Writers, Why Don’t You Write More?
I have a new hero. It’s the terrifyingly prolific British playwright James Graham, theatre’s Boy Wonder (at 36) who tends to have multiple plays running at once. I was astounding by ‘Ink’, his play about Rupert Murdoch and The Sun newspaper, not just because it was intelligent but because it was a smash hit with a broad swathe of playgoers. That, I thought, is how to do it.
Hearing Graham in interviews only makes him more admirable. He says, ‘Most people in this country don’t go to the theatre and that is the proportion of society I want to reach.’ He thinks that people like Nigel Farage have ruined the idea of populism, especially now that online platforms have replaced social spaces such as the town hall and the pub. Social media forums such as Twitter ‘are not places that allow for nuance.’
He has attracted some of the country’s biggest talents, all of whom want to work with him – and he’s going for it. Nobody can be this nice. Then there’s the work; smart, graceful, thematically sweeping, often intimate, using theatre to communicate and entertain in harmonic balance. He delights audiences without pretension and encourages debate without hectoring.
I once saw a play at the National Theatre about angry feral teenagers on a housing estate. It was playing to an audience of Guardian-reading middle-class liberals. I thought, ‘Why are they even bothering to stage the play?’ The audience was already converted to the playwright’s viewpoint before the theatre doors were opened. Graham is aiming for a less homogenous audience.
So far I’ve seen two of his plays and read the scripts of eight. It seems likely he will rival Alan Ayckbourn, with whom he shares some common elements – a Northern upbringing, an unfussy, unstuffy attitude to writing, an innate understanding of how theatre works. He writes simply, as Ayckbourn does, without too many over-polished one-liners (he seems the opposite of Oscar Wilde in that respect). He writes unashamedly about politics, power and class. He makes abstruse points clear, and does it with elan.
I’m obsessed with playscripts and yet they defeat me, probably because I’ve never worked in development with others but have to produce finished results by myself (hence, novelist).
Which brings me to this;
Being prolific is often considered a negative. It’s something people accuse you of. But being prolific means that, like an aircraft, you keep the engine hot and everything runs more smoothly. The longer the hours, the harder you work, the better you get. If anything, producing slowly works against you. I can overthink any project into the ground, mulling it for years until the original idea has been buried.
And the thought occurs to me that Graham has yet to reach his peak; Ayckbourn has written over seventy plays. That makes Graham still an intern, even if he’s one of the most remarkable interns in history. His message is clear; entertain, inform, think, enjoy. It’s a lesson many writers and artists – and the current desperate crop of politicians – would do well to heed.
Enough of this, back to the typewriter, I need to produce more.