Full English, by Bent Architect and Natalie Davies is a remarkable production. The story is based upon the personal history of Natalie Davies whose Nan, in the late fifties fell in love with one of the first migrants from Pakistan. Their family experienced racism and their mixed race* children struggled with their identity as they tried to work out where they belonged.
The story is both beautiful and challenging: Beautiful in that it draws upon and glories in the strength of women who banded together, and challenging in the language and attitudes of the times in which it was set. An experience of a holiday in Blackpool which began as joyous turned into a terrifying experience and was so raw, it must have been drawn from a lived experience.
The play spotlights a moment in history from a unique perspective. It reminds the viewer, intensely, of the hideousness of racism, and invites the suggestion, perhaps, that we have grown and moved forward. But before we are too self-congratulatory about how liberal we have become the production also reminds us of how rarely we see such narratives on our stages.
This blog post is an unashamed fan piece – I loved this production. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and spent time in the Bradford/Manningham areas in which it was set. There were queer pubs in the Manningham area – marginalised people of different tribes find peculiar safety in their marginalisation, if not their differences. I remember the riots (the queer pub I went to burned down). I remember the tensions and the hate of the NF bigots and thugs. I felt a connection to the history but the stories in this piece took me on such a journey of perspective. Despite my Anti-Nazi League badges and attendance at demos, my memories had little rooted understanding of what black and brown communities were experiencing. I felt awestruck when I left the theatre. The play was funny, sad, uplifting, thought-provoking and so beautifully crafted. The writing of this piece is extraordinary – the flow of movement between generations and memory is done so well and the stage direction of how it is delivered is a lesson in which less is so much more.
The play ‘Full English’ is honestly fabulous, amazing and wonderful. If you get a chance to see it, you should. Listing of dates is at this link. I really hope this is picked up for film or TV – it should be.
Shout out to the cast who oozed talent. Faye Weerasinghe (Natalie); Lucy Hird (Cath/Nan); Kamal Kaan (Sohail/various).
*I am aware the term ‘mixed race’ is contested. It is used both in the play and on the information sheet provided by the production team and so the terminology used in and by the production team is used in this blog.
Thanks to @BentArchitectCo for images. Apologies I do not have info to credit the photographer.
I’ve previously blogged about my experience of writing and performing a monologue as part of a Roots Touring production of ‘Queer Spaces’. The production was staged at The Stephen Joseph Theatre and also the York Theatre Royal.
The Assistant Producer and Literary Coordinator of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, the talented and lovely Fleur Hebditch (@Fleurhebditch) saw the production. She subsequently Directed the performance of my script again as part of the SJT’s ‘Second Stage’ which is described as a showcase for new writing talent.
My monologue was performed (beautifully by Jacky Naylor) alongside excerpts of scripts by Annie Fox (@anniekathfox) – ‘The Sleepwalkers’; Elizabeth Godber (@elle_godber) – ‘An Unexpected Birth’; Cara Christie (@CaraMChristie) – ‘Influenced’; Jingan Young (@jinganyoung) – ‘Hong Kong Tragedy’; Steven Bloomer (@stevenbloomer)– ‘The Burn’ and Sadar Mohammed’s ‘Ducks’.
After the performances, Annie, Elizabeth, Steven and I were invited to participate in a Q & A session with the audience. We had loads of astute questions from an enthusiastic audience and it was a warm, fun experience. It was also affirming to gain the support and encouragement for my writing.
And that is the point. The excerpts of plays showcased were without exception seriously good. Each touched on some thought-provoking themes including loss, dementia, and abuses of power. I personally hoped to be able to see each and every script fully staged and performed and from the audience reaction it was obvious others hoped for the same. But as any writer will confirm, it is ridiculously difficult to get one’s work noticed and scriptwriting has a difficulty niche all of its own.
The Stephen Joseph Theatre – in addition to being a pioneering theatre, film, and music venue with a reputation for delivering a marvellously diverse and entertaining programme also has an extraordinary participatory ethos. Its outreach programme involves all ages and communities, and actively seeks to encourage and support new writing, acting and performing talent and I cannot state strongly enough how important I think this work is.
I know from personal experience that freeing imagination is liberating. Through a process of enabling communities to represent their own experiences, the process of identity formation is strengthened and a sense of belonging and contribution can be facilitated. Moreover, the opportunity to present new voices means the opportunity for different life experiences to be seen and heard. Theatre outreach is progressive, arguably political, and has huge potential for the generation of positive and respectful approaches to social coexistence.
I am hugely grateful to the team at the Stephen Joseph Theatre for showcasing my work and for their dynamic approach to ‘theatre in community’.
I can’t end this post without giving a big shout out to the fabulous cast. Andrew Dunn (@theMr Andrew Dunn); Siu-see Hung (@siuseehung); Sarah Pearman (@_sarahpearman); Chris Jack and Jacky Naylor. They were amazing.
I am immensely proud of this contribution to Queer Spaces – a production produced by @Rootstouring. It is well written and I am no performer but I wanted to give it a go. I didn’t do bad all things considered. Mostly though, I am proud of making a small contribution to a dyke history archive which is, of course, a part of the LGBTQIA history archive. We were there, we were queer and we weren’t going shopping 🙂
In a previous blog post I pondered on what ‘queer spaces’ are
My contribution to the Roots Touring production of ‘Queer Spaces Live!’ was a reflective piece on, specifically, dyke bars I frequented in my younger days. I spoke about how the UK community/communities of queers fought so hard for the right for any and all spaces to be inclusive but we hadn’t, arguably, considered what we might lose once they are.
Thanks to the amazing Tyler Whiting for the photo!
Almost all of the spaces I came out into and grew up in have gone. Some we are well rid of (Wednesday evening community centre women’s discos, bring your own booze, finished at 10:00, dodge the mean feral youths who waited for us on the way out) but other spaces were places of growth and love and fun and adventure. They were places to meet and belong. They were uniquely lesbian and gay spaces – The Alex, Vox and Sill in Hull, The Marlborough, the Candy Bar and Revenge in Brighton. Four of those venues are closed. One is no longer a dyke bar but advertises as ‘everyone is welcome’. Only one specifically identifies as a specifically gay venue.
Does it matter? Should we lament the loss of so many distinctly queer spaces or celebrate that everywhere is potentially our space now?
I don’t know
What was fascinating about the Queer Spaces Live! production was that each of the performers spoke of claiming space in one way or the other, but a thread throughout each was that the spaces needed to be claimed. Whilst people were radically empowered to take the spaces there was a centrality to the essential nature of the spaces as queer; as distinct; as vulnerable.
The performances within Queer Spaces Live! Suggested to me that Queer Space is still, on the one hand contested for its challenge and, on the other hand, a place for forming identity. Queer spaces are still places of resistance. Do they need to be distinctly queer spaces to offer this?
I don’t know – but I think so
The Roots Touring Company created a queer space. It is what it does. For me there was an exciting circularity to the space being created and what the performers did with it – and that it felt like a space of bold activism as well as the creation of beautiful art.
I must give a shout out to the people involved. Oh. My. Days. My colleague performers were extraordinarily talented – and generously supportive of my own lack of performing talent (note: I am now a BAFTA level talent on acting ‘milling about’ thanks to their teaching – I owe you guys 🙂 ).
• Phoenix Andrews • Emma Bates • Joy Cruickshank • Erin Enfys • Arden Fitzroy • Max Percy • Ela Portnoy • Eliza Beth Stevens
presented stories of growth and love and challenge and joy and each were MAGNIFICENT. Keep an eye out for these names because they are uniquely and breathtakingly talented and they are going to take over the whole world. I can hardly believe I had the privilege and joy of sharing a stage with them.
None were forced to be involved in the performance. Like me, they chose to be in it – to invest their time and energy and share their powerful, compelling stories and lay themselves open to critique. It seems fairly safe to presume that also like me, they thought this was an important space to create. Were we individually and collectively invested in the creation of a specifically queer space?
(Eliza and Ela at Portal Bookshop in York. An inspiration for Eliza’s monologue)
I think so
I have to also give a shout out to the team that made Queer Spaces Live! happen. Producer Steven Atkinson, Director Ali Pidsley and Dramaturg Frazer Flintham. Despite the fact that I am literally old enough to be their mother and we play for different teams, I have a bit of a crush on all of them. A magician once told me that magic only looks convincingly effortless with hours and hours of work and commitment to being the best. These three created magic. They held the making of the performance so carefully and safely they enabled us all to grow. I am a better human being, more confident, and proud of myself because of their talent and I will literally never forget them for enabling me to perform
(Steven, Frazer and me after rehearsals).
Queer spaces provide us with places we can be ourselves and lower our defences. They give us a place for celebration and being together – and also places where we can value each other.
Queer spaces are where we are but not everywhere we might be, is a queer space
Until we can be confident about inclusivity, queer spaces have a crucial role in resistance to oppression.
Thanks to Roots Theatre Touring Company for creating one.
I’ve been lucky enough to be chosen as one of the writers contributing to the ‘Queer Spaces Live!’ project. Developed by Roots – the queer Yorkshire touring theatre company and support funded by Arts Council England and The National Lottery Community Fund – the project aims to make collaborative work about ‘queer spaces’. The stories created will be shared at two live performances at the Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough and the York Theatre Royal in March 2022.
I don’t struggle to make stories. I have far more stories than I have time to either write or craft. I know exactly which story I want to tell and contribute but the notion of queer spaces is so loaded with history and politics and pain and joy it feels incredibly important to me to tell it right and to tell it well.
I’ve been pondering on what exactly a queer space is
Is it about the environment – ‘in-space’ and ‘out space’? Certainly back when I came out there were very definite places where one could be reasonably safely out, and other spaces such as work where it was critical to be ‘in’ (teacher in 80s Thatcher Clause 28 Britain for example). As I write this I am mindful that there are many places in the world where ‘in-space’ is still the only safe space.
Is it about architecture? Dance floors in clubs, sites of sanctuary and refuge and the unlearning of shame, closets which concealed but also protected us.
I think of queer effort and energy put into constructing alternatives to heteronormative spaces and how over history they have changed from the dodgy, poppers smelling dens of debauchery of my youth to the out-and-fucking-well-proud-get-over-it-girlfriend cruises and high-end apartment complexes. We queers changed space.
I think about how the personal is political and how we inhabited and embodied space, strutted like peacocks affirming ourselves and others and how in the taking of space we didn’t always take enough care about who was taking what from whom.
I think about queer history and experiences of queer spaces back in the day and contemporarily being different for each of us for a myriad of complicated and politically loaded reasons.
And I wonder if I can do justice to all these stories.
Gratitude to Sand Crain for the flag on building and Juliette F for the dancing queens images – via Unsplash. Appreciate your work guys. Thank you. xx
My blog last year required me to achieve two outcomes a month: I would firstly read and review a book and secondly I would research and write about an event. Each of these activities would be based upon listings in the Guardian newspapers ‘Literary Year Ahead’. That year long blog was something of an adventure of learning, primarily. I would be reading books I would not ordinarily read and researching events I had previously known little or nothing about. Another driver was my effort to commit to writing regularly – I am a terrible writing procrastinator. As writing plans go it was easy to achieve and a genuinely enjoyable journey of learning.
For this years blog I decided to actively work at developing my writing skills and craft. Each month I would choose a writing competition with a submission that took me out of my writing comfort zone. For my first submission I chose to submit a play.
I have never written a play before – indeed I have never even considered writing a play. As I wrote about on my blog, I did a little research before putting words down on the page and fortunately I had an idea for a story which seemed to fit the format.
Writing a play is hard. Thinking in dialogue is draining. Every word has to feel ‘just right’ because if it is not, the story telling becomes clunky and awkward. There is no wiggle room for filler, description or explanation in a play script – dialogue must serve a specific purpose and advance the story. Voices must be distinct and consistent to the character. Characters too must be relevant to the completion of the story arc. I had a character in my first draft who I could almost see – I liked her, and liked some of the dialogue I had written for her but I came to realise, she was not needed and the character was culled in the final draft.
As hard as it was I discovered an unanticipated joy in writing dialogue. I think I have an ear for it. I have no idea whether I will ever write a play script again but without doubt, the exercise has fine tuned my approach to dialogue in my fiction writing more broadly.
At a writing retreat a few months ago, a fellow ‘retreater’ said he was writing a TV comedy script. He had written several episodes but had a couple more to write. He intended to submit it with a hope for production. At the time I simply noted this with no real feelings about it one way or the other. Now I think he is a hero! What an awe-inspiring aspiration and what incredible effort. I have a new appreciation for script writers.
Whether the words I put down constitute ‘a play’ remains to be seen and I do not imagine for a moment that it will do well in the competition, but as an exercise it had outcomes far beyond the simple achievement of a script.
Two competitions caught my eye this month. The first is the Arundel Festival Theatre Trail competition which is free-to-enter and with fantastic opportunities for the winner. In addition to a small financial prize, the play will be performed as a part of the Arundel Festival in 2020. The submission date is 31st January 2020. (photo Arundel Festival. Copyright. Charlie Warring).
The second is the Scottish Arts Club short story competition with a good financial prize and publication in an anthology for the winners.
Both have their downsides: I have never written or even attempted to write a script. The deadline for the Arundel Festival submission is the end of January so leaves me very little time.
The second competition also (already) breaks my own rules for free-to-enter competitions but it still tempts because of the calibre of entries it attracts. The stories in the previously published anthology ‘The Desperation Game’ (Eds: McBean, SC and Munro, H, 2019) are excellent.
Also, I have a bountiful collection of story ideas filed away in my Evernote folder, each hankering to be called upon. In truth, creating stories is not difficult for me (telling them well is the challenge). Writing 2,000 words does not feel as intimidating as writing in a form I have never even thought of tackling before and yet I lean towards having a go at a script. I think it highly unlikely I can produce a script worth submitting but the goal of my blog this year is, for me, writing-craft development so here goes – the script it is.
My ‘how to write a play script’ notes
The invitation to submission says scripts must be for a play of 30 – 40 minutes, easily staged with minimum props and a maximum of five performers. Although there are caveats to the general rule, the consensus in on-line blogs seems to suggest that a page of script equates to a minute performed.
The script must be presented in a specific way. It must, of course, have the dialogue – how the actors tell the story. The stage direction about what needs to be on, or happening on a set. The script itself must delineate between each element through how the script is formatted (i.e. use of italics or capitals). Fortunately, I have some help with this as I use the excellent Scrivener which has a script template I very much hope will make the process easier.
I have a story in mind, and I think I can best organise this around two acts but think I will need at least four or maybe even five scenes to tell the story. Before I even begin to write, I wonder if this will make such a short script far too busy. I may need to give this more thought.
Research suggests plays must consist of five parts
The introduction of the characters and ensuring the background information about the aspects which needs to be known is shown. This stage of the play should also set the mood and connect the audience with the material. In such a short play, it seems to me that the story must be relatively simple but the exposition must be quite a hook to ensure that the characters are relatable and of interest. I have what I think is a strong idea for a setting for my play and a well-formed set of distinctive characters who I can already see in my mind’s eye (I find myself already liking some of them which is a good start).
I have a clear idea of the first and perhaps most crucial incident that causes a ‘moment’ – a ‘tension’ in the plot and is the hook upon which the rest of the story unfolds. The initial tension must be followed by other relevant conflicts between and within characters to carry the overall story. I am less clear at this point about how to hold onto the tension beyond the initial action point and will need to do more story crafting on this. I vacillate between being a plotter and pantster when writing stories anyway so although, for a new type of writing, I would rather be clear about where the story is going I will try to enjoy the ‘let’s see what happens’ element of writing it.
There must be a critical turning point which changes everything for the key character(s). This might mean drawing upon alluded to, but hidden, inner strengths of the character. In my story, lives must change – there is no option, and individuals must themselves change to accommodate the broader situation. In doing so, some characters will draw on others for support. I can articulate this as a general story, but at this point, I have no idea how to tell this exclusively in dialogue and within the constraints of acts and scenes! I am not sure whether I am excited or intimidated.
This part of the story is where the story wrap takes shape towards the outcome. In this part of the story, it should be clear that something has happened and there has been a shift or a significant change. This part of the story needs to lead to the resolution of the story. My pre-writing story planning is woolliest here. I can imagine all kinds of elements to it, but they seem somewhat wishy-washy. I hope this can be resolved in writing.
The end of the story. Conflicts and tensions are resolved, the story and character arcs are complete, and the audience must feel that this story has come to a good stopping point, but with a hope of more that could be told. The resolution needs to make sense and be rationally in-line with what has happened (no ‘and they were unexpectedly kidnapped by aliens’ moments). There should be a sense of satisfaction and completion for the audience
Story and plot
My story fits firmly in an ‘up-lit’ genre. It is a story of community, kindness, friendship and hope. I aim for it to be tenderly funny in exploring complex connections between a diverse group of people and to show how such an environment can engender calm over chaos and smooth frictions. I like the story, which also takes me right out of my writing comfort zone (I more usually write crime stories). This is by no means a new story but, of course, so few are. What will hopefully make it worth telling is how I manage to deliver it – or in other words, the plot. I am less clear about the plot – the not necessarily chronological events within the story that come together to enable the parts of the play to meet a dramatic and satisfactory conclusion. I know it depends mainly on how I show relationships between characters. I have a lot of work to do over the next ten days.
I will publish my entry on this site, whatever the outcome, once the competition has been concluded. Wish me luck!