Sunday, 28 June 2009

the next world premiere

by Craig Taylor


58 tiny plays to coordinate
18 actors - 2 of whom are in the other premiere play - to install
Crowns Band to integrate
2 buses to sort
Music to rehearse

And the following to create:

  • train stations

  • restaurants

  • offices

  • classrooms

  • theatres

  • parks

  • fairgrounds

  • airports

  • supermarkets

  • hospitals

  • surgeries

  • hairdressers

  • bars

And in just 9 hours - minus an hour for lunch - so that's just 8 hours!

Technical Rehearsals are a wonder: creative and v. exciting...


Photo: Bruce Liron

With 512 people attending over the first three days, My Family and Other Stories has proved to be a tiny experiment in theatre, alfresco, storytelling and keeper-acting.

It is almost conservation-fringe.

This was perhaps crystalised yesterday when we met Rebecca from Sydney, the research and conservation director from Taronga Conservation Society, Australia. She was on a trip with her husband who had been a keeper at Durrell in the very early seventies.

Rebecca saw five of the pieces and was intrigued at how honest, uncomplicated, 21st. century, and keeper-like, our storytellers were.

She thought Janette, Yildiz, Jack and William had created an incredible ensemble and, like me, was impressed - not that anything is about contriving impressiveness - at everyone's ability to communicate the conservation elements in a hugely accessible way with theatre.

Theatre is certainly a force.

An exciting conversation thus ensued about exclusivity and inclusivity in arts and business and how the two can co-exist simultaneously. Though, of course, the latter is preferred...

A grey, cloudy start to the day, which might have necessitated going indoors, but we went with the weather forecast and remained outside to be sun-drenched instead.


The pieces were hugely relaxed, fluid, had settled a little more - with some poignant new improvised moments - and were even more confident.

This shift in gear created something quite engaging and dynamic in the inside/outside storytelling arena at Durrell.

But from one world premiere last week to another this week...

Thursday, 25 June 2009

25 June - 25 July 2009 (not Mondays)

Gerald Durrell's

a medley of storytelling, literature, drama, dance, music, autobiography, education, conservation, comedy, physical theatre, documentary, natural history, zoology, family history, travelogue and travel guide - to entertain all ages...

10:30 MENAGERIE MANOR (1964)
11:30 THE AYE-AYE AND I (1977)


A Jersey Arts Centre project in association with Durrell and Jersey Tourism


Gerald Durrell's
My Family and Other Stories
Jack Speckleton and Janette Froud

Menagerie Manor (1964)
Yildiz Hussein as Bali and Janette Froud as Oscar

The Aye-aye and I (1992)
Yildiz Hussein, Janette Froud and Jack Speckleton
in Madagascar

Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons (1977) Janette Froud, Jack Speckleton and Yildiz Hussein in Mauritius

Birds, Beasts and Relatives (1969)
Janette Froud as Mrs Durrell
Yildiz Hussein as Margo
William Howell-Jackson as Gerald Durrell
Jack Speckleton as Lawrence Durrell

Fillets of Plaice (1971)
Yildiz Hussein as Mr Bellow
William Howell-Jackson as Gerald Durrell

Photos: Bruce Liron

Dress Rehearsal: Wednesday 24 June 2009

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

factor 50

In rehearsal three weeks ago - not alfresco...

a sweltering day dressing in true Durrellian-style

tea and cake between the stories, laughter, fun and reminiscences of Corfiot adventures

Lee Durrell pitching up for Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Aquarium - and laughing lots

watching four beautifully skilled, natural people working so very industriously with six of the most difficult pieces of theatre imagineable

documentary-style / 'doing' animals / and alfresco peformance is a challenge

even more challenging than sustaining a run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

but an exquisite day, with some fantastic photographs, too, in preparation for the world premiere tomorrow

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Day 1 / Week 4 / Tuesday

In rehearsal three weeks ago...

Going into the production week, with performers taking two restful days to consolidate all that had been explored and discovered in mind, body and soul over the past three weeks, was totally refreshing.

We rehearsed on Saturday [a rare thing for me] which meant that Sunday and Monday were days off. But only because the pieces will be playing from Tuesdays through Sundays.

I also had time to develop some thoughts on style, content, technique, production elements and the minutae of storytelling in all its facets, modes and nuances. And to catch up on running an Arts Centre...

Day 1
Week 4
48 hours until the world premiere...

A blisteringly hot day to be alfresco; 4/6 of the stories tech-ed, if that is what it is, amidst a thoroughfare of curious, passing Durrellians up at Trinity.

The following were challenges:

  • the sun
  • the heat
  • the bird poo
  • the wind in the trees
  • the running
  • the planes

Wow! How to keep focused and still be able to communicate something of the life and times of Gerald Durrell - in his own words.

An absolute security of being, and knowing what is trying to be communicated, is essential here because there is no foldback: the resonance is in nature, the air - everything dissipates into the ether and seems gone in milli-seconds. But we know that. We knew that.

So: there has to be a constant energy - almost like a running tap.

Like running a marathon, even!

A relentless energy to sustain audibility and interest.

Essential: vocal, physical, intellectual and emotional power.

Friday, 12 June 2009

the aquarium

Photo: Gregory Guida

started, and thus began the exploration of, one of the chapters from Fillets of Plaice

published 1971

a collection of five stories: ours is chapter two

a fourth actor / performer / storyteller is now in the rehearsal room

the dynamic thus expanded and there is now even more side-splitting laughter

and there wasn’t any more room for hysterics: we were already at capacity

creating this menagerie of animals and characters, these past two weeks, has meant physical boundaries have been shattered

everyone has been uniquely uninhibited

and freedoms have been explored

a beautiful experience and a privileged one

quote: ‘i have never laughed so much in a rehearsal room – ever’

quote: ‘this is lunatic’

quote: ‘Gerald Durrell was incredible’

fillets of plaice:
chapter two

our working title: the aquarium

the story of the 'the aquarium' pet shop in which Gerry got a job when the family returned from Corfu in 1939

exquisite in its observation: absorbing, original, charming, witty, nostalgic, poignant and sad

about: strangers, change, passion, creativity, eccentricity and story-telling

totally enchanting - especially when you consider that world war II had just been declared

Thursday, 11 June 2009

an alfresco rehearsal

Les Augrès Manor

A rehearsal up at the Durrell site in the afternoon refreshed alfresco dynamics and challenges.

It was great to be reminded of the noise: waterfalls, aeroplanes, wind, babies, school children, engines, photographers, keepers-passing and the clanking of buckets.

The performance area, arena-d by three trees, has allowed for an intimate space to tell these six vignettes.

Rehearsing without the production elements, and with a vaguely curious audience, presented a challenge and the suppression of much laughter - barely contained at times - as the realisation of this 'ludicrous' project came to light.

But I think that Gerald Durrell would have come down from Les Augrès Manor and joined in!

And so we were delighted when Dr. Lee Durrell materialised having earlier presented the Environment Week awards at the Princess Royal Pavilion.

The opportunity to run three of the stories, with what we had so far, meant that adjustments and previously neglected elements, could be discussed, worked through, developed and progressed.

Performing alfresco is exhausting and reminded me of our community, promenade, open-air production of Peter Pan in the summer of 1997 at South Hill Park; Lord of the Flies at The Henley College that same year; and creating Narnia at Mont Orgueil in Jersey in 2006.

Alfresco is lunatic: either wet and windy or sweltering and sun-baked - but such great fun and so full of laughter.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

what did you do at work today?

hawksbill turtle
sea horses
olympic dolphins
star fish
greek fishermen
a court room

from: Gerald Durrell's Birds, Beasts and Relatives (published 1969)

Monday, 8 June 2009


Photo: Gregory Guida

Changing the dynamic for each story has been a great challenge. For Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons (published 1977) we have discovered umbrellas - or perhaps they discovered us.

The umbrellas have lent themselves exquisitely to creating Gerry’s Mauritius pink pigeons and golden bats.

It has been quite important to use the essential, physical, behavoural trait of each animal and then re-create that either in the body and / or with another physical element.

What we don’t ever want to do is somehow be fraudulent in the use of either and thus inadvertently undermine what it is that we are trying to achieve.

The balance that is needed between: the conservational, documentary approach and performance style; the more physical, entertaining, visually dynamic and absorbing animal behaviour; and the often eccentric narrative of Gerald Durrell - is acute in all our creative minds.

Friday, 5 June 2009

the fosa

Photo: kisspanda

Adapted extract from Gerald Durrell's 'The Aye-aye and I' (1992):

A flash of russet red caught my eye in the bushes some six feet in front of the vehicle and, suddenly, from out of the undergrowth, silent as a cloud shadow, came a Fosa which walked languidly to the middle of the road and sat down and remained immobile for a minute or two.

There was no mistaking that slouching, indolent, cat-like gait. We are observing the largest carnivorous mammal in Madagascar, looking very much like a young puma and with a puma’s walk.

It was relaxed and perfectly at ease: no furtive glances over its shoulder, no ear twitches, no tensing of the muscles.

The Fosa had a long athletic-looking body and an inordinately long tail.

Its head seemed small in comparison to the rest of its body and reminded me of the ancient Egyptian carvings of sacred cats.

Its fur looked dense and sleek and was a beautiful, warm honey-gingerbread colour.

It was, after all, carrying the banner of the lion, the tiger and the jaguar.

It sat, silent and unmoving for a few minutes, and then commenced to groom itself thoroughly as a cat does, lifting its plump paws to be licked and have the odd burr nibbled away, stretching its hind legs out to receive a wash, curry-combing its thick tail assiduously.

He then sat upright again, sighed, yawned prodigiously with a flash of white teeth, tested the wind and, then, slowly and gracefully, he crossed the road and disappeared into the forest.

His immense sickle of a tail swinging from side to side like a bell-rope behind him.

To have spent ten minutes with such a rare and beautiful creature was a privilege.

Yet the Malagasy dislike and fear the Fosa.

They assert it is quite fearless and will attack zebu and calves.

And man himself if provoked.

But the Fosa is benign and noble and would curl up at your fireside: a large, gentle, honey-coloured adornment to your hearth.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

# 1 lemur: King Julian

Image: DreamWorks

"It's Ok everybody: they're not here now!" [misquote]

I shall write about the fosa in The Aye-aye and I tomorrow...

Image: DreamWorks

I like to move it, move it.
She like to move it, move it.
We like to move it, move it.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

bamboo sticks

Photo: Gregory Guida

A discovery in the rehearsal room today harnessed and articulated three modes / styles of communication:

  • documentary
  • durrell eccentricity
  • animal spirit

These states of being / storytelling / narrative have enabled us to navigate through the non-fiction, the heightened drama and the animal behaviour.

Menagerie Manor, after only two days and in its short 20 minutes, now has greater breadth. It’s now more serious, witty, comedic and embraces greater animal physicality. The balance between these is going to be intricate and delicate; it is too early to fully realise what exactly might be experienced at the world première on 25 June…

But: Louie, the gibbon, did swing on an eight foot bamboo stick today; Oscar and Bali, our orang-utans, were hysterically funny with their pot-bellied-pillows; and actors urinated and wrestled on the floor!

We also got ahead: a psychological bonus.

We started to explore the elements of The Aye-aye and I (first published in 1992) and an expedition to Madagascar.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

menagerie manor

Having spent the last ten days gathering elements with which to play, the rehearsal room became alive with: sofas, chairs, boxes, rugs, sticks, birdcages, bugs, cushions, books, suitcases, bowls, gloves, straw, bodies, and a menagerie of explorations, experiments, thoughts, sounds, music and ideas.

Menagerie Manor, first published in 1964, provided us with great stimulus today because the challenge of creating macaques, gibbons and orang-utans in a subtle but physical way, and creating the spirit of that animal, was great.

Ingredients for success: research, a methodology, thoughtfulness, sensitivity – further cushioned with trust and free of inhibitions.

It was so very inspiring to have three creative minds and bodies – possibly four if I might be included in the list – so very willing to explore the ridiculous and the impossible.

In order to prepare for the developments that might be offered up on day three, the evening was spent discussing modes of communication, the theatre, actors, performers, styles, status, work, legitimacy, convention and alfresco challenges.

Monday, 1 June 2009

other stories ...

Photo: Gregory Guida

Nine months in-the-planning, in-the-preparation, and day 1 arrived: idyllic.

The excitement, the butterflies, the organisation, the scaréd-ness of it all built to:

  • welcoming performers at the airport (v. international!)
  • reconnaissance of the Durrell site
  • aye-ayes, giant jumping rats, orang-utans, gibbons and lemurs
  • lunch with Dr. Lee Durrell and Donna Le Marrec
  • meeting with hosts
  • talking about Gerry’s storytelling
  • conservation
  • the Durrell mission of: “saving species from extinction”

brought home the prestigious nature of this project and assisting all at Durrell in animating their site with some of Gerald Durrell’s stories for their 50th Anniversary Celebrations.

The day was filled with orientation: information to digest, remember, assimilate; travel; accommodation arrangements; stories; Island history; Durrell legacy; and animals.

A day that is rare.

The first day on which a full company comes together perhaps happens only once or twice a year - rarely seven times a year!

I am reminded that before the end of 2009 this experience, this feeling, this responsibility, this adventure, this quest - this lunacy - will have happened seven times:

  • outside / inside
  • my family and other stories
  • one million tiny plays about Britain
  • notes to a goldfish
  • 48 hours
  • claw
  • # 7 (tba)

A whirl-wind day! A fun day! A great night’s sleep…

Being able to offer up work is so exhilarating and feels good.