Category Archive: Guest Blogs

Forward Theatre: Genesis

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Our brilliant Associate Company, Forward Theatre Project, are touring their new show GENESIS this autumn. Artistic Director, Charlotte Bennett, tells us what it’s all about…

In 2013, I met a brilliant, inspiring woman called Morag Siller.

Morag was an actress, had incurable breast cancer and was the patron of charity Prevent Breast Cancer. She told me about this small but radical organisation; the UK’s only charity to solely focus on breast cancer prevention, which had started with a vision of finding an alternative way to achieve a breast cancer free future – and I was blown away.

Morag wanted to create a play to raise awareness of prevention and asked if I would work with her. We wanted to look at how we could reach not only scientific minds but non-scientific ones by telling the human stories behind the science. And so myself and playwright Frazer Flintham, interviewed patients and scientists to create a new play: GENESIS, which tells a story about genetic testing for breast cancer.

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As part of ‘tooling up’ we spent hours ensuring we understood the science and the terms (the sort of stuff that if you are a non-science bod make you want to bolt). We know how to tell human stories, but understanding the science was the real challenge. It was hard but GLORIOUS. And the support from the brilliant staff at Prevent Breast Cancer empowered us to make a play that is now as scientifically informed as it is theatrically crafted.

Morag passed away in April. She was a woman who campaigned right to the end of her life to bring the science of this charity into the fore of the conversation about a breast cancer free future. And she was also a brilliant actress who recognised the ability of theatre to have conversations with audiences about difficult things like genetic testing by using humour, drama and story. And so we make this one for her.

And now here we are, rehearsing this important piece of theatre in Manchester. We premiere at The Lowry, Salford. We then tour to Soho Theatre, London, then to Cumbria, Preston and Doncaster.

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Booking details are here:

11th – 12th November The Lowry (8pm, 2.30pm and 8pm) Tickets £12 / £10 concessions

15th – 19th November Soho Theatre (7pm, Sat matinee 4pm) Tickets £16 / £14 concessions

22nd November Beggar’s Theatre Cumbria (7.30pm) Tickets £10 / £7 concessions

23rd November  Preston Continental  (8pm) Tickets £8 / £6 concessions

24th November Cast Doncaster (7.45pm) Tickets £10.50 / £9 concessions

GENESIS is supported by funding from Arts Council England, the Teale Charitable Trust, the Richard Carne Trust, Talbot Validus, the Granada Foundation, the Unity Theatre Trust, the Royal Victoria Hall Foundation, Morag Siller, other private donors, and our crowdfund backers.

Meet the WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK Cast: Gabriel Benn

Not ones to let a Bank Holiday get in the way of a blog, we grabbed WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK‘s Gabriel Benn to talk touring, musical influences and uh, Beyoncé and Jay-Z… 

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Is this the first theatre production that you’ve toured with?

Yeah, it is. It’s a whole new experience. The tour dates are all first time visits for a lot of the cast and it’s great, being in all these different places and having the chance for the cast to explore and have good walks around. I think Lincoln was probably the most unexpected surprise. It was such a beautiful city; I managed to have a good wander down the old cobbled streets to explore the old town and the cathedral.

Can you tell us a little bit about what made you get in to music and DJ-ing?

Good question! I remember Mark Ronson being a big inspiration when I was about 14 because he was DJ-ing and making music and looking really cool. He’d just released Ooh Wee, if you remember that? It was around that time and I liked what he was doing a lot.

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My dad gave me some decks that Christmas and I started making music. My friends and I got into producing electronic mostly, and then I started travelling and producing to expand my musical vocabulary. I started in Ghana at first, being a very rhythmical place as far as music goes, so that helped me expand my abilities. Then Columbia afterwards which had an amazing variety of rhythm and it just made me push the musical boundaries that I’d set myself. It allowed me to grow, and if you learn more you can do more.

Have you brought those influences into the way that you work with Martyna and Seroca during WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK?

I think so, because being influenced by other world rhythms has allowed me, in a sense, to infuse those rhythms into the performance and that has helped me to adapt to the strong rhythms of Garage.

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Were you into Garage when you were younger or has being part of WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK expanded your knowledge of it?

It has expanded my knowledge hugely – I came in late because I’m 25 so I was only 11 when people like our leading actor, Seroca, were going out to the raves. But five years later I started DJ-ing all kinds of electronic and picked out quite a lot of Garage from the back catalogue of music, so I was always playing bits and bobs of Garage and really loved it. This show helped me understand why Garage meant so much to so many people.

Finally, what can or should an audience expect?

Well, audiences so far have loved the music which has been nice. There’s been a lot of laughter at the pop culture references from 2001 like Starbucks and E4 which had just launched. It’s been great because it makes people reflect on things that are now such a strong part of our lives – even things like Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s relationship! – and that’s been really fun. The musical elements of the show have really been a success because people have got up and danced and sang along -they’re visibly happy at hearing some of their favourite songs which is great.

Meet the WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK cast: Seroca Davis

We caught up with our leading lady and raver on the road, Seroca Davis. She’s currently careering across the country bringing the rave to Manchester, Margate and loads of our favourite places in between. Today she is in Canterbury, where better to have a chat and find out how she’s finding life on the road with WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK.

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Hey, Seroca! What can or should an audience expect from WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK?

A good story, great music and to feel like you want to rave after the show! It is a mix of one of my favourite genres of music and fabulous writing. I’m loving raving on stage with audiences and getting them involved too!

And what made you want to get involved in the show?        

I loved the fact that it was a play which included old school garage! It’s one of my favourite genres of music and very nostalgic for me. It takes me back to secondary school when I used to listen to Heartless Crew and Pay as u go radio sets on my walkman! Also, I really admire Sabrina’s writing so was great to be able to work with her and help bring her work to life.

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What was your first professional, paid gig? And where was it? 

My first professional role was when I was 10 years old and I did a training video for the London Transport Museum. Very good fun!

Do you have a connection to any of the locations on the tour? 

I had been to Edinburgh before we took the show to the Roxy as I did a play at the Fringe festival in 2012. I also performed at the Crucible in Sheffield back in 2010. And I used to go to the seaside at Margate as a child!

I’ve lived all over North London in Tottenham, Wood Green and Edmonton so I’m really looking forward to the shows at the ROUNDHOUSE in June.

Did a particular person inspire you to want to become a performer/musician? Who was it and how did they encourage you?

Not a specific person, but my mum was very encouraging and she always taught me that I could be whatever I wanted to be. She always made me feel like it was possible for me to be an actress and is still my biggest fan! Actresses like Helen Mirren, Viola Davis and Angela Bassett inspire me now though.

WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK touches down in Canterbury tonight at the Marlowe Theatre for two nights of mellifluous melodies and music making, before hitting Barking, Fareham, Nottingham, Wellingborough and Lancaster. Check out where else we’re heading here.

Developing New Writing: The Producer’s Perspective

Trainee Producer, Rachel, joined the team in May and has been managing Nathan’s development with us since then. Here she give us an insight into how she put together the development workshop and what she learned from it.

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Producing toolkit: Notepad, iPad and, most importantly, a diary!

I remember sitting with my friend Nicola as she spoke about the play she was writing while we were at uni. She was struggling for a title that communicated the themes and also got across a sense of where the play was set, in the world of DJ-ing.

Nicola: It’s the word for the thing they do? When they put one song into another…?
Me: Mixing?’
Nicola: No… It’s like that, but… Not.
Me: (struggling) Uh…Fading…?
Nicola: Yes! Well… Kind of, I feel like there’s another word they use…

I’m wracking my brains, at this point trying to remember something, anything at all, from when I studied music at school – school now a distant, foggy memory.

Me: What about… cross fade?

The word hung in the air in front of us for a moment.

YES! WRITE IT DOWN!’

I almost fell out of my chair with relief and, with a laugh, that’s how the title of her first play, and subsequently her theatre company, came about. Over a cuppa, sharing ideas in the student union.

I didn’t realise it, but that’s producing.

Of course there’s a bit more to it – scheduling, budgets, casting, and loads more I’ve still to learn – but at its heart it’s listening to each other, sharing ideas and making it happen.

So when it came to putting together a development workshop for Nathan, that experience is what I drew on. I have worked with emerging writers and directors in Scotland (now that I look back on it, coffee shops seem to be a recurring motif…) and I’ve seen the excitement, the fear, and the nerves that come when people share their ideas with you, and experienced the wonderful madness that accompanies figuring out how to make those ideas become a reality.

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Once Nathan had chosen a date for his workshop, the next thing to find was a director. After a meeting with George and James, we approached Titas Halder to see if he’d be interested in being involved and after meeting with Nathan, he agreed to come on board. We drafted in Trainee Director Nadia as Titas’ assistant in the room and the next thing I knew, I had a creative team.

After this my foot really hit the gas as we went full speed into casting, looking for actors who’d be active and engage in the discussion in the room to help Nathan get to the core of what he wanted to write about. A list of names was drawn up and I spent my days trawling through Spotlight like a woman possessed, contacting agents, doing availability checks… I was sorting through CV’s, communicating back and forth with Titas, and making so many phone calls that I felt like an octopus. Offers were made and accepted, and after an energetic few days I was able to relax and confirm with Nathan, Titas and the rest of Team PP that our cast was finalised.

I arrived for the first day of workshopping to set up the room and print out the stimuli that Nathan had compiled for everyone. Our actors – Tanya Fear Tunji Lucas, Michael Hadley and Llewella Gideon– arrived and after some warm up exercises and a little bit of time to get to know each other, we got down to discussing the contents of Nathan’s dramaturgical pack. Soon the ideas covered the walls and surrounded us.

It was a fascinating, scary, intense, relevant and necessary discussion. It felt theatrical in itself as the various subject matters – ethnicity, identity, class, family, belonging – provoked strong emotions and feelings from everyone in the room.

Each new day brought with it more writing from Nathan, and it was fascinating to see how the conversation in the room filtered in to his writing, stretching and reshaping his ideas in to what would eventually land on my desk a week later – the first draft of his brand new play.

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Without realising it, I’ve found the work I’ve contributed towards having a decidely musical slant in both Crossfade and Mix Tape. The aim in putting together the development workshop was to help Nathan try out new ways of writing and telling stories. Inadvertently, it’s also helped me to start shaping my identity as a producer and how I want to work with other creatives in the future.

-Rachel x

 

Developing New Writing: The Assistant Director’s Perspective

The second in our newest series of blogs on creating new work comes from our Nadia Amico, our Trainee Director from Birkbeck’s MFA in Directing. She’s previously assisted our Associate Director, Stef, on WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK and most recently has written and performed at Stratford East at the Empower House event.

It’s not very often you get asked by a director to do some research into Kendrick Lamar, and I knew at that moment that this was the kind of rehearsal room I was meant to be in.

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2 weeks out of a 3 day workshop and not only am I still reeling from some of the conversations but I certainly feel heavier with the knowledge and experience of being in a room with director Titus Halder and writer Nathan Bryon.

The topic was simple, yet incredibly raw, as George Perrin later reminded me, and raw it was – what it means to be black and, in a way, what it means to be white.

We spent a large amount of time being expertly navigated through a workshop by Titus, which ultimately encouraged us share an incredible amount of political, social and cultural material, breaking down personal barriers and crossing over racial thresholds. As the assistant director, a lot of what you’re told about the job involves listening and adhering to the room, but it was hard – not just coz I could talk the back legs off a donkey – but because I was frustrated and upset. How is it 2015 and the colour of someone’s skin, or the sexual orientation of a person is still being questioned, challenged and to some degree, oppressed?

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Kendrick’s album To Pimp A Butterfly crystalizes, in potentially the most eloquent and fundamental way, the issues facing black people in America today. You only have to mention Treyvon Martin and blurry images, recorded on handheld phones, shaking from left to right, distorting the forms of black boys and bullet holes, white cops and Taser guns, contradict the ironic point Lamar is trying to make – “we gon be alright”.

What really stood out for me was how inspired Nathan was by Titus’ handling of the workshop – Titus pushed Nathan to explore a more abstract way of writing. Letting his pen flow across the page rather then worry too much about characters and narration. “What really matters, man” I’m pretty sure is something I heard from most people throughout the workshop. After day one in fact, Nathan stayed behind, his brain close to exploding, and wrote something in response to the conversations and opinions formed in the room that day.

I was keen to come back into the room on Sunday to see what had changed or formed more vehemently in his mind. I wasn’t disappointed, as what Nathan at written encouraged further debates and conversation pertaining to everything we already had discussed and more. Class issues became a prominent talking point – and again, being a working class director, it was hard to not put my two cents in.

Within the first 20 minutes of the workshop, tears were shed and a comforting arm uniting a working class black woman and a middle class white man stretched out saying ‘it’s ok’. I was overwhelmed, happy, sad, excited and finally grateful. I got to witness something really special. Titus took me for a drink later and I said ‘all I want to do is extract the juice from everything’. I had said it in a jokey kind of way, but the workshop had left both a sweet and sour taste in my mouth. And I think that’s what theatre is all about. The good with the bad, the happy with the sad, but eventually really real situations and really real people.

– Nadia x

Developing New Writing: The Writer’s Perspective

Earlier this year, Nathan Bryon was selected to be our Big Room Fellowship playwright, and as part of the programme we are helping him to develop his playwriting skills. At the end of October we organised a development workshop with director Titas Halder, ably assisted by our Director Placement, Nadia, and four actors, to thrash out some ideas. Here’s a little insight from Nathan in to what happened…

Last week, was intense. Super, super, super, super intense… We had 3 days of rehearsal and development of my new play, and I had no idea what is or was going to be about. Then I set myself the mad challenge of writing a draft of my new play in 5 days… This is the blog that tells you how it went – it involved lots and lots and lots of COFFEE and expensive Eat sandwiches.

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(L-R: Nadia, Tanya, Nathan & Tunji)

I wrote a short play called ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST about the police brutality in America. I wrote it whilst in Spain watching the Walter Scott police shooting because I had major, major rage and the play was an immediate response to that. I knew for my new full-length play that I didn’t want it to be an extension to ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST because I felt, whilst it was short, the play was complete.

I met Rachel, the producer, a few days before the workshop like “Shit, I haven’t actually written anything proper to rehearse with the actors!”, just because I didn’t know exactly what I even wanted the story to be about. Rachel explained that it’s not about going into the rehearsal with a full piece, it’s about going in with provocations and bits of script to play with to inspire myself. This conversation was a massive relief so I went away and made like a 40 page pack for the day which the poor director, Titas, had to go through, hahaha. I had decided I wanted to discuss the black experience, black rage, police brutality, identity and a billion other things. It was full of short scenes, my wants for the pieces, the themes I wanted to explore, and a whole lot more.

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The Wall on Day 1

I had an amazing room of actors – Tunji Lucas, Llewella Gideon, Tanya Fear and Michael Hadley – who all came in on their weekends which I know is a long ting, hahah. They were so generous with their stories and thoughts, and I don’t think at any time I was not scribbling something down in my notebook. We would write things on a piece of paper – thoughts we had, sentences that we liked  – and stick them on them wall so we were literally surrounded by it all day.

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Titas in directing mode while Simone and Bhavini from Team PP watch on.

One of my favorite parts of the three days was us all watching Kendrick Lemar’s music video for ‘Alright‘, and just being mesmerised by how amazing it was. Nadia, the assistant director, printed me out a pack of research about Kendrick who is my favorite rapper right now, which I am slowly getting through.

We could have locked ourselves in that room for another 5 days, but thank god we didn’t because at the end of every day we all felt drained, mentally and physically.

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Tanya and Michael

Writing-wise, I sat down with Titas before we began the workshop and he really liked some of the poetry led pieces I had written in ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST. I have a poetry background as that was what I did before writing plays. He gave me debbi tucker green’s BORN BAD and RANDOM. I knew of debbi tucker green and loved her work but I had never read BORN BAD which blew my head off, just the anger in that play. I loved the non-naturalistic writing style which was something I had been learning loads about from my time in Barcelona.

The first day of the rehearsal I came in with some abstract scripts with no character names, scene headings, or locations and Titas directed the actors to perform this… For me it was a spark of magic – that night when the actors left, I stayed in the room for another 3 hours and just wrote, wrote, wrote. I came up with 4 more abstract scenes, so excited at the thought of hearing them read out loud in this new style the next day. I always used to think abstract theatre like that was totally wanky and would think ‘What’s wrong with being naturalistic?’. The answer is ‘nothing’, but I am so glad I now know I can try to do both.

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Covering the room over Days 2&3

The discussions got more intense as the workshop progressed and  after we shared some of the work with the Paines Plough team, the actors left on Monday. I was left in the room now covered in pieces of paper and I had to make sense of all the things we discussed figure out, with this new writing style, how on earth I was going to make a play this way which at first was very, very, very scary.

When I write, I try my best to make some element of the story relate to my life so that I can make it honest. I wanted to base this play around my family and my mixed raced background, which I hope I did hahaha.

For 5 days I wrote non-stop in that room, drinking copious amount of coffee playing Kendrick Lemar pacing around, eating expensive PRET sandwiches, sticking things up on the wall… it was fucking amazing. It was one of those moments were I felt like a proper, proper writer with writer problems, hahah. Everyday I would come home and just be a bit distant because my mind couldn’t switch off and I was just thinking about what I was going to write the next day.

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Sorting through and organising my favourite thoughts from the 3 days.

Everyday I would print off my progress (don’t worry it was recycled, I’m not about that wasteful life) and read it all out loud. The play was really taking shape and by Friday I had finished… god knows if it is total shit, I really hope not as I am definitely attached… To top it off, Hanna the producer brought me in a BOOM bowl of Mac and Cheese on the Friday which I was so happs about, as there are only so many sandwiches you can eat.

On the Friday at 5:30 I had finished the whole thing and I ran to the pub with the Paines Plough crew dem haha and had lots of pints which was wonderful. I felt like that week I had achieved something boom!

On the Saturday morning I woke up totally knackered, but also still feeling really affected by the subject matter, and on the Saturday evening I got rage that this white dude called his dog Django after the slave from the movie in a pub… After vexing and ranting for hours on twitter (tweets now deleted) I took a breath and
stepped away and watched RuPauls Drag Race. I think the subject matter really swallowed me up at one point which was fucking intense, but super interesting.

But yeah long story short, I finished the first draft, the play is called MIXED BRAIN: THE MIXTAPE and it is all abstract and that, I am super excited at the prospect of developing it. It’s a story about me and my brother and our different upbringings, what it means to be mixed raced, and an incident that split my family.

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Draft 1…

Now I need to get back to re-drafting something else as I said I would have it done tomorrow… I hope I didn’t just lie to the producer… first let me make another tea!

– Nathan

One year on…

A year ago, Georgia Laws was an intern here at PPHQ. Now she’s assistant producer on an acclaimed new play. We asked her for an update…

It’s great to be back up on the PP blog one year on from my internship with Party Plough! What a year and what a lot I owe to the amazing little new writing company. I fully realise now what a brilliant, well-rounded introduction to the professional theatre world I was given at Paines Plough. My role as production assistant had a suitably broad title and thankfully I was able to assist with an edifying range of theatre processes and practices from drawing up contracts to organising press nights; experience which has proven invaluable now that I’m taking my first solo steps into the theatre world.

Georgia in her interning days at PPHQ

Georgia in her interning days at PPHQ

A month or so ago I went for coffee with the director of Lonesome Schoolboy Productions, Niall Phillips, as he was looking for someone to help him get his new show off the ground- a heartfelt piece of new writing by Steven Lally – a quick read of the script and I was hooked. It was the work I had done with Paines Plough, specifically on Kate Tempest’s WASTED, that had first attracted Niall to my CV and now I find myself in the exciting role of Assistant Producer for this beautiful and thought provoking play at The Drayton Arms. Lally’s play LETTERS FROM EVERYONE was up and running and on its way to perfect in no time whilst my past few weeks have been devoted to giving the play the reach it deserves without a team of new writing experts behind me!

LETTERS FROM EVERYONE’s first week has been a massive success with glowing reviews coming out every day as well as an OFFIE nomination for ‘Most Promising New Playwright’! I am so incredibly proud of the cast and crew who have all worked together to produce theatre that is minimal yet visceral, emotive and witty for a play that captures the everyday disaster and exhilaration in the banality of London life. The perceptive look at London offered in LETTERS FROM EVERYONE is not far from the picture of the city painted in Kate Tempest’s WASTED. The two writers have used very different tools to conceive a similar city. As is noted in A Younger Theatre’s review of LETTERS FROM EVERYONE, ‘the insights offered into these four very different people paint a picture of London as a whole: big, colourful, anonymous and brutal all at the same time.’

LETTERS FROM EVERYONE runs until the 20th December at The Drayton Arms theatre in South Kensington so plenty of time to catch this award nominated new play!

LETTERS FROM EVERYONE at The Drayton Arms

LETTERS FROM EVERYONE at The Drayton Arms

British writing takes centre stage in Uruguay

A couple of weeks ago Anthony Fletcher got in contact with PP to say he was going to see Mike Bartlett’s CONTRACTIONS in Montevideo, Uruguay and would we like to hear how it is received. Following our intrigue from LOVE, LOVE, LOVE in Argentina we were all pretty excited to hear what the production was like and how it went down and Anthony has very kindly written us a guest blog all about it:

Contractions at El Gapon in Montevideo

Mario Ferreira has recently finished his second stint as Artistic Director of the Comedia Nacional, Uruguay’s National Theatre. He is an unabashed fan of British writing. He is also, like many Uruguayan directors, on a constant search for new plays and playwrights. At the end of last year he stumbled across the work of Mike Bartlett. Cock had already been performed in Buenos Aires, but he came across a translation of Contractions. The play grabbed him, immediately. He took it to the city’s second largest theatre, El Galpon, and they agreed to stage it.

Bartlett is not the only British author whose work is currently being staged at El Galpon. Another recent hit was Mike Leigh’s Ecstasy, which won numerous awards. Perhaps less surprisingly, plays by Ayckbourn and Pinter have also been recently staged. But El Galpon is only one of the city’s many theatres. Montevideo, a city of 1.5 million inhabitants, apparently has more theatres per capita than Paris. An eclectic range of writers, South American, European and beyond are staged, but the British have staked a large claim. In January you could pick and choose from Bartlett, Leigh, Pinter, Caryl Churchill. Last year Blackbird by David Harrower was a surprise hit, and the Comedia staged the first Latin American production of Simon Stephens’ Harper Regan.

Elizabeth Vignoli and Guadalupe Pimienta

There are several reasons for this British success. Various local writers have attended the Royal Court’s international program, others have worked with Stephens at Sala Beckett in Barcelona. The legacy of both Pinter and Ayckbourn is also strong. But Mario ascribes it to the quality of the writing. He suggests that British writers have a capacity to create narratives that succeed in speaking about the way people live today, engaging with the modern world, in a humane and surprising fashion. Contractions, with its twisted view of the modern workplace, being a case in point. He views Bartlett’s office-bound play as a metaphor for the way in which the modern world is constantly demanding we make compromises in order to obtain something (ie a standard of living) which is not as beneficial as it first appears.

The fact that Bartlett’s play can translate so effortlessly and with such resonance to a culture so distinct from the UK reflects the way drama can cross borders within a globalised world. In a theatre-crazy city, the appetite of British writers to create narratives which reflect the contemporary human condition shines through.