I went to stay at The Hurst a few weeks ago (perhaps a month ago?), and since I scoured the internet for blogs and reviews before I went, I feel it’s my duty to add to the mix.
The course I went on was specifically for playwrights and was open to people at any stage in their writing – some people came with drafts of full length plays while others came empty handed. The venue was the beautiful Hurst, set in the middle of nowhere, with no interwebs or mobile phone signal in the vicinity. Some managed to find pockets of signal, but they weren’t on O2. The radio silence was essential to me getting work done, however, so I can’t complain.
The Hurst was given over to the playwright John Osborne (yeah, that Look Back In Anger John Osborne) by some wealthy actor, and today it’s sponsored by various dramaturgs, actors, writers, and generous donors. The toilets all seem to be sponsored by Dame Maggie Smith. I wondered if she had used the one I used. I had deep thoughts everywhere at Arvon. Students stay in the servant’s quarters of the main house (where I was) or in the clockhouse, which also houses a clock.
There were about 12 of us all in, though after day one that dropped to 11 (I believe this is an uncommon occurrence) on an Arvon course. Our tutors were Tanika Gupta and Leo Butler. They were great, you should read their plays. And see their plays. And do other things with them.
A quick breakdown of the week:
Monday – everyone arrived between 4 and 6. We were served an epic meal, with desert and drinks. Come 7pm the tutors took us upstairs into a den of cozy words and cushions where they introduced themselves, let us ask questions and gave us an overview of the week. I did the washing up – you wash up in a team on the night before your team cooks dinner – everyone does it once in the week.
Tuesday – 10am, so not too early, we all headed down to the barn/studio and had a workshop up until lunch at 1pm. The workshop consisted of a lot of introspection, and involved a lot of tears and sadness. Also, throwing a ball around. We wrote monologues and were given some homework. Lunch was ready for hungry bellies upon our return to the clockhouse. Food over, free time until dinner at 7pm. Some write, some wander, others wonder. Some do all three. Dinner – I made it, with others. Beschamel sauce, aka Bishamel sauce was my crowning glory for the week. Also, pie and fruit, etcetera. Wonderful teammates. My duties are done for the week. Leo did a reading from his play Faces In The Crowd.I cry a little (inside). The night goes on late. My new friend and I play scrabble. This is how writers party. Kind of.
Wednesday – 10am, more ball games. More introspection. More tea and biscuits. People are hyper talented. I feel small and stupid – that’s more me than the course or anyone else. This changes by the end of the week. I think. Tamsin Oglesby comes to visit us this evening. She talks to us about her process, where she gets ideas from, what it’s like to work with directors, how she got her plays staged, and we do some readings. We have some strong actors in our group, I’m awed. Tamsin is lovely and stays up to chat with us over drinks.
Thursday – 10am. The second to last day, we get set special homework specific to whatever it is we’re working on. People begin to get apprehensive about the showcase on Friday evening. I nap the evening away – late nights with new friends have caught up to me. Tanika shows us a DVD of Banglatown Banquet, a lovely TV movie made for the BBC that she wrote. I stay up late with buddies and watch a fantastic Danish film, Adam’s Apples. Recommend it very highly.
Friday – 10am. Panic. We have to read to each other tonight! We have to have something to read. We must convince others to act in our plays. Must. Print. More. Copies. The showcase goes very well – lovely to hear how much work has been developed over the week. The variety amongst the group is.. well, various. I think I know how my play has to end. We stay up late again.
Saturday – Everyone up and out by 10am. Some people have already left. I’m glad I brought my car. We wave off others and then get waved off ourselves.
I’m happy to say that my writing improved significantly over the week. The tutors, the accommodation and the food were fantastic (though I do hate washing up). The view from my room was beautiful. I lucked out and got a double room to myself, and I got to share a toilet that I’m pretty sure Prof McGonagall / The Dowager of Countess of Grantham has used.
If you get the chance – go.