Memory is funny thing. You think you haven’t achieved much in a year but then look back and find out that actually you haven’t done too badly on the whole. So here is my 2017 in writing:
January was the month that Gazing At A Distant Star made its debut in the brand new studio at Greenwich Theatre. So brand new was the studio that we were unwrapping chairs from plastic about an hour before the first show. I was thrilled at how director James Haddrell interpreted my words and the actors (Vicky Porter, Şerin Ibrahim and Harpal Hayer) were brilliant. Audiences came (it’s a bit like hosting a party and hoping you won’t be left weeping into the Twiglets when no one turns up) and the reviews were really positive with several four stars and even a five star among them. Unbeknown to me Assembly Theatre came along too and made James an offer of space for the Edinburgh Fringe. I’m hugely indebted to friends and family who all came to see it and for three in particular who propped me up when I had a little anxiety wobble.
February was a quiet month in which I cracked on with writing more stuff, met up with some lovely creative types and sent follow up emails to industry types who had come to see GAADS.
In March I had a short piece on as part of the Women Redressed festival at the Park Theatre. The Park is a lovely space and I was excited that Şerin who was in GAADS auditioned for and got the role in this one. Her performance as a refugee woman really tugged at the heartstrings.
In April I attended a couple of workshops and reviewed some interesting productions for London Pub Theatres. The wealth and scope of new and revived writing on the London fringe scene is phenomenal. By spring people are trying out their new work for the summer festivals so there’s loads to choose from. I also knuckled down to some sketch writing for News Revue. Although it’s been a crazy year for politics it’s tricky making comedy out of people who seem determined to do that for themselves with no help from writers! I wrote a rather angry sketch about the teacher shortage which seemed to touch a nerve as it ran and ran in the London show, made it into the Edinburgh show and into the two special News Revue performances at the Arts Theatre on the West End.
May was another month for writing, learning and chasing up on people who had expressed an interest in GAADS. One of those was agent Jean Kitson from Kitson Press. After several months of correspondence with her assistant who then left the agency, I had to start all over again. Eventually however, I met up with Jean for a coffee and words like ‘representation’ and ‘signing’ popped up in conversation. But I didn’t dare hope yet…
In June I was lucky enough to get a place on Out Of Joint’s inaugural 24 hour writing course. I learned tons over the Friday and Saturday and Stella Feehily and Catriona Craig were inspirational. As this was before the news about Max Stafford-Clark had broken, he was also a tutor and spoke about his plans for reviving Rita, Sue and Bob Too, the production of which came to be a pivotal moment of the debate around sexual harassment in theatre and beyond for this year. I finished the latest draft of the play I started writing at the beginning of the year and started sending this out to various people.
In July I had a read through of Starving, another new piece I had written and got some great feedback from a helpful actor. I met with Jean again and she offered to sign me a client. I now had an agent! James auditioned a new actor for GAADS as Vicky was heading off on honeymoon during Edinburgh and chose the fabulous Jenny Delisle. After rehearsals we had a preview on the main stage at Greenwich.
August was all about Edinburgh. The GAADS team went up in a van at the beginning of the month and I followed up by train a few days later. I was only staying for a few days as James and the Greenwich Theatre gang had everything sorted. It was my first ever Edinburgh and it was crazy. I loved how shows were in every nook and cranny of the city from lecture theatres (ours) to tunnels to attics and basements in pubs. I managed to see loads of things from theatre to comedy, variety to cabaret as well as doing some flyering with the team, a bit of sightseeing and a fair amount of gin drinking. Huge thanks for Fenella for letting me kip in her room and for the Mervyn Stutter team for putting up with me hanging around the place. Edinburgh was a huge learning curve- not all of it good- but all part of the learning journey and we picked up tow more five star and three more four star reviews.
After the madness of Edinburgh September felt unusually quiet. I did have one important mission to complete, however. I had a book to write for Jessica Kingsley Publishing by the end of November and while I had written bits and bobs over the year, like leaving my homework until Sunday night I now had to knuckle down and get scribbling. I took a day off to be an extra in a short film which is always great fun and helpful to see another medium in action. I did an interview for Soho radio and am getting better and not saying ‘er’ quite so much.
In October I found out that my new play Learning to Swim had reached the top 100 (out of over a thousand plays) of Soho Theatre’s Verity Bargate Award which I was thrilled about. I booked myself in for a short meeting with Sue Healy, the literary manager at the Finborough Theatre as part of their Introduce Yourself scheme. Sue suggested I might like to have a go at becoming a reader for the Finborough, reading new plays and visiting shows on their behalf. I had to read three scripts and write a report on each and got accepted. The first play I wrote back in 2014 had a revival too! I had sent my comedy Scribblers in to the Oast Theatre in Tonbridge a couple of years ago as I thought it might suit an amateur production. Out of the blue I had an email to say that yes they’d like to put in on as part of a season of new readings. On a vile, rainy night I trekked down and was made very welcome by the Oast team who did a great job with Scribblers. They also had lots of homemade cake. Now that’s what I call a theatre experience!
In November I heard that Starving had been selected for the Twelve Days of Christmas festival at the Tristan Bates Theatre. We were awarded a small development grant and my actor and director were both on board. With some dedicated writing I even managed to get my book finished and sent off by the end of the month. Next step: edits.
In December rehearsals for Starving were interrupted by first director being unwell and then me but we got there in the end amid the coughing. It was good to see some new writing up on its feet and to think about which steps to take next. The year ended on a high note with being offered a place on the Greg Mosse writing course at the Criterion Theatre. The Criterion is a stunningly beautiful West End venue in the heart of Piccadilly and the course is conducted on the stage. If that doesn’t get the inspiration going I don’t what will!
Having totted up my theatre experiences from this year I found that I had also reviewed twenty eight shows and been to twenty four for pleasure (including a bit of a spike in August!). By some people’s standards that’s nothing and I certainly need to pack in some bigger shows in 2018 (I’ve already booked some to get the ball rolling) but in among the writing, the day job, my other hobbies and producing the book it’s enough for me. Here’s hoping for a happy, healthy and successful year for 2018 with many more opportunities for women writers. Oh and politicians- feel free to leave the comedy to writers, ok?