I wrote my first play when I was 16, starting putting them on about 19, and somehow managed to start making a living from it at 24. Brilliant Adventures is my first ‘major’ production, or however you want to say it.
This means that every now and then I look up and see six actors, a director, an assistant director, a stage manager, and, depending what day it is, another three or four people milling about, and wonder how on earth I got to this point from when I first wrote the play, a process that involved me sitting on my own in the middle of the night, often only in my pants, trying to wrestle the idea out of my head and onto the page.
I finished the first draft of Adventures in September 2010. It’s a bit of an odd play, a mix of social drama and science fiction, and for some reason it feels like a Western as well. It’s set in a town 20 minutes down the road from where I grew up, so feels hugely personal, and when I finished it it felt like the closest I’d gotten at that point to what I want theatre to be – an experience made essential and exciting by the ‘liveness’ of it. I want to make sure anyone coming to see the play doesn’t feel like they could’ve just watched the same story on telly.
Once I’d finished it, I sent it out, and it was then promptly rejected by a whole host of wonderful theatres. Everyone seemed to like it, and everyone wanted to meet up and talk about it, and they said all kinds of lovely things and sometimes even bought me a lunch. But no one seemed to quite fancy doing it. Eventually, it was awarded a Bruntwood prize in 2011, which was a massive honour, and an incredible stroke of luck and good timing, as I was totally skint at the time. Looking at some of the writers who’ve won it in the past (Duncan Macmillan, Andrew Sheridan), it was a real joy for me to be a part of that family, and my emails suddenly started getting replied to a bit quicker. But even before that, the play had become my ‘calling-card script’ which means it was sent all over the place and ended up getting my foot in the door for various other bits and bobs.
One of the biggest things it got me was an attachment at the Royal Court, where I was given a little room and a wage, and set about writing a fairly terrible play. Hats off to the Court, they didn’t banish me, and instead invited me to be part of their ‘Supergroup’ of writers, and programmed Brilliant Adventures to be part of the Young Writers Festival in early 2012, as a rehearsed reading.
The reading was directed by Caroline Steinbeis, who would end up directing the full production because she is incredibly brilliant and ‘got’ the play immediately. It was great to be able to carry the same relationship with the director from the reading over to the full production, having become friends in the process. This means we now have a highly effective shorthand where I’ll only have to kick over about two tables for her to know I’m not happy with something.
Now we’re just starting week four of rehearsals for the show, and it seems like a long time ago I was sat in my undercrackers at one in the morning wondering if a comma was misplaced or not.
I feel immensely lucky to be in this position, staging a strange play with a strange title in two major theatres in two cities I love. I feel hugely attached to this script not just for its content, but because it’s been a companion for three years, taking me to all kinds of places and introducing me to all kinds of brilliant people who are now friends and colleagues. It opened doors to relationships with buildings like the Royal Court, where I’m fortunate to be working again this summer as part of their ‘Open Court’ summer rep season.
I hope the audiences respond to it – when you spend so long having meetings and talking about a play in an academic way, it can be very easy to forget that the ultimate aim is to put on a show for a group of people who’ve paid for a ticket, given up their evening, and are really hoping it’s not shit.
I hope they like it.
Brilliant Adventures runs in The Studio at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre from Wednesday 8 May to Saturday 25 May. It then transfers to Live Theatre, Newcastle from Thursday 30 May to Saturday 15 June.