“Manchester is on the cusp of becoming one of the most important cities for new playwriting in the world”: Playwrights host ‘A Night of New Work’

0 142

Featured image and gallery: May Viratikul

Renowned playwrights Simon Stephens and Carmen Nasr hosted ‘A Night of New Work’ at the Royal Exchange Theatre to celebrate emerging talent and aspiring writers.

Drawing together the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing and Manchester Metropolitan University’s Manchester Writing School as the two institutions are celebrating their 200th anniversaries, the event celebrated the exciting future of playwrights, exploring the city’s abundant literary history.

Hosted by British-Irish playwright and Manchester Met Professor of Scriptwriting, Simon Stephens and British-Lebanese writer and Programme Director for Playwriting at UoM Carmen Nasr, the event featured new work for the stage, screen and radio created by students and staff from the two universities.

A host of new writings were performed by actors from the Manchester School of Theatre, each directed by Amara Heyland and Sam Holland-Bunyan, Birbeck Resident Assistant Directors at the Royal Exchange Theatre from 2023 to 2024.

With Manchester Metropolitan and the University of Manchester celebrating their 200th anniversaries this year, the event was an opportunity to bring together two cohorts of playwrights, platforming fresh new voices and celebrating these two institutions’ role in the Manchester writing community.

The Royal Exchange has a long-standing tradition of supporting up-and-coming creatives, offering a platform to budding writers and championing outstanding new talent.

Stephens commented on the importance of this event: “It brought together two of the most important writing schools in the UK, working together for the first time.” He added: “To be at the heart of that, in the heart of Manchester, a city that is on the cusp of becoming one of the most important cities for new playwrighting in the world, was a real honour.”

Held in the Royal Exchange’s Studio, Stephens introduced the event as an intimate “script in hand” affair. This event was the first time many of the students had shared their script writing with a live audience, so a palpable sense of excitement was felt in the crowd. The event gathered a diverse group of people, enticing fellow students and members of the public to experience this work for the first time. 

“I think the purest way that as a playwright you find out about how your work is landing is by looking at the audience,” said Joe Munrow, Lecturer in Scriptwriting at the Manchester Writing School.

The new writings included a mix of students’ and tutors’ work, which were chosen anonymously. By leaving the audience to guess whose writing belonged to who, it incorporated an inspiringly horizontal approach to platforming the work.

James Draper, Senior Lecturer and MFA/MA Creative Writing Programme Leader at the Manchester Writing School said: “I deliberately did not look at who wrote what so I didn’t know who I was seeing then I’m looking at the names afterwards and thinking ‘Oh, it’s by them!’ and feeling excited and proud.”

He added, “That sense of connectedness with the city, and celebration and pride for us, are the big things about a night like tonight.”

Suzanne Bell, Dramaturg at the Royal Exchange Theatre, said: “I think these kinds of events are absolutely invaluable. The relationship that we have as the Royal Exchange with the universities is really important because we’re all here to support the local ecology of arts and creativity.”

She added: “To be able to bring together the skills and the talent that are emerging from these courses and to give it a platform in the Royal Exchange, where the role of the playwright is at the heart of what we do and how we work, is an honour. The amount of talent and creativity that is in this city is second to none, and we need to be able to work together to celebrate it.” 

Lecturer in Scriptwriting at Manchester Met, Zodwa Nyoni, said: “It was such a great collaborative project. To have this opportunity to bring together all of the different departments is great for the writers.”

Highlighting that writers often don’t get to experience the ins and outs of playwrighting, Nyoni explained: “Often writers don’t get to see the process of it all – they don’t get to see what happens when you hand your work over to a director and how you get actors there – this process helps them to realise they are part of a collaborative medium. I think that’s what has been lovely for them and they have all enjoyed it.”

Nyoni added: “Most of the student writers managed to come to the rehearsals and loved it because they get to see the making of something. I think that’s been transformative for them.”

Discussing the significance of the two universities coming together for this project, Nyoni shared: “You always feel so disjointed and you’re literally down the road so it’s so nice that you can come together and realise you are part of this continuum – the same kind of community of making work.

“It’s been so good for the students to meet each other. It’s not a competition – we’re just making work together.”

New work from the Manchester Writing School included:

  • Excerpt from a Work in Progress written and read by Simon Stephens
  • It’s Not Logic and Metaphysics by Peter Taylor performed by Elliot Parchment-Morrison and Harry Smith
  • Friday Night by Seamus Grace performed by Aaron Shaw, Harry Smith and Tsen Day-Beaver
  • Project Alpha by Chibuike Oke performed by Aaron Shaw and Harry Smith
  • The Affair by Zena Naomi Freeman performed by Harvey Weed, Jacob Bell, Sara Abanur and Tsen Day-Beaver
  • The Kiss by Amy Elizabeth Parry performed by Harry Smith and Nadia Anim
  • The Bear King by Anthony Poole performed by Frank Wilson-Caines, Jacob Bell, Millie Shephard and Sara Abanur
  • The Dating Diaries by Aaron Langford-Birks performed by Florence Nomafo, James Newman and Julia Rogers
  • WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL US IT WAS GOING TO HURT? By Zodwa Nyoni performed by Florence Nomafo and Lily McClatchey
  • Napoleon by Anjum Malik performed by Aaron Shaw, Elliot Parchment-Morrison, Frank Wilson-Caines, Harvey Weed and Sara Abanur

Joe Munrow spoke about the work shared during the event: “The pieces were not only brilliant, but funny as well, and I think that’s crucial after decades of austerity.”

The minimalist set, with only a table, a chair for each actor, and a few small objects, allowed the work to truly speak for itself. The actors did justice to the writing without overshadowing it and the performances, each lasting no more than five minutes, left the audience either feeling deeply satisfied or eagerly anticipating what would happen next.

Every time the stage went dark with a lively song playing signalling the start of the next performance, the crowd responded with enthusiastic applause.

The writing displayed was diverse but overall engaged with contemporary issues, from social injustice to existential musings. There was nuance, wittiness and a comic undertone throughout the work which kept it light, despite dealing with global problems and current affairs. 

Speaking to aAh! Magazine, James Draper explained the importance of platforming students’ work to the public: “One of the things that Carol Ann Duffy, Creative Director of the Writing School, and Simon Stephens, Professor of Scriptwriting, both agree on, is that it’s so important not just to do all the work in the university, classrooms, teaching, but to get out there, and take what we do as a school into the city.

“That means introducing our writers, actors and directors to public audiences, making sure they get that experience while they’re with us – of presenting their work out there in the real world. It’s important that as a university we’re out there engaging with the city.”

He added: “It’s great on a night like this to see the work of our students come to life, it makes us feel very proud. It’s really important to us that we can see the work of our students on this sort of platform, and celebrate the success and the excitement of it.”

The Royal Exchange Theatre is home to the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, Europe’s biggest playwriting competition, and 2025 marks 20 years of the prize. The next round will open for submissions at 10 am on Tuesday 9th September, 2024 and close at 6pm on Thursday 9th January, 2025.

A Night of New Work gallery: May Viratikul

About the author / 

Tara Morony

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More News Stories:

  • Dido & Aeneas and Orfeo ed Euridice @ Hope Mill Theatre review – an impressive double bill

    Featured image: City of Manchester Opera City of Manchester Opera presented their first double bill since 2019, featuring Dido and Aeneas and Orfeo ed Euridice at Hope Mill Theatre. Both performances were conducted by Musical Director Juan Oruño and directed by Artistic Director Nigel Machin. The Manchester-based company, comprised of professional, semi-professional and trained amateur…

  • Shirley Craven @ The Whitworth Art Gallery review – A celebration of colour and pattern

    Featured image: Elizabeth Clark After stepping into the stark white gallery space of The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, viewers venture blindly into the dimly lit exhibition rooms where Shirley Craven’s magnificent designs hang. Here, housed in the industrial red brick, the vibrant textile designs seem to leap off the walls, dancing and singing around…

  • Manchester Indian Film Festival: Creating TV Drama Series collaboration brings together the city’s creatives

    Featured image: Juan Pablo Cifuentes The ‘Creating TV Drama Series’ networking event brought together writers and industry professionals as part of the Manchester Indian Film Festival’s collaboration with Manchester Met. Hosted by the Manchester Writing School, it brought together staff and students from the School of Digital Arts (SODA) and Manchester School of Theatre (MST)…

  • What you need to know about the upcoming election

    Featured image: Elliott Stallion on Unsplash A rain-soaked Rishi Sunak took the news by storm on 22nd May, calling a general election on 4th July, 2024.  Although most of us know what a general action is, a quick synopsis is always useful. The general election is an opportunity to elect Members of Parliament to the House of…