RED Women’s Theatre Awards, Greenwich Theatre

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This year sees the launch of a new playwriting competition, RED Women’s Theatre Awards. Co- produced by Edinburgh-based academic and playwright Effie Samara, Greenwich Theatre and Female Arts, the awards are “aimed at anyone who identifies as female who has an inspirational, questioning and challenging social and political voice.” There are three regional heats in the competition; the first was at Greenwich Theatre with staged readings of four plays. Completely differing in tone and style and at various stages of development, this heat showcases the huge variety of female voices in English playwriting.

I spoke to founder Effie Samara about the awards and her reason for founding them.

What do you hope to achieve with these awards?

When I first spoke about RED to James Haddrell, Artistic Director of Greenwich Theatre, I must admit, I was dreading that it was going to achieve absolutely nothing. As a theatre artist, he engages with that female-led theatre aesthetic by producing Broken Leg, Smooth-Faced Gents and now RED. Is he a revolutionary? I think he is. Is he an exception? He is a valiant exception but we are actually witnessing the beginning of an epoch in politics and in theatre. They follow each other. My view is that the State, its governance, its justice, its policing, its education and its performativity are about to undergo a female-authored revolution. RED positions itself at the forefront of this development.

What criteria did you use when selecting plays for the heat?

The award is for political theatre. Our first concern was to ensure the writer’s engagement with the notions of justice, resistance and her ability to problematise those dramatically.

RED Theatre Awards currently cover the south of England, Wales and Scotland. What are your plans for expansion in the rest of England? Is N. Ireland a goal as well?

Northern Ireland is absolutely a goal. In the first instance, we’re including N. Ireland in the Scottish round. We can’t wait to hear some loud Irish voices! Scotland is also underrepresented on a national level.      

What can theatre makers do now to counteract the gender disparity?

The solution is very simple and I’m afraid it begins with us women. Us, being able to handle our own freedom: express it in the ownership of our person, define it in politics, and dramatise it in our consciousness and on stage. Women who robotically follow institutional missions fuel that gender disparity through their own complicity with these structures. Numbers are on our side in this argument: There are a lot of us. Over 3 billion. If we meant business, if we did this together, actioning solidarity within our cause, this injustice could be culled in no time.

What message do you want to communicate with the RED awards?

Words are loaded pistols. And we, women, can cock a gun way better than any establishment pointing one at us. Throughout the history of humankind we have been told we’re not allowed to fathom our own course, to govern our own person, our own body, its production and reproduction. RED is here to provide a platform for women.

The four plays selected for this heat are Under My Thumb by Cassiah Joski-Jethi, Spurn the Dust by Sian Rowland, Dissonance by Isabella Javor and Gone by Kate Webster. Some are more blatantly topical that others, some look at broader female issues and group dynamics. All are short plays with potential for development and by female voices that have a lot to say.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Something Something Lazarus, King’s Head Theatre

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Musical theatre is growing rapidly on the fringe, thanks to venues that focus on small-scale shows and producers staging lesser-known works. New British musicals are seen less often, with only a handful of producers focusing on bringing audiences this new musical writing. Broken Cabaret, around since 1997, aim to create new kind of musical. Something Something Lazarus is part cabaret, part backstage/play-within-a-play dark comedy, part surreal fantasy. The structure is the most interesting part of the show, with a plot and songs that are sometimes surreally nonsensical. Performances are consistently excellent and whilst there isn’t always the sense that Something Something Lazarus is radically innovative, it has a British quirkiness that US imports, the most commonly produced musicals on the fringe and commercially, lack.

Four characters based on contrasting musical theatre and cabaret stereotypes generate plenty of conflict and more than a few laughs. Daisy Amphlett as Della is a no-nonsense musical director and accompanist with no patience for, well, anything. Amphlett’s powerful voice and ferocious presence is a joy to watch along with her ability to play several instruments. Valerie Cutko as fading star Vee is glamourous, seductive and rather useless, belonging somewhere more than the Midnight Sun cabaret. Daniel (Ralph Bogard) runs the venue with his twink bartender boyfriend and aspiring singer, Jay (Daniel Cech-Lucas). Daniel and Jay don’t have much love for each other; it’s a relationship of boredom and convenience amusingly played by both. When an unexpected delivery from Daniel’s ex arrives, his freewheeling emotions cause a violent eruption that moves the action, and the real cabaret, into Jay’s mind.

Much of the story takes place in real-time before the evening’s show starts. It’s pretty typical meta, backstage fare but with music and dialogue flowing into each other like an actual rehearsal – a lovely change from standard musical theatre structure. Though not innovative, it’s nice to see a more low-key, Kiss Me, Kate type of musical. The action is continuous and the dialogue feels natural, though the characters are more heightened versions of those you typically encounter in this environment. John Myatt’s dialogue is punchy and fun, with plenty of bitchiness. The cabaret-in-my-head section is both surreal and more like an actual cabaret performance – a disorientating but more interesting outcome, and with more memorable songs by Simon Arrowsmith than the first part of the show.

Accompanying the show is Simon and Jonny Arrowsmith’s transmedia, three websites that add further detail to the world of Something Something Lazarus that isn’t clarified within the dialogue and plot. Whilst it’s a great extension of the performances, I’m uncertain how much audiences engage with the work. I expect transmedia will come to be used more and more, what with the legacy it creates and an easy way to further engage with audiences.

Though Something Something Lazarus isn’t as innovative as it makes itself out to be, there are a lot of great elements. The performances are excellent, the transmedia is a nice touch and it’s great to see British theatre makers creating new musical theatre that doesn’t follow American trends.

Something Something Lazarus is at the King’s Head Theatre until 2nd April.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.