Tag Archives: Stranger in the Kitchen

Journey’s End … ish

5 Dec

Like one of Raza’s curries, Stranger in the Kitchen has been simmering over the summer, the different ingredients of the play merging and blending together.

In August, Artistic Director Gary Phillpott and writer Azma Dar reviewed the latest draft of the play with Max Stafford-Clark and Stella Feehily. This was a time to test the building blocks of the play: distinct characters, clear motives, plausibility.

Azma said of the overall experience:

“Working with Gary on the script has been fun and inspirational – the workshops with the actors in particular were invaluable in bringing the play to life, highlighting its flaws and in developing the play further.

“Max and Stella’s feedback and ideas were gratefully received as they made me think about certain aspects of the play in more depth, and will definitely help me in writing the next draft.”

Late November, Upstairs at the Western played host to a script-in-hand reading in front of an invited audience including writers, programmers, actors and directors. We were delighted to welcome back Sharan Phull following her involvement in our June workshops at Curve, together with Subika Anwar, Andrew Joshi and Amirul Hussain who were new to the the text. Performing key scenes, the audience got a good feel for characters, plot and tone and their subsequent feedback will help Azma as she takes Stranger in the Kitchen further on its journey.

Azma added: “I feel very privileged to have been given this opportunity to work with Off the Fence and Out of Joint, and the experience has taught me a lot, not only about this play but also about my writing in general.”

Teresa Jennings England Expects photo by Sean Goldthorpe


And while Stranger in the Kitchen is at the early stage of its development, what of our two World War I plays?  Teresa Jennings has packed up her pince nez after a great run playing Vesta Tilley (and eleven other characters) in England Expects. Likewise, Jonny McClean has put away his puttees as Clamber Up the Crucifix’s tour for 2014 is over.


Gary said: “It’s been a productive year both for Stranger in the Kitchen and also Off the Fence as a producing and now a touring company. We’ll be reviewing the WW1 tours with our actors, writers, stage managers and other stakeholders. We’ve all learnt so much from this process, making connections with venues and audiences around the UK, the highs and lows of touring – all things that will help us as we take the next steps in our own journey.”

IMG_7446Many thanks to everyone who has supported us and got us this far – as well as the great thrill and privilege to spend time with Max and everyone at Out of Joint, we have collaborated with so many talented people in Leicester and around the UK and it has been a huge thrill to welcome new audiences to our work.

With two plays toured and two plays now in development this is most definitely not the end but the beginning, the starter to what will hopefully be a rich and satisfying banquet  (if we’re going to get back to food metaphors).

Follow us on Twitter @OfftheFenceTC or subscribe to our newsletters here to keep up to date with all our projects. And we’ve not even mentioned Girls with Balls yet …


by Sally Jack

Images of Stranger in the Kitchen – Emma Penney
Images of England Expects and Clamber Up the Crucifix by Sean Goldthorpe

Talking workshops

9 Jul

With our Two Plays for World War I, England Expects and Clamber Up the Crucifix,  preparing to tour this Autumn  (fourteen venues confirmed so far), our attention during June turned to our new play Stranger in the Kitchen (SITK).

PlayingGames Sean GoldthorpeWriter Azma Dar originally submitted the text for SITK in late 2012, we organised a script-in-hand read through in Spring 2013 and Arts Council England funding was secured in August 2013 to develop the play further, aided by a mentoring programme with Max Stafford-Clark and Out of Joint.  And this is a relatively quick progression in theatre-time.

SITK was submitted as a forty minute play and it was always the intention to extend and re-write. There’s many a quote and mis-quote concerning re-writing, suffice to say a general rule of thumb is no more than 10% of the original draft makes it into the final submission; Ernest Hemingway re-wrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms thirty nine times. Writing, therefore, might more accurately be described as ‘editing’.

One method used to extend, develop and challenge a play text is to workshop it. Bringing together actors, writer and director offers opportunities to improvise scenes and really dig into the dialogue. Writers benefit greatly from this process as possible scenes and character interpretations play out in front of them, informing how a scene may or may not work.

SITK certainly delves into some big issues: tackling the lives and loves of Asians in Britain (three British-born and one who came to the UK following an arranged marriage) and exploring themes of identity, domestic abuse and what it means to juggle many different cultural roles and expectations in today’s society.

Mona by Sean GoldthorpeAzma, director Gary Phillpott and our four actors Sharan Phull, Mona Goodwin, Ali Zaidi and Sartaj Garewal spent five days at Curve, Leicester to workshop SITK.  How did the actors feel about the writer being present while they took the text apart?

Sharan said: “As an actor it can be daunting but reassuring to have the writer present as they can correct and clarify things. It keeps a focus whilst allowing some freedom for the actors to explore within and outside the text.”

Mona added: “In a play such as this with a strong cultural and religious thread it’s fantastic to have the writer present to tap into a pool of knowledge on the subjects the play touches upon. Azma has given us the freedom to improvise away from the text and play with her work freely.”

Did the actors’ views on the themes of the play change during the workshop process? Ali said: “Absolutely! And they should. We’ve discovered a lot of new themes that could exist in the story and have asked questions that needed to be asked which can eventually lead to a more in-depth discovery of the story by Azma.”

Sartaj added: “Improvisations have added depth, clarity and plausibility to the work and I’ve also gained an insight into male domestic abuse.”

Reflecting on the workshop process the actors felt overall this was an invaluable experience. Mona commented: “The workshop has been structured brilliantly. Working on a piece which plays out can be challenging and confusing at times but Gary has helped us establish a clear timeline of events and allowed us to discover the characters organically without any restrictions from the play.”

Ali added: “I’m glad Gary enabled us to make those decisions and play them as and how we felt. To be given that kind of freedom is rare – it was a wonderful challenge!”

Stranger in the Kitchen is due to tour in Spring 2015. Follow this blog, follow us on Twitter @OfftheFenceTC or click here to subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date with our productions.

Whole group by Sean Goldthorpe

by Sally Jack

All images by Sean Goldthorpe