New initiative seeks to develop contemporary theatre output from south-east England

A new three-year initiative called greenhouse has been launched to develop contemporary theatre and its audiences in the south east and east of England. Over three years, greenhouse will invest £420,000 into 30 projects.

The scheme, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Arts Council England, is being led by house, an organisation which curates and underwrites a programme of around 20 contemporary theatre productions each year for their network more than 125 venues.

This year has seen greenhouse seed-fund ten projects with over £50,000, awarding grants between £3,000 and £8,000 to projects. The ideas put forward for investment had to involve a partnership between a theatre-maker and a venue. The projects chosen for investment were selected by a panel of theatre industry professionals.

The first ten greenhouse projects include: Root Theatre bringing an emerging writer to her home town Gillingham to explore ideas for a new play about the town with the support of new venue LV21; South Street in Reading working with artists based in the town to create a piece for the recently decommissioned Reading Prison; and Take the Space is going to Norden Farm Arts Centre in Maidenhead to work with a boxing club and local Quakers for ideas to develop their new play, White Feather Boxer.

Richard Kingdom, greenhouse project manager says: ‘There’s no shortage of theatre being made, venues to present it or people to see it, and yet theatre-makers struggle to get bookings, programmers tell us that they can’t find suitable work and attracting an audience is everyone’s biggest challenge.

‘This is where greenhouse begins. We are seed-funding new pieces of theatre that respond to the ambitions of the theatre-makers as well as the venues and connect with people that they might ultimately hope to speak to as an audience.’

The Courtyard Theatre: Poilu & Tommy – Performance review

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Poilu & Tommy at The Courtyard Theatre

Star rating
***
By Sarah Lambie, TD editor

Being the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, 2014 has already brought with it a spate of artistic, musical and theatrical works to mark the occasion. One such is Poilu and Tommy, a production from Strasbourg-based theatre company Théâtre Volière with a mixed-nationality cast from England and Alsace.

The first thing to say about this production is that a good 30-40% of it is in French. This is something to consider taking a sensible and focused A-level group along to: there is a good deal to be had out of it with no French at all, but it is certainly the case that I enjoyed it more because I was able to understand both languages. For the purposes of a more general drama trip this may not be the first choice, but this review treats it as a production, rather than necessarily a production for teachers.

Mick Wood, the playwright and co-founder of the theatre company with his director-wife Natasha, writes in the foreword to the programme: ‘The marvellous poetry that emerged from the trenches has perhaps blinded us to the marvellous poetry that helped to dig them’ – this is a play which tries to elucidate ‘just what it was about the European culture of the fin-de-siècle that made it such fertile ground for the nationalist warmongers of 1914-18’. The fact of the cast being made up of actors from two nations really aids this aspect of the play – the tensions even between ally countries; the hints at the tensions within Alsace – so long fought over by France and Germany, are all made clearer by the linguistic and national characteristics displayed on stage. The play is shot through with French poetry, delivered well even if the audience doesn’t understand every word.

A number of performances stand out from this production which make it particularly worth seeing. Tom Grace plays beautifully the line between tragedy and comedy as Alfred, a young soldier in the trenches. He lands throwaway moments of comedy perfectly as he battles with Lula Suassuna as Charles – whose character is also created with commitment, but who lacks in a few moments the same perfection of timing. I saw the play on its opening night, and would imagine that the cast has since become ready to wait for unexpected laughter from the audience – the impression given was that they weren’t expecting to be funny, so they drove straight through a few lovely moments.

The real stars of the show are the two young boys, Jan and Gabriel Wood, as the young Charles and Alfred. With perfect French and English, and a simple and natural emotional truth, both are a true pleasure to watch. The production values are necessarily limited in a studio production from a touring company, but the set was well used – my only reservation being that the stomping of hard-soled shoes on sand-covered studio wood flooring was in danger occasionally of obliterating the lines altogether.

Poilu and Tommy plays at the Courtyard Theatre, London, until 8 March 2014. 
www.thecourtyard.org.uk/whatson/360/poilu-tommy

Major changes to GCSE examinations confirmed by Ofqual

Exam regulator Ofqual has confirmed a set of radical changes to GCSE examinations taken in England, which will alter what is studied as part of the qualification, and how. Head of Ofqual Glenys Stacey has described the changes as ‘The biggest change in a generation.’ 

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Students due to take GCSE exams in 2017 will be the first to face the new changes

GCSE examinations will be studied for across the current two-year period, however all exams will be taken at the end of two-year study, abandoning the current modular system. It is speculated that coursework and controlled assessments will also be scrapped for most subjects.

The current GCSE grading system of A*-G is to be replaced with a numerical system, ranking achievement from one to nine – with nine being the highest grade. The lowest grade applicable will be U for unclassified.

The first phase of changes will be instigated with students due to take GCSE examinations in 2017, with English and maths being the first subjects affected. The two-tier paper option for students studying maths will remain in place, however will not do so for English – meaning one exam will be taken by students of all abilities. A further 20 GCSE subjects will face these changes for exams due to be taken in 2018.

University acceptance numbers fall

Ucas figures for the 2012 university cycle have revealed the impact of the rise in tuition fees. There were almost 54,000 fewer students beginning courses this year than there were in 2011. Students accepting places at universities in England dropped by 6.6%

Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: ‘The headline numbers in this report signal the challenging environment for recruitment in 2012 for some parts of UK higher education.  However, the underlying findings are more subtle – for example, although demand for higher education has fallen in England, the actual entry rates for young people are close to trend.’

She also spoke of her concern that ‘women remain more likely to enter higher education than men’, with 257,000 women starting university this year, compared to 208,000 men. The chief executive described the trend as a ‘striking and worrying finding.’

Not all figures were in decline: acceptance rates in Wales went up by 5.3% and rates of entry for disadvantaged 18 year olds increased in the UK.