‘Wonder tales’: Philip Pullman and Philip Wilson on staging the Grimm Tales

For Philip Pullman, working on a new version of the Grimm Tales was a ‘dream job’.  Here, he explains why they work so well on the stage, while below, theatre director Philip Wilson describes how he adapted and staged the Tales, and what to consider when staging them yourself…

Philip Pullman: When Penguin Classics asked me if I was interested in writing a fresh version of some of the tales of the Brothers Grimm, I had to suppress a whoop of delight. Actually, I’m not sure that I did suppress it. I’ve always relished folk tales, and the famous Grimm collection is one of the richest of all. It was a dream of a job.

Reading them through carefully and making notes, I was struck again by the freshness, the swiftness, the sheer strangeness of the best of them. I was being asked to choose fifty or so out of the more than two hundred, and there were certainly at least that many that deserved a new outing. The most interesting thing, perhaps, from a dramatic point of view, is that they consist entirely of events: there’s no character development, because the characters are not fully developed three-dimensional human beings so much as fixed, flat types like those of the commedia dell’arte, or like the little cardboard actors (a penny plain, tuppence-coloured) we find in the toy theatre. If we’re looking for psychological depth, we won’t find it in the fairy tale.

Nor is there anything in the way of poetic description or rich and musical language. Princesses are beautiful, forests are dark, witches are wicked, things are as red as blood or as white as snow: it’s all very perfunctory.

What we find instead of these literary qualities is a wonderful freedom and zest, entirely unencumbered by likelihood. The most marvellous or preposterous or hilarious or terrifying events happen with all the swiftness of dreams. They work splendidly for oral telling, and the very best of them have a quality that C.S. Lewis ascribed to myths: we remember them instantly after only one hearing, and we never forget them. The job of anyone telling them again is to do so as clearly as possible, and not let their own personality get in the way.

They can be told, of course, and they can be dramatised, in any of a thousand different ways. They have been many times, and they will be many more. This particular version was very enjoyable for me to read and to watch because Philip Wilson is so faithful to the clarity and the force of the events, just as Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were faithful to the talents of the various storytellers whose words they listened to and transcribed two hundred years ago. And they still work.


Wilson, PhilipPhilip Wilson: The Brothers Grimm’s stories have been retold countless times over the past two centuries. Katharine Mary Briggs, Italo Calvino and Marina Warner included versions in their classic collections of fairy tales, and writers such as Angela Carter, Terry Pratchett and Carol Ann Duffy have revelled in inventive variations. In recent years, two films of Snow White appeared, Maleficent re-imagined the story of Sleeping Beauty, Sondheim’s Into the Woods was filmed, and Terry Gilliam gave the lives of the brothers themselves a high-spirited storybook twist in The Brothers Grimm. Moreover, the latest anthropological research indicates that the origins of folk tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast can be traced back millennia.

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Annabel Betts as Little Red Riding Hood in the 2014 production of Grimm Tales at Shoreditch Town Hall

In 2012, Philip Pullman selected fifty of his favourite Grimm Tales to retell. His intention in doing this, he declared, was ‘to produce a version that was as clear as water’. In the same way, my dramatisations seek to retain the limpid and beautifully crafted character of the original stories. The telling of the Tales is shared between an ensemble of performers, who play husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, princes and princesses, wise kings and wicked witches, snakes and birds.

The original productions, drawing on puppetry, movement and music, were a theatrical celebration of live storytelling. At Shoreditch Town Hall, we brought to life the adventures of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, The Three Snake Leaves, Hans-my-Hedgehog and The Juniper Tree. At Bargehouse, meanwhile, we retold the Tales of The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich, The Three Little Men in the Woods, Thousandfurs, The Goose Girl at the Spring, Hansel and Gretel and Faithful Johannes. Also included in the published volume is my adaptation of The Donkey Cabbage, a story we didn’t find a home for, but is too good to forgo.

This was a deliberately eclectic selection, which embraced a variety of classic story plots – quests and voyages, rags to riches and overcoming monsters – within the core genres of comedy, tragedy, romance… and, sometimes, surrealist farce! Their appeal lay also in how they have echoes of Shakespeare and Ancient Greek tragedy, incorporating as they do rites of passage, ghosts of fathers, animal transformations. And how they embody the themes of human life: births, marriages and deaths; sibling support (or rivalry); parental cruelty; the hardships of poverty; jealousy and desire.

Leda Hodgson and Nessa Matthews in The Goose Girl At The Spring in the 2015 production at Bargehouse on the South Bank

While it is eminently possible to stage these stories in traditional theatre environments, ours was an immersive approach: the audience were divided into groups, and took different journeys through the various parts of the venue. After each Tale, this group was guided by the performers to another space. On their way, they glimpsed images evoking hints of other Tales untold, as they passed through rooms from which other characters seemed to have only just departed – leaving Cinderella’s pile of lentils by an iron stove; Snow White’s glass coffin, along with seven identical small beds; Rumpelstiltskin’s spinning wheel in a shaft of light, in a room with straw on one side and a cloud of gold objects on the other. And so on…

The world of the play was ‘scruffy salvage’: an elemental world of rough-hewn wood, tarnished metal, unrefined cloth. The costumes were tattered, puppets were constructed from found objects, and everyday items were often used in place of the thing described. All were transfomed by the Storytellers’ investment in them. Wooden scrubbing brushes were sewn onto a duffle coat for Hans-my-Hedgehog’s prickly skin; thick rope stood in for Rapunzel’s hair; an enamel coffee pot became a white duck. This approach both ensured that these dark Tales were not prettified, and gave a sense that the performers had drawn on what might lie around them, to supplement and enhance the storytelling. We invited the audience to complete the picture with their imagination.

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The Three Little Men In The Woods, in the Bargehouse production of Grimm Tales

But that is just one approach. There are as many ways to tell a story as there are stories themselves. You only have to look at how the Tales have been illustrated: a brief internet search will reveal endless depictions in different styles, to offer inspiration. A very brief list might include: Elenore Abbott, Angela Barrett, Edward Burne-Jones, Katharine Cameron, Walter Crane, George Cruikshank, Gustave Doré, Edmund Dulac, David Hockney, Franz Jüttner, Margaret Pocock, Evans Price, Arthur Rackham… In recent years, fairy tales have also been drawn upon by a range of artists, from Paula Rego to the fashion photographer Tim Walker.

Although the stories are uncluttered in language and spare in detail, nonetheless they resonate with all manner of human experience. Philip Pullman is right that on the page, the characters appear flat: these are archetypes, defined by their class, profession or role in society. In fairy tales, people are what they do. This does not mean, though, that there is no room for dramatic characterisation. The stories certainly include tension and conflict. And they deal with universal situations, in which the drama often springs from family ties: the characters could be us.

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Simon Wegrzyn as The Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, in the Shoreditch production of Grimm Tales

In German, fairy tales are known as wonder tales, a term that encourages us to celebrate these fantastic characters and episodes in all their eccentric glory, from the picturesque to the grotesque, and from the magical to the mundane – free, above all, from the sanitisation and lavish naturalism of later versions, not least Disney films.

Although the Tales were written down, shaped and curated by the Brothers Grimm, these stories emerged from oral traditions: they have always been intended to be spoken aloud. There is an innate human desire to gather together and listen to a storyteller, or to witness a group reenacting a tale. My approach has been to divide up the voices among a group of Storytellers. Each Tale starts with some variation on ‘Once…’ (the universally agreed way of starting a story), followed by a brief introduction to the key figures and situation – along with their voices. Thereafter, the words are shared in three modes of speech: dialogue, narration and ‘thinking aloud’. Viewpoint and attitude is crucial throughout. Also, you’ll note how characters move from retelling to reliving events: the intention is always to ensure that the story is immediate, is happening right now – not comfortably in the past.

Philip Pullman compares storytelling to jazz, observing that, ‘the substance of the tale is there already, just as the sequence of chords in a song is there ready for a jazz musician, and our task is to step from chord to chord, from event to event, with all the lightness and swing we can.’ That sense of working in tandem with other players, while retaining an improvisatory quality, is key to staging these Tales. It’s all about the ensemble.

Although any number of these Tales can be told, and in any order, in the original productions more familiar stories were performed first, before the audience was led into darker, less-well-known territories: deeper into the forest. Most importantly, these Tales live most when they are imbued with the imaginations of those who are telling them: so it is not only right but crucial that you find your own path through the text.

Whichever route you take, what’s important is what happens next. Philip Pullman has observed that, ‘Swiftness is a great virtue in the fairy tale. A good tale moves with a dreamlike speed from event to event, pausing only to say as much as is needed and no more.’

My intention has been to tell these Tales with a similar economy, clarity and passion.


Tamara von WerthernFrom our Performing Rights Manager, Tamara von Werthern: I’m delighted to announce that amateur performing rights for Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales are now available on application. Like the very popular Arabian Nights by Dominic Cooke, this version of the Tales is a simple but effective adaptation that harnesses the power of storytelling to take audiences into a magical world.

It also offers you great flexibility: there are twelve Tales included in the published playtext, enough for two complete productions, and companies can choose any number and combination to suit their own requirements (the performing rights fee will reflect the number of Tales to be performed). There is also great flexibility in casting. There are more than a hundred potential roles for very large casts, or the play can be staged with just 4f 4m and lots of doubling.

The Tales themselves range from the familiar ones beloved by children everywhere, to the unexpected and yet-to-be-discovered. So there really is something for everyone.

To enquire about performing rights, contact me by email, phone (020 8749 4953) or via the form on our Plays to Perform website.


FormattedPhilip Pullman’s Grimm Tales, adapted for the stage by Philip Wilson, is out now, published by Nick Hern Books.

To buy a copy for just £8.79 (RRP £10.99), visit the Nick Hern Books website here.

Production photographs by Tom Medwell.

‘We see only what we want to see’: Simon McBurney on Complicite’s The Encounter

Production shot 3 (c) Robbie JackWhen actor and theatre-maker Simon McBurney first read Amazon Beaming – Petru Popescu’s book about a National Geographic photographer, Loren McIntyre, who went into the rainforest to take photos of the rarely seen Mayoruna tribe, only to lose his way back – he knew he would one day attempt to stage it. But how?

Twenty years later he found a way. The Encounter, a solo show performed by McBurney, opened at the Barbican this month as part of Complicite’s UK and international tour. It incorporates innovative technology to build a shifting world of sound as it traces McIntyre’s extraordinary journey, and along the way explores the outer limits of human consciousness. Here, McBurney describes some key moments in the development of the show, from experiencing total sensory deprivation in a research laboratory in Watford, to his own encounter with the Mayoruna tribe in the Brazilian Amazon…

When making a piece of theatre I am, frequently, if not most of the time, in the dark. I truly do not know where we will end up.

—    We’re going to shut the door now and we’ll open it again in twenty minutes. Is that okay?
—    Yep, I guess.
—    Have you ever sat in total silence? In the dark?
—    I’ll be fine.

As a result of spending sixty-three days in silence on a Vipassana retreat, Yuval Noah Harari, the acclaimed author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, proclaimed it the ideal tool with which to scientifically observe his own mind. He came to realise he had no idea who he really was and that the fictional story in his head, and the connection between that and reality, was extremely tenuous.

—    Okay well… if you freak out then push this button and we’ll open the door.

Anechoic Chamber (c) Simon McBurney

Designer Michael Levine in BRE anechoic chamber. Photo by Simon McBurney

The vast door to the anechoic chamber, which is, as the name suggests, a room without echoes, at the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in Watford, closes definitively behind me.

The concrete walls are so thick no sound from the outside world enters your ear canals and the vast foam wedges that cover the walls absorb sound to such an extent that a clap becomes a tap.

I am in total darkness. And total silence. I don’t mean the silence of three in the morning at home, or even the silence of the remotest place on Earth, I mean total silence.

My breathing sounds like a set of bellows; my heartbeat like an arrhythmic drum machine.

—    Why am I here?

It is 40°C, my clothes are already sodden, although we have only been here an hour. Or have we? I’ve lost track of time and I have no battery on my phone. In fact I don’t know why I have a phone at all given there is no signal here.

We are sitting in the house of Lourival Mayoruna, the headman or Cacique of Marajaí, a village of Mayoruna people deep in the Brazilian Amazon, an hour’s flight west of Manaus and four hours by boat up the River Solimões.

Photo by Chloe Courtney

Lourival, according to local protocol, talks to us as part of our welcome into the village – and has been doing so for the best part of an hour. The hut is crammed with people and sitting between us all like some twenty-first-century totem is a binaural head, the microphone that records in, so called, ‘3D’.

Paul Heritage, head of People’s Palace Projects, who has lived for more than twenty years in Brazil, translates as Lourival winds down…

—    So you have come all this way and I have one question…

Lourival leans forward looking me in the eye.

—    Why are you here?

I nervously lick the wet salt off my upper lip, and sweat stings my eyes as everyone’s eyes turn towards me.

—    I think you need to reply, says Paul.

Binaural head in the Amazon Rainforest. Photo by Chloe Courtney

The sounds of the forest and the village become extremely loud all of a sudden. I clear my throat.

The slight rising panic makes me realise the noise I am now hearing is the sound of fluids circulating in my head. And there is a high-pitched hiss caused by spontaneous firings of the auditory nerve. How long have I been sitting here in darkness? I squeeze my phone. Five minutes. I thought it was at least half an hour.

—    Where are you going?
—    To work on my show…
—    What are you doing?
—    Um… sitting in a dark silent room in Watford.
—    Why?
—    To see what it’s like.

I look at my son. He is four. I’m not sure he buys this answer.

—    When is Christmas?
—    A long time. Several months. When it is winter, when it will be cold again.
—    It was cold today.
—    Yes, okay, but not very cold.
—    Yes it was. I was cold.
—    You’re right, it was cold.
—    How long is several months?

I mutter something about moons and loads of sleeps.

Maybe this high-pitched hiss generated by my auditory nerves is something more sinister. I should get my ears checked for tinnitus when I get out of here. How much longer?

—    Forty-five minutes.
—    What?
—    You’ve been speaking for forty-five minutes.
—    Good God.

I got it all, whispers Gareth my sound designer, who looks even more sodden than I do in the Amazonian heat, unplugging the totem.

Amazon 3 (c) Chloe Courtney

Lourival and Joaquina, Complicite’s hosts in Marajaí, listening to the binaural head. Photo by Chloe Courtney

I look round the room. Silence. I am not sure how it has gone down. In English, the word ‘rehearsal’ derives from ‘hearse’ which means to rake over. To prepare the ground. And one way for me to prepare has always been to perform or improvise a show I am making to those who have never heard it. Because the story is not the show. It is not even the performance that is the show. The show is made in the minds of the audience. I want to know what they see. What they hear. I look at Lourival. He smiles.

INSIDE COVER IMAGE (c) Chloe Courtney

A girl from the Mayoruna community listening to the binaural head. Photo by Chloe Courtney

—    We are moved by your story, he says. Your story about this man who was lost, but who survived. Your story is about many people, but it is also about us, the Mayoruna. And it tells us that others in this world know of the Mayoruna people. You tell the world that we have survived. Many have perished. We have survived. But whether we will all survive… that is another matter.

He laughs.

—    So is it funny?
—    What?
—    Your performance.

My son examines me. I glance at him sideways. Draw in my breath.

Production shot 7 (c) Robbie Jack

Simon McBurney. Photo by Robbie Jack

The door suddenly creaks open and I am out in the Watford sunlight again, blinking. What greets me I don’t expect. It shocks me. It is a roar. So loud I want to block my ears. Traffic, voices, machinery, planes… industrial, all-encompassing, unstoppable. The shock is that most of the time, I do not hear it because our auditory system blocks out our conscious mind. Our ears, without us asking, form a filter and help to create a ‘normal’ reality, but one in which we hear ‘selectively’. As with our ears, so it is with all our senses. Our eyes, our sense of smell, every way in which we perceive the world creates a gap between what is actually happening and the story we make of it. We only see what we want to see…

The technician looks at me enquiringly.

—    How was it?
—    Disorientating.
—    And how did that feel?
—    Familiar.

Schaubuehne am Lehniner Platz. F.I.N.D. 2015, Amazon Beaming: Work in Progress, Complicite, inspiriert von dem Roman »Amazon Beaming« von Petru Popescu, Performance und Regie: Simon McBurney.

The Encounter. Photo by Gianmarco Bresadola


Formatted

The above article appears in the playtext of The Encounter published by Nick Hern Books, along with 32 pages of essays and colour photographs.

The playtext is available now. To buy your copy for just £7 – that’s 30% off the rrp of £9.99 – use the code ENCOUNTER when ordering through the NHB website here. This offer is valid until 31 March 2016.

The Encounter is at the Barbican, London, until 6 March, then touring.

Author photo at the top of this page by Robbie Jack.


THE ENCOUNTER: LIVE STREAM

The Encounter was live streamed from the Barbican on Tuesday 1 March. This video is no longer available.

Out of the vault: highlights from VAULT Festival 2016

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VAULT Festival is fast becoming one of the most exciting events on London’s cultural calendar. Taking place each year in the vaults beneath Waterloo, this year’s festival (running until 6 March) is host to over 100 events, from hard-hitting drama to comedy, dance, cabaret, installation, and of course late-night parties. This year Nick Hern Books publishes an anthology containing five of the best plays appearing at the festival, Plays from VAULT (don’t miss the special offer at the bottom of this page). We asked each of the writers to sum up what their plays are about and what VAULT means to them – plus, at the bottom, a few handy tips on what to see at the festival…

Kellett, RosieRosie Kellett on her one-woman play Primadonna, 17-21 Feb, which she also performs:

Primadonna is about being a PA. It’s about being young and keen and impressionable and the lengths we go to to please the people we respect. It’s somewhat based on experiences Jamie [Jackson, the play’s director] and I have had of being assistants ourselves, but in a way it’s more about questioning the cult of overwork and the void between service and servitude that we’ve found ourselves in. I was in Edinburgh with a show in 2015 and saw a lot of solo shows whilst I was there – some were awful, but a few were brilliant and I became fascinated by the challenge of writing one myself. This struck me as the perfect story to tell in monologue form, and it has proven to be equally challenging and rewarding to make.

VAULT Festival is such a special place. I think it might be one of my favourite places to be in London. Big words, but seriously, if you’re not down there in deepest darkest winter, you’re in the wrong place. I mean, not only is it one of the very few places in London that you can put on a show with relative financial ease, it’s also made up of the kindest and most supportive production team you’re ever going to meet. Tim, Mat and Andy seem to only hire lovely, professional people. It’s like a gang that you want to be a part of and for a few weeks you are. It’s the best. It’s one of London’s treasures.

Primadonna

Rosie Kellett in a publicity shot for her play Primadonna


Forsyth, OliOli Forsyth on his play Cornermen, 2-6 March, set in the world of boxing:

Cornermen came out the time I’ve spent in boxing clubs over the years. They’re really fascinating places to be. You get trainers, promoters and boxers of all levels working there, and they’re all looking for the right fight for the right money. I realised the most fascinating relationship of all was between boxer and manager: it seemed full of conflicts of interest. Managers are expected to know their fighters intimately, to care for their well-being and guide their career in a way that generates the most income and the most longevity. But in that lies a conflict. What happens if you manage a boxer who isn’t good enough to compete for titles or book large purse fights? What happens to the vast majority of boxers? The answer is that they become journeymen, boxers who make a living out of fighting any opponent, often at short notice and largely with the expectation that they’ll loose. It’s a hard career, both physically taxing and often short lived. The complexities of that business and the relationships within it are what inspired Cornermen.

We’re hugely excited to be taking the show to the 2016 VAULT Festival. The work last year was exceptional and it looks set to be even better this time around. We’re very fortunate to be on in the closing week, bringing the curtain down on the festival, so to speak, but it does mean the pressure’s on to live up to what came before! To have also been published by Nick Hern Books is something really special – it’s a strange feeling when you see people walking around holding a script you wrote in your local greasy spoon.

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Cornermen by Oli Forsyth


Keith-Roach, Florence_Cropped_Credit Lily Bertrand-Webb

Author photo by Lily Bertrand-Webb

Florence Keith-Roach on her dark comedy about female friendship, Eggs, 24 Feb-6 March:

I wrote Eggs to try to examine the volatility and unique calibre of the variety of female friendships I saw around me and felt was underexplored in art. I was also interested in making theatre that nodded to its own artifice, was non-naturalistic and highlighted the absurd in the mundane.

Eggs is a dark comedy about female friendship, fertility and freaking out. It’s an intimate two-hander looking at the struggle of growing up as a part of Generation Y.

It’s structured as a series of dialogues between two women in their late-twenties, taking place intermittently over the course of a year. They have been friends since university, but in the years since they have started to make very different life choices, and as a result live utterly divergent, almost incommensurable lives. They also lost a friend a while ago, and in the time that has passed since this traumatic event, they realise that without the link of this ‘third leg of their tripod’, they actually have very little in common.

Eggs presents two very complex, intelligent, witty, at times irrational, women, facing life’s obstacles and making bold, but tortured and sometimes quite reckless decisions about how they choose to live their lives. The piece focusses on their friendship, their journey. Both women are at an age where society forces them to confront the ‘ticking time bomb’ that apparently is their fertility, and we witness how these two different women internalise this systemic anxiety. It deals with broader questions about the link between the political and the personal, the visceral alienation that our laissez-faire, capitalist society engenders in people’s subjectivities. And it’s about human beings coping with a mounting sense of alienation in an increasingly fragmented world.

VAULT Festival provides an amazing platform for emerging artists like me and I am incredibly grateful for the huge support they’ve given me. They came to see Eggs in Edinburgh and have offered us their biggest stage for one of their longest runs, which is a huge step for our team. Fringe theatre is becoming increasingly unviable in our profit-driven capital city. This is a real problem as London still prides itself on being a cultural capital of the world and yet most of the artists living here cannot afford to make work. The Vaults however offer an uniquely affordable platform for new work to be exposed to large audiences, younger theatregoers who normally can’t afford the tickets, and industry members. The opportunities they have given me have been essential to the development of my career. It’s a very special place.

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Eggs by Florence Keith-Roach (photo by Lily Ashley)


Laughton, Stephen 1Stephen Laughton on writing Run, 10-14 Feb, his play about a young man who risks everything for love:

So in a short sentence, Run is basically about a 17-year-old who falls in love – and that kind of takes over his entire universe. It’s about love, life, loss, growing up into the man you’re supposed to be and everything in between. And space. There’s a lot of that.

Rather than coming from something  external that inspired me, which is the way I usually work – this time I sat down and thought, I’ve never written a monologue before, I’d like to write about being in love at 17, I’d like to write something about being gay and Jewish, and I’d like to write about a boy who’s a bit obsessed with space. I was then approached about writing a short for Theatre Renegade’s Courting Drama showcase, so I sat down and wrote a twenty-minute version and we all (cast and crew) loved the process so much we decided to have a go at making a full length version. Fastforward nine months or so, and here we are!

It also occurred to me last week that, on a really personal level, it’s also about the moment when my partner and I took a break for a little bit last January. Although it was ultimately a good move, looking back it’s clear that I really had a hard time dealing with that – including a disastrous rebound. And that space apart really affected me.  (But it’s all okay, now, because we got back together and we’re really happy!)

I love VAULT Festival. I’ve been going for a few years now and it’s one of my favourite things to do in London. So being a part of it is just, well… wow…. I’m absolutely super chuffed.

It’s special having this particular play in the festival too… with this team… it’s all kind of just fallen into place wonderfully! Oh and I got a play published because of it… that just rocks!

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Run by Stephen Laughton


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Camilla Whitehill on her monologue about modern love and old-fashioned entitlement, Mr Incredible, 10-14 Feb:

Mr Incredible is about the dark side of modern romantic relationships; it’s about toxic privilege and entitlement; it uses the word ‘love’ a lot but is not a love story. I think a lot of people who have co-habited with a significant other will recognise a lot of the behaviour and language.

VAULT Festival is utterly unique – it is a genuinely egalitarian testing ground for new work and experimental styles. There’s nothing else like it. And once you go, you’ll be addicted. The atmosphere is electric.

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Mr Incredible by Camilla Whitehill


Our writers recommend at VAULT Festival 2016…

Rosie Kellett: It goes without saying that you should see all the other plays in the Nick Hern Books anthology: Mr Incredible, Run, Eggs and Cornermen. Rebecca Durbin is doing really exciting things with Play, I’m totally going to try and make it down to a show. And Vinay Patel has a reading of his play Known Unknowns which I’m really excited for – I loved True Brits which was at the Festival last year.

Florence Keith-Roach: The VAULT Festival seems to be the place for this year’s exciting new writing. It’s not all polished, but that’s what’s so thrilling about it. I am heading straight to the performance poetry/one-woman play by Lily Ashley called You are Me and I am You. After the Heat We Battle for the Heart by Tallulah Brown, about a female bullfighter, will be great too. I am also excited to see Play, a series of devised plays bringing together some really great talent across acting, writing and directing. All of the other plays in the Nick Hern Books anthology are by writers who I have been hearing great things about, so I’m going to be seeing their shows and cannot wait.

Camilla Whitehill: I’m excited to see all the other plays in the anthology, Isley Lynn’s Skin A Cat, and Plunge Theatre’s scratch of their new show Success. I’m also running a fundraiser called A Night For Syria on 5 February, with loads of brilliant theatre and comedy, and all proceeds going to the UNHCR emergency fund.

Oli Forsyth: There’s so much on! I’m working with an Edinburgh Fringe model of running my finger down the programme and going to see whatever I stop on. That said, there are undoubtedly some highlights I’ll be in to see. I Got Dressed In Front of my Nephew Today is as mental as it sounds but is brilliantly funny, clever and makes a real point about the pressures woman are under to conform to a modern perception of beauty. I’m really excited to see Run, Primadonna and Mr Incredible. Chill Pill is usually an excellent night and it’ll be good to see some spoken word during the Festival. Police Cops is exceptional and very, very funny and I can’t wait to catch Eggs – our shows clashed during Edinburgh so I’ll take my chance now!

Stephen Laughton: Isley Lynn’s Skin A Cat, Rosie Kellet’s Primadonna, Camilla Whitehill’s Mr Incredible and Viscera Theatre’s In Tents and Purposes are looking like particular highlights for me. Also check out what Play are doing and basically everything that’s going on at The Locker, there are some great pieces playing there; Crowley and Co are doing a takeover for a couple of weeks and they have an awesome programme… and you’ll def find me at Sarah Kosar’s new play Armadillo and Vinay Patel’s Known Unknown.

FormattedPlays from VAULT contains five of the best plays from VAULT Festival 2016:

Eggs by Florence Keith-Roach
Mr Incredible by Camilla Whitehill
Primadonna by Rosie Kellett
Cornermen by Oli Forsyth
Run by Stephen Laughton

The anthology is out now, published by Nick Hern Books.

SPECIAL OFFER: To buy your copy for just £7.79 (40% off the RRP £12.99), order via the Nick Hern Books website here and use voucher code VAULTBLOG at checkout. Offer valid until 31 March 2016.

VAULT Festival 2016 runs from 27 January – 6 March. Visit the festival website here.

‘The people loved her because she was one of them’: Jessica Swale on her play Nell Gwynn

Nell Gwynn rose from poverty to become the most celebrated actress of her day and a mistress of King Charles II. And now she is returning to the West End as the subject of Jessica Swale’s acclaimed play Nell Gwynn, first seen at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2015 and to be revived at the Apollo Theatre next month with Gemma Arterton in the title role. Here, Jessica Swale speaks to Heather Neill about Nell’s world and why she’s still such a potent figure for us today.

Nell Gwynn, orange-seller and mistress of Charles II, is a figure of legend, but where did she come from?

It’s hard to know exactly; working-class lives weren’t recorded in enough detail for there to be accurate records, but many believe she was brought up in Coal Yard Alley in Covent Garden, where her mother, ‘Old Ma Gwynn’, kept a brothel. Nell probably worked there, either serving drinks to clients or as a prostitute. Some say she worked as a herring gutter or oyster hawker before she began selling oranges in the pit at Drury Lane. Her father died in a debtors’ prison and she had one sister called Rose.

Part of the joy of writing Nell Gwynn has been sketching around the bones of the known facts, imagining and inventing. I never set out to write a documentary-style play, but even if I had, the task would have proved impossible with the inconsistencies and contradictions in her history.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Nell in Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Nell in Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale at Shakespeare’s Globe. Photo by Tristram Kenton

What was the life of an orange-seller like?

The girls sold sharp China oranges and sweetmeats in baskets, whilst earning tips passing messages between punters and backstage – like a seventeenth-century Tinder. Many were prostitutes too. It’s not clear how Nell got onstage, but I like
to imagine that she was spotted wittily doing her job by Charles Hart.

Hart was the star of the day.

Yes, and she did become his mistress. Dryden wrote plays for them both in Thomas Killigrew’s company. Nell was a highly successful and popular comic actress and, although she was illiterate, it’s very likely that she really did invent and perform the Epilogue that appears at the end of Nell Gwynn.

What was theatre like when it was re-established after Cromwell’s Commonwealth?

When Charles II returned from France in 1660, he licensed two theatre companies in London: Killigrew’s King’s Company at Drury Lane and Davenant’s Duke’s Company at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. I imagine Killigrew must have been under tremendous pressure as the two companies were in constant competition. At Drury Lane there was an apron stage and a pit filled with benches rather than standing groundlings. Society was much smaller then, so all classes would meet at the theatre – and the Globe emulates that democratic feel.

Graham Butler as John Dryden in the Shakespeare's Globe production. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Graham Butler as John Dryden in the Shakespeare’s Globe production. Photo by Tristram Kenton

As for Dryden, it is funny that so many of his plays are badly written, but he must have felt the weight of expectation; theatre was re-emerging after an eleven-year gap, he was at the helm of the new culture, the King wanted new plays – it can’t have been easy. No wonder they reinvented so many familiar texts. There was a fashion for rewriting Shakespeare, particularly cheering up the tragedies. King Lear was given a new ending in which Cordelia survives, and Dryden wrote a ‘new play’ called The Enchanted Island, about Prospero and his two daughters – Miranda and Dorinda. Sound familiar? Yet, though his plays haven’t stood the test of time, he was a successful poet and even became Poet Laureate.

How did the first actresses fit into the picture?

Charles II had seen actresses on stage in Paris and decided it was high time we followed fashion. However, the early actresses got a rather raw deal. Writers knew the audiences’ interest in actresses was often voyeuristic, so played into this by writing body-exposing rape scenes, or writing ‘breeches parts’, in which women, disguised as tight-trousered men (exposing their shapely legs) were then revealed to be female with the dramatic exposure of their breasts. Punters often paid an extra penny to watch the actresses change, many of whom were prostitutes. This was Nell’s world, but I wanted her to question it. If she was learning the craft, falling in love with acting, surely someone of her wit and intelligence would want better parts to play than the ‘wilting waifish woman’. She wasn’t the first woman on stage; that was probably Margaret Hughes, or possibly (as in this play) Moll Davies at the rival company, but Nell was in the first wave of actresses.

Photo by Tristram Kenton

Photo by Tristram Kenton

You have had considerable success directing plays of this period. Did you consider writing in the style of a Restoration play?

Whilst I originally considered writing in a Restoration style, I thought it would be alienating (and a little perverse) to use archaic language, to be overly verbose and use magniloquent phraseology unnecessarily (you see). What was far more important to me was to capture the quick wit of the time – and the equivalent of that for us is more akin to modern farce. So that’s what I decided to go with for Nell Gwynn. I’ve peppered it with period references, but I’ve chosen to use modern syntax and diction, with the occasional anachronism for comic effect.

You have actors demonstrating ‘attitudes’, poses to indicate emotions. Would the acting style have seemed alien to us?

Photo by Tristram Kenton

Photo by Tristram Kenton

It’s easy to assume that it was melodramatic, but actually Pepys describes the best actors as seeming real, so I wonder if the style somehow used precise physical positions as a structure, rather like ballet, whilst still being emotionally connected, like naturalism. The ‘attitudes’ weren’t static poses but frameworks of movements and gestures which actors used to underscore the text. As theatres were large buildings, it was important that emotion could be read in an actor’s posture. Heightened emotion, stylised, but still real.

Are the songs in the play based on the music of the period?

They’re certainly inspired by it. I love writing lyrics, and had been listening to everything from Purcell to an album called The History of Bawdy Songs, the title of which tells you all you need to know! So I would write in pastiche of a style, then pass the lyrics on to [composer] Nigel Hess, who would transform them by writing original melodies and scoring them so beautifully that they’d become unrecognisable. He is a genius, I think.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Nell and David Sturzaker as Charles II. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Nell and David Sturzaker as Charles II. Photo by Tristram Kenton

How much is known of Nell’s relationship with the King?

I think they really were in love. She was his favourite mistress for many years, and they spent a lot of private time together. He had a secret passage built from his court rooms in Westminster to her house in Pall Mall, so they could rendezvous for card games and evenings away from the public. Unlike Barbara Castlemaine [another mistress of Charles II, sometimes referred to as ‘the Uncrowned Queen’], she made no attempt to interfere in politics and never asked for a title for herself (though she did for her sons). Louise de Keroualle, another favourite mistress and Nell’s rival, was tremendously unpopular and was known as ‘the Catholic whore’. There’s a story that a crowd once attacked Nell’s coach thinking Louise was inside, so Nell merrily stuck her head out and said ‘Hold, good people, I am the Protestant whore!’, which garnered whoops and cheers from the delighted onlookers. The people loved her because she was one of them. And, of course, there’s Charles’s famous dying wish: ‘Don’t let poor Nellie starve.’

Gemma Arterton as Nell in a publicity shot for the forthcoming West End production

Gemma Arterton as Nell in a publicity shot for the forthcoming West End production

One of your themes is celebrity.

It’s fascinating to ask whether Nell’s celebrity was due to her brilliance as an actress or because she was the King’s mistress. Pamphleteers – like paparazzi today – would quickly report the activities of the famous, and Charles (and his mistresses) were the hot topic. There was such a frenzy to see him that they even allowed the public into the gallery to watch him eat dinner at night. There was a culture of writing lewd poems about society figures; just look at Rochester [John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, the renowned poet and courtier, famous for his libertinism and profane verse] . So if there’s a few dirty jokes in the play, don’t blame me, it’s all in the name of historical accuracy…

Was it difficult to distinguish fact from legend and gossip?

Yes, and I made a decision early on that the play should be an entertaining homage to Nell rather than an attempt at documentary-style historical accuracy. Otherwise the play would be a week long, and have to include the fire of London, the plague and the entire Court decamping to Oxford in 1665, just for starters. I made giant wall charts coursing the events of the theatre and the Court, but even then there are contradictions where historians debate when and how. I have drawn on hearsay; the story of the laxatives, for example. But primarily I wanted to honour Nell’s memory, to capture her spirit and what she stood for rather than stick slavishly to facts. The key events of the play are historically accurate, but I’ve allowed myself to embellish. Primarily, I wanted it to be fun. And if it’s a play that Nell would have enjoyed, that’s enough for me.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Nell in the Shakespeare's Globe production. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Nell in the Shakespeare’s Globe production. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Reprinted with kind permission of Shakespeare’s Globe. Heather Neill is a freelance journalist and theatre historian.


Tamara von WerthernFrom our Performing Rights Manager: Jessica Swale has had remarkable success within the amateur market with her first play Blue Stockings, which shot straight to the top of our most-performed plays of 2014 and managed to keep its position there last year as well. So we have extremely high hopes for Nell Gwynn too. It is such a wonderful show with a larger-than-life female protagonist injecting it with zest and life, I can only see a very bright future for it amongst amateur companies up and down the country. And the good news is that, despite the forthcoming West End revival, we are already inviting interest in the play, as suitable potential productions will be given the green light. So please get in touch with us at rights@nickhernbooks.co.uk and send us the details of your planned production and we’ll do all we can to get it to go ahead. Looking forward to hearing from you soon! Tamara von Werthern, Performing Rights Manager


The Shakespeare’s Globe production of Nell Gwynn opens at the Apollo Theatre, West End, on 12 February, with previews from 4 February. To book tickets, click here.

The playtext, including a longer version of the interview extracted above, is published by Nick Hern Books. To buy a copy with a 20% discount, click here.

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.

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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.

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

WordsTable

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.


Formatted

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 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.

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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.

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See you in Edinburgh!