Time & Again Book Club: The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

Wild Air

To bring our plays to life, we find it invaluable to immerse ourselves in books, exhibitions, films and documentaries all about the era and context in which our stories are set. As we prepare to take to Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 with Clouds, a story of women rising up in 1913, we thought now would be an excellent time to invite you to join us in reading up on this exciting era of early aviation and women’s suffrage!

For this first instalment of Time & Again Book Club, we decided to read historical novelist Rebecca Mascull’s The Wild Air. Like Clouds, the story is set in Edwardian England and follows a young woman with a burning desire to take to the skies in these new fangled flying machines.

fionaFiona Primrose who plays budding suffragette Sylvia Lovejoy in Clouds enjoyed an introduction to the world of early aviation.

‘It’s reminded me of what a huge event flying used to be. These days the novelty has worn off with thousands of successful flights happening every day, but back then it really was a spectacle and I’ll be looking to bring some of that excitement (and probably trepidation!) to our performance. I also loved the references to Shakespeare too.’

We’re no strangers to a bit of Shakespeare, our debut show Greyhounds was closely entwined with the bard’s Henry V. Thus, a reference or two will never go amiss with us.

lauraLaura Crow was also particularly taken with the insight into flying the novel gave her. Laura is the writer and producer of Clouds and also plays Freddie Baxter, who is determined to become the first female pilot to fly around Britain in an air race so this was very pertinent to her character development!

‘The descriptions of early aviation and flight was so well researched and detailed. It definitely helped me think about what Freddie would go through each time she took her Blackburn up; the cold, the fear, the excitement, the tempestuous nature of early machinery! 

I loved the descriptions of pre-war Hendon too. It really gave a window into the ‘last glorious summer’ type feeling of the Edwardian era.’

We recently visited Hendon on a trip to London’s RAF Museum. It was particularly exciting to see where parts of the novel were set and see photographs and memorabilia of Claude Grahame-White, who has quite the cameo in the book.

catherineCatherine Cowdrey, who plays Lady Sara Fitzmaurice whose focus is on hosting the perfect garden party, found the characters a big part of the delight of the book.

‘Rebecca Mascull has done a fantastic job of creating a set of vibrant, strong female characters. Aviatrix Della definitely knows her own mind and is not afraid to break the rules. Similarly, her sisters and aunt manage to carve their way in what is perceived to be quite a repressed society. I think this is something we can definitely engage with and explore when we discuss our characters and their motives.’

Clouds director Jacqueline Wheble liked how the author evokes that feeling of being trapped in a small town like Cleethorpes with no future at the start of the novel. The way this then blossoms into the delight of kite flying with that special Auntie who opens up the world to her is really delightful. Cultivating convincing family relationships like this is something which will be key for Clouds as we meet Freddie and her brother Theodore who share a similarly special bond. Jac also thought that the character of the father in The Wild Air, Pop the damaged actor, is very well drawn, bitter and demanding, withholding praise to control his children. Rebecca Mascull’s characters are clearly very carefully considered.

All in all, this page-turner was a big hit with Time & Again Theatre Company’s bookworms. Rebecca Mascull paints a stunning picture of Edwardian England and its aviation scene, one which will certainly inform how we take our Clouds characters to the stage.

Have you read The Wild Air? Let us know what you enjoyed about the book if so! Keep your eyes peeled for the announcement of our next read very soon.

Reviews from the Home Front – I, Sniper

I, Sniper tells the true story of soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko, deemed one of the deadliest female snipers in history. Plucked from obscurity as a teenage mother, she joins the red army and fights to take on the traditionally male task. This was an aspect of World War II history none of us knew very informed upon so we were interested to find out more from the Scotland-based student group from Acting Coach Scotland

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The play opens in a powerful fashion, with rows of young women marching in military uniform and responding to the barks of their commander in Russian. This instantly sets the evocative tone of the piece and establishes its context in a very clear way.

The story is told in a candid diary-like style, drawing the audience into her story. This clues us into her thoughts, feelings and emotions throughout her wartime journey, helping to ensure that the character of Pavlichenko is sufficiently humanised. The lead role is passed amongst the predominantly female ensemble cast, with each actor’s portrayal impressively as strong as the next. They use the clever device of pinning a military medal on and tucking their hat into their belt so that the audience is left in no doubt as to who is portraying Pavlichenko at present.

This is a very slick and well-rehearsed production which totally hits the target. Coming out of the production, I felt well-informed about an aspect of history I’d never explored before and like I wanted to research more myself. An impressive feat for the production indeed!

Letters from the Home Front -Edinburgh Diary Day 8

Wednesday 8th August 2018

Another day, another review waiting for us when we opened out eyes  – this time from The List! And what’s more another amazing 4 stars! We’re getting spoilt by the morning reviews rolling in. It’ll go to our heads. No really, it will.

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Fiona was out bright and early to catch her parents (devout and loyal Greyhounds fans) for coffee before they left our adopted Scottish homeland. The rest of us were rather slower on the wake up and departed midmorning after a leisurely munch of Cheerios and Wheetabix (other brands are available.)

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We decided that today would be the day we went to the Elephant House – the birthplace of Harry Potter. J K Rowling used to write there when she first moved to Edinburgh and the toilets are now a dedicated graffiti shrine. It’s a place of pilgrimage for any Potter fan.  I can also highly recommend their Hazelnut and Nutella cake which I nibbled (lol, wolfed down) alongside a big cup of coffee. We also had a wander around some of Edinburgh’s finest vintage shops, including the National Museum of Scotland, where we made a couple of new friends…

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Due to a stroke of good fortune (and someone else not showing up) we were able to perform another round of rousing 40s close-harmony tunes on the Street Stage. The crowds gathered again – singing really does seem to be like a magnet to crowds of people – and the boys flyered to their heart’s content as the girls warbled away.

Being a kind and generous person of the highest degree, I whipped up a big bowl of pasta for everyone to devour for din dins. We ate early so we could get back to the Mile in time to catch Mission: Her, a show written to remind those with mental health issues that they are not alone. “Her is twentysomething, she has a five-year plan in place but life events put a spanner in the works. As Her begins to drown in the pressures of past and present society, her friends go on a mission to help.” It was a sharp and thought provoking performance with well integrated tech and effects to highlight the looming presence of social media.

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We finished in perfect time to hit our empty car park space for the nightly warm up and prepare ourselves for the the show (recentre ourselves so we didn’t disturb our creative energy – thanks Ruby). The performance seemed to go well again. We’re getting very quick at setting up and packing down our WW2 set: folding chairs, moving tables, sticking up posters.

After drinks and a catch up with some of Tim’s friends, we headed back to the apartment for our beauty sleep. Now proud owners of Ridercards, we can bus back and forth to our heart’s desire. Just watch us go.

Goodnight folks,
Laura (Katherine Winters)

Letters from the Home Front – Edinburgh Diary Day 5

Sunday 5th August 2018
The day of Sunday the 5th of August was no ordinary day. Sunday the 5th of August was in fact a very special occasion: our lovely Tim’s 30th birthday! Naturally much of the day was spent celebrating and compensating for the fact that we’ve made him ring in his 30th with that… interesting moustache. The morning started with cups of tea and Freddos in bed, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a healthy and age-appropriate breakfast.
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Sunday 5th of August shall now be known as ‘Cooper Day’.
Despite the fact that birthdays are meant to be fun, Tim decided to go for a run. I know, I’m not sure what that is or why anyone would want to do it either, but different strokes for different folks! Never one to miss an opportunity to promote the show, the birthday boy embarked on his torture trip run with our lovely Greyhounds poster pinned proudly to his top. Isn’t he just the best?
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Outstanding commitment to promoting the show at every opportunity!
Tim’s jaunt around Edinburgh gave Jacob, Catherine, and Laura the perfect opportunity to complete their Top Secret mission, revolving around cakes and party paraphernalia. Bibi’s bakery had made us some beautiful cupcakes, which Catherine and Jacob managed to sneak back to the apartment. The next stage of the mission was to get Tim back into town so the rest of team Greyhounds could set up secret party central. Thankfully the promise of eating some gelato from Mary’s Milk Bar whilst sitting in the shade of the castle did the trick, leaving Paul, Jac, Jacob, Catherine and me enough time to transform the apartment into party paradise. I did my best to blow up some balloons, but apparently this is not something that I’m very good at. My excuse is that I have asthma and that, just like people, balloons also come in all shapes and sizes. Variety is the spice of life after all, and I happen to think that small balloons are cute, OK?
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Delicious cupcakes (pre-sparklers), courtesy of Bibi’s Bakery.

Tim and Laura returned to the apartment to the sound of classic party banger ‘Celebration’ and the somewhat less tune sound of party blowers. The cupcakes were adorned with Spitfire toppers (always got to be on brand) and sparklers. They were almost too pretty to eat, but somehow we overcame this and not a crumb was left. Life is hard sometimes.

Party hats were donned, presents and cards were opened, and delicious pancakes were also eaten. Following this, we whipped out the ukulele and all sat around for a good sing-song. Festive as it was, it had an ulterior motive. Monday sees our first performance on the street stage on the Royal Mile. We practised a selection of wartime songs: Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Hey Mr Miller. By the end of the rehearsal we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, and I secretly felt a bit like a Puppini Sister, only slightly less glamourous.
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Pancake pro Jac in action!
Our Sunday performance was a ‘Secret Show’ because of a printing error in the Fringe Programme which meant that it appeared that we did not have a performance that night. In the spirit of Keeping Calm and Carrying On, we flyered our socks off and lured people in with the promise of a free show if they used our code word. Another slick get in commenced at exactly ten past eight, an experience which was enhanced by seeing the audience already queuing up for the play. We were over half full, and it was a jolly good show!
After the show we went for some food in Byron, just down the road from our venue, chosen by the birthday boy. There was a slight drama over the delayed appearance of my cheese fries as I am afraid to say that I was getting rather hangry by this point and hadn’t yet had my daily ration of cheese. Thankfully they eventually arrived and were delicious, so I decided against flipping the table over Hulk-fashion and storming out. A few drinks followed at the Pleasance, which is fast becoming one of our favourite Fringe spots. A spilt pomegranate gin almost rained on our parade but we just hit the prosecco bar instead. The night ended with tea and biscuits in the apartment, the perfect finish to a special Fringe-based 30th.
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What a handsome and happy bunch we are!
Happy birthday, Tim – we hope it was every bit as splendid as you are!
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Until next time, chaps!

Fiona

(Greyhounds’ Nancy Wilde)

Reviews from the Home Front – Shit-Faced Shakespeare

Shit-Faced Shakespeare: Hamlet by Magnificent Bastard Productions

Shit-Faced Shakespeare first came onto my radar 5 years ago, when I spent the summer at the Fringe performing with Paperfinch Theatre. I was sitting in the bar of our C venue surrounded by frog puppets – don’t ask – when I heard a small voice pipe up: “Daddy, what does ‘shit-faced’ mean?”. Rather than regale the little girl with my own definition of ‘shit-faced’ based on years of personal experience, I decided to let her father handle the situation and made a mental note to try and see this show that sounded right up my street: drunken debauchery and Shakespeare – what’s not to love?

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Sadly I didn’t get to see it that year, but upon returning to the Fringe this summer I was thrilled to see that Shit-Faced Shakespeare has become something of a Fringe staple, going from strength to strength. The venue has changed from the much smaller C Venues to the grandiose McEwan Hall, which has a beautifully ornate ceiling and seems to be a perfect fit for some classy Shakespeare.

Unsurprisingly, given the name and concept of the show, we didn’t actually see any classy Shakespeare. Instead we were treated to a production of Hamlet where the actor playing Claudius had downed a bottle of tequila prior to the show, and was also plied with beer throughout to keep him suitably sauced. From the offset, the audience were put in the party mood with music and a lively compere who explained the premise of the show and gave the all-important sick bucket to an audience member in the front row, who seemed a bit too enthused by the prospect of being the potential target of tequila-laced vomit.

There is no point in summarising the plot because this was pleasingly the least Hamlet production of Hamlet I’ve ever seen, particularly once Claudius had insisted that Laertes and Ophelia dress up as each other in order to protect Ophelia from Hamlet’s apparent madness. Claudius was even hornier than usual (a bit too much passionate snogging which I’m hoping the actress playing Gertrude was OK with), rather unsteady on his feet, a big fan of calling everyone a ‘twat’ and surprisingly progressive with his views on gender which is, to quote, ‘fluid at the moment’. The Saturday night audience were in the mood for a laugh, and this production provided plenty. Although Claudius was obviously a main source of humour, credit must also go to the other performers who responded well to his antics and even managed to do a bit of Shakespeare between all the drunkard-wrangling. A most enjoyable evening!