Writing for the round: Orange Tree Theatre’s newest writer

23-year-old Archie W. Maddocks’s first professional play, Mottled Lines, is about to take to the stage at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. After months of writing, casting and rehearsals, he sat down with the play’s director, Henry Bell to talk about the production, his previous writing experience and why the play will take everyone by surprise.

First of all, could you tell us about your writing background and what sparked your passion for words?

Archie Maddocks: Well, I came from a family of actors. I’ve always been very interested in stories. They take you into a completely different world, which I’m fascinated by, and I love to entertain. I guess that’s why I got into writing… I can take over the world! Originally, I wanted to be a wrestler – that didn’t go well, as you can see!

Your play is based on the August 2011 London riots. It’s been described on the Orange Tree Theatre’s website as “the reasons behind the carnage”. So where did your initial idea come from?

AM: It’s about the riots, but it’s fundamentally about fear. The reason behind the riots, in my mind, was a breakdown in communication between different people in society. I think unless they’re cut from the same cloth, [there is a lack of] respect for each other. Each character is an archetypal member of society. All the characters speak the truth, in a sense, but they speak their own version of the truth. They have their own grounding in the play, and their own reasons for being where they are.

At what point after the riots did you decide, “I’ll write a play about this”? Was it a conscious decision?

AM: It wasn’t really. I’m part of the Orange Tree Theatre’s Writers’ Group, which is brilliant. We write response plays to the ones they put on at the Orange Tree. [A particular one that we focused on] was called The Conspirators, about paranoia in society and political awareness. I thought it really resonated at the time, with so much paranoia in this political climate, and I wrote 23 pages as a response play.

Henry Bell: What really impressed me about this play was that Archie gives a voice to completely different parts of society and everyone’s got a point of view. What you get from this play is seeing how there are problems in all corners of society and how those corners don’t really communicate with each other, which is the crux of the play. You can apply that to [both] historical and future situations, I think.

AM: People have a perception of the world only from their standing, so they are never going to perceive it in the same way as someone else.

What was the writing process like?

AM: I think I finished the play at the beginning of October 2011 – pretty quickly. My writing process for each character was different. The Thug was born out of countless frustrations of my friends and I, from people on the street, past experiences and other people that we knew. But for someone like The Wolf, I just watched people on TV’s Question Time, noticing the way that they spoke, the way you could see the thoughts behind their eyes not coming out and they were structuring their words in a very specific way. So [my own words] just poured out, really. The play was born out of music, as well. I’ve got a very eclectic taste: I’ll listen to [anything from] hip-hop to classical. I thought, “What would this character listen to? Would it be this type of music?” A lot of it came from literature too, especially writers who were frustrated with their own society. [Those feelings] lent themselves to the characters.

How did the collaboration with the Orange Tree Theatre come about?

AM: It came about from the Writers’ Group. I joined in August 2011. We get to come and see the theatre’s plays, we [receive] feedback from our response plays and we get a lot of support. That’s fundamental for the theatre.

How do you feel having your first professional production at such a young age?

AM: I’m delighted. It’s amazing. I’m really humbled to see people coming in, speaking the words that I wrote and believing in the piece. It’s very surreal. I didn’t imagine it being like this. I don’t want to say it’s like a dream, but it’s kind of like I’m floating about. I’m very excited for it.

HB: Very well deserved. It’s a great play.

How experienced were you in writing before your involvement with Orange Tree?

AM: During my university years, I did a lot of creative writing. I wrote two novels, which have not been looked back over – it was for National Novel Writing Month – they’re probably pretty bad, but it just got the writing juices flowing. Then, I studied abroad in America. It made me look at things back here in England and want to write about my experiences. Post-university, I thought, “That’s it, I want to be a playwright”. That was always the goal. There was no better time to start building my foundations as a writer.

Could you tell me about how the play itself will be performed at the Orange Tree Theatre?

HB: The actors will talk directly to the audience. There’s going to be a sort of dialogue. We’re the only theatre in the round in London so it’ll work really well.

AM: It completely breaks the fourth wall. I wrote it in mind for the Orange Tree Theatre. The upper and lower levels make the atmosphere much more intense, particularly with a play like this. It gets the audience involved to a point where some of them may be uncomfortable, but that’s what I want. They will be facing these characters and, in a sense, some of them may be facing their fears.

HB: With theatre in the round, the audience themselves add to the experience as they are actively involved in it. The Orange Tree is a 172 seat theatre and you’re never further than about six or seven feet away from the stage.

How much input did Archie have into the actual production itself, in terms of casting and involvement in rehearsals etc.?

AM: I think I’ve been really lucky because Henry has got me completely involved in everything! Obviously he’s the director and he has final say, but I kind of feel like we’re a team. It’s very collaborative, which I’m very thankful for.

HB: I think that’s the best way of working with writers: get them as involved as possible. During the casting process, it is quite useful to have the writer there, particularly with a piece like this, which is very much from Archie’s personal point of view. What’s really interesting about new writing, as a director, is that collaboration with a living writer. That is what’s great about having a Writers’ Group that is in the DNA of the building. Archie understands the theatre, I understand Archie… so far.

AM: I’ve done play readings where the writers have been there and you can see in their eyes if they don’t like something, and you’re just like, “Oh no! What have I done?” I want to be very open-minded and approachable. I want to go on a journey with the actors, the directors and the producers. I don’t want to have an image of where the play is going to go; I want it to take me by surprise.

What are you most nervous and excited about seeing on stage?

AM: I think it’s hard to pick something specific: I’m excited about seeing the whole play, but mostly the audience’s reaction, particularly in Richmond. This is a play that the Orange Tree would not have done before and it’s a bold move.

HB: As with all directors, I’m excited about getting in the rehearsal room and getting into the depths of the text that Archie’s written with some good actors. There’s a real challenge with this play and that’s how we will have the relationship between the performer and the audience. It will be epic with a capital E.

What are your future writing plans?

AM: Well, I mentioned taking over the world earlier, but [right now] I just want to get more plays on. By the time I’m 25, I’d like to have my first series on TV, maybe written a few films and a novel. I’m quite ambitious. Ideally, in the next two years, I want to have on a minimum of another four plays. In the future, I want to do everything. I know that’s quite a lot to ask but I think if I aim high, then I might come close.

Mottled Lines runs from Tuesday 10 July to Saturday 14 July. You can check booking prices and information on the Orange Tree Theatre website.

Image credit: Orange Tree Theatre

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