Laurence Lynch On ... Burnt Oak & His Tales of London
Having spent an extraordinary twenty years as a Soho plumber by day and Soho drinker by night, Burnt Oak: Life and Death in London Town is a thriller, tracking his working class upbringing in North London.
Plumber, close friend and later pall-bearer to Sebastian Horsley, Lynch maintained the drains of Soho’s famous and notorious, from Norman Tebbitt to the customers of the Rupert St brothels, even teaching Colin Firth basic football knowledge in the corner of the Coach and Horses in preparation for Fever Pitch.
Lynch tells us about rolling up his sleeves and bringing his first play to the London stage.
I remember vividly a conversation I had with a French tourist when I lived in Colindale, North London, they asked me where I went in the West End, I replied I don’t go there, there’s nothing there for us, thats for the rich and the tourists.
How ironic that for the last 20 years Soho has been my home and where I am raising my two young sons. I got here by accident, you could do it in those days, after the break up of a relationship and the demise of a business I was living in a depressing squat in Hackney sleeping on a disheveled flea-riddled sofa with intermittent electricity.
I received a phone call saying a flat had come up in Old Compton Street and did I want it? This changed my life.
All of us need a bit of good luck, not a lot just a little, this was mine. I started feeling good about myself and people started feeling good about me. I picked up work from pubs I drank in, that was the way working class men would traditionally put themselves about 'in the boozer'.
I never liked education, I hate anyone making my mind up for me, I’m not that kind of person and that is what I felt schools do. I failed resoundingly. Playwriting was not on the list of things to do in my life, I had been intensely moved by Steven Berkoff’s Greek, at the ENO in 1990 - it blew me away.
The work was profound but in a language that I understood. In 1991 Colin Firth got me two tickets in the stalls to see him in the Caretaker (directed by Harold Pinter) at the Comedy Theatre. I had read Pinter but never seen it in the flesh. Having a friend in the cast made it even better, but his writing turned a light on somewhere in my mind. I adored it. However I still did not put a pen to paper and start writing.
Several years later it took an incident that happened to a friend of mine that compelled me to start writing, I literally locked myself in my room and never left until it was finished. My friends thought I had gone mad I probably had I was obsessed, I was greatly relieved to have completed it, I could get on with being me again.
I was slightly embarrassed about it and had no faith in it either, I had written the play in a vacuum. It lay on the shelf for 10 years, I remember at one point my car was broken into on Wardour Street and I remember chasing bits of the play down the street. Fate played a hand again when while out for a drink with an old friend of mine, Nathan Osgood, an actor and director, who taught at the Actors Centre in Tower Street, Covent Garden.
I told him I had written a play and he said, "lets have a look at it." He liked it. I was amazed, we did a reading at the Actor’s Centre, I mentioned it to Martin Witts at the Leicester Square Theatre where I had done the plumbing when he first took it over. We did a reading there and the rest is history.
Having lived in the midst of Theatreland for many years one takes it for granted. I don’t go to the theatre to be entertained, I go to be moved. The big West End shows in the main are not for me.
Environment I believe to be hugely important, my play was written in Soho, though set in Burnt Oak, North London and being performed in Leicester Square.
I have received great help from all the people involved without which it would not be happening. I am very proud of my play now. Hamish McAlpine, a producer of Burnt Oak but with a background in film, at a meeting said, "listen if the play wasn’t good, we wouldn’t be here."
From here on I’m in unchartered waters, amazing. I hope my journey can be an inspiration to other people.
Burnt Oak: Life and Death in London Town opens at the Leicester Square Theatre tonight (28 July, previews from 22 July) where it runs until 3 September 2011.