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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.


GOOD WITH PEOPLE is now up and running Off-Broadway and here is a gallery of production photos to prove it, taken by Carol Rosegg.

The show is directed by our Joint-AD George and stars Blythe Duff and Andrew Scott-Ramsay in roles they originally performed back in 2010 at Oran Mor, with whom we initially co-commissioned and co-produced the play.

Last summer we revived the production with the Traverse Theatre and Datum Point, with whom we’re now presenting in New York.

You can see a fuller set of photos on Flickr, here, along with shots of all our past work.

At a Lonely Hotel, Two Lives That Overlapped


At a Lonely Hotel, Two Lives That Overlapped
‘Good With People’ at 59E59 Theaters

Published: April 3, 2013

Be warned in advance that there’s no inoculation against the viral effects of “Good With People,” David Harrower’s beautiful, deceptive wisp of a play at 59E59 Theaters. Though this two-character Scottish drama, which opened on Wednesday night as part of the Brits Off Broadway series, is less than an hour long, it is likely to have an enduring and varied afterlife in the shadows of your mind.

If that makes “Good With People” sound like a ghost story, it is in a sense, though it contains no elements of the classically supernatural. It is instead a story of how people haunt their own lives, failing to be entirely present, no matter where they are. Or with whom. Mr. Harrower’s title is a dark joke of the cosmic variety, since being good with people is, by his severe but forgiving standards, an unobtainable virtue.

It feels appropriate that the only people we meet in this play, directed with light and icy fingers by George Perrin, work in what are considered people-oriented professions. Helen (Blythe Duff) runs the desk at a Scottish hotel, inaccurately named the Seaview. Evan (Andrew Scott-Ramsay) is a nurse.

He is also the only guest in the town’s only hotel when he shows up one morning, though it is high season. Helen recognizes Evan’s name, and the two come into focus for each other as hazy, vaguely hurtful figures from a mutual chapter in their pasts. Helen reminds Evan that he once knew her son, Jack Hughes. Evan mishears her, or pretends to. “J’accuse?” he answers.

Sara Krulwich/NY Times

An empty hotel by the water (a loch); a man and a woman with a shared history and some unfinished business: this is the stuff of many a familiar fictional idyll, romantic or spooky or suspenseful. Holding true to that form, the plot will lead into a cross-fire of recriminations amid a slow, steady buildup of sexual tension. But you don’t expect what happens to happen — that is, if it really does happen, which is debatable.

Seducing an audience by the slow, blurred divulgence of information is a specialty of Mr. Harrower. This was evident in his best-known work, the brilliant “Blackbird,” staged at the Manhattan Theater Club in 2007 and one of the most powerful dramas of this century. That play too was essentially a protracted dialogue between a man and a woman, who in that case turned out to have had a sexual relationship when the woman was still a girl.

The bonds that connect Helen and Evan in “Good With People” aren’t anywhere near as strong or as visceral. This allows Mr. Harrower greater latitude in considering how we connect, or fail to, with others. His canvas is surprisingly wide here, touching on bullying (both by schoolchildren and, wait for it, members of the Taliban), small-town class hierarchies, military life, the divisive existence of a nuclear base, foreign wars, one-night stands and a local wedding.

These disparate subjects come up without strain in Helen and Evan’s conversation. They all relate quite specifically to two lives that have only on occasion overlapped. But the talk subtly nudges you into thinking about the failure of most social structures and the poignant hopes for comfort and security that we pour into them.

If the dialogue is mostly naturalistic, the staging is not. Beneath the words Helen and Evan exchange, a whole other relationship is taking place.

It is given life in an extraordinary series of tableaus that find the characters suddenly illuminated, crouched fetally or reaching out or dancing together clumsily in a state of mutual surprise. These movements are both precise and hauntingly elliptical, reminiscent of the subliminal choreography of Steven Hoggett on “Black Watch“ and “Once.”

Ms. Duff and Mr. Scott-Ramsay are perfection. They expertly embody characters who are confined and isolated by class, age and gender. At the same time they seem to belong to a world of shadows, a Jungian realm conjured by the masterly lighting of Tim Deiling, the soundscape of Scott Twynholm and the set and costume design of Ben Stones, which only seem simple.

Though its length is about 55 minutes, “Good With People” leaves you feeling far from empty. For all the phantasmal effects of its staging, it is a dense work, and you may find yourself sorting through lines and images later in a way you seldom do after a more conventional full-length play.

There’s been talk of a return of interest in the short story. And I don’t think it’s just because of our much lamented shrinking attention spans. A first-class short story — especially from a master like Alice Munro or William Trevor — forces us to focus and savor in ways novels usually do not.

Surely there’s room on the stage these days for the dramatic equivalent of great short stories, for plays that make concentrated use of theatrical methods to distill ineffable thoughts and feelings. “Good With People” is short, but it’s anything but small.

Good With People

By David Harrower; directed by George Perrin; designed by Ben Stones; sound by Scott Twynholm; lighting by Tim Deiling; stage manager, Raynelle Wright; production manager, Kevin McCallum. A Traverse Theater Company and Datum Point, in association with Paines Plough, production, presented by 59E59 Theaters, Elysabeth Kleinhans, artistic director; Peter Tear, executive producer, as part of the 2013 Brits Off Broadway festival and Scotland Week. At the 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, Manhattan; (212) 279-4200; Through April 21. Running time: 55 minutes.

WITH: Blythe Duff (Helen) and Andrew Scott-Ramsay (Evan).

Link to the review on the NY Times website.

Meet the cast of GOOD WITH PEOPLE

Top tips for a week Off-Broadway

We’ve landed in the big apple to open our next production of Programme 2013 – David Harrower’s GOOD WITH PEOPLE.

The last time we had a show stateside was in summer 2006 when we transferred AFTER THE END by Dennis Kelly here to 59 East 59 Theaters.

We’ve been back a few times since then, mainly to visit the Orchard Project in upstate New York and to catch up on shows here in the city, but it’s never quite the same as having your own show Off-Broadway.

So for the rest of this week our AD George, Designer Ben Stones and Lighting Designer Tim Deiling will be squeezing the best out of the city around their tech week. Their interests include theatre, burgers and dive bars.

Top tips anyone?

Calling playwrights: The Traverse 50

Here’s a great opportunity from our friends at The Traverse, with whom we recently co-produced David Harrower’s GOOD WITH PEOPLE as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

As part of The Trav’s 50th anniversary celebrations they are searching for the best voices from Scotland and beyond. They want to find 50 writers who embody the spirit of invention, adventure and risk taking that has come to define the Traverse over the last 50 years.

The Traverse Fifty is a year-long writer’s attachment to the Traverse, featuring   tailor-made events for the writers, including panel discussions, workshops and one-on-one dramaturgy with the artistic team. The programme will culminate in a New Writing Festival featuring the work of the Traverse Fifty. At the end of the process The Traverse will offer three seed commissions.

So The Traverse are looking for 50 brilliant writers of any age, from anywhere, who have had no more than two professional productions staged.

Sounds like a cracking gig to us. Fore more details visit Traverse Fifty.

Go, go, go!

GOOD WITH PEOPLE production photos

Here’s a little gallery of GOOD WITH PEOPLE production photos. The show is playing at The Traverse in our Traverse / Datum Point co-production until 26 August as part of The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. You can book tickets here, but toodle-pip, because there aren’t many left.

GOOD WITH PEOPLE is written by David Harrower, directed by our Joint AD George, and starring Blythe Duff and Richard Rankin. Production photos were shot by Robbie Jack.

You can see the whole set of photos – and hundreds of photos from our archive – over on our Flickr stream.

Edinburgh here we come!

Despite what you might think from the weather we are into August, which means one thing…Edinburgh Fringe is upon us again! And we for one can’t wait.

Paines Plough are at the Traverse Theatre this year presenting Good With People by David Harrower as part of a double bill of Scottish new writing with David Greig’s The Letter of Last Resort. It opens this Sunday and if you’re interested in seeing it you can book through the website here.

But as well as opening the show, we have also been very busy putting together our lists of all the new plays we want to see. As usual there are far too many shows we want to see and too little time! Some clever diary scheduling is needed to fit everything in.

So here is a quick list of just some of the shows we will be trying to catch…

And so much more… we’ll report back on stuff we’ve seen, and please let us know your tips for stuff we shouldn’t miss by leaving a comment or tweeting us @painesplough.

Edinburgh here we come!

Good with People rehearsal diary – Day 5

Final day in Glasgow before we break and regroup again mid-July. It was our opportunity to try and bring together all the work that had been done over the week. A conscious effort had been made to pry even further into David’s text than last time, to unravel it once again. So now was the time to make some decisions, and to let others make themselves, to be clarified in July.

The morning was spent playing with the roles that we had listed, in the last scenes of the play. We found that there were a lot of layers to such an activity. Striking a balance between imposing a role onto a scene, and reacting to that of another was not a simple business. Often the best results were unexpected, when two dynamics clashed and created something new.

The more factual, domestic aspects of the play had to be dealt with too. We revisited all the timelines that had been drawn up over the past four days and discussed the potentially humdrum, possibly revealing details of the play. Table work like this can sometimes feel a bit forensic when dealt with badly, but having a clear picture of the years, days and minutes preceding each scene gave a sense of clarity that all four of us appreciated.

We went to the extent of setting out the space with chairs and tables, to map the geography of the downstairs part of the hotel. An impromptu improvisation told us a lot about the confined atmosphere and how Evan and Helen move in it.

Finally, we had a run through of the play. Without any specific direction in mind both Richard and Blythe experimented with whatever aspects of the week that they saw fit at any one point. And though they both spoke about feeling overwhelmed by the number of choices they could make at certain moments, it made us realise that the decisions are endless when playing with such a rich, compact text. With time the decisions will become clear, and final choices made when we reconvene in July.

Homework set, Richard and Blythe agreed to meet before July to read together and continue the conversation. The English quota caught the delayed train back to London, with a day’s rest before The 8th rehearsals on the Sunday.

Good with People rehearsal diary – Day 3

Today was a busy one, no two ways about it. We spent the morning with pens and heads in hand, finishing the detailed work we began yesterday. When we got to the end of the script there were far more questions produced than answers given, but that is the beauty of rehearsals. All in good time.

With the whole play fresh in mind, we spoke about the many roles the characters play in life, to other people and for each other. And if this sounds like a potential fun game to play in the lounge with someone you are close to, our advice would be otherwise. Unless you’re prepared to accuse them of being a mixture of luster, savage and snob, it’s best to stay clear.

A few more lists added to our detective work and before you know it the actors are on their feet for the first time. This transition from chair to feet can be a decisive one. Some leave it weeks, others start on the first day. For us, it was the right time to play with space and proximity, and to get out of our heads after two days of conversation.

Not to go without mention was the arrival of David Harrower, the playwright himself, at the end of the day. Rather than overwhelm him questions from every page, we asked more relevant, playable questions and he also got the chance to see how the chemistry between Evan and Helen is developing.

Please do the same yourself tomorrow.

Ps. If anyone can tell us what the bird fish and the tree mean in the picture, we’ll mail you down a Fried Mars Bar.