saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
Honest to God With... Rough Haired Pointer
17th January 2015
For a company that started out just two years ago, Mary Franklin and Carin Nakanishi's Rough Haired Pointer have covered a heck of a lot of ground, and been given great press (not only by us) in doing so. After an adaptation of The Young Visiters, the world premiere of Joe Orton's Fred and Madge and a couple of original pieces by Matt Osman, it was suggested Franklin tackle Victorian comedy The Diary of a Nobody. Which she did. And to no one's surprise, it garnered rave reviews across the board. To mark a new run at The King's Head Theatre, Mary, plus the cast and crew (and the rough haired pointer himself) met us.
Here, we chat with Rough Haired Pointer about the piece and Mary's aversion to odd numbers...
Photography provided by Mary Franklin
VFTG: Right, so, starting with Jordan, if we can just go just around and do a vague hello, my name is and I am X, Y or Z.
JM-S: Hello, I'm Jordan. And I'm playing Carrie Pooter.
GW: Hello, I'm Geordie and I'm playing Sarah and Titty Pinsworth and about eight or nine others, but I can't remember any of them right now because I'm on the spot.
VFTG: Fair enough.
MF: And I'm Mary and I'm the director and I adapted the script.
GF: I'm George and I'm playing Lupin and Gowing and also about another eight people, like Geordie said.
R: I'm Ricky and I'm the stage manager.
JC: I'm Jake, I play Charles Pooter.
OA: I'm Olivia, I'm the producer.
VFTG: There's a sort of elephant in the room as The Diary of Nobody has been adapted again and again - Ken Russell, and the Hugh Bonneville one in 2011. Were any of you worried about that as a thing, did you use that as inspiration or try to create your own little universe?
MF: I read the Keith Waterhouse one which is just Mr and Mrs Pooter? And a silent Sarah, actually. And I thought it wasn't going to work like that, a lot of the things, about doing it, is the book itself doesn't really have any action in. So it was about how we did it. So we workshopped it originally and at one point I think we were going to have two Pooters, one reading out the diary and one doing the action.
MF: We were.
MF: Then we had lots of different ideas. There is a four all-male one, which was done in... Northampton? But ours actually started as six including a woman. So originally it wasn't very like that one. And it's sort of come down to that. But that one is all based around the idea of Pooter putting it with an amateur dramatics society. So no, I don't think we really were worried. I think we were confident ours would be different.
VFTG: Fair enough.
MF: The main idea behind the adaptation was having Pooter as an everyman which was why we have four Pooters on stage and I think that's where it all came from really.
VFTG: So are you guys all new to the material?
Photography © Rocco Redondo
JC: I'd read the book quite a few years ago and then when Mary said she wanted to do it, I reread it and I was more concerned about being kind of honest to the character. I wasn't that aware of any other stage versions of it and I'd worked with Mary before so I knew that she'd have an original take on it. It was quite exciting to do her version.
VFTG: So so mentioned it was six and become four. How has it changed since that original version?
MF: Well the first one was six and we had Shelley Lang in it and she had to pull out the day before Press Night, which was... exciting. That meant we could have got someone in to replace her and we did think about it at that point but instead we did it with scripts and these guys took on her roles. Then it went down to five and I think the four came kind of naturally because so much of the things that really work are the doubling in the play. And also I don't like having odd numbers of actors on stage...
GW: Is that like a superstitious thing? Oh my God!
MF: And also Adam Spreadbury-Maher, who took it on to The King's Head Theatre, suggested that we go to four. There was very much a desire to change it because if we transferred to the King's Head after about three weeks and then at the White Bear, it would have been boring for us if it had been just the same show. So I think it was about making it tighter.
VFTG: How was it to play as a four because, especially if you're playing opposite genders, there's a risk of it going sort of too farcical or too League of Gentlemen-esque. Have you found you have to restrain yourself or are you going big or going home?
GW: I would say more the latter.
GF: I'd say there's a healthy dose of, there's something quite the League of Gentleman-y around it, really. I think maybe we even tried to add a bit of that. Because I think it brings quite a lot of truth to quite a lot of the people you play in this because Pooter is the central cog in the machine of his ... life?
GF: And also because Jake is a very good actor, it's great to play off him being these people, because really, Pooter is so often the butt of so many things that happen to him. He's a decent man, he's a good chap, and so much stuff happens to him that's not necessarily his fault or/and he messes stuff up like any of us would mess stuff up and there are always this - I wouldn't say, sort of ghoulish caricatures, but there are certainly these larger than life figures.
MF: Because it was published in Punch, a lot of them are caricatures. When we did the workshop about a year ago, I remember thinking that because he's writing it in the diary we were gonna do - it would have been a very long play - Pooter's diary version and then what actually happened, so he conceals things in the diary...normally about being drunk. But it's the idea about what we're getting is actually Pooter's version of events rather than reality which I think justifies a certain...
VFTG: ...Level of heightened realism, shall we say.
JM-S: And I think the reason it doesn't kind of go completely into absurdity and kind of just really lame, over-farcical is because it's centred around quite a wholesome love, marriage, and it's got an anchor to it. But that allows all of the chaos.
MF: But also it's very real situations. Some of them are dated. But you do do them. All the time.
JC: Also the original humour is quite kind of buttoned down and mannered and to play off that with something that's a bit more extravagant in terms of what it's doing with the characters makes it funnier. There's like a juxtaposition between the language and the actual...
MF: And I suppose there was the idea of how to stage a book which is about like saying the wrong thing to your boss in the office which is I think is now actually a trendy genre for TV. I think there has to be a little bit more going on.
VFTG: What drew you to Diary as a director - was it the everyman concept and relatability?
MF: It wasn't, actually. The first show we did was The Young Visiters and someone came to that and said: "You have to do The Diary of a Nobody next. I really want you to do The Diary of a Nobody." And I read it, and had it on the back burner for a while and then we needed to do a show at the White Bear and we thought "Let's do Diary." It was quite scary, because I was thinking "How am I possibly going to do this one?" as the Young Visiters has much more of a narrative arc, but that was why we did it, I think. And it does follow on quite nicely from The Young Visiters.
VFTG: So what drew you to The Young Visiters in the first place?
MF: The strangeness, and I think that's what Diary of a Nobody has as well. Although it seems like an incredibly everyday tale, I read an article which I think is true, Pooter has a mania, there are really strange moments going on. There's one bit in the book where he comes in and Lupin is lying on the floor waving his legs in the air. Kind of normal, sort of not. He's also incredibly neurotic, so there's all this stuff hiding behind it. In the first speech we have, the first diary entry, he says that his locked door is always locked. There's the idea that his world is a strange world, and that's what always draws me to plays.
VFTG: Do you find a difficulty or an ease in adapting that strangeness?
MF: No, I think I'm probably quite good at strangeness.
VFTG: I've seen the same names flying about as to what you've all done in the past. Are you all friends in real or do you just pretend to be?
MF: Well I like you guys.
Photography © Rocco Redondo
GF: I've warmed to all of you.
GW: I hate all of them. I think we've become definitely friends in real.
MF: You said to me "It's amazing to think I didn't know you a year ago".
GW: Did I say that?
MF: I didn't know what that meant.
GW: What did it mean? I don't know what that means.
GF: I didn't know half of you half a year ago.
VFTG: You're the new boy?
GF: I'm the new boy, yeah. Everybody bullies me.
GW: And he's got glasses.
GW: You can't probably see this because this is radio, but most of the people here are wearing glasses.
This is, of course, lies. Only George and VFTG were wearing glasses. Once the bullying had subsided, we continued.
VFTG: So do you think that informs the way you work on stage? Not the glasses thing, the being friends thing?
Photography provided by Chloé Nelkin PR
JM-S: There's just a lot more synergy. It's easier to work with each other when you can read each other subtly, or you get used to someone's ways. It's why this show works so well as there's a good balance across four different actors who are stylistically or approach-wise different, but it's complementary. Working with Geordie is really exciting because he's...
GW: Just leave it there...
VFTG: He's opened a can of worms there. How are you all stylistically different? Think on...
JC: It's kind of like a football team. Everyone plays their role, there's the holding midfielder, and flare striker.
GF: Because of the chaos, the nature of so many different characters, it comes out.
MF: There was that moment at the White Bear during rehearsals where I was saying: "I want it to go wrong." I've made you have a shot before a show, haven't I?
GW: You did, yeah.
MF: Because it was going too well.
GW: I don't think I was popular with everybody then.
MF: And a lot of mistakes that happen in the show did actually happen in real life. There's a moment which we want to look natural but it's actually contrived because Geordie did do it one night.
JM-S: Geordie has a penchant, as well, for breaking a golden rule of improvisation which is not blocking.
VFTG: Blocking, yeah.
(If you don't know what blocking is, it's deliberately obstructing someone's assertions during improvisation. Not going with the flow, essentially. However, if you don't know what blocking is, why are you on this site please?)
JM-S: If you try to improvise something on certain nights with Geordie... there was one night where his character Sarah was doing something in competent, and we said "She's new" and we were fine, about to move on, and Geordie goes: "I've been here for years" and then that went on for about three minutes. But in a hilarious fashion.
MF: There's also a sense of centre to it. In Marco Polo and Fred and Madge and Diary, we have at least one character who doesn't double. It's really important. All shows need to have a heart that the show can rotate around to work.
VFTG: And how much improvisation do you do?
MF: There's a lot on stage.
Photography © Rocco Redondo
JC: Sometimes there's a lot in rehearsal because I think you have to rehearse it like that even if it doesn't happen exactly the same way on stage. You have to be able to react to it.
MF: In Fred and Madge, I told them all, which wasn't wholly true, I'd be sued if they messed up their lines or ad-libbed.
VFTG: How did you get away with that?
MF: I said the estate would sue me.
Then came the generic mumblings of "terrified". But, after that...
GW: The amount of props and characters we all have to do has led naturally to the odd mistake. You're always encouraged to go with the mistake...
MF: I love it. It works because you're all tight as to what's meant to happen.
GW: We have to get there first before we ruin everything.
JM-S: That's what separates this adaptation as well, the rubbing up against the formality of it with the chaos. Because the set is destroyed at the end. A lot of it is made out of foam board and delicate things.
MF: And you can see Chris painting it there.
GW: He's painting it lovingly over there, and it'll be smashed in the first minute.
JM-S: But that sits so well against the Englishness and reservedness things. It's a whirlwind on stage and by the end there's just mounds of glass and food and bread.
MF: The important thing is...
GW: No audience members will be harmed.
MF: That, and also that you guys still do it, and still get to the end. And at the end there's this huge triumph which there also is for Pooter. One of the things that really attracted me is that there's a happy ending which you rarely see in plays any more and especially with this ending, it's all wrapped up, and it's so nice. You see him struggle and he wins out.
GW: So don't bother coming to see the show!
VFTG: Spoilers, yeah! Just a quick design question. Why the change in design? Was it just a quick one from going from one theatre to another, or is it more artistic?
MF: Carin did the original design but she is in New York so Chris, the other designer is taking over.
VFTG: Chris waved while he painted a door there.
MF: And we're going cream instead of white.
VFTG: What was the thinking behind that? Job lot on paint?
GW: We had a big discussion about that.
Photography provided by Mary Franklin
MF: I'm still worried. The whole set was meant to be based on the illustrations in the book.
VFTG: Is it because the paper yellows over time?
MF: Yeah, exactly. We thought to make it look like a book and less cartoony with the cream - which was our original idea and I can't remember why we didn't do it. Want to add anything, Chris?
MF: I think we're going to have some shading, aren't we?
CH: Yes, well it's all to make it look like the pages of the book. It'll have the browner edges that the illustrations have that fade off, so it's really to bring it into the fact that you're reading the book, seeing the illustrations in live form.
VFTG: Is this going to be the definitive version?
MF: Well, something that a reviewer said - God, I'm really pandering to you..
VFTG: Thank you. Why else is your play rubbish, please?
MF: Previously it was two acts, and now we're going to do it for an hour and a half straight through and see if it works like that.
VFTG: And is it something you'll be coming back to?
MF: Absolutely, I hope this isn't the end of it. The way I work as a director, we've changed it all through the run, so the version on Press Night won't be the final version at all.
VFTG: So come and see it more than once, is what you're saying. Best to see it every night.
MF: We do have people coming twice, which is really nice.
VFTG: So briefly, probably not for you guys, but do you all perform msucially on stage?
MF: Jake takes the bell, doesn't he?
JM-S: I play a desk bell which I've never played before.
VFTG: So how did the music come about?
JM-S: Well this is the first time I've composed for theatre so I was taking very careful steps with simple instruments and a simple melody which could be repeated and not be too complicated. We were already creating something quite difficult to traverse on stage as there's a scene change every 45 seconds.
GW: Do you want to plug your album?
MF: Yes! Yes!
GW: It'll be a real money-spinner!
VFTG: How many people do you think read this? There'll be me, my editor and my mum!
GW: Well I hope they buy copies of the album.
JM-S: So I wanted to make something quite simple because we were putting together something quite fast-paced, insane, kinetic comedy thing, and I wanted something to capture the loveliness and wholesomeness, the moving aspect of it. So I wrote this piano thing that repeats in different ways, and it's something easy for the audience to latch onto and associate with. I thought it needed something so that people walked away from it hopefully having associated it with that.
MF: And it works. I was at lunch with someone who had seen the show once and could whistle it.
JC: Everyone who came to see it left with it in their head, it's a lovely piece.
VFTG: I listened to it just before I came out and I agree.
MF: Did you listen to it on Bandcamp?
GW: Is that where it's for sale?
VFTG: What's the album's name on Bandcamp?
JMS-S: It's a seven-track digital album of what we've done so far in four different plays and you can download it and buy it online.
GW: How much for?
JM-S: And we might be selling it for a fiver in physical form at the Diary of a Nobody shows, which will be a first.
VFTG: I was quite interested because I found it an oddly - I don't want to say "still" in a staid way, but a still piece for what is essentially a satire.
JM-S: I didn't want to do something that was very goofy because there'd be no contrast.
MF: What's so special about Diary is this marriage which is intensely happy and intensely realistic. I don't want to slag off anything I've seen but... well you see films that don't sum up marriage, and I think our marriage is so real, and remember seeing it in previews and thinking it's the greatest love story ever told which no one yet has agreed with me. the music is very romantic, and it has a sense of that, which I think we build around in the play.
VFTG: You've talked a lot about how Rough Haired Pointer got started, but what's your philosophy? You've done a lot of period pieces and a couple of new bits of writing.
Photography © Andreas Grieger
MF: A lot of the things I started on, assisting and things, felt like it had this purpose beyond... work in theatre has to be about theatre. That's what I like. If it can, in any way, be shown on a screen, we can't do it and it doesn't interest me at all. All our pieces have been about that. Fred and Madge was about a play going wrong, The Young Visiters was about improvising a play, The Boy Who Cried was about a recorded interview that had spectators.
Also, having Carin at such a high place within the company, the aesthetic is important to us. Our shows are colourful normally... but maybe they're not. Also because we've been building it as we've gone along, the idea of working with the same actors has become more and more important to us. In the rehearsal room there's trust.
I choose plays by gut, so we don't really define ourselves by new writing or classics - I don't know why we've done two Victorian plays but it's just happened. But there's a zaniness in Victorian humour that works with our style. Olivia, can do you better?
OA: No, I think that was it.
Following a very high-energy congratulatory round of applause for Mary's excellent descriptive skills, we jumped back into it.
VFTG: Do you have anything planned for the future?
MF: I have full plays I want to do - but those two plays I know we're not good enough to do yet. We're working towards those. But I think that Diary is exactly the right show for us to be doing right now. When we were at the White Bear, we were packing in people to the rafters towards the end, so having more people see the show would be quite nice.
As always, because we're lovely, we like to give people the chance to plug anything else they're doing. So in their own words...
JM-S: There's the Rough Haired Pointer Bandcamp thing, I have a gig next month.
MF: Oh, Jordan, no!
JM-S: I'm playing at the Vaults on the 25th with my own music.
GF: I'm in a sketch group called Daphne. And we do a show every two months called Nova Nova at the Cockpit in Marylebone and you can catch us around, usually at the Invisible Dot, the next time will be 27th February.
MF: Jake's in a TV show.
JC: Well yes, but I don't know when that's out. I'm also in The Diary of a Nobody.
MF: The Diary of a Nobody, from the 20th January to 14th February. All preview tickets on the first week are £10, and all tickets in the next week will be £10 for under-26-year-olds, which is a new thing under King's Head management. I think it's really flattering we're the show they chose to relaunch it. And then we've also got a pay-what-you-can night on the 26th.
Mary's already summed it up nicely, but you can catch The Diary of a Nobody from 20th January to 14th February 2015 at The King's Head Theatre in Islington. We've already reviewed a previous run of The Diary of a Nobody, but we'll also be revisiting the show on 23rd January 2015 to find out what's changed. Watch this space for a brand new review later this month.
If Jordan's original compositions have been in your head since a previous Rough Haired Pointer show or you'd like to infect yourself with one of his charming earworms, you can download Rough Haired Pointer Vol I on Bandcamp here: roughhairedpointer.bandcamp.com/releases. We particularly love the theme for The Diary of a Nobody.
To keep up-to-date with news on what Rough Haired Pointer are up to, visit their website www.roughhairedpointer.com.