The Masters at Work

Oberon is delighted to bring you Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters which brings together for the first time the knowledge of professionals who have led the way in dramatic writing in the UK.
Senior Editor at Oberon Books George Spender, said: “All of us at Oberon are thrilled to be a part of this extremely exciting project that will no doubt have a tremendous influence on the next generation of writers and theatre makers.”
Taken from the introduction to the book, written by its Editor Jennifer Tuckett, this blog will introduce you to the new collection and what you can expect from it. 

9781783193240Drama Centre London is one of the UK’s best drama schools, having trained many of the most successful theatre and screen artists in the UK, and Central Saint Martins is one of the world’s leading colleges of art and design. The two organisations have recently come together to create the UK’s first MA in Dramatic Writing covering writing for theatre, film, television, radio and digital media.

As part of this new MA, we brought together ten people who have led the way in the training of dramatic writers in the UK. During the course’s first year, with these ten ‘Masters’, we ran The Year of Experimentation to investigate what dramatic writing training can be in the UK – the first time these top industry professionals had ever worked together and pooled their advice.

This book shares the results of this year with you via ten Masterclasses from our Year of Experimentation Festival – the culmination of our first year – and provides access for the first time to the leading industry training. Our ten Masters are:

  • Ola Animashawun, founder of the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers Programme
  • Stephen Jeffreys, Literary Associate at the Royal Court Theatre for eleven years and creator of Masterclasses which have led the way in Playwriting training in the UK
  • Caroline Jester, who has been Dramaturg at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, co-author of the book Playwriting Across the Curriculum and has pioneered collaborative and digital playwriting programmes worldwide
  • Fin Kennedy, winner of the first Fringe First award ever awarded to a schools production and co-Artistic Director of Tamasha Theatre Company
  • Kate Rowland, founder of BBC Writersroom
  • Philip Shelley, instigator of the Channel 4 screenwriting course
  • Nina Steiger, Associate Director at the Soho Theatre
  • Jennifer Tuckett, Course Leader for Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins’ new MA Dramatic Writing Course
  • Steve Winter, Director of the Kevin Spacey Foundation and co-creator of the Old Vic New Voices 24 Hour Plays and TS Eliot US/UK Exchange
  • John Yorke, creator of the BBC Writers Academy and former Head of Channel 4 Drama and Controller of BBC Drama Production

These ten Masterclasses offer a unique opportunity to learn from those creating and running the best dramatic writing training in the UK, whether you are a writer, student, teacher, arts professional or simply interested in writing.

jennifer-tuckett

Jennifer Tuckett

Many of these schemes receive thousands of applications a year but what these people teach or think about dramatic writing and why they created these programmes is often not publicly available. And if it’s not publicly available then how do you know what is being taught or thought about if you’re not a part of these schemes? And how do you become a part of these schemes if you don’t know what is being taught or thought about? It seemed to us this is a potentially vicious cycle that we wanted to address.

Each Masterclass includes an interview providing further insight into who these Masters are and additional tips. Some also include Q&As with or input from the audience from our Year of Experimentation Festival.

We do hope you’ll enjoy the book, and will use the Masterclasses to inspire your own writing.

Have your say in the future of dramatic writing in the UK by taking part in this survey, the results of which will be discussed at London Writers’ Week in summer 2017 – https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/dramaticwriting

Why is Removal Men at The Yard Theatre?

Removal Men is a new play with songs written by M. J. Harding with Jay Miller and published by Oberon Books. Set in an immigration detention centre, which makes for dark and unsettling comedy, Removal Men tells the story of Mo, a detention officer, who falls in love with Didi, a Druze detainee.
In this post, Jay Miller, Founder and Artistic Director of The Yard Theatre, where the play runs Tues 8th Nov – Sat 10th Dec, explains why they have made Removal Men.

Removal Men follows a short but determined tradition at The Yard Theatre of making work which allows us to look contemporary western culture straight in the eye. And what Removal Men sees there is our inability to love in a world of wire fences. A system of inequality that has left us brutalised and confused. A crisis of compassion.

removal-men

All this has been intensified by that other crisis, the one whose name has become so familiar as to be horrifyingly mundane: the migration crisis. In Removal Men, we set out to make a show which used an IRC and the broader context of the migration crisis to explore the idea of a systemic cultural ‘removal’.

This removal runs deep. It affects all of our collective decisions, creating indecision and confusion. And yet it does not seem to form part of a contemporary conversation. There are too few people examining the causes and consequences of a world where it has never been easier to communicate and yet we still cannot connect; a world where we are bombarded with images of suffering, numbing our empathy; a world in which hierarchies seem so entrenched that they render love (in whatever form that may take) almost powerless.

removal-2

Removal Men may at times be uncompromising, but it is not without hope. It is at The Yard Theatre because it attempts to look at the world we find ourselves in today, a world that is divided and scared, where love is distorted, confused – and confusing. And in this attempt, we hope to create conversation and feelings that may lead to a change.

Is this naïve idealism?

Probably.

But that is what is needed right now.

removal-trailer

Watch the trailer

You can buy tickets for Removal Men from The Yard Theatre’s website. you can buy the book from Oberon Books’ website.

Edinburgh Festival 2016!

The Edinburgh Festival is almost upon us, and the team here at Oberon Books have been working their socks off behind the scenes to get everything ready. We’re delighted to now be bringing you the very best new writing, theatre and performance from across the festival and the country, from leading venues and rising-star writers

Get your festival diary sorted with these must-see shows, or delve deeper by getting stuck into the text. Catch up with the history of the festival through epic collections like Forest Fringe: The First Ten Yearsor help raise money for Save The Children by going to see The Duke for free! There’s so  much to see, do, and get involved with.
Have a brilliant #EdFest2016 everybody! xo

9781783197514Started in 2007, the Forest Fringe was brought to life by Andy Field, Deborah Pearson and Ira Brand as an independent, not-for-profit space in the midst of the Edinburgh Festival, to enable and encourage adventurous, experimental theatre. Ten years on, it’s become a consistent Edinburgh highlight, and we’ve collected the best of the work that’s come out of it in Forest Fringe: The First Ten Years. You can check out their Edinburgh 2016 programme here.

9781783191437Duncan Macmillan’s star has been on the rise for a few years now and the acclaimed writer hit the big time with the recent West End transfer of his fantastic play People, Places and Things. His earlier work Every Brilliant Thing is back at Edinburgh this year, and was lauded by critics as ‘one of the funniest plays you’ll ever see about depression.’ It’s going to be an Edinburgh must-see, and you can book tickets here.

9781786820310The Duke is a brand new live solo show by Shôn Dale-Jones. A funny and poignant one-man show which playfully mixes fantasy and reality, it was made to raise money for Save The Children’s Child Refugee Crisis Appeal. It’s free to attend, with donations given in lieu of ticket price, and proceeds from sale of the play text will also go towards the appeal.

9781783198320A Good Clean Heart is a funny, moving play about coming of age, with two brothers raised apart, in different families speaking different languages. A Welsh and English bilingual production, which Alun Saunders won the 2016 Wales Theatre Award for Best Playwright in the English Language for, it uses innovative lighting and animated subtitles to help with translation. Book tickets here.

9781786820037Five Guys Chillin’ is a graphic, gripping, funny and frank verbatim drama exposing the chill-out chem-sex scene. An original look into a drug-fuelled, hedonistic, highly secret world of Grindr, and instant gratification, you can see it here.

97817831983825 Out of 10 Men is a perceptive, darkly humorous look at male suicide rates by Roland Reynolds (tickets here), whose Blush of Dogs was called ‘a demented cackle of a play‘ by Time Out. A modern retelling of the Greek myth of Thyestes, Reynolds debut is available along with 5 Out of 10 Men here.

9781783198283Adapted solely from real testimonies and interviews, E15 looks at the modern rent and housing crisis, and the campaign started by single mothers in Newham E15 when threatened with eviction. A pertinent piece of documentary theatre, you can see it at Summerhall in Edinburgh and buy it with The 56 (about the 1985 Bradford City football ground fire) here.

9781783199785My Eyes Went Dark is a modern tragedy about a Russian architect driven to revenge after losing his family in a plane crash. A huge critical success during its original run at the Finborough, it’s sure to be in demand this summer in Edinburgh at the Traverse.

9781786820136A fierce and playful feminist work exploring the psychology of extremism, Blow Off is explosive new guerilla-gig-theatre from the co-creator of festival hits Beats and Chalk Farm, with live music by Kim Moore with Susan Bear and Julie Eisenstein from Glasgow’s hottest indie-pop duo Tuff Love. See it at the Traverse.

9781783197637Hailed as a ‘short, sharp shock of a production… that recall[s] the form-bending virtuosity of Caryl Churchill’ by the New York Times, Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again examines the language, behaviour and forces that shape women in the 21st century and asks what’s stopping us from doing something truly radical to change them. Full of ‘ferocious energy’, this is sure to be a must-see.

9781783190928In preparation for the film role of a lifetime, an actor goes to extreme lengths to dig up the truth. Her subject is the celebrated artist, Janet Adler, who rejected the art world in favour of a private life. From the real to the unreal, fake to true and theatre to film, Adler & Gibb is a compelling story of misappropriation and death, and this re-staging of the Royal Court production will be a great show.

9781783197491Part play, part house party, Ten Storey Love Song is Luke Barnes’ adaptation of Richard Milward’s cult novel about the tangled lives of the residents of a Middlesbrough tower block. A love song to a loveless Teesside, this is a guaranteed good night out at the Pleasance.

9781783197361Equations for A Moving Body is a story about triathlons. It’s a story about the physiology of endurance – when our brains tell our bodies to stop – and the psychology of continuing. Hannah Nicklin muses on the people who share that journey with us – family, coaches, friends, ex-boyfriends – and the people we swim, ride and run alongside at Summerhall. Her book Collected Works For Performance is available here.

You can browse all of these titles on our website HERE.

The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting: Part Three

Jennifer Tuckett, Course Leader for the MA Dramatic Writing at Central St Martins, and head of the new ‘The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting’ competition, has kindly come back as a guest blogger for Oberon Books to update us on the next stage of the competition, what’s coming up for the winning playwrights, and how you can get your hands on the lesson plans and the wonderful writing they inspired… 

I’m pleased to be writing to let you know that The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting, the new competition from the Bush Theatre, Oberon Books, MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins and Writers at Work Productions has announced the production of the winners’ play.

The winners’ play will be on the theme of what it means to be a student in the UK today, drawing inspiration from the Cultural Learning Alliance’s recent figures showing a decline in the number of students studying the arts at school level, the announcement of the end of the Creative Writing A level last year and the forthcoming debate on whether arts subject should be part of the EBACC, scheduled for July 4th in the Houses of Parliament.

The winners, hard at work on their play

The winners, hard at work on their play

The production will take place as part of a Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting day at this year’s London Writers’ Week, and the day will also feature free workshops with Associate Dramaturg at the Bush Theatre Rob Drummer on how we can create a more diverse theatre industry and Senior Editor of Oberon Books George Spender on how theatre publishing works, continuing the competition’s aim to provide access to the leading training coming out of the industry for writers everywhere to benefit form.

Winners include Vee Tames, a 17 year old student from Colchester who used the lesson plans from the competition to write her first play, Titilola Ige, a MA student from Croydon who also works in a charity for young people, Monique Geragthy, an undergraduate student from Queen Mary’s University who also used the lesson plans to write her fist play, and emerging writers Miriam Battye from Salford and Mufaro Makubika from Nottingham.

Jennifer Tuckett and winner Titilola Ige

Jennifer Tuckett and winner Titilola Ige

We’re delighted to be launching stage two of The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting competition. We hope the day on July 5th will provide an opportunity to showcase the work of the winners of The Student Guide to Writing, alongside a second opportunity to offer free workshops and access to the leading training, this time on why its important to provide access and how theatre publishing works. Rob’s workshop will also offer tips on rewriting and where to send your work so all entrants to the competition can get further free advice.

We’re also particularly excited about the theme of the play – with the forthcoming debate on EBACC, we’re pleased to be giving the student winners a chance to have their say on this subject matter via their winners’ play, in-keeping with the theme of the competition to empower students and young people and encourage more diverse voices to be heard by providing access to the leading training coming out of the industry.

Lesson Plan writer - Fin Kennedy

Lesson Plan writer – Fin Kennedy

Fin Kennedy, Artistic Director of Tamasha Theatre Company and one of the lesson plan writers said: “The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting provides important access to the leading playwriting training coming out of the industry and I am delighted to be involved. The innovative online format empowers writers, teachers and groups across the UK to take the initiative and start writing, whatever their circumstances, using new media to democratize vocational training. The implications for access and diversity are very exciting indeed, and I hope it inspires other initiatives of this kind”.

Ola Animashawun, founder of the Royal Court Theatre’s young writers’ programme said: “Craft, diversity and well told stories from a vast range of perspectives, experiences and individual voices capturing what it means to be human – these are my passions. Hence, The Student Guide to Writing felt like a great match.  The more people we can inspire to add their voice to the canon, the more we increase the chances of creating a more open, enlightened, incisive, insightful and equitable world for us all to play a part in.”

Lesson Plan writer Ola Animashawun

Lesson Plan writer Ola Animashawun

Vee Tames, schools winner: “Writing for the stage had always been something I wanted to try for a long time. However, I lacked the knowledge to know where to begin and the particular demands of the form. The lesson plans were very concise and provided you with exercises you could use immediately to spark ideas and clarify each element of your work such as structure, dialogue and character. The competition deadline itself is what gave me that final boost of encouragement to enter! I was pleased when I found out I won the Schools Category with my first ever play; it is immensely gratifying and such a confidence boost.”

Jennifer Tuckett and lesson plan writer Lucy Kerbel

Jennifer Tuckett and lesson plan writer Lucy Kerbel

Miriam Battye, emerging/general category winner: “I want to be a really great writer, the best I possibly can be. I’ve been given sage advice to just read, read and read. It’s a foolproof way to get better. Studying is much the same thing. It’s just getting as much stuff in your head so you’ve got more thoughts to work with.

Mufaro Makubika, emering/general winner: “This was a great opportunity to learn about craft from highly respected industry figures. It’s a fantastic honour. To me, all a playwright wants to do is get their work out and work more.”

 

For more information on the day or to book tickets, please go to: https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/festival/the-student-guide-to-writing-playwriting-day/

Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters” is also available to pre-order at http://oberonbooks.com/creative-writing/dramatic-writing and “The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting” will be published at the end of 2016, which will include the lesson plans and winning writers’ work in one volume to provide permanent access to the lesson plans and the leading training for the first time. We hope you will join us in July to see the winner’s work and for the second stage of The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting and the opportunity to get further advice and feedback on your plays.

The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting – part two

Video

The winners of ‘The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting’ competition, which has been running since January, have just been chosen! I’ll hand over to Jennifer Tuckett of Central St Martins to tell you more and to announce the names of the winners. 

I’m pleased to be writing to announce the winners of The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting, the new competition from the Bush Theatre, Oberon Books, the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins and Writers at Work Productions.

Entries were received from all over the UK for the competition, which provided writers with the opportunity to follow lesson plans written by those leading the way in the industry prior to sending in their play.

Workshop1There are 5 winners chosen from 4 categories: schools, Universities, emerging writer and general writer.

University entries included entries from Edinburgh, Manchester, Aberystwyth, York, Leeds, Reading, Greenwich, East Anglia, RADA, Birkbeck, Brunel, Central School of Speech and Drama, Durham, Central Saint Martins, Open College of the Arts, Queen Mary, Bangor, Cambridge, University of the Arts London and others. Schools entries included entries from schools in Colchester, Rugby, London and others. Emerging and general entries were sent from all over the UK.

One of the things we were most pleased about was how many entrants commented on how useful the lesson plans had been, which are written by those who have led the way in the industry in terms of playwriting training, including Ola Animashawun, founder of the Royal Court Theatre’s young writers programme, Fin Kennedy, founder of Schoolwrights, Lucy Kerbel, founder of the Platform project for writing for young girls, Rob Drummer, Associate Dramaturg at the Bush Theatre, Steve Winter, Director of the Kevin Spacey Foundation, and others.

As much of the training coming out of the industry hasn’t been published, it can be hard to know what is being taught and thought about, especially if you’re not based in London, so we’re delighted to be able to provide access to some of this training for the first time.

The Student Guide to Writing photoThe impact this can have is massive as well – for example at a University where I used to work I saw student numbers studying playwriting rise from 0 when I joined the University (which had attempted to teach playwriting before to no success) to 8 in the modules’ first year to 40 in the modules’ second year to 80 in the modules’ third year, with many of the graduates winning awards or securing attachment programmes at professional theatres.

And, so, without further ado, the winners from The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting are….

Schools category: Vee Thomas, Colchester Grammar School

University category: Titilola Dawudu, Central Saint Martins, and Monique Geraghty, Queen Mary, University of London

Emerging/general category: Mufaro Makubika, based in Nottingham, and Miriam Battye, based in Salford, Greater Manchester

According to Rob Drummer, Associate Dramaturg at the Bush Theatre: “The breadth and quality of submissions has been inspiring and the five very different and deserving winners have written with real vibrancy. I was impressed and heartened to see so many writers asking big questions of the world we live in and am looking forward to getting to know them and their plays over the coming months. The Bush is proud to partner on a competition that reflects the plurality of our culture and shines a light on stories and writers that aren’t always visible. I can’t wait to join in celebrating all the winners at London Writers’ Week in July.”

George Spender, Senior Editor at Oberon Books, said: “It’s a delight to see so many entries, and for all these writers to be engaging intelligently with these lesson plans. The diversity, scope, and ambition of these winning plays is to be applauded.”

The personal favourite things I noticed from the entries were: ideas/plays that were about something (often this was an exploration of a theme or idea that it felt the writer was passionate about – I think Rob’s and Ola’s advice in lesson plan one and two to think about what issues you are passionate about and what would be the one play you’d write before you die was excellent advice), use of structure/plays that held our attention the whole way through, and use of theatricality/plays that used the stage/the medium of theatre in exciting ways.

Workshop2The winner’s work will be shown as part of London Writers Week at Central Saint Martins in July, whose full schedule will be announced in early May.

Following this, the lesson plans and winners’ work will be published by Oberon Books at the end of 2016, in addition to another volume “Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters” which will provide key advice across all forms of dramatic writing from those leading the way in the industry.

For more information on the competition or to sign up for the mailing list to be kept informed on the forthcoming production, please go to: www.thestudentguidetowriting.com

Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters” is also available to pre-order at http://oberonbooks.com/creative-writing/dramatic-writing and “The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting” will be published at the end of 2016, which will include the lesson plans and winning writers’ work in one volume to provide permanent access to the lesson plans and the leading training for the first time. In the meantime, below is a highlights film from the launch event, which hopefully provides some more useful advice. We hope you will join us in July to see the winner’s work and for the final free workshop on The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting and chance to get feedback on your plays.

Jennifer Tuckett

Arnold Wesker

There are numerous playwrights whose output includes masterpieces and other plays which are less well regarded. Pinero, Noël Coward, Terence Rattigan, Tennessee Williams included.

Arnold Wesker July 2007 ©NOBBY CLARK

Arnold Wesker by Nobby Clark

From history, Lope de Vega and Shakespeare are also “fine” examples of prolific playwrights, some of whose work attracts less interest today. How could it be otherwise? Lope, for example, wrote some 1500 plays, around 450 remain extant, but only a few remain in the repertory, notably Fuente Ovejuna. Perhaps Lope churned them out for money, recycled a good many too. Yet in death all these great playwrights are respected and revered. Where would theatre be without them today? Arnold Wesker has joined that distinguished company.

How easy it is, and glib, to say he wrote a few good plays and sneer at the rest? My response is ‘you try writing a few good plays!’ Arnold did more than that, he wrote several masterpieces.

Among the many playwrights I have had the privilege of publishing Arnold has a special place in my heart. With his wife Dusty he was a charming host and impossible not to like. The twinkle in his eye, and in his smile, his razor-sharp logic, told me that he knew himself well, and knew rather more about the possibilities of theatre than some of his critics.

Alongside his contemporaries like Osborne and Bond, Arnold was a leader, a political force whose plays transformed modern theatre. At times he was an energetic activist, never afraid to take on the establishment within the theatre – and, believe it, there is such an establishment which confers favour on the faithful and stifles opposition. I remember an actor who some years ago told me that among a cast of sixteen he was the only one who hadn’t been to Oxford. (The director also went to Oxford.) The outsider was cast (tolerated) for his regional accent!

Wesker photo by Leon Kreel

Arnold Wesker by Leon Kreel

Arnold was one of my heroes in the theatre. He was never one to roll over when angered or bullied. Some call it biting the hand that feeds you. Others call it telling the truth.

Sir Arnold Wesker always told the truth. I shall miss him.

James Hogan

Love, loss, grief, absence – Abi Morgan: Plays One

The first collection of plays by Abi Morgan – playwright and screenwriter of Suffragette, The Iron Lady, and Brick Lane – has just been published by Oberon Books. Abi has written plays for the Royal Exchange Studio Theatre Manchester, the Royal Lyceum Theatre, the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Court, London.
In this piece, written to introduce the collection, Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, looks at these collected plays as a whole, and discusses the connections between the ideas, emotions and characters she finds within them, reoccurring across the five plays.

9781783191819The absence is hard,’ says Sister Ursula in 27, before qualifying her statement: ‘The absence of nothing is hard.’ This middle-aged nun might be talking about God, but she is also giving voice to a common sentiment in this collection of Abi Morgan’s plays. Again and again, Morgan constructs her narratives around losses and absences, hollow centres and negative spaces.

In Splendour, the earliest work published here, the absence at the heart of the play is immediately apparent. Four women are trapped together in a dictator’s palace during a civil war in an unnamed Eastern European country, united only by the missing tyrant himself. Kathryn, a photojournalist, has come to take his portrait; Gilda, the local translator, has driven her there; Micheleine, the dictator’s wife, waits for his return; Genevieve, her friend, was married to one of his lieutenants. Oolio – military leader, tyrant and husband – is a black hole in the heart of the drama, a centre of gravity that draws these four different women together.

The next play, Tiny Dynamite, is also haunted by a character we never see: the girl who was loved and lost by Lucien and Anthony, and who still binds them together, even though their lives have sharply diverged since childhood. Unlike Micheleine’s brittle, forced anecdotes about Oolio, Lucien and Anthony’s stories of their missing love spill out in a tumble of words. They cannot help talking about her: it’s their way of keeping her alive.

Abi Morgan

Abi Morgan

In Tender, the half-dozen characters whose lives brush past each other in chance encounters include one of the disappeared – Marvin, who has left his marriage with Gloria to live in hostels, scratching out a living as a domestic cleaner. But where we might expect yearning for the life and loved ones he has abandoned, we don’t get one. Like Anthony the drifter in Tiny Dynamite, Marvin sees dropping out as a renunciation, rather than a loss: he is free.

And so he resists rejoining conventional society, even when the outwardly successful but desperately lonely Nathan – who has experienced a loss of his own – tries to take him to dinner. He tells Nathan about the other men at the hostel. ‘Sometimes one of them will go and cry out in the night. Sometimes I just sit, even lie next to them, hold their hand, great big men holding hands, I never thought I’d see it, not like you think, just giving people company, being almost tender and I stay with them until the morning.’ Most times, he tells Nathan, the men wet the bed or wake up shouting for a drink, which jolts him awake.

‘Are you happy?’ asks Nathan. Marvin thinks only for a second: ‘…I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life.’

These unexpected words exactly echo those of Anthony in Tiny Dynamite. ‘Don’t be sorry,’ he tells Madeleine, the fruitseller who has disrupted his friendship with Lucien, just as the unnamed girl did many summers earlier. ‘The funniest thing is I’m happy. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life.’ Both Anthony and Marvin have learned that clinging on to other people doesn’t bring them reassurance, or assuage their loneliness. Freedom is what brings them happiness. (And perhaps Marvin’s abandoned wife, Gloria, fears his return as much as she outwardly hopes for it? She has painstakingly rebuilt her life without him, after all.)27 Cover.indd

Fittingly, the collection has its own gap – a ten-year period between 2001 and 2011, during which Morgan wrote several screenplays, including Brick Lane and The Iron Lady. The first three plays in this collection – Splendour, Tiny Dynamite, Tender – date from 2000-2001, and the final two, Lovesong and 27, from 2011.

The temptation is, inevitably, to split the work into two distinct periods, or to look for traces of Morgan’s screenwriting experience in the later plays. But that is too simplistic an approach, particularly since there is formal innovation and an awareness of the visual in the plays from the start.

Tiny Dynamite crackles with electricity, both metaphorically and literally, through the stage lighting. Splendour is even more formally daring: a dynamic, densely woven play. The action regularly freezes and replays from another point of view, and each actor has a soliloquy addressed directly to the audience. When I saw its revival at the Donmar Warehouse in 2015, the staging was minimalist; as directed in the text, with the muffled sound of mortars punctuating the scenes. Against this background, there were vivid, specific objects – a red vase, a Lion King DVD – as well as the unseen painting that preoccupies Kathyrn’s artistic eye.

9781783199136At times, Splendour can feel like a high-speed ballet, or perhaps a cuckoo clock with the characters on tracks, moving back and forth on predetermined grooves. Ten years later, Lovesong develops this idea further, in a spare text which was accompanied in its first performance by choreography from the physical theatre company Frantic Assembly. The characters – a couple who are shown at the start and end of their lives together – can touch, but not speak, across the years that separate them. As the two timeframes weave past each other, the young Margaret and old Bill and the young William and old Maggie wind around each other in the physical space of the stage. The hollow centre here is the years that pass, unseen by the audience. We see Margaret and William’s hopes for the future, and we see what became of those hopes. The juxtaposition is heartbreaking. (The reviews focused heavily on the need to take a hankie to the theatre.)

In the final play in the collection, 27, the themes of loss and absence are muted, but still present. Sister Ursula fears losing her mind, following her parents in an early decline into dementia. She also feels that the nuns’ way of life itself is ebbing away, unsustainable in the modern world. ‘My greatest fear is to be left, the last nun standing, remote in hand, shouting quiz answers at the TV screen,’ she tells Richard, the scientist who has come to study her sisters’ brains.

Helen Lewis headshot by Charlie Forgham-Bailey

Helen Lewis – headshot by Charlie Forgham-Bailey

Love, loss, grief, absence – these are plays which are unafraid to explore emotions which are usually politely hidden. But the pathos never overwhelms you: spots of light and humour break through, even in the darkest moments.

And while the dramas here are often domestic, they are not small or insignificant. They prove the old adage: life is a series of goodbyes. As Gloria tells the pregnant Hen in Tender: ‘Kids and love and electric bills aren’t really that important. What’s holding us together is very fragile indeed.’

Abi Morgan’s single plays and new collection are all available from Oberonbooks.com