After watching the three-hour epic production An Adventure, Annabel Mellor catches up with playwright Vinay Patel. He's keeping tight-lipped about his part in writing Dr Who, but he's happy to chat about his family discoveries:

Vinay Patel is braver than he was before.

In researching and writing his latest play, An Adventure, he has grown bolder. Described by every critic, blogger and influencer who saw it as ‘epic’, and as ‘an epic of the heart’ by the man himself, it can only have been life-changing to create.

An Adventure tells the story of the marriage of Jyoti and Rasik as they crossed continents for a home worth fighting for. I saw it almost a month ago and it’s as fresh in my head now as it was then, with all its sweeping, cinematic detail. Everything about the play feels huge; not just the physical journey Patel’s gorgeous characters take across continents, but their inner, emotional journeys as well.

Adventure Bush Theatre

Shubham Saraf & Anjana Vasan (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

This play isn’t three hours long for its own sake – it needs that much space to tell two lifetime’s worth of stories. Patel has captured vast swathes of time – historical events, political conflicts and the deep wounds they leave behind, within such an intimate setting, “You have to create the water your characters are swimming in, and what it’s like to swim in that water,” he explains. “It always comes back to running each event through the feelings, dragging the action back to how it affects the people who live through it.

“History can feel inevitable. What is it like to be a person in those times?

“I wanted to explore what it feels like to be on the brink of these events, living them as they unfold in real time.”

The story of Jyoti and Rasik is deeply personal, having found its origins within the Patel family history. In exploring the migrations of his own bloodline, Patel took a trip through time to discover the journeys that created him. In grappling with the details of their lives and loves, he uncovered hidden details of his own identity. For example, the character Rasik in An Adventure is based on Patel’s maternal grandfather. Through conversations filled with “tough questions…questions he had been waiting a long time to be asked”, Patel uncovered the legends of his familial past. An octogenarian now, the real Rasik was going through a reflective time, “I was asking him to go into the central mythology of his life and history and unpick it, and I think he found that very cathartic.”

Adventure Bush Theatre

Selva Rasalingam & Nila Aalia (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

As a recovering Who Do You Think You Are? addict, I can only imagine the narrative satisfaction of writing a play based on genealogical findings. The moment you connect with your forebears as real people, your history starts to feel real. Turning such knowledge into a living, breathing play must transform a person. And that’s why I’m not surprised that writing An Adventure has made Patel an adventurer himself,

“I found it very moving”, he confesses of his discussions with his grandfather. “Much of what I learned has redefined my identity and what it means to me to be British. Knowing their struggles have made me more ambitious in my own life. It’s made me see the world in a new light and wonder what else I can explore.”

What else, indeed? Outer space must have seemed like the logical next step…

Vinay Patel Adventure Bush Theatre

Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Jodie Whittaker & Tosin Cole in Doctor Who (image courtesy of BBC/ BBC Studios – Giles Kyte)

Fresh from a stint in the hallowed Dr Who writers’ room (he couldn’t tell me much, although I do know that he’s loving knowing what comes next in the new series, and that showrunner Chris Chibnall is the best boss he’s ever had), Patel is now working on a new play about George Lucas and the making of Star Wars. It’s another topic that has a strong and loyal fanbase, ready to engage in online discussion and help Patel do justice to an milestone figure in the film industry.

Thankfully, Patel is a welcome addition to Twitter – open and honest, with the perfect balance of cat photos, live-blogging weddings and positive cultural debate, “I like talking to people on Twitter. Being on social media keeps me sharp and open to different perspectives”…”you can interact directly with your audience. It feels like an extension of what I got into theatre to do.”

Vinay Patel

Finally, as is his way, Patel is more than happy to give some advice for those of us beginners trying to write their first play. Asking, of course, for a friend… “Let yourself be shit. Just write it, and hope for it to be good, but don’t be too bummed out if it’s bad. You also need to set a precise goal for each piece of work”…”use everything as an opportunity to play and experiment.

“Find the right people to give you feedback. Avoid taking feedback from people who just want to tell you how they would have done it. Listen to the people who understand what you’re trying to do and will help you get it there.”

An Adventure runs at the Bush Theatre until 20 October. For more information or to book tickets, visit the venue website here.

Check out our ★★★★ review of the show here.