The future is looking pretty good for Yorkshire theatre.
Up in Edinburgh right now there are two plays from young Broad Acres writers that are garnering terrific reviews and the great news is that both plays are coming back home when they finish their Edinburgh-conquering runs.
Blackthorn by Charley Miles and Build a Rocket by Christopher York are two plays that are remarkable on a number of accounts. To get any play produced by a theatre is a tricky task, but to get your first play produced by one of Yorkshire’s major producing theatres while still in your twenties is really quite an achievement. It’s something both Miles and York have achieved.
Blackthorn was first seen at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, as it was then, last year. Championed and directed by the Playhouse’s Jacqui Honess-Martin, it is in Edinburgh in August before returning to Leeds Playhouse in October.
Since Blackthorn’s debut, Miles has become a playwright fellow for the highly regarded Paines Plough theatre company. Honess-Martin says: “Charley delivered the first scene of Blackthorn at the end of a writer development course we did together and I immediately knew we had to give this writer and this play some space and time. The confidence of the language and the depth of the subtext really stood out.”
Having this support was key, says Miles. “Writing is tough, no matter what form you’re working in, but I do think it’s especially hard to be a playwright early on. Plays aren’t alive until you hand them over. The scribbling in the bedroom part can be incredibly exciting and satisfying to a point, but if there is never an end point it can be really disheartening. When Blackthorn started happening in 2016 it was just the most incredible feeling.” Miles is currently enjoying the Edinburgh experience, but is excited to return Blackthorn to Leeds. “Leeds definitely feels like the home of this play. It was the first theatre where I saw new writing and it’s one of the closest producing theatres to my home, the village that inspired Blackthorn. I hope returning with the show gives more people a chance to see it.”
Christopher York knows what Miles is going through as he is experiencing pretty much the exact same situation. York’s Build a Rocket is winning just as impressive reviews as Blackthorn in Edinburgh, so we can expect him to feel pretty confident when his debut play arrives in Scarborough at the end of August. York is a Scarborough- born playwright and the town has inspired his one-woman play.
He says: “I am a product of teenage pregnancy, I spent my early life in a bedsit with my mum and dad. I have grown up around teenage pregnancy, and seen it demonised in the press, but that’s not the reality of what I saw growing up; I saw brilliant, positive, funny young women against the odds and stats, raising children, even without the privilege of another parent. I wanted to write something that would celebrate the women of Scarborough and anyone else who might empathise with the challenges of growing up in a working class town.” The play was developed in-house by the Stephen Joseph Theatre team in Scarborough, starting with the play receiving a read through last year – and nurturing it through to this stage of production.
York says: “The SJT have been a fantastic support system during Build a Rocket’s development. Not only have they helped nurture the play and give it a home but the theatre as a whole has made me feel like part of the family so quickly. I’ve learnt a great amount working alongside Paul Robinson and the rest of the creative team, it’s been a brilliant experience.”
The reviews suggest it has been a worthwhile investment for everyone involved. “I feel dead fortunate to take a bit of Scarborough to the biggest arts festival in the world and see the show flourish. But I cannot wait to see it open at The Stephen Joseph in all it’s glory. Football didn’t quite come home this summer, so this is a solid silver lining.”
I have a question for both Miles and York: how does it feel to be a playwright to watch out for in the future? York says: “It fills me with a sense of brilliant dread. It makes me want to work a lot harder, to make sure, one day, maybe I’ll get to be a playwright of the present.”
Miles says: “Often I think it’s quite easy to still feel powerless in this industry. I believe really strongly in being active in decisions wherever you can be. There are quite shocking statistics about the demographics of people working in theatre; where they’re working, and the scale on which they’re working, and although one playwright can’t change an entire industry, I do believe in the little pockets of power that we do have which can facilitate change.”
The future is in good hands.
Debut plays from bright new voices
Blackthorn: The only two children born in a North Yorkshire village for a generation can’t imagine ever being apart, but as their lives shift, so too do the ties that bind them. Charley Miles’ play explores the changes and choices that pull us from the places and people we love. Leeds Playhouse, October 4-6. 0113 2137700.
Build a Rocket: Yasmin is young, feisty and living on the edge in Scarborough. She’s been dealt a rough hand and has to decide whether to give in or get smart. But can the thing which threatens to ruin her life be the one thing which saves her? Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, August/September. 01723 370541.