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Review The Marriage of Figaro, WNO by Eva Marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Mozart’s beautiful arias are performed with dexterity and spirit by an excellent cast who is able to convey the levity, depth, and social criticism of The Marriage of Figaro. The strong performances are supported by the formidable WNO’s choir and orchestra conducted with brio by Carlo Rizzi.  

The choice of scenario and early 18th century costumes indulge the fancies of the audience for a delightful farce where love is a game. We laugh at the jokes and smile at the subterfuge. That sense of play and adventure that pervades the opera might fool the audience into thinking that the Marriage is theatre that has little to do with reality; yet the apparent lightness allows a radical critique of class and gender.  

Based on Beaumarchais’ La Folle Journée (1784), Lorenzo Da Ponte penned a revolutionary libretto, which shines a light on the lives of ordinary people. It is servants who are the protagonists of the opera. We get into their bedrooms, literally, and hear their perspective on their social status. Figaro is about to get married to Susanna and the two ponder their situation in life as servants. At any moment Figaro can be called and sent away by his master, the Count d’ Almaviva, while Susanna is subject to sexual harassment from the Count.  

The choir of servants sing to the Count in gratitude for giving up his ‘droit de seigneur’, his right over his servants to spend the nuptial night with the bride. Although there is no evidence of such a practice, the reference emphasises the lack of rights servants had vis-a-vis their lords.  It is sadly poignant today, not only in the aftermath of the #metoo movement, but also at a time when labour, including professional labour, is exploited and rights have been eroded by moving to increasingly precarious work. 

In the opera, the women are conscious of their weak social status and use marriage to gain independence. They play with the men’s sexual desire pretending to be unfaithful. Susanna exposes Figaro’s lack of trust, the Countess makes the Count reckon with his unfaithfulness, while the peasant girl Barbarina blackmails the Count to marry Cherubino and thus improve her social status.  

The twists and turns are not merely for comic effect, they make the characters face themselves, their weaknesses, desires, and values. The Countess, interpreted by the superb Anita Watson, is afflicted by her husband’s philandering. By making her husband face up to his unfaithfulness, the Countess makes him realise that there is no happiness in chasing women. The Count finds redemption in being forgiven by the Countess. 

In this well-performed production, Soraya Mafi (Susanna), Anita Watson (Countess), Leah-Marian Jones (Marcellina), Anna Harvey (Cherubino), and David Ireland (Figaro) ensure a perfect balance of merriment and depth.  

A spotlight On Technical Theatre by Connor Strange

South Wales came alive to the sound of Panto in Winter 2019 with Jermin Productions’ dazzling production of Cinderella, seeing performances across Carmarthenshire & Neath Port Talbot. Performances were held in Port Talbot’s Princess Royal Theatre operated by NPT Theatres, Carmarthen’s Lyric Theatre and Llanelli’s Ffwrnes Theatre operated by Theatrau Sir Gar.

And that is where I come in!

In this article, I will be giving you an in depth look into the roles that I worked on through the course of the production, and how important technical theatre is in the world of pantomimes and theatrical productions.

But first, let me introduce myself. My name is Connor Strange, I’m from Ammanford in Carmarthenshire, and I was very fortunate to work on Jermin Productions’ Cinderella South Wales Tour as a Follow Spot Operator & Lighting Technician. I’ll go on to explain more about those roles later.

My journey into the world of technical theatre all started last year. I volunteered during Swansea Pride back in 2019. During this event, I met Mark & Nia Jermin for the first time which gave me an insight into the world of entertainment. This made me think about my future aspirations and made me eventually decide to want to pursue a career in technical theatre & drama. So, I made contact with Jermin Productions and expressed interest in working on their 2019 pantomime – Cinderella.

As someone who is relatively new to the world of technical theatre & drama, I was very excited to receive an email in August from Jermin Productions offering me a position on Cinderella. This was such an exciting moment for me as I had never worked on a professional production before. This gave me an opportunity to develop new skills and create connections in the entertainment industry.

Fast forward to November 2019 and it was time to start work on the most ambitious production that I have ever worked on – Cinderella. As with all major productions, first comes the get in. This involves bringing set pieces, costumes, lighting etc – everything that is paramount to a successful production. Then comes assembling sets, rigging lights, preparing costumes for cast & dancers.

As with any production, you need a team & I was very fortunate to have worked with an amazing team of people throughout my time working on Cinderella. This included Mark Jones who was Production Manager, he has overarching responsibility for the safety & security of cast, crew & equipment on site as well as ensuring that the pantomime runs successfully.

Other colleagues included Grace – Deputy Stage Manager who has similar responsibilities to Mark. Alice, Bryn and Jordan were Assistant Stage Managers. ASM’s are tasked with ensuring props are in their correct positions, costumes changes happen when they should and overall operation of the show.

Now earlier on, I mentioned a very important role that I held during the production – Follow Spot Operator.

For those that do not know, a follow spot operator operates a specialised stage lighting instrument known as a followspot. A followspot is any lighting instrument manually controlled by an operator during a performance. I worked alongside a second follow spot operator, Luke, where we both had to follow a professionally orchestrated cue sheet and following commands issued by stage management and lighting operations. All in all, the role of a follow spot was something that I had never done before but was a fascinating insight into lighting.

Technical theatre has such an important part to play in the running of a pantomime. There are so many elements involved behind the scenes to ensure a pantomime can run successfully & efficiently. These include the Lighting department, Stage Management, Sound & our Musical team. Without these departments and the people working in them, a pantomime could not exist. All of those elements work hand in hand, very much like parts in a car. Without one of those elements, the production does not work as efficiently.

But we must also pay tribute to the Cast, without the cast a pantomime could not exist either. Technical theatre combined with a cast ensures that a production works successfully and delivers a fantastic performance to the general public.

This year’s cast thrilled audiences across South Wales and gave amazing performances time and time again.

The cast of Cinderella:

Nicole Seabright – Cinderella

Adam Byard – JJ Buttons

Lewis Brimfield – The Prince

Jordan Bateman – Bree

Ryan Edmunds – Tree

Bethan Searle – Fairy Godmother

Working with this amazing cast has been an absolute pleasure & has been a real eye opener to how much work goes on to make a pantomime happen.

I spoke to some of our cast & crew about what they got out of working on Cinderella and their experiences working on a Jermin Productions pantomime. I also asked them what they would say to people wanting to start out in performing arts.

Here’s what some of them had to say:

“I got lots out of Cinderella, experience and social were my main ones! I hadn’t worked on a touring theatre show like this before, and I was really lucky to be offered a job by Jermin Productions. I learnt new ways of doing things, tips and tricks to make things easier and even a few life lessons! Socially, I made so many great friends, people I’d work with for the rest of my life. It can get difficult when you’re working together, living together and sharing rooms, but with Cinderella I didn’t get any of that.

If someone asked me if they should go into Theatre tech, I’d definitely say Yes! It’s good fun and you learn a lot of stuff on the job, so if you have a lot of experience beforehand it doesn’t matter! There’s a lot of variety in this industry, which means you can try out different jobs if you’re not sure what to do.” (Ollie Gordon-Rump, Lighting Operations/LX1 – Cinderella 2019)

“What I got from it? I got a great sense of accomplishment from doing Panto with Mark. It’s my second year working for him and it was an amazing experience. It was personal for me as I got to perform in my hometown and even in the place I went to uni. It was a brilliant cast and they are like my second my family. To work with people who were so dedicated and talented was just exceptional. The script was hilarious and we were allowed to add our personalities in the characters and give it our touch.

I’d say to never give up because if you really want something then keep going. I’m a simple boy from Port Talbot whom acts for living. Anything is possible if you believe. (Ryan Edmunds, Tree – Cinderella 2019)

South Wales will come alive once more to the sound of Panto with Jermin Productions’ Beauty and the Beast coming this Winter 2020.

Tickets are on sale right now for Beauty and the Beast in  Port Talbot’s Princess Royal Theatre, Carmarthen’s Lyric Theatre & Llanelli’s Ffwrnes Theatre.

Tickets and show times are available on: https://jerminproductions.co.uk/event/beauty-and-the-beast-pantomime-2020/

A big thank you to everyone who supported me in the creation of this article!

Review Winners, Nova, Sherman Theatre By Vic Mills

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

‘Get It While It’s Hot’ is a good vehicle in various ways for Lowri Jenkin’s honed, clever and at times visceral comedy, ‘Winners’.  It tells the old tale of how difficult is it to keep it ‘hot’ – whether that is the vegan dishes or the sex, fuelled by the aphrodisiac of the aptly named Dan Biggar and the colossus of Alun Wyn Jones.  You should know though that they succeed, in this warm-hearted, life-affirming and love-affirming piece, they succeed in keeping it hot – though we had to learn to change our minds a little about what that comes to mean for Cassie and Dafydd.

The stage is stripped to two very ordinary chairs and the production to a very simple and stripped lighting and sound plot.  This works very sympathetically with the stripping of the two characters as they face a ‘couples counselling’ session, an anniversary present from Cassie to Dafydd.  The device of the counselling session works beautifully too, as it allows for audience interaction as we become the counsellors for these two engaging and deeply sympathetic figures.

Jenkins’ is very well served by Samantha Jones’ direction and Garrin Clarke’s design – less is certainly more in this case.  We are allowed access to characters and actors who have nowhere to hide.

And Cassie and Dayfydd do certainly attempt to hide.  There is wonderful humour in the writing and in the performances of both actors from the first moment of the play.  Timing is crafted and almost every mark is hit.  Dafydd is warm, garrulous and very engaging from the outset.  Cassie is initially more poised and sophisticated – looking for the process to solve Dafydd’s problems whilst she makes suitable noises of support.  The play works, as these things do, to peel way the layers of her social pretences as the increasingly complex roots of the problems in their long term relationship are exposed.

The piece could have felt very familiar, safe and predictable had it not been for the quality of the comic writing, the beautifully honed and pacey dialogue and the genuine charm of the characters and above all the actors.  This is not challenging, groundbreaking theatre in any sense but it is an extremely well-crafted, warm, clever and engaging play, done wonderful service by two compelling and lovely performances.

Lowri Jenkins understands comedy and dialogue.  There are moments when the interchanges are too rapid fire and when we feel the writer trying too hard, but they are few and fairly insignificant.  She understands lyrical cadence and silence as well as crowd-pleasing belly laughs.  She looks honestly and unflinchingly at contemporary relationship issues and familiar gender tropes and there is a warmth and affection for both her characters and the audience responds with the real affection and engagement that this piece requires to succeed.

This play is a winner; it is a crowd pleaser certainly but it deserves to be.  The performances are very, very good and that they are equally good is rare.  Genuine chemistry on stage is the Holy Grail of theatre and these two have the cup of Christ in their grip.  Get to see it if you possibly can on one of these wet and wintry nights – it’ll warm you right through – it is hot!

The production plays at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff from 11 – 15 Feb 2020; 6.30pm

Review AutoReverse, BAC By Tanica Psalmist

Autoreverse is a chilled, solo performance, performed at BAC, played by Florencia Cordeu, directed by Omar Elerian. Florencia Cordeu speaks of her tradition, love & culture. Through her range of sound by Omar Elerian & Cassette tapes you get a clear, strong imagery of her family’s compelling history & strength of her family’s individual character as she reminisces on her family’s home from Chile, as she now resides in London.

Autoreverse embarks on epic adventurous timezones, making full use of her generational memories from tapes that’ll she’ll forever hold & cherish. The nature of this play holds strong, traditional values affiliated with her parents retaining of them holding on to its values. Her use of space whilst listening to her recordings in her room in London takes us back in time deeply. A time when her family fled Argentina’s dictatorship, hence the rising of audio letters to stay in touch with their loved ones.

Autoreverse infuses the meaning of family bonds from childhood, experiences through a moving and uplifting audio-visual. Chains that can’t be broken, acknowledgement of identity, legacy, adaption to a new country, environment, stability & individuality interlinked with warmth, hope & prosperity.

Review The Haystack, Hampstead Theatre by tanica psalmist

The ‘Haystack’, held at Hampstead Theatre is an awakening & enticing production; featuring the following cast members- Lucy Black (Denise), Oliver Johnstone (Neil), Rona Morison (Cora), Enyi Okoronkwo (Zef) & Sarah Woodward (Hannah). Written by Al Blyth & directed by Roxana Silbert.


Haystack is a detailed eclipse of artificial intelligence, surveillance, encrypted coding & eroding delusions. This production addresses the unknown world of undercover spies with two computer whizzes who’re of the same kind inclined to insights into outside proximities, high security & space infinity.

This play offers an in-depth realisation on safeguarding, the rise of national security machinery, protection of electronic intrusion as well as explorative strategies of how we can live freely through the advances of technology. Every speck of detail outlines perceptions that influence each characters mind, body & soul! 


This production is a hot dish, serving a variety of spices containing elements of truth, infused with evil forces hidden underground. A channel of divergent communication, conversions, traumatic effects, overwhelming regrets, mysterious deaths, unimaginable regrets; teams dealing with manageable projects until head-line stories get taken out of context. Intertwined with folded lies, portrayals & scandals, unsatisfying stunts pulled by discrete agents of technical intelligence, suspicious terrorism, infliction & love struck addiction.


A strong theme in Haystack is infatuation; exploiting the underestimated power of physical attraction, dopamine, endorphins & mental interaction. When Neil & Rona get to close for comfort chemistry soon increases into fateful attraction, triggered from Neil’s world of hacking. Feelings soon expand to overprotection & harmonious friendships eventually gate-crashing. Agility serving its purpose when suicidal thoughts & non-comprehendible media coverage; reveals to us a deeper understanding of how political control can be demonising. Haystack tells a strong tale of survival, the fittest for survival, hidden bugged devices, invasion of privacy, universal statements & manifestations of fugitive, fabricated disguised appearances. 


The logistics throughout Haystack touch on several dimensional powers of technology alongside phone hacks, identity tracks the cause behind secrecy, relationship distancing, uncertainty, institutionalised profit making, deliberate deaths, irrational thinking, heartache & pain as we’re exposed to unfettered access to not only the world’s data but also its infinite power!

 
Haystack is very thought provoking! Captivating the audience with additional touches such as video performances, seductive light glitches, cursor changes with different fonts & styled writing imagery. The beginning allies tightly with the ending. In this production you can expect previews of screen blasting lives of cascade database queries, network maps, spreadsheets, email accounts & phone logs piling up at a dizzying speed. As the speed of ‘Haystack’ is extremely rapid if you’re to blink for just a second please ensure you’re able to catch everything before it reaches the climax! 

Review: What The Dolls Saw, House of Macabre, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Coined as Horror Comedy, What the Dolls Saw from House of Macabre is just that – full of twists, turns, comedy and crazy characters, this is 1 hour of a real treat for theatrical minds.

With an all female cast, the story sees the tale of a family of women on the wake of their late patriarch – the father of three girls, an adopted grand daughter and the wife left behind. All with their unique style, character and personality, this family holds a deep and dark past, not investigated, and yet now seems like the right time to do so.

With their father as a late famous doll maker and their mother a dramatic retired actress, it’s no wonder that this story verges on the comical and flamboyant but yet eerie and spooky.

The characters are well developed: we love and hate the mother who is mad as a hatter, glamorous and blunt which causes plenty of comedy; the daughters are lovable, fun and we believe their loving sisterly relationship implicitly and the granddaughter, who is mute, does well to convey amazement at this dysfunctional family.

With the bumps in the night, use of atmospheric music and lights not only from the set but use of torches (well known in spooky stories), we are often on edge and unable to see the twists in the story.

What The Dolls Saw is nothing but an enjoyable experience. As one who is a total wimp when it comes to horror, there is enough to keep my heart beating and make me jump but not so much that I have to run for the door. And when i’m not gripping onto my seat, I am laughing and smiling at every moment.

Review: Gobby, Jodie Irvine, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Have you ever felt entirely alone? Too loud for a room? Like you do not fit?

Gobby is a one woman play about self discovery, about changes in young adult life and finally being okay with who you are.

Set within the premise of 5 different parties, Bri (like the cheese but not because it is spelt differently) finds herself lost and alone in the aftermath of a destructive relationship. Her friends, that she ignored during this period, now don’t want to know her, and Bri struggles with this reality, and her own loneliness.

This narrative feels like something we can all relate to – bad relationships, loneliness, and a sense of not belonging. The play is written as an inner monolgue, occasionally breaking away with the use of props (balloons with party hats on top) or a mild change in stance and addition of a stereotyped accent to bring in other characters. The characters are funny at first, and the over the top expressions of them help differentiate the story line. It becomes more subtle when the story becomes more serious, which is a clever maneuver, keeping us engaged.

While staged as a retelling of Bri’s life, often Jodie Irvine (our only performer) addresses her feet when speaking to us. At times this is endearing and adds to the awkwardness of the character, but eventually we want to make eye contact with her more – evidently with her obvious skills as an actress, she has reason to be more confident in her performance and we desperately want her to bring this to the stage.

We also believe that much of the outbursts and way Bri feels is due to a past relationship. But little is explained about this and we come to a point where nothing will do but knowledge, for us to be able to connect to the character. The rest ranges from comical to climactic releases, and so despite the lack of story, we are surprised at every turn.

Gobby is a passionate play about liking oneself and discovering who you are after trauma. It’s about growing up but also growing into yourself and so becomes a real coming of age tale that many in their early 20’s need to see to know that it will be alright in the end. We just want Irvine to be more confident in her well devised production!

Review: Since U Been Gone, Teddy Lamb, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Donned in neon pinks, greens and blues. we enter the room to subtle yet catchy indie meets electronica music, played by a gorgeous person in the corner. Long hair and a dress and shoes to kill, we already know we are in for something special.

This person isn’t Teddy Lamb, but their partner in crime, providing the soundtrack to this one person play. Lamb tells the story of their friendship with someone that was all consuming. They touch on aspects of mental health, death and grief but also coming to terms with and discovery of who one is.

Lamb is energetic, engaging and a lot of fun to be with. Addressing us as if we were their late friend, they reminisce on their time together, on their feelings and thoughts and actually how one’s mental health can drastically affect your own. Lamb makes us feel included in the story, makes us feel like their friend and there is a real sense of trust between us and Lamb with them sharing their life with us.

While full of emotion, darkness and open-ness, there is also light, comedy and a fabulous nature to the storytelling. Constantly with a soundtrack, this dramatic telling of their personal history draws us in on every level; especially bringing in trademark nods to us millennials and our childhoods.

Since U Been Gone is heart wrenching, heart warming, comical and beautiful. While Lamb continues to a focus on personal discovery that only a few would understand, we still relate to developing as a person, to certain emotions and feelings and come away feeling like part of an extended family.

An interview with Playwright Andy Evans

Hi Andy great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I’m a Welsh playwright currently living in Lincolnshire and studying an MA in Theatre at the University of Lincoln. I was born in Cardiff and raised in Penarth, where my love of drama and theatre was nurtured. I left Wales to train as a teacher in 1988 and went on to work as a teacher of Criminal Law for 25 years, before redundancy made a switch necessary and I became a primary teacher, with responsibility for Literacy in the school. After six years I decided that the time had come to move on and to pursue my passion, so I left teaching and began running Breakwater Theatre Company full-time. I also wanted to look to improve my knowledge and understanding of theatre and chose to study for an MA in Theatre, in order to validate the years of work I had done to date.

During my time as a teacher, I began writing plays for a youth theatre I ran as a volunteer in Grimsby. My first play was published by a small publisher in Essex in 1999 and in 2001 my play Moonlight Marionettes was published in the USA by playscripts.com. I joined Hull Truck Theatre Company where I was commissioned to write a full-length play entitled, Taking a Bullet. I also got involved in Stories of the Streetz, with the National Theatre of Wales, the Sherman Writers’ Group and Dirty Protest, for whom I have written twice. I also worked with Middle Child in Hull and Slung Low in Leeds among others. All of which led me to establish my own company, Breakwater, which specialises in new writing for the stage and has worked in conjunction with New Perspectives, in developing scripts and writers nationally.

So, what got you interested in the arts?

I went to St Cyres Comprehensive in Penarth; a school where I feel the arts were championed, and we had some really dedicated drama and music teachers. My inspiration was drama teacher Joy Nubert, she was a passionate advocate for drama education and ran extra-curricular workshops and productions. I performed in West Side Story and Oh! What a Lovely War, as well as workshopping scripts by Pinter and Orton.

St Cyres School, Penarth

We also had an amazing music teacher called Anne Harris, who led the school Music Department with passion and vigour. I guess my passion for performing arts was born there. Their love of the arts was infectious and inspiring. The arts help an individual to learn about themselves and to discover what makes people tick, to encourage support and inspire That is something I still see as important and influenced my choice of University for my MA. The University of Lincoln is championing a campaign to say #WhyArtsMatter a hashtag I fully endorse.

Why and where do you write?

I write at home and tend to write in the corner of my living room, though not exclusively. I enjoy being surrounded by my books and videos, with easy access to the internet to help me gain inspiration if I start to dry up. I also have two Dalmatians, who hate being left home alone and enjoy cwtching up as I write. I tend to write extremely quickly, which is a habit born out of necessity back when I was teaching. I would never write during term time and would get the majority of my writing done during school holidays. I tend to spend a lot of time preparing to write, mentally planning the plot and the structure and so on, before I ever open a Word document and beginning to write. The first draft of a play is often written in a very short window of opportunity and I re-write at leisure thereafter.

As to why I write, I write because I can’t help myself. I love writing and my brain loves contemplating things that would be interesting dramatically, which I could put on stage to entertain others. There is no “Go To Book of Ideas” it could be a picture, a documentary, an overheard conversation. The only rule is to ask “Would it make an interesting story?”

There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based writers, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you? Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in Wales and if not what would help?

I feel bad saying this, but I have received very little help or support from within Wales. As mentioned, I was a member of the Writers Group at the Sherman many moons ago, and that was useful for meeting and networking. My favourite support network within Wales is the small but mighty Dirty Protest, especially working with Catherine Paskell. The work done by DP is astonishing and they are, by far, the primary advocates for new Welsh playwriting. I love them and wish I could always write for them.

Catherine Paskell

And when John McGrath was in charge of the NTW, I felt that I had support and was welcomed with open arms to discuss my work and what I was doing. John even messaged me from Japan to ensure I was going to be able to discuss my work with someone from his team.

However, following the subsequent regime change, I felt edged out and during a meeting, was given the impression that it was unlikely I would be considered as I am not based in Wales. There are those of us who still qualify as “emerging artists” who are more mature and there are far less opportunities for us to market and stage our work. I would like to see schemes specifically aimed at mature writers. Their work can have just as much resonance as somebody a third of their age.

In addition, if a Welsh writer has chosen to work and reside outside Wales but then offers to work within Wales and Welsh theatres, it should not be held against them as there are such things as cars and trains. I get back to Penarth regularly and can always be available through a base in my family home. Its just another excuse for excluding someone. Let me decide if I am willing to drive back and forth, or stay in Wales for an extended period, don’t assume it won’t work in advance.

One reason I have chosen to remain in Lincolnshire for now, is that I get more work as a writer here. I am unsure that a move home would increase work opportunities and may lose some. During 2019, I was able to write and produce two newly commissioned plays and would not have the ability to see such work through to fruition at home, as there are far fewer opportunities offered and more writers chasing them. Ironically, one of my new plays. Indomitable, was about the life of Welsh author and disabled rights campaigner Elisabeth Sheppard Jones. I worried that the slightly parochial setting (Penarth in the 1950s – 70s) wouldn’t play well, but the play was a resounding success here in Cleethorpes.

Indomitable

I try to familiarise myself with the available work and career support in Wales, I am part of the NTW Community and I am on the mailing list for the Welsh branch of the Writers Guild of Great Britain, but I do still feel isolated from the theatre scene and hiraeth draws me home to watch others making work repeatedly. I would love to make more work in Wales, especially within Cardiff.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

I would love to offer a bursary to an emerging writer of mature years, giving them the freedom to write without worrying about how it would affect their income. Youth is often the only form of “new” considered by many in theatre. I staunchly believe that there are other writers out there who could benefit from career development but are discouraged by perceptions of ageism. Allow more mature people to explore and to be creative; fund them and then give them an outlet to share their work. It doesn’t have to be, and should not be, at the expense of opportunities for younger writers, but there are some amazingly creative people out there who think they have lost the chance to make a mark creatively. I would seek to encourage precisely that. 

Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?

As I mentioned earlier, I am constantly thinking about what the next idea will be or where the idea will come from. I don’t try to force creativity; I pay attention to the word around me. Moonlight Marionettes was inspired by a photo I saw on the internet. I wrote Indomitable about Elisabeth Sheppard Jones after reading about her on a Facebook page for local memories. The other play I wrote this year, was entitled With Love From Ruhleben.

I was commissioned to write it as part of a project funded by the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund and Lincs Inspire Libraries. Ruhleben was a civilian internment camp in Spandau, just outside Berlin at the outset of WW1. Any foreign nationals in Germany at the outbreak of hostilities were rounded up and the males were interred. For 5000 men that was their war. Many men from Grimsby were imprisoned as they had been in German waters at the time. So, I interviewed relatives of men who served and created a fictionalised story that forms part of an educational resource sent out to all secondary schools in the area. A filmed performance of the play on DVD and a copy of the script, accompanies a teacher’s pack for each school.

Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?

No two writing days are ever the same for me. I will often have spent months thinking about, researching for or plotting a play before I commit to writing and I outline the story before I start writing. I talk about that as a gestation period. Then, eventually, I will sit down to write. I pour myself a cup of coffee and open up my laptop, then I begin to write “Act One, Scene One”.

Generally, I write in a traditionally, linear fashion. I start as early as I can, after feeding and walking my dogs. I don’t set myself a word or a page count, I write everything that comes and finish when it feels right to do so. When writing the Ruhleben play, I sat and wrote for a full twelve-hour day and hammered out a complete full draft. I’m not proud of that as it went through a lot of rewrites, but I was at least able to see exactly where I wanted the story to go.

I don’t use a dramaturg, which is ironic as I am hoping my MA will allow me to offer my services to others in precisely that role. Instead, as I often direct my own work, the rehearsals help to re-shape a script. I do sometimes send a script to a trusted colleague, or fellow writer to give it a once over. If it has any detailed, technical requirements, I do try to check with an expert, that I haven’t made any glaring errors.

However, it often depends on which company I am writing for. I have found that different companies employ different methodologies and so I may work with a literary manager or a director on tweaking the final script. I really enjoyed working with the (then) Literary Manager at Hull Truck Theatre, Nick Lane to develop scripts and to shape them for performance. This in turn, also led to me joining the Literary Department as a reader at the time as well.

Hull Truck Theatre

You have recently started a new project Review Culture reviewing events across Lincolnshire. Does your theatrical knowledge impact upon your role as a critic?

Review Culture was set up as a direct response to the death of local news reporting and reviewing in the area I live. During my MA, we have been encouraged to write ABOUT theatre as well as FOR theatre. Dr Sue Healy led some sessions about the work of a reviewer or critic, and I found myself drawn to the work. I love going to see work in performance, be it amateur or professional. I decided that if I offered an online portal that reviewed work free of charge and yet which helped to publicise what is happening across Lincolnshire, it could only be a good thing. As a keen photographer, I also shoot production photos which are featured on the site too. I think that my background does impact upon the review process and upon the final product. We don’t use a star-rating system, the reviews merely reflect the good that we see presented in a show. I know its possible to rip some shows to shreds but that is not our mission. We review a lot of amateur productions and I recognise how much time and effort will have gone into staging work. Our reviews respond to their love and enthusiasm of the form. If a review is somewhat thin, we may not have enjoyed a show quite so much. But if we issue praise, it is because we believe it is well-deserved. After all, if audiences attend a show on our recommendation and it is a dud, they won’t trust us, or keep using our site to check out the reviews. We will become redundant very rapidly.

 Andy, I know you are currently engaged on a course of study and are specifically focusing on Welsh Playwrights I wonder if it’s possible to tell me some more about this please.

This is my pet subject, when I was offered a place on the course, many assumed that I would choose to write a play as my final project because it is an option available to me. Even I thought I would most likely choose that option. But fate stepped in and showed me how much I love research. The Library facilities at Lincoln are awesome. They run a scheme which allows students to request book purchases that will assist their studies and I have made great use of the scheme. I have persuaded them to order plays by a number of Welsh writers including Matthew Bulgo, Alun Saunders, Dic Edwards and Neil Anthony Docking. All of which feed into my intended topic for a dissertation.

Tutors within the school are supportive and have encouraged me to pursue my interest as a full study for my final project on the course. I intend to research and write about the way in which Welsh playwrights present nationality and nation in their plays. I have already spent time reading some of the earliest published plays written in English, considering the likes of Jo Francis, Caradoc Evans and latterly, Emlyn Williams, to contrast with the contemporary writers. As yet, I haven’t formulated a question for my thesis, and I am merely reading as much as I can. I hope to refine my field of study and hone the work down to relevant texts over the next two months. Once I have a specific research question sorted, I shall be making contact with as many writers as I can manage, and I hope that they will all have an opinion to share.

My tutors have warned me that I may be taking on a study that could be better suited to PhD and will need to be cautious to narrow my work, but we shall see what comes. Either way, my dissertation will need to be written and submitted by September 2020.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

I find the arts scene and the theatre scene, in Wales fascinating. It’s a brilliant community to be a part of and it is remarkably generous, giving and supportive in my experience. I love the diversity of the work created and the themes explored by writers such as Gary Owen and Katherine Chandler. The work of Tim Price continues to inspire me, and I only hope that I can gain a tiny sliver of the success that each has had. I continue to proselytise for Welsh playwriting in the realm of English theatre. I desperately want to ensure that exiles are not forgotten among the ranks of Welsh writers. That is why I love the work being led by Rebecca Hammond of Chippy Lane, championing those of us who are no longer based in the Land of Our Fathers. Cool Cymru has made an impact on the world and it would be great to think that it will continue, and the work of Welsh playwrights, resident and ex-patriot, will continue to thrive.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

I know I bore anyone who knows me when asked a question like this, but the single, most influential piece of theatre I have seen in recent years, from my perspective, was Iphigenia in Splott by Gary Owen, starring the powerhouse that is Sophie Melville.

Sophie is one of the greatest “undiscovered” gems of British theatre and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. What she, Rachel O’Riordan and Gary Owen achieved in that production, has really helped to lift the level of respect for Welsh plays in the eyes of those who are not from, or based in Wales. The whole team responsible for bringing that production into the world deserves praise from designers and tech to the final performance. The work of the Sherman is the last REALLY great thing I experienced, and I hope to experience even more from Cardiff’s premier producing theatre.

Sherman Theatre, Cardiff