A love letter to playwrights

After gaining a rapidly growing fan-base during its successful first season, Script in Hand will return this autumn to dissect scripts, talk play texts and explore characters from a mix of well-known playwrights paired with lesser known gems. Co-hosted by up-and-coming directors and script enthusiasts Lexie Ward and Meg Robinson, season 2 of Script in Hand will delve into a diverse array of 12 hand-picked plays and will see guest speakers join the duo throughout the season. 

Kicking off with POSH by Olivier award-winning playwright Laura Wade on October 7, Lexie and Meg will be joined by the first special guest of the season, director and JMK Runner Up 2019 Oscar Toeman to discuss what makes POSH the perfect play for the current times.

After covering a collection of beautifully-written plays such as The NetherRoss and Rachel and Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner in Season 1, Season 2 will throw the spotlight on ear for eye by Debbie Tucker Green, Guards at the Taj by Rajiv Joseph, Mr Burns by Anne Washburn and many more. 

Lexie Ward, co-founder of Script in Hand, says: “Playwrights really are the most talented and genius of folk, and this is basically our love letter to them and their work. We’ve spent our down-time putting together an incredible programme of wonderful scripts and have managed to secure some special guests who will bring a fresh approach and new angle to the discussion. There’s clearly an appetite for a podcast like this and we hope our listeners enjoy discovering new plays or revisiting ones they’re familiar with at a new level.”

Season 2 will also see an array of special guests grace the ‘podcast couch’ including directors Kash Arshad and Alasdair Hunter, and playwright Tatty Hennessy, author of A Hundred Words for the Snow, who will provide a backstage pass to the inner workings of her text. 

Script in Hand is available across all podcasting platforms including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts; search ‘Script in Hand’. Listen again to the whole of season 1 on demand and join the team for season 2 on October 7 with a new episode released every Wednesday. 

Going undercover in Manchester

AN afternoon/evening of comedy and variety is set to be staged in what is claimed to be the world’s first undercover drive-in theatre in Manchester.

The family-friendly socially distanced event on Saturday, October 3, starting at 2pm, features stars from Britain’s Got Talent show including ‘Lost Voice Guy’ Lee Ridley, Ben Hart, Steve Royle and Nabil Abdul Rashid.

Lee was the first comedian to win Britain’s Got Talent in 2018. Prior to that he had made his first stand-up appearance in February 2012, and has performed on The Royal Variety Show, Live At The Apollo and the New Year edition of The Last Leg. He also appeared at over fifty venues across the country on his debut UK tour.

 In 2017, magician Ben made it to the final with his outstanding close-up conjuring skills. Before that success, As a 16-yearold Ben was awarded the prestigious Young Magician of the Year and is one of the youngest ever members of the Inner Magic Circle. He has starred on TV in Killer MagicBen Hart’s Life Hacks HoaxNow You See ItThe One ShowLen Goodman’s Partners in Rhyme.

 This year Steve wowed the show’s TV judges with his comedy juggling skills. Steve also an actor and writer is a regular headline act at The Comedy Store and his television appearances include Phoenix Nights, Max And Paddy’s Road To Nowhere, Peter Kay’s Britain’s Got The Pop Factor…, and Stand-up Britain. He was also featured on the Granada programme Behind The Scenes and That’s Entertainment and was voted Entertainer of the Year at the inaugural Red Rose Awards

Comedian Nabil was one of the judge’s Golden Buzzer act’s this year and will be hoping to go one better at this year’s live semi-finals. In 2010 he became the youngest black comedian to perform stand-up at the Hammersmith Apollo and has performed at Comedy Cafe, Comedy StoreJongleurs and Choice FM Comedy Club and was chosen to perform at the premiere of the film of Omid Djalili’s film The Infidel

Daliso Chaponda, who will compere the event, has appeared at comedy events around the world and is also a writer, creator and host of the Rose d’Or nominated BBC Radio 4 show Citizen of Nowhere.

Tickets are priced at £18 per person and can be purchased by following the link here – driveinside.co.uk

 The event is being held at the pop-up DriveINSIDE Theatre, Medlock Street, Manchester, M15 4GU

DriveINSIDE Theatre

A spokesman for event organiser Gag Reflex said: “When arriving on site at Medlock Street each car will be allocated its own marked area where they will be able to sit in a ‘bubble’ at a safe distance from the next group. LED screens hung over the stage will relay performances and a full PA rig will ensure that everyone will see and hear all the action.

 “Staff will be circulating with soft and alcoholic drinks, and the audience are also welcome to bring your own food and beverages. Anyone wishing to sit outside their vehicle is welcome to bring folding chairs, or there is a hire facility on site. Safety and hygiene will be paramount which includes regular cleaning of the onsite toilets and touch surfaces.”

Peter Devine

Digitally romantic

Theatre by the Lake in Keswick is teaming up with Wise Children to support their live broadcast of Romantics Anonymous.

Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic and Plush Theatricals announced that Emma Rice’s critically-acclaimed musical adaptation of Romantics Anonymous will be performed at Bristol Old Vic, and broadcast live, direct to audience’s homes nationally and globally.

The show will be available to stream as a ‘digital tour’ between Tue 22 and Sat 26 September, following the cancellation of its US tour due to Covid-19.  In a wonderful act of industry solidarity, partner theatres across the world will sell tickets for different nights of the week.  Each night will be tailored to audiences in different parts of the world, and there’ll be a sprinkle of local flavour added before each stream begins.  Theatre by the Lake’s broadcast as part of Scotland and the North’s performance is on Tue 22 September at 7.30pm. 

Other partner theatres include Belgrade Theatre, Berkeley Rep, Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival, Bristol Old Vic, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Derby Theatre, Eden Court Higlands, Exeter Northcott, HOME, Lighthouse Poole, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Marlowe Theatre, New Zealand Festival, Norwich Theatre Royal, Oxford Playhouse, Roay & Derngate, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Singapore Repertory Theatre, Spoleto Festival USA, St. Ann’s Warehouse, Storyhouse, The Festival Theatre, The Lowry, The Old Vic (where Wise Children are a Company in Residence), Theatr Clwyd, Theatre Royal Bath, Theatre Royal Nottingham, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, York Theatre Royal.

The world premiere of Romantics Anonymous was originally produced by Shakespeare’s Globe for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse by special arrangement with Radio Mouse Entertainment

Outdoor theatre comes to Battersea

Theatre Lapis is to stage outdoor concert production of a new Japanese-British collaboration musical Pearl and Dagger at the Bandstand in Battersea Park  on Sunday (Aug 16) at 1pm.

Pearl and Dagger is a newly devised musical inspired by a Japanese folktale, and is a  collaboration between British and Japanese artists, combining both Western musical theatre and Japanese tradition.

It tells the story of a young woman overcoming the grief over her deceased mother through the journey to discover the secret of a mysterious island and the meaning of real bravery. The narrative aims to raise and increase awareness of Japan and Japanese culture, and this performance is a short concert version of the show which had its premiere workshop performance at The Other Palace in 2019.

This 30 mins concert version at Battersea Park is an experimental theatre project under the current COVID restrictions.  Says the theatre: “We are exploring how we can connect with the audience and provide them with theatrical sensation in an outdoor environment while strictly following the social distance policy.” Admission is free.

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Pearl  and Dagger – the staged reading 2019 – excerpt

Further details:

Apocalypse now….

We hardly need reminding that we are living in uncertain and scary times where the future really is unknown. Across the world, creative industries have been hit hard. Theatres are shut and may be the last public spaces that reopen. Numerous projects and festivals have been cancelled or postponed, leaving hundreds of thousands of creatives in an extended period of little to no income and instability.
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It’s meant that globally people are experiencing rapid change in their lives which can lead to varying degrees of emotional distress and instability with their mental health. “It can truly feel like the world is ending,” says Sophie Rivers who is teaming up with Harpy Productions, joining all the other creatives who are working to keep the arts alive in a virtual medium. “We feel that creative outlets are essential in this time of turbulence.”

So for one night only, a variety of artistic creators will be coming together to stream original theatrical works – all of which will be themed around the Apocalypse and the end of days. Like No Tomorrow: An Apocalypse Anthology, will stream live on 17 August, at 7.30. “We engage this subject, swaddled in real anxiety, with satire, dark humour, and hope. We seek to emphasise the voices and interesting perspectives in our diverse industry,” Sophie says.

The money raised from patrons and the audience members will be directed to The Samaritans Organisation, who provide support to people affected by emotional distress and may just need  someone to talk to. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Samaritans have been actively enhancing their services to accommodate this growing need, as well as establishing a new, confidential support line for NHS and social care workers.

The event is free, but the organisers are asking for optional donations to The Samaritans Foundation.

Harpy Productions are  part of The Thornhill Theatre Space World Wide Fringe Festival, and have a huge array of artists collaborating on this project, with nine pieces of theatre, including monologue, short plays, and spoken word.
“The theme is all about the Apocalypse, which has unfortunately been a relative topic for a while,” says Sophie. “I wanted to turn that real anxiety into art. By doing this event, we are supporting isolated artists, new writing, and an amazing association focused on mental health.”

Back with a vengeance

More online excitement arrives this week as Encompass Productions presents Bare E-ssentials 3: with a Vengeance, the  award-winning online edition of London’s best-reviewed new writing night. It shows on Wednesday (July 29) at 8pm.

Featuring live performances of short plays submitted from around the world, staged and streamed from isolation, the plays include:

Rules by Lucy Jamieson
Directed by Rachael Owens
Stones Around My Neck by Emma Dawson
Directed by Kayla Martell Feldman
The Chair by James C. Ferguson
Directed by Jonathan Woodhouse

Listen by Jacqui Penrose
Directed by Liam Fleming
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Encompass Productions are a London-based company in their tenth anniversary year, making bold and visually arresting new theatre since 2010. Through collaborative processes they explore the psychological and emotional, drawing from cinematic influences to tell stories through heightened reality and stunning minimalism. Their mission: to challenge, move and entertain.
Encompass have a passion for genre, with acclaimed plays exploring noir (Chummy), sci-fi (Stasis), comedy (This is Not a Christmas PlayLife in a Sketchbook😉 neuroscience (What It Feels Like) and World War III (Who is Moloch?). They also produce London’s best-reviewed new writing night Bare Essentials, sell-out ‘micro-theatre’ events staging new work by established and emerging theatremakers.
Watch here:

How a closed theatre is opening doors

Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake has launched a programme of free artistic activity for their audiences and community while forced to keep closed. The three-act initiative comprises the TBTL play reading club; Cumbrian Creatives – a network for local artists; and a community exhibition which will reopen the theatre in 2021.

The TBTL play reading Club is an opportunity for those who love chatting about plays to meet like-minded people and delve deeper into some play-texts. Each month the group will read a play and meet (online) to discuss it, as well as enjoying  guest appearances from the playwrights themselves. The first play is Love, Lies and Taxidermy by Alan Harris (who wrote TBTL’s 2017 hit production How My Light is Spent) with the first session taking place on Thurs 30 July. The play reading club will be hosted by Artistic Director Liz Stevenson. Further sessions will include plays by Jessica Swale, Laura Wade, Simon Longman and Roy Williams.

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Roy Williams

Alongside this, TBTL is planning a community exhibition called ‘Life after Lockdown; a community’s story’, intended to reopen the building in 2021. They’re calling on members of the community to contribute their stories from lockdown, and hopes for the future, with different age groups asked to create different pieces which together will make up the exhibition, which is being curated by Cumbrian theatre designer Louie Whitemore. More information on getting involved and instructions for contributions can be found on the theatre’s website.


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Jessica Swale

Finally, Cumbrian Creatives is an artists’ network which TBTL is launching in order to bring together local talent and creativity. Over the coming months the theatre will be working with those interested in being involved to develop what the network will be and do, in terms of networking opportunities and what Theatre by the Lake can offer in the future to local creatives.

Artistic director Liz Stevenson said: “Our doors might be closed at the moment but it’s really important for us to continue, in whatever way we can, to serve our community and audiences artistically and creatively: that’s what we’re here to do and that’s what we’ll endeavour to keep on doing.

“We’re really thrilled to have some wonderful playwrights lined up to join us for our play reading club discussions, and with our Cumbrian Creatives network we’re hoping to discover, develop and celebrate the brilliant talent which we knows exists in our county. Now, more than ever, it’s important that we bring creative voices together and look to the future. Whether you are local aspiring theatre-maker at the beginning of your journey as an artist, or an experienced professional who grew up in the region, we want you to help us shape the future of TBTL.

“Finally, our community exhibition is a way in which everyone can tell us their stories of this unprecedented time and share their vision for the future. We look forward very much to working with a wide range of community groups to make this happen and can’t wait to see what they create.”

To find out more about the activities and how to get involved visit www.theatrebythelake.com/cumbriancreativeswww.theatrebythelake.com/playreadingclub or www.theatrebythelake.com/communityexhibition.

For information on how you can support Theatre by the Lake, visit www.theatrebythelake.com/donate

Virtually beautiful at Hope Mill

OSCAR winning star Olivia Colman will feature in a virtual event taking place at Manchester’s Hope Mill.
Her appearance is part of an evening with acclaimed writer Jonathan Harvey, on Saturday, July 18, at 8pm, which will include an interview with him by actress and Hope Mill theatre patron Denise Welch.
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Harvey, whose many writing credits include Gimme,Gimme,Gimme and Coronation Street, Beautiful Thing, Hushabye Mountain and The Cherry Blossom Tree, as well as songs from musicals Dusty and Musik.
The event will also feature scenes from his past plays and guest hosts who have starred and worked along side him, including Ms Colman, who starred in Beautiful People, as did co-stars Meera Syal and Layton Williams.
Further guest hosts include: Catherine Tyldesley, Coronation Street; Tameka Empson, Beautiful Thing and Maria Friedman, director of Dusty.
The evening will coincide with the launch of the venue’s first ever Prize for Playwriting, Through the Mill, which will provide finalists with the opportunity of mentorship with Harvey.
For more information and to book your ticket, click the link below: https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/an-evening-with-jonathan-harvey?dm_i=5K77,1S2O,48FZJ,6O82,1

Dancing out of lockdown

The Lowry Centre for Advanced Training in Dance (CAT) has opened applications to be considered for its next annual scheme starting September 2020.

The acclaimed regional pre-vocational training scheme is open to young people from the North West aged 11 – 16 (once on the scheme dancers can stay until 18), with a passion and talent for dance. The scheme offers young people with exceptional potential, regardless of their personal circumstances, to benefit from world-class specialist training as part of a broad and balanced education. The training programme has a highly successful track record, with graduates progressing to study dance at major UK conservatories including: Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, The London School of Contemporary Dance, Central School of Ballet, and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

The audition process has been altered in keeping with Government guidelines around the Covid-19 pandemic which means that The Lowry centre is currently closed for the foreseeable future. But  the show must go on and so too must the training of the next generation of dancers. The CAT will be facilitating the application and audition process for the first time with remote classes and dance experience days to ensure all potential candidates and young dancers interested in the scheme have the opportunity to be considered digitally.

This year’s application is twofold: In the first instance, interested parties are invited to take part in and experience FREE practical and informative dance workshops delivered live online via ZOOM on Friday evenings in June, July and August 2020. In addition to these weekly 75 minute sessions, those wishing to be considered are then encouraged to take part in one of two Digital Experience Day Workshops where more in depth training and a greater insight into the course is offered.

A panel consisting of the CAT Management and artist team will informally observe all weekly classes and the Experience Days to ensure those wanting to be considered are seen. They will be observing how students engage and respond to tasks set in these online sessions and encourage those wanting to be considered to engage with as many of the sessions as possible to ensure they have opportunity to be seen. This will replace the standard and more traditional live audition and offers a unique opportunity for those interested, to be observed over a longer period – giving young people the opportunity to demonstrate the breadth of their creativity and facility while being support by the CAT staff in challenging setting and unusual circumstances.

The Lowry CAT Scheme has been running for 11 years and is now seeing its alumni enter  the industry working with companies such as Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, Cilla The Musical, Motionhouse, Southpaw Dance Company, Jasmin Vardimon 2, Disneyland Paris and Opera De Lyon as well as many more.

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Jade Aitchison, The Lowry Centre for Advanced Training Manager said: “ We understand that this process is new to participants and to us and so we hope that by offering free weekly dance classes and online experience days, we are making it as accessible as possible for as many interested candidates to be able to try out for our scheme.

“We are looking for passion, commitment and creative potential in dance and we feel that by observing students via our online Zoom classes over a number of weeks rather than in just one single audition, we will be able to really get a sense of who has these key ingredients to pursue a career in dance. We are aware that there will be a reasonable level of challenge due to differing home environments, environmental distractions and WiFi connectivity issues. But with the  recruitment process designed to run over a long period of engagement, we are confident this will allow for a process that is as fair and equal as possible, giving young people the opportunity to demonstrate the breadth of their ability and potential.”

All interested candidates can apply for the Weekly Workshops and Digital Experience Days via Google: form here….. https://forms.gle/hWk51Agr8wN6wPhc6

The masterpiece that is The Last Five Years

If ever a musical might have been written specifically for our two-metre ruled current lives, it’s The Last Five Years. A love story told through the eyes and hearts and voices of both partners in a tempestuous relationship, it starts with his beginning and her ending, and they tell their separate stories.

If you’re confused, you have two more nights to catch this remarkable digital theatre production. If you know the story, believe me that this is the most perfect presentation by two performers for whom it might easily have been written, personally.

Declaration of bias. Jason Robert Brown is a genius, and The Last Five Years is a masterpiece, an unconventional and utterly unique piece of work, and this reviewer balks at the word unique.

True, we’re starved of theatre and desperate for morsels of nourishment, but this is the most magnificent of feasts. Lauren Samuels, reprising the role of Cathy, also directs this Lambert Jackson production for the Other Palace, while Danny Becker is the epitome of the stereotypical Jewish boy who falls for his Shiksa Goddess.

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Between them, in scenes recorded in isolation, they create magic. Create it out of simple backdrop scenes, for this musical more than any other needs only voices and heart. But here we get some superb acting, too (see Becker in the strangely masterful what’s-this-all-about Story of Schmuel, and Samuels in the divinely comic number Summer in Ohio, “where I’m sharing a room with a former stripper and her snake…Wayne”.)

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Samuels articulates the fine balance between calm and exasperation, trying so hard not to be vulnerable; the audition song is a heart-rending example. Becker exudes bravado and energy, nowhere more so  than in the effervescent Moving too fast. The middle section, where her story moving back meets his moving forward, is a delicately expressed wedding scene with a split screen (on the MacBook Air; this show invariably lends itself to updates, but purists will be pleased that the bookshop where Jamie’s masterpiece is being launched is still Borders).

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The Last Five Years is like a see-saw, or a finely-balanced weighing scale, illustrating with sharp clarity the perilous nature of love, the raw dissection of a relationship. It’s flooded with poignancy and veracity, and surely there’s never been a more incisive line in a love song than, “I open myself, one stitch at a time”.

Last but not least, as JRB is a pianist/composer, what a terrific piano accompaniment from Josh Winstone.

It’s available again tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday , and for the digital tickets go to https://lwtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/the-last-five-years/. You will cry, even if your heart’s made of stone.