Mel Pennant @ Traverse: Seeds

tiata fahodzi and Wrested Veil in association with Leeds Playhouse, Soho Theatre and Tara Finney Productions

seeds embarks on UK Tour 

Friday 21st February – Saturday 11th April 2020

Shortlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award, seeds embarks on a UK tour in 2020. Sensitively written by Mel Pennant, it tells the story of two mothers united in sorrow, unable to escape the tragedy and violence of knife crime. Together, they try to face the hardship of protecting their sons – one in life, and one in death. 

On Michael Thomas’ birthday, his cake sits in his mother’s living room, its candles burning undisturbed. Jackie wants to clear her conscience, while Evelyn’s got a big speech to deliver on the 15th anniversary of Michael’s fatal stabbing. Are some things better left unsaid? 

In our divided Britain, crimes fuelled by racism still happen; according to figures released in October 2019, knife crime offences in England and Wales have reached a record high. Hate crimes have more than doubled over a seven-year period with a spike following the EU referendum; racial hate crimes make up more than three-quarters of offences. 

Directed by Anastasia Osei-Kuffour (Typical, Soho Theatre), seeds looks to tell the, often unexplored, stories of those who fight to keep their children safe from the world in which they grow up. This compelling piece is about motherhood, loss, the lengths that a parent may go to protect their child and what is left after tragedy hits. It brings insidious issues of race and gang mentality to the fore provoking dialogue in the hope they aren’t allowed to fester and infect a new generation. 

Osei-Kuffour comments, Finding, developing and directing ground-breaking new plays is my passion. I’m interested in how new writing can respond to current events and resonate with audiences, the way they explore the human story behind injustices in the hope of bringing about change, or at least starting a dialogue to kickstart action. I want to bring the people the world doesn’t see or care about to the centre of a story where they can be engaged with. I feel that seeds by Mel Pennant is a play very much in line with the work I want to create. 

seeds is generously supported by Arts Council England, The Foyle Foundation and The Carne Trust. 

 

Website http://www.seedstheplay.co.uk 

Age Guidance 14+, contains adult themes and strong language 

Writer Mel Pennant

Director Anastasia Osei-Kuffour

Designer Helen Coyston

Lighting Designer Simisola Majekodunmi

Sound Designer Xana 

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What made you decide on knife crime as an inspiration for the play, and how does it engage with the other themes – motherhood and gang culture – within a theatrical context?

Mel Pennant

The use of the term “knife crime” can be reductive.  We make assumptions, we cite statistics, people may feel that it is or isn’t their problem, that it’s about one race or another, or a particular demographic or type of young person.  The play seeks to challenge that sort of shorthand. It explores the danger of creating “otherness” – it’s about them or me but never us. 

In writing seeds I was conscious that we rarely hear, in any depth, the stories of the families of the victims or perpetrators of crime and yet as a society we often judge them.  I wanted to explore those stories through two mothers on either side of a violent crime and in doing so explore the very essence of motherhood. Those two women have a conversation that couldn’t happen without the other.  It’s this one opportunity to really dig deep and explore the depth of their despair, longing, and how they define their future in a space that has become very limiting for both of them.

Anastasia, Natalie and the other partners have been brilliant at really encouraging me to push the boundaries of what that conversation is.

 

Is theatre still a dynamic place for the discussion of social issues, and how far does Melaniethe traditional structure of theatre allow these topics to be explored and engaged?

In my opinion, the theatre is the best place to discuss issues that affect society.  Theatre provides a powerful, magical place where an audience, these two mothers and their story come together in a moment in time. By their interaction, they evolve with this conversation about who we are. 

What kind of impact do you expect the production to have on audiences?

Firstly, I’m just grateful the audience would invest in the piece by coming to see it.  That’s a huge compliment. I think when a play is performed you gift it to the audience for them to take as they wish, so I don’t come with any expectations.  However, if a member of the audience is touched in some way, if it ignites something, then that’s great. I hope the play engages the audience with the complexities and layers of the issues.  The play doesn’t provide an answer but hopefully is the beginning of another conversation.

How doe seeds relate to other work that you have made?

My writing generally seeks to explore voices we haven’t heard or hear in a limited way. My first fully produced play was performed at the Brokley Jack Theatre as part of a wonderful new writers’ competition.  It was about young women in a toilet on New Year’s Eve being watched by a toilet attendant when a tragic incident occurs. The director of it said something which stuck with me: that there was an unwritten story about a mother in that piece – seeds is that story.  So, there is a thread.  Women. Unheard voices. Tragic events. Motherhood.  

Does touring a work like this bring different experiences for the cast, and does it play differently to audiences across the country?

I’m really looking forward to seeing what the touring process does to the play.  I imagine that the cast and production will get a deeper understanding of it. This is a piece about relationships, time and place so I want to see how touring affects those aspects of the play. In particular, I’m looking forward to discovering how different audiences engage with the character of Jackie. Her journey is a really difficult one and it will be interesting to see if different audiences receive it in different ways.

 

Performance Dates 

21st – 29th February Leeds Playhouse 

Playhouse Square, Quarry Hill, Leeds, LS2 7UP https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/ @LeedsPlayhouse 

3rd – 4th March Live Theatre 

Broad Chare, Quayside, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 3DG https://www.live.org.uk/ @LiveTheatre 

6th – 7th March Derby Theatre 

15 Theatre Walk, St Peter’s Quarter, Derby, DE1 2NF https://www.derbytheatre.co.uk/ @DerbyTheatre 

9th – 10th March Warwick Arts Centre 

University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL https://www.warwickartscentre.co.uk/ @WarwickArts 

17th – 18th March Stephen Joseph Theatre 

Westborough, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11 1JW https://www.sjt.uk.com/ @theSJT 

20th – 21st March Traverse Theatre 

10 Cambridge Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2ED https://www.traverse.co.uk/ @TraverseTheatre 

24th March – 11th April Soho Theatre 

21 Dean Street, Soho, W1D 3NE https://sohotheatre.com/

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