Bristol Old Vic’s Writers Department launches unique partnership with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

In a bid to harness the writing, acting and technical talents of the South West’s most exciting emerging artists, Bristol Old Vic’s Writers Department has partnered with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School to present 5 plays and a musical born from The Open Session. New Plays in Rep will include two fully staged productions and four workshop performances. The season of work will take place in The Weston Studio in repertory style and will be performed entirely be Bristol Old Vic Theatre School actors-in-training. Also involved are students on other BA and MA courses, including Design, Production Arts, Costume, Directing and Scenic Art.

Bristol Old Vic’s Writers Department introduced its new writing initiative The Open Session in 2014, inviting West Country writers to submit drafts of their projects with the aim of being supported further. Since then, the department has received over 600 scripts, of which 28 were picked up for further development.


 The Dissociation of Shirley Mason
The first fully staged play as part of New Plays in Rep is The Dissociation of Shirley Masonby Isabella Culver.

Isabella Culver is an actress and writer, who is also currently studying Site-Specific Theatre Practice at Mountview. This is her debut play, selected by Bristol Old Vic from its Open Session call-out to West Country writers in 2017.

The play will be directed by Peter Leslie Wild, who directed The Wizard of Oz for Bristol Old Vic Theatre School at the Redgrave Theatre in 2017. Peter’s recent production of Wind in the Willows at the New Vic Theatre received 4 Star Reviews from The Guardian and The Stage.

The Dissociation of Shirley Mason charts the life of Shirley Mason, a young woman of uncertain identity – buffeted by the expectations of family and church in the American town of her childhood. Later, as an art student in New York she feels her personality disintegrating, and a psychiatrist takes a keen interest. Dr Cornelia B Wilbur may have stumbled upon a landmark case to make her reputation.

As the two women’s lives become entwined, lines blur between psychiatry and art, case studies and tall stories, real hurt and false memory.

Inspired by the real-life case of a woman diagnosed as having 16 personalities. This premiere production is an American tale spanning decades up to the 1970s, with questions for us all about where our true selves reside.

The second fully staged play is Matt Grinter’s debut play Orca.

Matt is a Bristol-based writer and director. He is currently on attachment at Bristol Old Vic through The Open Session. His work has appeared in several venues across Britain and beyond, including The Finborough, New York Metropolitan, Trafalgar 2, Glastonbury and Bristol Old Vic. His second play, The Dog and the Elephant was produced in conjunction with Bristol Ferment in 2015 and subsequently turned into a short film. Orca was the winner of the 2016 Papatango New Writing Prize and was first performed at Southwark Playhouse in November 2016.

Orca will be directed by Chloe Masterton, a recent MA Theatre Directing graduate from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

The play takes place on Midsummer’s Day. The village must choose a new Daughter to sail with the fishing boats and bless the waters, keeping the threat of the orcas that roam the sea at bay for another year.

Fan hopes with all her heart to be the one chosen, but her older sister Maggie is adamant she must never, never, go with the boats. Because something happened to Maggie out there. Because no one will admit it. Because sometimes the most beautiful places harbour the darkest secrets.

Orca is an incisive, unflinching insight into what makes a community tolerate the unthinkable.

 Mr Maglump
Bristol Old Vic’s Writers Department will also be re-introducing the musical Mr Maglump, following its first outing during The Weston Studio’s Opening Weekend in October. The ‘musical for all ages’ is written by Brook Tate, based on a book he originally wrote and illustrated for his nieces. It has been workshopped with the help of the Writers Department.

On a street where everybody knows their neighbour, one man stands apart – Mr MaglumpBehind his door lies a rather marvellous secret which could turn the town upside down, and quite possibly the right way up. Just one brave child has the courage to find out what it was, or who it was, that put the glum in Maglump.

Brook is a painter, writer and musician based in Bristol. He has been painting since 2011 and has written and illustrated two children’s books, Theresa the Tree and Little Bobby MaddisonMr Maglump is his first musical.


Wonder Boy
The second workshop performance will be Wonder Boy by Ross Willis.

Ross is a member of the Orange Tree Writers’ Collective, BBC Writers Room and a playwright on attachment at Bristol Old Vic. He was the writer-in-residence at Theatre Clwyd and is an alumnus of Tamasha Playwrights and Soho Theatre Writers Lab, where he developed Wonder Boy. Ross is currently one of the 503Five, a group of resident playwrights at Theatre503, where his debut play Wolfie, a surreal telling of life in and after the care system, will open in March. Ross has recently been announced as one of three writers awarded the inaugural Royal Court & Kudos Writing Fellowship.

Wonder Boy tells the story of a schoolboy struggling with a severe stammer, who finds help in a teacher who champions him; but he also has the attention of his comic book creation Captain Chatter, and taunting supervillain William Shakespeare. A dynamic and tender new play that explores the failings of language and grief.

The New Plays In Rep season will also feature Nell Leyshon’s new play, Invalid, which will be performed in Bristol Old Vic’s new studio space, Coopers’ Loft.

Performed entirely in the dark, this evocative new play centres on a woman who is confined to a darkened room. Her young children seem far away but her partner is by her side; however his ability to negotiate the darkness is a strange kind of reassurance. This thrilling and immersive performance takes place with the audience seated.

Nell is a writer of plays, novels, radio drama, and a libretto. Awards in theatre include the Evening Standard Award, and an Olivier nomination (Comfort Me With Apples); for BBC radio drama the Richard Imison Award (Milk); and for internationally published novels the Prix de l’Union Interalliee. Bedlam was the first play written by a woman to be performed at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Nell has written plays for Hampstead Theatre, National Theatre Connections, Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador, Theatre Royal Plymouth, and RADA.


Kingdom or The Anthropocene
The final piece will be Kingdom or The Anthropocene by Skot Wilson.

Skot is a multi-disciplinary writer from Devon. In 2016, he became one of 6 writers on attachment at Bristol Old Vic following his Open Session submission Footsteps. His play Stallions was amongst the eight plays shortlisted from 1,160 for the international Nick Darke Award 2018. He was awarded the 2018 Benjamin Franklin Literary Prize. He also works at the Natural History Museum and has been published in the Journal of Natural History.

Kingdom is Skot’s first staged work.

The tussle for the planet is evoked in this set of surprising short plays looking at the indelible mark human beings have made on animal life – an age named The Anthropocene. Kangaroo boxing, sea wall erosion, earth grubs hiding a murder, and whales thrown off course by a sea full of digital noise, all combine to ask “Whose Kingdom is this?”