Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Centre Stage on What's Peen Seen?: Howard Colyer

Howard Colyer is a playwright and novelist. His most recent productions were,The Overcoat, which had a sell-out run at the Brockley Jack in January 2011; Conference Call, which was selected for LOST Theatre's One Act Play Festival in May; and Homework which appeared at the Jack in November 2011. 

Here, Colyer tells What's Peen Seen? about his life as a writer. 

Q.  What is the most difficult aspect of adapting for the stage, and how do you overcome it?
A.  Being true to the spirit of the original, while writing something that is engaging on the stage for somebody who doesn’t know the original. But how? The answer varies with every adaptation. It can’t be reduced to a formula. If writing a play could be reduced to a formula it wouldn’t be worth doing. Or, at least, it wouldn’t appeal to me.

Q.  What is the most rewarding aspect of your role?
A.  Writing is a joy for me, indeed a physical necessity. It is something I do instinctively every day – like drinking tea. But with regard to writing plays rather than novels, what appeals to me about the theatre is the way that layers of imagination work together: the playwright puts down the text, the director builds upon that, then the designer, then the actor, and finally the spectator makes it live in his own imagination – if the play lives at all.

Q.  How did you get into playwriting?
A.  For some fifteen years while I wrote fiction I was an avid theatre goer, and I wanted to write a play, but I could never think of a satisfactory idea. Then one night in the National I saw Pinter’s A Slight Ache, and it reminded me of one of my short stories; and then I saw a way of adapting the story to the stage. It was as if a switch had been re-set in my head.  Since then I have written some twenty plays. I hope the switch in my head doesn’t get set back.

Q.  What would you recommend to young theatre graduates looking to put on their first play?
A.  Pursue three routes:
  • ·      Send your plays to the Bush, Finborough and other theatres which are interested in new writing, and keep an eye on the BBC Writers’ Room – because good opportunities are regularly listed there.
  • ·      Join writing groups which are attached to a theatre – for example, those run by the Brockley Jack. These are likely to have scratch nights, and platforms for short plays, which enable a playwright to make a start and gain experience.
  • ·      Do it yourself. This offers the best and roughest education. Many theatres rent out their stages to companies, and some of these are not that expensive. The Camden Fringe is an obvious option to consider for people living in London. Failing that, it is worth organising readings of your own work with actors or fellow writers – a playwright needs to hear his words in the mouths of others. The word needs to be made flesh.

Q.  What is your favourite piece of theatre and why?
A.  For me the greatest play is Hamlet. I must have seen it a dozen times, and read it more than that. But to answer why the play is so good would take months of work, and when I had finished I’m sure I would have added nothing new to the libraries already written on the play.

Kafka v Kafka in performance: 

  Photos: Anna Nguyen

Kafka v Kafka runs at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until February 4th 2012. 
You can book tickets here (£10-12). 

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