March 2019 AGM

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

Venue

The New Venture Theatre bar
Bedford Place
Brighton
BN1 2PT

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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.

AGM

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.