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Saturday, 27 January 2018

Watching the Detectives

I’ve always wanted to write a detective story.

As a teenager I was obsessed with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, Sarah Paretski’s VI Warshawski books, Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen series (and his other books in fact), Douglas Adam’s Dirk Gently and the 80s TV series Moonlighting.

This love of detectives and crime drama (shared at least in part by Rachael), and teenage desire to actually be a detective, has surfaced in a number of other projects. It is woven into the childhood dreams theme of Class of ’76. It surfaced in the Twitter #Clues Game – which drew on more recent TV crime drama, Agatha Christie and what we now recognise (and catalogue on Instagram) as ‘distractions’, in the street. It was addressed head on (in a more autobiographical way than I was expecting) in Playing Detective, the piece I wrote for Slung Low’s 15 Minutes Live.

With The Department of Distractions, we’re finally telling that detective story. It draws on those teenage detective obsessions, as well as more recent examples of the genre such as The Bridge and The Mysteries of Laura, and detective fiction by Kate Atkinson and Donna Leon amongst others.

But when Paula and the team originally asked me to write a detective story for them, it was Moonlighting I went back to as a format model. Re-watching it a couple of years ago it was fascinating to be reminded just how innovative a show it was in many ways (they did Atomic Shakespeare, Big Man On Mulberry Street and The Straight Poop in the same season), whilst occasionally feeling incredibly dated. But I enjoyed its knowingness in relation to form and genre, and the fun it had in breaking with expectations and realism. I enjoyed the double act of the two detectives. And of course I enjoyed how, like the best detective fiction, it uses the act of investigation to explore other issues and themes.

The cast of The Great Book Of Tiny Details (as that first, Brazilian, version was called), asked me for four possible plots for a detective story, with the intention that they would choose their preferred one. I gave them one story with four possible endings. This story sat alongside the text about The Department, which in turn contained several other stories nested within it. The two main stories connected in a couple of ways, but this was not made explicit – a bit like the connections between stories in David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten.

With The Department of Distractions, our aim has been to integrate the two stories much more closely. Now the detective story – The Case of the Missing Traffic and Travel Announcer – is one of the stories that The Department tells. Working with Rachael as co-director, and Stacey Sampson as dramaturg, I returned to the timeline of the detective story only to spot a couple of plot holes. Tightening these up has meant knock-on effects days/pages later. It’s been really rewarding getting to grips with the intricacies of the plot – and understanding what the story is about better because of it. Often writing this show I have had the sensation of realising that something has happened, or is going on, rather than inventing it.

We’ve been putting the whole show together in residency at Northern Stage this week. I’m really enjoying seeing the characters and their work environment come to life. What I’m particularly looking forward to is finding out how audiences make sense of the plot. If we’ve got the balance of mystery and explanation and revelation right. If they pick up on the clues and piece them together.


Photos are of Umar Ahmed, Nick Chambers, Stacey Sampson and Rachael Walton in The Department’s office (in progress), designed by Bethany Wells, in rehearsal at Northern Stage, January 2018.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Welcome to The Department

Some shows arrive as a really clear idea and we just set out to make them. They might change along the way, but we know from the moment the idea pops up that they are next on the agenda. Presumption came into Rachael’s mind during a budget meeting for something else. What I Heard About the World emerged during a let’s-make-a-show-together meeting that Jorge and I had in his flat in Lisbon.

Other shows emerge from one or more smaller starting points, and it feels more like we gradually realise that they are the next project. Recently 600 People and Partus have both done this – one-off commissions that grew into full-length touring shows. It’s a similar story with The Department of Distractions.

I think we first identified The Department in 2013 when we were making The Life & Loves of a Nobody. A clandestine organisation whose job it is to plant the seeds of stories out in the world, and in the media. Stories that might grab your attention for a few moments on the way in to work, or might be the subject of much discussion and speculation in the pub and on social media for a crucial day or two. Or stories that might take over the news cycle for a week or more.

In the end The Department didn’t figure in Life & Loves, though looking back, they could easily have been responsible for the TV programme that frames that show. And I kept thinking about them.


In 2014 I was invited by my friend and collaborator Paula Diogo (we made Off The White and Learning To Swim together) to be part of a Portuguese/Brazillian project, that was originally intended to take its inspiration from The Curious Incident in the Dog in the Night Time. My role would be to ‘write in to a devising process’. As the project moved away from Curious Incident specifically, Paula and I had a conversation in which she said (something like) “I want it to be about looking at the world differently, about seeing different details.” So I told her about The Department of Distractions, and wondered if it might be worth exploring further.


The project became O Grande Livro dos Pequenos Detalhes (The Great Book of Tiny Details) to open at Oi Futuro in Rio de Janeiro in May 2015. Earlier that year I was lucky enough to join the team in Rio writing for and with the four great deviser-performers, Paula, Michel Blois, Cláudia Gaiolas and Thiare Maia Amaral. I would write in the morning, in English. Paula and Cláudia would read it out, then make a really fast translation into Portuguese, and the four of the them would work with it then give me feedback (in English) and I would re-work the existing text, or write new stuff.

I found myself writing two texts that were related, but could also stand alone: one about the Brazillian office of The Department, the other a Detective story, partly inspired by my teenage love of the TV show Moonlighting (more about that next time).

The more we explored The Department, the more I felt like I didn’t trust their motives. The problem that I found I had was that as individuals, I really liked them, but I was less convinced that I liked what they were doing.


As an aside, it was a really interesting experience for me, just contributing the text to a devising process. I felt that I was genuinely offering the text for discussion, cutting up, reworking. But of course whenever they cut anything, I’d be feeling, “What’s wrong with that bit!?”


As the two texts became finalised, and translated into Portuguese by Joana Frazão and Alex Cassal, the team decided what order they would present the different texts. The two pieces were written with the idea that whilst the four parts of each text needed to be presented in the right order, the show could present either story first, or alternate between the two.

Due to scheduling issues, I was never able to go back to see the show in Rio or in Lisbon in 2016. But I saw photos and talked to Paula a lot about how they staged it, what they cut, and what order they ran it all in.


In O Grande Livro, the employees get a fax (!) from “the pissing England Office”, and the employees talk a couple of times about some of the work the England Office have done. Back at Third Angel HQ, we began to wonder about a parallel show - a UK version, about one of the England offices.

As we spent some time developing this idea in 2016, it occurred to us that we had been tracking the work of The Department for years. Several of our enduring interests were arguably their work: urban legends, conspiracy theories, telephone boxes, empty benches, the true stories that we choose to tell (and retell) about our lives and other people and other places, clues left in the street or buried in maps or letters pages or puzzles, the small details that can have a large impact…

We started documenting their work when we saw it, and cataloguing it here: #TheDepartmentOfDistractions.


January 2018. The Department of Distractions opens in co-production with Northern Stage next month (2nd Feb in fact – tickets here!). It turns out we’re making something in between an English remake and a companion piece. A couple of the characters are the same as in O Grande Livro, with the same names, and a couple are British equivalents with new nomenclature. It’s very clearly one show now, with the detective story woven into the story of The Department (again, more on that in the next post).

And it is just so thrilling to me to see and hear these characters, appearing in the rehearsal room / their workplace. I’m feeling incredibly lucky to have such a brilliant team. Joining co-director Rachael on stage are Stacey Sampson (who made Partus and The Desire Paths with us and appeared in The Paradise Project in Edinburgh), Nick Chambers (who worked on The Lad Lit Project and made The Life & Loves of a Nobody), and Umar Ahmed (who we saw in Tamasha’s My Name Is… in 2015 and have been keen to work with since). We’re delighted that we’re also joined by much of the Partus team: Heather Fenoughty (music and sound design), Bethany Wells (stage design) and Katharine Williams (lighting design). We’re making the show in the new Theatre Deli in Sheffield, at the moment, then we move to Northern Stage. More updates to come.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

TAMS Mentoring 2017

We are delighted to announce that we have selected the Third Angel Mentoring Scheme artists for 2017, produced with the support of Sheffield Theatres, who will host the mentoring weeks.

We had 76 applications this year, and they were brilliant. It was so hard to long-list, let alone short-list, as there were so many exciting projects that we would love to have supported. Thanks to everyone who took the time to apply and share their ideas with us. Big thanks too to Yolanda Mercy and John R. Wilkinson for joining us in the excellently difficult task of selecting.

In the end we couldn’t get it down to just four projects, so we’re excited to be working with five artists and companies in the next few months:

Holly Gallagher, supporting the development of her new solo show about stress, which has the working title Tensile Strength or How to Survive at Your Wit’s End. @hollyrachael_

The Outbound Project, who are starting work on their new show, M.E.H. (working title) exploring Mass Epidemic Hysteria. @TheOBProject

Jessica Gibson, who will be developing an existing solo dance-theatre piece, Feeling. Self. Conscious. (working title) into a full-length show. @JessiJayGibson

Natalie Wong, who is developing a multi-collaboration project inspired by The Odyssey@nataliebw

Jake Bowen who will develop the format and touring potential of his interactive performance Plea Bargain. @JakeBowenArtist

We’re really looking forward to getting started – we’ll keep you posted about how the work develops.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Edinburgh Fringe recommendations

We’re not taking a show to Edinburgh this August. We have a summer of plotting, planning, holidays, decorating and writing ahead of us, before an autumn of touring and mentoring, and a new show in 2018…

But there are many Third Angel artists and collaborators and friends with work at the Fringe, plus a number of artists who we are currently or have recently mentored. So if you’re going, do check some of them out.

From Third Angel artists and collaborators:

Chris Thorpe has a new play with Rachel Bagshaw and China Plate:
The Shape of the Pain at Summerhall
plus readings of 
Your Best Guess with our Portuguese family mala voadora (above) at Cameo Live
and his new piece 
Status with Rachel Chavkin at the Traverse and Northern Stage.

Photo: Proto-type and Fenia Kotsopoulou

Gillian Jane Lees is co-director of Proto-type Theater, who are at Summerhall with
A Machine They’re Secretly Building.

Artists who we’ve mentored recently, all presenting some lovely work this year:

Yolanda Mercy’s
Quarter Life Crisis is at The Underbelly.

photo: Lizzie Coombs

The Mayers Ensemble’s 
What If I Told You is at Army @ The Fringe in association with Summerhall

Charlotte Blackburn’s
Edgar & Me is at ZOO Southside.

Daniel Bye’s 
Instructions for Border Crossing
is part of Northern Stage at Summerhall.

Action Hero are performing their six-hour epic, Slap Talk, twice!

And LaPelle’s Factory are presenting their new show The Black Cat at Underbelly.

If I *was* going to the Fringe I would definitely be going to see:

photo: The Other Richard

Selina Thompson’s
salt which is part of Northern Stage at Summerhall.

…and checking out some other Sheffield/Leeds pals’ shows:

Javaad Alipoor’s The Believers Are But Brothers 
(Northern Stage at Summerhall)

Forest Sounds’ The Church of Jim is on at
The Black Market Room (The Free Fringe)

Heather Morgan and Lucy Haighton’s BEAM
is also at ZOO Southside.

Aletia Upstairs’ The Artist as Explorer at Summerhall.

Eggs Collective Get Around also at Summerhall (okay, they’re Manchester but they’ve been to Leeds recently, and did great work with my students).

And, let’s face it, I would be spending as much time as possible at the 250 hour durational role playing game performance ADVENTURERS WANTED at Sweet Holyrood.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Introducing Rhiannon

We thought we’d let our new member of staff get her head around her commute and our filing system before we performed the Big Reveal, but we think we’re all ready now, so without further ado, we’re delighted to announce that our new General Manager is *drum roll* Rhiannon Jones! And here she is, in her own words, saying hi. Over to you, Rhiannon…

Starting Now

Hello. Pleased to meet you. I have read this blog before and now here I am writing a post for it. I’m the new General Manager for Third Angel. So, in my new role, I have been invited to write a guest post so that I can introduce myself. So here I am, in a wordy kinda way saying ‘Hello. Pleased to meet you’ and having one of those moments where you shift slightly awkwardly in your seat and take a deep breath as you have to speak, or in this case write, about yourself!  So here goes…

Photograph: Kelly and Jones, Primary 2017

When Third Angel advertised for a new part-time General Manager to oversee day-to-day operations I thought, yerp, that sounds like me on a good day. I had experience of team management, and could get ‘disproportionately excited by well put together management accounts, can whip art-speak into funder-friendly plain English at the drop of a hat and adore crafting an elegant contractual clause, this is the job for you’ to quote Hilary! Since graduating I have made and exhibited my own work within the arts sector in the UK and overseas, co-founding InDialogue and most recently collaborating with artist Traci Kelly (2015-present). I am an artist in residence at Primary Studios, Nottingham, where I am based. Alongside a career in academia as a visiting lecturer, I have a PhD in Visual Arts entitled The Artistry of Conversation. It focuses on creative design for conversation within arts practice. This was the culmination of six years of working in the arts and the public and private sectors. Now I see this job as general manager as a strategic role that bridges the gap between the arts and business.  To start a new conversation.

Photograph: InDialogue, Nottingham Contemporary 2016. Photo credit: Dani Tagen

But why did I join Third Angel? Well, I have enjoyed seeing their work since my first introduction to their practice as a student at De Montfort University, where I was taught by Rachael Walton on the BA Contemporary Theatre degree back in 2003. As you know, they are a groundbreaking company touring original and dynamic devised work in the UK and internationally, reaching different audiences in different ways. So it is a very exciting prospect to be working alongside Rachael, Alex and Hilary (in her new role as Executive Producer).

Photograph: Kelly and Jones, Primary 2015. Photo credit: Julian Hughes

It is my strong belief that whatever your involvement in the arts, you keep the blood running through the veins of this ever-challenged sector, especially in the light of the results of the general election, the hard or soft negotiations for Brexit that lay ahead and for all of us working in the arts. The current climate comes with its many ‘known unknowns’. But, nevertheless we continue to make the arts thrive with smiles on our faces and a continued love and passion for what we do best.  

Photograph: Kelly and Jones, Primary 2017

So, as I embark on a new journey professionally and look forward to the exciting challenges that lie ahead for me in my role of general manager for Third Angel I’ve made a pact with myself – to support Third Angel so that they can continue to do what they do best – making positive changes to peoples’ lives, as ‘theatre is part of the conversation that helps people to understand their place in the world’ (Third Angel 2017). They make work that matters – telling real stories about real people, focusing on the detail, the hidden beauty of everyday life and I believe now more than ever we need to make every day count.



Photograph:  InDialogue, Nottingham Contemporary 2016. Photo credit: Dani Tagen.

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