By David Edgar
It’s saddening to report that playwright and Guild member Peter Whelan has died at 82. As fellow RSC associate artists, we met and colluded frequently. He’d had health problems over many years (complications following a hip replacement) and was confined to hospital during rehearsals for his Morris/Rossetti play at the Almeida, The Earthly Paradise. But fellow playwright and Guardian interviewer Samantha Ellis found him working, from his bed, on a new play.
The son of a lithographic artist, Peter was born and brought up in Stoke on Trent, accounting for his fascination with history and pottery. A considerable actor at the Questors Theatre, Ealing, he played Guildenstern in an early version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, directed by Tom Stoppard himself. But although he always intended to be a playwright, he didn’t start writing till he was almost 40. His first play for the RSC, Captain Swing, was picked up off the mat.
Peter’s subsequent work for the company included The Accrington Pals (being revived this year), Clay and The Bright and Bold Design (both potteries plays) and A Russian in the Woods, based on his national service in postwar Berlin. His best known plays – also for the RSC – were set in the English renaissance. His Marlowe/Thomas Kyd play The School of Night was revived at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, and his play about Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna, The Herbal Bed, had runs in the west end and on Broadway (and, with his Birmingham Rep play about the monarchy, Divine Right, won him a Guild best regional play award in 1996). For me, the scene in The School of Night in which the unknown actor Tom Stone is revealed to be Shakespeare (“Two writers under one roof is one too many”. “If you ask me, it’s two too many”. “Especially when there are three”) is one of the great dramatic coups of the contemporary theatre. He also wrote for broadcast (his television work included The Trial of Lord Lucan for Granada).
Peter was no pushover – in or out of the rehearsal room - but his kindness and generosity of spirit shone through his work. Four years ago, we found ourselves pursuing the same subject, and his withdrawal was typically gracious. He was unfailingly supportive to younger writers, and a great friend. The RSC were lucky to have him. Our condolences go to his wife of 56 years, Ffrangcon, and their children.
To kick off our occasional series of screenings, we will be showing What Richard Did on 30 July in London, followed by a Q&A with writer Malcolm Campbell.
What Richard Did won Best First Screenplay at the Writers’ Guild Awards (2013). Malcolm has written for some of the UK’s most popular dramas, including The White Queen, Shameless and Skins, as well as creating the BBC’s multi-Bafta-winning L8R and gaining Bafta nominations for All About Me and Losing It.
After the screening, Malcolm will take questions and talk about adapting a novel for the screen.
6pm, 30 July, networking drinks in the hotel bar from 5pm
The Covent Garden Hotel Screening Room, 10 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9HB
Price: £8 (Guild members), £10 (non-members)
Bookings: via Eventbrite
All members are invited to the Writers' Guild AGM 10.30am-5pm, 4 July Cluny & Tanner Room, The Bermondsey Square Hotel, Bermondsey Square, Tower Bridge Road, Southwark, London, UK, SE1 3UN
This year’s AGM in London next Friday boasts two high-profile speakers – the new director-in-waiting of the National Theatre Rufus Norris, who will be talking on the theme “the National Theatre and new writing”, and BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning Ben Stephenson. Don’t miss it!
Miranda Emmerson explains how she abridges books for broadcast on BBC Radio 4
Like a lot of people who grew up loving books I was always a bit snotty about abridgement. Surely writers’ words are sacrosanct? Abridgement is for people who can’t hack listening to 40 hours of Eliot or reading 800 pages of Tolstoy: the wimps. I wanted all books and plays to exist like untouchable jewels, to reflect and refract exactly as the writer first intended.
And then I became a writer. And I wrote plays and I tore them apart and turned them into something else. I threw characters out of the window and ditched my ‘best’ scenes. I gutted other people’s books and films and histories and lives for reference points and images and ideas that could be endlessly altered, endlessly adapted.
I loved Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, and also David Lean's Great Expectations, and Sherman Yellan’s Great Expectations, and the Great Expectations of the man (whose name I cannot find) who abridged the little 1970s picture book that my father read to me when I was seven. My five-year-old daughter loves A Midsummer Night’s Dream because Mr Shakespeare wrote a good story and Lesley Sims turned it into something that she can read at bedtime.
In the past 14 years I have abridged dozens upon dozens of books and short stories for BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra: often for the Book of the Week slot. I have abridged history, biography and science. I’ve abridged Lucy Wood and Sebastian Faulks, Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival and Edinburgh College of Art are this week hosting the inaugural Scottish Film Summit in a response to the crisis in Scotland’s film industry. The WGGB are participating in this important event.
The summit will engage all sectors of the film industry, from producers, writers and directors, to facilities companies, location managers and crews, to film educators, archivists, trainers and academics, festivals, distributors and exhibitors. The day will have keynote speakers setting out their views on the issues the Scottish film industry should be considering. Key issues on the agenda are likely to include what needs to allow more home-grown films to be made, how to help the country attract more bid-budget films to shoot on location, and ways to reverse a talent drain of film-makers away from Scotland.
This is an opportunity to present the current views and concerns of the industry, and to look at how to build up the Scottish industry post-Referendum. The event is likely to discuss the case for a new permanent film studio in Scotland to help the country compete with existing facilities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the impact of the referendum on film-making in Scotland.
According to The Scotsman, the summit has been announced after more than nine months of lobbying from film-makers who warned the industry north of the border was on the brink of disaster because of a lack of support and financial backing from the Scottish Government and arts agency Creative Scotland.
The quango’s chief executive, Janet Archer, will be one of the keynote speakers at the summit, along with Glasgow-born film producer Iain Smith, one of the leading figures involved in an independent group set up last year to campaign for a better deal for the industry.
A damning report into the industry for Creative Scotland found the country was lagging way behind major European rivals when it comes to studio facilities and support for film-makers. It warned that the country did not have enough infrastructure in place to support a successful industry, despite the success of hit films such as The Filth and Sunshine on Leith.
Creative Scotland has won some backing from the industry for appointing its first dedicated director of film, former entertainment lawyer Natalie Usher, and agreeing to up its maximum grant for film productions by 60 per per cent, to £500,000.
The Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise are studying a number options for the country’s first full-time film studio, with ministers ring-fencing £2 million for a loan fund to help get the venture off the ground.
Attendees to the summit will receive lunch and tickets for the EIFF Opening night film screening and party.
18 June Main Lecture Theatre,
ECA Main Building, Lauriston Place,
Read more in The Scotsman
A celebration of risk, innovation and collaboration in British theatre
On the 4th of July 2014 the first In Battalions Festival will take place at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins. This one-day summer festival is a new opportunity for professional theatre-makers, academics, politicians, journalists and other culture professionals to share innovative ideas and practical models for maintaining a vital theatre ecology in the UK and will take place as part of The Year of Experimentation, a three day new writing festival taking place at Drama Centre London as the culmination of the first year of its new MA in Dramatic Writing.
The In Battalions report, published by playwright and Writers' Guild member Fin Kennedy and researcher Helen Campbell Pickford in 2013, received widespread coverage and formed a significant part of the recent debate about arts funding cuts, in particular around theatres' capacity to take risks on developing new plays and playwrights in an age of austerity.
The 2014 follow-up, the In Battalions Delphi study, brought together 36 innovative solutions to this problem, sourced from and voted on by theatre professionals. These proposals suggest new ways for theatres and theatre-makers to work with the Arts Council to protect creative risk-taking on new work.
Playwright Fin Kennedy said: "The original In Battalions study of 2013 found theatres across England cancelling shows and cutting back on creative Research and Development as a result of Government cuts to the Arts Council. The Delphi study was a solution-focused follow-up. Both studies have been widely circulated online, and carved out some valuable 'blue skies' space for our sector. But what's needed now is a physical space where culture professionals can come together to make real connections to take these ideas forward. The In Battalions Festival at Central Saint Martins is the third stage of the campaign, and attempts to do just that. I'd invite anyone who cares about the future of new British theatre to come along, meet inspiring speakers and share their ideas."
The In Battalions Festival is a chance to discuss some of the issues raised by the In Battalions reports, form consortia to take forward solutions, and suggest new ways in which the sector might work together better, fund itself more sustainably and articulate its case more effectively. The Festival will be made up of talks and provocations from invited speakers, studies of best practice within the theatre industry and other art forms, space to debate how best for the theatre industry to make its case in the run-up to next year's general election, as well social time for attendees to make connections with one another.
Full details and booking: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/in-battalions-festival-tickets-11868732699