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The Earth You’re Changing

In January 2014 we hosted a panel discussion at the National Theatre with four of our alumni: actors HARRIET WALTER and FIONA VICTORY, playwright STEPHEN JEFFREYS and director JOHN TIFFANY. Here’s what they had to say about their time at PPHQ…

PP40 book v12 p10-1110


FV: David Pownall and John Adams and the actor Chris Crooks were out of work and miserable and they were drinking beer at the Paines pub in Bedfordshire. As David Pownall tells it, he said, “Oh stop moaning. I’ll write you a play. You will act in it, you will direct it, and we’ll go to the Edinburgh Festival.” And they did. It was a play called Crates on Barrels and it was about a Greek philosopher —

HW: Socrates.

FV: Yes, Socrates — and it was very good.

HW: Richard III Part Two was my first with Paines Plough, it was quite a large piece involving lots of music, two or three different time zones and George Orwell- pretty ‘Powellian’. David’s imagination was immense. Steven Boxer had had a musical training and a teaching training, and he wrote wonderful music. I was listening to it recently. He was only 23 and he was writing these wonderful complex tunes and –

FV: – and teaching everybody else! People who couldn’t sing, had never sung, couldn’t read music, couldn’t play anything, he somehow managed to give everyone their line and teach them how to do it calmly.

HW: At the time it was very unusual to get a young bunch of actors together at the early stage of a play and evolve it with them with everyone doing the music, and the costumes, and the props, and everything ourselves, then tour it all over the country

FV:— in a small van!

HW: We used to do the fit ups and strike the sets ourselves. A couple of people helped with the lighting, and we used to do the ironing

FV: – and sacking skips and making tea and whatever.


By the time I joined, David had stopped writing all the plays himself. It went from being a writer’s company with an apostrophe-s to a writers’ company with an s-apostrophe. There was a wave of new people, David Moat, Elizabeth and, the young Terry Johnson — a mere slip of a lad at the time- and we were all brought in. We were the first people were writing plays that weren’t by David Pownall, and that was rather difficult. You thought, ‘oh I’ve got to write a play that takes place in three different time zones with madrigals and people playing sackbutts and things: I started doing that and it was a complete disaster.

John Adams, the director, commissioned this play from me and it wasn’t going well. He said, “Well, you’ve got to finish it this weekend” and then, “What I’ll do is this: I’ll leave you in my flat, in Leamington Spa, and I’ll just clear off and you’ll finish it by the end of the weekend.” John’s mistake was that he had a priceless collection of malt whiskeys. He came back and found that I’d barely written a word. He said, “You’re trying to write the wrong kind of play. I want you to write your kind of play.” That’s what Paines Plough then did: it successfully mutated from a David P company to a company that could do any kind of new play at all. Somehow, Paines Plough’s always been very good at negotiating those awkward moments of handover.

I came back in the Pip Broughton era. She was — and still is- a wonderful director. Paines Plough had evolved into a matriarchy. We had offices by Warren Street tube station and Ian Rickson and I were the only men in the company. There was Pip and Sue Storr and Vicky Heywood. It was a very, very lively time, because there was a lot of exciting new writing around.

There were two phases under Pip. One consisted of a lot of very political plays about early Thatcherism, set in different parts of the country reflecting local conditions. Then, by around 1986 or so, she’d had enough of that and did another of those big, daring Paines Plough changes. We suddenly became a big company doing big plays. We did a version of GERMINAL. We did my play THE CLINK, another by Nigel Gearing called BERLIN DAYS HOLLYWOOD NIGHTS. Huge plays.

When Pip left Anna Furse took over. She came from a dance background and, for a while, it almost became a performance art company. So Paines Plough was in a constant state of mutation. That’s why it survived.


Vicky [Featherstone] couldn’t really get arrested when Paines Plough gave her a job. She’d left the West Yorkshire Playhouse and moved to London, but couldn’t get herself taken seriously as a director of new writing. The Bush gave her a job for a little while — Literary Manager, I think— then she went into TV. She was doing really well, developed Touching Evil and Silent Witness, worked at the BBC and independents, then went for this job at Paines Plough — and the visionary board took a chance on her.

As Stephen says Paines Plough attracts writers. By the time I arrived in 2001, we were really developing a wonderful stable, people like Abi Morgan, Jack Thorne, Sarah [Kane] obviously, Mark Ravenhill was writing a lot for them at the time, Gregory Burke, David Greig, Enda Walsh, Philip Ridley.

We got the Peggy Ramsey award that year, which was —£50,000, wasn’t it? We decided we were just going to commission eight playwrights, and we bullied the Menier Chocolate Factory, which was still in its infancy, into taking all four plays. Philip Ridley wrote this amazing play called Mercury Fur, which was the first one I directed. Ben Whishaw was in it and — we didn’t quite realise at the time— but it was a bloodbath by the end. The Chocolate Factory didn’t have a shower, so some of our hard earned sponsorship money— I shouldn’t admit this — bought the Chocolate Factory its first ever shower. Actors ever since have got Paines Plough to thank…

In 2004, I was in Mexico directing a play over a summer and Vicky called me one morning and went, “Guess what, I’ve been given a new job running the National Theatre of Scotland.” To go from, you know a company like Paines Plough to running —to setting up — a national theatre was amazing. We always said— Neil Murray, who was the producer, he still is, David Greig who was the dramaturg at the time, me and Vicky we said, ‘Well, we’re going to run it like Paines Plough, but with £6 milllion.” Having done what we did at Paines Plough for £120,000 from the Arts Council, we knew what that money could buy. We were determined not to be frivolous or fritter it away.

What James and George have done amazingly is to treat the whole country like it’s a venue, which is so inspiring. The output has doubled or tripled. Vicky and I followed the model of two shows a year and when you look at the volume of work that these two are managing, on not much more money, you look at the list now of things coming through in 2014, it’s incredible. It really is.

One more thing: I’ve been under a delusion for many, many years. I thought Paines Plough meant the plough of Tom Paine, the radical thinker, the surface of the earth you’re changing. Only now do I find out it was thought up in a boozer!

Theatre Uncut: Dispatches from Edinburgh

So here we are, nearing the end of another Edinburgh Festival. It’s been an incredible month. Theatre Uncut have presented 17 new short pieces, worked with more than 20 new actors, and several Edinburgh returnees, thrown a party, had a raffle, won a Fringe First(!) and generally had a wonderful time, working hard and making things.

Dalgety and Fragile by David Greig at Paterson's Land 20-24th August, 3pm

We’ve also been lucky enough to see some wonderful pieces of work: Gemma Whelan is extraordinary in Philip Ridley’s brand new one woman show ‘Dark Vanilla Jungle’. Phil Nichol’s new stand-up-slash-storytelling is both raucously funny and deliciously poignant. Gary Beadle is brilliant in the Banksy-inspired ‘The Room in the Elephant’ directed by our very own Emma Callander.

As always the Fringe has been as changeable as the Edinburgh weather: plain sailing one minute, sunshine and smiles, and then suddenly it’s raining. For us this manifests in short bursts of stress right before our Monday morning Traverse shows, or in the tech for our David Greig double bill. The joy of having two Artistic Directors, however, means that you are never on your own in the midst of a bafflingly broken projector, or a smashed thermos… Or sourcing a black feathered detachable ‘right wing’… Or police lapels that won’t re-attach. Or… you get the picture.

Edinburgh is as always, the place where you get to feel the most theatrical, most resourceful, and most delighted in our wonderful profession. It is a place where you can bump into every actor you have ever met- and meet them for a random courtyard drink, or visit their shows. It is a place where we can work with venues and casts, producers and writers in a way that is impossible elsewhere. It is a place where we can test ourselves and our work: play and grow and take shape. Indeed, our David Greig double bill includes a full scale production of ‘Dalgety’, the play that we previewed as a rapid response script at the Traverse in Edinburgh last year. Coupled with ‘Fragile’, another play that David wrote for Theatre Uncut, it is a joy to see how Edinburgh has helped us shape those pieces of work and run with them.

The double bill of ‘Dalgety’ and ‘Fragile’ by David Greig runs to the 24th August, 3pm daily at Paterson’s Land, venue 247. Tickets still available.


New shows: nabokov and Theatre Uncut

Ticket booking alert! Three new shows from two of our Associate Companies coming right up in Edinburgh and Watford.

Yes siree, you don’t want to miss these. Theatre Uncut heads back to Edinburgh with two of its past hits from playwright royalty and current Charlie & The Chocolate Factory adapter David Greig, alongside a return to The Traverse with a new set of plays for 2013 to follow last year’s Fringe First Award winning collection.

And once your liver has repaired after Edinburgh, head to Watford for nabokov‘s latest show from the dazzling pen of EV Crowe.

Theatre Uncut presents
Dalgety and Fragile by David Greig

Fringe First, Herald Angel and Spirit of the Fringe award winners Theatre Uncut present a double bill of David Greig plays written for the international Theatre Uncut action event. Two rural coppers are faced with the Naked Rambler in Dalgety; while Fragile looks at the effects of the cuts in mental health support.

Paterson’s Land
20-24 August, 3pm

Theatre Uncut at the Traverse: presenting the 2013 new short play season

Theatre Uncut presents new plays that aim to get people thinking, talking and taking action on what is going on in the world around us. Following the success at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe (winning a Fringe First, Herald Angel and Spirit of the Fringe Award) Theatre Uncut returns to the Traverse with a brand new collection tackling the issues that are facing us all right now. This is rough, vital theatre that raises debate and calls for action.

Traverse Theatre
10am on Monday 5 / Monday 12 / Monday 19 August

nabokov and Watford Palace Theatre present
Virgin by E.V. Crowe

Emily, a busy working mother and commuter, can’t wait for broadband to reach her remote country farmhouse. When ambitious young Sally arrives to work with her on the project, she’s invited to stay. But being connected means different things to these two generations of women, and Emily finds her ideas of friendship and privacy tested to the limit…
A witty, provocative, compelling new play from E. V. Crowe, directed by Joe Murphy.
Watford Palace Theatre
26 September – 19 October 2013

See y’all there!

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

Open Auditions: Stephens and Kelly are your faves

Huge thanks to everyone who came to our Open Auditions yesterday. We had a ball meeting you all. It never ceases to amaze us how much talent and passion there is out there. It was a really inspiring day.

To everyone who came along, please stay in touch. Keep us informed about your work and let us know whenever you’re in something we can come and see – we’ll do our best to make it along. And of course, if we liked what you did yesterday, we’ll keep you in mind for future castings.

We loved seeing extracts of plays ranging from those we know well to some we’d never heard of. One of the joys of Open Auditions days is being reminded of plays we’d not seen or read for years, or compiling reading lists of plays we’d not come across before. So we went scampering off to re-read Pyranees, and hit Amazon for a fix of Morris Panych.

The usual suspects were popular – David Greig, Mike Bartlett, Penelope Skinner, Moira Buffini, Simon Stephens, Mark Ravenhill, Nina Raine – and it was also great to hear some extracts we’d not seen before at Open Auditions from Anthony Weigh and Ella Hickson, amongst many others.

During the day we conducted a completely unscientific and completely subjective straw poll… “Who’s your favourite playwright”? It was hotly contested, partisan and impressively diverse.

But we can reveal… drum roll, speeches at the ready… that your joint favourite playwrights on total votes cast are… Simon Stephens and Dennis Kelly.

Closely on their coat tails were Caryl Churchill, Jez Butterworth, Mike Bartlett, sarah Kane, Philip Ridley, Abi Morgan, Laura Wade, David Eldridge, Moira Buffini, Lee Hall, Martin McDonagh, Alecky Blythe, Mark Ravenhill, David Greig and Lucy Prebble – all carding multiple votes.

And in the interests of sharing, all these great writers got a nod too: Dawn King, Tim Crouch, Anthony Minghella, Ché Walker, Joel Horwood, Alexi Kaye Campbell, Stephen Sondheim, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Nicola McCartney, Ella Hickson, Anya Reiss, Michael Wynne, Nick Payne, Joanna Murray-Smith, April De Angelis, Marina Carr, Duncan Macmillan, Luke Barnes, Jacob Richmond, Martin Lynch, Alice Birch, David Mamet, Shelagh Stephenson, Leo Butler, Peter Moffatt, Steve Thompson, Nick Dear, Robert Holman, Anthony Weigh, Bruce Norris, Steven Bloomer, Mikhail Bulgakov, Hayley Squires, Cat Jones and Neil LaBute.

Countdown to Edinburgh…

Last week brought the launch of the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe programme and we were eagerly checking the post box that morning for our copy of the Fringe brochure. When it did arrive there was an instant scramble over the single copy as we all wanted to take a peek at the wealth of shows on offer this year.

And Paines Plough will be taking a show up to the Fringe this year as well – David Harrower ’s Good With People directed by Paines Plough co-artistic director George Perrin, designed by Ben Stones and starring Blythe Duff. The production will be playing at the Traverse Theatre between 4th-26th August as part of a double-bill with David Greig’s The Letter of Last Resort. The play originally started life back in 2010 as part of our A Play, A Pie and A Pint season at Òran Mór, so it is exciting to have it return. And as a play set in Scotland from a Scottish writer, Edinburgh seems its natural home.

If you are interested in seeing Good With People you can book through the Traverse website or call the box office on 0131 228 1404. And of course you can also book through the Edinburgh Fringe website.

So the countdown to the Edinburgh Fringe has finally begun – we can’t wait!

Jubilee Playwrights

One thinks one's subjects write marvellous plays

So here’s an interesting feature on identifying the 60 British playwrights who’ve had the biggest influence during the reign of Her Maj.

We’re proud to have premiered the work of seven of them: Mike Bartlett, David Greig, Terry Johnson, Sarah Kane, Dennis Kelly, Philip Ridley and Mark Ravenhill. Later this year we’ll be premiering the work of an eighth with LONDON by Simon Stephens.

We’ve also been fortunate to work with a number of others on the list over the years. Our LATER series produced work by Richard Bean, Moira Buffini, David Eldridge, Patrick Marber, Roy Williams and Laura Wade, and David Edgar wrote for our COME TO WHERE I’M FROM series in 2010.

So what do you think of the list? Who’s been missed off who should be enthroned? And who will come to the fore in years to come?

No need to get back to work just yet after the Jubilee celebrations, post a comment instead.

We ♥ Actors

Lots of lovely actors gathering at Open Auditions

We had another brilliant day of Open Auditions at The Actors Centre in London yesterday, meeting 180 actors for the first time.

Open Auditions are our way of broadening our horizons when it comes to casting, and getting to meet actors we might not otherwise get to know. So we split the PP team across three rooms and meet actors for a quick chat, and ask them to prepare a duologue from a play written in the last 15 years. Joining us yesterday were Charlotte Bennett and Fran Bradley from our Associate Company Forward Theatre Project, director Titas Halder, and freelance casting director Sophie Davies.

It’s a great way to spend a Sunday. Aside from the wealth of talent on show, we met some fascinating people from all walks of life, with amazing stories to tell…

We also get to spend the day listening to extracts from brilliant plays by writers we love. The most popular choices of the day were COCK by Mike Bartlett and EIGENGRAU by Penelope Skinner. Both of which we thoroughly approve of! We also heard extracts from plays by Jez Butterworth, debbie tucker green, Jack Thorne, David Greig, Dennis Kelly, Laura Wade, Tom Basden, Martin McDonagh, Fiona Evans, Moira Buffini, DC Moore, Simon Stephens, Anya Reiss, Anthony Neilson, Nick Payne, Chloe Moss and lots more. A few people even wrote their own duologues, which were great to hear.

So what happens next? We keep everyone’s details on file and if we liked what you showed us we’ll be sure to keep you in mind for future castings. Lots of people we’ve met for the first time through Open Auditions have subsequently been invited in to meet for our productions. At the end of the day yesterday, as always after Open Auditions, the pub discussion centred around finding parts for people who really blew us away.

We’re so grateful to everyone who took the time to come and meet us. It was a real pleasure, and we hope you’ll all stay in touch.

Next stop Edinburgh, where we’re meeting 192 actors over two days when we’re taking up residence with our friends at C Venues. If you’re coming along, check out our Top Tips here.

And if you’ve got any feedback for us, or ideas how we can improve the Open Auditions experience, please let us know by posting a comment.

Open Auditions

On Sunday we held Paines Plough’s first ever open auditions.

As we wrote about last week, we have committed to meeting at least 700 actors previously unknown to Paines Plough each year, both in London and across the UK.

The first of these meetings took place on Sunday as the Paines Plough team, along with Titas Halder, Resident Assistant Director at The Donmar Warehouse, Joe Murphy, Artistic Director of nabokov and representatives from our Associate Companies, took over the Actors’ Centre in Cambridge Circus. We were delighted by the turn-out, and thrilled to meet so many new actors. It was also great to hear work by some of our glittering alumni, including Dennis Kelly, David Greig, DC Moore and Mike Bartlett.

Thank you to those of you that came down. For anyone who wasn’t able to secure a place, or who would be interested in attending a Paines Plough open audition in the future, there’s information on our website here. We will have more information on the next open audition soon.

Thanks also to the Actors’ Centre for being such wonderful hosts.

7 hours and 168 meetings later... Joe Murphy, Artistic Director of nabokov

Did you meet us on Sunday at the open auditions? If so, let us know your thoughts about the day by leaving us a comment via the link at the top of the post…