‘Vital part of the ecosystem of the North East’: Ruth Mary Johnson, Charlotte Small, and Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock on Alphabetti Theatre, and authentically accessible theatre creation

The Alphabetti Theatre is an eighty seater fringe theatre venue in Newcastle, currently home to Charlotte Small’s ‘Angela’, a warm, life-affirming, and hilarious journey around Angela’s local park, after she accidentally commits murder. Moments of tender affection are peppered amongst elements of unabashedly boisterous energy in this sixty-five minute, one woman show. After watching the show’s opening night, I interviewed writer (and 2022 Durham MA graduate) Charlotte Small, director Ruth Mary Johnson, and performer Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock, and we discussed the process of taking the show ‘from page to stage’ and the Alphabetti Theatre as a space of inclusion and accessibility for creatives and audiences.

‘Angela’ itself, was created as part of Alphabetti’s write-and-response program, following a production of Alan Harris’s ‘Sugar Baby’, with Charlotte taking inspiration from the seemingly inconsequential line, ‘I sit on a bench, dedicated to Angela’, prompting Charlotte to question who Angela is, and why she has a bench. She answered her own question bluntly, telling me ‘she’s killed someone and wants to get rid of the evidence – what’s a better way than putting a bench over it?’. She was however, acutely aware of comedy’s paradigms, telling me drily ‘you can’t really kill a human because that’s not as funny, I’ve heard’.

Thus, Angela was born, in all her eccentricities. Charlotte described the ‘snowballing’ process of writing, and whilst I won’t spoil who (or what!) Angela unwittingly kills, Charlotte had to consider how a woman in her early twenties would find herself in a park in this position, and she landed on the ultimate outdoorsy trope: a girl guides volunteer leader. Charlotte herself never made it past the Brownies, as she ‘never had the discipline’ for Girlguiding, and director Ruth similarly described herself as a ‘naughty Brownie’, though she did make it to Guides. In fact, her parents had been involved in Scouts, and her father gave her a forty year old scouting jumper for the show’s run, which she wore proudly on the first night.

Ruth’s described to me how her involvement in the show was an easy decision to make. After reading the first draft of the script, she remembers thinking it was ‘just brilliant’ as she ‘loved the anarchy of what Charlotte had written, but also the tenderness’. As a director however, she was aware of the absurdities and challenges of some of the shows physical elements, but as she later told me ‘if it wasn’t a challenge, I wouldn’t be interested’. She describes how during the creation of the show, she was thinking ‘let’s play a game together’ due to the play’s immense storytelling potential, a game in which, actor, director, writer, crew, and audience are all involved. The show’s great appeal, she argues, is that ‘in its wildness, [it] is actually very familiar’ because of how it addresses ‘that feeling of “who am I supposed to be?” […] I’m forty-two, not twenty-four, and I feel exactly that’, a feeling which the show explores tenderly within its humour. Angela actor, Rebecca perhaps sums up the show and its appeal most concisely, telling me that she enjoys acting and creating theatre that is ‘loud and daft with a really tender middle’.

The Alphabetti Theatre itself, Charlotte told me, felt like the natural place for the show’s incarnation, due to the show’s starting as part of Alphabetti’s response writing project, and, more simply, because ‘they just get it’. Further, as a creative, it was important to her as a writer to inflect the ‘rhythms’ of North Eastern idiolect, asserting simply ‘I write as someone who comes from the North East’. Talking of the theatre’s importance, she asserts it is ‘one of the most important theatres in the UK’, and Ruth further calls it a ‘really incredible space for new writers, new stories, and experimentation’ rendering it ‘such a vital part of the ecosystem of the North East’. Both Charlotte and Rebecca express deep gratitude to Alphabetti, with Rebecca saying of her career, ‘I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Alphabetti’.

We discuss Alphabetti’s commitment to non-performative accessibility, where 43% of performances at the venue are ‘Pay What You Feel!’, and due to Difference North East’s findings that 27% of people in the North East are disabled, 27% of Alphabetti’s performances are accessible through captioned, audio described performances, and relaxed performances. Alphabetti’s non-performativity actively works against many of the problems with accessibility, opportunity, and inclusivity in theatre. Furthermore, Ruth tells me that despite being ‘late to the Alphabetti party’ as she described it, the space and its opportunities are ‘not just for the young uns’. Alphabetti is as acutely concerned with ensuring opportunity for its theatre creators, as it is for their eventual audiences, and it is evident that this sense of active inclusion is as important to the three women I interviewed, as it is to those who work full-time at the Alphabetti.

‘Angela’ runs until 25th November at the Alphabetti Theatre (only a seven minute walk from Newcastle train station!). Ruth’s direction, and Rebecca’s performance bring Angela to life with a careful subtlety, allowing for moments of fantastical visual spectacle and immense humour, but also, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of coming to terms with one’s own eccentricities, individualities, and humanity. Charlotte’s writing provides a gorgeous foundation for this, allowing introspective reflection into how it feels to be a young woman who doesn’t quite know where she is going yet. I would genuinely recommend catching the show before it closes, and supporting the future projects of Charlotte, Ruth and Rebecca, as well as the Alphabetti itself as a space of theatrical creation.

Picture taken from Alphabetti Theatre website.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel