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Tag Archive | "New Writing"

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Feature: Paines Plough – “I don’t know how anyone can run a company on their own”

Posted on 16 April 2014 by Conori Bell-Bhuiyan

James Grieve and George Perrin, Artistic Directors of Plaines Plough. (c) Geraint Lewis.

James Grieve and George Perrin, Artistic Directors of Plaines Plough. (c) Geraint Lewis.

James Grieve and George Perrin have been working together since the were at university – they started their own company, Nabokov, and co-ran it together for 10 years. So when the job of Artistic Director (or directors) came up at leading new-writing company Paines Plough, they jumped at the opportunity. That was back in 2010, and now they’re leading the company through its fortieth anniversary. “So far I’ve loved it!” Perrin says, “…it’s been an honour to run Paines Plough, I’ve always been a big fan of their work and it’s great fun to be working with so many different writers.”

Running Paines Plough is a huge job, and for both its directors, having someone to share the workload with is an asset. The working relationship the pair have built in the 13 or 14 years since they first started out has set them up well for taking over a company as big as Paines Plough. “We’ve never know any different… I can’t imagine doing it any other way,” says Perrin, and Grieve describes those years starting out together as essential. “On a practical level it’s brilliant,” he explains. “Any time we’ve got any big decision to make, there’s two of us to make it. If I’m writing a fundraising application on a Sunday evening I can always call George and he’s there for moral support… I don’t know how anyone can run a company on their own frankly!”

“I think at the heart of the collaboration is the fact that we have a shared taste. We like the same writers and we feel the same things about theatre and what theatre should be.” Perrin uses the exact same words – a shared taste. “If you spend a lot of time disagreeing you will just end up wasting a lot of time,” he says. That’s not to say that there’s never any disagreement at all, but this is a collaboration that’s stood the test of time. “Certainly when we go and see shows we often disagree”, admits Grieve. “There are certain productions that I’ve loved and George hasn’t, and vice versa, but we don’t ever really disagree about the theatre we’re making… When we know we want to commission a writer and we believe in that writer then whatever happens along the way – and there’ll always be difficult moments along the way – we know that we believe in the project.” That’s not to say that there aren’t some moments of, quote, “rigorous conversation”, but Grieve can “honestly say we’ve never fallen out in 14 years of working together.”

Grieve and Perrin both agree that the best part of what they do is being able to work with so many talented and exciting new writers. “I’m currently directing a play by Mike Bartlett”, says Grieve, “who I think is a genius and one of the greatest playwrights in the world… to be directing the world premiere of his new show is a complete thrill and something I never thought I’d get the chance to do when I was starting out.” Perrin thinks Paines Plough has a “vital role in keeping new work at the heart of theatre, and taking those new plays out to everywhere in the country.” New writing is at the core of what Paines Plough does and he stresses that the company wants to be one that is within the reach of young writers. “We don’t want to be out of reach… we want the younger, newer writers to feel that we are someone who is contactable – obtainable.”

When it comes to the current overall state of new writing, Perrin definitely thinks the future is bright for all the aspiring playwrights out there; “opportunities for writers have increased in the last 20 years but the competition probably remains just as strong. There’s always been a strong scene in London but now it’s growing beyond the major cities as well.” Grieve is a little less optimistic – he’s worried about the impact cuts to the arts councils will have on theatre in the long run. “It’s certainly the most present, or prevalent, risk to new writing in the last couple of years. It’s the one that most people have been talking about… the long term damage of lack of funding could be huge, because it’s not just productions going on now but it’s the new generation of playwrights that will be writing plays in five or ten years time. I think we’ve got to, at all costs, make sure that there are still funds available and still opportunities for young writers at schools and colleges and universities all over the country to engage with playwriting as a potential career, in order to secure the legacy of British playwriting for years to come.” In that case, do either of them have any advice for the young people aspiring to make theatre in the years to come? Perrin votes for the ‘just go and do it’ approach. “I spent five years applying and writing applications, but it was going out and doing it that gained me a lot of really valuable experience. Get in a room with some actors and a writer and make some theatre. You’ll learn a lot more actually doing it than writing up applications.”

I ask them both if, out of all the writers they’ve worked with over the years, they have a favourite. “That’s like picking a favourite child!” replies Perrin. “We have such a broad range of writers and plays… Paines Plough has an amazing roll call!” Grieve picks out a few upcoming productions that he’s particularly looking forward to: “We’ve just done a second play by Kate Tempest… I’m really excited about Kate because she brings a completely different energy to writing for theatre. She does come from a music background so she writes in verse and she writes with incredible rhythm and real soul. Her shows are a bit like gigs.” Another rising star is Welsh writer Sam Burns, and her upcoming debut Not The Worst Place – a coming of age story about a teenage girl who runs away with her boyfriend to pitch a tent on a beach in Swansea. “It’s a really astounding debut”, says an enthusiastic Grieve, “an incredibly beautiful story…”

This year will see the biggest programme of work from Paines Plough yet – as a celebration of the company’s anniversary it’ll be producing a total of 12 or 13 shows and touring to 50 places around the country. Over the past 40 years, Paines Plough has provided a platform for some of the best young playwrights from across the country – writers like Dennis Kelly, Abbey Morgan, Simon Stephens. Perrin was right when he called it an amazing roll call. Moving forward, the plan is to just “keep on doing what we’re doing,” as Perrin puts it. “Our role is to be the best” he says. Grieve agrees: “We just want to continue to commission the best writers and produce the best new plays.” They also both agree that it’s important for them to be touring that work far and wide, and beyond the major cites, giving it the chance to be seen by people everywhere. Hence the new Roundabout project – a portable theatre space that the company will debut in Edinburgh this summer. “It will help us get to places in the country that we’ve never been able to access before”, explains Grieve, “now we don’t need to tour into a theatre – we can take our theatre with us!”

Visit Paines Plough’s website for more information on its current and upcoming shows. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conori Bell-Bhuiyan

Conori Bell-Bhuiyan

Conori Bell-Bhuiyan is a student and arts and culture blogger from Manchester. She wants to end up working as a journalist somewhere warm, and she loves anything artsy, off-beat or slightly wacky.

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Review: Then, Vault Festival

Posted on 01 March 2014 by Lisa Carroll

Yve BlakeFor her new show, Then (playing at The Vaults until 1 March), Yve Blake turned to the internet for inspiration. Creating a website where people could anonymously leave messages about their past selves – who they used to be, who they used to want to be, the moment everything changed for them – Blake collected these stories and composed a piece that offers an incredibly humorous, touching and worthwhile hour’s viewing.

Using titbits of people’s lives from all over the world, Blake puts her formidable song-writing skills to use to create an energetic and eclectic show. Then journeys in song from people’s fun, sometimes ridiculous and absurd childhood dreams, through tough teenage years and the horror of realising you’ve reached 40, to the touching relationship of a child caring for their elderly parent – the latter a beautiful song that completes the life-cycle arc of the show, which Blake articulates so interestingly and sensitively throughout. And while the show highlights how many of us are united by the same worries, the same dreams and the same regrets, the diversity of the voices that Blake has collated equally highlights the amazing uniqueness that colours each of our experiences and perspectives, meaning there is never a dull moment from start to finish.

Not only are Blake’s lyrics tight, witty and full of verve, accompanied by an enviable singing voice, but Alex Groves’s musical direction and Naomi Kuyck Cohen’s design complement Blake’s performance perfectly, to make the show as stunning visually as it is aurally. While Blake holds the stage for the full hour with a magnetic presence and her loveable, quirky story-telling style, it’s clear that Then is a result of the collaboration of a strong artistic team, as well as a result of the generosity of the public who shared their stories, making it a truly special event.

Some brilliant moments in Then arise from Blake’s inclusion of messages left by internet ‘trolls’. This simultaneously highlights a sense of humble self-consciousness – that her work might not be for all tastes – as well as the ever pertinent issue of the internet being as much a forum for scorn as it is for sharing, with people only willing to show their true selves when hid behind a protective computer screen. As a result the show is nuanced, balanced and humorous, where it might easily have slid into overt sentimentality given the influx of poignant and personal messages that Blake had to sift through when writing the show.

Then cannot be defined by a singular genre, with its mixture of performance art, verbatim theatre, story-telling, song and dance, as well as magnificent projections (by Joel Enfield and Rosa Nussbaum) – though at the same time it remains utterly cohesive. With so much to offer, it ought to be seen by a wide audience as it has something for everyone – indeed, for anyone who has ever thought about themselves back ‘then’, and who they are now, and maybe thought they were alone in doing so.

Then is playing at the VAULT Festival (Waterloo Vaults) until 1 March. For more information and tickets, see the VAULT Festival 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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Review: Smallholding, Soho Theatre

Posted on 21 February 2014 by Lisa Carroll

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Chris Dunkley’s intense and tragic two-hander Smallholding explores how, no matter where you find yourself, old habits always die hard. Indeed, when Jen (Matti Houghton) and Andy (Chris New) relocate to a cottage in Northamptonshire, they hope their rural surroundings might help them bury their past, so that they can live clean in the country air. However, soon their big plans to grow parsnips, sell their produce to supermarkets, and reclaim custody of their daughter are eclipsed by Andy’s lies, erratic behaviour and eventual relapse. Over the course of a fast-moving 70 minutes, we witness the couple spiral out of control, as each pushes the other further into the clutches of addiction and despair.

Soho Theatre’s intimate Soho Upstairs space provides the perfect setting for this claustrophobic piece, with the audience watching from every side as the couple haplessly descends into crisis. David Kidd’s lighting design successfully bolsters this effect, introducing undertones of menace into this seemingly inoffensive country setting, complemented by Rob Jones’s quirky sound design, creating an unsettling tone for the work that is sustained throughout.

Patrick Sandford’s confident direction ensures that the storytelling is clear and fluid, as the audience comes to learn about Jen and Andy’s hopes, failings and darker natures. Unfortunately, Sandford’s commendable efforts cannot always camouflage the exposition-heavy moments within Dunkley’s script, nor compensate for what is ultimately quite a predictable story. Moreover, the play’s form, unwittingly mirroring its content, lapses towards the end due to the language of its staging. While Sandford has the actors participate in partially lit scene-changes throughout the play, it is at the crucial climactic point that the rules of the on-stage world become confused, and the turning point of the piece is undermined as we segue into the equally unsatisfying final scene.

Of course, Smallholding is incredibly relevant and well-timed, given recent headlines regarding high profile figures and their abuse of heroin. Furthermore, Houghton and New offer valiant performances that highlight the grey areas surrounding the topic, such as the often-overlooked fact that abusers are more often victims than criminals. Again though, the cast are fighting against a form that sees the drama hinge on incremental revelations, often resulting in the tension being undermined overall, and the nuance of the subject matter lost. As such, Smallholding feels as though it does not shed any new light on a topic that so desperately needs examining and addressing on the stage and beyond.

Smallholding is playing at the Soho Theatre until 9 March. For more information and tickets, see Soho Theatre 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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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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