They kindly took some time to answer musicOMH's questions about political theatre; what, if anything, makes a 'Theatre 503 play'; and their latest production, The Charming Man, a satirical comedy by Gabriel Bisset-Smith.
What made you want to stage Gabriel Bisset-Smith's play The Charming Man?
From the plays that were shortlisted for the Autumn slot it was simply the most resonant and best written. I [Paul] was also particularly interested in directing something irreverent and which felt really current. Theatre often says itís current and seldom is.
Is satire the most effective form of political writing? Does comedy make politics more easily digestible or is it a screen to hide behind?
Iím not sure if itís the most effective but itís definitely the most accessible. Itís also so well suited as politics is generally so ripe for it. As for a screen to hide behind Iím not sure that theatre is afraid of much except an unaffordable lawsuit! With The Charming Man Gabriel has achieved quite a feat in writing something really funny and resonant. Itís hard to do with anything other that the short play or sketch revue show. Also, itís much easier to write a straight play than a comedyÖ
How do you define political theatre? Youíve talked in the past about the importance of plays asking big and often complex questions and of not simply reiterating the same (predominantly left wing) points of view; do you still feel this way?
Yes. 'Political theatre' is generally a way of middle-class lefties telling each other why our generally liberal outlook is the right one. So much for the transformation power of theatre! At 503 weíre interested in being a little bit more provocative. The Charming Man asks the specific question of how ready we are for a gay, black leader. More generally what type of person do we want to lead our country? Whatís more important, integrity or popularism? Can we tell the difference? Satire helps with this because you can take an even more extreme position in order to make the point.
Do you see much overtly political work from new writers? What, if any, effect do you think the new government will have on political writing?
If by Ďovertlyí you mean dealing in party politics then no, very little. Playwrights prefer reflecting the bigger picture and they also donít want to write play today which is outdated tomorrow. Most want to think theyíre writing The Crucible and why shouldnít they? As for the new government, I think there is a certain well-behaved, Ďletís all pull together through the cutsí breath being taken by everyone at the moment but when the effects start showing I think theyíll be a massive creative backlash.
As co-artistic directors, how do you go about programming work for Theatre 503? How collaborative is the process?
Very. And not just between Tim and myself but with the whole team. Everyone is asked their opinion on the seasonal shortlists and thatís tremendously useful though itís not programming by committee. Tim and I sometimes disagree as our tastes are, thankfully, different. Generally if either of us really hate something it wonít be programmed but we have persuaded each other of certain choices in the past. And no Iím not telling you which ones!
Is there such thing as a 'Theatre 503 play'?
We are always looking for something fearless, whether that be defined by theme, style or voice. We tend not to go for Ďsofaí plays Ė by which I mean plays which are domestic and small in their outlook. We love challenging the limitations of the space. One of the things which most excites us is when someone says ďItís a great play but itís too big for 503.Ē Cue raised eyebrows from Tim and I. We believe that there isnít a play too big for us. We like giving our audiences variety so weíve enjoyed moving 503 away from the wrist-slashing plays of its past. For us, plays should celebrate the human spirit rather than dump on it.
Tell us a little about the 503Five.
This is our annual resident playwrights scheme. Itís been a significant move for us over the last couple of years. We are championing in-house writers who have been chosen not only because they are hugely talented but in order to give them a very first, full production of a play. Thereís a whole generation of playwrights trapped in development whose plays arenít going to see the light of day. 503 is the theatre where a new generation of writers are being born every season.
What will follow The Charming Man? Coalition sounds like a particularly interesting project.
We wanted to do some complementary work for The Charming Man and do it a bit inventively. Coalition is a two-week short play festival with a difference. Taking the idea of coalition as a starting point weíve teamed up a some really talented new writers, including The Telegraphís Dominic Cavendish, with non-theatre artists including comedians, dancers and musicians - so to live the experience of a coalition whilst also commenting on it. Itís already producing some really exciting work.
The Charming Man opens at Theatre 503 on 22 October and runs until 13 November 2010. Coalition, featuring contributions by Dominic Cavendish, Ella Hickson, Rex Obano, Sarah Grochala and Nimer Rashed will run from 22 November - 5 December 2010.
For tickets and further information visit: Theatre503.com
Read the musicOMH review of The Charming Man