Ginger Hibiscus | The Writers' Playground: An Evening of British Writers
The Writers' Playground: An Evening of British Writers
The Writers' Playground: An Evening of British Writers
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09 Sep The Writers’ Playground: An Evening of British Writers

The West End is awash with jukebox musicals, musical revivals and Broadway imports. It’s a tried-and-tested method that churns out hit after hit after hit, but it’s a model that doesn’t give much scope for new and exciting work to play to London audiences. Of course there’s a wealth of aspects to consider, not least “is it financially viable?” But to be able to say yes to that, you need to guarantee ticket sales. And let’s face it, a big-budget Miss Saigon revival will generate astronomical demand, just as twisting the songs of a popular band into a musical promises to have an audience. So how are emerging British writers supposed to get a look in?

The answer is, by having their show performed anywhere and everywhere, gathering a following, working like crazy, crossing fingers and toes, negotiating and praying for a transfer. But performing the show falls right towards the end of the long and challenging creative process, a process that starts with writing, tinkering, rewriting and improving…

The Writers’ Playground from the Fairground Theatre Company, is an evening of emerging and established British musical theatre writers, where they’re given the chance not only to showcase their new works, but to try out new arrangements and new styles, and see them performed for an audience. It’s a great opportunity to bring brilliant musical theatre composers together, put them in a supportive and exciting environment, to listen, appreciate, critique, and imagine.

But it’s not just for the writers; sitting in the audience we’re treated to glorious performances from some brilliant up-and-coming singers, performing under the direction of the composers themselves. With 2 – 5 songs from each writer or collaboration, it’s a packed, fast paced schedule without the need for filler between numbers, as we enjoy new song after new song after new song.

There were so many highlights of the first (of hopefully many) Writers’ Playground that it’s hard to pick out just a few, but I’ll give it a go anyway. Opening the evening was the work of Verity Quade and Rob Archibald, who performed the world premiere of the incredibly relatable More Than Friends, as well as the brilliant A Clumsy Way To Fall In Love about the perils of Internet dating. Also commenting on 21st century life, Gary Albert Hughes and Tom Read Wilson brought the political aspect with Little Britain (otherwise known as the Vote For UKIP Song). Tongue in cheek with what sounds like Sondheim influences, Great Britain mocks fascism in a way that had me dying with laughter; upbeat, chirpy and so so cynical. And their set was just yet another example of phenomenally talented performers; Sasi Strallen (of the Strallen dynasty) and Hannah Blake were flawless.

James Robert Ball brought the storytelling bug, presenting songs from his version of Othello “flipped on its head to tell the story from Iago’s perspective,” with his performers Sean Quigley and Hannah O’Driscoll brilliantly prepped with great characterisation – unexpected for this kind of event. Wickedly funny from start to finish, Sue You really stood out- as did the vocal and comedic delivery from O’Driscoll. The idea of taking a well-known story and turning it on its head was continued by George Stiles, of Stiles and Drewe. He presented Just Because I’m A Girl, a song from the perspective of an indignant Goldilocks, furious not be allowed to climb trees, fight, run about or play in the dirt like the boys. As well as stunning vocals from Lauren Samuels, it was wonderful to see the reinvention of this usually stereotypical character, transformed into a strong, opinionated woman.

Stuart Matthew Price, whose new musical Before After is soon to be tried out in workshop form (featuring Caroline Sheen and Hadley Fraser), didn’t use any of the songs from that show, but presented three others that left us positively salivating at the prospect of his material. On top of that, Kayleigh McKnight added magic with some the strongest vocals of the night despite having already completed a performance of The Dreaming earlier the same day, and having co-organised the whole evening.

The variety of genres of music, of ideas and of talent were what really struck me; Finn Anderson had his skilful performers playing instruments on stage, beautiful, gentle and folk inspired – a strong contrast to Dan Looney’s songs from Swear Our Love. A romcom where the hero has Tourette’s, the eponymous song is equally beautiful, but hits in an entirely different way.

As an event in itself, it was excellently produced and a privilege to witness. I left the Union Theatre feeling phenomenally excited for the future of British musical theatre, desperate to see all these works develop, and almost tempted to enrol in piano lessons.