Let’s talk about new writers. Bubbling with important stories and dramatic inventions, they inspire and stimulate. Like, say, Northumberland based Allison Davies who’s first one act play Weather To Fly premiered at Live Theatre last week.
While we’re at it lets talk about indie theatre companies. Locally engaged, forging creative relationships, building from the roots up. Take Teeside outfit OddManOut. Largely a two-person company, they attract associate artists like a magnet, and nurture writers who seek to surprise audiences. Oh yeah, and they produced Weather To Fly.
These scribes and small producers are like planets. Circling the creative galaxy for a stellar moment, until one collides with another equally as passionate as itself. Maybe my recent theatre trips have got me starry eyed but, right now, I’m seeing some fascinating explosions in the theatrical night sky.
So was last Thursday’s Weather To Fly performance – which sold out Live‘s studio – a moment of planetary alignment?
For a piece just shy of an hour, there’s a lot in Weather To Fly. BBC news voice at the ready – ahem – if you don’t want to know the score look away for the next three paragraphs.
The story is about army lad Joe’s personal battle to conceal his sexual identity. Or, rather, it’s about Chemical’s decision to be honest about his. Or it’s about vulnerable Debbie’s inability to articulate the abuse she’s suffering. Yes, of course, it’s about all these things and something deeper.
Weather To Fly explores what can happen when we hide the truth about ourselves, and ignore the truth about others. Indeed, the play is most powerful when it implicates the audience in keeping terrible secrets. The disembodied voice of Debbie’s step father forces us to follow her horrific journey into sexual abuse. And when she is left isolated and frighteningly silenced, so are we.
When Debbie is locked in a bird cage it is a shockingly apt metaphor. Secrets, and silence, make bad weather for flying. We don’t really need Debbie to tell Joe, and us, that we’re not listening. And when the play concludes and we’re asked if we’ll continue to keep secrets, it only crystalises the underlying theme.
If the theme of Weather To Fly’s story is secrets, there’s no great secret to what makes the production work.
Despite the two leery shell-suited birds that bookend the play, Weather To Fly is essentially a three hander. Jordan Larkin carries the show through emotional gears as Joe. Not bad at all, considering this is his first professional gig. Stephen Gregory and Alice Stokoe are on good form following an Edinbrugh run together with Northern Nomads, giving Chemical and Debbie depth and authenticity.
Scott Young’s staging and lighting create a claustrophobic atmosphere. Joe even starts beside the audience, hemming us in. There’s an effective use of minimal set, and a little multimedia goes a long way with projection adding a fantasy quality.
And, naturally, there are feathers.
All things considered, Weather To Fly is a compelling and challenging piece of theatre. And, yes, there is a touch of planet alignment about the production and its journey to the stage.
In her biog Allison Davies tells us she found her drama calling on a Creative Writing MA, which she only applied for because a friend dared her. Another friend pushed her towards ARC Stockon’s New Playwright’s Laboratory. There she wrote Toast, a 15minute short staged by director Scott Young, co-founder of OddManOut. It won ARCs Short, Sharp Festival of new writing in 2012.
From there Toast was put through the development mill, with Scott and OddManOut partner Katy Weir’s guidance. With their support it had outings at scratch nights, and R & D sessions with actors.
That’s how Toast became Weather To Fly, and how Allison put a North East touring production on her CV. You can catch it at Arts Centre Washington (17/10), Queens Hall, Hexham (18/10), Seaton Delaval Arts Centre (19/10).
OddManOut are one of a number of companies developing new writing I’ve stumbled across whilst blogging for Live. Far too many to remember! Although it’d be remiss not to mention those I know from other collaborations; Alphabetti Spagehtti, Arts In Touch, Meerkat Theatre, Mixtape, and Write On Tap. Along with others they contribute to an emerging, and improving, North East theatre fringe.
But, whilst talking to theatre makers these past few weeks, I’ve also learned that for planets to collide in majestic creation they need the pull of a sun.
New theatre writers and small companies need sponsors. Not necessarily money. (If you have a stray grand, or two, I can find it a good home mind!) What they really want is a platform to develop and promote their work. A physical and dramaturgical space in the programmes of larger established institutions.
We should be grateful that Allison Davies and OddManOut found that at ARC Stockton. Actually, at Live Theatre too, because not only did Live host the premiere of Weather To Fly but it also had a hand in its origins. The same year Toast won prizes on Teeside, it also had a reading at the very last of Live’s Short Cuts events…
…right in the same studio where I saw Weather To Fly last Thursday. On a night when this decent little play lit up the dramatic sky.
P.S. if you like new writing, here’s a cheeky act of self-promotion! Come see one of my newly written short plays – Home Free – at the Dog & Parrot in Newcastle on Monday October 21st. Write On Tap are premiering five new pieces that night. It starts at 8pm. Find out more.