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James Fritz is a writer whose name may or may not be on your radar, but is one that's clearly destined for great things in the near future. His first full length play Four Minutes Twelve Seconds premiered at the Hampstead Downstairs in 2014 where it was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre before transferring to Trafalgar Studios in 2015. For this play, he won the Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright.
Other work includes the Fringe hit 'Ross & Rachel' and 'Parliament Square', and he is currently writing for the Hampstead Theatre and the National Youth Theatre.
We spoke with James ahead of the Critics' Circle award ceremony to talk about how it feels to win an award for his work.
DOH: Dom O'Hanlon
JF: James Fritz
DOH: James – massive congratulations on this award. It must mean a lot?
JF: Yeah, this is my first awards ceremony really – it's quite nice knowing in advance that you've won. You don't want to feel like racehorses trying to beat each other to the finish line... It's just really nice – the big thing is I look down at that list of people who've won the award before...It's a really lovely thing to be recognised for my first big play. It's hard to believe.
DOH: What was it like working at the Hampstead Downstairs? How do they look after new writers?
JF: My experience with them was amazing. I was on the verge of giving up. The play had been doing the rounds, I'd submitted it to different places. What's great is it wasn't quite there, but they saw something in it and backed it. They got me in a room with some amazing people which made me and the play get better really quickly.
DOH: Was it a stroke of luck getting involved with the Hampstead?
JF: I did an MA at Central in writing for stage. I then did the usual new writing rounds in London, above the pub theatres, that sort of thing. Out of the blue I got involved with the Hampstead actually. They've really looked after me and had me learn on the job. Right from day one it's been a pleasure. I had submitted it to them and I found out after I had just got back from Edinburgh actually. I'll always remember the call, it all happened so quickly – there was no time to panic. I got the call from them and then the next week we were into auditions.
DOH:Did you have a dramaturg or anyone working alongside you?
JF: Mainly just the director. When we got into rehearsal and we realised which little bits weren't working, we knew what we had to tweak. We did part rehearsal part workshop, the actors were great in terms of accepting changes and everything else. It was exciting to see how it all just came together. You see what's working and what's not.
DOH: What's your biggest frustration as a new writer?
JF: My biggest frustration...I guess there are loads of amazing things about it. You realise though that there are just loads of people trying, loads of amazing people, trying to do the same thing. There's just not enough work to go around. If you ask anyone it always comes back to money. It sucks and it's hard work. I've been a barman in pretty much every theatre in London. The reason we're all here in London is that there are more opportunities than there are in any other city in the world I guess. There is stuff out there – it's just hard to get into it.
DOH: What about the lack of new plays directly in the West End? Does that frustrate you?
JF: It's always going to be the case really – the West End is it's own entity and one that I don't fully understand. It would be great for a new writer to get a new play put on there, but at other theatres you get the chance to grow. They can really back you if they think the play will go down well.
DOH: What's been the hardest thing you've learned?
JF: I think it's about how audiences are going to react – you just never know. I remember it really clearly, I had been trying so hard to make it work it was only when I saw a line of people outside the Hampstead Downstairs when I thought “oh god, these people are going to watch this...” The reactions to it have been amazing – that's been so exciting.
DOH: Is it hard to accept a spectrum, some people will love it and others may not?
JF: You have to be quite sanguine I guess. Like stuff like this, awards, you know? I never get to wear a jacket, here I am getting an award! You can't buy too much into this sort of stuff because you know there will be a time when people just won't like something you've done.
DOH: Does it feel different to be getting an award from a panel of critics?
JF: I'm a big fan of theatre criticism – I think there's a lot of exciting stuff going on out there at the moment, loads of people that put the time and effort into thinking about and writing about theatre. It's really nice to be recognised by critics.