Leo Butler



Tuesday 5th April – 28th May

@ Almeida Theatre

Are there playwrights that inspire you or other artists that inspire your work?

Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Lennon & McCartney. A lot of film-makers too – Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Akira Kurosawa, Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese, and Alan Clarke. Oh, and I love the big American TV shows like The Walking Dead, Mad Men and Game of Thrones.

As for playwrights, too many to mention, but Beckett has always circled me, and I always go back to Shakespeare. Debbie Tucker Green and Caryl Churchill are pretty special aren’t they? When I was teaching at the Royal Court, I had the fortune to work with some amazing playwrights in their home-countries. Blessing Hungwe from Zimbabwe, Neil Coppen in South Africa, and Bosco Israel Alvarez in Chile – to name just three – they’ve all written these amazing plays that haven’t been produced in the UK yet.

You have written a steady stream of plays, many produced at fantastic venues such as The Royal Court and The Finbourough. Your plays have diverse themes, where do you start in the ideas progress?

I just try to be as honest with myself as possible and trust my instincts – and my instinct usually manifests itself in images, moods and bits of dialogue. It’s rare that I begin with a topic or a political agenda, that’s something that evolves as I’m writing. BOY began with a series of unrelated scenes and images of a teenage boy wandering around different locations in south east London. I knew I wanted to write a play with lots of scenes, following around this lonely kid, but it took a while for any themes to emerge. I don’t like beginning a play with a concrete theme as it can put unhelpful limitations on my imagination, I prefer to let it develop in parallel with the story.

‘Boy” is a recent play being produced at the Almeida, can you tell us abit about this play? What was the hardest part of writing ‘Boy’?

It’s about a 17 year old kid who’s left school with nothing, who doesn’t have much to look forward to, and who isn’t being supported by the world around him – family, friends or the state. Over a couple of days we see the world through his eyes as he struggles to find something to do with his day – and, in the wider context, his life.
One of the most challenging aspects was writing the appendix of characters and scenes that surround Liam on his journey – some of which we use in the production, some stuff we’ve left out (although it’s in the published text). The first appendix was longer than the actual play, but a lot of it I’ve shifted in the main text as I didn’t want it to seem separate from the ‘main’ play. The other characters – whether it’s a Professional Middle-Aged Man or a Homeless Teenage Girl – are just as important to the story as Liam is.

Faces in the Crowd was a play that was quite hard hitting in the face of reality, is Boy another piece along the lines of getting people to look at Britain today?

Yes, that’s the aim, I’d rather my plays were hard hitting than soft stroking (I reckon there’s a time and a place for that!) But, saying that, I’m not a journalist, and I imagine the play can be watched as a purely emotional experience regardless of any political context. It’s also quite weird and dream-like – which I also like. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with the play’s political message or gesture or whatever, you’ll still get something from the play.

You have been working alongside creatives at the Almeida, has this be a good process? Sasha wares who directed ‘Game’ is taking the Directing helm, what has she brought to your vision/writing?

Sacha’s amazing and, honestly, she’s one of the hardest-working directors in the business. She’s the one who brought it to Rupert Goold at the Almeida and made it happen. And her vision for the production (along with designer Miriam Beuther) has definitely influenced some of the later rewrites. Way before the production we’d spend these long afternoons in coffeeshops discussing and questioning and working through the play – she’s a great ‘trick’ and ‘cheat’ detector, so you can’t get away with sloppy exposition or convenient events to push the story along as nothing gets past her. So, yes, she’s been a great collaborator and any playwright would be lucky to work with herButler_Leo

What do you enjoy when working with other creatives?

Writing means working on your own 95% of the time, so you relish the times you can work with other people on a production. And it’s especially magic when they take ownership of it. With BOY we’ve got an amazing creative team and it’s magic to watch them put their creativity and imagination into the show. And then there’s the actors, all twenty six of them, who are the life and soul of the play. They bring your words and characters to life, and they do a far better job of it than you imagined on the page, and so it makes the weeks and months of (often torture) at the writing-desk all worth it.

In the press at the moment working issues and actors is a hot topic, it says issues and actors from working class backgrounds aren’t being fairly represented. How do you feel about this?

At the end of the day, an actor shouldn’t be judged on his or her class. But there is a dreadful imbalance in diversity because it’s very difficult for working class kids to afford to go to drama school, so they can’t follow the traditional route of drama school, showcase, agent, unemployment (and, if you’re lucky, a job).
This isn’t helped by theatre programmers who may have been reluctant to stage working class dramas in the last few years because they don’t want to risk alienating their core audience or to seem to appear unfashionable.

The government are constantly cutting funding and taking artistic subjects out of school, if you could do one thing for children in schools right now what would you do?

Invest in state schools for more teachers and better facilities and put art & creativity, alongside science, at the heart of the curriculum right the way through primary and secondary education. Music, drama, and art should be valued as much as physics, biology and chemistry.



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