Tag Archive | "Bush Theatre"

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Feature: Straight from the director’s mouth – 27 mins with Gbolahan Obisasan

Posted on 08 March 2014 by Rachel St John

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s cleverly titled play We are proud to present a presentation about the Herero of Namibia, formerly known as South-West Africa, from the German SudWest Afrika, between the years 1884 and 1915, took the US by storm, becoming part of a growing trend of exploring Africa, its past and its culture. The show has now been brought to London’s Bush Theatre, where actor turned writer/director Gbolahan Obisesan is taking charge of the show.

“I actually found out about the show whilst researching another play,” Obisesan says. “I had been receiving newsletters from Jackie’s agent and I saw the name of the play in one of them and found it intriguing. I eventually read the play and was moved; it was funny, challenging but very tragic.”

Drury’s play is about six young actors in their 20s, three black and three white, who are doing a presentation about the first genocide of the twentieth century. With themes such as race, identity, belonging and culture within the performance, it’s no wonder Obisesan jumped at the chance to get involved. Not many plays bring up the eye-opening reality of such a historic tragedy in a modern day context.

“I really wanted to put the play in front of a British audience and see how they’d respond to it,” Obisesan continues. “In the same way that Jackie Drury intended to engage the audience in the script, I wished to do the same with the production over here – making it poignant and relevant to the audience on a high level. I was excited to get into the rehearsal process with the actors, unlocking and unpicking the play so that it would work theatrically. The play explores an obscure historical event that deals with a lot of issues which the well-intended characters deal with. They become challenged, battered and broken on the legacy of what happened as they look into their human sense of identity.”

Obisesan, a London-based director, originally started out as a member of the National Youth Theatre wanting to be an actor. I asked how he transitioned into writing and directing so successfully. The National Youth theatre started up a programme called Short Nights where it challenged members to write a play. As a result, Obisesan wrote his first play, Roadside, about a young man dealing with addiction and mental illness. “People responded positively to it and I also directed it. It was then I wanted to learn more about what I could offer actors, but I also had more stories within me that I wanted to explore and share through the medium of theatre.” From there, he began looking for outlets to further explore this creative side – and became part of the Soho and Royal Court writers’ groups whilst undertaking an introduction to directing course at the Young Vic. “I was keen to find out which I felt a stronger pull towards without limiting my potential by focusing on just one.”

Which does he prefer, I wonder? Cue another chuckle: “In a way, I think they go hand in hand. Part of my motivation is to remain visible and to not feel limited. I’ve been lucky enough for people to acknowledge me as a writer and a director. As a director, you need to communicate the play to actors and decipher the message. With writing, it’s about sculpting characters, the narrative, and elements of the drama and its structure which may be helpful for the director. So to me, both are valued and they feed off one another. If a writing job comes up, I’ll take it. If a directing job comes up and it’s a play I really want to do I’ll probably take it as well.” He went on to describe himself as a “hired gun”, going where the money is. “You don’t want to be struggling or on benefits and there’s an integrity about making a living whilst having freedom, so the balance of writing and directing for me depends on where the work is coming from.”

Although he had a busy press day ahead, I took time to ask what advice he would offer to directors and theatre makers who are just starting out: “One of the biggest challenges for directors starting out is breaking into the industry, so just jump in with both feet and immerse yourself, rather than half exploring it. Take every opportunity you can and ensure that you’re being creatively challenged whilst learning about the things you’re lacking. If you have a sense of what you want to achieve and where you want to go, you’re more likely to find yourself gaining momentum and not stagnating.” Because from there, he continued, you can find opportunities to match your dreams.

All this is easier if you live in or close to London – but what if you don’t? “Remain visible,” he advises. “Get involved with your local theatre the best way you can – even if it means writing a letter with regards to what you’re interested in. They might be able to lead you in the right direction or support you by making the theatre more open to you. When it comes to being taken seriously, how you present yourself on a professional level is very important. So make adjustments if you need to. It could be your sense of style, how you communicate or your attitude in how you relate to things. As long as you can present strong ideas and back them up there’s no reason they won’t take you seriously.”

We are proud to present a presentation about the Herero of Namibia, formerly known as South-West Africa, from the German SudWest Afrika, between the years 1884 and 1915 is at the Bush Theatre until 12 April. For more information and tickets, visit the Bush’s website


Rachel St John

Rachel St John

Rachel is an aspiring playwright and theatre enthusiast who graduated from Kingston University in 2012. She currently works as a freelance writer and part-time babysitter, and is a regular volunteer at the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth.

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Feature: Michaela Coel – a powerhouse

Posted on 07 March 2014 by Lisa Carroll


Playwright, actress, singer and poet, Michaela Coel is a busy woman, I learn, as I manage to grab a few minutes with her on a two-show day: she’s currently performing in Blurred Lines at the National Theatre Shed, while simultaneously preparing for her upcoming solo show, Chewing Gum Dreams, which will play the same venue in March. “I’m a Jack of all trades,” she jokes, “but average at all of them.” Her modesty only adds to her list of enviable qualities and talents. And indeed, the longer we chat, I soon see that her comment couldn’t be further from the truth: Coel really is a powerhouse.

Coel only graduated from Guildhall in 2012 but in her time since has had some formidable achievements. Believing that “unless you’re very, very lucky, there aren’t enough opportunities being blown in your face. You just have to get up and do it yourself – you have to,” she decided to develop a short solo piece she’d written while at Guildhall, which formed the basis of Chewing Gum Dreams. Following persistent phone calls to Jay Miller, Artistic Director of The Yard Theatre, Hackney, he agreed to put the play on and Coel set to work; “I designed the flyers, I designed the set, I built the set, I produced the show and was standing on the street handing out flyers. It was on for four days and every night was sold out.” Now the play has been published, she is on commission with the Bush Theatre and has projects coming up with the Almeida and the Royal Court, on top of which, the show opens at the Shed in March. Talk about being proactive, or as she humbly describes it, “just working hard and trying to put stuff out there”.

The play draws inspiration from Coel’s own school days in the early noughties, (“it’s literally like a tribute to Craig David,” she tells me) and it explores the tipping point between innocence and adulthood – that moment where “suddenly life isn’t full of laughter and it’s not easy anymore – you start to realise there’s a life that I’m going to come to know which includes a bit of hardship, which includes struggle”. While some people realise this young, she goes on, others hit might hit that point at 40 – but when it comes down to it the play is for “anyone who went to school, basically,” with audiences from their early teens to their sixties responding incredibly positively to its original run at The Yard, with Coel hopeful for more of the same when it opens at the Shed.

With Chewing Gum Dreams being set in an all-girls school and exploring relationships, early sexual experiences and violence, Coel agrees that writing from a female perspective does inevitably inform the tone of her work: “I think naturally being a woman I find it quite hard to escape writing something that did have women’s issues. I think it’s impossible.” That said, it was her role in Blurred Lines which really opened her eyes to gender issues; “it has sort of changed my life in that sense,” she tells me, “I don’t think I even realised that I was particularly a girl until I did Blurred Lines.” Working with Director Carrie Cracknell and Playwright Nick Payne in devising Blurred Lines gave Coel the chance not only to examine those issues but also to contribute to the debate, as Payne was keen to include some of Coel’s own poetry in the play.

Nonetheless, Coel is the first to admit that she struggled a bit when rehearsing Blurred Lines, as she began to wonder if she was right to prioritise gender over other issues such as class or race: “I’ll be honest, I started thinking there’s so many other things going on in the world – there are worse things going on in the world– I’d just be like – I’m a bit busy being black at the moment.” In hindsight, however, Coel has come to believe that “if something is wrong, then no matter the scale of the wrongness it should be addressed”. And, though it also touches on ‘women’s issues’, Coel tells me that class is much more central to Chewing Gum Dreams, with the play taking a look at the young people who populated her school and whose voice she feels is not so often heard on the stage or beyond.

As a result, with her future work, Coel is keen to keep telling unheard stories and examining life from different perspectives: “I rarely see an Indian girl or a Bangladeshi girl in a play that isn’t about India or Bamgladesh – you never see that girl in the theatre. I love the idea of just writing Sunita,” she explains. “I feel like I do have a voice that I don’t hear – I think everybody has a voice that they don’t hear, though – and it’s about expressing that voice in whatever way you can.” And doubtless, with so many opportunities coming her way thanks to the her hard work on Chewing Gum Dreams, it seems certain we’ll be hearing more of Coel’s voice soon.

Chewing Gum Dreams is at The Shed at the National Theatre from 17 March to 5 April. For more information and tickets, visit the NT’s website.

Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll graduated from University College Dublin in 2012 with a B.A International in English. She is also a playwright, script reader and director. @lisa_carroll46

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Feature: From social worker to playwright – the making of Carthage

Posted on 29 January 2014 by Richard Walls

Rehearsals for CARTHAGE. Photo Credit Darren BellIf Chris Thompson has any nerves ahead of the opening of his first play Carthage at the Finborough Theatre this week, he isn’t showing them. “It’s extremely exciting. I’m still pinching myself.”

Extremely exciting is right. Not only has the play won him a Channel 4 Playwright’s Scheme bursary (formerly the Pearson Playwright Award) and a residency at the Finborough, his second play Albion will be premiering at the Bush Theatre later this year. Despite his growing prestige Thompson is philosophical on its rewards. “It feels good not to be lonely professionally anymore. As a writer you’re lonely.”

Having worked in social services for over twelve years, the writer tag is taking some getting used to. Describing Carthage as a deeply personal response to his career, the play explores the fallout arising from the death of a young boy in care as well as the culpability of those who were tasked with protecting him. Though not based on any specific case, the play draws heavily on the emotional complexity that accompanies a career in the social services. “I remember being scared,” says Thompson. “I remember crying in the toilets not wanting to do a visit to check up on a child. I don’t feel sorry for myself, though. You have this privileged insight into people’s lives.”

Thompson stresses that heavy themes don’t make for a heavy play. On the contrary, the play is fused with the humour that has allowed him to navigate his way through his years as a social worker. “The play has turned out to be very funny and rehearsals have been hilarious.” Director Robert Hastie agrees, citing “lovely moments of small victories” for the characters in the play as providing a deft contrast with the play’s darker moments. “What’s beautiful about Chris’s writing is the comfort these characters take in each other when confronted with such adversity.”

Hastie first met both play and playwright over a year ago when asked to direct a reading of an earlier version for the 2012 Vibrant Festival. “I immediately fell for it. I just loved it and count myself very lucky that it came my way.”

Thompson asks whether Hastie has ever found it difficult working with him, given that he has no prior background in the arts, but Hastie refuses to let such modesty go unchecked: “I’ve never met anyone so curious as to what theatre can and should be, and that challenge has really enriched my understanding of what we do.”

The curiosity with which both men approach the work goes hand in hand with a deep-seated trust and mutual respect for each other’s abilities. Asked how he has found the collaborative aspects of being in the rehearsal room, Thompson is both assured and relaxed: “I’m very comfortable with the process of it all. You have to let go.”

Getting to this point hasn’t always been easy. Hastie speaks of how earlier on in the process his main challenge was in making Thompson comfortable with speaking on an emotional level about his thoughts and his experiences, to which Thompson quips that, as a social worker, he’s dead inside, before going on to express his gratitude: “I used to go to the theatre all the time, and love what I saw, but social work killed that for me. It’s not that the plays were bad, but that I’ve seen so many bleak and horrible things. But in being spoken to like a writer – and in being treated like one – Rob’s really brought me out of my shell.”

Rehearsals for CARTHAGE. Photo Credit Darren Bell (2)

Now both men eagerly await what their audiences are going to bring to and take away from the work. Both stress that the play is not about social workers per se, but rather one which takes a wider societal view interrogating the systems we put in place and rely upon, and what happens when they fail. These are questions for the audience to wrestle with during the play and after. “It doesn’t feel a judgemental play to me,” says Thompson. “I think everyone has to leave with their own sense of the complexities and the greyness.”

Thompson is hesitant about imparting too much advice to aspiring writers but he strongly believes we should keep numerous avenues and routes into the profession open because people need time to find their voices. “As a writer, do something else other than theatre: listen to people, watch people, meet people, see people.”

Hastie argues that aspiring directors need to ensure they are engaging with writers and not just their texts – or the texts of dead writers. “There isn’t a theatre without that first creative spark. It doesn’t need to be a writer, but while there are great writers like Chris out there you would be foolish not to get to know them. Use that spark. There are as many ways of making good plays as there are good plays.”

Carthage is at the Finborough Theatre until 22 February. For more information and tickets visit the Finborough’s website

Rehearsal photos (c) Darren Bell. 

Richard Walls

Richard Walls

Richard is a playwright and recent graduate of the MA in Writing for Performance at Goldsmiths College, London. He is currently under commission to Theatre Absolute.

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Review: Ciphers, Bush Theatre

Posted on 20 January 2014 by Lisa Carroll

Ciphers Bush Theatre

Following the unanimous success of Papatango Prize-winning play, Foxfinder, in 2011, playwright Dawn King returns with Ciphers, a jigsaw-puzzle-like tale of espionage and deception, currently playing at the Bush Theatre. In her exploration of professional deceit, King nudges at the irony of the theatre itself sharing common traits, with each actor doubling roles – most impressively with Gráinne Keenan playing newly-recruited spy, Justine, and her sister, Kerry. As Kerry fights to uncover the mysterious circumstances in which Justine died, this fluidity of identity and King’s tangled, non-linear structure, leaves the audience to play detective in deciphering what happened, how, when and why.

King is paired once again with director, Blanche McIntyre, regularly hailed as the next big thing, but who offers a disappointingly inconsistent production.  And, despite the huge public intrigue surrounding the secret services, Ciphers fails to recreate the tension and fast pace of the many spy thrillers which frequent the large and small screens. The production uses large white screens which traverse the stage to demarcate new scenes, allowing actors to seamlessly appear or disappear behind them. These flourishes underscore King’s exploration of deceit, anonymity and not quite believing what you see, however, McIntyre fails to build upon, or even sustain, the metaphor as the play goes on. And instead, most likely prompted by the logistical challenges presented by King choosing numerous settings for the play, this fleetingly impressive directorial sleight-of-hand soon gives way to functional, often clumsy, changes of set and costume, which undermine the conventions of the on-stage world McIntyre initially sought to establish, making this play about identity feel as though its own identity was in question.

On a more human level, it was difficult to emotionally invest in King’s often two-dimensional characters. Of course, the very title of the play would suggest that King intends her characters to be unknowable; nonetheless, while it’s all well and good to seek to illustrate a point, these thinly drawn figures resulted in Ciphers feeling long (despite its running time of under two hours including interval) and without heart.

Moreover, King’s characters were often stereotyped on the basis of race, nationality, class, age and gender: for example, it was dishearteningly unsurprising to see, white, middle-class Justine interviewing  the Muslim youth-worker Kareem (Ronny Jhutti) about his suspected involvement with religious extremism, having been picked up at the airport on his way home from Pakistan. Equally, Anoushka and Sunita (Shereen Martin), both successful business women, were without warmth, as is often found to be the case in popular culture and the media when depicting women who leave the domestic sphere, and do well out of it. Later scenes come uncomfortably close to slut-shaming, with the play’s somewhat confusing and implausible final twist meaning the audience could be forgiven for thinking that Ciphers was less about the huge governmental forces at work all around us and more about two women’s dispute over a man. Where, arguably, theatre aims to explore and undermine our current cultural values and inequities, the perpetuation of these values served as an example of how, on the whole Ciphers, didn’t seem to broach any new ground – begging the question of what it really asked of its audience or sought to bring to light.

Given these issues, it would be wrong to say that Ciphers is without merit: many scenes are deftly written and pulling the story’s many complex threads together was surely no mean feat for King. There are some great moments, such as the sharp verbal exchange between Sunita and Justine in the opening scene, which really strike a chord with the young, jobless generation, since Justine interviews for the secret services less because she feels it’s her calling, but rather because she’s been out of work for a few months, started to get desperate, saw the ad in the paper and applied.

Like its lead character, Justine, who is at one point told, “there is nothing very distinctive about you at all”, Ciphers does not manage to stand out from the crowd, and while the play is thought-provoking and boasts a talented cast, I would be guilty of deceit myself if I were to say that this play of double crossing and deception is one not to be missed.

Ciphers is playing at the Bush Theatre until 8 February. For more information and tickets, see Bush Theatre.

Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll graduated from University College Dublin in 2012 with a B.A International in English. She is also a playwright, script reader and director. @lisa_carroll46

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