Is this a generation of new writers who are pressuring themselves to prove their writing through a message? Playwright Katherine Thomas asks the question as she brings her professional debut, Never Trust A Man Bun, to Stockwell Playhouse in March 2019.

Whether you have had a cultured and indulgent upbringing, or were only allowed to feast on those precious thirty minutes of television on a Sunday, storytelling shapes us from an incredibly young age. We begin with picture books and children’s books, puppetry and pantomime.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the first play I remember seeing and I found it absolutely spell-bounding, not least because the car actually flies above the stage at the end of the first act. Special effects and catchy musical numbers aside, the storyline is very simple. The goodie meets a lady he doesn’t particularly get along with, they conquer the evil baddie together and then they fall in love following:

  • A moment of discovering the objective;
  • A moment of absolute despair, and
  • The final battle where they come out on top.

To my entire family, this production was an absolute hit and we came out as five ecstatic audience members…

And yet, I feel that recently a lot of new writing has lost the art of simple storytelling and has begun to showcase ‘edgy’ or explanatory productions, which don’t quite give me the same jubilance.

Man Bun Stockwell Playhouse

Katherine Thomas & Jack Forsyth-Noble (image courtesy of Jamie Joe Thompson)

I have recently been treating myself to the joy of funding applications – guilty. Every time I fill out sections on the storyline and purpose of the play, I get more and more conscious that there isn’t a political message to my play. I begin to think,

How can I make this about equality?

How can I make this a comment on masculinity?

How can I turn this into a piece about Brexit or another history-making event, which has happened in the last six to eighteen months?

I created spider diagrams on what makes my play fundable and what issues it is addressing in modern day society. I called up my friend, you know, that friend that everyone has who knows everything about anything and is intelligence personified. I said,

“Tash, I’m really concerned that no one will produce my script because it doesn’t say enough”

She asked me why I thought people would enjoy it and I responded with the dawning realisation that the reason I have loved my favourite London theatre (Bad Jews, Good Canary and The Motherfucker With The Hat) is that they didn’t try to be clever. They didn’t try to give it an out-of-the-box philosophical moral. Instead they told beautiful stories, with complex and relatable characters, and they led the audience through a journey of emotion with simple peaks and troughs.

Man Bun Stockwell Playhouse

Calum Robshaw, Katherine Thomas, Jack Forsyth-Noble & Natasha Grace Hutt (image courtesy of Jamie Joe Thompson)

The comfort in my own piece of theatre encouraged me to realise that while there is absolutely nothing wrong with bright lights, plot twists and a political moral, I feel such an all-consuming thrill when a playwright stuns me with simple character development and a beautifully executed, simple storyline. The most complex and indulgent post-theatre conversations I have had is when we are not discussing a governmental topic, but instead when there are organic and real relationships on stage.

Is this a generation of new writers who are pressuring themselves to prove their writing through a new message?

If we can begin to focus on the modest and everyday plot, maybe we can bring theatre back to the uncomplicated and elegant art that we don’t have to concentrate to sink into.

 

Katherine Thomas’ debut play, Never Trust A Man Bun, runs at Stockwell Playhouse from 19 – 24 March 2019. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the venue website.