Interview: Stephen Laughton

Stephen Laughton came to our attention earlier this year with his brilliant piece ‘Run’,
which performed at Vault Festival in February, and followed the story of a same-sex first love.  He’s now back, with his new piece ‘Screens’ on at Theatre 503 until September 3rd, here he talks a little more about his work and the inspiration behind his latest piece.

(Please note: Contains swears, and references a homophobic attack.)

AT: Hi Stephen, thanks so much for speaking to LGBTQ Arts today

SL: Hey Amie, thanks for having me back in LGBTQ Arts Review… I’m really hoping you guys like this one!  So to your questions…

AT: What drew you to write for theatre? Why do you write?
SL: I’ve been a jotter since I can remember. Not in a Truman-Capote-I-wrote-my-first-novel-at-5 way, but lines, thoughts etc. have been jotting for a really long time! I didn’t really think about what I’d do with it. In the meantime, I was about 16 and my best friend’s dad gave me a copy of the Birthday Party by Harold Pinter; and basically I fell in love a little bit. I thought I wanted to be a director, but oddly ended up in drama school, where I started writing these really awful Pinter pastiches… I handed in my ‘show diaries’ for a play we were doing with this professional guest director and in my feedback he asked me if I’d considered writing. I’d basically dramatised the whole thing. I still hadn’t and didn’t for maybe another ten years. I ended up working in documentaries as a producer for most of my twenties and there came a point, where I was making great money, my projects were winning awards and doing really well and I was just super unhappy. So, I went travelling, ended up blagging a job as a staff writer on a film magazine in Australia, realised I loved writing, I was good at it and this is what I should be doing – but not articles. So decided to come back home and do a writing MA! Fast forward 4 years and here we are…
I don’t really know why I write… is it way wanky to say compulsion?? I want to say something intelligent about exploring  the world but it’s literally just this instinctive thing… I can’t help myself… so it’s really awesome that I’m finding venues and audiences and responses to my work…mainly because it means I get to do it more and hopefully each play will be a bit better than the last…

AT: What inspired Screens?

SL: Soooooooo much…. in terms of characters and tone, there’s an element of the autobiographical…. I have this really mashed up Heinz Variety Baked Beans background, so identity is really important to me. I’m gay. I’m Cypriot. I’m Jewish. I’m a bit Brummie. I’m a boy. I’m British. I’m a geek. I have all these labels that define me so pinning that down was vaguely fascinating.

At the same time the Ruby Thomas thing horrified me. So kept going round and round in my head. What makes an intelligent, engaged, young woman do something like that

Meanwhile in Stoke Newington there’s this dead cat just rotting all summer that no one will do anything about.

And I’d just come out of a relationship and discovered the ‘joys’ of Grindr and Instagram.

I went on two dates. One with this super left-wing kid who just preached at me the whole time. I mean I’m pretty left-wing and political but he just ranted it me. And I was offended and kind of intrigued. And I couldn’t work out why I stayed. He wasn’t even my type but there was something about the fury and the passion that I found really attractive. And then I went on this other ‘Grindr’ date in a Service Station that was really random, and on my drive back to London the first version of the play just came to me on the M40! It’s been through a couple of theatres in various guises of development so by the time we got to 503 and decided we were totally going to do Brexit had happened so I couldn’t write a hyper-modern play about ‘labels’ without a serious re-work…  So that’s how we got here…

AT: What’s it about?

SL: On the surface it’s probably a shouty, little rant about how stupid people can be sometimes… online…in life… we all hide behind ‘screens’ and that can sometimes make us act like total fucking morons.

There’s also something about the hangover of what we’ve inherited… politically, socially, personally…

But really, at the heart of it, it’s about repression. If you keep repressing shit, it’s going to come out somewhere… and it’s probably not going to be good.

AT: What do you hope audiences will take away from watching?

SL: I hope they get caught up in the fury and the passion and the mess of these beautifully dysfunctional characters…

And I hope they laugh a bit too…

SL: Your last piece Run, at Vaults fest, explored first love in a same-sex relationship without explicitly focussing on the LGBT aspect… What are you thoughts on the current representation of LGBT characters in theatre?

SL: There’s actually a whole Ben rant in the play about how gay men are allowed to be represented as either sexually active vultures or sweet little camponistas… I’d like us to get past that. Gay men are slowly becoming more rounded. And we’ve got past AIDS and coming out which is great. Jumping to TV and film, I genuinely

think the L Word did more for LGBT representation than all the Queer a
s Folks and the Bananas put together….There’s still a lot of work to be done on gay female representation though – and films like The Kids are All Right really undid it…but I’m excited about the next generation of Sarah Kanes and Claire Dowies – really strong and sensitive LGBT women writing really exciting plays that play with representation and form. The T is really high on the agenda right now and I hope it stays that way. We need more work on the B though… And I don’t understand why. There are lots of stories you can explore there…

So yes… we’re getting there…  But we have to keep pushing. And I think there’s room for more exciting, visceral, furies, passionate LGBT writing…

AT: What are you working on next?

SL: I’ve just finished a new play. I’m really excited about it. I don’t want to jinx it by saying any more but you can have the first sneaky peek at it if the theatre who seem quite excited by it commit…
AT: Congratulations, really exciting news.  Our reviewer Janina gave Screens 5 stars last week, you can read her review here.
Screens runs at Theatre 503 (London) until the 3rd Sept.  Booking.

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