Posts Tagged ‘theatre’

How some directors treat living playwrights

I’ve been a director, an actor, and a playwright. Sometimes, all three at once.

I’m happy to say I have never had this experience. I was shocked to read in this blog that some theatre directors think it’s okay to cut and paste the work of a living playwright without consultation or permission.

I love working collaboratively, love being in rehearsals and seeing how a great director can find things in my text that illuminate, develop and intensify the piece I have written.

I’m always open to hear from actors if they have a different, more authentic, or just plain better way of saying a line.

But for a director to take a play by a living playwright and carve it up – that is not acceptable.

What do you think?


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Writers don’t need to be paid – read what Philip Hensher says about that…

mm, this is a tricky one.

Coming from a theatre background, the number of times I’ve been told by funding bodies that ‘You love acting/directing/playwriting, you’d do it whether you were paid or not’, or ‘Thousands of people want to do what you’re doing – if you ask for payment, then we’ll use others who don’t’, and even, ‘ We find artists work harder if they have to struggle a bit, and that makes their work even better’… I am not surprised that writers are being treated the same way.

Of course, it’s important that we have a real relationship with our readers; I read and comment on other people’s unpublished novels for free – I also do events, especially for children, unpaid…  and yes, of course, I write out of compulsion and excitement, for financial rewards, or none – but if I had a young family and a mortgage to support, I don’t think I could be so lofty and idealistic. Writers need money. Like everyone else.

Do you agree with Philip Hensher?

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Sorry to be doing this, but there seems to be a theme emerging this summer. I’ve just read Brian’s obituary in today’s Guardian:


My memories of Brian are linked to summer 1976  in Newcastle on Tyne, when his theatre company ‘Road Gang’ joined forces with ours ‘Mad Bongo Theatre Group’ for a sparky, hard-hitting musical tribute to the 1926 General Strike, supported memorably by local NUM branches and some famous men of those days, including Will and Alf, the Lawther brothers, who praised our play for its truth and power in a short and passionate speech that moved us to tears.

We hit new heights of fame with the show, ‘Strike Alight’, when we performed in front of 700 people at the Durham Miners’ Gala [including the then head of the Labour Party, Michael Foot]  – but those celebrity gigs were not our style, and my memories are more of the rehearsals where we forged our script through impro and research, me with baby Rosie often in my arms, and a pub landlord supplying sandwiches.

Brian was terrific fun to work with, and his compelling singing voice could silence any rowdy pub or club. He was a kind friend, a great babysitter, a committed political theatre activist, and in those days that were overshadowed by illness in our family, he gave us unconditional support.

I wish I could say something appropriate in Welsh – but this will have to do: Thanks for all the memories and the theatre and the songs. May you live on in all of them

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The last post I wrote was about my own mortality, and now I discover the world is poorer by the loss of the unforgettable, extraordinary and generous man that was Victor.

I first met him in Wyndham’s Theatre in London, where he was one of the brilliant ensemble cast of Joan Littlewood’s ‘OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR’. I was fifteen. I had no idea, as I took my seat in the stalls, that my life was about to be changed for ever.

It began just after the curtain rose, when Victor, as MC, pointed at me and my friend and spoke directly to us. In all my years of going to West End theatres, I had never been noticed, let alone spoken to, by an actor onstage. It was scary, wicked, exhilarating.

My friend and I moved nearer the front, as he suggested,, and for the rest of the evening I was breathless with excitement, not because of who we were – I soon forgot myself  – but because the story of the Great War was new and shocking to me. The raw talent, the passion and the commitment of Victor and the rest of the cast sent me reeling into the night, determined to find out more and to come back and see the show again.

I returned five times to that theatre; every time it was a new performance, with new ad libs and new business.

This experience formed my ideas about what theatre could be. Not sterile, encased in immovable text, but comic, tragic, musical, free flowing, telling dark truths with power and panache.

Joan Littlewood, I salute you. You were the innovator. But Victor, one of your prize pupils, who afterwards became my friend, was in his element in your world. His kindness to a starstruck teenager was typical of the man whose stories charmed me and whose smile concealed worldly wisdoms I knew nothing of in those innocent days.

Adieu, Victor. You were my favourite actor for so many years.

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From my mother, who played one of Oedipus’ two daughters, Electra, in the Olivier production, Old Vic Theatre, 1946:

‘We both had to run on near the end of the play, sobbing. We clung to him as he made his final speech. One night I wriggled and sobbed too much and Olivier’s hand clamped down on my shoulder so hard all through that speech, that afterwards I had a bruise that lasted for a week.’

From my father, who was a behind the scenes theatre carpenter –  a job description that is not about carpentry:

‘We were working in the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, doing a tech run and all the actors were in the theatre. One of the actresses sat in the stalls watching the play, and the theatre cat jumped up on her lap. She stroked it until the lights came up at the end of the second act. On her lap, stretched out luxuriously, was a large RAT. ‘

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