Everyone’s got a corner shop

November 2, 2009

It was a busy last couple of days of the second week of the run.  There have been more set tweaks.  The boxes in the stockroom that climb the walls…


…encase the split room…


Steve and Gulshan stacking boxes


…and the week culminated in three performances on Saturday.  This felt like a bit of a shock to the system, but was great fun and enabled us to complete immerse ourselves into an intensive performance run!  And now, stepping back from the performances for a couple of days has been a refreshing opportunity to reflect on how the show has been going.   So many people commented last year on how they felt this piece of theatre should tour. It has hit me how much of our audiences this year are saying the same thing.

“Fantastic. Really glad I came up from London, this brought back a lot of happy memories.  Should be seen everywhere.”

We have been loyal to the stories that were told to us during the research phase and The Corner Shop is firmly rooted in the Black Country where our research was conducted.  But the owners of those stories have rich and diverse backgrounds, countries of origin and experiences.  These stories are universal. It’s no mistake that our nickname for our opening scene is ‘The Universal Shop’.

Our audiences have also been reminding us that what they see really speaks to them, that they feel moved to act practically…

“I will definitely be using my local corner shop more.”

I was talking with a shopper in The Mander Centre on Saturday, and explaining to her what the intriguing world behind the Sports World shutters was all about.  Her eyes lit up when she remembered her old corner shop.  She explained to me how happy she was as a young girl, being entrusted by her father with a few pence to go and fetch a pint of milk.  She told me how sad she was that they are “dying out and being put out of business”.  She shared with me her own stories of what made the shop important for her, and we talked at length about the changing nature of the business of corner shops.  This is what I love about this production: it can connect with everyone because everyone has got a feeling, a story, a memory about their corner shop.  I hope she comes to see the show.

Rochi Rampal


“Aint that right, Ms Bell?”

October 30, 2009

We’ve been having achingly long breaks in between performances this week (so long we’ve managed to fit in all sorts of hot dinners to keep us going).  While we’ve been scoffing bangers and mash, the Foursight and BCT team have been making use of the peace and quiet on set and they’ve been holding meetings in the only place they call home these days…


Company meeting on set

Meanwhile, in the sweet shop, John and Julia have been filming their scene for a digital-video-e-flier thingumy (I’m sure there must be a technical name for such a thing, but I’ve yet to find out what it is…)


Lights, camera, euphonium!

Julia’s role as performer last year has grown to performer/musician this time around.  Here, she shares her thoughts on the transition of stepping into the role of Ms Bell…

Rochi Rampal


The fabulous Ms Bell

Last night someone asked me how I got involved with The Corner Shop. I was proud to say that I filled in as one of the hoodies last year when one of the community cast dropped out. Although I am grieved not to be lurking around the dark street corners and attempting to create havoc at every possible moment, I am thoroughly enjoying using the only weapon I now own, my violin bow, to confront the hoodies when they attempt to steal our hat full of pennies!

This transition from hoody to musician has created feelings of excitement, nervousness, humour, anticipation and enthusiasm. Alongside that, the extremely short rehearsal process of familiarising myself with my cartoon like character ‘Mrs Bell’ in the sweet shop scene has been a race against time. A strange yet fulfilling fusion of crazy instruments (donated by John’s magical box, Derek, and my mother, who is starting to wonder if she ever owned a melodica due to it’s lack of presence in the house), the wonderful patience of John, bright daring colours, a thousand ways how to say my one and only line ‘You’re right there Mr Jeffs’, and most importantly green fluff that manages to get EVERYWHERE!

I feel extremely privileged to work with such amazing people and artists, and humbled to be playing alongside Sheema, who has made me feel so welcomed. There is nothing better than having a jam with a sitar player in a disused shop in Wolverhampton! The Corner Shop has been an immense opportunity and is continuing to be utterly enjoyable!

Julia Hares

Heart of the Community

October 29, 2009

Today was our first day back after a few days off from performances and the show is going well. This evening’s performance was brimming with energy. Our audience of invited guests were really supportive. It was particularly special as some familiar faces who saw the show last year were back again and they seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show.Post show

One of the interviewees was present this evening, who provided a lot of the research material last year, and whose stories feature heavily in the script.  I can’t describe the feeling of knowing we are performing a piece which draws on real stories, and often to the very people who own those stories, who have lived them and told them.Exhibit Arzhang!

We’ve been getting some fantastic feedback. Hearing audience comments is really encouraging and reminds us why this remount was so important…

“Moments of sadness. Laughter, joy, humour, loss – a journey of human emotions. Wonderful.”

“…should be shown everywhere…”

“One of the best things I’ve seen in years.”

“A feast for the eyes and ears and funny and thought provoking – an excellent evening.”

“There was a time that the corner shop was at the heart of every community” reads the beginning of a ‘preview’ in last Saturday’s Guardian Guide. It feels as though we are at the heart of Wolverhampton Centre’s community right now. Shoppers continue to peer into the unit, asking each other “What’s going on here then?” It’s been hilarious trying to get people to take a flier from us as they pass by. Some stop, stare and mumble quietly amongst themselves. A few times I’ve called out from behind our little rope cordon “would you like a flier?” “No!” And they’re off, darting back into Walter Smith’s or the pound shop. There are, however, some brave souls who accept the offer of a guided tour from Frances or Steve and step courageously into the unit. I don’t think they’re ever regretful. I saw a woman and her family wander round in awe this morning before our performance…her two little boys followed Steve round hand in hand, walking in step with one another, jaws wide open. Beginning in a dark street lit by a single street lamp, littered with rubbish and graffiti. Into Regal Stores stacked with gold painted groceries. Through a strange looking split room of halves with a Hindi movie flickering silently on an old TV screen. I wish I could have seen their reactions as they entered the sweet shop.

Rochi Rampal


Sarah's so at home in her room, she can't stay away - even on her break.

First Night

October 24, 2009

First night – done! It was in some ways strange to put on a ‘first night’ of a show we’ve performed twenty odd times before.  It also felt exhilarating to be back in the swing of the show again –as though we never closed last year, and yet fresh and new at the same time.

Those last minute tweaks and final checks really were being carried out right up until the last minute.  I just about managed to scrub away some tiny traces of paint from my hands before the performance started.  A striking picture I have in my mind is of Frances surrounded by colourful cloth, as she calmly and peacefully sewed pieces together amidst the rush of the last hour before the performance.

After the performance, Steve was talking to some audience members from outside Wolverhampton who have never visited the city until tonight. They absolutely loved the show… “Wonderful! Imaginative, emotive…reminds me about what’s missing in our communities now.”  I can’t wait to hear what other audience members feel about the show – not just those who will experience The Corner Shop for the first time, but those who are coming back this year for a second helping.

Rochi Rampal

Roller Shutters Up!

October 22, 2009

There has indeed been a lot to see and hear and take in for everyone over the past couple of days.  It feels as though there have been even more people busily involved in the run up to the opening; kind people who have arrived to help out with stewarding, school pupils observing goings on, last minute painters…

The design team's to do list: lots of tasks satisfyingly crossed out

The design team's to do list: lots of tasks satisfyingly crossed out

The old Sports World unit is now a far cry from the shop “where the trainers used to be.”  It is now a theatre set of shops and streets and living spaces, ready and waiting for its audience.  Well, almost.  When most of us left tonight, those directors and designers Lisa mentioned in her post yesterday were still huddled together, formulating plans, hatching more ideas and discussing technical hitches we encountered during the dress rehearsal this evening.  I hope they’ve gone home now to rest – I have images in  my mind of Rob, Johnny, Uzma, Mick all still frantically painting, sewing, sawing, hammering…

I wonder what the shoppers of The Mander Centre have made of the latest developments to the space that, until a couple of weeks ago, stood dark and empty.  All week, they’ve been peering through the gaps in the roller shutters.  Today, they have been wandering by, slowing up and pausing, taking fliers and talking to us about ‘what’s going on’.  With the roller shutters fully raised, they’ve been invited to watch some of our rehearsals taking place. This has been a really interesting experience.  Rehearsals are usually so private and personal.

Last week: a view through a roller shutter

Last week: a view through a roller shutter

It’s a time when the company can intensively look at what they will offer to their audiences on opening night and beyond.  But it’s been brilliant to have the shutters open to talk to the people whose attention we grab.  It’s been exciting to see fascinated faces watch snippets of the show and be privy to sneak previews.  It’s as though we’ve ‘been on show’ a little bit early, and this has really fed into a unique pre-first night energy.

We performed a run to a large audience today, which was extremely useful in terms of gauging timings. Timings will be massively affected by the presence of an audience, given the promenade nature of the performance, so the dress rehearsal today was invaluable.  Of course there’s a healthy dose of technicalities to work on, journeys across stage to run through, sound cues to perfect, notes to share, final props to check are sourced, costume changes to go over…all in less than twenty-four hours.  Sounds like a desperate state of affairs doesn’t it?  But it isn’t. It really will be fine.  We’ve a brilliant show, a fantastic team and an amazing set.   First night here we come…!

Rochi Rampal

CS School and Community Project: the first meeting!

October 21, 2009

They didn’t disappoint. In fact, they were fantastic! In fact, we had a thoroughly exciting time together! 

When asked: ‘what do you want to find out in this project?’ Class 5 of West Park Primary came up with some great ideas: 

Why is one of the shops called The Samaritans?;  I want to find out more about the shops and what they sell by visiting them; I want to find out more about the fruits and vegetables sold in the shops; What does the shop next to Rayin Fast Food look like inside?;  Can we buy stuff in the shops for the project?; I want to find out more about acting;  How do you come up with ideas for making a play?; I want to find out more about the theatre company Lisa works with. 

what I want to find out is...

what I want to find out is...

One girl wanted to know how bossy my boss was, and did he mind me taking weeks off work in order to have fun with Class 5. Quite a lot to unpack there for a self-employed person being paid to have fun with Class 5, working with a non-hierarchical, women-led theatre company!  

We listened to a recording of me interviewing my now deceased grandparent. We talked about the value of hearing and preserving people’s stories. They have gone off now to interview grandparents/family members/neighbours, in order to share stories when we next meet after half term…the week they also go to see The Corner Shop Production. Well, they said they wanted to find out more about Foursight and acting and how to have ideas for plays…

It was fabulous to put faces to names. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun together!

Today I also met some Year 10 drama students from Deansfield on set. “That’s where the trainers used to be,” said one lad, more familiar with the shop in its previous life. Two days before opening  was a great time for them to see  the site…painters decorating, actors grabbing a bite to eat on a break, directors and designers grabbing the opportunity to talk together – no breaks for them! Lots to see and hear and take in, so many people busily involved in the lead up to the opening. The Year 10s are going to be helping me with the school and community project over the coming weeks. Thanks, Deansfield!

Lisa Harrison, Education and Outreach Co-ordinator


October 20, 2009

This show makes me hungry.  I can’t stop eyeing up the set. Glittering heaps of chocolate and sweets, giant bars of Bourneville and Dairy Milk, beautifully stacked drinks cans that look as though they’re as cold as ice (although you wouldn’t know the cans are empty and the fridge hasn’t been used in so long it literally stinks!).  It’s really all so tempting.

It's been hard work, eating all those chocolates for the sweet shop.

It's been hard work, eating all those chocolates for the sweet shop.

We've been rummaging in our recycling boxes

We've been rummaging in our recycling boxes


If only it were real!


Today, rehearsals indicated that we’ve got sound issues.  Noise from each of the simultaneously running scenes at times bleeds into the neighbouring scenes.  Whilst some sound does in fact compliment what’s happening in the next scene quite brilliantly (Julia’s melodica creeps effectively into the eerie story of Mama’s Hard Foods), it has today proved to be distracting during some moments – particularly during the quiet and reflective scene that takes place in a dining room of different decades.    I have a feeling Rob, Johnny and the rest of the design team will have some sound proofing tricks up their sleeves.

Keith working hard

Keith working hard

Aside from the noise issues, it has felt like a great rehearsal today.   The more we run the show in the space the more the energy builds.   The performance is flowing, our momentum is building and the prospect of opening night on Friday is feeling really exciting.

Rochi Rampal

Panic over

October 19, 2009

The power problems have been solved!  An electrician was on set today.  He has isolated the faults that occurred and fixed them, so there are deep sighs of relief all round.  So we’ve been rehearsing with lights (which is always helpful!), and the design team have been, as always, working their socks off.

Magic suitcases

Magic suitcases

Returning to the shop after a day away from the set was a real shock.  It was amazing to see how much the set had come on in such a short space of time. Loads has changed. It’s all happening.

The back room is now a place to put your feet up and relax to the soothing sound of ticking clocks…!

The Back Room earlier this week...

The Back Room last week...

The Back Room now.

The Back Room now.

Mama’s Hard Foods is ready for fresh fruit and veg…

'Mama's Hard Foods'

'Mama's Hard Foods'

And Regal Stores has it’s throne…

Regal Stores

Regal Stores

It’s all coming together. And Friday – first night – is creeping ever closer!

Rochi Rampal

Plunged into darkness

October 17, 2009

This morning, disaster struck.  Whilst the design team were painting and constructing, our electrical equipment suddenly stopped working and the lights went out. Due to an electrical fault and power surge, fuses have blown and our sound equipment seems to have stopped working.  So that’s one week to go until first night, and we are without light and sound.  It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine, it’ll be fine, it’ll be fine…

Jonny and Emma ploughed on with painting, continuing to magic the set into being, in darkness.

Painting by lamplight

Painting by lamplight

By trial and error, Steve and Mick worked to try and source the root of the problem.

The set upstairs is without sound, but downstairs it is amplified

The set upstairs is without sound, but downstairs it is amplified

Whilst the performers rehearsed, the sweet sounds of Sheema and Julia’s music was accompanied by sounds of worried problem-solving voices over walkie-talkies.  “My brain is fried” remarked Mick, as he disappeared once more into the electrical cupboard, and began flicking more switches.  As the day progressed, the rescue team grew, and it was all hands on deck as more and more technical minds tackled the problem.

On a lighter note (sorry, no pun intended, I promise) we had a really productive afternoon with the community performers.  Here are some of Dale’s thoughts on his experience of joining the team so far…

Rochi Rampal


I’m Dale Phillips from George Salter Collegiate Academy and I’m basically going to run past you what’s been happening at the corner shop performance in Wolverhampton.

This show offers a wide range of different thoughts and feelings of different communities and cultures and offers an understanding into the different ways that these shops in these cultures are portrayed. That would be one of my most favourite things about this performance. Behind the scenes (or backstage) is amazing because we get to work with a wide range of actors and actresses who all have different skills and abilities to help us along the way. Although I have worked in promenade theatre before, it is amazing and also an honour to be able to work with such a great theatre company. I have picked up so many new and exciting techniques working with a group of this ability. The idea behind the performance is not only to allow the audience to enjoy the performance but to warn them about some of the issues the shop keepers over the years have had to put up with.

I hope that they have also enjoyed working with me and put forward any more work that they want me to work in, as I have definitely enjoyed this task of working with “Four sight theatre company” and hope the invite me to work with them for the future performances that they put on. Thanks.

Dale Phillips

The sound of music

October 16, 2009

Wow.  I can’t believe how fast this week is flying by, (and yet it feels as though we’ve really set down our roots in this place).  All of a sudden we are coming to the end of our first week of rehearsals and it’s hard to believe that this time next week we’ll have finished our first show!

Getting musical

Getting musical

The drilling, sawing and hammering continues but with the sound of music layered over today. Derek and Sheema, our MD’s and composers, arrived today with their musical expertise and array of instruments. They’ve been working on the musical pieces for the sweet shop with John and Julia, and they’ve also been taking us all through the beautiful harmonies for the end of the performance.

So the cast is growing, the set build continues, and the singing has begun!  Everyone’s got their heads down, we’re working hard (but laughing lots) and it’s all taking shape in leaps and bounds.  Have a look at how the set is changing…

The sweet shop so far

The sweet shop so far

The back room

The back room

Rochi Rampal