The Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2015

Two Oberon authors were amongst the big winners at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards on Sunday night.

9781783198085American Stephen Adly Guirgis took the prize for Best New Play, for his frenetic and foul-mouthed comedy The Motherfucker with the Hat.

Directed by Indhu Rubasingham, it was the only winning production to come from the National Theatre despite their seven nominations.

9781783199006Almeida Associate Director Robert Icke was named Best Director for his refreshingly modern take on the Oresteia. Originally part of the Almeida Greek season it subsequently transferred to Trafalgar Studios.

9781783199358Nicole Kidman brought a touch of Hollywood glamour, as she was recognised for her much-celebrated return to the stage. She claimed the Best Actress Award for her portrayal of pioneering DNA scientist Rosalind Franklin, in Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51 at the Noël Coward Theatre.

9781783198931At the opposite end of the career spectrum, newcomer David Moorst took home the Emerging Talent Award for his performance as the troubled teen Liam in Gary Owen’s Violence and Son, at the Royal Court.

‘The hand that held the pen will be forgotten’ Barney Norris on Brian Friel, and what a writer can leave behind


Brian Friel

Upon reading of Brian Friel’s death last month, I took down from my shelves a collection of interviews he had given over the decades. Friel is deliciously pugilistic in his public statements, and I delighted in the book, as it freewheeled through a life’s hits and misses, as journalistic fashions came and went, as the man himself refused to mellow or to dim. I hope every interesting playwright is the subject of such a book – I look forward to reading them all.

One gem of an idea I found between the covers of that collection was a piece of advice Tyrone Guthrie gave the young Friel – that ‘a writer only survives as a body of work’. The nuances of this are quite subtle. It warns, of course, that the hand that held the pen will be forgotten; but I think Friel took it to mean that individual plays are less important than the accumulated whole – he placed the emphasis on ‘body’, and reminded all us writers in doing so not to get hung up on the show the critics go for, but to develop a repertoire and keep ploughing on.

9781783199174The relationship between writers and their ‘body of work’, as opposed to the individual projects they undertake, has always been of interest to me. Yeats, instinctively given to the retrospective mood, was dreaming of a uniform edition of his work while still in his twenties; the other great elegist in the language, Hardy, took a deeply devotional approach to the same project later in life when collecting his ‘Wessex edition’. I suspect both men’s differently unrealised personal lives put them keenly in mind of Yeats’s line that what was possible for a poet was ‘perfection of the life or of the work’. If the life you live happens most vividly, most deeply in what you write, and you come to feel better embodied by that ‘body of work’ than the body you were born in, the curation of that will naturally become a central ritual.

My first act of such curation happened this year, when Oberon collected my short plays At First Sight (2011), Fear of Music (2013) and Every You Every Me (2015) in a volume titled What You Wish For in Youth. This means all the dramatic work I’d admit to is available from a single source (Oberon also publish my plays Visitors and Eventide). I was surprised how important this turned out to be to me – how proud I’ve ended up feeling of What You Wish For in Youth. I’ve always admired the determination of writers like Caryl Churchill to focus on the next thing, to always be doing something new, but getting my short plays into this livery couldn’t help but feel meaningful. I think perhaps because my first plays were staged while my company, Up In Arms, was just beginning, and so didn’t receive ever so much public attention, it feels particularly gratifying to find a way to make them available to people. But it also felt good, I admit, to start laying a claim to a ‘body of work’ – if for no other reason than to announce that I’m in for the long haul, and plan, in Friel and Guthrie’s terminology, to survive.

Barney Norris has published two full-length plays and a collection of short plays with Oberon Books (so far). He founded the touring theatre company Up In Arms with Alice Hamilton in 2008. He won the Critics’ Circle Most Promising Playwright Award and the Offie Award for Most Promising Playwright for Visitors (Arcola Theatre, tour and Bush Theatre). His books include To Bodies Gone: The Theatre of Peter Gill.  His first novel, Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain, will be published in 2016.

See more of Barney Norris’ writing on the Oberon Books website
Learn more about Up in Arms theatre company on their website

Barney Norris

Photograph 51 Q&A with Anna Ziegler

Anna Ziegler’s award-winning play, Photograph 51, is currently running at the Noël Coward Theatre until 21st November. This extraordinary play looks at Rosalind Franklin, the woman who cracked the double-helix secret of DNA, and interrogates what is sacrificed in the pursuit of science, love and a place in history. Directed by Michael Grandage and starring Nicole Kidman, the production has attracted a huge amount of press attention. It has more than lived up to the hype, with wonderful reviews since its opening in September.

Below is a transcript of playwright Anna Ziegler in conversation with Heather Neil of, in which Ziegler discusses her inspiration for Photograph 51, and her creative process. Down below you’ll also find a competition to win a signed copy of the play, as well as some of the great endorsements from all of you on social media. We love to read and share these, so keep them coming! What was it about her [Rosalind Franklin] that so fascinated you? Obviously she has been allowed to drop out of history unfairly. Was that the main thing, or was it what she discovered?
Anna Ziegler: What I immediately loved about her was just how unique and interesting and complicated a character she was. And inherently tragic. I think the fact that she died so young and had so much potential – she was really considered by almost everyone just a brilliant scientist – man or woman— it’s that potential cut short which is still heart-breaking…what she would have gone on to do and discover. But I also found the circumstances she was in, and the way those perhaps created or triggered the personality that then clashed so fiercely with Maurice Wilkins at this particular moment in history, fascinating.

TV: You have a quotation from Horace Judson in the programme, about how the importance of the personalities of scientists are often overlooked, and that’s the nub of the play really, isn’t it? It’s about how personality, as well as brains, are responsible for what actually happens and comes out of research.
AZ: For me, it is absolutely. And I think I was also really taken by the metaphor of the double-helix itself, and the way it reflects so much what happened at this moment. Because the double helix is itself a pairing. It’s a pairing that works very well and creates life, and here we have this story of these two pairs: one that worked together – Watson and Crick – and one that did not. And it’s of course the successful pair that ends up discovering life in a very neat, beautiful kind of way. And the failure of the other pairing is I think also sort of reflective of – and I don’t understand the science well enough to explain it but – the DNA as two strands that work together, but they never actually touch. So there is this essential part of life that is about tenuous collaboration and how easily things can go wrong.

Photograph 51, taken by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling

Photograph 51, taken by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling

TV: You don’t have a science background, and you’ve got to get over to an audience – also most of whom won’t have a science background – what all the fuss was about. You’ve used ideas of beauty and pattern and so on, which we do understand. But it’s always so difficult putting science on stage. Was that the biggest problem?
AZ: I suppose when I started writing it, I just thought ‘well I don’t understand a lot of these concepts, so whatever I put on stage has to be simple enough that I can understand it!’ So it seemed to me if I was the average audience member I would just do my best to represent something I could basically understand. That being said, I think the play goes by really quickly. It’s a fast-paced play and I think a lot of people – and I would too – miss some of the science. Maybe it’s sacrilegious to say it, but I don’t think it matters all that much. It’s not about the science. As long as the science is there and creating an authentic backdrop essentially, then I feel like I’ve done my job. But it’s certainly been daunting and gratifying to have the response of real scientists, and I think most have said the science is accurate and comes across pretty authentically so I’ve been happy about that, I have to admit.

TV: It’s set in London in 1951-53, so was that something you had to think hard about? Getting the language and the behaviour right?
AZ: I did write it in America. But it’s really fun for me to write very much outside of my own experience and my own voice. So it appealed to that side of me—and it appealed in particular to my Anglophilic side. I had done a year of graduate school here in England after University in the States – I was at UEA in Norwich. And then I had a British boyfriend for a number of years, so I spent a lot of time in England when I was in my twenties, shortly before writing this play. So I think I at least absorbed some British sensibility. And I didn’t worry so much about it being in the 50s. As the play has evolved there have been certain lines that I’ve shifted a little bit if someone would say ‘oh that feels a little too modern’, but on the whole it was really trying to capture a Britishness that felt natural and not imposed. I don’t really think people have changed all that much. I think there are certain words that people used more back then than now but I don’t think people are hugely different.

(You can listen to the entire conversation with Anna Ziegler at

513 519 518 517 516 515 512 514 If you’d like to win a signed copy of Photograph 51, email with your name & postal address, and we’ll add your name to the hat. Good luck!

Photograph 51 will run at the Noël Coward Theatre until 21st November. 
The play text is available from Oberon Books.


How to win an Emmy Award

9781783191031Last weekend saw the 67th Emmy Awards take place in LA, and it was a proud night for our very own David Quantick who, along with his colleagues Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell, bagged not one but two Emmys – namely Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. The HBO show in question, VEEP, was awarded a whopping five Emmys overall, including Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

David’s excitement was clear, as he tweeted pictures and gags throughout the ceremony on his personal twitter account @Quantick.

Qtweet2 Qtweet3

If you, too, want to master David’s dark arts of quill and ink, you can learn more from his book How to Write EverythingAs well as being as enjoyably readable as you’d expect from Quantick, it covers a huge range of styles – from journalism to sketches to novels – with a level of experience and skill you can’t find just anywhere. As David himself argues it:


So, huge congratulations from us to David, and to all the VEEP gang, on your success!



The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre

Unique in style and content, The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre by Aleks Sierz and Lia Ghilardi is a lively guided tour through the history of theatre in Britain. An easily-digestible insight into 400 years of politics, fashion, arts, religion and royalty, this volume is a delightful and light-hearted way to learn something new – as if you were really there! To take a sneak peek inside, click here.
We’ve pulled together a small selection of the famous faces you’ll meet in the book, as well as some key information about their lives and work. It’s a very quick and easy who’s-who of some British theatre heroes from the past, beginning in 1564 with Christopher Marlowe…



Christopher Marlowe (Illustrated by James Illman)



William Shakespeare



William Wycherley



Richard Brinsley Sheridan


Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde


George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw (Illustrated by James Illman)

The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre is available now, and is a wonderful asset to any student or teacher of history, drama or theatre. 


‘An immensely entertaining, informative guide to 400 years of British theatre that wears its considerable learning lightly.’ Michael Billington (Guardian)

‘This book is the perfect introduction to British theatre … even those who know a great deal about the subject will be entertained and learn a great deal as they enjoy this page turner.’ British Theatre Guide

‘It combines the latest insights of today with the story of yesterday. It reads like a fast-moving ride on a theatre-go-round — only much more informative. The gossip is fun, too.’ Sir Christopher Frayling

‘I am bowled over by The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre… I’ve read many histories of theatre in my time, some very dry and academic and others rather more basic and banal for young readers… But never before have I chortled and marvelled my way through anything quite so informative and entertaining.’ The Stage

Taking the Greeks out of the Attic

Rupert Goold is the Artistic Director of the Almeida Theatre in Islington, and is currently at the helm of the ambitious Almeida Greeks season. Robert Icke’s adaptation of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, which runs until 18th July, has already received 4* and 5* reviews in the press, and brand new versions of Bakkhai and Medea are soon to follow. In this short introduction, Goold explains his attraction to Greek drama and invites us to enjoy the season.

“At the Almeida, we strive to create theatre that asks questions of its audiences, of who they are and the world they live in. We believe that the work we present must be alive and resonant, as far away as possible from being dusty cultural heritage.

So when we came to the writers of Ancient Greece, the founding fathers of theatre as we know it, we wanted to be true to their plays – staging them in full complexity, presenting their formal iconoclasm, their humour, musicality, politics, violence and unswerving drama.

These writers took society’s old myths and made them new: changed them, exploded them, set them loose as contemporary stories that spoke to their city. At the same time, they posed big, provocative, sometimes uncomfortable questions; ones which, two thousand years later, we still struggle to answer.

We want to follow their example. We are taking the Greeks out of the Attic.

Oresteia is the first of three major new productions of Greek tragedy roaring into our theatre from May to October 2015. Alongside these, inspired in form and spirit by the Greek Dionysia, we will also present a festival of other work in the theatre and off-site, including responses, talks, readings and panels. We hope you can join us.”

Rupert Goold,by Johan Persson, 2014,

Rupert Goold,by Johan Persson, 2014

Find out more about the Almeida Greeks season HERE
Browse more Greek drama HERE

MAD ABOUT THE BUTCH: Emma Donoghue pursues women in pants

Emma Donoghue is an award-winning Irish writer who lives in Canada. She has written novels, plays, YA fiction and will soon publish her first children’s book, The Lotterys Plus One. The film adaptation of her Man-Booker-shortlisted novel Room is also due out this year. Donoghue’s work falls under Queer, Irish & Women’s writing, and the five plays in her new collection cover topics such as gay marriage, sexual identity, witch trials and fairy tales.
In this blog, Donoghue discusses the idea of ‘butch’ women, and how women from history who adopted the dress of men have inspired much of her writing.

“When I was a fourteen-year-old I was appalled by Martina Navratilova. Since the tennis champion had come out in 1981 she’d been a by-word for lesbianism. I accepted the fact that I was a girl who loved girls, but it horrified me that anyone would associate me with a woman so muscular, so mannish, so (I thought) ugly.

Five years later, when I fell for my first tomboy-who-always-wore-trousers, I realised that part of my visceral shudder at Navratilova had actually been a shiver of attraction. And the rest had been a confused, inarticulate protest that I wasn’t that; that I was the lipstick-wearing kind of lesbian myself.  It finally clicked for me that I wanted girls who didn’t dress like me, and that if same-sex desire, like the heterosexual kind, is sometimes a matter of opposites attracting, that doesn’t make it a pathetic copy of the real thing.

Emma Donoghue: Selected Plays

Emma Donoghue: Selected Plays

Every writer has two key sources, their own stuff, and something not-them that hooks them so deeply, they have to write about it just as urgently as their own stuff. My life experience to that point produced two contemporary novels set in Dublin, but my other great stimulus was Helena Whitbread’s groundbreaking book I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister (1791-1840). Lister, mocked by the locals as ‘Gentleman Jack’, strode across the moors in black cloak and boots and seems to have seduced every woman she took a fancy to in Regency Yorkshire. Androgynous but not actually crossdressing, running an estate and businesses like a man but relishing the all-girls-together freedoms of female friendship, she made gender look like a dangerous, thrilling game. My first play, I Know My Own Heart, was inspired by Lister’s diaries, and my first historical study, Passions Between Women, was a long answer to the question of what texts she might have come across that would have enabled her to put together a confident lesbian identity by the early 1800s.

Anne Lister started me on a quest for manly women which has been a key strand in my writing for the past quarter of a century. My second play, Ladies and Gentlemen, centred on Annie Hindle, who played the gender game for a living. One of those vaudeville stars who made her fortune by dashing among multiple theatres every night, this bullish, witty ‘male impersonator’ was always billed as a woman, ‘Miss Annie Hindle’, but some of her wishful girl fans convinced themselves otherwise. First she married a man, then a woman, and lost them both. Hindle’s story allowed me to explore the layers of performance – the differences between doing drag on stage, in the dressing room (where her dresser Ella Wesner went on to become a male impersonator in turn), in candid interviews with the newspapers, at her second wedding (where the minister swore the bridegroom was male), then in retirement in New Jersey where she and her wife both wore skirts.

These early affairs (as it were) with long-dead, seductive butches – as much as my PhD in eighteenth-century English fiction – left me feeling equally at home in the past and the present, so I credit Lister and Hindle with leading me into historical fiction, which I have been publishing for the past decade and a half. (A peculiarly geekish form of historical fiction, which tries to work as history as well as fiction, because when you’re writing about those who’ve been left out of capital-H History, you feel a burning obligation to put the facts on the record as well as spinning a memorable story.) Although the range of nobodies, oddballs and freaks I write about has broadened – my curiosity is as much about race and class as sex and sexuality –  the woman in pants often wanders in.


Emma Donoghue © Punch Photographic, 2013

My most recent novel, Frog Music, is about the unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet. What drew me to the case was Bonnet’s playfulness, which rings across the centuries. Here she is joking in court: ‘Jeanne Bonnet, the French frog-catcher, has been convicted for wearing man’s apparel, although she says she hasn’t any other. Therefore if she didn’t wear it she would be convicted, too.’ (Daily Alta California, 7 September 1875) A child actress who’d ditched that career to work as a shepherd and then a frog hunter for restaurants, Bonnet wasn’t wearing pants as a costume, nor trying to pass as a man. She took her gender rebellion to the streets (and even to jail) in an utterly nonchalant way that both men and women seem to have found attractive. Here we have the androgyne as trickster, truth-teller, even scapegoat for society’s tensions; when she was gunned down, one headline read ‘Woman’s Mania for Male Attire Ends in Death’.

Bonnet reminds me of Virginia Woolf’s advice that ‘it is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly.’  If ethnicity’s rules are most exposed at the edges, in cases such as that of Dido Belle (the subject of one of my early stories, and more recently a fascinating film by Amma Asante), then the same goes for gender: manly women expose the whole edifice as the fragile construction it is. They also, for me, have an irresistible otherness and charm. It’s often assumed that writers are motivated by identification with some group we feel we belong to or would like to, but sometimes, I suggest, we write as an act of homage and flirtation, a straining towards what we desire.”

Emma Donoghue: Selected Plays contains Kissing the Witch, Don’t Die Wondering, Trespasses, Ladies and Gentlemen, and I Know My Own Heart.

Find out more about Emma Donoghue and her work on her own website HERE