The first performance of Birthday Suit.
The first new play of mine that's been staged in a year.
The first time any work of mine has been given a full 4 week professional run.
So I'm nervous about it. Which does a disservice to Pluck Productions, in whom I have nothing but the highest confidence. We've got a smashing cast, a sharp director, and a far more aesthetically pleasing set than I could have imagined when writing the script. We even have a sound designer. A sound designer! I haven't had one of those for a stage play since... ever. But I'm still nervous because I wrote it, and it's new, and nobody's seen it before.
What's it about? Richard has invited all his co-workers to his 40th birthday party. Diane is new to the firm and desperate to make friends. She’s brought her boyfriend, Nick, who's promised to be the spirit of party itself. There's lots of trifle, and nibbles. There’s just one problem: nobody else is coming to Richard’s party.
Where'd it come from? It began back in 2011, when I was still an active member of the Edinburgh University Theatre Company at Bedlam Theatre. A friend, Neville Billimoria ("the Old Bill" to his friends) had asked me to write a new play for him to direct which could be staged on a tiny budget. I had 10 pages of dialogue involving a young couple arriving at a party for a man they didn't know. I wondered who the host would be, and had the image of an immaculate and dignified man in full dinner jacket and party hat, sat down next to an untouched buffet in the middle of a large and otherwise empty room. The resulting play was called Gin & Tonic, which ran to about 70 minutes and received three performances.
A few years later, I sent the script to a London theatre company who asked me to expand the play to two acts for a production that sadly fell through. Undeterred, I approached Pluck Productions, who were rather keen. Over eighteen months, the script was revised and entirely re-written, until - beyond the core premise - it bore so little relation to the 2011 original that it was basically a new play. I called it Birthday Suit, and now it's being staged at the Old Red Lion in Angel, London.
Now in 2017 I'm older than than most of the characters in the play. I'm writing less from a perspective of cold fear about my life ahead. Instead, I'm looking back on my 20s - nearly finished - and at how things have gone. I'm still not where I wanted to be years ago, though in many ways I'm closer than I could have expected. I feel more assured in myself. But the wider world is still a frightening place. No matter what we do to try and turn our lives around, the world will throw us a curveball. The characters in Birthday Suit don't want to do "great things." They want to find their niche in the world and be happy there - but even that's a really tough thing to do.
Christ, that's a bit bleak. I thought this was a comedy? Oh it is, yes, gosh. Most of it is about social anxieties. We've all thrown a party and worried ourselves sick that nobody will come, like Richard. We've all got a new job and had no idea how to talk to our colleagues, like Diane. We've all found ourselves involved in a bitter argument that's ruining the evening, but we'll keep pushing it because we know we're right, like Nick. But there's a dark undercurrent throughout the play, as people keep digging themselves into bigger holes. It takes some of its cues from Ayckbourn, my favourite playwright, with some of the comic construction I've learnt from doing Wooden Overcoats for two years. It's certainly not a light comedy, but I think it's going to make our audiences laugh.
Where is it? I'd love to book a ticket, right now! Of course you would. It's at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Angel, London. Starts tonight and goes on till the 4th February. We've got 3 previews this week (10th-12th Jan) with reduced ticket prices, and if you book for tonight's performance or tomorrow's you can get a further discount by using the code HAPPYBIRTHDAY. Please do come. It'd be cracking to see you there.
Starring EJ Martin, Philip Honeywell, Liam Bewley and Emily Stride. Directed by Alice Malin.