Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting: the first ten years

The Bruntwood Prize is the biggest national competition for playwriting. With prize money totalling £40,000, plus the chance of a production on a major stage, as well as publication by Nick Hern Books, it’s a fabulous opportunity for writers. Since its inception in 2005, over 11,000 scripts have been entered, more than £200,000 has been awarded to 22 prize-winning writers and 16 winning productions have been staged. Here publisher and NHB founder Nick Hern reflects on what makes the Bruntwood Prize so special, while below we introduce this year’s winners and catch up on the Bruntwood Story with Exeunt Magazine’s podcast…

HernNICK HERN: Memory is an unreliable friend, but it tells me that the first thing I did ten years ago on hearing the announcement of the brand new Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting was to write suggesting that part of the prize might be to guarantee publication of the winning play by Nick Hern Books. I was very taken with the essential premise of the award: that no entry should have been performed or published before and that all entries were to be submitted anonymously, the identity of the winning author only to be revealed after the judges had arrived at their verdict. In other words the work was to be judged on its merits alone and not according to the expectations aroused by the author’s other work – or lack of it. This seemed to go a long way to fulfilling every writer’s desire to know whether what they’ve written is really, intrinsically, even existentially any good!

Pretend You Have Big Buildings by Ben Musgrave, winner of the 2005 Bruntwood Prize

Pretend You Have Big Buildings by Ben Musgrave, winner of the 2005 Bruntwood Prize

Anyway, my offer to act as ‘publisher by appointment’ was accepted, and so I found myself at the ceremony awarding the first ever Bruntwood Prize to Ben Musgrave’s Pretend You Have Big Buildings. True to our word, we had the pleasure of publishing it when the Royal Exchange, also honouring their commitment to stage the winning play, premiered it on their main stage.

I’m not going to pretend to remember the chronology of subsequent winners, but together they amount to a seriously impressive collection of brand new plays, each of which might have remained in their author’s bottom drawer had it not been for the Bruntwood. Indeed, in at least one case, the play would not even have got as far as that drawer: it would probably never have been written. Vivienne Franzmann tells the story that, as a career schoolteacher, she had been saying for some time that she was going to ‘write a play’ – but never had. Then, hearing of the Bruntwood, and realising the deadline was only a couple of weeks away (alert: unreliable memory at work), she set to it. The result, Mogadishu, opened to loud acclaim in Manchester and proceeded to transfer to London, thereby launching Viv on a new career as a full-time writer.

Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann, winner of the 2008 Bruntwood Prize

Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann, winner of the 2008 Bruntwood Prize

I am as proud of each of the playwrights we have published thanks to their winning the Bruntwood as if I had discovered them myself: as well as Musgrave and Franzmann, there’s been Matt Hartley, Fiona Peek, Andrew Sheridan, Janice Okoh, Nayla Ahmed, Louise Monaghan, Katherine Chandler, Anna Jordan, Gareth Farr and Luke Norris. In the same way, we ‘take on’ each of our writers in the fullest sense, publishing not only the winning play but also standing by to publish their subsequent work as well, as has been gratifyingly the case already with Janice Okoh (who won with Three Birds and went on to write Egusi Soup) and Anna Jordan (who won with Yen, but whose Freak and Chicken Shop have been published subsequently).

So Here We Are by Luke Norris, winner of a 2013 Judges Award

So Here We Are by Luke Norris, winner of a 2013 Judges Award

As the Bruntwood has grown in reputation and renown – and, it has to be said, in the generosity of the prize money on offer – my sense is that more established writers are submitting their work. In the early days we used to joke about a situation where Tom Stoppard, say, submitted a play – anonymously of course – and failed to win… Now, it seems, something like that really could happen, though, to the writer’s relief, only the administrator of the prize would ever know! Our latest winner, in fact, has already broken the mould in some respects: Luke Norris was already a performed and published playwright when he submitted – and won with – So Here We Are.

In its ten years, the Bruntwood Prize has already gifted a rich panoply of new plays to the world. So here’s to its next decade – and to ten more years of splendid if unreliable memories.


Katherine Soper, winner of the 2015 Bruntwood Prize (photo by Joel C Fildes)

Congratulations to Katherine Soper on winning this year’s Bruntwood Prize with her play Wish List.

Katherine, who currently works in a perfumery on Regent Street in London, was announced as the winner of the 10th anniversary Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2015 on 17 November.

Wish List is Katherine’s first play. She said: ‘This is the best boost of writerly confidence I could imagine.’

Congratulations also to the recipients of the four Judges’ Awards: Chloe Todd Fordham, James Fritz, Alan Harris and Kendall Feaver.

Find out more about the Bruntwood Prize at

PODCAST: The Bruntwood Story

In this episode of Exeunt Magazine’s podcast Pursued by a Bear, produced in association with Nick Hern Books, Tim Bano takes an in-depth look at the Bruntwood Prize, following the progress of scripts from submission to shortlisting by speaking to judges, readers and writers.

Featuring interviews with: Michael Oglesby, Anna Jordan, Sarah Frankcom, Suzanne Bell, Andrew Haydon, Megan Vaughan and David Mercatali.

Podcast presented by Tim Bano. Produced by Tim Bano and Annegret Marten.

Actions: The 60-Second Challenge

We gave an actor a copy of our Actions: The Actors’ Thesaurus app to see how many ways he could deliver the same line: ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’

What are ‘actions’?

Actors need actions. You cannot act moods. You need to be doing something with every line. You need an aim to achieve, and an action selected to help achieve that aim. ‘Actions’ are active verbs. In order to play a line truthfully, you need to discover the action that suits that particular situation and that particular line. That is where the Actions: The Actors’ Thesaurus app comes in.

Based on the best-selling book by Marina Caldarone and Maggie Lloyd-Williams, Actions is a fully searchable, easy-to-navigate thesaurus of active verbs, that will help you refine your acting choice until you find the action you require to make each line come alive.

Features include:

· A to Z search, and predictive search function
· Emotional groupings to help you pinpoint the action you require
· Bookmark, note-making and random word functions
· Share your actions on social media or by email
· Full instructions on how to use actioning in rehearsal, plus how to use the app

For actors at all levels and of all ages, Actions: The Actors’ Thesaurus will revolutionise how you rehearse. Once you’ve started using it, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.

‘If you want to act, or act better, Actions will take you a long way on the journey to excellence’ Terry Johnson

‘Actioning ain’t easy – but it’s so useful’ Zawe Ashton


See more about Actions and actioning at

Download the app now at

Nick Hern on his conversations with Arthur Miller

HernToday, 17 October 2015, marks one hundred years since the birth of one of the twentieth-century’s greatest playwrights: Arthur Miller. In this extract from Mel Gussow’s book Conversations with Miller, which is published in a new Centenary Edition to celebrate the occasion, publisher and NHB founder Nick Hern shares his own memories of Miller – of his fierce intellect, but also of tennis matches, a shared love of cars, and helping to keep his reputation alive…

‘But you can’t call it Timebends, Arthur. That makes it sound like a science-fiction novel!’ It was 1985 and we were, of course, discussing Miller’s autobiography, which, as drama editor at Methuen, I had commissioned him to write.

‘Listen, Nick,’ he answered in his implacable drawl. ‘No one much liked Death of a Salesman as a title either. They said nobody would come to a play with death in the title, and who was interested in salesmen anyway?’

Well, there was no answer to that, and the autobiography was duly published – as Timebends – on 5 November 1987. Arthur liked hearing that this was – appropriately – Fireworks Day, just as he liked other quirky British-isms. Once when he and Inge [Morath, Miller’s third wife] and I were playing hooky from a conference in his honour at the University of East Anglia, we came across a signpost to the Norfolk village of Great Snoring – which provoked Much Grinning. And he would insist on referring to my own place of residence as Chiss-wick, always accompanied by a twinkle in the eye and that grin that would split his face in half. The last time I saw him alive – in November 2003 at the 92nd Street ‘Y’ in New York, where he had just given a public interview to a packed and (for him) overly reverential audience – the first thing he said to me was, ‘Hey, Nick, do you still live in that funny place, what was it?’ ‘Chiss-wick, Arthur?’ ‘Yeah, that’s it, Chiss-wick!’ And that grin again, totally belying his eighty-eight years.

Hern, Miller & Bigsby

From left: Nick Hern, Arthur Miller, Christopher Bigsby

I first met Arthur Miller in the winter of 1983. Chris Bigsby [Miller’s biographer] had alerted me to the fact that there were some unpublished plays that pre-dated All My Sons, which he, Bigsby, was seeking to persuade Arthur to allow to be published. I put it to the powers that be at Methuen that if they stumped up for Chris and me to go on a transatlantic fishing trip, the catch might be some unpublished Arthur Miller. To their credit, they duly stumped up – and eventually they got their money back. But it wasn’t as simple a decision as it must now seem.

The general perception throughout the seventies was that Miller had gone off the boil, had not written anything much since After the Fall, and that even that play was badly flawed, being a self-seeking justification of his treatment of Marilyn Monroe. Americans, I think, actually blamed him somehow for her death, however much that ran counter to the facts. In Britain he was admired – and endlessly prescribed on O and A level syllabuses – as the author of The Crucible and Salesman, but otherwise he was pretty much a blank, past his best, possibly even dead. Far from it, of course.

As I got to know Arthur better, it emerged that not only were there the forgotten plays from the thirties, there were also much more recent plays which had had largely unregarded premieres in the States in what we would call the provinces ­– and then slipped from sight. So, back in London and with Arthur’s very active co-operation, I was able to publish in 1984 – for the first time anywhere in the world – The Archbishop’s Ceiling, and a double-bill of one-act plays, Two-Way Mirror, which brought the Arthur Miller canon up to date and which led eventually to the British premieres of these plays at the Bristol Old Vic (1986), and the Young Vic (1989) respectively. The covers, at Chris Bigsby’s suggestion, were adorned with arresting Escher drawings, another of which appeared two years later on the cover of a second double-bill, Danger: Memory!, published in advance of its world premiere at the Lincoln Center. It is now difficult to credit a situation where the recent work of a writer of the stature of Arthur Miller could as it were be lying around unpublished and unperformed. But such was the slump in his reputation.

The money Methuen initially lost on these publications ­– as I’ve indicated, they weren’t exactly snapped up by an eager public – was partly offset by two paperback collections of his work, Miller Plays: One and Two. Miller’s London agent, Elaine Greene, who I think was having a bit of a spat with Penguin at the time, alerted me to the fact that paperback anthologies were not specifically covered in Penguin’s publication contracts for Miller’s plays. It was a loophole I was glad to exploit. Arthur and I discussed what to put on the covers. The series that the volumes were destined for had made a point of finding a correspondence between the writer and a particular painter. The covers of Pinter’s plays, for instance, all featured Magritte. For Arthur’s work, I suggested Van Gogh, whose Potato Eaters in particular seemed to capture some of the implicitly campaigning sympathy for ordinary people to be found also in Arthur’s plays. ‘Too gloomy,’ he pronounced. Somewhat floored, I suggested instead the painter he was most close to: his and Inge’s daughter, then barely in her twenties. And so it is that these editions carried original artwork by the now distinguished novelist and filmmaker, Rebecca Miller ­– probably her first ever professional commission.

I saw a lot of Arthur throughout the eighties. He would come over to London quite frequently – with or without Inge – to see various productions of his plays. I particularly remember driving him down to Bristol for the British premiere of his 1944 play, The Man Who Had All the Luck. It was a lovely day (we had the roof off the car), and we were ahead of schedule, so I turned off the M4 to show him one of my favourite spots, the stone circle at Avebury. Entranced by its magic, we lost track of time. With the result that we found ourselves careening down the motorway well in excess of the speed limit so as not to miss curtain up. Arthur loved it. He was a man’s man when it came to cars and had been emphatic in his approval of my upgrade from a Ford Orion to this BMW convertible. Whenever I turned up at his house in Roxbury, Connecticut, one of his first questions was always: ‘What car are you driving now?’

My trips to Roxbury became even more frequent than his to London. He and Inge (and Inge’s mother) were generous but unfussy hosts, and I would always stay over, sometimes for more than one night. Often there were dinner parties gathered round the huge oval cherry-wood table that Arthur had fashioned himself from trees grown on his own land. I never quite got used to finding Richard Widmark or Volker Schlöndorf or Martha Clarke also at the table. But informality was the keynote. Inge and her mother did all the cooking themselves, much of it again from produce grown in their garden – though ‘garden’ doesn’t really cover it. The only grandiloquence of which Arthur could ever be accused was his evident pride in the fact that he had gradually bought more and more acreage surrounding his home until he could say, standing on the hill on whose summit sat the rangy timber-built house, that he owned all the land he could see. As a boy from Brooklyn, whose parents had been devastated by the Depression, this provided an enduring sense of security.

Just down the hill was a pool: not the bright-blue, purpose-built job of American suburbia, but a natural depression in the hillside filled from an underground spring. It was the freshest water I’ve ever swum in, and I’m sure that regular immersion in it contributed to Arthur’s healthful longevity.


Arthur Miller and his wife, Inge Morath, at their Roxbury, Connecticut house. Photograph: Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

He also played a mean game of tennis well into his seventies. An enthusiastic but not very practised latecomer to the game myself, I remember facing up to his serve in a doubles game which happened to feature another playwright, A.R. (Pete) Gurney, as Miller’s partner. With his racket an improbable – and surely unfair? – nine feet in the air at the point of impact, Arthur would send the ball across the net at a frankly unreturnable angle and velocity. I wasn’t invited to play again.

But my most treasured memory is of the visits made during the writing of the autobiography. We fell into a routine. I would drive up from the city arriving in time for lunch, after which Arthur would produce the pages he’d written since my last trip. I would then retire to his study – which was a log cabin away from the house – and sit on its porch in the sunshine luxuriating in Arthur’s rich and multi-layered life story. After I’d finished I’d make my way back to the house and join in with whatever the family and that evening’s guests were doing until dinner time. Because the book was to be co-published with Harper and Row in New York and because they were going to employ an editor to work with Arthur on the detail, my role was the blissfully simple one of providing support and encouragement during the actual writing – and discussing the occasional ‘big question’ of structure or tone. But there was never anything I found problematic: the book seemed to flow from him fully formed. My memory is that what I read, episode by episode on the porch in Roxbury, was, apart from the odd correction of a date or a name, the book that was published as Timebends.

My lasting impression of Arthur Miller is of a man of impressive intellect and wisdom who was at the same time a ‘regular guy’. A conversation with Arthur was one of the most stimulating experiences life could offer. Because of his droll matter-of-factness combined with wide-ranging erudition, I constantly felt a step or two behind, but the effort to keep up made me a better, wittier, more articulate conversational partner. Or so it seemed at the time. Arthur ‘turned me on’ more than than anyone else I’ve met. Plus there was always his only slightly world-weary sense of the ridiculous. His accounts of his and Harold Pinter’s trip to Turkey to protest at the torturing of writers or of his ironic jousting in Lithuania with Tankred Golenpolksy (whom he suspected of working for the KGB and whom I had also encountered in Moscow the previous winter) were as full of laughter as of outrage. Everyone knows how seriously he took politics and world affairs, but he enjoyed pricking pomposity and nailing vanity. He had a good joke about Norman Mailer, who was apparently renowned for looking himself up in the indexes of other people’s books. Arthur told of one book where, anticipating Mailer’s attentions, the relevant entry read simply: ‘Mailer, Norman – Hi Norm!’

Though famous, Arthur was not so well-known that he was unable to move around without being recognised. He would and could take public transport when he wanted. He told a story of waiting for the scheduled bus to take him from the airport in New York to upstate Connecticut. He asked the young man at the desk to be sure to tell him when the next bus was ready to depart. The young man went back to his book. Time passed. It became clear the young man had become so engrossed in his book that the bus had come and gone without his noticing. Arthur went to remonstrate and saw the title of the engrossing book: The Crucible. ‘Isn’t that something?’ Arthur would say as he came to the punchline. And his face would fall in half with that infectious grin.

FormattedThe above is an extract from Conversations with Miller by Mel Gussow. The new Centenary edition, also featuring a Foreword by Richard Eyre, is out now.

Read a further extract from Conversations with Miller on the Guardian website.

This essay was first published in Remembering Arthur Miller, edited by Christopher Bigsby (Methuen Publishing Ltd, 2005).

Drama Online: the Netflix of Theatre

DO_On BlackThis week saw the launch of the Nick Hern Books Collection on Drama Online, a groundbreaking new educational resource for reading and studying drama. Here, NHB’s Digital Editor Tim Digby-Bell explains how it works, and how it sheds new light on familiar plays.

Finally, it’s launch week. We’ve been working hard preparing a selection of our plays for Drama Online, the amazing new platform for anyone studying drama. For more than twelve months we’ve been planning, editing, revising, checking, drinking cups of strong coffee, fretting, and then doing some more editing. It’s all been worth it, though. It’s a thing of wonder, and it’s open for business.

Drama Online is a joint venture with other leading theatre publishers including Bloomsbury, Faber and Faber and L.A. Theatre Works, and incorporates archival material from the Victoria and Albert Museum and The American Shakespeare Center. As the name suggests, its focus is very much drama, and the place very much online. It’s essentially a subscription service aimed at schools, universities and libraries, giving instant online access to the best of world drama alongside a range of scholarly works for criticism and context. There is also a range of tools for exploring and analysing plays in new and extremely useful ways (more about those later).

Because it’s all online, students can access the plays they’re studying at any time of the day and night, without having to wait for a copy to become available. Think of it as a theatre-based Netflix. ‘Want to come round to my place for some Drama Online and chill?’ is now an actual thing.


Drama Online – The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan, from the Nick Hern Books Collection

There are some 1,900 plays already available, with more being added all the time. You’ll find everything from Aeschylus to the present day, with a full range of classic drama, the complete Arden Shakespeare Series, modern classics and the latest work from contemporary playwrights. The Nick Hern Books Collection comprises 400 titles, including classic plays by writers such as Molière, Gogol, Strindberg and Alfred Jarry, the works of Terence Rattigan, modern classics by Caryl Churchill, Conor McPherson, David Edgar and Howard Brenton, and some of the most exciting new writing from the likes of debbie tucker green, Lucy Kirkwood, Jack Thorne, Steve Waters and Enda Walsh. With a Drama Online subscription, you have the whole pantheon of drama in English at your fingertips.

And, as if that’s not enough, you also get some really impressive tools to work with. At a keystroke you can call up Character Grids, Words and Speech graphs and Part Books for any play. For instance, if you want to compare the number of words spoken by different characters in a play, act by act, or even scene by scene, you can quickly and easily generate a table that lays it all out for you. If you’re performing a play, you can call up a Part Book showing just the lines spoken by your character. If you want to see plays set in London, or in nineteenth-century Paris, or written during the Belle Époque or the Spanish Golden Age, you can call up a list, and cross-refer to your heart’s content.


Character Grid for Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, from the Nick Hern Books Collection


Words and Speeches table for Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, from the Nick Hern Books Collection

The platform is designed to give you a simple but powerful set of tools to break down any play, making them easier to study. It might all sound a bit Orwellian at first, but start using it and you find it both incredibly useful and really quite addictive. The plays in the collections are all interconnected: every play is connected to other plays via their themes, characters, settings and genres, allowing faster analysis and deeper insights into the works themselves.

Beyond that, the site provides you with every bit of information you could possibly need about each title – including insightful introductions and expert analysis, production history, performing rights information to enquire about staging the plays, and even links to places where you can buy the good old-fashioned print editions (remember them?).

So if you’re studying plays at school, college, drama school or university, you absolutely must have Drama Online. Ask your librarian or resources manager to get a subscription immediately. If they say no, then stage a non-violent protest citing the fact that the first thing any totalitarian regime does when it comes to power is to ban access to the theatre. But do check if you already have a subscription before you do any of that – it could save you some embarrassment.

Having worked on preparing Drama Online for many months I can genuinely say that it’s an exciting new way to read and study plays. It’s the future, right here.

For more information about subscriptions, trials and pricing, visit:

‘The pain of celebrity’: Ian Kelly on Mr Foote’s Other Leg

Kelly, Ian credit Sasha Damianovsky Ian Kelly wrote an award-winning biography of the once-notorious eighteenth-century comedian, Samuel Foote. Now he’s acting in his own stage version of the story alongside Simon Russell Beale in a sold-out production directed by Richard Eyre. Here he explains why his one-legged protagonist, who rose to fame and celebrity only to be toppled in a sensational trial, was such a compelling figure to his contemporaries, and is so clearly recognisable in our own era of troubled celebrities.

Samuel Foote holds an intriguing place in our collective history, not just the theatre’s. Why should a man once famous enough to be represented by a simple icon – a foot – be forgotten now? It’s a question that both my original book and the play seek to explain. A coiner of comedies for one-legged actors and the original celebrity-impressionist, Foote must take some of the responsibility for his own obscurity. Added to this, Foote’s famous name became a whispered one in the immediate aftermath of the trial for buggery that ended his career. Neither, it should be said, are his plays very stageworthy any more. His thirty-odd comedy ‘afterpieces’ relied heavily on topical jokes and the inwit of a celebrity-impressionist, and only a few remained popular into the nineteenth century. If his ribaldry sings out still in the names of his creations – Sir Archy McSarcasm, the priapic Harry Humper or one-legged Sir Luke Limp – their lines, regrettably, now ring hollow. To me anyway. There are many real Foote lines in the play, but they are generally not from his plays.

Samuel Foote, portrait by Jean-François Gilles Colson

Samuel Foote, portrait by Jean-François Gilles Colson

The play, like the book, is instead an attempted exploration of mid-eighteenth-century London’s fascination with the theatre, viewed from the unique vantage point of a troubled, one-legged master of ceremonies, a man of breathtakingly catholic experience and larrikin wit; a tale told by an actor. How Samuel Foote lost his leg and thereby gained a royal licence for a theatre – one of only three such Theatres Royal in the whole history of the London stage – is one subject of the play. How a man of such singular anatomy could be at the centre of one of the most sensational buggery trials in British history – a subject of hilarious conjecture at the time, wiping the American Declaration of Independence off the London papers for many months – turns out to be a story less of perplexing balance than of shocking brutality and prejudice.

But it is also the story of a comic, and the play even more than the book seeks to reflect that, and pay tribute to Foote with the sound he most favoured in his theatre, that of laughter. Foote’s story has, of course, some resonance with the scandal that ended Oscar Wilde’s career: his fame, personality and tragic trajectory illuminating uncomfortable truths about his era, and his posthumous allure inextricably linked to his downfall. But it is the question of why Londoners should turn their attention to scandal, celebrity and laughter through 1776, when they might have paid closer attention to events in America, that also fascinates, as well as forging both backdrop and cacophonous noises-off to Foote’s tragicomedy. Appropriately enough then this is the story also of the man who seemingly coined the phrase ‘Tea Party’ – a rallying cry at Boston harbour in 1773 – though Foote used it as an irreverent circumvention of the London censors: he sold tickets for tea, and added a scurrilous satire on the side. So now, finally, he is having the last laugh, as the unexpected godfather of an American reactionary movement, which, given his other reputation as sexual deviant and reckless transvestite satirist, would surely give him cause to smirk.

Mr Foote's Other Leg at Hampstead Theatre. Simon Russell Beale (Samuel Foote), Ian Kelly (Prince George), Jenny Galloway (Mrs Garner), Dervla Kirwan (Peg Woffington), Joseph Millson (David Garrick) and Micah Balfour (Frank Barber) © Nobby Clark

Mr Foote’s Other Leg at Hampstead Theatre. Simon Russell Beale (Samuel Foote), Ian Kelly (Prince George), Jenny Galloway (Mrs Garner), Dervla Kirwan (Peg Woffington), Joseph Millson (David Garrick) and Micah Balfour (Frank Barber). Photo © Nobby Clark

From his Westminster grave, Foote may or may not relish his reputation as a sort of gay martyr. Only here and there, in his attacks on Methodism, nabobs and the medical establishment, did his comedy pack political punch, and it would be wildly anachronistic to have him enunciate a fully modern understanding of sexual tolerance or (trans) gender politics. And yet his triumphs, though personal, are not without their political significance. Whatever the odds stacked against him, and there were many even before the amputation and its effect upon his mental health, Foote turned things to his own account and to comedy. His daring, his refusal to bow to convention and to domestic or artistic safety, make him still commanding of our attention.

More than this, both book and play represent an exploration of Samuel Foote the ‘celebrity’ in an age and in a city where the idea, it is argued, originates. Spectators in Georgian London became enchanted with performers: Peg Woffington and Kitty Clive, Garrick and Foote, all of them painted by the new celebrity portraitists and all of them beginning to manipulate anecdotes about their private lives that helped create an aura of availability, not just sexual, allowing audience and readership a fantastical journey into imagined lives. Samuel Foote launched himself with a tale of horrific murder from the unique position of a family member [he wrote and published a sensational account of the murder of one of his uncles, baronet Sir John Dineley Goodere, 2nd Baronet, by another uncle, Captain Samuel Goodere]. People thought they knew him because they knew of him, even before they saw him on stage.

Joseph Millson (David Garrick), Simon Russell Beale (Samuel Foote) and Dervla Kirwan (Peg Woffington) © Nobby Clark

Joseph Millson (David Garrick), Simon Russell Beale (Samuel Foote) and Dervla Kirwan (Peg Woffington). Photo © Nobby Clark

The loss of his leg, and the projection therefore of a despoiled masculinity, as a limping icon of pain and accident – two key ingredients in comedy – made him all the more fascinating as a star, caught, as it were, in the act of falling. Finally there was the scandal-palled demise, when, for reasons possibly related to his mental health, he pushed too hard against the establishment, or picked, in Elizabeth Chudleigh and ‘Roger’ Sangster, the wrong foes, and became an object of widespread opprobrium and, for some, ‘the opposite of a man’. If anything is instantly recognisable in the story of Sam Foote, it is the creation of the modern trope of the celebrity destroyed, the star trammeled in the mud, who then, ideally, has some comeback either in life, or after death – though Foote, of course, did not. For some, the attacks upon a famous actor, with charges of homosexuality and of sexual assault, make Foote a sort of martyr irrespective of the veracity of either ‘charge’. For us still, in thrall to the evolving culture of the famous, he is uniquely placed in the tragicomic business of stardom and at its birth: a body of evidence, in and of himself, that we are as drawn to the pain of celebrity as to its glister.


Extracted from the Introduction to the published playscript of Mr Foote’s Other Leg, £9.99 paperback, available now from Nick Hern Books for just £7.99 plus postage and packing.

Mr Foote’s Other Leg is in production at Hampstead Theatre until 17 October.

Author photo © Sasha Damianovsky.

Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part 2: The Final Reckoning

1143114837LOGO_ORANGE[1]The Edinburgh Fringe is over for another year, but how did our intrepid amateur companies get on performing plays licensed by Nick Hern Books? We hear from three of them as they recount the highs – and the lows – of mounting a production on the Fringe. (If you missed the first instalment, it’s available here).

pp posterPassing Places by Stephen Greenhorn
Great Child Productions

The fringe is an experience like no other.

3,314 shows competing for an audience over the 313 venues. It is a challenge to sell a show, regardless of whether you have a ‘name’ or a recognisable brand. So the process of promoting the show throughout the day to the throngs of potential audience members is tough.

With a show like Passing Places there is no issue with staying motivated. Our team came up with some fantastic ways to promote the show, including going out in character onto the famous Royal Mile to help tourists cross the busy road.

Passing Places cast members Andrew Dart, Ciaran Drysder and Brodie Cummins on the Royal Mile

Passing Places cast members Andrew Dart, Ciaran Drysder and Brodie Cummins on the Royal Mile

The show got respectable audiences each night of our six-night run and a decent 3★ review from the Edinburgh Guide.

We were lucky enough to be warmly welcomed by our wonderful venue, Greenside @ Nicolson Square. The venue’s staff and techs were monumental in helping us deliver every element of our production, particularly the Citroën Saxo which sat on stage throughout the performance. With a 10-minute get-in before each show, and a 20-minute get-out afterwards, it was no mean feat to assemble a car and full set within our slot. Staying to time was key, so it was crucial that everyone played their part to the full.

Director Tom Sergeant and castLiving together for a week, promoting a show and putting it on is an intense and draining experience, but I wouldn’t change anything about it at all. I’d fully recommend it to any theatre group thinking about broadening their horizons and exploring new audiences.

– Tom Sergeant, CEO of Great Child Productions

ff-posterprintresFoxfinder by Dawn King
Master of None

When performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, August can seem like both the longest and shortest month of the year. It’s weird. After the amount of planning that goes into a show (our own preparations for #EdFringe2015 began in 2014), it sometimes feels like you’ll never stop working on it.

However, 1st September sneaks up very quickly; it always seems premature (no matter how exhausted you or your company may be). This was certainly true this year. Despite having spent over a month rehearsing and performing in Scotland’s capital, we felt that we were interrupted mid-stride by the Fringe ending.

Promoting Foxfinder on the Royal Mile

Promoting Foxfinder on the Royal Mile

We’d had a hell of a month, though. Highs included receiving five-star reviews, climbing Arthur’s Seat, and our end-of-run party; lows involved some prop-based mishaps (our dead rabbits went missing in a smoking area one grizzly Wednesday evening), and being told to get a job while pitching the show on the Royal Mile. On a Tuesday morning. At 11am. By a man who wasn’t working either. And anyway, we were working extremely hard!

Foxfinder, with a running time of 90 minutes, is a big beast to perform, and we were competing with over 3,300 other shows for an audience.

Phil Jupitus lends a hand

Phil Jupitus lends a hand

In terms of generating audiences, though, we were fortunate to be working with an award-winning script already known to many; we had a strong base on which to build our production. We’re in no doubt that Foxfinder’s reputation was a great starting point for our marketing campaign, and contributed incalculably to the success of the production – as one reviewer stated, ‘The power of Dawn King’s script has already been recognised’. Putting our own stamp on it was another matter, but I think that,  ultimately, we succeeded.

The same reviewer went on, ‘theatre company Master of None add an exceptionally strong performance, and a haunting visual style. 5★’

– Hugo Nicholson, producer & cast member

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PentagonForever House by Glenn Waldron
Pentagon Theatre

Well, we are all done!

Twelve amazing performances later and we have to say goodbye to this wonderful city and an awesome festival! Both cast and crew have really enjoyed bringing Forever House to life, and the feedback we received, both in person and on social media, was fantastic! All the hours of rehearsals, the workshops, trips and expenses have been more than worth it. And a massive thank you to ‘Phil’ – whoever you are – for our first 5-star audience review!

Transporting the set for Forever House through Edinburgh

Transporting the set for Forever House through Edinburgh

A demanding show like this was bound to have the odd hiccup or two. Our particular favourite is probably having to carry our red sofa along the Royal Mile and across town to complete our get-in on time! It’s fair to say it attracted a few odd glances!

Furniture seemed to be a recurring issue throughout the process: the production team had to stop itself laughing when our cupboard decided to fall apart during one of the performances! So huge thanks must go to our production team – I honestly don’t know what we would have done without Roisin and Claire. Staying up until 3am every night, sticking reviews to flyers, cleaning the apartment, fixing cupboard doors… there was an endless list of jobs, and our team always had it covered.

Cast and crew with author Glenn Waldron

Cast and crew with author Glenn Waldron (centre)

Forever House is such a clever play, both in that it maintains a simple structure, and yet says a lot about what identity means to people and the importance of ‘belonging’. All the actors worked incredibly hard to bring something fresh and new to each performance, always coming to myself or Freddie (my co-director) to ask how they could improve or what they could work on individually. The beauty of this play is that the awkwardness of its characters comes across so naturally, and a lot of our audience feedback reflected how much work had been put in by all of our cast.

The playwright, Glenn Waldron, who was incredibly helpful throughout the process, was kind enough to come and see our final performance in Edinburgh. It was lovely to hear how much he enjoyed our interpretation of his play, and he took the time to congratulate everyone involved. Forever House is a play we remain very attached to, and we will be keeping our eyes peeled for Glenn’s upcoming work. Working with Pentagon Theatre has been an absolute joy, and it has been a pleasure to direct this little gem of a piece.

– James Bowen, co-director

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The writers discuss all aspects of playwriting, from the first moment of inspiration to the inevitable struggles with the blank page and, finally, to the moment it all takes shape on the stage. Presenter Tim Bano asks what it means to be a writer, and discusses the state of new writing in the UK.

The podcast features interviews with: Tom Basden, David Edgar, Tim Foley, Catriona Kerridge, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Dan Rebellato, Stef Smith, Jack Thorne and Steve Waters.

And don’t miss out on this special offer on books by some of the playwrights featured in the episode.

‘It’s not so much about the gift, but the graft’ – Lyndsey Winship on Being a Dancer

Winship, LyndseyIn her new book Being a Dancer, dance critic and arts journalist Lyndsey Winship shares invaluable advice and insight taken from exclusive interviews with twenty-five leading dancers and choreographers, including Carlos Acosta, Matthew Bourne, Darcey Bussell and Tamara Rojo. Here she reflects on her own personal love affair with dance, and what compiling the book has taught her…

As a kid, I loved to dance. I did it everywhere, all the time, in public, in private. I went to classes every week without fail, for over a decade: ballet, tap and modern.

Previously, if you’d asked me why I didn’t become a professional dancer, I’d probably have said: “I didn’t have the right body.” Ballet, in particular, is notoriously prescriptive about the necessary physique for success and I wouldn’t be the only one who found they didn’t have the genetic inheritance for the job.

But since putting together my book, Being a Dancer, my answer to that question has changed. Sure, I didn’t have the natural turnout or flexibility or proportions of a Darcey Bussell or a Sylvie Guillem. But the real reason I didn’t become a dancer is because I didn’t want it enough. I wasn’t willing to put dance ahead of everything else.

Darcey Bussell

Darcey Bussell, one of the contributors to Being a Dancer
Credit: Johan Persson / ArenaPAL

In the course of interviewing twenty-five successful dancers and choreographers for the book, and quizzing them about the ins and outs of their profession, from training to auditions to first nights, the abiding wisdom is that you’ll only make it as a dancer if you’re willing to dedicate yourself entirely to it. If you have to do it. If you can’t live without it. “It has to be like breathing,” Arlene Phillips told me. “I need to dance to breathe.”

Many of the dancers I spoke to were told at some point that they didn’t have the chops to make it professionally. But instead of meekly bowing their heads and hanging up their shoes, rejection only spurred them on further. Ballerina Melissa Hamilton, for example, when not accepted to the Royal Ballet School, took herself off to Greece for a year to train privately, then stormed her way to a gold medal at a major international ballet competition and straight into the Royal Ballet company. It’s that kind of single-minded tenacity that gets you on stage at the Opera House, not the fact of having beautifully arched feet.

I realise now that the real reason I didn’t become a professional dancer was because I didn’t work hard enough. I did my classes, yes, took my exams, but as Cassa Pancho, director of Ballet Black says, that’s not enough, because the physical demands of dance are so high and the competition so great. “If your leg doesn’t go high enough you need to do something about it,” she says. “Don’t wait for it to get up there – it’s not going to do that.” She recommends “floor barre, pilates, strength training, fitness training, endurance training, every day…” Say goodbye to your social life.

The discipline to work on the things you’re not good at is what marks out those who’ve made it to the top. Like West End choreographer Stephen Mear, a champion tap dancer as a teenager who turned up at dance school in London only to find he was bottom of the class at ballet and made himself do fourteen ballet classes a week until he was at the top. Fourteen classes a week! That’s a commitment most people don’t have.

Kenrick 'H20' Sandy, one of the contributors to Being a Dancer Credit: Francis Loney/ArenaPAL

Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy, one of the contributors to Being a Dancer
Credit: Francis Loney/ArenaPAL

So I didn’t become a dancer (although I still dance all the time in private, less frequently in public these days), but as a journalist and critic I now have a front row view on the professional dance world. I speak to dancers and choreographers often and it seemed like a good idea to ask some of them to share their experiences and advice for the next generation, hence Being a Dancer. There are scores of books of advice for actors, on training, technique and auditions, but hardly anything for dancers. So it seemed like it was time to rectify that.

The book was put together relatively quickly. I did the interviews over the course of  four months, grabbing people between rehearsals, sometimes for an hour over coffee, sometimes for a quick chat on the phone, grilling them about the big things – ambition, stardom, injury – and the little things – what snacks they eat, how they do their make-up, how they tie their ballet shoes, what time they go to bed. It was a huge transcribing job (every journalist hates transcription) but it was fascinating to listen back to everybody’s stories, all their very different paths to the stage, and their often differing views on the best route to success.

Dancers aren’t always asked for their opinions – that’s the result of it being a mute art form, I think – but the dancers and choreographers I spoke to for Being a Dancer were thoughtful, curious, driven people. Being a dancer at the highest level requires a unique combination of elite athleticism, military discipline, star charisma and artistic soul. But the main thing I learnt from compiling this book is that while some people might be born with talent, turning it into success is not so much about the gift, but the graft. Even if I’m too late for my own dancing career, that’s actually quite an inspirational idea.

Being a Dancer Being a Dancer: Advice from Dancers and Choreographers by Lyndsey Winship, featuring advice and insight from twenty-five leading dance professionals, is out now, published by Nick Hern Books.

‘Fascinating, insightful and highly readable, this is a book to add to your collection’ – Dancing Times

Read extracts from the book on the Guardian website.