The inaugural Adrian Pagan Playwright Award, established by King’s Head Theatre, is specifically set up for theatre professionals who do not describe themselves as playwrights. I chatted to its first ever winner, actor Thomas Pickles, who won with his play Dead Party Animals, currently playing at the Hope Theatre.
Dead Party Animals is about a relationship breaking down: “It is a documentary about what happens on a night out with a group of girls and boys, interspersed with poetry and prose. There are flashbacks to an event that happened six months beforehand which is the reason for things breaking down. There are fragments of conversations throughout the play, which I picked straight out of people’s mouths. A lot of it is inspired from where I grew up; it is not a true story but there are elements of it that are very real.”
During my our conversation, Pickles’s pride in his hometown and its influence on his writing really came to the fore: “I’m from Burnley in East Lancashire and I’m 23: the play is about 17- and 18-year-olds, going out and not being very good at drinking – which is me all over to be honest. Although the play is not specifically set anywhere there are cobbles and old empty mill houses included, so there is definitely a Northern flavour. There is a wit and a charm to where I’m from: Lancastrians are pretty down-to-earth and blunt, they say it like it is and are quite laid back. There’s a natural everyday humour to the place and I like to think I will always keep to my roots.”
From the age of 10, Pickles went to Burnley Youth Theatre where acting for him became, “a serious hobby”. After graduating from Rose Bruford in 2012, Pickles got his first acting job at RSC soon after: since then he has worked consistently, with stints at the Derby Theatre and appearing in episodes of Doctors and Casualty. In June, he is due to fly out to New York to take part in the Brits on Broadway Festival. From his enthusiastic tone on the phone, Pickles’s passion and focus for acting and the imaginative process seem to cross over into his pursuit of writing: “I would like to think that being an actor makes me a better writer and being a writer makes me a better actor. I write because I can have control. Going from high school to A Levels and then to drama school without a gap year, I have had the structure of education all my life. Writing means that I can break the structure and do what I want: I can create my own world, my own people and my own words – writing is my release.”
Having worked more extensively as an actor, Pickles is also performing in Dead Party Animals: “In the rehearsal room the ratio was probably about 70/30 weighted on the actor’s side of things rather than on the writer. It is very important that the director has that outside perspective and you have to trust him/her.”
Pickles appears to have balanced his performance role well, with his role as the playwright not working to his detriment: “Dramaturgically, I could offer things but as an actor you do this anyway, it is best not to be selfish. As a writer, you have got to make sacrifices to tell the best story – that’s your job. When performing something written by yourself, it is so very to become consumed by it so that outside perspective is healthy. There must be clarity and collaboration between yourself and the director in the rehearsal room. I was keen to hear other people’s perspectives and see what the director thought was not clear about the play, making sure the story was not lost on the audience.”
To both aspiring playwrights and aspiring actors, Pickles gives some good advice: “Listen and watch people. As a writer do not be afraid to pick things up and be a little bit of a magpie. Write what you know and what you see: even if you are writing a play set in the year 3000, you can still relate it to things going on now. You can always put a creative slant on things, but make sure it’s weighted in reality. As an actor you have got to have a lot of self-belief, because it is difficult: you have got to be very open-minded and resilient. You can go to an audition or a meeting and do all the work, but nine times out of ten the reason you do not get the job is because of a factor you can do absolutely nothing about. Having that knowledge makes it easier for me when I head out to auditions: if I do my best then there’s nothing else I can do.”
Dead Party Animals is at the Hope Theatre until 24 May. For more information and tickets, visit the Hope Theatre’s website.