Edinburgh Fringe Report 2017: Amateur companies taking on the Fringe

In our annual Edinburgh Fringe Report, we take a look at how amateur theatre companies fare on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where they’re in competition for audiences and ratings with more than 50,000 other performances taking place across the city over the month of August. And this year, the 70th anniversary of the Festival Fringe, the competion was fiercer than ever. How did four intrepid amateur companies get on performing plays licensed by Nick Hern Books – and what are their Top Tips for companies wanting to follow in their footsteps?

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, in a version by Stuart Paterson
Performed by  Aquila (Eagle House School, Berkshire, and Cargilfield School, Edinburgh) at SpaceTriplex

We chose Stuart Paterson’s adaptation of The Jungle Book because it had all the right elements for us.  It’s an ensemble piece that allowed our cast of twenty (age 11-14)  to take on various roles.  The show can be staged simply, is well known (important as it helps to get a few extra people through the door!) and uses a lot of Kipling’s beautiful, resonant language.

We decided to set the piece in an urban jungle, using lots of ladders as the basis of the set. We opted for simple costumes, with performers wearing T-shirts printed with animal symbols denoting their characters.

We’ve taken shows to the Fringe before, but 2017 was a special year for us as we combined with Cargilfield School in Edinburgh to put the show on. It meant that rehearsing it was logistically challenging, but it could not have gone better. We were delighted with its reception.  We sold more than 500 tickets and our last performance was a sellout.  The audiences were very appreciative and we got a good review as well.  Edinburgh was buzzing, and as well as performing the show six times, we got to see a lot of other shows too.  The kids loved it.

Aquila performing The Jungle Book adapted by Stuart Paterson at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017

Our Top Tips…

Timing is so important in Edinburgh. Be very good with time keeping, and don’t let your show overrun! Also, make sure you can set your show up in five minutes or less, as that may be all you’re allowed. Rehearse the get-in and get-out so that everyone knows exactly what they’re doing.

Aim for a distinctive look that marks you out, especially when you’re out and about in Edinburgh and on the Royal Mile – it gets you noticed.  We were lucky as there are not that many youth groups performing at Edinburgh, so people noticed us.  We also had a fairly slick Royal Mile routine that involved one of our actors flipping his way down the Mile to draw attention to the show!

Promoting the show on the Royal Mile

Above all, have fun with whatever show you choose. Make sure it’s a good one.  This is the third show licensed by Nick Hern Book that we’ve taken to the Fringe (after The Wolves of Willoughby Chase  in 2015, and Jack Thorne’s Burying Your Brother in the Pavement last year), and we’ve loved bringing each of them to the Fringe – they’re all great shows.

– Matthew Edwards, Eagle House School


About a Goth by Tom Wells
Performed by  Gritty Theatre at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

We chose Tom Wells’ About a Goth, a one-man show about a gay 17-year-old goth who is obsessed with his straight mate and hates his family for refusing to reject him because of his sexuality. It’s a raucous, rather rude comedy about the trials and tribulations of being a gay teenager.

We had a late-night slot (10.30pm), and the play was ideal as it’s only 45 minutes long and the perfect material for a late-night audience. The main character, Nick, goes on a real, substantial journey – but the story isn’t too heavy for that time of the evening.

We were over the moon with the reaction to the show. We got three 5-star reviews and five 4-stars: ‘A wonderfully unconventional coming of age story, full of tongue in cheek drama that fits perfectly into a Saturday night at the fringe’ (A Younger Theatre); ‘A joy from start to finish’ (edfringereview.com).

Even more importantly, the audience feedback was immense. Audiences at Edinburgh used to give their feedback via the EdFringe website, but more and more they are turning to social media, which means that we’re able to spread the good word more easily too!

Clement Charles in About a Goth by Tom Wells at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017 (photo by Sorrel Price Photography)

 

Our Top Tips…

Be at the top of your game. Don’t take a new production: make sure you’ve performed it elsewhere first.

Be prepared for anything to happen.  You can’t prepare for every eventuality, but you must stay alert and respond quickly when the unexpected happens, good or bad. Because it will, and you’ll have to take it in your stride.

Bring doughnuts for the tech team at your venue. Ok, yes, some of them get paid, and you probably don’t; but they work even longer hours than you, and have to deal with hugely varying degrees of competence. Make sure they’re on your side!

– Ian Robert Moule, Artistic Director of Gritty Theatre


Girls Like That by Evan Placey
Performed by  The Theatre School, Tunbridge Wells, at Greenside @ Nicolson Square

We chose Evan Placey’s Girls Like That, a play about what happens after a naked photo of a schoolgirl goes viral. We wanted a contemporary script that reflected the landscape the members of our youth theatre are growing up in. The script was highly approachable, relevant and – in places – challenging for our cast of 15-17 year olds. Also the script’s flexibility (lines are not assigned to specific characters, so it can easily be tailored to the requirements of your particular cast) allowed performance time for every member of our large cast, all of whom were girls.

The Theatre School, Tunbridge Wells, rehearsing Girls Like That by Evan Placey for their 2017 Edinburgh Fringe production

The production was a massive success. The students performed well, we had great audiences, and although this year we didn’t get any reviews, we received lots of great feedback from audience members as we left the venue. We now can’t wait to go back next year and do it all over again! In the meantime, we’ve just started rehearsing Amanda Whittington’s Be My Baby.

Our Top Tips…

1) Preparation. There are so many things you need to get ready in order to take a production to the fringe that it can seem daunting. However, if you put in the time to prepare everything well in advance, you’ll be ready when those all-important deadlines loom. A ‘To-Do List’ is of immeasurable benefit – create one by using the edfringe.com guide to ‘Putting on a Show‘.

2) Timings. Ensure you know exactly how long your production takes to get in, perform and get out.  Why? Most venues you go to will have someone else performing after your time slot and it’s not uncommon for venues to simply turn on the house lights of shows that are running over their time slot. Best to avoid this by getting your timings right.

3) See other shows. When you’re at the Fringe, you’ll spend a lot of time promoting your own show, performing, eating and sleeping (you’ll need a lot of sleep). But it would be criminal to miss out on the other theatre that’s on offer. You can see world-class theatre at the Fringe for £10 or less, and the range is unparalleled. Not sure what to see? Don’t be afraid to ask anyone at the Fringe what they’ve seen and what can they recommend – most people will be only too happy to help!

– Colin Armour, The Theatre School, Tunbridge Wells


Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington
Performed by  Saughtonhall Drama Group, Edinburgh, at  Saughtonhall United Reformed Church

We performed Amanda Whittington’s Ladies’ Day, a laugh-out-loud comedy about four women on a day trip to the races. It was a great fit for our company. The four female characters are all strongly defined and great fun to perform. There are six smaller male roles, which are often doubled by a single male performer, but we cast each of the roles separately so that more of the group could participate.

It’s a real ‘feel-good’ play. We all enjoyed the humour, the various tensions between characters and the way that their individual stories are revealed. In Amanda Whittington’s original script, the four women work in the fish docks in Hull, but we sought special permission from Nick Hern Books (the play’s publisher, who also license the play for amateur performance) to set the play in Scotland and have the women work in a fish factory in Musselburgh. This made it work even better for audiences at the Fringe.

We went for a minimalist stage set that made use of projection and film clips. This was quite a challenge for our tech team, but it proved a great success and went down well with our audiences.

Saughtonhall Drama Group performing Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017: Linda (Candice Sullivan), Jan (Chris Mitchell), Shelley (Louise Starkey) and Pearl (Eleanor Watson). Photo: E. Wilson

Out of the seven performances, four were sold out and the other three were 75% sold.  So overall we were able to keep our Treasurer happy!  Audiences left with big smiles, humming along to ‘(Is This the Way to) Amarillo?’ and arguing about whether or not one of the male characters, Barry, was a ghost.  We got a 4-star review from the Edinburgh News too. Can’t wait to tackle the sequel, Ladies Down Under!

Our Top Tips…

We’re an Edinburgh-based group, so our experience of putting on a show at the Fringe is probably quite different to that of most companies, for whom the costs of travel and accommodation are so significant, not to mention the logistical headache…

However, one piece of advice above all: make sure you get enough sleep!

– Elizabeth Wilson, Director


A round of applause to the fifteen brilliant, brave companies who took NHB-licensed shows to Edinburgh this year!

Are you looking for a show to take to the Fringe next year? Take a look at our dedicated Plays to Perform site, where you can search for plays by genre, theme and/or cast size, and sign up for our Plays to Perform newsletter.

Or get in touch with our Performing Rights team – we’re always happy to help you find the perfect play to perform. Call us on 020 8749 4953, or email PerformingRights@nickhernbooks.co.uk.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, @NHBPerforming.

Our previous Edinburgh Fringe Reports are still available here:

Edinburgh Fringe Report 2016 Part 1: Final Preparations
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2016 Part 2: The Reckoning
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part 1: Cutting it at the Fringe
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part 2: The Final Reckoning

Amateur theatre: A vital contribution to UK theatre

Tamara von WerthernEarlier this month, a large group of academics, writers, theatre-makers and individuals passionate about amateur theatre gathered at Royal Holloway University in London. They were there to discuss the findings of a 3-year-long research project into amateur theatre, Reflecting on Amateur Theatre Research, led by Royal Holloway and the Universities of Warwick and Exeter. Our own Performing Rights Manager, Tamara von Werthern, was there to participate in panel discussions, and to report back on what she discovered about the state of amateur theatre today…

I have been involved in amateur theatre for a long time now. In my capacity as Performing Rights Manager at Nick Hern Books, I license amateur performances of a huge number of plays, and my daily work is advising amateur groups on how to select a play to perform, and how to apply for the rights. So I thought I had the measure of the amateur theatre community.

And yet despite this, I was taken aback recently when I spent the day at Royal Holloway, talking to people for whom amateur theatre is a vocation. The sheer passion and enthusiasm on display, and the commitment to artistic excellence that was consistently demonstrated, left me feeling inspired and overawed.

It was a real honour to have been invited to speak on a panel, and it was wonderful to meet so many of our regulars face-to-face, finally, after many years of being in contact solely by phone and email!

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The theme of the day was to explore and celebrate the role of amateur theatre culturally and its wider impact on the community. It was truly eye-opening and inspiring to reflect together on the differences between professional and amateur theatre, and how they can interlink and support each other.

From Ian Wainwright we learnt about the ‘RSC Open Stages effect‘ on professional actors as well as amateur actors, and how it has deepened the respect both groups have for each other. Jill Cole from the Castle Players spoke very movingly about how the local drama group gave her a reason to stay on in Darlington ‘for another year’ – twenty years later she is still there and now also works for the Arts Council. Lyn Gardner, writer and Guardian theatre critic (see her article about amateur theatre published earlier this year), spoke about the nature of being an artist, which doesn’t depend on being paid or trained, but consists simply in ‘artisting’, in making art. She encouraged amateur theatre-makers to be more confident in thinking of themselves as artists.

panel

What struck me in our debates was that the ‘value’ of amateur theatre has to be measured by a different yardstick from the one we use to measure the ‘value’ of professional theatre. Whilst professional theatre’s success is often measured in monetary terms, to promote tourism and the economic regeneration of urban areas, amateur theatre exists outside these imperatives. The value it has for its members, for the community within which it works and which it binds, the connections it forges and the enjoyment it brings to its audiences – all of this goes largely under the radar. It is important to recognise these benefits and the value of the work purely for its own sake.

Amateur theatre is a space where communities reflect themselves back to local audiences, many of whom know the people on stage personally and are therefore more invested in the success of the performance – another thing that Ian Wainwright could confirm. He spoke about how the professional actors in the RSC Open Stages project had never before experienced such a warmth from their audience as when they acted alongside amateur performers.

ending

We also spoke about how the requirements of amateur theatre productions when it comes to staging a piece of new writing are very different from those of professional productions, and how theatre publishing has a crucial role to play in supporting the needs of amateur theatre. Amateur companies often look for large-cast plays, all-women casts, or at least good, substantial parts for women, and intergenerational performance opportunities. In professional theatre, the current trend amongst companies and venues that stage new writing is to move towards small-cast plays suitable for studio spaces. So amateur theatre has a huge role to play in preserving the diversity and vitality of theatre culture at large.

Nick Hern Books is unique in being the only trade publishers who also routinely handle performing rights, and we have a large following interested in new plays. (Something I learned at Royal Holloway is that 46% of amateur theatre in London and mainstream theatre venues consists of new writing.) So our job is to publish the plays that you want to put on, and to make them easily accessible to you. We do that via the Playfinder on our website, which allows you to search for plays by categories including ‘good roles for women’, ‘large casts’ and ‘good roles for older performers’, amongst many others. We’re also available via phone or email to give you personal recommendations if you have more specific requirements.

The Light Burns Blue by Silva Semerciyan

The Light Burns Blue by Silva Semerciyan – one of the Platform plays from Nick Hern Books and Tonic Theatre

We’re always looking for ways to publish plays that will serve the amateur theatre community. We recently teamed up with Tonic Theatre for a project called Platform, an initiative to commission and publish new plays that put young women centre stage, and to give each woman on stage a role which shapes the story. The idea is to instil confidence in women early on, while they are performing at school, in their youth group or at drama school. It was suggested at the event at Holloway that a similar initiative catering for women between the ages of 50 and 80 would be welcomed by theatre-makers across the UK, and this is something Nick Hern Books is now thinking about for the future.

One of the challenges that groups face is that many younger members, with their increasing workloads and 24/7 expectations from their employers, find it hard to commit to regular rehearsals and participate in community drama. This seems a wider problem with our society today. It also turns out that many groups who do have committed youth members, and a loyal core group of older members, are finding it difficult to recruit and retain members of working and child-rearing age. It seems to me that this could be addressed if the benefits on health, well-being and community spirit could be communicated more widely in workplaces. Many progressive employers have already recognised these benefits – and some even have their own in-house theatre companies! But there’s still a long way to go.

Another challenge facing amateur theatre-makers who work in smaller communities is the lack of group members from other cultural backgrounds, and it was heartening to see that so many of you are striving to make your groups more culturally inclusive.

Please do join in the debate and let us know what challenges your group is facing, what kind of plays you are looking for and what could be done to support you.

The day at Holloway ended with a brilliant performance from the British Airways Cabin Crew Entertainment Society, which turned the air blue as we sipped our champagne – a suitably decadent ending to a brilliant day.


tamara-marceloFor details of our plays for performance, visit our website at www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/plays-to-perform, where you can also sign up for our regular Plays to Perform Newsletter.

See the full report, Reflecting on Amateur Theatre Research, published by Royal Holloway, the University of Warwick and the University of Exeter, available to read for free here.

Edinburgh Fringe Report 2016 Part 2: The 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 four 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).

BURYING_YOUR_BROTHER_EHSBurying Your Brother in the Pavement by Jack Thorne
Eagle House School

 Our Edinburgh experience was incredible!  That’s the only way to describe being a part of this amazing festival.

We performed at the Space Triplex Big and each day we got a good number of audience members. The response was very positive with several people describing the show as the best one they had seen at the Fringe.  We had a great reaction from Glenn Chandler, the original creator of Taggart, who tweeted  ‘MUST SEE is Burying Your Brother in the Pavement. Grief, love + gayness all handled by 13 year olds. Astonishing. 5★’

BuryingYourBrother4

Alex Nash as Tight and Hugo Williamson as Tom in Burying Your Brother in the Pavement by Jack Thorne

Taking young actors to the Fringe was a complete delight and the company worked extraordinarily hard to make the show something special.  As each performance went by, the actors became stronger and it is a credit to Jack Thorne’s writing that they so easily fell into the story, tackling sensitive and emotional ideas with honesty and confidence.

Promoting the show on the Royal Mile is always rather a bun fight but we worked out that a tableau of actors all gathered around a body lying on the street was good for getting attention.  We even had a policeman take a picture of the scene on his phone!

BuryingYourBrother1

The Eagle House School cast promoting the show on the Royal Mile

We saw loads of shows and enjoyed the variety of performances on offer.

Being able to take a show that was new to many and one that pushed all of the actors was a very fulfilling experience. Exposing young actors to tough drama requires maturity and talent and I am happy to say our company had this in spoonfuls.

We’re already planning for the Fringe in 2017!

– Matthew Edwards, Head of Drama, Eagle House School


Holes poster with bleedHoles by Tom Basden
Lyons Productions

After making a full recovery from the craziness that is the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s safe to say that we couldn’t be more delighted with our fringe experience!

Over 500 people came to see Holes during its seven-day run at C Venues. We even secured three sold-out performances with large standing ovations which left us grinning from ear to ear. To see such vast and thrilled audiences was a definite highlight for us, putting to rest our anxiety about the large auditorium – much bigger than our venue last year.

Holes_curtain call

The cast of Holes by Tom Basden, performed by Lyons Productions

Tom Basden’s writing is a big draw, and flyering became an easy feat as soon as his name was mentioned. So we owe a lot to Basden’s talent and reputation – but we’d like to think that the enthusiasm we received from audiences indicates that we did his work justice.

Holes_flyering

Flyering in the inevitable rain!

One challenge we had to overcome  was when we realised in our tech rehearsal that the piles of shredded newspaper we’d prepared for the set to represent sand (the play is set on a beach) was simply going to take too long to clear in a five-minute get-out. So the team had to get to work right away, ripping pages of newspaper into larger pieces by hand. And yes, it was as ridiculously laborious as it sounds!

Other glamorous fringe activities included flyering in the rain and lugging the set across the city. But hard work and the occasional hiccup is exactly what the fringe is all about we wouldn’t change one bit of it!

– Talia Winn, Producer, Lyons Productions


HowieHowie the Rookie by Mark O’Rowe
Revived Emmanuel Dramatics Society

With the Fringe coming to a close and the curtain falling for the last time, the team has had a chance to reflect on the brilliant experience that was performing Howie the Rookie at the festival. It has been some adventure.

howie_tom

Tom Taplin as the Howie Lee in Mark O’Rowe’s Howie the Rookie

Tom Taplin (cast member, the Howie Lee): ‘Performing Howie the Rookie at the Fringe this year has been the most ambitious theatrical project I’ve ever been involved with as an actor. The form of Mark O’Rowe’s play is so unique, and having 40 minutes worth of monologue to play with every night was simultaneously daunting and liberating. The way the script engages with the audience and breaks the fourth wall meant that each performance could be really fresh as it adapts to the way the audience react.

‘The Fringe really is an incredible experience. I was so proud to be part of a festival celebrating the arts in so many different forms on such a huge scale; there is nothing else like it. It provides so many opportunities for such a diverse range of people, and I think it’s something we, as a creative industry, should all be extremely thankful for.’

howie_ed

Ed Limb as the Rookie Lee

Ed Limb (cast member, the Rookie Lee): ‘The pace of life at the Edinburgh Fringe makes it hard to take stock. A week on, I’m still exhausted by the carousel of shows, fliers, crowds and drinks. Exhausted, but satisfied. I was thrilled the variety of performances, and the refreshing attitude to theatre as something spontaneous and inclusive.

‘With Howie the Rookie, I was initially frustrated by the difficulty of selling tickets in so busy a market, but quickly embraced the challenge, and focused on my own work. The script rewarded my efforts, proving consistently surprising and demanding as my character, the Rookie Lee, navigates a disturbing plot with wit and vulnerability. Ultimately, there are few places I’d rather be in August than at the Fringe.’

Rebecca Vaa (producer): ‘Being at the Fringe was an incredible experience unlike any other, and getting to be there with a show like Howie the Rookie was such a privilege. Not only is it great material to work with creatively, but being such a small team we were given the chance to get really close and to work very intimately together – which I really value from a personal point of view. There was a real sense of teamwork throughout the whole process, and even though flyering in the rain and performing to audiences of five people was tough, as a whole experience I think we each gained so much and learned a lot, while having the time of our lives.’


HANG A5 Flyerhang by debbie tucker green
Yellow Jacket Productions

A play about finding a suitable punishment for an unspeakable crime isn’t the easiest sell on the Royal Mile, no matter how bright your artwork is. So it was great to have some really positive audience reviews to help get the word out about our production.

Still, there was an agonising wait for our first press review. When it finally came through, after two nail-biting weeks, it was well worth the wait: One4Review gave us five stars, ‘a fantastic and gripping hour of drama… Highly recommended!’

That got the ball rolling and others soon followed, including from Three Weeks (‘Dark, intense and personal, this play is utterly absorbing from the outset’) and Broadway Baby (‘The acting is excellent… they are able to navigate scenes of incredible emotional complexity and pain that many other actors would stumble over’).

hang_2

The cast of hang by debbie tucker green (L-R: Jessica Flood, Tiannah Viechweg, Kim Christie)

The Traverse Theatre invited us to attend the James Tait Black Awards Ceremony as hang had been shortlisted for the drama prize, awarded at the Traverse during the Fringe. We were extremely proud to represent the play at the ceremony, though in the event it lost out to Gary Owen’s play, Iphigenia in Splott.

Word about our production spread pretty quickly, and we were invited to appear in Mervyn Stutter’s Pick of the Fringe Show, a selection of the best shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

hang_3Very much to our delight our production of hang won two Derek Awards (Best Drama and Best Individual Performance), the perfect way to wrap up our Fringe.

We loved taking hang to the Fringe and we have great hopes that the production will have a future life.

– Tiannah Viechweg, cast member


tamara-marceloLooking for a show to take to Edinburgh next year? Take a look at our dedicated Plays to Perform site, where you can search for plays by genre, theme and/or cast size, and sign up for our Plays to Perform newsletter.

Or get in touch with our Performing Rights team – they’re always happy to help you find the perfect play to perform. Call us on 020 8749 4953, or email PerformingRights@nickhernbooks.co.uk.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, @NHBPerforming.

Edinburgh Fringe Report 2016 Part 1: Final preparations

Getting ready for The Fringe? Our Edinburgh Fringe Report is back (you can still read last year’s Report here) with six more amateur theatre companies – all of them performing plays licensed by Nick Hern Books – revealing the state of their play as they get ready to launch themselves on The Fringe…

Holes by Tom Basden
Lyons Productions
C South Main Theatre, 14–20 August

Holes is an absurd, hilarious and fast-paced comedy by Tom Basden, the writer of some of Britain’s most acclaimed TV comedies (Fresh Meat, Plebs). Flight BA043 has crashed on an island. Stranded, four survivors wait. Surely somebody will find them. Planes don’t just disappear, do they? And, if no one’s coming… what do they do now?

We are Lyons Productions, a theatre company made up of University of Exeter students and graduates. Last year we performed our highly successful debut show, Party by Tom Basden, across Devon and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where we achieved a five-star sell-out run. Our choice to return to the Fringe with another Basden play was a very simple one – we feel that Basden’s writing is perfect for Fringe audiences, delivering big laughs whilst being subtly balanced with politics and poignancy, often making his work scarily relevant to our world today.

Rehearsals have been in full swing this week (in between the odd graduation and fundraising event!) which has propelled the company to the next level of the rehearsal process. The blocking is becoming more fluid and layered as the actors develop their confidence and understanding of the script. We have also thrown every prop imaginable at them in order to create the chaos of the plane crash on an island. Although the scale of the show is challenging, the group is in high spirits and we are eager to get Holes to Edinburgh!

– Talia Winn, Producer

In rehearsal for Holes by Tom Basden, Lyons Productions

In rehearsal for Holes by Tom Basden, Lyons Productions


BullBull by Mike Bartlett
The Rude Mechanicals Amateur Dramatics
SpaceTriplex, 23–27 August

‘Don’t hunch. Stand up to him, stand up straight, smile a bit, you never know, you might win.
I mean you won’t.
But you might.’

Bull by Mike Bartlett is a dark comedy about the brutality of workplace politics and the pleasures of being mean. As Isobel, Tony and Thomas compete to keep their jobs, nothing is off limits. Mind games and dirty tricks abound as each character negotiates the brutal, Darwinist world they are trapped in.

So we’re half way through rehearsals for Bull, and it’s still making us laugh. We chose the play because it’s an impactful, dialogue-driven comedy with a healthy streak of menace. Having been up to the Fringe with plays in the past, Bull seemed perfect for what we wanted to do this year – its minimal set allows for an unwavering focus on the complex characters Bartlett has created.

The good thing about doing a play with meaty characters is that it always feels like everyone’s fully engaged in each rehearsal. Nick and I (co-directing the play) have chosen to take a more collaborative approach to the project, so before each rehearsal we all sit down to discuss and debate the scene before us. This has really helped our actors to identify with the characters they are playing, and their interactions on stage already feel very natural.

We still have lots of work ahead of us; a play such as Bull, driven as it is by sharp and precise dialogue, needs careful choreographing and creative direction to constantly challenge ourselves and our actors to look at the play from different angles. With just a few weeks left now before we head up to Edinburgh, we’re all very excited to put the finishing touches on our production of an amazing play!

– Priya Manwaring, Co-Director


BURYING_YOUR_BROTHER_EHSBurying Your Brother in the Pavement by Jack Thorne
Eagle House School
SpaceTriplex, 8–13 August

Wow – this is a great play! We’re performing Burying Your Brother in the Pavement by Jack Thorne, a play written specifically for young people to perform, by the playwright behind Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

We have all learnt lots as a company and rehearsals have been quite an adventure as we tell the story of Tom, who decides he wants to bury his brother, Luke, in the pavement, on the exact spot where he died rather horrifically.  Tom, unable to cope at home, camps out on the pavement where his brother died and begins to meet all sorts of people who inhabit the Tunstall Estate.

It is both funny, sad and gripping as we watch a boy deal with his grief in the most unexpected way. For young people this has all the ingredients for a great show: music, drama, emotion, joy and our audiences are in for a real treat. A vibrant soundtrack, including some pieces we have written for the show, pulses through the narrative. The young cast, aged 12–15, are current and former pupils of Eagle House and are thrilled to be showcasing both the play and their talents in Edinburgh.

Jack Thorne, one of the UK’s brightest playwrights, has written a mesmerising piece of youth theatre and we are delighted to be performing it at this year’s Fringe.  Come and see us!

– Matthew Edwards, Head of Drama, Eagle House School

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In rehearsal for Burying Your Brother in the Pavement by Jack Thorne, Eagle House School


HANG A5 Flyerhang by debbie tucker green
Yellow Jacket Productions
C Venues, C Nova, 3–27 August

‘When they’ve seen their dad damaged, their mother motionless, our marriage disfigured our family f***ed…You tell me what to do then.’

Today is the day that Three (the character I’m playing in hang by debbie tucker green) must finally decide how her attacker is to be executed for his crimes against her and her family.  This is a new Britain, a Britain where the death penalty exists. And state officials One (Kim Christie) and Two (Jessica Flood) must see that she comes to a decision.  hang has the capacity to send a thrilling chill down the spine, for it takes place in a world that could exist, is not far from existing and, in some parts of the world, actually does exist.

Having been lucky enough to watch Marianne Jean Baptiste’s powerful performance in hang at the Royal Court Theatre in 2015, I was left clutching the script and feeling inspired. I was keen to tackle the text with an all-female cast, so I recruited Kim and Jessica, fellow graduates from The Poor School, and together we formed an exciting new company, Yellow Jacket Productions.

Tiannah

Tiannah Viechweg in rehearsal for hang by debbie tucker green, Yellow Jacket Productions

We started rehearsals in June and it didn’t take long before we realized that the text we were working with had a powerful simplicity paired with a structural complexity that was going to be an exciting challenge. The writing is truly superb and we discover new things and levels of meaning in each rehearsal.  This is an extremely clever text.

Our director Kevin Russell, founder of New Dreams Theatre, brings a playful energy to each rehearsal.  Kevin has a unique ability to find the humour in the darkest of moments, the perfect balance for a dark comedy like hang.  There are moments in the play when even we, the actors, don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s genius.

Amusingly, there have been moments when we’ve seen ourselves in the characters – their habits, phrases, gestures. Some uncanny resemblances have left us often wondering if the play was actually written with us three in mind.

Now in the final few weeks of rehearsals, it’s all coming together. We’ve had the privilege to work with some extremely talented creatives along the way. Complete with an original score, purpose-designed costumes and a vivacious cast, we are proud to bring a fresh new version of a great play to the audiences of the Edinburgh Fringe.

– Tiannah Viechweg, cast member


HowieHowie the Rookie by Mark O’Rowe
Revived Emmanuel Dramatics Society
Paradise in the Vault, 15–28 August

We are a group of four students from the University of Cambridge working with the Revived Emmanuel Dramatics Society in order to bring a stellar performance to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer.

The play we’ve selected for this year’s Fringe is Mark O’Rowe’s Howie the Rookie. O’Rowe’s 1999 verse play is a drama of two halves, featuring The Howie Lee and The Rookie Lee, two men with nothing in common except a last name and one ill-fated day.

Set in the suburbs of Dublin, Howie the Rookie takes a nightmarish dive into the darkest turns of human behaviour, littering the descent with moments of comedy and intensely lyrical verse. The play consists of two monologues, delivered by each of the two characters consecutively, giving their story of the day’s twists and turns. The actors speak directly to the audience, and the play becomes a fascinating exhibition of the importance of point of view, and how it shapes the experience of the audience. Furthermore, it becomes a masterful example of the importance of story-telling in theatre, which we have spent a lot of time focusing on in rehearsals.

We’ve spent a lot of rehearsal time on researching the environment in which Howie and Rookie live, which has been truly enlightening for bringing the performance to life. We’ve mapped out our precise vision of Tallaght, the suburb of Dublin in which the play takes place; we’ve drawn up the pubs and bars where fights take place, the houses our characters and our characters’ friends live in; we’ve even been learning how to box so we can really visualise the fights themselves. This is more important than just a backstory, though; it’s a way to really do justice to the nature of the play. Each monologue is essentially its own story, and with no set, no other actors and no props, our job is to take the audience through the town of Tallaght and the, at times, terrifying detail of the action: purely with the words of O’Rowe.

When we ourselves know how everything looks, sounds, smells and feels in our heads, only then can we hope to create this environment, flavoured by the characters’ emotions, in the audience’s heads too.

We think this is going to be a truly exciting show, and we cannot wait to get it to Edinburgh!

– Rebecca Vaa, Producer

Howie the Rookie by Mark O'Rowe

Howie the Rookie by Mark O’Rowe, Revived Emmanuel Dramatics Society: director Eleanor Warr with actors Thomas Taplin (left) and Ed Limb (right)


Immaculate_poster_FinalImmaculate by Oliver Lansley
Harpoon
C Venues, C Nova, 3–9 August

Finding a way to balance rehearsals for Immaculate with revising for A-Levels was much easier said than done. Despite this, the comical nature of the play has certainly helped inspire the cast to get the balance just right.

After performing Immaculate in front of a school audience for three days, and receiving a very positive response, we were spurred on to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe. I think it’s fair to say that as a cast of young, keen actors, we underestimated just how tough this would be. However, the drive of our two directors/producers turned ideas into reality and have opened the door for an incredible opportunity.

The play itself is fast moving and funny, and the situation that the characters find themselves in is very relatable to a contemporary audience. Oliver Lansley manages to make the Second Coming a modern-day comedy drama as opposed to a biblical prophecy. Mia is the mother of either Christ reborn or the spawn of the devil. This problem is further complicated by the arrival of her needy ex-boyfriend and a friend from school with whom, it turns out, she’d had a one-night stand.

The nature of the plot and the way in which we, as a cast, have decided to dramatise the script has created a very amusing production which was well received by members of staff, parents and students alike when performed at school, and so we hope that it will be enjoyed by everyone, whatever their age, when we bring it to the Fringe!

– William Ellis Hancock, cast member

Immaculate by Oliver Lansley

Immaculate by Oliver Lansley, Harpoon (pre-Edinburgh production)


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

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See you in Edinburgh!

Victoria Wood: ‘Giving Notes’

VictoriaWood

We were saddened by the death of Victoria Wood this week – she was a gleeful, mischievous presence on our screens for so many years, and will be sorely missed. Here’s a reminder of her talent in her sketch included in the RSC’s The Shakespeare Revue – appropriately enough as we commemorate the death of William Shakespeare 400 years ago. In this sketch, ‘Giving Notes’, the director of an amateur production of Hamlet offers the cast some priceless advice…

Right. Bit of hush please. Connie! Thank you. Now that was quite a good rehearsal; I was quite pleased. There were a few raised eyebrows when we let it slip the Piecrust Players were having a bash at Shakespeare but I think we’re getting there. But I can’t say this too often: it may be Hamlet but it’s got to be Fun Fun Fun!

Now we’re still very loose on lines. Where’s Gertrude? I’m not so worried about you – if you ‘dry’ just give us a bit of business with the shower cap. But Barbara – you will have to buckle down. I mean, Ophelia’s mad scene, ‘There’s rosemary, that’s for remem­brance’ – it’s no good just bunging a few herbs about and saying, ‘Don’t mind me, I’m a loony’. Yes?

Right, Act One Scene One, on the ramparts. Now I know the whist table is a bit wobbly, but until Stan works out how to adapt the Beanstalk it’ll have to do. What’s this? Atmosphere? Yes – now what did we work on, Philip? Yes, it’s midnight, it’s jolly cold. What do we do when it’s cold? We go ‘Brrr’, and we do this (slaps hands on arms). Right, well don’t forget again, please. And cut the hot-water bottle, it’s not working.

Where’s my ghost of Hamlet’s father? Oh yes, what went wrong tonight, Betty? He’s on nights still, is he? OK. Well, it’s not really on for you to play that particular part, Betty – you’re already doing the Player Queen and the back legs of Hamlet’s donkey. Well, we don’t know he didn’t have one, do we? Why waste a good cossy?

Hamlet – drop the Geordie, David, it’s not coming over. Your characterisation’s reasonably good, David, but it’s just far too gloomy. Fair enough, make him a little bit depressed at the beginning, but start lightening it from Scene Two, say from the hokey-cokey onwards.

Polonius, try and show the age of the man in your voice and in your bearing, rather than waving the bus-pass. I think you’ll find it easier when we get the walking frame. Is that coming, Connie? OK.

The Players’ scene: did any of you feel it had stretched a bit too . . . ? Yes. I think we’ll go back to the tumbling on the entrance, rather than the extract from Barnum. You see, we’re running at six hours twenty now, and if we’re going to put those soliloquies back in . . .

Gravediggers? Oh yes, gravediggers. The problem here is that Shakespeare hasn’t given us a lot to play with – I feel we’re a little short on laughs, so Harold, you do your dribbling, and Arthur, just put in anything you can remember from the Ayckbourn, yes?

The mad scene: apart from lines, much better, Barbara – I can tell you’re getting more used to the straitjacket. Oh – any news on the skull, Connie? I’m just thinking, if your little dog pulls through, we’ll have to fall back on papier mâché. All right, Connie, as long as it’s dead by the dress . . .

That’s it for tonight then; thank you. I shall expect you all to be word-perfect by the next rehearsal. Have any of you realised what date we’re up to? Yes, April the twenty-seventh! And when do we open? August! It’s not long!


Here’s a version of the sketch performed by Julie Walters:


Shakespeare RevueThe above is an extract from The Shakespeare Revue compiled by Christopher Luscombe and Malcolm McKee, published by Nick Hern Books.

‘Hockey sticks and navy knicks’: Kath Gotts on Crush: The Musical

Gotts, Kath 2015-2_croppedWhen Kath Gotts and Maureen Chadwick started writing a musical about the pupils at an all-girls school rebelling against their tyrannical headmistress, they didn’t know it would take decades to reach the stage. But when it finally opened in 2015,  Crush was acclaimed as a hilarious blend of Malory Towers and St Trinian’s – a family-friendly hit with a touch of subversiveness. Here, as the script is published for others to perform, composer-lyricist Kath Gotts explains the appeal of schoolgirl fiction, and why it’s perfect for a musical…

Crush has a short title, but it took a long time – possibly a record-breakingly long time – to reach the stage.

Maureen Chadwick 2015

Maureen Chadwick

The show was first conceived when I was not that long out of school uniform myself, when the tragi-comic emotional territory of first love and adolescent angst was sadly rather fresh in my memory. Maureen [Chadwick, who wrote the book for the musical] and I decided we wanted to write a musical together and with our shared delight in Fred and Ginger movies we had a mission to write our own version of a romantic comedy in classic book musical form. Inspired by our love of the British tradition of schoolgirl fiction – from Malory Towers to St Trinian’s, and the old Girl’s Own annuals – we thought it would be great fun to write a musical set in that world. In fact, we were amazed that nobody else had got there before us and that here was this whole rich genre as yet unpilfered by musical-theatre writers, with its own distinctive milieu and lingo, and the schoolgirl crush providing new love-story material for musical-comedy treatment.

We entered the very embryonic Crush (then called Sugar and Spice) for the 1989 Vivian Ellis Prize for New Musicals – three songs and a synopsis. We were thrilled to find we’d made it into the televised final. When asked to describe the show I cheerfully explained that it was a traditional romantic musical – just a simple case of ‘girl meets girl, girl loses girl, one girl finds a boy and the other one finds another girl’. We’d heard that Cameron Mackintosh was rooting for us, but on the big day itself he unfortunately wasn’t there in person and the rest of the panel seemed altogether perplexed by a love song from one schoolgirl to another – one suggested that he could imagine the show appealing to the ‘old men in macs’ brigade. Naturally, we didn’t win.

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Catherine Hayworth, Eleanor Brown, Georgia Oldman and Emma Harrold in Crush. Photo by Robert Day.

Crush isn’t so much a musical of its time as a musical that has had to wait its time. Back in the late eighties and nineties the very notion of celebrating a romance between schoolgirls was seen as radically subversive. Most of the cast of the 2015 premiere at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry weren’t even born in 1988 when Section 28 came into force. Finally, however, the new Crush has emerged into a world where a light, frothy, show featuring a schoolgirl romance can be seen as what we always wanted it to be – a big-hearted show for all the family.

The love story in Crush is innocently played out – it represents a quest for self-expression and the claiming of one’s own true identity. Our story is set in a hitherto idealistic and liberal girls’ boarding school – Dame Dorothea Dosserdale School for Girls – which has recently been taken over by the tyrannical and repressive headmistress, Miss Bleacher (who has a couple of great belter numbers to help make her point). The first targets for her new moral crusade are two girls accused of ‘indecent and unnatural behaviour’ in the art room after hours, and the race is on to identify and expel them.

Sara Crowe, Georgia Oldman, James Meunier, Rosemary Ashe and Kirsty Malpass. Photo by Robert Day.

Like Elle Woods – the not-so-dumb blonde in Legally Blonde – or Tracy Turnblad – the not-so-slim girl with a beehive in Hairspray – our heroine Susan Smart is an outsider, a clever scholarship girl who loves another girl. Only it’s the wrong one. Susan has to navigate her way through her first lessons in love and learn to stand up for herself and her right to love whomever she chooses. And everyone else has to stand up and be counted too in order to save the school and everything it stands for. The girls are aided in this by the trusty Deputy Head, Miss Austin, and by a mysterious new games mistress, Miss Givings – who rallies their team spirit in the tap-dancing hockey number ‘Navy Knicks’. There’s also Benny the oddjob boy, who is not at all who he seems and is set to throw a romantic cat among the pigeons in Act Two when we run away to London…

The musical style has a nod to Irving Berlin and Julian Slade mixed with early sixties pop and some jazzy overtones. I like to think there’s a flavour of innocent sophistication to the songs! Steven Edis has done some wonderful arrangements for a band of seven players and it’s a thoroughly joyful musical – plenty of laughs, smiles and a few tears along the way.

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Georgia Oldman, Charlotte Miranda-Smith and Stephanie Clift. Photo by Robert Day.

Like our previous musical, Bad Girls The Musical [which premiered at West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2006, before transferring to the West End in 2007), Crush is written for a predominantly female cast. Both shows are set in all-female environments – Bad Girls is set in a women’s prison – where the action and stories are driven by the female characters. If you apply the Bechdel test to either of these shows – does it (1) feature at least two roles for women who (2) talk to each other about (3) something other than a man – they pass with flying colours! Professor Rosemary Auchmuty – who wrote a piece for the Crush programme, reproduced in the published playtext – has written extensively about how the all-female worlds of schoolgirl fiction have been so empowering to the young women who have devoured those books since they first started appearing as early as the eighteenth century. They showed that girls and women could be the protagonists in their own stories, and that whatever derring-do was required, they too could fulfil those roles.

The world of schoolgirl fiction is ripe for musical comedy, but it also has great heart and integrity. A lot of people assume that Daisy Pulls It Off was a musical – but it actually only included the school song.  Crush takes on some of that same flavour but is less of a direct parody. We always used to say that we wanted our artistic style to be ‘subversion by seduction’. In other words, make whatever you’re doing thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable and get your message across with a smile. Crush is an idealistic show – but it’s not simplistic. Like a good pint of Guinness, there are creamy bubbles on top but a deeply delicious pint underneath.

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Brianna Ogunbawo, Charlotte Miranda-Smith, Eleanor Brown, Sara Crowe, Stephanie Clift, Catherine Hayworth, Emma Harrold and Jennifer Potts. Photo by Robert Day.

We were really thrilled when Nick Hern approached us about publishing Crush. Not only is it a wonderful culmination of its long journey to the stage, but more importantly it also represents the possibility of new beginnings for the show, with potential productions by amateur theatre companies, schools and youth groups. We know from our workshops and from our first production that Crush is a really fun show to perform, and we can’t wait for others to have a crack at it.

So ‘Put on your navy knicks, Pick up your hockey sticks’ and let’s all say ‘Bully Off’ for Crush!


Watch the trailer for the 2015 touring production of Crush:


FormattedCrush: The Musical, the complete book and lyrics by Maureen Chadwick and Kath Gotts, is out now, published by Nick Hern Books.

To buy a copy for just £7.99 (20% off the RRP of £9.99), visit the Nick Hern Books website here.

‘Dare to fashion yourself’: Diane Samuels on her new play Poppy + George

Samuels, Diane3Diane Samuels, author of the powerful modern classic Kindertransport, set out to write a new play about female pirates… and ended up with a beguiling romance about cross-dressing and music hall. Poppy + George, which opened at Watford Palace Theatre this month, is all about identity, she explains – do we let ourselves be shaped by the assumptions of others, or do we choose to fashion ourselves?

Poppy + George, my new play, opened earlier this month at Watford Palace Theatre in a beautiful production with costumes and design by Ruari Murchison and original music by Gwyneth Herbert. It was a wonderful night, with a sense of well-earned satisfaction at the realisation of much hard work and leaps of the imagination, and not a little courage, all the more satisfying because its journey to this moment has turned out to be as unexpected and regenerative as the story of reinvention it tells.

It started in the early 1990s when I was writer-in-residence at Theatre Centre, researching the lives, loves, adventures and misdeeds of women pirates of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. What compelled me most was the significant part their choice of dress played in creating their identity and expressing their ‘free’ lifestyles. This led me to look more closely at ways in which people, women in particular, across the centuries have dressed or been dressed to delineate their roles.

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Poppy + George at Watford Palace Theatre. Photo by Richard Lakos

I found myself, by twists and turns, ending up in 1919, the year after the conclusion of the First World War. This was a time of great change, shifting of national boundaries, loosening of class structures and stirring of gender distinctions – corsets were becoming shorter and less rigid before they started to disappear completely in the 1920s; hems were shortening; and trousers, although still almost exclusively male attire, had been donned here and there, women wearing them while covering men’s jobs during the war years. In the play, Smith – tailor and costumier, born a Jew in Russia and then trained in his craft in the Imperial court in China, in whose workshop in London’s East End the action takes place – asks the young heroine, Poppy, ‘Are you the dummy or the tailor?’ She is affronted and replies, ‘How am I a dummy?’ To which he responds, ‘Either you are fashioned by what you’re told or think you’re told you can be… or you dare to fashion yourself.’

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Photo by Richard Lakos

After running research sessions around the country looking at how we are fashioned and might fashion ourselves – including one in which a 16-year-old boy asked nervously if he might try on a wedding dress and did so with glee and amazement after we closed the doors and drew the curtains – I wrote a one-act play entitled Turncoat. An extensive tour took Smith’s magical workshop, where clothes and identities are created, into a wide range of venues including school halls, community centres and theatres throughout England and Wales.

In 2015, Brigid Larmour, Artistic Director at Watford Palace Theatre, asked if she might read a selection of my plays with a view to producing one. Turncoat leapt out at her as particularly relevant today, even more so than when it had first been written. I was invited to look afresh and write a new full-length play, developed from the earlier version.

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Photo by Richard Lakos

The Palace had started life at the beginning of the twentieth century as a music hall, so I was excited to develop further the theatricality of the piece, adding to the songs, pastiches of music hall ditties, that are sung by the character Tommy Johns, a performer and female impersonator in that hugely popular tradition of ‘dames’ and drag. Underlying his humour is a sense of devastation, for Tommy has returned from a round of duty at the Front during the war, and he is struggling to revive his act and his life in this time of ‘so-called peace’. We meet him at the beginning of the play searching for a name for his latest creation, a maid with “‘er fluffy duster in ‘er ‘and”, encouraged by Smith, who is constructing his costume, and dashing chauffeur George Sampson, who has his uniforms made at the workshop.

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Photo by Richard Lakos

The names people go by are central to the piece, and so I wasn’t surprised when I was asked to find a new title for the play. ‘Poppy + George’ popped into my head immediately. This meant also changing the name of the heroine from Melody to Poppy, a young woman from the north of England who arrives in London with an open, curious mind and a desire to make her way independently in the world. She becomes a seamstress and assistant to Smith and falls in love with George, which leads to her whole world being turned upside down. And so the symbolism of the poppy, with its associations with transformation and dreams (it was not selected as a symbol of memorial for the fallen in the war until 1921, two years after the play is set), has unfolded powerfully throughout the re-writing process, particularly the way the seeds lie dormant in the soil, perhaps even for centuries, and only spring into life and bloom when the earth is churned up and disrupted.

In the few days since the play has opened, it has been heart-warming to receive so many messages of appreciation. One reviewer described it as ‘winningly generous and big-hearted’, with many seeing the modern relevance of this threshold moment nearly a century ago. As Brigid Larmour wrote, ‘Diane has somehow tapped into the zeitgeist debates about gender and identity, in a way that is wonderfully warm and accessible to a wider audience. The music hall element works really well, and is incredibly playful, and the play seems to be leaving people very moved as well as entertained.’


Tamara von WerthernFrom our Performing Rights Manager, Tamara von Werthern…

We’re very excited to have Poppy + George on our list, and it’s sure to be hugely popular with amateur theatre groups. It offers two wonderful, fully-rounded central roles for women, it’s funny, it’s moving and it’s full of charm and atmosphere. Anyone who has enjoyed staging Diane’s brilliant Kindertransport  – or Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings, or Amanda Whittington’s Be My Baby – should certainly give Poppy + George a twirl.

To register your interest, drop me a line at tamara@nickhernbooks.co.uk, or call me on 020 8749 4953.


FormattedPoppy + George is at Watford Palace Theatre until Saturday 27 February.

The playtext is out now, published by Nick Hern Books. To buy your copy for just £7.99 (20% discount) plus p&p, visit the NHB website here.