Neil Smith

Playwright

After accidentally being born in the Netherlands Neil ended up in the UK where he spent his formative years. He trained to act at Guildford School of Acting but wasn't particularly good so followed his nose to a high street gentlemen's tailor before realising inside leg measurements weren't his thing and so went into academia to gain a 1st Class Honors Degree in Theatre Studies at Royal Holloway University. On graduating he quickly grounded himself in the arts culture by looking after a dog in Poole, Dorset but when an author dared him to he left the dog behind (in good hands) and boarded a bus to spend two glorious years living and working in Poland teaching English, writing plays and directing. After his contract ran out Neil returned home and to his surprise was accepted as Director of Drama at Malvern College where he spent four years directing shows, fostering the arts, stimulating impressionable minds and writing his first play. Realising four years was probably enough he returned to Royal Holloway to complete his Masters in Theatre Directing and is currently living in London as a freelance director and writer at the same time as co-running Fusion Opera where he writes and produces new operas with a librettist and is the resident playwright for Living Record.


Do you often go to the theater?

 

As much as I can. Living in London gets ever more challenging (housing, costs etc) but the wealth of performance here, whether the big west end shows or pub fringe to new plays, keeps me creatively fuelled, inspired, challenged and excited to write.

 

What play would you never write?

 

A bad play...? Alright, that's always a possibility/probability. I avoid a boring play as much as I can. Or someone else's play. I get inspired by many writers work but stick to my own.

 

Tell us about your first play. What motivated you to write it?

 

Tricky to pinpoint my first as my process is a little haphazard as to when they start/finish. So, I guess the first play I wrote that felt nearer to being finished and had a 'proper' performance was REUNION, which I started writing in 2004(ish) (and am still rewriting) which revolves around George and Jude, an elderly couple having their yearly Reunion with their grown up daughter and granddaughter for a barbeque in their bungalow garden just outside the M25. I was running a drama department of a boarding school at the time and seem to remember starting to write a. to keep sane in the insanity of a crazy work load. And b. I wanted to write a piece about two elderly characters. I wanted to have the elderly shown other than being ill/shuffling around in slippers, waiting to die which seemed to me how they tend to be represented. I wanted to give them life; full of childhood, adulthood, sex, violence, regret and compassion. It started as a duologue of about a page and then went on a long process of development to a one act play without a scene change. It's at 13 years of development and still going.

 

Did you learn to write plays?

 

Yes and no. I've not taken a specific, long term course on it. As part of my Theatre degree I took a unit on playwriting with a tutor who fired me up to believe in writing plays and then a few one or two day courses on the craft mixed with reading books. So I kinda learnt but not in a long term course way.

 

What are you working on now?

 

I've just had a recent re-write of REUNION put onstage to drum up industry interest and am now honing that latest version. It's part one of my trilogy of one act plays. Part 2 is ECHOES: A LOVE STORY which went up to the Edinburgh Festival last year and I've since been busy on rewrites. The third part is NOSTALGIA which has a completed draft but am exploring a full rewrite to help forge the overall arc of the trilogy. The aim is a full performance of all three plays.

My last full length play is AFTER THREE SISTERS that revolves around Chekhov's THREE SISTERS and had its premiere last year so since then I've been revisiting the text.

CREDITORS: my new version of Strindberg's play is in a similar place to AFTER THREE SISTERS but has already gone through a rewrite and is now ready to get back onstage.

What else...well there are also a few new play ideas bouncing around in notes and scenes so seeing if any of them stick towards full first draft territory. Plenty of one line suggestions, titles, thoughts all teasing me. It's a little crowded.

And, of course, MABLE has happened.

Oh, and I co-run an opera company with a librettist so there's also that.

 

Can you recall the brightest episode from your childhood?

 

That questions came out of no-where. Brightest...? Our family summer holidays in Wells by the sea were mostly bright and sunny. Episode four in particular.

 

Tell us about the plays and playwrights you like.

 

You know, I'm going to start with the most egotistical answer. I like my plays. No, I love them. I have to. Even if no-one else does. They're my babies. I've nurtured them, spanked them, felt utterly disappointed with them, hated them, fed them, given up so many things for them. They're special to me and I stick at it because they are me and my taste and represent the type of theatre I want to see.

So, got that one out the way.

Other playwrights: Caryl Churchill, Jean Genet, Pinter, Chekhov, (earlier) Beckett, Pirandello, Jez Butterworth, (some) Simon Stephens, Edward Bond and many more I can't remember right now.

I love ambitious, wild, challenging, fun and thoughtful plays that don't feed an audience. I write and do this to get inside people. Trojan theatre. Trojan plays. They get inside you and the audience experiences them from the inside; they rattle the bones. Linger. Resonate. Draw you back, even when you want to push them away. These plays also inhabit the performers and directors as well. Plays that possess all those that enter the arena of that world and those characters.

 

What do you think of Shakespeare?

 

Seems like an interesting guy with a broad palette of ideas. Obviously a hard worker. Proper populist who gave them what they wanted and went further. Goes on a bit at times but beat the Elizabethan competition to almost singlehandedly hold a monopoly of the traditional English playwright and managed to be embedded into every English school child's homework diary.

 

What problems do you face with the modern English playwright?

 

Oh, so many but many that affect any artist trying to get on. Day to day...balancing writing and paying the rent as rents are going crazy prices.

I'm a white male beyond the category of 'young writer' which is out of the appropriate funding catchment many theatres need.

As certain plays rise through the London culture of theatre criticism and deemed 'interesting', 'important' or (gulp) 'state of the nation plays', learning to keep that at arms length and invested in your own writing and not start chasing that cultural appreciation.

'Keeping a clear head as everyone else seems to be losing theirs' seems even more relevant nowadays.

Keeping going in the face of everything that's happening.

Keeping perspective.

Drinking enough water.

 

Are there topics in the UK that are not taken up in drama?

 

I'm sure there are many. But also the range of experiences represented 'onstage' have definitely broadened as the culture/media has broadened its scope. Subjects around LBGQ issues, homelessness, class inequality; these have all had more of a theatrical spotlight put on it as the struggle to turn on the light has become more intense.

 

What do you think about Russia?

 

Never been but from my reading, watching and listening it looks and sounds epic!

 

Are there any social lifts for playwrights in the UK?

 

If you mean social platforms to help playwrights, there are plenty, from small new writing festivals; theatre companies looking for new plays to platforms like the Royal Court that nurtures new writers. With more of a funding squeeze of new work it feels like there's even more of a hunger to see new plays given help. However there is then the question of taste, modern culture and defining the relevance of 'now'. I do wonder if Pinter or Beckett would get a look in to most theatres.

 

Tell us about your creative plans.

 

Generally: Write more. write better, fail better, fail less, enjoy more.

 

How do you write a play? Tell us about how it happens.

 

Open a laptop, flex fingers, cross fingers (uncross them) and type. But it's kinda true. The rest is... a strange alchemy of thoughts, ideas, planning, not planning, letting go, total shot in the dark, demon slaying, uncertainty, rewriting, trust, fear, sharing, insecurity, lost hours, swearing, nothing, clarity, relief, pride, smiles, eureka moments and aloneness. But at its heart you sit (or stand) and get all that out into words that you hope can be read and spoken and formatted in a way that someone told you that 'this is what a play looks like'.

Rinse and repeat with different emphasis on each part.

 

Have you ever written a play to order?

 

Yep. I was commissioned to write AFTER THREE SISTERS by the Brockley Jack Theatre via LIVING RECORD theatre company.

 

Have you ever worked on a play together with a director or a theater?

 

It's more a case have I ever NOT worked on a play with them. For me it's a fundamental part of the process for quality work, at least for the later parts of the process.

 

Is the contemporary play in demand in the UK?

 

Very much so. The Arts Council (the biggest arts funding organisation in the England) is strongly in favour of performances/plays that 'speak to today's experiences'. They're focusing on modern experiences and bringing in new audiences by revealing what it means to live here, now. And where the funding focus is, theatres and companies will tend to follow in their programming.

 

Tell us about your daily life.

 

Organising my paid work to cover my costs, writing, cooking eating, doing stuff.

 

Tell a few words about your play, which will be seen in Russia.

 

MABLE involves an aging homeless guy who has a ventriloquist dummy in which he sees Mable, his wife. They are suddenly confronted by a passing youth up for mischief.

 

How are you represented on the network? (links)

 

If you mean links to my work, I have a website: http://neilsmith.org/

The theatre company I write for is LIVING RECORD: http://www.livingrecord.co.uk/

 

Other links:

 

Play/Performance Trailers:

 

REUNION:

ECHOES:

AFTER THREE SISTERS:

CREDITORS: