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RADICAL MISCHIEF New work at the Royal Shakespeare Company

02 THE FIRST

04 THE ART OF

EDITION

ADAPTATION

06 LOOKING BACK

November 2013 | Issue 01

08 10 MARK RAVENHILL, THE WORK OF

11 SHAKESPEARE:

12 NEW WORK

PLAYWRIGHT-INRESIDENCE

A RADICAL EDIT

NEARBY

THE LITERARY DEPARTMENT

EXPLORING THE CREATION OF NEW WORK AT THE RSC AND BEYOND

Learn about the process of commissioning playwrights, developing work through workshops and rehearsals, and creating new plays to challenge, entertain and inspire.

Find out what's on at the RSC and buy tickets at www.rsc.org.uk

Wendy & Peter Pan in rehearsal. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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RADICAL MISCHIEF | ISSUE 01 | NOVEMBER 2013

www.rsc.org.uk

WELCOME TO THE FIRST EDITION OF OUR NEWSPAPER ERICA WHYMAN RSC DEPUTY ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

This is the place to find out all about new work at the RSC and if you are reading this we think you might be intrigued to know more about new plays or new experiments in theatre. I take a lead on ensuring that the Shakespeare plays we produce in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and the Elizabethan and Jacobean plays in the Swan Theatre, are set in the context of the world we live in now. We do that by commissioning the great writers of our own times to write major plays which illuminate the themes and concerns of our repertoire. Like Shakespeare and his contemporaries, we want to stage stories through which we can see ourselves and the world around us more clearly. To be daring, thoughtful and relevant. We therefore do a lot behind the scenes, developing new projects, inviting writers into our rehearsals, and commissioning and reading a wide range of scripts.

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Scripts from the RSC Literary Department

Poster from The Other Place

This newspaper launches at a moment when we are about to begin the next chapter in a long and distinguished history of commissioning new writing. In 2010 we opened perhaps the biggest and most daring piece of new theatre we have ever created, Matilda The Musical, after a period of intensive research, experimentation and development. Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly would never have collaborated if it weren't for the Literary Team at the RSC, and the success of Matilda The Musical is serving as inspiration for our next adventure; The Other Place.


RADICAL MISCHIEF | ISSUE 01 | NOVEMBER 2013

www.rsc.org.uk

Will Merrick, Jack Monaghan, Fiona Button, Dafydd Llyr Thomas and Josh Williams in rehearsal for Wendy & Peter Pan. Photo by Manuel Harlan

The Other Place was set up by Buzz Goodbody in 1974, in a tin hut on the site of what has become The Courtyard theatre in Stratford. It became a place of playful and serious experiment, a place to make ideas happen, where new plays could speak to a new audience and could also respond to Shakespeare. It has had many manifestations since then, and we think it is time for a new The Other Place, a space where writers and theatre makers can fire their imaginations and provoke new thinking, including intimate new plays and surprising collaborations. We are calling this instinct Radical Mischief, as those two words seem to sum up a spirit shared by Buzz, by Shakespeare and by the most exciting theatre-makers working today. We are busy planning and raising money for a new festival and development space on the site of the old The Other Place, and I'll be able to tell you more about that very soon.

WE ARE CALLING THIS INSTINCT RADICAL MISCHIEF, AS THOSE TWO WORDS SEEM TO SUM UP A SPIRIT SHARED BY BUZZ, BY SHAKESPEARE AND BY THE MOST EXCITING THEATRE-MAKERS WORKING TODAY.

Sam Swann in rehearsal for Wendy & Peter Pan. Photo by Manuel Harlan

In the meantime we continue to be both radical and mischievous on our stages. Two perfect examples are Ella Hickson's gorgeous version of Wendy & Peter Pan, and Mike Poulton's astonishing adaptations of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, both of which are in rehearsal right now and you can read more about them here. We hope you welcome this opportunity to know a little more about what we're up to. We look forward to sharing our future plans with you.

The cast of Matilda The Musical in rehearsal in 2010. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Erica Whyman Editor of Radical Mischief November 2013

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RADICAL MISCHIEF | ISSUE 01 | NOVEMBER 2013

BY DAN HUTTON FREELANCE CRITIC AND THEATRE-MAKER

Though the RSC is most famed for producing the plays of its namesake, it also has a long history of producing new work and dramatisations of well-known stories, such as Matilda The Musical, Nicholas Nickleby and Les Misérables. This Christmas, no fewer than three adaptations are making their way onto Stratford stages, with the Swan hosting Mike Poulton’s versions of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies whilst Ella Hickson’s Wendy & Peter Pan brings JM Barrie’s masterpiece to life in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. But what challenges face playwrights when undertaking such a task? “I have this horrible, flashing image of seven-year-old children in floods of tears, or worse sixty-year-old men demanding What have you done?!" jokes Ella, taking a break from rehearsals. “Some men are incredibly protective over Peter Pan; it's this weird bond that they have and they certainly don't want a young lady coming in and smashing that to pieces.” Ella, whose plays include Eight and Boys, had never created an adaptation before this, so the experience was a new one: “The process of building the structure of the story was very different, because you're creating a structure by scaling back and rewriting rather than creating one from zero.”

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THE ART OF ADAPTATION

Ella Hickson

Michelle Asante and Guy Henry in rehearsal for Wendy & Peter Pan. Photo by Manuel Harlan

10 DECEMBER 2013 – 2 M A R C H 2 0 14 ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE STRATFORD-UPON-AVON

BY ELL A HICKSON ADAPTED FROM THE NOVEL BY JM BARRIE

A M AGICAL NEW VERSION

OF JM BARRIE'S CL ASSIC CHILDREN'S STORY

For Wendy & Peter Pan, the Literary Department chose the title and approached the writer they felt was the best fit. Ella was the first choice for adapting JM Barrie’s text. Once the writer is found, work can begin, which in Ella’s case involved “trying to engineer a structure and select scenes that work from within that.” After a series of drafts, workshops begin so that the writer can better understand the possibilities of their play. Similarly, the Creative Team can discover the best methods for transposing the script to the stage, which for Wendy & Peter Pan involved exploring how a pirate ship could be represented using beds, a broom and a bucket before opting instead for a more literal galleon.

"SOME MEN ARE INCREDIBLY PROTECTIVE OVER PETER PAN; IT'S THIS WEIRD BOND THAT THEY HAVE AND THEY CERTAINLY DON'T WANT A YOUNG LADY COMING IN AND SMASHING THAT TO PIECES." Another challenge is reconciling two eras: remaining faithful to the original period whilst bearing a contemporary audience very clearly in mind. In order to get around the problem, Ella has tried to make her characters grounded: “I’ve been strict with myself about the origin of each character and tried to make sure that they could have been found then, but could also be found now. Tink could very


RADICAL MISCHIEF | ISSUE 01 | NOVEMBER 2013

www.rsc.org.uk

Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell and Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII in rehearsal for Bring Up the Bodies. Photo by Keith Pattison

TINK COULD VERY EASILY HAVE BEEN A COCKNEY TINKER OF EDWARDIAN LONDON, LIKE OLIVER TWIST, BUT SHE COULD JUST AS EASILY BE IN MY BIG FAT GYPSY WEDDING.

The cast of Wolf Hall in rehearsal. Photo by Keith Pattison

easily have been a cockney tinker on the streets of Edwardian London but she could just as easily be in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. She's a conflation of those two things."

It is through these access points that modern audiences will be either won over or lost by an adaptation; themes of rebellion mean that Matilda The Musical has just

S WA N

THEATRE

11 DECEMBER 2013 – 29 MARCH 2014

IN TEL’S ON ATI RY MANON S I MAT ILA ULT DRA S OF H KE PO EW I A N O PART BY M TW VELS NO

Lydia Leonard as Anne Boleyn and Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII in rehearsal for Wolf Hall. Photo by Keith Pattison

as much power now as it did in 1988 when Roald Dahl wrote the story, whilst Mark Ravenhill’s take on Candide this year was full of contemporary allusions. Ella’s “mythology” in Wendy & Peter Pan considers both the idea of grief - a defiantly universal theme - and the fact that “in the book, every girl tries to kill Wendy. I discovered this savage dislike women have for each other in a lot of fairy tales, it's a really unhealthy narrative disguised by cosy traditionalism. I wanted to change that.” Sometimes, however, an adapting playwright has to throw caution to the wind and reinvent the story for their own purpose, eschewing commonly held opinions about a classic text. For Mike Poulton, adapting Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, this isn’t too tough a task considering his adaptations are the first, but

the cultural currency of some characters in Peter Pan means Ella has to navigate around this iconography. Here, it is Hook who bears the brunt: “He's been bastardised so many times that I thought I could just do what I wanted with him.” These adaptations promise to offer wildly different experiences for their audiences, with Mike's representation of power and the court in sixteenth century England a world away from the magical kingdom of Neverland. At their heart, however, both have the same goal: to bring a much-loved text to life, using the context of theatre to explore its possibilities. You can buy tickets for Wendy & Peter Pan at www.rsc.org.uk. Best availability January to February 2014.

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RADICAL MISCHIEF | ISSUE 01 | NOVEMBER 2013

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After leaving school, Willy Russell became a hairdresser for five years before meeting his wife Annie at the age of 19. It was Annie’s influence as a teacher that prompted Willy to go back into education and take part in his first typing class. His first typewriter was a gift from Annie and would go on to become the instrument that he used to write the first script of Educating Rita for the RSC.

WRITING EDUCATING RITA

LAURA MCMILLAN WITH WILLY RUSSELL

LOOKING BACK

The first performance of Educating Rita took place at The Warehouse (now the Donmar Warehouse) in June 1980 with Julie Walters in the title role. Since then, Educating Rita has never been out of production somewhere in the world. This makes it one of the most successful commissions of new work in RSC history. "I wanted to make a play which engaged and was relevant to those who considered themselves uneducated, those whose daily language is not the language of the university or the theatre. I wanted to write a play which would attract, and be as valid for, the Ritas in the audience as the Franks."

When asked to write the play Willy recalls meeting with the Literary Manager at the RSC, Walter Donohue, and thinking that the RSC would be "some place in the country, somewhere by a river". When first taken to the theatre he found "this brick warehouse, which was just like buildings I had been in in Liverpool in my youth watching The Beatles". Willy started writing Educating Rita in the September of 1979 in his father-in-law's library, a room not unlike the one that would eventually become the production’s set. After struggling for inspiration he found that Rita "walked on to the page, she splurged on to the page, she bust into the room... I knew I had a play".

RADICAL MISCHIEF | ISSUE 01 | NOVEMBER 2013

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RADICAL MISCHIEF | ISSUE 01 | NOVEMBER 2013

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WRITING A PLAY FOR THE RSC BY MARK RAVENHILL

PLAYWRIGHT-IN-RESIDENCE

Why bother writing a play at all? Particularly for a theatre that has the name Shakespeare on its logo? After all didn’t Shakespeare write ‘universal’ plays which express the entire sum of human experience for all times and all places? Is there really anything left to write about?

Candide, Summer 2013. Photo by Manuel Harlan

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RADICAL MISCHIEF | ISSUE 01 | NOVEMBER 2013

MARK RAVENHILL

COMMISSIONS FOR THE RSC

www.rsc.org.uk

A Life of Galileo, Winter 2012/13, Photo by Ellie Kurttz

I think anybody writing plays – and certainly plays in English – must be faced at some point, with that question. And writing a play for the RSC is certainly going to bring that anxiety in to any writer’s mind. Shakespeare is the elephant in the room. An elephant to be ignored or caged or shot with either bullets or a paint gun or to be roasted over an open fire and eaten in a great feast or to be buried under the mud. But an elephant nonetheless.

Candide, Summer 2013. Photo by Manuel Harlan

And whatever Shakespeare’s legacy (and personally I doubt that any art, however great, is ‘universal’) it certainly means that we’re left with lots of good things. An audience which is used to hearing complex arguments, ideas and emotions expressed in a language that is both pragmatic and poetic. An audience that is used to a theatre which can move swiftly from private concerns to big public questions, from the psychological to the epic and mythic. Actors who are primed to inhabit parts that stretch their minds, their mouths, their hearts and bodies. And a playwriting tradition that isn’t too hung up about strict forms: Shakespeare and his contemporaries constantly tested how much of life they could cram on to the stage, rather than setting themselves any ‘rules’.

Writing a play for the RSC, I believe, means exploring this legacy. Trying to find new forms of theatre, attempting to take the contradictions of contemporary human beings and their world and to squeeze those contradictions in to a couple of hours traffic on the stage. An ‘RSC play’ can be many, many things. But for me it should always – even if it is three people in a black box – be epic. Although I wouldn’t worry too much about ‘universal’. That’s an impossible thing to write.

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RADICAL MISCHIEF | ISSUE 01 | NOVEMBER 2013

Production photo from Matilda The Musical. Photo by Manuel Harlan

AN INTERVIEW WITH PIPPA HILL RSC LITERARY MANAGER

What is the RSC Literary Department? The Literary Department commissions and develops all of the new plays that we develop for the RSC stages. Mostly this involves identifying and commissioning writers to write new plays for the company. We are also the key members of the Research and Development Team for the company, so we have lots of projects on the go at the same time. Does your involvement vary from project to project? Completely. For some plays it may be really important for the writer to get a director or a designer on board really early, because until you know what the theatrical language is, it can be difficult to progress any further with the text. On the other hand, you 10

may have a writer who wants to get to a certain point on their own or working one to one with me on the script before anyone else gets involved. It depends entirely on the writer and what they are writing. Do you work with productions of Shakespeare? Yes we do often get involved dramaturgically in the Shakespeares and Jacobeans. This mostly involves working with the directors to edit the plays. What is The Other Place? As well as being a theatre The Other Place is the name under which we conduct all of our research and development work; it’s a lab for the company. It’s quite unusual to go directly from an idea for a show to getting it programmed, so there’s usually a bit of experimental time before you get to that stage. Sometimes the projects we develop are writer-led, sometimes they’re

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EXPLORING THE WORK OF THE LITERARY DEPARTMENT director-led, sometimes they’re actor-led and the hope is that a certain number of those will end up becoming RSC shows. The Other Place will also encompass a new stage for all our more radical, mischievous new work which we hope will be ready in 2014/15. What happens to a play commissioned by the RSC or a show developed through The Other Place if they aren’t programmed by the RSC? Quite often they get picked up by other theatres. Though it may not be quite right for the RSC, the artist can get to a point where they have a tangible idea of their play or show; there's an ecology that's working, and the National Theatre Studio have the same thing. There's also a certain amount of career development for creatives, where it's about giving them an opportunity to try something new, and more often than not, though we may not programme

that particular play or show, the development phase leads to another collaboration with the RSC further down the line.

IT MAY BE IMPORTANT FOR THE WRITER TO GET A DIRECTOR OR A DESIGNER ON BOARD REALLY EARLY, BECAUSE UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT THE THEATRICAL LANGUAGE IS, IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO PROGRESS ANY FURTHER.

Pippa Hill


RADICAL MISCHIEF | ISSUE 01 | NOVEMBER 2013

AN INTERVIEW WITH TARELL ALVIN MCCRANEY WRITER AND RSC DIRECTOR

Director and writer Tarell Alvin McCraney has just directed a new radical edit of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in the Swan Theatre. Previously Tarell wrote a new play, American Trade, that played in the Hampstead Theatre in 2011 for the RSC.

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SHAKESPEARE: A RADICAL EDIT were in the theatre in America lacked something. I think it was the diversity. I kept running into the same roles over and over again, or the

same plays for African-American actors. So it just felt necessary to try to create theatre productions that involved a wider range of stories.

We caught up with him to talk about his work as a playwright. Why do you think it's important for the RSC to stage new work as well as Shakespeare? Well, it's about a conversation, isn't it? It's about what is happening in relation to the classic canon of work. You can never have a void between what Shakespeare's work is doing and how it's affecting other writers. It's also important to continue to invite people of different colours, different social and economic status, with different takes on the same stories, so that the pallet becomes wider. The more narrow it is, the less interesting. Can you tell us something about your career so far and how you became a playwright? I've been a playwright and an actor all my life. I wrote my first full length play when I was fourteen, which was 19 years ago. I decided to move away from acting into playwriting because I felt that there weren't enough roles for me to play. The roles that

Production photo from American Trade. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Production photo from Antony and Cleopatra. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Tarell during rehearsals of Antony and Cleopatra. Photo by Manuel Harlan

How has Shakespeare inspired you as a playwright? The first time I heard Shakespeare was when I was a child. It was A Midsummer Night's Dream and I just thought 'wow - it's so powerful'. When I went to performing arts high school I got really interested in Shakespeare. In the last year, we had to learn four or five monologues – two of which had to be classical. We worked on them in the summer to perform in front of the entire school. That was pressure! I remember just loving the poetry. In our final year, we auditioned for various conservatories. When I went to audition at Julliard I performed two monologues, one by Chekhov and the other was Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. They asked me if I knew any more Shakespeare and I performed something from Hamlet. Then they asked me if I knew another - so I did one from Henry V. They were amazed that an 18-year-old would know so much Shakespeare. For me it was fun, it was poetry, and easier than memorising regular lines. From that moment on I recognised that there was something rhythmical, and therefore magical, in the words themselves. There is a spell-like magic to the words, which can create something out of nothing. I have tried to steal that idea for my own plays. 11


NEW WORK NEARBY

We are always on the lookout for new work taking place throughout the region. Here are just a few of the shows that you can catch on stage near you.

COME HEAVY SLEEP BIRMINGHAM REPERTORY THEATRE / KINDLE THEATRE / 13 – 14 DECEMBER www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

Come Heavy Sleep is a passion-fuelled murder story that takes inspiration from Shakespeare’s Othello. This work-in-progress performance tests ideas that will eventually develop into a large-scale ensemble spectacle, fronted by the band The Come Heavies with bold choreography, abstracted narrative and stunning visuals. Come Heavy Sleep has been developed with the support of The REP, Coventry University, MAC Birmingham and was performed at RSC Pilot Night in 2012.

BEATS

FIJI LAND

WARWICK ARTS CENTRE SHOW AND TELL AND THE ARCHES 5 – 6 DECEMBER 2013 www.warwickartscentre.co.uk

OXFORD PLAYHOUSE THREE STREETS PRODUCTIONS IN ASSOCIATION WITH OXFORD PLAYHOUSE SUPPORTED BY MCS DRAMA. BY NICK GILL 8 – 11 JANUARY 2014 www.oxfordplayhouse.com

Beats tells the story of Johnno McCreadie, a teenager living in a small suburban Scottish town at the time of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act – a new piece of legislation which effectively outlawed raves, or “public gatherings around amplified music characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”.

Welcome to fiji land. Things are very simple here. Follow orders. Fight the good fight. You can even take photos. fiji land is a surreal and incisive play about the very real things that happen when cell doors shut and the world looks away.

ALWAYS - A NEW PLAY BY THEATRE ABSOLUTE

Award-winning theatre company Theatre Absolute set up home in a disused fish and chip shop in Coventry city centre in 2009, since then over 7000 people have seen shows in the kitchen, in store rooms, on the street and in the windows. The company led by writer and director Chris O'Connell, are currently developing Always, a play that utilises text, film, digital code and live performance. The 10 minute show will be touring throughout 2014. Always is a story of the planet, of inertia, desire and their deadly consequences. For more information on the show or the company visit www.theatreabsolute.co.uk

BIRMINGHAM REPERTORY THEATRE PRESENTS THE RSC PRODUCTION OF

A LIFE OF GALILEO

BIRMINGHAM REPERTORY THEATRE IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY & THEATRE ROYAL BATH PRODUCTIONS 28 FEBRUARY – 8 MARCH 2014 www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

Arguably Brecht’s greatest play, A Life of Galileo beautifully captures a brilliant discovery that changed the world. This new translation by Mark Ravenhill will be directed by Roxana Silbert and was first commissioned and performed by the RSC.

THE BELIEVERS WARWICK ARTS CENTRE 11 – 15 DECEMBER 2013 www.warwickartscentre.co.uk CURVE, LEICESTER A FRANTIC ASSEMBLY AND THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH PRODUCTION 18 – 29 MARCH 2014 www.curveonline.co.uk

Two families are flung together on a night of cataclysmic weather. Bruised, tired and seduced by the flow of alcohol, they wrestle with their differences until, suddenly, the unthinkable happens.

EDITORIAL TEAM

Nick Carter, Laura McMillan, Erica Whyman and The RSC Literary and Marketing Deptartments.

CONTRIBUTERS

Tarell Alvin McCraney, Pippa Hill, Dan Hutton, Mark Ravenhill and Willy Russell. The RSC Literary Department is generously supported by THE DRUE HEINZ TRUST.

We would love your feedback on our newspaper, please drop us an email with your thoughts at radical.mischief@rsc.org.uk


Radical Mischief