Monthly archives: January 2013

INSIGHTS: the playwright/director relationship

The first in our brand new blog series offering insights in to our working practice focuses on the relationship between the director and the playwright.

Using their experience collaborating on ARTEFACTS (2008) and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE (2010-12) as context, our Joint Artistic Director James Grieve (JG) and Associate Playwright Mike Bartlett (MB) offer their top tips to making this unique relationship as artistically fulfilling as possible – for both parties, the play and the production.

What follows are highlighted quotes from a’ Q and A’ workshop run by James and Mike at the Young Vic on Tuesday 22nd January 2013.


– For me the form and content arrive at the same time. [MB]

– One of the main qualities of a writer is to pick what to write about. [MB]


– One of the best ways to meet a writer or director is to find an opportunity to say to them ‘I really love what you do.’ [JG]

– As a writer, it’s not so much about your manner, social skills, or presentation – ultimately all you have to do is write something good. [MB]

– If a director doesn’t have a relationship with your work they’re just your friend. [MB]

– Invest in your peers as much as you invest in your heroes. Then you learn things together and from each other. [MB]


– The explosion of ‘shorts’ nights in 2005 was like a two year speed dating process. A chance to flirt before you commit. MB

– Short play nights are like a production process in miniature – a chance to experience redrafting, rehearsing, presenting etc. [MB]

– Quoting Duncan Macmillan on our short play night:

‘We didn’t invite industry.

They were not works in progress.

We were simply practicing.’ [MB]


– Collaboration is difficult. It Involves a set of skills no one teaches you. You need to have a chance to get it wrong.

You need to learn the answers to your questions by making mistakes:

‘How much do I speak in the room?

Do I talk to the actors?

When do I talk to the designer?’ [MB]

– Most directors have directed plays that they’re quite pleased no one ever saw before their ‘big break’. [JG]


– ARTEFACTS began with a little bit of money and a lot of faith. What matters at the beginning of the commissioning process is that you agree a shared understanding of what you both want from the process. Then you can start talking about the play itself. [JG]

– It was important for my commissioning director (i.e. James) to say “we are going to do this and it is going to be brilliant”. It’s not dissimilar to the way self-help books talk about visualization. A writer can feel the director’s desire to make it work. [MB]


– I want a director to read my first draft overnight. That’s the stuff that keeps you writing and excited. [MB]

– On one hand, you’ve entirely messed it up and you’ve ended your career or on the other, it’s the best play of the 21st century. When I hand my first draft in I literally have no idea where it stands between these two points . [MB]

– Harold Pinter called Peter Hall (then Artistic Director of the National Theatre) and said he’d written a new play.

Hall told Pinter to get in a cab.

They read the play aloud together over a bottle offer wine.

The next morning Hall told Pinter it was the best thing he’d written and that he was going to put it on (at the National).

The trust and Immediacy at the heart of that story is what writers want. [MB]

– As a director I feel a huge amount of pressure to respond in 24 hours to a writer. But given how long the writer will have spent with that work, in one read over 24 hours I can’t possibly have anything useful to offer them. So I say:

‘I’ve read your play.

I love it.

I couldn’t possibly say anything helpful after such a short period of time.

But let’s meet up on Friday by which time ill have read it another four times.’ [JG]

– I want to hear ‘You are a brilliant writer – that’s not in doubt. I love this idea. So irrespective, we’ll get to the place we want to be at.’ MB

– Don’t give notes unless you’ve been asked to by the writer, or you have made some kind of commitment to produce the play. [MB]


– ARTEFACTS  was rejected by every theatre in London. in my heart of hearts i knew it was a brilliant play but there was a thought at the back of my mind that this might not go on as there’s no where else to try. Then a change in Artistic Director changed everything. [JG]

– Is this a bad play or a great play that no one wants? It’s easier to keep faith in a play when two of you have faith in the play. Otherwise on your own you might give up. [MB]

– “It’s about tenacity.” Chris Thorpe. [MB]


– There’s no overall hierarchy between writers and directors. [MB]

– Ideally you use a bespoke process for each writer and for each writer’s play. [MB]


– Dramaturgy is a word to whose meaning nobody can exactly agree, but to me it’s giving notes. [JG]

– Your job as a director is to deliver the writer’s vision of the play. You will never spend as much time on this play in your head as the writer will. The leading expert on this play will always be the writer. [JG]

– A way in to a conversation with a writer about their play:

‘Why have you called the characters these names?’

Sometimes this doesn’t reveal anything but sometimes story emerges and then you’re in to a conversation. [JG]

– Advice for speaking to writers about their play: keep things open.

You say: “Why is this character so mean?”

The writer says: “It’s based on my mum.”

Where do you go from there? [JG]

– In dramaturging the play don’t solve the problem of the play. [MB]

– Dramaturgy can sometimes tend a play towards the average which might not be what you want to do. [MB]

– The hard bit isn’t finding the problems it’s finding the solutions. [MB]


– Directors want writers to care as much as the director does that they get the right design team who will build the right world for the play. [JG]

– So writers need to know designers they like and why. [MB]

– It’s important that writers feel that ‘Everything you see on stage I’ve signed off on’. If the design isn’t right that’s as much my responsibility as the director or designers. But that doesn’t come for free so you need to make sure you collaborate in those conversations. [MB]


– Casting conversations with the writer can be hugely revealing of the play for the director. [JG]

– As a writer, casting is secretly a chance to workshop the play. [MB]


– A questions to ask a writer before rehearsals:

‘What were you reading, listening to, watching, or visiting when you were writing this?’ [JG]

– Before rehearsals:

The writer and I read a page at a time and talk about every line, one at a time, exploring every stupid question the director (i.e. me) might have.

That way I’ve done everything I can to understand the play up until the beginning of rehearsals. [JG]

– Before rehearsals begin, agree with the writer what your strategy is when you go in to the room – what will you say when the actor asks ‘why does that character do that?’ JG]

– At a wedding the father of the bride said to the groom:

‘The greatest thing you can do for your children is love your wife.’

So –  the greatest thing you can do as a writer, for your play, is to publicly empower your director. [MB]

– In the room the writer is looking for things that aren’t working. I use a red/yellow card system to avoid making rash and incorrect decisions. A yellow card means I’ll look at it again in a few weeks time before deciding to give it a red card and cut or change it. [MB]

– In the rehearsal room I’m watching and I’m broadcasting what the play is:

‘This is what it is,’

‘This is why I wrote it.’ [MB]

– Depending on their availability you want the writer to be in rehearsals as often as possible. You don’t want to take a wrong turn. [JG]

– And the writer wants to be proportionately careful as to how they give the director notes after a three/five day absence. [MB]

-The first run through in the rehearsal room is the director’s first draft. It’s exposing to have the writer there when you’re thinking ‘wow that’s shit and we’ve only got 8 days til we open’. [JG]

– After the first rehearsal room run the best thing the writer can do is beam at the actors and tell them how wonderful it is. [JG]


– As a writer you learn a lot from being in tech. [MB]


– A playwrights’ job once in to production is to broadcast ‘this is the play’, ‘this isn’t the play’ on decisions. [MB]

– A confident production with a few wrong turns is infinitely better than a stilted, restricted and under confident show. [MB]

– As a writer, giving notes on the production apply the same rules as the director giving notes on the drafts of the play. [MB]


– Previews is when you need to support each other. There are going to be good ones and bad ones.

Enter it as a team and come out of it as a team. [JG]

– Have a clear system to giving notes during previews. [JG]

– Get tech notes in early – ring them in your notebook so you can give them straight away. [MB]

– The actors go through something extraordinary – A study showed an actors heart rate when they go on for first preview is the same as someone post car crash. [JG]

-I only go in to the actors’ dressing room after the first preview. Otherwise I think it’s their world, their character. They need to know I’m not going to be coming back there giving them notes. [MB]


– At the end of press night all you need to be able to do is look each other in the eye and say we have done everything we can to make this the piece of work that we wanted to. [JG]

– You remind yourself:

This is not a democracy.

This is not a popularity contest. [MB]

– The only time I struggle with press night is when there is a technical problem as then you’re not showing the critics what you’ve practiced. [MB]


– Make sure the writers have as much access to tickets and cheap ticket deals as actors do, as often they don’t. [MB]

– Keep your faith in the production – even if there are bits you’re not sure about, an audience might be enjoying it. I hate it when bands say their own second album is terrible, when actually I really liked it. [MB]

Introducing INSIGHTS

insight [ˈɪnˌsaɪt] n

1. the ability to perceive clearly or deeply; penetration

2. a penetrating and often sudden understanding, as of a complex situation or problem

3. the capacity for understanding one’s own or another’s mental processes

INSIGHTS is a brand new blog series which offers readers full access to the creative and practical conversations and processes behind making work at Paines Plough.

It is our intention to demystify the way we go about commissioning, producing and touring new plays in a way that offers our readers an unprecedented perspective on professional production.

Over the coming year we plan to feature informal conversations with artists, video interviews with our in-house staff and production-based teams, practical advice and tools and anything else we can think of that might be of interest both to PP audiences and practicing amateur or aspiring professional theatre-makers.

Like the many workshops we run throughout the year, this blog series will work best when it’s a conversation, not a lecture. So if there’s something you, your friends or your colleagues would be particularly interested in hearing about, post a comment below, contact us on Facebook, tweet us or email and we’ll see what we can do.

Associate Company Theatre Uncut hits NYC

One of our Associate Companies, Theatre Uncut, opened in New York City this week for a residency supported by the Carol Tambor Foundation as part of the Best of Edinburgh Season.

Here is a sneak preview from the New York Times of actress Gia Crovatin in Neil LaBute’s Theatre Uncut play In the Beginning.

If you’re in the city this week, you can get $10 TICKETS if you call 212-947-8844 or visit and quote the code TRUNCUT10.

Plays by Neil LaBute, David Greig, Clara Brennan, Lena Kitsopoulou, Anders Lustgarten and Marco Canale will be included in this presentation.

Remember you can still receive the plays free of charge through the request page at

In praise of… Scotland

The first search result on google images for "Scotland". Not bad, eh?

As a country to whom Paines Plough owes a great debt for the many world-class playwrights it has produced, we thought there was no better way to celebrate last Friday’s Burns Night than to ask twitter for a full set of its favourite Scottish plays.

As we followed a great Scot’s path to the Australian Open final on the radio (we were so hopeful for Sunday after that display…), we loved watching your suggestions pour in. Confirmation if you ever needed it that there’s a lot of love out there for Scots scribes.

The most popular choices were Gregory Burke’s BLACKWATCH, David Greig’s OUTLYING ISLANDS, MEN SHOULD WEEP by Ena Lamont Stewart, David Harrower’s KNIVES IN HENS and THE CHEVIOT, THE STAG AND THE BLACK BLACK OIL by John McGrath.

Here’s the full list, with a few disqualifications at the end:

365 by David Harrower
BE NEAR ME by Iain McDiarmid
BLACK WATCH by Gregory Burke
BLACKBIRD by David Harrower
BULLET CATCH by Rob Drummond
DECKY DOES A BRONCO by Douglas Maxwell
DIG by Katie Douglas
DUNSINANE by David Grieg
EUROPE by David Grieg
FLANEURS by Jenna Watt
FUTUREPROOF by Lynda Radley
GAGARIN WAY by Greg Burke
GOOD WITH PEOPLE by David Harrower
IRON by Rona Munro
KNIVES IN HENS by David Harrower
MANCUB by Douglas Maxwell
MEN SHOULD WEEP by Ena Lamont Stewart
MIDSUMMER by David Grieg
NORMAL by Anthony Neilson
ROADKILL by Stef Smith
SHIMMER by Linda McLean
STITCHING by Anthony Neilson
THE ARCHITECT by David Grieg
THE BIG PICNIC by Bill Bryden
THE HARD MAN by Tom McGrath and Jimmy Boyle
YELLOW MOON by David Grieg


MACBETH (too obvious)
THE GUILD SISTERS (too Canadian)
THE BACCHAE in a new version by David Grieg (too old)
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (have we missed something?)
BRIGADOON with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe (too musical)

Let us know if your favourite Scottish play isn’t on the list.

Come To Where I’m From: Updates from the writers

Since 2010, our nationwide project COME TO WHERE I’M FROM has premièred original work by 86 playwrights, each telling a tale of their home or heritage, some fictional, some true, all written and performed by playwrights themselves.

Once the pieces have been seen in the place about they were written they are recorded and pod-cast on the Paines Plough website to hear for free forever. The project is ongoing, so as we add more and more plays about more and more places, the theatrical tapestry of the UK grows ever more detailed.

As with all of our work here at PP, CTWIF plays are co-commissions with partner theatres, organisations or festivals. As an added bonus to the work created, the project is often a first chance for us and our partners to work with writers we haven’t worked with before.

The podcasts are available to listen to on the PP website, arranged by year:

Click here to listen to the podcasts from 2010.

Click here to listen to the podcasts from 2011.

Podcasts from 2012 will be coming online soon.

In the first of a series of updates, here is news on some of our CTWIF writers:

– Newcastle’s Michael Chaplin’s story about the river lapping at the quay a few yards from the theatre has found another life as a book called Tyne View.

– Our co-commission with Watford Palace Theatre of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti has led to a commission from Watford for a longer piece which is currently in development.

– CTWIF Cardiff featured Matthew Bulgo whose piece for us became a longer play entitled LAST CHRISTMAS which Matthew wrote for Dirty Protest and Theatr Clwyd Cymru and which premiered at Sherman Venue 2 in December before transferring to Theatr Clwyd this year.

– Inspired by the challenge of performing her own work as part of CTWIF, Alison Carr of Newcastle is now exploring a solo story-telling show which she writes and performs herself.

Catriona Kerridge of Oxford made her piece in to a work of art that is now hanging in someone’s bedroom (on the back of the painting is a QR code so you can listen to the monologues).

– On the Isle of Wight, John Goodwin is working with fellow writer James Willis to rework the text of his CTWIF as a full length play about the consumption hospital in Ventnor which has since been demolished.

– Bethan Marlow‘s relationship with Sherman Cymru (co-comissioner of Wales’ CTWIF) grew in to a production of her first full length play last year- a verbatim piece about people’s relationship with money – and most of the voices came from Caernarfon (the town next door to the village where she’s from).

– CTWIF Jersey has inspired the island’s first regular new writing event, Plays Rough at the Jersey Opera House, run by CTWIF writers Ben Evans and Leon Fleming.

TED of the week


We’re a bit late to the party, but thanks to our last Trainee Director and AD of Curious Directive Jack Lowe, we are now addicted to TED.

Every Friday lunchtime we gather the whole PP team to spend an hour talking about a different creative subject. A few weeks ago we watched this brilliant presentation about a theatre building in Texas that served as a inspiration to our ongoing plans for ROUNDABOUT:


‘Old but urgent’ says Stephens

In case you missed it in today’s METRO, here is Simon Stephens‘ timely reminder of why we do what we do:

“…in the theatre, those big loves of mine synthesized: the dramatic narratives of the TV I loved combined with the edgy live-ness of a gig… Theatre involves a group of strangers coming together, looking in the same direction… You’re watching something in real time. You can’t keep your phone on. You can’t check your Twitter feed. You’ve got to be here, now, properly engaged… In our atomised, individualist culture, that’s a fantastically f***ing radical thing to do. It’s the oldest art form and yet it feels the most urgent.”

Damn straight.

You can read the full interview with Lucy Powell here.


Paines Plough por todo el mundo

Not content with reaching the four countries of the United Kingdom, Paines Plough and the playwrights it works with are on a mission to take over the world. One small or medium scale theatre venue at a time.

You might have read James’ blog last week about LOVE, LOVE, LOVE in Argentina. Below is a Buenos Aires news report on the production. It looks fantastic – we’re just sad it has not been translated as Amor, amor, amor.

Click here for Argentine TV coverage.

Another production which has been sucker-punching audiences across the pond is Duncan Macmillan’s LUNGS.

Since the premier back in 2011, it has now been seen by audiences in Washington D.C, the Barrington Stage, Rhode Island and even in Winnipeg over in Canada.

And if that were not enough, there are other productions set to open in Philadelphia, Amherst, Boston and Florida too.

We’d absolutely love love love to hear from any of you who have had the chance to catch either Duncan or Mike’s plays outside the UK.

Get in touch.

Challenge Vaizey!

Playwright Fin Kennedy has been set a mission by the people up top. And it’s one that we’d like to help him with.

If you haven’t already, we’d suggest reading his blog that explains exactly how it came about. He has also written an update here.

In short, whilst casually hanging out at Number 10 he was set a challenge by the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, himself. Protesting that slashes to the Arts Council were jeopardising the prospects of emerging playwrights, Fin was given the concrete task of proving just how detrimental the cuts might be.

It’s easy to be outraged by Vaizey’s myopia. But that would be incredibly reactionary when such a juicy fruit has been dangled. Speaking to the man himself, Fin advocates action over pub-based gripes. As he says in the blog, ‘It’s time to put up or shut up’.

Fin sent a call-out for submissions at the end of 2012 and is currently piecing together all the various testimonies he has received into a series of documents, to be read at varying levels. Working with a PHD research student from Oxford, Helen Pickford, he will produce information that can be digested by any and everyone – from single page summaries to DCMS-friendly reports.

So far the response has been overwhelming. Figures like Max Stafford-Clark have responded, as well as artists working outside London where arguably the cuts will be most strongly felt. Indeed, Fin himself pointed to those in the regions as the prime victims of recent changes, where there are fewer sources of funding to be approached and far less of a support network. He indicates that Vaizey might be unaware of just how acutely those outside his stomping ground will feel the crunch.

And as well as the short term gut-punches, there are the far reaching consequences that those outside the industry need to consider. Without companies and buildings nurturing young talent, we will not be able to encourage the writers of the future, Fin says. There’s also the fact that most television and other mainstream forms of entertainment rely on writers with a sense of craft that does not come overnight, but is honed and supported over time.

Then, of course, artists can turn the argument back on their critics. Although with a certain hesitance to talk solely in these terms, Fin has a clear view on the economics of our industry. Government spending to Arts Council England over the 2011-2015 period was £1448m, that is, less than 0.05% of the total budget. The Olympics, a one off event, received more than ACE did over this same period.

War Horse has been seen by over one million people and has turned a profit of three million annually since it opened in 2007. It is expected to make a further £6.7m that will continue to support The National Theatre. In general, the contribution of music and visual and performing arts to the British economy exceeds £4 billion in gross value added, and the creative industries overall contribute £36 billion.

Only a well-funded creative industry can provide such talented people, raising the sorts of revenue they currently do.

So what can you do? If you have not submitted your response, there is still time. One more day to be precise.

Below is the exact list of what Fin is looking to include in his report. He is looking to hear from practitioners the country over about their experiences. Here are the words of the man himself:

‘In the next month, I will be writing to theatre companies around the country to ask how the cuts which were made in April are affecting new play development. This might take many forms, for example: 

  • Producing fewer new plays overall
  • Programming plays by household name writers rather than those less well-known 
  • Having fewer writers on attachment or in-residence 
  • Offering fewer full commissions 
  • Cutting back on literary department staff 
  • Cutting back on education or youth work 
  • Reassigning dramaturgical functions to associate directors rather than literary staff 
  • Programming musicals, comedy or revivals in slots where new plays would once have played 
  • Going dark for a few weeks 
  • Putting plays on for shorter runs 
  • Winding up writers’ groups or other developmental schemes 
  • Limiting actor workshop time on new plays in development 
  • Having to give notes to writers primarily driven by cost – such as smaller cast size
  • Offering fewer playwriting workshops to beginners, or to the general public’

 So if you’ve got something to say, get writing like us and email by tomorrow!

Why you’re at it, drop us a line too and let us know what you said. We’d love to hear from you.

Job opportunity for a General Manager…

Here’s a message from our Associate Company, Forward  Theatre, who are looking for a new General Manager. . .

In November we were lucky enough to find out that we had been successful with a funding bid to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for a Shared General Manager with nabokov, Theatre Uncut and Pieces Productions to work across our four companies full-time for the next 2 years. As four emerging companies we identified both a mutual need for a General Manager and a mutual problem in sustaining one when we all only require someone part-time. It is a common challenge emerging companies also find with Producers; holding on to them without being able to offer full time hours or salary means they soon get snapped up for full-time roles.

One of the things I have never liked about theatre is the sense of competition in the industry. Understandably every new theatre company wants to make their individual mark, but there is a lot to be said for collaboration and supporting one another in other ways than just co-productions. Instead of pitting ourselves against one another, why are we not realising that we are stronger together? Of course we are not the first set of theatre companies to do this and we certainly won’t be the last. We were greatly inspired by Lincolnshire One Venues who are 10 arts organisations who achieved collective NPO status from the Arts Council through sharing resources, core staff and space. What is exciting for us about this new partnership is the possibilities it offers for us to expand on working together over the next 2 years. By sharing a core member of staff we hope to identify other ways to share and collaborate on resources and to develop more of a combined business model moving forward. One concern we had was that our new recruit may find it a little lonely in an office with us each coming in and out but them being the only permanent feature. Excitingly, Paines Plough have agreed that our GM can be based at their office alongside their staff. As each company involved in the partnership are Associate Companies of Paines Plough, this allows us to all be more integrated into our mentor company and will allow the GM to be supported by having a friendly team of employees around them.

We are thrilled that Paul Hamlyn Foundation have made the decision to support our new venture. As an Artistic Director of a young theatre company, I have spent the last 4 years managing the company administration, tax, accounts and day to day tasks on top of finding time to do what I really love about having a theatre a company; being an Artistic leader. To know that I can now work alongside a General Manager to lead the company is such an exciting prospect. FTP are having our first programming meeting of the year on Thursday to decide on productions to make in 2013/2014 which don’t have to work around when I am not freelancing or when I have the capacity to produce and manage projects. Hurray!

So how do I apply I hear you cry?! Well we are all uploaded on Arts Jobs Online, Ideas Tap and Arts Council England website or hey why not download from here:


£23,000 per annum
Full-time 2-year fixed term contract
Supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation

Four of the UK’s most vibrant and dynamic theatre companies have joined forces and are recruiting a shared new post – General Manager.

Forward Theatre Project, nabokov, Pieces Productions and Theatre Uncut are at the forefront of creating new work nationwide and internationally. This pioneering new post is an opportunity for a General Manager to work across all four companies to help us realise our ambitious plans to extend our range of artistic work, collaborations, digital content and audience reach over the next two years.

With a wide range of work presented across diverse platforms, we need a General Manager to ensure that four of Britain’s most exciting emerging companies run like clockwork.

General Manager is a senior position, necessary to ensure the smooth operational management and delivery of the companies’ activities. The General Manager will work closely with the artistic and producing teams from each company.

Forward Theatre Project Artistic Director: Charlotte Bennett nabokov Artistic Director: Joe Murphy Theatre Uncut Artistic Directors: Hannah Price and Emma Callander Pieces Productions Artistic Directors: Clare Lizzimore and David Watson.

The General Manager will work:

–    2 days a week for Forward Theatre Project
–    1.5 days a week for Nabokov Theatre
–    1 day a week for Theatre Uncut
–    0.5 days a week for Pieces Productions

To apply please read the job description and complete the application process, including submitting an equal opportunities form, all of which can be downloaded here:

Closing date: Friday 1st February

Email applications to

Interviews will be held on Saturday 16th February.

We look forward to reading your application.

Charlotte Bennett
Artistic Director
Forward Theatre Project