THE GOD OF SOHO Special: with author Chris Hannan

Chris Hannan

Chris Hannan, author of The God of Soho (photo: Carol Gordon)

Chris Hannan’s new play for Shakespeare’s Globe, The God of Soho, is a wickedly funny morality tale for the modern world. Sexy, feisty and real, it is a story about love at its dirtiest, maddest and most bittersweet. Here, the author talks about writing the play specifically for the Globe’s unique stage.

When the Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Dominic Dromgoole, asked me to write a new play for his wonderful theatre, I spent a couple of years finding polite ways to say no.

It seemed too odd to put contemporary characters in contemporary clothes onto an authentic reproduction of an Elizabethan stage. Wouldn’t it just look like some ropey time-travel story?

Clearly, this was a space that called for big characters and big emotions and I began to sketch out the idea for The God of Soho, setting the story in a celebrity world where my celebrity couple fought each other in the front pages of the tabloids, hoovered up cocaine in celebrity nightspots and rocked up to the funerals of celebrity friends in dark sunglasses.

Where the Elizabethans had put kings and courtiers on stage, I thought I would put their contemporary equivalents – stars and their publicists. The inherent theatricality of the celebrity world – the constant performing in public – had an irresistible attraction. And of course celebrity worship is now at the core of our culture and economy, so it seemed an ideal topic for such a public space.

Celebrities could not have become the gods and goddesses of our mags and the staple of our news and gossip unless they answered some core need in all of us and The God of Soho is about what that is. It’s about what we worship and do we even know.

The God of Soho: jacket

The God of Soho by Chris Hannan (£9.99)

I kept going to see shows at the Globe to learn about the space and how it works. And, whether it was The Merry Wives of Windsor or Henry IV, I was struck by the magical relationship which exists between the actor and the audience – a frankness, an ease, an equality. Time and again it is a relationship which throws up unrepeatable moments of ‘liveness’.

It happened again during a recent performance of The Mysteries. The actors were telling the story of the Crucifixion – the episode where Judas repents of his betrayal and returns the blood money to Pontius Pilate. 

In the Globe production, the thirty pieces of silver is represented by thirty pence, and the actor playing Pontius Pilate – Matthew Pidgeon – joked amenably with the audience that he didn’t need thirty pence and would be happy to give it to a groundling. But when he placed the coins under the nose of a woman leaning on the front stage she viscerally recoiled, wanting nothing to do with the money or the betrayal.

The actor almost rocked back in amazement, and for me – looking on – the two of them created a moment that was deeply touching because I felt the emotional power of the story and understood that it mattered.

Other playwrights will see it differently, but to me the Globe stage requires a non-realistic story that has grand scale. It is not interested in minor details; it gobbles up narrative at considerable speed and you have to keep feeding it more. It wants movement, sweep. Because there is no stage lighting, you cannot get actors on and off in blackout – they need to be driven by some inner urgency

I enjoyed that. The God of Soho starts out in a heaven which is losing its sense of reality, plunges into a fetishistic Soho and heads out to celebrity Essex. The characters are gods and homeless people and rock stars; and the stage allows those disparate worlds to coexist because the characters are motored by the same story and the same needs. There can be realistic elements, yes, but only so long as they don’t distract from the sense of storyness.

Sections of this post by Chris Hannan first appeared in The Independent (18th August 2011).

Chris Hannan’s new playThe God of Soho – opens this Saturday (27 August) at Shakespeare’s Globe, running till 30 September. Click here to purchase tickets. NHB are proud to publish the playscript alongside this production – to order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).

Have you seen the production trailer yet? Click here.

*The God of Soho ticket + drink offer!*
A Yard ticket & a Post-Show Cocktail for just £10 when booking directly through the venue. Use the code ‘pcdsftw’ or quote ‘Something for the Weekend’ when calling the Shakespeare’s Globe box office on 020 7401 9919. Cannot be claimed retrospectively. Usual terms and conditions apply. Purchasers must be over the age of 18. Please note Yard tickets are standing only, but have the best view of the stage.

Coming up next…  THE GOD OF SOHO Special: with director Raz Shaw – on bringing the script to life for the first time.

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