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Support for writer Alison Carr from Newcastle's Live Theatre

Alison Carr's story of a girl who can read raindrops will be told in full-length fashion, thanks to a leg up from Live Theatre. Barbara Hodgson reports

Alison Carr
Alison Carr

Whatever the traditional path might be for up-and-coming writers, Alison Carr has always found that walking a little on the offbeat side tends to pay off.

With her early play Mam, Dad, Monkey And Me telling the story of a student whose place in the family has been usurped by a toy monkey, the Newcastle writer set the tone for quirky and original ideas which switch between surreally funny and sharply poignant.

Then came Patricia Quinn Saved My Life - inspired by the actress who played Magenta in 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show - which featured two fans locked in a cupboard at a Rocky convention and was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe (where the real Patricia Quinn came along to make an appearance).

And it’s been full steam ahead over the years with similarly eclectic subjects flowing thick and fast in a mix of full-length, one-acts and shorts and along the way Alison, nominated as Newcomer of the Year in The Journal’s 2006 Culture Awards, has won awards and kept people talking.

She’s pitched in to situations that many writers would stall at, successfully auditioning, for instance, to take part in a gruelling play-fest at London’s famous Old Vic whose artistic director, the American actor Kevin Spacey, was on hand to give a pep talk to those picked to create a play from scratch to performance within 24 hours.

She got to share the company of two Hollywood actors in one day as Jeff Goldblum introduced her finished comedy-drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wade? on stage that night. Then last year Alison decided to mix it up again with a foray into radio with a Dolly Parton-inspired piece which broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

And now the 31-year-old has been announced as the winner of the 2013 Bursary award by Live Theatre in collaboration with The Empty Space which supports local theatre companies and artists .

“I am delighted to have been awarded the bursary,” says Alison whose £2,500 award follows a Bursary Scratch Night at the Newcastle theatre in December when an extract of her new play, The Soaking of Vera Shrimp, was voted the night’s best.

Alison has had a long-running relationship with Live Theatre since joining its Writers Group in 2008 for two years and winning its Short Cuts, an evening of short plays, in 2010.

Having written several pieces for the venue, including The Girls From Poppyfield Close, she found herself short-listed to take part in the Bursary Scratch Night as one of four North East writers and companies - the others being Carl Kennedy and Zoe Lambert, Gary Kitching and Tender Buttons - who each received £500 and rehearsal space at the theatre to develop their shows.

On the night it was an extract of The Soaking of Vera Shrimp, which was performed by Tessa Parr and directed by Rosie Kellagher, that won the bursary which aims to encourage innovative artists to explore different ways in which text and performance can be brought together.

In her play, which is set in the middle of a thunderstorm, 14-year-old lead character Vera Shrimp discovers she can “read” raindrops, each one having soaked up an emotion from whoever their water has come into contact with. And from the hundreds of millions of falling drops, she is desperately seeking something of what is left of her family.

The play will now be developed for performance at the theatre this year.

A delighted Alison added: “The shortlist of companies and theatre-makers was a real testament to the talent and variety of work being created in the region at the moment.

“I can’t wait to get working with Rosie and Tessa on the next stages of Vera’s journey and bringing her to the stage in the New Year.”

One audience member who saw the extract described it as “magical, poignant, moving and funny”.

It’s also said to be full of sensory and theatrical fun and Natalie Querol, director of The Empty Space, who was on the judging panel alongside Live’s associate director Steve Gilroy, called it beautiful and charming.

Natalie added: “This bursary is designed to support approaches to making theatre that don’t follow a traditional writer-led model.

“With The Soaking of Vera Shrimp, Alison is taking a step into the unknown: throwing away the script and creating a new show in the rehearsal room. Her scratch performance received an overwhelmingly positive response.”

Previous bursary-winning shows at Live include Middlesbrough writer Alistair McDowall’s Captain Amazing which was a hit at both the theatre and Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year and will return to Live’s stage in May.

For the yet-to-be-announced date of The Soaking of Vera Shrimp keep an eye out at www.live.org.uk

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