John Stanley On ... Writing ProudDate: 23 February 2009
John Stanley is a hotly tipped young writer whose recent stage work has been catching a large amount of critical attention. His 1999 screenplay 6:37 looked at the day the Admiral Duncan in Soho was bombed. His most recent prodcution, Proud, will premiere at the New Wimbledon Studio from 8 - 11 April before transferring to the Above the Stag Theatre in Victoria for a four week run from 14 April. John tells us about his new work, his influences, and his future hopes.
What influence did your experience of the Admiral Duncan bombing have on writing this play?
I was one of the thousands of people who ought to have been on Compton Street that night but by pure fluke had a last minute change of plans. Aside from the death and injury obviously, the horrific thing about all three bombs was the purely random nature that meant anyone could be a victim. That was part of what I tried to convey in 6:37. In Proud, we learn that Tom was actually caught up in the blast and it haunts him to this day: almost dominates his life you might say.
The play ties past, present and future by focusing ahead to London 2012 while also glancing back at the ‘99 Bombing, what were your motives in choosing to incorporate such different events?
I very much wanted to write something positive to commemorate the Admiral Duncan bombing 10th Anniversary as in our 24 hour media age we’re almost encouraged to move on to new events without considering the long-term effects major tragedies can have on individual lives. That said I didn’t want to solely dwell on the past and regardless of what your views on 2012 may be, the London Olympics really seems to represent aspirations for the future to those of Lewis’ generation.
Lewis and Tom, the central couple, are quite different in age, does this test their relationship at all, especially given Tom’s attachment to the past while Lewis focuses his attentions ahead to 2012?
I don’t believe age is ever a barrier to relationships but there are undeniable problems that accompany a gap of 20 years as in Tom and Lewis’ case. In Proud the obvious difficulty is that Lewis was only 8 years old when the bombing occurred and therefore can’t really understand its significance…he also has that admirable quality of youth which tells him he can have his cake and eat it which the more cynical older generation cannot appreciate.
Apart from your own ties to the ‘99 Bombing, what other factors inspired you while writing Proud?
Primarily I am genuinely interested in the question: are there any reasons left to be “out and proud” in Britain today. With equality legislation, Civil Partnerships and the likes of John Barrowman, Graham Norton and Sir Ian McKellen succeeding so brilliantly in the mainstream of our entertainment media it would seem that the struggle for “Gay rights” is over. That said, the murder of “Sinders” (ironically a survivor of the Admiral Duncan bombing himself) on the South Bank just shows that being Gay in the real world can still be literally fatal. I don’t like the word “tolerance” – I prefer “acceptance”…I don’t like to think of myself as just tolerated by anybody.
What are you hoping audiences take away from the show?
Laughter. There are so many works that tell us how angst-ridden being Gay can be but in my experience there is just as much fun, laughter and enjoyment of life in being Gay as there is in being straight, if not more so: after all, why do so many straight people enjoy Gay clubs on a weekend? Proud may have some serious undertones, but essentially it’s designed to entertain the audience and have them leave with a big grin on their faces.
How does writing for television compare to playwrighting, do you prefer one over the other?
I cut my teeth as a writer on the fabulous Family Affairs on Five, sadly no longer with us. It was an entirely different world to playwrighting, with tight deadlines and incredibly fast turnaround of scripts: two and a half hours of prime time TV is equivalent to producing a feature every week which I think a lot of people don’t appreciate when they denigrate the Soaps as somehow a lower form of life. Playwrighting, especially on Proud, is an altogether less pressured work ethic, although I’m conscious that we do need to have a final script on the table for the first day of rehearsals!
Along with Proud, what other projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on a psychological horror feature entitled Die that’s hopefully shooting later this year and I have a short film, Bloody Kid, also slated for later in the year. There’s another horror feature, The Last Seven (from the Producers of popular Cult hit Jack Says) in the pipeline and another project which at the moment is so secret I would be surreptitiously “disappeared” were I to divulge anything about it here. I also have two one-woman stage plays, Gabrielle’s Kitchen and The Woman Opposite which in a perfect world will be next on my production schedule but in the weird and wonderful world of theatre, who knows?