Russell Brand

Russell Brand and the morning after

Four Writers’ Guild West Midlands members have written four political plays, asking what has changed since the General Election. As part of BOLDtext playwrights they will be performing the microplays on 29 June 2015 at the Birmingham Rep. We held an ‘in conversation’ session with them to find out more

The Russell Brand Effect: The Morning After is performed seven weeks after the General Election and asks what, if anything, has changed? How did the surprising election result change your approach to the play after 8 May and during rehearsals?

Tim Stimpson (TS) I was expecting to write something about how a Hung Parliament is a reflection of the nation and that rather than balking at coalitions we should take responsibility for our decisions as voters. Although we still need to take responsibility, clearly this is not the case!

Nicola Jones (NJ) When it fast became clear that we would be living in a very different country for the next five years – one without the mitigating influence of the Coalition – I decided to change tack from writing about coalitions to looking at legislation which had been blocked by the lack of an overall majority, but was now likely to become law. On 8 May, Home Secretary Theresa May announced her intention of reviving the Draft Communications Data Bill, or Snoopers’ Charter.

Sayan Kent (SK) I think with the way the election turned out there will be much more hardship for the less well-off and people who are just making ends meet. So I’m focusing on how the political affects the personal; how austerity puts strains on relationships. What also interested me was the rise of the smaller parties and the strategy of voting for what you believe in rather than what you’ve always voted. This becomes a key issue in my play.

Helen Kelly (HK) Two of my characters were devastated by the result but one was ecstatic – but then the ecstatic one is only seven.

Your microplays were obviously inspired by Russell Brand’s well-known non-voting stance. Were you surprised when he publicly changed this during the General Election campaign?

TS I’m not at all surprised. I like some of Russell Brand’s comedy and understand where he’s coming from politically. Politics is more complicated than a good punchline though – and to say “don’t vote” is just trite. There are big differences between the main parties, which is what he must have realised in the end.

NJ Slightly… but I did respect the fact that he stood up and admitted that he’d changed his mind. It’s just a shame he didn’t think it through a few weeks earlier when people still had time to register to vote.

SK No. It would have been hard for him not to after the meeting with Miliband. I personally think it is an irresponsible stance to encourage people not to vote so I was glad that he did change his opinion. It’s a shame he didn’t use his influence earlier on to really encourage young people to take an interest in the system.

HK I was quite surprised, in a good way. I respect him for having the courage to change his mind so publicly.

Tell us more about the ballot of the audience you intend to do after the show on 29 June?

TS Our first show, The Russell Brand Effect, took place two days before the General Election. We asked the audience to pick badges depending on whether they intended to vote or not. Unsurprisingly, for an audience coming to see political theatre, most of them said they were. For The Russell Brand Effect: The Morning After we’re going to ask them if in hindsight they would change how they voted. Considering that the wonky polls may have affected people’s voting intentions it’ll be interesting to see the result.

Can you give us a taster of the four different microplays?

Better Devils by Tim Stimpson

It’s Polling Day and John and his daughter Maddie are still adjusting to their new lives. Bereavement followed by redundancy has resulted in them throwing themselves on the mercy of John’s estranged older sister, whom he hasn’t seen for 18 years. Middle England to the core, Liz believes that you get what you work for and John and Maddie have got exactly what they deserve. Will she turn out to be their salvation, or could there be a rather more diabolical solution to their woes?

Nothing to Hide by Nicola Jones

Within hours of the Conservative victory, Home Secretary Theresa May announced her intention of reviving the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’, previously blocked by the Lib Dems on the basis that it would “undermine the freedom of expression that all British citizens enjoy”. Theresa May argues that it is essential to keep us safe and secure. Nothing to Hide is set in a future where our every internet search, email, online transaction, as well as Tweet and status update, can potentially fall under unwanted scrutiny.

Hundreds and Thousands by Sayan Kent

The stress of the last year has taken its toll on Fenella and Rick’s marriage. Fenella hasn’t been quite honest about losing her job and Rick, who is a bailiff, only finds out when he is sent to his own house to confiscate his own belongings. Fenella thinks she has a plan to make it right, but when Rick finds out about Fenella’s recent political persuasion it looks like there might be no going back.

On Paper by Helen Kelly

“I love nuclear weapons!”

Sam’s ecstatic about the General Election result, but then, she is only seven years old. On Paper takes a look at the Tories’ election victory through the eyes of a child and her long-suffering voter parents.

Tell us about BOLDtext playwrights and some of your work to date?

TS BOLDtext started when WGGB member Liz John asked the Birmingham Repertory Theatre if there was anything they could do for mid-career writers. So many writing schemes are geared towards new and young writers, but what happens to those writers after that? The REP offered us free space in their smallest theatre, The DOOR, but production and funding is entirely down to us. We began with two nights of excerpts of new work in the spring of last year, followed by two nights of short monologues entitled Selfies. We performed them ourselves and they were about what it’s like to be a writer. We’ve been fortunate to secure Arts Council funding on two occasions and we’re now starting to plan for our next show in the autumn.

You are all members of the West Midlands Writers’ Guild. If you are a writer in that region, why should you join?

TS The Guild has had a strong presence in the region for a few years now, thanks largely to an active and energetic branch committee. They put on events throughout the year, as well as producing a monthly newsletter and offering members discounts for shows at The REP and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Most valuable of all is the sense of community that the branch provides. Writing can be an isolating business anyway, but this is even more so outside London. The Guild provides real support and encouragement for regional writers making their way in the industry.

NJ I’ve met many writers as a result of coming along to Writers’ Guild events and it’s wonderful to have the sense of being part of a wider writing community. There’s an interesting range of events to attend in the region, a really useful newsletter, and it’s also good to know that you have access to contract vetting services, and so on, should you need them.

SK It’s a community, and for writers who spend a lot of the time on their own that can be invaluable. I met the other writers in BOLDtext through being a member of the Guild. The Guild is immensely helpful in offering advice on contracts, should you need it, and provides much useful information for writers.

HK It’s good to be a member of a union.

Given the new political landscape, what role do you think playwrights have during the next five years?

TS I think we have to do our best not to preach to the converted. Those of us on the political left had a rude awakening on 8 May when it became clear that there were an awful lot of ‘shy Tories’ out there. For new writing to be relevant we need to engage with this reality, challenge it by all means, but not assume that audiences come with the same political viewpoint.

NJ I think the best political theatre starts a debate which continues afterwards in the bar. I imagine there will be much to debate during the next five years.

SK Quite honestly a difficult one and one of survival. I’m beginning to feel the urge to go back to the days of agitprop and use the medium to challenge the establishment and provoke debate.

In one sentence, say why you should think people should come and see the show?

TS If you’re sick of the political analysis, these plays will provide an alternative, personal and idiosyncratic reflection on what happened at the election.

NJ Four timely and very different takes on one result.

SK Because there will be four new plays that are thought-provoking and entertaining. And it’s free!

HK It will be a cracking night.

The Russell Brand Effect: The Morning After, Monday 29 June 2015, 8pm at Birmingham Rep. Tickets are free but should be booked in advance on the Birmingham Rep website

Photo: Rostunova