There is something of a fug of suspicion surrounding the term ‘new writing’ in Cambridge. Frequently seen as overly-intellectualised, self-promoting and theatrically unassailable, new writing – on the whole – gets a bad press and an audience turn out not that much better. This year, however, sees something old and something new in terms of initiatives for encouraging budding playwrights which will hopefully help to blow away the haze.
The Marlowe Society is pretty old, as far as societies go; 100 years to be precise. It was, most recently, the source of funding behind Nunn’s production of Cymbeline but it also does a number of other things, including bringing professionals up to Cambridge to share their words of wisdom and plant the seeds of inspiration. The Society’s Scriptlab, organised by Issy McCann, is a group for all kinds of writers, but particularly playwrights. They meet four times a term with a professional writer and some of the material that comes out of the workshops is performed at an annual showcase in Lent term: Writing for Tomorrow. Last year’s showcase was a medley of sketches with a wide range of forms and styles and with inspiration varying from bondage to bohemia.
By the time this goes to print there will already have been one workshop with Bill Dare, producer of Dead Ringers and Spitting Image. The rest of the line-up for this term looks equally impressive with comedienne Gemma Arrowsmith and writer of this year’s NewsRevue, William Kenning as well as a mystery guest at the end of the term. The usual format of the meetings involves some reading, some writing exercises and some tips from the guest writer. No-one has to read anything out if they don’t want to but it is one of the safest, most constructive environments you will get, besides giving it to your writing to you grandmother. For more information email Issy (ijm32) or go along to the next Scriptlab at 3.30pm on Sunday 21st October at the School of Pythagoras at the back of St Johns (and subsequently on Sunday 4th November and Sunday 18th November).
Other things to look out for from The Marlowe Society include The RSC Other Prize, which awards £750 and a workshop by the RSC to the best play as well as The Harry Porter Prize which has more of a comedy focus. Have a look at the Marlowe website for more details: www.themarlowe.org.
The Pembroke Players have also recently launched a new competition for budding playwrights. It funds and supports writers to get their work on in Cambridge, with at least one night at the ADC and then a week-long run in the Pembroke New Cellars. Keep your eye on the Pembroke website for details: www.srcf.ucam.org/pemplayers. The winner of this term’s slot is Tom Ovens, who came across his script in a rather unusual way. In his own words:
“It happened after supper, one night. I was brooding in my armchair, slowly swilling a glass of port and pensively throwing mice into the crackling fire as the storm outside battered savagely at the French windows like a wild thing straining it its leash. All of a sudden, I felt eerily cold. Then, for no reason that I could determine, the fire went out, and I was plunged into a terrifying darkness. “Grosvenor!” I cried; “Grosvenor, the fire’s all dark, I think it’s gone out! Grosvenor!” There was no answer. I was alone. Uneasily I stood and groped my way to the French windows to look out into the rain… Had something moved out there in the shadows? I jumped back with a start as something slammed into the glass inches from my nose. Fists pummeled the pane, and then the glass was smashed and rain was pouring in, all over my Babylonian llama-hair carpet. Lightning flashed, and with horror I beheld a nightmarish creature in a loincloth. It shrieked and pressed a blood-stained manuscript into my hand. Then it was gone. Numbly I unfurled the crusty parchment and read the terrible words that headed the first page: ‘The Tale of Lancelot Sebastian von Ludendorff’…”
As Graham Whybrow, the literary manager of the Royal Court theatre, said: the theatre ‘has to be open, receptive, curious and creative in relation to existing and aspiring playwrights’; let’s hope that Cambridge can do the same and get out of the rut of performing the same-old stock by embracing the next generation of new writers.