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

Why Greeks Matter

This evening (Monday 8 June) Rupert Goold, Ivo Van Hove and Deborah Warner are in conversation to mark the launch of their Almeida Greeks season. As three of the world’s leading directors of classical work, Rupert, Ivo and Deborah will explore why these texts remain central to the ongoing practice of theatre makers, audiences and the wider theatrical ecology. In other words, Why Greeks Matter.

Oberon Books will publish all three of the Almeida Greek season plays: OresteiaMedea, and Bakkhai. These add to our growing collection of classic and new interpretations and translations of Greek plays, including the recent acclaimed Barbican production of Antigone, and the radical new Iphigenia in Splott.



Medea’s marriage is breaking up. And so is everything else. Testing the limits of revenge and liberty, Euripides’ seminal play cuts to the heart of gender politics and asks what it means to be a woman and a wife.
One of world drama’s most infamous characters is brought to controversial new life by award-winning feminist writer Rachel Cusk and Almeida Artistic Director Rupert Goold.



Pentheus has banned the wild, ritualistic worship of the god Dionysos. A stranger arrives to persuade him to change his mind. Euripides’ electrifying tragedy is a struggle to the death between freedom and restraint, the rational and the irrational, man and god. Using three actors and a chorus, James Macdonald returns to the Almeida to stage Euripides’ hedonistic tragedy in a visceral new version by Anne Carson. Ben Whishaw makes his Almeida debut as Dionysos.



Orestes’ parents are at war. A family drama spanning several decades, a huge, moving, bloody saga, Aeschylus’ greatest and final play asks whether justice can ever be done – and continues to resonate more than two millennia after it was written.
Following Mr Burns and 1984, Almeida Associate Director Robert Icke radically reimagines Oresteia for the modern stage, in its first major London production in more than a decade. Lia Williams returns to the Almeida as Klytemnestra.

Learn more about the Almeida Greeks season – HERE
Learn more about Oberon’s Greek publications – HERE
Book tickets for tonight’s discussions – HERE

“We finally managed to crucify Jesus at midnight.” On the perils of directing Dennis Potter’s ‘Son of Man’

Ahead of its screening at BFI Southbank, Gareth Davies – director of many of Dennis Potter’s early television hits – recalls the challenges of bringing Son of Man to the screen on something close to a shoestring.

Son of Man 3

‘Son of Man’, 1969

Dennis Potter‘s work will one day be critically reassessed and in that process I believe Son of Man will be judged a pretty shoddy production which did not serve the excellent script and cast.

It’s a platitude that critics can only judge what they see and should not concern themselves with the problems, technical and structural, that existed in the 1960s.  An historical analysis, however, might usefully consider the factors that led to poor production values.

First of all no excuses, the main fault was mine. I knew that four days in Studio 1 would be inadequate to stage the production. I suggested that we delay the production until the arrival of Colour TV and try to assemble a coalition of European TV stations and shoot all the crowd scenes in a desert location with each station feeding in its own Jesus and disciples.

I was told not to be silly and to get on with mounting a studio production. Ironically Son of Man was later shown to the European Federation with several members regretting they could not afford to make their own production.

Decisions now had to be taken over the set design and this is where the errors of judgement started.

Son of Man 1

Brian Blessed prepares to snare a cameraman.

Having fantasised about shooting in a real desert I foolishly concurred with the idea of a realistic set in the studio. A desert would be constructed out of sandbags topped off with real sand which would double as Golgotha. The Sea of Galilee measured 8′ x 4′ which meant that when Brian Blessed as Peter cast his net he caught more cameramen than fish.

The cast was tiny for the Sermon on the Mount but large by the standards of the time and under constant financial pressure.  ‘Mark, Luke, Thomas…..?  Yes I know they’re the Disciples but do we really need 12?’

Son of Man 2I decided that all crowds scenes should be shot with untidy edges and cameras on the move so that we would feel that there was life outside the frame.

A miniature Jewish village square would be constructed inaccessible to studio cameras. To shoot these scenes I was permitted to dress 3 cameramen as Jewish peasants and equip them with small industrial cameras under their robes.  These had never been permitted before and took a lot of bargaining.

I retreated into the security of doing what I knew best – working with Dennis and the actors to develop our understanding of the play and pretended that everything was going to be wonderful.

An anecdote:- The rehearsal room floor was covered in hundreds of yards of multi-coloured tape marking out the various sets. When the final rehearsal ended it was the job of two young floor assistants to pull up each inch of tape. This could easily take two hours and then they had to go to the studio to check their props.

We decided to make the final rehearsal a word run only, at speed and with no movement. Colin Blakely wandered the desert pulling up a few feet of tape.  All the cast followed Jesus and by the end of the run the floor was completely cleared and the two floor assistants were in tears.

Without that sort of company spirit, led by Colin, I don’t think we would have survived the next four days as well as we did.

The morning of the first Studio day:-  I was approached by a man who introduced himself as the Head of Engineering. He called me Gareth and asked was I watching the Test Match? After a few minutes of this bizarre conversation he suddenly said ‘Oh, by the way, I’ve decided you can’t have the hand held cameras. They’re not up to standard.’

Eventually I said that I would simply cut to black where every hand held shot had been planned and HoE stalked off. I got my cameras back but too late to rehearse with them and they were not successful.

Next I was approached by my Designer, white-faced. Permission to use sand in the Studio had been withdrawn as it interfered with the running wheels of the camera dollies. However, oatmeal had been ordered and would be spread over our sandbag desert as soon as possible.

Unfortunately whenever we turned the wind-machines on to make the desert seem bitterly cold, the air filled with flying oatmeal which stuck to the woollen robes of the cast. The wind had to be switched off, leading to one critic calling the production ‘Curiously airless’!  He was right.

All these factors damaged the production but I can’t pretend that they were responsible for the massive overrun that occurred. We were simply overwhelmed. With a stop time of 10pm we finally managed to crucify Jesus at midnight. None of the Pontius Pilate scenes had been recorded.

Son of Man 5

Up to this point the BBC had frankly not been at its best, now it upped a gear and responded magnificently.

Starting with chaos at midnight, within the hour the actor’s contracts had been sorted, a programme evicted from the small studio where our Roman sets were standing unused. Gerald Savory put an arm around my shoulder, told me everything was going to be wonderful and to get some sleep.

The next morning in Studio 2 a duty Vision Mixer arrived, complete with her knitting, to find two half-naked boxers rehearsing killing one another with viciously spiked gloves. ‘I’ve come to do Jackanory’ she said. Not any more.


‘The Art of Invective’

Everyone rallied and we finished but Dennis was not well served. My decisions on the style and design of the production were wrong although I’m still not sure what would have been the right approach. The last time I saw a recording it still had a boom in shot!

There are no villains in this tale. I imagine senior engineers believed they were correcting poor planning decisions made by their junior staff. Certainly wrong judgements were made by young programme makers swept on a tide of enthusiasm both for the play itself and for the sheer joy of walking into a big empty box and making magic.

For many of us a BBC Drama Studio was the real National Theatre, shorn of elitism and available from Land’s End to John o’Groats.

Reactions to the production were mixed. Rev Donald Soper was quoted as saying he wouldn’t watch because he knew what it would be like. The first of many telephone complainants to the BBC was disgusted that ‘…this man has hair on his body!’

A year later Graeme McDonald showed me a letter from the Mother Superior of a video-savvy Convent. They loved Son of Man so much, they had played it so often, that their 1 Inch Video reel to reel recording had worn out. Could they please buy a new copy?

How was Graeme to explain that the nun’s actions were illegal and that he should report them? The situation was resolved discreetly.

Forty Years On – How they Made a Mess of a Miracle

Dennis Potter would have been 80 today, and in honour of the occasion here’s a rare article he wrote in October 1969 for the short-lived Mirror Magazine. It shows Potter in typically combative mood as he contemplates four decades of television since the birth of the BBC. This is exclusive to the Oberon Books blog but you can find plenty more of Potter’s thoughts on television in The Art of Invective. Our thanks go to William Ham Bevan who brought the article to light.

Mirror Magazine

11 October 1969

All television’s yesterdays… one September day in 1929, the first BBC television transmission was made using John Logie Baird’s equipment from station 2LO high on the roof of Selfridges in London. Dennis Potter, prize-winning author of the Nigel Barton plays and the controversial Son of Man, looks back on forty years.

BBC_Television_Symbol_1953If those well-heeled ladies and gentlemen shopping in Selfridges forty years ago had gone home and found tonight’s programmes awaiting them they would either clap their hands in exultation or – more likely – cower in terror behind their furniture.

For TV is both the wonder and the disgrace of our times. A magic paintbox and a dreary bore. A window on the universe and just another humdrum, pap-fed domestic appliance.

Licensed like a dog, a mad dog, it squats in the corner of the living room, a wall-eyed beast which sicks up the world on to our nylon carpets. You can put on your slippers, sink into your favourite armchair, sip a nice hot cup of tea, and watch a man being burnt to death.

Don’t choke. In a minute or two a row of teeth will smile at you, mouthing a reassuring bromide. Or you can switch channels and sweep into the sweeter world of the commercials: striped toothpaste, coloured toilet rolls and extra-mileage ingredients, the hip-hip-happy moods of what is called, by Act of Parliament, a natural break.

Every night of the week, every week of the year, the pictures go swirling by – a ship breaking its back on the rocks, a bomber dropping napalm on Asian peasants, tea with the Queen, a Hollywood cowboy sprawled on a plastic rock, spangled dancing girls, football from South America, an assassin weeping in the death cell, a pub in a Lancashire backstreet or an American hopping on the moon.

By the time you have drained your tea you can have zoomed along a quarter of a million miles, or have been bored and irritated enough to bite a chunk out of the china.9781783192038

Hey diddle-diddle, the quiz
            and the twaddle,
The telly jumps over the moon
Hughie Green laughs to see
            such fun
For the tosh runs away with
            the boon.

Our children take the technical marvels for granted. They have grown up with what used to be called, defensively, the gogglebox. They are not in the least bit astonished by the sight of a toothbrush floating in a capsule half way to the moon. As far as they are concerned, water comes out of the tap, gas out of the cooker, and pictures out of the TV set. An ordinary sort of machine. Something to pass the time when it is raining.

But years ago, on a very boozy Christmas day, I had a tipsy uncle who was so overcome by the sight of the Queen delivering her stilted seasonal message that he hiccupped, lurched forward to the set, kissed the flickering image with two resounding Christmas_broadcast_1957smacks and, unable to stop his momentum, cut his lip badly on the little table which carried the TV and Her Majesty.

‘I ne-ne-never thought I’d l-l-live to see such a thing!’ he burbled through the hilarity and the blood. It is about the only time I have seen anyone so physically moved by something pumping out of the telly.

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