The second all-female cast of the week was an altogether different proposition. Cuddles by Joseph Wilde is the full professional premiere of a play that Capital showcased last year. Now produced by Ovalhouse and Arch 468, Cuddles is a darker, grimier entity, exposing the flipside of fairytales and presenting a new, horrific take on the princess in the tower.
I have to admit to being biased towards this from the outset, having supported the play last year and delighted to see it getting a full production. It was fascinating to see the evolution in the story – to see loose ends tied up and to see the narrative coherence shine through the shit-stained walls. The tone is as dark as the humour, and both combine to create a compelling and convincing world that doesn’t lie so far outside the bounds of credibility.
Eve is a thirteen year old vampire, kept captive in the attic by her older sister Tabby. But when Tabby tries to re-introduce her into the world of the living, all hell breaks loose.
Their twisted world is governed by rules, which, when broken, trigger fault lines through the heart of their fragile reality. It offers a plausible insight into the mindset of a young girl with a totally different understanding of the world around her. The breakdown occurs when the worlds start to collide, and a new reality begins to emerge.
It did feel as though the play started a little slowly, with an over-reliance on monologues (though beautifully written) to set the scene. But once the fault lines started to appear, the tension was racked up and the atmosphere was cracking. Tabby’s attempts at creating normality fail hilariously, with the “hermaphrodite swimming champion” vying with her clumsy efforts at wooing Steve with a pointed stiletto and a plate of veal.
I think one of the achievements of the play is to create sympathy for Tabby’s character. She blunders through, trying to do the best for herself and the monster that she’s created. The tragedy of the story is her realisation that she can no longer control Eve when she starts to demonstrate independence of thought and action. She grows up.
It was almost heartbreaking in its drive towards the inexorable conclusion – the monster grows ever powerful and can never be silenced. In a way, the play is a twisted allegory on creation and conception – adding a new take on the body horror of stories like Frankenstein and Alien. Cuddles is a worthy and chilling member of this tradition.
There’s something quite primal and fundamental about journeys. Whether it’s hot-rodding it down Route 66 on the quintessential American road trip, or embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage, art and literature are full of tales of changing landscapes and new perspectives. Journeys are a way for people to re-connect with themselves and the world around them. On the surface, it’s a quest of getting from A to B, but with the focus on discovering what happens in between, rather than reaching the end point.
It’s a story that is handled very well by The Gramophones, an emerging theatre company supported by Theatre Writing Partnership’s Making Tracks programme. I misread the blurb initially, and thought that the story was about three girls hitch-hiking across the country carrying a gramophone. It wasn’t. There were no gramophones involved.
In its place however, was a beautifully choreographed record of new connections, bold initiatives, and pink tractors. Three 20-something women decided to travel from Land’s End to John O’Groats using as many forms of transport as possible. That’s it, really. That’s enough. A simple set up yields all manner of encounters and experiences, from skinny-dipping in the Lakes to visiting your home town as a stranger. It’s the latter that provided one of the most poignant moments in the piece – making a journey takes you out of yourself and offers a new way of looking at the world. It offers the chance of reflection, of peace (sometimes conflict), but challenges you to think, take risks, and discover things anew.
It was a beautiful piece of work and I wish the group all the best with their onward journey.
Theatre Exchange has cropped up in Birmingham over the last six months as a meeting point for writers, actors and directors. Meeting at the Old Joint Stock on the third Monday of every month, it’s a chance to try out work and get feedback from an engaged and supportive audience.
We’ve teamed up with Theatre Exchange to offer one writer from their monthly Monday meetings a chance to have their play performed as a full rehearsed reading at the Festival in November. While this is subject to funding (and therefore not guaranteed), submitting your work to Theatre Exchange in the first instance is a great way to meet local practitioners & theatre-makers. All you have to do is submit a 10-minute extract of a current piece, and commit to attending at the rehearsals and performance.
The deadline for the next meeting is Monday 13th May at noon, but don’t worry if that’s too short notice – there’s always next month.
Visit the Theatre Exchange website for submission details.
The Ustinov Studio sits to the rear of Theatre Royal Bath – an intimate space which stands apart from the mainstream fare of the main house. I’ve seen a number of exciting, raw and hard-hitting productions here, which bely its genteel surroundings. Things like Herding Cats by Lucinda Coxon, and Hoors by Gregory Burke. The sort of things your Gran would walk out on. My visits to the Ustinov largely coincided with the artistic directorship of Andrew Smaje, and, by intent or circumstance, I hadn’t seen any shows since Laurence Boswell took the reins in 2011. The tenor had changed – it was no longer about challenging new work, but more focused on adaptations, re-discovering latent European and American voices. Possibly much more aligned to the Theatre Royal audience, but not my cup of tea.
I had a nagging feeling that I might be being unfair, so being in town for a couple of days last week, I booked to see The American Plan by Richard Greenberg. Starring Diana Quick as Eva, a German-Jewish emigre to the US (she left on virtually the last boat), the play focuses on her neurotic daughter Lili, trapped by her mother’s understandable, but suffocating need to keep her safe. They are at their holiday cottage in the Catskills, a beautiful mountain set-up outside of New York, in the late 50′s/ early 60s. It’s a privileged existence, but there is anguish simmering below the surface.
Into their lives comes Nick Lockridge, a handsome young WASPish type on holiday at a hotel across the lake. Lili quickly forms an attachment, which is duly noted and monitored by Eva and her home-help/ companion Olivia. It becomes clear that Eva is not prepared to let go just yet, and the scene is set for a masterful display of manipulation and heartache.
It’s all very mannered and genteel, enlivened by the outstanding Diana Quick, creating a character that transcends the confines and period trappings of the play. She may be a monster (it’s never quite made clear) but she’s a force of nature powered, as one character observes, by the grammatical gymnastics of a true German. It’s a pleasure to watch and it is her pain, rather than her somewhat insipid daughter and suitor, that contains the essence of the play.
There were one or two awkward moments – the dropping of the rings felt contrived and forced, and the appearance of a fifth, previously unmentioned, character after the interval was just bizarre. It made the story lurch into a different direction, not entirely unwelcome, but it felt as though the writer ran out of ideas for the original scenario.
Overall, the play hasn’t put me off going to The Ustinov – I’m intrigued to see how the rest of the American Season pans out – but it has confirmed a change of focus that leans towards the “well-made play” and veers away from the more challenging, exciting work for which it was becoming known previously.
Two of the main national playwriting competitions, The Bruntwood Prize and the Verity Bargate Award, have announced their call for scripts. Both run (roughly) every two/three years, and offer a cash prize, an attachment and (in exceptional cases) a full production. The competition is fierce (the Bruntwood received 2,188 scripts in 2011), but if nothing else, the deadlines provide a good incentive to get the damn things finished. Here are the details:
Deadline: 3rd June 2013
The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting is the biggest national competition for playwriting. It is the search for great new plays and great writers.
The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting began in 2005. Since then, 11 writers have been awarded a total of £120,000, there have been six full productions and well over 5,000 entries generated by the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting.
We look for scripts that are original and unperformed, by writers of any experience.The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting is open to anyone aged 16 or over. Scripts are submitted anonymously. Visit the website for full details.
For aspiring playwrights to established masters of the art, the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting discovers, promotes and produces the very best new writing for theatre. A joint venture between the Royal Exchange Theatre and Bruntwood, the Manchester-based property company, the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting is unrivalled in its support for playwrights. The winner of the 2013 prize will receive £16,000, and there will also be three Judges’ Awards of £8,000 each. All four award winners will have the chance to develop their play with the Royal Exchange, with a view to production. In addition, leading theatre publishers Nick Hern Books will publish all winning plays that receive a production at the Exchange, ensuring that the plays reach an even wider audience and have the opportunity of a vibrant afterlife. For more information about the partners involved in the 2013 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting click here.
Entering your play for the competition is simple and straightforward. We only accept entries online – so it can all be done right here.
Verity Bargate Award
Submissions open 1 June-30 June 2013
The Verity Bargate Award is our biennial search for the distinct new voices of the theatre makers of the future.
The VBA was established in memory of Soho Theatre’s co-founder and celebrates its 30th year in 2013.
For the first time Soho Theatre will also be working with partner venues, Birmingham Rep, Live Theatre Newcastle and Theatre Royal Plymouth, who will be involved with the judging process and offering additional opportunities to writers and theatre-makers across the country. The shortlisted plays will have a reading at one of our partner venues directed by each venue’s artistic director.
To encourage playwrights, and develop writers’ skills, Soho Theatre will be running workshops across the country and at Soho, focusing on various aspects of the craft of playwriting, our full line up will be available soon.
Steve Marmion, Artistic Director of Soho Theatre said:
‘WE WANT TO HEAR A STORY WE’VE NEVER HEARD BEFORE, FROM A VOICE WE WEREN’T EXPECTING. SOMETHING THAT IS BRAVE WITH WHAT IT IS TRYING TO SAY, AND HOW IT IS TRYING TO SAY IT. SOMETHING THAT PUSHES OUR LIMITS EMOTIONALLY, MORALLY OR THEATRICALLY. SOMETHING THAT IS THE SHOUT FROM THE CROWD THAT WE HAVE TO LISTEN TO. IT MIGHT JUST BE THE CHALLENGE THAT MAKES YOU START WRITING FOR THE FIRST TIME.’
There’s been a lot of theatre happening in the West Midlands over the last month. Here’s a brief overview of what’s been on the radar:
A celebration of theatre made in the West Midlands, which took place over three weeks in March. Headed up by the Holding Space Consortium and produced by Pippa Frith and Thomas Wildish, the Festival included performances, readings, pop-ups, together with several new artist commissions. New writing elements included The Inferno Kid by Alex Brockie, and a rehearsed reading of Cover Up, a new play by Jane Campion-Hoye. Here’s an interview with Jane and the director Jouvan Fucinni (courtesy of Theatre Exchange)
10×10 The Journey Home
Part of the University of Birmingham’s Arts & Science Festival, 10×10 was an eclectic collection of short plays by the 10 writers currently studying on the MRES Playwriting course. Great to see the writers putting their work out there and trying things out in front of an audience.
Scratch performances, readings and try-outs of new material from the writers, theatre-makers and directors on the Rep Foundry programme. Taking place on the last Thursday of every month, it’s great to see it already attracting a loyal following. The Edge is also the perfect venue for it – rough around the edges, but vibrant and buzzing. Very excited to see how this project pans out.
Hoping to get to this tonight or tomorrow. An evening of short plays by regional writers at the Blue Orange Theatre, directed by Graeme Braidwood.
A new networking/ scratch performance evening which runs every third Monday at The Old Joint Stock. Writers, actors and directors can apply to get involved (the next deadline is Monday 8th April).
And as for us, Capital Theatre Festival is pencilled in for 20-24 November this year. We’re in discussions to programme some very exciting new work, together with supporting workshops, readings and networking events. We will keep you posted with further details.
I was delighted to see that Cuddles by Joseph Wilde, which was one of three plays showcased at Capital last year, is being produced by Ovalhouse and Arch 468 in May. Directed by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord. who was one of our script readers for the competition and an early champion of the play, it will run from Tuesday 14th May – Saturday 1st June 2013.
This is fantastic news for all involved and a real boost for Capital as a springboard for work and writers at an early stage of development.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing the play in its new form. Tickets can be booked here – I hope some of you can make it.
Pushed for time, so just a brief mention of what’s happening this month in Brum:
BE Festival starts on Monday!
I’m hoping that the Birmingham Rep’s Speakeasy networking event at 6.30pm is cleverly designed to lead into BE Festival’s launch on Tuesday 3rd July.
In the midst of all the thunder and lightning and apocalyptic weather, Steph Dale’s The Witches’ Promise arrives at Weoley Castle for the next couple of weekends.
And I think there’s another Theatre Cuppa coming up too on 11th July.
Capital Theatre Festival ran from 24-27 May 2012. We had a lot of fun making it happen and we were really pleased with the audience response to an event that’s still very much in its infancy. It would be great to be able to build on this year’s success, and in order to do that we need your help. Please take a couple of minutes to fill in the survey below, letting us know your thoughts on what you enjoyed, what worked, and what you would like to see happen in future years. Many thanks in advance!
Here’s a couple of new shows that have recently popped up on the radar. First up is Being Human, produced by Jonathan Davidson of Midland Creative Projects/ Writing West Midlands/ Birmingham Book Festival and probably about ten others. It’s on at The Belgrade in Coventry from 22-23 June and the blurb describes it as “a dramatic performance of poetry from around the world, presented by three performers, with music, projections and striking imagery.” Performers include Birmingham actor Barrett Robertson, who was involved in Capital’s first incarnation in 2010.
Second up (which probably should have been first as it starts next week) is Geiger Counter’s The Pool Game. Bit further afield for those in Brum, but well worth a look if you’re London-based, it runs from 18-19 June at Senate House, University of London. Written by Birmingham-based writer/producer Liz Tomlin, this site-specific show explores the artistic and political possibilities of text and performance:
Inspired by Kafka’s The Trial, The Pool Game questions the notion of justice in a world where the rules are manipulated to make sure the winner always stays on. Darkly comic and unashamedly political The Pool Game playfully invites the audience to participate – as a jury whose ultimate verdict may change everything or nothing at all.