I’ve been to see two theatre plays in London this week and have been struck by the sheer originality of both of them. I couldn’t sum up in a simple sentence what either was ABOUT. They were both about all sorts of things – and both hugely challenging and thought-provoking as well as being – crucially – very entertaining.
What both had was a wonderfully distinctive and original voice. And both were very funny.
FLEABAG written and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
What a talent she is. Also co-founder of the DryWrite theatre company, whose production of MYDIDAE by the brilliant Jack Thorne sounds like a show not to be missed (at the Soho Theatre in December http://sohotheatre.com/whats-on/mydidae). In this one woman show, the writing veered between the hilarious, and the tragic, with a few sexual taboos thrown in! It had some powerfully moving and every surprising moments but what it had in abundance were funny, actual laugh-out-loud moments – which were to do with the writing but also the brilliant performance.
I don’t know about you – but for me, laugh-out-loud moments in the theatre are usually few and far-between. After the hilarity of Nina Conti’s brilliant ‘Dolly Mixtures’ show at the Soho Theatre in July, this was another show that had me cracking up – magic.
THE RITUAL SLAUGHTER OF GORGE MASTROMAS by Dennis Kelly
The play was as strange and long as the title (almost 3 hours) but it was compelling. Formally and structurally innovative, the quality of the writing was wonderful. You could see the actors relishing the lines they’d been given. Although what Dennis Kelly had to say (as with his brilliant C4 TV serial UTOPIA) was very dark indeed. This was at times, hard to interpret but really entertaining, and again, so many funny moments – funny because they were brilliantly well-written observations of the strangeness of people!
What both these shows did was remind me of one of the topic that comes up so often on Two Phils courses and on the Channel 4 screenwriting course – which is – what is the best way for a new screenwriter to make their mark and get their talent recognized?
One answer to this question from one of our guests (a literary agent) was that, even if your first love and ultimate ambition is screenwriting, it may be worth trying to make your mark initially in theatre (or at least contemplating writing in both mediums). The logic being that the climate for new writing and new writers is so much more vibrant in theatre than it is in TV. I can see the pros and cons of this argument.
On the one hand I reluctantly admit there may be some truth to this. The Catch-22 with TV is that producers do like to have that reassurance that writers have earned their stripes on a continuing series before employing them (even before employing them on a continuing series!). And there just aren’t that many schemes for new writers in TV. ALTHOUGH – do look out for the SHADOW SCHEMES that more and more of the established long-running series are beginning to run.
Whereas in theatre it seems that nearly every London fringe theatre has a flourishing new writing policy. I don’t know enough about the rest of the UK but I think the situation for new theatre writers in London has never been better.
One of the enjoyable but frustrating ironies of the Channel 4 screenwriting course is the amount of plays I go and see by C4 screenwriting graduates in London theatres – with two more visits planned, at the Finborough and Hampstead Theatre Downstairs this autumn.
And I have enjoyed so much wonderful new theatre writing in the last few years – from GLORY-DAZED by Cat Jones and GOD’S PROPERTY by Arinze Kene at the Soho Theatre to IF YOU WON’T LET US DREAM WE WON’T LET YOU SLEEP by Anders Lustgarten and THE WITNESS by Vivienne Franzmann at the Royal Court. (All 4 plays by C4 screenwiting graduates!)
Other highlights: MINT by Claire Lizzimore (Royal Court), CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION by Annie Baker (Royal Court production at Haggerston community centre), OLD MONEY by Sarah Wooley (Hampstead Theatre), POSH by Laura Wade, CLYBOURNE PARK and THE LOW ROAD by Bruce Norris (all Royal Court)…I could go on.
But the other side of the argument is one I also believe strongly (although it may be a contradiction!) – that if your passion is for screenwriting, then that is what you should be working at. Screenwriting is a very different craft to playwriting (as some of the C4 theatre writers have discovered), a craft that you need to work on tirelessly to have any chance of succeeding.
In my experience the best screenwriters have a huge love of the craft and not only do they write incessantly, they also watch TV drama and film endlessly. (see last week’s CHRIS CHIBNALL and LUCY GANNON interviews)
It’s been hugely satisfying going to the two plays this week with graduates from the C4 course in 2012 and 2013 – one with a background in theatre, one with a background as a screenwriter, who have both done brilliantly in TV drama since they finished the C4 course.
The reality is that no two writers who do well go about it in the same way. There are many, many different ways to break into the world of professional screenwriting. What these two writers have in common is a real hunger and drive, huge enthusiasm not just for the craft of writing, but for the process of finding work – meeting different people, discussing ideas, and throwing themselves wholeheartedly into whatever project they decide to do. And above all, they both have fiercely individual approaches to their work, and every script reflects that they both have something they need to say, views they want to share with the wider world.
Going back to Jack Thorne – he’s as good an example as you can get of a writer who moves seamlessly and successfully between different media – from TV and film to theatre, and even radio. If you can write in all these different mediums it is clearly going to be hugely advantageous.
I watched the last episode of the very strong 3-part ITV drama serial THE GUILTY last night. There were some lovely touches to the scripts by the very talented DEBBIE O’MALLEY, and she pulled off that very tricky thing of resolving the story surprisingly, dramatically but believably. In any other year this would have stood out – but with ITV having screened BROADCHURCH just a few months ago, which was so similar in so many ways, this didn’t make the impact it might have done – while at the same time reinforcing for me what a really outstanding TV drama series BROADCHURCH was…
Which brings me round a bit too neatly to –
Just a week to go to our next London Weekend ‘How To Write – And Sell – A Great Screenplay’ course with very special guest CHRIS CHIBNALL. We do still have a couple of spots open for this course – so if you’re interested, here’s the link with full information and how to book –
The extremely alert amongst you may remember that back in July I asked you a lot of screenwriting-related questions to which you gave some wonderfully interesting and entertaining answers.
If I can make myself shut up for a moment, I hope to return to them next week! And apologies for not sharing them with you sooner.
Until next week
All the best
Sept 20th 2013