Monthly archives: October 2013

Interview with PP Playwright-in-Residence Alexandra Wood

Last week, West Camel from Culture Compass popped in to PP HQ to interview our Playwright-in-Residence Alexandra Wood about her latest play THE EMPTY QUARTER, which closed at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs on Saturday.

Here’s what Alex had to say…

It seems you have a great deal of knowledge about the expat community in Dubai, but  you’ve never been there. How did you manage that authenticity?
When you’re writing plays you’re creating worlds. And that’s what Dubai seems to be – an act of Sheikh Mohammad’s imagination, which became real. I found that fascinating. I did lots of research. There’s copious publicity – the way they sell the lifestyle is fascinating. Online forums were interesting – expats giving each other advice. And then there was stuff about the other side of Dubai. Particularly important in terms of the development of the play was an article in The Independent by Johann Hari called The Dark Side of Dubai. He set up the various types of people there – the expat, the Emiratis, the Pakistani workers, the slave-labourers, gay Dubai, Philippinos working in fast-food joints. I was particularly attracted to one story about an expat caught out by the situation who found herself living in her car. That was the seed of Holly’s story in The Empty Quarter.

Gemma, the older, seasoned ex-pat in The Empty Quarter, seems to ‘stand up’ during the play.
In earlier drafts it had been Holly’s story, which is still what the play is at the beginning. But then a surprising shift occurs. It took me by surprise during the rewriting process – I found myself becoming more interested in Gemma’s story. It was when Hampstead said they were going to put The Empty Quarter on that her character became more integral. I think something in your head shifts when a theatre says ‘we’re going to produce this’. It’s all hypothetical up until then. When you know a real actor is going to play the part, you feel you need to make it as rich and complex as possible. I think that spurred me on to pursue Gemma’s journey a bit more. But I also think I had a sense that parts for women around 50 aren’t that many and if you’re going to write one you have a responsibility to give that actor a meaty role.

As a young woman, you’re obviously not familiar with being middle-aged – which is similar to writing about Dubai when you’ve not been there. And you’ve also written about China. What attracts you to writing about ‘the other’?
I’ve always been attracted to stories set elsewhere. There’s a sort of freedom in it. But I am interested in what’s going on here. I understand that I’m British. I’m a product of Britain, the characters I’m writing are affected by Britishness. And the plays are for a British audience. But I think it’s useful to have that bit of distance. I’m trying to explore what makes us tick through this ‘other’ prism.

What are the particular challenges of writing about ‘the other’ in theatre – bringing Dubai or China to the stage?
I’d initially conceived The Empty Quarter as a film. I wanted to write about Dubai because it’s such an amazing place visually and I thought it would be amazing to have panoramic shots of all those skyscrapers and cranes. Setting a tiny human story against that backdrop could be really striking. But when I reconceived it as a stage play I turned that on its head, and set it in three apartments that all look exactly same. I reduced it to this tiny place that could be anywhere. But the outside then comes in through the way the environment affects how the characters act. Dubai is represented by the characters’ behaviour.

How did you manage this with Wild Swans? – It’s such broad sweep of a novel.
That was a very collaborative production. The sense of scale was achieved through the design. So at the start you’ve got an old Chinese market; and by the end you’ve got modern China – lots of video design, everyone’s image of contemporary Beijing. All in the space of an hour and a half. But again you’re seeing China through behaviour. In Maoist China, especially, the way people behaved – the paranoia, the intrigue and the betrayal – was a result of Mao’s policies.

If you were to give someone the Wild Swans book and ask ‘is this is a three-to four hour epic by Steven Spielberg, or a small play at the Young Vic?’ They’d say the Spielberg, wouldn’t they?
I think you can do both. But the way you tell the story would be different. The Spielberg could chart history from Imperial China to the present day. Whereas in the play we focus on the parents’ relationship, which for us was the heart of it – the difficulties and conflicts of having loyalty to a party and a leader and loyalty to your wife and your family. It felt very human.

Is it this human aspect that makes you write for theatre rather than other media?
What theatre does brilliantly is the human. Because ultimately you’ve got human beings sitting in front of or around another human being, so you can’t help but think about you relationship with other people. You don’t have that so much in a film. There’s something finished and safe about cinema – nothing’s going to go wrong. Whereas in theatre there’s danger and that element of possibility. As an audience you can directly affect what’s happening on stage. The way you laugh, the way you respond, is going to affect those actors.
What theatre’s also great for is creating that space around what’s said and what’s done. It allows ambiguity and provides room for interpretation. As an audience I love having to work hard to understand what’s going on, and knowing I might have a different interpretation to someone else. And in my writing I love that flexibility – throwing up questions and not necessarily answering them all. Theatre gives me the space to play with certainty.

What do you think about the growth in immersive theatre, such as You Me Bum Bum Train and Punchdrunk?
Punchdrunk’s Faust production in Wapping was one of the most exhilarating theatre experiences of my life. I was overawed by the scale of the project and felt true emotions. I felt actual fear on one of the levels. I was completely alone in a massive warehouse. I didn’t know what could happen to me. That was thrilling, but I wouldn’t want it as my only theatre experience. I think more traditional plays when you have people sitting looking one way at some actors performing, will continue. I think there’s room for everything.
Ultimately they both respond to the basic thing that theatre can offer – human interaction. Whether you’re in an audience of 50 or of one, you’re still having that connection with a performer, which can challenge you and provoke you and engage you. That’s what theatre is about.

Read the full interview on

Photo: Robert Day/Hampstead Theatre

We’re recruiting a Producer

We’re looking for someone completely brilliant to come and join our team at PPHQ as Producer. You? Yes, you.

After more than three years we’re waving a tearful farewell to Tara, who is walking over Waterloo Bridge to a new desk at The Old Vic, so we’re in need of someone as brilliant as her to join Team PP as our new Producer.

You’ll be responsible for the delivery of the Artistic Directors’ vision for the company through the productions, projects and events that comprise our annual programmes. You’ll work alongside the General Manager to ensure the effective, efficient and sustainable management of Paines Plough and delivery of its work.

You’ll be passionate about new plays and touring and be excited to join our hard-working, fun-loving team at PPHQ on Aldwych in Central London. Liking sweets, chocolates and cake is not essential, but is advisable.

This is a particularly exciting time for Paines Plough, as we prepare to celebrate our 40th Anniversary in 2014. You’ll will play a central role in delivering a vibrant programme of activity during the anniversary year and beyond.

We’re looking for someone with a minimum of five years’ professional experience in the arts and a minimum of three years experience in producing.

Does this sound like you? Excellent! We very much look forward to hearing from you.

For more information and to download a full job description and application form please go here or email

Deadline for applications: Monday 11th November at 5pm
First interviews: Friday 15th November
Second interviews: Monday 18th November

Get set to get WASTED

By popular demand… it’s back.

Kate Tempest‘s WASTED sets off on another nationwide tour next week prior to a second run at London’s Roundhouse.

The show began life at the Latitude Festival back in the mists of 2011, and has since played almost 70 dates across the UK from Bromsgrove to Bestival to Bracknell.

This Autumn sees WASTED visit student unions as part of our inaugural CAMPUS tour, before returning to The Roundhouse as part of The Last Word Fesitval.

We’re welcoming Cary Crankson and Bradley Taylor back to the cast, and unveiling our new signing Alice Haig, who plays the role of Charlotte.

Kicking off in Canterbury next Wednesday, WASTED then heads of to…

CANTERBURY -The Marlowe Studio, Canterbury, 30 October 2013
ABERYSTWYTH – Aberystwyth Students Union at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, 2 November 2013
PETERBOROUGH – Key Theatre, Peterborough, 6 November 2013
SHEFFIELD – University of Sheffield, The School of English Theatre Workshop, 7 November 2013
LEEDS – Leeds University Union, 8 November 2013
BUCKINGHAM – University of Buckingham, The Radcliffe Centre, 9 November 2013
WARWICK – Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, Copper Rooms One, Student Union, 11 – 12 November 2013
LINCOLN – Lincoln Performing Arts Centre, 14 November 2013
LONDON – Roundhouse, London, 16 – 24 November 2013

CAMPUS is PP’s new initiative to tour the best new plays to the heart of campus. WASTED has already played a host of non-traditional theatre spaces from music festivals to schools to an empty shop in Coventry, and now it’s headed for the sticky basements of student unions. We’re passionate about taking our work to everyone, everywhere, and CAMPUS is our latest venture in making new plays more accessible.

If you’re a student and would like us to visit your campus, hit us up.

Meantime, check out the WASTED trailer here, or browse our Flickr gallery.



What we’re seeing at the theatre

We haven’t done one of these in while, so between everyone at PP we’ve made another list of what we’ve all been seeing in the past few weeks. With winter fast approaching, darker days and colder nights, what better place to spend your time than in the theatre.

What we’ve seen:

The Events at the Young Vic, The Same Deep Water As Me at the Donmar Warehouse, Chimerica at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Show 2 at Lyric Hammersmith, Grounded at Traverse Theatre, Fleabag at Soho Theatre, Once at Phoenix Theatre, The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas at the Royal Court, Edward II at the National Theatre, Virgin at Watford Palace Theatre, The Empty Quarter at Hampstead, As You Like It at The RSC, People at Birmingham Rep, Bryony Kimmings: Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model at Soho Theatre, Twelfth Night at Park Theatre, Perfect Match at Watford Palace Theatre, The Pride at Trafalgar Studios, The Legend Of Mike Smith by Soweto Kinch at Birmingham Rep, But I don’t like Girls at The Poor School, Othello at the National Theatre, The Herd at The Bush, Beats at Soho Theatre, Titus Andronicus at Arcola Theatre, Too Mortal by Shobana Jeyasingh at St. Pancras Church (Dance Umbrella), The World of Extreme Happiness at The ShedA Real Man’s Guide to Sainthood at Camden People’s Theatre, The Fu Manchu Complex at Oval House.

What will you be seeing in the coming weeks? Send us your suggestions by leaving a comment or tweeting us @painesplough.

Insights with JFG cast – In Kendal/Scarborough

Last Thursday was National Stage Management Day.  Though this date hasn’t yet reached the levels of pervasiveness and commercialization as Mother’s Day, its subjects are similarly underappreciated and over-worked, and thoroughly deserve the recognition of the rest of the stage community.  Stage Managers are the Strong Nuclear Force that holds a production together: you don’t see them but everything would fall apart if they weren’t there (*end of under-researched physics metaphor*).  I’m not sure it is possible to write a job description for them, but ‘everything else’ would not be innacurate.  They note all the blocking in rehearsals, source obscure practice props, are the go-tos for all of the mundane, workaday stuff whilst on tour and are the link between performers, production company and the theatres.  They set the props and prepare the stage, wash the costumes, listen to actor whinges, book comps, call and run the show itself, do the show report, distribute rail tickets, listen to another actor whinge.  Et cetera.  Ad infinitum.  They are the first to arrive and the last to leave.  And they never get a curtain call.  So, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the JFG Stage Management Team: Alicia White (CSM) and Amy Slater (ASM).  Take a bow, you two.

Another thing that SM’s have to do are the ‘calls’ – the times and places everyone has to be at.  On show days, actors have to arrive before ‘the half’ (actually 35 minutes before curtain up), although we usually arrive earlier than this for notes, warm-ups, important social debriefings and hangover solidarity.  Even then, we’re still not at work until well after High tea.  So, what do we do during the days, I hear you not cry?  In the Good Old Days of Rep, when theatres used to put on a play a week with French windows and shit sound effects, and performers’ faces were fearsomely caked in Leichner and Kryolan, the actor’s day was divided thus: getting rid of last night’s hangover; raking together enough change and finding a quiet phonebox to ring agent, family and mistress; meeting fellow cast members in The [insert monarch/animal]’s Head and embarking on tomorrow’s hangover; do the show; return to the pub.  This is a probably a gross caricature and a thespy cliché.  Probably.  I imagine that they got up, out and enjoyed what the various towns that they visited had to offer, as we have.  We had a cracking week last week; it was spilt between The Lakes and The Seaside.

On Tuesday my train overshot Oxenholme station and I ended up in Penrith…PENRITH!

I was very late.  The Brewery in Kendal was a new venue for all of us; it’s a thriving arts centre that serves up the best touring comedy and theatre to.  Plus, if you’re working there you can get 10p tea.  TEN PEE! – just like the Good Old Days of Rep.  We had one of our best performances there last Wednesday night; a loud and laughing audience lifting the play to its very best.  Production Manager Bernd and the crew burned the Kendal at both ends to get the set out, over to and into Scarborough ready for a show the following night.  No mean feat, that.  The Round at the Stephen Joseph Theatre is a legendary stage.  It is the playground of Sir Alan Ayckbourn, one of the most performed playwrights on the planet and a giant of modern theatre.  We didn’t play ‘in the round’ with audience on all sides (it’s a square, really), but plonked ourselves across the space and played to half of the capacity in a sort of thrust.  The audience was very quiet, which was a bit of a shock after the reactions we have had elsewhere, but the staff at SJT reassured us that this was usual and they were enjoying the show.  Afterwards, more people came over to us in the bar to say ‘well done’ than anywhere before, and on Saturday night, after another seemingly muted response, they gave us a standing ovation.  Strange, eh?  You have to be careful not to be thrown by an audience, boisterous or reserved.  It is a unique mix of people who have paid their money and they’ll enjoy it on their terms.

Scarbados, like any British seaside resort in the off-season, can seem pretty dull (following a vivid, startling Martin Parr summer).  It tried to be – raining throughout our stay – but we ballasted ourselves with Mother Hubbard’s fish and chips, filled our tanks at the Alma (SJT’s local) and went full steam ahead at Bacchus (the late bar named after the Roman god of fake Jäegermeister).

We finish the tour in Ipswich, at the New Wolsey.  Tonight, in fact (last night? Last week?  Anyway – Thursday 17th – sorry, I am very late with this blog).  They won the TMA Most Welcoming Theatre award in 2012. They deserved it; it’s a terrific venue with strong beating heart and loyal, laughy following.

Have to swap with Lisa now.  Pub? #Jump4Goal

Hello from Georgia


I am now four weeks into my time at Paines Plough; my first ever real experience of a working theatre environment and I have not had one dull moment yet!

I was catapulted into this exciting theatre world spending my first day at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre for the press night of the brilliant Hopelessly Devoted. It was the first Paines Plough production I have seen, the first press night I have been to and my first experiences with ‘Party Plough’! Kate Tempest’s writing was beautifully poetic whilst being full of character and a boldness that was portrayed excellently by the cast. I had the opportunity to meet Kate and the cast, along with the cast and crew of some of the other exciting productions Paines Plough has under its wing, which I grabbed with both hands and a fair few glasses of wine! I couldn’t have planned a more wonderful introduction to the company.

It isn’t all wine and performances though; I have spent many an hour over the last few weeks booking trains and arranging accommodation for all the endless touring and meetings that need to take place in order for these productions to come together. I have gained invaluable insight into the way a theatre company operates and the different tasks involved for everyone here. Paines Plough is an awesome place to work and I look forward to being a small part of the work produced here over the next couple of months. As well as the parties that will come with this!



Paines Plough turns 40

In 2014, we’re 40 years old. Happy birthday to us. Life begins at 40, right?

Right. So we’re planning our biggest, boldest, most far-reaching programme of work ever, with more plays touring to more places than even we thought possible.

We’ll be announcing the whole shebang in January, with attendant trumpet fanfare. But in the meantime, there’s a little taster of what to expect below, and some words from illustrious PP alumni.

Where it began… In 1974, while they were all working at The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster, actor Chris Crooks asked playwright David Pownall to write a play for him. John Adams agreed to direct it.

Christened over pints of Paines bitter in The Plough pub Bolnhurst, Paines Plough was registered as company no. 1165130 on 1st April 1974.The company opened Pownall’s play – Crates On Barrels – at 6pm on Wednesday 11 September 1975 at the Lyceum Studio, Edinburgh.

128 productions, eight Artistic Directorships, 42 awards and 40 years later, Paines Plough is now the national theatre of new plays – still doing what it has always done, touring the best new plays to every corner of the UK.

“Back in 1982, after seven years on the road, we passed Paines Plough into other hands. Since then we have watched it grow, change and develop into its present strength and reputation.  We feel part of the present company, glad that our aims have lived so long, and especially glad the company is still a stage for new plays.”
John Adams and David Pownall, founders

Paines Plough old skool stylee

James and George:

“It is a true honour to lead Paines Plough in to its fifth decade of touring new plays.

“Talking to our illustrious alumni in the lead up to our 40th anniversary year, it has become clear that Paines Plough is less a company than a movement; generation after generation of the UK’s top directors and playwrights have assembled in our shabby Aldwych offices to conceive some of the most important modern plays before setting off to share them with audiences in every corner of the country.

“That’s exactly what we’ve done since we took over in 2010 – and we hope our 40th anniversary year programme will encapsulate all that is essential about Paines Plough’s contribution to British cultural life.”

With lots more to be announced, our 40th anniversary year will include new plays from playwrights spanning Olivier Award-winner Mike Bartlett and debutant Sam Burns, touring the length and breadth of the country.

The centrepiece of Programme 2014 will be the unveiling of Roundabout, our portable in-the-round auditorium.

Our portable pop-up Roundabout Auditorium

A prototype Roundabout was co-produced with Sheffield Theatres in 2011 and played at Shoreditch Town Hall in 2012. Armed with the experience of these two runs, and the generous support of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust, John Ellerman Foundation and Garfield Weston Foundation, the brand new pop-up theatre will form an integral part of future Paines Plough programmes.

“It’s hard to imagine that Paines Plough is 40 years old.  Its energy and verve remain so youthful, dynamic and daring.  Its work has become a crucial component of the new writing landscape in the UK and long may it thrive.”
Daniel Evans, Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres

We’ll be resident at the NT Shed for a series of PP Platforms at the start of the 40th anniversary year. Paines Plough alumni – writers, actors and directors – will share their memories and celebrate the crucial part the company has played in their careers to date.

“In 2005 Paines Plough made me their writer in residence and I can honestly say it was the single most important event in my career as a writer. Being a playwright moved from being a dream into being a reality as I got to spend time with people I’d only heard about, people whose books I read and plays I’d seen. I was given the chance to write what I wanted in a place that cared about writing.”
Dennis Kelly, playwright.

On 30 January, in conjunction with the Royal Exchange Manchester and ITC, Paines Plough will host a Small Scale Touring Symposium, inviting leading practitioners, journalists and companies across the UK to share in talks examining current and new aspects of touring theatre.

“For me personally it was a paradigm shift. To discover, encourage and direct the work of some extraordinary writers, to begin to understand audiences, to learn to be part of the landscape of Britain was a privilege and enormous fun. It opened the doors for all my ensuing adventures and for many others too and will always remain thrillingly alive and inspiring in my heart.”
Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director Royal Court Theatre (Artistic Director of Paines Plough 1997 – 2004)

That’s all you’re getting for now, but stay tuned. Programme 2014 is going to be huuuge.


Stage Manager Anna looks on as Martina and Amanda do their thing

This week, Kate Tempest’s electrifying new musical HOPELESSLY DEVOTED hits the road on a tour of the West Midlands.

Our co-production with Birmingham Rep finished its run at The Door last Saturday, and now embarks on the annual Sir Barry Jackson tour, named after Birmingham Rep’s founding father, and funded by his eponymous trust to enable one new play per year to tour the West Midlands.

We’re super excited to be working with The Rep on this tour, as it takes in some venues we’ve never toured to before, and also offers students at schools, universities and colleges the opportunity to see the show on their own campuses.

So hello Walsall. Hello Bridgnorth. Hello Worcester. And hello again to old friends in Wolverhampton, Bromsgrove and Coventry.

Full tour dates can be found here.

Let us know what you make of the show y’all.

Insights with JFG cast – In Newcastle

We’re back.  New venue, new audiences, different sensibilities.  Geordies really know their onions; they’ve got a 24 carat theatre heritage and there’s a terrific scene up in Newcastle.  Northern Stage (where we were) and Live Theatre are bang on form at the moment: Lorne Campbell has inherited a very healthy organization from Erica Whyman, who moved to the RSC in January to become Deputy AD.  Her legacy is mighty; no wonder she was named 2012 TMA Theatre Manager of the Year.  For 40 years, Live Theatre has been the dramatic voice of working-class Newcastle.  Lee Hall had one of his greatest successes with them; in 2007 his play The Pitmen Painters opened at the tiny venue for a one month run.  And so began one of the great theatrical journeys: Nick Hytner took it to the National Theatre, and from there it went on to New York before returning for a West End stint and a national tour.  From Broad Chare to Broadway.  Crikey, talk about punching above your weight.

Newcastle and Hull have a famous dramatic link too: Alan Plater. The late, great writer was born just down river in Jarrow, and brought up in Hull.  He really loved both towns, wrote plays for both Hull Truck and Live, and played an important role in the establishment of both venues early on in the 1970s.

It’s a big old stage is Northern Stage (the widest outside London) and our set looked like a doll’s house on there.  However, it meant that we had loads of room behind for warm-ups and games of Foursquare.  We always do a warm-up, but it’s really important when you’re playing a big space like this.  There are the usual Yoko Ono-esque primal shrieks and wails that were drilled into us at drama school, and which may or may not be more effective than a cup of tea and a cig, and articulation exercises (tongue twisters) to help us chew our way through the text clearly (bits of Dr Seuss are particularly good).  We also have a couple of favourite games that help us get into ‘the zone’.  The first, ‘Foursquare’, is a bit like tennis without a net.  Or rackets.  And you play it with a football.  So I suppose it’s not very much like tennis, but it is pretty competitive; somebody mentioned that some theatre companies have because it caused rows.  Much as we enjoy it, we think it’s a poor basis for a decent row.  I think there are possibly underlying tensions and issues at play in those casts and Foursquare is merely a catalyst.  The other is ‘Big Booty’ and it is brilliant for generating the focus, alertness and fun that you need when performing comedy. Warm-ups can be collective and playful; it’s not all ‘me, me , meeeeeeeeeeeee’.

After the performance on Wednesday we had a ‘Post-show’.  If you’ve not been to one, it’s basically a chat and Q & A with the cast (and sometimes the director and the writer) in the auditorium after curtain down.  I really enjoy them, both as spectator or actor, because you can get/give a fascinating insight into how plays get made and played.  If you’re a creative or performer, you get the chance to gauge your audiences’ reaction to what you are doing.  It’s like the DVD extras of theatre.  A large contingent of Theatre Studies students stayed behind and opened up a good, frank discussion about the play and its issues, and we explained how the show developed from early drafts to press night and beyond.  It’s an excellent way to make theatre more accessible and inclusive for young and new audiences.  And the theatre buys you a drink.

Newcastle at night is not sedate, and we flung ourselves, livers first, into it again and burned through our touring allowances before the weekend.  Dabbawal (delicious Indian street food) was the food favorite, and the week culminated in a night at the discreetly named World Headquarters.  It was there that Philip bumped into the Manchester United and England striker, Danny Welbeck.  Somewhat star-struck and overwhelmed, he only managed to repeat the footballer’s name to him over and over again.  Apparently Alicia, Amy and Viv were less whelmed, and Andy and Jamie were ‘busy’.  I missed all this, unfortunately, as I’d ended up in Benwell with some Poles at a house party that got a bit weird.

In the break, we found out that JFG has been nominated for Best New Play in the UK Theatre Awards.  Congrats, Tom Wells – nothing less than you deserve.

Right, that’s it for me.  See how it goes next week. #jump4goal

Kate Tempest’s HOPELESSLY DEVOTED – Production Shots

Here’s some production shots from Kate Tempest‘s HOPELESSLY DEVOTED, featuring our incredible cast: Gbemisola Ikumelo, Martina Laird and Amanda Wilkin.

Check out the full set on our Flickr page.

HOPELESSLY DEVOTED runs at The Birmingham Rep until 5th October before heading on tour. Buy tickets here.

For full tour dates, click here.