Uncut in rehearsal

Behind closed doors, in pub function rooms and bedrooms and libraries, Brighton’s creative community is hard at work. Whispers are being exchanged, and a plan is bubbling beneath the surface. A work of theatre is due to take place, and the final preparations are underway. Brighton: Theatre Uncut is set to challenge what we know, to empower us and those around us, and even to shake up theatre itself.

Though an ambitious project in itself, Brighton: Theatre Uncut is one of many local offshoots of a much larger global venture. Every year, Theatre Uncut in London commissions plays from writers from around the world and puts them out for public use. And it’s all in the name of encouraging debate, discussion and thinking critically about the world we live in.

“Theatre Uncut began as a conversation over a kitchen table about how we could respond to the brutal cuts in public spending that were being outlined by the UK coalition government in October 2010,” say Co-Artistic Directors Emma Callander and Hannah Price on the project’s website. Theatre Uncut tackles the issues that need discussing most, and Brighton’s Theatre Uncut is no different. In fact, it’s surprising that this is Brighton’s first time putting on a Theatre Uncut.

“It’s such a Brighton thing to do!” says Brighton co-director Jess Duxbury, 23. “It’s all about action and people talking, and exciting theatre. We felt it had a place here.”

Duxbury, alongside co-producer-directors Ellen Carr and Lana Harper, is responsible for everything from casting to catering. With the first performance imminent, this dedicated team of women have still got a mountain of tasks to complete, having had only a month to put together five new plays by five up-and-coming playwrights.

The plays — written on a theme — are published in October and can be put on by anyone within a limited timeframe in November. They call it the ‘mass action’ period, and it’s a period that Duxbury, Carr and Harper know only too well.

“You have to go into casting, having had the plays the day before and go, ‘Argh! OK!’” says Jess. “But it’s really exciting.”

Duxbury, Carr and Harper have spent the last month firing off email after email, adopting multiple roles and sourcing anything and everything from props to food to talent. And it’s all to make Brighton’s very first Theatre Uncut, which will take place in a warehouse on Circus Street, a success.

This year’s theme is ‘Knowledge is power, knowledge is change’; something that playwrights Clara Brennan, Inua Ellams, Vivienne Franzmann, Anders Lustgarten and Hayley Squires have well and truly taken and run with.

“What we all noticed about the plays when we read them was how overtly political they are,” says Carr, 25, “You don’t do plays that are that blatant. It’s so out there!”

“We’re used to doing plays that might have a political undertone, but these are very in your face,” says Duxbury. “It makes for really interesting handling in artistic terms, to make sure it doesn’t feel like you’re preaching at an audience, but actually making them part of the dialogue.”

And though this was a shock for the directors, they welcome it. Theatre Uncut is not about passive consumption — it’s not about turning up and sitting in a darkened room for an hour or so. It’s about encouraging discussion and debate on the issues of the day through collaboration and creativity.

“It’s why we’re doing it in a warehouse, it’s why we’re having food involved — to make it more of a communal, social event,” says Carr.

As well as a performance space for the plays, the warehouse on Circus Street will also host local artists’ work, live music and food from The Real Junk Food Project, a Brighton-based initiative that intercepts food waste.

“We want to make it an event that people can come and enjoy rather than just sit there and then go,” says Duxbury.

The directors aim to create a welcoming, communal space to encourage the audience to stick around after the plays have been performed; to eat, drink, enjoy some art and, hopefully, discuss some of the themes in the plays. Theatre Uncut is as much about entertainment as it is about engaging people in a dialogue about the world they live in. They’ll also be taking donations to raise funds for Amnesty International and The Real Junk Food Project.

So far Theatre Uncut plays have been performed by over 3,500 people in 17 countries across 4 continents. Performances have taken place in New York, Scotland, England, South Africa, Spain, with performance spaces ranging from a public bus in Mexico to a village hall in Wales. Past playwrights hail from places like Argentina to Iceland. Finally joining this impressive list is Brighton’s army of artists, actors and their talented directors, whose Theatre Uncut is set to be an exciting multi-faceted event, and a valuable contribution to the forum of public discussion.

Brighton: Theatre Uncut will take place at Circus Street Market Space on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th November, 2014, at 7:30pm, admission free. For more information see brightontheatreuncut.wordpress.com/