Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part 2: The Final Reckoning

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

pp posterPassing Places by Stephen Greenhorn
Great Child Productions

The fringe is an experience like no other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Tom Sergeant, CEO of Great Child Productions


ff-posterprintresFoxfinder by Dawn King
Master of None

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

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

Promoting Foxfinder on the Royal Mile

Promoting Foxfinder on the Royal Mile

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

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

Phil Jupitus lends a hand

Phil Jupitus lends a hand

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

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

– Hugo Nicholson, producer & cast member

Foxfinder Banner


PentagonForever House by Glenn Waldron
Pentagon Theatre

Well, we are all done!

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

Transporting the set for Forever House through Edinburgh

Transporting the set for Forever House through Edinburgh

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

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

Cast and crew with author Glenn Waldron

Cast and crew with author Glenn Waldron (centre)

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

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

– James Bowen, co-director


You might also be interested in…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Light Burns Blue by Silva Semerciyan

The Light Burns Blue by Silva Semerciyan

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

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

Second Person Narrative by Jemma Kennedy

Second Person Narrative by Jemma Kennedy

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

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

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

This Changes Everything by Joel Horwood

This Changes Everything by Joel Horwood

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

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

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

Tamara von Werthern

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


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

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

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

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

Lucy Kerbel photograph by Slav Kirichok

‘So tyrannous and rough in proof!’: Shakespeare and typos. By Nick de Somogyi.

William ShakespeareWhy didn’t Shakespeare concern himself with the many inaccuracies in the printed editions of his works? Nick de Somogyi, editor of the Shakespeare Folios Series, hunts for clues and looks at the lasting consequences, as his new book Shakespeare on Theatre, a unique collection of Shakespeare’s every reflection on the theatre, is published.

In the beginning was the Word; closely followed by the typo. Or so last year’s exhibition at Cambridge University Library celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible reminded us. Readers who puzzled over the 1631 version of the Seventh Commandment (‘Thou shalt commit adultery’) were later promised that ‘the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God’ (1653). Perhaps richest of all, though, reads the 1701 edition, where the Psalmist laments that ‘Printers have persecuted me without a cause’: a sentiment Shakespeare would surely have applauded – had he displayed any lasting interest in his own published work. Shakespeare’s lifelong relationship with print (or rather his lack of one) endures as a perpetually mysterious frustration to his biographers and editors.

He certainly seems to have supervised the publication of his two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, in the early 1590s, both of which were finely printed by his Stratford friend Richard Field – whose catalogue anyway included many books Shakespeare is known to have read. But Field didn’t print plays (too lowly a product, perhaps), and those of Shakespeare’s that appeared in his lifetime did so via a bewildering series of different publishers – with none of whose products he ever seems to have much bothered himself. So while Ben Jonson took care to explain that he had changed the original ending of Every Man Out of His Humour (1600), that Sejanus was ‘not the same with that which was acted on the public stage’ (1605), and that nothing had ‘been changed from the simplicity of the first copy’ of Epicoene (1616), Shakespeare’s editors must glance longingly at such clues to the status and ‘authenticity’ of their texts.

Shakespeare’s own attitude towards print was characteristically ambivalent, reportedly ‘much offended’ in 1612 that a careless publisher had passed off someone else’s poem as his, while celebrating Richard Field as the ‘Richard du Champ’ praised by Imogen in Cymbeline (1610), first printed in the 1623 First Folio – as it happens, by the same sloppy publisher, William Jaggard, who had earlier so offended him. Or should that properly be Innogen? ‘Imogen’ throughout the play’s unique Folio text, scholars have recently agreed that the spelling of her name ‘appears to be a misprint’ for ‘Innogen’, which is how she appears both in Shakespeare’s source and subsequent accounts of his play. So tell that to the millions of girls since named after his heroine’s Folio misspelling – a mass chorus behind the Goon’s famous self-introduction as ‘Spike Milligna, the well known typing error’. It was Spike’s friend Eric’s then current television series that must have caused the howler on the blurb of my seventies paperback of Oliver Twist, which counts ‘Bill Sykes’ [sic] among its major characters. Not that Shakespeare’s name was ever typographically fixed during his lifetime (Shaxberd, Shaxpere, Shackspere . . .), but it did matter to some – notably Ben Jonson (or IONSON, in any case without the h), who insisted on the ‘Roman’ form of his surname, even as he crammed the margins of his proofs with his Latin sources: ‘to which it may be required, since I have quoted the page, to name what editions I followed’.

It is hard to imagine Shakespeare writing such words, though his impatience at proofreading perhaps issues into Lady Capulet’s chilly instructions to Juliet: ‘Read o’er the volume of young Paris’ face,’ she says, ‘Examine every single lineament . . . And what obscur’d in this fair volume lies | Find written in the margin of his eyes’ – any lingering doubt at his appearance being corrected by the certainty of his eyes’ adoration, in the same way that a marginal gloss – or a proofreader’s marginal correction – will make the proper reading clear. As that oddly cross-eyed description shows, whatever other qualities Paris has to offer as a suitor, love at first sight is not among them. ‘Whate’er befall thee,’ warns a Cambridge academic in a 1601 play, ‘keep thee from the trade of a corrector of the press! . . . Would it not grieve any good spirit to sit a whole month nitting over a lousy pamphlet?’ The advice holds good (it would, and it doth), and Shakespeare seems to have taken it. Of such pamphlets, few were lousier with typos than the Quarto text of Pericles (1609) – one of Shakespeare’s greatest triumphs at the Globe. When Marina describes the commotion aboardship as sailors ‘skip from sterne to sterne’, for example, editors since 1790 have confidently corrected the phrase to read ‘from stem to stern’, the result of the typesetter misreading a handwritten m as rn. But who is to say that the original line did not read ‘from stern to stem’? Certainly not Shakespeare, whose abdication of a modern author’s duties extended that same year to the error-strewn Quarto edition of his Sonnets.

It may be that Shakespeare always intended to supervise his own Collected Works before his death in 1616 – a possibility discernible in the preface Heminge and Condell wrote for their Folio (‘It had been a thing, we confess, worthy to have been wished, that the author himself had lived to have set forth and overseen his own writings’). Had he done so – well, who knows how many additional treasures might have been bequeathed. The scripts of Love’s Labours Won and Cardenio? A decent chronological account of his plays’ first performances? Or even just the occasional ruling over the hundreds of ‘textual cruxes’ that litter the plays as we have them. (If Dogberry is dim enough to instruct the Watch in Much Ado to be ‘vigitant’ instead of ‘vigilant’, say, why shouldn’t he make a better joke by telling them to observe the city ‘statues’, as he does in the Folio, rather than the Quarto’s correct but blankly unfunny ‘statutes’?) Even if Shakespeare had lived to correct the proofs of his Folio, though, the odd typo would always have got through – as it did when Juliet asks there, ‘What? in a names that which we call a Rose’ – a nonsense arising from a nit-picking proofreader’s correction of punctuation (‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose . . .’) being botched by a confused typesetter. (I remember checking a dust-jacket where the author’s first name had been changed to ‘Rowan’, before seeing that the copy-editor had merely intended to change the font from italic to ‘roman’).

Nor did Shakespeare ever write an example of that minor artform, the ‘errata slip’, such as the following, from 1607: ‘Reader, some faults (by reason of my absence) escaped by the printer I entreat you, if you will, to excuse; if not, correct. The first (if kind) you may; the second (if curious) you must – and easily: if it be in the end of the verse by comparing the metre; if elsewhere, the sense.’ It’s still a useful guide for readers and editors of Shakespeare’s plays – and to the actors who still perform them. Having taken time out from editing the Shakespeare Folios series to compile Shakespeare on Theatre, an anthology of the playwright’s reflections on his craft, I think I can understand his otherwise infuriating indifference to the quality of the texts issued in his name. The balance between the grammatical punctuation required by a reader, and the looser ‘pointing’ of an actor’s script, is endlessly delicate, and the manuscript cue-parts distributed among Shakespeare’s company generally left it to them to sort out the sense – disastrously, in the case of the Prologue to Pyramus and Thisbe. Besides, while the full text of any play only ever supplies a menu (rather than a set meal) from which to select the script of a production, no edition of any of Shakespeare’s has ever been identically punctuated or worded in the four centuries since their first performance. The one quality Dr Johnson (with an h) found to praise in the otherwise abysmal playwright Richard Savage was his ‘superstitious regard to the correction of his sheets . . . lament[ing] an error of a single letter as a heavy calamity’. Shakespeare took a broader view, reserving his concern for the more pressing accidentals of the temporary stage, not the immortal page.

Shakespeare on Theatre (£10.99)

Shakespeare on Theatre (£10.99)

‘Death (as the Psalmist saith) is certain to all, all shall die,’ reflects Shallow in the 1600 Quarto of 2 Henry IV – the same misprinted Psalmist who should have complained about the ‘Princes’ (not the ‘Printers’) who persecuted him. The correct reading has always been more relevant. The publisher responsible for the missing ‘not’ in that 1631 Commandment was heavily fined by the authorities, and died in debtor’s prison. (A case of sabotage, he always claimed.) And when a Soviet newspaper rushed a new speech by Stalin into print in 1944, the harassed typesetter omitted a single letter that transformed the title of ‘Supreme High Commander’ into ‘Shitter-in-Chief’. (The editor was sent to the Front.) By such grim comparison, Shakespeare and his publishers got off lightly – though the 1623 Folio (the King James Version?) omits the bracketed reference to ‘the Psalmist’ in Shallow’s Quarto speech, following legislation against onstage profanity in 1606.

It is in part for the endlessly provisional nature of their scripts that Shakespeare’s plays will always re-enter the stage of the human mind – pending any posthumous directive by the author. It could still happen: when Cambridge University Library were pruning their collection in the 1860s, a scribbled-over edition of Milton’s Lycidas was found on the open shelves. It turned out they were Milton’s own corrections.

Shakespeare on Theatre is published by Nick Hern Books.  Click here to purchase your copy at our standard 20% discount (RRP £10.99) – no voucher code required.

Jez Butterworth’s JERUSALEM at St Paul’s

Image One

Art often imitates life, but it’s rare that a West End play gets taken up by a group of anti-capitalist protesters as the perfect encapsulation of their spirit of defiance. But this is just what has happened to Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, a play that is back in the West End with Mark Rylance once again giving his barnstorming performance as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron – a modern-day Pied Piper who refuses to bow to the eviction notice served on him by local council officials.

But head on down to the campsite at St Paul’s, currently occupied by protesters under the collective name of ‘Occupy the London Stock Exchange’, and you’ll find an alternative ‘performance’ of the play. A very alternative one, in fact.

Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth

Jerusalem playtext

Here, the man behind the project to bring Jerusalem to the protesters – a protester himself with no previous theatrical experience, who goes only by the name of ‘Bill’ – explains what’s going on in a series of bulletins from the front line.

****************

From: Bill

Date: Sunday 30 October

Subject: ‘Jerusalem’ at St Paul’s

The first play-reading will take place today [30th October] at 4.30pm. It may well turn out to be a shambles, raining and under-attended, but it’s a start!

With any luck, if the readings gain momentum, and a gang starts to get together, we might try and manage a ‘proper’ performance/production? But it’s all very much ‘see how it goes’ at the moment.

Am very grateful to Jez Butterworth for his kind permission to let us do this, against the usual rules when the play’s on in the West End!

Best wishes,

Bill

****************

From: Bill

Date: Tuesday 1 November

Subject: Mrs Theatre

The project has turned out very differently from the original idea because I haven’t seen either of the two people who wanted to do it too since the night of the big conversation about it (Thursday). It’s fairly usual for people to come and go without telling anyone. The upshot is, by Saturday, I began to realise I was alone with the project. I got quite frightened and wanted to drop out: I have no connection with the theatre, am not an actor, director or anything, secondly, it was impossible to find any appropriate space to do anything in the St Paul’s camp, and I was beginning to feel uncertain there, wondering if the interests of the protests might be better served by the Finsbury Square camp [a second scene of protest at Finbury Square, EC1].

By very happy chance I discovered someone had made a theatre in a tent at Finsbury Square when I moved to that camp on Sunday. This project would have been impossible without her (I don’t actually know her name. ‘I’m Mrs Theatre,’ she said.)

Have to go now but will e-mail later.

Best wishes,

Bill

****************

From: Bill

Date: Tuesday 1 November

Subject: Apocalypse Now

Today was a no-show too: it coincided with a big General Meeting up at the St Paul’s site (which won’t be cleared tomorrow after all, as a new legal development has postponed it again.)

I haven’t really left the campsites for the past week, and am grateful for the opportunity to make contact with anyone unconnected with them. They can get a bit hardcore. Finsbury Square, in particular, never sleeps. St Pauls is often manic in the day but gets quite peaceful in the middle of the night, (except for the bells, though I really liked these, one of the best sounds ever). Finsbury Square, meanwhile, is fairly laid back in the daytime, and the public use it as a walk-through, but when it starts to get dark it begins to change; the nights can get a bit ‘Apocalypse Now’. There have been a few problems. Some of the people are street alcoholics, (but no less brilliant for that). There’s often trouble from the public too, late night gangs of men screaming at us, provoking an even more furious response from volatile people on the site. Sometimes protestors arrive in the middle of the night from other parts of the country and can get a bit shirty if they are told they have to come back in the morning. A group of five trashed the kitchen tent at 1am this morning before raging off intending to camp on Parliament Square.

At the reading we had on Sunday, none of the participants had heard of the play, and only one person, Mrs Theatre, had much declared interest in theatre generally. Everyone was a non-actor. But immediately the play had everyone’s absorption and, very soon in, I didn’t have to do or explain anything any more, for all concerned were utterly carrying it. They laughed a lot. The part of Johnny was read by an Irish man of roughly Johnny’s age, no fixed abode, a hurricane of drink and he did it all joyously. He read quite fast, which the reading needed, and the beautiful thing was he’d frequently realise how funny the line he was reading actually was, halfway through reading it, and would crack up laughing. I hoped he might be around for further readings, but haven’t seen him since. Mrs Theatre really loves the play and wants to keep going with it – we didn’t get all the way through on Sunday and she wants to. The play connected with everyone immediately; my aim at the moment is to keep going with it in the hope maybe others will want to continue with the project and I can pass it over to them.

I have been asked questions by many people, and I’ve no idea who they are; questions like ‘is this your theatre then?’, ‘Are you running a company?’ and in some cases, while they examine a copy of the play: Are you the author?

Thanks, Jez Butterworth for this play, for its defiance against rising tyranny, and for creasing us up when we most needed creasing.

Best wishes,

Bill

****************

From: Bill

Date: Friday 4 November

Subject: ‘The Miracle’

The readings are starting to go exactly as hoped, for now: they are not performances, there is no audience. It’s just a reading group and it’s very casual. What happens is: two or three of us sit on chairs in a very, very small theatre tent (about eight foot square, the fourth wall open to the outside), reading selected scenes among ourselves for enjoyment’s sake between 1.30–3pm each day (though today’s looking unlikely: the site’s under six inches of water). When people come, one of us whispers to them they can take a seat if they like. If they sit down they’re handed a copy of the play and shown the page we’re on. They’re invited to join in if they feel like it. Then they’re left alone. No explanations or sales pitch: the continuation of the reading is what matters; people can take it or leave it.

So far, especially yesterday, this has worked well. One or two City workers on their lunch break have come and sat down, eating a sandwich, reading the play as we continue the reading. When the two or three of us read, there are usually 2–3 main character parts in the extracts we’re doing, then a fourth or fifth character might enter, or be there already but not saying any lines until well into the extract. This is when ‘the miracle’ happens: very often the quiet new ‘guest’, be it a City worker, campsite person, whoever, will spontaneously read out that new part, therefore becoming part of the reading.

When the extract finishes, we all go ‘Phew! That was all right, wasn’t it?’ and we all grin and laugh and talk about how funny the play is. The City people who have been present often say they’ve seen the play in the West End and love it, or that they want to go and see it. The campsite people are very often unfamiliar with the play, and don’t know it’s currently very famous. It’s just ‘some play or other’ which, they discover, happens to be brilliant, funny as f***, completely apt for today and apt for their own situation. Anyone who’s not heard of the play but comes to a reading on spec seems to become an immediate convert. They know also they can come and join a reading any time they like, for as little or as long as they want.

Have to go now.

Best wishes,

Bill

We hope to bring you further bulletins from Bill in due course…

Spotlight: playwright CONOR McPHERSON

Conor McPherson

Conor McPherson

Playwright Conor McPherson – ‘a writer who can make inarticulacy sound poetic’ (Evening Standard) – returns to the theatre this month with the premiere of his new play The Veil at the National Theatre. We’ve published the playtext along with a striking new edition of his earliest works, McPherson Plays: One, which includes a new foreword by the author. In this extract from the foreword, McPherson looks at why in the nineties the monologue form became so dominant in Irish theatre.

The nineties in Irish theatre will probably always be associated with the monologue. Almost every successful new play that emerged from Ireland at the time had an element of direct storytelling. It was as though the crazy explosion of money and stress was happening too close to us, too fast for us, making it impossible for the mood of the nation to be objectively dramatised in a traditional sense. It could only be expressed in the most subjective way possible because when everything you know is changing, the subjective experience is the only experience.

Production photograph of The Veil, by Conor McPherson, National Theatre, September 2011

Hannah Lambroke (Emily Taafe) and Grandie (Ursula Jones) in The Veil at the National Theatre. Photo by Helen Warner

I would suggest that the hunger for this kind of highly personal work was unprecedented because the whole phenomenon of living in Ireland at the time was unprecedented. It has been argued elsewhere that a secular need flooded the space left by the disgraced Catholic Church and a contemporary dearth of true political leadership. We still had souls, but we just couldn’t trust anyone with them any more. Thus monologue theatre flourished because it was a mirror which took you inside your own eye. The work had to become more private and the humour more painful in order to reflect the mood of an audience who didn’t feel like they were living in a sustainable reality on any level. Big old ‘state of the nation’ plays simply couldn’t have reflected that feeling, I don’t think. The dramatic problem was far subtler than before so the successful plays of the time took a subtler approach.

The Seafarer production at National Theatre, 2006

Jim Norton (Richard), Michael McElhatton (Nicky), Ron Cook (Mr. Lockhart), Conleth Hill (Ivan) in The Seafarer at the National Theatre, 2006. Photo Catherine Ashmore.

As young writers, we knew of Beckett’s great monologue plays and Brian Friel’s iconic Faith Healer, but these were examples of a form rather than the norm. When one considers the tumultuous time in which this form re-emerged and became almost ubiquitous it doesn’t feel like mere coincidence, and I would contend that to dismiss such a sea change in Irish drama is to ignore how well it charted the peculiar history of the Irish mind for its time. And all the more so when one considers how organic and unconscious this movement was. It just happened. The more Ireland’s economic fortunes appeared to catapult us into a twenty-first-century orbit, the more our theatre seemed determined to return us to an almost ancient mode of storytelling.

The Veil: playscript

The Veil (£9.99)

For myself, I haven’t written a monologue play for well over a decade now. This year I am forty and consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to have worked as a playwright for the last twenty years. The hard-won perspective of the intervening time shows me that I thought I was free and independent back then, but now I know I was struggling with history just like everybody else. I used to find it so difficult to even think about my own past work. I always felt the need to look away into the future. But as I enter middle age I look back with a more forgiving regard. I read the very first line of the first play in this volume, which says: ‘I think my overall fucked-upness is my impatience.’ It was true then, and it’s true now, and probably not just for me. And maybe that impatience drew me to the monologue form. Because it could take you right where you wanted to be so fast and keep you there because it just felt real.

Conor McPherson, 2011

Jacket: McPherson Plays 1 (collection)

Mcpherson Plays: One (£12.99)

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Conor McPherson’s latest work – The Veil – is currently running at the National Theatre until 2nd November – click here for more information and to purchase tickets. His earlier play, Dublin Carol, will run at the Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End 8-31 December 2011 (a Donmar Warehouse production), click here for more information and to purchase tickets. 

The NHB publication of The Veil and the new edition of McPherson Plays: One (with a new author Foreword) are available now to purchase. To order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).


Spotlight: Headlong’s DECADE

Decade jacket

Decade (Nick Hern Books, £10.99)

As Decade, Headlong’s imaginative investigation of 9/11 and its legacy, opens in London, NHB Commissioning Editor Matt Applewhite considers a play publisher’s role in documenting the theatre of our times – and why it’s worth pulling out all the stops to do so.

When, in 2009, Caryl Churchill wrote Seven Jewish Children, her short, sharp response to the situation in Gaza, the Royal Court programmed and produced the play within weeks. As Caryl’s publisher, but also as individuals similarly concerned by the crisis, we felt it was important to publish the play alongside its run. Printed copies were given free of charge to all audience members, and the play is still freely available as a PDF download on our website, enabling it to be read, studied and hotly debated around the world.

Since theatre is the art form most able to react to and explore, in imaginative ways, major world events as they happen, our responsibility as a theatre publisher is to respond likewise. Whilst the work itself might be performed for only a very short time, publication will guarantee the play an ongoing life. Bringing permanence to the essentially ephemeral is the guiding principle behind the publication of any play; when the work combines a wider but immediate significance with something of lasting artistic value, it can feel even more vital.

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Headlong, Rupert Goold’s theatre company, has a track record of producing provocative, challenging theatre about urgent, contemporary issues. In their productions of Lucy Prebble’s ENRON and Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London, the Big Subjects of financial meltdown and climate change were respectively explored, in brilliantly theatrical and exhilarating ways. To mark ten years since 9/11, the company began work on their Decade project, commissioning twenty writers from both sides of the Atlantic (and beyond) to respond to the events of that day, and what has happened in the world since.

We all know the profound impact that 9/11 has had on international politics and global security, but the twenty plays making up Decade are all the more powerful for telling us the stories of individuals. So we see the Muslim shopkeeper who has a brick thrown through his window, the souvenir-seller at Ground Zero who seduces weeping tourists, the widows who meet up every anniversary, the passengers grounded at a unnamed airport, the young US solider and the photo which makes her infamous, and – almost comically – the person born on 11th September who must evermore share her birthday with a date remembered for all the wrong reasons. Through these stories we glimpse a bigger picture of how all our lives have changed by varying degrees in various ways.

Decade production shot (photo: Tristram Kenton)

A scene from Decade by Headlong Theatre (photo by Tristram Kenton)

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We’d been discussing the possible publication of these plays for a few months with Headlong, but it was finally confirmed less than two weeks ago that they’d like us to publish all twenty pieces in a single volume and in time for press night. Eight working days is not a long time to get any play into print, from signing a contract to having finished copies, via the processes of typesetting, proofreading, copyediting and design, not to mention the actual printing of the book. And the challenge is all the greater when there are twenty playwrights and their agents to deal with, twenty contracts to be negotiated, twenty plays to be typeset, etc, etc. – and a book of 256 pages to be produced. Thanks to the goodwill, cooperation and hard work of a lot of people, copies were on sale to audiences at the press night.

And, after the production ends on 15th October, and the attention around the tenth anniversary of 9/11 has passed, copies of the publication will still be on sale. Just as the plays explore the legacy of a moment in history, they will have a legacy themselves.

The NHB publication of the twenty plays that make up Decade is available here. To order your copy for £10.99 with free UK P&P add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed). 

To see Headlong’s thrilling production of Decade running at St Katharine Docks, London, until 15th October, book via the National Theatre Box Office here

Edinburgh Festival Fringe special: with Gareth Armstrong and HighTide’s Steven Atkinson

Gareth Armstrong

Gareth Armstrong

Rounding off our Edinburgh Festival Fringe special, our third and final post features writer, director, actor and Edinburgh regular Gareth Armstrong, whose newly published book So You Want To Do A Solo Show? is an essential resource for both aspiring and seasoned solo performers, especially those wanting to make it big on the Fringe. Also offering his behind-the-scenes insight is HighTide Artistic Director Steven Atkinson, whose latest production is Dusk Rings A Bell by Stephen Belber (published by NHB), opening this week at Assembly George Square.

Gareth Armstrong: There’ll be a ghost coming with me to this year’s Fringe.

A dozen years ago I was performing my one-man show Shylock at the Assembly Rooms. This year I’ll be watching my play Shylock at the Assembly Rooms, and I’m not sure which will be the more nerve-wracking experience. In between I’ve taken the play around the world several times, seen it performed in half-a-dozen languages and directed it in America. But seeing it back where the journey began will have me on the edge of my seat. That ghost will be up there on stage reminding me of one of the most rewarding months of my professional life.

The show had opened at Salisbury Playhouse where Guy Masterson saw it and added me to the bulging portfolio of plays he was taking to the festival. We played in the late-lamented Wildman Room – alarmingly intimate, unbearably hot and with an electric atmosphere of expectation. We pulled it off, Guy covered his costs, and I spent the next ten years making, for an actor, a reasonable living from that show.

So You Want To Do A Solo Show? jacket

So You Want To Do A Solo Show? by Gareth Armstrong (£10.99)

But the Fringe is a fickle mistress.  A one-man show that takes a revisionist look at a major Shakespeare character and plunders the original text for all the juiciest bits was, I thought, after my first attempt, a winning formula. After Shakespeare’s infamous Jew the magisterial Prospero seemed within my range and, two years after Shylock, working with a talented writer friend, we created a piece based on the man who many think inspired Shakespeare’s magus, Dr John Dee. Among many other things Dee was an astrologer and chose auspicious dates for momentous events. The omens were good. Ignoring Max Bialystock’s advice I used my own money to finance the project (Dr Prospero) and with high production values and high expectations we assaulted Edinburgh again. I lost £15,000.

It was no consolation to me that Dr Dee ended up broke too. He did at least hold the faith to the end of his long life. I am not made of such stern stuff and abandoned the capricious Fringe for a decade. And when I came back to it I was wearing a different and less conspicuous hat. As a director, with no financial stake, and without the burden of performing every day I could actually enjoy the festival for the first time. Once up and running the shows looked after themselves and even found some glory.

This year I’m a milliner’s dream because I will be wearing three hats. As well as being the playwright of Shylock, now performed with wonderful synchronicity and also with enormous verve by my original producer Guy Masterson, I have a production of The Rape of Lucrece playing at The Zoo space. Gerard Logan is proving once again that revisiting Shakespeare in an original way can still work. He is, as far as I know, the first actor to tackle this epic poem in a one-man performance and he proves that even in a text as obviously aimed at the reader as Lucrece, Shakespeare’s sense of theatre, his thrilling characters and his sublime language cry out for dramatisation.

My third hat makes its debut at this year’s Fringe. I’m promoting a book I have written called So You Want To Do A Solo Show? and as the title says it all, I am hoping it will speak for itself.

Dusk Rings a Bell production shot

Paul Blair and Katherine Kingsley in rehearsal for Dusk Rings a Bell

Steven Atkinson: Unlike other festivals and theatres, the Edinburgh Fringe can boast the most diverse of all audiences. It’s a premier platform to premiere a new play, thanks to the intense focus that the industry, press and audiences afford it. There’s the chance of winning a Fringe First or a Herald Angel or any of the number of awards that helps ensure the play lives on in the consciousness. There’s also the impact on audiences, and many a professional artist has been introduced to a writer at the Fringe whom they then go on to work with professionally. I saw Stephen Belber’s Tape several years ago, and comparable to Mamet, Stephen’s dialogue is unforgettable because it’s his own original voice. Dusk Rings A Bell is playing in a sizable three-hundred-seat venue at Assembly, so the show will be enjoyed by a large audience. But I hope it also inspires others to stage it and explore Stephen’s back catalogue, so that we see Belber rivals popping up on Fringes and campus scenes and, hopefully, future Edinburgh Festivals.

Gareth Armstrong has directed two solo shows for this year’s Festival Fringe, including a production of his own play Shylock (4–29 August, 3.45pm) at Assembly Hall, and The Rape of Lucrece (5–29 August, 5.15pm) at Zoo SouthsideHis new book, So You Want To Do A Solo Show? is available now. To order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed). Copies will also be on-sale at the Fringe alongside his two productions through the venues’ box office. 

Dusk Rings a Bell  jacket

Dusk Rings a Bell by Stephen Belber (£9.99)

NHB proudly publish the playscript alongside HighTide’s production of A Dusk Rings a Bell – to order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).