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"A powerful play with a superb central performance."

David Cunningham on 'The Alphabet Girl'

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Who do you call

Who will ensure that the swordplay in your production of The Three Musketeers is authentic? There's only one man to call

12:18Friday 26 November 201016:59Saturday 27 November 2010

IT'S ONE thing the Traverse deciding to put on a non-festive family show at Christmas. And it's one thing getting acclaimed playwright Chris Hannan to write it.

It's another thing, however, to bring to the stage the swashbuckling adventures of the Three Musketeers and to be sure all the swordplay will look convincing. To get that right, the Edinburgh company knew who to call: fight director Renny Krupinski.

For the second time this year, Edinburgh audiences are getting to enjoy the authentic punch of Krupinski's work. He won a Scotsman Fringe First in August for his play Bare, which he wrote, directed and starred in. He also choreographed the all-too-believable bare-knuckle confrontations that were the centrepiece of this underworld story about illegal fight clubs.

Despite the audience sitting at close quarters on three sides of the stage, he made it look as though the actors were doing it for real. This, he says, is down to a technique he developed while working at the Manchester Royal Exchange, a theatre famed for being "in the round"with the audience on all sides.

"I realised all the techniques I'd learned were dreadful in the round," says Krupinski, who played badguy Sizzler in Brookside in the 1980s and is a frequent fight arranger on Coronation Street. "There was daylight between the fist and the face. I thought there had to be a better way. I teach stage combat at drama school, so I used my students as guinea pigs - and I have to say, no students were hurt or killed in the making of this …"

His aim was for the actors to make contact and to produce the right sound, but not actually to injure each other. "I hated the fact that when the violence comes, the audience had almost to excuse what was going on as being 'just pretend'. The fight is as much a part of the play as any other part. If a playwright has put a fight in, they've put it in for a reason. So I developed these contact slaps and punches and they absolutely work."

It is a technique convincing enough to be effective from only inches away, as his actors discovered when they were drumming up audiences on the Royal Mile during the Fringe. He keeps the exact secret close to his chest, but admits it involves the same kind of misdirection used by magicians. "The quickness of the hand deceives the eye," he says "It's making the watcher look at the wrong thing - and it works every time."

So important was the sword fighting to The Three Musketeers, in which D'Artagnan attempts to save Paris (and a Spanish princess) with the help of his trusty colleagues, that director Dominic Hill had Krupinski by his side from the very earliest auditions.It is all very well an actor looking the part, but if he is an unconvincing or, worse, a dangerous fighter, the production could either lose its dramatic tension or acquire the wrong kind of tension altogether.

"People who couldn't fight didn't get the job," says Krupinski. "Dominic would like certain people and I would say, 'They just can't fight'. In my auditions, I'm looking for someone who, when they pick up the sword, doesn't terrify me, someone who can control his blade. You get lots of people who can swish a blade about but have no control over it and they're a danger to anyone who's on stage with them. If you don't know where the sword is going to go, they're a liability."

He says it is the equivalent of spotting whether someone can ride a horse: you can sense it just by the way they approach the animal without needing to see them in the saddle. "When someone picks up the sword, before they've even fought with it, I'll know if they're going to be really good or a disaster," he says. "You get an instinct."

Ultimately, his job is to control a given scene with the precision of a choreographer. "It's not just a question of slipping in a few kicks and punches here and there," he says. "You've got to have a shape to it, you've got to be able to let the audience watch what you want them to watch and you've got to make it safe. It's always a creative process. You build it up and, just like a picture, you add a bit of colour here, take away a bit of colour there, until you end up with an artistically pleasing scene."

And whether he's dealing in stunts, punches or swords, Krupinski's guiding principle is the same: "You can't leave anything to chance. I'm not interested in phoning for ambulances. It doesn't get you repeat business.

Katie Crowder

KATIE CROWDER - Theatre ☆☆☆☆4
SHOWING FROM - TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2015 THROUGH TILL SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2015
OLDHAM COLISEUM - OLDHAM
 Gill Whalley | Tuesday, September 8, 2015

[Katie Crowder reviewed by Gill Whalley on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 for Downstage Centre]
Complex and confused frustrations come to light in 'Katie Crowder' at the Oldham Coliseum.
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OLDHAM COLISEUM IS WELL KNOWN FOR ITS IMPRESSIVELY WIDE RANGING PROGRAMME AND ITS EFFORTS TO APPEAL TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY WITH PRODUCTIONS WHICH ARE CHALLENGING AND INNOVATIVE AS WELL AS FAMILY FRIENDLY.

 

It’s recently broadened its repertoire even further with the opening of a studio theatre, a small intimate space upstairs previously used as a rehearsal space. Local writer Renny Krupinski is launching this new Studio Season with his 2 award –winning plays Alphabet Girl and Katie Crowder which ran in the studio from the 8th to the 12th September. Both actors have a very strong presence and sense of timingThis small space, hidden away at the top of the building was perfect for this story of backstage seediness and frustration played out in the top floor dressing room of a West End theatre.


Bill Ashton (author Krupinski who also directs) and Martin Grosvenor (Ralph Casson) are both jobbing actors, low in the professional pecking order and understudying in a bad West End play. Martin's claim to superior status is dependent on his ownership of the one line delivered in the roles they share - butlers - who briefly appear and disappear from the front stage to return to the chaos of their dressing room where they bicker over biscuits, jelly babies and card games.

 

THREATENED

The pace of the play is fast moving and the performances excellent. There are moments of real comedy in their constant bantering, quick-fired word games and manic desperation to outwit and out manoeuvre each other in their quest for fame. The well-worn familiarity in their relationship is threatened however when Bill suspects that Martin has slept with Katie Crowder, the deputy stage manager, (voiced by Kaitlin Howard). Katie is never actually seen in the play but her presence is felt throughout and brings to light the more complex and confused frustrations that connect the two men.

The tone of the play is constantly funny and its depiction of the backstage world of theatre is very entertaining, complete with spoof biographies of the actors in the programme. There are some wonderful comic moments at the end of Act 1 when Martin loses a word game with Bill and at the same time loses the plot, with disastrous results for his performance in the play.

 

There are moments of sadness and poignancy as well however, particularly in Act 2 when the action moves forward in time and the actors resume their relationship. Both actors bring to life the loneliness and frustration they share, as their game playing and point scoring continues at the same relentless pace. There are times when the notes of bitterness jar with the comedy and maybe leaves the audience unsure how to respond. Both actors however have a very strong presence and sense of timing and their physicality and quick moving delivery had everyone engaged. The intimate setting of the studio added to the authenticity of this production which is well worth catching and a really encouraging introduction to this new Studio season.


Katie Crowder ran in the studio from September 8th to 12th September.
Renny Krupinski’s Alphabet Girl is currently running until the 19th of September.

ABC of emotions, power and energy

ABC of emotions, power and energy

Reporter: Paul Genty
Date online: 17 September 2015

THE ALPHABET GIRL, Oldham Coliseum Studio, to Saturday

IT’S quite a culture shock, moving from Tuesday night’s mightily impressive but emotionally cold epic, “Dead Dog in a Suitcase”, to this one-woman, one-hour, all-emotion tour de force.

Writer and director Renny Krupinski’s piece about three generations of screwed-up women from the same family is performed by local actress Kaitlin Howard — usually a regular in the Coliseum’s famous pantomimes, and here stretching her acting muscles to the limit.

The play has been around for a while and has already won several awards, including Manchester Theatre Awards and Manchester Fringe trophies. It also recently had a successful run in Edinburgh. But this is its first visit to the Coliseum Studio, where it has shared a residency with Krupinski’s other recent work, “Katie Crowder”.

Krupinski’s theme is a simple one, but one in which the audience fills in lots of the gaps, making it even more powerful. Between the wars Maisie begat Lily, who later begat Ivy.

Maisie’s louche attitude to family life, sex and relationships messed up her daughter, who in turn passed her prejudices and obsessions to her daughter, who goes out with (lots of) men according to the alphabetical order of their names to try to make some sense of her obsessions and fears, hence the title.

There is a lot to take in during the three monologues: broken relationships, emotional abandonment, very bad parental examples; even the feeding of gin and blackcurrant to a three-year-old — it’s that kind of family.

Howard makes three convincingly different women; outwardly bright and businesslike, seemingly sex-obsessed Lily; randy and uncaring Maisie and utterly misplaced Ivy, for whom getting back to some sort of track would be something of a miracle.

Krupinski doesn’t pass judgment on the trio — their problems are clear enough to see. He approaches them instead with a cautious goodwill evident in the writing, and gives each one consideration and time — and while it’s time to put themselves even farther out of mainstream comprehension, nonetheless this is entertaining material, delivered with power and energy.

Katie Crowder

Katie Crowder

Renny Krupinski
The Oldham Coliseum Theatre and Moxie Under Fire
The Oldham Coliseum Studio, Oldham
08 September 2015 to 12 September 2015

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Poster for Katie Crowder

The Oldham Coliseum makes a welcome addition to the number of Manchester theatres with a Studio space in which to host more intimate plays. The venue has excellent sightlines and its rough and ready authenticity – tucked at the rear of the circle bar and with pipework clearly visible - is perfect for Katie Crowder; Renny Krupinski’s story of backstage bitchiness and desperation.

Like Godot the title character does not appear in the play but Katie Crowder’s influence hangs over proceedings acting as an unintentional catalyst for events in the relationship between two jobbing actors. The friendship between Bill Ashton (author Krupinski who also directs) and Martin Grosvenor (Ralph Casson) is based on a mutual awareness of how low they are in the professional pecking order. But the camaraderie is threatened when Bill begins to suspect that Martin has slept with Deputy Stage Manager Katie Crowder (voiced by Kaitlin Howard).

Remember those heartwarming old films based backstage at a theatre that conclude there is no business like showbusiness? Well,Katie Crowder is not one of those. Despite the programme featuring spoof biographies of the fictional cast the tone of the play is bleak; which, to an extent is refreshing and certainly realistic. Krupinski catches how petty irritants like identifying who ate the last biscuit assume a disproportionate importance in the workplace. After a while, however, the relentless bitterness becomes wearying; if I want to listen to people bitch about being compelled to do jobs they hate I can just go into work.

The performances are excellent. Ralph Casson gives a moving interpretation of someone trying that bit too hard to give the impression of being urbane and above it all. The intensity of Renny Krupinski’s performance brings to mind someone who seems unaware how close he is to a meltdown. Despite the friction between the characters the actors generate a real sense of worn affection.

Director Krupinski manages a real surprise in the change of scene between Acts. Yet the limited development in the first Act means that at times it amounts to little more than two blokes talking. Overall, the story is slim and there are not sufficient clues or hints to make the twist at the end credible. The author seems uncertain as to whether to end the play on a bitter or comedic note and so gives one of each, which diminishes the impact.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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Comments

Comment by Diana Stenson

Yes the studio space is a welcome addition to the Coliseum's performing options but there is a detail to watch.  Sound travels up from the main auditorium and currently this is a  very noisy  musical.  Happily "Katie Crowder" is such an absorbing trip that the distraction seems to fade away. 

The World of Luvvies is awash with anecdotes of tantrums, crushing barbs and the occasional surprise acts of kindness although the roles of  our jobbing actors are  seriously  short of the latter.  Unlike David I was not struck by any worn affection between Martin and Bill, only their incessant nit-picking and cruel insults which almost defeated the first half, gripping though it is.

The second act moves onwards several years, and location, to a "coincidental" meeting in a pub.   Truths are now revealed and a shift of balance emerges between the two misfits which pitches back into the old cruel  ripostes.    Krupinski does not render any late redeeming characteristics to make his audience sympathise with one more than the other.  However the script is a clever and fruitful hunting ground for the ultimate put-down and accompanying humour.

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