Luke Norris’So Here We Are was a winner of a 2013 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting and is about to receive its World Premiere in a co-production between HighTide and Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.
Ahead of the premiere, Luke spoke to Glen Pearce about the play, his writing and his work as an actor.
Your play, So Here We Are, is premiering at HighTide. What can you tell us about it?
It’s a play I wrote a few years ago now, for a group at the Royal Court, and it’s been looking for a home since. I’m pleased it is being performed outside of London because it’s a play about what it is to grow up somewhere without ambition and the kind of opportunities that London has. I think a slightly more rural setting is a good idea, but I also hope people in Manchester get something out of it as well [the show transfers to Manchester’s Royal Exchange following HighTide].
The story is about a group of friends and one of them dies, and it’s how the rest of them deal with it and the reasons the person i question might have died.
So it’s a serious drama?
Yes, but hopefully it will also be funny – we’ll see if people laugh or not! The first act is sort of a comedy and then it takes a turn.
You mention the fact that the play is premiering outside of London is something you are keen on. Do you do you think it’s important for events like HighTide to premiere new work outside of London?
Yeah, I would say, without going all soapbox on it, the longer we have a right of centre government, the more London-centric things are in danger of becoming. So it’s important places like HighTide and other regional arts festivals are able to produce new work.
Have you been to HighTide before?
This will be my first time but I’ve heard a lot about it and I‘ve had friends who have been or have worked there, so I’m very excited. I know one or two other people who are involved in the festival and a friend of mine, Sarah Ridgeway, is going to be performing there, so it should be fun.
As well as a writer you’re also an actor. Does that help inform your process as a writer ?
One informs the other, I hope. I hope I become a better writer through acting and a better actor through writing. For me, and this might be an oversimplification, it all comes down to people trying to achieve something, whether you’re acting or writing. It’s a good reminder when writing of what you should be looking for as an actor.
So have you ever watched one of your plays that you’ve written and looked at the actor performing and think, I wouldn’t play it like that?
No. Thats the beauty of being the writer in the room, in that you can hand it over to people who have much, much better ideas than you ever thought of and they take it on. People often ask me if I’d like to direct my own plays, but I figure it must be a nightmare, as it would only ever be what I imagined and they’d be nowhere for it to go from there.
I was going to ask about the process because different writers and directors have different relationships. What’s been your involvement with this?
I’ve been around quite a lot and Steven [director Steven Atkinson] is really generous to me and requested for me to be there a lot and it’s been nice for me to be there – I don’t know how much use I’ve been but hopefully some.
Do you like that involvement in the rehearsal process?
Yes. Partly because of the actors we’ve cast, there are certain cadences that work better for them so there are some nice gags we can write around that. We don’t have an awful lot of time to rehearse and the dialogue is quite choppy, so I think it’s useful for the actors to have an idea of how it was written.
What made you want to become a writer after being an actor?
I was an actor first by default really. I was writing at the same time, but someone paid me to act first. I auditioned to drama school, but I didn’t get in the first year I applied so I started writing then, thinking that I’d write myself something I can go and be in if I didn’t get into drama school. And I did write myself something, and it was terrible! I then wrote for some friends who were out of work and I realised that’s where the joy was, to write for other people and to offer opportunities for people to do things.
What is it that inspires you to write?
You know I really don’t know. When I was at school I really used to enjoy English and writing stories so it was a natural progression. I wanted to act because it was a live and practical way of telling stories and I realised that if I wrote it I could go where I wanted to go, rather than someone else’s story, but there’s no particular event or circumstances that led to it.
For a long time I don’t think I had a story worth telling. I guess what I try and do in my plays is focus on the kind of minuscule things that seem important to ordinary people and hope that ordinary people watch it I’m not writing about famine or war, it’s about small people, small lives.
So are your plays quite personal to you?
Mostly the things I write are about fifty percent self-based and so the characters are often based on people I know, even though the events aren’t.
You’re about to have you work premiered at HighTide. What’s your advice for new writers people wanting to get their work staged?
Everyone says it, but write what you know. It may be rubbish but when I started writing I started with events and people I knew and other people seemed to respond to that. Just like any art you want it to be honest. Don’t try to be clever, just be honest.
So Here We Are runs at Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall 10-20September as part of the ninth HighTide Festival, before transferring to Manchester’s Royal Exchange.
For more information visit www.hightide.org.uk