Spotlight On… Human Story Theatre

Human Story Theatre secures funding and launches new play, The Fourth Dog by Oxford playwright, Zena Forster, at Offbeat Festival 2017 and beyond!

Hot off the heels of their Spring Tour of Flat 73 (supported by the Samaritans), Oxford based Human Story Theatre bring their new production of The Fourth Dog to Oxford’s Old Fire Station in July 2017, followed by a week’s tour to other Oxfordshire venues. Competing with hundreds of applicants they successfully secured a slot to open their show at Offbeat Festival on 1st JulyThe Fourth Dog is a one hour comedy about breast cancer, marital breakdown, family baggage and grieving – what could be funnier? Written by Zena Forster; Dramaturge, John Retallack and directed by Tristan Pate of Cherwell Theatre Company. Cast: Human Story Theatre’s Amy Enticknap & Gaye Poole; Karen Ford (Grange Hill); Renata Allen (Oxford Playmaker), Adrian Banks and John Tolputt.

Weddings bring the whole family together, and that’s when the problems start…  

It’s The Big Day and the Burney clan have assembled – including skeletons from the cupboard.  The bride is pregnant, the groom is unsure, the mother is stressed, and the aunt is in disgrace.  The grandparents haven’t stopped bickering for sixty years and don’t see why today should be any exception.  And the icing on the cake?  A couple of dead ancestors have turned up!  

What does it mean to be part of a family?  How does our heredity influence the way we love and hate, live and die?

Each show has a 20 minute Q&A with representatives from charities supporting Breast Cancer care. Audience members will also have the opportunity to browse ‘after thought tables’ to gain more information from a spectrum of pertinent experts from wig-makers to nutritionists after performances on 4 / 6 / 7 July.

Human Story Theatre will be bringing a Bra Bank to each show:

Deposit your used, new or surplus bras into our bra bank. Give them a new lease of life – raising vital funds for research into secondary spread breast cancer.

For more info: Against Breast Cancer

Human Story Theatre have been supported by Against Breast Cancer, Abingdon and Richmond Village, Witney. They are supporting Maggie’s Oxford. They are also funded by Arts Council England and The Lottery Awards For All.

Pip Dingle, Centre Fundraising Manager – Maggie’s Oxford says:

“We’re really looking forward to working with Human Story Theatre to have a special production of The Fourth Dog at Maggie’s Oxford. It’s great to be able to use our beautiful building for a pop-up theatre – we hope you can join us!”

Dr Nicola Winstone, Research Manager, Against Breast Cancer:

“This isn’t only an entertaining play, Human Story Theatre creates a space for discussion and to showcase relevant local organisations, and Against Breast Cancer are proud to support their latest production.”

The Fourth Dog 

1 – 11 July 2017 

1 July 12pm Arts at the Old Fire Station, Oxford. Tickets: 01865 263990

4 July 7.30pm Arts at the Old Fire Station, Oxford. Tickets: 01865 263990

5 July 7.30pm Richmond Village, Witney .Tickets: 01993 894000 Ext 408

6 July 7.30pm Maggie’s Centre, Oxford. Tickets: Maggie’s Centre

7 July 7.30pm Eynsham Village Hall , Oxon.Tickets: on the door only, pay what you can

8 July 12pm Arts at the Old Fire Station, Oxford. Tickets: 01865 263990

10 July 7.45pm The Theatre, Chipping Norton. Tickets: 01608 642350 

11 July 7.30pm The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury. Tickets: 01295 279002 

A new one hour family drama, by Oxford playwright Zena Forster.

It’s the Big Day, but the happy couple aren’t suited, the grandparents won’t stop bickering, the disgraced auntie has gate-crashed, and a couple of dead ancestors have turned up!  Breast cancer, marital breakdown, family baggage and grieving – what could be funnier?

Check out the website here: The Human Story Theatre

There’s also a promo video here which is definitely worth a watch:

Here, Amy Enticknap tells Break A Leg more about Human Story Theatre:

Human Story Theatre focuses on new plays with a health and social care issue at heart. Through research and dialogue we explore and write new material that reflects our communities’ needs and experiences. Our aim is to be accessible to all: we ‘pop up’ in any designated space, with minimal set, which means we can tour easily to any venue. We also operate a ‘pay what you can’ policy where possible. We are passionate that theatre is for all and believe by highlighting health and social care issues within our productions, that it is an exciting way to entertain and educate. For each production Human Story Theatre partners with local communities and groups relevant to the issue being explored in the play. Professionals/members of these groups then come to lead post-show discussions with the aim of sign-posting the audience to their local services.

Gaye Poole and I established Human Story Theatre in August 2016. Since then, things have evolved at quite a pace: in October 2016, in association with Oxford Concert Party, we produced a pilot of Gaye’s new play Flat 73 (about loneliness and the Samaritans) premiering at Arts at The Old Fire Station, Oxford; received funding from South Oxfordshire County Council to tour Gaye’s play Connie’s Colander (about Dementia) in November; secured a regular slot at Arts at The Old Fire Station for Scenes From… play-reading evenings; produced a Spring 2017 tour of Flat 73 ; are currently in pre-production forThe Fourth Dog by Zena Forster; have been commissioned by the NHS to write Dry (a play about alcoholism) for ‘Dry January’ 2018 and are planning a double bill tour of The Fourth Dog and The Last Dog for Autumn 2018.

We’re extremely excited about our up-coming production of The Fourth Dog:

It’s the Big Day, but the happy couple aren’t suited, the grandparents won’t stop bickering, the disgraced auntie has gate-crashed, and a couple of dead ancestors have turned up!  Breast cancer, marital breakdown, family baggage and grieving – what could be funnier?

Rehearsals start on 19th June and we open 1st July, as part of Offbeat Festival.

Gaye and I are being kept very busy in our community outreach and producing roles as well as both acting in the show. We are thrilled to have partnered with Maggie’s Centre Oxford and Against Breast Cancer on this project, and our post-show Q&As will be with representatives from other charities supporting breast cancer care too. Audience members will also have the opportunity to browse ‘after thought tables’ to gain more information from a spectrum of pertinent experts from wig-makers to nutritionists on 4 / 6 / 7 July. These ‘after thought’ / ‘break out’ events are new to us, but hopefully answer a need from our audience feedback for a further and more informal forum of discussion and exploration after the performance.

Wonderfully and thankfully we have received some funding from The Arts Council England and Lottery Awards For All, without which the production couldn’t happen. We are however, still having to crowd fund for the remaining pot of money needed!


From Tristan Pate, the director of The Fourth Dog

Tell me about the piece and your vision for it…

The Fourth Dog is a fast paced, brilliantly witty play but most importantly deeply humanist story. My intention is to bring to the stage a surprising and exciting production where the characters, their family relationships and their needs and desires are clear and defined, so that the audience may see themselves and their families in it.

Did you have initial ideas about casting and what you wanted actors to bring to the piece?

There is such a lot of talent among the Oxfordshire Theatre Makers, and a number of fantastic performers were already attached to the project when I came on board – indeed, that was part of the excitement of taking the play on. We auditioned for some of the roles and were always looking for actors that felt a connection to the material and could recognise the distinct ‘voices’ of each character. In terms of rehearsals, I always want actors to bring an open-ness and a willingness to explore as a company. Ultimately, this play hinges entirely on their truthfulness, and the best actors always have that in spades!

What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?

What Human Story Theatre always do so well is open up a discussion after their performances – so I very much hope they have lots of questions!

Have rehearsals altered your initial thoughts, at all?

I’m sure they will, it’s inevitable. Having worked extensively with Zena, the playwright, we have a strong idea of what we think the play might be, but the joy of theatre is that it is a truly collaborative medium, so the production we make will be the sum of all of it’s parts, and I expect to be surprised and have my ideas changed constantly!

What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

New writing of this calibre always deserves support, and we believe this is a truly important contemporary play. I’d say there is a great deal to relate to if your family has been affected by cancer, as so many families have, but also if you don’t know enough about familial breast cancer, or if you’re simply moved by human stories and truthful writing, you should buy a ticket immediately. I guarantee you lots of laughs too!

Finally, any advice for budding directors?

There is no standardised route into directing. I trained as an actor, some do directing courses, some study completely unrelated subjects. I would say watch, listen and read! Go to the theatre as much as you can and consider the pieces you see, the choices each director has made. Read plays and think how you might personally interpret them. If you can, watch other directors at work in a rehearsal room. I learned a lot from working with really brilliant people, but also from observing the mistakes of others!


From Zena Forster the playwright of The Fourth Dog:

Tell me about the piece and your inspiration for it…

The Fourth Dog is a comedy inspired by human resilience.  The play explores the role family plays in how we cope (and don’t cope) with what life throws at us.  Set on the day of a big family wedding, it tells the story of how one family has dealt with the BRCA 1 breast cancer gene across generations from the eighteenth century to the current day.

Was it easy to put it all down on paper?

I had a very clear idea of my characters from the start – they’re a bolshy lot, so it was enormous fun pitting them against each other.

Is it translating well from page to stage? 

The Fourth Dog is a fast-paced and dynamic piece with scope for a lot of movement.  It’s been wonderful to see that physicality emerging.

How is the space lending itself to the piece?

Human Story Theatre is ‘stripped down, no frills’ theatre, their productions are designed to pop up in any space – this means minimal set and sometimes a rather small staging area. A tight brief like this forces you to be more creative – and that’s certainly the case for this production. We’ve had to come up with some truly imaginative solutions that we might not have discovered had our budget and space been unlimited.

What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?

The subject matter might be dark – breast cancer, marital strife, grieving – but this is ultimately an uplifting, life-affirming comedy.  I want people to leave the theatre feeling stronger and more hopeful.

Finally, any advice for budding writers?

Don’t shut yourself away – write less, network more.

Thanks to everybody who participated in Break A Leg’s interview, wishing you all a great run with The Fourth Dog and all future productions.


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