Glenn Waldron on the journey from fashion journalist to playwright
As his new play opens in London, former editor of i-D magazine Glenn Waldron explains how he came to theatre
Former editor of i-D magazine Glenn Waldron has written as a journalist for places such as the New York Times, the Guardian and Vogue. He moved from journalism to playwriting after his first full length play Forever House was staged in 2013. His play Natives, about a trio of teenagers who befriend each other online, was performed by Boundless Theatre Company at Southwark Playhouse in 2017. His latest piece The Here and This and Now originally opened in Plymouth in 2017 and is now receiving a London run at Southwark Playhouse, opening this month in a double bill. Here he explains how he came to writing plays and what The Here and This and Now is all about.
You're from Plymouth, your first play Forever House was about Plymouth and it was first performed at Theatre Royal Plymouth – was it great having it performed in your home theatre?
Kind of… it was kind of a little bit like sh***ng on your own doorstep as well. The play spends about 90 minutes slagging off Plymouth, but the theatre seemed to like it anyway. It is so exposing to write something and then have it on where you have family. It was quite a big deal, a bit like a baptism of fire. After an experience like that I think you're going to be pretty fearless.
And you're continuing your relationship with Theatre Royal Plymouth with The Here and This and Now?
The play was in Plymouth in 2017 and was well received, and now it's coming to Southwark Playhouse as part of a double bill of Plymouth Theatre Royal plays. The theatre is really supportive. They give you a lot of freedom and they don't dictate what the piece is about but they give you guidance. David Prescott is the venue's artistic associate and he was there to offer advice, support when I needed it, and to chase deadline-wise.
As a new writer did you find there were lots of opportunities like the one offered at Theatre Royal Plymouth?
They really took a chance on my work and I think it's increasingly hard to find that for writers who are starting out. It seems like theatres are really under pressure to work with big names and have big hits, particularly in London. My first dabble in theatre was a short piece I wrote which was directed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the Bush for a DryWrite night, which was absolutely great.
You were a journalist before you were a playwright, have you always written plays?
I have always written creatively. I wrote little bits and pieces and filed them away. I grandly announced I was going to write a novel and moved to Berlin for a year in my 20s. I came back with three sheets of paper and a sun tan. When I was editing i-D magazine I began to feel a bit disillusioned with the world of fashion. I felt increasingly it just wasn't the area for me and I realised I needed to take a chance and try something else. I started going to a lot of theatre. Really it was a case of waking up one day and saying: 'let's have a go at writing a play'.
Do you think your background as a journalist helps when it comes to writing plays?
There is a connection with journalism, in that you are working with dialogue a lot. You get an ear for how people speak and their stories. I loved the process of writing a play. It was really tough, but it was joyful too.
Had you always been a theatregoer?
I think I came to it quite late. I was probably one of those people who went to the theatre four or five times a year. I co-directed a show at Nottingham University, but I didn't have a massive passion for it. A lot of my early theatrical experiences seemed to revolve around Theatre Royal Plymouth. I remember going to see Ken Dodd and his Diddy Men for my eighth birthday and being called onstage. I have had a fear of audience participation since then. Which is ironic because my new play has some mild audience participation in it.
Is it right to describe The Here and This and Now as a comedy?
It's a very dark comedy. It starts off a bit like a workplace comedy, like an office away day for a group of pharmaceutical sales reps. It explores the humour behind office away days and looks at pharmaceuticals and selling techniques. Then it goes somewhere else altogether. It's delicious and dark and strange and then hopefully comes together in a coherent piece.
What prompted you to write it?
When I wrote it I was thinking about all the massive events going on in the world and how we relate them to our own private, smaller, domestic lives. How do we make sense of them and find our own happiness and peace within our own lives when troubling events are taking place? At the time I was writing it I seemed to be going on a lot of away days for my day job. There'd be a lot of personality tests and weird questions about what sort of person you were and it seemed like a rich theatrical arena. The other thing I was thinking about while writing it was the issue with growing resistance to antibiotics and what that might lead to in the future.
Something not particularly good…
The Chief Medical Officer has warned several times over the last couple of years that we are heading somewhere quite horrific, yet we are kind of ignoring it. Antibiotics are essentially being over prescribed which means in the future they may stop working and there's potential for a horrific global pandemic. It will be a really cheery play to stage in the new year. ‘Welcome to 2018, we're all f***ed'.
The Here and This and Now runs at Southwark Playhouse from 12 January to 10 February, with previews from 10 January.