audience is hard, however, it’s the focus of such a large part of ‘The Boy James’ so I think it comes quite naturally. Once it’s there, jeopardising it or changing it is outside of the Boy’s control. For me as an actor I don’t feel it’s a difficult change, but maybe one that does leave me feeling a little guilty.

Is it worth watching, especially as you were only here two months ago?

Absolutely. ‘The Boy James’ is so different from the shows that featured in the Belt up Season in November. That’s why it sits alone. I think it’s a show that will appeal to all. There is something in ‘The Boy James’ that clearly has a truly emotional impact on its audience. I can’t say what it is, not because I’m not allowed but because I’m not able. There is something here that can only be felt when you make the journey and go along with the Boy’s adventure. I can’t encourage you enough.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

What The Audience Think...

Thoughts from Val Burgess on her first Belt Up experience...

'I thought about doing a write up of the shows that I've seen over the past few months, but instead I'm sending you what I wrote shortly after seeing The Tartuffe, my first Belt Up show, when I knew nothing about the company other than you'd started at York Uni and were now in residence at YTR.

I knew I was going to enjoy Belt Up Theatre’s The Tartuffe when we were standing in the theatre bar, and members of the cast were mingling amongst us. We chatted with clowns, ladies in corsets, mimes, and the great actor Orgon Poquelin (who was a little put out that we didn’t realise that he was the star of the show), and a chap who asked our names, which we obligingly told him.

As we went to take our seats in the second row of the stalls, the same chap was learning over the edge of the circle, and announced to all the audience ‘here ladies and gentlemen, we have Val and Julie, who have just entered’, of course, we took a bow, and took our seats.

What I hadn’t realised was that we were attending the very final performance of The Tartuffe, and over the last couple of years, and performances in York, Edinburgh, and London, this show has gained it’s own cult following. Belt Up’s style is Immersive Theatre, and for this last show, there were a lot of people who had seen it before, and were happy to get involved. Most people on the front row were dragged up on stage in some way. I was, of course, kicking myself that we were on the second row.

It was, quite simply, the best production I’ve seen for some time, funny, clever, very irreverent, with enough theatre ‘in-jokes’ to make a theatre snob happy, and then some.

By the end, the whole of the audience were on their feet, as Orgon died, and was lifted aloft like a dead Christ. The cheering went on for some time. This time, I didn’t begrudge the standing ovation, they deserved it. They’re in residence at York Theatre Royal, and I’ll definitely be seeking out what they do next. Also, they have a blog. Seek them out people, you won’t regret it.

Since then, I've seen Midsummer Night's Dream, Lorca (which I recommended to a friend in London, who also loved it, and who also recommended it to friends), Antigone, Macbeth, Elsewhere, and Octavia. I've seen you perform in attics, open spaces, a library and a pub restaurant. You've made me laugh, cry uncontrollably and celebrate the sheer joy of live theatre. I'm looking forward to what 2011 brings.'

Thanks Val!

Keep them coming...

Monday, 3 January 2011

What The Audience Think...

We asked you for your thoughts on Belt Up and your experiences over the last few years.

Here’s the first in from Andrew Skipper.

‘During this years Edinburgh fringe I was dragged, somewhat hung over and unwilling, to see a production I'd never heard of called Lorca is Dead, I had no idea who you were and had never seen any productions before, the only prior knowledge I had was of reading Lorca's Blood Wedding which i didn't even like

Needless to say I left the venue that night amazed, I loved your production and was astounded by the style in which you performed it. I was so blown away I found a similarly unwilling university friend of mine and bought her to your final night at the Southwark playhouse. This time I knew what to expect so I made sure to sit right in the action on the floor and because of this I; had my face stroked by Dali, performed the elephant, had Dali and Gala lying on top of me and my friend was brought up to read some of the lines behind Breton's desk.

She was just as amazed as I was the first night I saw it, in fact this was better than Edinburgh for a few reasons but mainly because of the lack of clapping at the end, in Edinburgh someone started a round of applause which I found didn't feel right but this performance went perfectly and we left the theatre that suitably distraught and in awe.

One moment that has stuck out in my mind is the ending image of Breton behind his desk, distraught and broken, in both performances this was a brilliant piece of acting which I couldn't look away from, so much so that I remember seeing the actor playing Breton out and about in Edinburgh the next day and feeling very odd in need because as a company you created a level of character realism which I haven't seen matched to date and seeing caught me off guard!

Unfortunately being students we couldn't afford to stay for Atrium afterwards at Southwark but have just bought tickets to the final show of The Boy James on the 28th, which we are highly looking forward to.

So many thanks Belt up, for a wonderful performance and giving us a kick of inspiration which is helping with our own work at university!’

If you want to send us your thoughts then drop us an email on