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Interview with The Pride's playwright, Alexi Kaye Campbell

By Imogen Sarre

Alexi Kaye Campbell

Alexi Kaye Campbell is an award-winning playwright. His play The Pride is the third in Jamie Lloyd's West End season of plays, following on from Shakespeare's Macbeth and Pinter's The Hothouse. Yet, despite these lofty achievements, he is heart-warmingly friendly. Add to that expansive, enthused and interesting and you have a pretty perfect interviewee.

The full audio interview is below, but we've also written up some of the question and answer snippets if your headphones aren't to hand.

1. The Pride was originally staged at the Royal Court in 2008. How does this 2013 revival differ from that first production and what progress do you think we've made in those five years? (00:00)

The Pride cast

There are similarities with the original production because Jamie Lloyd directed it at the Royal Court in 2008 and Soutra designed it then too, but because it's very much an actor's piece the actors change it hugely. It's incredible how different the qualities of each character are in each performance.

Very few people saw it at the Royal Court so Jamie and I wanted to bring it to a larger London public, and it just felt like now was the right time. There seems to be a lot of issues concerning the gay question in global consciousness. There's huge progress being made here in Britain, but as a reaction against that there's terrible homophobia and hatred in other parts of the world.

2. What creative impact have various directors and actors had on the play, and do you find yourself surprised by different interpretations? (03:50)

Jamie Lloyd, director of The Pride

Jamie Lloyd, director of The Pride

Hayley Atwell and Harry Hadden-Paton in The Pride

Hayley Atwell & Harry Hadden-Paton

Al Weaver and Matt Horne in The Pride

Al Weaver & Matt Horne

I've been absolutely blessed by directors and actors. When you're dealing with fine directors they tap into the DNA of the play and, even without seeing the other productions, the same things seem to pop up. However, one actor brings more vulnerability to Oliver, and then you see another actor making him more acerbic - a bit bitchier - and then you'll see another actor make him angrier. Every time it works in different ways.

3. From reading it to seeing it on stage we noticed subtle differences. Where do you fit in? (06:00)

In Britain playwrights are really lucky because we're very much included in the creative process of putting on a play. I actually did some cuts this time because the first half was five minutes too long... you want the audience to be riveted for the whole play. Cuts aren't easy - because you think I love that line or whatever - but you've got to think of the whole experience as an evening and what the audience need and want.

4. The Pride is the third production in the Trafalgar Transformed season. Jamie Lloyd has a political focus for each of these plays. What do you think is achieved by putting The Pride alongside Macbeth and The Hothouse ? (08:20)

Trafalgar Transformed at Trafalgar Studios

Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios

The Hothouse at Trafalgar Studios

The Pride at Trafalgar Studios

Apart from the fact that I love having my name alongside Shakespeare and Harold Pinter...! I think The Pride is a political play because it's asking you to look at something from a new perspective. It questions social morays and ways we think different generations have affected each other. You do want theatre to be connected to the way we live and what's going on outside because otherwise it becomes a bit of a waste of time. There are some things that need to be challenged.

5. As a medium itself, what do you think theatre can bring to the political debate and does it enter onto the worldwide stage? (10:10)

Matt Horne and Al Weaver in The Pride

Matt Horne & Al Weaver

Alexi Kaye Campbell quote, writer of The Pride

It can and it should. The problem is to keep theatre alive and ultimately get lots of demographics of people in the theatre because if you're just playing to elderly middle classes then not much is going to change. That's the real challenge for British theatre: how do you do that without losing the traditional audience? The way we relate to entertainment is different now because our concentration spans are a lot shorter. Everyone's in the minute. So getting people to sit down and listen for two hours is difficult. But there's nothing quite like the ritual of people being in the same room together and one group of people telling the others a story. It's eternal.

6. What are your thoughts about Trafalgar Transformed £15 Mondays and do you notice a difference on a Monday? (12:10)

You get an amazingly responsive audience in. It shows that a lot of people do want to come to the theatre. We want to be playing to big audiences.

7. Since the recession, theatre attendance has actually been on the up. Likewise, despite the Digital Age, group attendance at live events is incredibly popular. Why? (13:15)

I think it's a reaction against spending so much of our time in little bubbles. There is a need for people to come together and have a collective experience. You feel it every night at The Pride in the applause: people want to be there. The biggest crime for me at the theatre is to be bored - if a young person has two or three bad experiences they'll be put off for life.

8. What originally inspired to you write The Pride? (15:15)

Alexi Kaye Campbell quote, writer of The Pride

I'm interested in the collective subconscious and how we're influenced by things we're not even consciously aware of. Then as I was writing it I realised that the play was about other things as well: it's about how people love each other and what it means to love.

9. You juxtapose 1958 with the present day and compare what it is to be gay in both eras. What has been the cause of such a massive social and cultural change? (16:50)

It's what happened in the 60s and 70s, it's the sexual revolution. In post war Britain there was an absolute hysteria about anything sexual and there was no such thing as feminism. In the 60s and 70s there was this incredible cultural revolution in the West. Gay rights is very much connected to feminism; they started happening at the same time. It was a challenge to the patriarchal ordering of the world. Yet one of the things that seemed to me to be interesting - and I think it's something the play explores - is that lots of things were lost in the battles as well. I wanted to go from one extreme to another and see what's in between those two extremes.

10. Where would you hope that we are in 50 years time? (18:45)

I think the most important thing is to keep being honest and keep questioning ourselves. One of the things the play does is an uncomfortable interrogation of what it is we are sexually and emotionally. Sex drives so much of life and the way we are and yet we don't want to talk about it. But unless you look at it in the light we'll never be able to understand it. Art can do that because it can talk about things that you can't otherwise talk about. The play is metaphorical really - it's not literal - and if you set things up where people exist in two different time periods then it allows you to investigate something.

Al Weaver and Harry Hadden-Paton in The Pride

Al Weaver & Harry Hadden-Paton

11. What do you want audiences both young and old to take away from watching The Pride? (23:40)

Alexi Kaye Campbell quote, writer of The Pride

What you always want is "to move" your audiences - both to emotionally move but also to move their perspective, get them to see something in a new way. You want people to relate to the work whether they're gay, straight, men, women, eighteen or eighty five. I also want to give people a good night out at the theatre because that's important. (23:50)

12. Which playwrights were your idols when you were first starting out and who do you see as the next big thing? (24:45)

That's a tricky question because I'll leave people out... When I was growing up I think I had plays rather than playwrights that I was mad about. I grew up in Greece and theatre at that point was quite limited - I didn't go to the theatre much when I was younger - so when I was in my teens I watched a lot of film and was more influenced by that. But then when I was 22 I went to drama school and had some amazing experiences in the theatre. But now is an incredible time for playwrights, from Laura Wade with Posh, Mike Bartlett, Nick Payne with Constellations, or Penelope Skinner with The Village Bike, Anya Reiss, Simon Stephens - all these great writers. And what's exciting to me is that no one's writing the same play. You have Chimerica up the road but it's completely different to The Pride, Nicks Constellations is completely different to The Village Bike; all these people come up with their own voices. 

Chimerica at the West End Tickets

Lucy Kirkwood's Chimerica

New writing in the West End

Laura Wade's Posh

New writing in the West End

Nick Payne's Constellations

13. What do you think is the main challenge for young playwrights? What advice would you give them? (27:15)

I think it's about realising that it's not easy and it's not overnight. It can be overnight like it was for some of the writers I've just mentioned - Anya was seventeen I think - but I was an actor for many years as well. I wrote The Pride when I was 40 and before then I was working in marketing offices doing tele marketing, waitering on tables, earning very little money, but I was in it for the long run. From someone who's had some success later on in life, if you really believe in what you do and really want to do it, it's about persistence and absolute perseverance. We live in a culture now that's obsessed with overnight success: people go, “oh she's twenty two, twenty two and she's got her first play on”. And that's great, but that's not why you do what you do. I did have a hard time and a lot of frustration, but I couldn't have written The Pride at twenty five, so sometimes you need to be patient and wait and do other things as well.

14. Your four plays have dealt with quite a plethora of important issues, from gay identity to feminism, faith and capitalism to the economy. What issues do you want to explore still? (29:50)

I'm always interested in where the personal meets the political. All my four plays are stories about individuals and families, domestic stories which are connected to bigger social things that are happening. I'm also really interested in the whole concept of what we believe, how we believe, and what do we do now that we don't believe in the ways that we used to. For those of us who don't have a religious faith aymore, how can we go on believing and having some sort of faith? And I'm always interested in how we evolve. Mostly I'm quite a hopeful person so I believe things improve. Like in The Pride: things might still be difficult but they've definitely improved.

The Pride play by Alexi Kaye Campbell

Apologia by Alexi Kaye Campbell

The Faith Machine by Alexi Kaye Campbell

Bracken Moor by Alexi Kaye Campbell

15. What's next? (31:40)

I'm writing a play now which is a commission and then I'm doing a film adaptation of Bracken Moor which was at The Tricycle theatre.

16. You were originally an actor and then became a writer. Why is it that so many people cross between the two? (32:35)

It's about being part of the storytelling. I love telling stories so I'll find different ways of doing it. Theatre's not really the territory of the intellectual is it? Hopefully you'll write and be in intelligent things that will make people think, but its original roots are much more connected to Shameenism and religion. In the late twentieth century we got taken over by intellectuals but theatre's not really an intellectual art form. Storytelling is very much the essence of theatre: of course you can play with form and do new things and explode storytelling and do it in a new way but it's always going back to storytelling. It goes back to that contract: you've got people in a room for two hours. The only real way we can keep people hooked is to tell them a bloody good story.

17. Do you ever miss acting? Do you ever feel tempted to pen your own part? (34:10)

It's funny because when I was an actor I loved it so much and I thought I couldn't live without it but I haven't missed it at all. It's because I'm very much at the heart of the storytelling now and I'm still in the theatre which I love.

If you have your own questions you want to shoot at the man himself, you can join Alexi on stage after The Pride's performance on Monday 16 September.  Hear of lessons learnt, challenges faced, the advice he's found most useful, and his own approach when it comes to creating a brand new piece of theatre.  This is a one and only chance to ask Alexi questions about the skills and techniques involved in playwriting in this intimate environment, and pick up top tips from one of the most inspiring voices in the industry today.

PLUS, tickets on the day are £15 for all under 26 year olds (ID is necessary). Dreamy.