Review: The Whale

I was lucky enough to see and review this incredible piece of theatre back in May. Apologies for missing the boat on re-posting my review for Bristol 24/7, but here it is:


Shuler Hensley as Charlie. Pic: Simon Annand

As an adult, it is genuinely rare to sit in a theatre and utterly believe. But Shuler Hensley’s performance in The Whale is perhaps the most visceral, convincing, immersive depiction I have ever seen, on any stage. This is one powerful piece of theatre, with award-winning performances from a cast giving their all, in a completely engaging world.

Charlie (Hensley) is not just obese, but morbidly so. The kind of  “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape“ “big” that involves hoists, or windows being taken out. But Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale is not a play about a man being fat. It’s a play about despair, grief and regret; about self-loathing and a suicidal lack of self-worth. It is one of the saddest and most eloquent plays I have ever come across. It’s a play about love….

Read more…

The Stuff I Do (yippee)

Wonderful week last week, with lots of goodies coming at once.

On Tuesday, I reviewed Michael Boyd (former RSC Artistic Director)’s new show, The Open House, for Bristol 24/7. You can read the review here.


The Open House, Theatre Royal Bath – photo by Simon Annand

Then I popped on a train, feeling all intercontinentally high-flyin’, wrote my review on the tracks & when I woke up (some sleep happened somewhere), I was in King’s Cross on  my way to the C21/Script Angel WritersRoom, which ran as part of the International Drama Summit at Content London 2017.

Very merrily, my latest TV pilot spec script – written in a 10-day deadline frenzy in September – was highly placed in the C21/Script Angel Drama Series Script Competition. And this is how I won a place on this full and excellent day.  In three groups, we developed a new show from concept to pitch. Each worked closely with an experienced show-runner: Versailles’ David Wolstencraft; Follow The Money’s Jeppe Gjervig Gram; False Flag’s Maria Feldman and Shades of Blue’s Adi Hasak.

The 9-6 day seemed like it was eaten whole in one big bite: Have we finished? Where did it all go?! 

That’s in no small measure due to a cracking task-led structure, but also a bally marvellous working group. So often,  writers work in holy isolation but here we had to listen, respond, respect and hit a deadline with a goodie. (What do you mean, “did we?” Of course we did!).

Anyway, it was yet another of those weeks where I stand, grin and kalloo-kallay my lucky stars to be able to do the stuff I do. I saw and reviewed great & thought-provoking theatre (heading to London in the new year, I believe) and worked with a great international group of merry writers and producers. And we all learnt from our group’s ace showrunners, Jeppe Gjervig Gram & Adi Hasak, with the sharp and steady Hayley MacKenzie of Script Angel’s hand on the tiller.

What a cracking week.


Others’ work: Alice Childless’s Trouble In Mind – Ustinov, 10 Nov -17 Dec

Absolutely delighted to post this review in Bristol 247 from last week’s superb theatre trip.

This is a very special piece of theatre. It’s warm, entertaining, heart-swelling, cringe-making, shame-facing and packs a hell of a punch, staring 2016 in the face all the way from 1955. In short, you need to see it, because if you miss it, you’ll hear repeatedly how you missed out.

Dignity, race, power, privilege, wealth, sex, class, education. These “unspoken” currencies that fuel every human interaction permeate this excellent play.

What do you see when a famous white writer’s script about a Deep South lynching puts stereotyped dialogue and a “white saviour” plot in the mouths of a black cast? What happens when the cast – who need work and money, have ambition and dreams – know it’s unreal yet say nothing, or even defend it? What happens when you dare speak out? When a lynching isn’t just a story in a play – but when it happened, right there, in front of you?

read more….


Other people’s work: review of John Mighton’s Half Life, Bath

I used to do a lot of theatre reviewing – when wed to a person I didn’t need to pay to look after our child! – and always wondered whether I should share them here. So, in a new departure, I thought I’d start. Last night I reviewed Nancy Meckler’s production (at Bath’s Ustinov Studio) of Half Life for Bristol 247. Here’s the article – happy reading (runs til 5 Nov- go!)


Keep the Buses Coming!

…Which is another way of saying, I feel as though all the buses have come at once. Check out the news pages for a detailed update, but I have been extraordinarily fortunate the last few weeks and months to have great people working with my scripts, and I’m learning (I hope) a great splodge of stuff as I go.

A fortnight ago, two were being performed as scripts-in-hand, with audience (and of course, cast!) feedback. The scripts (Away with the Fairies and Water’s Not So Thick) are very, very different, and so were the rehearsal and performance experiences.  I learnt an enormous amount from the actors and directors, and with Water, went through a good rite of passage: defending your intention, while being able (I hope) to adapt and bend, to find better writing, but to stick to your guns if need be. I am always impressed – and grateful – at how actors can get to the nub of a line so quickly, and in both cases, they had two days or fewer to get the snipings, the unspoken, the fun and the entertainment squeezed from the pages.

And then last week, the Ustinov Writers’ Forum ran its second Script Exploration Day – 4 scripts, a pool of actors, a lot of exploration. And these guys stuck their fingers deliciously and vigorously into a third, less developed, script which has been haunting me for a good couple of years, but hasn’t been allowed air time for about a year. After a great reading, there was much debate, and I come away with pages of enthusiastic notes, liking the thing more than ever, and hopeful for its future.

But first, I have something else to work on. Of which, perhaps, some more another day….

Summer Frenzy

Busy – and good – times. The summer’s being spent Getting Things Done: completing a three-hander for the Theatre West competition for their autumn season at the Alma Tavern Theatre in Bristol; trying to get a final good first draft of my long-unwritten ‘fertility play’; polishing a collaborative comedy script with a great friend and squeezing in the day job wherever I can find a gap.

Away with the Fairies, the Theatre West submission, was shortlisted alongside some work by writers I regard very highly, so I’m very happy indeed to have got that far. More info on Fairies under ‘Scripts & Shows‘. There will be a script-in-hand performance at The Alma in the coming months.

Other things are afoot, but more on those at a later date! Meanwhile, Water’s Not So Thick appears at the Ustinov on Wednesday 22 September, at 12:30. Tickets just £3 – book yours now!

A Happy Writer

Best experience as a writer so far was had this week. My absurd short play, Everyone Loves A Story, was one of four staged readings in ‘Push’, a night of newly commissioned pieces at the Ustinov, Theatre Royal Bath.

I was tested, pushed and pulled every so gently by David Lane’s superbly questioning dramaturgy in the two weeks leading up to rehearsals. We had the day of the show to rehearse. David was directing a thoughtful, up-for-it and very strong ensemble cast (Rob Benson, Rachael Fagin, Adrian Harris and Louise Wright). There was a strange moment when I realised they were discussing and debating the script in the way I’ve done when I’ve been performing; i.e., taking it seriously!

This script was the last of the night to be performed – there were three pieces beforehand (from Steve Lambert, Heather Lister – both directed by the Ustinov’s Andrew Smaje – and Tom Phillips, also directed by David Lane) which were so powerful and different that by the interval, I was very nervous – could ours stand up against those? My worry about this piece is that the dialogue and action risk being confusing if the audience doesn’t go with the idea of participating and doesn’t enjoy the dark humour: then you risk leaving the cast pushing against a closed door – not much fun.

Very happily, however, the audience was a superb 6th character, calling out, chanting, totally playing their part – far more than I had expected. And this is what made this my best writer moment so far – my surprise (and delight, if it doesn’t sound too pseudy) at how it actually worked! What I wrote, what David made me tighten, what we aimed for as a group happened!  So, talk about gratitude to all concerned – cast, crew, David, Andrew. A very smiling writer – rare, huh?  😉