Why I love The Furious Theatre Collective and why you should too - guest feature by Laura Crampsie

I first met the force that is the Furious Theatre Collective in August 2012 when I was running a very new arts space in a then disused industrial estate in the back of a dodgy car park in Peckham. When programming our inaugural season, The Artistic Director and I put out a call for submissions in all the usual spots and after whittling the ones we liked the best, we met up with those we liked. (Nicola Baldwin had found us on the web and submitted.) After an initial meeting with Nicola Sanderson, Nicola Baldwin and Helen Sheals, we were so taken and inspired by their energy we decided they would be the perfect company to open with. We hadn’t even read the play at that point. We just liked what they were about and it felt like the right choice instantly. Plus we had a laugh.

Firstly, they were a company of all women, so that fitted well with our own vision, as we had a strong (but not exclusive) leaning towards shows about women, by women, or with women directors/writers/lead parts. Tick. Granted there are more female theatre makers than there has ever been, but we’re still struggling to grab the top spots so we still need to herald the ones that are fighting for that level of recognition. During a recent Furious discussion, they said ‘if those jobs come up, men automatically apply because they want the job irrespective of relevant qualifications, but it’s a very different story for women. They’ll only apply if they think they are completely qualified for every aspect of the job. What is holding us back from equality as women artists and writers is not so much the fear that we won’t be good enough but the fear of being rubbish.”

Nicola Baldwin’s Confetti was a great first choice for us, but also the resurgence for them as a company, not least because the play was funny, moving, and excellently written; it had won the Time Out award for Best New Play and the much revered George Devine writing award. But also because all three co-founders have an impressive canon of work under their belts for their acting and writing chops, respectively. This gave us, a fledging company ourselves, the kudos and gravitas we were after. Helen Sheals had actually played the lead role in the original production in 1992, only this time it was going to be her directorial debut (subsequently to critical acclaim might I add). We like people who try new things and keen to challenge themselves. Another tick .

When our own funding came to an end, we wanted to go out with a bang, in true Furious style. Nicola Baldwin had written another site specific piece, partly inspired by their first experience in Peckham with Confetti, and the swaths of African churches blasting out their (very loud) worship during their Sunday matinees. Instead of getting ‘furious’ they got ‘Furious’. They just wrote a play inspired by it. Of course, it sold out straightaway enjoying a transfer at The Old Kings Head and a plethora of 4 and 5 star reviews.

What is immediately very clear from seeing them in action is, that despite a downturn of arts funding, they are proof you don’t have to spend lots of money to have a sell out show. You have good actors, good directors, good words, and just good people. You don’t need much else actually.

Furious is not just a company. It’s a collective, because it really is. They allow each other to work and experiment with new bold ideas, but with a support network and implicit trust in each other. On top of this, they are a pleasure to work with. (Something often overlooked and undervalued when dealing with frustrated underpaid ‘thesps’. To put it mildly it can be hard work.) Furious could have a laugh if the roof was falling down around them. Another reason they are infectious to be around.

As part of their non hierarchical leanings, during their upcoming run of Diamond Hard, written by Nicola Sanderson, (more about this later) they are curating a Gala Night, a work in progress opportunity extended to their Furious family to support and display their work in its infancy stage and will then hopefully develop it throughout the second week of the run, prior to the show, imparting their own expertise and experience onto another wave of theatre makers they want to be a part of the Furious network.

When I asked each of the ladies what Furious was to them Nicola B told me to google “Here’s a chord, here’s another”, (as in the well known call to arms ‘Here’s a chord, here’s another, now start a band’)! I promptly did. As punk legend has it, Founding Editor of ‘Sniffin Glue’, a late 70s, punky fanzine Mark Perry, is said to have exhorted readers to ‘get active, to get involved and to become more than bit part players’. Well that pretty much hits the nail on the head. If you get this mode de vie, then you get Furious. They are not, as the name suggests, totally Furious. There isn’t three angry women stomping around town with their fists in the air (very often) but no doubt, there is a fight in them, a two fingers up at anyone who says you can’t do theatre on a budget, or you can’t rehearse and pull off a show in hardly any time at all or you can’t do whatever the bloody hell you want.

Their work ethos is definitely one laced with anarchy, that punk ideal of anti establishment, freedom, direct action, free thought, non conformity (and other punky buzzwords), but that doesn’t necessary over shadow the themes they explore in their plays. They are always compassionate in their handling of their characters. And although there is sprinkle of haphazard anarchy at most times, they laugh at themselves, not at others expense. Plays about middle class angst don’t cut it for these no fuss no nonsense ladies (it is no surprise they originally hail from t’North, that ‘northern’ humour in times of sadness shines through at all times. They are about that ever so fine line between tragedy and comedy, one minute you are rolling around on the floor pissing yourself, and in a second they’ve exposed a deeper truth, that makes you want to cry. Not easy to pull off.

They are always fighting to carry on, go bigger each time, and the momentum is gathering speed with each show Helen Sheals directs. First Confetti, then sell out show All Saints, and now, a brand new play Diamond Hard written by Nicola Sanderson. This dark comedy was developed at The Almeida Theatre and won their new writing competition WRITE. Nicola Sanderson also stars as ‘Marion’. Diamond Hard is set after hours in a London nail bar. Two women, one man, trapped together by love, guilt and lies. “ I hate all that “My family are my best mates bollocks. It’s a load of toss.”

I have no doubt they’ll continue to create work til they can’t do it anymore. My personal wish for Furious, and I’m sure theirs, is to see them get some funding (not loads mind, they can do just as good without it, BUT, as a fitting motto, being ‘cheap and cheerful’ when it comes to most production aspects, they do have a network of actors and production workers that come back to them time and time again, and with a little funding behind them, they could send it back round).

Not to mention if they can do what they’ve been doing without this funding advantage, there’s no telling what some financial support could do. They could produce more and more shows, and “who knows” says Sheals, “maybe even get a permanent home of sorts”. I’d love to see them have a more settled base, because not only would it produce some rip stonking work, but it would be a place for other companies to grow. Nicola Baldwin says she’d “love it if Furious could inspire others, particularly women, to start companies, even if it was because they thought, “fucking hell, I can run a company better than that!”

I love that their energy and passion for theatre remains, where thousands of others have been jaded and disillusioned by how hard it is to make work at this moment in time and get funding etc. They don’t let tough experiences get in their way, if an actor has to pull out at the last minute, if juggling a whole casts schedule around other commitments, they shrug it off and do it anyway. No panic.

I don’t want to be too overly sycophantic or ‘lovey daarling’ about these gals. Not least because it’s not really their style, but because I want you to come and see for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. In the words of Sniffin Glue, “Come and see it in action, get involved”. Come and get FURIOUS!!!

(c) Laura Crampsie

Diamond Hard is running for two weeks from 23rd September to 4th October with a one off performance of fledging Furies at Camden Collective, 69 Camden High Street, NW1, opposite Lidl. Tuesday – Friday 8pm, (Sat 27th 11:00, Sun 28th 4pm, Sat 4th 4pm/8pm) Tickets £10/£8 conc. www.eventbrite.co.uk

Female Arts review of Furious Theatre's 'All Saints' at the Last Refuge http://femalearts.com/node/488

#competition tweet a pic of your best nail designs to @furiousdiamond for the chance to win two tickets to #DiamondHard

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