Stuart Laws: Watching people dissect the script I've written is weird and terrifying
Islington-based stand-up comedian Stuart Laws on a playwright for the first time with his play about a break-up on a spaceship, which debuts at Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month.
I do stand-up comedy, that’s my thing. Five solo shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, two sketch shows and I acted in a play in 2013. Now, 2018, I’ve gone and mugged off every single teacher who told me I’d never be a playwright by writing my first play. The next sentence is very long, try to read it in a one breath, stream of consciousness style. For those interested in truth: not a single teacher told me I wouldn’t be a playwright, I never expressed a desire to be one to any teachers, but it's always nice to imply hardworking, under-appreciated teachers are morons and you - a plucky child - overcame their lack of belief, also, with regards to the term "playwright", I know that technically all it takes to be a playwright is to write a play and have it produced but I still don’t feel like one, I certainly only describe myself as a playwright because it sounds funny and it winds my friend Matt up. (Hi Matt!)
Now, being an incredibly cultured, smart and witty playwright like I am is not just something you stumble into. You spend years harbouring belief and unwarranted confidence that the world deserves your perspective, through the ancient medium of theatre. Doing stand-up is brilliant. I love the instantaneous reactions, it’s the only way of getting brutal feedback from a room full of strangers aside from trying to sell MDMA in a crèche. Stand-up is restrictive though as everything has to be filtered through your point of view and told by your mouth so the larger ideas seem difficult to convey or inappropriate in the context. My comedy is thoroughly impersonal, it’s observational but stupid and surreal so telling the truth on stage, or getting serious doesn’t feel genuine for me. Writing a play and making other people say my words felt like the perfect detour.
So now I'm actively trying to convince the world I’ve written a play that’s worth seeing, that I’ve read and listened to all the advice and I’ve put a lot of work in to make sure it isn’t "another play by a comedian that’s light on plot and may as well be a stand-up show”. Because theatre brings you an audience who are wanting a fascinating story and brilliant performances and that gives you the chance to increase the scale of your writing ambition. With that in mind, my debut play The Journey...
Imagine having a break up on holiday, then having to share the same room, the same airport transfers and flights home. That’s what this play is about but taken to the limit. Two people, living a happy, witty life that exists firmly in the romantic comedy genre but suddenly beset by a break up that neither party can escape from for the next few months. Everyone has got a break up story and everyone risks getting another with every relationship they start but what interested me was the issue of perspective, of how the story is presented to others and how that affects the audience.
Now, being a playwright (Hi Matt!) and co-director of a play brings a new set of challenges. I owe it to everyone involved to have an answer to their questions, to provide support and also to wear a playwright beret the whole time, despite not really being a "hat-wearer". My co-director Phoebe Ladenburg is bloody excellent. She’s a really exciting theatre director and I saw her strong, funny play The Bacchanals (which will also be in Edinburgh this year, go see it!). I invited her to an early preview of The Journey and she had the sort of probing questions that terrified me so I knew she was perfect to help make it really special.
Guess what I’m going to say next. Cast is really important. (WHAT? NO WAY!) Genuinely though, this cast, oh boy, oh girl, I’m a lucky lad. Will Brown, Phoebe Sparrow and Dick Ellis all have spot on comedic timing, but also really powerful dramatic instincts. Watching them dissecting the script, working out motivations and intentions and asking questions about the stupid words I wrote is really weird. They’re taking it seriously. I’m not surprised that they’re professional and talented, it’s just that I remember writing this scene in a cinema foyer waiting to see XXX3: The Return of Xander Cage and now it’s being debated by adults and it feels weird. And brilliant.
I really can't bring myself to tell you it's a brilliant play that you can't afford to miss, my personality doesn't allow that, but if I could quote my friend Matt for a second: "Stuart is a playwright and a brilliant one, he has crafted a superb new play that is funny, dramatic and is brought together by the best cast and company at the Fringe this year".
The Journey by Stuart Laws is at the Pleasance Dome in Edinburgh, from 1st –27th August (not 3rd) at 17:40.