Stories and announcements

3Nov. 2017.

When did the first violin appear?

Kreutzer Quartet leader and violin virtuoso Peter Sheppard Skaerved returns to his favourite venue later this month, taking you through the history of the violin, and instilling in you some of his enthusiasm for the instrument... 

When did the first violin appear? That’s a question which I often get asked, and the answer is, well, complicated…

...But one thing can be said; in the mid-1500s a Cremonese luthier (string-instrument maker) called Andrea Amati (c.1500 – 1577) started producing instruments which set the model and the standard for every violin, viola and cello that followed. Very few of these instruments survive, and only a handful can be played. It’s incredibly exciting, as well as rare, to hold one of these violins and am lucky enough to regularly perform and record on the instrument which I will play tonight. The very fact that I can perform on an violin made during the reign of Elizabeth 1st is wonderful, but it is also an astonishing violin, offering challenges and colour which still exceed what a modern player will need. 

Andrea Amati violin (ca. 1570)

For the Amati violin, this Telemann Fantasy is a wonderful work to hear the range of colours and timbres of this violin; intimate and up close, the sound of the violin right under the player's ear! 

Andrea founded a dynasty; his son Girolamo (c. 1561 – 1630) made astonishing violins, one of which will also be heard tonight, dated the year before his death. This is, in every respect, a ‘modern’ violin; I have played everything from very early works, big concertos, and lots of ‘extreme’ contemporary music on this instrument; it fills the biggest halls, and has a truly sensual sound. 

Playing the Girolamo Amati 1629 to Mags from A-ha

In this video I play and talk about the violin, alongside contemporary precious objects from the early 1600s in the astonishing Waddesdon Room at the the British Museum. Early violins were prized for their visual beauty, and designed to be seen alongside precious works of art and curiosities such as these. 

Girolamo’s son, Nicolò Amati (1596 – 1684), most famous of the Amati dynasty, may have taught Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737) greatest of all makers. Tonight’s concert also features a unique small ‘Strad’ made in 1685 This is not a children’s violin, but reminder, that in the 17th century, there were as many sizes of instrument as clarinets; you simply used a different instrument for different colours or pitches. I would describe this as a ‘soprano’ violin. It’s in almost perfect condition, and is full of wonderful colours. 

Listen to music from the 1680s played on this 1685 Stradavari violin in this album, heard here in a miraculous Christopher Wren Church from built in the same decade!

Close up of the exquisite, and perfect back of the 1685 Stradivari

These are just three of the instruments that will be heard in our concert! There will be more, from the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries, each distinctive in their own way. Come along and hear them, playing music from four centuries. 

Listen to these pieces and more on The Voice of The Violin playlist on our Spotify here.

Peter Sheppard Skaerved performs The Voice of the Violin on 21st November. Tickets are available here.

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27Apr. 2017.

On being Othello and Desdemona

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s Othello opened in Bristol to a barrage of ecstatic reviews. A great deal has already been said about the production so, ahead of its arrival here at Wilton’s, we thought we would bring you a very personal account of what it’s like to get under the skin of one of Shakespeare’s most tragic couples, in conversation with Norah Lopez Holden and Abraham Popoola.

Both Abraham and Norah graduated from RADA in 2016. How does it feel to play such iconic Shakespearean roles in such a high-profile and acclaimed production so early in their careers and how familiar were they with the play beforehand?

A:  I feel privileged, very privileged. I studied the play for my English Literature degree at University of Westminster and used one of Othello’s monologues as my audition piece for drama school. I was then lucky enough to play the role at RADA in an abridged version for secondary schools. Their responses were fascinating, especially an all-boys school where they were really hot, sweaty and bored; all they wanted was action but, during the quieter moments, they were riveted. It was amazing to see how we could grasp their attention, even though some were harder to win over than others. I do believe we were helping to open their eyes to something new.

N: I studied it in the sixth form and loved it. It seemed so different to any other Shakespeare I’d come across before because it’s so economical in terms of its exposition. The story unravels so quickly. We have a joke in the company that it could easily make a Netflix one-part drama! I would once have been scared by a part like this and hadn’t imagined myself, with my Manchester accent, playing Shakespeare. It’s easy to get caught up in what are often perceived as the dos and don’ts of Shakespearean acting. Desdemona has always been dusted over as this very naïve, wishy-washy sort of creature. Like many young actresses, I’m inclined to gravitate more towards women with substance, with meat on their bones, so I was actually more drawn to Emilia. When this audition came through, though, I really looked at the story from Desdemona’s perspective for the first time and realised that she’s a headstrong young woman with the balls to stand up for herself. The first thing we see her do is defy her father.

Norah and Abraham not only studied together at RADA, they are also friends off-stage. Has that made a difference to their experience of playing Othello and Desdemona?

N:  We’re definitely comfortable with each other and, of course, our training together means we’d already broken down all the barriers of discomfort around things like love scenes. There have been plenty of laughs around our difference in height – I’m barely 5’ 6” and Abe’s 6’ 5”. If we need an intimate moment, he has to either pick me up or sit down! Although the physical difference perfectly reflects the changing relationship. In the beginning, he is this big, strapping, sexy man who literally sweeps me off my feet and carries me away. As events unfold, he becomes completely overpowering so that I can’t defend myself against him. Our physicality mirrors the opposition where everything turns from good to bad – the almost erotic heat of Cyprus becomes stifling and oppressive, Othello’s being a muslim lends him an exotic, attractive otherness at first, which then becomes terrifying as she realises “you’re a stranger, I don’t know anything about you”.

A:  I think our friendship and prior knowledge of each other’s acting has definitely helped us to explore the characters further. It also means we’re there to support each other when the play weighs heavy. It’s almost inevitable for me that some residue of the character lingers in me during the run and there are aspects that I’ve been affected by. I may never have killed my wife or led an army but the paranoia Othello feels, fuelled by the racism he encounters every day, that’s something I have felt. It’s close to home in that sense. It’s double-edged – in some ways it's a strength, being able to use my own experience to play the character, but it’s difficult when it reflects negative experience in your life. Whenever I’ve been struggling with that, it’s been good to know I have a friend there who understands me.

In rehearsal

Despite their previous knowledge of the play, there are elements of Director Richard Twyman’s production that are still fresh and unexpected.

N:  It’s really exciting to be in a production that deals with the female voices. They are so often overlooked as Othello is presented very much as about a group of soldiers - a man’s play, set in a man’s world. Yet the three women’s voices are so distinct and have such purpose. The relationship between Emilia and Desdemona has been a revelation. I had always read (and been taught to read) them as dowdy, cynical Emilia and naïve, stupid Desdemona but that does no justice to the characters, and denies all the nuances in-between. Their relationship is particularly sad and illustrates another about-turn as Desdemona becomes increasingly trapped in her marriage and loses her grip on her own strength and the oppressed Emilia gains courage to make a stand. There’s a scene between the two, the only scene with only women present, where the great unspoken truth underlying their conversation is that Desdemona is being abused by her husband. It’s also a play about domestic abuse, which still goes on today; nothing much has changed.

Katy (who plays Emilia) and I often marvel at how Shakespeare could hear both Emilia’s and Iago’s opposing voices so clearly and take an almost feminist approach to the way men treat women. The incredible irony is that those women would have been played by men because women were not allowed to play themselves!

A:  The women’s roles were a revelation for me too. It’s been illuminating to discover that this is not just a play about two alpha males. And that Othello can be - is – young. I always delivered my audition monologue as a man much older than myself because I’ve only ever seen the role portrayed by older actors. A director who saw that I’d played the role at RADA once made a point of telling me that I was far too young and shouldn’t think about it until I was 50! That thought was stuck in my head but Richard was keen to make it clear that he saw Othello as a young man. Also that he is a Muslim in hiding, he’s adopted Christianity in order to survive but his true faith is Islam. That and his youth mean he has no choice but to trust the older, more experienced Iago, who has been moving, manipulating and surviving in that society for longer than Othello has even been alive.

N:  Yes, it’s so important that they are a young couple, deeply in love, and Iago’s jealousy is made even worse by being faced with this young man who has everything he wishes he had. Audience feedback from Bristol shows that we really have portrayed that.

A:  It helps that, instead of just hearing other characters talk about the couple before we see them, we actually witness their wedding at the beginning. That’s a new addition for this production.

The cast are now gearing up to seven performances at Exeter Northcott Theatre before heading to Wilton’s. A prospect at which Norah, who has recently moved to London, and Abraham, who hails from Dalston, were particularly excited when they visited us recently.

A:  I’m absolutely buzzing – I can’t wait for the whole cast to come in! And it’s so significant to be doing this play here in Tower Hamlets where there is such a large Muslim population. We overheard conversations in Bristol that suggested we had managed to communicate something to Muslim audiences that they had never seen before so it’s going to be fascinating to see what responses we get at Wilton’s.

N:  Playing in the round here is going to be amazing. I can’t imagine it any other way now because it creates a stifling claustrophobia and you can feel the gender differences in the audience; you sense the male discomfort listening to speeches about the way men treat women and women are held spellbound with the recognition.

As themselves

We couldn't resist throwing in these snippets of Othello trivia: The first play Abraham ever saw was Ibsen's Ghosts at the Arcola. Which just happened to be Norah's first major role after graduating, at Home Theatre in Manchester. They both have friends who were in the recent version of Othello at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and Abraham worked with Kurt Egyiawan, who played the eponymous lead in that production, in Three Migrants at the Royal Court, which was also directed by Richard Twyman. 

Othello runs 16 May to 3 June and you can buy tickets here.

You can also read another very personal account from a member of the cast in this blog post from Hayat Kamille, who plays Bianca.

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13Apr. 2017.

A Truly Revelatory Q&A with Boris & Sergey

It's not often that we get a glimpse into the lives, minds and sordid living conditions of a duo such as Balkan Bad Boys, Boris & Sergey. When we do, we feel it is our duty to reveal their secrets to you in a candid Q&A. You may feel the need to wash your hands after reading this.

How long have you been brothers and does it help or hinder your working relationship?
Sergey: We have been brothers all of our lives, though it certainly feels like much longer. I'm clearly being punished for something I did in a past life. In terms of our working relationship, I tend to be the help whereas Boris has the hindrance covered.
Boris: (proudly) Sergey says I'm the biggest hindrance in his life.

What’s your secret for keeping your skin so smooth and lustrous? Dubbin? Lard? Lenor?
Sergey: I take my skin care and personal hygiene very seriously, it's particularly important with all the disease and pestilence that Boris brings into our dwelling. My day typically starts with a bath in two litres of mountain spring water, followed by a hearty thrashing with Sicilian olive branches, performed by twelve stout men of honest character. At night I have myself vacuum packed to maintain my freshness.
Boris: Whereas I experiment with hot and cold, Sergey scolds me with boiling water, and makes me sleep outside at night. Which gives my skin it's natural onion-skin texture. The doctors say if I keep it up I won't see my next birthday, but Sergey doesn't let me have birthdays so I'm not too concerned.

Any tips for the gentlemen on how to succeed with the ladies?
Boris: A judge has ruled that I am no longer allowed to talk about, or be in the vicinity of anything female. I'll have to pay a heavy fine for answering this question.

Woken up with anyone interesting lately?
Boris: Mr Bumbles. I wake up next to him a lot.
Sergey: Who is Mr Bumbles? Some ridiculous cuddly toy that you need for security?
Boris: No, he's some guy who watches me sleep.

Who is your favourite puppeteer?
Sergey: Like any good parent we treat them with equal disdain, they are all expendable.

What's the worst thing you ever smelled?
Both: Fear.

It seems that Boris has been suffering for his art in rehearsals this week. Shame.

You can witness this kind of spectacle and worse, much worse, in Boris & Sergey's Astonishing Freakatorium 9-13 May.
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31Mar. 2017.

Ida Barr's mix-tape

From music hall to old skool, cockney rhymes to east London grime, Ida Barr shares some of the influences behind her Artificial Hip-Hop sound.

Solange – Don’t Touch My Hair

Solange and Beyonce were all that got me through the misery of 2016.  Lemonade and A Place at the Table were never off my Victrola.  This track got me in trouble with the warden in control of my warden controlled flats.  I was humming it under my breath not aware that the mobile hairdresser had arrived.  She reported that I was being difficult and the warden suspended my rights to a half price perm.  Innit tho!

Noel Coward - There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner

A reminder that there are a lot of people who are very keen on making us feel that things are getting worse.  I’ve lived a long time and it seems to be that things have always been going to hell in a dustcart.  But that’s probably a lot of nonsense.  Noel was a lovely fella.  Light on his feet, and kind to his mother.  He was always very charming to me, and once bought me a Eccles Cake at Crewe Station.  That’s the kind of thing you don’t forget.

Mary J Blige – MJB da MVP

As the Notorious IDA, I appreciate this song by the lovely MJB.  MVP means most valuable player and it’s American slang.  I don’t know a IUD from a IOU which has got me into trouble in the past.  There’s too many acronyms about these days, but this is still a smashing song.

Stormzy – Big For Your Boots

Stormzy used to pop round for a tamazepam for his nan from time to time so when we meet now in the lift at Radio 1Xtra is always a delight.  I’m thrilled by his success.  He’s got a lovely sense of humour and is a tip top rapper, which he credits me for.  Maybe he picked up more than prescription medication on those trips up to my flatlette!  

Nadia Rose – Tight Up

Nadia is a lovely girl, she’s never orff my WhatsApp.  And she is right to bring this menace of tight garments to the forefront of our attention.  Some gals look like they are wearing a bandage rather than a garment, which ain’t nobody’s business but their own, but it looks very distressing to a harmonious and healthy life.

TCTS – Do It Like Me

I put this on to get my home help to speed up whilst she’s doing the dado rails.  She can get very lethargic.  This is like aural caffeine.  Kelis is old pal of mine since I covered her Milkshake number for a Complan advert.  ‘My Complan brings the old boys to the yard’

Jidenna - White Niggas

A snappy dresser and an interesting musician.  Jidenna is on Janelle Monae’s label.  I’ve a lot of time for her and her music.  Lovely gal.  When I first heard of her, I thought she was Jonelle the John Lewis own brand which I found confusing.  I was familiar with their pillowslips but hadn’t expected them to bring out futuristic sci-fi narrative RnB.

Missy Elliott – I’m Better

This is namedropping but Missy wrote this number for me about my nasty bout of flu last October.  Me and Missy go way back.  She always stays at mine when she’s in London.  I say, stay in the suite at the Hilton, Miss and come to mine for high tea.  But she prefers my put-u-up.

Michael  Kiwanuka – Black Man In A White World

Lovely lad.  Lovely voice.  Treat yourself and have a listen to this.  And an important sentiment.  It’s a little like being an older female in a world which discounts you entirely.  But this is a playlist – not a discussion of intersectionality and oppression.

Lady Leshurr – Queen’s Speech

Finally I’m representing for my girl Leshurr.  Inventive, creative, funny and headstrong.  She’s like me at her age.  She’s going to go far.  But she does owe me a fiver I leant her at Victoria Bus Station when I saw her onto the Birmingham MegaBus last April.  Fair’s fair, Leshurr.  

Listen to the full playlist and follow us on Spotify here. 

Ida performs here 4th & 5th April, tickets available: http://bit.ly/2kUGlFf

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16Mar. 2017.

The truth and magic in storytelling

Undermined was conceived when Danny Mellor was required to write, direct and star in a piece as a final showcase for his MA at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. As the grandson of a South Yorkshire miner, with the 30th anniversary of the end of the miners’ strike looming, he saw the opportunity to create a show about a subject close to his heart.

There’s nothing quite so compelling, thought-provoking or entertaining as storytelling at its best. So Danny becomes Dale, down the pub with a pint, simply telling it like it was. Based on real events and first-hand accounts, stories of ordinary and extraordinary day to day events in the lives of ordinary and extraordinary miners and their families during brutal times. No sensational news reports, no politicians, no rhetoric. Just tales of the day a police superintendent in a range rover tried to mow down a snowman, a tedious drive in search of an elusive Welsh pit, an ingeniously simple but effective prank to make fools of riot police. Stories to make you laugh, cry, rage, or all three.

’s first airing in Edinburgh attracted high praise: “If only there could be more one man shows like this at the Fringe” (Stef O’Driscoll, Associate Director Paines Plough & Artistic Director of Inner City Theatre); “Other actors could do with taking a leaf out of Danny Mellor’s book. The book would be called How to do a One Man Show Properly” (Chloe St George, EdFringe Review). Such is Danny's craft and passion in conveying the humanity at the heart of one of this country's most controversial and damaging disputes.

If you have read our History Book by Carole Zeidman, you will know that the Methodist Mission at Wilton’s played an important role during times of hardship caused by another historic strike - the dockers’ strike of 1889. Here’s an extract from Carole’s book:

"In 1889 dockers in the port of London went on strike demanding wages of 6d an hour for a minimum of four hours’ work a day. The strike for ‘the dockers’ tanner’ became a landmark in British labour history. Almost everyone living in and around Cable Street, Ratcliffe Highway and Wellclose Square was affected by the strike. John Jameson, the first minister at The Mahogany Bar reported ‘Here we are in the thick of it. This morning it was piteous to see the people. Some of them had had no food for three days’. Peter Thompson, the first superintendent of the East End Mission encouraged the dockers to hold their union meetings at The Mahogany Bar and set up a soup kitchen there to feed the starving dockers and their families.”

All of which makes us doubly proud and thrilled to welcome Danny, duly equipped with pint and chair, to our stage next week. You can catch Undermined 21 to 25 March and can buy tickets here. Cheers!

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23Feb. 2017.

What it is to be Human

We all know the story of Frankenstein, don’t we? At least, we think we do, even though many of us have never actually read it. We’ve probably seen plenty of film adaptations and we can all conjure up the image of Boris Karloff lumbering around in an ill-fitting suit with bolts through his neck. Which is not a million miles from where writer Tristan Bernays and director Eleanor Rhode were coming from when they threw all that out of the window and each burrowed into Mary Shelley’s often rambling, sub-plot-ridden novel to unearth what really excited them about it.

They soon found that they were of the same mind, underlining the same passages - unsurprisingly, as they have collaborated closely and to Offie-Award-winning effect before, with Teddy at Southwark playhouse. Their strong connection and shared artistic vision have sparked an interpretation of Frankenstein like no other.

Stripped back to the bare bones in every way, this production allows audiences’ imaginations to go to work and builds atmosphere, layer upon layer.  We see a cast of only two, George Fletcher playing both Frankenstein and Creature, and Rowena Lennon in the role of Chorus, observing, highlighting and reflecting the characters’ thoughts and actions through sound and music. The world presented on-stage is barely dressed yet richly furnished by sound designer David Gregory, blending natural and electronic, music and ambient noise, to create an absorbing soundscape, made all the more magical by Lawrence T Doyle’s almost hypnotic lighting.

This is Creature’s world where, for Eleanor and Tristan, the beating and, ultimately, broken heart of the story lies. We see him as an innocent child, yet in a full-grown, monstrous body that he doesn’t understand how to use. He is struggling to develop and survive but without the love, protection and nurturing that a child needs. Eleanor was particularly fascinated by his schooling, courtesy of the blind man, in the works of Milton, Plutarch and Werther and the way that part of the story ‘really forces you to stop and think, of all the things that you’ve learnt over a course of a lifetime and how you take those things for granted’.

Movement Director, Tom Jackson Greaves, took George back to the very basics to examine the physicality of a child’s incremental control over muscles and cognition and development of awareness, movement, dexterity and language. The result is a unique interpretation and we’ll leave it for you to wonder how they handle the scene where both Creature and Frankenstein meet and to be captivated by what you see when they do.

George Fletcher in rehearsal

Mary Shelley was only 19 when she wrote the book. The story was concocted merely to amuse and impress Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and other guests during a stay near Lake Geneva when what she described as the ‘ungenial’ summer of 1816 confined them indoors to entertain each other with scary tales. She did not originally intend it to be a great novel but it grew into a story that is destined to resonate through time. As Tristan Bernays puts it, Frankenstein is about ‘the dangers of science, parental responsibility, Good and Evil, the question of what it actually is to be human. These are massive universal themes in a story that will always be relevant and will always speak to people'.

If only Mary Shelly could see this extraordinary re-imagining of her work  - what would she make of it?

Frankenstein runs 7th to 18th March and you can book tickets here.

Photography by Philip Tull

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4Jan. 2017.

The incredible true story of Tarrare The Freak - Part Two

Following on from Part One, which told the story of the man himself, we take a look at the fascinating research and development process behind Wattle & Daub's The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak.

Wattle & Daub writer and puppeteer, Tobi Poster, claims he found Tarrare’s story down the back of the internet as he wandered, lost in Wikipedia. Understandably, his first thought was 'How come no-one has ever turned this into a puppet opera?'

Haunted by the idea that Tarrare died believing he’d been killed by the golden fork that Baron Percy failed to find during the autoposy, Tobi’s thoughts turned to writing a libretto. Armed with a notebook containing translated phrases from Percy’s original autopsy notes, and together with his acclaimed pianist-composer brother, Tom, he wrote the opera’s opening song. I think we can safely say this was probably the first time autopsy findings have been used for such a purpose.

That was in 2012 and, by the middle of that year, with funding from Arts Council England and Bristol Theatre, Tom, Tobi and W&D Artistic Director, Laura Purcell Gates, had developed the story with help from writer Hattie Naylor. Both the score and prototype puppets were taking shape as they geared up to to a 15-minute work in progress showing at Bristol Ferment, which won considerable praise from Exeunt Magazine:Somehow this company, with a devising period of three weeks, have created magic through the careful concoction of puppetry and opera’. 

 Since then, this musical interpretation of Tarrare's bizarre and tragic life, has been slowly and sensitively, ahem, fleshed out to become the full scale 'monstrous chamber opera for puppets' that will be staged here at Wilton's. Along the way, they were joined by new members of the creative team, including Director Sita Calvert Ennals and puppeteer performer and maker Aya Nakamura.

Wattle & Daub fervently believe that puppets and objects have their own meanings and stories embedded within them, to be discovered and drawn out. This was at the heart of their devising sessions in which they allowed the puppets themselves to lead the creative process – and were often surprised by where that took them; for instance the realisation that, despite his entire life being governed by his insatiable appetite, poor Tarrare took no pleasure at all in eating. Other explorations included analysing movement in musical theatre performances, which revealed the importance of physical levels of tension, particularly in the sternum, during singing. This was one lesson which, with all due respect and despite their love for that motley puppet troupe, helped them to avoid what they describe as 'Muppet-style singing'. You can watch the team experimenting with some early ideas here.

Historical accounts have described Tarrare as both kind and decent as well as monstrous and freakish. Striking a balance between the two was one of the key issues Tobi and Laura wrestled with during the early stages of the story development with Hattie. As Tobi explains, 'So many of the details of his life are so grotesque - swallowing live cats, smuggling military documents in his stomach, eating amputated limbs, that it can be easy to simply revel in the monstrosity of it all'. They were, however, always clear on one crucial thing: 'We were telling the story of an actual human being and we felt a responsibility to do justice to that humanity. The big challenge is how to retain the essential humanity and genuine tragedy at the heart of the story. Yet it's a story about a freak show, so that tension runs through the whole show. For us, the most interesting route was to portray his humanity without shying away from the unpalatable elements - to make him relatable by sanitising his behaviour would have felt like the most significant betrayal of all'.

 As well as exploring the furthest reaches of humanity, the research and development process involved a crash course in the histories of medicine, pathology and disability. A Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award opened the door to inspirational and illuminating collaborations with a team of senior academics and experts in pathology, disability and medical phenomenology and humanities. There were also visits to fascinating (if occasionally gruesome) museums, including a trip to the Old Operating Theatre with Dr Alan Bates, who described to Laura and Tobi the sheer physical strength and force necessary to carry out an autopsy.

The complete work was premiered as part of the Bristol Old Vic Ferment Programme in September 2015 and, as an accompaniment to the show, W&D created a public engagement event titled Performing the Freak: A Dialogue between Science and the Arts about Monstrosity, in which they were joined onstage by some of their collaborators and other speakers to discuss the issues around medicine and monstrosity that have informed the show.

The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak
 runs 30th January to 18th February and you can book tickets here. Incidentally, this is probably your only chance to see an opera featuring a song entitled Gullet, so you’d be a fool to yourself if you missed it.

You can read Wattle & Daub's own R&D blog in full here.

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19Dec. 2016.

The incredible true story of Tarrare The Freak - Part One

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.” So, it is claimed, said Mark Twain. He need have looked no further than the story of an 18th century Frenchman known as Tarrare for the perfect illustration of his adage. The details of this man's short but extraordinary life scarcely seem possible. As we're inclined to say today, you just couldn't make it up.

From 30th January to 18th February, one of the country's most talented puppetry companies, Wattle & Daub, will present this story in their highly distinctive way, as a 'monstrous chamber opera', hauntingly scored by acclaimed pianist and composer, Tom Poster. To describe Wattle & Daub's The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak as unusual is an understatement so we thought we would introduce it to you via a two-part blog. Here in Part One, you can find out the story behind the name and, in Part Two, discover more about Wattle & Daub's research and development process as they created this fascinating work, which took them to dark and strange places and led them to consult experts in fields not often associated with puppet theatre.

The man whose only known name is Tarrare was born near Lyon around 1772 and displayed an abnormally voracious appetite from birth. By his teens, he needed to consume at least his own body weight in meat every day and had been cast out by parents who were unable to feed him. Forced to survive as best he could, he took to begging and stealing with bands of thieves before joining travelling charlatans and sideshows and performing swallowing feats on the streets of Paris by eating stones, corks, whole baskets full of apples and even live animals.

When war broke out in 1792, Tarrare joined the French Revolutionary Army but collapsed with exhaustion when military rations failed to satisfy his extreme hunger. Even being granted quadruple rations was not enough to stop him scavenging for scraps in bins and gutters. He even fed on poultices stolen from the apothecary. Baffled senior military surgeons detained him to investigate his eating habits and fed him meals intended for 15 or more labourers as well as live cats, snakes, lizards and puppies before deciding that his digestive system should be put to military use smuggling documents swallowed in wooden boxes and retrieved after passing through his gut. His very first assignment which, unknown to him, contained only a dummy message as a 'test' mission, led to his capture and torture by the Prussians, culminating in a mock execution followed by yet more brutal beatings before being dumped behind French lines.

Understandably desperate to avoid any more active service, Tarrare returned to the military hospital and begged the chief surgeon, Baron Percy, to do anything in his power to cure him. Everything failed; laudanum, wine vinegar, tobacco pills and numerous controlled diets were unable to stop him from escaping to scavenge for offal outside butchers' shops and fight for carrion on rubbish heaps. he was even caught trying to eat corpses in the hospital mortuary. Despite calls from many quarters for him to be sent to a lunatic asylum, Percy insisted on continuing his experiments but, when a toddler disappeared from the hospital, suspicion fell on Tarrare and he was driven out.

Four years later, Percy was summoned by a surgeon of the Versailles Hospital to find Tarrare dying from tuberculosis. He died within the month, aged around 26. An autopsy revealed an abnormally wide gullet, liver and gallbladder, an enormous, ulcer-ridden stomach and that his body  was filled with pus. Throughout his life, he had remained surprisingly slim. His mouth was abnormally wide and his skin hung in loose folds, stretching to accommodate a dozen eggs or apples in his mouth at any one time and to allow his abdomen to distend like a massive balloon after eating meals that sometimes consisted of 30 pounds of raw bull lungs and liver in one sitting. He was described as smelling so foul that no-one could bear to stand within 20 paces of him and he displayed what we now know to be the symptoms of hyperthyroidism - extreme appetite, rapid weight loss, profuse sweating, heat intolerance, and very fine hair. A recent study suggests that Tarrare's excessive appetite may have been caused by damage to the amygdala region of his brain.

Tarrare claimed to Baron Percy shortly before his death that he had swallowed a golden fork and that was the cause of his acute illness whilst at Versailles. The fork, however, was never found.

Discover in Part Two how Wattle & Daub have interpreted this extraordinary story as a 'monstrous chamber opera for puppets'. The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak runs 30th January to 18th February and you can book tickets here.

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18Nov. 2016.

Wilton's New Season is Now on Sale!

January - March 2017. 

From Lord of Thrones, the 10th anniversary of Improvathon bringing 50 hours of non-stop improvised comedy, to an electrifying new production of The Watermill Theatre’s Frankenstein, we are thrilled to introduce you to 2017 at Wilton's.

Download the brochure here: Season-Brochure (PDF)


Kicking off the 2017 season with a bang is Dame Nature – The Magnificent Bearded Lady (10 – 14 January). An evening of hilarious stories from the faded star who has been looking after her facial furniture for as long as she can remember. A poignant, off-kilter show for people who don’t like to judge a woman by her beard. 
The cream of the improv crop will descend on Wilton’s as Extempore Theatre & Something for the Weekend present The 2017 London Jam (16 - 19 January). Featuring a stellar line-up of home-grown spontaneous talent from 2016 Olivier Award winners, The Showstoppers, The Sufferettes and more. An uproarious night perfect for comedy fans and improv newbies alike.

Lord of Thrones (20 – 22 January) – the 10th annual 50 hour Improvathon, will take over over Wilton’s for an entire weekend of pure improvised comedy from some of the world’s funniest performers.

Closer: The Devil’s Violin & Burns Night Ceilidh (24 & 25 January), a musical journey taking audiences from the American South to Italy to Scotland to Argentina, finishing with a raucous and rollicking Burns Night Ceilidh. 

Morgan & West: Parlour Tricks (26 & 27 January) is back for 2017 as The Time Travelling Magicians make a triumphant return to Wilton’s with their mind-boggling, jaw-dropping, brain-burstingly brilliant feats of magic. 


Wilton’s is thrilled to be welcoming the extraordinary The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak by Wattle & Daub (30 January – 18 February) a phenomenal opera based on the monstrous true story of Tarrare the Freak, an 18th century French revolutionary whose only dream is to be human in a world that sees him as a monster. 

Tom Poster, the musical genius behind The Depraved Appetite of Tarrae the Freak, is also an internationally celebrated pianist and has put together a series of three contrasting concerts to run alongside Tarrare, each drawing on themes from the opera. Chamber Concerts: Tom Poster and Friends (2, 9 &16 February) brings together a number of the country’s celebrated classical musicians for three nights only.

Morgan & West return with their Utterly Spiffing Spectacular Magic Show for Kids and Childish Grown Ups! (16 & 17 February) – their fabulous, fun-filled, mind-frying magic extravaganza for kids and adults alike! 

Presented by DeNada Dance Theatre and choreographed by Carlos Pons Guerra, Ham and Passion (21 & 22 February) is an exhilarating and filmic spectacle that promises to subvert the senses and take you on a journey from the bloody Spanish Civil War to 1950’s Seville.  

In an extraordinary evening combining music and storytelling, OneTrackMinds (23 & 24 February) makes a welcome return to Wilton’s. A dynamic group of writers, artists, musicians and thinkers present a piece of music that has made a difference to their life.

The Sailortown Sea Shanty Festival (25 & 26 February) sails into town for the weekend, celebrating traditional maritime work songs as well as contemporary songs of the sea. Curated by The Trad Academy Sea Shanty Choir, this community-led festival is jam-packed full of music, art and history, featuring some of the finest international performers of maritime music. 

In Art Sung – Alma Mahler (28 February), Alma Mahler's story is explored through her songs, the works of her famous husband, her teacher and lover Zemlinksy and those of the great Germanic composers, Wagner, Schumann and Beethoven. 


Poet in the City return with Langston Hughes: Dreams Deferred (1 March). An exhilarating evening of poetry, music and dance celebrating this iconic Harlem poet, this is an exploration of the remarkable voice of Langston Hughes, a man whose powerful, urgent poetry inspired and empowered a generation of new writers. 

The maestros of swing, Step Out With Swing Patrol (2 March) are back with their usual taster class at 7pm, followed by fun and friendly social dancing until 10:30pm. Open to everyone, from complete beginners to old timers, this is guaranteed to be a great evening full of old-fashioned fun and frolics. 

Dark, dynamic and downright brilliant, No Angel Uncensored (3 & 4 March) is an evening of decadence and devilish delights as Charlie Bicknell, Louise Innes and Richard Casemore entwine anarchy, wit and comic ingenuity with aerial acrobatics and a jockey… Prepare to be unprepared! 

One of the greatest gothic tales of all time comes to life in an electrifying new production of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (7 – 18 March). A transfer from the award winning, internationally renowned Watermill Theatre, Tristan Bernays’ vision tells the story of Frankenstein, a young scientist who brings a gruesome body to life and is horrified by what he has made. This take on a powerful and dark masterpiece explores the timeless relationship between parent and child, isolation, prejudice and revenge. 

Based on true stories from the 1984 miners’ strikes, Undermined (21 - 25 March) tells the epic story of the brave men and women who stood up and fought for what they believed in. Written and performed by Danny Mellor, this is a deeply powerful and human story, bringing together the personal and the political in a way that will have audiences laughing, crying and shaking with anger. 

Fresh from a critically acclaimed run in Edinburgh comes The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged) (28 March – 1 April). In a better-late-than-never nod to the Bard’s 400th anniversary, the bad boys of abridgement present this ‘new’ play by the man himself, as discovered in a Leicester car park! 

Join performance poet Ivy Davies in the cocktail bar as she sets off on her magical journey through time and space with Play Ground (29 - 31 March), weaving spoken word and song together in this one woman show.

And one more...
It’s fun for all the family as Silver Electra (4 & 5 April) flies into Wilton’s. An exhilarating and fun packed family show telling the story of Amelia Earhart, her mysterious disappearance and an incredible globe-trotting adventure taking audiences from the Australian Outback to America and back again. Presented by English Touring Opera.

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15Sep. 2016.

Word of the Day from Floyd Collins


It may sound like an embarrassingly intrusive medical procedure but, no, it's what's happening today in our Floyd Collins rehearsal studio and it's something very special!

Sitzprobe is, in fact, the first coming together of full band and cast, in this case for a full run-through of Floyd Colllins The Musical. Glorious sounds have been wafting down the corridor past our offices today, seriously whetting our appetite to see this one-of-a-kind musical show - think down-home gig with a powerful story. Meanwhile, here are a few behind the scenes rehearsal pics for you to enjoy and a wonderful trailer to tell you more about Floyd's world.

Floyd Collins The Musical runs 22nd September to 15th October and bluegrass band, The Sand Cave Crickets, will be playing in the Cocktail Bar before every performance and during the interval. Click here to buy tickets.

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