musicOMH spoke to him about the play's creation and the perils of online self-assessment.
Did the idea for the structure of The Man come first or did the character of Ben?
It was the ‘concept’ that came first, I think – the idea of receipts having an emotional memory attached to them. When I first did my own self assessment form I couldn’t believe how long it took me! Purely because each receipt – bar bill, train ticket, cinema stubb - triggered a story from the past year in my brain. Marriages, deaths, break-ups, hook-ups etc. After that, the episodic, interactive structure began to evolve in my head – each receipt being pulled at random, so no one night is ever the same. Ben materialised in the writing.
Was it always your intention to cast multiple actors in the main role?
Yes. The director and I wanted to create a real sense of an ‘event’. Add this to the random order of the show each night it, I hope, creates a real theatrical experience completely unique to a particular audience in a particular show on a particular night. (Also – we didn’t know whether we’d be able to find one sole actor to commit to an entire run! This way, we can rotate brilliant actors around each other).
At what point in the writing process were you aware you might want to perform as Ben yourself and did this affect the way you drew the character?
I was actually the very first 'actor' (ahem) to do it. After writing the script, Kate Wasserberg (the director) and I didn’t have long to rehearse before we produced it as a staged reading for last year’s Finborough Vibrant festival. In order to test the concept out properly, I thought it might be better if someone who knew the script intimately gave it a go - i.e. me. I’d done some acting before, and we were all surprised by the positive response we received. So I guess that’s how I was persuaded to ‘step into the fold’ … and Ben is not, erm, ‘completely’ dissimilar to me, so it felt quite natural, I suppose.
Thus far in the run has the flexible structure of the play thrown up anything unexpected?
Every night is a surprise. It’s actually more unnerving sat watching as the writer (instead of performing). It’s always nail-biting, watching your own play, as you feel so out of control once it’s up on the stage. For The Man, I relinquished even the few controls I still normally have! Story, structure, the release of key information, I’ve given it all up to chance. But I’ve grown to realise that there is no ‘perfect order’ for the stories to appear in. Sometimes people die before we meet them, relationships end before they’ve begun. Sometimes songs can be funny, other times heartbreaking. Sometimes we end on a high, happy note, other times it gets increasingly tragic and sad. That’s the game.
Do you file your tax return on paper or online?
The first time I did it on paper – now I do it online (unlike the character of Ben!) I’ve found it much more relaxing, online (apart from the time we had a power cut before I’d saved it. Still not really got over that …). I have to say, though, that whenever I’ve called the Inland Revenue for help, as Ben does, they’ve been incredibly patient and lovely. No doubt they’re trained to deal with weeping, hand-wringing, moronic requests like mine on a daily basis.
What's next for you as a writer? What other projects are on the cards?
I’ve got another production with the National Youth Theatre this September called Relish, which I can’t wait for after the great time I had doing Tory Boyz. I’m also writing a play for National Theatre Connections next year, a new play for the Bush, and I’m working with Theatre Royal Plymouth too. (Though I don’t intend to be acting in any of them).
The Man is at the Finborough Theatre, London, until 19 June 2010.
For further information see FinboroughTheatre.co.uk