I need to say this to you and I think I need to say it often. Not for you but for me. There’s something I believe and that I also even actually genuinely know to be true, yet I also forget it. But last night I was shown it anew and today I want to say it to you.
That’s it. Just don’t.
Especially don’t wait for permission to do something – though, disclaimer, this is a family show, no crime before the watershed please – and very especially never wait for anyone else to do it for you.
Two years ago, I was in a pub with a group of writers who had just completed a Birmingham Rep theatre program called Write Away. (Later I did the same program and you can read my enthusing about it on the Rep’s own website.) It was the last night of performances of plays they had each written and I tell you, there is little in this world so good as post-show nattering when the show has gone brilliantly.
Some of the very happiest memories I have are of being around a kitchen table at midnight, huge mugs of tea, gigantic grins, people having been tested and challenged and won.
This wasn’t my Write Away set, I didn’t belong in that group and actually I both wanted and didn’t want to be there. My wife Angela Gallagher was in the set – and her play Fun-Packed Flat Pack was such a hit that it kept being talked about in my Write Away run the next year – but I’d have waited out in the car all night rather than interrupt this celebrating group.
But it was such a happy group. If you’d walked by, they might have asked your name or they might not, but you’d have been roped in, given a drink and possibly slapped on the back.
I’ve been a professional writer most of my adult life and I had never before been with a group of writers who were all happy. No whinging. Nobody saying they’d been maltreated by a director. Nobody saying their cast should’ve been better. (The Rep uses great cast, I mean, come on, it’s the Birmingham Rep. But the facts never stop us complaining.) I actually found it inspiring and I thought it a huge shame that Write Away was done and this group wouldn’t meet again.
Bollocks to that.
They’ve met, I believe, once a month since then. They call themselves the Cucumber Theatre Group and they write together. That would be enough: that would be plenty. But just as they didn’t wait for the Rep to form some official programme before they could meet and write, they didn’t wait for anyone.
Cucumber writes short plays and then stages them.
They make it seem easy and perhaps if you’ve not seen writers complaining about how hard it is to get their work staged, you’ll think it’s easy too. But I’ll say it again: I’ve been a professional writer most of my adult life and this group is the first I’ve known who don’t bitch about not being staged, they stage it. Cucumber has eleven writers and it brings in casts and directors from across Birmingham: if the logistics of producing a stage show seem easy to you then add in doing it on low or no budget. Casts come to Cucumber because of the scripts. Also because of the people, I’m sure, but it’s the scripts.
Cucumber has staged three nights of short plays in various venues around the city. But last night they came home. The Birmingham Rep gave them space and time for an evening of longer pieces in the Rep’s Door theatre.
I spent yesterday work at the Royal Television Society’s Film and TV Summit in the Library of Birmingham. (I say working, I just had a blast, really.) And the Library is now joined at the hip to the Rep. It’s practically the one building now. So while I was chairing events over on the right of the building, Angela was in rehearsals over on the left. The Gallaghers were in the house. It was a good day.
But it was a good day because everybody made it good. The RTS over on the right, Cucumber on the left, they wanted to do these things and they did them. And they are continuing to do them. I don’t know for certain yet that there will be another RTS Summit but certainly the audience want another one. I do know for sure that there will be more Cucumber and that it will be at the Birmingham Rep.
Have a look at their Facebook page for details and to see who they are, what they do. But a quick heads-up: they’re back on 2 June.
And I can tell you that last night saw plays by five Cucumber writers: Amy Dollery, Rupi Lal, Elizabeth Parkes, Matthew Warburton – who also directed – and Angela Gallagher. I’ve heard of her. And I learnt a lesson or three from her writing last night too.
But with that lot done, it means in June we’ll see works by the rest of the Cucumbers: David Payne, Emma Davis, Khush Chahal, Laura Yates, Louise Marshall and Alex Townley, who assistant directed last night.
Five plays in one night means a lot of cast. Just as an audience member, I love that Cucumber gets such good actors but as Mr Angela, I’m really proud that they keep getting them, that the cast keep coming back. Last night had a mix of new people and returners but this has been going now for long enough that I feel they’ve grown a company of actors: Alan Wales, Bharti Patel, Catriona McDonald, Deborah McEwan, Hadley Brown, John Johnson, Kat Bailey, Nadia Kemp Sayfi, Natasha Cotran, Pardip Kumar, Patrick Bentley, Rupi Lal – hang on, isn’t he a writer too? – and Tom Williams.
Two years after these writers met, they are still meeting and they are still writing and they are producing theatre with a company of actors. And they’re doing it at the Birmingham Rep.
It’s a privilege to get the odd peek into their process via Angela and if they’re all hung over today, that sounds quite right to me. Go Cucumbers.