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Lyn's Lowdown on… Paines Plough

Lyn's Lowdown on… Paines Plough

Lyn's Lowdown on… Paines Plough cover photo on Stagedoor
Lyn Gardner gives you the history of a company that has become an essential part of the UK’s new writing ecology

It’s a funny name for a theatre company, isn’t it?

Agreed. The idea for a new theatre company was concocted over a pint of Paines bitter, in a pub called the Plough, back in the early 1970s by playwright David Pownall and director John Adams.

So, the company has been around for many years?

It has. It is a survivor, and as is the case with almost all theatre companies with long histories there have been ups and downs, but the company has always been an essential part of the UK’s new writing ecology and its nationwide place in that has only grown in recent years. It has raised the profile of numerous playwrights from Gary Owen and James Graham and Duncan MacMillan to Kae Tempest, Vinay Patel and Chinonyerem Odimba, whose Black Love toured in the company’s Roundabout Theatre before being restaged at the Kiln Theatre earlier this year. Sarah Kane was writer in residence at Paines Plough in the late 90s and it’s where her play Crave first saw the light of day, produced as a lunchtime reading under the pseudonym Marie Kelvedon, before premiering at the Traverse Edinburgh during the 1998 Edinburgh Fringe. Paines Plough produced Terry Johnson’s debut play, and the early work of so many others including Mike Bartlett.

Is it just writers whose careers it launches?

No, directors and actors too. Previous artistic directors include Vicky Featherstone who is now in charge at the Royal Court, and Roxana Silbert who is at the helm at Hampstead. Actors who have worked with Paines Plough include Harriet Walter, Joe Marcell and Ben Whishaw.

So, why should I be interested in Paines Plough now?

It’s having a blistering summer in both London and Edinburgh. From July 11th the company’s brilliant pop-up space, Roundabout, will be in Kingston under the auspices of the reinvigorated Rose Theatre. The plays include three world premieres: Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s Half-Empty Glasses, about the erasure of Black history, Sami Ibrahim’s poetic fable, A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain, and a new show for children by Laura Lindow called The Ultimate Pickle. Closer to the centre at Soho Theatre from July 12 you can catch a story of cultural appropriation and gentrification in Hungry by Chris Bush, whose Paper Rock Scissors is currently being lauded in Sheffield. In August all those plays—and more—can be seen in Edinburgh at Summerhall.

A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain

So, what is this pop-up space called Roundabout?

It’s essentially a 168-seater tent-like auditorium which can be found in the courtyard at Summerhall during the Edinburgh fringe and which can very quickly be toured to spaces all over the country and quickly assembled. It’s revolutionary because it allows shows to go to places which don’t have a theatre or a suitable space for new writing. More than that: there isn’t a bad seat in a house. It’s an intimate experience for audiences, and better still the small playing space means that writers and directors and actors are kept on their toes because there is seldom scenery or props. There is nowhere to hide. That could be exposing, but in most cases it brings out the very best in all concerned, and there is something unique about the space in the way it can make a play feel both intimate and epic at the same time. Shows produced in the Roundabout often have staying power and future lives: Duncan MacMillian’s Lungs began life there and eventually ended up on stage at the Old Vic with Matt Smith and Claire Foy.

Do say:

Without Paines Plough many a British writer would have given up. Duncan MacMillan had when Paines Plough swooped on Lungs which so many others had rejected. It’s been as important for British new writing as the Royal Court or the Bush.

Don’t say:

I’d prefer a pint in the pub.

You can find tickets for Paines Plough summer season in London here.

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Lyn Gardner

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