In Conversation with TWIST writer Miles Tredinnick
The writer of the comedy thriller TWIST deserves a play about his own remarkable life.
It would have almost as many plot surprises as Miles Tredinnick's work, currently on its first UK tour with Baroque Theatre.
Miles's fascinating life story includes sharing a garden with a major soap actress, becoming a rock star and training tour guides in Dubai.
They are experiences which have influenced TWIST, a stylish thriller with a Tarantino edge.
The idea was sparked some 30 years ago when he moved into a new home in London's Marylebone and discovered his next door neighbour was Wendy Richard, the soap queen known to millions as Pauline Fowler in EastEnders.
They shared a patio garden and became friends, and Wendy encouraged him to write a play for her - and confided some behind the scenes soap secrets.
Miles explains: 'Wendy was always saying she'd love to be in a thriller and I should write one for her. We were both huge fans of Columbo and I used that sort of formula in TWIST, where you see the crime early on rather than work out whodunnit. I was also influenced by plays like Sleuth and Deathtrap that have lots of twists. What you think is going to happen, doesn't happen.'
'I came up with a plot in which an accountant and wannabe writer is married to a soap star. Sarah Seaton is the nation's favourite as the queen of Doctors and Nurses. I kept thinking about the grand female stars of soap, like Wendy and Noele Gordon in Crossroads.
'In TWIST, Sarah is not as nice as Wendy and her husband David hates her. He is writing a kiss and tell biography, then realises it would sell much better if she were dead, so he sets about planning her murder.'
'There are so many twists in the plot, it's like a silver corkscrew. The way it unfolds isn't how people expect. It's a wonderful evening's entertainment.'
'Wendy never got to see it before she died. But I talked to her often about how it was going and she told me all about working on a soap, such as being picked up by a car at 5.30am to go to the studio.'
'Barbara Windsor lived really close by but she and Wendy always had separate cars to Elstree because they didn't get on well.'
'The first title of the play was Getting Away With Murder, as I discovered, to my huge surprise, that that had never been used before. But then Stephen Sondheim wrote a musical called that so I had to change the name. I actually think TWIST is a better title.'
'I wrote it in 1990 and it was first performed some years later in Hampstead for 15 weeks. It did well and took off as a published play, especially with theatre companies overseas. TWIST has been performed in Boston, Australia and South Africa, and the Indians love it. I don't mind if they change it to suit local audiences, I'm not precious about my work.'
The creatives at independent regional company Baroque Theatre have made a few script improvements but have mainly updated the way it is staged, introducing a striking visual element.
Award-winning director Adam Morley says: 'It's rare and very much appreciated when a writer says you can do what you want with their play.'
'We've added digital projections to make it look like a comic book, with the play punctuated by images, text and music. It's a multi-media experience, like watching the thriller on your phone with other things going on around you.'
'Let's embrace new technology to reflect modern life. We'd really like to attract a younger audience to enjoy this more exciting theatrical experience.'
'I want it to have the same sort of visual impact as one of Quentin Tarantino's films, with each scene having its own bold colour palette.' Miles says: 'I haven't seen anything done like this before, it's very exciting.'
'When we first staged TWIST, we had a VHS player on stage projecting a video on to a screen and it had to be synchronised exactly with the actors. We used to pray every night that the tape wouldn't get stuck, it was a nightmare.'
'Now it's much more hi-tech and so clever.'
Baroque Theatre was founded in 2010 by Claire Bibby after she made the unusual decision, at the age of 30, to ditch her steady job in credit control and office management and go to drama school.
Now she combines her skills by running the company and acting in Baroque's productions - she has two, very different, roles in TWIST, as a Cockney porter and a South African diamond smuggler.
'Claire is amazing, she does the job of about six people,' says Adam. 'Baroque goes up against big theatre companies but we're proud of the fact we've survived and flourished.'
'Theatre is our national heritage, we are the country of Shakespeare and panto and it has to be accessible, which is why independent regional theatre is so important.'
And what of those other twists in Miles's life? In 1976 he formed the rock band London with Jon Moss, who went on to Culture Club. Miles was the lead singer, also known as Riff Regan, and they supported The Stranglers on a huge UK tour.
'It was very rock 'n' roll and pretty exciting,' he remembers. 'But the band broke up a year later and I drifted into writing comedy.'
Miles wrote for Frankie Howerd and the TV series Birds of a Feather. Some of London's music can now be heard in TWIST.
Miles was also a tour guide on an open-topped bus in London for 20 years, which led to a comedy called Topless.
'I broke my ankle so I couldn't run up and down the stairs of the bus any more, so I used the recovery time to write a play about a tour guide having a breakdown on the top deck of a bus.'
'Theatres were charging too much so we staged it on an actual bus going round London. Now it is staged in theatres as a one-woman or one-man show. I've written Topless in Philadelphia and Sydney and just finished Topless in Las Vegas.
'I know a bit about that, as the bus tour company had flown me out to teach their guides in places like Las Vegas, New York and Dubai.'
Now there's a twist we didn't see coming...