Spotlight: THE PRIDE at Crucible Studio, Sheffield

Alexi Kaye CampbellAlexi Kaye Campbell’s award-winning debut play received its regional premiere this week at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio Theatre, following its sell-out world premiere at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 2008, and subsequent off-Broadway production. Directed by actor and director Richard Wilson, the production has been praised as ‘a brave and rewarding drama that speaks to us all’ (Guardian), ‘beautiful, hopeful’ (WhatsOnStage.com) and a ‘sharp, funny and deeply affecting debut play’ (Telegraph). Exclusively for the NHB blog, Alexi tells us about the experience of reviving The Pride, and using his considerable experience as an actor in his writing…

The Pride was your debut play and won multiple awards after it premiered at the Royal Court in 2008 – can you tell us what first inspired you to write it?

 I suppose the starting point was wanting to explore what it meant to be gay in two very different eras on each side of the sexual revolution and to compare and contrast them. I started thinking a lot about the seismic social and cultural changes that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s and especially how those changes influenced gay identity. But once I began to do that I began to realise that in many ways what existed today seemed to be a quite extreme response to what had gone before: from the covert to the overt, from the implicit to the explicit, from everything being subtext to everything being overstated, from a state of being repressed to a state of taking everything for granted. And so I began to not only compare the two different periods but to try and identify connections and also explore some sense of inheritance – of how one generation receives a sense of self from a previous one and then has to struggle to  throw it off and find its own. Finally I suppose there was a part of me that wanted to pay homage to the people who had brought on those big changes by remembering what it was that they had to fight: the hypocrisy, the hatred, the oppression. That was an important part of it.

Daniel Evans in rehearsals for THE PRIDE

Daniel Evans (Oliver). Photos Robert Day

How would you describe the play for people who haven’t read or seen it?

I think The Pride is really a play about characters trying to discover something about the forces that drive them. And to put it simply, a love story.

Do you imagine the play’s themes still holding relevance to audiences in decades to come?

I really don’t know. I suppose you always hope that what you have written is honest and human and that its qualities will travel beyond your own time but I can’t say I spend too much time thinking about that. If people in my own time are moved or affected by it, that’s good enough for me.

You are also an actor, and have acted for companies including the RSC, Shared Experience and Chichester Festival – what made you decide to turn to playwriting?

Honestly,  it was the frustration. I had always written bits and pieces but had spent all my professional life focussing on the acting and then it got to the point when I simply wasn’t fulfilled enough. Unfortunately, unless an actor is very successful he or she will end up spending quite a bit of the time either being out of work or often doing jobs which don’t quite tick all the boxes as it were. And so I sat down and wrote my first play. And it was when I completed it that all my excuses ran out and I knew that this was what I was meant to be doing. It just felt right. If nothing else I was  suddenly too caught up in it all  to spend the time wondering if the phone was going to ring with news of an audition.

Claire Price in rehearsal for The Pride

Claire Price (Sylvia). Photos Robert Day

Do you feel your acting experience has helped your writing?

Completely and absolutely. It’s no surprise that it is a common trajectory, from actor to playwright. Both are storytellers who put themselves in other people’s shoes. And I spent a good fifteen years as an actor learning all about plays: character, plot, dialogue, drama.  It was reassuring to know that all my time as an actor – the good and bad experiences – had been informing my work as a writer.

The Pride toured to the off-Broadway theatre MCC following its debut at the Royal Court, London, in 2008 – did you find any particular differences between the audiences’ reactions to the play?

New York audiences were great. I was worried about some of the comedy falling flat but it was the opposite – if anything, they took to it even more than the London audiences. For the most part I found them very engaged and generous.

What is it like having the prolific actor and director Richard Wilson direct this new production? And how important is it to you who directs your plays?

Richard is very open and trusting and he allows the play and the actors to discover things without imposing them. He seems to be quite back-footed and then you realise that what he is doing is helping everything to develop organically. He suggests, coaxes, invites  – and the directors who do that are the ones who get the best results, I think, because they understand how collective the whole creative experience is in a rehearsal room. It’s been a pleasure to work with him. I have been very, very spoilt with the directors of my plays so far – Jamie Lloyd, Joe Mantello, Josie Rourke and Richard Wilson – so luckily I haven’t had a bad experience. But getting on with the person who is directing your play is paramount. The trust is all.

Jame Sives in rehearsal for THE PRIDE

Jamie Sives (Phillip). Photos Robert Day

Your new play – The Faith Machine (also to be published by NHB) – will premiere at the Royal Court this summer directed by Jamie Lloyd. Can you tell us a little about it?

I’m thrilled to be working with Jamie again and we have an exceptional cast so I’m very excited. The Faith Machine sometimes feels like the third play in a trilogy following The Pride and Apologia in that all three plays share inheritance as their common theme, but maybe I only say that because I quite fancy saying I’ve written a trilogy! Really it’s a play about the death of religion and about the void that  death leaves behind it  and exploring if there is anything at all that can fill it. . But that all sounds rather boring and worthy so I better add it has a few laughs in it. At least I hope it does, we’ll find out.

TICKET GIVEAWAY!

The Pride is an emotionally charged play about love and relationships set in two different eras. It tells the story of Philip, Oliver and Sylvia and imagines their lives in two different time periods. In 1958, Philip is married to Sylvia, but is secretly in love with Oliver. In 2008, Oliver and Philip are together, but struggling with Oliver’s infidelity, whilst Sylvia is liberated – single and pursuing her dreams.

The Pride play text

The Pride (NHB £8.99)

To enter our competition for the chance to win 2 tickets for the performance on 14th July (Crucible Studio, 7.30pm) answer the following question:

THE PLAY IS SET IN WHICH TWO YEARS?

Send your answer, name and address to sasha@nickhernbooks.demon.co.uk by Friday 8th July (4pm).

To book tickets for another performance click here.

Nick Hern Books proudly publish The Pride playscript. To purchase your copy with a 10% discount and free P&P (RRP £8.99, UK customers only) click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout.

Spotlight: HUNDREDS AND THOUSANDS at Soho Theatre

Lou Ramsden - author of Hundreds and ThousandsThis month NHB publishes Lou Ramsden’s Hundreds and Thousands, the follow-up play to her critically acclaimed debut Breed (2010), for which she was shortlisted for the Critics’ Circle Most Promising Playwright Award. Here, exclusively for the NHB blog, Lou spills the beans on what it’s like for a playwright in those final days leading up to opening night, and answers the big question – when is a play actually ‘finished’?

Last year I wrote a play called Breed, staged at Theatre503 in September. It was a story about parenting, and sometime during late-night redrafting I changed my Facebook status to :

I’m writing a play about a baby, and starting to get a tiny hint of what it might be like to have one : sleepless nights… endless changes… and general anguish at the thought of handing it over to someone else…’.

Cue lots of annoyed remarks from my friends with babies (sorry, friends with babies). And of course they’re right – writing a play is nothing like having a kid. But now, preparing for my second production – Hundreds and Thousands at Soho Theatre Upstairs – I’m starting to remember why I made the comment. As one mate pointed out, your play is never going to vomit fish pie down you in the middle of playgroup. But still, some of the thoughts and emotions it throws up have got to be similar: trepidation; excitement; pride. And a big question mark over when and how it’ll finally come of age. Because – when is a play actually finished?

On the first day of rehearsals, maybe? We started rehearsing Hundreds and Thousands at the end of May, under the guiding hand of director Lisa Spirling. Our initial read-through was very nerve-wracking but exciting, and in the following days we began to pick apart the play, discussing every scene in detail. And….I discovered that it wasn’t actually finished, quite yet. Actors’ questions highlighted moments that need clarifying. Hearing it aloud made me realise that some bits could be slimmed down. So I made changes; felt good about them; felt almost finished, but then…

Stuart Laing (Allan), Sukie Smith (Lorna) and Robert Wilfort (Jonathan) in Hundreds and Thousands

Stuart Laing (Allan), Sukie Smith (Lorna) and Robert Wilfort (Jonathan). Photo by Graham Michael

The actors got on their feet. The space was marked out in the rehearsal room, and Lisa began blocking the action. And that’s when you really start to understand the physicality of the piece. How many lines characters will need to travel from A to B. Why that character can’t be locking that door at that point. Some of the stage directions I’d written disappeared, new ones were added for clarity. Got to be nearly finished now. But then…

We get into the space. Tech it, dress it, and previews start. As I write this, we’re in our first few nights of a preview week, and I’m watching as the play takes baby steps in front of its first proper audiences. We’ll see what people will laugh at. Where the action flies and where it needs to speed up. I’m making cuts, honing, and talking to Lisa about aspects of the performances.

And it’s just about now that I really realise – perhaps a play never, totally, comes of age. Because it’s an audience that ‘finishes’ it, isn’t it? Their presence, and reactions. And they’re different every night, so the play changes every night, so…

Perhaps ‘finished’ is the wrong word, then. The wrong feeling to be aiming at. What writers should really hope for is that, as their play grows up, it keeps good company – it finds people who understand it and care about it. And I’ve been incredibly lucky to get that with Hundreds and Thousands. I’m part of a creative team who are all amazing at what they do, have got a real passion for the play, and are just as excited about seeing it in print as I am.

Nadine Lewington (Tiggy) in Hundreds & Thousands

Nadine Lewington (Tiggy). Photo by Graham Michael

Ironically, Hundreds and Thousands’ central character, Lorna, craves children. After a rocky childhood herself, she longs for the chance to build something better in the future, and she pursues her dream ruthlessly. It’s a play about the dark-hearted selfishness which I think we’re all, sometimes, in danger of giving in to. But in the rehearsal room we’ve discovered lots of humour too, and realised that it’s also a story about the things that are best in people – determination, devotion, and love. I’m working with a team who have all those – and that’s the best cure that I’ve found for playwrighting’s sleepless nights.

Buckle For Dust theatre company in association with English Touring Theatre present Hundreds and Thousands – premiering this month at Soho Theatre, London (21 June – 16 July 2011). Special Ticket Offer: tickets only £10 (usually £12.50 -£15), valid for all performances (subject to availability). To book call the Soho Theatre Box Office – Tel: 020 7478 0100 and quote ‘HOT TICKETS’, or visit http://www.sohotheatre.com and enter promo code ‘HOTTICKETS’ at checkout.Hundreds and Thousands programme text

Nick Hern Books proudly publish the playscript alongside the debut production at Soho Theatre. To purchase your copy with a 10% discount and free P&P (RRP £9.99, UK customers only) click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout.

Spotlight: LONDON VIA LAGOS – a festival of vibrant new plays linking Nigeria and the UK, at Oval House Theatre

London Via Lagos festival logoThe London via Lagos festival at Oval House Theatre in Kennington, running until 10 July, celebrates contemporary British Nigerian playwriting with two exciting new plays by Arinze Kene and Lydia Adetunji. Here, exclusively for the NHB blog, the authors tell us about what inspired them, and how they went about writing their plays.

Arinze Kene: on Little Baby Jesus

I would describe Little Baby Jesus as an original narrative through the eyes of ‘young London’. It’s about three inner-city teenagers. It has three separate timelines, which all start to intertwine and come together as we discover our three main characters have a lot more in common than was originally apparent.Little Baby Jesus jacket

‘Identity’ was a big theme that kept coming up in the rehearsal room – ‘identity’ and ‘individuality’. All the characters in the play are struggling to find themselves. By the end of the play, they are very different people from when they started out on their journey.

For me, growing up was all a battle between who I was inside and who I thought I should be – in order to fit in. It went from the trainers I wore right down to the type of girls I was meant to fancy (In Little Baby Jesus, in Kehinde’s case, it’s mixed-race girls, or ‘mixed-race-girl syndrome’). I dumbed myself down a lot to fit in, and don’t believe I gave up the front until after my teens – luckily there was still enough ‘me’ left to salvage.

Here’s a line that came up in rehearsal on ‘not being yourself’: you can front all you want but eventually you’ll crash and burn’.

Akemnji Ndifernyen (Rugrat)

Akemnji Ndifernyen (Rugrat) in rehearsal for Little Baby Jesus. Photo by Robert Day

So Little Baby Jesus looks at the inciting incidents which force our characters to grow up and not shy away from being themselves.

The idea for the play first originated as a poem in 2006, before I began writing plays. It’s inspired by a school trip, a pilgrimage that I went on when I was 14. We were on a long ‘religious walk’ (a compulsory outing at my Roman Catholic secondary school) and I and my two friends got lost. I always wanted to write about it and firstly it came out as a RAP (Rhythm And Poetry) – “lost on a pilgrimage, yet attaining the virtues of a pilgrim”. Then, in 2009, I was assisting with a workshop at the Young Vic, working with youths from pupil referral units, and the consistencies of the workshop disturbed the “quicksand part of my mind” and the idea came to the surface. Every evening after the workshop, I’d walk to the South Bank and write for about three hours, then get home and scribe for another two. It literally poured out of me. I had things I was meant to be doing but I was a slave to the idea. In the summer of 2010 I went to Paris for a week to finish writing the play (I ♥ Paris). I’d sit outside a café and spend 30 minutes people watching, then 10 minutes writing – repeating this all day for a week. In the evenings, I’d go out to a hip hop club, or have drinks with friends – just so’s I could detach myself from it and come back fresh the next day with a new look. I finished writing it in Paris, but it went through some more drafts after that.

Seroca Davis (Joanne) & Fiston Barek (Kehinde) in rehearsals for Little Baby Jesus

Seroca Davis (Joanne) & Fiston Barek (Kehinde). Photo by Robert Day

Before I wrote plays I was into live music. I still am. Music is my first love and is an inspiration behind a lot of my ideas. There’s often something light playing in the background while I’m writing. I love listening to Terence Blanchard or Tania Maria when I’m writing dialogue. I feel like my writing is poetic and rhythmic because of this. I also listen to a lot of hip hop and love the wordplay. I read Langston Hughes poems over and over again. I’m also a fan of A. Van Jordan. I think this is what gives me my edge.

I would say that this is the first thing I’ve written that I really love through and through. It’s so inspired by things that I went through when I was growing up that certain parts make me feel uncomfortable and others will never stop making me laugh. I’m happy to share these ‘inside jokes’ and such.

Fixer image by Chris Hondros

'Fixer' – photo by Chris Hondros, photojournalist, 14 March 1970 – 20 April 2011.

Lydia Adetunji: on Fixer

The central character in Fixer is Chuks, a Nigerian man who works as a go-between for foreign journalists who come to the country in search of a story. At the start of the play, a militant group has attacked a new oil pipeline, and Chuks becomes entangled in the competing demands of the militants and the reporters who are there to cover the story. It’s about Chuks’ personal dilemma, but takes in themes like corruption and how far people will go to compromise their principles.

Fixer started as a short play that won the Almeida Theatre’s WRITE competition in 2006, when it was not much more than a few scenes where a couple of journalists try to buy up a fixer. That evolved into something that brought together various interests – I’d spent time in Nigeria as a child and wanted to explore the struggles of everyday life there. And having worked in journalism I was interested in the role of fixers in getting news stories. An early version of Fixer played at the HighTide theatre festival in 2008, and since then the emphasis of the play has shifted more strongly onto Chuks and his dilemma.

My years working as a journalist have definitely shaped the way I work, which tends to be quite research intensive. But it has also influenced the themes I gravitate to – those points where cultures collide in an increasingly globalised world, and why systems work the way they do. I think many of the ideas in Fixer have significance beyond Nigeria – it explores how people are buffeted by interconnected forces far outside their control. But drama and characters come first, and I do want the audience to be entertained as well as stimulated. Fixer jacket

Oval House Theatre, BEcreative and Spora Stories present London Via Lagos – a festival of new British-Nigerian plays, celebrating the work of African-heritage, UK-based, world-class playwrights. Little Baby Jesus is playing to 15 June, and Fixer from 21 June – 10 July at Oval House, south London. For 2-for-1 tickets to see Fixer between 24 – 30 June, use the promotional code JOURNALIST when booking online or by phone (Tel: 020 7582 7680) through the venue.

Nick Hern Books proudly publish the playscript for Arinze Kene’s Little Baby Jesus and Lydia Adetunji’s Fixer. To purchase your copies with free P&P (UK customers only) click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout.

And for the chance to win a pair of tickets to see one of the plays, enter our May 2011 newsletter competition by clicking here!