April 2019 meeting

Our April 2019 meeting report

Our Brighton Fringe preview event featured extracts and discussions on five upcoming shows. Here’s Simon Jenner’s review of the evening and a great way to consider what to see at this year’s Fringe:#

SPC are gaining a reputation for showcasing and preview. Here the April session featured five such shows, and the acting was already up to performative strength. It’s an ideal way to choose some of the Fringe’s strongest shows, and I’d recommend making a date for every April at SPC to get your fix.

Risqué! by Timothy Coakley

Directed by Murray Hecht

There’s a nice blurb worth quoting: ‘Meet the strip club owner who can’t get the staff, the incompetent sex line operator, the lift attendant with a secret, the man who wants a bigger one, Desperate Denise, inappropriate behaviour, the girl who can’t stop, the wife who can’t believe her eyes, the doctor who gets a shock, and the swingers who want to try something new!’

It’s clearly an ensemble cast playing various characters in a series of 5 to 10 minute sketches.

Tonight featured Sascha Cooper as the lift operator, with a desire to hook a man, and Stewart James Barham
 as the one who’s almost up for it. Cooper manages to flesh her role as it were as someone who’ll invoke the end of the world to get a little lift.

It’s a fun role but resolutely a sketch, and the kind of genre worth enjoying on 1970s TV.

Female agency and sexuality’s less stereotyped, though and as part of a suite of such sketches it’s enjoyable and well-wrought, if a bit formulaic. Barham too was fine though had less to do. Cooper on this evidence deserves a larger role somewhere and it’d be good to see if Coakley might provide us with a stretch into substantial comedy.

Four Thieves Vinegar by Christine Foster

Here’s a revival worth waiting for, sicne its London premiere. The writer gave a talk on it last tine, and it’s invigorating to see it performed here. Directed by Margot Jobbins, for Four Tails Theatre Company, it’s a privilege too.

Four Thieves Vinegar is a consummate black comedy about the black death and on this evidence easily one of the best things to see in the Fringe when it opens at the Rialto.

It’s set in the dingy depths of Newgate Prison, 1665: the height of the plague. The play finds its four characters – three prisoners and their jailer – in one of the few places currently untouched by the disease rampaging throughout the land.

Simon Holt’s jailor David Parton has little to do here save usher in new inmates. It’d be good to see how his role plays out.

Poor Jennet Flyte – Char Brockes – is the first. It’s a winning performance of fearful containment. Innocent of any real wrongdoing, as far as we see, Flyte’s frightened and clearly never seen the inside of a prison; more than can be said for nurse Hannah Jeakes played by the consummate Sorcha Brooks.

Their attention’s anchored by the one prisoner already in the cell, Liam Murray Scott’s Matthias Richards (the Alchemist). Richards believes he’s found a cure for the plague and implores his fellow inmates to help him make it. But to do that they’ll need gold, and to get that they’ll need to make good use of the only resources at their disposal: sex, wit and lies.

The title’s based on a truth that thieves worked out that vinegar repels the plague – the fleas, though they didn’t know it – to allow them to rob from the plague-consumed dead.

Scott draws a nervous authority, a man obsessed to the extent that he’s relatively oblivious to Flyte, who gradually warms to Jeakes’ persuading her to tell her story, as Jeakes cheerfully tells hers. Still the scene circles around Richards’ offering a way out. a few props and the trio’s acting was exciting, consummate stuff.

At the Rialto at the opening and end of May. Do see this if it’s one of two plays you get to. The other’s recommended directly below. The two that follow that though are eminently fine third and fourth choices

The Wasp by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

Directed by Kevin Nash, and produced by Eugene Doyle, Lloyd Malcolm’s now famed for Emelia, a superb play premiered at the Globe in 2018 and transferring earlier this year to the West End. This really is a worthy precursor.

Amy Coutts’ Heather has made a success of her life. Gala Orsborn’s Carla is out of cash, willing to take part in an unusual proposition. The women meet up for the first time since leaving school: intrigue and manipulation begins. Carla’s already pregnant with her fifth. Twins she reckons. The prosthesis is remarkably convincing – just one detail showing we’re not just getting an excerpt but a sampled preview.

The Wasp by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in January 2015. Hailed as a psychological thriller it’s more than that yet fulfills this consummately – as anyone who saw it at Hampstead or on its transfer to Trafalgar Studios in January 2016 will confirm. An all-female Sleuth might furnish one parallel.

Anyone seeing this will be struck at how close to its original casting these two actors – who never saw the production – have intuited these roles. That’s not necessary of course but Lloyd Malcolm’s writing suggests similar responses from casting to performance.

Carla’s language is clipped and acutely observed, equally refusing Heather’s unpleasantly articulate assumptions, casually lumping infidelity and failure to nappy-change with wife-beating. Challenged by Carla Heather rejoins unforgivably: ’That is acceptable to some… It’s basically normal. For them.’ Carla, no ‘them’ ripostes ‘My bloke lays one finger on me or the kids and he’s out… what are you going on about?’

What Heather’s going on about is the fact that unlike Carla, her moving on has all been on the outside: she’s still sixteen and wants to drag Carla back there too. It’s an intimately vicious two-hander, Heather’s hyper-articulate rationalising answering every angle that might be aimed at her personal solution.

Coutts conveys Heather’s easily-triggered defences, her gleaming carapace and deep insecurity. Lloyd Malcolm’s neatly prescriptive suggestion that the more manicured middle class woman has trouble conceiving whilst the working class Carla has none might seem a sad cliché out of Blood Brothers, but there’s a reason Carla might remember and this is why Lloyd Malcolm digs deeper than even that musical on class motivation and backstory.

Orsborn’s clipped Carla is savagely good, her every inflection watchful, suspicious, and it transpires flecked with recall at Coutts’ Heather. Like the original Carla, Orsborn’s blonde hair is scraped up, a coping housewife with no time for glamour. Coutts is svelte. This promises to be a first-rate revival.

Chain written and directed by Peter Gardiner, Two Bit Productions

From the team that brought you 2018’s Bully Beef comes Chain, a contemporary play with audio drama interludes. A group of anti-war activists commit themselves to radical new tactics, when they lead to consequences none of them could of foreseen it pushes their beliefs to the edge and threatens to tear the group apart.

The unnamed ensemble cast are excellent and Gardiner should have provided their names as well as roles, so this summary’s a little balder. Piquant is the reappearance of one character who was in an eco-action of 1992, now legendary. Another young man well plays the jaded Marxist and another a man who’s just discovered him. They’re about to act, but it’s a little Rebels Without A Clue or perhaps a route map, and they’re leaning on earlier activists for support.

In truth there’s a powerful groundswell of activism and a regenerated left that needs no harking-back to earlier Anglo-Saxon attitudes. Just watch Novara media, let alone Owen Jones. But this is a strong opening, and twins with another play on radicalism featured tonight – it’s in the air, however sardonically drama needs to frame it.

Well to the fore are flourished acronyms like EDF (English Defence League) the home of Tommy Robinson and now banned. For those of us who share the political aspirations of the studenty types and eternal student types depicted, these are veggie burger and drink, but I’m not convinced everyone would know the names. Perhaps the strong ambiance will render this unimportant.

Further Education by Pete Barrett

Directed by Luke Ofield and Pip O’Neill, Unmasked Theatre

1985: Frank the miner likes doing his job and reading the Sun. Unfortunately, Maggie is after his job and his new housemates definitely don’t like him reading the Sun. In a riotous clash of class, morals and feminism, very traditional Frank finds himself bunking down with three very modern students at the heart of the picketing wars.

In a country seeking to eradicate his livelihood, Frank must decide how he would like to be remembered once the line is inevitably drawn.

We’re treated to three of the cast members, in order of appearance Brontë Sandwell as Claire, Jessica Smith’s Emma, and Ella Verity’s politically active and feminist Rachel. Before Rachel arrives Claire’s found asleep on the sofa – so student-land before loans crushed even lie-ins – is cajoled by Emma who can’t believe Claire’s having an affair with a married lecturer and decides egged on by Rachel to do something about it. But Rachel’s more direct even than that. It’s both funny and unnerving. The acting’s wholly convincing. Sandwell as dippy naïve Claire, Smith as more staunchly feminist, sensible sister mode, and finally Verity as dungareed feminist prepared to take drastic action.

The real drama is about to unfurl. These Essex University students are real, or their actions are. Expressing solidarity during the Miners Strike of 1984-85 they invite one, Frank, to their campus. A culture clash depicted above is more than on the work cards. It’s a strong play, historically grounded, setting us up for that very rare thing, a comedy about a historically grim clash. Here it’s between Thatcher and unions, union members and their naïve allies. Another to see.

SPC has scored with showcasing four strong dramas, all laced with comedy (if two are very black) and by contrast more typical fare in lightning sketches. I’ve booked.

Risqué! by Timothy Coakley

Directed by Murray Hecht

Meet the strip club owner who can’t get the staff, the incompetent sex line operator, the lift attendant with a secret, the man who wants a bigger one, Desperate Denise, inappropriate behaviour, the girl who can’t stop, the wife who can’t believe her eyes, the doctor who gets a shock, and the swingers who want to try something new!

Four Thieves Vinegar by Christine Foster

Directed by Margot Jobbins, FourTails Theatre Company

Four Thieves Vinegar is a black comedy about the black death. Set in the dingy depths of Newgate Prison, 1665: the height of the plague. The play finds its four characters – three prisoners and their jailer – in one of the few places currently untouched by the disease rampaging throughout the land. One prisoner, an alchemist, believes he has found a cure for the plague and implores his fellow inmates to help him make it. But to do that they’ll need gold, and to get that they’ll need to make good use of the only resources at their disposal: sex, wit and lies.

The Wasp by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

A twisting, taut psychological drama. Heather has made a success of her life. Carla is out of cash and she is willing to take part in an unusual proposition. The two women meet up for the first time since leaving school and the intrigue and manipulation begins. The Wasp by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm had its original production at the Hampstead Theatre in January 2015.

Chain written and directed by Peter Gardiner, Two Bit Productions

From the team that brought you 2018’s “Bully Beef” comes Chain, a contemporary play with audio drama interludes. A group of anti-war activists commit themselves to radical new tactics, when they lead to consequences none of them could of for-seen it pushes their beliefs to the edge and threatens to tear the group apart.

Further Education by Pete Barrett

Directed by Luke Ofield and Pip O’Neill, Unmasked Theatre

1985: Frank the miner likes doing his job and reading the Sun. Unfortunately, Maggie is after his job and his new housemates definitely don’t like him reading the Sun. In a riotous clash of class, morals and feminism, very traditional Frank finds himself bunking down with three very modern students at the heart of the picketing wars.

In a country seeking to eradicate his livelihood, Frank must decide how he would like to be remembered once the line is inevitably drawn.

Award-winning Brighton company Unmasked Theatre returns with a winner from the highly successful Brighton Scratch Night.

March 2019 AGM

Meeting report and AGM minutes

Sussex Playwrights AGM

All current paid members were invited come to the meeting – to attend, speak, propose and second, and all current members are eligible for election to the 2019 – 2020 posts.

Posts and current holders

  • Chair – Philippa Hammond
  • Vice Chair – Robert Cohen
  • Secretary – Thomas Everchild
  • Treasurer – Keith Holman [Keith is an accountant and the son of long-serving Sussex Playwright the late Olive Holman. He is looking after this role in her memory].
  • Committee members

Members were also invited to send any items for the agenda, and any motions they’d like to propose.

Non members were welcome too – although unable to vote or stand, it’s an opportunity to get a feel for what Sussex Playwrights is all about, enjoy a glass of wine and networking conversation – all for just £3 / £2 with Equity card. Of course welcome to join on the night. Membership is £15 / £12 with Equity card.

Contact: Philippa Hammond chair@sussexplaywrights.co.uk


The New Venture Theatre bar
Bedford Place

Sussex Playwrights AGM March 3rd 2019


Apologies None received

Minutes 2018 AGM Read

No matters arising

No corrections

Chair’s report

It’s been another fun, busy year for Sussex Playwrights.

Members and friends were hugely busy over the year, including productions written and performed at the final March Hove Grown, Brighton Fringe, Horrorfest, Shoreham Wordfest and events well beyond Brighton and Hove. Theatre, short film and audio drama were well represented.

Highlights: Guests and Special Events over the year included …

Our Fringe Preview April meeting presented extracts from upcoming Fringe productions, including Cooked, What’s Wrong with Monotony and the award-winning Bully Beef. We reviewed all these productions and you can read all our reviews at the website www.sussexplaywrights.co.uk

We hosted updates from TBC Audio’s Simon Moorhead throughout the year. Simon is a Brighton producer whose online audio drama series The Other 1% launched in 2018 and has gone weekly as an audio drama podcast. It’s making a splash, including a mention in a BBC report. Several SPC members have been commissioned to write and appear in these new dramas. Simon presented some live monologue performances from Protect and Survive and other standalone stories.

Sophie Flack and Lantern Light Theatre presented extracts from Sherlock’s Poisons, a part of a series of events which she had been commissioned to develop for Portsmouth’s Conan Doyle celebrations.

Our Fringe special in May featured live rehearsed readings of the second and third prize winning entries in the Constance Cox Prize Playwriting Competitions; Storm in a League Cup and Rock and Chips.

Andrew Allen and Michelle Donkin visited to talk about Cast Iron, showcasing new fiction and drama in the city throughout the year – they’re always looking for new writing for their events.

Unmasked Theatre’s Luke Ofield and Pip O’Neill presented an extract from Killing Kittens, part of their latest scratch night at the Rialto theatre showcasing scenes from new plays. They choose a new play to produce after each event and we’ll be welcoming them at the April 2019 meeting with their latest show.

Two Bit Productions presented live readings from their Whisper Through the Static audio drama podcast.

Our Summer Party in June featured scratch play extracts and discussion – great workouts for writers and actors alike.

The writer of last January’s landmark playreading The Engagement, James Allen, presented an extract from his current project, the indie short film The Edge of Insanity.

Different Theatre’s Sam Chittenden presented an extract from her new play Sary for discussion – you can see it in this year’s Brighton Fringe.

Robert Cohen performed and discussed extracts from his solo shows High Vis and Dog’s Chosen.

Our Christmas Party featured drama, comedy, word games and short storytelling.

Quite a few scratch readings of shorts and extracts brought on the night by members and friends, followed by lots of in depth discussions.

Our latest member Jules Craig presented an extract from her work in progress

Requiem for a Ratcatcher’s Daughter – which ‘gave rise to the most extended, animated discussion I’ve seen at SPC, more even than January last year.’ [Simon Jenner]

Secretary’s report

Social media

Twitter 1023 followers Facebook 459 followers

Website most visited day: 31/5/18 394 visitors


82 visitors over the last year

We welcomed 10 new members over the last year

We carried out a review of the mailing list and have refreshed the membership list to those who specified they want to keep receiving the monthly newsletter.


We reviewed 14 shows including new and established drama, and a first for Sussex playwrights – a pantomime.

Contacts and connections

We’re joining the writing/producing/acting dots between the various networking groups in the city and raising SPC profile at each event, including Film Pro Networking, Brighton and Sussex Equity, Shooting People Brighton and our Facebook group, the Brighton Actors Networking Group.

Sussex Playwrights is supporting and encouraging new writers to get writing and producing and being a showcase to more established writers, and continuing to offer great networking opportunities too, Thank you everyone for continuing to support SPC.

Philippa Hammond [Chair] Thomas Everchild [Secretary]

Treasurer’s report

At the last AGM Simon Moorhead was elected Treasurer but work commitments prevented him taking up the role. In the absence of any other standing candidate, the accountant Keith Holman, whose mother the late Olive Holman was a long standing member of the Sussex Playwrights has volunteered to look after the role gratis. We are awaiting bank authorisation of the transfer of control and as soon as this is finalised we will present the full account for 2018-19. Meanwhile, expense receipts and visitor/new member income show:

2018 AGM outgoing treasurer Jerry Attwood report Funds stood at £4345.00

2019 income

New members [£15 / £12 with Equity Card] x 10 £141.00

Visitors’ donations [£3 / £2 with Equity Card] x 82 £234.00

Total income £375.00

2019 spend [receipted]

Refreshments [wine, juices, snacks and party food] £425.29

Printing [scripts for readings] £35.20

Transport £158.60

Actor x 4 expenses [£40 per actor: one day rehearsal/performances of two plays] £160.00

Total spend £770.09

Total in account £3949.91

Agenda items/Motions? None received


Role Standing Proposed Seconded Elected

Chair Philippa Hammond Thomas Everchild Jules Craig Unanimous

Vice Chair Robert Cohen Thomas Everchild Margot Jobbins Unanimous

Secretary Thomas Everchild Simon Jenner Tristan Wolfe Unanimous

Treasurer Keith Holman Simon Jenner Jules Craig Unanimous

Committee Simon Jenner Philippa Hammond Thomas Everchild Unanimous

Judy Upton Philippa Hammond Thomas Everchild Unanimous

Jenny Rowe Philippa Hammond Thomas Everchild Unanimous

Honorary President William Nicholson

Honorary Vice President Judy Upton


Simon Jenner raised the question of Sussex Playwrights’ relationship with the New Venture Theatre, where we have been meeting for many decades. We have in the past been involved with their one act play competition but have had no real interaction with the NVT in some years. The theatre, studio and bar offer a very good venue and audience, and we would like to develop that relationship once more.

Thomas Everchild and Philippa Hammond will join the New Venture Theatre and begin to strengthen the relationship.

No other business

End of AGM

Minutes taken and typed by Philippa Hammond

Addendum May 5th 2019


At the May 5th 2019 Sussex Playwrights Club meeting, a proposal was put to the members present:

We are currently updating the Account Mandates for the the NatWest Bank Sussex Playwrights Club Business Banking account and the Nationwide Building Society’s Sussex  Playwrights Treasurers Trust account.

In addition to the Treasurer Keith Holman, Philippa Hammond [Chair] asked the members to agree to her being the second Authorised Signatory on these accounts.

Proposed: Thomas Everchild

Seconded: Simon Jenner

Resolution unanimously passed 19.10pm 05/05/19.

Minutes taken and typed by Philippa Hammond

Our March guests

Lena Richardson Hill presented Storrington Dramatic Society in an extract from and discussion on The Thrill of Love by Amanda Whittington

We also heard from Christine Foster about the new production of her play Four Thieves Vinegar which will feature in 2019 Brighton Fringe.

Simon Jenner’s review of the evening

Sussex Playwrights March 3rd 2019

Tonight there was that crowd-puller an AGM. So our numbers were down – but bad weather prevented several who’d declared hours earlier they were coming anyway.

Two plays – one a preview talk, one a taster, flanked the AGM.

Thus after Pippa introduced with updates, and there‘s several shifts in Brighton and Hove theatre-making. Hove Grown is no more. after the three year pilot project – always conceived as that – it was decided not to renew the initiative, so there won’t be any more March Festival.

It’s a bit of blow, and with the loss of the Dukebox to the pub’s new owners, replaced by the diminutive Welly in Upper Gloucester Street, things have decidedly shifted East. Sweet Venues SweetWerks’ flagship in Middle Street happily flourishes.

James Allen noted a new dedicated screenwriting group, and details can be gleaned from him. There’s no fixed venue as yet but knowing James this will establish itself. It’s specifically for screen not playwrights as such.

Simon Jenner suggested The London Forum LPW should be worth joining at £3.36 per month, correlating all other info, competitions etc. but adding several services, including theatre-writing ones and a range of activities and engagements. Christine Foster confirmed this and both she and SJ extolled the Bruntwood Prize, held every two years, as the premier theatre prize. ‘Zillions enter’ as Christine said, but as SJ added the rewards are huge. £16,000 first prize, £8,000 shortlisted with another £8,000 for a first play. In addition all top 100 long-listed plays will earn detailed feedback.

Christine Foster Four Thieves’ Vinegar

Christine outlined the genesis of this play from a brief paragraph in an 1841 novel Old St Paul’s by the once popular William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-82), who uniquely mixed historical romance with a bit of gothic – striking scenes, wooden characters. Describing the Great Plague of 1665, this one detail has Newgate prison warders all dying, so prisoners are offered freedom. But is it safer to stay?

Christine’s imagination produced a strikingly original premise. Three prisoners and one warder negotiate survival, sex, bartering and much else. Christine said ‘these three prisoners shouldn’t be together’ so I expect a mix of genders really sparks things.

In fact Newgate was a byword for dying of ‘prison fever’, and this ‘black comedy about the black death’ though not the original 1348 plague, has been a sell-out where it’s been staged. In truth vinegar as a remedy mixed with herbs really does repel the fleas causing plague, though no-one knew why at the time, blaming plague on miasma’ a belief persisting till the mid-19th century as an explanation for, for instance, typhoid. The name derives from the observation that a gang robbing corpses using vinegar were able to do so without dying of plague.

Christine didn’t go into details of plot, but much of its dark humour can be inferred from the foregoing. A kind of response to Peter Barnes’ Red Noses, perhaps, dealing with that earlier plague.

Christine itemized her travails in almost getting it performed when it won a Canadian prize. Finally it was given a dress-rehearsal and then a full production at Barron’s Court, a very-well-known London Fringe theatre.

It’s now coming to the Fringe, directed by Margot Jobbins. The 4th-5th May, and June 1st-2nd.


The AGM followed. Too breathlessly exciting to relay here. It was over in 25 minutes. There were no changes in the committee save that a new Treasurer’s been appointed and membership fees are looming for new members.

The Thrill of Love

Amanda Whittington’s 2013 play about Ruth Ellis the last woman to be hanged in Britain, premiered at St James; like nearly all her work it’s been taken up by amateur companies. There’s several reasons for this. One is the really refreshing focus on plays with multiple women protagonists. But it’s Whittington’s craft, emotional truth and direct appeal which secures these plays almost miniature classic status. Be My Baby, Whittington’s 1998 debut play about unmarried mothers in 1964, was put on at NVT in November/December 2018; Ladies Day by Seaford in 2017. And The Thrill of Love by NVT and Lewes Little within two months of each other in spring 2016.

Now The Storrington Players directed by Sue Goble (mother of Sweet Venues’ Mill Goble) have taken this up, and an excerpt was performed. Mr Goble was on the book.

SP’s Lena Richardson played the tough-tender barmaid hiring young women for the Club – there was a bright little cube with name emblazoned which changed from red through green and blue and use was made of the NVT’s real bar and barstools. It’s one of the lightest scenes of all. It’s one of bright banter and sexual jokes.

Angela Munnoch is the young Valerie looking for something better than home in Surrey and the hairdresser’s next door. The Court Club Bar is for genteel raffish ex-servicemen, RAF pilots racing drivers, professional men who expect their hostesses to be up on public affairs rather than private, and there’s newspapers to peruse, wit to be had. Valerie shows her mental arithmetic’s as fast as her readiness to adapt. But she wants a bed now, was told she could have it; it puts her into a special category.

The money’s good but there’s a bit of a catch to that bed, though nothing Valerie hasn’t already experienced with the same man. Munnoch dressed as a uniform platinum blonde plays an experienced girl, though innocent if what’s initially required, she’s no ingénue. And she doesn’t baulk at extra duties – she learns as lightning fast as her mental arithmetic. Munnoch’s tone is light – the Mandy Rice-Davies to Ruth’s Christine Keeler. It’s a neat contrast Whittington invokes.

Mel Newton plays the more worldly Ruth, just in from a job and striking up immediately with Valerie who’s going to change her name. Newton strikes an initially light pose and the women dance. Newton shows though she can act out depths unknown to Valerie’s character.

There’s stories of Mike Hawthorn the future F1 World Champion and a champagne bottle and ‘Stirling got stuck in’ referencing the still-living F1 legend Stirling Moss. Of course David Blakely was a racing driver, so this harmless banter drags a fateful undertow.

Blakely’s abuse of Ruth punching her which causes a miscarriage, and her ‘benefactor’ giving her a loaded gun and driving her to kill Blakely, then leaving the country, are things outside the scope of this excerpt.

Richardson’s consummately worldly as anyone who knows her work would expect. Munnoch’s Valerie and Newton’s Ruth are excellent, each like Richardson in period dress. At one point they enjoy rehearsing a bad theatre script.

No-one here really knows the Storrington Players but several have now signed up to going to see the play which runs there from 14-16 March.

At another Ruth point recalls her time working with Diana Dors in Lady Godiva. After her death Dors went on to portray Ruth – though unnamed – sympathetically in a film merely one year on. There was huge outrage at her death and Jobbins was there in fact round the corner and remembers the demonstrations.

There was much discussion before and after about the case, and Whittington’s take on it. In particular though the focus was on four women, Ian Stuart’s Jack Gale the investigating policeman who becomes de facto Ellis’ defence, also functioned as a memory of Blakely the man who done her wrong and whom Whittington was determined not to feature as an agent in this play. Hence the burden of all masculine prejudice and even defence is vested in Gale. He’s functionally the law, the sympathetic policeman and defence.

It promises to be a fine production, and an ideal introduction to the Storrington Players, who mount three productions a year.

SP’s Lena Richardson can be reached for lifts to Storrington. One left as we went to press.

Another satisfying meeting, with company fit though few. We meet again on Sunday April 7th at 7pm.

February 2019 meeting review

February 2019 report by Simon Jenner

Sussex Playwrights Meeting February 3rd 2019

Simon Jenner’s report:

Tonight after Pippa introduced with updates (more TBC Audio podcasts from Simon Moorhead, more Fringe events including Jenny Rowe’s one-person show, and Judy Upton’s film also with Moorhead), came the single event of the evening. It gave rise to the most extended, animated discussion I’ve seen at SPC, more even than January last year.

This all came about through an extract from Jules Craig’s new play in progress, Requiem for a Ratcatcher’s Daughter, featuring Jenny Rowe and Sian Webber. Jules Craig says she’s often meant to come to SPC, and only lives round the corner. But she’s a striking talent on the Brighton Fringe and farther afield, as writer and actor.

She trained as an actor at Rose Bruford College, and as a voice coach at Central School of Speech and Drama. Recent credits include Marjorie in Sisterhood (Kriah Arts) and Mustardseed/Snout in Midsummer Nights Dream (BSC at BOAT). She teaches Voice at ‘ACT’, Brighton and ‘Identity’ Drama School, London. You can see why, since her own voice is distinctive, inflecting the singular quiddity of her own written characters.

Whilst she’s provided short stories for ‘White Rabbit’, ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably’ (Basement, Brighton), contributions to ‘Brighton, A Graphic Novel’, and ‘Backstage Brighton’ (QueenSpark Books), it’s her one woman show, Edith, Elizabeth and I which Craig wrote, produced, performed, and toured nationally throughout 2016 which put her on the playwriting radar.

This, a subtle, witty exploration between Elizabeth I and the poet who just might have toyed with the idea of being her reincarnation, was memorably, teasingly inhabited by Craig with a flash-through of reversed profiles worthy of some 39 Steps routines. Humour and pathos were struck through.

Tonight in this ‘second-draft’ piece Jenny Rowe played Rebecca, Sian Webber was Eva and Robert Cohen reading directions, for an excerpt early on, in fact the kernel of the play, being written first.

A two-hander at the moment, Requiem for a Ratcatcher’s Daughter explores ingrained loneliness, ulterior matchmaking, and occluded kinship. Briefly, a young woman Rebecca with a lanyard from the Social Services round her neck arrives at an older woman’s house, recently de-trapped by her rat-catcher father.

His report – she has it – appreciates Eva the older woman’s ingenious traps but felt this, combined with rat stews – and what’s that cooking at the moment? – caused complaints.

Particularly when a neighbour’s good mousing cat accidentally tripped one and got a bread knife through the eye: exit cat. ‘Couldn’t use it for the bread after that’ reflected the trap-worded Eva. Craig’s giving Eva the same snappy voice as her own traps is of course a given, but she makes it naturalistic, and a paean to older people and independence.

Er, and that huge thing with a supermarket trolley and everything closed over it hanging suspended. What’s that? ‘Abstract art.’ ‘What’s it called.’ ‘Abstract.’ ‘And that stew?’ ‘Chicken.’ Later ‘Well rats.. taste like… chicken… there’s far less meat or fat on though than you’d think…. and there’s a use for tails…’

Rebecca’s character is in fact far more nuanced. It appears finally she’s only a librarian, hence borrowed library lanyard, and finds both her lonely father and this woman rather like two halves she’d like to bring together because, it seems, she might not be around that much longer.

Eva’s having none of it though, and a Keystone Cops chase ensues as she ushers Rebecca out and instead falls into her own vertical trap, that abstract sculpture called Abstract she’d explained away to Rebecca earlier. Trapped there, all the women can do, Rebecca on the outside, is tell each other stories. Where will it go? Well, there’s unsuspected kinship for one thing. Let’s watch Craig’s space.


The discussion afterwards centred on how it’d develop. Two hander or more? There’s thoughts about the father for instance. Should he be brought in as a character in what might be Act Two? After all of it Jules is keeping her options open. Yes for this part it’s sensible to revert to first names.

The overall impression of Jules’ work was immensely positive. Theatrical, funny, with parts tailored to the characters, and utterly intriguing. There’s a conspiratorial way one enters another’s screwball plotting, a bit like Lettice and Loveage SJ suggested though in fact it’s a rich work – richer than the rat stew certainly. The extract had us wanting more. Crisp, funny touching, it portends far more emotional territory. It had started as black comedy but its reach is farther than that.

The cast including Robert all contributed. The contrast between actors and improv, how actors can discuss their play – and say Beckett and Pinter – became dominant.

Sian talked of how these authors were tightly controlling – Pippa and Thomas added detail about authors’ estates. Sian pointed out how Ibsen spent an age drawing character, then three weeks actually writing.

Eddie Alford, whose Breakfast at Dalkey Harbour, Red Roaster was a hit in the Brighton Fringe in May 2013, emerged to tell of the way he hunched defensively when first on a Sussex Creative writing MA in 2010; by the end criticisms were flying over him. So much so that when a priest brother of a corrupt politician upbraided him for a play where two women kiss (this back in Dublin) ‘I’m very disappointed, I’m very disappointed’ Eddie commented: ‘it’s art, you’re quite right to make such a comment’; adding he couldn’t have said that before the course. He commented on the way directors work with an author is similar, though more respectful (if it’s got that far).

Judy Upton agreed, outlining how she was always given a choice when actors came back with modifications: nothing would get past unless she agreed, and she usually did. SJ asked too about the way Churchill worked with devised work-shopping – a theme that emerged tonight – in both Out of Joint for Light Shining in Buckinghamshire where actors brought their own research, Vinegar Tom for Monstrous Regiment, both 1976; and in 1983 Fen. And contrasts with e.g. these days where directors are working solely with the writer, as Lucy Kirkwood suggests when she added in a Royal Court interview for The Children in December 2016 that she tends to really overwrite and her director James Macdonald helps her fine it down.

SJ asked Judy her experience and Judy said she was an under-writer, so all the actors’ suggestions tended to go in and help to build the piece up. Jules herself took this up and said she had the same tendencies herself. But actors’ material really helps.

Eddie also added that of course everything goes now, but writers on the whole – as Pippa, Thomas and Robert said – need a point of letting go – and if actors really can’t work with Beckett and Pinter, well they just leave. Thomas – and was it Pippa? -suggested that you need to let the written character be what the writer thinks they are. In other words the actors has no agency in determining that written character is different just because their own subjective reading of it makes it so. If you don’t like it, you don’t do it. Robert felt the actor and writer tended to gel at an earlier stage and this conflict was minimal.

This led to a discussion of the traditional ‘my character would never say that’ with Judy suggesting an attentive listening by both actor and writer, directors usually good at this. Sian added a fine dramaturg usually sorted things out.

There was agreement that though money came into it if you really disliked a text you’d leave. Those who accepted Beckett and Pinter with their controlling estates, accepted the rules. For the rest as Judy SJ and Eddie said with Jules, we should be so lucky actors add to and inhabit their character. Judy said her completed work usually incorporated actors’ material.

Eddie reverted to the devised theatre, suggesting Abigail’s Party, recently starting a revival tour at Theatre Royal, was a perfect example of how Leigh brought together the original devised material of built-up character. Then Leigh wrote from that as Sian, Pippa and Thomas thought. SJ wondered who brought in Dennis Roussos. But added this was another mid-late 1970s piece like the Churchills, and Eddie agreed. We see less of it now though it still occurs.

SJ at the end asked two brief questions of Jules. How long would the play last – about 60-75 minutes till Tuesday last made her think, Jules suggested. And what about those wonderfully impossible traps? Jules wasn’t sure but said this time she hoped a producer would take care of that, she’d not be producing this piece herself. Either that or re-think the piece in terms of viable props. Personally I hope Jules keeps her traps, as it were open and shut, and at least gestured to.

Jules was very happy with the response and discussion her piece generated – as were we all. This is a partially recalled account of an absorbing new play, with genuine theatrical possibilities, and discussion. But I hope does the evening some justice.

January 2019 meeting review

Sussex Playwrights January 6th 2019

Happy New Year!

All about Sussex Playwrights’ January meeting for writers, actors, producers – anyone interested in new drama and all media.

Special guests:

Brighton’s TBC Audio producer / director Simon Moorhead brings all the latest news of his current work – the huge online audio drama project The Other 1%, recently mentioned in the BBC Sounds’ Drama Podcast Report. Essential networking for writers and actors in the region!

Writers, actors, crew, post production work – this series is almost entirely Sussex-created and made.

Fascinating insights and essential networking opportunity for any writer or actor interested in connecting with a commissioning producer working in the city.

Philippa Hammond gives a live performance of Delicacy, a brand new monologue by Grant Gillespie and Laura Lockington, which will also shortly be recorded for the series.

And writer-actor-producer Robert Cohen will be performing a preview extract from his solo show ‘Hi Vis’, which will be running at Sweet Venues in February, followed by discussion on the practicalities of writing, performing and producing solo work.


‘January kicked off with a high turnout, high-energy meeting. And if it wasn’t for that riveting one-act play we had exactly a year ago J A Allen’s The Engagement, it was as it were riveting in rivets. The envelope of SPC was pushed again.

And it’s now a go-to for writers wishing to look for radio commissions. Whilst theatre will always be the core of SPC, this reinvigorating of SPC’s core function, getting writers into professional engagements, reconnects us with the world of Constance Cox, a founder member who often had plays on at the West End or commissions with the BBC.

Simon Moorhead producer/director of TBC Audio was back to introduce some exceptionally spooked readings that are about to get canned. That is, Moorhead’s production team with cast, crew, recording studios and audio-podcasts that are now amongst the 10% most-listened to in the UK. And that doesn’t even take into account the rest of the world where in fact TBC Audio garners most of its loyal listeners. Sussex-based, it’s a new force pulling in a range of new and experienced writers, several of whom have worked with Moorhead at the BBC.

Enough puff. Moorhead introduced a new strand and orientation for TBC. The Other 1% has concentrated on the unexplained 1&5 of phenomena that can’t be explained away, whether psychic, alien or sci-fi dystopia.

Now the emphasis will also be on adult content. Just hwo adult…. We found out. Philippa Hammond gave a live performance of Delicacy, ‘a brand new monologue by Grant Gillespie and Laura Lockington’. And it’s branding all right, its storyline signaling an exciting disturbing new direction that can’t be given away. A food vlogger divulges to her unseen audience what delicacies she’s envisaged, things like orangutans fried in palm oil… you get the whiff. Styled in the persuasive sensory enticements in presenter style so enamored of the BBC, it crosses cooking with a glistening of porn. Hammond has the gift of teasing out unreason in a perfectly reasonable way, with a kick of vlogger sexiness, the kind vloggers sue to get your attention. And this one does. The mild culinary horrors multiply in Hammond’s delight, till she makes use of something you never thought she would.

Robert Cohen was back too to discuss his 2011 solo play High-Vis, now part of a trilogy of Men Without Friends alongside his McCarthyite-smashing masterpiece The Trials of Harvey Matusow based on real documents housed at Sussex University, and Something Rotten, from Hamlet’s uncle’s point of view. High Vis, the middle one, seemed to me the weakest when I saw it, concerning a man with OCD re-assigned as traffic warden then re-assigned again without quite understanding why he’s so loathed.

Cohen this time performed the piece with a snap and extra edge of dark that convinced me that with the tightening he’s given it, the piece can hold its own with its companions, though its scope is never going to trump as it were the real-life of the one and the real-imagined of the other riffing easily as it does on a famed theatrical villain. Cohen catches the delusion and pathos and even more, the imagined characters flitting across his face with their disdain, dislike, even fear. The man’s blank pathos is pitiable. Cohen’s cornered the market here in unlovable men with different degrees of illusion, or disillusion. I’m really glad to have been re-acquainted with this play. It’d be good now to hear more of Cohen’s twenty-eight plays written on a play-a-day challenge last year. Cohen took a few questions. High Vis is running at Sweet Venues The Welly in February’. Simon Jenner

December 2018 meeting review

Sussex Playwrights December 2nd 2018

‘There was an explosion of red this Christmas as Gareth Strachan’s ingenious take on Father Christmas in Hard Talk was waylaid by mind-altering ads, a self-identifying elf, a Father Christmas bankrupted by Eartha Kitt and nearly causing WW3 with a Kruschev-Kennedy face-off over who owned the North Pole (Coca-Cola won). And who on earth gave those reindeer them idea of munching mind-altering trouble-with-lichen psychedelic food sending them sky-high over the moon? And why on earth is father Christmas or Sir Nicholas or whatever talking like Hannibal Lecter, and why on earth too is Felicity Fists suddenly softening? No, you’ll have to listen to the subsequent recording. Simon Jenner’s acting I cannot speak. Jessica Hilliard sashayed with aplomb from nasty to nice with an exasperation that had most people reacting in sympathy as Strachan the elf and Jenner the over-privileged avuncular thing in red cavorted over the text and should have been led gently outside and had their chests massaged with a warm steam-roller as Bernard Shaw once said of audience coughers. And you can listen again on Radio Foreplay.

Strachan’s a real comic force to be reckoned with now, as protean comedy writer and showing his capacity to write far darker fare. There’s a superbly- nervy quality to his whiplash puns and brilliant desperation. And he provides material rather like a lightning rod.

Far more intriguing – deliberately – was Philippa Hammond’s own take on her time as immigration control officer in Night Watch. This is a beautifully haunting story, with an ending that’s both poetic and profoundly questing, not a conventional ghost story, but if anything haunting that genre too. Hammond, managing everything as usual, didn’t quite give herself enough time to read it, and I’d relish a slower delivery. As it was Hammond’s as crystal clear as an old aeroplane’s wireless set.

Trevor Harvey read The Nativity Play by Mick Inkpen – both delicate and moving. Harvey was with Carole Bremson (also present) co-chair of SPC from 2011-13 and this pair did their best to modernize and move the SPC along at a crucial phase of its development. Harvey’s now less prone to travel so far on a Sunday night, but he deserves our thanks and memory for his selfless, and gifted involvement on so many levels since 1967 when he first joined.

Thomas Everchild led a fun game of literary consequences. Our co-chair lived up to his surname here. It was particularly silly as only he knows how! Not so much red noses as red faces. Everchild’s an ingenious writer and never gives himself enough room, sometimes craming a short piece in between longer ones by others. It’d be good to see him stretched again and with room to expand some of his fizzing set-pieces. As for next year, well, several of us I know would love that old nicked quirk of a quiz back. We’re none of us getting any older.

Tristan Wolfe and Lena Richardson Hill gave a performed reading of the short comedy play Christmas Presents by Roger Lee. Think of a forced confession from his wife by a man stuck halfway up a chimney on Christmas Eve. Richardson Hill added a measure of distinction to this decadent little piece.

A vintage night with reindeer gristle. Oops, they’re the reins you’ve boiled. As ever co-chairs Hammond and Everchild provided generous lashings of Christmas fare. They gain deserve our heartfelt baa-humbug or whatever thanks for keeping SPC thriving from a point of near extinction’. Simon Jenner

November 2018 meeting review

Sam Chittenden presented an extract from her latest play Sary, [part of October Horrorfest], featuring Sharon Drain and Rebecca Jones

She talked with Philippa Hammond about Different Theatre and her work as a writer, actor, producer and director of new drama.

We review Sary: http://www.sussexplaywrights.co.uk/reviews-sary/

Luke Ofield and Pip O’Neill discussed their latest Brighton Scratch Night – a celebration of new writing which has already become something of a feature on the Brighton theatre scene.

Ben Baeza and John Black performed an extract from Naked Kittens, by Max Wilkinson, directed by Luke & Pip.

Unmasked Theatre are a producing company based in Brighton, with four years’ experience of critically acclaimed productions, with a focus on new writing and adapting classical literature for the modern stage.

We review the latest edition of The Brighton Scratch Night: http://www.sussexplaywrights.co.uk/sussex-playwrights-reviews-the-brighton-scratch-night/

And from new drama and comedy to a piece of classic theatre – Thomas Everchild and Philippa Hammond discussed the experience of producing and directing Romeo and Juliet for the October Shoreham Wordfest. Romeo [John Black] and Benvolio [Ben Baeza] were there on the night.

Fringe Guru reviews Romeo and Juliet: http://brighton.fringeguru.com/reviews/brighton/romeo-and-juliet

October 2018 meeting review

Sussex Playwrights October 2018

‘TBC Audio was back. To those who don’t know him, Moorhead is a force SPC have enjoyed working with for now nearly two years.

As producer/director of TBC Audio Moorhead was back to introduce some exceptionally spooked readings that are about to get canned. That is, Moorhead’s production team with cast, crew, recording studios and audio-podcasts that are now amongst the 10% most-listened to in the UK. And that doesn’t even take into account the rest of the world where in fact TBC Audio garners most of its loyal listeners. Sussex-based, it’s a new force pulling in a range of new and experienced writers, several of whom have worked with Moorhead at the BBC.

Enough puff. Moorhead introduced a new strand and orientation for TBC. The Other 1% has concentrated on the unexplained 1% of phenomena that can’t be explained away, whether psychic, alien or sci-fi dystopia.

In particular he’s revisiting a work he was involved with in his early BBC days, Threads from 1984. This dealt in literally blistering detail with the aftermath of a nuclear strike, When the Wind Blows for adults, very much a miasma in the air in the time.

He’s commissioned a series of Zero Plus Days, the first of which by Simon Jenner Zero Plus 120, Farmer, read by Philippa Hammond I can’t possibly comment on save to comment on how consummately Hammond realised the de-humanized farmer’s shaft of humanity after a gruff of brutally realist touches. She’s already recorded it and it was a delight to hear this pitch-perfect Sussex drawl re-enacted by Hammond, who’s sovereign in such roles – an apparent ‘coping’ mechanism riven by humanity.

Moorhead commissioned Jenner to work with Gareth Strachan and Alison Fisher on writing a Zero Plus 1000 Years series which Jenner will kick off with.

Strachan was up next. His Zero Plus Seven, a postman, something Strachan has been, was acted with studied, bleached out conscience by Russell Shaw. Shaw brought a gravitas – perhaps it was just a touch too slow in parts – that showed his immersion in the subject. He actually revisited Threads, and rarely has something sounded as death-haunted as here. Shaw immersed himself in a superbly disjunct relation of a man commanded to shoot looters – his royal warrant meaning he must or be shot himself, an ingenious recognition of ancient writ – and how he’s forced to shoot old friends, lovers even, in a display of self-destruction that’s like PTSD in both slow-motion and super-quick at just over ten minutes, the commissioned length of these pieces. Throughout, Moorhead supplied the gunshots and actual bullets on display. I might have done with a couple less gunshots but make no mistake, this was gripping and left a great sunk silence for several seconds.

Discussions after took the form of how this inhumanity visited such individuals and left everyone keen to hear the recordings and indeed more of the same. Moorhead will be back in January, but Strachan will return with another piece in December’.

Simon Jenner

‘Philippa Hammond performed a reading of this new short monologue, which is part of the ‘Protect and Survive’ audio series, currently in production by TBC Audio, produced by Simon Moorhead. 120 days after a nuclear strike on Britain, a tenacious and resourceful farmer holds on and tries to survive, despite losing family members to radiation sickness. The Downs are no longer fit to grow vegetables or crops and the pigs are being reared on the only food available to them – the rotting human corpses that litter the countryside. Piglets are being born with two heads, but as the farmer ruefully remarks, in a time of famine “two heads are better than one.” Audience members remarked on the accuracy of the grim circumstances depicted, being similar to events reported after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Simon Jenner’s writing was visceral and bleak, yet also poetic and lyrical. Delivered by Philippa in a stoical, light Dorset burr, it reminded me of the scenes of harsh winter harvesting in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess Of The D’Urbervilles’.

Judy Upton