Spotlight: THE PRIDE at Crucible Studio, Sheffield

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

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

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

Daniel Evans in rehearsals for THE PRIDE

Daniel Evans (Oliver). Photos Robert Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claire Price in rehearsal for The Pride

Claire Price (Sylvia). Photos Robert Day

Do you feel your acting experience has helped your writing?

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

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

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

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

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

Jame Sives in rehearsal for THE PRIDE

Jamie Sives (Phillip). Photos Robert Day

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

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

TICKET GIVEAWAY!

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

The Pride play text

The Pride (NHB £8.99)

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

THE PLAY IS SET IN WHICH TWO YEARS?

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

To book tickets for another performance click here.

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

Spotlight: HUNDREDS AND THOUSANDS at Soho Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nadine Lewington (Tiggy) in Hundreds & Thousands

Nadine Lewington (Tiggy). Photo by Graham Michael

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

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

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

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

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

Arinze Kene: on Little Baby Jesus

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

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

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

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

Akemnji Ndifernyen (Rugrat)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fixer image by Chris Hondros

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

Lydia Adetunji: on Fixer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight: HOME DEATH – a new play by Nell Dunn

Nell DunnNell Dunn is a distinguished writer whose work includes the award-winning play Steaming, as well as several novels including Up the Junction, which was directed for TV by Ken Loach. Her latest play Home Death is based on moving true-life accounts of people dealing with the death of their loved ones at home. It was performed this week at the Royal Society of Medicine as part of the Dying Matters Awareness Week. Here, the writer reveals how her own experience of loss led her to confront the way we deal with the reality of dying, raising urgent questions about the state of palliative care in the UK today.

Where did the idea to write your play first originate?
I wrote Home Death because after the death of my partner at home, I realised I knew so little about how to comfort and take care of the dying. So I began to ask other people, and what I learned I put into the play.

The main impetus was curiosity – a desperation to know. After the feeling of failure in my situation with my partner, Dan, it seemed to make me feel better talking to others.

You interweave a number of individuals’ stories in the play. Was it always your intention to include your own personal experience as well?
I started with my own story. I was heartbroken I hadn’t helped Dan more. He had always been so wonderful and supportive to me, and I so wanted to help, but was frightened and didn’t know enough.

Could you describe your process of researching and writing Home Death?
I always research in a completely haphazard way… talking to someone on a bus for example. I use a tape recorder sometimes, not always. The technique is to gather material, then smash the glass and reassemble it differently by listening to it again and again – hence the unconventional punctuation in the play.

You also write novels and screenplays, but what made you choose to write Home Death as a play?
I think the theatre is the best medium for Home Death. It can be interpreted in so many different ways by actors, yet it is really so simple – stories about the most extreme moment of life. People are so extraordinary, and this is what I have tried to capture.

Home Death jacket

Home Death by Nell Dunn

The play contains some striking images that feature in several of the stories such as the cold, unwanted, hospital bed arriving in a patient’s home. Is this a notion that particularly struck you?
The image of the cold bed was intentional. I was thinking about how an object was attempting to take the place of clear sensible human care. Why an unfamiliar ugly hospital bed to die in, rather then your own familiar bed?

What is your opinion of the current standard of palliative care available in the UK?
Sometimes palliative care is excellent and sometimes dreadful. However, I do think all the different painkillers that now exist should be more freely available to people in their last few weeks of life. Why this puritan approach to drugs?

There are far too few palliative care doctors, and almost none that do home visits. This means if you are dying at home, you are in the hands of a district nurse who isn’t even allowed to prescribe painkilling drugs like morphine – so you can find yourself in a dire position.

Why do you think we are so afraid of dying in today’s society, or do you think it has always been this way?
I think there has always been fear around death, which is why the Victorians made those huge lead-lined coffins to preserve the body for the afterlife. Eternal death was too frightening then, but most of us now believe that this is it – and when it is someone you love, it is so huge.

The first fully-fledged production of Home Death will take place at the Finborough Theatre in London this July – part of Vibrant, the venue’s annual playwriting festival.  Nick Hern Books are proud to publish the script, which you can purchase with free P&P (UK customers only) and a special 20% discount, click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (your discount will be applied when your order is processed).

Dying Matters logoDying Matters
This week (16-22 May) is Dying Matters Awareness Week throughout the UK. Dying Matters is a broad-based national coalition led by the National Council for Palliative Care, with over 15,000 members which aims to support changing knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards dying, death and bereavement, and through this to make ‘living and dying well’ the norm. To find out more or to join visit www.dyingmatters.org or call freephone 08000 21 44 66. 

Introducing ‘Meet The Playwright’ – on Stage Talk TV!

Stage Talk TVThis month sees the launch of Stage Talk, the first show on TV dedicated to amateur and community theatre.

It’s a sign of great confidence in grassroots theatre in the UK that a dedicated programme should appear just as many professional theatre companies are reeling from the shock of Arts Council cuts. ‘Am Dram’ has so often been denigrated or patronised that it’s heartening to see evidence that more and more people are turning to their local theatre group simply to put on a good show.

Whatever your theatrical tastes or instincts, we urge you to take a look at Stage Talk. It broadcasts monthly, on the first Sunday of the month, on Sky Channel 201/FreeSat 403, or you can catch up on the entire programme on the Stage Talk website. And if you’re actively involved in amateur drama, there are plenty of opportunities for you to contribute – including a ‘Show Tube’ section where you can promote your own production.

As a taster, here’s a clip of the regular Meet the Playwright section, sponsored by Nick Hern Books. This first episode featured an insightful interview with playwright Amanda Whittington, whose plays including Be My Baby, Ladies Down Under and Ladies Day have received more than 50 amateur productions in the past year.

Stage Talk TV: Episode One – ‘Meet The Playwright’ with Amanda Whittington

For more information on the full range of NHB plays available for amateur performance download your copy of our latest Guide to Plays for Performance here.

Be My Baby by Amanda Whittington

Be My Baby by Amanda Whittington

Amanda Whittington’s poignant and heart-warming drama – Be My Baby – set in 1960s Britain is currently playing at the Derby Theatre (as part of Derby LIVE) to 21st May. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets – ‘beautifully crafted drama… there’s not a word wasted’ Mark Shenton, Stage.

Spotlight: CARDENIO at RSC

Gregory Doran directs Cardenio

Gregory Doran, editor and director of Cardenio

Gregory Doran has performed a masterful act of literary archaeology in bringing a lost Shakespeare play to the stage. Opening last night at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, Cardenio is set in the heat and dust of Andalusia in seventeenth-century Spain. But the history of the play is every bit as thrilling as the play itself. Here, Greg charts the thrilling story of Cardenio, from the story’s first appearance in Cervantes’ Don Quixote to its re-imagining at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011, via Shakespeare and Fletcher’s stage in 1612 and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1727.

Theatre is the most collaborative of the arts; and collaboration has been the key note of Cardenio since William Shakespeare and his younger colleague John Fletcher decided to write a play together, based on an episode in the Spanish best-seller, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, first published in England in 1612, in a translation by Thomas Shelton.

Cardenio somehow avoided inclusion in either the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays in 1623, or of Humphrey Moseley’s publication of Beaumont and Fletcher’s plays in 1647. But Moseley did register The History of Cardenio by Mr Fletcher. & Shakespeare (sic) for publication in 1653, in the Stationers’ Register. Perhaps Sir William Davenant (who promoted the rumour that he was Shakespeare’s illegitimate child) had a manuscript of this play, and may have prepared it for performance by his company after the Restoration, with Thomas Betterton, the leading tragedian of his time, as Cardenio himself. Davenant’s company had done adaptations of the two other Shakespeare/Fletcher collaborations we know about: The Two Noble Kinsmen and All is True (Henry VIII); so why not Cardenio?

Cardenio production photo - Pippa Nixon as Dorotea and Alex Hassell as Fernando

Pippa Nixon as Dorotea and Alex Hassell as Fernando. © RSC/Ellie Kurttz

The prompter to that company, one John Downes, retired in 1706, and it seems a manuscript copy of Cardenio, in his handwriting, fell into the hands of one Lewis Theobald. Theobald, who had trained in the law, had tried his hand at everything: classical translation, journalism, poetry, opera librettos and even a novel, and was scratching a living writing the new popular pantomimes at the theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. But he finally came to prominence by challenging the great poet of the Augustan Age, Alexander Pope, for his sloppy inaccurate edition of Shakespeare. And Theobald’s follow-up move, designed to secure his place in the literary pantheon, was his adaptation of that Cardenio manuscript, which he called Double Falshood, or The Distrest Lovers. It was a success. It ran for ten consecutive performances at Drury Lane Theatre.

Back in 2003, when I was directing Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed, his sequel to The Taming of the Shrew, we got a group of actors together to read Theobald’s Double Falshood. We all agreed that it had great potential, but that the plotting (particularly at the beginning) was convoluted, and it was missing several scenes. At which point, we put the play aside. However, after re-reading Shelton’s 1612 translation of Don Quixote, I realised that those missing scenes might be re-imagined from the very same source material that Shakespeare and Fletcher must have used.

Cardenio production photo - Oliver Rix as Cardenio

Oliver Rix as Cardenio. © RSC/Ellie Kurttz

In 2007 on a visit to Spain with my production of The Canterbury Tales, I was introduced by the Almagro Festival director, Emilio Hernandez, to Antonio Álamo, a writer and the director of the Lope de Vega Theatre in Seville. Antonio is a Cervantes nut, so we inevitably discussed Cardenio. He alerted me to what an extraordinary story it is, and made me realise just how much Theobald (who admitted he was adapting it for the tastes and sensibilities of the London audience of his time) had removed: namely, much of the psychological complexity and rigour of the original. We would need to replace Cardenio’s ‘cojones’!

Further discussion with Spanish colleagues ensued. I travelled to Cordoba to accept a Bellas Artes medal, on behalf of the RSC, from the King of Spain (Laurence Boswell’s brilliant Spanish Golden Age Season had visited Madrid, as had my own production of Coriolanus: both had emanated from the RSC). In Alicante at a Cervantes/Shakespeare conference organised by Professor Jose Manuel Gonzalez de Sevilla, further discussions took place – and finally a visit to Seville with Antonio Álamo, to understand the significance of the story in Spain. Out of this visit came another draft, which we workshopped with the Hamlet company in 2008, and another draft was further developed at an RSC residency in Michigan, under the aegis of Professor Ralph Williams. Here we worked with Hispanic-American actors from the LAByrinth theatre company in New York. So, for example, Cardenio was played by a Mexican, and Don Bernardo by an actor from Los Angeles, which certainly revealed and rooted the play’s Spanish temperament.

Cardenio production photo - Alex Hassell as Fernando, Christopher Chilton as Priest, Lucy Briggs-Owen as Luscinda

Alex Hassell as Fernando, Christopher Chilton as Priest and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Luscinda. © RSC/Ellie Kurttz

Throughout the process, we poured over other seventeenth-century versions of the Cardenio story, by Pichou, by de Castro, by Bouscal, and by Thomas D’Urfey. But in an attempt to provide some sense of integrity to the piece, where extra lines were needed, I tried to limit myself to plundering only those Jacobean plays in which John Fletcher had drawn upon Cervantes.

Cardenio is the first new production in the Swan Theatre, since the RSC’s Transformation Project (another collaborative effort if ever there was one). The Swan opened twenty-five years ago with Fletcher and Shakespeare’s The Two Noble Kinsmen, so it is only fitting that we return with another play they worked on together, although this time the list of writing credits has grown to the length of a Hollywood blockbuster, with Shakespeare, Cervantes, Fletcher, Shelton, Theobald, etc.

Cardenio programme text (jacket)

Cardenio - Shakespeare's 'lost play' re-imagined

Cardenio reopened the RSC’s Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon on April 27th, and runs to 6th October 2011. It has already received a glowing reception from the critics – ‘an extraordinary and theatrically powerful piece’ wrote the Guardian, ‘a spirited, entertaining and at times touching night at the theatre’ adds the Telegraph. Today’s piece is an extract from Gregory Doran’s Introduction to the published text of the play. To secure your own copy of the Bard’s ‘lost play’ – with a special 20% discount (and free p&p for UK customers), click here and add ‘Cardenio Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout and your discount will be applied when your order is processed.


Spotlight: LONDON ROAD at the National Theatre

London Road jacketPlaywright Alecky Blythe and composer Adam Cork have scored a tremendous success with their bold, innovative verbatim musical London Road, which opened at the National Theatre last week. But what was the genesis of this ‘startling, magically original’ (Evening Standard) new work?

Alecky Blythe: I work using a technique originally created by Anna Deavere Smith, who combined the journalistic technique of interviewing her subjects with the art of reproducing their words accurately in performance. The technique involves going into a community of some sort and recording conversations with people, which are then edited to become the script of the play. However, the actors do not see the text. The edited recordings are played live to the actors through earphones during the rehearsal process, and onstage in performance. The actors listen to the audio and repeat what they hear. They copy not just the words but exactly the way in which they were first spoken. Every cough, stutter and hesitation is reproduced. Up till now for my previous shows, the actors have not learnt the lines at any point. By listening to the audio during performances the actors are helped to remain accurate to the original recordings, rather than slipping into their own patterns of speech or embellishment.

London Road production shot

Howard Ward, Nicola Sloane, Duncan Wisbey, Michael Shaeffer, Claire Moore, Clare Burt, Paul Thornley, Hal Fowler, Kate Fleetwood, Rosalie Craig, Nick Holder (all as reporters). Photo by Helen Warner

My first interviews from Ipswich were collected on 15th December 2006; five bodies had been found but no arrests had been made. The town was at the height of its fear. I had been gripped and appalled by the spiralling tragedies that were unravelling in Ipswich during that dark time. It would of course be a shocking experience for any community, but the fact that it took place in this otherwise peaceful rural town, never before associated with high levels of crime or soliciting, made it all the more upsetting for the people who lived there. It was not what was mainly being reported in the media about the victims or the possible suspects that drew me to Ipswich, but the ripples it created in the wider community in the lives of those on the periphery. Events of this proportion take hold in all sorts of areas outside the lead story, and that is what I wanted to explore. What Adam and I discovered with the music was that it succeeded in binding together shared sentiments that were being echoed throughout the town during those worrying times. I was excited to have a new tool at my disposal with the songwriting. By creating verses and choruses I could shape the material for narrative and dramatic effect further than I had ever been able to do before.

It was not until six months later, when I returned to Ipswich to gauge the temperature of the town after the arrests but before the trial, that I stumbled upon what was to me the most interesting development so far. A Neighbourhood Watch that had been set up at the time of the murders had organised a ‘London Road in Bloom’ competition and the street could not have looked more different from when it had been besieged by the media the winter before. Hanging baskets lined the roads and front gardens were bursting with floral displays. Such was the impact of the terrible happenings in that area that the community had come together and set up a series of events, from gardening competitions to quiz nights, in order to try to heal itself. Although this had some coverage in the local press, the national media had not reported this final and important chapter of the story. Over the course of the next two years, I regularly revisited the residents of London Road to chart their full recovery.

London Road production shot

Rosalie Craig (Helen), Duncan Wisbey (Gordon) and members of the company. Photo by Helen Warner

Adam Cork: When I first met Alecky at the National Theatre Studio almost four years ago, as part of an experimental week which brought together composers and playwrights, I had no idea that I’d be working with a ‘verbatim’ practitioner. And when Alecky explained the concept and methods of this documentary form to me, I have to admit my very first thought was ‘How on earth can I turn this into music?’ But when we started listening to her interviews, I began to feel that this could be an inspiring new approach to songwriting, or, more accurately, an exciting development of an existing way of composing songs. Whenever I’ve set conventional texts to music, I’ve always spoken the words to myself, and transcribed the rhythms and the melodic rise and fall of my own voice, to try and arrive at the most truthful and direct expression of the text. And here was an opportunity to refine that to a much purer process, without any authorial or poetic interpretation (not to mention my own bad acting) polluting the connection between the actual subject and his or her representation in music.

My initial aim was that the music should be as articulated as possible, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing justice to the reality and the uniqueness of the depicted people. I also wanted to seize the challenge of taking an experimental idea and developing it into something which could be interesting as both music and drama. I didn’t want to reference any overall musical style, but rather, discover responses suggested by the material on a moment-by-moment basis. For that reason I didn’t foresee much cross-pollination of musical motifs from one song to another, although I did want the identity of each individual song to be clear; I felt this was the only way I could create musical meaning from this un-versified, spontaneously spoken text. I also hoped that, in the spirit of the documentary concept, the musical score would be like a time capsule inside which the speech rhythms would be captured and contained, frozen and fossilised in music just as they have a fixed existence on Alecky’s recordings. And I wanted to find a way of singing with the quality of speech, which is altogether different from either an operatic or a conventional musical-theatre vocal style.

London Road production shot

Nick Holder, Hal Fowler, Howard Ward, Paul Thornley, Rosalie Craig, Nicola Sloane and Claire Moore. Photo by Helen Warner

Making spontaneously spoken words formal, through musical accompaniment and repetition, has the potential to explode the thought of a moment into slow motion, and can allow us more deeply to contemplate what’s being expressed. This seems particularly interesting when many different people speak about the same thought or feeling. The choral presentation of this story seems to underline the ritual aspect of human communal experience. The experiences captured on this stage are not new to our species, whether it’s the healing process after a tragedy, the gathering of forces within a community to find and punish a dangerous individual, or the telling of all these events to the wider community. This is deeply ancient, shared human experience in all its facets, no matter how much professionalism and the division of labour distance us from each other today. The people of Ipswich, the residents of London Road, and the news media, play their part in this ritual, and so do we, in presenting this piece of choric theatre.

London Road plays at the National Theatre, booking until 18th June. Today’s piece is an extract from Alecky and Adam’s introductions to the published text of the play. To buy the full text – with every hesitation, stumble, stutter and tic carefully recorded – with a special 20% discount (and free p&p for UK customers), click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout and your discount will be applied when your order is processed.

TERENCE RATTIGAN special

Dan RebellatoAs the plays of Terence Rattigan once again take centre stage during his centenary year, Dan Rebellato, academic, playwright and editor of the NHB Rattigan collection, argues that Rattigan has been unfairly cast as the writer of stuffy, conservative drama, and that his plays are consummate in their emotional power and sensitivity.

How did I first come across Terence Rattigan’s work? Aged 12, I was Taplow in a school production of The Browning Version. I got to start the play, which was a bonus; I ate a chocolate, got taught how to grip a golf club, and had to speak bits of Ancient Greek, which was nicely show-offy; also I was textually obliged to take the piss out of the older boy playing Crocker-Harris. I thought it was a hoot and was surprised when we took our curtain call on first night to see members of the audience in tears.

Flash forward a decade or so and I’d begun a PhD looking again at the theatrical revolutions of 1956. Armed with a revisionist historiography, I’d noted that the success of the Royal Court, Look Back in Anger and so on, was so overwhelming that it had cast the twenty or so years beforehand completely into shadow. I have always been interested in post-war British theatre, reading voraciously plays, histories and books of reviews; but apart from An Inspector Calls, The Mousetrap and my vague memory of being in The Browning Version, I knew next to nothing about that era and I wanted to find out whether it really was sentimental, conservative and, in Arthur Miller’s famous – but presumably not all that well informed – remark, ‘hermetically sealed off from life’.

Browning Version & Harlequinade jacket

Browning Version & Harlequinade by Terence Rattigan

It was a wonderful adventure in research. The drama of the forties and early fifties was so little a part of my theatre education that going into the archives and research libraries to find the plays, magazines and debates of the time I felt –  and PhD researchers often report these feelings – like Howard Carter coming across the tomb of Tutankhamun. Play after play dazzled me with its originality, its strangeness, its political sophistication, its formal elegance and beauty, its unfamiliar playfulness with the audience. It was, I thought, a radically different theatre, with its own rules, and as much of a claim to serious attention as the remarkable work done at the Royal Court.

Chief among these discoveries was Terence Rattigan. Re-reading The Browning Version I could now see why the audience was crying: it’s a perfect miniature – still perhaps the finest one-act play I know – and one that aches with yearning and a profound sense of the pain and humiliation in the very tiniest moments of casual disregard. In the same summer I read him chronologically through the forties and fifties – Flare Path, While the Sun Shines, The Winslow Boy, Love In Idleness, The Browning Version, The Deep Blue Sea, Separate Tablesand with each play my eyes widened further, my jaw dropped lower at his technical accomplishments, and the ever-greater emotional richness of his work.

Flare Path jacket

Flare Path by Terence Rattigan

The journey from apprentice to master is almost inexorable. Flare Path is elegant, heartfelt, sincere and warm, full of empathy, a patriotic melodrama perhaps, but one finely wrought for its audience. By the time you get to The Deep Blue Sea, Rattigan is writing as challengingly and profoundly about human feeling as anyone in the century. It’s telling that critics reproved Rattigan for not killing off the Count in Flare Path, who returns miraculously before the final curtain and also for not killing off Hester Collyer, whose suicide is threatened throughout The Deep Blue Sea. But in 1942, he was too conservative for the critics. A decade later, the critics had become too conservative for him.

A play on the page is one thing, of course, and on the stage it’s another.

I approached Karel Reisz’s 1993 Almeida production of The Deep Blue Sea with some trepidation. What if the play didn’t really stand up in production? Perhaps the carpentry would become too apparent when real actors have to play those lines? As it happened though, the production in its original setting (for it lost a little something when it transferred into the West End, and more still when it was refitted for TV) was the finest Rattigan production I’ve ever seen. More than anything else, this was the production that secured Rattigan’s reputation for the twenty-first century.

From the very beginning, as the neighbours let themselves into Hester’s flat, I was shocked by the horror of the story unfolding before me, the slowly brutal estrangement of Hester and Freddie. In the last moments before the interval, Hester is getting her lover ready for his interview, polishing his shoes, adjusting his collar. Freddie breaks the news that he’s leaving her and makes to go, grabbing his shoes. ‘I haven’t finished them,’ she screams, a detail filled with her desperation. I found myself convulsed with tears.

After The Dance jacket

After the Dance by Terence Rattigan

One of the great pleasures of editing these new editions for Nick Hern Books has been the chance to spend weeks and weeks in the company of these beautiful plays. Thanks to the superbly archived Rattigan Papers in the British Library, I’ve been able to trace the emergence of these plays through successive drafts, letters to friends, arguments with directors and actors, and their rise and fall and rise again through successive productions.

Does Rattigan have anything to tell us now about how to write plays? Sure he does. It’s important to distinguish his techniques from the inflated shorthand about the ‘well-made play’. Rattigan never followed the well-made play rules slavishly, he had his own sense of how to tell a story. There’s no ‘obligatory scene’ in After the Dance; there is nothing nineteenth-century about the structure of Cause Célèbre; Hester doesn’t follow Paula Tanqueray into a convenient grave. Rattigan’s real dramaturgical genius is to generate fathoms of subtext that the actor and the audience can fill. He knew the value of a simple sentence – ‘I haven’t finished them’ – that can bring an agonised gasp of understanding from an audience.

Rattigan always used that theatrical understanding to generate emotional and sexual understanding. Look no further than Separate Tables’s final scene; it’s a scene all about alternative sexuality, liberalism, tolerance, and the rejection of prejudice. And it’s entirely conducted through small talk about the weather and horse racing. The audience member who doesn’t find themselves inwardly cheering like a mad thing has a heart of stone.

Cause Célèbre jacket

Cause Célèbre by Terence Rattigan

This year is Rattigan’s centenary. He would, I am sure, been gratified to see the flurry of productions that are marking the occasion. Deep Blue Seas in Yorkshire and Chichester (and a movie on the way), Flare Path, Less Than Kind, Cause Célèbre in London, In Praise of Love in Northampton, The Browning Version and Nicholas Wright’s adapted version of Rattigan’s unproduced screenplay Nijinsky in Chichester, and seasons of his work on radio, TV, film, and even a new exhibition on the playwright’s works at the British Library.  It’s clear that his critical rejection in the 1960s hit him very hard. In some ways I think it killed him. The esteem in which he is now held has been a long time coming and I think Nick Hern’s decision (brave in the early 90s) to republish the plays in individual critical editions has played a part in that. Thankfully though, this change in his critical fortunes began before he died; I say ‘thankfully’ because he was a man devoted to audiences, not slavishly trying to please, but always to engage with them, seduce them, shake and move them. So, when In Praise of Love and Cause Célèbre were, rightly, well received, it buoyed him.

The latter was still running when his death was announced in 1977. The next night, at the end of the curtain call, Glynis Johns (the actor playing Alma Rattenbury) stepped forward and asked the audience to join her in three cheers for the play’s author. ‘We decided against standing in silence,’ she explained. ‘He was, after all, a man who liked applause.’

Click here to view the full collection of Terence Rattigan plays published by Nick Hern Books. As a special offer to our blog readers, we are offering a 25% discount (with free p&p, UK customers only) across our full list of Rattigan plays. Simply add ‘Rattigan Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (your discount will be applied when your order is processed).

Click here to view the full range of events marking this year’s Rattigan Centenary.

Spotlight: CHARGED at Soho Theatre

Charged (jacket)For over thirty years, Clean Break have used theatre for personal and political change, working with women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system. Last year, the company commissioned six of the most exciting female voices in British theatre to write about these women, and presented the plays at Soho Theatre under the title Charged. The six – ‘blisteringly powerful‘ (Guardian) – short plays were presented over one evening, and published by NHB in a single volume. This week, three of the plays were brought back for another season at Soho Theatre, and here, the playwrights Sam Holcroft, Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Chloë Moss introduce them…

Sam Holcroft on Dancing Bears
Clean Break asked me to write a short play as part of a collective of plays exploring different themes under the umbrella of ‘women affected by the criminal justice system’. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to work with Clean Break. They are an outstanding company and have created some fantastic theatre. Lucy Kirkwood’s It Felt Empty… and Chloë Moss’s This Wide Night are two of the most brilliant plays about women I’ve seen. So how to follow on, and what to write? I have always enjoyed writing about young people (among other things, I’m guilty of piggy-backing on their energy for dramatic effect). And so I proposed to write about young girls’ experiences of gang-life, and the crimes they are both victim of and perpetrate. I began researching several months before putting pen to paper. You don’t have to dig deep to find many extraordinary stories of suffering, triumph and gut-twisting injustice. Clean Break put me in touch with women who had experience of gang culture and they kindly shared their stories with me. I also attended the 2010 Nacro Youth Justice Conference and spoke with social workers, police, teachers and health professionals who helped to shed light on the psychology behind gang-related behaviour. And slowly but surely a structure began to emerge. Clean Break logo

It seemed that all-female gangs often evolved as offshoots from mixed-gender gangs. Girls were choosing to set up on their own to avoid the misogyny, violence and lower social status afforded them in mixed-gender gangs. But, sadly, sooner or later these new all-female gangs would begin to mirror the hierarchies of the mixed-gender gangs they’d left behind. And these hierarchies would be daily reinforced by threats and violence against girls at the bottom of the chain from girls higher up. So it seemed impossible to write a play without both male and female characters in order to explore this mirroring of behaviour. Clean Break has a policy of working with only women and so all characters in the play, whether male or female, are played by women. But I soon realised that this would work in favour of the drama. Boys could morph into girls before our eyes: their machismo give way to femininity; their hunched shoulders drop; they would arch their backs – like a ripple effect, a stage of boys would become a stage of girls. However as we continue to watch, unintentionally, they would begin to mimic the boys they were fleeing from, and this time instead of knives they would wield guns.

Audiences seemed to respond well to the play in its first production at Soho Theatre in 2010 and extremely well to the event as a whole. It was full of such joy despite the sadness and suffering inherent in the stories. The challenge given to us by Clean Break was not to write a presentation of grim statistics, or a catalogue of suffering, but to package the information in a compelling format and to entertain as well as awaken.  Hopefully you walk away from the night both inspired and shell-shocked, and asking questions of our justice system and how we can begin to ask for change.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz on That Almost Unnameable Lust
I had done a few sessions teaching male prisoners in Brixton prison. I’d found it very challenging. It seemed to me that there were severe mental health issues that weren’t being addressed. The men were paid £1 to come along and do a writing class and a couple of them were in a catatonic state, listening and patiently scribbling for two hours to get their valuable pocket money. Others were passionate about the class and made me feel there was far too little on offer for them in terms of expressing themselves. So when Clean Break asked me to write about women in prison I was keen to do it.

That Almost Unnameable Lust by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, production shot

That Almost Unnameable Lust: Beatie Edney (Liz) and Janet Henfrey (Katherine)

I went to Peterborough prison and met a group of nine older women. All were over fifty, but some of them looked far older than their years; they had what was termed ‘prison skin’ because they had been exposed to so little natural light. All of the women were fascinating. One had been a drug mule; vehement in her innocence, I suspected she was guilty but needed to believe her own story just to get by. Another woman seemed very much away from this world and obviously enraged the others with her paranoia and egomania – she needed help and was getting none. The sturdiest of them had killed her husband after decades of beatings. I liked her very much, and respected her quiet strength and intelligence. They were all deeply articulate and funny. And yet you could read the damage in their faces. Those who were bereft at the separation from their children. Those who could not fit in socially and so were living a completely insular life. And then there were those who made of prison life an art form of friendships and talk and relationships. Nobody could think about the long term of it. One day at a time was all they could do.  A few were ‘lifers’. Others were there for a few years for fraud. The energy that they had was amazing and I felt very alive to their predicaments and sorrows. And yet when I left I looked back at this huge ugly edifice and realised they were at least temporarily invisible. I admired the prison supporters who went in every week to hear their needs and requests and to help them with forms and procedures which left them at sea. Their main fear was of being invisible.

The woman who had murdered her husband said to me at one point, ‘I smile, and I talk to you, but inside I’m screaming. Every minute. I’m screaming.’ And she was the one who laughed most and seemed to support the group and the lame ducks. There was incredible strength there but also this fragility of simply being inside. Leaving them, I felt only one certain fact, that incarceration as we have it now is a thoroughly deadening process. Economically unviable, and spiritually facile. I didn’t know how best to summarise or dramatise their stories. I wanted to give them a voice. So I simply built on what I’d seen and felt, and ended up with part fact, mostly fiction, but hopefully embodying the spirit of those I had met.

Chloë Moss on Fatal Light
Fatal Light tells the story of Jay, a vulnerable young single mother who’s simply trying her best to bring her daughter up and is eventually sent to prison.

At the beginning of the research process, Clean Break put me in touch with Inquest – a charity concerned with the treatment and care of people in custody leading up to and around their death and then the care of the bereaved families afterwards.

All the bereaved family members that I either met or read about agreed that Inquest was an absolute lifeline for them; they would have been very much in the dark if it wasn’t for the support, and most importantly, information they received through the charity.

The first scene in Fatal Light is based loosely on one family’s experience of being visited by a young police officer who got the name of their sister wrong and then couldn’t even confirm whether she was still alive, just that there had been ‘a serious incident’. The officer had been sent from a local police station and had been given scant, incorrect information. Unfortunately this is a common occurrence.

Fatal Light production shot

Fatal Light: Rebecca Scroggs (Jay) and Isabella Mason (Aine)

Another thing that came up a lot during the research process was that, although prison sentences are often utterly devastating to the families of women in prison, there was an assumption that at the very least, their loved ones would be safe inside. Even though prison was the last place that their sister, mother, daughter should be, they trusted that they couldn’t come to any harm. That’s clearly not the case at all. The vulnerable are constantly being criminalised for having mental health problems.

One woman tried to commit suicide in her flat by setting fire to her couch, then realised that she was putting other people in the building in danger. She tried unsuccessfully to put it out herself, and phoned the fire brigade, but still got a hefty sentence for arson. Tragically, though perhaps inevitably, she killed herself in prison.

The Corston report (a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system) was published in March 2007, following the deaths of six women at HMP Styal in just over twelve months. Four years later, there has been slow progress in implementing its recommendations for the sentencing and treatment of female prisoners. There are still so many cases of women who’ve spent their lives dealing with mental health problems and abuse, who are then incarcerated miles from families, support networks… their kids. Prison is the final straw for them.

The subject matter of Fatal Light is bleak of course, but that’s because the reality of the situation is bleak and therefore it’s hugely important to tell these stories and to question why deaths in custody keep happening.

I actually think the play itself is, strangely, quite hopeful. Lucy Morrison’s brilliant direction injects lots of warmth and humour and shows the immense amount of love between the three characters. The piece plays backwards in time and ends with Jay in a positive situation. Starting with her death and working backwards serves to highlight how avoidable these tragedies really are.

RE-CHARGED logoRe-Charged continues its run at Soho Theatre until 9th April. If you can’t get to see it, then you can buy the fantastic value playtext featuring all of the six plays by E V Crowe, Sam Holcroft, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Chloë Moss, Winsome Pinnock and Rebecca Prichard for just £9.99 with free P&P (UK customers only). Click here, and quote ‘BLOGOFFER’ in the comments field at checkout. You can also save £5 off full-price tickets (£3 off concessions) if you quote ‘PLAYTEXT’ when booking through the venue’s box office, Tel: 020 7478 0100.

THEATRE AWARDS ROUND-UP: with James Seabright

Olivier Awards logo
The annual awards season is drawing to a close, and we’re thrilled that so many NHB plays and theatrebooks have picked up gongs along the way. The King’s Speech won both the Bafta and Academy Award for Best Screenplay; Simon Callow beat off stiff competition to take the Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography with My Life in Pieces; and Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn was voted the Best Play of 2010 by the 45,000 theatre-going voters in the WhatsOnStage.com Awards.

Anne Boleyn jacket

This Sunday is the biggest theatre awards in the UK calendar – the Oliviers – and both Nina Raine’s Tribes and Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park are nominated for Best Play – the latter having already picked up the same prize at the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards. James Seabright, author of So You Want to be a Theatre Producer?, considers the impact of the Oliviers, and how he feels about being nominated for the first time…

‘This is an exciting year for the Olivier awards. A major relaunch funded by sponsorship from Mastercard has allowed its organisers, the Society of London Theatre, to give the whole event a much bigger public profile. This includes a red-carpet style ceremony this coming Sunday at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, with extensive coverage on the BBC both in advance – through the Audience Award promoted via Radio 2 – and on the night, as you can watch the whole thing via the red button at home, or listen in on the radio.  I see all of these as very welcome developments, especially for the selfish reason that for the first time one of my productions has been nominated in the awards: Potted Panto is up for Best Entertainment.

So on Sunday, I will be donning a tuxedo (the last time I did was a decade ago!), and joining several colleagues from the show – and several hundred from the industry as a whole – at my first-ever red carpet awards ‘do’. The hope is that, despite the considerable competition presented by major hits in our category like The Railway Children and Ghost Stories, our show is smiled upon by the mysterious panel of Olivier voters.  Whether or not that happens – it will be a great opportunity to celebrate the success of the show, which is the third in the series of “Potted Productions” that I have developed with Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner since first seeing them perform an early version of Potted Potter at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006.  Potted Panto is the first of these to transfer to a proper West End run, hence making it eligible for Olivier consideration. So whatever the envelope reveals on Sunday,  the awards will be a welcome celebration of five years’ hard work developing a fringe format into a mainstream, award-nominated one.

As well as this year’s awards taking on a new format and enhanced presence in the public eye, it feels like there are some exciting developments in terms of up-and-coming theatre practitioners being acknowledged through the Olivier shortlists – and not just the single category given over to ‘Affiliate venues’, as the off-West End houses are euphemistically known. It is particularly welcome to see the wonderful work of the team at Opera Up Close being recognised with a nomination for their production of La Bohème, which moved all the way from a pub theatre in Kilburn to two record-breaking runs at Soho Theatre. Now that would be a quite extraordinary achievement, to win an Olivier above the publicly-funded opera houses. So for a whole host of reasons, selfish and otherwise, I’m hoping that the underdog wins out on Sunday night!’

So You Want To Be A Theatre ProducerJames Seabright runs his own production company Seabright Productions and is the author of So You Want To Be a Theatre Producer? (£12.99, 9781854595379). You can order your copy of this title – plus any of the award-winning books featured in this post – through the NHB website with free P&P by adding ‘AWARDS blog offer’ in the comments field (UK customers only).

Potted Panto is currently touring the UK to June 2011, click here for more information and to book tickets.