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Actor Awareness Review

Posted on 3rd October, 2017

The Actor Awareness campaign run by Tom Stocks, holds values close to my heart; fighting to have more equality, diversity and working class actors in the industry, irrespective of background or financial restraints.  It’s one that’s gaining currency and traction, and you’ll no doubt be seeing and hearing more about its campaign in the mainstream media.


This week, they presented one of their regular scratch nights for new writing at Spotlight’s offices in London’s West End on a theme of Mental Health, produced with effervescent energy by Stephanie Silver.  There were 4 x 15 minute pieces on show to an audience for the first time, performed off book by all the cast (including by a last minute emergency stand in – hats off to Chris Sheridan with only 1 hour notice!) and all performers gave their outstanding all.  My focus in this review is to critique the work itself, but without the efforts of all the wonderful actors and directors involved, they wouldn’t have come so vividly to life as they did.  I’ll mention the cast and crew more, but take it from me, they were all brilliant, so take a bow, one and all,  including the ethereal poetic host of the evening, Suzie Gill, who had written some heartfelt, delicate and sensitive poems around mental health – and hope – to bookend the event.


EPISODE by Tanya Loretta Dee

The first play of the night explored our personal and collective responses to grief and what help is offered to those who suddenly find themselves suffering from a mental health issue. The play follows Tracy – a teaching assistant with an obsession for fish and chips only matched in equal measure by her dislike of “bum sex” - through her experience of a psychotic episode after losing a family member.  The device Tanya uses is to draw the audience in through Tracy’s direct address and asides whilst mixing this with narrative snatches that add layers and colour to her experiences – and realisation that she needs help to deal with the grief she experiences following the tragic death of her mother in a car accident.  The clinicians’ responses are to try to dose her up with medications, despite the alarming sounding side effects these might cause until things “get better” – but Tracy is reluctant.  Luckily, she has the love of a good man, Chris (certainly better than her ex by all accounts) to stand (and sleep) by her.  As Tracy’s conditions worsen, we also hear the white noise in her head, a piercing barbed wire of sound that worms its way into her head.   Whilst all this might sound rather gloomy and heavy on paper, there’s much wit and humour in this piece which generated a lot of laughter, which one could argue, is perhaps the best therapy…..?  Terrific work all round and directed with subtle precision by Charlotte Chinn, starring the writer, Tanya Loretta Dee, as Tracy and Chris Sheridan as Chris.


SWEET BABY BLUES,  by Joe Windsor

New mum, played by Sara Lessore, is feeling the incessant and unrelenting pressure caused by the constant crying, crying crying of her new-born child.  No amount of repeated pleading or commands to “stop crying” has any effect at all – the baby just keeps on crying. No wonder, therefore, that a lot of women experience the baby blues, a depressive condition that sets in a few days after childbirth and is often a lengthy prologue to Post Natal Depression.   Our sex abandoned mum can only seemingly find escape in fantasising about all the great, but no-so-good for you foods she could eat and the thoughts of drinking vast quantities of White Russian in the belief this might be a good combination (not) of milk and protein for her breastfed new-born.  Food was, as in the first play, a theme that ran through this piece as a metaphorical escape from the mental hell the female protagonist was existing in. Writer/performer Joe Windsor, isn’t afraid to tackle this difficult topic without injecting humour, himself playing the disconnected voices of reason, antagonism and defeatism in the face of this condition.  It was an unusual technique given that he played several characters, including one, a substance abusing neighbour who had seen her own kid removed by the authorities in a portrayal that could have easily stepped out of a Tennessee Williams’ play.  If you were viewing the piece as naturalism you’d be confused, but for me, this characterisation helped underpin the universality of the condition in that it’s not just something confined to the council house wastelands of Britain.  The other of his characters I felt I had to work a little harder at in understanding who/what they represented but ultimately, his ever present, louche masculine intervention in the narrative seemed, somehow, to heighten the female dilemma.  Sarah Lessore’s tears were testament to the emotional power of the piece.



Robert suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and after 40 years of marriage, his wife. Victoria has had him taken into care.  Robert sits in his chair, like Father Jack without a drink, barking his orders out to her on her daily visits, aware that he’s trapped, that she is somehow to blame for it and that ultimately, he is powerless to resist.  In a rare moment of defiance, he raises himself to his feet, only to fall to the floor where his pride and dignity lay all around him, shattered and in pieces.  But still Victoria shows up, reminding him not so gently of who she is, but also hinting at what she’s put up with during 40 years of marriage; after all, he wanted to go out with Sylvia but Robert was too short for her and had to settle for Victoria.  As his condition worsens, Victoria seems to harden towards him, to the point of disdain – but what Laredo is doing here with skill and sensitivity, is distorting the world that Robert no longer knows but which also represents the reality of the moment that has no foot in the past, nor the future.  My feeling is that this could be developed into a longer work which explores this marriage in more depth, we get enough hints, but clearly something has kept them together, even if that was only a matter of expediency for both parties.  In the ever increasing prison that Robert finds himself locked away, Victoria seems to begin to find her own freedom as she arrives with an ever more expensive shopping bag each visit.  This was a tragic and sad work, gorgeously played by Geraldine Brennan and David Whiting, in which the shreds of humanity were stripped away by both the disease as well as a shared history.



Who knew that a terminal prognosis could evoke so much hilarity? But Dan Pick’s two hander manages to achieve that without losing any sense of the gravity of the two characters’ situation who meet on a palliative care programme for the terminally ill.  They both have three months left to live their lives to the full without reverting to maudlin behaviour or thoughts.  Surprising, really, when Charlie guesses correctly first time that Luke is an estate agent – in many ways he’s very transparent to her and she also rightly guesses he hasn’t told his girlfriend (it’ll give her something to be pissed off about when he’s gone) and yet he harbours his secret – plus the fact the he sleeps with Charlie, and why not?  Perhaps that’s because when they kiss passionately to try and prove it's their attempt to  “stop time” – but of course, we all know it doesn’t, it’s a desperate thought that we all cling onto in the hope of avoiding the inevitable.  The remarkable thing about this piece is that in 15 minutes, Pick delivers the whole package – humour, pathos, bathos, pace and thought-provoking material.  When Charlie finally considers that she might be jealous of her 99 grandmother, a bit of a goer by all accounts, then old age trumps youth, a concept that inverts the fashion.  None of us will live forever, but there was never anything other than a sense of hope that Luke and Charlie may be heading for eternity together and that perhaps their glass was more than half full after all.  Lovely performances by Charlie Bate and Luke Anthony and seamless direction by Kane Desborough.

TRAILER/trash appears at HOTBED

Posted on 6th July, 2015

I am thrilled that TRAILER/trash has been invited to appear at this year's Hotbed Festival at the Junction, hosted by Menagerie Theatre (Friday 10th July, 5.30pm - free entry!).

I'm also humbled and delighted that people continue to wish me and the team their best wishes for Friday, or indeed, have helped cover the costs of this venture which was not part of my Arts Council application. I am truly grateful for this amazing level of support from a wide range of people. Plus the fact that I am asked regularly how the new script is coming along since the reading we did on 15th May.


Well, I'm happy to report that the rehearsal draft for this week has been distributed. And that I am extremely happy with the result - but the proof of the pudding...etc etc.  But I stand by my work.


There are some subtle but important changes but I have also gone back to my very, very first premise in which I wanted these characters, Frankie and Shyanne – unlikely as they are as a pairing – to exist in their own little bubble, mainly without any sense of shame, conditions or comment.  I admit I was  a little distracted by some of the feedback I received from a few people/practitioners who expected a sense of greater 'realism' and wanted total 'naturalism' (whatever that is, really, in theatre...). To have Shyanne, for example, relentlessly tackle Frankie about his gender/sexuality in an obvious, aggressive way is so far from what this play is about and so, although I have included some initial curiosity on her part, I am declining the opportunity to turn it into soap opera. This is not what the play set out to be – I did try to explore these styles after the feedback in a redraft  but they changed the nature of the play so much I’ve finally rejected it.  So, I’m not regarding this as a faux  documentary for the stage and I avidly want the audience to come away with questions  – who, what, how, why? Because in the ideal world that I'm creating, there is no transphobia, no homophobia, no racism, no judgment based on a person's preferences, religion or origin.  So perhaps I am exploring un-realism, un-naturalism and  perhaps I am too subtle for my own good, but that’s the way I like it! 

Because what I have discovered from feedback (on this and the previous version I showcased 3 years ago) is that when the questions are open-ended, the audience actually do debate it more either with me, the actors, or away from the play altogether. The biggest task has been to cut it back and remove a lot of the repetitive sequences which I originally included to see which stuck to the wall. I've taken out the ones that didn’t necessarily advance the narrative and I've created a new opening.  It's tighter, more direct, more broad brush strokes, peppered with key words and phrases. But ultimately it's about two people who accept each other for who the other person is.  And they talk. They talk alot. Because in the real world (were they to inhabit it) there is an upsurge of folk that wouldn't even give them the time of day. They never have done and they'll do their damndest not to, not now, nor in the future.

Welcome to TRAILER/trash.

A twinkle and Timberlake Wertenbaker

Posted on 4th April, 2015

I've missed a week but am guessing I haven’t been missed.


But I do have news! I caught up with the lovely and wonderfully talented Timberlake Wertenbaker who has very kindly agreed to be my “script buddy” on the project. Which basically means, Timberlake will feedback to me her insights and opinions on the script (in performance at the rehearsed reading taking place next month). But what struck me most after my meeting is that I should practice what I preach to other playwrights – just get on with it! I am my own worst critic and self-censor sometimes at too an early stage. Whilst this has some advantages (I’m too much of a perfectionist) it can also hold the process up, resulting in a stall. Which is where I had unexpectedly reached. But Timberlake dispensed her good advice, encouraged me with that shy smile of hers and passed the twinkle from her eye into mine. And I left as if walking on air!  It sounds silly. It’s not about seeking approval from someone so illustrious – it was about giving myself permission to breathe. 


As I've just started my first mentoring role with the salon:lab with two lovely young playwrights (and alongside my wickedly sagacious director, Dominic Kelly) I really, really hope that with that twinkle, I pay it forward.   And breathe.



That was a funny week – and by that I don’t mean hilarious.


It started well with the writing and creative process on TRAILER/trash, all guns blazing, firing on all cylinders – think of any gun- ho, positive metaphor and that was me on Monday and Tuesday. Only to be followed by a feeling that I’d fallen down a very deep hole, bashing off its sides as I rocketed ever deeper into an abyss without an end. Or, to be more precise, I experienced writer's block. Why, I don’t know. Suddenly, I became my own worst critic (which is not a bad thing in itself, but hey, in moderation, please and go easy on yourself!) and loathed every word I’d written - in complete opposition to my feelings of Monday/Tuesday – and felt like I was putting more than the trash into my trailer…..


After a weekend of some reflection (and rising panic that I’ll never finish the piece) together with some G&Ts, great company and most excellent sustenance (care of my partner, Des, who really is a master chef) the fog lifted this morning. Strange, because Monday is typically a day that I generally treat with some suspicion and a great deal of prejudice.  


But it all became clear and obvious – it was information overload. Even whilst struggling with my text last week I continued to carry out research on FTMs and strippers and it’s both fascinating and absorbing. To the point that I was simply carrying too much in my head. And then I felt the need to revisit “Boys Don’t Cry” with Hilary Swank, the 1999 movie that created a few shock waves and a new (female, straight) star. And although it was based on the true and tragic story of Brandon Teena, it wasn’t a documentary. It was an artistic interpretation of the ‘truth’ – and so, naturally upset a few people, not least of which was Lana Tisdel, the young lady who entered into a relationship with the FTM character of Brandon but who claimed that she ended the relationship as soon as she found out that he was, in fact, biologically female. Fox Searchlight apparently settled her lawsuit out of court.   Brandon’s own family also objected to Swank's Oscar acceptance speech in 2000 when she referred to Brandon with the male pronouns (for which she later apologised, strangely so).


My point being is, although I’m continually looking up new bits of research and incorporating them into the script, this is to serve the script and not necessarily the “truth”. I’m not writing a documentary but rather, an impression of the truth which, I hope, may (or possibly may not) offer an insight into an unfamiliar world. If you wish for the truth, seek it.   I’m slightly worried by the trend by some respondents to theatre/film that what they see/perceive on stage/on screen MUST positively be the truth and historically accurate.  


There has been some recent hot debate about the veracity of “The Imitation Game”, “The Theory of Everything” and more recently, “Kill Me Now” at the Park Theatre in London about a father and his severely disabled son. None of these purport to be the universal truth although they are based on real people or experiences.   If you want “truth” in the theatre, perhaps verbatim works are best suited to you.  But even then, I’d be a little sceptical. Just because something is written into a script exactly as reported won’t mean that it is the truth. It is that person’s perception and reaction to real events.   It’s one of the reasons why History is both such a vibrant and contentious subject.   It’s not always the history that tells you what you need to know about people – it’s the historiographies that accompany it in which the narrative of the form changes constantly.

It's time to get naked...

Posted on 1st March, 2015

It’s 1st March – and I've set myself an almost impossible deadline of finishing the first (new) draft of (the much improved – well, practically brand new version) of TRAILER/trash. I imagine it’s going to run to about 90-100 pages – about 100-110 mins of playing time. It’s a daunting prospect, especially as I’m srill undertaking research (this week it’s been centred on the sex industry in the USA) mainly the strip and clip joints in a number of major cities and states.


It’s surprising how the local and state laws differ across the country. But what has surprised me most is how I had fallen into the trap of stereotyping the women who make their living as strippers. I already had an inkling that my perception was going to be changed when I entered into FB PM conversations with a stripper from London and unsurprisingly, much of what she had to say is borne out by the research I’m doing. So much so, I’m taking the plunge and going to ‘treat’ myself to several fully nude lap dances (I won’t be nude) at a club in London. I figure that if I’m going to write about this area, I should de-romanticise the notions I have, engage with the subject matter and jump in with both feet.


I did put a call out on my FB pages for anyone wanting to join me, but you’re all pussies and haven’t taken me up on my very generous offer! But I don’t mind. I think that this (lack of) response says something about the general, mainstream view of stripping as a profession – prostitution by another name, drugs, sleaze, filth, easy women, shame etc etc.   Not women taking on difficult work, studying for Masters or PhD’s, earning money to raise their kids, holding down stable relationships. In my head I’d unwittingly demonised strippers without meaning to, I certainly held no judgemental opinions on them one way or another. But I had allowed the media and film industry portrayal of them to become a version of reality in my mind.


All I have to do, therefore, is convince my audience otherwise without turning the script into a pseudo-feminist reading of the profession…..I am writing fiction, after all, not a thesis or documentary. But with that, comes a responsibility (in my mind) of ditching the stereotype whilst drawing on an element of the truth that remains almost unheard.


It’s time for me to get naked.

Research is underway!

Posted on 21st February, 2015

So, this week, I have been mainly focusing on female-to-male transitioning (FTM for short) and engaging with loads of case studies.


Whilst I’m glad to say that a lot of my initial thoughts and processing has been largely intuitively correct, there has been a significant shift in my perspective as result of my engaging with FTM. I still have one or more interviews to conduct and I can’t wait. One of the things I am most pleased about is that my decision to change the age of Frankie (my would-be FTM character in the play) from 50s to early/mid 20s is really underpinned by the research I’ve carried out.  It’s become much more than an essay in exploring masculinity on stage through the female physique (which echoes some of the 1970 feminist thinking in itself, a fascinating area to mine). Now, it’s delving much more deeply – and analytically – into the psychological and physiological personal imperative. This is where I get fascinated by my subject. Because each one of my case studies, although deeply, deeply personal, from a wide variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, class and social positioning, all carry the same weight of pain, followed by exhilaration. And this has given me a remarkable insight into the male world! With Frankie, my aim is to embody some key issues through his personality without smashing the audience over the head with an academic reference book. Notice, I refer to Frankie as “him”: he is a male in a female body. Unlike the cisgendered amongst us (people who remain the same biological gender they were born with) Frankie is dealing with binary/non binary dilemmas whilst holding down a dead beat job as a ‘waitress’ in a diner….He still finds it hard to “pass” as a male. I have plans on how I am going to deal with this. I’m not entirely wedded to Frankie’s character name – that may change, but for now, it’s the moniker for my highly complex and – I hope – lovable – character.


I’m soon going to be moving onto Shyanne – my Afro American stripper - somewhat older than Frankie by as much as 20 years.   I already see her very clearly and I think I’ve discovered her theme music (“Carmen Queasy”). But again, the research I’ve already started titillating myself with thus far has resulted in some startling revelations!   It’s so easy to pigeonhole people by their profession, to form judgments on who they are, what they are like, how they function as human beings. I’m glad that Shyanne is already overturning my all-too liberalist, stereotypical preconceptions.  


There’s a reason why this play is called “TRAILER/trash”. But more of that another time and also how I intend to weave a musical soundtrack into a theatrical setting whilst replicating a virtual movie set!

Good news for TRAILER/trash

Posted on 8th February, 2015

I can hardly believe it!   An ordinary trip to the market in search of cheap fruit and veg on a cold, winter Saturday, was made extraordinary by the sight of the large brown envelope on the doormat when I returned home.   A missive from Arts Council England (ACE).  With an offer to fund the R&D stage of TRAILER/trash, a project long held dear to my heart but without the resources to realise its full potential.  Unitl now.  Now I can write a script without guilt but also in the happy knowledge that a little while down the line, I can also fund the director, actors and pay for rehearsal space.  It's a truly great feeling.  And being supported by ACE just makes me see the world in a different colour.