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My first feature film THE KRAYS – MAD AXEMAN is released in America in January with a new title!
My mentor Basil Coleman, who would have been 104 years old today, shared his birthday with the composer Benjamin Britten.
Basil directed many of the world premieres of Britten’s operas…
Here he is in a gondola in Venice with Ben Britten, Peter Pears and their friends the Steins.
Follow this link to read my obituary for Basil Coleman on The Guardian website:
Sonnet: Away from the Flock
(with apologies to Damien Hirst)
I met the vicar locking up the church
As I began my evening walk alone
She asked me how I was? I had to search
For something non-committal to atone
Unanswered emails since my father’s death.
I soon escaped and trudged my way again
To where the boats are moored, but on my breath
Unholy curses, heathen psalms of pain
That both my parents died within a year.
Across the water, sheep were grazing grass
And, nothing knowing, showed no spark of fear
That we might kill and eat them. All things pass.
The village priest sees sheepfolds in the sky
But I, like any beast, was born to die.
Auto da Fe
When the car is mended
I’ll go and fetch my Dad.
He’s just a box of ashes now.
He used to drive me pensive places
“Penny for ’em, Son!” he’d say.
I’d slam the door and pull impatient faces,
I’m at the ‘Daddy’s Taxi’ stage myself,
The kids are still too young to drive,
Though time has chained their darling ankles, yet
The sexton’s dug the grave again,
We’ll bury Dad with Mum.
Two boxes, same cold slot of earth:
The motor’s been away awhile,
They’ll fix it at some cost,
My parents languish, past repair
Lost, lost, lost.
Roy Henry Kerley (1934-2020)
A sodden September night
Between the children’s supper and their bed
I took a rainy walk down to the canal-side
In my dead dad’s gumboots.
The night came far too soon
(How I miss him!)
A week ago we gave him to the flames…
The towpath ducks, dubious of my dark form
Slip to safety – over the water.
My father’s boots are far too big for me
(His hats were always much too small…)
O give me a thicker pair of socks
A shrunken head
A kinder heart
To follow in his footsteps…
My mother died from a brain tumour a couple of months ago. Her descent was swift and horrible. From diagnosis to death took twelve weeks. We are all reeling through the painful, predictable stages of grief: disbelief, denial, anger etc. Everyone tells me it takes a long time to come to terms with a mother’s death.
And there’s a political choice she made that I’m finding it hard to reconcile. In June 2016, at the age of 77, my Mum voted for Brexit. I voted Remain.
Every day, for decades, Mum read The Daily Express. She claimed she didn’t believe what she saw in the papers – but her Brexit vote must have been influenced by her tabloid of choice. She told me that she left the polling booth not even knowing if she’d done the right thing.
Retrospectively, I curse myself. Why didn’t I talk to her before the Referendum? Why didn’t I explain what a leave vote might mean for her children and grandchildren – and for the freedoms of so many others?
Politics was largely unspoken in our family. If electoral candidates called at our front door, asking my father to reveal his voting intentions, invariably his response was, ‘well, that’s between me and the ballot box’. Dad was a policeman for thirty years, joined in the long-ago era of Dixon of Dock Green - and drank the constabulary Kool-Aid that pitched the Conservatives as ‘The Party of Law and Order’.
After 60 years of marriage, my father, diagnosed with dementia a decade ago, has, unexpectedly outlived my mother. She was his chief carer, so things are complicated further. Dad didn’t cast a vote in the 2016 referendum. In May, when I asked him if he wanted me to take him to the local primary school, to vote in the E.U. elections, he emphatically declined – as if it were some pointless puzzle.
Along with thousands of others, I’m deeply depressed about losing my European Citizenship – and hence my Freedom of Movement. I work as a theatre and opera director. Recently I’ve directed my first feature film. I’ve created many shows in the U.K. but also internationally, in opera houses in the U.S.A., China, Germany, Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia.
When I direct productions in the U.S.A., I have to obtain a special kind of work-visa called a ‘Visa 01’ – to prove that I’m a so-called ‘Alien of Extraordinary Ability’. It’s a justification for a foreigner being permitted to enter the U.S.A. to direct in an American theatre. I’m a member of theatre unions on both sides of the Atlantic.
When you apply for your first American Visa 01, you have to assemble a sheaf of professional testimonies – evidence to support your claim that you are indeed an ‘alien’ who really is in possession of certain ‘extraordinary abilities’. With each subsequent application, for each new project, there are several hours of hanging around at the American Embassy. I’ve seen various luminaries there – politician (and sometime dancer) Ed Balls, conductor John Eliot Gardner and actor Sam West – all in the visa queue holding-pen.
There are complicated forms to fill in – make a mistake and you’re sent to the back of the line – and hundreds of dollars to pay for the privilege of having a new page in your passport.
I’ve had to apply for visas when directing shows in other non-European countries, of course. When I directed the Chinese premiere of The Barber of Seville at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing, I needed a special work-visa. It was the same in Oman – for La Boheme at the Royal Opera House, Muscat – directing snowy scenes on stage while the temperature outside the stage door was 40 degrees centigrade.
But when I work in Europe, it’s been a different story. I directed a new production of Carmen in Bari, Italy, and didn’t have to apply for a work visa. I seem to remember filling out some forms for health insurance and tax purposes – but, because I am a European Citizen, didn’t require the same kind of visa as when working outside Europe.
Now that my Freedom of Movement is being taken away from me, will I really have to queue at the Italian, French or German embassies? Why should a European opera company consider giving a job to me, when they could much more easily find a director who hasn’t had their E.U. Citizenship taken away?
Through an accident of birth, my wife is far more fortunate. She is a freelance opera singer and has worked all over Europe.
My wife was born in Scotland. But, because her mother was born in Ireland, my wife and our two children will be able to apply for an Irish passport. Which means that, even after Brexit, my wife will retain her Freedom of Movement to sing in operas and concerts across Europe, visa-free.
I was born in England. So were my parents. Sadly, I can’t claim any antecedents that might entitle me to save my European Citizenship.
When Freedom of Movement is taken away, there are thousands in the creative industries whose careers will be damaged. Singers and actors, set, costume and lighting designers, choreographers, technicians – all of whom, particularly in the world of opera, with its need for large creative forces, are used to travelling freely across the continent, from one opera house to another. Brexiters talk proudly of removing Freedom of Movement, preventing European workers coming to this country. But it’s a two-way street that’s going to be blocked in both directions.
At the airport, on our travels for work or leisure, I presume my Irish- passport-holding family will be whizzing though the E.U. Citizens lane at border control. I’ll be far behind, crawling along in the non-E.U. queues.
‘See you at the hotel!’ they’ll chorus, as they desert their Dad.
It’s ironic that my mother had never held a passport, never once been abroad. ‘There’s plenty to see in England, thank you very much,’ she’d say. She wouldn’t travel on a boat, let alone a plane – I had to send her a reassuring text every time I took my life in my hands and, against all odds, landed safely on some foreign runway. When she met my father-in-law for the first time, a retired airline pilot, she said ‘oh, you must have been terribly brave!’ My late mother, who never left the U.K. – and had no intention of ever doing so – has helped curtail my freedom to live and work across Europe.
Dear Mum, Rest in Peace. You know I’ll miss you badly, but I must confess, there’s one part of your legacy that I could happily live – and work – without.
Here’s a link to the New York Times review of my new Opera Philadelphia production of George Benjamin’s WRITTEN ON SKIN
Appropriately enough, I was at Brussels airport, returning home to London, when it really sank in. Holding my EU passport, I sped through the automatic barriers. At another counter, there was a long queue. That’ll be me, I thought, when the Brexit process is finally finished and they take away my EU citizenship.
In last year’s referendum, my 78-year-old mum voted to leave the EU. I’d hate you to jump to conclusions, I love her dearly, but she’s read the Daily Express every day for the last fifty years. Despite living on the thunderous Heathrow flight-path, her various phobias mean she won’t get on a plane, or a boat. She’s never been abroad in her life. ‘There’s plenty to see in England, thank you very much,’ she’d say – though we did once cross the bridge into Wales for a rainy holiday in Swansea. Every day I pestered my parents to take me to the Crazy Golf Course, only to be heartily disappointed by quite how dull, and perfectly rational, an experience it proved to be.
I work in theatre, directing plays and operas. I’m freelance: I go where the work is. Perhaps it’s an extended teenage rebellion against my mother’s circumscribed world-view, but I’ve travelled widely with my work. I’ve directed operas in the USA, China, Italy, Oman, and worked with young actors with companies like the National Youth Theatre in Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and all over Europe.
I didn’t get to go to America until I was 41. I sat at the back of a jumbo jet wearing my best, rather uncomfortable suit, because, in my transatlantic innocence, I’d read that if you were smartly-dressed you might get upgraded. No such invitation was forthcoming, but my discomfort was tempered by excitement – I kept pinching myself to check I wasn’t dreaming. My mentor Jonathan Miller had recommended me to a world-famous conductor called Lorin Maazel and I was going to New York to meet him. At Lincoln Center we auditioned talented young American singers for my new production of a Benjamin Britten chamber opera. The performances took place as part of Maestro Maazel’s young artists’ programme, on his beautiful country estate in Rappahannock County, Virginia. A dream come true. Plenty more exciting work was to follow in America and beyond.
Next spring I’m directing a new production of an opera called Written on Skin, by the newly-knighted Sir George Benjamin, at Opera Philadelphia. Getting a visa to work in America is a right Republican pain-in-the-backstage-area. The special visa I require is only granted to so-called ‘Aliens of Extraordinary Ability’, which sounds as if I belong in some Extra-Terrestrial Freakshow. For each visa application, you must assemble a dossier of material to justify why you should be entering America and taking a job from one of their own artists. Extensive fees are paid. You arrive at the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square and queue for most of a Kafkaesque day, outside the building and then within it, before the short interview where your fate is decided.
When I needed a visa to direct Barber of Seville at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing, it was a process with even more form-filling, standing-in-line and red-tape. The same for Saudi Arabia and Oman.
But, when I directed Carmen at the beautiful Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari, Italy, things were different. Since I’m an EU citizen, I pretty much arrived at the airport and started rehearsals.
European freedom of movement is a two-way street. My parents’ generation seem to think it’s all one way – flooding this Sceptered Isle – and the time’s come to lower some mythical portcullis. They’re bemused to have lost their beloved Britain of the 1950s, when they started their life together, when a gentleman still doffed his hat and relinquished his seat to a lady in a railway carriage.
My wife is a freelance opera singer. Thanks to the happy accident of her mother’s place of birth, she stands a chance of obtaining an Irish passport, so she can retain her EU citizenship and continue to sing in any European country. I don’t have any such family history to call on, so I imagine we face a future where we’ll be in separate queues when crossing national borders. ‘This may take a while, darling. See you at the hotel… I hope.’
And, for the rest of my career, once my EU citizenship is taken away, directing shows in Europe is going to be much more difficult. I can’t help thinking it’ll be better for theatres if they don’t hire me, and give the job to a Real European. And how long will the visa queues be at the French, Italian or German Embassies? Merde, merda and Scheiß…
Careful what you wish for folks!
I appear to be shooting my first movie…
Pleased to report that my British Youth Opera production of Britten’s PAUL BUNYAN has been nominated in the What’s on Stage Opera Awards for 2013…. follow this link to their webpages…
Shame that we’re up against my friend Tim Albery’s brilliant PETER GRIMES ON THE BEACH…. !!
What a brilliant weekend of Britten related discussions, films and concerts John Bridcut curated last weekend. I was lucky enough to be interviewed in a panel discussion called BRITTEN’S SENSE AND SEXUALITY with the writer historian & biographer (notably of Isherwood & Ackerley), Peter Parker & the superb singer Catherine Wyn Rogers, who is currently singing LUCRETIA with Glyndebourne. We were interviewed by Radio 4′s Libby Purves – strange to meet someone whose voice is so very familiar!
For Sunday lunch, Searcy’s (in a departure from its usual cuisine) fed us on fare which would have been Red House favourites – Britten loved his British nursery food – I had steak and kidney pudding with new potatoes, peas and carrots followed by a delicious treacle tart! Miss Hudson (Britten’s housekeeper) would have been proud. Though Ben might have been a bit miffed that we didn’t all put on ties for lunch – Basil Coleman told me this was de rigeur for dinners at the Red House when he was a frequent house-guest. I sat at a table with Peter Parker and the great Britten expert, Philip Reed – distinguished & illuminating company…
John Bridcut’s film ENDGAME about Britten’s final years is a masterpiece & very moving. He really is a fantastic cinematic storyteller.
Iain Burnside’s new play with Guildhall Students JOURNEYING BOYS about the young lives of Rimbaud & Britten was fascinating too…
I had a brilliant time last week in New York and Philadelphia -
This is the view from the ferry that goes from designer Nick Vaughan’s home in Brooklyn to Manhattan – fantastic view – to boat goes to the southern tip of the island & then up to East 34th Street – great way to get around…
Nick & I had intensive meetings about our Curtis Institute CENERENTOLA which opens here at Philadelphia’s PRINCE THEATER in May 2014
while in Philly it was nice to briefly pop in & see my friends & colleagues at Opera Philadelphia
Then back to NYC & thanks to nice Nicky Spence (my Tom Rakewell) & Ashley Emerson (from my Opera Philadelphia POWDER HER FACE) I got to see TWO BOYS at the Met
& thanks to Tim Albery sat in the General Director’s box to watch Tim’s production of Britten’s MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
& THE TEAM’S new show – ROOSEVELVIS was terrific -
designed by clever Nick Vaughan…
& Andrew Wade invited me to see the new Taymor MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Shakespeare’s play this time!) at Theater for New Audiences – Andrew doing the voice work…
Only sorry I didn’t get time to see Angus Wright and Paul (Ghiv) Chahidi who were out in NYC at the same time, opening their Globe Theatre TWELFTH NIGHT and RICHARD III
All in all a hectic & inspiring New York & Philadelphia week!
Follow this link for the Financial Times review of my new British Youth Opera production of PAUL BUNYAN…
My new British Youth Opera production of PAUL BUNYAN has opened at the Peacock Theatre in London WC2.
The amazing Patricia Schuman as The Duchess in my new Opera Philadelphia production of POWDER HER FACE…
Please follow this link to see the video trailer for the production:
Please this link to a television preview of my new Opera Philadelphia production of POWDER HER FACE..
On 4th April I had the great privilege of giving an address at the funeral of my dear friend and mentor, Basil Coleman… Here’s the text of my speech: First of all thank you very much for inviting me to speak about Basil. I have to confess I feel something of a late-comer here, having only known Basil for the last 12 years. I’m sure there are many here today, who have known him for so much longer than I – but I do feel that the privilege of his close friendship has been one of the most important of my life.
Getting ready to head back to Opera Company of Philadelphia, or Opera Philadelphia as we now must learn to call it.. Having meetings there about my new production of Thomas Ades’ “Powder Her Face” which opens in June. Find out more at operaphila.org
Hi ho, hi ho! It’s off to Oman I go… where the Castleton Festival production of “La Boheme” I created at Castleton last year will play on 3rd and 4th November. Designs by the great Nick Vaughan. I’m thrilled that the wonderful Joyce El-Khoury returns to play Mimi.
Congratulations to all concerned on another successful Castleton Festival – not even a hurricane could stop it!
The new production of “Barber of Seville” and the production of “Carmen” that I made at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari earlier this year were remarkable successes under the baton of the founding father himself, Maestro Lorin Maazel. Here he is conducting last year’s new production of “La Boheme” which we’ll take to the Royal Opera House, Oman, this November.