Feb 8, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 425: Philip Gawthorne
Hometown: Southport, Merseyside, UK.
Current Town: Right now I’m living in London, staying in New York for my play, and will be moving to Los Angeles later this year, so I’m spending a lot of time in planes, trains and automobiles!
Q: Tell me about The Thrill Of The Chase.
A: The Thrill Of The Chase opens on February 16th at the Drilling Company Theatre in New York. It’s a world premiere and though I’ve had lots of stuff produced in London, it will be my first full-length play to be fully produced in NYC. The story is about two male friends in their late 20s, living in an obscene penthouse apartment in the city, who have a co-dependent, slightly infantilized relationship. When one of them wants to break free and marry his new girlfriend, the other bets him that he can break them up in 30 days - and if he doesn't succeed, he will give him the apartment. It's a provocative, intense drama about masculinity, status, control and sex. I think it will really divide people…they will certainly have a strong reaction to it, whether that reaction is good or bad. I was very inspired by David Rabe's Hurlyburly, one of my all-time favourite plays, and also by the work of David Mamet and Neil LaBute.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I have two other new plays that have had a lot of interest and that I am in talks with various Theatres about. The first is called United State, which explores US/UK political relations through the prism of a transatlantic love story. The other piece is called The Rules Of The Game, which is another spiky drama, looking at sexual politics through the theme of the rules - unspoken or literal - which control and shape our lives.
Q: How does English theater compare to American theater?
A; I’m not sure if there’s that much difference in terms of content, although I think in the US it probably helps to be a British writer and vice versa. One thing I have noticed is that actually going to the Theatre in London and the UK is much more affordable than it is New York, especially on Broadway. Obviously it’s a different funding model. I personally think Theatre should be accessible to everyone and a lot of the best London venues have great initiatives to make top-level Theatre affordable to all, which I think is really important culturally.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Like most people, I had a few scrapes in life, at school etc. Nothing too serious or anything, though I got punched and kicked a few times. But you get up and get on with it. I think that pretty much sums up the life of a writer. It’s about being able to take those punches.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I think that Theatre is a very important part of our culture, and also our educational process. I guess I’d try to make sure that kids and young people got more access to the kind of relevant contemporary theatre that they might be able to actually connect with, and which could inspire them, as well as the classics.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: David Mamet and Neil LaBute are amongst my favourite playwrights, along with Martin McDonagh, Patrick Marber, Peter Morgan and Yasmina Reza. Kevin Spacey is a hero of mine and I think the philosophy he has adopted at the Old Vic, both in terms of artistic direction and all the various development schemes he has implemented to help the next generation of theatre practitioners, is highly commendable and incredibly inspiring. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with Kevin and have personally benefited from the support network created by the brilliant team at the Old Vic.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I like theatre that doesn’t hold your hand, that challenges you, that doesn’t offer easy answers. I like provocative, dangerous, visceral stories on stage. I suspect I may get a few people walking out of The Thrill Of The Chase when it opens as some of the scenes in it are very extreme, and that’s okay if it’s not for them. It’s not about trying to shock though, that’s too easy and a little immature. For me it’s about being completely honest, even if it’s uncomfortable – that’s the duty of a dramatist.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I think the biggest thing is to keep going. Just keep writing. And make sure you finish things. An unfinished play is no use to man or beast. Don’t let yourself be crippled by self-doubt. Be true to yourself, always. I also think it’s important from a practical standpoint to develop the ability to write for other forms – whether it’s film, TV, radio, journalism or whatever. For me, working in film and television as well as the stage, has informed and helped my experience as a writer and allows me to flex different creative muscles and experiment in other challenging mediums. It keeps you sharp. It’s hard to make a living as a playwright alone, but if you can make a living as a professional writer, it shifts your mentality, and gives you a sense of confidence and self-belief, which makes you braver as a dramatist. But above all, my advice would be: take the punches and keep writing.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: My play The Thrill Of The Chase opens on February 16th at The Drilling Company Theatre in New York, produced by Mad Dog Theatre Company. It runs until March 4th. All ticket info is available on the website, www.maddogbarks.com. We have a terrific young cast and an excellent director and team behind it and I think it will be a great production. Whether it makes you laugh, cry, squirm or scream in abject horror…I guarantee that you will have a powerful reaction to it…hope you can come and join us!