What attracted you to theatre growing up? Do you come from a theatrical background?
I don’t have any theatrical family members, nor were there easy routes for me in to the industry. I definitely knew that theatre inspired me and I found early focus through any opportunities at school. I grew up on the Isle of Wight and my parents took me to the theatre when they could. Then through school trips and ultimately starting to have a go myself through amateur dramatics I realised I wanted to work within theatre myself. Looking back now, it was a love of storytelling and sharing that really interested me, as it does to this day.
You have worked at HideTide festival and worked with various names such as Ella Hickson and others, as well as producing stuff on the fringe, now you’re at the Bush as Associate Dramaturg. What have you learnt over the years?
I am still learning definitely but I’ve certainly developed ways of working with writers, how to craft a play and how best to support everyone who is involved. I’ve been inspired by a diverse group of artists and am lucky to have worked with several on more than one occasion. I’ve definitely held on to a good humour and see the importance of tailoring the approach to new play development to each new process. I’ve learnt that you need to be cruel to be kind, speak less and listen more and to remember that audiences are far more intelligent than they are often given credit for.
What do you look for in new writing? it must be varied but what stands out for you?
I am a character man, I’ve always been fascinated by people and I am always looking for extraordinary stories and ordinary people. I think there are many blind spots in our new writing culture when it comes to who gets to walk in to a play, so I strive to champion those stories, plays and playwrights who are reflecting with honesty our contemporary culture in all of its mess, beauty, chaos and plurality. It’s tough to quantify sometimes because often when programming we are looking to be surprised but also just for a great story that sets off a chain reaction, from gut to brain, from heart to head.
What excites you about working with new writers?
New writers have the power to put our world on stage as it is, flip it, spin it and reveal to us, in the audience all of our greatest fears, hopes and provoke us to make a change. It is a great privilege getting to discuss stories every day with talented playwrights who are all looking to tell a truth to a room full of strangers. I am therefore most excited by curious writers who have huge ambition and those that don’t have all the answers, I think the best theatre stays with you because it has a stealth about it, it grows on you and implicates you long after you have left the theatre.
What advise do you give to writers?
Be brave, bring the world around you in to your plays, increase the stakes and remember the audience are far more intelligent than you are.
The Bush produces some great work, what is the Bush pushing for in the coming years? do you have a personal goal?
We want the plays on our stage and the audience in our theatre to look like the world we live in and for a plural culture to inform all of our work. We want work that feels ambitious and surprising and to keep developing an audience who are curious about stories that might feel unfamiliar but provoke us. I personally want to keep championing great new plays and to see them produced on to our stage.
Do feel there is progress with diversity in plays? do you feel you get more plays through your door that represent a true UK?
I think that things are improving as the debate evolves and more and more writers are finding their own way to respond artistically to a debate about diversity. There is still a long way to go and I am not sure that the scripts that are sitting in the piles around my desk are truly representative but then that is the job. We need to all take collective ownership of the challenges and those of us who work within new writing are directly responsible and most be able to affect the canon. A theatre like the Bush will only ever keep finding new ways to champion and produce the best new plays that reflect the world and culture we live in.
What is your favourite play?
I wish I could pick just one but will keep it to three; I return to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf often for it’s perfect execution and characters and will always hold fond memories of Josephine & I which we produced at the Bush in 2013 and finally Violence & Son at the Royal Court was in my opinion one of the best new plays of recent years.