Eating at the theatre – obnoxious or pretentious?

There have been recent discussions about the role of theatre etiquette in modern society, from people, including Imelda Staunton, saying that it should simply be unacceptable to – for example eat – in theatres to others trying to break down all rules of behaviour related to ‘traditional’ theatre-going, in an attempt to make theatre more broadly accessible. I mentioned the discussion on this blog a few months ago, and decided that it was worth a whole post, because it’s an interesting topic, which seems to polarise opinion.

*Author’s note* I should clarify here that I am talking about legal behaviour which is arguably not the “best” theatre etiquette, rather than illegal behaviour, such as filming actors/productions or photographing copyright sets. The questions about whether bootlegged theatre makes it accessible exist, but the ways to make theatre accessible should be legal, and bootlegging is not. This is a discussion of etiquette not law. *End note*

Discussions about how to behave at the (mainstream) theatre have existed since we’ve had theatres, and the rules have changed again and again: in the Early Modern period everyone spoke throughout performances in the playhouses, and it was common to heckle performers who were felt to be performing less well. By the nineteenth century, theatre and opera were events attended in white tie and ballgowns (though paying attention to what was going on onstage was optional)… I’d say we’re now in a middle ground: we have more respect for working performers and other audience members than the Elizabethans, and less “decorum” than the Victorians (unless you’re going to the opera, where a few venues still have dress code rules). And, as always with something like a middle ground, or a compromise, no one is happy, and everyone would like the norm to be pulled in one direction or the other.

Topics which I’ve heard people fight endlessly about include (and are not limited to):

  • Is it acceptable to eat at the theatre, as you might at home or the cinema? (The conversation which started me thinking about this post.)
  • Is it acceptable to simply wear casual clothes to the theatre, and not dress up even a little bit?
  • Is it acceptable to talk at the theatre?
  • Is it acceptable to use your phone (ie. read a text message, not take pictures/film of the performance, which – we’ve agreed – is illegal) at the theatre?
  • Is it acceptable to bring a small child to the theatre? What if that child makes noise?
  • Is it acceptable for disabled people to attend the theatre, if they are going to make noise/move out of their seat during the performance? Should this only happen at relaxed performances?

The general premise behind anyone asking these questions, and usually they’re someone watching someone else do one of these things and being irritated by it, is to what extent, when in a shared, public experience, like the theatre, you should be conscious of other people’s experience, and adapt your own behaviour for the so-called “common good”. The flip side is – how much is another’s comfort in traditions (by contrast with genuine problems) worth preventing people who might not have attended very much theatre, and had these rules drilled into them by well-meaning middle class families, from attending the theatre by criticising them for wearing the wrong clothes/behaving in the “wrong” way?

I think, in the case of most of these questions, the answer is “yes, of course it’s acceptable” (or “it should be acceptable, so do it until it becomes acceptable”), though perhaps some even more for some than others. If anyone is offended by your choice of clothing to the theatre, I give you full permission to ignore that opinion: the theatre is not an elite environment in which everyone must be dressed according to your neighbour’s idea of ‘propriety’. Wear whatever makes you comfortable, whether that’s white tie/a ballgown or jeans and trainers.

In terms of bringing children, I think it needs to be encouraged: theatre is a wonderful opportunity to share with other people and enjoy spectacle and thought, and the younger people are when they begin to enjoy it, the more likely they are to continue to throughout their lives (like reading). And – guess what – children are noisy and indecorous. That’s life, and theatre is about liveness. Bring the little children.

I hesitated about even including the question about disability, because I think the answer is so patently obvious that it is insulting to include it, but it is a question raised regularly, and I wanted to stand up and say that if someone thinks that disabled people shouldn’t attend the theatre, they should keep that thought to themselves, and get over it. If they think disabled people should only attend relaxed performances, which is basically the same thing – “please don’t make noise in my space ” – just attempted to be hidden, again, please, keep that thought to yourself until you’ve gotten over it. I’m sure your parents told you “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it”, and “disabled people shouldn’t come to the theatre because they disrupt my enjoyment” is a supremely not-nice, awful thing to say.

Note: This is not to say that there isn’t huge value in relaxed performances, which allow people to, for instance hear fewer very loud noises, or see a performance with tempered flashing lights, if those are things which will facilitate their enjoyment. But anyone who suggests that relaxed performances are the only ones which should be attended by disabled people because of “disruption” needs to take a long hard look at themselves and think again.

To come back to the question about eating, and with it talking and texting, I think the issue here is making unnecessary noise/light, which can distract those around you (to those returning to children/disability and trying to claim that this is also distracting noise: maybe, but human beings are allowed to exist in the same space as you, so I’d call it necessary noise.) For me, the line is eating is fine (I won’t often do it, because snack food in theatres is horribly expensive) but maybe try for something other than sweets with crinkly wrappers; talking is okay, provided its a short whisper to your neighbour about what your watching, rather than a full-length, full volume conversation about what to buy for dinner afterwards; and phones aren’t okay – you’re glowing, and no one can look at the stage, because they’re looking at you instead.

Those are my thoughts, and for me, I’d say the first few (clothes and people making noise) are ones I wouldn’t consider negotiable in different circumstances (though I’m interested to hear what you think), while the last three I think are more dependent on circumstances (e.g. I’d have less of an issue with someone using a phone in a light, outdoor performance than a dark indoor theatre). What do you think? What is/isn’t acceptable theatre behaviour? Please let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it.

That’s all for this week, thank you as always for reading!

Emily xxx

My West End Wishlist

My West End Wishlist

I first saw this post title on someone else’s blog, and thought it was really catchy! (Unfortunately, I can’t find the post now; if this is your title, please post in the comments and I will credit you!) They wrote about what productions they wanted to see in the West End, which was really interesting, and got me thinking more generally: what do I want out of specifically a West End show? What am I wishing for if I go see a play or musical in a large, commercial theatre in the West End of London, usually for a not-insignificant amount of money? How is it different from what I want if I go see fringe theatre? Or am-dram? (Note: “am-dram” is often used derogatorily. Not so in this context: I enjoy and think there is a lot to be praised in amateur theatre. But that’s a whole blog post in itself.) 

There are certain things I want from theatre, regardless of what I’m seeing or where I’m going. I always want to have some sort of emotional or intellectual reaction: I want to have been made to feel something or think about a difficult social question. (For more on this, see my post about my favourite ever productions, where I explain certain things about what makes me tick when I go see a production.) I also always want to see that artists (actors, directors, designers…) have created something interesting and exciting, whatever that may be in the context of the particular production. But I expect very different things from productions’ different theatre contexts. For me, a great West End production, beyond being emotionally/intellectually inspiring, also fulfils these criteria:

1. Great production value

It’s no secret that West End productions have higher budgets than a fringe production. If I go see a fringe production, I’m aware that the budgets can restrict the extent to which they can fulfill big ideas. When you have a West End budget, I want to experience awe inspiring set, costumes, lighting, sound worlds… It’s always nice when this happens in a fringe show, obviously, and it does, but it’s disappointing when you feel like something in the West End, which you’re likely to have paid upwards of £50 per ticket for, has been half-assed in the production department.

2. Immaculate choreography/blocking

This doesn’t​ always happen, because casts change, people take holiday, have small mind-blanks, you name it. Actors are human too. But on the whole, in the West End, casts are in roles for 6 months or year long contracts. I expect actors to know what they’re doing in most contexts, but there’s a level of polish that comes from doing eight shows a week for months and months that I expect more from the West End than fringe shows (or even large scale commercial touring shows, where, while the cast may be contracted for several months, they’re adjusting to new spaces every week). Particularly in West End musicals, with large chorus dance numbers, I expect that level of togetherness and flair that makes you sit back and think “wow”…

3. Not “star value”

This may be slightly unexpected, but I’m always a little wary of “star value”. There are some phenomenal actors who are also stars, but there are many stars who are put in roles beyond their capabilities, in order to be able to charge over-optimistically ticket prices. I saw Funny Girl at the Savoy last summer, and went on a Monday performance, when Sheridan Smith’s understudy – NAME – was scheduled to play the lead, Fanny Price, and honestly, I can’t imagine a better performance. She was outstanding, and a clear example of why you don’t need a star. (To be fair, Smith also got excellent reviews, and I’m sure she was very good.) There are moments when a “star” lead is worth the ticket inflation (Daniel Radcliffe in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying on Broadway in summer 2010 was one of the most hilarious performances I’ve ever attended, and he could do everything required of the role – sing, dance and make me laugh with perfect comic timing) but it is far from necessary in a good West End show. A good West End show should be able to stand without a star to hold it up.

Those are the three, in my opinion, key requirements of a good West End show, so to conclude, in the spirit of the original post, here are the three shows I would love to see on the West End, with the criteria above fulfilled.

– Hamilton. I have tickets to see this in February 2018, and I hope that it is worth the year of waiting (I bought the tickets when they went on sale in February 2017)…

– Camelot. I love the film of this musical, and would love to see a really good West End revival.

– Waitress. I’ve just discovered the soundtrack to this new musical which was on Broadway last year, and I’m very curious about the show. I’d love to be able to see a great production of it, to see what I think beyond “these songs are very catchy”.

That’s all for this week, thank you as always for reading! As you read this, I’ve now worked a whole two weeks for Metta Theatre, and I’m loving it. Follow Metta on Facebook and Twitter to hear a little about what I’m doing (I write a lot of our social media now) and I will update you more thoroughly about what I’m doing very soon!

Emily xxx

‘In Depth: Working As A Producer’, Workshop with Fuel Theatre and the National Theatre, 19th May 2017

‘In Depth: Working As A Producer’, Workshop with Fuel Theatre and the National Theatre, 19th May 2017

The first big thing to mention this week is that I’ve started my new job! When this goes up I will have spent a whole week as Metta Theatre’s administrator. It’s great, and I’m really enjoying it so far: stay tuned to hear more about what I’m doing in a few weeks!

As those of you who’ve been around for a while will know, I interned at Fuel Theatre last summer for three months, which was an amazing experience, which set me up to start working towards being a theatre producer some day. (You can read my weekly blogs about what I got up to while I was there here.) When I saw that they were running a workshop about producing, in conjunction with the National Theatre, I was very tempted, but I hesitated, I wasn’t sure if it wouldn’t be aimed at people with more experience than me. I emailed Kate McGrath, the director of Fuel, who was running the day, and asked her if she thought it would be relevant to me. She sent me a planned schedule for the day, and it looked perfect, so I booked to go along, despite it being less than a week before my final exams, and I’m so glad I went.

The day was split into four in-depth sessions from various perspectives, using the National Theatre and Fuel’s co-production (along with West Yorkshire Playhouse, though WYP weren’t involved in the day) of the Barbershop Chronicles as a case-study in the earlier sessions. It was hugely useful in terms of learning about producing, and also upped my excitement about seeing the Barbershop Chronicles (on 5th June – watch out for my review in early July, when I tell you about theatre I enjoyed in June).

 

Session One: The Artist-Producer relationship

This was led by Kate and Inua Ellams, an artist Kate has been working with for 9 years. The focus was on how they had developed their relationship up to their current project, the Barbershop Chronicles at the National Theatre (which I saw on 5th June, btw, and it was fantastic, but more on that in a few weeks) and, drawing for how their relationship worked, how other producers might create relationships with artists and produce their work.

It was an incredible insight, and here are the biggest points I took away from it.

  • It takes time. Kate and Inua’s relationship has taken 9 years to develop to the stage it is at now, and that time was necessary. Kate explained this as being about trust. The artist-producer relationship depends on trust (trust that each will do what they need to do, trust that the work is good…) and trust takes time to build.
  • A group member pointed out in this conversation that, in order to trust an artist, the producer first needs to trust themselves; their taste and ability to pick something worthwhile to work on, their ability to be flexible and open to responding to ideas, and their ability to do all the administrative and financial tasks on their to-do list. (I think this is probably also true the other way round; artists need to trust in their own work before they entrust it to a producer…)
  • Different people need different things to begin a relationship (Kate specified that she needs to see the work in real life, and meet the artist for an in-person chat [or several], other people will need other things, from simply an idea they are insipired by to a detailed CV of successes or particular character traits for personalities to mesh…). No one comes in knowing exactly what they need to start building relationships, but it’s worth thinking about as your career develops, so as you do more, you can be clearer about what you need.

 

Session Two: Co-Producing

This was a panel discussion between Kate and Fran Miller, the National Theatre’s projects producer working on the Barbershop Chronicles.

It was a dynamic, fast-moving conversation, and explained how the co-producing relationship between Fuel and the National worked for the Barbershop Chronicles, which enables a bit of comparison of their roles as producers in a huge institution and theatre, and in a small company.

There are 25-30 shows per year at the National Theatre, and it is a staff-heavy business, with over 1000 staff members, which makes it a very different environment for producing that Fuel (10 staff members).

Co-production contracts are very complex and detailed, but very useful: they still go back to it regularly. It is negotiated by everyone involved (in the case of the Barbershop Chronicles, Fuel, the National Theatre, and West Yorkshire Playhouse). Kate and Fran suggested that, with such a complex document ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’, but do worry and discuss the necessary complexities until everyone is satisfied with them.

When working with a huge company like the NT different things come into play than working with smaller companies, because there are more people and more procedures involved than in smaller institutions, which don’t necessarily have policies for certain things. Kate and Fran gave two examples of how this affected the Barbershop Chronicles production process: the marketing was dictated by the NT’s marketing timeline, which was non-negotiable. The other, more amusing example, was Kate’s idea of getting food from the countries visited in the play for press night. In a small company, this might only have required one conversation, but with the NT, required eight conversations with eight different people, all of whom had input on how press night should function.

*Side note* There was a question during this conversation asking about contracts in general. This was the advice: Begin writing a contract with a standard contract originally and then edit it/make it bespoke to individual relationships/situations. *End side note*

 

Session Three: Detailed parts of producing.

After lunch, the first session in the afternoon was more detailed insight into producing. Four members of the Fuel team came in to give insights on their particular roles within Fuel as a producing company: Ed Errington, General Manager, Stuart Heyes, Head of Production, Emilie Wiseman, Head of Programme, and Sarah Wilson-White, Projects Producer​. The attendees of the workshop had half an hour with two members: I was in a group discussion with Ed about fundraising, and one with Sarah about pitching tours to venues.

Ed focused on fundraising for smaller projects and explained the importance of multiple sources of funding. He explained ACE small grants (<£15,000) and said to ask for what you needed, but to go up to the limit, not to feel that you’d be better off asking for £10,000, when you needed £15,000 from ACE, because you thought they might be more willing to give a smaller amount. ACE won’t cover all the costs of a project though; you need to get other funding sources: in-kind support is one (e.g. a venue offering you free rehearsal space). The other important ones covered were trusts and foundations and crowdfunding. Trusts give funding to projects which match their areas of interests: focus applications on the few to whom your project is relevant. Some do support non-charities (e.g. Jerwood), but it is usually easier to get support from trusts if you are a charity. Crowdfunding is a resource which is still being discussed: people are still working out how best to use it. The recommendation that came out of this discussion was to focus crowdfunding on something specific (e.g. please donate to help build the set) and giving appropriate rewards.

Sarah started by suggesting that you should give yourself a year to 18 months to pitch a tour, knowing that popular touring windows are school holidays for children’s shows, and Feb-May/Sept-Nov for adult shows. You should know how much each show costs before you pitch it to someone, and you should tell venues exactly what each show costs. The key information to put in a programmers pack is minimum stage space, target audiences, dates. Invite people to showings, arrange meetings in Edinburgh and develop relationships personally (preferably over phone rather than email). The objective is to find synergy with venues and aims. She also suggested the importance of budgeting to get photos/films from R&D periods (research and development) to send with programmers packs (but don’t send these if they don’t end up being good!).
Session Four: Different Producers’ perspectives

The final session was a panel discussion between four producers with different backgrounds: Kate, Nick Williams, an independent cross-scale producer who produces international tours; Henny Finch, a commercial producer for Headlong, who recently produced 1984 in the West End, which is currently on Broadway; and Kate Scanlan, currently working with Battersea on a new, localised cross-artform space.

Each gave an overview of the sort of work they do, and some advice. Start by getting to grips with how the landscape works where you want to create work, and make partnerships. Go make the relationships in person. In the relationship development stage, it is more about the meeting of minds of collaborators than about the show necessarily. If you can afford it, you can be in just one place, for just one week. Think about shows as ‘one suitcase’ or ‘two suitcase’ shows where you can. If you’re looking to make an adaptation and need to discuss rights: take your time with relationship building, it will be a series of delicate conversations. Remember that subsidised theatre can move to the commercial sector if it is popular enough.

They finished by giving a “top tip” each: the single piece of advice they thought would be most useful. These were:

  • Pick a good ‘Horse’ (artist) and back them to the end
  • Trust yourself: charm people, solve problems and trust yourself so you can be believed
  • It’s easy to get bogged down in stuff – just keep going!

My biggest conclusion was that producing is about relationships with people, and to take your time building these: I’ve got a long process of relationship building ahead of me, and I’m looking forwards to it immensely.

That’s all for this week, thank you as always for reading. If you have any particular insights that you can add to this conversation please leave them in the comments: it’d be great to hear them, and please like the post if you enjoyed it! I’ll be back next week with my “West End Wish list”: everything I want from a West End show, follow the blog if you haven’t already so you don’t miss it!

Emily xxx

The Need For Arts Funding and Arts Education

The Need For Arts Funding and Arts Education

If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing on a Tuesday: I’ve been writing one post a week, on a Friday at 5pm for months now. There is a reason. If you are, like the majority, though not all, of my readers, based in the UK, you will probably be aware that we have a general election happening on Thursday. I want to write a little bit about arts funding and arts education, which are becoming more and more disparaged, and viewed as unnecessary, sometimes even elitist luxuries.

Now, I should start by saying that I absolutely agree that, when compared to food, housing and safety, access to arts and arts education is a secondary priority. That said, I think you should consider your candidates’ and parties’ positions on funding for the arts and funding for arts education, and, ideally, vote for those who at the very least won’t continue to cut funding for these, and preferably for those who want to increase them. (Side note. This post is deliberately being written just before an election, and therefore the most relevant thing to do is vote. However, our role in our democracy isn’t over on the 9th June. Continue to pester your representatives, whether you voted for them or not, to remind them of the importance of funding for the arts and other issues which are important to you.)

When we look back on the past, we judge societies on what they’ve left in legacy; both positive, like art or writing, and negative, like terrible human rights abuses. We know that arts are important to humanity, and most people will agree that human nature is better expressed in beautiful music than it is in the complex intricacies of the hypothetical value of tiny percentages of companies on the stock market. But funding to the arts in the UK is being cut enormously, and cuts to schools are affecting their teaching of arts most strongly.

Arts, in all their forms (music, dance, theatre, literature…) are on the national curriculum, but are being squeezed out of many schools, particularly those with the least funding available, who simply can’t afford the teaching and equipment for arts education. This widens the gap between those who can afford a more privileged education for their children (either by being able to afford to live in areas with better state schools or by paying for private education) and those who cannot: if only those who are already better off (the single clearest indicator of school success is parental wealth) have access to arts education there is something outrageously wrong with society. If a child whose learning will be facilitated by creative opportunities cannot have those opportunities because their parents bought a house in the “wrong” area of their city, something needs to change. Please look at the candidates in your constituency’s views on funding for education, and vote for those who intend to at the very least stop cutting funding to education, and preferably increase the funding available, so that all children have the opportunity to learn as many subjects as they deserve, and focus on those (arts or other) which are best suited to their interests and abilities.

For me, there is very little as worthwhile as the shared experience of theatre: a group of humans assemble in the same space, experience joy, sadness, laughter together, and leave that little bit happier. Subsidised theatre (theatre which exists because of grants from the government or charities) is usually cheaper than commercial theatre (theatre which makes money from investments and ticket sales) and tries to reach certain objectives that commercial theatre doesn’t seek to, necessarily: it explores issues that may not be considered elsewhere, and, most importantly, it seeks to reach audiences that don’t usually attend theatre. This can be because theatre rarely goes to certain towns (the Arts Council England has strategic touring grants for theatre to go to places which have less theatre available) or by trying to reach groups of people who attend theatre less frequently (for financial or other reasons). If the government cuts that funding, these people simply won’t get that theatre. To date, I’ve worked in companies that make subsidised theatre (Metta and Fuel). The work we do to make art is, in my opinion, necessary for us to be the best society we can be, and I urge you to vote to keep it in existence.

That’s all for this public service announcement. Please share this post to as many people as you can in advance of the election. I will be back to my normal posting schedule and content on Friday, with a post about an amazing workshop I attended about producing theatre!

Emily xxx

P.S. I don’t claim to have all the answers to political questions, but, for what it is worth, I will be voting for Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Cambridge, and I joined the Liberal Democrat party, because I think they represent my views about the vast majority of issues most closely. If you want to know more about what I think, you can follow me on twitter, but even if you disagree with me in every way possible, please vote on Thursday.

The Six Best Productions I’ve Ever Seen

The Six Best Productions I’ve Ever Seen

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past months applying for and being interviewed for various jobs in theatre (either in companies making theatre, or in theatres [the buildings] or even in school theatre departments), and one question that almost invariably comes up, is “What have you seen recently that you really loved?”, or “What kind of theatre really speaks to you?”. Writing monthly blog posts has helped me with not feeling put on the spot with the first question, because I know what I’ve seen recently – I wrote all about it – but I find the second question a little bit more difficult, because I like a really wide variety of plays and productions. There are definitely also ones I don’t like, but it isn’t as simple as “I like political theatre from the 1980s” (I do, often, but I also like entirely different things…) I’ve spent a while thinking about this question, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I really like productions that make me feel strongly or think intently. This can mean anything from something where I came out thinking about something very specific about contemporary politics, to coming out of the theatre unable to stop smiling because something was so feel-good, to having spent a significant amount of time weeping in empathy with characters.

Looking back on theatre that I have seen in the past (almost) 21 years, these are the productions that stand out the most as having made me think or feel very strongly. That doesn’t necessarily make them the best technical successes, or the most polished performances I’ve ever seen, but they’re the productions I look back on months and even years later and think, “that was just incredible”. They’re more heavily weighted towards relatively recent things, because those are what I remember most distinctly, but I have been going to see plays since I was very young, and I’m going to start with one of my first memories of seeing theatre.

I remember going to see Romeo and Juliet in the Botanical Gardens in Sheffield in 2006, when I would have been 9 or 10, not long before the world cup, with the two families being dressed in football [soccer for my North American readers] kit. It was fantastic: I had a great time, and don’t remember having any issues understanding what was going on (possibly because the rivalry between the families was so explicit!) and I’m sure that having found that production so easy to follow helped with studying Shakespeare in school in the following years: I didn’t have the pre-conceptions many of my classmates did that it would be incomprehensible. (And I went on to write a whole dissertation about performances of his work.)

The Phantom of the Opera, June 2008. My parents took my brothers and I to see this as a twelfth birthday present for me. It was the first play I saw in London (I think), and it was incredibly exciting to get to make a trip down to London to go see a show. I remember being incredibly awed by the technical effects on the stage, and terrified when (***spoilers***) the chandelier came crashing down over the audience, before swinging and landing on the stage. My parents had got five tickets in the stalls, in a set of two and a set of three: my father and brothers were a few rows in front of us, and the chandelier came down right above their heads! It was one of my first experiences of theatre as overwhelming and overpowering (incredible sets, powerful music and a trip down to London as a treat would do that!) and it’s stuck with me to this day.

Our Country’s Good, National Theatre, September 2015. I’d studied this play at A-level, and loved it, and was thrilled when a year later it was on at the National Theatre. I went to see it with my family and it was really exciting to get to see this play I’d spent a whole year thinking about, and crafting what I thought was the ideal production of the play (design, direction…) so that, when set three pages of the text in the exam, I could say “This is what would need to be done here, so that the play could work overall”. I knew it backwards, and I had quite a fixed idea of what I would do: I spent a whole year debating interpretations with my teachers and classmates! Seeing it in the flesh, and thinking about where they had done what I would have done, and where they had done different things, and what I thought had worked, and where I thought my ideas were better was an experience I’m unlikely to get again: I won’t ever get to study a play in that much depth, and then see an interpretation of it, and it’s a memory I treasure.

Legally Blonde, ADC Theatre, June 2016. I went to see this a few days after I finished my second year university exams, and it was incredible. I had seen the film (once, and I didn’t remember it very well) and I wanted to see something fun and lighthearted to celebrate the end of my exams. I came out grinning (I tried to stop smiling and I literally couldn’t) and I actually started skipping on a deserted path home, I was put in such a good mood by it. (My boyfriend was slightly concerned I’d gone completely mad, but I was just happy.) I think it was the combination of humour, uplifting music, and slightly tongue-in-cheek, but nonetheless unashamed feminism that really made this one of the most memorable nights I’ve spent at the theatre. (Possibly the high from having finished my exams helped too.)

An Evening With An Immigrant, Soho Theatre, July 2016. I saw this on the first night of my first week with Fuel, and I was blown away. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when, on the day I arrived, the team said “Oh, by the way, we’re all headed to the opening of this play we’ve worked on, why don’t you come along?”, but, as you do, I took the opportunity and went along. What I got was somewhere between a TED talk and a slam poetry evening, and it is probably my favourite of this list of favourite memories in theatre. It was raw, true, I cried at the story being told, I cried at the way it was told, and I was left with a lot of thoughts to unravel and process about immigration, racism, multiculturalism. I’ve recommended this production to everyone I’ve met since, and whenever I see that it’s on somewhere, I include it in my monthly theatre recommendations. If you get a chance to see it – I quite sincerely cannot recommend it enough.

The Shakespeare Trilogy, November 2016. I saw this for my dissertation on female actors in contemporary performance of Shakespeare, and I loved it. It was an endurance game (three Shakespeare plays in succession) for me, but even more so for the actors, who I remain in utter awe before: the amount of energy required for each one of those performances, sustained over three consecutive ones was incredible, and they were brilliant. The plays aren’t ones you necessarily correlate (Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest) but they had a lot to say, and the gutsy feminism of the all female casts was inspiring. As was what they showed about imprisonment. All three plays were set in womens’ prisons, and exploring what theatre can do for women (they were workshopped in real prisons with inmates). I went to sing a Christmas service inside HMP Thameside around the same time, and I thought what was said in the Shakespeare Trilogy about the power of theatre, which I had seen in music, was incredibly powerful. It’s something that has stayed with me, and will continue to beyond the dissertation.

These are the performances that have most marked me and that spring to mind when I think of theatre I’ve been changed by over the years: I started with Shakespeare and musical theatre, both of which I still very much enjoy, which opened the door for wider options which let me think and feel, and ideally which are engaged with society and its questions (be that political issues immigration, imprisonment, or wider, more conceptual questions like the concept of loneliness or how human relationships function).

That’s all for this week, thank you as always for reading! Please like the post if you enjoyed it, and I’d love to hear about what kind of theatre you are interested in, and what your most memorable theatre trips have been in the comments! Next week will be a bit different: I’ll be getting quite close to my exams and so have scheduled a quick life update for you all, and then some recommendations for theatre that might just turn out to be one of your most memorable nights are set for the following week! Follow the blog if you haven’t already to make sure you catch those!

Emily xxx

My Top Ten Favourite Plays by Female Playwrights

My Top Ten Favourite Plays by Female Playwrights

Plays by female playwrights are performed and published significantly less frequently than those by male playwrights. In the interests of balancing my Top Ten Favourite Plays, which do include some by female playwrights, but not as many as I’d like (ie. half) here are my favourite plays by female playwrights. If you get a chance to read or see them – do it!

10. Aphra Behn, The Rover

I studied this in my second year, and I have so much admiration for Behn that I can’t not include it here. If you’ve never heard of her, you can read the Wikipedia page about her here – we think she’s the first (English) woman to have lived from writing, and she’s just incredible. When you’re quoted in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own as someone on whose tomb “all women together” ought to leave flowers, you know you’re doing something right!

9. Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey

You may well have heard of this, and, since I first heard of it, I think there have been at least one performance of it in Sheffield and two in Cambridge, so I hope there’s a way for you to see it, as well as read it.

8. Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Her Naked Skin

A play about the suffragettes, by a brilliant playwright, which premiered at the National Theatre in 2008 – the first play a female playwright to premier on the main stage. What’s not to love?

7. Laura Wade, Posh

I saw this as a student in Cambridge, and was slightly uncomfortably reminded of some of the students I found it more difficult to interact with. Biting satire about Bullingdon-style-all-male clubs at university, it’s clever, sharp, and if you’re a university student, you might find it particularly funny.

6. Bola Agbaje, Gone too Far

To my shame, I haven’t actually seen this, but I’ve read a lot of fantastic things about it, and it won an Olivier, so I think you can rest assured that it’s great writing and a great play. Buy the playtext or go see it if you can: I know I’m going to.

5. Carol Ann Duffy, My Country: A Work in Progress

I haven’t managed seen this yet, either, but I mentioned it in my recommendations for March, and it’s now touring around the UK. Considering different real people’s views on Brexit, it’s one you should definitely try to see if you can.

4. Nina Raine, Tribes

I assistant produced a student production of this last year, and it’s a wonderful, touching and poignant play about family, relationships and hearing. If you get a chance to read it, or better still see a performance, I can’t recommend it enough.

3. Agatha Christie, The Mousetrap

I saw this when it was on tour a few years ago, and it stuck with me: it’s clever, gripping and witty. If you like Christie’s crime novels and you like theatre, this is perfect. If you don’t like one, or the other, try it anyway:  you might be surprised by how much you enjoy it!

2. Sarah Kane, Blasted

This is very dark, very violent, and very graphic. All that said, it’s also pretty brilliant. I preferred reading to watching it (just a little too graphic to watch for my tastes, though I admire the effect of the graphic nature intellectually).

1. Caryl Churchill, The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution

I’m writing a dissertation focused on this play (and a couple of others) and the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a brilliant piece of writing. It’s clever, political, anti-colonial and feminist, and can be read or seen (it was initially written as a radio play: you could try reading it aloud with friends!).

 

That’s all for this week: thank you as always for reading, and I hope one or more of these has caught your eye! Please like this post if you enjoyed it, leave a comment with your favourite play by a female playwright, and follow the blog if you haven’t already done so! I’ll be back next Friday with recommendations for theatre to see in May 2017!

Emily xxx

My 10 Favourite Plays!

My 10 Favourite Plays!

As many of you will know, I’ve spent the last two and a half years doing an English degree, which I will be finishing in a few months. The watershed of graduation is looming ever closer, and I flit between being so excited to start new opportunities and being terrified of the uncertainty of a basically indefinitely blank canvas ahead of me (until now, everything I’ve started has been a several year, fixed project: five years of school, two years of sixth form, three years of university… while this is the start of “employement until retirement” [I hope!], which is a bit overwhelming at times, but also very exciting). I’m hoping to spend the future contributing to physical plays on real stages, but before I do I thought I’d look over my bookshelves and think about my favourite plays to read. These are not the same as performances I’ve enjoyed of these plays, but specifically plays I’ve enjoyed sitting and reading like novels. Plays are intended for performance, but we publish playtexts, and you get a particular experience reading them, which is different to seeing them performed. I also find I get a particular enjoyment from work I’ve spent time studying, and most of these are plays I’ve studied in an academic context, which I enjoy reading in that light.

Obviously favourite pieces of art change as people change, and I’m sure my favourite plays to read won’t be the same in three years as they are now, but, nearing the end of my degree, these are the plays I most enjoyed reading at the moment.

10. Antigone, Sophocles

I first read a version of this play in my early teens when I read Jean Anouilh’s adaptation, and I then studied it (in translation) for AS-Level Drama and Theatre Studies. I returned to it this year for the Tragedy Paper, and it’s still a very powerful piece of writing. I’ve only read it in translation (I don’t have any Ancient Greek unfortunately) but the translations available show how exciting a piece of writing it is. It leaves you with plenty to think about in terms of prioritising personal/family values versus communal/state ideals, problems which are definitely still at work in society today.

9. Blasted, Sarah Kane

This is dark. Really dark. I read it for the Tragedy Paper, and it’s stayed with me: it’s a brilliant piece of writing and a really thought-provoking play, even if its celebrity came to it by its shocking violence and explicit nature. I actually think I would prefer reading this play to seeing it: I can appreciate the function of the shocking elements on paper, while I might find them almost too much onstage (this is the point of course, but I like being able to think about the other powerful aspects of the play while I experience it).

8. Richard II, William Shakespeare

I can’t talk about plays I’ve loved reading in my degree and not talk about Shakespeare: the Cambridge English course has a whole module dedicated to Shakespeare (he’s the only author in the whole course for whom this is true) and the Tragedy Paper requires consideration of Shakespeare’s Tragedies. I’ve most recently read Richard II in this context: while it is now classified as a history play, it was originally billed as The Tragedie of Kinge Richard the Seconde, and it certainly exhibits many aspects of tragedy. It’s a great play and really worth actually sitting and reading. If you really can’t face reading it, the BBC Hollow Crown filmed version is great.

7. Medea, Euripidies

You’ll be surprised to hear that this is another I read for the Tragedy Paper… It’s a striking play and one which has informed most writing which followed it, directly or indirectly. It’s another I’ve only read in translation, if you can read it in Greek that’s incredible and more power to you for it, but the translations available are usually great and it’s a play well worth spending a few hours on.

6. The Real Inspector Hound, Tom Stoppard

On a more cheerful note, I performed in a version of this in sixth form and its a very clever piece of meta-theatrical melodrama which I love reading to this day: it’s ridiculous, but very funny and lighthearted enough to be a counterweight to some of the heavier reading of my course.

5. Dr Faustus (A Text), Christopher Marlowe

I studied this in A-Level English, and then again every year during my degree. There are two versions of the play (the “A” and “B” texts) and I personally prefer the earlier version, the A text, which doesn’t include a few scenes which I don’t think add much, and contains less censored lines which I think are better than the later versions, although obviously this isn’t a universally agreed idea. I’ve never actually seen a version of it I thought was good (please, for the love of all that is holy, avoid the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor film, which is truly awful) but I love reading it: it’s beautifully constructed and written and very clever.

4. The Seagull, Anton Chekhov

I first discovered this in A-Level Drama and Theatre Studies, and returned to it for the Tragedy Paper. It’s not cheerful (the combination “Chekhov” and “Tragedy Paper” might have hinted that) but it’s striking, haunting and beautiful. Spend some time reading this one slowly, because it’s much more subtle than some of the others listed here.

3. The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution, Caryl Churchill

This is one of the texts I’m focusing on in my dissertation on Churchill and her use of children. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, which discusses the Algerian War of Independence and child abuse and it’s incredibly thought provoking. I will be posting my dissertation about it on this blog in a few months, so you can read more about what I think of it then, but if you have some time to read it, I can’t recommend it enough: it’s short, so won’t take you very long, and it’s time well spent.

2. Seven Jewish Children, Caryl Churchill

This was the text that prompted my dissertation, and I can’t begin to discuss it in just a few lines here. It’s available online here, and will take you about 10 minutes to read, and months to think about and understand.

1. Othello, William Shakespeare

This is my all-time favourite play, to read, to see performed, to think about when I’m daydreaming… It’s phenomenally powerful, insightful, and exciting. I produced a gender-swapped version of it at the ADC Theatre in May 2015, and I’ve studied it for the Tragedy Paper this year, and I still can’t get enough of it. If you haven’t read or seen it, you’re missing out, and you should go read it now. Seriously. Now.

If you’ve enjoyed this, please let me know in the comments, and please let me know if you’d be interested in something similar for favourite productions of plays, or favourite filmed versions of plays. I’m also considering doing something like this specifically for female playwrights: despite being someone who makes an effort to read work by female authors and playwrights, when thinking about work I’ve enjoyed studying so much of it is by male authors that I can’t honestly construct this list with more female playwrights, because I haven’t been able to study more of their works. I’d love to know if that’s something you’d enjoy. Also, if you’re interested in reading about some of my favourite books in various genres you can find them on my fairly regularly updated Reading Recommendations Page.

Thanks as always for reading, and for all your support of this blog. Please like the post if you enjoyed it, and follow the blog if you haven’t already to be updated when I write new posts! I’ll be back next Friday with recommendations for live theatre in April 2017.

Emily xxx