Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Conflict, cabaret and the end of the world…

It’s only Wednesday, but already it feels like an incredible amount has happened. This afternoon was the first MA class for Conflict in the City. Great to meet students with such amazingly different life experiences - three who have lived in Saudi Arabia, others from the Lebanon and India and other places besides. And out of our discussions on theatre’s relationship to the city came some excellent suggestions for events I could share here. In particular, the platform discussions at The National Theatre with writers like Mike Bartlett, whose city-themed play 13 opens soon:

And this is another link to the Review Show’s segment on Stephen Poliakoff’s new play My City (28min 30sec in): Not hugely positive it must be said – so probably best to watch after seeing the play if you’re going.

In my Making Plays class on Monday, I also gave my students an off-the-top-of-my-head list of some major new-writing theatres, which I thought might be worth copying here. It’s very selective – and London-centric. They’re just the places I tend to visit most (do let me know which ones I must add!). But for starters: The Bush, Theatre503, The Finborough, The Gate, The Arcola, The Southwark Playhouse, The Kings Head, Hampstead Theatre, The Battersea Arts Centre, The National Theatre and The Royal Court. There are also many companies-at-large who produce new work across the country. Paines Plough, Shunt, Punch Drunk, HighTide and Kneehigh are just some of the best known. I’m also going to add a company that it turns out one of my new first-year students, Anna Beecher, has run for the last few years: Fat Content (check them out here: They have a particular interest in cabaret, which reminded me about The Soho Theatre’s new downstairs cabaret studio. (If you’re interested in the wider scene, by the way, Ben Walters - TimeOut’s cabaret editor - is the go-to guy:
One other topic kept resurfacing this week: the question of the presentation of science in drama. How do we research it, and what are our responsibilities as writers? My feeling (and I’ve had plenty of arguments about this in the past) is that it’s a mistake for writers to try to turn themselves into, or present themselves as, ‘experts’. Recently there have been many important plays dealing with climate change (Greenland, The Heretic, The Contingency Plan are just three). But the dilemma for me is to what extent, or on what level, the writer can contribute to the debate and cast new light on the problem. Is it legitimate for a play to try and ‘teach’ an audience science? Writers spend their careers learning how to persuade with words. But what’s the guarantee that they really understand an issue in all its nuance and complexity, even after months of research? I often feel that the writers who embrace poetry, lyricism and metaphor succeed in a way that those who try to display their research and promote new solutions don’t. Although it’s not explicitly about environmental issues, The Drowned World (by Gary Owen) is a play which deals with politics and society in the aftermath of another kind of apocalyptic event or transformation. I think it’s a beautiful treatment of such a shattering possibility, which finds a muscular dramatic language to express its ideas…
On a completely different note, I’ve just got back from The Veil at the National Theatre. It’s going to take me a little while to work out what I thought, though…
(And finally, thanks to those who have commented, online or off, about the idea for this blog.)


  1. Hey Matt,

    Interesting point about research. As a writer, I find it's quite easy, sometimes, to fall into the trap of over-researching a character. It's important, of course, to get to know your characters intimately, though over-researching may kill them! The other problem I have, in relation to research methodologies, is with the notebook conundrum: should one have only one notebook? And how do you organise your notes when your notebook is a collection of unrelated thoughts? One notebook per work? Would your bag not be too cumbersome with multiple notebooks fighting for space? Or should we just move on, to the unbearable lightness of the digital world, and discard the handwritten notebook as a thing of the past? Interested to hear any writer's thoughts on their methods and practices...

  2. Thank you for the quick list of theaters, was going to ask you for recommendations but seems like I got my answer already :)