Sunday, 23 November 2014

Who’s Harry Styles?

If you can't  read the story below, I have written it out underneath the photo.

Oldham’s celebrity Elves have been offered the chance to switch on this year’s Christmas lights, in a house, in Springhead Oldham.
The pair, who swept to fame when they were discovered in Oldham library basement, have been offered numerous ‘high profile’ events in the town.  “We originally booked One Direction” a Council spokeswoman told us, “But after a mass public protest we have booked the Elves instead.”  Crowds of Oldhamers were out in force earlier this week, brandishing placards and chanting anti One Direction songs.  
Harry Styles, a ‘singer’ with the popular band, tweeted, “They might be able to turn lights on, make shoes, but they can’t sing”.  The Elves said “Who’s Harry Styles?”

The Elves can be seen in Oldham and Saddleworth this Christmas in a special tribute show written by local theatre company Hard Graft.  
"We are are currently trying to come up with an idea how to best use these two talented Elves" Johnny Theatre from Hard Graft has said, " I wanted to do Jack and the Beanstalk, but neither are tall enough." 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Christmas begins here...

The Christmas Elves and the Shoemaker runs in Oldham and Saddleworth from 4th-24th December 2014

For the last 7 years we have been building a long-term legacy of entertaining and educational children’s theatre in Oldham, Greater Manchester. As we all know every Christmas there is a lot of theatre aimed at children. Last Christmas in Manchester alone audiences could find a Children's show at every venue, from Panto to Dickens. All of these performances are between 120 to 150 minutes long and cost on average £17.50. That’s brilliant, but if you’ve got a child under 6 we at Hard Graft feel that these shows are too long and far too expensive, we have proved that there is a substantial audience for gateway theatre shows, not too long, not too expensive, but with all the talent and high quality production values audiences expect today. 
I am the Dad of 5 & 9 year old kids.  I know how expensive Christmas can be.  I know that 150 minutes sat in a theatre seat watching a panto can be too long.  

That is why, 7 years ago, we invented our very own Christmas treat for your kids.
  • 70 minutes long (Disney & Pixar are no longer than 80 minutes)
  • Prices from £6 (No Booking fees)
  • Child friendly venue and staff. (We know kids walk around)
  • All inclusive (We welcome everyone)
  • Meet Santa for free (no gimmicks, no expensive photo's, Just SANTA FREE)
  • Fast, interactive, funny, theatre (if you don't laugh, your money back!)

Thank you for your ongoing support and we look forward to seeing you and your school very soon.

Best wishes

Mark Whiteley
Dad and Director
Hardgraft Theatre


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Ghost Stories from Oldham & Uppermill

Ghost stories from Oldham to Uppermill

On my last ghost walk in Uppermill a member of the audience came up to me and asked if I was going to tell the story of the drowned woman.  We were on the top of a footbridge crossing the Huddersfield Canal so I didn’t think it a strange request, but this lady looked me in the eyes and said “I have just seen the spirit of woman dressed in black and she looked like they had just dragged her out of the canal”.  I was indeed about to tell that same story and I can tell you that when I did it had an even more chilling feel to it.

You meet all sorts when you are ghost walking, believers, sceptics, spiritualists and the ones who have no idea, but love a good story.  I tell 90 minutes of local ghost stories, whether in Oldham or Uppermill but my favourite time is the interval.  We always have a fifteen-minute break in a Cafe or pub and that’s when the magic happens.  These people, this audience, having listened to me then start to open up.  They have told me amazing stories of ghosts, or strange happenings in their lives.  From the dog spirit that lived (or possessed) a wardrobe for thirty years to the spirit who didn’t like Bruce Forsythe and threw things across the room when he was on telly.

When I started telling ghost stories I sat firmly on the fence, now after 4 years I think I’ve seen and heard enough to change my mind.

Oldham and Uppermill Ghost walks are for kids and grown ups next week 29th, 30th, 31st October 2014

Oldham Kids walk start at 5pm – 6.30pm from outside the haunted Oldham Coliseum
Oldham Ghost walk for the brave 8pm – 9.30pm
Uppermill Kids walk start at 5pm – 6.30pm from outside the spooky Civic Hall
Uppermill Ghost walk for the brave 8pm-9.30pm

 0161 652 602


Monday, 13 October 2014


Finished Thick As Thieves in our little shop.

In almost no time at all we have built a venue, an audience and a show.

It may seem to some a waste of time when there are theatres to fill, but can I assure you that seeing audiences reactions in the shop made it completely worth while.

The artwork by Celia Perkins of our Banksy style wall outside.

During building the set, our kitchen had just come out of a ladies house in Saddleworth Oldham.

Me, about to paint the place black.

I have learnt so much doing this project, most of it concerning management.  I never thought when I trained as an actor that I would need to be manager.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

News from our pop up shop.

Lots of deeds this week from Hard Graft Theatre company.  As you will probably know we are turning an empty retail unit into a Retale unit, we're making a pop up theatre venue.

The actors, both ex coronation street characters are causing a storm in Oldham mumps where we are rehearsing.

Here's some shots of what we've been playing with over the past couple of weeks....

Steven Arnold, David Crowley and Jonny Dixon enjoy a joke during a break in rehearsals

We commissioned a mural to brighten up the outside of our shop in Mumps Oldham

Steven Arnold, David Crowley and Jonny Dixon in rehearsals

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Close up acting is magic

I have watched Peter Kay in a pub, thanks to Nottingham's Just the Tonic. I have sat on the front row for David Bowie and Kenneth Branagh's Richard the Third.  I sat as Reginald D Hunter sweat on me and all I can say is, it was amazing.

I have acted in living rooms, kitchens, shops, barns, fields, boats.  I have flicked my ash on the audience and I have looked into their eyes and engaged.  It was shockingly brilliant.
So why would you want art 40, 50, 60 metres away, on a video screen?  Why would you subject your audience to cheap images, that YouTube could probably beat.

This September, two television actors with years of small screen experience will be working close up to you.

Come and see art close up, come and sit in the set and really enjoy a theatre experience.  Come and see Thick As Thieves in Oldham.

David Crowley directs Jonny Dixon and Steven Arnold

It's show time.

Been waiting to tell you this for ages....

Steven Arnold & Jonny Dixon

What would you do with a dead body?
Two Burglars, they're not Robin Hood - Prince of thieves.
They're robbin' old men - and THICK AS THIEVES
Meet Barry Ireland and Steph Aston, two hapless burglars whose life of crime is about to take an unexpected turn for the worse.

23rd Sept - 11th October 2014 @ RETail 23 Mumps Oldham OL1 3TP 
See Map

Tickets £9.50 (£7.50 concs)

0843 20 80 500

Monday, 18 August 2014

Waiting game

The hardest thing when you have news is sitting on it until everything is in place.  Today I have press releases, videos of the cast, publicity shots, but no tickets.  Quaytickets are our tickets partners for Thick As Thieves and as soon as they update their system it will be  all go, go, go.  So, whilst I wait for the phone call/email I may as well tell you about something else.

Poles Apart, in 2008 exactly 6 years ago actor Daniel Hoffmann-Gill and myself were in Poland trying to get a job. To date, this is probably my favourite show Hard Graft has produced.  The time was perfect, 600 Poles had made their way to the UK so for us to replicate and reverse was very interesting.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Publicity, publicity, publicity


Spent my entire weekend messing about with video footage from our two actors, filmed to help with publicity.  On friday we went down to Act Up North in Manchester where Corrie Shelley  did a magnificent job with our actors head shots.

I have decided not to release the actors names until later this week when everything is in place like box office, production images, promotional videos and press releases.
Photographer Corrie Shelly with Director David Crowley and our 2 pixelated actors 

If you want to be the first to see who is player Steph and Barry in Thick As Thieves then I urge you to join the mailing list here.

David Crowley filming our short comedy promos.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Thick as Thieves - the start.

I know some people find behind the scenes talk interesting, so on this job I will try and update you as much as possible.

Well, here we go again.

1st August 2014

Oldham Council has kindly given us a great deal on a retail unit in Oldham.
At the bottom of Mumps Hard Graft breathe life into this old shop.
We (well I) have now done this 3 times as resident in Nottingham, Oldham and Edinburgh and 60 odd times as a once nightly event, where we literally turned up in the afternoon and put a show on.

The interior of reTale before we start our work.
Our two main actors have both spent time in Coronation Street, so we are using short videos gags as a marketing tool.  This is me trying on my costume for one of the short films.
Celia Perkins our designer, this is how she sees the space being used.
As ever you can see the info by twitter, facebook or join our mailing list here 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Look what I'm rewriting again...

I first wrote this play in 2002 and performed with my friends Daniel Hoffmann-Gill.  Back then it was 35 minutes long, now it's 90mins (a film) and to advertise it a little I thought I'd send a little of it into the world to see what you think.

Background information - Barry and Steph have broken into an old mans room and found a dead Budgie.

What we need is some kind of specialist. A body moving type specialist that specialises in moving dead bodies.
A cleaner.
Yea. A cleaner, like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction.
Do you know anyone?
Like who?
You must have met someone in prison that could help. I mean you were in one of the toughest open prisons in the country. Filled with notorious villains, hard men and fixers, you must have met somebody?
I know a good driver. Shared a cell with him, have you heard of Spit Wilson? He was on "Stop, Police, Camera" or was it Camera, Police Stop! One of them programmes anyway. He nicked a BMW off a forecourt. He reckoned that it was the longest recorded police chase ever broadcast on telly. It was that good they dedicated a full-half hour special to it called "Streets of Death". They got that there, oh what's her name - consonant, vowel, consonant, you know, got the sack, you know the Countdown woman used to be ugly now she's not.
(He sings the Countdown clock tune)
Carol Vorderman.
Carol Vordeman, she did the voice over. Anyway he was finally caught with one of them stingers on the A614 near Bilsthorpe. He reckoned he'd of got further if it wasn't for the caravan on the back.
Do you know why they called Spit Wilson, Spit Wilson?
Always spitting.

For more information and to book tickets (when they go on sale) look here

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

What would you do?

Just had a call from a friend who is rehearsing a play that goes out next week, a 90 minute two hander.  His leading lady gets an offer from TV to do a few episodes of a soap, which would be more lucrative than the theatre.  She wants to do the TV, but feels guilty and wants to let my friends down with help to find someone else to take her place.  What would you do, would you let her go and do TV, or hold her to her contact?  

I have made this choice lots of times and it's never easy.  The actor will probably be a friends who, like all of us is struggling with money, but all you have done is offer them a job.

What would you do?

Friday, 21 March 2014

Beginning of a new path

Today, well yesterday was the start of a new path for Hard Graft theatre company.  For some time I have wanted to knock touring on the head, the endless cycle of writing, selling, travelling to theatres with no audience, sleeping in B&B's eating sandwiches from Gregs.  But it has taken a long time to realise the next path, but yesterday it became clear.

Here you go...

I am now a venue manager.  Well, that's not exactly the truth, I am managing a venue, but it's more, much more.  David Crowley (my trusted friend and director) and myself have agreed to take on an empty theatre space in Oldham, where, at the moment nothing (or little) has been produced.  We are starting from nothing and have ambitions to build a brand that can poke it's head above the parapet with no shame or embarrassment to deliver art to the people of Oldham and beyond.

Our job is to find funding, devise a programme and turn an empty, dark theatre into something Oldham can have pride in.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Blogger community I urge you to welcome and support


Over the next few months I will try and keep you up to date with our progress.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

News from the small planet

When you hear something terrible has happened I'll bet, like me you think about it for a couple of seconds then carry on with your life.  Earthquakes, wars, massacres, murders, famine are all disastrous, but unless its made personal we don't, or probably can't get to grips with it.

Yesterday I was listening to the marvellous Moth podcast and I came across a story that has stuck with me.  Todays blog is about a very big news story told by one particular participant and I urge you to pause from your busy life and have a listen to the real live story of Fukushima.

Listen Here

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Merry Christmas

MARCH 18TH 2014

Do you know what?  At the moment I'm in Christmas mode, whilst you all give it all up for lent (yeah right) I am thinking of Santa, elves and snow.  I have been thinking about reindeer and jiggling bells.

I am writing the Hard Graft Christmas story The Christmas Elves and the Shoemaker.  Each year I try and get it done earlier and earlier so that the Directors, designers and choreography can start to think about their input, so, next you watch a show think how long that process has taken and how many people have been thinking a long time about it.

The irony is that I buy my Christmas presents from the garage on Christmas eve.

I just hope that the supermarkets don't read this and think it's a good idea...

Merry Christmas

Monday, 17 March 2014

This is a Banksy in Nottingham.

Nottingham Arts Theatre if only you hadn't painted over this.

This is a Banksy, left on the side of the Nottingham Arts Theatre about 10 years ago.  The artist wasn't as famous back then and only a couple of people really knew of its significance.

The theatre is always struggling for money, if it had this today I wonder what they could have done with it?

Waiting for the story (wasting Time)

That's the problem with being a creative.  If you have no ideas you just have to sit back and wait for them to come and they will.  At the moment I have lots of deadlines way, way in the future and, like the default lazy git I am, I ignore them till the last minute.   Instead try and think of something better, more interesting to waste time on.

This morning I have been "researching" (I use this term broadly) WW1 and how Oldham was involved.  I have discovered lots of great things that happened to this town and its people and if I get the chance I may well write about it.  Or, I might flit on to a Brian Clough idea I had two weeks ago.

If you have any other stories you think I could waste half a day on please let me know.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Actor is slammed for burglar story

If you read yesterday's post this is what the Nottingham Evening Post thought about my stories.

THEATRE groups in Notts have criticised an actor from Carlton for making up a life story to gain publicity for one of his plays.
Mark Whiteley told media across the UK, including former BBC Radio Four programme Home Truths, that he was a reformed burglar.
Now, Mr Whiteley, 44, says he made it up so he could promote his play called Thick as Thieves which tells the story of two Nottingham burglars.
Howard Whitehurst, one of the directors of the Bonington Players in Arnold, said Mr Whiteley's actions reflected badly on the acting profession.
"I have no problem supporting people who are using their life experience. but if the whole thing is based on a lie, that's just deceitful and dishonest."
David Goatham, member of the Bonington Players, described Mr Whiteley's lies as "unethical" and "shocking".
A spokeswoman for the All Hallows Dramatic Society in Lady Bay said: "It's unfair to all the honest authors and playwrights out there.
But Mr Whiteley said: "I'm a story teller. That's what I do for a living. I'm not a liar."
A BBC spokesman said stories on Home Truths were checked much as possible.

Read more:

Monday, 10 March 2014

The truth isn’t out there.

Have you ever told a lie and regretted it?

Mark Whiteley as Burglar in Thick As Thieves

About 10 years ago I wrote a comedy show about 2 burglars that I was going to take to the Edinburgh fringe festival, if you've never visited Edinburgh festival you'll be amazed to know that there about 2,500 different shows performing in one city over three weeks.  As you can imagine getting noticed at such a monster event is very difficult, especially if its your first festival, your first play and you have no notable celebrities in it.

I thought long and hard about making a splash, to come up with a media coup that would ignite ticket sales, in the past you might remember Aaron Barchak a comedian who got through tight security at Windsor Castle to gate-crash Prince Williams 21st birthday dressed as Osama bin Laden.  His stunt thrust him onto the front pages of the British press and sold him many tickets.

My idea wasn't as daring, my idea was quite conventional, my idea was to tell the world that I was an ex burglar.  The headline for my press release was “Ex Burglar steals the show” - not brilliant, but interesting.  I sent off the emails to all the national and local press and waited.  And waited. And waited.  Nothing, not a jot, not even my local newspaper thought it was news worthy.  I was about to give up when I remembered Home Truths a BBC radio show that took stories from the public and told them, so I mailed Home Truths and within 2 hours they had rung me and booked me to talk to their legendary host John Peel.  Now, I must tell you that John Peel is no longer with us; he was and still is a national treasure, I myself was a massive fan and ideally, I wouldn’t want to lie to him, but we needed publicity.

Here’s a good game.  Write the words REFORMED BURGLAR in your internet search engine I know that if you live in the UK you’ll come up with my story at the top of your search, indeed you can still click and hear me telling my story.  And yes ladies and gentlemen it is just a story, just a made up story about a young kid dealing with low-level crime and coming through it with the love of a good woman.  I left the BBC studio pleased that this might be heard and we may create a bit of interest in our Edinburgh show. 

What came to pass was nothing more than astounding.  I got no newspaper interest, but I did get a call from a marketing executive for an insurance company who had heard my story and wanted to pay me to go on a publicity drive to help keep homes safe over the summer holidays.  He wanted me to go on the radio and give the burglars “inside’ story about keeping your home safe.  Now, I was and am a low paid actor, my life is feast or famine, so if a wealthy company comes along and asks me to play a part for them I have to say yes.

I studied home security advice from the police and put my own spin on it and turned up to do the first of 48 radio interviews over two days.  After the first day I was heard by T.V. producers who wanted me to go on their shows and demonstrate to their viewers how to not leave ladders against the bathroom window to keep safe.  By the end of day two I was a Burgling Celebrity in magazines, newspapers and web sites.

The aftermath was a little strange; I found that when there was anything about theft or burglary in the news, lazy journalists would search the internet for Reformed Burglars to get an opinion and my name would be top, over the last 10 years I have graced many TV and Radio shows with my ex burglar act and I’ll probably be doing it for years to come.  So, if you asked me if I’d ever lied and regretted I’d have to say, no, I’ve enjoyed almost every minute.