Save the UCLU Garage Theatre Workshop

Save your student theatre

Save your student theatre

During my time at UCL as an undergraduate, I was lucky enough to be involved with a fine bunch of people; the UCLU Stage Crew society. These ladies and gents use their spare time to help other students put on shows; musicals, dramas, fashion shows, jazz concerts, opera, bongos(!). You name it, they’ve assisted with it.

They also run a small ~70 seater theatre on the ground floor of the one of the college buildings, the UCLU Garage Theatre Workshop. And by run, I mean everything from the year’s budget to keeping the backstage toilet clean and functional. It sounds like great fun, and it was, but now this is under threat from UCL.

The college, somewhat reasonably, would like to renovate the space. However they are refusing to replace what they are taking with an alternative space.

I think this would be a great shame, because as well as being immense fun, I think the theatre is a very valuable asset to the university and student body. I can say with certainty that I would not be the person am I today, in the position that I am in,  had that theatre not existed. And I can point to dozens, if not hundreds, who could say the same.

A few benefits are obvious: having a place to perform, try out small-scale projects and get your work seen by an audience without using the college’s larger (and more expensive) Bloomsbury Theatre is a benefit in its own right. But actually, aside from the considerable artistic merit and cultural benefit, working on a theatre project gives students the opportunity to learn many skills that are missed by an academic education.

On a personal level, I believe I developed many skills whilst working in the Garage:

  • speaking and performing develop self-confidence and public speaking, something directly related to giving talks or presenting in an academic context
  • teamwork is a vital skill for putting on a production, between designers, technicians, cast members, musicians and the director. Having a concrete example of working in a team to achieve a goal is invaluable to employers.
  • leadership goes hand-in-hand with teamwork, and being given a role of responsibility such as Garage Theatre Manager or Technical Manager is a good way to gain managerial experience as an undergraduate.
  • committee work is a strong component of running the theatre; allocating time, money and people to productions were all decided by committee.
  • personal organisation is key when running a theatre or rehearsing a show in your spare time, whilst also concentrating on a degree course.
  • budget management for shows in the Garage is important as the shows are often on a very restricted budget
  • bidding for funding is important for all clubs and societies, but the Garage has been traditionally successful in applying for extra funding for equipment, and this sort of ‘writing to persuade’ is very important in many jobs and even in getting a job, so honing it at the student union can only be a good thing.

These are some of my personal and less obvious ways I think a student theatre helps develop the skills and further the education of the student body. There are probably many others that I’ve missed. But I do think that a university should encourage students to gain all of these skills and that being involved in the Garage is brilliant way to do that.

The facebook page is doing a good job of collating videos and pictures of the Garage in action and I hope they can put together a persuasive case to the College and also persuade UCLU to give the campaign their full support. It has already gone out in the all student email, so I am hopeful that the union will be able to lobby the College too.

Look ma! I’m on the telly!

So this is a bit late given it happened on Saturday, but I (once again) had the pleasure of watching Over the Rainbow live from the studio. This time I had the fortune of just turning up at the studio and hoping to find a kind soul with a spare ticket. I turned up at about 3.15pm and luckily found Lionel who (it later turned out) had a spare priority ticket, and so was in about the first 10 people to be allowed in to the studio! Thanks Lionel!

The gods must have been looking down upon me favourably that day, because I then got selected to be one of 8 people who got to sit in the stage right front row seats, when they weren’t being occupied by the munchkin kids who performed at various points. This gave me a prime opportunity to catch myself on screen, which I have duly uploaded here.

For what actually happened during the final (and the rest of the series) I can recommend Monkseal, Over the Rainbitch and (the extraordinarily named) Millie Moo and Chewbagga blogs. All 3 of these have me in fits of giggles at some of their insights during the series. Anyway, back to (me) the screenshots.

Here I am in the first show during the former Dorothy’s performance of Empire State of Mind:

Ex-Dorothys perform. See me in the bottom left!

This was pre-recorded just before the first show, I guess so they didn’t have to all change into their ‘dorothy dresses’ live at the same time – would have been a wardrobe nightmare! I was sitting right next to the Dorothy benches as well, which meant I got to overhear their chat and watch them mess about before they performed. Highlights included the muchkin boys mocking Steph because with their hair all gelled up they were nearly as tall as her and them pulling faces at each other across the stage from the wing spaces. I’m glad that people who work in theatre’TV in “real-life” have the same fun/serious balance as I do in student theatre! Also overheard were most of the ex-Dorothys (particularly Jenny and Stephanie) complaining about the fit of their new colour coordinated shoes – now that the sequined slippers are on the shoedelier behind the Lord – and being desperate to take them off at the first oppotunity.

I was also on telly a few more times at about that size, but sitting so close to the benches meant I was in a prime spot for the eliminations! Here is a screengrab from the second show when Sophie went to meet her family:

As Sophie greets her parents, there I am, lurking in the background!

Just before Sophie’s elimination, as her and Danielle walked down the stairs, I’d also like to claim responsibility for this smile to the crowd as I wished her good luck:

Nervous smile to the audience

At least, I’m 80-90% sure it was at that: it was at the same time as I called out, but equally there were a lot of well-wishers!

Another notable moment that didn’t show on screen was as Lauren was eliminate; during the farewell, Danielle carried the shoes to the Lord and stopped singing (or seemed to), which obviously worried Sophie as she was carrying the song so she gestured with a wave to all the ex-Dorothys to join in and help her out. It is funny some of the things you can see in the studio and not on screen!

It is a shame for me that Sophie didn’t win; on Saturday she finally gave the brilliant performances that I’d kinda hoped she would all series, especially her version of ‘Tomorrow’ against Danielle’s ‘76 Trombones‘. In fairness to Danielle, it was more of a rubbish song choice than anything else (as Sheila pointed out), but it did demonstrate Sophie did finally have the voice/talent required which I think was a revelation to many. I’d love to know what the exact votes were for Danielle and Sophie – it must have been very close I think.

In fairness, I’m not too worried; I’d pay to see almost any of the top 10 perform that role and have already booked to see The Wizard of Oz twice! And as for Sophie, given past precedent with these shows, I’m sure we’ll see her in the West End in the next year or two; and I’ll go and see that too!


One of the opening scenes of the show (Copyright: AKA promotions)

Thanks to the lovely people at Masterclass, I had the opportunity to see ENRON at the Noel Coward Theatre this afternoon. Masterclass are a charity operated out of the Theatre Royal Haymarket, that provide young people with theatre arts experiences (workshops, seminars etc), so that they can get on in theatre themselves: from acting to directing to writing to producing.

I can barely remember the last time I set foot inside a West End theatre, and especially to see a drama so I wasn’t sure what to expect, despite the rave reviews the show has had.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The first thing to catch my eye (being of a techie persuasion) was the 12 pendant light fittings hanging at floor level as the preset.  These are presumably LED as they change colour throughout the show as they fly in and out. These move relatively independently, with the downstage-centre 6 being often at a different height to those at the perimeter and are used brilliantly and simply to denote the change of location as we move into the low/red of the Finance Department and the floor-level/white spaciousness of Skilling’s office. This synergy between the set (Anthony Ward) and lighting (Mark Henderson) continues throughout the show and is something that makes the show feel very different and very watchable.

The show also makes use of projection (Jon Driscoll). This is normally one of my pet hates to within a show (especially with the student shows I have become accustomed to), because it is notoriously hard to make work – both physically and artistically. I think the reasons it works here are two-fold: as the show is quasi-historical, it can show archive footage, which really adds to the context of the plot and also the director (Rupert Goold)has not been afraid to shadow the screen. Realistically, casting a shadow on a front-projection screen is always going to happen and unintentionally it can look terrible as it diverts attention to the shadow, but by doing it with intent, the distraction is lost and here (at least) it works perfectly.

The dance and physical theatre aspect wasn’t something I particularly expected but, together with the comic turns (such as the Lehman Brothers), give the audience a sometimes needed break from the dialogue. This is not to say that the show is wordy or too complicated, but (as someone not that familiar with the backstory – I was barely a teenager…) the show did require some thought and I think I would have been exhausted by the end was it not broken up the way it is.

In fact, this is a strength of both the writing (Lucy Prebble) and directing to tackle some fairly abstract concepts, explain them, and then anticipate where the humour should be to keep us all engaged. The only place I started to get lost was in trying to understand the ‘raptor’ metaphor used to illustrate (I think) the ever increasing debt that the executives become slaves to, but the finer details were lost on me.

As usual, I will devote the least space to the aspect that most reviews would give the majority – the performers. The large (for a drama) chorus is a nice touch and allowed for a good amount of ‘hustle and bustle’ in the busy office scenes as well as delivering the physical set pieces. The principals came across as entirely believable, although as I didn’t have any idea prior knowledge as to how they should behave, I suppose that isn’t surprising. Having said that, the whole show did exude a sense of power which I can’t quite put my finger on, but it was certainly an atmosphere that worked. I slightly question the portrayal of Andrew Fastow (Paul Chahidi) as after he pathetically climbs his way to the top, you are left feeling almost sorry for him when it all comes crashing down at the end, which I didn’t feel was in keeping with the rest of the narrative.

Slight squabbles aside, this was a fantastic piece of theatre and if this is flying the flag for modern British theatre then I’m excited!

Over the Rainbow – live from the studio

Inside the Over The Rainbow studio
Stealthily taken shot from where we sat.

On Saturday I had the pleasure of watching Over the Rainbow not from my sofa, but live from the studio at Wembley. As luck would have it, it was a particularly good week to pick, being ‘musical theatre’ week and a double eviction. We also got to see Charlotte Church perform, but to be honest, it was a little bit ‘meh’ in my opinion.

I’m not going to commentate on the show, as there are plenty of other blogs that do that perfectly (such as Over the Rainbitch, who I only found today, and whose comments seem spot-on), but instead address a few things that you’d have to have been in the studio to notice.


As when I have been to a TV recording before, the audience don’t decide when to applaud – we are told when the applaud and when to keep quiet by a couple of people standing between the audience and the stage. This means when everyone claps whenever the girls reach a high/loud point, it isn’t because they are all idiots, but because they are told to. In fairness, it does look quite good on the telly like that, it is just really annoying.

The same went for being forced to clap all the way through Tamsin Outhwaite’s number. And she wasn’t even there: it was a pre-record, as evident by the fact that the audience in her segment aren’t clapping and yet applause is heard.


Obviously the live show is live, so any pick-ups wouldn’t be possible anyway, not that it really needed them, but even the second show Graham Norton only made a single mistake that had to be re-shot – that cannot be an easy task, being faultless for a good few hours. I was impressed. We did have a few pauses for costume changes, but I think that is fair enough – why rush around live like mad things if you don’t have to.

Charlotte Church

Her song warrants its own section because she had to do it 3 times to get it right, and do the interview with Graham twice as she forgot to plug the single the first time round (duh!). Not particularly forgiveable given she is supposedly the experienced singer to mentor the Dorothys, who manage to (more or less) get 3 or 4 songs right each week in a single take. It was especially torturous as the song is pretty crappy anyway.

The Dorothys

Our first taste of the girls was when we realised we were sitting close to where they sit the guests/VIPs, so we congratulated/commiserated Stephanie on last week’s departure. The live show was relatively uneventful – I think it came across on telly the same way as it was in the studio. I definitely

think that Jenny and Sophie’s songs were chosen to try and unseat them; unpopular songs were never going to get as many votes as the well known numbers the other 4 produced. Combined with Jenny’s dog fiasco (again, I call fix…), it was predictable to see her go I think.

Sitting where we were, she then came up to join Stephanie which meant we got to have a chat (and a photo) with both of them. They were both lovely and relatively unfazed by the number of people wanting a chat/hug/photo. This confirmed my suspicions that I think I’d like to marry Jenny… 😉

In the results show, the only point of note was Sophie in the mash-up, as she managed to get the dance wrong (twice, I think). Having watched it back last night, I think she escaped having it broadcast though, but we saw! I also thought that Jessica did a good job of keeping composed after her elimination, and seemed to be in good spirits as she left, thanking well-wishers including us. It was also notable that the first person to talk to her after she came down from the moon was the Lord himself, who greeted her with a big hug, so it looks like she is gong to be in his good books for a while to come.

I’m glad that I didn’t manage to make it on TV, as I think I would have felt very self-concious,and despite the 2 and 1/2 hour wait to get into the studios, I’d definitely do it again and I hope I get tickets for either (both?) of the next two shows. It also made me remember how much I love live musical theatre, so I think a few more West End trips are in the offing!

Over the Rainbow – the halfway point

As background, this is about the BBC TV show Over the Rainbow, where they search for a girl to play the part of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I’m not all about sciency/politics things you know!

Firstly, I know we’ve had more than half of the shows (no idea where the time has gone…), but with 6/11 girls still in and a double eviction next week, I think it counts! The questions for me are: how were my predictions from the audition stages and have I changed my mind!

My picks from the top 10 were listed in 3 groups like so. I’ve struck through those which have already been eliminated.




And then Emilie was the wild-card who has been and gone.

So apparently I can’t pick them! Although I still think Jessica stands a great chance.

Contrary to my original rankings, I’m quite glad that Stephanie went tonight as while I still think she would have been great technically, she just isn’t as interesting to watch as some of the other Dorothys. In some ways, now we’ve seen more of the girls on screen, in my mind I have mentally moved the goalposts so now they can’t just look and act like my mind’s eye thinks Dorothy should be but also have to win me over generally. I’ve fallen into a horrible trap of not judging them objectively at all, rather falling for the different personalities we are shown. Given I’m sure that is how most people vote, I’m actually surprised the programme-makers don’t have get the girls to engage more with the public and garner up more votes. Why don’t they publish diaries/twitter accounts/web-only video and the like? Certainly seems to be a demand for it if the way people lap up the official facebook page.

Embracing my change of heart, I’d like Jenny, Sophie or Lauren (I realise I’ve just named half the field…) to win as they are just very watchable, both in their performances and in flirting with the camera in the prerecorded segments. Otherwise, I stick by my shout of Jessica from way back!

I’ve also warmed a lot to Steph and her addresses to the camera, but I can’t see her as Dorothy: she just doesn’t seem vulnerable enough for me. I’d like to see her in something where she could use that confidence, Chicago maybe?

On a separate note, I’m going to see it LIVE next week at Fountain Studios in Wembley! I’m ridiculously excited, both by seeing it all live, but also in a geeky way by seeing how they work that mix of live theatre and live broadcasting. I’m sure it will be amazing, and I’ll try to write it up here. (Obviously without any spoilers, given the backlash in the Twitterverse last night over the leaking of potential spoilers!)

Nailing my colours to the “rainbow” mast

'Over the Rainbow' promo shot'Just finished catching up with last night’s Over the Rainbow on BBC1 and thought I’d nail my colours to the mast early on regarding who I think is going to place where, as well as a few observations on the show.

Firstly I just loved how brilliant David Grindrod (casting director) was in the first programme on Friday. Even when he gives good news he doesn’t sound excited, just delivers it and bids farewell. I like that level of emotional detachment when judging something like this; just seems to give integrity.

Also, I wonder what happened to cause the addition of the 4 extra girls into the call-backs at ‘Dorothy Farm’. I have trouble believing it was always going to happen to unnerve the other auditionees, so wonder what the motive was. Equally, it seems unlike a TV programme (with the judges) to openly admit they’d made a mistake. I wonder who in the production company/production team for the theatre show wanted those girls in contention. Regardless, they seemed to be right given that 3 out of the 4 went on to make it to the studio (Jessica, Steph and Emma), and 2 of them made it straight to the live shows (Jessica and Steph).

Also, we get it, Graham Norton is gay. Last year we had Nancy jokes in I’d Do Anything and now we have “friend of Dorothy” jokes. Now it has been made, I hope we can move on, but I doubt it!

Anyway with out further ado, my predictions for the series. I should say that I like my musical theatre to be very typical musical theatre, so my choices are probably quite traditional, so I’m going to say who I’d like to win and how I think that will differ from who will actually win it. Also, I’m only going to take the 10 that went straight through to the live shows: will come on to the wild cards later, who are subject to a public vote for the 11th place.

1. Jessica
2. Stephanie
3. Dani

    My top 3 all give off a sense of “musical theatre” I think. I can’t really put my finger on what marks someone out (to me) as theatrical rather than pop, especially when they were singing pop songs, but they stood out. Not sure the public will agree with my traditionalist casting but we shall see.

    I’m not going to try and rank the rest, as it is probably too early to say, so I’ll split them into 2 groups based on when I think they’ll go out. I think I’m probably going to be hugely wrong (I wanted Jodie out from very early on last year and she ended up winning), but I’ll give it a go.


    This group is probably the most interesting as there isn’t much that separates them, they are all nice to watch, but just don’t stick out. With all the training that they are bound to have, this could all change and they will push into the top, or won’t take it on board and so fall to the bottom.


    I really didn’t take to this group for mixture of reasons, but mostly for stage presence or dance. To coin the awkward American phrase; they don’t feel like a “triple threat”, and have something really lacking for my taste.

    Back in reality, I think that the public vote might punish Amy for having been a glamour model and keep Sophie in for a lot longer than I would. I also think Jenny might do quite well, which is why she is in my second group.

    In terms of the Wild Cards, I would have put through Emma, Tegan and Claire Harbourne over my group, but I did pick my top 7 out of the original 20, which I’m quite proud of! I’m surprised they didn’t keep in some of the slightly more “out there” contestants such as Tasheka or Claire Hillier, and wait for the public to oust them. While they aren’t my choice for Dorothy, I thought they were both good and would had made interesting characters for people to get behind (and maybe they still will). My prediction for wild card Dorothy is definitely Tegan. I both want her to be back in and think the public will too, so a strong contender!

    To see if I am right, you’ll have to watch the programme next Saturday on BBC1 (I’ll be catching up on iPlayer in the week…), and then by the end of the series I’ll have to give myself points for how well my predictions faired. If you think I am massively wrong then leave a comment putting me straight!

      The Big Libel Reform Gig (or what I learned today)

      Libel Reform LogoJust got in from The Big Libel Reform Gig at London’s Palace Theatre and thought I’d jot down a few things I didn’t know this time yesterday.

      1. People on the internet can be nice

      When I woke up this morning I didn’t know I’d be going to the gig. I’d thought about it, but apathy mixed with having no-one to go with meant I decided to give it a miss. Until this tweet came along morning and I decided to go with it, thanks to Marianne (@noodlemaz). Turned out that for £20 we had pretty much the best seats, very front of the second circle, so could see everything beautifully. I was slightly hesitant about meeting people from the internet, but what can be more public than a 1,000+ auditorium. In fact, Marianne was lovely and it turns out we are both off to tomorrow’s Westminster Skeptics in the Pub to see Prof. Brian Cox, so I think that is a success.

      2. Dara O’Briain’s wife is a surgeon

      Who knew?

      3. The techies at the Palace Theatre are shocking

      The Palace Theatre, owned by Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber is a pretty large West End theatre that currently houses “Priscilla”, and was the venue for tonight’s event. Clearly, the (in-house?) techies either couldn’t be arsed, are incapable or have some other reason for the shoddy production values of the event.

      I can’t think to imagine how much it costs to hire the theatre for a Sunday, but it can’t be small given my experience of other venues, and yet the stage-cloth was terribly laid such that it had ripples all over it, the lighting mostly awful with live changes in the most awkward of times (and not when Brian Cox repeatedly asked for dimmed lights), inappropriate use of pink everywhere (fine for “Priscilla” maybe) and repeatedly poor followspotting; moving when the performer was still and vice versa. The host even commented on it! The use of colour was particularly lazy given the lanterns had scrollers mounted!

      In fairness to the Libel Reform Campaign, as a charity I would rather they kept the money to spend on their aims rather than paying for nicer tech/more time, but some of these things would have cost nothing to change and, to my mind, are deplorable on the part of the venue.

      4. Drinks prices in theatres border on some kind of robbery

      Ok, so this one I did know, but still; 275ml of Magners and a bottle of Pepsi shouldn’t be >£5.

      There are plenty more things I also learned, given that the show was SO GOOD and had a brilliant mix of science/seriousness and stand-up comedy. I really wanted more!

      If you’ve not done so already, please, please make sure you have signed the petition. Many good reasons for doing so are on the same website or in my previous post.

      Libel Reform Banner

      Grease (is NOT the word)

      Grease Logo (Copyright: Ambassador Theatre Group)

      Grease Logo (Copyright: Ambassador Theatre Group)

      Last night I had the misfortune to go and see Grease is the word down at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End. My verdict: don’t.

      This was my first time seeing Grease, but like everybody I had a pretty good idea what the show entailed. I also wanted to see it as I’ve been following Grease:The School Musical which ended tonight (although I have it on PVR and haven’t seen it yet). Regardless, I was very disappointed.

      Now, I’m not really a typical theatre critic, in that I come from a very “techie” background and so any sound/lighting problems will probably affect my enjoyment of the show more than others, but both the sound and lighting were truly terrible. The sound was bearable when the cast were using handheld mics, such as in “Greased Lightning” and in the finale, but otherwise it just sounded wrong (I can’t put my finger on why though).

      The lighting was my biggest bug with the whole show. The standard of followspotting was just awful. I don’t care if the design calls for sharp half- and whole- body followspotting, it looks like stand-up comedy and detracts from the action. Using the followspot as the frontlight for the whole drive-in movie sequence was a bizarre choice for me, as there were plenty of other, more suitable lanterns out front and achieving a simple chase that actually looks like the actors are watching a projection is pretty standard stuff. The mirrorballs hung off the proscenium were never fully utilised and when they were used for the “prom/beauty school drop-out” sequence they were lit so poorly as to be useless. Continual blackouts also sap the show of any energy  and momentum it was building up.

      Another unforgivable sequence in terms of lighting is the finale. For the biggest numbers in the show, to have a fairly static state (with just a chase on the back of the bar) is counter-productive when the cast are attempting to muster as much energy as possible (more on that later).

      And then there was the set – I quite liked the cartoon/drawn paint effect that covers most of the set. In fact, I would probably say the set is the highlight of the show (or maybe the band up at the back, who are perfectly adequate for the show) Some of the neons are nice too, but it is just a pity the theme isn’t carried out further. The structure of the bleachers for instance, could be made more fun/cartoony and a few more props for “Greased Lightning” wouldn’t go a miss.

      Eventually, we come around to the meat of the show for most people – the acting. Firstly, I don’t believe in the casting – the cast as a rule do not reflect the teenage nature of their fictional counterparts. More fundamental is the lack of energy the show builds up. This is meant to be one of the “happy, clappy” shows on the West End, comparable to the camp-tastic Hairspray. To draw any parallels to Hairspray is just unkind to a fabulous show. The cast struggle to drag the audience through the songs. In their defence, the script may not do them any favours, but it needs a lot more enthusiasm and bounce to be convincing.

      If I were to give out stars: 2 stars would be my verdict. Better than that is my advice: Don’t bother, go and see Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre instead.