Alexi Kaye Campbell’s award-winning debut play received its regional premiere this week at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio Theatre, following its sell-out world premiere at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 2008, and subsequent off-Broadway production. Directed by actor and director Richard Wilson, the production has been praised as ‘a brave and rewarding drama that speaks to us all’ (Guardian), ‘beautiful, hopeful’ (WhatsOnStage.com) and a ‘sharp, funny and deeply affecting debut play’ (Telegraph). Exclusively for the NHB blog, Alexi tells us about the experience of reviving The Pride, and using his considerable experience as an actor in his writing…
I suppose the starting point was wanting to explore what it meant to be gay in two very different eras on each side of the sexual revolution and to compare and contrast them. I started thinking a lot about the seismic social and cultural changes that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s and especially how those changes influenced gay identity. But once I began to do that I began to realise that in many ways what existed today seemed to be a quite extreme response to what had gone before: from the covert to the overt, from the implicit to the explicit, from everything being subtext to everything being overstated, from a state of being repressed to a state of taking everything for granted. And so I began to not only compare the two different periods but to try and identify connections and also explore some sense of inheritance – of how one generation receives a sense of self from a previous one and then has to struggle to throw it off and find its own. Finally I suppose there was a part of me that wanted to pay homage to the people who had brought on those big changes by remembering what it was that they had to fight: the hypocrisy, the hatred, the oppression. That was an important part of it.
I think The Pride is really a play about characters trying to discover something about the forces that drive them. And to put it simply, a love story.
I really don’t know. I suppose you always hope that what you have written is honest and human and that its qualities will travel beyond your own time but I can’t say I spend too much time thinking about that. If people in my own time are moved or affected by it, that’s good enough for me.
Honestly, it was the frustration. I had always written bits and pieces but had spent all my professional life focussing on the acting and then it got to the point when I simply wasn’t fulfilled enough. Unfortunately, unless an actor is very successful he or she will end up spending quite a bit of the time either being out of work or often doing jobs which don’t quite tick all the boxes as it were. And so I sat down and wrote my first play. And it was when I completed it that all my excuses ran out and I knew that this was what I was meant to be doing. It just felt right. If nothing else I was suddenly too caught up in it all to spend the time wondering if the phone was going to ring with news of an audition.
Completely and absolutely. It’s no surprise that it is a common trajectory, from actor to playwright. Both are storytellers who put themselves in other people’s shoes. And I spent a good fifteen years as an actor learning all about plays: character, plot, dialogue, drama. It was reassuring to know that all my time as an actor – the good and bad experiences – had been informing my work as a writer.
New York audiences were great. I was worried about some of the comedy falling flat but it was the opposite – if anything, they took to it even more than the London audiences. For the most part I found them very engaged and generous.
Richard is very open and trusting and he allows the play and the actors to discover things without imposing them. He seems to be quite back-footed and then you realise that what he is doing is helping everything to develop organically. He suggests, coaxes, invites – and the directors who do that are the ones who get the best results, I think, because they understand how collective the whole creative experience is in a rehearsal room. It’s been a pleasure to work with him. I have been very, very spoilt with the directors of my plays so far – Jamie Lloyd, Joe Mantello, Josie Rourke and Richard Wilson – so luckily I haven’t had a bad experience. But getting on with the person who is directing your play is paramount. The trust is all.
I’m thrilled to be working with Jamie again and we have an exceptional cast so I’m very excited. The Faith Machine sometimes feels like the third play in a trilogy following The Pride and Apologia in that all three plays share inheritance as their common theme, but maybe I only say that because I quite fancy saying I’ve written a trilogy! Really it’s a play about the death of religion and about the void that death leaves behind it and exploring if there is anything at all that can fill it. . But that all sounds rather boring and worthy so I better add it has a few laughs in it. At least I hope it does, we’ll find out.
The Pride is an emotionally charged play about love and relationships set in two different eras. It tells the story of Philip, Oliver and Sylvia and imagines their lives in two different time periods. In 1958, Philip is married to Sylvia, but is secretly in love with Oliver. In 2008, Oliver and Philip are together, but struggling with Oliver’s infidelity, whilst Sylvia is liberated – single and pursuing her dreams.
To enter our competition for the chance to win 2 tickets for the performance on 14th July (Crucible Studio, 7.30pm) answer the following question:
THE PLAY IS SET IN WHICH TWO YEARS?
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