Tag Archives: Ryan Mellish


Interview With

Benji and Elliot

The Bohemians Theatre Company


Benji and Elliot

The Bohemians Theatre Company

Interviewed – June 2020


Hello, thank you so much for answering our questions today. Why not start by telling us a little bit about yourselves?

Benji: I’m Benji and I’m the Artistic Director of The Bohemians Theatre Company.

Elliot: And I’m Elliot Mackenzie and I’m the Assistant Artistic Director of The Bohemians Theatre Company.

Benji: And we trained at Rose Bruford…

Elliot: We did indeed. We both trained on the Actor Musicianship course at Rose Bruford College…

Why and when did you form The Bohemians?

Elliot: I suppose that’s a bit complicated isn’t it?

Benji: There are so many layers.

Elliot: I suppose we officially launched at The Other Palace with Pardoned in 2018 didn’t we?

Benji: Yes. That was our official launch as a company.

The cast of Pardoned from the company’s launch at The Other Palace

Elliot: So if you were to put a date on it that would be it but the seed had been sown with both of us for some time before that and even longer for you.

Benji: When we were in first year our voice teacher Tess asked us what our dreams were. Mine was to have a theatre company. She asked what it was going to be called and in that moment I came out with ‘The Bohemians’ and it’s stuck ever since.

Elliot: Because we couldn’t think of anything better!

Benji: Yep and because we’re all a bit bonkers. Then throughout our training at Bruford everything fell into place really. We all clicked and liked making theatre together, made our first show Wondertown (main image shows Benji and Elliot in rehearsal) and have gone on to do a couple of other things. It’s been hard since graduating obviously, but we are still ploughing on and still committed to fulfilling our mission to create theatre that puts actor-musicians at the forefront and deals with social issues, and is a bit of fun too…

As actor-musicianship gains more popularity within the industry, more drama schools and universities are offering courses on it. What drew you to the course at Rose Bruford, and how do you feel it’s shaped your careers since?

Elliot: As far as I’m aware it’s sort of one of the founding places to study it – the course director when we were there (Jeremy Harrison) literally wrote the book on it. So that was sort of it from my perspective. Because I came from a musical theatre background, I was always aware that even in the West End there was some sub-par acting, so I wanted to do a course that was more acting-focussed but didn’t lose the connection to music. Yeah, I just like playing instruments…

Benji: I’ve always been someone who wants to try everything so the Actor-Musician course was the perfect thing for me. You not only explore the two disciplines of acting and music and how they relate, but there were many opportunities to compose, musically direct, arrange, write, direct, and produce as part of and alongside the course. When auditioning I realised this was the place for me. The training is very multidisciplinary.

Elliot: With a lot of other courses – in my admittedly limited knowledge of them – it looks like musical theatre with instruments, and where I think Bruford differs is that it teaches actor-musicianship as its own innate craft as a genre of theatre making. It also doesn’t just train actor-musos; it trains writers and composers and theatre makers. Even if you never make another piece of theatre again and you’re only working freelance with other peoples’ ideas, all those skills are massively valuable to you. Though of course it’s the only place I went, and I might have had a great time somewhere else.

Benji: I supposed we are biased. The other courses are quite young so I’m sure as those courses grow, they’ll figure out what actor-musicianship is in their own way as well and it’ll all merge and become a beautiful thing.

Elliot: You also get that heritage when you go to Bruford. You’re part of a thing that’s bigger than you, that’s had years of people doing years of research and trying to work out what the hell it is. You know that from Rose Bruford herself leaving other places and going, ‘I think the voice and the text needs to be valued a lot more’.

Was there ever any concern that studying actor-musicianship would make casting directors turn their noses up at you not studying ‘proper’ acting? Have you experienced any sort of elitism in the industry because of it and how have you dealt with that?

Benji: When I was auditioning for actor-musician courses, someone suggested I might get half of each discipline and not a full experience, but I feel we had a full-blooded experience in both those disciplines packed into three years.

Elliot: I think that’s a misconception about actor-musicianship, that you’re a bit of an actor and a bit of a musician and bit of a musical theatre performer, but that’s the wrong way to look at it. We’re not a bit of any of those, we are a whole of an actor muso.

Benji: And actor-musicians are so in demand. There are so many more shows using actor-musicians at the heart of the creative process. I haven’t experienced any snobbery.

How have the first few years of running a company been? What have been the biggest challenges?

Benji: When you’re at drama school you have the resources of space, time and people at no cost and everyone is there and committed. We left Bruford in a really good place with this company and a portfolio of work, but being in the real world you lose the space, time, and people and you have no money. So it has been challenging, but we have still been able to develop our work and plan things. We are exploring fundraising, funding, and focusing on our business and marketing strategy at the moment.

Elliot: I think the biggest single challenge has been lack of financial support. We’ve produced and directed and devised an entire actor-muso musical and it was a thing. The only thing that stops us from doing that again is money.

Has it been difficult running the company while many of its members are all over the country – and sometimes the world – touring with other shows? What keeps you all together during those times?

Benji: Everyone is still so passionate about the company and the work. Obviously because actor-muso work is so popular, all our company members have been hugely successful and continually working. So it has been a challenge to pin people down, but I still feel so connected to everyone. We did a R&D project in Cornwall last September of Pardoned, our musical about Alan Turing and John Nicholson, and that brought people from all over to work in the Sterts Theatre for a week as one of our company members lives near there. So it’s an advantage having people all over the country as we can go and work where some of our members are.

Elliot: We’ve got members from around the UK and other parts of the world with different backgrounds, and they all go off and travel somewhere for a new gig with a groovy director. That stuff is all experience and ideas and approaches that get fed some way or other back into our work. So while it is a challenge being spread out, it is a great asset to the company. Yes, it’s difficult and makes things harder but it makes the work better as well.

How do you think the use of actor-musicians in a play or musical enhances the theatrical experience?

Benji: There’s the visual aspect and also the visceral connection to seeing instruments being played live. I was listening to an old recording of Ethel Merman, who was in the original Gypsy, singing over an orchestra of maybe 25 with no microphone and you could hear every word. It reminded me of how important the connection between voice and audience is. Sometimes what is being sung and played becomes tinny and artificial with amplified sound, and we lose the connection to the performer. Our shows have mostly been un-amplified and relied on musical directors and arrangers to balance the sound in the room and performance spaces. Actor-musicians definitely add a visual and aural connection that creates a really powerful and truthful experience.

Elliot: There’s a real connection. Nothing is falsified. If you are watching a play with music in it and you’re seeing a guy strumming a chord on a guitar live and in front of you, you have an immediate relationship to that as an audience member. If you hear that same chord played on a speaker, that relationship is lost. It’s bundled up into that idea of ‘Theatre Magic’, that you’re not supposed to see behind the smoke and mirrors. That’s not to say recorded sound doesn’t have its place though.

Do you feel that musical theatre is stigmatised – particularly in the UK? How do you try to tackle those preconceptions with the kind of work that you make?

Benji: I do think it is stigmatised but it’s getting better. I’ve been listening to Adam Lenson’s podcast Dischord which is brilliant. He’s basically a guru in figuring out what musical theatre is. There’s lots of talk about the term musical theatre and how some people use music theatre instead because they want to be taken more seriously. I’m very proud to say we do musicals and actor-musician musicals. I suppose we tackle the preconceptions by creating musicals for and with actor-musicians in mind, as most actor-musician work in musical theatre is revivals with the actor-muso stamp put on them. But I think we are still figuring this out. Adam Lenson has been figuring this out for years and there are lots of layers to it – it’s partly how audiences perceive musicals and how stubborn they can be or how open they can be…

Elliot: I suppose from an artist perspective they do have a reputation for being less real and less serious but from a producer’s standpoint a musical is always going to be far more attractive than a play would. The West End flourishes not because of straight plays but because of musicals. I think if there is a stigma attached to it, it comes from within the theatre making community. I don’t think it comes from audiences.

You’re a very politically-driven company, with Wondertown in particular focusing on the importance of voting. How do you find audiences react to seeing this subject matter in a musical – a form which is often perceived to largely stray away from heavy topics?

BenjiA production still from Wondertown

Benji: If you look at Rodgers and Hammerstein’s golden age musicals, they are very politically driven. Showboat, considered one of the first musicals of the modern age, is so politically charged. I don’t think we’re doing anything radical and new with that, but I think it’s important to keep exploring political and social issues through this art form.

Elliot: West Side Story – one of the most famous musicals of all time – is about racism and gang culture and what it means to be a defective young person. But I suppose we’re dealing with perception, aren’t we? With Wondertown we had some praise for discussing political issues but it was not being overt. The point of the piece wasn’t to bash you round the head with politics.

Benji: Yes, it was about making the politics accessible to people who don’t get the jargon and we did partly succeed in that. It was interesting seeing the difference in reaction from older and younger audience members. The younger people were getting excited about engaging with politics and we had a comment from an older woman who didn’t realise younger people were this engaged or cared about certain social issues. So I suppose that’s our mission as a company – to make people aware of certain social issues and make people react and make a change.

What were you up to before the theatre shutdown?

Benji: I was preparing material for a scratch night at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. I’m writing a musical about Welsh painter Gwen John which might be a gig theatre piece. But that obviously fell through.

Elliot: I was touring the UK and India in a production of Million Dollar Quartet. I was covering some of the roles and it was actor-muso.

Benji: I think a lot of our other company members lost out on a lot of work which is really sad.

How have you been coping with this new existence of social distancing and staying indoors?

Benji: Like everyone, I found it hard in the first couple of weeks but I’m getting into it now and figuring out how to keep creative and productive, and work on stuff for The Bohemians. But it is all mind-boggling.

Elliot: I’m with you on that one. I’ve always struggled to be productive when I’m not being held accountable to other people. I think in many ways being a freelancer is a bit of a head start over people who haven’t freelanced before, because we know what it’s like to be doing a lot of stuff and then absolutely nothing. But I’m playing a lot of music, trying to write music, and I’m now in a couple of online plays and doing musical supervision for a thing which is going to be bonkers.

What’s your top tip for other creatives struggling with quarantine life?

Elliot: My top tip would be don’t feel bad about creating absolutely nothing at all. There’s a lot of pressure on theatre makers and musicians to still be making stuff but actually, a lot of the joy of our craft comes from being together with likeminded people in a room. We’re lacking that at the moment and that makes stuff really really difficult. So my big piece of advice would be don’t feel bad if you want to sit on the sofa and watch Netflix all day.

Benji: I agree. Eat cake and lots of chocolate. That being said, there came a point when I did want to do stuff and be productive so I made a list of what I want to watch, read, and write in the week.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do once the lockdown is lifted and we’re allowed outdoors again?

Both: Go to the pub!

What’s next for The Bohemians?

Benji: We are currently developing small projects. Because everyone is so busy, it’s hard to realise them – especially without funding. We were planning to take something to the Camden Fringe this summer, so we want to put together a small scale fringe piece when this is over, and also have a couple of our crazy open mic cabarets where everyone can come and sing, drink, get merry and live the bohemian life. La vie boheme!

Elliot: We are also looking at a couple of writers’ retreats with our company members and how we can produce work around the country.

New British musicals are notoriously difficult to get developed compared to America. What challenges have you faced in getting your own work produced?

Benji: It’s strange because the new musical writing world in the UK is so small but it’s so big as well – there are a lot of people trying to make new work. So getting noticed by some of the people in the industry working on new musicals is challenging. But you have to keep going to events, keep networking and supporting your fellow peers making new musicals in the hope they will support you back.

What are the big changes that need to happen to help British musicals flourish?

Benji: More producers willing to take risks is one thing.

Elliot: More outsider success stories like Six because that was a musical not based on a film or a play. A British story that clearly had a large public awareness and following. Until more of that happens, not a lot of producers – particularly large scale producers – won’t take risks. They go for things based on the songs of bands or things that have done exceedingly well at the box office. So I think you need more indie British musicals.

Benji: And we need more Welsh stories, Scottish stories, Irish stories – more regional theatres to support writers and companies. We need people to take risks and have faith that the work will be good.

What hidden musical theatre gems do you recommend to readers looking for something new to listen to?

Benji: I would say all of Adam Lenson’s content from Signal which features a lot of new writing. There’s a quirky American musical, Fly By Night, that’s not well-known which is great. And Say My Name, an actor-musician Breaking Bad parody musical which I helped produce, has recently put out its album which you can listen to here: https://open.spotify.com/album/5cYKTvWHdnfxeQDuPrlVD2?si=VI27SGOLSIqGLziBzJKoAg

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions – stay safe and keep washing your hands!


Interviewed by Ryan Mellish

Photography courtesy of Benji and Elliot




Find out more about The Bohemians from the links here:
Twitter – @thebohemiansco
Instagram – @thebohemiansco
Website – www.thebohemianstheatre.com
Facebook – TheBohemiansCo



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Interview With

Martin Malcolm


Martin Malcolm

Martin Malcolm


Interviewed – May 2020


Hello, thank you so much for answering our questions today. Why not start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I’ve been writing plays for around eight years, including Drifters, Tiramisu and Kingdom of the Icebear for Theatre West, NightFlyer (Tristan Bates), Warped (VAULT Festival) and The Signalman (Old Red Lion).

How did it all start?

When I was five, I was in The Enormous Turnip at school. I got a cracker of a role, the Mouse (paper ears, skipping rope tail). He comes on at the end, fixes everything and resolves the narrative.

I never got over it. I’ve been on a mission to resolve the narrative ever since.

How did you end up as a playwright?

I had a lot of false starts and did a lot of jobs I didn’t want to do. I trained as an actor, but quickly found it wasn’t for me. I worked in bars, museums, offices and painting floors in a theatre. I’ve been a press officer and a teacher and I’ve scripted educational media for broadcast. But all the time I secretly wanted to write plays.

I got back into play-writing through two comedy shows, The News Revue in London and Brighton’s Treason Show. Scripting two-minute sketches week-in-week-out tells you a lot about structure.

I gradually built up my contacts, found actors and directors I wanted to work with and moved on to the kind of stuff I write now.

Your work is hugely versatile – last year’s Warped at the 2019 VAULT Festival sizzlingly tackled toxic masculinity through modern day Kray twin wannabes, while your adaptation of Charles Dickens’ The Signalman, which would be touring right now if not for this pesky pandemic, adopts a totally different tone. What are the themes and ideas that fuel you? What’s the connective sinew in your writing?

Thank you, that’s very kind. The stories I write are always sparked by something that happened to me or to people I know well.

I don’t choose a tone or a theme, they kind-of choose themselves. My stuff is often bleak and gritty, but that’s what writing non-stop comedy for ten years does for you.

I like plays where small actions, small choices, small objects, turn out to have huge consequences. I love it when you’re watching a play and you think you know where it’s going and then CRASH! The ground falls away and you realise you’ve been standing on a precipice.

The only theme-y things I’ve noticed in my work? I often have a very quiet character on the edge of the action and I often set it in a transitional space: a road, a corridor, a gateway, a doorstep, a stairwell. I love a good doorstep!

In 2019 you also began producing, leading to the formation of your own company. What made you want to move into this role and create Critical Moment Theatre?

Critical Moment is more of a brand than a company and to be honest, it’s still forming itself right now. The team behind it are all discovering what it is, as we work on our first projects.

It’s learning-by-doing and that means you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. But it’s perfect for a writer because making it up as you go along is what we do.

I started it because I lack patience and I got tired of waiting. In theatre, both on and off the stage, if you want to see some drama, you have to make stuff happen.

What’s been the biggest learning experience in moving into the world of producing?

Always have a contingency plan. Because contingencies are always going to happen. And finding the right people to work with is the key.

The team I’m working with right now – composers, actors, poets, photographers – are absolute diamonds. It’s their glittery creativity that shines out when we get things right.

You’re a staunch advocate of no artist having to work for free. Has it ever been difficult maintaining the ethically correct stance if it meant losing opportunities?

Yes, it’s always difficult. Like the rest of us, I see call-outs every day asking actors, directors and writers to commit their time, energy and talent but with no mention of a fee.

Maybe that’s OK if it’s a short project, a one-day event or a scratch night, say. You might gain something else tangible: creative partners you can work with again or an ongoing relationship with a venue.

But one unpaid gig quickly leads to another which leads to another. If that becomes the new normal, how will you ever break free? People will come to expect it of you. And I am forever struck by the insouciance of those who constantly ask others to work for them unpaid.

With Critical Moment, we raise the money before we make the work. If we can’t raise the cash, we don’t do the project. Everybody who works with Critical Moment gets fairly paid for what they do because we all have to eat and we all need to have our work respected.

Despite the theatres being closed, you’ve still been busy with Speaking Stones, an audio trail giving a voice to statues and street art in Harringay. What was the inspiration behind the project?

Our local library was asking for artists to come and make work. And looking around the area we thought: ‘Who are all those stone people, iron animals and painted magical beasts we see every day?’ So we started to create an audio trail to find out. We’re curating a range of responses to all kinds of artwork from people who live, study or work in Harringay, or just pass through.

To begin with, we wondered how much art there really was out there. At first glance, all you see is an urban streetscape: shops, stations, take-aways, streetlights, a lot of traffic and a lot of concrete.

But once we started looking, we found artworks sneaking in all over the place. It has been a delight discovering it all and we can’t wait to share it.

Speaking Stones is supported by The Mayor of London’s Culture Seeds Fund and we’re hugely grateful to them, as well as Haringey Library Service and our other community partners, for backing us.

How have you adapted to this new existence of social distancing and staying indoors, in terms of managing Speaking Stones, and in your everyday life?

Originally, Speaking Stones was going to grow out of workshops and live events. But when Covid came, obviously that had to go on hold, though we’ll come back to those things when the virus crisis is over.

We moved our audio trail online and discovered it’s exactly the project for these times. We launch a digital map with audio clips on 30th May that you can access from your sofa as easily as you can from the street. So it’s ideal for bringing the outdoors inside for anyone who still has to shelter.

And in my everyday life? I have tidied my desk, so that’s a bonus.

What’s your top tip for other creatives struggling with quarantine life?

Do what you can and don’t fret about what you can’t do. Creativity isn’t a commodity and you can’t use it up, so if you can’t do your project right now, that is totally fine. Return to it when you can.

That’s what I’m telling myself and it keeps me going.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do once the lockdown is lifted and we’re allowed outdoors again?

I’m looking forward to getting on the 29 bus with a notebook and jotting down all the wacky stuff people say to each other. I’ve really missed that.

Speaking Stones launches on 30th May. What kind of community response are you hoping for?

We just want people to check out the digital map we’ll put up on @StonesSpeaking and have fun spotting artworks they know or artworks they don’t and hearing how other people have responded to them.

If you live in Harringay, I hope you’ll get a buzz out of seeing the art on your street put literally on the map. And hearing it too!

And if you’re looking in from somewhere else? Here’s a chance to see wild and wonderful sculptures and paintings you’d never get to see otherwise. And maybe you’ll feel like exploring your own street (virtually or actually) to see what overlooked gems might be lurking.

Are there plans to apply the project to other areas? And what else does Critical Moment Theatre have in the pipeline?

Speaking Stones is a simple and robust concept and we’re very keen to take it to another part of town, or another town altogether. We’ve been invited to try our approach in a local nature reserve and we’re really looking forward to giving that a go.

We have a new play coming up and we were in discussion with a venue about opening it there when lockdown put a stop to all that. With everything so mixed up now, it’s impossible to say what will happen to that production, but we have big hopes for it.

As well as writing and producing, you’ve facilitated the growth of a number of aspiring playwrights through teaching at university, leading workshops, and through the insights on your Twitter. What are some your favourite pieces of advice to offer out?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of new writers of all ages and the things they come up with never fail to amaze me. I love to read the stuff other writers write. It’s a continuing revelation.

My top tip? Take notes. All the time, everywhere. Human stories are streaming out around us, brimming with excitement and passion and horror and joy and hope and mystery. The more you look, the more there are.

If you do that, you’ll never have to face the terror of the blank screen or the empty page. You’ll have started writing long before you ever get to your desk. Note-taking is a painless way to let the story come and find you, rather than the other way round.

What was your favourite piece of theatre from 2019 and why?

There’s a lot to choose from! But if I had to choose just one it would be Shook by Sam Bailey. Why? Because I forgot I was sitting in a theatre watching a play and simply experienced it as if I was there with them.

Papatango’s production was due to transfer to Trafalgar Studios when lockdown struck. And if some theatre somewhere does not do something to remedy that on the other side of all this, then I feel sorry for all theatres, because they will be missing out big time.

What’s the biggest change that needs to be made in the theatre industry?

We need to say goodbye to that word ‘submit’. Actors shouldn’t ‘submit’ head-shots or self-tapes, writers shouldn’t ‘submit’ scripts and directors or anyone else in this industry should never ‘submit’ a proposal or a funding application or a CV.

Deep in that word’s DNA is the idea that creative people are supplicants and that the power to make theatre lies elsewhere, with organisations, venues, or a class of very important individuals. That’s not true and they would be lost without us.

The first step to taking charge of your career is to stop thinking like a supplicant. So send your stuff by all means, but never, ever submit it!

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions – stay safe and keep washing your hands!

You’re welcome. Bring on the soap.

Interviewed by Ryan Mellish

Photography courtesy Martin Malcolm




Find out more about Malcolm, Speaking Stones and their supporters from the links here:
Twitter – @MartinJMalcolm  @StonesSpeaking #SpeakingStones
@LDN_Culture #CultureSeeds  @GroundworkLON



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