A Better Woman: The Writer’s Tale

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Simon Mendes da Costa, the writer of A Better Woman, tries not to worry (and fails)

Getting a play produced is harder than writing it in the first place: I’m not sure if that’s totally true but it isn’t far off.

It certainly comes with a completely different set of anxieties which I have embraced wholeheartedly. If there is something that can be worried about then I will, and no doubt I get involved in areas it would be far better for me not to. However, staff at The Marlowe Theatre have been very patient, up to this point at least, and have embraced a writer who likes to be part of the process. They even put me on the poster (it was because I was cheap, I believe).

Having worked at The Marlowe for a couple of years as their Literary Associate I thought knowing the direction they wanted to take the theatre, I would suggest that I wrote a play for them. I was delighted when they not only agreed but became as excited by the prospect as I was. This, after all, fitted straight into their long-term vision. I had various ideas on the go and eventually one came to the fore which The Marlowe liked, and having gone through a number of drafts, it is where it is now, in rehearsal with a cast I am delighted about.

The casting process has to be one of the most crucial but excruciating exercises anyone could wish to go through. The decision making, not something that sits comfortably with me, is not only painful but, by its very nature, there are winners and losers.

It’s not the X Factor with people feeling that this is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity, but it is painful nonetheless. It was lucky that my Director, Tilly Vosburgh, had such great instincts and ultimately it’s her decision anyway.

If you’re not careful the whole process can be filled with worry: worry in the writing process, worry about getting the right director and creative team, worry about getting the right cast, worry you won’t get audiences, worry reviewers won’t come, worry if they do that they won’t like it, worry worry worry. You could end up missing what is fantastic and exciting and a bit of a bare-knuckle ride.

Of course, the worry points to caring and to what is at stake, but it’s managing that and enjoying the journey, a bit like life.

I’m really hopeful that this production does well, not just for the people involved in it but for The Marlowe too – they have put everything behind this and the place is buzzing with anticipation. No pressure! More worry.

It would be lovely to see The Marlowe Theatre on the map as a venue where new plays started and were discovered. With home-grown productions it gives all the people within the theatre a sense of belonging and being part of something. I’ve said this before but it’s the life blood that makes the theatre more than just a venue, a home rather than a house.

I hope this opens up the possibility of future productions with local writers and actors. There is an abundance of talent in this area and I see no reason why The Marlowe cannot become a creative force: Chichester is just a town outside of London and look at their record. We have to start somewhere, it won’t happen overnight but with the right energy anything’s possible.

A Better Woman: rehearsals start

The cast of A Better Woman, with writer Simon Mendes da Costa (centre) and director Tilly Vosburgh (third from left).

Rehearsals began this week for A Better Woman, the Marlowe’s home-grown production, which will run in The Marlowe Studio this December.

Here’s a sneaky peak at the first read through of the play:

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Our spies in the rehearsal room tell us that the first read through of the play – a touching comedy about a man in his forties who’s starting to date again after the end of his marriage – went very well, with lots of laughter from those listening in.

A Better Woman will run in The Marlowe Studio 1-19 December. You can book tickets here.

A Better Woman: Casting news

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In recent weeks we’ve brought you news of The Marlowe’s second home-grown production, A Better Woman, which will run in The Marlowe Studio in December.  This week, our cast has been finalised, so here they are:

The lead role of Tom, who’s looking for love again in his forties, will be played by Ben Porter.

Ben Porter, who will play the lead role of Tom in A Better Woman

Ben Porter, who will play the lead role of Tom in A Better Woman

Ben trained at RADA. He’s worked mainly in the theatre, including appearing in several Alan Ayckbourn plays, directed by Ayckbourn himself at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Ben has also appeared in the West End in The Woman in Black, and has worked with The National Theatre. He’s already familiar with the work of A Better Woman playwright Simon Mendes da Costa, having appeared in the national tour of Simon’s play Losing Louis.

Alexia Traverse-Healy will take the lead female role of Jessica. She’s worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and at the Chichester Festival Theatre.

Other cast members include Paul Panting, who has had an extensive stage and TV career. His voice will be familiar to many parents, as he’s provided the voices for characters in the children’s TV series The Octonauts, Chuggington and Bob The Builder.

A Better Woman: Meet the director

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Last week, we brought you news of our new, home-grown production, A Better Woman. Today, we’d like to introduce you to the play’s director, who started working full time on the project this week.

She’s Tilly Vosburgh, who is probably best known for her work as an actress, especially on EastEnders, where she played the role of Susan Rose for two years. Tilly also has a growing career as a theatre director, which started when she began working with drama students after the birth of her children.

Of A Better Woman she says: “It’s a really interesting play, because although it is very funny, it’s also a very good study in human relationships and all the minutiae of when relationships go a bit wrong, and how even a really healthy relationship can go wrong. I think Simon [the play’s author Simon Mendes da Costa] is really quite a genius at looking at all the ins and outs of relationships and also I think the audience will be quite touched by the play, because at the end of the day, all of the characters are looking for happiness really – contentment, rather than thrills. I think the characters are really warm and interesting, and it’s very funny.”

That is one aspect of the play which Tilly is particularly well-qualified to judge: “My dad was a comedy writer – a guy called Dick Vosburgh, who wrote for The Two Ronnies and David Frost, etc – so I was brought up on comedy and from age 4 or 5 my dad was running his material past me, seeing if it made me laugh. So I think I’ve always had a kind of comedy brain. Although my acting career has actually mostly been quite the opposite of comedy!”

We’ll have more updates on this production in the coming weeks.


A Better Woman : Made by The Marlowe

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Excitement has been building backstage at The Marlowe Theatre. Tickets went on sale this week for our second ever in-house production. But what is it, and why are we so excited?

Well, the play itself is called A Better Woman and it will run in The Marlowe Studio from Tuesday 1 to Saturday 19 December – perfect if you fancy a little theatre-going to give you a break from your Christmas shopping, but panto isn’t your thing.

The play is a comedy by acclaimed playwright Simon Mendes da Costa, who also wrote Losing Louis – a West End hit starring Linda Bellingham and Alison Steadman, which was also produced on Broadway.

It’s a touching comedy telling the story of Tom, who turns to online dating to help him find the one. He embarks on a series of eventful dates, watched over by his despairing neighbours, discovering that when it comes to love and relationships, age doesn’t necessarily bring wisdom, and it’s never too late to make the wrong decision.

Author Simon says: “It’s about a man in his mid–forties who’s been on his own for a few years, and life is passing him by, and he decides that it’s time to get back out there… I suppose it’s a play about what it’s like to date, and to start again…and all the anxieties that go along with being older and dating again…and hopefully it’s funny.”

The play is The Marlowe Theatre’s second home-grown production, after last year’s Beached, which sold out its run at The Marlowe Studio and transferred to Soho Theatre. Like Beached, A Better Woman will be part-financed by a grant from Arts Council England – their backing is definitely a feather in our cap. The production has also been made possible through the generous support of The Marlowe Theatre Development Trust.

The play will be directed by Tilly Vosburgh, who’s best known as a actress, having appeared in EastEnders and Casualty, but also has a growing career as a theatre director.

Casting is taking place as we speak. We’ll be bringing you lots more news about the production over the next few weeks, giving you an exclusive insight into how the production is made, right up until opening night!