From TV shows This is England to The Fades, from plays Bunny to When You Cure Me, there’s no doubt that this 33-year-old has a knack for seeking out something new and connecting it with young people. Jack Thorne chats about getting down and dirty for his adaptation of Dürrenmatt’s The Physicists at the Donmar Warehouse, dishes out some useful and important advice for the new writers amongst us and stresses that networking and parties aren’t as important as your script.
You have recently adapted The Physicists by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. What was it like working from someone else’s text instead of a blank page?
It has been joyful, the text is amazing. All I was trying to do was refine the translation, so we can enjoy what he’d done in English as it was originally in German.
How did you bring Dürrenmatt’s satire into the twenty-first century?
It’s timeless, we haven’t tried to change it in its era. I’ve made it coherent and added in a few jokes.
Have you been involved with the rehearsal process of the production?
I was in from the third week, so it has been the bulk of my work. Josie Rourke (Artistic Director of the Donmar) framed the big issues, because the play is about big things. There are gems in there that could change the world. We also wanted to check that what I had done to the text had worked. So yeah, I got down and dirty.
How do you think the play’s relevance sits with today’s scientific advances?
I think that it’s the why and the how that is timeless, and the issues surrounding it haven’t changed. The play is saying: Is humanity ready for its scientific advances? I don’t personally agree with the message as I think that it is being negative about humanity.
You recently won two BAFTAS for The Fades, and also for being part of This is England ’88. How did that feel?
It felt entirely overwhelming, joyful and brilliant. Since then I’ve been in rehearsals, and now I’ve just been sitting here and I am slumped on my sofa. I feel very, very lucky.
Do you hope that The Fades will brought back by the BBC?
I don’t know what’s going to happen; there is a possibility. I’d love for it to come back, as I’ve still got stories to tell. I’m lucky to have a career, I’m just going to keep working, I’m not particularly bitter about it. When it came down to it, it was between Being Human and The Fades [to be kept] and they chose Being Human. I can’t complain because it is a great show. It happened when there were massive cutbacks, so the drama budget was halved and they could only keep one long running series.
As both an award-winning screenwriter and playwright you have achieved a lot at a young age. Would you say there is a medium for which you prefer writing?
I love everything that I do. They are all so different, and of course I also write for the radio, so I am always writing for a voice. Although I think I would struggle to write a novel. I feel privileged that I am able to swap between them.
Your writing clearly connects with young people. What would you say is the driving force behind your writing? [On a personal note I reveal enjoying Skins series 1 and 2 when I was at college, and favouring the crazy character of Chris]
I love drama and I wasn’t a social kid, so I preferred imagery. I liked telly and plays that made me feel human. When working out what to do next, I always hope that I find a different angle to tell and Skins did that. It was a show about friendship. Joe Dempsie (who played Chris in series 1 and 2) is a great actor, he’s been in a lot of things since the series including This is England ’86, The Fades and The Game of Thrones.
How much of your own life and experiences influences what you write?
You don’t necessarily always know which bits you are putting into stuff. I do form strong bonds with the characters, but I don’t always find an affiliation with ones who are like me. I wasn’t quite expecting Chris. I Iove how he was lonely amongst the crowd, despite being within it.
Do you have any advice for new writers putting pen to paper for the first time?
Yes, I would say find someone you trust to read your work: make that person central. The Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers’ programme was great, but it wasn’t the start of a massive relationship. The Royal Court Theatre made Laura Wade and me become very close, we gave each advice. It’s also important to be able to cope with rejection, this is because it’s what happens 95% of the time and she brought me through it. She is now massively successful herself; the key is that as you get better so does your confidence. It shouldn’t be someone who is like you (in their writing style) but perhaps in the same situation. People think that they need Steven Moffatt, but the chances are that they need their friend who is also at the same stage as them.
What do you think about the state of British new writing now?
When I was starting out there were mostly musicals on at the West End. And now it’s mostly straight plays like Posh (by Wade) that seem to be making a move and now new writing is becoming mainstream. I think it is in a pretty good state. I wrote and I wrote until slowly they were nice to me. It isn’t about who you meet, it is about the script. You go to other places, and you pitch your show. It really isn’t about networking at parties here, it is all about the script.
What have you got lined up after The Physicists?
I’ve got a final A Long Way Down script, which is an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s book. There is a lot that’s in development, so I can’t really talk about it.
Do you have any literary heroes, who you look up to?
I would say definitely Ronald Harwood and Paul Abbott.
The Physicists plays at the Donmar Warehouse until 21 July. More information and tickets available here.
Image credit: Donmar Warehouse