Why I wrote my play.
As an actor I’ve been lucky enough to work with and get to know some of this country’s best and most influential playwrights. The alchemy they use to create a play has always fascinated me. What is that process of writing a play? As an actor you inhabit other people’s worlds and interpret other people’s voices. So I set about trying to create my own world and search for my own voices to fill that world. I never thought that exploration would lead me here writing a blog about being a winner in the Royal Exchange Bruntwood Competition.
What inspired me?
The inspiration for my play came from a family who used to come in to a pub I once worked at. The mother and father would bring the boy in after he had finished school and they would get drunk. The boy used to spend hours playing in the pub beer garden digging holes and hiding in them. He was like a feral animal trying to dig himself out of a childhood he somehow knew he didn’t deserve.
The boy’s mother stabbed his father in a domestic dispute and he was sent to prison. The mother’s drinking got steadily worse and so did the emotional and physical abandonment of her son.
On one occasion I had to take them both home in a taxi because she was paralytic. The boy directed the taxi to a local council estate. It pulled up outside a house that I knew well. My Auntie Pam had died a few years previous and this family were the new tenants of her old house. It hadn’t changed except it was filthy and the carpets were covered in cigarette ends. I left the boy trying to put his mother to bed. I t was the most powerful expression of a child’s humanness and ability to love I had ever seen. Despite his parents showing him so little love he was still able to love them. That is where the germ of my play began. I always had that image of the boy digging in the dirt in my mind when I was writing.
I still see the boy riding his bike around where I live.
Sending my play in.
The June 13th deadline the competition had set was essential to me. I’m sure if I hadn’t had that definite date to work towards I would still be writing my play.
As I have said before I never set out to win this competition. My target was to just finish my play and maybe at a push get into the number who received script reports.
Waiting for a response.
The waiting was the worst. You get terribly close to the characters that you are writing and I felt very protective towards mine.
The process through the long-list and short-list.
This was the craziest part of the process for me. As my play advanced through both these stages I couldn’t help feel that there had been some terrible mistake and that an e-mail would surely arrive in my inbox telling me so. After the disbelief had eventually subsided I got my play out of the drawer I had left it in and read it again. I think that is when the re-drafting began.
I think I will always remember this day for the rest of my life. As an actor it goes with the territory being nervous but nothing has ever compared to that day. I was met at the theatre by two playwright friends who had been invited to the ceremony and they managed to calm me down somewhat with a plate of posh salmon and potatoes. After a couple of glasses of liquid anesthetic we were all ushered into the theatre where the nine shortlisted playwrights sat at the foot of the stage. We were all treated to a short extract from each of our plays which was fascinating and absolutely terrifying. It was at this point I was sure I hadn’t won a thing because some of the other plays were brilliant. The actors did a brilliant job of lifting them off the page.
The next ten minute seemed to just disappear. We were informed that the panel couldn’t decide upon one winner and thus were going to award four joint winners. Anna Maxwell Martin took to the stage and opened an envelope and much to my shock and surprise announced my play and my name. Blimey!
My play came from a very deep place inside me. It was conceived and written in a series of moments. The idea of redrafting means you have to chase and recapture those moments which to me is impossible. I can only liken my experience of writing as to being sick on a blank page. To redraft it would mean swallowing that sick and regurgitating it. In that process you’re bound to lose some of the chunks that splattered on the page to begin with. Things have changed and grown in my play but not to the detriment of what the play is in its essence. The ideology of dramaturgy I feel is potentially dangerous to a writer. I think it is pervasive and works against the creative nature of what writing is. I think it takes courage to stand by what you have wrote and you owe it to the world you have created and the voices you have listened to be as true and honest as you were when you first started writing. I don’t think writing is an intellectual process. It can be clever but I don’t think it’s intellectual. It’s more personal than that. You just have to do it. The writer is the one person in the theatrical process who starts with nothing. A blank world waiting to be filled.