The Argus Friday 15th August 2008 By Ian Ray

Trunks, The Old Ship Hotel, Kings Road, Brighton, Aug 18-29

Behind the affluent, cultured Brighton of today lies a salacious, crime-ridden past - a town whose seedy underbelly inspired Graham Greene and earned it a reputation as a murder hotspot.

The inaugral production of a new city theatre company dives head-first into this murky, between-wars setting, exploring the notorious 1934 trunk murders that shocked the nation and led to Brighton being dubbed "the queen of slaughtering places" by the popular press.

A revival of Stephen Plaice's acclaimed 1993 play about the killings, this production has been re-worked by the writer specifically for the Brighton Theatre Collective, whowanted to put the city at the centre of its first production.

"I had remembered seeing Trunks when it was first on tour," says Janette Eddisford, artistic director for the fledgling group. "It seemed to me that our first production had to have Brighton itself as a character in the piece."

The result is a carefully considered re-imagining of the play, starring Richard Hawley, best known for his role in Prime Suspect, Gary Sefton, who has worked as movement director with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Sian Webber, who has balanced television work in programmes such as EastEnders with a respected stage career.
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Like the company itself, all are locally-based, and Janette says the actors were keen to explore the shadowy side of their home town. "At the time, Brighton was thought of as a murder capital. Knife crime was rife, as were gangs and prostitution and the place was swamped with drugs from the hospitals," she says.

This atmosphere has been captured in the production by a 12-strong ensemble. "They form a moving body of people, who make up the shady characters on the street, people walking along the promenade, the commotion at Brighton Station, and the dancers that occupy the ballrooms," Janette says.

The macabre, real-life story is not all darkness and gloom, however. At the heart of the grisly tale is a genuine love story, and the town is not populated entirely by gangsters and undesirables, as Janette explains.

"There is a real contrast in the play, because the good, honest characters in the play tend to come from Brighton, while the characters that come down from London bring trouble, mayhem and corruption."

The project is something of a labour of love for Janette, who has lived in the city for 25 years, and her colleagues who have formed the new group.

"I moved to Brighton, but found there were no resident, producing theatre companies," she says. "There are so many creative people here, but there isn't specifically a theatre company from and for our city."

Janette is the principal of theatre school the Academy of Creative Training in Rock Place, and together with her colleague and fellow artistic director, Daniel Finlay, began talking to the Old Ship Hotel - the oldest building in the city - a year ago about establishing a new venue for the company's work.

"There aren't any mid-sized venues exclusively for theatre, so we've decided to create one ourselves," Janette explains. "We are going back to that punk ethos of do-it-yourself, and the Old Ship have been fantastic."

The company's self-funded efforts (Janette says the collective is a "credit card company" at this stage) have transformed the space into a new venue, complete with lighting, staging and seating. Plans are already afoot for the play to be the centrepiece of the group's work at next year's Brighton Festival, but not before the company stages an abridged version of Dicken's Christmas Carol for the festive season.

"We want a home-grown company for Brighton, and we want to give city audiences something unique and relevant to them," Janette says.

The Argus Thursday 4th December 2008 by Lisa Frascarelli

A Christmas Carol The Ship Inn, Brighton, Dec 3 -10

Everyone knows Dicken's Christmas Carol, right? Tight old miser (Ebenezer Scrooge) undergoes a personality transplant after a sleepless night at the hand of several gloombearing ghosts. Wrong.

"People know the story but they don't know it the way we're doing it," says Alan Perrin, the man who is directing the Brighton Theatre Collective show. I've filleted the whole story. I've got it down to an hour. All the main elements of the original story are there but I've had to change a few things. Such as?

"Well we can't have Marley the ghost with all his chains because we don't have the budget for that."

But audiences needn't worry, this is no cut-price Christmas Carol.

"Rough magic, I call it," says Perrin.

"It's about creating atmospheres and casting spells."

By this he means, instead of expensive, flashy effects, there is atmosphere, soundscapes, mime and no costume changes. "It's all very pared down and simple."

Perrin was already more than familiar with the story after directing a version at the Nightingale Theatre in Brighton. "This is a new and improved version - like the soap powder," he says. "I've kept some things from the old version but really I've come to it fresh and the BTC is a new company, so they have their own ideas, too."

Thanks to all of these factors Perrin says he has "hit the ground running" with the play which is just as well considering he's also starring in the West End production of the 39 Steps. "It's a relentless pace," he admits, "but the bulk of the work, the adapting, had been done before."

The Brighton-based actor, who has worked with the likes of the RSC and the National Theatre, is managing to juggle the two jobs by doing rehearsals in the day and nipping off to London for his evening performances at The Criterion. "It's fine, apart from when I have a matinee. It keeps me out of trouble and the BTC are a splendid company of nine, working tirelessly to get the show on."

For those who are unfamiliar with the BTC, it was set up earlier this year by Janette Eddisford and Daniel Finlay. They're both behind Brighton theatre school, the Academy Of Creative Training in Rock Place, and have settled on the Old Ship as a venue for the company's work.

Taking inspiration from the likes of the similarly unfunded Globe Theatre, Eddisford has high hopes for the company: "We're very serious, very experienced and very determined to make the Brighton Theatre Collective a company which will join the ranks of Hull Truck, Coventry Belgrade, Manchester Royal Exchange - a unique Brighton theatre brand which both serves the city and exports quality work across the UK and Europe."