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: www.dramaonlinelibrary.com/pages/how-to-subscribe.

‘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

Foxfinder Banner

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

You might also be interested in…

indexUncaused Effects: Playwrights on playwriting. In this podcast sponsored by Nick Hern Books, Exeunt Magazine talks to nine playwrights at various stages of their career and at different points of the writing process.

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.

Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part I: cutting it at the fringe

Taking a show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe can be daunting, exhausting, and about as financially sound as betting on the Chinese stock market. But it can also be a hugely rewarding experience for cast and crew, and even for audiences. Plus, if you’re really on top of your game, there’s a chance it might launch your career. In this first part of our Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015, four amateur companies performing plays licensed by Nick Hern Books give us a sneak preview as they prepare to take the plunge…

pp posterPassing Places by Stephen Greenhorn
Great Child Productions
Greenside at Nicholson Square, 10–15 August

A schizophrenic Motherwell gangster on a motorbike vs. two idiots in a Citroën Saxo en route to Thurso to flog a surfboard. Sounds ridiculous, huh? Well it has to be seen to be believed! Passing Places follows Alex and Brian on their journey through Scotland, meeting the real characters of Caledonia and beyond…

It’s truly the best play you could ever be involved in. I’m the show’s director and I still find it funny. Rehearsals have really differed from ones I’ve had in the past – we’ve improvised around the script and we’ve made lots of mistakes along the way, but it’s always been funny and fresh.

Passing Places by Stephen Greenhorn, performed by Great Child Productions

Passing Places by Stephen Greenhorn, performed by Great Child Productions

Despite the absurdity of the story and all the goofy action, it’s the characters that really stand out – and they’re brilliantly believable. Relationships are the real heart of the show, and Stephen Greenhorn has managed to make them genuinely touching. We’re a company of young adults so we feel a natural connection with the young characters in the play and their predicaments – and we’re looking forward to sharing that with audiences on the Fringe.

Plus, having a real car as part of the set is going to be exciting!

– Tom Sergeant, CEO of Great Child Productions

2015STRAWBE-ZR-300Strawberries in January by Evelyne de la Chenelière, in a version by Rona Munro
Gone Rogue Productions
C nova, 16–31 August

Strawberries in January seemed to us the perfect chance to stand out at the Fringe among the droves of dark, depressing student productions. Sitting just on the line between heartwarming and (dare I say it?) twee, Rona Munro’s adaptation of this brilliant romantic comedy has been a genuine joy to rehearse, and we hope that audiences feel the same way when they watch it in Edinburgh.

With a cast of just four (including me), plus a pair of directors, it means working together in a pretty intense way. It’s been a treat to be able to take the time to focus on details that might be missed in a larger-scale production. It’s had its challenges too – we’ve each got a lot of lines to learn, and I’d completely fallen out of the habit. Still, we’re getting there!

Strawberries in January by Evelyne de la Chenelière, in a version by Rona Munro, in rehearsal with Gone Rogue Productions

Strawberries in January by Evelyne de la Chenelière, in a version by Rona Munro, in rehearsal with Gone Rogue Productions

The show is completely driven by the characters’ relationships, so we’ve spent a lot of time workshopping and developing the all-important chemistry between us. We even played several rounds of the Newlywed Game in character to get to know each other’s characters better, and develop their relationships and the vocabulary they share.

We’ve just finished our preview season on campus, and audiences have told us they thoroughly enjoyed the show. Now we’re just tightening it up in a few places before we launch it on the Fringe!

– Caitlin Hobbs, co-producer and cast member

ff-posterprintresFoxfinder by Dawn King
Master of None
Bedlam Theatre, 5–30 August

“They want nothing more than our complete annihilation… Without Man, the Fox will rule.”

So states William Bloor, the Foxfinder after whom Dawn King’s dystopian parable takes its name. Reading the play for the first time, it was the impact of lines like these that made the play so irresistibly compelling. Replace ‘the Fox’ with any number of other supposed national threats within our own society, and the statement becomes an eerily familiar sentiment; one that could perhaps have been uttered by certain members of our own political class. Combine this parallel with the recent prospect of a repeal of the Hunting Act, and Foxfinder, along with the world of fear, blame and suspicion it presents, feels more relevant and exciting than ever.

As we would soon discover, this play is a big beast! However, we all recognised that staging it would be a worthwhile challenge, and as such our rehearsal process came in two distinct legs, separated by 4 weeks, 400 miles and 1 national border.

Foxfinder by Dawn King, in rehearsal with Master of None

Foxfinder by Dawn King, in rehearsal with Master of None

Our rehearsals began in London in June, when our main focus was to create a shared sense of what the England of Foxfinder is actually like. We were helped in this by considering dystopian civilizations within other works of fiction, such as Orwell’s 1984, along with comparably despotic and ideologically zealous regimes throughout history, such as those of Stalin’s Russia and modern-day North Korea.

However, the real crafting of the play’s action began in Edinburgh, two weeks before the Fringe began. We were able to rehearse at our venue, Bedlam Theatre, where it was full steam ahead with scene work, blocking and tweaking of characterisation. All the different elements of our production started to combine – our actors, original score, hand-crafted set and lighting design – as we sought to create the tense, paranoid and claustrophobic atmosphere of the play, and prepare ourselves for the month to come!

– Hugo Nicholson & Alexander Stutt, cast members

PentagonForever House by Glenn Waldron
Pentagon Theatre
Greenside @ Infirmary Street, 17–29 August

Pentagon Theatre is a theatre company based in the South West, so Glenn Waldron’s Forever House – which is set in Plymouth – seemed a natural choice for us. And it’s a fantastic, pitch-black comedy full of twists and turns, about three different sets of characters who unearth buried secrets just as they try to negotiate a fresh start to their lives. We’re very excited to be bringing the play up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe!

We had an intense first four weeks getting the piece ready for Arts on The Move Festival in Exeter back in June. The performances took place in Poltimore House, a disused stately home and grounds which provided the perfect backdrop for our first showing of the play. As I write this, we are busy getting ready for our second round of performances, at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London on 29 July.

Screenshot (4)

Forever House by Glenn Waldron – a visit to the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth, with Pentagon Theatre

Our favourite part of the preparations so far has been visiting some of the play’s locations in Plymouth, including the amazing Aquarium. It really helped the cast get a feel for the play’s natural setting. The excitement is definitely building now for Edinburgh. Many of our team have never performed at the Fringe before, so this is an amazing experience for them and we can’t wait to get up there and get started!

– James Bowen, director

Pentagon Theatre perform Forever House by Glenn Waldron

Pentagon Theatre perform Forever House by Glenn Waldron


1143114837LOGO_ORANGE[1]Look out for Part II of our Edinburgh Fringe Report next month, when we find out how our four companies fared on the Fringe.

And don’t forget to check out the exciting new plays we’re publishing alongside their Edinburgh premieres this year. Click here for all the details, plus a special discount code you can use to buy any of the playtexts.

Edinburgh Fringe 2015_website banner

See you in Edinburgh!

Louise Dearman and Mark Evans on their Secrets of Stage Success


Louise Dearman (Wicked, Cats, Evita) and Mark Evans (Ghost, The Book of Mormon) are two of the biggest musical-theatre stars working today. As they launch their new book Secrets of Stage Success – answering all your questions on how to follow in their footsteps – they recall some key moments in their glittering careers…

Mark headshotI remember exactly how I felt the moment I was about to step foot on stage for the first live show of Eurovision: Your Country Needs You back in 2009. This was a reality TV programme on primetime BBC One, in which Andrew Lloyd Webber and the BBC were searching for the UK’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest to be held in Moscow later that year. I had gone through the audition process, and was offered a place in the final six acts that would perform live on television. Eurovision has a bit of a stigma attached to it, and the UK had experienced many years of doing very badly in the contest, so my agent and I had to consider if performing on the programme would be a wise move for me. We decided that no matter what the outcome, getting the national exposure on TV was a great opportunity – providing I did a good job on every live show.

So I really felt the pressure before the first Saturday night broadcast. I still clearly remember it was 10 January 2009, and a lot of my family had come down to the studio in London to support me. The atmosphere backstage was so tense, it would have been so easy to let the pressure get to me. I was standing with the other five acts backstage, and could hear the floor manager counting down: ‘Going live in 5, 4, 3, 2… here we go.’ Presenter Graham Norton’s voice boomed around the studio with a pre-recorded introduction, whilst the monitors, which showed what was being broadcast to the TV audience across the UK, played a montage of the audition process. The voice-over explained how six acts had been selected and how ‘Tonight is the night that you at home decide who stays and who will be the first act to go.’ Then the show’s opening music and titles were played really loud – and my adrenalin was pumping. Here I was, about to be on TV as myself, which is so different to what I was used to as an actor playing a character, live in front of seven million viewers. The show cut to Graham in the studio, introducing the acts one by one, and about five seconds before he called my name, I caught a glimpse of my family and friends in the audience, each wearing identical ‘Vote for Mark’ T-shirts and holding banners plastered with ‘Good Luck, Mark!’ and photos of my young nieces. In that split second, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of being totally supported, and I filled to the brim with determination. I went out there and had one of the best nights of my life.

Lou headshotMy career has been a gentle but steady climb up the ladder of success. I have been in the ensemble, I have been a swing, I’ve understudied roles, played small roles in large productions, and big roles in small productions – but my ultimate aim was to play a lead role in a big West End musical.

I was playing Cinderella in pantomime in Milton Keynes, and one day between shows I was getting a bite to eat in the shopping centre when my agent called me:

‘Hello, darling. What are you up to?’

‘Just between shows, grabbing food, why?’

‘How would you feel about playing Galinda in Wicked?’

‘Aaaaaaaaaaaargh! You’re joking!!’

Then followed tears of joy, and a lot of screaming. To be offered such a fantastic role in one of the biggest musicals in the world was an overwhelming experience. I skipped onto stage as Cinderella that evening!

Wicked was a career-changing experience for me, and one I’ll always remember and appreciate. Of course, returning to the show, this time playing Elphaba, was equally thrilling and in many ways even more so. Whilst playing Galinda, I would often wonder what it would be like to trade roles and defy gravity just once – but I never in a million years thought it would actually become a reality. Ten months after leaving the show I was at home one evening and received a call from Petra Siniawski, Wicked’s Associate Director in the West End. She told me that they had been auditioning all week and after a long day, the panel were chatting and my name popped up: ‘Why isn’t Lou being seen for Elphaba?’

The Wicked creative team had got to know me very well in the two years I had worked with them; they had seen my numerous concerts outside of the show; and they thought I was more than capable of playing Elphaba. Additionally, it would be an incredibly exciting cast announcement: never before had an actress played the roles of both Galinda and Elphaba. I had a long chat with Petra and agreed to go in the next day to audition. I was terrified as I felt there was such a lot riding on this; the team I respected so much had put their faith in me and I had to deliver!

The audition went very well and a couple of weeks later I got the call from my agent who said, ‘Are you sitting down, Lou? They want you to play the green girl!’ I remember walking out of my front door onto the green outside my house in pure shock! It was happening, I was going to play Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West! That moment will stay with me for ever. I have the creative team of Wicked in London to thank for being so open-minded and thinking outside of the box. The show raised my profile and has opened so many doors. And I have the most wonderful group of fans from doing the show, who support me in everything I do.Galinda white bubbles

What should I do when things go wrong during a performance?

Unfortunately, there is not much advice to give for when things go wrong on stage. It will usually involve involuntary freezing and forgetting the English language or any sense of normal human behaviour at all. Both of us have made numerous mistakes on stage: we’ve made up lines of the script when we blanked, made random sounds that are more like animal cries, completely fallen over on stage and struggled to get back up, which reminds us of a time we worked together in Wicked

Mark headshotI was Fiyero, opposite Louise as Galinda, in the opening scene of Act Two, where pretty much the entire company are on stage as the citizens of Oz, looking to Galinda the Good for reassurances about their safety against Elphaba. Fiyero gets frustrated because none of what is being said about Elphaba is true, so he storms off the podium centre stage, and heads downstage-right for a quiet, emotional scene with Galinda.

So there we are, me and Louise, acting the scene (beautifully, even if we do say so ourselves!), and then I turned to do Fiyero’s dramatic exit, which involved running up some narrow stairs and continuing offstage. Off I went, missed my footing, tripped on a step, and landed in the full splits on the staircase. I struggled to stand up, pulling off bits of the leaves and branches from the scenery to help me, and when I finally managed to get to my feet, I just dropped my head down in shame and continued to run offstage. Two‑thirds of the audience were laughing out loud, and the entire company were trying not to lose it altogether.

Lou headshotI was left at the bottom of the staircase, looking up at where it had happened, desperately trying not to burst into laughter. Then I had to look at the company, who were all grinning at me like lunatics, and finish a very emotional part of the scene. When I got offstage, Mark and I fell about, laughing until our stomachs hurt, and almost missing our next entrance. It remains one of the highlights of my career.

The thing is, mistakes happen and that’s the joy of live theatre. It’s not like performing brain surgery where every single thing you do is a life-or-death situation. If you forget your lyrics or make a mistake, keep calm. It will somehow resolve itself, usually by trusting your instincts and getting yourself out of it – but at the end of the day, it’s just a show. The audience are unlikely to notice, and if they do (like in the case of Mark’s impromptu splits) then they love the fact they’ve seen something totally live, utterly unplanned and unique.

Wicked Funny

Mark headshotIt was such a big deal for me to head over to North America to perform in the touring production of The Book of Mormon – not just getting the role (though that was a big deal, of course), but the fact of living and working on the other side of the world, away from my entire support system: my family, friends, flatmate, agent, manager, doctor, osteopath, accountant, postman, window cleaner, bin man and the cat next door… It really did seem like I was kissing goodbye to so many things in my life, which was heightened because I was going to be in a touring show. A tour of that scale is like living in a bubble, and I’d be performing one of the most demanding roles in musical theatre, surrounded by a group of strangers I’d never met, for seven months. Little did I know that I’d end up being in the show for eighteen months, having an amazing time and visiting some incredible places.

I spent four weeks in San Francisco, rehearsing two or three afternoons a week, in advance of joining the existing company for the final five shows in that glorious city. The rest of the time I spent feeling anxious about whether I’d be able to survive the gruelling task ahead of me. I had many panic attacks and suffered really badly with anxiety and loneliness, to the point where I made myself sick with worry and developed a viral infection which left me in bed for seven days, completely helpless and feeling sorry for myself. I was in such a low place late one night that I called my agent, saying that if I didn’t feel better in a few days’ time I wanted him to get me out of the job and have me sent home. It was that extreme! Of course he calmed me down and helped me to deal with the pressure, as he’s such an incredible agent and friend.

Elder Price white bitsOur first performance was three days after Christmas Day 2012. We had our final rehearsal earlier that day with Trey Parker, one of the writers and directors of the show (and of course co-creator of the hugely successful animated TV show, South Park), and that night was my American debut, as Elder Price. The first Broadway show I ever saw was Next to Normal at the Booth Theatre, New York, in February 2010, and I remember promising myself that one day I’d be in a Playbill (the free theatre programmes given away at productions in the US). Now here I was, just two years later, leading a company of extremely talented performers. I felt so proud that all my anxiety disappeared and I was left with a healthy amount of nerves and excitement, ready to get on that stage and enjoy every second of a very special night.

Lou headshotSometimes something exciting comes along at exactly the right moment. One afternoon, when I was feeling pretty low because my tour had been postponed for reasons beyond my control, my manager telephoned.

‘Do you know the National Anthem?’ she asked.

‘Yes, of course. Why?!’

She explained that I had been invited to sing it before the Capitol One Cup Final – at Wembley Stadium, in front of 90,000 football fans, and millions more watching at home on TV! I thought she was joking at first, but she wasn’t.

On match day, I had a short rehearsal in the afternoon and then had to go to my dressing room and wait to be collected and taken to the pitch. I don’t remember feeling nervous as I was getting ready, just very excited, but when it was my time to go and sing, and I walked towards the pitch, I heard the immense wall of sound coming from the football supporters. I’ve never heard anything like it; it was almost primal and the sound literally went through me, my heart was racing!

What if I got the words wrong? What if I couldn’t hear the backing track I was singing along to? What if I passed out?! I’ve never been so irrationally nervous. I was taken by the arm and led to the edge of the hallowed turf, I waited for a nod from the woman looking after me and off I went. The fans cheered, the music started and everyone sang along.

It was the most thrilling, terrifying, overwhelming experience of my life – and something I’d love to do again one day.

FormattedSecrets of Stage Success by Louise Dearman and Mark Evans is out now, published by Nick Hern Books.

Get a free, exclusive A3 poster when you buy the book from the Nick Hern Books website, while stocks last.

Watch Louise and Mark introduce their book on YouTube.

Illustrations by Mark Manley, www.markmanley.co.uk. Authors photo by Mark Yeoman.

Girls centre stage: Lucy Kerbel on building a new canon of writing for young actors

Good roles for young female actors are in short supply, so Tonic Theatre set out to change that by commissioning a series of new plays with mainly or entirely female casts for schools and youth theatre groups to perform. As the first three plays in the Platform series are published by Nick Hern Books and made available for performance, Tonic’s Lucy Kerbel explains why things have to change, and how you can get involved…

Commissioning and publishing a range of new plays for young actors which put girls and their stories centre stage is something I have wanted to do for a long time and, since Tonic Theatre was formed in 2011, it is an idea I have been looking to get off the ground. Tonic exists to support UK theatre to achieve greater gender equality in its workforces and its repertoires; essentially our mission is to catalyse a culture-shift in how theatre thinks and works, so that talented women are given the same levels of support and opportunity as talented men.

While it has pretty big aspirations, Tonic is a tiny organisation; we have one-and-a-bit members of staff, no core funding, and a very modest financial turnover. Because we have such limited funds and capacity, we have to use these wisely and consequently are extremely strategic about where we target our efforts. I spend much time looking to identify ‘pressure points’ – places where, with a bit of work, a far bigger ripple effect can be achieved. For this reason, much of our work to date has been focused on partnerships with some of the largest organisations in the country, because if they change, others will follow. But youth drama has always been clear to me as one of the greatest pressure points of all. It is the engine room of the theatre industry; tomorrow’s theatre-makers (not to mention audience members) are to be found today in youth-theatre groups, university drama societies and school drama clubs all over the country.

The Light Burns Blue by Silva Semerciyan

The Light Burns Blue by Silva Semerciyan

If we can challenge their assumptions about the role of women’s stories, voices, and ideas in drama, then change in the profession – in time – will be immeasurably easier to achieve.

Beyond this strategic interest in youth drama, I was convinced that girls were getting a raw deal and I found that troubling. Having worked previously as a youth-theatre director, I was familiar with the regular challenge of trying to find scripts that had adequate numbers of female roles for all the committed and talented girls that wanted to take part. In nearly all the various youth-drama groups I worked in across a five-year period, there were significantly more girls than boys. However, when it came to finding big-cast, age-appropriate plays for them to work on, I was constantly frustrated by how few there seemed to be that provided enough opportunity for the girls, its most loyal and committed participants. When looking at contemporary new writing for young actors to perform, one could be mistaken for thinking that youth drama was a predominantly male pursuit, rather than the other way round.

Second Person Narrative by Jemma Kennedy

Second Person Narrative by Jemma Kennedy

Aside from the practicalities of matching the number of roles to the number of girls in any one drama group, the nature of writing for female characters was something I struggled to get excited about. While there were some notable examples, often the writing for female characters seemed somewhat lacklustre. They tended to be characters at the periphery of the action rather than its heart, with far less to say and do than their male counterparts, and with a tendency towards being one‑dimensional, rather than complex or vibrant, funny or surprising. Why was it that in the twenty-first century the quality as well as the quantity of roles being written for girls still seemed to lag behind those for boys so demonstrably?

Keen to check I wasn’t just imagining this imbalance, Tonic conducted a nationwide research study looking into opportunities for girls in youth drama, focusing on the quantity and quality of roles available to them. The research was written up into a report, Swimming in the shallow end, and is published on the Tonic Theatre website. Not only did the research confirm my worst fears – more depressingly, it exceeded them. While many of the research participants were vocal about the social, artistic and emotional benefits that participation in youth-drama productions can have on a young person’s life, so too were they – to quote the report – on ‘the erosion to self-esteem, confidence and aspiration when these opportunities are repeatedly held out of reach… [and] for too many girls, this is the case’.

But despite the doom and gloom of the research findings, there remained an exciting proposition; to write stories that weren’t currently being put on stage, and to foreground – rather than ignore – the experiences, achievements and world-view of young women, perhaps the group above all others in British society whose situation has altered so dramatically and excitingly over the past hundred or so years. Tonic commissioned writers I was most fascinated to see respond to the brief set to them: a large-cast play written specifically for performance by young actors, with mainly or entirely female casts and in which the female characters should be no less complex or challenging than the male characters. I asked them to write in such a way that these plays could be performed by young people anywhere in the country, and that there should be scope for every school, college and youth-theatre group performing the play to make a production their own.

This Changes Everything by Joel Horwood

This Changes Everything by Joel Horwood

At Tonic our hope is that the first Platform plays – The Light Burns Blue by Silva Semerciyan, Second Person Narrative by Jemma Kennedy and This Changes Everything by Joel Horwood – will be just the beginning of a longer trajectory of work for us. Although it entails further fundraising mountains to climb, we plan to commission and publish more plays over future years. Our aspiration is that over time Platform will become a new canon of writing for young actors and one that puts girls and their lives centre stage. I dearly hope that they will be taken up by groups all over the country and performed for many years to come.

‘Drama is an important tool for building confidence and empowering young people. Platform will give girls opportunity to access these benefits as much as their male counterparts.’ – Moira Buffini

A few words from NHB’s Performing Rights Manager, Tamara von Werthern…

Tamara von Werthern

We’re incredibly proud and excited to be supporting Tonic Theatre’s important work in addressing gender inequality in the theatre. I’m sure these plays will be picked up and performed by youth theatres, schools and drama clubs across the country, as they really do address an urgent need for more good parts for young women. I’ve been asked so many times to recommend plays that offer young women strong roles, and it’s wonderful that now we can start licensing three new plays that fit the bill exactly. I urge everyone who works with youth theatre or teaches drama at a school to pick up these plays and give them a go!”

All three Platform plays – The Light Burns Blue by Silva Semerciyan, Second Person Narrative by Jemma Kennedy and This Changes Everything by Joel Horwood – are published on 11 June 2015 by Nick Hern Books.

Buying from an educational institution or youth group? You can get all three Platform plays at a special discount price – head to the Platform website for more information.

The plays are all available immediately for amateur performance. To apply for performing rights, visit the Nick Hern Books Plays to Perform website or contact our Performing Rights Department.

For more information about Tonic Theatre, visit www.tonictheatre.co.uk.

Lucy Kerbel photograph by Slav Kirichok