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Playing For Britain

In 2014 we celebrated our 40th birthday and to mark the occasion we released a book packed full of images, insights and interesting articles. Over the coming months we’ll be sharing some of our favourite features from the book and what better way to kick us off, than with Matt Trueman on the history of new writing in British theatre.

PP40 book v12 p10-118

New writing is at the heart of British theatre. Every so called theatrical revolution this country has seen has centred on new plays, from the Angry Young Men in the 1950’s to the In-Yer-Face generation of the 1990’s. Back in 2009. when theatre critics were last trumpeting a golden age, it was motored by dazzling and ambitious new plays, including Jez Butterworth’s JERUSALEM and Lucy Prebble’s ENRON. Even 2014, a sudden flutter of springtime excitement was down to British playwrights firing on all cylinders: Simon Stephens with BIRDLAND, Mike Bartlett with KING CHARLES III, James Graham with PRIVACY.

As an art form, theatre is uniquely placed. It’s a communal art that exists — can only exist- in a public space and it’s an ephemeral art that can only exist in the present moment. Bearing all that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that,more so than visual art or film, theatre should set out to address the world that we all share, the here and now.

The stage is where we see the state of the nation – increasingly, even, the state of the world – reflected and retracted. Sometimes that means that classic plays, most notably Shakespeare’s, are used very deliberately to rub up against the moment in which they are staged. Mostly, though, it means a healthy culture of new plays that do exactly that- and it’s this that we term new writing.

The theatre critic Aleks Sierz has defined new writing [or ‘new writing proper’ as he sometimes calls it] as a genre in its own right. To qualify as new writing, a play must somehow address the present moment – even if only obliquely, perhaps through metaphor or analogy. Not all new plays do that: think of THE HISTORY BOYS or ONE MAN, TWO GUV’NORS, for example. But a great many do and, even if there’s a circularity at play in Sierz’s conviction that we can understand the present through new writing that seeks to understand the present, there is some truth in it.

Britain is unique in the import it bestows upon its playwrights. Think about the sorts of plays you see reviewed in the front end of newspapers, the news sections: big name actors in big name classics, yes, where casting can be a news story in its own right. but also big new plays with something newsworthy to say. Britain’s playwrights are allowed to be public intellectuals and political commentators.

That doesn’t happen so much in America, for all the strength of its playwriting culture. Musicals make the news pages there, other big Broadway shows too, but rarely new plays and almost never present-tense political work. The same goes for European countries, where directors rule the roost, smashing classic lays into contemporary sensibilities and resonance, not playwrights. Britain still places the playwright centre stage. Directors talk about- quote unouote— serving the text, usually through fidelity to it.

What’s more, British theatres insistence on novelty, be that in new writing or new work, is only increasing. The figures bear that out. In the 1980’s and 1990’s new work made up between 15 and 20 per cent of British theatre programming. In the last decade, that figure had swelled to 42 per cent. Nor was that work confined to small studio theatres in the same way. The majority took place in 200-seat plus venues.

By 2003, new writing in Britain was achieving an average of 63.6% at box office – up from 62% per cent only five years earlier or 57% in 1997. In the late eighties, new plays regularly played to half empty theatre and the Royal Court was responsible for about 10% of new writing across the entire country.

Today, the picture is vastly different, almost unrecognisable. Britain has built an established nationwide network for new writing. There are theatres dedicated entirely to new writing all over the country — the Traverse in Edinburgh, Live Theatre in Newcastle— and many more that ensure that it remains central to programming. London’s new writing scene, from the Royal Court to the Bush to Theatre503 with many in between, is thriving. And even organisations like Shakespeare’s Globe and the Royal Shakespeare Company have got new writing policies with a view to developing new work.

All of which is an ideal context tor Paines Plough – the national theatre of new writing, remember — to do what it’s done best for 40 years: develop and stage the best new plays across the nation.

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.

Meet the cast of GOOD WITH PEOPLE

GOOD WITH PEOPLE transfers to NYC

We’re thrilled to announce that the fourth production of Programme 2013 is David Harrower’s GOOD WITH PEOPLE which opens on Wednesday 27th March at 59 East 59 Theatrers, New York.

We co-commissioned the play with Oran Mor in 2010 as part of A Play, A Pie and A Pint and toured it from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Coventry, Newcastle and Dublin.

There was such demand amongst Scottish audiences that the production was then revived in partnership with Datum Point and the Traverse, alongside THE LETTER OF LAST RESORT by David Greig, as the centre-piece of the latter’s 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe Programme. A sold out run saw the critics lavish praise on both the play and our AD George’s production.

Now New York audiences will have a chance to see the show as it plays 3 1/2 weeks as part of both Brits Off Broadway and Tartan Week.

You can read all about the life of the production so far here.

To book tickets, click here.

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.

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!

A Play, a Cake and a Pint?

Cake is becoming a bit of a theme around here – as he told us yesterday, Sean is adjusting well to life as the PP intern by embracing the abundance of cakes in the office. And two of this year’s three Play, Pie and Pint shows feature cake in a crucial role. Woe betide any diabetics who come to work for Paines Plough.

It seems like only yesterday I saw the first run through of DIG and started to get a sense of what a beautiful and affecting play it was going to be. In fact, it was just over four weeks ago. And one month, 4 cities, and 24 cakes later, it has drawn to a close.

L-R: Stewart Porter, Louise Ludgate and Simon Macallum - the brilliant cast of DIG.

Here’s what the critics from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Coventry had to say…

‘This tightly written play is gripping, funny and extremely moving… A thoroughly affecting piece of theatre.’ Edinburgh Guide ★★★★

‘Tight and emotionally-chargedAs it builds to its powerful conclusion, Dig deftly uncovers the emotions which lie hidden beneath the surface of our everyday lives; and the hope which can often be found growing there.’ Edinburgh Spotlight ★★★★

‘It’s a simple idea, but over the resulting 45 minutes a surprisingly large emotional terrain is covered by George Perrin’s production…Douglas’ dialogue is sharply written and well observed…Louise Ludgate’s climatic monologue, a desperate plea to save her marriage, is impossibly affecting’ Exeunt Magazine ★★★★

‘Incredibly gripping…intelligent, compelling and humorous…The script builds to a tender and emotional conclusion, portrayed brilliantly by a talented trio of actors. Overall, Dig was a fantastic experience and it would have been excellent even if I hadn’t had a hot pie and a glass of red wine to keep me company.’ The Student ★★★★

‘Dig is the sort of brash, confident and hard-hitting piece of theatre which makes you sit up. A perfectly crafted short.’ Annals of Edinburgh Stage ★★★★

‘Very moving, very incisive…For a 45 minute long play “Dig” packs a lot of punch.’ Lothian Life ★★★★

‘A small masterpiece…this rich and shattering slice of lunchtime drama’  The Scotsman ★★★★

‘From hilarity to chilling suspense, Katie Douglas’s script controls the atmosphere in the room precisely…This exploration of the emotional effects of an economic climate where job security is a fantasy asks tough questions, and asks them very well.’ Edinburgh Evening News ★★★★

‘The play, the pie and the pint are all thoroughly enjoyable, but best by far is the play – wonderful, deep and satisfying.’ Warwick Courier

If you caught DIG, we’d love to know what you thought of it.

And if you didn’t – there’s still time to grab your pie and pint and settle down in front of either YOU CANNOT GO FORWARD FROM WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW, at the Belgrade Theatre until Friday, or JUICY FRUITS – playing at the Manchester Royal Exchange this week and heading to Coventry next week.

PP Around the UK in 81 days

As we are in rehearsals for 4 plays, with two set to tech and open next week, plus a 5th play to start rehearsals and a 6th to join in four weeks time – it can be difficult to keep track of who is where!

Enter the joy that is the EXCEL spreadsheet.  This paired with our brilliant intern, Amy, results in the glorious schedule below.

Take a peak to see who is rehearsing what, where and when…

Colour coded and everything!

Of course there is also Claire, Hanna and Amy who are our rocks at number 43 Aldwych during these busy periods.

A Play, A Pie and A Pint – On Tour

A Play, A Pie and A Pint

A Play, A Pie and A Pint

Later this year we’re presenting three World Première productions with our good friends at Oran Mor in Glasgow. Brand new work by Katie Douglas, David Watson and Leo Butler will open in Glasgow as part of the lunchtime series A Play, A Pie and A Pint, before heading out on tour. Oran Mor is in the heart of Glasgow’s West End – a vibrant and eclectic corner of this gorgeous city, home to students, families and some of our favorite cinemas, delis and bars in the UK.

Oran Mor

Oran Mor

First stop after Glasgow will be Edinburgh’s new writing power-house, The Traverse. A Scottish home to much of Paines Plough’s work of the past few years (including 2010’s PPP series as well as Orphans, After The End, Long Time Dead and The Straits), the Traverse is also one of the top venues for the Festival Fringe each summer.

Traverse Theatre

Traverse Theatre

From Edinburgh we head south to Manchester for our fourth visit in twelve months to this beacon of the north. After a fling with the Manchester International Festival this July we’ll be back at our home from home in M2, the formidable Royal Exchange Theatre, in October.

Royal Exchange Theatre

Royal Exchange Theatre

Last stop on this tour is Coventry, where 79% of our audience for last year’s PPP series were first time visitors to the theatre. We were in Coventry for Come To Where I’m From in July last year where our four writers painted a vivid picture of a fascinating city. You can still listen to the writers reading the plays themselves here.

Belgrade Theatre

Belgrade Theatre

We’ll be posting updates on Katie, David and Leo’s plays on this blog as well as on our website over the coming months. In the meantime, let us know if you’ll be coming to share a pie and a pint with us in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester or Coventry this autumn.

And, if you’re already a regular at Oran Mor’s PPP, vote them pub of the year by following the instructions below. We’re sure they’ll reward you royally.

To vote Oran Mor the Sunday Mail pub of the year:

Call 0901 229 2817 and enter the code 10. Calls cost 26p plus network extras. Calls from mobiles may be significantly higher.

Or text SMVOTE01 followed by a space and the code 10 to 84080.Texts cost 25p plus your standard rate.

Lines will close at noon on Thursday, June 2, 2011.

Where we are this week

Here’s a quick update on where our A PLAY, A PIE AND A PINT shows are this week:

FLY ME TO THE MOON by Marie Jones is at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre in Dublin. Click here for information and booking.

IN THE PIPELINE by Gary Owen is at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. Click here for information and booking.

THE UNCERTAINTY FILES by Linda McLean is at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Click here for information and booking.

CALAIS by April De Angelis is at the Live Theatre in Newcastle. Click here for information and booking.

GOOD WITH PEOPLE by David Harrower is on a break before opening at Live Theatre in Newcastle next week. Click here to read the outstanding ****review in The Guardian.

We’ve been getting fantastic feedback from audiences all over the UK and Ireland for our A PLAY, A PIE AND A PINT plays. Here are a few comments for THE UNCERTAINTY FILES by Linda McLean at the Live Theatre in Newcastle:

“A really thought provoking and engaging piece. Actors really inhabited the myriad characters in such a short time – very telling business with minimal props. Liked the “interview” style and very natural responses highly enjoyable.”  Karen, Lanchester

“Really interesting production. Would like to see it again. Liked the non usual.” Hazel, Newcastle

“I always love coming to the Live & I’m pleased you have new work from Paines Plough coming in – good to see excellent new writing venues joining together – will be keeping an eye out for future work (as always)” Jenny, Newcastle

We’ve also been interviewing the writers of all of our PPP plays. Here are some answers from April De Angelis, writer of CALAIS:

Is 45 minutes and max 3 actors easier or harder than 2 acts and a cast of ten? 

A one act play is definitely less slog than a two acter!

Should every play come with a complimentary pie and pint?

If every play in the universe came with a pie and a pint we’d get bored of the novelty and fatter as a constituency.

What is more scary, contemplating a blank sheet of paper, contemplating a deadline or contemplating the audience at the first performance?

The audience at a first night is the scariest. You can always tear up your writing at the end of the day..

In three words how do you feel about about the critics?

Critiscism ain’t art.

Do you agree with Thomas Edison that “Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration?”

Yes, mind you it’s an elusive 1%