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Monday, 28 November 2011

Underground, Overground...

The Natural History of Trolls is largely set in a disused Underground Station, King William Street.  For the purposes of the story I ignored the true history of the site in the 20th Century, focusing on real history only for the early building and decommissioning of the station.  The tunnels couldn't be used as I suggest in the story, and they are in no way fit to handle the action of the tale.  However, I loved the early history of the station and couldn't resist allowing a train to stop at the platform today (physically impossible for oh so many reasons).  There are other disused stations where a request stop is more plausable - there are more suitable ghost stations about - but I wanted the story set in that part of the Northern Line and so I ignored the rather sad alterations to the station during World War Two and other obvious problems reality causes. 
I have no problem with these 'lies' as there are lots of ways I could explain them away, if I wanted to be pedantic.  But for those who want to see what King William Street looks like today, then do follow this rather excellent link - it's quite addictive.

Last Blog Before the Balloon Goes Up...

Okay, there's no balloon.  Sorry.  Today we got into the Barons Court Theatre ready for tomorrows first night!  Highlights included sharing the stage and the lighting box with Sophie's dog Tinkerbell - of whom you will hear so much in the future.  There is video.  Otherwise it was just a matter of set dressing, slow teching and general working of the words what I wrote so that they come out in the right order.  Tomorrow we'll spend the day doing a bit more art - focusing on performance rather than tech - before our first night.  And we want you to be there.  This is a show that I am very proud of - it has come out very well, funny and moving at the turn of a line.  Come and visit us - it's so much more interesting here.

Milk Bottle Productions Presents...
The Natural History of Trolls
Written and Performed by Robert Crighton
Plus Special Guests: Georgina Blackledge & Sophie Morris-Sheppard

“Whatever you do, don’t think about orange penguins!”

Multi-Awarding Winning Storyteller Robert Crighton is returning to his roots with a new collection of stories for 2011.  Featuring his trademark wit and dark humour, Storyteller will draw you into unusual worlds and introduce you to people you’d not normally meet.
This first collection is called The Natural History of Trolls, three stories covering a hundred and fifty years of history, two Queens and their subjects in the fairy kingdom.  Midst this epic timeline is the story of an ordinary commute gone wrong, when a troll-like tramp in an Underground carriage turns out to REALLY be a Troll.
Funny, thoughtful and with occasional attempts at wisdom, let Robert Crighton and his team of storytellers lead you through a world like ours – just a little off centre. 
15+ age guidance.  Not suitable for young children.

Tuesday 29th November to Friday 23rd December 2011 (No performances Mondays)
Tickets £12 / £10 concessions
Tuesday to Saturday starts at 7.30pm – doors open 7.15pm.  Sunday at 7pm, doors open 6.45pm.
Box Office: 020 8932 4747
Barons Court Theatre, “The Curtain’s Up”, 28A Comeragh Road W14
Nearest Tube:  Barons Court (Piccadilly/District Lines)

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Egg Sucking Guide for Grandmothers

I wrote the following for the New Wimbledon cast which was a while ago now.  I didn't meet many of them properly until the day of performance so wrote an idiots guide to performing their section.  I thought I'd share it with you today.  Imagine you've got a three minute monologue to perform and read on...

The Egg Sucking Guide for Grandmothers
Or Storyteller: An Idiots Guide

Obviously we will rehearse, so there will be a lot of me telling you precisely what to do.  However, if you have time to do more than simply learn your lines then here is some general advice, suggestions and best ways to prep...

1.  Storytelling isn’t stand up.
You’re alone on stage, you’ve nothing to hold - the temptation to wander around, pace back and forth and punctuate every sentence with your hands is enormous.  Don’t.  Start with no movement, standing still, doing naught.  Then add elements if and only if you have a really good reason to do so.  What will hold the audiences interest is your connection with them, the story itself and the fact that you’re the next person of a chain.  And you’ll be gone in three minutes.

2.  Boredom.
Rehearsing storytelling / monologues is the most tedious task known to mankind.  It is horribly dull.  Prep for a show is primarily about repetition to the point where your brain is melting – because you’re alone up there and need to know the text like it’s your own skin.  It is primarily dull because rehearsing a story misses the most important ingredient – the audience.  A monologue is a conversation and until you get in front of the audience you will have no one talking back. 

3.  Be prepared for change.
Prepare, play around, come up with a full physical and vocal score... go on surprise me.  But also be prepared for me to say NO straightaway and tell you to do it differently.  Don’t get attached to your performance – it’ll only end in tears.

4.  If in doubt, do less.
See 1.  Fairly safe rule.  It’s a studio theatre.

5.  Arms are for nothing.
See 1.  Let em hang there.  Unless you want to do some serious pointing.

6.  Only Connect.
Don’t shoot ‘till you see the whites of their eyes.  Yes, the audience will be (dimly) lit throughout the show.  You will be there for most of it as well, as both performers and audience members.  You give your attention to the person performing, watch them, laugh and smile.  When it’s your turn, you take that out to the audience.  Look them in the eye.  Pick people for different lines.  Make them watch you.

7. Pass the baton.
We’re all interconnected.  We pass the story to each other, so it’s vital to keep that flow going, not leaving gaps, passing on the baton – unless your story goes off on a tangent.  You can’t prep this – it’ll come out in rehearsal.

8. Your performance is you.
You are not pretending to be a different person, you’re simply giving a more performed version of yourself.  Don’t change your accent, character, just tell your bit of the story.  Use appropriate voices for speech – but there isn’t much of that, so that’s not a major worry.

9. There may be typos... but they might be the words I chose...
Sometimes I get it wrong – it’s the wrong word entirely.  And sometimes I’m just awkward.  (Or aukward, for those who like a pun that only works off the page.)  If in doubt, ask.

10.  And.  A story tends to be made up of a lot of ands.  Try not to add more.  And remember that and ends in a d.  If you let a lazy tongue drop it then the audience will notice. 

11.  Learn fast. 
I don’t mean learn the lines in a brief period of time.  I mean learn it like it’s going at a rate.  Fast.  Few gaps.  It is easier to slow a text down in performance than to speed it up.  Usually.

12. Enjoy.
I hate writing things like this, but best not to let people go unguided.  Most important thing to remember about all of the above – I believe and follow all of the above guidelines... except when I don’t.  The only absolute that matters is to enjoy yourself.  If you enjoy performing your story then the audience will enjoy watching and listening to it.  ‘nough said.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Thanks a Heap

As we creep towards opening night I've started thinking about how this project came into being.  Storyteller will, by the time it finishes in its current form on Sunday 8th January 2012, have been in existence for almost exactly a year.  The roots for the show - to push myself to work specifically on a number of storytelling projects this year - had been rattling around my head for nearly a year.  I'd been trying to decide what to do next and the title Robert Crighton: Storyteller can be found in my notebooks (along with other, far sillier plays, titles and thoughts) as I think I've discussed in this blog before.  But the plan didn't come about until just after Christmas 2010, and it came about because of a chance encounter with a DVD.
It had been a very stressful Christmas, the bad weather had completely knocked the box office for the Sherlock Holmes show I was doing at the time for six.  I spent Christmas itself with the family in a foul temper and was generally at something of a low ebb.  I was going to have to cancel a four week run of a show in May and pull out of acting in a production of The Seagull; I had few funds and no idea what I was going to do after New Year.  Then, the day after Boxing Day I think, I returned to London, staying alone at my brothers partners flat (they were still holidaying with the family).  After the show, which I think was cancelled as I must have left fairly early, I decided to spend some of the vouchers I'd got for Christmas.  I bought some music and a few DVDs.  One was a documentary about Imogen Heap.
I'd encountered Imogen Heap online once before, on the BBC website during Glastonbury, and had been intrigued.  I'd also seen the DVD in shops and had been tempted to have a look, and then, that day, I bought it.  I went back to the flat and watched one of the more frivolous DVDs - I wasn't in the mood for anything difficult like a documentary.  But by 12pm I was still wide awake and so made some toast, a hot coffee and sat down to watch Everything In-Between.
Now, you must remember I loath people who rhapsodise about how 'inspiring' people are.  "They're so inspiring!" they say, to which I inwardly either vomit or punch them in the face.  (Externally, being a coward, I just stare in a supercilious Campionesq way.)  However, this was exactly what I needed at that moment.  It was, actually, genuinely, practically inspiring.  Whereas before watching it I was depressed, caught in a bubble of little hope and really not sure what I was going to do; afterwards I was writing notes, pacing around, positively not going to bed.  The vague idea I'd had about Trolls on the Underground now had an outlet, a plan.
The DVD is about the creation of the album Ellipse but it's also largely concerned about the reconstruction of a life that leads to the creation of the album.  Imogen moves into and renovates her old family home, builds a studio there, learns to drive and writes an award-winning album.  It's a mixture of standard documentary footage and online content she posted as she made the album.  Whilst watching someone write an album inspired me artistically, the process by which she interacted with the world inspired me practically.  Using blogs, vlogs and social networking as a direct line to people who might want to see the work.  It's not a new idea of course - there are plenty of people who already do that - but to see it demonstrated, to see how it can drive you towards your deadline was just the tonic I needed.
And the inspiration was stronger because Imogen (though working through a team) is a solo artist and though concerned with music, this chimed better with my work than any theatre company doing the same would have done.  I work mostly by myself, working on a text / rehearsal into the night and the final work (if a selection of stories) is not unlike an album (it would have been even more so, if I'd had time to record the final work as an audio book this year).
There are areas where this is less successful.  I don't have an established fan base or work in a medium that promotes the level of loyalty as music.  It is also harder to blog about a narrative because if you tell everyone the story then there's little incentive for people to come and watch it.  Playing a song is different, people love to repeat the song they like.
So, the journey (god, did I just write journey, kill me now) began.  The final week of the Sherlock Holmes run was quite good, so I wasn't too out of pocket (though I still had to drop those other shows). I booked Barons Court for November 29th onwards, spent January planning, began blogging in February and have spent the year creating Storyteller, in-between directing the odd play and other side projects.  But this year wouldn't have been the same without the Heap.  So thank you Imogen Heap and the director of the documentary Justine Pearsall, this year would have been very different without you.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Natural History of Trolls Programme

Most programmes for shows come in paper form.  Ours is no exception.  Though we also publish it online, in advance, for those who would like to come along.  Box Office is open - book your tickets now!

Tuesday 29th November to Friday 23rd December 2011
Tickets £12 / £10 concessions
Tuesday to Saturday starts at 7.30pm – doors open 7.15pm.  Sunday at 7pm, doors open 6.45pm.
Box Office: 020 8932 4747
Barons Court Theatre, “The Curtain’s Up”, 28A Comeragh Road W14
Nearest Tube:  Barons Court (Piccadilly/District Lines)


Milk Bottle Productions Presents...
Robert Crighton:
The Natural History of Trolls

Written and Performed by Robert Crighton
Plus Special Guests: Georgina Blackledge & Sophie Morris-Sheppard
Three stories covering 150 years of history, two Queens, orange Penguins and the fairy kingdom.  Midst this is the story of an ordinary commute gone wrong, when a troll-like tramp on the Underground turns out to REALLY be a Troll.

At the Quay Theatre - Sunday 20th November 2011
At the Barons Court Theatre - Tuesday 29th November to Friday 23rd December 2011.
Running Time: Eighty minutes approximately without an interval.

Robert Crighton - Writer and Performer 
Robert Crighton is an award-winning storyteller, writer and performer, whose last big project was performing every Sherlock Holmes story back-to-back over the Christmas season.  He is only entrant in the 25 year history of the Lost One-Act Festival to win three awards in successive years and is sadly no longer eligible to win anymore.  With Milk Bottle he has produced a mix of work, from classical drama to new plays, swapping roles from production to production.  Recent productions include: Blind Spots, Shoes That Angels Fear To Wear, Cuckold’s Fair, Teaching Gods & Other Stories at the Barons Court Theatre.
For Video Blogs of the making of Storyteller go to TheRobertCrighton Channel on YouTube.

Georgina Blackledge - Performer
Having decided to swap a sterile theatre for a dusty one, Georgie has thrown herself head first into the acting world. Her most recent work includes 'Excess Deductible' with So It Goes Theatre and filming Emma Peel in ‘The Avengers Return’, of which a pilot series in is development with Gin and Tonic Productions. Other film work includes 'The Fiddler', Faith Productions; ‘Africa in her blood’, Nightpiece Media; ‘An act of loyalty’, Evergreen media; ‘Define Crazy’, Ravensbourne Films; ‘Two Birds One Stone’, JAM films; ‘The Cabinet’, Mad Ninja Films. Theatre includes ‘Noises Off’, The Company and ‘The Rover’, The Company. After stumbling upon the audition, Georgie is extremely excited to be making her return to 'Trolls'. 
Sophie Morris-Sheppard - Performer
Sophie has recently finished filming a short film.  She has made many appearances as part of the Play to Stage new writing initiative at The Jackson Lane Theatre which is where she originally met Robert Crighton - and subsequently became involved in this Milk Bottle Production.  Sophie originally attended the Oxford School of Drama. Her first job was as an ASM at Southwold Summer Theatre for Jill Freud.  She went from here to work on several productions at the Kings Head, the Old Fire Station, Oxford, The Wolsey, Ipswich, The Duke of York’s Theatre and The Haymarket Theatre, London.  She has had a variety of supporting roles on both TV and film and has appeared in many commercials, as well as doing intermittent voiceover work.
Stints as a milliner and assisting making theatrical costumes, amongst many other things, have kept her busy in between acting.
To watch an interview with the Cast go to TheRobertCrighton Channel on YouTube - 'Meet the Cast'

At has been a long process writing and producing these stories.  Normally I work very quickly, producing a dozen or shows a year.  After the epic task of performing all the Sherlock Holmes stories last year, I decided to slow down and present the process of creating this years run online.  If you're interesting in finding out how this show came together check out my blog and my vlogs.  The blog covers the more... shall we say cerebral processes of writing a show, the vlogs (video blogs) are a little more... silly.   It wasn't all silliness - there are some telling moments in the vlogs mid April when the final drafts for Trolls were coming together that I didn't look my best.
I hope you enjoy tonight's story and come again in the future for more.  To join our mailing list and be kept up to date with future shows just email us at

Milk Bottle would like to thank the people at the New Wimbledon Studio, the Lavenham Guildhall, the Angel Pub in Glemsford, the Billericay Arts Centre, The Quay Theatre (Nicki and Joe) and Barons Court Theatre (Ron and Chris) for their assistance.  We'd also like to thank our occasional photographers this year Holly Nicoll and Matthew Vile and our website designer Keith Atkinson. 
We'd also like to thank the original company at the New Wimbledon production - sorry we couldn't take you
along for the whole ride:  Charlotte Hunter, Philippa Tatham, Simon Nader, Jessica Moore, Emma Burn, Sally Gilfillan, Ailsa Ilott, Richard Ward, Sophie Carmichael, Denys Gaskill, Jessica Tobert, Josie Bloom, Kate Steel, Matthew Harrison-James, Elizabeth Jee, Jamie Addlet, Gillian Horgan, Elizabeth Quinn, Elizabeth
Nicholson, Colin Emerson & Pamela Flanagan. 
And, of course, we must thank the Imaginary Duck and Bagpuss for all they have done for the company.

To keep up to date with Milk Bottle join our mailing list – just email:
Or... Follow Robert Crighton: Storyteller on Twitter or Milk Bottle Productions on Facebook
Crighton Channel on YouTube
Or... Subscribe to the Robert Crighton: Storyteller blog -
Or... Keep checking our website:
Or... Nope, run out of ors.  As the pander said to the Bishop.  We’ll stop now.

Production Photos taken at the Quay Theatre, Sunday 20th November 2011.

Robert Crighton with Georgina Blackledge

Georgina Blackledge

Sophie Morris-Sheppard with Georgina Blackledge

The Cast - Left to Right: Sophie Morris-Sheppard, Georgina Blackledge & Robert Crighton