Interviews with some of the best contemporary British Playwrights

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Playwright Andrew Maddock, Interview: “I do get pissed off with ticket prices.”

Forget everything you thought you knew about Andrew Maddock (unless you thought his plays were quite good): his new play Olympiladsis an absolute belter. Andrew Maddock is one of The Independent‘s Playwrights to Dominate 2017. What does that even mean, I ask. “I knew exactly what that was – it was nice for my mum to look at,” he smiles. “For people outside the theatre bubble, I guess it legitimises me.”

We talk about ‘mainstream’ coverage for work and he talks about critics with a candour that is rare in this industry. “I love Fleabag –  I saw it twice – I don’t understand why the Guardian had to review it 6 times,” he says. “Publications don’t have the resources to send people to Pub theatres but they can send another critic to the same show.”

Maddock continues, “I would like them to maybe attend one of my plays in the future, and it’s not really very true because as you said, they are sent on assignment and I’m sure the reason for re-attending a show like that is for clicks. I really respect the work of a critic and I’m sure it’s not easy.”

Director Niall Phillips and Maddock formed the production company Lonesome Schoolboy Productions. Their latest show that has just opened at Theatre N16 explores a multifaceted relationship between two brothers and their estranged sister, living their lives under the shadow of austerity and the hope for a lasting London legacy during the 2012 Olympic Games. The show was selected to be part of Scott Ellis’ first season as Artistic Director of Theatre N16. Put it alongside sell-out show ‘He(art)’ earlier this year and what we’re all witnessing here, people, is Maddock transitioning into a proper actual excellent writer.

Rhys-Yates-Simeon-Nebiu-Samuel-Darren-300x246

Rhys-Yates-Simeon-Nebiu-Samuel-Darren- Olympilads

Beyond Stratford’s investment units and ‘innovation centres’, affordable housing is in little supply on the former London 2012 site. The legacy team have their work cut out to re-claim the original vision. It was important for Maddock to take this subject matter head on. “It’s a family drama set during 2012 Olympics… 5 years on. It is about the legacy that was promised”, he says. “The properties that were built are still unobtainable. I was born and raised in Wembley and I’ll probably have to move out of the area if I ever want to buy a house. Olympilads is about a family without that security.”

Fairer ticket prices and affordability is high on his agenda. He says: “I do get pissed off with ticket prices. I know that theatre isn’t cheap to make. But essentially where it gets me is when it’s a cash cow and they are going to sell out the run. Then they could absolutely bring prices down. In football, they have a grassroots model where the bigger Football clubs send the money back down and perhaps theatre could follow that model.”

Is he worried about opening a Olympilads when all the critical folk are at Edinburgh Fringe? “We’re in a tough space with the show opening in August because everything and everyone is up in Edinburgh,” he pauses, “However, we’re also in a great place because there is nothing else on during that time that is as good as our show.”

Olympilads is on at Theatre N16 8th – 26th August (Tues – Sat, No Matinee)

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Barney Norris: ‘It’s so precious and such a privilege, to live in a culture where we can expect things of people, and hold them to account, and we must advocate that wherever we’re afforded an opportunity to do so.’

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Guest blog: Ray Rackham: “Going Beyond the Rainbow”

Ray Rackham
Ray Rackham

Ray Rackham

Picture it, 25th December, nineteen-eighty-something. Whilst the rest of my family were either falling asleep in front of the television, or arguing over a rather heated game of Trivial Pursuit; the pre-pubescent, spoilt, incredibly precocious younger version of me was watching my increasingly frustrated father attempt get my Christmas present to work; a portable colour television. They were all the rage in nineteen-eighty-something, and I was the only child on Middleton Street who had one.

After what seemed like an eternity; white noise was replaced by a distant sound of strings, and the television static faded to a grainy, almost sepia hue. I was devastated. I wanted full on “Goonies” inspired, He-Man and She-Ra technicolour. What I had was a young girl, wandering around a barn yard, in black-and-white (my tastes were not as developed to differentiate the sepia), singing about all the world being a hopeless jumble. Christmas was, for me at least, ruined.

But then, I heard the now incredibly familiar Over the Rainbow, with its bold, opening leap straight up an octave from Middle C, juxtaposed with darker, underlying chords to offset the apparent schmaltz of the melody, and I was hooked.

“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I’ve heard of once in a lullaby”.

Transfixed with that Christmas day memory, I continued through my childhood, and very much into adulthood, looking for that technicolour fantasy land, “where troubles melt like lemon drops”. I believe I found it, in the many school plays, attempts at amateur dramatics, and every time I got up to sing a song (or, as my grandmother would say, “do a turn”). My very own technicolour was to come from Fresnel lanterns, home-made star cloths and smoke machines. From the theatre!

Fast forward to two-thousand-and-something. I had just recently closed my production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins at the Pleasance Theatre, and had just accepted the position as Artistic Director of the soon to be formed London Theatre Workshop. I was also trying my luck at being a burgeoning librettist lyricist (a passion that resulted in my contribution to the musical Apartment 40C), and translating a 1980s film to stage (a passion that resulted in very little!). One might safely say that I had found the place where happy little bluebirds fly, and it was in the professional theatre. Having been invited to a very ‘Sloaney’ dinner party, where I was being my usual self, dominating the cocktail conversation (like a cross between Woody Allen, Liberace and James Corden), I found myself lucky enough to be sat next to an elderly producer who had worked on the movie “I Could Go on Singing”.

Judy! By Ray Rackham

“Of course, it was Judy’s last movie”

“Judy who?”

“Are you kidding me?”

This wonderfully caustic and acerbic lady then proceeded to teach me, chapter and verse, everything and anything a self-respecting theatre geek should know about the late, great, Judy Garland.

“Oh, you mean Liza Minnelli’s mum!”

She didn’t talk to me for the rest of the evening.

But what she did do was instil an absolute hunger to find out more about this deeply troubled, yet gorgeously triumphant human being, who was taken tragically too soon just around the corner from where I had been dining. On my way home, I rather coincidentally stumbled across the mews house on Cadogan Lane, where over forty years earlier Judy had died. And by coincidence I meant that I had jumped in a cab and had asked the driver to take me there. Even in the romanticised setting of the glow of a London street lamp, and my possibly having had one too many cherry brandies at dinner, it was clear that the tiny mews house had seen better days. The paintwork on the door was peeling off, I remember some brown tape had been placed across an upstairs window, and a solitary Christmas bauble could be seen from another, even though it was the middle of April. Overall, the place seemed to exist in a world of faded glamour. Forgotten and unloved. The garage door was covered in hardboard, as if there was some kind of building work going on behind it. Maybe the new owners were restoring it to its former glory? Maybe there has been a break-in? The overall shabbiness of the building lead me to believe that the former was implausible, and the latter inevitable.

I felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Where was the blue plaque? Where were the garlands of flowers, or cards of heartfelt tribute? Where was the love? I may have been forty or more years late to the memorial, but where were the fans? I’d never felt sadder for someone I didn’t know, and never more so alone. As I started to leave, a faint glimmer of light caught my eye, reflecting from the shine of the London street lamp. It came from the temporary hardboard garage door. On second glance, I realised that scrawled on the door, in purple glitter pen, were the words “if happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why can’t I?”

Upon further inspection, it became clear that every inch of hardboard had a comment scrawled across in.

“We love you Judy”

“JG – always in my heart”

“I still believe in the rainbow”

Immediately, I started to think of my own place in the world, my love of the theatre; the fantasy, technicolour world where you can forget your troubles and get happy. I believe in that world; and a huge part of the Judy Garland narrative, however you dress it, represents that. It was at that moment that I began to see Judy not a person whose sole legacy to the entertainment industry was of trouble, heartache and pain; but of skill, talent and determination, and most importantly of love.

So what if in her later years she cracked on that ambitious leap straight up the octave from Middle C in her signature song? Were the countless tales of pills and liquor all that was actually interesting about this incredibly beguiling woman? Why do we, almost a part of our DNA, like to wallow in the pain, when there remains so much to celebrate? It was at that moment I decided to write a play about Judy. I had for many months been working on a piece about stardom, and by the time I had got home that night the two ideas had morphed into one.

And now, that same show opens at The Arts Theatre in London’s West End, on May 16th, 2017. Having been workshopped and produced at the London Theatre Workshop in December 2015, where I am still, very proudly, Artistic Director; and then at Southwark Playhouse in 2016; it makes me very happy to say that in 2017 Judy Garland is back in town, with three actresses playing her, at the same time, a stone’s throw away from the Talk of the Town; where the actual Judy played her last London gig. I certainly never expected my show to go from 60 seats to the West End in eighteen months. Some might say it’s a bit like a Mickey and Judy film. Sometimes little bluebirds do fly.

I hope to see you there.

Oh, and the Liza Minnelli gag found its way into the first draft, and has been there ever since.

PS: Cadogan House that Ray mentions in the article has since been torn down.

FIVE WEEK WEST END SEASON SUMMER 2017
Venue: Arts Theatre,
6-7 Great Newport St, London WC2H 7JB
Dates: Tues, 16 th May to Sat, 17 th June 2017
Time: 7.30pm (Thurs & Sat Matinees – 2.30pm)
(extra Matinees Tues 6 th & 13 th June)
Box Office: 020 7836 8463
Online: artstheatrewestend.co.uk

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GUEST BLOG: Emma Manton: “Our job as theatre practitioners is to tell these stories and remember to imagine ourselves in their position – to practice empathy.”

Emma Manton
Emma Manton

Emma Manton

In 2014, I was cast in the RSC’s Winter Season, which involved spending 6 months in Stratford-upon-Avon. Fired up by the beauty of the place and having achieve a few good night’s sleep, away from my 6-year-old son, I agreed to join playwright Michelle Terry on a 2-mile run. I had no idea where that run would lead.

In the summer of 2015, the media was full with harrowing images of refugees washing up on the beaches of the Mediterranean. I wanted to find a way to help – so I contacted the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and, before I knew it, I’d agreed to run the London Marathon for them. Having no experience of fundraising, I called a few friends and realised that people were desperate to find a way to help the unfolding refugee crisis.

I curated Moving Stories in response to the current global refugee crisis and it was first performed at the National Theatre in 2016. David Edgar, Richard Bean, Phil Porter, Michelle Terry and other incredible playwrights wrote and donated material and 36 actors gave up time to perform. We raised nearly £15,000.

Since then, the danger and persecution faced by refugees around the world has only worsened, particularly in the light of Donald Trump’s postponement of the US refugee programme. The distress that the fear surrounding the confusion of ‘refugee’ and ‘terrorist’ runs the risk of blinding us to the simple fact that the vast majority of people displaced by wars are fleeing the same people that scare us in the West. We see the huge numbers and not the thousands of individual stories.

Nevertheless, our job as theatre practitioners is to tell these stories and remember to imagine ourselves in their position – to practice empathy. When we see the world from other people’s point of view, we are more able to work together to find answers.

To quote UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees) Ambassador Neil Gaiman, ‘It’s not just about financial support, although funds are desperately needed and every donation is deeply appreciated (please do donate!), it’s also about staying informed and helping tell the refugee story – to friends, to family, at school, at work, around the kitchen table.’

On Sunday 26th February at 4pm, I’m calling on you to join us at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and stand in solidarity with refugees. You’ll be treated to brilliantly funny and moving plays and some new writing for good measure. Also, Great British Bake-off’s Mel Giedroyc will be hosting and joined on stage by a host of British Theatre stars, including Rufus Hound (One Man, Two Guvnors), Denise Gough (People, Places, Things), Andy Nyman (Ghost Stories), Adjoa Andoh (Doctor Who), Lisa Dillon (Cranford), Edward Bennett (Photograph 51), Anna-Jane Casey (Billy Elliot), Caroline Sheen (Mary Poppins) and Evelyn Hoskins (Sound of Music Live).

See you there, folks!

Emma Manton

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Interview with Playwright Phil Porter: “I often think about the song ‘A Woman’s Touch’ from ‘Calamity Jane’.”

Phil Porter

Phil Porter is a playwright, who has brilliantly just co-adapted ‘The Miser’ with Sean Foley, a West End production due to open at the The Garrick Theatre. Hurrah.

Phil won the Bruntwood Playwriting Prize for Cracks in my Skin and the Arts Council’s Children Award for Smashed Eggs (Pentabus Theatre). His recent plays include The Man With The Hammer (Plymouth) The Christmas Truce (RSC) Blink and A Mad World Masters (RSC) The Tempest (adaptation co-written with Peter Glanville for the RSC).

I thought it would be good to chat to him ahead last week. Here is what we discussed.

Phil Porter

Phil Porter

Hi Phil, where are we and what can you see?

Right now I’m in rather delightful surroundings. A rather posher hotel I would normally find myself in. I can see you mostly and a hanging light thing over the bar with lots of fake but nonetheless beautiful candles. It reminds me of an event I went to in a park in Brighton with lots of fire-based installations and rusty metal. Lots of Pagan things go on in Brighton in the Winter.

How is ‘Dry January’ going?

I’m not big on abstinence. I’m a vegetarian – maybe that one small sacrifice is what makes me feel entitled to drink as much wine as I fancy. If I was ever going to attempt a month dry it wouldn’t be January!

You’ve had quite a busy week, haven’t you?

Well, the first two days of this week I was in rehearsals for The Miser’. This is a script I’ve co-adapted with Sean Foley and which he is now directing, with quite an impressive starry West End cast – Griff Rhys Jones, Mathew Horne, Katy Wix and Lee Mack, who is making his West End debut. We open in Bath on February 8th for a couple of weeks of previews, then a week in Richmond, then into The Garrick following ‘This House’ from March 1st.

From what I’ve heard adapting is a bit of a ball ache. With this in mind is co-adapting a bit of a double ball ache?

I don’t even know if it is an adaptation really. Adapting suggests taking it from one medium to another. Molière wrote it as a play and we continue in that fashion. The first thing I did with Sean was work on ‘A Mad World My Masters’ for the RSC a few years ago. That was kind of easier because Middleton wrote it in English, and as a result there was only so much we could change without stomping on someone’s very clever original play. So we just edited the play to make room for some songs and put in a few new jokes. But when a play is written in a different language the process is inevitably a bit more interpretive. But it wasn’t a ball ache – it was great fun. Maybe normally there would be a difficult status thing where you are fighting with your co-adaptor over every line. But Sean is the director so if we were to disagree on something – and generally we don’t – I’d probably let it go because he is the one who has to bring the thing to life. If he has a strong sense of how he’ll make a particular line work I’m happy to follow his judgement on that. I think it works well. I’m there just thinking as a writer while Sean is sort of writing and directing at the same time.

Tell me about Sausages

Eh? Oh, I know what you mean by that. Something I said in an interview I did with the Soho years ago. I wrote my first play on a train to Plymouth when I was about seven. It was about some sausages trying to escape from a freezer – written in the 1980s when all sausages were frozen. Maybe it could come back as an experimental opera; a play for voices. Looking back I didn’t really understand what screenwriting guru Robert McKee would describe as ‘progressive complication’. The sausages simply found a hole in the corner of the freezer and escaped halfway down the first page.

You can’t turn on the TV these days without seeing an advert for sausages. Anyway, what writers do you rate?

In terms of the playwriting giants my greatest hero is Federico García Lorca . He had an amazing poetic sensibility that I really love. I rate many of my contemporaries – Dennis Kelly and Mike Bartlett spring to mind. The way they can write so well, and also so much, is amazing and makes me jealous. Lucy Kirkwood is a fantastic writer. James Graham is another who is very brilliant and extraordinary prolific. And of course my pal Amy Rosenthal, a great writer who posseses a real understanding of comedy – a rare and much undervalued talent.

What are your thoughts on Hull as UK City of Culture 2017?

The choices often seem to be quite provocative. I remember when Glasgow was announced as a European City of Culture years ago, and people reacted in uproar: Glasgow?! As if it had been decided once and for all by a committee that Glasgow was Europe’s Most Cultured City. If that were the case then Hull as the UK City of Culture would be a perverse choice, but that’s not what it’s about. Overall, it’s a positive thing.

Contemporary arts centre Mac Birmingham has been hit by a 70% cut to its council funding, as part of major reductions inflicted on the city’s arts by its local authority. These are challenging times for new work, what are your thoughts on where the next Phil Porter will come from?

My very first play was on at the Mac. The landscape is obviously changing. It’s a big problem that places like Mac, where writers might find support as they’re starting out, are losing the funding they need to offer that support. Most writers, even if they’re really good, won’t get picked up by the big new writing venues, at least at first. It also damages the touring infrastructure, further limiting opportunities. And besides arts funding there are some even broader problems, in the way our society is changing, that make it very difficult for a writer from a remotely normal background to develop a career. I left university with no significant debts, moved to London, paid £250 a month in rent, and picked up a couple of commissions from new writing theatres who could afford to take a chance on an unproven writer. None of that would happen now. But on the more positive side, at least if you write a good play there are people genuinely committed to unearthing new talent.

Talk to me about your work with the RSC.

I’ve been working with the RSC for nearly 10 years now. I owe a lot to Pippa Hill, their Literary Manager, who commissioned me to write a five minute play for an event in 2008 and has been offering me bigger and bigger challenges ever since. This has culminated in ‘The Christmas Truce’ in 2014 and now ‘Vice Versa’ which is on in The Swan over the coming summer. It’s great to work somewhere with those kinds of resources. Having the support of a company like the RSC gives me a great push.

How do you feel about deadlines?

There are two kinds of projects. There are ones that are already in the brochure. Then my brain understands that it is no way a soft deadline; people are going to do this play and it needs to be ready for rehearsal and ready for an audience. Those deadlines I take very seriously. If it’s a more open commission I will always try to make the deadline or as near damn it. But I know from experience that what a theatre really wants is a play they can do rather than one that has arrived on time. I had a play on in Plymouth last year and I was quite late on the first draft deadline. For a little while I felt a bit like I was hiding which is the worst thing. If you owe someone a play you just have to keep the channels of communication open. As long as they know you’re working on it they’re generally fine. But it’s definitely a good thing career-wise to be known as someone who delivers on time.

What is your favourite theatre in London?

I still get very excited about going to The National. I think it goes back to that period when you start discovering theatre and you find this palace on the river with three plays going on a night and at least one of them is something that will completely blow your mind. I still get really excited about going to see a West End show. It’s funny doing the West End thing because as playwrights we are simultaneously taught to be slightly snooty about the West End but on the other hand if you get a West End transfer then you’ve made it.

Are West End ticket prices too high?

Undoubtedly. Some shows and some producers definitely take the piss more than others –  I’m pleased to say The Miser is relatively inclusive. I don’t understand the economics of it well enough to know why the inflation is so rapid. But yeah, it’s a crazy system.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR THE MISER

What’s your favourite musical?

I like musicals more than you might imagine. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for ‘Cabaret’. Every Christmas me and my girlfriend watch ‘Meet Me in St Louis’ and it gets me every time. And I often think about the song ‘A Woman’s Touch’ from ‘Calamity Jane’. Whenever I’m writing something and trying to think about how to transition quickly from one state to another I imagine Doris Day and her pal cleaning up that house. It’s the ultimate montage sequence – a very important artistic reference point for me.

Amazing. What have you got coming up in 2017?

We have the RSC show, ‘Vice Versa’, which is a Roman style comedy. I never wrote it as such but it’s starting to look like a Trump satire. Um, I’m writing a sort of futuristic musical for The Soho with a composer called Marc Teitler who wrote ‘The Grinning Man’. On a day-to-day basis I’m currently writing an adaptation of ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ for Joe Murphy to direct. Joe directed my play ‘Blink’ (Soho Theatre) and is directing ‘Woyzeck’ at The Old Vic this year. Then I have another commission for Plymouth and I’m trying to adapt my old play ‘The Cracks In My Skin’ into a film. But right now it’s mostly about ‘The Miser’ and ‘Vice Versa’

 

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Interview with Playwright James Graham: “I’m a human who doesn’t like or know how to talk about himself.”

James Graham, photo by Steve Tanner

James Graham, photo by Steve Tanner

James Graham ‘mayhem’ (ie not mayhem at all)

So, I went along to a matinee of ‘This House’ at The Garrick Theatre. It’s pretty amazing. Later that day I met with the writer, James Graham, for a whiskey cocktail. Graham is a witty man, who is a curious mixture of mischief and innocence, and who has the youthful appearance of a Dorian Gray entity.

Fortunately, James is good at talking: about ‘This House’, about his place in the theatre universe, and about the physical demands of being a playwright in 2016.

Anyway, all playwrights are subject to the whims of fashion, going in and out of fashion according to fads for writing styles or categories of plays, or even the political climate. Politics aside, the vital element in the brilliance of This House’ is that the writing is of a phenomenally high standard: it is a prescient exploration of the mechanisms at play in government. Ultimately, there’s a clarity of vision that’s virtually unrivalled in the current theatre scene.

This House

This House. Click on the image to book your tickets.

This House premiered at the Cottesloe Theatre in September 2012, directed by Jeremy Herrin, and transferred to the Olivier in 2013 where it enjoyed sell-out runs with critical acclaim and admiration from current and former MP’s for his rendition of life in the Commons. It was broadcast internationally by NT Live and received nominations for the Evening Standard and Olivier Best Play awards. (‘FYI’ I’m calling it now, ‘This House’ is the greatest play written in the last five years.)

Studies of lying show that when telling a lie, most people are tempted to add a vast amount of detail to their stories; they believe that the more aspects they add, the more sound their stories will be. ‘This House’ does not feel dishonest, but you could argue that the suggested extent of this play’s familiarity is an illusion of sorts, or at least an example of sleight of hand.

Graham’s more recent work includes Privacy created with Josie Rourke for the Donmar Warehouse and receiving its New York premiere at the Public Theater this July, starring Daniel Radcliffe. His play Monster Raving Loony opened at the Theatre Royal Plymouth this year and transferred to Soho Theatre in May. The Vote at the Donmar Warehouse aired in real time on TV in the final 90 minutes of the 2015 polling day and was nominated for a BAFTA. His Channel 4 drama Coalition also aired during the election and won the Royal Television Society award for Best Single Drama. James has written the book for Finding Neverland with music by Gary Barlow. It opened on Broadway in April 2015. He remains a Writer in Residence at the Finborough Theatre. Bloody hell.

(There were lots of things covered; this is a definite cup-of-tea-and-a-biscuit job.)

What sort of human are you?
I’m a human who doesn’t like or know how to talk about himself. I’d say I am an inconsistent and uncertain person.

If they could invent a robot to replace you and do all the boring stuff political playwrights have to do, what would you get up to instead?
I’d love to write a novel; I have an idea for a fantasy adventure story set in New York and one is a time hopping piece.

So, let’s get political; is there anyone you’d like to pour boiling water over, he says
No… However, I would pour cold water over Boris Johnson; he needs some perspective and probably ought to have some discomfort.”

What’s your worst play? 
Hahahaha! Oh that’s a tough one. Only because it was the first play I ever wrote and I was still learning: ‘Coal not dole’ about the miners’ strike.

Amazing. What’s your best play? 
This House, I guess. I am relieved – that by accident or design – it’s proven itself able to survive the times.

If you don’t follow politics you’re uninformed, if you do follow politics you’re misinformed. What is the long-term effect of too much information? 
Democracy isn’t allowed to function, there is a conscious shift by some parties or media to use that as a tactic to distract or destroy any conversation.

Serious question: Baths or showers?
Oh, goodness. 100% showers. Baths are 100% evil, man. I mean, to sit their doing nothing for that period of time. No. Thank. You.

Is Nigel Farage a fictional character? 
In a way, yes; he’s a construct. I don’t believe he can possibly be a real person.

What are your three favourite apps? 
Right, The London Bus checker – I do use google maps but I think being lost sometimes can be a good thing. I love Pocket to save articles. SignEasy is amazing as I don’t have to post contracts and things!

Do you think some writers cheat when they’re working with people and go “oh I haven’t done any prep let’s just jam and let the vibes flow” or whatever it is people say in a creative scenario, when actually they’ve got a brilliant idea in their head that they’re going to pretend just suddenly appears as if by magic.
Yes, I do but it’s destructive – I remember the OVNV 24 hour plays you can always tell because the ones that are don’t normally feel as fresh or good.

Do you think drama schools should have diversity quotas? 
That’s a hard question and I understand arguments against and for them. The problem of lack of diversity, whether race or gender or class, is genuine and very serious. And if quotas can solve that problem then maybe that’s the way to go. The arts are a lot like politics – in that sense – it’s about representating a group of people you’ve failed.

What does Gary Barlow smell like? 
Oh, Heaven and the north.

Do you think people are too distracted by the internet these days?
Yes. Including me – I may switch off for a New Year’s resolution.

What were the last three things you Googled?
Okay, let me check, I’ll be totally honest:

  1. Reviews for The Missing
  2. Beyond the Waterfall A cocktail odyssey.
  3. Arts Education and Schools

 

what are your experiences of young writers programmes? 

I did the RC young writers programme – BBC writers room. Look at whatever your local theatre does get involved. NT Connections is astonishing if you’re a teacher or a writer.

Do you think it helps being friends with people in the industry because you can all sort of relate to what’s happening?
I don’t think it helps in terms of your own work. It’s psychologically and emotionally helpful yes.

Do you have anything special planned for 2017?
Well, I will finish ‘1984’. I want to stay in London more – cook and watch television and do London jobs based in this city. Just so I can be home for a while, which I miss.

*This House is currently gracing the West End in a limited run until 25 February 2017.*

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUT TICKETS FOR THIS HOUSE 

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Interview: Broken Biscuits Tom Wells: “The other day I was trying to explain something a bit awkward and eat a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer at the same time and it went a bit wrong”

Tom Wells

Broken Biscuits is part of Paines Plough’s Programme 2016 which has also included Sabrina Mahfouz’s With A Little Bit of Luck, Come To Where I’m From: Ahead of the new coming-of-age comedy world premier of Broken Biscuits.

Tom Wells

Tom Wells © Matt Humphrey

I had a chat with its writer, Tom Wells,  about how he came to be a playwright, being part of Paines Plough 2016 season and getting something stuck in his throat.

Hi Tom! Can you tell us a secret about Broken Biscuits?
Something really good happens at the end.

How did you come to be a playwright?
I did a course at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds – you didn’t need to have written a play before, you just wrote them a letter and had a go. Some things I did in the workshops ended up being my first play, which they put on. And then I just carried on.

When was the last time you got something stuck in your throat?
The other day I was trying to explain something a bit awkward and eat a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer at the same time and it went a bit wrong.

What emoji best sums up your life at the moment and why?
The biscuit is popping up quite a lot just lately.

Have you ever managed to get a cuddly toy out of those machines with the claw thing?
No. I’ve given up.

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done while drunk?
I woke up in a skip once. But my friend Kate got in a bin and weed so it seemed less bad.

What is your favourite biscuit?
Hobnobs.

Broken Biscuits is part of Paines Plough’s Programme 2016 – that must be exciting! Could you tell us a little about your history with the company?
I first started working there in 2009 – Tessa and Rox, who now work at Birmingham Rep, ran a year-long attachment called Future Perfect, which was brilliant. We put short pieces of work on, talked to lots of different writers, went to see properly good plays and somehow just turned into playwrights. And then James and George took over and commissioned a play called Jumpers For Goalposts, which James directed in 2013. And we had a good time working on it so we’ve had another go, which is Broken Biscuits. I think Paines Plough as a company has got magic in it. It is lovely to be part of this year’s Programme.

Broken Biscuits

Easy question: who do you think is the best living playwright?
Annie Baker.

Following it’s run at Live Theatre in Newcastle, Broken Biscuits will be heading out on a UK tour – are you excited for audiences around the UK to see it?
Really excited.

Broken Biscuits opens at Live Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne from 5 – 22 October before embarking on a UK tour. Click HERE to buy your tickets for Broken Biscuits.

 

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Interview, Amy Shindler: “I have three strands to my career: I’m a writer, actress and voiceover artist. Okay, I’m clearly a wheeler-dealer.”

Amy Shindler
Amy Shindler’s writing is mainly in television: she co-created the ITV 1 series, Pat and Cabbage, and has written for the long-running BBC comedy, My Family. Other credits include: Trollied (Sky 1)Threesome (Comedy Central) and Horrible Histories (CBBC). As an actress she has played the role of ‘Brenda Tucker’ on Radio 4’s The Archers since 1999.
 
Amy’s first ever playBurning Bridges’ opens at Theatre 503 this week and the run includes several relaxed performances that are specifically designed to welcome people who will benefit from a more relaxed performance environment, including audiences with an Autism Spectrum Condition, sensory and communication disorders, or a learning disability.
It’s wonderful to see minor adjustments being made to make topical new writing truly accessible.
I caught up with Amy to ask about the inspirations for the play, rewriting history and the enduring popularity of The Archers.
Amy Shindler

Amy Shindler

Amy! Where are you and what are you doing currently?
Carl! I’m currently sitting in my study in my house in West Dulwich and I’m answering your questions. In a broader sense I’m working on a couple of original  television comedies for ABC in the States and for the BBC over here; storylining a new TV drama, still in early stages; and waiting nervously for my play, BURNING BRIDGES to preview tomorrow night. I’m also trying to digest a homemade green smoothie which is turning out to be less than enjoyable.

Simon Bubb and Rae Brogan

Simon Bubb and Rae Brogan in Burning Bridges  © Sam Taylor. Click on the image to book you tickets now.

What can you tell us about Burning Bridges? Is it good?
Burning Bridges is a play about an American woman, Kate, and an English man, Dan, living together in London, they’re professional colleagues and also newlyweds. They invite Kate’s younger sister, Sarah, who has Asperger’s syndrome, over from the States for a two week visit. However Sarah has some major surprises for them and things quickly spin out of control. It’s a bit dark and it’s intense, but there’s lots of humour in it too because I can’t seem not to put comedy in everything. It explores issues surrounding Asperger’s such as sensory overload, obsession and difficulty forming relationships, but also questions that come up when you’re living with someone with AS: how far do you go to protect them? Is that even the right thing to do? It also looks at issues outside autism, like gender politics at work and home and how do you prioritise childcare if you and your partner are equally professionally committed?
I can tell you that it is very good, because it’s being performed by three very talented actors: Rae Brogan, Anne Adams and Simon Bubb, with the ace Sally Knyvette directing. Also Theatre503 is just a brilliant place.

It’s fair to say that you have quite an eclectic CV isn’t it?
Yes I guess I do, although that does make me sound like a bit of a wheeler-dealer! I have three strands to my career: I’m a writer, actress and voiceover artist. I spend most of my days doing the former, mainly writing comedy and, more recently, drama for TV. I’ve also played the character of Brenda Tucker in the Radio 4 soap, ‘The Archers for 18 years, I was in the movie, ‘Everest’, last year and I’m the voice at the end of the phone if you call National Rail. Okay, I’m clearly a wheeler-dealer.

Theatre 503 has produced some outstanding work Rotterdam, The Girl in The Yellow Dress etc. What have been some of your favourite shows there?
Yes it’s a really good theatre, they’ve produced so many excellent shows over the years. I particularly liked Stephen Brown’s Future Me, Sam Ellis’s Starlore for Beginners and the brilliant The Mountaintop by Katori Hall.

What hopes and aspirations do you have for your play Burning Bridges?
Each of my characters makes flawed decisions but I really wanted to keep the audience’s sympathy shifting as I explore the humanity behind their actions. I hope it resonates on some level with audiences and gives them something to debate in the bar afterwards, it would also be great to make them laugh. Above all though, I really hope this play raises awareness of Asperger’s in women which is hugely, often dangerously, under-diagnosed or mis-diagnosed. It’s also sadly under-represented in the arts.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR BURNING BRIDGES NOW 

You play Brenda Tucker on the soap opera ‘The Archers’. Why do you think the show has such enduring popularity?
It really does have the most loyal following. I’ve been told by many fans of  ‘The Archers’ that it’s been in their lives for so long that listening to it has become almost ritualistic. Like brushing your teeth or making dinner. They will talk to me like the characters are real people, sometimes friends, sometimes annoying neighbours. Recently, I’ve had so many fans come up to me, almost apoplectic over the evil doings of Rob Titchener. I sometimes have to gently remind them that it’s a drama and the characters are played by actors. This isn’t a popular line of thought though.

Are artists quite difficult people to be friends with?
Yes we’re awful. I personally only befriend people in the construction industry. They do useful things like putting up buildings.

If you could change one major historical event, what would it be?
Well I don’t know if this is entirely historically accurate but apparently due to a mix up over what time exactly it was in Berlin, Lloyd George declared war before Kasier Wilhelm had been given the final ultimatum asking Germany if they’d care to pull out of Belgium. When the mistake was detected in London, a nervous young civil servant was dispatched urgently to the German embassy to ask for the ultimatum back, as there was still technically 20 minutes left before the agreed deadline. However the Ambassador’s butler refused to let him in because it was “bed-time”. I like to think the whole first world war could have been averted if someone had read their watch correctly or the butler hadn’t
been a jobsworthy pedant.

Are you looking forward to one day being 50?
Only if there is a party involved. Otherwise it’s not worth it.

What are your top tips for an aspiring writer?
I’d say what my dad said to me at the start of my writing career – it’s a quote from PG Wodehouse: “the art of writing is applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair”. Best advice I ever got and amazingly difficult to do

How good out of 10 is Burning Bridges?
Carl, this is not Strictly Come Dancing.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?
I’d like to add that these are really fun questions to answer. Apart from the previous one which is ridiculous.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR BURNING BRIDGES NOW 

Tune into Amy Shindler talking about Burning Bridges in the next two videos

 

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Samantha Ellis, How to Date a Feminist, Playwright: “I’m trying to work up to writing a scene… But I’m also thinking about skiving off and baking a cake.”

Samantha Ellis

How to Date a Feminist by playwright and novelist Samantha Ellis opens at Arcola Theatre next week. Samantha is one of Britain’s most captivating writers and here she lifts the lid on her childhood, inspirations and outlook on life.

Samantha Ellis

Samantha Ellis

Samantha Ellis! Where are you and what’s happening in your world?
I’m on an orange sofa in my living room, just back from Margate where I was reading at a literary festival; writing a non-fiction book and having to perform bits of it has given me even more respect for actors than I had before. Right now, I’m trying to work up to writing a scene in a new play, but I’m also thinking about skiving off and baking a cake.

You were brought up in London in an Iraqi-Jewish family. Tell me about your childhood. 
It was full of stories. My parents came from this faraway and (to me) very exotic place and they talked about it all the time. I didn’t know which stories were true and which were fiction; did they really sleep on the roof and did a water buffalo really come to the end of their street? And what about the magic carpets? There were darker stories too, which made me realise the world can be cruel and uncertain. They had to make themselves up from scratch in a new country, and I felt very inspired by the creativity of that.

How to Date a Feminist

Click the image to book your tickets  and discover How to Date a Feminist

Your play How to Date a Feminist opens at Arcola Theatre quite soon. Are you excited? 
SO excited! The play’s a two-hander, a twist on romantic comedy, and as well as having to play the heroine and hero, Sarah Daykin and Tom Berish also have to play their characters’ parents and their exes. And it involves quite a bit of fancy dress. It’s probably the most playful, hyper-theatrical thing I’ve written, and Matthew Lloyd, who is directing, is having lots of fun with it. We’re also having some brilliant conversations about feminism; the play came out of the fact that while I always considered myself a feminist, for ages I really wanted to go out with dark brooding Heathcliff-types. So I wanted to write about a heroine who tries to give up on bad men and go out with a male feminist, and to see what happens…

When did you last measure how tall you were?
Not in ages. I wish I was taller.

If you could shut down one theatre tomorrow, which would you go for?
I could never be so mean! But in general, I’d love more theatres to take more risks, to programme more women in bigger spaces, to have more playwrights on their boards and more playwrights influencing programming. I’m thrilled How to Date a Feminist is touring to the Stephen Joseph Theatre, because I love that it is run by a working playwright.

Your first play The Candy Jar was performed at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  How has the festival changed over the since then? 
It was 1996. I took it to the festival with a comedy show by my friends the playwright Bathsheba Doran and the comedienne Zoë Gardner. We lugged all the set and props to Edinburgh on the overnight coach in bin bags. We flyered relentlessly, watched plays and ate rounds and rounds of toast. We were wild with hope. Even a review that began “Ellis has no humanity” didn’t dent my spirits. I think we charged £3.50 a ticket. Which I doubt anyone can do any more. It felt like things were up for grabs in a way I don’t think they are so much today. I would love to be wrong about this.

What is your favourite play of all time and why?
A very annoying man once told me when I grew up I would prefer Shakespeare’s comedies to his tragedies (also dark chocolate to milk, which has not come to pass), and he was right. But you know about Shakespeare so instead, a play that changed the way I thought I could write was God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch. It was written in 1907, in Yiddish, and it’s about a (Jewish) pimp who is bringing up his daughter as a nice Jewish girl, except she keeps being drawn to the brothel in their basement. It’s supposed to have the world’s first ever on-stage lesbian kiss. It’s very bold, carnivalesque, freewheeling, and, in every way, provocative.

Who’s the best feminist in the world today?
I probably don’t know her (or him). The world’s best feminist is probably an activist working somewhere on a small scale, making a huge difference, rather than someone making a lot of noise. Having said that, I love Laura Bates’s Everyday Sexism campaign, which has made a lot of noise in a really useful way.

You are a passionate campaigner for more female writers. Who are your top 3?
I loved Anne Washburn’s Mr Burns at the Almeida; I thought it was so exhilarating about survival and the power of art and the way rituals evolve. I read Sarah Kane’s plays again and again. When I feel down about feminism, Elizabeth Robins’ Votes for Women always cheers me up. I have laid flowers at Aphra Behn’s grave just like Virginia Woolf told me to. If I ever write a monologue I want it to be like Deb Margolin’s. No one does bio-dramas like Pam Gems did. The three playwrights I’m reading for inspiration right now are: Lynn Nottage, Rona Munro and my friend Amy Rosenthal.

Anything you’d like to add?
Thank you for having me on your blog!

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR HOW TO DATE A FEMINIST

 

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Ray Rackham: ‘I won’t read a bad review twice; I’ve not come that far!’

Ray Rackham
Ray Rackham

Ray Rackham

As he brings Judy Garland to Southwark Playhouse the director of the glorious Through The Mill talks about casting, the circumstances of his own death – and social injustices.

Hello Ray! Through The Mill is about to open at Southwark Playhouse. How is it looking?
We’ve just had our press night and, to coin a Judy phrase, things are going marvellously. I don’t think any of us, cast, creative and production, have ever worked so hard, but when you get a full standing ovation on your opening previews, and then in each performance in our opening week, it’s strangely re-energising. That being said, I feel like I could sleep for a fortnight!

Do you read reviews of your work?
I never did as an actor or director, I felt that it was unnecessary. I came to realise it was actually because I don’t take criticism particularly well. My career evolving of late into writing, I find reviews more interesting than terrifying now. What do people get from the work? What points am I making that aren’t translating? As a writer, I think you innately become more self-critical because your responsibility is to provide clarity and simplicity in the form, however beautiful you wish your dialogue to be. That being said, I won’t read a bad review twice; I’ve not come that far!

How did you start out in this business?
I tried collecting art, and that didn’t work. I tried collecting antiques, and that didn’t work. I tried acting, and that didn’t work. In fact, a rather well known, but now late, casting director told me, at the age of twenty, to come back in twenty years time when there will be plenty of roles for me. When I had more than a few years to go until that time, I thought I would give directing a crack. And it worked. Writing came as a natural successor. I’ve got four years to really nail it, or you may see me playing “affable, dumpy towns person 4” in a musical near you!

What’s your favourite Quality Street?
The eponymous Green triangle! Anyone who says otherwise is not to be entirely trusted.

Where were you – and what was your reaction – when you discovered you’d been nominated for a Broadway World and Off-West-End Theatre Award?
Well, there have been a few, but alas I’m always the bridesmaid and never the bride. I don’t recall them all, but I do remember the first. I was congratulating everyone else and had started voting online when I saw my name for Ordinary Days. I won’t say if I voted for myself, but I’d like to thank that one person who did. I have a feeling he’d be tall, handsome and exceptionally witty. A regular Noel Coward!

How did you celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday in June?
Like our glorious Majesty, I celebrate my own birthday twice, so I had a few friends around for a slice of cake and a spot of narcissism. I met the Queen once, she complimented me on my hat. I replied it was from Moss Bros, and wasn’t bad for a hire job. I was to learn she was actually talking to Esther Rantzen, who was stood beside me.

If you could eliminate one social injustice a year, each year for three years, which would you choose and in what order?
I think love will always be the answer to injustice. If we all just loved each other more, and celebrated, supported, accepted; well all types of social injustice would lessen overnight, and we’d all be a tonne happier. But, sadly, that seems less likely each and every passing day. So my plan would be Poverty, Discrimination (in ALL its forms) and Classism. It’s so sad that, all these years after the introduction of incredible social reform under a post Second World War government, that there’s still a establishment snobbishness throughout the political elite. I often think the world would be better run if the world leaders had spent some time down the Upper Street launderette with my Great Nana Ada, my Nan, and my Aunt Yuni.

Who’s the best Theatre Director?
I’m not answering that question. No, don’t make me!

Do you spend a lot of your time thinking about how much of your life you have left?
All the time. If my horoscope were ever to tell me I was going to meet a tall dark stranger, I’d withdraw all of my money from my bank account, stock up on gin, fly myself to the Bahamas and await the Grim Reaper. I’ve never written a bucket list for that reason; in doing so you’re more or less contracting to shuffle off at some point. So, whatever time I have remaining, I want to fill it with being good at doing what I want to do. And maybe getting paid for it!

What do you look for when you are casting a show?
Talent and Timeliness.

Who are the last four people that you called on the telephone?
I am renowned for never answering my phone. Because I spend so much time in the theatre, my phone is usually always on silent mode. So I’ve just looked at the last four calls I’ve missed. The answer? Mother, mother, mother and mother.