Follow Us:


Follow theatre503 on Twitter

Designer’s Diary – Valhalla

September 24th, 2015

Second in our Theatre503 Playwriting Award season is Valhalla by Paul Murphy, directed by highly acclaimed Jo McInnes.

The play is designed by Katie Lias. Here is what she had to say about the process she went through when designing the show:

‘My research began with photos of interrogation rooms as the play’s two characters constantly question each others motives, each shifting between interviewer and interviewee. There was something bare and clean about these spaces that reminded me of the very sleek, precise design of Scandinavian interiors, appropriate to the play’s Icelandic location. There was also a sense of claustrophobia within these small rooms, which I felt would portray a sense of their remoteness, both geographically and personally. The set evolved to become an amalgamation of an examination room and Scandinavian apartment, creating a simple, abstract space which allows the play’s dark and complex themes to breathe.’

Initial research         Colour Palette












You can catch this extraordinary play which questions the ethics of medical research, genetics and the endurance of human love at Theatre503 from 30th September to 24th October at 7.45pm (Sundays 5pm).

Tickets cost £15 for adults and £12 for concessions. On Sundays tickets are sold on a ‘Pay What You Can’ basis.  

Book your tickets here.

‘You know the words but when it comes to pain and fear and love we are a breed apart.’


‘Valhalla’ Twitter Q&A with playwright Paul Murphy

September 22nd, 2015

On 18th September our award-winning playwright and writer of Valhalla, Paul Murphy, took part in a short 140-character Q & A session on Twitter. Here are some of the highlights.

Theatre503 Playwriting Award, Jerwood Space, 29.11.14, courtesy of Alex Harvey-Brown 3








What was your first experience of theatre?

Probably an amateur dramatic production of An Inspector Calls in a Church Hall.

Where is your favourite place to write?

Wherever there’s a desk, some peace and quiet and somewhere to charge my ipod.

Describe your first play in three words?

Sprawling Political Drama.

How did you celebrate your 503 Award Season win?

I took a nap. ( This is the truth )

Name a writer that inspires you.

So many, I’ll go with Bruce Robinson.

How did you research the subject matter of the play?

Just book research and some excellent BBC Horizon Documentaries.

Quote one of your favourite lines from the play.

“We’re all children of the dark.”

What makes Valhalla a pertinent piece of theatre?

By humans, for humans, about humans.

Finally, why should people come to see the play?

Two wonderful actors, beautifully directed on a superb set, with wonderful lighting and an amazing sound and video design stage managed with effortless precision.


Many thanks to Paul Murphy for being such a good sport for this Twitter question and answer session. Valhalla is on from 30 Sept – 24 October at Theatre 503.

Valhalla Assistant Director’s Diary: What makes a play stand out from 1600 submissions?

September 9th, 2015

Joint-winner of the Theatre503 Playwriting Award, Valhalla by Paul Murphy began rehearsals this week. In this blog post Assistant Director Tom Latter discusses his involvement with the play, going back to the very beginning…

I first read Valhalla towards the beginning of the selection process for the Theatre503 Playwriting Award. We were several weeks in and though I was thoroughly loving the task ahead, the novelty of reading several plays a day had started to rub off. All the plays had something in them: an interesting premise, some nice dialogue, a certain style or approach, but I had yet to read a stand-out piece of work. I remember my first impressions of Valhalla very well because I was so off the mark – “title a bit pretentious?”; “two unnamed characters, a bit lazy perhaps”; “100 pages of sparse dialogue, could be a tough read” etc… Such unfair thoughts gradually shifted to “this could be quite good actually”, through “there’s more going on here than I thought” and finally “wow, this is brilliant”.


And it really is. It has a seemingly simple premise – a couple arguing over their past, present and future – but beneath the surface there are deeper ideas at work. How far can you go to save a person? Is there a limit to what love can conquer? Can you really trust even those closest to you? And can you recover if the very fabric of your being, your DNA, your humanity, was pushed, stretched, smashed to pieces?

Part of the play’s brilliance is that it won’t be for everyone. I championed this play all the way through and met many like-minded readers who loved it too, but we could also see the risks. For such a visionary piece, it is also vicious and uncompromising. It is complex and dark, has a singular style and presents an unflinching view of human nature that some may find difficult to witness.


Perhaps this is what made it stand out from the crowd of 1600 scripts – it is unconventional but totally honest. A similarity it shares with Theatre503, a venue not afraid to take risks on the new and unfamiliar. We are about to go into rehearsals and even we don’t know where we will be in 3 weeks time. It’s an exciting place to be, not knowing exactly what will happen next. But if you come to see it I can promise you this: expect to be moved, expect to think deeply, expect to have moral certainties challenged and ideas about theatre upended. I don’t expect you will all like it. All I’d say is you have to see it for yourself.


Valhalla plays at Theate503 from 30th September to 24th October. Tickets are £15, or £12 with concessions, and can be purchased here.

‘And Then Come The Nightjars’ Twitter Q&A with playwright Bea Roberts

August 20th, 2015

On 14th August our award-winning playwright and writer of And Then Come The Nightjars, Bea Roberts, took part in a short 140-character Q & A session on Twitter. Here are some of the highlights.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 11.58.13








What was your first experience of theatre?

Panto at Theatre Royal Plymouth every year! Then Alex Jenning’s amazing Hamlet by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Still love both.

Where is your favourite place to write?

In my parents’ garden in Devon. So peaceful to sit and listen to the birds and bad WiFi signal means no distraction.

Describe your first play in three words?

‘Environmental’, ‘Pompous’, ‘Short’. I was only 11 though and I starred/wrote/directed. Terrible idea.

How did you celebrate your 503 Award Season win?

Guinness/crying profusely/Prosecco. I think the other people on the train home were a little baffled.

Name a writer that inspires you.

SO many. Dennis Kelly / Enda Walsh / Victoria Wood / David Greig / Billy Wilder / Eugene Ionesco / Terrence Rattigan.

In what ways has your background influenced your work?

Rural life is hugely underrepresented nationally so a non-chocolate box love of the countryside is big for me.

How was your community affected by the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis?

South Devon was quite badly hit. A lot of local farms never restocked. Feels like it left scars everywhere.

How did you research the subject matter of the play?

I spoke to friends and family about their memories and my own, then lots of reading and scouring YouTube for clips.

Quote one of your favourite lines from the play.

“Nice having chickens clucking about the place, make it look a bit more Darling Buds of fucking May”

What makes And Then Come The Nightjars a pertinent piece of theatre?

It’s about how the past has shaped the present and where the countryside is going. Hopefully it’s impertinent too!

Finally, why should people come to see the play?

Because it’s got an incredible team behind it, a gurt big heart and a filthy laugh!


Many thanks to Bea Roberts for being such a good sport for this Twitter question and answer session. And Then Come The Nightjars is on from 2-26 Sept at Theatre 503 and from 6-17 Oct at Bristol Old Vic.


Guest Blog Post: James Swanton on ‘Frankenstein’s Creature’

August 19th, 2015

Next week we welcome Dippermouth and James Swanton to Theatre503, as they explore a new adaptation of the Gothic Classic – Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. James Swanton – actor and writer for ‘Frankensetin’s Creature’ – had this to say on the creation of this piece of new writing…


I wrote the body of Frankenstein’s Creature almost three years ago. My last one-man play, Charles Dickens’ Sikes & Nancy, was then in its infancy. Sikes & Nancy has since propelled me up and down the country and into the West End. Yet always in the role of Dickens’ servant, and, for the performance’s duration, his representative on earth. Frankenstein’s Creatureis my liberation from Dickens: as well as embodying a universe on the stage, I am at last that universe’s creator.

I’ve tempered this hubris by keeping to the framework of Mary Shelley’s novel. The process of adaptation has been a very pure one. In writing, I allowed new details to introduce themselves, but never where they felt forced. But whilst the script is faithful to Shelley’s spirit – or so I believe – there’s not a single sentence from her novel there. At this distance, the script feels like it was written by someone else again. Which is proving healthy in rehearsal.

Frankenstein’s Creature is a play that embraces transformation; the thrill of incarnating an otherworldly being for over an hour. In the past, transformation has been my ideal in acting. Thus the frantic monopolyloguing; the commitment to grotesquerie; the not infrequent gender-swapping – and Sikes & Nancy included all of these. On a base physical level, the Creature demands transformation. But, psychologically and emotionally, I’m discovering (rediscovering) that the play is more concerned more with enmeshment. Our desire to become one with other people; the terror of it. The most purely human experience, in fact: that difficulty in giving ourselves over to other human beings. Not for nothing is this a one-man play. In life, the best solution lies in relaxing into our own skins. This should be an acting transformation tempered with simplicity then; even a lightness.

For this Creature is all lightness, a considerable divergence from the filmic stereotype. Which is by no means the same as the filmic reality: Karloff’s Monster is towering in its simplicity. This Creature is a hypersensitive, even narcissistic being. Like some blithering Romantic poet, his tragedy may be that of someone who feels everything too acutely. The Creature’s tragedy is so uniform, so in the thrall of his hypersensitive capacity, that it ceases to feel grounded at all. You try to catch hold of it; you catch only air. When you enter the mindset of the alien – he who is cast out – you realise that you can’t blast out your messages with full-frontal anger. As alien, you make your meaning with exquisite subtlety – you wheedle, you worm, you quietly unsettle. A call for more lightness; for writing on air.

Yet for all this airy aspiration, Frankenstein’s Creature remains a chance to revel in mud and in muck. The play advances a character who is, in most respects, sickening: a life story in which iniquity and perversity are persistently framed as beauty. Or is it the other way around? We read Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis with compassion nowadays; if anything, with too much compassion. Yet had the letter fallen into the hands of Wilde’s persecutors, it would have been regarded like a tract from Jimmy Savile.

Wilde and Savile both had the gift of insinuating themselves into society. Not so the Creature. He is the ultimate outsider. Is this a figure who can understand, let alone meaningfully want humanity? We often try to complete the Beast with a Beauty. But this may go no further than fairytales. The Beast stands alone. And perhaps he goes further still, embracing his ugliness as superior. The undesirable parading their most undesirable facets as radiant – this is the purest definition of the grotesque I know. The Creature should encourage us to look away. But we must feel compelled to probe his mystery.

Perhaps the real curse falls on the physically bland, the physically unremarkable. As cheated of love as the ugly may be, they are backed into a corner that proves decisive. Many Great Men have been ugly. And it goes without saying that they have the best stories.

James Swanton