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Spotlight On: Jack Thorne

Posted on 18 June 2012 by Charlotte Whitehead

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

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Spotlight On: Jacqueline Wilson and Mary Morris

Posted on 13 January 2012 by Laura Turner

Dame Jacqueline Wilson’s Tracy Beaker, with all her exploits and adventures, is an institution for young readers. After first appearing in Wilson’s novel The Story of Tracy Beaker in 1991, Tracy stepped into the spotlight in a CBBC television series. Now, in a whole new venture for the irrepressible Tracy, she has made her stage debut with Mary Morris’s children’s musical Tracy Beaker Gets Real! Following a successful national theatre tour in 2006 – 2007, the play script and score are now available from Samuel French for theatre groups to perform. Wilson and Morris discuss the challenges, but also the satisfaction, of taking this beloved character from the page onto the stage and seeing her flourish.

Development on the project began when Wilson’s agent approached Morris to script a stage adaptation of Tracy’s story. Morris, responsible for BAFTA-nominated episodes of Tracy’s CBBC show, “chose to write it as a musical because the character was so strong and unusual, and seemingly able to do anything without stretching probability or losing her fan base, so I knew the character Tracy Beaker could carry it off as a musical.” For her part, Wilson talks fondly of going to see Vicky Ireland’s adaptations of her books at the Polka Theatre, but notes that this is an exciting new venture. Somewhat of a literary celebrity, Tracy’s strength as a character undoubtedly stems from Wilson’s original novel. On this subject, Wilson is quick to highlight that she made Tracy up rather than taking inspiration from a real person, even joking, “I’m not sure I could cope with a real-life Tracy!”

Morris’s history of writing “wonderful scripts for the TV series” meant that Wilson was delighted when she agreed to script the adaptation. Yet Morris emphasises that the processes of writing for the stage and the screen are “different in many ways”. Creative independence is perhaps the biggest distinction between the two mediums, with Morris describing how she “was completely in charge of the story I chose to give to Tracy and her friends… as long as Jacqueline was happy with the script, which she was.” Morris reveals that in her experience of television writing, “the writer is only a part of a production team where much consultation goes on during the writing and others have the final decision on where the stories go.” In contrast, Morris could concentrate on her vision when writing the musical, but she does note that “there were some story and character issues that had to be ironed out to make it flow better” between first draft and the final production. She adds, however, that this process of editing and redrafting is “a normal part of writing”.

For Wilson, the strength of the musical lies in Morris’s creation of a piece of theatre that is different to the novels and television series. Watching the musical on stage, Wilson found herself “completely involved in the performance, as if it was a brand new story”. Perhaps this is precisely what an adaptation should achieve: an affectionate tribute to the original with its own distinct voice and style. Morris recalls the nerve-wracking feeling of seeing the production performed for the first time, which included nerves for the performers and musicians: “I want them to be comfortable in their roles and I want the audience to like them as well as the writing and the music.” Tracy Beaker Gets Real! is a play in its own right, but there is always a debt to the original author of an adapted work. Morris certainly felt this pressure, adding, “And of course, I wanted Jacqueline to like what she saw.”

Morris thrived on having the opportunity to embrace the creative freedom of writing for the stage. “Theatre works in a different way to TV: a theatre audience can bring their own imaginations to the play. For example, if I set a scene in a burger bar we can do it on stage with lighting and minimal props – we act like we’re in a burger bar, therefore we are.” Theatre is essentially liberating for writers, actors and audiences alike. Morris and Wilson agree that young performers and theatre groups should embrace this freedom of interpretation. They advise: “forget the TV version and make the characters your own”. Morris is clearly aware of the pitfalls of theatre, describing herself as a fan of “good theatre”. She names her favourite play as Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. In her mind, it is “a very risky play to stage and perform. If you don’t get it just right, it doesn’t work as well.” She recognises therefore that young performers putting on Tracy Beaker Gets Real! “must work within the parameters of the actual words in the script, the story and the music”. The power of the imagination must not be neglected, however. For Morris, “the joy of theatre is that other people can use their own creative imagination when they come to do it”.

Audiences should also embrace their creativity when they go to the theatre. Morris pictures the audience as an active force in the theatre because they are constantly engaging with the actors by using their imaginations, whereas “on screen locations have to be represented realistically which makes the audience much more passive”. Both Wilson and Morris attend the theatre, with Wilson commenting that she “admired the recent stage version of Carrie’s War”; goes “to every single Alan Bennett play”; has seen Wicked, Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You; and thinks Billy Elliot is “electrifying”. So what of the benefits for children watching a stage version of a book? A matter of opinion. Morris comments that “dramatising a book that is already loved and widely read can encourage children to take an interest in theatre” whereas Wilson sees the musical as a springboard into Tracy’s story, noting that “if children enjoy a dramatisation they frequently want to read the book afterwards”.

Adapting Tracy Beaker for the stage became a means of debunking some of the myths surrounding theatre and performing for younger audience members. Morris recalls that some young theatregoers “expected to see the actress who played Tracy in the TV series on stage. It was as if they believed only that actress could be Tracy Beaker.” However, it is this process of witnessing other actors play the roles that helps young people to realise that “theatre is a creative art, not a copy of a TV series”. Undoubtedly, this kind of reinvention of a children’s book on stage can only be a positive thing, but it is dependent on having a story that works flawlessly. “Getting kids to read is more about reaching them with the book’s story material. Then word of mouth from their peers who are enthusiastic about the book encourages more kids to read.” Wilson has experienced this as both writer and reader, remembering, “I loved Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield. There’s been a brilliant TV adaptation, but I don’t think there’s a stage version yet.”

Like Ballet Shoes for Wilson, The Story of Tracy Beaker has become a rite of passage for countless young readers. Now, with Morris’ new play script and lyrics, a whole new generation of theatregoers are meeting Tracy for the first time. The fruits of Morris and Wilson’s working relationship are an innovative musical adaptation that embraces its connection to its source material whilst taking the story – and Tracy herself – to an exciting new level, paving the way for other new children’s musicals. Exhilarating for writer, adapter, performers, readers and audiences alike, Tracy’s story is also heart-warming and inspirational to both theatregoers and avid readers.

To order a copy of Tracy Beaker Gets Real! or for more information please visit

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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