I will be running my STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS masterclass at the Indie Training Fund in London on Tuesday Oct 2nd – places still available.
The scripts have been pouring in for the 2019 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE since we opened for entries two weeks ago today (we’re already past the 1000 mark with another week to go). My team of readers (and me) are lined up and raring to go – it’s an exciting prospect.
It’s that time of year where we’re hit by a wave of fresh creativity – so much new drama on TV, the London Film Festival coming up very soon and lots of exciting new theatre writing.
Last week for three days I returned to one of my favourite places, Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, to take in the 2019 HIGH TIDE THEATRE FESTIVAL. And what a treat it was. The standard has always been high – but this year was by some way the best ever. (I bumped into festival director, Steven Atkinson, and we discussed similarities in taste – how so many 4screenwriting writers have also been High Tide writers – Anders Lustgarten, Nessah Muthy, Luke Norris, Milly Thomas, Theresa Ikoko, Vinay Patel – to name but a few.)
And this year was no exception. Two of the best shows I saw were by 4screenwriting alumni – SONGLINES, a lovely, warm, beautifully-written and acted two-hander about an awkward teenage relationship, with music provided by 2/4 of Tallulah Brown’s own band, Trills. The musicians were on stage throughout, and it was amusing to see the playwright on stage watching the actors interpret her own lines. Her expression was impressively inscrutable – but she must have been bursting with pride inside.
And A SUPER HAPPY STORY ABOUT FEELING SUPER BAD – a cabaret musical about depression by Jon Brittain. This was another superlative script brilliantly performed – hugely inventive, funny, moving and very thought-provoking. The show is being toured round the UK until early November by Hull theatre group Silent Uproar.
In fact this was the 2nd play in 2 days I’d seen (by a 4screenwriting alumni) about a female in her 20’s with depression, the other being Milly Thomas’s intensely excellent DUST, still playing at Trafalgar Studios in London (alongside another 4screenwriting alumni Arinze Kene’s equally brilliant, ground-breaking MISTY). DUST and SUPER HAPPY… dealt with similar subject matter in completely different ways – both had a strong streak of humour running through them, and both were highly impressive scripts, superbly performed.
Other highlights from High Tide –
– Danusia Samal’s one woman (+2 musicians) show about her experiences busking on the London Underground for ten years – like SONGLINES and SUPER HAPPY, more ‘gig theatre’ – and another example of what a rich genre this has become.
– WOKE by Apphia Campbell & Meredith Yarbrough, performed by Appiah Campbell. Another hugely powerful one woman show (again with music – Apphia has a wonderful singing voice) about the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and how a young female black student gets caught up in the subsequent (continued) police brutality. It’s great when theatre this good can make an impact in a setting so massively culturally different to the place where the story’s set. It was moving to see the standing ovation that the almost exclusively white, middle-aged audience gave to this impassioned piece of theatre about the #blacklivesmatter movement. This was theatre to educate and inspire at its best.
– SPARKS written and performed by Jessica Butcher & Anoushka Lucas – more gig theatre. A narrative monologue with reflections about relationships, urban life and much, much more in both words and music. Again, this was beautifully performed and written.
– SKIN A CAT by Isley Lynn. A vibrant, very funny and poignant three-hander about relationships and female sexuality. Another cracking script. (I also went to a reading of Isley Lynn’s new play THE SWELL – which was heartfelt and intriguing.)
– MOUTHPIECE. A reading of a new play by Scottish writer Kieran Hurley. I went to this at 10.00 on Saturday morning in an unprepossessing church hall with an audience in single figures. It was read as a 1 hour 45 minute 2-hander without a break – and I was absolutely spellbound by it. It’s coming to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in December – don’t miss it!
Including DUST on Wednesday night, I went to see 10 new plays over 3+ days – I have to say I’m pretty impressed by my own stamina! – but the experience was a joy. I came away from Suffolk on Saturday inspired and creatively energised.
The good news for YOU is that the HIGH TIDE FESTIVAL is carrying on for another week, with some of these shows, and many others, at Walthamstow until Sept 30th. If you have the time, do yourself a favour and get yourself over to East London.
There’s also been a glut of new Autumn TV drama to get your teeth into – the ratings phenomenon that is BODYGUARD which, although it has some great set-piece action sequences and narrative twists and turns, I have to say I have mixed feelings about; WANDERLUST, which I’m enjoying a lot – the quality and intelligence of Nick Payne’s writing shines through (another former High Tide writer), and it’s refreshing and encouraging to see BBC1 schedule such a low-concept, character-driven, writer-led drama series in a 9pm weekday slot; the Channel 4 ON THE EDGE series is definitely worth catching up with (including a script by 4screenwriting alumna Janice Okoh).
Highlights from the summer include series 3 of UNFORGOTTEN – in many ways an utterly conventional police procedural – but Chris Lang really knows how to tease out a story – and this for me is an example of genre TV drama at its very best – it really elevates the genre, with the confidence and freshness of its storytelling.
But my TV drama favourite of the last few weeks has undoubtedly been the new Sky Atlantic series, SUCCESSION. A US-set show, with exclusively American characters, it’s fascinating to me that this is written by a largely British team of writers. Lead writer is the excellent Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, Babylon, Black Mirror etc). (If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter you may remember the short piece I included a few months ago by outstanding novelist DAVID ARMSTONG – Jesse’s father). Other UK writers on the team include Anna Jordan, Lucy Prebble, Georgia Pritchett, Tony Roche and Jon Brown. For me, this is up there with the best US shows of recent years. Structurally this is quite a conventional family business saga – about a Murdoch-like family and their massive media empire – and what happens when the Rupert Murdoch-like patriarch’s illness causes a family and business meltdown. What is great about this series are the characterisations. The characters are a wonderfully damaged, dysfunctional, objectively unsympathetic bunch – but they’re all utterly compelling. The series is gripping and dramatic – but what clinches it for me is the wonderful vein of humour – so much of it is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a great example of what can be achieved by a writers room set-up – and encouraging that this particular writers room is mainly populated by UK writers!
If SUCCESSION is anything to go by, more UK indies should be creating their drama series in this way.
The next newsletter will be on Friday Oct 5th,
Sept 21st 2018