10 questions with Robert Durbin of brave folk

Brave folk is a Nordic tale fizzing with humour about love, courage and knowing when to act. The company of five has recently finished their tour in which they performed in 22 venues across the UK.  We caught up with Robert Durbin and asked him about his experience being on tour and being a part of Brave Folk.


Q1.  Brave Folk originally toured as Yorgjin Oxo, how was it stepping back into the rehearsal room knowing changes would be made to make it Brave Folk?

Exciting! I loved our Yorgjin Oxo tour last year, but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to revisit a project. It was nice to know that we weren’t hashing out the same show, but rehearsing with care, and trying to making it a better show – which I’m confident we have done. Also, it’s always nice getting back in rehearsal room with lots of familiar faces, and some new ones.

Q2. How do you think touring to village halls and venues differs from performing in a theatre?FM2

I think the main difference is that you are stepping into someone else’s community, with an audience that usually knows each-other quite well – so the company is very much the outsider!

It’s amazing how different audiences can be, depending on where you are in the country. You have trouble gauging that in a normal theatre set up. It’s so much more intimate and engaging rather than sitting back in the stalls watching a musical on the west end!


Q3. What challenges have you/the company faced during this tour?

The snow! Although, it did give us a few days to explore Newcastle, which was lovely!

Q4: What is your favourite memory from the tour?

Doing the show in a church in Cheshire. There are lots of religious images in the play,and to do it in that setting was really special.Apart from that, it’s a great bunch of people in the cast and I love getting to the pub with all of them after the show.


Q5: What was your biggest challenge in making Yorgjin come alive?

I actually think I have the easiest job in the cast with a huge amount of text and opportunity to really engage with the audience and make them warm to Yorgjin. He’s a funny, loveable dim-wit that falls from one unfortunate scenario to another, so I guess the challenge is keeping the audience listening so that they are totally rooting for Yorgjin at the end of the play. I also struggle with harmonies…


Q6:  What advice would you give to an actor about to start their first rural tour?

Make sure you are comfy, and take a little pleasure with you from home – I always tour with my slippers!

I think the biggest thing to say is take advantage of being paid to tour the country – go and see the sights in your time off. It’s a great opportunity to see parts of the country you may not necessarily find yourself in. Get yourself out of your digs and go explore – Netflix can always wait until later

Q7: What do you like about going on tour with Farnham Maltings?

On tour

They really take care of you. The tour always makes sense in terms of where you are going to next, without having to travel long distances after shows. They make sure you are comfortable and if there are any problems with digs or a venue they are usually on hand to help out. It can’t be stated enough how this is an exception in this industry!

Gavin always chooses the most interesting and appropriate pieces for a Village Hall context, and he’s not afraid to challenge the audience with a different type of show, or subject matter. However saying that, the audience always have an uplifting experience.

Q8: Where did you stay whilst on tour and what did you do?

It ranges from Travelodge’s and BnB’s, to self-catering and every now and then you get hosted by some lovely audience members. It’s always good when you get a mix of accommodation!

Last year we stayed in Galashiels with two members of the audience and had great evening working through their whiskey collection. The show the next day was perhaps a little slower than normal.


setupsmallQ9: What is the best feedback you’ve heard and how has that impacted you/the company?

Brave Folk is a unique experience, the audience are arranged around tables in the room and we tell the story in and amongst them. They are greeted at the door and given Marshlander tea, and ‘squelch crumpets’ before the start of the evening and are made to feel as though they are as part of the action as us. It’s very intimate and immediate.

The best feedback is when people appreciate this change from the usual form of theatre – and it surprises them in a nice way.

One lady in Cheshire was really positive about the show and was amazed how we ‘created so much, from so little.’ I think that really sums up what we are trying to do with Brave Folk, so that was brilliant to hear.

Q10: What is the highlight of your days when on tour and what makes an extra special evening?YO 12

The best days are when you don’t have to drive too far, you’ve had a good night’s sleep, the promoter is lovely and welcoming and the get-in is quick and easy – and the organisers provide some great food (which is most of the time).

I think the best evenings are when you have a large audience, who have had a few drinks and know each other. Everyone relaxes and warms into the show a bit quicker, and you get that little buzz from the audience reactions. Also, it’s always nice when you have a few children in the audience too – and if you keep their attention or make them laugh, you know you’ve done well.


Click here for remaining tour dates.


manwatching: q&a with Stephen Carlin

MANWATCHING, presented by The Royal Court and house on tour during spring 2018, explores an anonymous woman’s view of her heterosexual relationships and female sexuality. Each performance of the play is delivered by a different male comedian, none of whom has ever seen or read the play before the moment of stepping on stage.

On 09 February 2018, at the Farnham Maltings, comedian Stephen Carlin was the brave volunteer…

Stephen, why did you agree to take on the MANWATCHING challenge?Karla Gowlett
It was something I hadn’t done before and I always think it is important to get out of your comfort zone. There is also the “dare yourself to do something scary” element. Probably what got me into stand-up comedy in the first place.

What had you heard – if anything – about the piece?
All I knew was that I would be reading the part of a woman talking about her sexual fantasies. And I knew the names of some of the performers who had already taken part in it.  Apart from that I had very little idea about the format or the content of the work and I wanted to keep myself in a state of ignorance. I thought the worst thing would be to half know about it and then try and anticipate how to play it. I felt a blank sheet in my head was far better than half knowledge.

What preparation did you do for the day?
I deliberately didn’t make any. I didn’t think there were any practical preparations I could make, so I decide to keep myself busy with other things. I met up with friends in the morning and I spent the afternoon working on some writing projects. If I didn’t distract myself I would have fretted away the day.

How did you feel in the moment of stepping up on stage; and then halfway through?Karla Gowlett
I have learned over the years to marshal my adrenaline with care. There is no point getting too nervous for an unknown quantity. And this was definitely an unknown quantity. So at the moment of stepping onto stage I was in a no man’s land. I felt uneasy but I wouldn’t say nervous exactly as I couldn’t quantify the challenge ahead. But at this moment I felt a certain freedom, like a condemned man! By halfway through I had a far greater idea of what was required so at that stage I felt the full weight of responsibility and I was also aware of concentrating very hard to try and land every line.

What quality does a stand-up comedian lend to the performance?
A certain resilience and nerve under fire. Over the years in stand-up comedy you get into some pretty tight scrapes and full-on confrontations on occasions. I didn’t think anything in MANWATCHING would get that heated so I assumed that I would be able to cope with whatever was thrown at me.

How did your relationship to the audience differ from your usual shows?
Well I wasn’t in control of the script for starters. In stand-up I am trying to achieve a certain kind of effect and I will select material, vary the performance and ad-lib to try and achieve the desired effect. In stand-up I always have a destination in mind and I am prepared to change routes to get there. MANWATCHING turned all that on its head. I was committed to the route, ie the script, but not the destination. I had no idea where I was heading and also it wasn’t really any of my business. So there was a definite surrender of control which for a stand-up is unusual and uncomfortable.

-®helenmurray Manwatching Royal Court,-3What are your thoughts on the anonymity of the writer?
It certainly stopped me Googling her (I assume it is a ‘her’!) and finding out about her other work. On the one hand the anonymity of the writer added to the overall mystery of the project. But it also strips away preconceptions about age, race, class etc, and you are just left with the words to focus on. So I think the anonymity of the writer lent the words a very powerful impact.

Without giving away too much, what advice would you pass on to the next comedian?
Throw yourself into it, commit to it, enjoy it, don’t worry.

How did you feel in the hours after the performance?
I felt a real mix of emotions. It was a very unique experience. As a performer you are at the centre of the maelstrom. But there is another part of you enjoying the play as an audience hearing it for the first time. There is a strong sense of wanting to do it again. Because inevitably you screw certain bits up and you want another go to do the script justice. The script moves you emotionally particularly as you have never heard it before. Also because you are a man speaking from the point of view of a woman, you realise the negative impact men can have on the lives of women, and that you as a man have been part of that. So it brings into focus the consequences of your own actions in a pretty powerful way. There is also being part of a one-off shared experience with everyone else in the room that will never be repeated. A sense of pride at being involved in a great project. A feeling that, after reading the script, as a fellow writer I need to up my game. A wanting to do it again to remember more of the detail. And simultaneously not being able to quite put into words when people ask you how it was!

February 2018 © Stephen Carlin/house/Farnham Maltings
Photos courtesy of Stephen Carlin

MANWATCHING, presented by the Royal Court and house is on tour from 08 to 24 February 2018

Reviews for Brilliance by Farnham Maltings Company


From 19th October – 17th December, Farnham Maltings Company brought their show Brilliance to village halls all over the UK. Written by Kevin Dyer and directed by Gavin Stride, Brilliance was a celebration of our ability to connect and find the light in a bright new world. Here are what some audience members thought:

“So worth coming out on a cold, dark Sunday evening!”

Audience member, Norton Village Hall

“Going home with a lighter, warmer heart.”

Audience member, Thursley Village Hall

“You’ve brought something very special to our village hall.  I was drawn into their world with emotion, laughter and tears and captivating music!”

Audience member, Whaddon Village Hall

Well done to all involved! 

To find out more about the show visit http://theatre.farnhammaltings.com/portfolio/brilliance/. 


Reviews for Ugly Chief by Victoria Melody

Earlier this month Victoria Melody and her dad (celebrity TV antique dealer, Mike Melody) performed their new show Ugly Chief at Battersea Arts Centre and received some absolutely fantastic reviews. Here are some of the highlights:

“Messy, moving and funny. Exposes the fractures in families we often avoid expressing while we’re alive.” ★★★★The Times

“A ridiculously enjoyable show. Of course we love it.” ★★★★The Guardian

“Fascinating, beautiful and utterly human” ★★★★Time Out

“An off-piste comic treat.” ★★★★Whats On Stage

“Extremely funny and wonderfully strange.” ★★★★ The Stage

“Staggeringly beautiful” Exuent Magazine

“Witty and spirited” ★★★★★ London Theatre1

Touring plans for 2018 will be announced shortly.

 To find out more about the show visit www.theatre.farnhammaltings.com/ugly-chief and www.victoriamelody.com



Haevichi Arts Festival in Korea

As part of Farnham Maltings’ international strand of work, artistic director Gavin Stride and tour associate Mark Makin attended the 10th Haevichi Arts Festival on the island of Jeju, South Korea.

Gavin Stride and I had the pleasure of being invited to the 10th Haevichi Arts Festival on the island of Jeju, South Korea. The trip was a wonderful way to learn more about the arts infrastructure in Korea, get a better understanding of the artists and cultural needs of colleagues.

The showcase element of the festival was delivered in short, bitesize chunks, which was great for the amount of work we got to see, but we were keen to see them in a more theatrical environment so we could best imagine the full-length work. The work on show was very traditional music, dance and operetta which felt very well placed for a local Korean market but less so for international export.

Gav and I co-delivered an informal introduction to the UK arts scene covering touring infrastructure, programming, audience development and sustainable venue and festival management. I was happy to be able to dispel one of the main myths in Korea around the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (primarily being that if you take a show there, you find fame and fortune!). We were able to give the pros and the cons of visiting the major UK and European festivals and shared how best to get every opportunity out of visiting them.

We enjoyed the opportunities to get off site to go and explore, connect with local people and enjoy the cuisine (very tasty, with the occasional issue that some of our food would try to leave the plate mid-meal).

We got to spend a day exploring Jeju City, visited its expansive food market which was a feast for both eyes and bellies. Whilst walking in the main park we found ourselves included and involved with several groups of elders engaging in activities including croquet, dancing and extremely vocal games of what we believe to be Chinese chequers. Lots of fun and the language barrier didn’t matter as with gesticulation, smiles and laughter we all were able to enjoy the moment and be included for a short time in the daily activities of a very close knit group of friends.

The trip was a great opportunity to connect with companies already scheduled to be at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as well as broaden our knowledge of the arts in Korea. We found a real appetite and willingness to openly share experiences and working practices and we look forward to some of these new relationships building in the future.

Mark Makin, touring associate, house

Farnham Maltings are acting as Executive Producers on the performance strand of a year-long exchange programme between the UK and South Korea. The programme includes projects by LIFT, Crying Out Loud, Momsori Voice Theatre and Ray Lee, a tour of Factory Girls by Yangson Project and a series of collaborative residencies.


gav mark jeju 2 small           gav mark jeju 3 small           gav mark jeju 4 small          gav mark jeju 5 small




Are you a brass musician in Brighton or Reading?

ugly chief brass musicians invitation - ACCA and South

‘You’re a Long Way from Home’ by Action Hero

We’re just back from a research trip for our new project ‘Oh Europa’. Next year we’re going to drive continuously for six months through Europe in an RV, making a piece as we go. So thanks to some funding from Arts Council England and support from Farnham Maltings (UK), Vooruit (BE), Matchbox (DE) and Cabanyal Intim (ES) we’ve just spent a month in a motorhome driving to parts of the UK, Belgium, Germany, France and Switzerland so we could develop the idea and also get used to working, creating and living on the road before we set off for real next year.

After our month away we think the project will be about somehow collecting and carrying sentiments of love, loss, hope, longing, union, heartbreak. A way to orient ourselves as a continent by building a library of voices and then somehow transmitting those voices from the edgelands, hinterlands and boundaries of Europe.

Our motorhome will become a kind of ‘All Terrain Vehicle’ to explore all the terrains of Europe – psychological, emotional and geological. We’ll travel to every country in Europe, to the most northerly, southerly, easterly and westerly points of the continent, explore its limits and its very edges. Destinations will be chosen for their (in)significance as boundaries, margins or thresholds of Europe both historic and present day. The literal edges of the continent such us Cabo Fisterra on the far Western coast of Spain and Cabo da Roca in Portugal but also the invisible boundaries, the geological thresholds and the cultural junctures that populate the continent. The rivers that divide cities, the forgotten borders, the remote outposts of vanished empires, the ancient walls, the ultra-modern dams, the bridges, the mountain ranges, the channels, straits and canals. It’s our hope that the voices of participants in the project might create an alternative atlas of Europe. A different kind of map that might let us see the space we share in a new light. That map will then become the blueprint for a performance. The fragments of sounds/sights/sites of Europe we discover on the way will feed into something we develop as we go, on the road, and present at host destinations on the way.

The sounds we carry with us to the edges might act as disruptive beacons – transmitting an opaque but heartfelt message. The transmission perhaps, as an interruption to the landscape that might re-configure or re-contextualise European identities. A dispatch from elsewhere, broadcast loud and clear from the borderlands/hinterlands/thresholds of Europe. Detached from political soundbites, diplomacy, or art speak the messages might speak about who we are and how we feel and might offer us an opportunity to re-orientate – to hear ourselves emerge out of the white noise.

Now the research period is over we’ll take some time to reflect and think on it and then we’ll plan with our partners in the UK, Germany, Belgium, Hungary and Spain for the real thing next year. We can’t wait!

an exciting opportunity for local brass musicians

ugly chief brass musicians invitation - all venues2

Advancing Artists in Surrey

“Completely inspiring two days […] I feel energised and excited about my own paths.” Participant, Advancing Artists in Surrey 2017
“We’ve been given such a golden opportunity through this course […] Sky’s the limit!”  Rachel Burn, Advancing Artists in Surrey 2017

Last week saw the first 2 days of Advancing Artists in Surrey: Working In A Social Context. Sixteen established Surrey-based artists (of a multitude of disciplines) came together to discuss and discover the world of creating art in social contexts. The course was guided by arts consultant and creative director Chris Fogg who created a warm and engaging atmosphere.

On day 1, there were sessions lead by guest speakers Maya Twardzicki, the Public Health Lead for Surrey County Council; Diane Amans, an Independent Performing Arts Professional who works predominantly with movement and older people; and Lucy Cash, an Artist and Moving-Image Maker.

Day 2 began with a practical demonstration with Digital Media Artist Richard Tomlinson and his ‘carrot piano’. Caroline Barnes, a Hospital Art Coordinator in Yeovil, and Viv Gordon, Artistic Director, Independent Artist and advocate of mental health awareness, demonstrated very different approaches to working with health and wellbeing. Ali Clarke, of Surrey Hills Arts, finished day 2 with a session about her experiences of commissioning and receiving proposals.

The participants got the opportunity to meet representatives of Watts Gallery, Ruth Williams, and Prospero Theatre’s Artistic Director Beth Wood, whose contributions as Surrey-based organisations were valued greatly.

The final day of the course will take place in June and will be a chance for the artists to reflect on their learning and network with local arts organisations.

Advancing Artists in Surrey was delivered by Arts Partnership Surrey and Farnham Maltings.

in conversation with assistant director, jess daniels

jess daniels

Jess Daniels, Assistant Director of Jess and Joe Forever

One of the highlights of 2016 was Jess and Joe Forever, a co-production with the Orange Tree Theatre which also toured to (most rural) UK venues. Recently we caught up with Jess Daniels, the Assistant Director (a role which was supported by Old Vic New Voices), and she told us about how she found the directing process and life on the road.

Jess & Joe Forever

I’ve just discovered it’s 12 weeks to the day since our final touring performance of Jess & Joe Forever – which I can’t really believe! It was such an excellent and exciting project to be part of. I was assistant director on the show, a role that meant that I got to be part of the rehearsals for the Orange Tree run, and then I went with the show as it toured theatres in the South East.

I happened to see the read through of Jess & Joe when it was at the Old Vic New Voices festival back in 2015 – and I loved it. I loved the story and the characters but I particularly liked the style in which Zoe had written the play. I’m a big fan of audience-inclusive work – in particular direct address. So when the assistant director role came up it felt like my perfect job!

My experience so far of being an assistant director is that it’s very hard to predict in what way you’ll be most useful to the production and that (inevitably) the role varies massively with each production and director that you work with. For the Orange Tree, the show was in the round and so often my job was to sit on the opposite side of the room to Derek (Bond, director) and keep an eye on the sightlines so that no part of the audience would feel neglected at any point. Sometimes it also included keeping lists of sections we needed to revisit, or generally helping make sure the story was clear. We spent a lot of rehearsals swapping stories about being teenagers & tweenagers, helping to build the world of Jess & Joe.

The show ran at the Orange Tree for a month and during that time I visited roughly once a week to watch the show and pass on any notes as necessary.

Then we went back into the rehearsal room for three days to restage the play as an end-on production in order to take it on tour. At times this was quite a challenge as having spent a month performing the show in the round, it could feel pretty confusing trying to work out how to achieve the same feel for the show but in a very different situation. But we got there, and at 7.30am on 13th October we set off for Havant Spring Arts Centre for the first show of the tour.

Tour Life

I’ve never gone with a show on tour, in the same way that I did for Jess & Joe – it was definitely eye opening! We were doing mostly single performances in each venue so often our days consisted of a 10am get-in that everyone helped with, then the actors would set up their dressing rooms & sort props while Lisa, our stage manager, and I focused lights. Well, I should say Lisa focused lights – I just stood in different places around the stage so she had something to focus them to! We’d aim for a 3pm dress run, which would normally happen around 4pm by the time everything was ready. Then as long as everything ran according to plan we’d be able to grab some food before getting ready for the show. On days where we just did one performance, as soon as the audience had cleared out we would begin to sort the props in order to start the get-out. Each venue had amazing technicians that made this job much easier than it would otherwise have been – helping clear gels from the lights, lift pieces of the floor and generally being super.

On tour my job changed all the time – in some venues it involved helping put colour into gel frames and rigging lights, and in others I would work with the actors to re-block scenes as necessary for each venue. Although we had restaged it for end-on performances, which worked in the majority of theatres we visited, there were a couple of places that needed slight adjustments so that the show would look its best. Similarly with lighting and sound, often the nature of the changing venues would mean Lisa and I would make decisions on small adjustments to the show in order for it to work the best in each of the venues that we were in.

I think it’s quite unusual for an assistant director to go with a show for the whole tour – I was really glad of the experience and I think it was so useful for my work as a director. It was good to see the ins and outs of what is needed to take a show on tour as well as how the actors keep the show fresh even after a 10 hour day. I’m looking to tour a show of my own later this year and it was certainly good to know the reality of what that means.

What I found particularly brilliant was seeing how each different audience reacted. In London, you could predict where people would laugh and where there might be some knowing looks. But the tour went to all sorts of places – from Live Theatre right in the centre of Newcastle to Little Theatre in Sheringham, a tiny Norfolk town. I have always loved how the play develops and the audience begins to realize there is more to Jess & Joe than is immediately obvious. It was fascinating seeing how in each different place the audiences would be absorbed by the story but in very different ways and in very different parts. By the end, Nicola & Rhys (Jess & Joe) would have every audience in the palm of their hands, and you could feel how the final scene had people gripped.

A couple of things I learnt on tour that I didn’t know before…

  • Tension Wire; a tight grid of rope above the stage but below the lighting rig. Very useful for quickly adjusting the focus of a light or changing a lighting gel, without having to climb up and down a ladder. Not so good if you want to hang a ceiling piece…
  • Take spare EVERYTHING. Lisa (stage manager) had boxes and toolkits full of things that at the start I didn’t think we needed and by the end we had used everything in some variety. Each venue was different to the last and so what had worked in one wouldn’t work in another, and when you thought you’d encountered all the possible ‘on-tour’ problems, something unexpected would turn up! Having spare everything helped solve lots of things.
  • Never underestimate the power of a great breakfast. (To be honest I did know this before, but a good breakfast was definitely fundamental to the tour!)

Next, Jess is directing The Many Crimes of Hector Cartwright at VAULT Festival 1st March – 5th March 2017.