The little island seemed to float on the dark lake-waters. Trees grew on it, and a little hill rose in the middle of it. It was a mysterious island, lonely and beautiful.
All the children stood and gazed at it, loving it and longing to go to it. It looked so secret – almost magic.
“Well,” said Jack at last. “What do you think? Shall we run away, and live on the secret island?”
“Yes!” whispered all the children.
- Enid Blyton, The Secret Island
I have to admit that I was a little reluctant at first at the prospect of taking Soften the Grey to Ventnor. I’d never been there before and had no idea how it would be received.
Upon arriving it was apparent to us that we were in an environment where we belonged - free to exercise our acting muscles and share our art with the town. The weather was good as well, which was a bonus.
I think the fresh sea air helps the flow of creativity, and along with the vitalizing rays of the sun, we were provided with the tools to make real magic happen – easily and comfortably, in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.
That’s the insufferable pretention out of the way with.
On the whole, not one thing we saw at the festival “got our goat,” as they say. (Do people say that?) Both Nigel and I left
every production with much to talk about. Good theatre sparks discussion. Bad theatre sparks silence. Perhaps.
Notable mentions are curiouser theatre’s down the rabbit hole - an immersive experience into the murky world of mental health told through the use of poetic text and physical movement. Also of note was Angels in the River by Bonchurch Theatre Company –a charming and intriguing story of one woman’s isolation and loneliness. Both of these pieces had echoes of the 6FootStories ethos – ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances –which is why we liked them so much, but they also revealed something fundamental about the human condition, which is a good thing to be reminded of.
As well as theatre, there was live music, comedy and art on offer. On the first night we enjoyed the hugely entertaining Knees Up – a musical variety act that took us on a journey through the space-time continuum with much nonsense and silliness, not to mention a jolly good sing-along. I can’t remember a time I’ve laughed so hard.
Oh yes I can. It was on the last night, when we saw Ventnorville at the Yurt in the Woods. Nigel ended up getting on the stage during a piece of performance poetry where he had to blow cigarette smoke into the performer’s face in order to create the right “ambience”. The fact the cigarette clearly didn’t taste very nice made his facial expression particularly amusing. Such japes and joviality.
I have to say that I would happily go back to Ventnor. To perform, to watch, to soak up the sun and sea and sand. And fish and chips. And cocktails.
So many wonderful cocktails…
6FootStories started life in 2011, towards the end of artistic directors Jake Hassam and Nigel Munson’s time at the Oxford School of Drama. They knew they both wanted to work with each other; they also knew they were both very tall. And so the idea for a theatre company exclusively for actors over six feet tall was born…
That idea lasted for about a week. What remained was Jake and Nigel’s shared enthusiasm for the surreal, for creating strange exciting worlds that operate outside the normal rules of reality, and that throw ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances. They began writing in earnest in their final term at Oxford, and presented their first short at a charity arts event (Grove End Road) in July 2011. In November 2011 they put on the first Shattered Fragments, a collection of short pieces that they were keen to expand into larger plays, at the Tristan Bates Theatre. In December 2011 Jake and Nigel wrote and performed two further shorts, including a specially commissioned piece for a Freedom From Torture charity event.
After collating the feedback from the first Shattered Fragments, it was clear there was a firm favourite with the audience – The Number of the Beast. And so Jake and Nigel spent the first half of 2012 expanding their initial short into their first full-length play. The Number of the Beast is a comedy about two friends and their attempts to resurrect their dead housemate. It’s a show full of dark humour, and it was presented at the Tristan Bates Theatre in June 2012.
The boys then took a break to work on other projects, including, amongst other things, collaborating with the Dank Parish for a summer of immersive theatre at festivals. In 2013 they started work on developing another favourite from Shattered Fragments, Soften the Grey.
Soften the Grey is a play about the afterlife, and it’s a story that Jake and Nigel have been working on since 6FootStories began. They spent several months at the beginning of the year writing and rewriting several drafts of the play. They wanted to create a show that could be performed by just the two of them, and that could fit into a suitcase. But they also wanted to tell their biggest story yet, a story that could cover all the big ideas, love, regret, life, death and, of course, the afterlife. It was a long process, but eventually they completed it and both Jake and Nigel agree that it’s the proudest they’ve ever been of anything. They toured it to a variety of fringe festivals over the summer, and plan to take it back on tour next year.
Whilst they were busy working on Soften the Grey, a third pair of feet joined the team, thus making 6FootStories well and truly complete. Jake and Nigel had been looking for a producer to work with them for some time, and Daniel James, a man with a talent for all manner of things, as well as a long-time collaborator of Nigel’s, took on the role. Daniel set to work booking their summer tour, and together we found time to put on a second Shattered Fragments, this time above The Horse in Lambeth. Once again we presented six brand new short pieces written and directed by Jake and Nigel, with a view to expanding them in the future. No doubt we’ll be seeing the fruits of this process sometime next year.
So that just about sums up the 6FootStories story so far. We’ll be posting a blog going into more detail about our recent tour of Soften the Grey, and we’ve got lots of exciting news to come. Stay tuned for all this and more!