Calm Down Dear Festival, Exeter Bikeshed, 2016

Calm Down Dear Festival, Bikeshed Theatre, Exeter

“It’s a sting”  says Sarah Moody, musician who we have brought in to join the company for this last burst of research and development on ‘The Orchard’.

A sting is a musical interjection.  That’s my interpretation.

At this last stage of development.

Suddenly the company has grown.

Sound and discordance are back in the room.

Sarah has joined us to work with Claire on the sound for The Orchard.  To see what happens when two accomplished musicians are in the room. Thanks to Claire for making the recommendation and embracing bringing another musician into the process.

We only have two days, but Sarah is amazing and tunes in to Claire fast.  There are wires everywhere around her as she places various instruments and pieces of tech in the space.  It is exciting to see this new development.

We have a fuller song now and it is a big ask for Saskia to take it on, but she does.

Suddenly we are in a more traditional theatre space with an audience coming and this raises all kinds of questions about the vision of the work itself, where it could go in the future and how it might be realised.

We are full to the rafters audience wise with a waiting list.  Apologies to anyone who could’t get a ticket.  

It is lovely to know folk want to see the work, make a return in some cases.

There familiar faces.  People who have been part of The Orchard Roadshow sharing’s in 2015.

The play itself has had another major re-draft and has suddenly felt more economical to us, although in the performed reading discussion afterwards, some say there are too many words.  It feels like it needs to be in rehearsals now to allow Josie to open up all the spaces that a performed reading cannot really find.  To open up its internal rhythms.

I think it can have one final slice of painstaking forensic attention.

To get rid of anything completely unnecessary and to develop The Trumpet character even further, as she/he/not sure what gender if any binary at all is, has some catching up to do with the development of the other two characters.  Close but not quite.

This is the peril of introducing a new character later on into a play.  But what is clear is that The Trumpet is here to stay.

There are over half less words than before.  I know now we are close to the play we want to tour.

I made some bold edits.  Time now to be bolder than ever.

Ruth and Michelle are ready to move into a new space with the play.

It has been amazing working them over the past two years.  They have been open and diligent and made challenging suggestions, but have always pushed to move the text on.  I am grateful to them for this commitment.  They are integral to the work.

It has been worth taking this time and care to make the discoveries we have made.

And to Josie who has been the person who has held it all together.

The Dramaturg that pushes and pushes seeking meaning in places that I couldn’t always see.  Giving the actors time and space to hold the words.  Speaking to audiences about why we are doing what we are doing.

The Director who sees the things we do not initially see, who has been carving out a vision for the world of the play as language has dominated.

Soon another kind of visual language will take centre stage thanks to her.

And to Claire who has moved with us and made responses throughout to our ideas, some have been quite challenging, and now we are moving towards a sense of sound for the play, it has been great to see Claire collaborate firstly with Saskia, and now with another musician in this final R&D phase to push the sound of the play.

And to Saskia who has joined us for this final development and who has been so open and generous in the studio, willing to try whatever we ask of her, amidst a team who know one another now quite well, have their own rhythm.  This has been a gift at this stage.

And to Sarah who brought a new energy to the sound of the work.

Finally to Charlie our Producer who has been with us for this last phase and who has brought her own thoughts to the development of the work, committed to having a voice in the room and to supporting our work.

It is clear that this will be the last performed/reading of The Orchard, and so I inevitably spend some time reflecting back upon this epic journey we have taken it on.

It’s a good feeling to finish in Exeter on our home turf.

Thanks to Arts Council South West for allowing us to experiment one last time.  To Exeter Phoenix who have continued to support us, to Fawcett Devon, the Elmgrant Trust and Exeter City Council.

Thanks to the Bikeshed for having us and to Chloe Whipple who we worked with on making this happen.

Thanks to the people in the audience and to those who stayed to be heard and share their thoughts, it was a challenging and thought provoking last audience dialogue, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

For more information about the Calm Down Dear Festival Read more »

Natalie McGrath
Writer of ‘Oxygen& ‘The Orchardfor Dreadnought South West
Tuesday 4th October 2016

Posted in Blogs

Looking into Archives

Looking into Archives

It’s very misty and the sea looks pretty choppy and wild, but I am thrilled to be back in Penzance.  Home of the Hypatia Trust, whom I am meeting with later on today.  I’m really excited to be spending time with Melissa and Phil, after quite a while of not seeing them.

I used to stay in their Library as a fellow of Hypatia, at New Mill, and now they have moved into Trevelyan House in central Penzance.  I am excited awaiting hearing all their news, all the updates on the Trust itself and their archives.

Oxygen was partly born in their library at New Mill.

The idea for the tour began with the book Hypatia published: A Very First  History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Cornwall 1870-1914 by Katherine Bradley.  In it was a list of the stopping places that the women took to rally and rest on the Great 1913 Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage. It looks liked a theatre tour.  How seeds are planted and ideas begin to grow.

Hypatia Trust, Penzance – Wednesday 29th June 2016.

The Hypatia Trust is on the move, with new premises in Chapel Street to house their offices, resources, collections, and for writers, academics, guests to stay will be a final stage, and an onsite archive facility.  This is very exciting for them indeed.

I am also impressed by their new website:

Have a wee look for yourself.

Talking to Melissa about archives and archiving is fascinating and something she is clearly passionate about.  She talked to me about archives that are about a single thing, and how archival subjects as everywhere.

Documents / articles / stories / oral histories / books / pamphlets / zines / objects / photographs

Melissa also talked about archiving as a process of collecting that can be a lifetime pursuit, where odd things that come out, will make it an experience for someone visiting it, of all these things you have collected, one might stand out to someone on the hunt, researching.

“An archive can build a unique picture of someone else.”

This makes me wonder when I think about the possibility of a Rebellious Sounds Archive for Dreadnought in the future.

What might adventuring into this rich archival territory mean for us?

It is envisioned at this stage as a collection, unique here to the South West, one that is also an experience for people to engage with, of oral histories/stories of women’s everyday activism.  So it will build a wider picture or act as a collective picture?

Hearing Melissa speak is really a privilege.  She talked of building Hypatia’s story.  Of what do they pass on if historians are not documenting women’s lives in the way that men’s lives are so readily documented.  She talked about in history how hard it is to find out anything about women; “we might know a first name, but not much more.”

Extraordinary to think that this is the case when we look back.

“An archive is about hints to help find the truth, this is what Hypatia is about.”

So it is beyond the stories we collect.  It goes beyond the name and the person.  Who are they, what have they done, achieved, thought, actioned?

Melissa also said: “get to the tender points which light fires.”  I think this is a beautiful way of articulating the possibility that an archive can bring.

I love that: ‘the tender points’.  

St.Ives Archive – Thursday 30th June 2016


I am here to learn about archives.


Somewhere in my heart I think I am an archivist.

Maybe we all are now.

These quiet meditative spaces that writers love.

I venture to Carbis Bay to visit the award winning St.Ives Community Archive.  Dreadnought and Hypatia Trust both got pipped by this archive in the first Women’s History Network Community Prize in 2014.

So I thought I could learn something from them.

Carbis Bay.

It is a beautiful morning and I travel by train to St.Erth to get the branchlike to St.Ives, and then to travel back to Carbis Bay.  There’s a system.  The train is packed.  St.Ives is kissed by sunshine as we arrive.  The whole bay is beautiful.  I walk onto sand at Carbis Bay.  I have 10 minutes to look out to sea and then I have to use my navigation skills to get to the St.Ives Archive.

Not enough time to take off my shoes and socks.

I am early.

It is uphill.

I take pictures of all the archiving around me.  Boxes and folders are labeled.



This is a living breathing physical archive.

I am about to learn something new.

Janet Axten arrives.

And I learn more than I could have imagined.

I am introduced to the world of community archives and archivists.

Have a wee look at this community venture:


Natalie McGrath
Co-Director Dreadnought South West
29th & 30th June, 2016

Posted in Blogs

A Sharing

A Sharing
(Then something devastating happens):

Jo Cox MP would have been 42 years old today.

Last week her life was cut short.  Taken from her.

We were in the studio locked in a bubble working on Dreadnought’s new play The Orchard, exploring new directions.  All the actors were there: Michelle Ridings, Ruth Mitchell and Saskia Portway.  Musical Director; Claire Ingleheart, Director; Josie Sutcliffe, Producer; Charlie Parker, Dreadnought Champion; Sarah Pym.  Myself.  Writer.

Later on an audience of incredible women arrived to hear and respond to the work.

During the day Jo Cox MP was murdered in the street in her constituency.

This hadn’t registered with me at all as I wasn’t looking at my phone, any social media.  Just focused on the job at hand working with the text in front of me.  Moving forward.  Taking the play to the next level of understanding.  It had had another big push.

Late nights are the norm for writers during development phases.  It is a feverish time and a feverish kind of state of being.  Making me oblivious to the world outside the play.

I enjoy these development days.  Feel that they are necessary to learn about the words and the world of the play.  To establish a creative language across the team.  I like to push as hard as possible, to learn as much as I can, to get the most out of the creative talent and energy around me.

But what happens when you think you are beginning to understand something, then the world bounds in, and you realise it is sometimes impossible to understand anything.

What happened in Batley in Spen.  On its streets finally registered before the sharing began.  It is unbelievable.

Silence between us all.  We think of her family, friends and colleagues

I couldn’t quite take it in.  Surely not.

We were about to present a play about women in politics.  Political women.  In the early Twentieth-Century.

A play about women and politics.  Women in politics.  Then the early Twenty-First Century comes crashing in.

I cried a lot since Jo Cox was murdered.  I didn't know her.  I never met her.  But her words that have filtered through into our wider public consciousness have touched and moved me.  Her humanity and humility and grace sings out.

It is clear that Jo Cox MP fought for the underdog.  That she wasn't frightened to be a vocal feminist and a champion of women.  She supported people who were terrified.  In exile from their own countries, working towards making them welcome.  Working towards a greater understanding of compassion in our society.

So I realise I am angry.

I am also sad.  Holding these thoughts in my heart.

I know I am not alone.

Having spent much time now considering women’s political voices, their role in politics, how women fought to be heard, to have the right to vote now.  These are common threads in all the work we do with Dreadnought, but none more so than in the plays Oxygen and now with The Orchard.

Today many folk are meeting in Parliament Square to hold hands and to be clear that the message is to ‘LoveLikeJo’ because love is stronger than hate.  My neighbours two doors down have put this on a placard and placed it in their window for all to see.

What a shock.  What a devastating blow.  What a loss.

I ask myself the following question: where is the love between Fawcett and Pankhurst in The Orchard?  Is it there?  If so, where?  I have to keep seeking it.  There has to be love. To honour them and Jo Cox who was able to become an MP over 100 years later because of them.

It is all connected. I am trying desperately to connect here.  I hope it make sense.  I hope I am not making a complete hash of this?  Talking out of term?

I’m here on my own today and so cannot hold hands or make that link with anyone.  But I am in my heart.  For it is love that has been attacked.  Here on our streets and then also remembering last week was one helluva week, starting with the killings in Orlando of 49 LGBTQ people.  Random acts of killing.  Hatred in what was meant to be a safe space.

These things are a timely reminder, like big landscapes, that life is bigger than we are.  It is certainly bigger than plays.

We need unity and common causes, and dignity and safety on our streets and in places for people to gather to laugh and dance and feel free.  These spaces shouldn't have tyranny hanging over their heads.

I am so sad about these things.

All of these things are wired now into me.  What can I say as a writer to navigate this?

What can writing do in dark times?

Bertolt Brecht had something to say about that.

I was hoping to find love within The Orchard.  Determined even, and it has reached a place of love after anger after misunderstanding after understanding after common cause after division after rage after despair and walking and direct action collide.


What can we do after such events as these, but love.  Because we do have more in common than what divides us.

I realise I haven’t written anything about the sharing.


Natalie McGrath
Writer of ‘Oxygen’ & ‘The Orchard’ for Dreadnought South West
Wednesday 22nd June 2016

Posted in Blogs

Discordance and The Orchard

Discordance and The Orchard

Back in the studio.

It’s May 2016, and we are getting back into the studio to re-ignite the collaboration with MD and composer Claire Ingleheart.  We also want to bring in a third performer.  To find out if the grenade I talked about in the last blog has legs.

Claire brought us such beautiful harmonies with Oxygen’s songs so it is fascinating to now feel like we are walking towards a show that engages with discordance.  And to think about how to articulate this to her, and making sense when doing so.

Making sense of discordance.  Now there’s a new challenge.

It’s tricky as I understand it as a feeling at the moment.

Two forces clashing.  Meeting.  Spiralling away from one another.  Meeting.  Holding on to one another maybe just for an instant.  A catch me if you can moment.

But there are other things I am interested in as well as the words.

Sound as a reaction.
Music as a force pushing against the status quo as these two women are.
Sound that can shape shift.
Open up spaces.

And I’m not a musician.  I can’t read a note.  I just feel it.  Let a sound get inside my head, my body, particularly my body.  I like to dance.  Move as I am bound to the computer.  It is a kind of jerk reaction to almost stillness.

I’m not sure that writing and stillness always works.

‘The Orchard’ is a world of its own and so sound is integral for Josie and I to this.

I’ve been listening intently to Stravinsky’s Rights Of Spring.  Possibly a bit too often.

Such a potent piece of work. First performed in Paris in 1913.  No coincidence.  I am writing again.  About 1913.  What is it about that year?  That ground that hasn’t been covered.  Enough.  Barely at all.

Previously I talked about a revolution for women.  Here is revolution also in art when I think of Stravinsky.

Stravinsky is evocative in so much of my thinking as a write, when trying to discover and embrace, (wrestle might be more appropriate), with the content of The Orchard.  Music as always dominates.  Finds it way into channels I don't know are there until I allow for repetition and overload.  Sound pumping into my body.

Sound that finds it own patterns and rhythms or non-rhythms.  A clash of dynamics.  Ideologies in a tender embrace in one moment, and then at odds in the next.

Bumpety bump bump bump!

A rallying call.

And how can this then speak directly to an audience.  Sediment.  Being layered into the fabric of the play.  This is what we seek.

I am obsessed thinking about frameworks and structure when developing a play.

I get submerged. A lot of forgetting takes place.  Then remembering follows.  Oh.  I see.

Structure.  I love chaos inside a structure.  Stravinsky haunts me.  I want this music to haunt everyone else too.  It is following me around.  It brought me structure at the earlier stage of the work:

A Nightingale
Sounds of An Orchard
A Chorus of Ghosts
Ritual of Rival Tribes
And so on

A spine I am convinced is still okay to work with.

We go back into the studio with performer Saskia Portway, a cello, a harp, a piano, a violin and a drum.  But not Michelle and Ruth.  Not yet.  We really want to see what happens free of the ‘play’.  I take in a page of text I think.  Maybe two.

Josie is keen to experiment with sound.  To work with Saskia on this new role of The Trumpet.  There is no other name for her at this point.  She feels androgynous.  Like something unknown.  Unpredictable as a force potentially within the play itself.

Anarchy and discordance and disruption.

We explore this new voice.  Claire and Saskia explore sound.  Dialogue becomes sung and new connections are made.

Suddenly there is something that resembles a song.

Josie and I listen in as we read small sections of The Orchard that I have sought out as ways of trying to discover the nature of this third voice now known as The Trumpet.  Each evening I work through those small sections of text to see if they can work the next day.

Something has shifted.  I think Josie’s grenade is brilliant and it works.  A trumpet has arrived.

A new kind of rhythm has emerged.  I look at and see the play with fresh eyes.


Natalie McGrath
Writer of ‘Oxygen’ & ‘The Orchard’ for Dreadnought South West
25th May 2016

Posted in Blogs

Returning to The Orchard 2016

Returning to The Orchard

Returning to The Orchard after nearly a year away from it has been revealing.  Last year there was the exciting Rebellious Sounds Roadshow of scratch readings and rich audience dialogues across the South West.

Here we presented a raw script to audiences from the outset with the opportunity to open up meaningful dialogue with them.  All of our audiences were amazing and generous in their responses, examining and taking on the play’s content.  We wanted to know if it had potential.  If the content was rich and engaging enough to bring it to contemporary audiences.

It provoked much debate about women and politics and activism and causes and being in it for the long haul, which struck such a chord for so many.  This opened up airwaves in the play itself.

These dialogues were central to informing many of the choices made and conversations we went on to have.

I’ve said this before, but it is important to say it again, but everyone was very generous, some audiences had to be asked to leave by venues as the time was marching on, and their staff wanted us to go home as they wanted to go home!

The play developed after each scratch performance and finally landed with a sense of its form, or so I thought!

Sometimes you need that kind of distance I’ve now had to get some perspective as a writer, and it is easy to get really weighed down by what has passed when looking at re-imagining historical figures as characters on the stage.  There is another and particular kind of responsibility at stake.  It is fair to say that taking on and attempting to write known historical people is tricky.  How can a writer really know what they might say?  I had been clear from the outset that I didn’t want to load it with verbatim material.

I have been asking about the imagination and how I can make a leap with this.

Then it’s funny, (and I don’t mean ha ha), when you think you have ‘found’ the form of a play you are working on, and then the director/dramaturg, (Josie Sutcliffe), you are collaborating with on the work throws a creative grenade at you and the work.

A new thought.
A new challenge.
A final R&D.
A new leaping off point.

What I had been seeking was a kind of authenticity, maybe this isn’t simply possible (it isn’t useful as a word and isn’t possible), and so what I mean is something resonant of how I imagined these two extraordinary and influential female leaders, (Millicent Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurst), voices to be and sound like.  Okay who I am I kidding, it’s an imagined version of them.  Nothing more nothing less.

Leaps you see.  They will upend you.

Clearly I can’t really possibly know or would presume to know, but who are they as characters on the stage in a play that imagines them meeting in the height of the fever of 1913.

A year full of revolution for women.  Revolution approached in different ways.  Yet still, a common cause.


When Pankhurst finds herself on the run from the dehumanising ‘cat and mouse’ act imposed by Government, and Fawcett, who is preparing her troops to walk up the arteries of the country, to converge in one place as a site and signal of peaceful protest.

Both are in motion, moving, trying to move forward and not to look back.

I wondered what might happen if they had to be still for a moment, an hour, not much more and if this happened whilst they were together.

This wondering continues as I re-find the play.

So many questions arise from imagining the potential of such a meeting.

Did they ever really meet after the Women’s Movement of the early Twentieth-Century split into the militant WSPU (Women’s Social & Political Union), and the non-militant NUWSS (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies)?

Does it matter whether they did or not?

Apart from the obvious sadness that I feel for the division in the movement at the time.  I also understand that they had to follow their own paths in the fight for women’s enfranchisement.  I also wonder if somewhere they needed the opposition to give their own personal causes perspective?

Sitting one evening talking to Josie last summer about the work, she suggested that there might be another person onstage with Emmeline and Millicent.  Someone more like a Greek chorus or Ariel, who could keep the audience within touching distance of the work in the spirit of the dialogues we had just had.

A nod to this.  An honouring.

Someone who might reveal more about their divisions, disrupt our thinking, shake things up.  A more contemporary voice.  One that reaches out and beyond them.

That was the grenade.

This unsettled me for while, but slowly I registered what it could mean and do potentially in terms of song and sound, not to mention the dynamic of the play itself.  Three is complex in a completely different way to two characters onstage, especially if they are all onstage all of the time.

And so here we are almost a year later.

Blessed with more Arts Council funding to enable us to return to the studio to think and play, and listen to sounds and instruments, a new voice is in the room and it is exciting.


Natalie McGrath
Writer of ‘Oxygen’ & ‘The Orchard’ for Dreadnought South West
Friday 6th May 2015

Posted in Blogs