Wednesday, 27 July 2011

THE WATCHER: Another Cracking Review

THE WATCHER: A Tale from Paradise Heights
A short film by Joe O’Byrne

Poster Design: Mike O'Hanlon

 Halloween, on a housing estate in Salford. Young gang-bangers in blank, ghostly white masks prowl the streets, jacking cars and looking for trouble. Freak atmospheric conditions are affecting CCTV and car radio alike. Good-hearted Polish cab driver Marek is having trouble communicating with his Controller, and drives around the estate increasingly uncertain of where he is. A homeless man sits by a burning brazier, face grim, eyes haunted. A troubled-looking man stands in the street, in front of a house, his shoulders hunched, keeping watch or standing guard, while an anxious child and her mother in turn watch him. A cold-eyed, hard-faced man watches the house in turn.

The stage is set for a tale of ghosts, both real and metaphorical, and the night on which all of those ghosts make their presence felt.

THE WATCHER is the latest episode in Actor-Writer-Director Joe O’Byrne’s cycle of stories, films and plays set in the fictional Paradise Heights estate []. Previous installments have included the films I’M FRANK MORGAN and LOOKIN’ FOR LUCKY, and the plays I’M FRANK MORGAN, THE BENCH and RANK. THE WATCHER is a companion piece to RANK, set on the same night, and exploring some of the same events from a very different angle. But it is also a stand-alone piece - an effectively eerie little ghost story, with a powerful emotional undertow.
 All of the film’s characters are implicated one way or another in a past crime, be it as victims, perpetrators, or simply as those who stood by and allowed the terrible events to occur out of fear of involvement. None can forget, nor ever forgive themselves, least of all on this night of the year, when all the ghosts and unclean things walk. O’Byrne uses the supernatural primarily as a metaphor to explore themes of guilt, moral weakness, failure, regret and loss. But he does not do so at the expense of creating an effective ghost story. The film has a jaw-dropping final twist that shakes the viewer’s perception of everything that has gone before, moving the film back into the realms of the supernatural, but only to underline the full tragedy of the events depicted.

The film is tightly directed by O’Byrne from his own screenplay, and beautifully and atmospherically shot by Colin Warhurst, making striking use of a DSLR camera to create a shadowy chiaroscuro cityscape, lit by fires, car headlights and the occasional streetlamp. The cast is strong throughout, but particular kudos must go to the lead turns from Ian Curley as the nervous, superstitious Marek, David Edward-Robertson as the embittered homeless man, Danny, and from O’Byrne himself as the vicious gang boss Frank Morgan.

The result is an effective and affecting modern urban ghost story, both creepy and poignant. Though a stand-alone piece, it also serves as a fine introduction to the world of O’Byrne’s Paradise Heights cycle , knowledge of which can only add to one’s enjoyment of the film. And after seeing this, if you don’t know the other works in the cycle already, you will certainly want to track them down very soon.

STEVE BALSHAW, FILMONIK and Director, Salford Film Festival

Below you'll find Brian Gorman's Review, posted for The Public Reviews and FICTION's another CRACKER...Jx

Thursday, 21 July 2011

THE BENCH - In LANCASTER: A Rallying Cry...

We hit the road next week, travelling North to LANCASTER and the great venue there known as THE STOREY - and as the story goes, we are sailing into uncharted territory here with THE BENCH: A Tale from Paradise Heights.  Those of you that have seen it will know well the calibre of the show and the tests it puts to the cast - how the show moves audiences - with some people having seen the show five times, it's a winner - but there is nothing more heart breaking for a performer than playing to an empty house. The simple fact is we are not known here...we have a mountain to climb. 

This cast deserve an audience.  Although billed as a comedy it has some truly traumatic and demanding scenes for an actor.  The cast in the past have all more than rose to the challenge and delivered in spades, taking audiences on a terrific roller coaster ride through 12 months in Paradise Heights.  Review after review has been glowing, every actor singled out for their towering performances, audiences moved to laughter, tears and horror, it certainly leaves an impression. 

This time we have two new cast members, creating a new envigorating energy to the play, finding new and exciting paths not explored in the play before, each and everyone of them are giving their all and more in rehearsal - they need rewarding - they need an audience.  So this is my plea...

If you know ANYONE in the LANCASTER area, please send them this blog, there is much in the postings before this about the play, including reviews, if they come I guarantee the play will stay in their hearts for a while...they will certainly think about the play the next time they sit on a park bench.

So, please spread the word - facebook, twitter - tweet and retweet - email your friends and ask them to pass on the word, if you only spend two minutes doing it it could make all the difference - I know we are all busy, all under pressure - I appreciate that some of you simply have not got the time, but thanks for reading this anyway. 

Please reward this enormously talented cast -  RICHARD ALLEN, IAN CURLEY, STELLA GRUNDY, PHOEBE MARIE JONES, STE MYOTT and DAVID EDWARD ROBERTSON - they are playing their hearts out, lift those hearts and give them an audience. 


Joe xx

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Lancaster Bomber...STOREY time for Tales from Paradise Heights...

Hi all

Things are moving fast in Paradise Heights again...

First off I'm delighted to welcome THE WATCHER star David Edward Robertson to the cast of THE BENCH, and with David lined up for STRAWBERRY JACK as well he's now very much a part of The Tales Team, his audition lifted the hairs on the back of my neck, I only wish I'd caught it on film.

Richard Allen is also now part of THE BENCH cast. I had the pleasure of working with Richard on the doomed Bench Warrrington Collegiate Project - sound something like a horror film? Well it was - but Richard was certainly one of the more fired up students there - there were quite a few more though, but Richard was definitly one I wanted to work with in the future. At 21 years old he is a fearless and fiery performer - more great new blood to in the ranks - welcome aboard Richard. Both David and Richard join the existing cast of Ian Curley, Stella Grundy, Phoebe Marie Jones and Ste Myott.

With Ian Curley now also taking on the role of Corny - it's a real BENCH RE-MIX, and I'm sure we're gonna find some great new stuff in The Paradise Heights Flag Ship Production. First outing for the new crew is THE STOREY in Lancaster from Tuesday 26th to Friday 29th - if you live locally and haven't seen it - don't miss it - it's a belter, come and see why everyone talks about THE BENCH.

We also finally get to play THE OCTAGON THEATRE (studio) Bolton in September - really chuffed to finally hit my home town's premier theatre at last - more details to follow.


Saturday 30th July also see's The Heights at THE STOREY, this time as a film night with a trilogy of films all set in Paradise Heights. First off there will be the first tale in the series I'M FRANK MORGAN, followed by LOOKIN' FOR LUCKY, the feature film shot for three and a half grand that Cannes Producers thought I had spent 1.5 million on - imagine what we could hav shot if we had 1.5 million? One day eh? One day.

We round the trilogy with a screening of THE WATCHER (well covered in previous blog entries) in between there will be various clips, documentaries and previews of other Heights Tales, I'll be doing a Q&A with the audience - all this for the princely sum of a fiver - BARGAIN.

So get yourselves to Lancaster the last week in July, it will be great to see yu there.

Joe x

Friday, 1 July 2011

It's Not The Destination...It's The Journey...

In the build up to bringing The Bench: A Tale from Paradise Heights to later this month, there are a few things to contend with - not least having to cast the role of ERIC, superbly performed previously by the soulful and powerhouse of an actor that is CLYVE BONELLE, huge and highly respected boots to fill. 

Ian Curley (Mr Wolf) and Stella Grundy (Little Rabbit) The Bench

Each run of the play has been a glorious one, the flagship of The Heights so far, it's always a joy to do and of course I am always seeking to bring the play to more venues around the country, particularly London.  We lost out on a run at The TRISTAN BATES Theatre due to having no money to put the play on down there, a three week run is the best part of 20k - I've no doubt we will get to The TRISTAN BATES next year, but in trying other venues it is surprisingly difficult for a play that has done so well thus far. 

Whlst I was in London last July, performing in Cathy Crabb's magnificent THE ROOTS OF LOVE, I went around a few theatre's dropping off professionally produced DVD's of the play and a press pack packed with the many wonderful reviews we had recieved. 

One of these theatre's has the following text on it's website...

*************** is a world-famous home for new plays and an internationally renowned champion of playwrights. We discover, nurture and produce the best new playwrights from the widest range of backgrounds, and present their work to the highest possible standards. We look for exciting new voices that tell contemporary stories with wit, style and passion and we champion work that is both provocative and entertaining.

It goes on to say...

***************receives more than 1,000 scripts every year, and reads and responds to them all. This is one small part of a comprehensive playwrights development programme which nurtures the relationship between writer and director, as well as playwright residencies and commissions. Everything that we do to develop playwrights focuses them towards a production on our stage or beyond.

This is their 'response' to the play and the reviews it has had, it's taken the best part of 12 months to get to this stage...

Dear Joe,  Thank you for sending THE BENCH: A TALE FROM PARADISE HEIGHTS to ************. I apologise that it has taken us longer then usual to get back to you. We’ve experienced a high volume of hard copy scripts which we are working our way through. Your play has been returned from its second read by our Creative Associates and whilst they found it interesting, unfortunately, we are unable to develop it further as a production at *************. 

As *********** literary has undergone some changes, we can no longer offer writers feedback.  As a result of this change, we have developed ********* to allow you the chance to connect with other like-minded people.  We wish you luck producing your play elsewhere.  Thank you for thinking of us at ***********.'

This is a play backed up with the great reviews it has recieved, and a DVD for them to view.  I can only assume they haven't bothered to read the reviews or view the DVD, I'm stunned that it's taken 12 months to get to this stage and to not even recieve any feedback or reasons why...I presume that this is how they 'respond' to plays as they claim in the text above - not really much of a critical response is it? 

'We look for exciting new voices that tell contemporary stories with wit, style and passion and we champion work that is both provocative and entertaining.'

The Bench is all of the above, I haven't stated that - it's abundantly clear from the reviews.  I'm confused, yes - angry, no, discouraged would be the word.  The only discouragement I have is to sending these people anything again, a lot of lofty claims on their website. I'm clearly not convinced and I'm not sure what I would have to do to get one of my plays on down there, I have no wish to now. 

Phoebe Marie Jones (Shirley) Ben Hood (Corny) THE BENCH

Hats off to The TRISTAN BATES who, unlike the venue above, recognised the strength of this production, see you next year - along with a number of other London Venues...

Yes it's a bumpy and long road getting new work out there...full of highs and lows...but no more b(l)eating about the's not the's the journey...;) 

Joe x

Strawberry Jack

Strawberry Jack
Designed by Joe O'Byrne