We had a rehearsed reading of Michael’s play ‘A handful of Mustard Seed’ this Friday last; 13th September 2019. It was organised by Katherine Kotz at the prestigious Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, London. It was a huge success, attended by the public and many industry people and Michael would of loved it!

We had an incredibly talented cast; Sophie Thompson as Shelley, Debbie Chazen as Linda, Toby Murray as Toby and Mark Fleischmann as Ben.

Here are some photos of the performance:

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Sophie Thompson as Shelley
Debbie Chazen as Linda
Debbie opposite Sophie
Toby Murray as Toby
Mark Fleischmann as Ben
Sophie and Mark surrounded by an audience!
The curtain call!

It was directed and produced by Katherine Kotz with co-directing duties performed by Sam Phillips

Directed and produced by Katherine Kotz
Co-directed by Sam Phillips

Here are some tweets from the day:

Floored today by the late #MichaelRoss A HANDFUL OF MUSTARD SEEDS at @ParkTheatre – roared with laughter and wept by the end. Great cast one and all, lead by a brilliant Sophie Thompson, directed by @katherinekotz & @samphillips1984. Hope this funny, moving play gets a real run.

Really enjoyed it, Katherine, beautifully acted and directed and great writing. Incredible how much you all managed to find in Michael’s text in such a short rehearsal time. I’m sure he would have been very proud of you all.

@ParkTheatre please keep doing rehearsed readings.

Full house, brilliant celebration of Michael’s work @ParkTheatre Congrats to @katherinekotz  @samphillips1984 & Michael’s lovely family for putting this on. The cast brought every word to life. 

And lastly some candid backstage photos:

A huge thanks for Jez and Rachel at the Park Theatre for hosting it and for Nick Quinn at The Agency for publicising it!

Photos by Dean Shaw and Tom Ross

Michael has a play on at the Brighton Fringe.

Work Makes You Free By Michael Ross. 6-10th May at Rialto Theatre as part of Brighton Fringe 2019.

Adam is absolutely loving being Employment Minister, singer-songwriter Kirsty cries in the shower every morning before heading off to work at the Job Centre, struggling actress Willow must toil unpaid in a pound shop or lose her benefits, and banker Jane is disgusted by the sight of closed curtains as she leaves for Canary Wharf every morning.

Michael Ross’s biting and very funny satire delivers a piece very much for our times, reflecting on the dignity – and many indignities – of labour. It explores how some people are defined by their job, whilst for others it’s the main obstacle to becoming who they truly are. It is a funny, smart and ingenious examination of what work means in Twenty-First Century Britain.

“A current, relevant commentary on the aspects of life we see every day – it touches the full spectrum of working life in the modern age.” **** (LondonTheatre1)

***** (Remote Goat)
***** (Fringe Guru)


Michael Ross Obituary

The playwright Michael Ross, whose latest work, The Shy Manifesto, recently finished a five-week UK tour, has died of cancer, aged 40.

A graduate of the Royal Court’s Young Writers Programme, Ross tackled contemporary issues such as social media, housing, homelessness and corporate greed. His play, Happy to Help, an acerbic comedy set in a supermarket, was produced at London’s Park Theatre in 2014, having been previously short-listed for the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize. It was later published by Methuen Plays.

He also wrote They Won’t Kill You (2006), A Handful of Mustard Seed (2010), Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (2012), Saving Souls in Soho (2013), The Utility People (2013), Work Makes You Free (2014), Damn Your Eyes (2015) and, most recently, The Good Landlord, about London’s housing crisis, which played at Vault Festival in February. A review of The Good Landlord on the theatreweekly.com website described it as “a fantastically funny and energetic performance”.

It was while The Shy Manifesto and The Good Landlord were both in rehearsal that Ross succumbed to the cancer that had only been diagnosed in December. Anthony Hollis, co-producer of The Shy Manifesto, spoke of the “shock and sadness” of the whole company. “Although Michael didn’t get to see the production, we managed to get an audio recording to him in the hospice, and he saw the published text of the play before he died,” said Hollis.

The Shy Manifesto, which opened at the Newcastle Live Theatre on January 30, was thought to be Ross’ most autobiographical play to date, about a teenage boy, Callum, who is not ashamed to be shy in a world full of narcissism and bluster. Even as an adult, Ross was quiet and unassuming.

Theo Ancient, a close friend of Ross who played Callum in this solo show and appeared in Ross’ play The Utility People, in 2013, said the rehearsal period for The Shy Manifesto had been “emotionally tough”, knowing Ross was unlikely to live to see his play performed. “It gave the director Cat Robey and me a real determination to keep going because it was the best way to honour his memory,” he said.

In an appreciation of the playwright in the Guardian, critic Miriam Gillinson described him as “a witty dramatist with a particular interest in the alienating impact of technology”. His work, she wrote, was “a gift to actors: light and energetic, lacking in pretension and full of compassion”.

Tracy Sinclair’s review of The Shy Manifesto for The Stage spoke of a “compact and often very funny show… a bittersweet examination of growing up in the social media age”.

Ross grew up in Surbiton, Surrey, and studied scriptwriting at Bournemouth University before returning to live and work in London. While honing his craft as a playwright, he worked at the National Theatre bookshop for more than 10 years, where he was responsible for providing monologue suggestions to young actors.

NT bookshop manager Christopher Roberts said: “Michael made an incomparable contribution to the National Theatre with his encyclopaedic knowledge of plays and playwriting.”

His agent, Nick Quinn, described Ross as “an exceptional talent, with a darkly funny tow to his writing. It is a great cruelty that he was taken so young. His work has touched and delighted audiences for more than a decade.”

Michael Ross was born on January 3, 1979, and died on January 23, 2019. He is survived by his mother, brother and sister.

Leading new writing venue announces new literary policy

The Portaloo Theatre is one of London’s most vibrant new theatres for new writing and has just announced its exciting new literary policy. Portaloo’s artistic director Yolanda Bogg-Brush has urged theatre-makers to “think outside the cubicle” and look at new innovative ways of creating theatre beyond just putting on plays that people have written down on pieces of paper.

“Let’s look beyond the traditional writing methods, we want to get away from that fusty old fashioned view of writers, y’know, all quills and parchments by candlelight, let’s look at what new writing means today, now, here, in the here-and-now. What do we mean by ‘new writing’? What do we mean by ‘new’? And what do we mean by ‘writing’? Do you have to be a writer to write? After all, I write, you write, the traffic warden writes, the girl in Starbucks writes my name on a cup for my soya latte every morning, even my little four year has started to write. In fact little Ocado’s debut play is part of our 2013 season of provocative new work! Conversely do you actually have to write in order to be a writer? After all, its all done on computers nowadays isn’t it, so maybe we should just call them typists, in which case aren’t they just secretaries?”

The Portaloo has certainly come a long way since its inception. Originally housed in a real portaloo, it gained a reputation for daring, dazzling new work that belied its humble location and tiny seating capacity (one). Then, three years ago it looked as if the theatre’s future was about to be flushed down the pan after the portaloo hire company announced that it wanted its portaloo back. But with a £6 million grant from the Arts Council they were able to re-house themselves in a new, specially built state-of-the-art venue but one which nevertheless stays close to the spirit of the original Portaloo Theatre by being the exact same shape and size of a portaloo. And with an exciting new venue comes an exciting new submissions policy!

Instead of accepting submissions all the year round, at certain times of the year the Portaloo door will creak open for a few seconds and Yolanda will blow a whistle. That’s the cue for any writers to throw their scripts through the gap before the door slams shut again for the next six months. But if you are amongst the thousands of writers who have already submitted scripts to the Portaloo, then fear not, Yolanda and her team are already putting your scripts to innovative use. “We’re printing the best scripts onto rolls of toilet paper in a groundbreaking new way of bringing our patrons into direct contact with the very best in new writing.”

But what of all those people who don’t submit scripts to the Portaloo? People who live in the area who aren’t aware of its existence, who perhaps assume it’s merely a portable toilet, what is Yolanda and her team doing to reach out to those untapped sources of creative genius in the community. “We want to engage with people who’ve never written plays before, who have never even thought about writing plays. We want to get away from this elitist notion of playwrights being people who sit on their own in cafes self-consciously scrawling in a tatty notebook, going, “ooh, look at me all dressed in black like a young Harold Pinter,” I mean, just piss off you losers! We want ordinary people, real people who work behind the counter at McDonalds, people who stack shelves in Tesco’s and who’ve never been to the theatre, people who hate and despise the theatre and thinks its all for “gays and luvvies”, people who wouldn’t step foot in a theatre if you dragged them there at gunpoint, people who want to hold those of us in the theatre at gunpoint! What we really want is people with guns in the theatre, firing bullets at the actors, creating exciting immersive theatre that blurs the boundaries between reality and drama!”

But for those struggling writers out there who plan to get a job in McDonalds or involved in gun crime as a stepping stone to getting your work on at the prestigious Portaloo, Yolanda has a few words of warning, “We can sniff you out! There’s a simple test. If you answer the question, ‘Who is Caryl Churchill?’ with anything other than the baffled query ‘Winston’s wife?’ then you and your intellectual pretensions shall be kicked straight out that Portaloo door and halfway down the street!”

And what of the next artistic director of the Portaloo, when Yolanda leaves to run the much larger Portakabin Theatre next year? Will the Portaloo be similarly looking for their next boss behind the counter at McDonalds? On this Yolanda is unequivocal. “Absolutely not! You can’t have just anyone randomly traipsing in off the street to run a vibrant arts organisation.”