Headshot of Rhianna Ilube

By Rhianna Ilube, Jan 2022

I got into playwriting during the pandemic, which meant that I got very comfortable at writing scripts without having to cope with the tension of anybody actually reading them aloud. During my first session with Oxford Playmakers, I learned that each month we would have our latest pages of script read aloud by our classmates. This terrified me, but has turned out to be the greatest aspect of the course for me so far.

This blog reflects on our second session, which took place in November 2021. I had spent the previous weekends researching and writing my first 10-pages to submit to the group. At this early stage of the writing process, I am in “splashing about” mode. This means that my first submitted 10-pages of script were… messy. It was scraps of dialogue, a mash-up of two different play ideas I couldn’t decide between…plus random things I’ve overheard, some jokes, a few distorted news stories. I had thrown everything at the page, and was curious to see what would land.

Having my words read out at this earliest stage turned out to be really defining in terms of where I now want to take my script - in a way that would not have been possible without this process. I spent my teenage years playing jazz saxophone; a hobby that has largely disappeared now. But something of the musician in me re-emerged as I assigned the ‘voices’ of my script to my fellow classmates. Having sat through all the read-throughs of their excellent scripts, I had a good sense of their voices, rhythms and intonations.

Sitting back and listening to the first scraps of my script come to life through their voices, I learned that the fragmented style of the script actually.. worked. It felt like music, it was funny, it was repetitive, jarring and almost hypnotic to listen to. I had thought that the rest of my time with Oxford Playmakers would be focused on ‘tidying up’ my ideas into something with a proper narrative. But after listening to it, and receiving the feedback, I realised that there is also strength in leaning into the rhythm. One of my classmates said they would be “sad if it was neatened” in future iterations. So I’m going to embrace the messiness for now, and keep splashing around with my ideas within the safety of the group, until I can do no more!

My play

My play is a strange love letter to… Germany. I lived there for a few years previously, and this play is somewhat of reflections of things I learned / experienced there. It is inspired on a lecture about German memorial politics I attended during a Queer History module at Goldsmiths. It is inspired by a year of dating, and finding queer women in the archives who have fallen in love in very different circumstances. It is about memorial politics, and inherited / present day guilt. It flings between different time-periods and memories: present day, the noughties, and the lead up to the second world war. My classmate described it as ‘cheeky’ which made me happy. I don’t want to say too much more about the play; I’m still finding out about it myself. But I can’t wait to see it come alive with actors in Oxford in June!

A great writing tip

Last spring I took the Introduction to Playwriting group at the Royal Court, led by playwright Miriam Battye. At the end of the course, Miriam sent us a quote by the writer Clare Barron about desire. The gist of the quote was that, ultimately, theatre should be about desire. “Wet, hot, dangerous desire”. The idea that plays should be about ‘want’ - all the things you want to be on the stage, to hear spoken aloud, even if it is a little bit embarrassing or painful or private. This word ‘desire’ really helps me. I'll keep it with me as I continue with the playmakers group. I sit at my laptop and I think, what do I want to put here? I make my head blank and I just write. I think: what would I love to hear aloud next week? What do I desire, like really really desire, to write on this page today? Then I’ll write it and… assume that somewhere in the future, I will have to face whatever the outcome is.

Headshot of Thomas Ryalls

By Tom Ryalls, Dec 2021

We’ve just had our first session as part of a year-long attachment to Oxford Playhouse on the playmaker programme and I thought I’d share a bit about what we got up to.

We kicked off the day with a tour but pretty quickly got into the heart of the work and started telling each other about our play ideas. Mine is set in Blackpool and it’s a story of one family with a secret hidden at the centre which is slowly revealed throughout the play, so the first challenge was to explain what I wanted to write without revealing the secret. I don’t want to give them the reveal before I’ve actually written it.

I also find it hard to explain ideas at the beginning of my process. I generally get a sense of shape and some feelings and characters, but it’s not until I get to the writing that I really wrestle with what’s happening. I find it difficult to theorise how characters will interact without just putting them in situations on a page - and seeing where the writing goes. For this show I know a protagonist, I know a shape and what I want it to feel like, I know where the magic is (there is always something magic in my plays), and I know where the heart is / who it’s for and I think that’s about enough to get writing.

It was quite strange for me to be in Oxford trying to explain this play to the group, I began to see so many similarities between the place I was in and the place I was writing about. So many people know it as a cultural city but my best friend lived there for a while and I mainly know the (pretty bad) night clubs. Oxford is full of dualities, it’s one of those cities which has one public image but as soon as you move a few streets away from the centre, the reality is very different. It is known for the university, which owns most of the city centre and houses some of the wealthiest people in the world. But streets away from the city centre are some of the poorest areas in the country with staggeringly high poverty rates. The presence of academia exposes the duality more, if you google “Oxford Poverty” to find statistics, you’ll see that the top hits are all for the Oxford University research centre for poverty so the statistics are buried in later pages.

I’m writing a play about Blackpool, it’s a town that is known for tourism, the Blackpool illuminations every year make it seem glitzy and exciting. I grew up in Doncaster and my parents took me every year to see the lights, I used to love it and stand on the backseat trying to get through the car sun roof while we crawled along. But, 8 of the 10 most deprived areas in the UK are in Blackpool, poverty lives just metres away from the lights on the seafront. When they turn off the lights at the end of the season the stark reality of Blackpool is revealed and I want to explore what this does to people who live there. It feels almost like a film of magic is pulled off of the town at the end of the season when it goes dark.

It really hit home explaining my ideas in that room that the show I’m writing is about how this kind of place, where the interior and exterior views are so different, affects everything from our memory to the kind of love we inherit. What kind of truth (if any?) can exist at the centre of a beautifully constructed lie? How is it compounded when passed from generation to generation? Is it possible to break out of the lie when it’s been compounded so much?

These are questions my writing has floated around before, especially this relationship between class and inheritance. I grew up in one of the other poorest areas of the country, and that always manifests in both the form and content of my work. I think the entire first third of this play is told through Blackpool cabaret / entertainment acts, because that’s how the history of Blackpool has often been told and I don’t think I have the right to steal the story from the context it has been built in. Maybe that will change, I’m not sure yet, I tend to write large amounts really quickly and then make massive changes when I re-draft so it’s all up for grabs right now.

I’m really excited for the rest of the programme, we’ve got to write 10 pages before the next session and I love a deadline, my ADHD reacts really well to someone else holding me accountable.

Tom is a writer and fundraiser. Their most recent show “Education, Education, Karaoke” was performed at Camden People’s Theatre November 23rd – 27th 2021.