Our city is full of talented and creative people, none more so than Mike Carter: playwright, theatre producer, impresario, musician, yachtsman, training consultant, and now film director, which in itself is a difficult and demanding craft.
I first met Mike some eight years ago when I went to ‘Oh Rats!’ at the Gardner Arts Centre, Sussex University. The show, based on Robert Browning’s poem ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’, had been devised, directed and produced by Mike. Cecile B. DeMille used to boast about his cast of thousands; Mike didn’t do too badly though. His was a pretty large cast on a comparatively small stage: some 235 performers made up of pupils from St Christopher’s School, Hove and most of its staff, accompanied by a splendid live band. The show did extraordinarily well at the box office too, selling 1,500 tickets, an astonishing number for a school production. I reckon that if Cecile B DeMille had seen the show he would have hired Mike on the spot.
Some 22 years ago, Mike set up a Theatre Summer School at the Gardner Arts Centre. The Summer School gave its students a unique opportunity to work with professional actors, dancers and even circus performers. Mike still runs the courses every August at Sussex University, Roedean Theatre and The Windmill Theatre. I remember calling in one day several years ago: everybody was having a great time. Mike also wrote, produced and directed no fewer then 18 Christmas Shows for the Gardner Arts Centre. The final production in 2004/5 was Pinocchio. Mike had somehow managed to turn it into a circus extravaganza with fire juggling, knife throwing and stilt walking!
I went to see Mike the other day and asked him if he missed the old days.
“Of course I do,” he said, “but inevitably time moves on, although I am very sad that the Gardner Arts Centre is still closed, it was a precious resource for Brighton and the University.”
“I find it difficult to understand,” I told him. “There must have been an understanding, even if only an unwritten agreement, that Sussex University, having been given their land by the Brighton Council, were duty bound to share the theatre with the local community and maintain close links with the town. And now, not only does the theatre remain closed, but the Adult Learning courses in the Russell Buildings have been cut.”
“I understand that there are plans to reopen the building which is very exciting,’ Mike told me. Let’s hope that happens in the near future.
“What are you up to at the moment, and what are your plans for the future?” I asked Mike.
“Well,” he said, “My Body Language courses are proving very successful. Non-Verbal Communication is so important, in every-day life and in business and academia. The right body language can help diffuse a potentially confrontational situation or even persuade people to embark on a specific course of action. Empathy is essential in all walks of life and good body language will help engender friendship and understanding.” Mike’s client base includes The Bangkok School of Management, G4S and the global pharmaceutical company, Roche Diagnostics. Much of Mike’s work is with teachers, and he trains Newly Qualified Teachers across the country.
But now Mike has a new passion: Film Making! Mike’s first feature film, ‘Connected.’ was released in 2011. My wife Beth and I saw it at the Odeon, Brighton Marina and we much enjoyed it. ‘Connected’ tells the story of Jack and Louise, a devoted couple with an extraordinary ability to communicate telepathically. After an uncharacteristic row one Monday morning, Jack leaves for work. Minutes later Louise tries to send him a telepathic message to apologise.
Distracted, he drives into an oncoming car. Louise feels the impact. His death rips her apart. But, four months later, still shocked, guilt-ridden and in the early stages of alcoholism, Louise starts to receive blank text messages from her dead husband. And then she sees him – or at least she believes she sees him – at her young son’s end of term concert.
The next morning he is in her kitchen preparing breakfast, explaining that he has 24 hours to spend with her. Those next 24 hours change her life as much as his death did. The screening played to a packed house and there was simply no doubt that the audience, like Beth and I, found the film gripping, interesting and moving. It had a great score too by the composer, Corin Buckeridge.
The film was immediately taken by High Point Media who have already secured international sales for it in New Zealand and Argentina. The film was also shown at Cannes last year.
Mike’s latest feature, ‘Fraternity’, is due for release in the Spring of this year. It’s a WWII drama which explores the explosive relationship between two brothers growing up in a rural farming community.
The trailer can be viewed on www.mcnproductions.co.uk. It’s a remarkable achievement for what Mike describes as a ‘low budget’ film. With impressive WWII battle scenes, a 1939 Triumph Tiger motorbike, a 1930‘s Fordson tractor, and a Lysander aeroplane, the production values certainly don’t appear low-budget! And that’s just the trailer! I can’t wait to see the whole film.
As we said goodbye, Mike was telling me more about the scene from ‘Fraternity’ involving the last airworthy Lysander from the war years in flight. Lysanders were truly remarkable planes. I can remember seeing a whole squadron of them on the North Wales coast during the war and where my Uncle, Frank Pickering, seemed very much in charge…