My First Play... Dawn King
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of leading theatre publisher Nick Hern Books, we're running a daily extract from its popular book ''My First Play'' every day this week. Our penultimate playwright is Dawn King, author of ''Foxfinder'' and ''Ciphers'', which will tour the UK later this year
I'm seven or eight years old. I'm wearing a robe made out of a sheet and a tinsel halo. My wings, which are cardboard and silver paper, are magnificent. There is a power cut. The small plastic Jesus is welcomed into the world by candlelight. It's the first ‘play' that I can remember, and it's magical. When an enterprising teacher decides to take the school play beyond the traditional bible story and also introduces auditions, I win the role of Babushka away from the principal girl bully who made my life miserable. It's a small triumph, an affirmation of sorts.
A few years later, I am a member of Fagin's gang in a local amateur production of Oliver! Nobody at school believes that I am ‘in a play', but for a while at least I don't care about them. I know that I'm part of a gang. My gang steal sausages from Fagin's frying pan. My gang are bringing an imaginary world to life and going there to tell stories. I might not know it yet, but I have found somewhere I belong.
I'm seventeen and I'm about to experience the rush of first love. I'd studied Shakespeare at school before. Romeo and Juliet was certainly beautiful, Much Ado About Nothing was amusing, but Hamlet is something else entirely. Hamlet is full of angst. He wears black. He wants to die. My god, he's just like me. I love Hamlet. The play, the character. It astounds me that a fictional person can feel so real.
A run of firsts follows. My first readings of plays by Chekhov, Brecht, Caryl Churchill. They knock my head off. The first play I write is a ten-minute piece for my Theatre A level. It's an angsty piece about a girl who is literally split into four different selves, which compete for control of her. The set includes an enormous canvas backdrop five metres square. My steadfast mum paints it in the garage, the only part of our house big enough to hold it. I'm part of a gang again. This time, the world we're bringing to life, the story we are telling, came out of my brain. I feel exposed. My heart hammers so hard when the lights go down for my play to begin that I might die. It's the best feeling.
I'm twenty-two years old. Theatre has slipped out of my life. I miss it. I'm unhappy. I decide to do something creative, to rekindle my early love by attending a workshop at Soho Theatre. From this workshop, Soho choose writers to attend their Young Writers' Programme. I'm not chosen, but by a lucky fluke, someone drops out and I'm bumped up and given their place. At first it's hard. I don't think I can do it. Then I start writing something. The characters begin to talk. The thing comes to life. It becomes the opening of my first full-length play, the terribly named Arrival With Baggage.
I join the writer's group at the Royal Court, and finish it there. Arrival With Baggage is given a rehearsed reading at the Royal Court Young Writers' Festival in 2001. It's a huge deal to receive such encouragement. It's enough to make me realise that I don't care about the career I had planned, or any of the things I would need to do to progress it. I'm going to have to be a writer.
Dawn King's latest play, Ciphers, is on UK tour from 16th October with Out of Joint, including The Bush Theatre, London, in January 2014. It is published by Nick Hern Books.
My First Play is published by Nick Hern Books. For a 25% discount and free UK p&p (total price £7.49), enter the code WOS FIRST at checkout when buying at nickhernbooks.co.uk/my-first-play