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The Earth You’re Changing

In January 2014 we hosted a panel discussion at the National Theatre with four of our alumni: actors HARRIET WALTER and FIONA VICTORY, playwright STEPHEN JEFFREYS and director JOHN TIFFANY. Here’s what they had to say about their time at PPHQ…

PP40 book v12 p10-1110

HARRIET WALTER AND FIONA VICTORY – 1970’s.

FV: David Pownall and John Adams and the actor Chris Crooks were out of work and miserable and they were drinking beer at the Paines pub in Bedfordshire. As David Pownall tells it, he said, “Oh stop moaning. I’ll write you a play. You will act in it, you will direct it, and we’ll go to the Edinburgh Festival.” And they did. It was a play called Crates on Barrels and it was about a Greek philosopher —

HW: Socrates.

FV: Yes, Socrates — and it was very good.

HW: Richard III Part Two was my first with Paines Plough, it was quite a large piece involving lots of music, two or three different time zones and George Orwell- pretty ‘Powellian’. David’s imagination was immense. Steven Boxer had had a musical training and a teaching training, and he wrote wonderful music. I was listening to it recently. He was only 23 and he was writing these wonderful complex tunes and –

FV: – and teaching everybody else! People who couldn’t sing, had never sung, couldn’t read music, couldn’t play anything, he somehow managed to give everyone their line and teach them how to do it calmly.

HW: At the time it was very unusual to get a young bunch of actors together at the early stage of a play and evolve it with them with everyone doing the music, and the costumes, and the props, and everything ourselves, then tour it all over the country

FV:— in a small van!

HW: We used to do the fit ups and strike the sets ourselves. A couple of people helped with the lighting, and we used to do the ironing

FV: – and sacking skips and making tea and whatever.

STEPHEN JEFFREYS – 1980’s

By the time I joined, David had stopped writing all the plays himself. It went from being a writer’s company with an apostrophe-s to a writers’ company with an s-apostrophe. There was a wave of new people, David Moat, Elizabeth and, the young Terry Johnson — a mere slip of a lad at the time- and we were all brought in. We were the first people were writing plays that weren’t by David Pownall, and that was rather difficult. You thought, ‘oh I’ve got to write a play that takes place in three different time zones with madrigals and people playing sackbutts and things: I started doing that and it was a complete disaster.

John Adams, the director, commissioned this play from me and it wasn’t going well. He said, “Well, you’ve got to finish it this weekend” and then, “What I’ll do is this: I’ll leave you in my flat, in Leamington Spa, and I’ll just clear off and you’ll finish it by the end of the weekend.” John’s mistake was that he had a priceless collection of malt whiskeys. He came back and found that I’d barely written a word. He said, “You’re trying to write the wrong kind of play. I want you to write your kind of play.” That’s what Paines Plough then did: it successfully mutated from a David P company to a company that could do any kind of new play at all. Somehow, Paines Plough’s always been very good at negotiating those awkward moments of handover.

I came back in the Pip Broughton era. She was — and still is- a wonderful director. Paines Plough had evolved into a matriarchy. We had offices by Warren Street tube station and Ian Rickson and I were the only men in the company. There was Pip and Sue Storr and Vicky Heywood. It was a very, very lively time, because there was a lot of exciting new writing around.

There were two phases under Pip. One consisted of a lot of very political plays about early Thatcherism, set in different parts of the country reflecting local conditions. Then, by around 1986 or so, she’d had enough of that and did another of those big, daring Paines Plough changes. We suddenly became a big company doing big plays. We did a version of GERMINAL. We did my play THE CLINK, another by Nigel Gearing called BERLIN DAYS HOLLYWOOD NIGHTS. Huge plays.

When Pip left Anna Furse took over. She came from a dance background and, for a while, it almost became a performance art company. So Paines Plough was in a constant state of mutation. That’s why it survived.

JOHN TIFFANY – 1990’s

Vicky [Featherstone] couldn’t really get arrested when Paines Plough gave her a job. She’d left the West Yorkshire Playhouse and moved to London, but couldn’t get herself taken seriously as a director of new writing. The Bush gave her a job for a little while — Literary Manager, I think— then she went into TV. She was doing really well, developed Touching Evil and Silent Witness, worked at the BBC and independents, then went for this job at Paines Plough — and the visionary board took a chance on her.

As Stephen says Paines Plough attracts writers. By the time I arrived in 2001, we were really developing a wonderful stable, people like Abi Morgan, Jack Thorne, Sarah [Kane] obviously, Mark Ravenhill was writing a lot for them at the time, Gregory Burke, David Greig, Enda Walsh, Philip Ridley.

We got the Peggy Ramsey award that year, which was —£50,000, wasn’t it? We decided we were just going to commission eight playwrights, and we bullied the Menier Chocolate Factory, which was still in its infancy, into taking all four plays. Philip Ridley wrote this amazing play called Mercury Fur, which was the first one I directed. Ben Whishaw was in it and — we didn’t quite realise at the time— but it was a bloodbath by the end. The Chocolate Factory didn’t have a shower, so some of our hard earned sponsorship money— I shouldn’t admit this — bought the Chocolate Factory its first ever shower. Actors ever since have got Paines Plough to thank…

In 2004, I was in Mexico directing a play over a summer and Vicky called me one morning and went, “Guess what, I’ve been given a new job running the National Theatre of Scotland.” To go from, you know a company like Paines Plough to running —to setting up — a national theatre was amazing. We always said— Neil Murray, who was the producer, he still is, David Greig who was the dramaturg at the time, me and Vicky we said, ‘Well, we’re going to run it like Paines Plough, but with £6 milllion.” Having done what we did at Paines Plough for £120,000 from the Arts Council, we knew what that money could buy. We were determined not to be frivolous or fritter it away.

What James and George have done amazingly is to treat the whole country like it’s a venue, which is so inspiring. The output has doubled or tripled. Vicky and I followed the model of two shows a year and when you look at the volume of work that these two are managing, on not much more money, you look at the list now of things coming through in 2014, it’s incredible. It really is.

One more thing: I’ve been under a delusion for many, many years. I thought Paines Plough meant the plough of Tom Paine, the radical thinker, the surface of the earth you’re changing. Only now do I find out it was thought up in a boozer!

Paines Plough founders reunite for reading

Some will probably know the age-old tale of Paines Plough’s history by now – founded over a pint of Paines bitter in the Plough pub by director John Adams and playwright David Pownall in 1974.

Two years later, the two went on to win Paines Plough’s very first Fringe First award in 1976. And so it began.

Forty years on, as we celebrate our 40th anniversary and another Fringe First win at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it seems a fitting time for us to reflect on where it all began and also celebrate the work of our founding members.

For one night only, on Wednesday 7.30pm at the Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre, RADA, you can catch a reading of Innocent Screams, a new play by David Pownall. We’ll be there.

With pints.

@painesplough  |  www.painesplough.com |  fb/painesploughHQ

40th Anniversary Reunion

In the lead up to our 2014 Programme announcement, we celebrated turning 40 the best way we knew how – by reuniting with friends from all four decades of Paines Plough on the road.

As a touring theatre company founded in The Plough pub in 1974, hitting 40 is an incredible landmark, and one we’re all very proud to be rejoicing.

Our current ADs George and James opened our birthday bash at the Young Vic, offering their vision for what’s in store moving forward.

We also had words from PPs founding members, David Pownall and John Adams. As they shared their insights and tales from the past, we raised our glasses to values that have stood the test of time.

We’re delighted to say that PP boasts a pretty spectacular alumni list: from the Emmy-winning Abi Morgan, Olivier award-winner Mike Bartlett, acclaimed playwright Simon Stephens, BAFTA-winning actor Andrew Scott, Royal Court Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone – the list is endless.

These are just some of the brilliantly talented people we are lucky enough to have worked with, and  honoured to call our friends.

Have a look at some photos from the night below (for the full set, check out our flickr page).

A final heartfelt thank you to everyone for your continued support.

Here’s to hitting 80.

PP x

James Grieve, David Pownall, John Adams and George Perrin

Abi Morgan and Vicky Featherstone

Andrew Scott and Mike Bartlett

James Grieve and George Perrin

Andrew Scott, George Perrin and Simon Stephens

David Pownall and Tom Wells

PP ADs through the years: James Grieve, Roxana Silbert, John Adams, Vicky Featherstone, Pip Broughton and George Perrin

Current Team PP: Natalie Adams, Tara Wilkinson, Bernd Fauler, James Grieve, George Perrin, Hanna Streeter, Aysha Powell, Sean Linnen, Benedict Lombe

 

Paines Plough turns 40

In 2014, we’re 40 years old. Happy birthday to us. Life begins at 40, right?

Right. So we’re planning our biggest, boldest, most far-reaching programme of work ever, with more plays touring to more places than even we thought possible.

We’ll be announcing the whole shebang in January, with attendant trumpet fanfare. But in the meantime, there’s a little taster of what to expect below, and some words from illustrious PP alumni.

Where it began… In 1974, while they were all working at The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster, actor Chris Crooks asked playwright David Pownall to write a play for him. John Adams agreed to direct it.

Christened over pints of Paines bitter in The Plough pub Bolnhurst, Paines Plough was registered as company no. 1165130 on 1st April 1974.The company opened Pownall’s play – Crates On Barrels – at 6pm on Wednesday 11 September 1975 at the Lyceum Studio, Edinburgh.

128 productions, eight Artistic Directorships, 42 awards and 40 years later, Paines Plough is now the national theatre of new plays – still doing what it has always done, touring the best new plays to every corner of the UK.

“Back in 1982, after seven years on the road, we passed Paines Plough into other hands. Since then we have watched it grow, change and develop into its present strength and reputation.  We feel part of the present company, glad that our aims have lived so long, and especially glad the company is still a stage for new plays.”
John Adams and David Pownall, founders

Paines Plough old skool stylee

James and George:

“It is a true honour to lead Paines Plough in to its fifth decade of touring new plays.

“Talking to our illustrious alumni in the lead up to our 40th anniversary year, it has become clear that Paines Plough is less a company than a movement; generation after generation of the UK’s top directors and playwrights have assembled in our shabby Aldwych offices to conceive some of the most important modern plays before setting off to share them with audiences in every corner of the country.

“That’s exactly what we’ve done since we took over in 2010 – and we hope our 40th anniversary year programme will encapsulate all that is essential about Paines Plough’s contribution to British cultural life.”

With lots more to be announced, our 40th anniversary year will include new plays from playwrights spanning Olivier Award-winner Mike Bartlett and debutant Sam Burns, touring the length and breadth of the country.

The centrepiece of Programme 2014 will be the unveiling of Roundabout, our portable in-the-round auditorium.

Our portable pop-up Roundabout Auditorium

A prototype Roundabout was co-produced with Sheffield Theatres in 2011 and played at Shoreditch Town Hall in 2012. Armed with the experience of these two runs, and the generous support of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust, John Ellerman Foundation and Garfield Weston Foundation, the brand new pop-up theatre will form an integral part of future Paines Plough programmes.

“It’s hard to imagine that Paines Plough is 40 years old.  Its energy and verve remain so youthful, dynamic and daring.  Its work has become a crucial component of the new writing landscape in the UK and long may it thrive.”
Daniel Evans, Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres

We’ll be resident at the NT Shed for a series of PP Platforms at the start of the 40th anniversary year. Paines Plough alumni – writers, actors and directors – will share their memories and celebrate the crucial part the company has played in their careers to date.

“In 2005 Paines Plough made me their writer in residence and I can honestly say it was the single most important event in my career as a writer. Being a playwright moved from being a dream into being a reality as I got to spend time with people I’d only heard about, people whose books I read and plays I’d seen. I was given the chance to write what I wanted in a place that cared about writing.”
Dennis Kelly, playwright.

On 30 January, in conjunction with the Royal Exchange Manchester and ITC, Paines Plough will host a Small Scale Touring Symposium, inviting leading practitioners, journalists and companies across the UK to share in talks examining current and new aspects of touring theatre.

“For me personally it was a paradigm shift. To discover, encourage and direct the work of some extraordinary writers, to begin to understand audiences, to learn to be part of the landscape of Britain was a privilege and enormous fun. It opened the doors for all my ensuing adventures and for many others too and will always remain thrillingly alive and inspiring in my heart.”
Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director Royal Court Theatre (Artistic Director of Paines Plough 1997 – 2004)

That’s all you’re getting for now, but stay tuned. Programme 2014 is going to be huuuge.

Drinking Paines in The Plough

As previously reported, Team PP decamped from PPHQ on Tuesday this week to The Plough at Bolnhurst where we were guests of the lovely Jayne and Stacey for our annual summer away day.

It was over a pint of Paines bitter in this very Plough Pub that – 38 years ago – John Adams and David Pownall founded our company. Fuelled by strong coffee, home-made cookies and cream teas, and spurred on by ghosts of Paines Plough past, we spent the day dreaming up the company’s future.

Stacey even managed to dig out some old show posters from their attic.

The food was sublime; the surroundings spectacular and the service exemplary. We’d strongly suggest a visit if you’re ever in the area.

Here’s a photo diary of our day:

Arriving at Bedford Station

 

The Plough at Bolnhurst

 

The Paines brick

 

Felt pens at the ready

 

A quick breath of breath of fresh air and blast of sunshine

 

The Plough in all its glory

 

PP's original logo from an early show poster

 

A well-deserved dinner break

Back to our roots

The birthplace of Paines Plough - The Plough at Bolnhurst

Way back in 1974, the playwright David Pownall and the director John Adams dreamt up a theatre company that would produce and tour new plays, with playwrights at its heart.

They retired to the pub to think up a name, and drinking pints of Paines bitter in The Plough pub… well, you see where this is going.

Today, Team PP is going back to its roots. We’re decamping from HQ for an Away Day at the birthplace of the company – the very same Plough Pub in Bolnhurst, Bedfordshire.

We have Away Days twice a year. They’re a chance for the whole team to down tools and escape from emails and ringing phones to evaluate the past six months and plan for the future. We’re hoping The Plough will provide much inspiration as we plot the next two years and beyond for the company that David and John formed 38 years ago, and we have been entrusted with now.

So you won’t get us on phone or email today, but we’ll be back at base tomorrow, brimming with new ideas and plots and projects.

37 years, 103 productions, 261 playwrights

As our General Manager Claire reported last week, we’re redecorating PPHQ at the moment. We’ve been cleaning out cupboards and dusting off old boxes. After the majority of our archive went to the V and A last year, we’ve been pining for the visual record of PP’s rich and illustrious past.

So we were thrilled when we came across a box of old posters stretching back to the 70s. Paines Plough was founded in 1974 by John Adams and David Pownall, as the legend has it, over a pint of Paines bitter in The Plough pub. For 37 years, the company has been commissioning and producing work by generation after generation of extraordinary British playwrights.

There’s a full archive of PP’s past productions on our website, here. We’d love you to leave us a note about any of the plays or productions you remember or that you’ve come across since. You can post a message directly on each production’s page (using Facebook) or leave us a message on this blog.

Some interesting names to search out amongst the 103 PP productions past are Andy Serkis, Trudie Styler, Kathy Burke, Matthew Vaughan, Josie Laurence, James Dreyfus, Terry Johnson, Tony Marchant, Heathcote Williams and Lee Hall.