Introducing the writers behind Series 2: Newcastle, presented by Paines Plough and Open Clasp Theatre Company, which will be available to watch on our YouTube Channel from 7pm on Wednesday 27 May:
Christina is an actor and writer. She co-wrote CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT with Lee Mattinson, which was due to open at Live Theatre this year. She has previously performed in Open Clasp’s productions of KEY CHANGE and RATTLE SNAKE.
Abigail is an actor and writer. She and her mum Cheryl played themselves in Open Clasp’s production of DON’T FORGET THE BIRDS, based on their real-life experience of Cheryl serving time in prison. You can read more about that production here.
Kay is is a 20-year old hip hop artist rapper from Tyneside in Newcastle. She is devoted to youth work in her local community. You can check her out here.
Charlotte is a new writer and recently returned to her home town after leaving home at a young age. She attended a Writing for Social Change Masterclass at Newcastle University with Open Clasp Artistic Director and Writer, Catrina McHugh MBE. Open Clasp knew she had a passionate voice and a story to tell.
ABOUT OPEN CLASP:
Open Clasp’s aim is to Change the World, One Play at a Time by placing theatre at the heart of transforming the lives of disadvantaged women and girls. Open Clasp are an award-winning women’s theatre company and a leading force in the North of England with a national and international reach. They make truthful and risk-taking work informed by the lived experiences of women disenfranchised in theatre and society, those from minority communities and women affected by the criminal justice system.
Open Clasp are proud to support new and emerging female writers from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. For 22 years, they have been rooted in their community, creating the best theatre they can to make social and cultural change a reality. They are excited for audiences to hear female voices from the city they all love as they share their stories about the place they call home.
As theatres around the world were forced to close their doors in March, Open Clasp Theatre Company’s award-winning prison drama Key Change was made available to watch online for free. Devised with women in HMP Low Newton to tour to male prisons, critically-acclaimed Key Change carries their voices over the razor wire in a raw, illuminating and very funny portrayal of women in prison.
“In these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever for us to find ways to connect – with our audiences, partners and the women we’ve worked with for more than 20 years. We’ve seen first-hand the power of theatre to bring people together and make change happen, so it’s more important than ever that we continue to reach out to those who need our support most in these unsettling times, even if it’s digitally rather than physically.”Catrina McHugh MBE, Artistic Director and Writer of Key Change
Corinne is an emerging playwright based in Edinburgh.
She is a previous winner of the Playwrights’ Studio Scotland New Playwrights Award, as part of which she was mentored by Zinnie Harris and Philip Howard to develop a new play about the world of old-fashioned travelling circus.
Other plays include THE DARKNESS OR ELSE THE LIGHT, commissioned by Strange Town youth theatre and performed on the main stage at the Traverse in June 2018; THE CHARGE, which was longlisted for the Tron’s Progressive Playwright Award; and A MOUNTAIN BIRTH, about the early life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which was developed with the support of an Athenaeum Award from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Corinne is also currently developing a new play, ELODIE, about AI devices being used to help raise our children, with support from Creative Scotland and the NTS Guest Room scheme. Her play GIRLBOSS is published in Routledge’s anthology ‘Short Plays with Great Roles for Women’. Her past work has appeared at venues including Hampstead Theatre, Theatre503, Old Red Lion, the Spiegeltent, Southwark Playhouse, Live Theatre Newcastle, Camden People’s Theatre, the Yard Theatre, the Old Vic, the Public Theater in New York, the Tron, the Traverse, Village Pub Theatre and the Hidden Door Festival. Corinne’s work is supported by the Peggy Ramsay Foundation and Creative Scotland.
‘One of the finest singer-songwriters in Britain’ The Guardian ★★★★★
Seven-times winner at The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, including three times for Best Original Song and Folk Singer Of The Year 2018, Karine Polwart is a songwriter, musician, theatre maker, storyteller, and author. She also performs traditional songs and writes to commission for theatre, film, animation, and international thematic collaborative projects.
Recent projects include her SCOTTISH SONGBOOK re-imaginings of classic Scottish pop; THE LOST WORDS:SPELL SONGS, a multi-artist response to environmental loss and climate breakdown.
She has worked previously with the BBC SSO, Songs of Separation, author James Robertson, documentary film-maker Anthony Baxter, and indie composer RM Hubbert.
In 2016, in association with The Royal Lyceum Theatre and Edinburgh International Festival, Karine wrote, musically directed and performed her critically acclaimed debut work for theatre. A poetic meditation on midwifery, ecology, sanctuary, and solidarity, it combines elements of memoir, essay, myth, sound-art and song. WIND RESISTENCE won the Best Music And Sound Award at the CATS (Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland) 2017, and the accompanying album A POCKET OF WIND RESISTENCE written in collaboration with sound-designer Pippa Murphy, was selected as Best Album 2017 by both Songlines Magazine and BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction, and was nominated for SAY Scottish Album Of The Year.
In 2020, both the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra have commissioned new work, in collaboration with sound designer/composer Pippa Murphy.
Stef Smith is an multi award-winning writer working to international acclaim.
Work includes: ENOUGH, GIRL IN THE MACHINE, SWALLOW (Traverse Theatre); NORA: A DOLL’S HOUSE (Glasgow Citizen’s Theatre); THE SONG PROJECT (Royal Court); ACTS OF RESISTENCE (Headlong / Bristol Old Vic); LOVE LETTER TO EUROPE (Underbelly); HOW TO BUILD A NATION (Young Vic); HUMAN ANIMALS (Royal Court); REMOTE (National Theatre Connections Festival); TEA AND SYMMETRY (BBC Radio); SMOKE (And Mirrors) (Traverse Theatre & Dot Istanbul for Theatre Uncut); BACK TO BACK TO BACK (Cardboard Citizens); CURED (Glasgay! Festival); GREY MATTER (The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen); WOMAN OF THE YEAR (Oran Mor, Glasgow) And FALLING/FLYING (Tron, Glasgow).
Most recently Stef was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn prize, which is the largest prize for women writing in the English language. Stef has won three Scotsman Fringe First Awards for ROADKILL, SWALLOW and ENOUGH. ROADKILL also won an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre, a Herald Angel Award, the Amnesty Freedom of Expression Award, a Fringe First Award, a Total Theatre Award for Innovation, and the Edinburgh International Festival Fringe Prize. SWALLOW opened to widespread critical acclaim, and also won the Scottish Arts Club Theatre Award.
Stef took part in the BBC Drama Writers Room and her Digital Drama Short pilot FLOAT was released on BBC iPlayer in October 2019. A full series of FLOAT has been commissioned by BBC Scotland and is set to be released in 2020. Stef is currently under commission to Leeds Playhouse, National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Exchange Theatre. She is also an Associate Artist at the Traverse Theatre and Leeds Playhouse.
Jo is the author of a 100 works in every dramatic medium. Her work has been translated into many languages and has been performed all over the world.
Recent plays include FAUST PARTS ONE AND WO (Lyceum); EVERY ONE (Lyceum, then Battersea Arts Centre); THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE (Traverse); THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN, EVE (co-written with Chris Goode, National Theatre of Scotland, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, & Tron Theatre, Glasgow)
She first made her reputation in the mid eighties when she was still living as a man and writing under the name of ‘John Clifford’.
Her LOSING VENICE (1985) was the first of the plays she wrote for the Traverse and which re-established its reputation as an internationally important venue. She followed it with LUCY’S PLAY (1986) PLAYING WITH FIRE (1987), INES DE CASTRO (1989), and LIGHT IN THE VILLAGE (1992).
INES became an opera with music by James MacMillan, first performed by Scottish Opera in 1996 and revived several times. LIGHT IN THE VILLAGE has been translated into Tagalog and Urdu and will shortly be performed in Karachi.
She has dramatised many classic novels, including GREAT EXPECTATIONS (TAG 1988, Traverse 1989 and, many other productions later the Vaudeville Theatre, London). Other adaptations include: LA VIE DE BOHEME (Pitlochry 1993), WUTHERING HEIGHTS (Pitlochry 1995), THE QUEEN OF SPADES (Pitlochry 2002), ANNA KARENINA (Lyceum 2005; Royal Exchange 2016).
For radio, Jo has written FIVE DAYS WHICH CHANGED EVERYTHING, SPAM FRITTERS, WRITING HOME TO MOTHER, MADELEINE, AIN’T IT GRAND TO BE BLOOMIN’ WELL DEAD, and ENDING TIME, and has adapted BALTASAR AND BLIMUNDA and THE LEOPARD among many others.
In the last ten yeas, she has re-discovered herself as a performer. Last year she performed EVE in Dundee Rep, the Nairn Festival, and the International Theatre Festival in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She has been performing her GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN for the last ten years, most recently in the Traverse, in the Tron, Glasgow, in Brussels, Belo Horizonte and Sao Paulo in Brazil. The Brazilian production has been touring Brazil for the past three years and is considered one of the most significant plays to have been performed there in recent history.
We launched COME TO WHERE I AM last week with this piece by Simon Stephens, performed by David Bradley. A reminder that all donations made to this project will go directly towards employing writers to deliver more excellent new writing during the current COVID-19 outbreak.
In partnership with theatres across the UK, we have already commissioned 30+ new short plays from writers about the places they call home and their relationship to home at this time. These will be shared with you as visual-audio pieces and then performed at our partner venues when they reopen.
The self-filmed pieces, from a different part of the country each week, will be available on our YouTube channel with a request for donations.
All donations made to this project will go directly towards employing writers to deliver more excellent new writing during COVID-19.
Please consider donating anything you can afford to this very important cause. We need to keep telling stories.
I’ve been working on a play commission and a couple of film things. And bits of zoom teaching. But I’m also trying to use the time to slow down a bit. Nothing’s getting made for a while and that’s heart-breaking in so many ways but maybe, if there’s a tiny positive to come out of it, it’s that we’ve got some time to process and reflect. So I’m trying to do some reading and a bit of free writing for myself. Writing that is silly and indulgent and for no purpose other than my own enjoyment.
What’s it like to be in lockdown after writing a play about the end of the world?
It’s so weird. The play closed on February 22nd and within a couple of weeks it had kind of changed genre. The play’s opening image is a woman walking into a run-down but fairly normal-looking office wearing a gas mask. It was designed to feel a bit jarring – to juxtapose normalcy with something more sinister, even sci-fi. Now we see similar sights on a daily basis. I’ve seen some of the exact lines and poster quotes we used in the show pasted on the insides of windows. But at the same time – and horribly, for a play that includes a description of mould growing on people’s faces – it seems almost quaint? “Look at these people who are totally unafraid of social contact; of cracking someone’s backs when they’re sore, of holding someone’s hand through a difficult call. How sweet.”
What inspired you to write about a post-apocalyptic world?
Well, for me, the play is kind of mid-apocalyptic. Everything’s falling apart and it’s not looking great but life is still carrying on. I started writing the play in 2017. It was an attempt to make literal a particular feeling of despair that felt quite pervasive at the time. It felt like you couldn’t turn on the news or look at your phone without hearing about something world-endingly disturbing or worrying. But, as a natural optimist, I was interested in how you remain hopeful in a world that is constantly confronting you with reasons not to be. Whether optimism is even a remotely useful way of looking at the world. That was the little scab I wanted to pick away at.
I also wanted, in some way, to redress the nihilist and individualistic world-view that dominates much of so-called Dystopian Fiction. I felt that kindness and compassion, in all their smallness, their profound and sticky difficulty, were underrepresented in those kind of stories. And maybe on our stages more generally.
Will you write about COVID-19?
No. I think there are some writers who can fearlessly look a thing in the eye and conjure a kind of defining statement. But I’m not of one of them. My stuff is usually better when looking to the side of the thing. And personally, though I’m trying to stay open-minded, I’m also kind of dreading the swathe of pandemic plays, books and television we’re likely to see. My friend George wrote a great piece (https://medium.com/@georgeattwell/event-television-in-the-age-of-lockdown-eee883322409) on James Graham’s brilliant Quiz – itself an attempt to explore the present through an historical lens – in which he reminded me of a quote from The History Boys: “Our perspective on the past alters. Looking back, immediately in front of us is dead ground. We don’t see it, and because we don’t see it this means that there is no period so remote as the recent past.”
When you write (or see) a play you hope, I think, to find in it some tiny truth about how it feels to be alive in the world right now. At the moment, that sensation of living is changing. But I think that if you follow the hunch or story or character that’s nagging at you, that for some weird, undefinable, illogical reason you find mysterious or funny or moving, something of your experience of being a person who exists in the present seeps into it. And that sounds a lot more meaningful to me than watching The Great Coronavirus Play.
What are you most looking forward to in life after lockdown?
Oh, mainly going to the pub and getting embarrassingly drunk on cheap drinks.
Watching the continuing agony and ecstasy of Manchester United’s progress under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Sitting in a dark, cramped room with a bunch of strangers and listening to a story. Deleting the Zoom app from my laptop.
YOU STUPID DARKNESS! was a co-production with Theatre Royal Plymouth, directed by former Paines Plough Joint Artistic Director James Grieve, which premiered in Plymouth in February 2019 and transferred to London’s Southwark Playhouse in January 2020.