Is there a specific London theatre that is lighting the way for challenging plays?
I don’t think you can talk about challenging theatre in London without mentioning the Young Vic. First off their space is one of the most malleable spaces I’ve ever seen. It can become ANYTHING. That in itself gives it pride of place. Since Kwame [Kwei-Armah] has been there it’s had good times – but he hasn’t had the chance to have a tenure. David Lan was brilliant there as well – his predecessor. But the thing I found out about him recently was that his time there was more about curation, and finding people – rather than being an Artistic Director who decides what the biggest shows of the year will be and bags them for himself. The Bush Theatre as well has a genuine sense of care for the community around them.
Uxbridge Road is the road with the most different nationalities living on it in England.
Sweet Like Chocolate Boy
Do you prefer directing your own writing?
No. I will only direct my own writing if the writing came from a devising process or if its a short piece of work – under fifteen minutes. I know with Sweet Like Chocolate Boy I did do that – that was more of a necessity because I started to feel like I was the only one that can do this.
I ended up getting my friend Emanuel Sugo [a polymath in his own right] to produce it with me – and then he ended up being the producer for the project. Now he’s a proper producer for all sorts of tings – theatre, film. We had a scratch at the Cockpit, which was just two weeks of rehearsal that I used my student loan for, then we did it at the Jack Studio in Brockley – then we toured it: Battersea, Tobacco Factory in Bristol, Peckham Theatre. After that one – I’m done with it in its theatrical form. And I’m done with directing my own writing.
I’m not a device for someone else – but I can be a catalyst for someone else
I wish I could have a process when it comes to writing. I write anywhere but home. I realise I’m pretty good at writing whilst I’m moving – on a tube, bus – I like a walk somewhere where I tell myself I only have to write one word.
When it comes to film, and screen, I would direct my own work. I haven’t got a handle on that medium yet – but that’s why I want to understand it more. I see film less as a progression – a lot of the time people do theatre, go to film, and never go back to theatre.
Which I partly understand. Because I love the UK theatre art form, but I don’t love the industry.
There seems to be with actors who have started out in theatre an almost snobbery about film, about people who go straight into film – where theatre is the pure form and the only way to get the proper chops for acting
Because theatre is exercise. Physical exercise. You have to be good every night. I don’t think it’s a snobbery though – I think it’s a problem with the fact that more film and TV actors don’t want to try plays. That’s a brilliant thing. It’s just that theatre is so badly paid.
And how about mixing them?
That’s where we need to be!!!!! This is one of the issues which is that Covid has opened up the conversation that’s been going on underground for a very long time – which is a question of accessibility. How accessible is theatre actually? Of course we need to keep the liveness. But do the audience always need to be there? Can we have a mixture? I just don’t think the theatre industry is thinking ahead enough like that.
If we don’t take on the idea that theatre is just not as accessible as all the other art forms – if we take pride in the fact that we exclude – the industry will fall, or – as has been happening – all the bright sparks will go to TV go to film – and never come back.
Theatre in terms of pay – is shite. When we do theatre – it is because we love it.
Some of them are paid below London living wage. Even in the big London theatres. To be the billionaires of the world you come to learn to step on a few heads. That’s how things have become this way. So that then when actors go to TV and get paid £500 per day [!!!] more people are going to see them, it’s less stressful.
One thing about theatre though is the energy of theatre – in whatever form–
–There’s nothing like it. You can’t replace it. But you can adapt it. Too many artistic directors – too many people with money – are going: yeah we could do that, we could pay more – but we won’t.
How does the play change through the run? It must be fun being anonymously in the unlit crowd watching it happen?
Now you say that – but all my plays have broken the fourth wall. So eventually they’ll notice me! Did you forget your lines! Yes, yes you did.
You used a classic device of leaving the house lights on the audience for portions of the play. As soon an audience isn’t in the dark – and we can’t hide in their little cavern and can all see each other we all share in the vulnerability of the cast
There’s something beautiful about that. I’d like to do more of this. There are free radicals in my work – which means there’s something I’ve said to the actors: ‘this can change every night, but it’s got to happen’. So every night they can change. In this country, with theatre, we take the text as God. Whereas usually in Europe the text is but a huge cog in the process. There are certain cracks in the foundation that we are allowed to exist within –
Theatres have these incredible sound systems that are usually used for the sound effect of like – a creaking door. So to be able to listen to Jungle and Grime on these beasts is just mad
Music is a character in my work. I can’t get away from it. But I learnt from my teacher at uni P.A. Skantze, who taught me that sound shouldn’t just be used as a backdrop with no meaning. I knew with Little Baby Jesus that all the songs were due to nostalgia. Because when you hear that song – suddenly you’re 15 again. You’re hearing that song again on your flip phone, your motorola–
Sent by bluetooth–
–YES, all of that – infrared ting – because the show was about nostalgia. You hear the tunes and go ‘oh shiiiiit!’. Then what can you do is use a song – like: this is a Garage song that I know, but because of where it’s put in this scene it means something completely different now. My job is to make you see that song differently once you’ve left the theatre – like a piece of set or costume.
Do you write to music?
Sometimes – I usually have a song in my head. I’ve had the Tekken 3 soundtrack in my head for something I’ve been trying to write FOR YEARS. I can see scenes based on that soundtrack. All I can say is that in every play of mine – at some point – has a sonic or visual video game reference in it.
What is an ideal theatre?
This [Carey Gardens]. I want to do bare one man shows here and the one man shows all create a bigger piece – episodes of something. You come back one day and they connect up to each other. My ideal theatre is not a theatre. My ideal theatre is a space that becomes a theatre. That’s the theatre I started with – I did promenade theatre in the Flower Garden in Kennington Park with Ovalhouse – that is the theatre I actually know more.