Interview: Stephen Laughton

Stephen Laughton is a writer who has had work performed both in the States and in the UK. His current play RUN (Directed by Oli Rose and performed by Tom Ross Williams) is currently in rehearsals for Vault Festival (London) 2016.  RUN  follows the story of 17 year old Yonni who is gay, Jewish and a little bit obsessed with space. Here Laughton talks about his journey in to writing, fitting in to boxes and what we can expect from his latest piece.

AT: Tell us a little about you and your journey in to becoming a writer…

SL: So I started my career working in documentary production. I blagged an assistant job at Channel 4, blagged a researcher role at a small indie production company and then worked my up from there. Fast forward a few years and I’m an associate producer on a whole bunch of award winning docs and hating my life. Mainly because I just didn’t want to do this. So I went off around the world for a bit. Landed in Australia and blagged a job as a writer on a film magazine. It was here I realised I loved writing, but maybe not articles. So I called some people I knew back in the UK and asked them the best way to be a writer. Re-training came up a lot. So I applied to a whole bunch of courses, got accepted into the MA programme at Central School of Speech and Drama and had one of the best years ever. Just learning and writing. From there, I managed to blag an agent, and I’ve been working my way up steadily over the last few years. My first play (MARINA ABRAMOVIC IS STARING AT ME) got rejected everywhere in the UK, but suddenly found life as a reading at the Railroad Playhouse in upstate New York before moving on to the Cell Theatre in Manhattan. Then I did this TV development thing with Lime Pictures, that fell down at the last hurdle. Meanwhile I’m being invited onto the writing groups at the Royal Court and the Hampstead Theatres. Then my second play (NINE) was part of the PlayWROUGHT festival at the Arcola Theatre last January, which was a whole lot of fun. That also opened a few doors for me, namely getting a place on the Headstart writers’ programme with Headlong Theatre – which is really exciting because Headlong is a bit of a dream for any emerging writer. And RUN is my third/fourth play (I wrote this and another play at the same time.)

AT: What inspired you to write RUN?

SL: The genesis of this one is a bit different to the way I usually work. Instead of randomly finding a story or a line that seems to resonate and everything sort of then springs from – this time it came from a place where I randomly thought ‘oh… I’ve never written a monologue before…. Oh… I’d like to write about being in love at 17. Oh…I’d like to write something about being gay, and being Jewish and oh… I’d like to write about a boy who’s a bit obsessed with space’. In the meantime I’d been approached by James at Theatre Renegade – our plays had both been at PlayWROUGHT – and he reached out and asked if I had anything to submit to a short play night they produce. So with all that in mind, I started writing the bit about bringing in Shabbat with the wine and the Hebrew, and the rhythm kind of found itself in the ritual and before you know it, it’s all started flowing and we have a 20-minute piece about a rebellious boy in love. After that, it just all fell together. Before you know it, it was received really well and we were having a conversation about a full length version. Fast forward nine months and here we are…and I’m really proud of it. It feels very close and personal. It feels more intimate to me than anything else I’ve written; in many ways that makes it more exciting than anything else, but also – in putting it out into the world – like a hundred times more scary.

AT: What are the challenges in writing a play for one person, as opposed to a larger company?

SL: I found it much easier than writing a more ensemble piece actually. Mainly because it’s just one voice. One person’s perspective to think about. I can get bogged down with the psychology of my characters, really lost in the minutiae of what they’re thinking and doing and why. I sometimes feel guilty for the minor characters in my larger pieces; that they don’t have quite the same weight, or space. It potentially sounds a bit wanky, but I spend so long on the creation of these worlds and the people in them that they have a realness; a wholeness to me. So I don’t want to do any of them any injustice by not giving them the opportunity to emerge as fully as they can… So not having to worry about six different people and actually all of the rhythms and language quirks and histories etc therein was really freeing. It’s also a really pure story for me in many ways. Just one singular narrative that often felt like it was weaving itself. By its very nature, a monologue offers a theatricality that you (read I) might perhaps miss in one of my more naturalistic (in terms of form) plays. So I really got to experiment with poetry and rhythm and the allusion of space a little more. That was fun, and freeing.

AT: And what are the highlights?

SL: Hands down, Tom Ross-Williams. He’s magic. Actual electric.

AT: How have rehearsals been so far? Have you been in on the rehearsal process?

SL: I like to be kind of hands off – I’ve mainly done my bit – but still kind of involved. It’s not like I just want to disappear. So I’ve been to a couple of rehearsals and they’ve been great. I tend to mainly sit back and say, “yeah, that’s awesome” a lot. And it’s great that we’ve done this before. So Tom and Oli (and I) have built up a great rapport. It also helps that they’re both so bloody talented, and just really get it, I know it’s in the best hands it can be in. I really love working with the boys and I love seeing the way they’ve brought it to life. So yeah, it’s been a really great experience. I kind of just want to hug them a lot and thank them for loving our baby as much as I do!

AT: Where can we find more about it online and book tickets?

(Please note this info is for the 2016 run of the show.  For 2017 tickets book here.)

SL: Well… we have a website… http://run-theplay.net/ that will give you info, cast and creative stuff, a synopsis etc… It also has links to buy Plays from Vault – an anthology of five of the best plays in the festival (it’s so awesome that RUN has been included) and you can also get to the main Vault site to buy tickets. But here’s the direct link too: http://run-theplay.net/the-vault-festival/

We have a page and event on facebook at www.facebook.com/runtheplay and we’re on Twitter @run-theplay so follow us and like us for updates We’ve already sold out the first night, which is kind of awesome. And you should absolutely check out what else is going on at the festival… Isley Lynn’s To Skin a Cat, Rosie Kellet’s Primadonna and Camilla Whitehill’s Mr. Incredible are looking like particular highlights for me. Also check out what PLAY are doing and basically everything that’s going on at The Locker, there are some great pieces playing there; Crowley and Co are doing a takeover for a couple of weeks and they have an awesome programme… and you’ll def find me at Sarah Kosar’s new play Armadillo and Vinay Patel’s Known Unknown. Come say hi.

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