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By Kim Davies

2021 R&D Workshop

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What happens in SMOKE? 

SMOKE is the story of an encounter between two young people at a BDSM sex party in New York - told entirely in real-time. Julie, a privileged college student keen to break out of her cotton-wool bubble meets John, a failing artist working round-the-clock as an assistant to one of America's most high-profile photographers.

SMOKE is a modern adaptation of August Strindberg's classic play Miss Julie, set at a BDSM sex party in New York.

The piece interrogates consent and challenges our pre-conceptions and prejudices surrounding 'kink' and the historically misunderstood BDSM community. 

The play originally premiered in New York in 2014 where it was a Critics' Pick of both the New York Times and Time Out New York, but has never been performed in London.

At a time where domestic abuse rates are at an all-time high in the UK, and high-profile cases of both historic and ongoing abuse within the BDSM community are all over social media and the press, it feels pertinent to examine SMOKE in 2021.

Supported by Arts Council England and The Carne Trust, we held a Research and Development Workshop at the Arcola Theatre in March 2021, to explore the sensitive themes of the piece in depth. Most importantly, we engaged with members of the BDSM community to ensure we honour their experiences in the telling of this story.

We will be worked extensively with intimacy director Eric Ortuño to develop a way of portraying sexual violence on stage that is effective and safe for all creatives and actors involved in the project.

The workshop was co-directed by Polina Kalinina and Júlia Levai. Read more about the team behind the workshop below!

Critical response to the 2014 New York Production

"A cynical, magnetic miniature about consent"

Time Out New York

"Such an important play . . . honest, unflinching"

New York Theatre Review

"Intense, provocative, and exceedingly clever"

New York Times




Polina Kalinina | Director

Polina is a Russian theatre director working in the UK. After training at LAMDA she made her professional debut at the Orange Tree Theatre with Dutchman by Amiri Baraka, starring David Ajao, Paapa Essiedu, and Sally Oliver.  


New plays, operatic visuals, precise anarchy, and large-scale ensembles are at the core of her practice. 


As Director: Anna Karenina (Clifftown Theatre), The Noble Nine (Vault Festival), Islanders (Soho Theatre) Julius Caesar (Globe Neuss, Germany),  Playboy of the Western World (Southwark Playhouse), Flashes (Soho Theatre), Romeo and Juliet (Tobacco Factory & tour), Dutchman (Orange Tree), Overruled (Old Red Lion). 

Associate Director on The Events by David Greig (Traverse, Young Vic, Guthrie,  Curran, RFH) 


Passionate about drama school training she has directed and taught at East 15, Guildhall, Central, Mountview, OSD, and the Ekaterinburg State Theatre Institute.


Polina is a JMK finalist, a MGC Futures Bursary recipient, and a member of the Lincoln Centre Theatre Directors Lab in New York. 


Júlia Levai | Director

Júlia is a theatre director from Budapest based in London. She trained on LAMDA’s MA Directing course and on the Young Vic’s Jerwood Assistant Director Program. She was most recently resident director at the National Theatre in Belgrade supported by the European Theatre Convention.


Her directing credits include:

Did I Wake You? (Young Vic as part of ‘Five Plays’), The Prince of Homburg (The Space & LAMDA), Impresario (Lamport Hall), Sweeties (Theatre503), Rage Room (Lyric Hammersmith), 

Our Town (Drayton Arms), There Has Possibly Been An Incident (Blue Elephant Theatre), Amphibious (York Theatre Royal)


Her assistant/associate directing credits include: L’Illusion Comique (National Theatre Belgrade), Nora: A Doll’s House (Young Vic), Love Steals Us From Loneliness (LAMDA), She Stoops to Conquer (Theatre Royal Bury St. Edmunds & LAMDA), Robin Hood (York Theatre Royal)


She has also been a script reader for Papatango, the Bruntwood Prize and for Paines Plough’s Women’s Prize for Playwriting.

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Oli Higginson | John

Oli trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and was recently nominated for a 2020 Stage Debut Award and Off-West End Award.

Theatre includes: The Haystack (Hampstead Theatre), The Last Five Years (Southwark Playhouse), Napoleon Blown Apart (Arcola Theatre), The Assassination of Marcus Garvey (Theatre 503), Maggie & Ted (White Bear), and Brutus in Julius Caesar for the Sam Wanamaker Festival at The Globe

Television includes: The Pursuit of Love (BBC), Bridgerton (Netflix), This Sceptered Isle (Sky Atlantic), and Cursed (Netflix)

Film includes The Last Five Years (Broadway On Demand) and short films Family ReunionSnap

Before Seven, and Thoughts

Radio includes: Doctor Who - Early Adventures: After the Daleks (Big Finish Productions) and If We Are Moses (Hear First Productions)

Prior to training as an actor, Oli graduated with First Class Honours in Theology from the University of Bristol.


Meaghan Martin | Julie

Meaghan trained at LAMDA.

Theatre includes: The Actor's Nightmare (Park Theatre), Underexposed (Old Red Lion), 13 (Kirk Douglas Theatre, Los Angeles), Othello (LAMDA), 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (LAMDA)

Television includes: Series lead Bianca Stratford in

10 Things I Hate About You (ABC Family), 

House (FOX), Awkward (MTV), Wendy: The Series (Alloy Entertainment), The Suite Life of Zack and Cody (Disney Channel), Close To Home (CBS), Melissa & Joey (ABC Family), Jessie (Disney Channel), Wedding Band (TBS/Freemantle), Just Jordan (Nickelodeon)

Film includes: Mean Girls 2 (Paramount Pictures), Dear Lemon LimaCamp Rock, Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, Geography Club, The Good Mother (Lifetime), Journey, Safelight, Senior ProjectSironiaPrivileged and short films Wives of the Landed Gentry, Before Seven, Bad News, and Naked Times which was a finalist in the Cannes Straight 8 Film Festival 2020

Radio includes: Hell Cats (Audible) and If We Are Moses (Hear First Productions)

Meaghan voiced and motion captured Jessica in the video game Until Dawn and continues to voice the character of Naminé in the Kingdom Hearts series.

Other recent video game work includes Kosmokrats

alongside Bill Nighy and The Crew 2 for Ubisoft.


Enric Ortuño | Intimacy & Fight Director

Enric is an Intimacy Certified professional by Intimacy for Stage and Screen UK and Intimacy Directors and Coordinators USA. He is also an Intimacy, Fight and Movement Director for theatre and a Certified Stage Combat Teacher by the British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat. He holds a BA in Musical Theatre and an MA in Movement Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Intimacy Coordination credits include productions for Warner Bros, BBC, Netflix, Channel 4, Amazon Studios and Sky TV, including Bridgerton and The Irregulars.

Fight and Intimacy credits for theatre include Romeo & Juliet (Orange Tree Theatre), Out of Sorts (Theatre 503), Crystal Clear (Old Red Lion Theatre), Jerker (King’s Head Theatre), Jane Eyre (Blackeyed Theatre), Jekyll & Hyde and Dracula (Arrows & Traps Theatre), The Amber Trap (Theatre 503), The 3 Musketeers (OneEleven Theatre), The Drag (Arcola Theatre), Boris: World King (Trafalgar Studios), Croydon Avengers (Ovalhouse Theatre), Treasure Island (Oxford Theatre Guild), Titus Andronicus and Othello (Smooth Faced Gentlemen), Verdi’s Macbeth (Iford Arts), The Autumn Garden (Jermyn Street Theatre), Escape the Scaffold (Theatre 503)

He is a resident teacher at Italia Conti Acting School and teaches regularly at RADA, Central School of Speech and Drama, Drama Studio London and has taught workshops in Spain, USA, Canada and Germany.


Kim Davies | Writer

Kim Davies is a 2016 fellow in Playwriting from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her play Smoke premiered at the Flea Theater in 2014 for a thrice-extended run, was a New York Times and Time Out New York Critics’ Pick, and has been produced in cities across the United States and in translation in Brazil. Recent work includes the ground-breaking Off-Broadway play Stet which focussed on rape culture across university campuses in the United States.


Davies is one of eight international writers selected by Ibsen International for their New Text, New Stage program, in which she developed a new play with local theater artists in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, China from 2015 to 2016, for a world premiere in Shanghai in 2017.


In collaboration with the Muse Project, a partnership between New Georges and the New Group that develops female performer-driven work, she wrote Stet, which in 2016 had its world premiere at Abingdon Theatre Company in New York.  Davies is a member of Youngblood at Ensemble Studio Theatre and the New Georges Jam, and received her MFA in playwriting from Mac Wellman and Erin Courtney’s program at Brooklyn College.

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May Curtiss | Stage Manager

May is a graduate from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama from the Stage Management pathway and has worked in theatre and events since starting her training. May carries particular attention to making theatre inclusive to those with disabilities and ensuring the environment is considered with each job.

May’s most recent credits include livestreamed and broadcasted events during the pandemic and also Production Assistant for Culture Creative’s outdoor light festival, Christmas at Bedgebury 2020.


Credits Include: Stage Manager for The Emergent Sessions (Applecart Arts), Stage Manager for A West End Christmas (Theatre MAD), Stage Manager for Dido and Aeneas, La Bella Dormente nel Bosco (Virtual), Stage Manager for Provok’d (Silk Street Theatre GSMD), Stage Manager for Pride’s Got Talent (Pop and Cabaret Semi Finals 2018) and Head of Artist Liaison for Pop and Cabaret Pride’s Got Talent Final 2018, Stage Manager for Euan (Tristan Bates Theatre, Camden Fringe), Set Dresser and Runner for Short Film Mudlarks, Deputy Stage Manager for Hamlet (Brighton Open Air Theatre, Petersfield Shakespeare Festival), Production Assistant for Culture Creative (Christmas at Bedgebury 2020) and Artichoke Trust (Lumiere Durham 2019), Captioner for Love’s Labour’s Lost (San Wanamaker Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe), Workshop Assistant for Deaf, deafened and Hard of Hearing children (The Play That Goes Wrong)

Photo Gallery

Photography by Dave Buttle

Smoke Photo Gallery

Oli Higginson & Meaghan Martin


Polina Kalinina


Júlia Levai


Enric Ortuño

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