Aloff Theatre is a London based theatre company dedicated to identifying, translating and organising the production of Eastern European and Central Asian texts for the benefit of the UK and International audiences. The company’s aim is to create diverse, innovative and vibrant productions that have rarely been presented to English audiences, and act as a focus for intercultural exchange.
WRITTEN BY ELCHIN / TRANSLATED BY SANAN ALIYEV / DIRECTED BY MATTHEW GOULD
MY FAVOURITE MADMAN
My Favourite Madman is a wonderfully playful show, and certainly something different! ★★★★ Everything Theatre
My Favourite Madman, set in Baku city in 1995, is a roller coaster ride of anarchic fun. The farcical element of the different characters, all in their own reality of the abnormal and suicidal challenges the functioning of the whole. Which voice amongst the characters is that of the madman? Everyone could be “the madman” but natural that it is the one “sane” voice in the chaos of fantasy that is given the title.
ELCHIN AFANDIYEV is one of the most eminent exponents of contemporary Azerbaijani writing and critics today describe him as one of its living classics. His first novel was published at the age of 16 and his subsequent writing encompasses a broad field, ranging from Azerbaijani folklore and classical Eastern literature to the works of Shakespeare and Moliere. He has since had over 100 books translated into more than 20 languages, which have sold millions copies worldwide.
My Favourite Madman is a complex essay on cultural heritage, fractured identities, and nation formation
If this is an example of the humour and theatre that can come from Azerbaijani/UK collaboration then we should welcome more examples like it with open arms.
Karl O’Doherty, The Public Reviews
A very different piece of theatre which is enjoyable and engaging, and stays with you long after leaving the venue.
Views From The Gods
...the play is both entertaining and deep. Topped with an outstanding cast performance and great lightning effects..., it makes for a great production which raises philosophical and social questions while keeping its absurdist charm.
Varvara Bashkirova, Russian Art and Culture
Head of Department
Kara Lily Hayworth
WRITTEN BY ILYAS AFANDIYEV / TRANSLATED BY SANAN ALIYEV / DIRECTED BY FILIZ OZCAN
You Are Always With Me
Director Filiz Ozcan’s production is most impressive in its simple yet effective storytelling. ★★★★ – The Upcoming
A bittersweet romance, a pair, both lonely in their own ways, found themselves drawn to each other. As they form a bond that defies conventions, their relationship makes us ask whether love holds the answer to loneliness? Can we ever make love shape our lives for the better?
Afandiyev’s You Are Always With Me caused a stir with its thinly disguised observations on class in Soviet society when first staged in Soviet-era Azerbaijan in 1964. Its resonances are still as powerful and relevant today, in its gentle examination of how love naturally takes different forms in the different stages of our lives, and the way how the world seeks to impose and mould those loves. Afandiyev leaves us with the confidence that the individual will always prevail in the face of society’s hypocrisy and control.
Ilyas Afandiyev was an Azerbaijani and Soviet writer, member of Azerbaijan Union of Writers, Honored Art Worker of Azerbaijan, laureate of the State Prize of Azerbaijan and People’s Writer of Azerbaijan.
2014 is the centenary year of the birth of celebrated writer Illyas Afandiyev. Born May 26, 1914 in the Fuzili town of the Azerbaijan SSR, he is revered as a source of inspiration for society and has left an indelible mark on generations of writers nationally and internationally. His fruitful career bore more than 80 works, including plays, novels, short stories and essays. He is seen as a master of psychological dramas, leading a call for human rights, freedom and independence. Indeed, much of his inspiration comes from the persecution of his family by the Soviet state during the 1930s, where of the Afandiyev’s property was seized and some condemned as ‘public enemies’ and either shot or sent into exile.
On his works subject matter, Afandiyev famously said, “The writer should be the owner of a large heart, the high human qualities. Only in this case, the writer can affect the feelings of the people, awake love, compassion and mercy in them.” It is this message of freedom and tolerance that defined his work.
On the occasion of the celebration of his 100th birthday, he was described by Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO as “an outstanding playwright and writer-most of all, he was a great intellectual and humanist.”
To find out more about Ilyas Afandiyev, visit our blog
Filiz Ozcan is a director of theatre and festivals. She is also a member of the World Arts Platform Artist Advisory Group. Currently she is working for Pegasus Theatre and Filiz is also one of the founding members of Komola Collective. Her recent productions include: Birangona: Women of War which toured UK, Bonbibi at Rich Mix London (as part of A Season of Bangla Drama), A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Newcastle-under-Lyme, The Legends of King Arthur (for the Without Frontiers Festival) in Poland, Rusalka at BAC London, and the Cost of Living, which toured secondary schools in Stoke-on-Trent. Besides directing, she has also assisted Jatinder Verma (Tara Arts), Sue Moffat (New Vic Borderlines), Philip Parr (Parrabbola) and Oliver Jones (Trestle Theatre). Currently she is working on Salty Water and Us (as part of A Season of Bangla Drama) and Birangona: Women of War which will be touring five cities in Bangladesh.
Director Filiz Ozcan’s production is most impressive in its simple yet effective storytelling. ★★★★
Aisha Josiah, The Upcoming
You’re Always With Me is a brave and unapologetic piece of traditional writing that gives us the opportunity to spot happiness in unlikely places.
A Younger Theatre
Forget everything you think you know about Soviet era writers, go see the real thing and be as amazed as I was.
Terry Eastham, LondonTheatre1.com
Forget everything you think you know about Soviet era writers, go see the real thing and be as amazed as I was.
Terry Eastham, LondonTheatre1.com
Set & Costume Designer
Doug Devaney headshot
WRITTEN BY CHRIS BARTLETT / DIRECTED BY ANDY MCQUADE
THE TALES OF MALIK-MAMMED
Welcome to the magical fairytale world of ancient Azerbaijan! The Tales of Malik-Mammed is an adventure-packed comedy inspired by Azerbaijan’s centuries-old storytelling tradition. The magician El leads you into a magic world of yesteryore when shahs ruled and dragons roamed and where the quick-witted prince Malik-Mammed sets out to prove that he’s a match for his overbearing big brothers.
Buta Festival 2015 brings the magic of the folk tales of Azerbaijan to London in this fun-filled adaptation written by Chris Bartlett at Chelsea Theatre.
Welcome to the magical fairytale world of ancient Azerbaijan! The Tales of Malik-Mammed is an adventure-packed comedy inspired by Azerbaijan’s centuries-old storytelling tradition. The magician El leads you into a magic world of yesteryore when shahs ruled and dragons roamed and where the quick-witted prince Malik-Mammed sets out to prove that he’s a match for his overbearing big brothers. Along the way he encounters all manner of adventures, fighting fearsome ‘Dev’ ogres and man-eating dragons and saving damsels in distress. He discovers strange worlds and lots of treasure and makes an unexpected friend in the Fabulous Phoenix – all the while learning what it means to stand up for himself!
Directed by Andy McQuade, the cast features Mark Shaer as El the Magnificent, and Sam Watson as Prince Malik-Mammed, with George Collie and Eloise Black playing a gallery of roles between them including ugly ogres, powerful shahs, terrifying dragons and beautiful maidens.
There’s a free resource workpack about Azerbaijan’s fairytales, traditions and culture for everyone, and a free post-show talk on Friday, Monday and Tuesday (March 6, 9-10).
The show is available for performances and educational workshops at schools.
The Tales of Malik-Mammed is being staged as part of Buta Festival’s varied schedule celebrating Azerbaijani arts and culture.
Venue: Chelsea Theatre, 7 World’s End Place, London SW10 0DR
Dates: Fri 6th March – Wed 11th March
Times: Fri/Mon/Tue/Wed 10.30am
Sat/Sun 2pm and 5pm
Tickets: Adults: £8 / Children/concs: £5
Family ticket (2 adults, 2 children): £20
School groups of 10+ (1 adult free per 10 children): £5 per child
Ages: For everyone aged 5+
Disabled audience members may bring one carer for free
CHRIS BARTLETT is an arts journalist and playwright who has written for theatre for the last ten years. ‘Pete and Dud: Come Again’, a stage play co-written with Nick Awde, had a sell-out run at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, in 2005 before transferring to the West End and Auckland, New Zealand, and touring the UK. A follow-up, ‘Unnatural Acts’, ran at the Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh, in 2007. He has also written solo for the BBC Radio 4 comedy series ‘The Bearded Ladies’ and is a member of BBC Writersroom Northern Writers’ Group. His short one-off radio play ‘Fifty-Fifty’ was broadcast in the drama strand of the BBC Radio 3 series The Verb in 2014. As a journalist he has worked for publications including The Stage, New Woman, Heat magazine and the Radio Times.
ANDY McQUADE (‘Best Theatre Director ‘ 2012, Fringe Report) is the Artistic Director and co-founder of Second Skin Theatre (patron Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa) and the founder of The White Rabbit Theatre. He has both performed and directed across the globe for the past 20 years. Directing credits include the acclaimed productions of ‘La Chunga’ (UK Premiere) ‘Quills’ (London premiere), ‘Huis Clos’ and the site specific ‘Macabre Resurrections’ which placed reworkings of Pope’s classics into the apt setting of a 16th-century church. He is currently relocating Second Skin Theatre to LA and New York.
El the Magnificent
Commissioned for BUTA Festival London 2015
Venue: TESTBED1, 33 Parkgate Road, London, SW11 4NP
Dates: 25th Feb 2015 – 11th March 2015
WRITTEN BY ELCHIN / DIRECTED BY MATTHEW GOULD
Between them, Elchin and the director Matthew Gould have created a funny, memorable and worthwhile farce with depth.
– The Public Reviews
Caught between life and death, relearning everything he thought he knew, the hero of Elchin’s comedy ‘Telescope’ is a classic everyman. But as he sees the human world he has left behind from a new perspective, how will he cope with the surprises in store from the people he thought he knew best of all?
Aloff Theatre brings ‘Telescope’ to the London stage for the first time in an immersive adaptation that gets to the heart of a story that challenges our conceptions of what we believe and what we know about our lives.
A new immersive play set in the evocative spaces of Testbed1’s old Victorian dairy. Aloff Theatre brings the English-language world premiere of Telescope to the London stage, a thought-provoking satire by Azerbaijani playwright Elchin.
In this evocative immersive production, a man hovers halfway to heaven after dying and finds himself at a Way Station to Heaven administered by angel bureaucrats and filled with other souls patiently awaiting their ultimate journey onwards. Guided through the system by the soul of an old flame, the man gets an unusual perspective of the family and friends he left behind on Earth, giving him a bird’s eye view of what they really think of him and in the process he discovers more than a few truths about himself. How then will he cope with the surprises in store from the people he thought he knew best of all?
Telescope is being staged as part of the Buta Arts Festival, a celebration of the arts and culture of Azerbaijan in London. More info at www.butafestival.com
Wed 25 Feb to Sat 07 Mar 2015
(No performances on Mon/Sun)
90 mins, no interval
Tickets: £15 General / £12 Concessions
Box office: telescope.bpt.me / 0800 411 8881
33 Parkgate Road, London SW11 4NP
020 7223 7115
Tube: South Kensington, Victoria
Train: Clapham Junction, Imperial Wharf, Battersea Park
Buses: 345, 19, 170, 319, 49
Note: We advise you to wear relatively warm clothing so you may wish to hang on to your jackets/coats. We also recommend comfortable footwear.
Playwright and novelist Elchin was born into a literary family in Baku in 1943 and is today regarded as one of Azerbaijan’s most eminent contemporary writers. His first novel appeared in 1959, when he was just 16, and he has had almost 100 books translated into more than 20 languages, covering everything from Azerbaijani folklore and eastern classical literature to the classic dramas of Shakespeare and Moliere. As a playwright, his dramatic approach has established the ‘Elchin Theatre’ style, named after him. His plays successfully tackle human dilemmas with a noticeably Azerbaijani accent, making them both highly local and, at the same time, universal.
Matthew Gould has been directing for a number of years having been an actor for 20 years. His directorial work includes plays, musicals, opera and more recently pilots for film and TV. He recently directed a very successful run of Elchin’s play My Favourite Madman in London and Edinburgh and this year will see him direct a new musical about Woody Allen, the premiere of a new play The Glass Protégé at The Park Theatre, London and a new play called The Gambit about Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov will premiere at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival before coming to London for a run.
Archangel Gabriel / Wife
Mother-In-Law / Souls / Angels
Son / Souls / Angels
Friends Wife / Souls / Angels
Archangel Michael / Doctor
Nurse / Souls / Angels
Assistant Stage Manager
A production meeting was held at Azerbaijan House, bringing together the team behind the upcoming production of You Are Always With Me. The team included, amongst others, director Filiz Ozcan and creative producer Sanan Aliyev. The purpose of the meeting was to track the progress of the production and to ensure that it is heading in the right direction. The group spoke fervently about Azerbaijan’s role in the Soviet Union during and after WWII, set designer Paulina Rzesowska started building an intriguing and important creation.
After much anticipation we had a replica of the play’s set in front of us. Populated with little behatted figurines and replete with dinky little Styrofoam furniture, the model gave the team their first glimpse at what the set could look like and how it could adapt scene by scene.
The props were carefully modeled on chairs and tables characteristic of 1960s Azerbaijan, including carpets traditionally hung on the wall. A set of blinds made of toothpicks hung over a window, intended to let fragmented light flood onto the stage to create an almost film noir like effect, helpfully demonstrated by a handy IPhone flashlight!
Shrunk down to the size of a dolls house, the set allowed the director to experiment as props were removed, repositioned and in the case of one unlucky table, chopped in half to make a smaller one! The diminutive figurines not only marked the characters positions, but also allowed us to see how they would interact with their space and props. For example, the initial scene focused on was in the interior of a house, which also had to include an office and sleeping area, whilst being open and uncluttered to the audience. After much debate it was agreed that tables would be a barrier between the audience and characters and were removed. The challenge is to ensure that the set is able to transform as required as the play proceeds. Making sure that everything can be moved around is imperative.
The second half of the day saw Paulina Rzesowska explaining her set to the cast of You Are Always With Me, an exciting moment where they got to see where everything will come to life. It is here that they begin to move from tinkering with models and onto tinkering with the cast and how they interact with a real stage. That will be just as exciting, I’m certain!
Today was a busy day of rehearsals that saw the whole of The Aloff Theatre’s East London home taken over as a rehearsal space. There were essentially various rehearsals happening at the same time over multiple floors. As I couldn’t be in two places at once I chose the main rehearsal room where Doug Devaney was practicing his lines for the character of Hesenzade.
Director Filiz Ozcan was on hand to offer pointers to the cast as scenes were performed over and over, and specific actions deconstructed again and again. The aim it seemed was the make sure that the emotions matched the spoken lines, or to add new expressions to enhance the intensity of the act. Various pieces of music were tried out.
The opening night of the production fast approaching and the rehearsals are the sign that things are coming together. The Aloff Theatre actually has a play forming in its hands, one that will be performed for an audience. It is very exciting. It is these warts and all sessions where mistakes are made, and are allowed to be made so that on the opening night everything will be done just right.
by Evan Parker
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As the preview night looms ever closer for The Aloff Theatre’s production of You Are Always With Me, the first of three days of rehearsals began at The Lost Theater. While the cast have been working tirelessly for over a month to learn the play, it is here that the work really begins. Gone are the cramped rehearsals of the previous weeks, now the crew have a whole stage to work with. It’s quite remarkable how the rows and rows of seats are empty, free of the frenetic hum of the audience that will fill every nook and cranny next week. Apart from the other (frankly quite noisy) rehearsals upstairs, the theater is eerily quiet.
It is the arrival of the stage props that breaks the peacefulness of a relaxed read through, the sees the cast promptly kicked out and replaced by suitcases, sofas and other furniture hoisted on stage, including some rather intricate flat pack style furniture, complete with an obligatory assembly of misaligned holes and things put the wrong way. What we eventually ended up with was a set worthy of Ilyas Afandiyev’s classic play. Some design decisions still have to be made, with a few cans of paint sitting forlornly by the doors waiting for use, but otherwise things are looking good.
With the return of the cast from exile, the production team went over the sound, making sure all the tracks are in the right order. During the play the cast often has to wait for sounds such as phones ringing or doorbells before starting a scene or commencing an action. There was a powerful moment as the cast acted out the opening scene alongside the opening music. Equally powerful was seeing the cast in costume, as opposed to their “civvies.” They were literally stepping into their characters.
With everything in place the cast took it from the top, acting out scene after scene. The team have to make sure that all characters are visible at all angles from the audience and so director Filiz Ozcan and stage manager Beth Duncan prowl the aisles during rehearsals. With everything in place and the closest to the final incarnation of the play, it is here that any discrepancies or anomalies have to be spotted and rooted out. Little things jump out at the team, such as how the cast carry props onto the stage and interact with the props. No one wants a sofa that won’t fold out on the night or a table that’s too heavy to carry! Whatever happens, everything has to be ready by Tuesday night. The journey has begun and the countdown to the opening night starts here!