Ché Walker On … Returning to The Frontline

Ché Walker is an actor, playwright and director whose plays include Been So Long and Flesh Wound, both for the Royal Court – the latter winning him the 2003 George Devine Award. Last year his play The Frontline premiered at the Globe, marking the first modern-set new play to feature at the venue. It returns this month, running in rep with Romeo and Juliet as part of the Globe’s new Young Hearts season.

Writing for the Globe space was intimidating at first, but after a while you just block it out and write the play you’ve got in your head. It helped enormously that I was acting in Othello at the Globe, and got a first-hand taste of the uniquely magical atmosphere the Globe generates. Being a part of the Globe has made me throw out all my ideas about theatre, and start again. The Globe audience are by far the most open-minded, adventurous and supportive audience I’ve ever worked for, and that goes double for Dominic Dromgoole and his brilliant squad.

The Frontline follows 23 characters on a single night outside a busy tube station in a bustling neighbourhood with lots of nightclubs, strip joints and a very active and energetic illicit drug market. The characters are marginalised and desperate, but never give up, and fight their corner with ingenuity, wit and passion. I was trying to write about London and how we got here, so the play shoe-horns some very disparate themes – imperialism, drug laws, class, race, immigration, and marmite. There are two central romances, one that ends on a hopeful note, and one that ends in tragedy. Oh, and there’s also eleven gospel, ska and punk songs!

I was absolutely amazed by the reaction The Frontline received last year. Because no-one had attempted a modern-set play in there, we had no idea whether it would work. The response from critics and audience was far beyond my wildest dreams, and quite overwhelming at times. My first three plays were all performed in 80-seat studio spaces, so to suddenly have over a thousand people laughing and cheering and dancing was a trip!

And I never in a million years thought we’d get to come back. Any chance to work is great, but this is a rare honour. The cast are fantastic, and I’m proud to say that a significant number of them are old friends, and some of my drama students making their debuts. And I’ve had a chance to refine and edit and re-shape, and I feel it’s a tighter, funnier show this year.

Looking ahead, my musical Been So Long opens at the Young Vic in June, two weeks after The Frontline closes. The songs are composed by the young lion Arthur Darvill, who also wrote six of the songs in The Frontline. Arthur and I have been working on the piece for three years. A very exciting and rewarding summer after a period of silence for me.

The Frontline, which is directed by Matthew Dunster, continues at the Globe until 23 May. Been So Long is at the Young Vic from 11 June to 14 July 2009.