Manchester’s Got Theatre Talent

I haven’t set foot in The King’s Arms since I used to live in Salford five or six years ago. Stepping back inside this well-known pub is much like slipping back to the past. It’s strange to think how much time has whizzed by since I was sinking pints of cider in the cosy bar area, or watching short plays in the ‘Stories’ section upstairs, and it gets you thinking about all of those people you’ve met in between.

One of those people is my friend and fellow writer, Danielle Jawando. I met Danielle at a writer’s retreat in Inverness back in 2014 where we were both working on bits of novels that we weren’t quite sure about. Just scribbled sections that we weren’t sure would ever fit into a particular genre.

Danielle, like me, is an aspiring YA author and has just been selected as a participant for Megaphone Write scheme which highlights the need for diversity in children’s literature. From what I have been privy to read/hear, Danielle’s novel looks set to be pretty brilliant so you should all check out her progress (she tweets over at @DanielleJawando). She is also a playwright and has her short play ‘Jump’ produced last year, and has previously worked on Coronation Street as a storyline writer. She also fan-girls over Louise O’Neill as much as I do!

I was at The King’s Arms for an event called ‘The First Readings,’ billed as an evening of black comedy and drama. The night is in conjunction with theatre company ‘Let’s Make Theatre’ which is the brainchild of Teresa Powell and Rebecca Brady.

Formed in 2015, the aim of the company is to ‘provide thought-provoking theatre that presents interesting questions and explores different points of view.’

The night consisted of two plays. ‘O’Donoghu’s Wife’ by Danielle, and ‘The Gift of Guilt’ by Adam Whittaker. Actors read short scenes from each play which was then followed by a short Q&A session with all involved.

Danielle is a whizz at black comedy. Often taking serious subjects and marrying them with a good old dose of super dark humour. I love this about her prose and it translates well to script.

Danielle chose a serious scene to begin – where a husband is seen to emotionally manipulate and abuse his ‘over-sensitive’ wife – where the dialogue had a more solemn tone and was eerily reminiscent of how we might imagine such a situation.

The next was a comedic scene, similarly depicting a serious situation – the wife having just killed her husband with a poker, and all – but with the introduction of Daragh – the comedic character in the play – there is a notable injection of Danielle’s signature black comedy.

We don’t usually get to see these processes and usually audiences are handed a shiny, well edited script. For those interested in theatre or any creative process, it’s really insightful and interesting to see how such a piece of writing is put together. It throws up questions like: How is a comedy and serious subject matter balanced? How do you navigate from one scene to another?

For me, the most interesting part of any creative work is the process behind it. I’m a bit nosy like that. I like to follow things from the start to the end. Perhaps it’s a result of spending time with a bunch of writers excitedly talking about ideas for novels that have gone on to become physical things. Who knows? I reckon it’s just because I am a busy-body.

Next up was ‘The Gift of Guilt’ which was another quite serious piece of drama.

Although some comedy elements were present, most notably in the character of Mary, a ruthless journalist (who I thought was excellently played by Teresa Powell – I have met a few of those type of journalists and she had it spot on!) intent of getting her story out of a grieving mother a year (or so – I’m unsure) after the abduction and murder of her son. She’s a fabulous character, one you detest and admire in equal measure for her hideous gumption. I love the ‘Oh Daaaaaarling’ and ‘Sweetie’ lines thrown in, it makes Mary seem all the more callous and cold and, let’s face it, they are truly the best characters!

it’s quite a dramatic piece. I was mesmerised by the actress who played the part of Lorna who had some truly powerful dialogue about what it’s like to lose a child. I’m not sure where this particular play is going, but I think this short snippet show cases some excellent writing and acting.

‘The First Readings’ is a clever and beneficial idea. Clever, because members of the audience and drawn in as participants. It’s just a dark room, some chairs, a spotlight. No props. Just dialogue. I love this sort of stripped-back theatre and it puts me in mind of the recent production of The Solid Life of Sugar Water I have just reviewed for Northern Soul. There’s something about stripped-back-ness that makes me want to invest in the narrative, perhaps even makes it seem a little more real.

We get to go on a journey with the actors, directors and writers as the play evolves and twists into something quite unexpected. For me as a prose writer, I am often surprised by the turns a particular narrative takes when I get further into the writing process. Workshopping is an excellent way to explore new ideas and plot lines, so what better way than to workshop with the audience. Personally, I loved being drawn into the narrative and listening to the audience feedback and opinion. It’s interesting to see how people’s imaginations can become so invested in a narrative and starts ticking away with possible scenarios. It’s like reading a book and fighting the urge to skip a few sections because you want to find out the fate of a certain character.

If you’re interested in how theatre is created and how the writing process develops, Let’s Make Theatre is a great company to follow. Both Danielle and Adam’s plays will be developed and performed, but in the meantime their progress is set to be documented in another night of readings to show how the writers, directors and actors have all developed along with the script.

And if that doesn’t persuade you (you crazy bunch) Lets Make Theatre also collect donations at events for The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, a charity working towards a future without cancer.

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