Interview: Frankie Meredith, Turkey

Frankie Meredith makes her writing debut this month with Turkey, which opens at The Hope Theatre on 26th September. Directed by Lonesome Schoolboy Productions’ Niall Phillips, it’s a story about one woman’s overwhelming desire to have a baby with her girlfriend – and the lengths to which she’s willing to go to get what she wants.

Turkey explores whether this innate need stems from her own biological clock, a grief she experienced as a teen or the expectation to be seen as ‘normal’,” explains Frankie. “It looks at her ability to risk and ruin everything in her life to get the child she so strongly yearns for.”

Though the characters are fictional, Frankie’s inspiration for Turkey was a true story: “It was written when I was on the Soho Theatre Young Writers Lab and started out as a six page exercise in scene structure. They told us to write a story based on an old family tale or something that happened within our family. It then became the play that I developed while I was on the course.

“I told the person the story is based on very recently, and they’re thrilled – luckily.”

Frankie feels this is a particularly important story to tell because it confronts issues people otherwise may not think about: “Gay couples having babies is talked about, but what about the morals or dilemmas they face on where they get the sperm from? If you don’t have the money to go to a posh west London clinic who on earth are you going to ask to give you their sperm? Grief is also a big part of this play. It is an issue all the characters are facing and has a huge impact on many of their decisions and actions.”

The play’s central character, Madeline, is far from perfect, and Frankie’s hoping audiences will be able to see past that and understand why she behaves the way she does. “I’ve placed a really strong, manipulative, flawed female at the helm of this play and I want people to empathise with her,” she says. “So often we are quick to label women ‘mental’ or ‘crazy’ when they are just doing what needs to be done to get what they want. Madeline doesn’t commit any crimes, she isn’t evil, she’s just human. I would like audiences to not judge her for what she does.

“The play’s also funny – I hope – and relatable. There’s a lot of food and Netflix references to keep it all relevant. And though we don’t all identify with turkey basting, love, grief and desire are all emotions we experience and connect with – so there will be some part of this play that is relatable and relevant to you.”

Having been very involved in the casting process, Frankie is looking forward to seeing the three actors – Pevyand Sadeghian, Cameron Robertson and Harriet Green – bring her words to life on stage. “The cast are phenomenal! I’m so excited to see what they do with the text. Pevyand (Madeline) we found through an open casting; she was actually the first one through the door and we fell in love with her. Cameron Robertson has worked with Niall before, and Niall kept telling me what a wonderful Michael he would make – he was not wrong. He came in to read and was just perfect.

“Finally Harriet Green and I trained at drama school together, she has read numerous drafts of Turkey and was someone I’d go to for help when developing. We asked her to do a self tape and she met Niall for a coffee and a read through. I can’t wait to see what she does with Toni, she has a real magnetism and truth to her performances.”

Frankie herself became involved with Lonesome Schoolboy earlier this year. “I sent this script to Niall and he asked to meet me for a coffee,” she explains. “We met a couple of days later and almost immediately got the ball rolling on staging Turkey. He has a great relationship with Matthew Parker at The Hope and soon we were chatting to him about when Turkey could be on.

“We did a few R&Ds together to develop the script as well as use it as a way to meet new actors. Niall’s energy in a rehearsal or workshop space is pretty special. I’m sure this is the start of a long and happy working relationship.”

Besides Turkey, Frankie has several other projects on the go: “I’ve just finished the first drafts of a couple of scripts. The next step is to get some actors in a room to play around with them and develop the texts further. I’m also currently editing a web series I wrote and directed with my production company MapleRoad Productions. It’s called Becoming Danish and should hit screens early 2018!

“And my first children’s show Saving Peter, about Wendy going back to Neverland to rescue Peter, is on at Theatre N16 in Balham in the last week of October, so we’re gearing up to get started on that.”

Book now for Turkey at The Hope Theatre from 26th September-14th October.

Review: Olympilads at Theatre N16

It came as a shock to me a few weeks ago when I realised it was already the fifth anniversary of the London 2012 opening ceremony. It’s a night most of us will remember as one of patriotic pride and huge anticipation of what this prestigious event would mean, for our country in general and the people of London in particular.

Five years later, Andrew Maddock’s new play Olympilads – set during London 2012 – questions whether that promised legacy was ever really going to bring much benefit to the people on the doorstep. The story focuses on three siblings, Abigail (Michelle Barwood), Simeon (Rhys Yates) and Darren (Nebiu Samuel), as they try to rebuild their fraught relationship following the death of their father.

Photo credit: Kathy Trevelyan

The main sticking point is Darren, the youngest, whose deluded belief that he can win a gold medal in the 100m has become an obsession. Darren’s demanding and manipulative, but it seems the best anyone outside the family has been able to come up with is to suggest that he channel his aggression into a sport; after all, the Olympics are coming up. Taking care of him has become a full-time job – one that may well have contributed to their father’s death, and which Simeon was forced to take on when Abigail left.

Needless to say, the short one-act play packs quite a punch; there’s a lot of bitterness, anger and regret coming from all three characters, revealing itself in different ways. As Simeon, Rhys Yates has the shell-shocked expression of a young man forced to grow up and shoulder a massive responsibility overnight. He’s caught in the middle between the fiery temperaments of his brother and sister, but reserves his own anger for the lack of support he and Darren have received from external agencies.

Michelle Barwood’s Abigail appears at first to be the toughest of the three – but she struggles with her complicated feelings towards her brothers, and Darren in particular; while her affection for Simeon is obvious, it’s not clear how much she really wants to connect with their younger brother. Completing the cast is Nebiu Samuel, who perfectly captures the complexity of Darren’s character – on the one hand he’s a victim who’s been convinced by others that he has what it takes to be a champion; on the other he’s a bully, who’s grown used to throwing tantrums in order to get what he wants. Because of this, the play’s conclusion is a perfect balance of satisfying and devastating.

Photo credit: Kathy Trevelyan

Niall Phillips’ production is set in the round, in a room directed with British flag bunting, and with a raised stage area running through the middle that doubles as both a track and a podium. There are some other, more subtle nods to the Olympics too; Abigail’s posture as she prepares for her encounter with Darren, for example, is that of an athlete on the start line, and Simeon unknowingly echoes his brother’s line – “I ran and I ran and I ran until I couldn’t run anymore” – when remembering his old life as a petty criminal. The audience is involved throughout, with the actors more than once speaking directly to us, making us a sounding board for their views on family and society.

With the World Athletics Championships drawing to a close at the Olympic Stadium, it couldn’t be a more appropriate time to look back at the Games and reflect on their impact. Andrew Maddock has pitched this perfectly – there’s never any attempt to detract from the excitement or patriotism that London 2012 inspired, but just enough simmering anger to make us take another look. And even if you take the Olympics out of the equation altogether, Olympilads is a powerful family drama that successfully explores the complex relationships between its characters. The brevity of the play is such that we don’t get into this perhaps as much as we could, and the ending comes very suddenly; it would be great to see the piece further developed, as the story and characters are certainly interesting enough to go the distance.

Olympilads is at Theatre N16 until 26th August.

Interview: Andrew Maddock and Niall Phillips, Olympilads

Lonesome Schoolboy Productions are director Niall Phillips and writer Andrew Maddock. Following their acclaimed collaborations on In/Out (A Feeling) and He(Art), in August they return with Olympilads, a new play inspired by the legacy of London 2012, which was selected to be part of Scott Ellis’ first season as Artistic Director of Theatre N16.

“At its most base level and without giving a hell of a lot away, Olympilads is about three siblings, trying to bring their family back together under the backdrop of the Olympic Games,” explains Andrew, one of The Independent‘s Playwrights to Dominate 2017. “It’s a piece about family loyalty and about making the right decisions.

“I originally wrote the play in 2012 as an almost cynical response to the mood in London. I’m a Londoner and while I enjoyed the spirit of the Games and what it represented, I really resented the message being delivered, which was that the Games were going to leave this lasting legacy on the normal working people of London, especially our most vulnerable. Five years removed, I see lots of new buildings, new housing that only the select few can participate in. I see lots of disparity, I actually see London 2012 being a catalyst to remove a lot of people from where they were born and bred.”

Andrew wants his audiences to question the motives of the characters and put themselves in their shoes: “There are decisions made that I think in a normal, loving, safe environment, someone would never have to make,” he says. “I always want an audience member to put themselves in the shoes of a person who might not have the life they’ve had and try and see it from their perspective.”

Niall founded Lonesome Schoolboy in 2010. “Lonesome was set up with a dream to create exciting work, meet new people and be in charge of what happens next,” he says. “This industry is very tough, it’s a waiting game. I’m the least patient person I know, I want it now – so the best way was to be the person to start the process.

“The aim has never changed, to make excellent work and also to give opportunities to people starting out, the people that really want it, the driven and the passionate. We always incorporate special needs within our projects and get issues on stage we really care about. That will never change.”

Andrew continues, “I met Niall when I performed my debut show The Me Plays at The Old Red Lion. We’ve been collaborating since 2015 and I’ve enjoyed every second, we have so much in common as friends and then theatrically can have so many disagreements, in the best possible way. He challenges the way I see theatre and vice versa. But we do agree on a common thing, which is making sure we’re putting on the best possible product we can with the tools we have available to us!”

Olympilads marks the start of Lonesome Schoolboy’s summer season of new writing, which also includes the premiere of Turkey by new associate writer Frankie Meredith. Niall explains: “So we have two brand new plays that we are delighted to be bringing to the stage. But alongside that we are offering the free workshops that get loads of people together and making work!”

“These are just something we wanted to do to meet new likeminded people,” adds Andrew. “We cast two parts in Olympilads straight out of the workshop. I’m not a massive fan of ‘auditioning’ as someone who entered the industry as an actor, I find it a crap process. I also see a lot of the same faces when we put something out for an audition, and I really want to be as diverse as I can in our choices. I always want to see the right person for the part, but from a broader spectrum.

“I want to see people work in the room with other people, I want to know who they are as a person. Especially as we make and produce our own work, we answer to nobody at the moment – which means I can meet an exciting actor, have an idea for their voice and get about writing it. Olympilads went through a complete rewrite, simply based on our casting. I’m really excited about it.

“So why should people take part? We’ll always have a free workshop in our line of activities, so it’s accessible and it’s a chance to meet other people, network and interact. It’s kind of the whole reason why I wanted to get into this profession.”

“We’ll also be doing Q&A sessions and new writing nights based on the pieces we will present,” concludes Niall. “We want to get out there and get to know loads of creatives, make new friends and spread the positive vibes that sometimes this industry drains out of you.”

Olympilads runs at Theatre N16 from 8th-26th August.