Pirates, prison and Pinter

Reporter: Sandra Giorgetti

Dateline: 30th August, 2014

Treasure Island

In one-man show Spank House, Jake Costello plays a "modern day pirate". A con artist, a scammer, a swindler.

And since I know when I interview Jake that the Spank House story is at least partially autobiographical, am I on the look out for it or is there really something there that strikes me as a bit—well—shifty?

Certainly he speaks very fast and he won't look me in the eye when he talks to me. When he does look at me, he hastens to look away with a laugh.

Jake also has a habit of crunching his knuckles and it takes me a little while to be certain that these are just outside manifestations of a nervous character.

Thinking about our conversation I find an irony in the juxtaposition between the deliberate hoodwinking of the Spank House con Jake and the reticence of the real, much nicer Jake who just doesn't want to give too much away about the play.

There are also areas of his life which come up in conversation that he does not wish to go into and an unassailable "I don't want to talk about that" advises me that I must take things in another direction.

The mis–match between my intent and his caginess I suspect finds us in a bit of a double bind.

For sure he went to prison, but not for what the fraudulent Jake had done. For sure he has done drink and drugs and mixed with characters that at best could be described as nefarious. He calls these people "shits", but I can tell he usually uses a different word.

Jake denies being gullible for getting involved with the spank house criminals in Spain—'spank house' is slang for a boiler room scam operation which defrauds investors.

"I knew exactly what I was doing," he says, and firmly but not proudly he insists, "I wasn't some sort of innocent guy turned bad. I wasn't tricked at all... I can't put make-up on that."

"It wasn't a rags to riches story either. It was rags to rags".

In the mid-2000s, Jake was broke and unable to find meaningful work; sick of doing shifts on the railway and shaken by his experiences of being on duty at London's Camden Town station when the 7/7 bombings took place, it wasn’t long before he blagged his way to Spain to teach English.

It was work "off the books" and between that and painting and decorating the houses of wealthy ex-pats Jake got into bad company. "I met some people who told me you could make money quite fast and that was my Treasure Island. That's how Treasure Island starts..."

He describes the spank house operators as "so cold". "You wouldn't believe the lying mate... they are the best actors in the world; they're in character 24 hours a day". A deceit no doubt aided by the ready supply of drugs: "when I was doing the Spain thing, I was surrounded by it all day and it was free" he says.

Being close to the scamming operation, Jake had the idea of writing a play about it. He took the chance to steal the scripts the scammers used on the 'phone for conning would-be investors and it is the incorporation of these into the narrative of Spank House and Jake's first-hand observation of, if not active involvement in, the operation that gives the play a unique sting of authenticity.

He started writing the play after "some really bad things happened" and he served time in a Spanish prison; then he high-tailed it back to England, returning penniless as he had left some years earlier.

Finally making use of his "barely passed" BA in drama from Northampton University—he volunteers "partying too much" and having a preference for Wetherspoons at the time—Jake started to read plays avidly and research as best he could between casual work. Now it seems he prefers Pinter to pints.

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