Anna Brewer blog posts

Theatre in prisons

Last week brought the welcome news that the book ban in prisons, which was introduced by the government in November of last year, has been found to be “unlawful” by the High Court. When the legislation was introduced, numerous high-profile writers and artists, including our very own Mark Haddon and Simon Stephens, got behind a campaign to overturn the legislation. 

 While the outcome, over one year on since the introduction of the ban, is a positive one, the fact that the legislation is being overturned by the courts on legal grounds, rather than re-considered by the government on moral grounds, indicates that the root of the problem still remains. That is that the government imagines prisons to be institutions which should merely punish, and where rehabilitation is either sorely neglected or discouraged altogether. Against the backdrop of such depressing and short-sighted policy-making, it is left with arts organisations and charities to offer to people in the criminal …

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In Praise of Young People

As the National Theatre Connections 2015 programme gets under way, I’ve been reflecting on last year’s festival and the sheer brilliance of it. Methuen Drama is proud to have published the Connections volumes for the past five years, in tandem with this inspiring programme – a core part of the National Theatre’s education scheme and which is enjoying its twentieth anniversary.

The numbers, to some extent, speak for themselves. Last year saw 230 companies taking part, which equated to 5,000 young people and 25,000 audience members. This, in itself, is impressive, especially when you consider that the numbers increase each year. It couldn’t be done without the dedicated and talented team of Anthony Banks, Rob Watt, and their colleagues at the National who initiate and oversee all operations throughout the year. In the programme’s web-like existence, the ten commissioned plays reach far corners of the British Isles via 26 professional ‘partner’ theatres, and ten selected …

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014

Four years ago, I commissioned journalist and theatre critic Mark Fisher to write The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide. It was, I felt, a much-needed handbook for the swathes of artists who, every year, sacrificed their health, sanity and bank balance at the altar of the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Fisher’s book goes a long way to demystifying how to make a success of your show or – to put it more realistically – how not to leave Edinburgh destitute, frazzled, with nodules and Rickets, and not having seen an audience member for a month.

Yet Mark Fisher at the time quite rightly expressed some reservation about the book’s title. ‘Survival’ surely implied that the Festival Fringe is not to be enjoyed, but rather endured, and this he felt – as a seasoned attendee of the Festival Fringe – didn’t do justice to the joys of, and exhilaration from, being part of the world’s biggest arts festival.

This year, the Edinburgh Festival …

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Playwrights to watch

“Who are the most exciting up-and-coming playwrights at the moment?” is a question I’m often asked and one that I find near-impossible to answer. There’s a staggering number of promising new playwrights emerging and it feels artificial to single any one out. It is also an ever-changing landscape: in an industry where youth is valued and celebrated, the most exciting up-and-coming playwrights of a few years ago are now at the forefront of playwriting; gurus in their field; the old masters of their craft: Simon Stephens, David Eldridge, Mike Bartlett, Lucy Prebble, Leo Butler, Lucy Kirkwood, Joe Penhall, James Graham, to name but a few.

That said, I always want to draw people’s attention to two young playwrights whose careers I am particularly optimistic about. Alistair McDowall and Brad Birch were playwrights that my predecessor advised me, with great sincerity, to “watch”. So, in a vaguely stalker-like fashion, I did.

Alistair was often to be found at …

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Willy Russell: how he introduced me to the theatre

Willy Russell is something of a personal hero for me. Blood Brothers was the first piece of theatre that I was taken to in London and it had an enormous impact on my ten-year-old self:  I was hooked and completely overwhelmed. It was so many things all at once: hilarious, contemporary, topical, urgent, tragic, stylised, inventive in form, romantic, joyous, real – and also had great songs woven into the fabric of the piece.

Blood Brothers became for me something of an obsession and I continued to respond to it as a piece of theatre as I grew older, no matter how many times I saw it. Initially, I tried to work the play into as many situations at school as I could. If we were asked to choose a poem, I chose the one below. If we had to perform a speech, I performed Mickey’s first monologue. If we were selecting a geography project, I chose to study Liverpool. As a teenager, I routinely took new boyfriends to see the show: it was the perfect litmus paper. If they …

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