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Patrick Marlowe on The Box

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What is The Box about?
It's very difficult to answer that without giving away the plot which, as it's a thriller, I'm rather reluctant to do. But here is a little teaser: Nick has made a killing in the City. He never needs to work again. He's starting afresh with his beautiful young wife, Esther, in their lovely new home in the country. Life couldn't be better. So why does he suddenly go dashing back to London, leaving Esther all alone? And who is the nice old gentleman who arrives, claiming that his van has broken down? And what exactly does he have in the back of his van? It’s not suitable for those who suffer from claustrophobia, by the way.

Why did you choose this subject?
I'm not really very good at describing what my plays are about, partly because I like ambiguity. I want people to be arguing about what they've just seen when they leave the theatre. It's my intention with The Box to make some serious points about the choices we make and the consequences of them, but most importantly I want to make people laugh – and scare the pants off them while I'm doing it. As far as the subject is concerned, I didn't choose it. I woke up one morning with a very powerful image in my head (which I can't reveal without giving away the plot), and it was then a process of working out a plot which would culminate in the image. It probably sounds a bit arse about, but it's how I always work. A chance remark or some small event will spark off a train of thought. For instance, I wrote a ghost story which was inspired by my being freaked out by a weird noise coming through the baby monitor when my oldest son was a baby. I certainly never sit down and think: 'I'm going to write a play about Afghanistan” (for example).

What other plays have you written?
The Box
is the second play of mine to be produced at Frinton, following last year's Marsh House which is a supernatural thriller. I'm very lucky to have a friend and supporter like Edward Max, Frinton's artistic director, who employed me seven years ago as an actor, and then took a chance last year with Marsh House. I'm working on a play for next year and we've started talking about one for the year after. It's a great place to try new stuff, and I'm very lucky to have a regular berth where I can hone my skills. As a playwright, the only way to find out if you're any good or not is to bung your work in front of an audience and listen to them. Ed's encouragement has given me the confidence to start calling myself a writer and not apologising for it.

Why did you start to write plays?
I've been writing for a long time. I started with short stories. I published a collection last year Beach Huts, Bin-bags and Baby Boys, which has been selling well. Some of the stories were originally commissioned by the Interact Reading Service, a charity which sends actors into hospitals to read to stroke patients. Obviously, given the nature of the audience, the stories had to be short, pithy and above all entertaining. I was also given a lot of encouragement by another charity, Scene and Heard, which runs mentoring courses for inner city London children. The courses culminate in the children writing short plays which are performed by professional actors; eventually the children get to have plays written for them, and I've done quite a few for them. I moved on to full-length plays because I wanted to see if I could. My first, Circumstantial Evidence, which was premiered in London last year, seemed to open some kind of sluice-gate in my brain, and it's been pouring out of me ever since.

What is your occupation when not writing?
I've been an actor all my adult life, and I've worked at the National, for the RSC, the Orange Tree, Bristol Old Vic, Theatr Clwyd, Salisbury Playhouse and locally, as well as Frinton, I've done two seasons at Southwold, and worked for Eastern Angles. I did a drama degree at Manchester University.


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