I have been shortlisted for the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize for Happy To Help. My play is one of ten selected from over 200 entries, judged by a panel including Kathy Burke, John Godber and Frank Cottrell Boyce. The winning play will be considered for production at the Royal Court Liverpool and the winning writer will receive £10,000. More details in the Liverpool Echo here.
My play Happy To Help has been selected by the Park Theatre as part of their Script Accelerator Programme 2014, in which five pieces (supported by and developed in association with the Park) will be presented as works in progress in front of an audience in the theatre’s main Park200 space.
There will be 30 minute excerpts from Happy To Help performed on Wednesday the 25th and Friday the 27th of June, 7.30pm (alongside two other plays, Full Of Bees by Rick Bland and Broken by Upstanding Productions).
Happy To Help is set in the branch of a giant multinational supermarket chain and tells the story of managing director Tony Manning, who decides to spend a week working undercover at one of his stores to see what life is really like on the shop floor, and ends up getting a far more authentic experience than he’d have ever wished for. The cast are Keith Hill, Katherine-Ellen Kotz, Edward Yelland, Joe Dennis, Helen Reuben and Charlie Allen, the director is Gemma Kerr and the assistant producer is Katerina Elliott.
Tickets are £6 and can be booked via the website (click on the screenshot above to take you there)
I’m delighted to announce the first Australian performances of my work. Melbourne based theatre company innãtum are presenting a performance of two of my short plays next Monday the 14th of April as part of their ‘Reading Gauge’ series of staged readings.
The plays Nothing But Mammals and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are being directed by Tammie Kite, innãtum’s artistic director, (who also directed the original production of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at Theatre 503 in 2012).
Nothing But Mammals is a Darwinian dark comedy telling the nightmarish tale of a young married couple whose baby daughter isn’t exactly what they’d expected. It was originally staged at the Old Red Lion, London, as part of ‘REDfest 2012: The Off West End New Writing Awards’, where it was a finalist and won Best Cast and Best Director, and has also been made into a short film.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a fictionalised account of US army intelligence whistle-blower Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning on leave in Boston in early 2010. As well as its premiere at Theatre 503 (as part of their Rapid Writes Response nights), it was also staged as part of the Love, Hate & Human Rights show in 2013.
‘Reading Gauge: Michael Ross’ is on at the Loop Project Space, 23 Meyers Place, Melbourne, VIC 3000, 7pm, Monday the 14th of April. Tickets are $10 and available here.
Coming up next is my short play ‘Work Makes You Free’, part of Paradigm Theatre’s new writing festival ‘A Bad Case of the Mondays’ on Monday evenings in January at the Park Theatre. It is being directed by Cat Robey and the cast are Antonia Reid and Gemma Rook.
‘Work Makes You Free’ is a play about workfare, hatred of the unemployed, the modern menace of anonymous online abuse, and how work has become the new religion. It tells the story of two very different women; Willow, an unemployed actor who takes legal action against the government after she is made to work unpaid at Poundland, and Jane, who works for a credit rating agency and who, like George Osborne, is incensed at the sight of closed blinds in her neighbours windows as she leaves for work every morning.
Performances are on Monday the 6th, 13th, 20th and 27th of January in the Morris Space at the Park Theatre. Tickets available here.
I have a very busy few weeks ahead. First up is my short play ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ about US army whistle-blower Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning which is to be performed at the Barons Court Theatre from the 17th to 22nd September as part of Kibo Production’s ‘Love, Hate and Human Rights’ festival. It is one of 8 plays, all tackling human rights concerns. Tickets are £12 (£10 concessions) and can be reserved via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0208 932 4747. 10% of the box office will be donated to Amnesty International.
Then, the following week, my full length play ‘Saving Souls In Soho’ opens ‘The Band Plays On‘ festival of gay-themed plays at Greenwich Theatre on Tuesday the 24th of September at 7.30pm. The first festival of its kind in London, it is being presented by Greenwich Theatre in partnership with award winning writer and director Patrick Wilde (What’s Wrong With Angry?) ‘Saving Souls In Soho’ continues the story of my ‘Dawn Rescue’ short film and accompanying website, and is a darkly comic look at how religion corrupts the innocent. Tickets are £5, available from the Greenwich Theatre website here.
Lastly, I’ve also written a play for Paradigm Theatre’s ‘Fresh Off The Boat,‘ a double bill of plays about immigration to be performed at the Hen and Chickens Theatre from the 8th to the 12th of October. My play ‘The Utility People’ is about a middle-class liberal couple who discover immigrants living inside their utility cupboard, but decide to let them stay in return for doing the cleaning, cooking, and so much more. Directed by Cat Robey, it is paired with Sarah Pitard’s ‘A Border Story’ an autobiographical retelling of her own visa nightmare. Tickets available here.
There will be a rehearsed reading of my play ‘Hungry Heart’ at RADA on Wednesday the 20th March at 7.30pm.
This American-set play tells the story of a man, Connor Hamilton, who at age 17 almost goes home with a serial killer, this brief encounter having a devastating effect on the course of the rest of his life. An epic journey spanning over 30 years of American history, projecting into the future and leading all the way to the White House.
‘Hungry Heart’ was selected by the Writers Guild and RADA for their ‘Plays of Innocence and Experience’ development scheme last year. I wrote an article about the process for the Writers Guild website here. This event is free and is being held at RADA Studios, Chenies Street, London, WC1E 7PA.
UPDATE 24/3/2013: The reading played to a packed house and was followed by a lively audience discussion. It was directed by Owen Horsley (associate director, Cheek By Jowl) and the cast were Alistair Toovey, Sam Redford, Oliver Johnstone, Catherine Cusack, James Clyde, Rose O’Loughlin, Alex Robertson, Jamie Doyle and Hester Arden. It was organised by Lloyd Trott, RADA’s dramaturge.
I’m thrilled to report that my play ‘Armed Forces Day’ is being performed on Sunday the 3rd of February at the Arcola Theatre as part of the latest show by the highly regarded Miniaturists.
Curated by playwrights Stephen Sharkey and Declan Feenan, the Miniaturists have been running regular events since 2005 showcasing short plays from a host of top playwrights, including David Eldridge, Nick Payne, Moira Buffini, Stacey Gregg, Joel Horwood and Adam Brace amongst countless others.
My play is being directed by the excellent Nadia Papachronopoulou and the superb cast are Tony Bell, Kate Collison, Robin Crouch and Jessica Sichel. Tickets can be booked from the Arcola website here The other playwrights are Glynn Maxwell, Poppy Corbett, Vanessa Wilkins and Gemma Langford. (There are two shows, at 5pm and 8pm.)
UPDATE: The Miniaturists 39 (myself included) get a nice mention in the Guardian, in Lyn Gardner’s blog on what to see at the theatre this week.
(Below; production photos of Robin Crouch and Tony Bell in Armed Forces Day)
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.”
(Click on the above panel to access the Dawn Rescue website. Picture by Tom Ross)
“I’m sorry to bother you, but do you mind if I ask you a question?” A well-spoken, elegantly dressed woman had stopped me on the Charing Cross Road back in late 2007. My heart sank as I felt certain she would ask me directions to someplace I’d never heard of, and I do hate to shatter the illusion of myself as some kind of Peter Ackroyd/Iain Sinclair figure with an encyclopediac knowledge of every obscure alley and side street of this dark metropolis. But I signalled my assent for her query to commence, and much to my surprise she asked “Do you know why the blood of Jesus poured out of him on the cross?”
This bizarre question stayed with me, burrowed into my subconscious, and eventually, one day, hatched forth a short play ‘Eyes Full of Pornography.’ As is often the way of things, real-life inspiration had led down a meandering path to arrive somewhere rather different. In my play the questioner was now a man and the location had moved to a gay bar in nearby Old Compton Street. The play became about an evangelical Christian organisation named Dawn Rescue which trawls the pubs and clubs of Soho trying to “save” young men from embarking upon (what they see) as a life of sin. Of course the irony is that Dawn Rescue (and religion in general) is in fact the true corrupter of youth, a decadent predator stalking the vulnerable and poisoning the minds of the innocent. (Here endeth the sermon.)
The play was performed in 2010 by Eyebrow Productions, at RADA and then Theatre503, and was filmed in 2011 as Dawn Rescue by myself and my film director brother Tom Ross. This year the film was shown at the Portobello Film Festival. (See video below)
I have also now created a website to accompany the film, a spoof site by the Dawn Rescue organisation, complete with information about their mission and a blog by the character of Matthew (entitled ‘Going Straight’) detailing his struggles to remain pure and chaste, (he’s already hit a bump in the road, you’ll be sad to hear), and with some wonderful artwork courtesy of my brother Tom. I have no idea where I’m going with it, but I intend to keep it chugging along until either I get bored or get smote down by a heavenly thunderbolt, whichever comes first.
I’m aware that picking fights with religion may seem, these days, like shooting fish in a barrel. Especially in ‘the arts’ (if I can claim to be a member of that club), in this corner of secular Western Europe. But religion still insists on singling out homosexuals as scapegoats for universal human lusts and kinks and depravity, and religion still furiously (and very loudly) opposes bestowing equality and dignity upon gay people (witness the recent marriage debates) and it will insist on doing so publicly, not just in the privacy of its own pulpits. So excuse me if I reload my revolver and fire a few more rounds into the barrel.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my reply to that woman on the Charing Cross Road was “Oh do fuck off!” Yes, it was a bit rude of me, wasn’t it? I should thank her really, for her golden shaft of inspiration.
This year’s Off Cut Festival of short plays opens this week at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Showcasing some of the best new writing in theatre, 4 groups of plays (28 in total) will do battle in a gladiatorial contest to win the votes of a capricious, hard-to-please audience, (that’ll be you) with the eventual winner crowned almighty god of fringe theatre on the 12th of October, (banquet and jousting to follow). You can book tickets here and also read an interview with Off Cut’s organising genius Daniel Brennan on the OffWestEnd website.
My play ‘Armed Forces Day’ is in Group 3, opening next Tuesday the 2nd of October at 7.30pm (with further performances on the 4th and 6th, plus a matinee on Sunday the 7th at 3pm). Its being directed by Ng Choon Ping and the cast are James Unsworth, Darrie Gardner, John Hoye and Zara Radford. I’ve been to rehearsals and it’s shaping up to be really good, fingers crossed it should be something special.
I’m also looking forward to seeing this week’s groups, as the cast of my REDfest finalist ‘Nothing But Mammals’ are both acting in plays. Matt Houlihan is appearing in Personnel by Hugo Plowden in Group 1 and Antonia Reid is in Buzzkill by Annabel Wigoder in Group 2. Fine actors both, I can’t wait to see them on stage again.
So get booking!