One night in Pinner between the bedroom and the toilet
By chance after seeing Mandrake at The Jack Studio Theatre I met the play's writer, Howard Colyer, and we had an impromptu conversation.
This free adaptation of Machiavelli's renaissance farce is the most recent of several of Colyer's works to be staged at The Jack and there are more in the pipeline. This association between Colyer and The Jack—one which he clearly values—started some four years ago when Colyer, who lives in nearby Greenwich, submitted a play for The Jack's first new writing festival for south London writers, Write Now.
Giving truth to the adage that winning isn't everything, Colyer's submission was shortlisted and then got no further, but his work came to the attention of the theatre's artistic director, Kate Bannister. He joined the writing group there run by David Bottomley which resulted in his play Homework being given a script-in-hand performance and with Bottomley's other hat, as Writers’ Group Director at the London Playwrights' Collective, Colyer's stage work received readings at other venues too.
"I've had plays on elsewhere but I've got a lot of affection for this theatre and the people who work here. To ordinary people it's a bit obscure—being in south east London, Brockley might as well be Sicily," he laughs, "but I don't think anything here has been reviewed by the national press, it’s a shame. The national press is just an example. It doesn't take long on the train but psychologically it’s a long way. It doesn't worry me though. I like doing work here."
Writing though was not Howard Colyer's first choice of career. Discounting wanting to be a wrestler at age six in the mould of Mick McManus during the sport's 1960s heyday, it was a youthful Brixton Hill–born Howard that went north of river and some to study history and politics at Keele university. "Do you know it?" he asks me laughing "It's near Stoke—there's Keele services on the M6 and then there's the university campus and that’s it. There's nothing else there. You can get fries and a degree, and some petrol!"
"I wanted to be a historian but I failed in that ambition—there was a vast number of applicants for every post as a historian in 1980s so I tried to work and be a historian in my spare time but I could never develop the critical mass of knowledge on any subject to write with a day job.
"But I then started reading Chekhov—his short stories—and one night in Pinner between the bedroom and the toilet I decided I would start writing short stories. And I did."
That was 'night one'; for the next 16 years Colyer wrote short stories and novels, many of which he self–published.