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Debut for Seeds and sow on; Terry Grimley previews the RSC Fringe Festival and looks at the opportu nity it is offering one young writer and director partnership.

Having a play produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company is a major boost for a young playwright, even if it only has two performances.

Paul Nimmo's Seeds under Stones is one of no fewer than eight new plays which are being given an airing during the RSC Fringe Festival which opens this weekend and the production at The Other Place marks another stage in what has been a long gestation pe riod for this particular play.

The link with the RSC came about through a meeting with young director Rebecca Gatward, who has been working as an assistant in Stratford this season. Her assignments have included directing short scenes from Shakespeare for the world leaders' wivesat t he G8 Summit as well as working on Bartholomew Fair, The Tempest and Measure for Measure .

"I met Paul two and a half years ago when he was teaching in a school in Suffolk," she explained. "Since then he has been sending me scripts. He sent me this play in its first draft and I was very excited about it.

"It was given a rehearsed reading in London, above a pub on a Sunday night to two people," Paul continues. "I then produced a second version that was performed at West Yorkshire Playhouse."

"So I went up to see that and we spent a long time talking about," says Rebecca, taking up the story again. "I felt it had been miscast in some ways. I got to do a project here at The Other Place and over the last four weeks, we have tried out what we fe lt were problems with the actors.

"I feel we've given it a real sense of momentum and defined the characters a bit more. I think it could be a big thing and I'm hoping to take it elsewhere after here."

The RSC Fringe is organised by the actors themselves and Paul and Rebecca have found the collaborative nature of their project, working with a cast of five, an invaluable experience.

"We've been working with the actors to really hone down the play, making it as dramatic as possible," Rebecca said.

"So we're gong to test it out and if we think there's anything else that needs sorting, we'll work on it then.

"I think we've got a great cast. There's Penny Layden, who plays Miranda in The Tempest, Lalor Roddy who's in Shadows, Jake Nightingale who usually plays pimps and executioners - here he's playing a grown man with a mental age of 12 or 13. We've also got Bacon who was playing the mother in Saved at the Bolton Octagon and has come into the company specially to do this."

Paul describes Seeds under Stones as being "about young people making a painful passage from a state of innocence to state of experience". He has set it in the Yorkshire Dales because it is a landscape he knows from when he was at boarding school atGigg leswick and because its geographical isolation is a useful dramatic factor.

"Something that needs to be said about it is that it's very funny," adds Rebecca. "It's painful comedy. I love directing what I call tragi-comedy. It's my favourite genre; you really enjoy it and then you think - what was I laughing at?"

"It's the kind of thing I would like to go and see," Paul says. "We were having a big laugh in rehearsals yesterday; there's all kinds of comedy in it and yesterday they were messing around with physical comedy. The reason I have this in the play isI li ke the mixture - I like slapstick and I like people being verbally funny but you usually only get one or the other."

Seeds under Stones apparently already has one influential admirer in Sir Peter Hall.

"He read it over Christmas and he's quite supportive of it," Paul said. "He was interested in doing it but he had just moved his company from the Old Vic to the Piccadilly and didn't find the money to do new plays on Sundays. It will be very interesting to get his reaction to this new draft; he enjoyed the second draft so hopefully he will be bowled over by the third.

"I talked to him a lot about it. He said he doesn't come across that many writers who are interested primarily in writing for the stage - most see it as a stepping stone to television and film. I might be interested in them in the future but at the momen t I feel I'm learning my craft as a playwright."

Since this one, he has written the first draft of another play which, intriguingly, is "about choosing your parents".

Meanwhile, Rebecca Gatward thinks the RSC Fringe will offer an early chance to see the work of at least one outstanding new writing talent: "I want people to come and see it here before it's put on somewhere really good in London."

Seeds under Stones is performed at The Other Place on Sunday July 26 (8pm) and Monday July 27 (4pm).
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Author:Grimley, Terry
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 15, 1998
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