Tag Archives: playing up

“Playing Up” night at Newcastle’s Northern Stage

Playing Up is an exciting new theatre company of emerging writers from the North-East. Amongst the preparations for their scratch night at Northern Stage I caught up with two of the writers involved- Lewis Cuthbert and John Harrison. They were both eager to talk about their new plays- Causeway and Deltic.

Tell me a bit about your play

Lewis: It’s a two-hander. Absurd comedy drama. It’s New Year’s Eve on a remote island. Old friends Colm and Nye meet for their longstanding ritual celebration (Jools Holland from 1996, Guess Who, blueberries, poems, sitting) and to put a brave face on things once again

John: Dave, a member of a local railway society ‘buys’ a Class 37 diesel locomotive and plans to put it in the rear garden of his suburban semi. Dave loves Class 37’s and feels its preservation is being neglected by the society in favour of the more prestigious Deltic locomotive they have recently acquired. Dave’s acquisition quickly brings him into conflict with his Wife, Melanie, his neighbours, the Council Environmental Health department, a vicious local scrap metal dealer and the Police.

Who is your favourite playwright?

Lewis: I’ve got plenty but I’ll go for Harold Pinter at the moment. For the vicious beauty of his language and the work he makes the audience do.

John: Ibsen, Arthur Miller, Shakespeare.

Which playwright has influenced you the most?

Lewis: Lots of people have called this piece Beckettian (which is fair enough given the absurdity and general air of desolation) but I think this piece was probably inspired by Martin McDonagh, if only for the fake Irish accents and repressed violence.

John: I admire how Ibsen and Miller used the theatrical form to critique contemporary society and its values. The controversial nature of their work provoked reaction that was sometimes personally detrimental, yet their dramas neither preach nor sacrifice character, plots, language or structure to political objectives

What compels you to write?

Lewis: I’ve no idea what compels me to write. It’s something I enjoy, a stress-reliever, something that keeps me sane.

John: It brings the reassurance that creativity can occasionally offset the tedium of existence.

Does anything else inspire your writing?

Lewis: Again, quite a hard question. I suppose life in general, snippets of conversation, relationships between people. I’m also reading through the back-catalogue of David ‘not Peep Show’ Mitchell and am very much buoyed by his mastery of different genres.

John: Overheard conversations, media articles, poetry, the writings of Raymond Carver, Haruki Murakami and Jonathan Franzen, and most of all, the love of language and the power of words.

Could you explain a bit about your creative process?

Lewis: Usually I get an abstract idea for a situation or, more likely, one or two characters. I scribble this down somewhere. Forget about it. Come back to it, think ‘ah, this is good’. Forget about it. Then build up a larger world that this character or whatever would fit into. Spend a lot of time sorting out the plot – but not too much or I’ll get bored – then set about writing it. Try to set a specific time aside each day, generally early afternoon, and follow my plan until I draw inexorably towards the close. There’ll generally be a point before then during which I’ll become disheartened with the whole thing, take a lonely walk up Jesmond Dene then get a ‘bright idea’ that sets me back on track. And finally, the rewriting. A terrible but crucial element far too boring to discuss here.

John: For plays, once I have the basic idea, I like to try and sketch out a structure. The aim is to give a story, consider characters and character development, identify where the problem will sit and how it is revealed and think about how that problem will be resolved. Once I have a structure I write to that structure to try and give a first draft. This never materialises in one go as I am often tempted into revision before I have even got a first draft down.

How did you choose the title of your play?

Lewis:The title came first. It was a nice peaceful image. I was originally going to write something set on Holy Island but then I thought the title may have Irish connotations, what with Giant’s Causeway in the North. And it also vaguely fits in with the underlying notion of ‘things are the way they are cause (that’s the) way they are’, which is the thought process of the two characters.

John: The play really about Dave’s love of class 37’s. Class 37 would have been a misleading title so I decided to name it after the more recognisable cuckoo in the nest, the Deltic.

TICKETS ARE AVALIABLE HERE: http://www.northernstage.co.uk/whats-on/Playing-up


Sharon Zucker and her play ‘The Joy of Herding Cats’


Tell me a bit about your play.

As it stands right now, it’s set as a Rosh Hashanah holiday dinner. The whole purpose of the holiday is to atone for your sins from the past year, and to forgive others for their sins against you. So during Rosh Hashanah people come together and slowly the sins all come out. They admit to what they have done, and they tend to commit a few more sins on the day!

So you’re covering a lot of big themes then?

There are also some smaller themes! There is a love triangle going on. And it’s about individuals bringing their sins with them, and coming together as a group.

However it is all taking place in front of a holocaust survivor, who knows what it means to lose everything and have to rebuild their life from scratch. I thought a lot about the term ‘defiant joy’ whilst I was writing. It’s from a book called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Victor Frankl. Frankl wrote about why some people survived the holocaust whilst others didn’t. The reason he came up with was that you had to have the willpower to try and find moments of joy, even in such a grim setting. He called this ‘defiant joy’, and I almost named the play after it. It all comes down to life being filled with suffering; then at Rosh Hashanah the book of life and death is opened, and you have to decide why you want to live another year until the next holiday.

Where did you get the idea?

Holiday dinners bring out all sorts of family dynamics. There’s just so much to play with! At first I was just writing about the fun times I’ve had at family dinners; but then I really started to think about it and how that experience compares to Rosh Hashanah as a traditionally very religious holiday. At my own family dinners there was always a lot of humour and a lot of laughter, and it covered up for a sense of sadness. Yet as the play developed I tried to look at more intense themes, to get it to have a real dramatic edge.

Why should people come and see the play?

It’s about family, and how we go through struggles in our lives, and the question of ‘What is life?’ It sounds very dramatic doesn’t it! I think we’ll see a lot of complexity within human beings, and try to understand why people do what they do. Once we understand, maybe we will be able to forgive it a little more easily.

Is this the first play you’ve written?

No. I have also written a play about post-natal depression and the breakdown of a marriage due to mental health issues. At the same time the depressed woman is struggling because her own mother is dying. The play looks at how the woman copes with raising her child, despite the condition of her mental health.

Have you ever written in other styles?

I’m starting to write a few short stories, and I write a blog which is made up of letters to my daughters about life.

Here is a link to that blog: http://mommysnotes-yaffa.blogspot.co.uk/

Chris Wilkins and his play ‘Lock In’


Could you tell me a bit about your play?

The play takes place in a pub in Wallsend that has seen better days. A man turns up with a shotgun and declares that he is hiding from the police. It quickly turns into a siege situation with a group of characters trapped in the pub. Ultimately it is a question of who is going to make it out of the pub alive.

Where did you get the idea?

There was an actual pub siege in Wallsend, about twenty years ago. It was famous locally because the people trapped in the pub during the siege continued to get drunk. They could be seen through the windows playing darts and pool. When the police eventually took them in, they had to wait until they had sobered up in the cells to question them. So it is partly based on that, and partly made-up. It’s not set twenty years ago, it just sparked from that story.

Why should people come and see it?

It’s amusing and I think it’s something people can relate to- everyone in the North-East has been in some kind of dodgy boozer. They’ll know what the atmosphere is like and what sort of thing goes on. And of course you can have a drink while you’re watching it.

Is it the first play you’ve written?

No. I’ve written a short play with similar themes of claustrophobia, it was set in an air-raid shelter.

What is it about playwriting that really appeals to you?

I enjoy the process of going through rehearsals- being able to see the actors up close and watching them change little things and add things to what you’ve written. Its adding physicality to writing. Working with a director can also add to a play.

Does your play relate to your life in any way?

No, I’ve never been in a pub siege. But I have tried, sometimes successfully, to stay in a pub after hours.

Do you think character or plot is more important?

I think the two have to be intertwined because it has to be interesting people doing interesting things.

David Raynor and his play ‘Targets’


Where did you get the idea?

A few years ago a college I worked at was going through a restructure, with many people being made redundant or having to take huge cuts in pay. Leading up to that we all had to interview for our own jobs. It meant friends and colleagues were competing with each-other for the same positions. It was a very difficult time for everybody. It was only a few years later that I reflected on this time and how the pressure of the situation caused people to act and react in many different ways (bringing out the best and worst in people). This experience, combined with many of the challenges faced day-to-day working in a further/higher education institution, provided inspiration for writing Targets. I should add, however, that the college and characters in the play are entirely fictional!

Why should people come and see it?

The play is very topical. So many people will relate to the challenges the characters face. I’m hoping that the characters are engaging and relatable. The story has the potential to amuse, anger, sadden but overall to entertain. (I’ll find out afterwards when I receive the audience feedback!)

Is it the first play you have written? Could you tell me a bit about what you have written before?

Targets is the first full length play I’ve written. Prior to this I have written many short plays and sketches, some of which I’ve directed or acted in myself. A previous short play I wrote, Last Turn of the Night, was performed at Manchester’s 24/7 festival where it was very well received and was praised by Manchester Evening News. I first began writing that when I was member of Live Youth Theatre. An early version was shown at Live, directed by Jeremy Heron.

Have you ever written in another style?

I’ve always scribbled all kinds of stuff; stories, poetry and general gibberish on the back of envelopes. Theatre is the only medium that has forced me to actually finish something, however.

Does your play relate to your life in any way?

 I guess everything we write relates to our own lives, doesn’t it? If it doesn’t it’s probably not worth staging.

What are your ambitions with playwriting?

Once I’ve finished Targets (it’s only the second draft at the moment) I’m hoping that it will be staged professionally. This is only my first play so I plan to write many more. Ultimately I want to keep writing plays, gain a huge international reputation and be paid ludicrous sums of money!

What is more important for you- character or plot?

It’s difficult to say. I feel that character and plot are so entwined. Firstly we have to relate to the characters and find them believable and interesting otherwise any plot is meaningless. Just having engaging characters without a structured plot, however, is also unsatisfying. Both?

Is there anything else you would like to tell me?

Only that I hope people will come and see the play and give me honest, constructive feedback to help me develop it further. I hope people enjoy it.

Playing Up: https://www.facebook.com/playingupwriters?fref=ts
Arts in Touch: https://www.facebook.com/ArtsinTouch?fref=ts

Sarah Gonnet and her play ‘The Last Experiment (no.14)’

Now it’s time for me to interview myself. Ironically talking to myself actually fits in quite well with my play.


Tell me a bit about your play

‘The Last Experiment (14)’ is a play about the human struggle for survival. Robert knows he is going to die. It is the world’s last bitter joke to play on him, that before he dies he must watch a battle between four professionals who want to live forever. The professionals are driven by a need to have prosperity. They get inside Robert’s diseased head and battle to find the ‘Perfect Person’. Robert watches them fight; trying to decide if they are hallucinations or angels taunting him with the possibility of answering the question of reality. Whatever they are they promise Robert that the ‘Perfect Person’ wouldn’t be dead. But are they right?

Where did you get the idea?

Basically I read too much. I missed a lot of high school due to a chronic illness and I decided to educate myself by reading. I wrote an article on this for The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/feb/28/could-you-be-an-autodidact) I try to learn about as many things as possible, because for me art and science are not opposites- they’re just different ways at look at the same mysteries.

Why should people come and see it?

It’s an intriguing play that also embraces humour (fingers crossed).

Is it the first play you have written? Could you tell me a bit about what you have written before?

Currently I’m developing two full length plays. One is called ‘Flat Space’ and is about revolving door psychiatric patients. The other is called ‘Compulsion’, it is a multi-media, one man show exploring the concept of Outsider Artists on a personal and individual basis.

Have you ever written in another style (e.g. novel, short story), could you tell me a bit about that as well?

I am working on a trilogy of fantasy children’s novels and a pamphlet of poetry. I also do a lot of work as a journalist, mostly about non-mainstream art and culture.

Does your play relate to your life in any way?

Unfortunately yes- I have a lot of experience with hallucinations. I’m not ashamed of my mental illness; it often fuels my creativity and adds depth to my writing.

What are your ambitions with playwriting?#

I would love to have a full-length play produced. If I ever get to that point then I’ll consider what to do after that.

What is more important for you- character or plot?

I can’t choose! Plot is vital to storytelling, but then a good sense of character brings intrigue and a firm root to the plot.

Is there anything else you would like to tell me?

Please take a look at the reviews on this website; they are mostly about local, outsider or independent art. I also write two columns one for Luna Luna (http://lunalunamag.com/2014/02/24/brontefantasyworld/) and one for The Bubble (http://www.thebubble.org.uk/columns/sarah-gonnet/).
And of course please do come along to see my play, and the others that will be put on over the next few weeks. Follow this blog and these Facebook pages to keep up to date with the details.

Playing Up: https://www.facebook.com/playingupwriters?fref=ts
Arts in Touch: https://www.facebook.com/ArtsinTouch?fref=ts

John Hickman and his play ‘Looked After’


John Hickman is the writer of Playing Up’s second play for their series of script-in-hand performances at The Bridge Hotel. Here is what John had to say about his play.

Looked After tells the story of fourteen-year-old Ellie. She finds herself in a children’s home, due to her mother’s severe alcohol misuse. During the play Ellie develops friendships with a couple of the other kids at the home: Karl and Jordan. However her relationship with Jordan becomes volatile and Ellie flees home to her mum.

In the end, she’s left with a choice. Does she keep on trying to help her mum? Or does she finally put herself first and return to the children’s home?

Where did you get the idea?
My idea draws on my personal life, as well as my experiences as a social worker. I’ve worked with some great kids over the years and there’s bit and pieces of them all in there, I guess. I’ve also recently started a PhD, with a focus on the media representation of looked after children. I wanted to write something that felt representative of the kids I’ve met along the way, something that explored their dilemmas, but also highlighted their humour and resilience.

Why should people come and see it?
It’s an interesting take on a setting we don’t see a huge amount of. I hope that the characters are likable and interesting; but the subject matter is heavy going in places. Yet there is a lot of humour, which reflects the young people I’ve worked with along my way.

Is it the first play you have written?
My first play was performed at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and transferred to a theatre in London. However I’m pretty new to playwrighting and still wrapping my head around the medium.

So do you tend to write more in other styles?
I’ve written prose predominantly. On the back of my creative writing MA dissertation piece, I got an agent who represents my children’s fiction. It’s been in the last eighteen months that I’ve really got into other forms of writing. I’m currently working on several film projects, which I’m really enjoying.

What are your future ambitions with playwriting?
Seeing my stuff come to life with actors, and working with directors is really exciting. I just want to get as much of my work on as possible and learn as much as I can. Ultimately, I’d like to make my living as a writer.

What is more important for you- character or plot?
For me, characters are what it’s all about. If the characters aren’t engaging, no one will care about the story.

If you’re interested in new playwrighting please come and support us. John’s play is on at the Bridge Hotel on the 16th, and there will be more plays following it over the next few months.

Playing Up is our writing company, it would be awesome if you could also like our facebook page. We were founded through Arts in Touch, they have a facebook page in need of some liking too.


Christina Maiden and her play ‘Spending A Penny’


Hello Christina, Could you tell me a bit about your play ‘Spending A Penny’?

Spending a Penny is about two airport toilet attendants – Gillian and Jackie. On a normal morning at work, Gillian is behaving unusually. She’s decked the toilets out with fairy lights, bunting and even a lava lamp. Jackie’s convinced something’s going on. And she’s right.

Where did you get the idea?

I started thinking about the location first. Public toilets are such bizarre places. The host of different people who go in and out, the snatched conversations at the sink or over cubicle doors, the embarrassing sounds people sometimes make and the fact that people go there to do something so completely normal but often not talked about made me think it would be a fascinating place to tell a story. I then considered whose perspective I would be most interested in and so decided to look at a few hours in the airport toilet as experience by two cleaners.

Why should people come and see it?

It’s not every day you can watch a play set in an airport toilet! Spending a Penny is a warm story that will make you laugh. My fondess of toilet humour certainly played a part in the location choice. However for me plays are about all about the characters. I love exploring characters. Delving into their stories – why they are the way they are and the way in which this influences how they relate to others. I find people absolutely fascinating and I really enjoy exploring the intricacies of human relationships through scriptwriting.

Could you tell me a bit about what you have written before?

Plays are my style of choice, certainly. Dialogue and the space between what characters say to each other and what they mean is what I love about writing. Plays give the perfect platform to explore that. I write bits of poetry here and there but for my eyes only. I wouldn’t want to inflict that on anyone else

.I’ve written a couple of short plays for young performers Once Upon a Story and The Last Word. The Last Word was one of the winners of Trinity College’s International Playwriting Competition 2012 and was also performed by Shincliffe Primary School in December. I really enjoy writing for children as it gives me permission to explore weird and wonderful ideas in a way that isn’t as possible when writing for adults. I’ve also written a one act play, Instructions Not Included, about a young woman looking back on the past seven years as she packs up her house. This was performed by Northumberland Theatre Company in March 2013

What are your future ambitions with your work?

I hope to develop my skills and experience as a playwright and doing the Live course has been fantastic for that! I would love to be able to make a living from writing plays – bringing beautiful stories and interesting characters to life.