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.
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
After lengthy negotiations the Guild has reached agreement with UK Theatre and negotiated a 6% increase on minimum fees.
This is a significant increase and is effective from 1 May 2014.
Guild Theatre Committee Chair, Nick Wood said, “We welcome the agreement we've reached with UK Theatre and see it as a step in the right direction for UK playwrights at a time when the arts are under pressure from all sides.”
The negotiating team, which also includes representatives from the agents organisation PMA and Society of Scottish Playwrights, has been working to improve and update the 1993 TMA/WGGB/SSP agreement on subsidised theatre, we have made significant headway on this but there are still some areas where we have not reached agreement so further meetings will be held with UK Theatre.
Former Guild President David Edgar has received an Otto Award for political theatre in New York. Named after a Guatemalan poet and revolutionary executed by the authorities in 1968, the Otto Rene Castillo Theatre has been making political theatre for 30 years, alongside educational and performance work for deprived young people.
The theatre’s annual awards have been going since 1998, and past recipients include playwrights Ed Bullins and Ntozake Shange, as well as noted American companies like the Living Theatre, the San Francisco Mime Troupe and Steppenwolf. In addition to David Edgar, this year’s award recipients included playwright Katori Hall, whose The Mountaintop won the 2009 Olivier best play award.
David’s award was presented by Oscar Eustis, artistic director of New York’s Public Theatre, who commissioned and directed the first production of Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking Angels in America.
Free tickets still available for showcase at Leicester Square Theatre at 2pm next Friday 9th May, to celebrate the ‘best of British’ new writing for the stage.
Drawn from over 220 plays submitted nationwide, the Playwrights' Progress showcase features Imran Yusuf’s Westernization (pictured) and Kate Davidson’s The Ostrich. They are an exciting reflection of this unique script development project, promoted by the Writers’ Guild in partnership with Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and Leicester Square Theatre.
So don’t miss this exclusive Guild promotion at this exciting central London venue. And book for free now via Leicester Square Theatre.
WESTERNIZATION by Imran Yusuf - A married couple in crisis takes a comic journey from East to West. Over one night of metaphysical flight and fantasy, they navigate a world of authority figures, taking in gender politics, gymnastics, green tea and God; they argue, fumble and dance a way through the fundamentals of their relationship. What on earth can they – or any of us - do when the ground beneath their feet is shifting at a rapid pace?
THE OSTRICH by Kate Davidson - Middle-aged banker Teddy gets a shock when he goes home for his mother’s birthday to find that her dementia has significantly deteriorated. With neither of his sisters able to pay for nursing care, Teddy must make the tough choice about whether to put his feisty mother into a home. In this witty and poignant family drama secrets come to light, but does Teddy face up to painful reality or keep digging his head further into the sand?
This showcase will be a staged reading, performed by actors of the highest calibre, largely drawn from Central’s alumni, as the culmination of a whole process of readings and workshops, which have been led by the distinguished directors Gwenda Hughes, Tim Trimingham Lee, Janette Smith & Grainne Byrne. And is the distillation of our eight chosen playwrights and their plays.
The performance will run no later than 5 pm, when the theatre bar will be open for refreshment.
This project is funded by Arts Council England and the Writers’ Foundation (UK) with further financial support from RCSSD & Leicester Square Theatre.
Mike Sharland remembers the actor, director, Guild member and playwright who co-wrote what was to become arguably the most famous British farce, No Sex Please, We're British, which holds the world record for the longest running farce in the history of the theatre.
Anthony Marriott, who has died aged 83 on 17 April 2014 after a long illness. He was born on 17 January 1931 in London, England. Tony was an actor, stage director and writer of over 32 plays. His first appearance as an actor was in Laburnham Grove at the Horsham Repertory Company in 1950. He then took part in various repertory seasons from 1951 to 1954 including Worthing, Warrington, Manchester Library Theatre, Dudley, Norwich, Yeovil and Salisbury.
From 1954-1956 he became a member of the BBC Radio Drama Repertory Company starring in among others, The Journey Into Space series, and Dan Dare. He became a contract writer for the Rank Organisation working on Waltz Of The Toreadors, Gypsy and the Gentleman, Operation Amsterdam. For television, he was a story editor on the Ghost Squad series and he created and wrote BBC Radio’s Roundabout series.
I first met Tony during this period in the mid sixties. We shared offices in the basement of Associated London Scripts at the legendary 9 Orme Court where a great deal of the comedy for television, film and theatre was created by Spike Milligan, Ray Galton & Alan Simpson, Eric Sykes. Tony created with Roger Marshall Public Eye, starring Alfred Burke for ABC. He was also a contributing writer on series including The Avengers, No Hiding Place, This Man Craig, Fireball XL5.
Turning to the theatre, he wrote with Alistair Foot Uproar In The House, a farce which ran at the Garrick and Whitehall Theatres from 1967-1969. They followed this up with No Sex Please, We’re British, which starred Michael Crawford. It opened at the Strand Theatre in 1971, later transferring to the Garrick Theatre enjoying a sixteen and a half year run becoming on the way the world’s longest running farce. With Bob Grant he wrote Darling Mr. London, No Room For Love, Home Is Where Your Clothes Are, which is one of the most popular farces with amateur companies in North America.
No Sex Please, We’re British has to date seen productions in over 90 countries. It was always a disappointment to Tony that such a perfectly constructed farce was never taken up by the National Theatre. There have been no West End revivals of No Sex Please, We’re British as it was always difficult to cast and Tony knew that farce depended on the right casting.
Tony got together with another great comedy writer, John Chapman, and they produced Shut Your Eyes And Think Of England, which ran for a year and a half starring one of Britain’s finest comedy and classical actors, Donald Sinden. Due to the success of Shut Your Eyes And Think Of England, Tony wrote three more plays with John Chapman.
When he wasn’t writing, Tony served for 21 years as a Justice of the Peace in the West End Courts. Tony was a great supporter of writers and served on both the Council and the Theatre Committee of The Writer’s Guild of Great Britain. He brought a sharp eye and a great deal of commonsense to the meetings which always seemed to end in laughter.
Tony was married to Heulwen who pre deceased him in 1999. They had three children.
Richard Pinner reports on the Writers' Guild's development scheme
Playwrights (clockwise from top left) Rachael McGill, John McCarthy, Imran Yusuf and Kate Davidson
After an exciting week at the beginning of March, when all eight of our chosen plays were read by a high-calibre company of actors, largely drawn from Central School’s alumni, Playwrights’ Progress really took off in style. And having now completed a successful week of workshops for four of these plays we now look forward to the showcase.
But, firstly, we would like to commend the four pieces selected as 'plays of promise' – Junk by Susan Avery and Sally Grey, Guilt by Julie Bainbridge, The Room Inside by Jimmy Osborne and Ninety Days by Ashok Patel. For these writers the read-through was the event. No doubt both exhilarating and daunting for the authors – as they were observed by a distinguished group of guests, including literary managers, artistic directors and literary agents – in each case the plays proved their mettle. Indeed, the discussions that followed each reading were so animated and engaged they could have continued well after the time allowed for them. Already there has been significant interest and follow-up for some of the playwrights involved, while all the writers were encouraged and stimulated to address re-writes and pursue suggestions made by their guests to improve and refine their scripts.
Meanwhile, Ostrich by Kate Davidson, Stage Irish by John McCarthy, Chickens Don’t Fly by Rachael McGill and Westernization by Imran Yusuf , have just been given their three-day workshop, which was served by a brilliant company of actors, cast by Central’s Martin Wylde - and led by the distinguished directors & mentors Gwenda Hughes, Janette Smith, Grainne Byrne, Tim Trimingham, Lisa Evans & Roy Kendall.
Thumbnail sketches of these plays (see below) reveal the rich diversity of material we explored and provide an appetiser for the forthcoming Showcase, featuring the best work to emerge from the workshops.
This showcase, at Leicester Square Theatre at 2pm on Friday 9 May, culminates the whole project and will be staged in the main theatre, and is open to the public with FREE tickets. We would therefore be delighted if the auditorium was full and for the Guild to be present in force, so please book now and bring your friends!
Rupert Creed on a new community play with a cast of 100
After three years of research, scripting and planning, and three months of intensive rehearsals Dorchester’s 6th Community Play, Drummer Hodge, hits the boards. The play has a cast of 100 local performers, a 20 strong community orchestra, a percussion band, and a set encompassing five separate stages. In this promenade performance you experience the action as it happens around you. You don’t just watch it – you’re in it.
Written and directed by myself, designed by Dawn Allsopp and with music by Tim Laycock, Drummer Hodge is set in Edwardian Dorchester and portrays the town’s involvement with the Boer War. Inspired by Thomas Hardy’s poem the play creates the imaginary back story of the eponymous young Dorset drummer boy who enlists and then dies in the war in South Africa.
The Boer War of 1899-1902 has been overshadowed by the Great War, and in the year we commemorate WW1 it’s fitting to remember some often overlooked facts of British history. In the Boer War we were responsible for the internment and subsequent deaths through illness, malnutrition and disease of over 26000 Boer women and children.
At the time these shocking facts were exposed by the female campaigner Emily Hobhouse, and in Drummer Hodge the play explores the tensions & conflicts between the younger more radically minded women of the town and the established male order.
Drummer Hodge is a play about why we sign up for war, and what happens when the values we subscribe to are exposed as spurious. It portrays what happens to a community when honour collides with shame.
For a writer the opportunity to script a play with 100 characters is a rare privilege indeed, but it does bring challenges. Whose story is it? How many storylines can be told? What links them together? The clue is in the title- a community play should portray a story that engages and conflicts its entire community of characters.
Successful entries selected for Writers' Guild's new development scheme
Having received 213 submissions of plays, from across the whole of the UK, the Playwrights’ Progress team is delighted to announce who the eight successful writers are.
The Plays for Workshop:
- The Ostrich by Kate Davidson
- Stage Irish by John McCarthy
- Chickens Don’t Fly by Rachael McGill
- Westernization by Imran Yusuf
The Plays of Promise:
- Junk by Susan Avery & Sally Grey
- Guilt by Julie Bainbridge
- The Room Inside by Jimmy Osborne
- Ninety Days by Ashok Patel
The overall standard was exceptionally high which is why we would like to recognise the other shortlisted candidates: Hassan Abdulrazzak, Nicola Baldwin, Alison Carr, Neil Edwards, Jason Hall, Danusia Iwaszco, Dan Murphy, Rob Johnston, Neasa O’Callahan, William Stanton, Roberto Trippini, Brian Woolland & Tobias Wright.
The partnership - Writers’ Guild, Royal Central School Of Speech & Drama (RCSSD) and Leicester Square Theatre - will concentrate on the script development side of the process, looking forward to the read-throughs in the week beginning 3 March and the workshops on the 1, 2 & 3 April.
Finally we’d like to put out an invitation for Guild members, to come to the showcase event, which will take place at 2pm on 9 May, Leicester Square Theatre. This exciting culmination to the project will be a reading of the best play or plays to emerge from the workshops - performed by actors of the highest calibre, primarily drawn from Central’s alumni – and it is open to the public and the tickets are free and are available from Leicester Square Theatre, book early to avoid disappointment.
Playwrights' Progress is funded by Arts Council England and the Writers' Foundation (UK), with further financial support from RCSSD & Leicester Square Theatre.
The Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group will today host the launch of expert consultation on ways to protect risk-taking on new work in British theatre
The authors of the influential In Battalions report, examining how government cuts to the Arts Council are affecting new play development in England, have secured a launch event in the Houses of Parliament for their follow-up study, on ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity.
The original In Battalions report was published in February 2013 after one its authors, playwright Fin Kennedy, had a chance encounter with UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizey in which Mr Vaizey said that Arts Council cuts were having "no effect". Kennedy's response, a research-led report co-authored with Oxford University doctoral student Helen Campbell Pickford, found theatres across the country cancelling new plays, commissioning fewer writers, and curtailing a whole host of creative research and development such as young writers' groups and education work. It has been downloaded over 24,000 times and had questions tabled in Parliament.
Their follow-up Delphi study, a form of expert consultation, can now be downloaded for free, and will be launched at a meeting in the House of Commons of the Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group on 29 January, sponsored by the Group's chair Kerry McCarthy MP. The event will be attended by around 70 theatremakers and politicians, including playwrights David Edgar and Dennis Kelly, artistic directors Giles Croft, Kerry Michael and Ramin Gray, the Principal of RADA Edward Kemp, Ben Bradshaw MP – a member of the Culture Select Committee - and Shadow Culture Minister Helen Goodman MP.
The invitation to launch the study in Parliament comes after Culture Minister Ed Vaizey acknowledged in a speech last month that the first report had been an influence on the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. It contained a pledge to hold a consultation on a tax breaks for new plays and regional touring.
Nick Wood explains how he became a writer-actor to perform his latest play
Nick Wood in A Girl With A Book (photo by Alex Esden)
There’s a knock on the dressing room door. I follow James the duty manager up the stairs to the back of the stage. I bend to put my keys down under the second step. Before I can straighten up the house lights are coming down. I take a breath. The pre-set is brought up and I walk on to the stage at Square Chapel Halifax for the first night of the tour of my new play A Girl With A Book.
One third of the way through. The words are coming out in the right order. I haven’t tripped over the scenery. Then I cut the last three words of a paragraph. I’ve lost the rhythm. I’ve no idea what to say next. I suddenly realise sweat breaking out your forehead is not a cliché – I can feel it. I look at the chair where I’ve established Malala is sitting. I walk back to the desk, look at my notebook. Look at the spot where her father stands. I have been silent now for at least an hour and a half. I’m thinking do I say ‘Ladies and Gentlemen I have no idea what happens next’ or just walk off the stage. From nowhere the word Ziauddin comes out of my mouth and we’re off again.
Afterwards I’m complemented how I had the nerve to pause and let my character, the writer, think about the implications of what her father asked Malala to do. On my own I walk it through to see how long it really lasted. Top estimate? Four seconds. Let’s get things into proportion – it’s not coal mining and nobody died, but, at that moment, it did feel pretty scary.
I wrote the play for another actor. I said. But I didn’t really. I would have been happy if we’d found another actor after the showcase at Nottingham Playhouse. I was overjoyed when it was suggested by my director Andrew Breakwell that I do it myself. I knew what I was trying to do from the start. Use the story, not tell it. But I could see the problems. In one try out where I only did an extract I was asked what did I think I, a white, middle aged, male, had to contribute to the debate? I was able to tell my questioner she had almost quoted one of the lines from the play. ‘What have I a white middle class middle aged playwright of no fixed belief living safely in the West got to say on a subject he knows nothing about?’
At the top of the playtext it says: ‘The writer can be played by an actor of any age, gender, or ethnicity.’
I wanted to do it because I wanted to react to this event. The play isn’t ‘about’ Malala. I wanted the disjoint that would come from seeing a middle aged man wrestling with attitudes and prejudices he finds far too near the surface as he researches the event. Tying himself in knots, making a fool of himself, venting his anger at the evils religious differences have brought on the world, wondering how a father could let a daughter run such risks, before arriving at the one quality that undercuts all our fears of the different – empathy.
Writers' Guild General Secretary sceptical about consultation over theatre tax relief
A tax break for theatre was an unexpected component of the so-called 'autumn statement' or mini-budget today (Thursday).
There will be a consultation next year on corporation tax relief for new commercial theatre productions, including touring versions. The Government said the move recognised 'unique value that the theatre sector brings to the UK economy'.
Writers’ Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett commented: 'The coalition government has spent the past three years skinning and gutting Arts Council England, so that all subsidised theatre has had to cope with massive cuts, with the knowledge that there is worse to come. Even Little Orphan Annie would choke on the thought that George Osborne has changed his spots.
'In reality the money that has been taken away from innovative and community-based new writing is to be recycled into big-business theatre, to enable it to compete more ruthlessly with all these awful local reps and studios who have somehow survived (so far). Doubtless it will be eagerly accepted, to the benefit of proprietors and shareholders – at least, until they start to wonder why the supply of great new writing, previously supported by ACE, has begun to dry up.'
If approved the tax breaks will take effect in April 2015 – one month before the next general election.
A librettist is part lyrical poet, part dramatist, says Dic Edwards
The librettist has traditionally been regarded as less important that the composer in the creation of an opera. But in an age of musicals and music theatre, the distinction between these hybrid genres is less clear and the librettist’s work is increasingly seen as the engine driving the project.
As with Rogers and Hammerstein or Lloyd Weber and Rice, equal billing for the librettist seems reasonable. If we can use the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy so often invoked by Western aesthetes, the librettist is the Apollonian – the provider of the form, the structure on which the composer, the Dionysian, can practise the ecstasy and exceptions of his creativity.
The librettist is part lyrical poet and part dramatist.