Playwrights Jake Brunger and Hannah Rodger at the Pleasance
In 2011, playwrights Jake Brunger and Hannah Rodger took part in the Old Vic New Voices TS Eliot US / UK Exchange. Since then both of them have gone on to write new plays which will open at the Pleasance Theatre later this month for a limited run.
Jake Brunger’s new play People Like US will be directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward and Hannah Rodger’s new play Happy Never After will be directed by Luke Sheppard. Both plays will be produced by James Quaife and will open on 21 November at the Pleasance Theatre, London.
We caught up with Jake and Hannah during rehearsals this week.
Please tell us the reason behind writing your play?
Jake: The play was originally written as a fifteen minute piece for the TS Eliot US/UK Exchange in New York last year. We had to pick a TS Eliot quote to inspire us and four actors to be in it. My quote was ‘success is relative. It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things’. We had to pick our actors simply by their headshots and CVs, so out of sheer amusement I decided to pick three posh people and an Essex girl and see what happened. This is the result!
Hannah: The play came out of a desire to work with my director and cast from the TS Eliot US/UK Exchange again. Old Vic New Voices gave us a support award to develop a new piece of work, which became Happy Never After.
We had a mentor (the very lovely Morgan Lloyd Malcolm) and they helped us stage a rehearsed reading of it earlier this year. Their generosity has played a massive part in getting the piece to where it is today.
Can you tell us a little about your play?
Jake: It’s about a brother and sister who have prematurely inherited a large country estate from their recently deceased parents. They’re only in their 20s and clash over what to do with it. But thrown into this mix is their respective partners too; the sister’s long-term boyfriend is a patronising arse, and the brother’s new girlfriend is a beautician from Essex. Let’s just say sparks fly!
Hannah: Happy Never After is the story of Jen and Neil; a young couple who fall in love, move in together and suddenly find that being a grown up is harder than they thought it’d be. It’s based on some of my own experiences of what life and love can throw at you when you least expect it as well as some that my friends have gone through too.
You took part in the Old Vic New Voices, TS Eliot US/UK Exchange in 2011—what was that experience like?
Jake: It’s such a cliché to use this phrase but it genuinely was life changing; I’ve never had a week quite like it. The Old Vic opened doors for us to be able to go and have meetings with whoever we wanted; I met some of the top people in the Manhattan theatre industry, it was crazy. And to have our pieces showcased at the Vineyard Theatre, where shows like Avenue Q had started out, was ridiculously exciting.
Hannah: The TS Eliot Exchange was an amazing experience and it was really pivotal for me as a writer. I had been on development courses before which were always very encouraging but the exchange was that and more. It was a practical introduction to the industry. I made connections with actors, directors, producers and literary people which led to me having work staged at The Old Vic Tunnels, Theatre 503, Soho Theatre and to getting an agent and writing this play.
What has the journey been like for you and your play?
Jake: It’s been a long journey but well worth it. We workshopped it extensively, did a lot of readings and for a long while I wrote it as a two-act piece, before finally admitting it was better just as a straight-through real-time hour; the two act version tied it all up too much. But I couldn’t have done it without Kirsty and the actors; so much of the play came from their improvisations and lengthy discussions.
Hannah: On one hand it’s been quite a challenge to put so many aspects of my own life up on the stage, but on the other it’s been a really fun and joyful experience because it has been such a collaboration. From the moment I came up with the idea for the play (whilst we were all in a pub!) we’ve all worked closely together on the characters and their story to create what we hope will be a really heartfelt, honest piece of theatre.
What do you think of new writing in the UK?
Jake: I sort of straddle two different branches of new writing, as I also write musical theatre. The two models of working are actually quite different I think; there’s a lot of opportunities for young playwrights to get their work on through short plays and showcases, but it’s a little harder for musical writers, plus it’s much trickier to judge work out of context—one good song doesn’t represent a whole show, for example. But generally it’s an exciting time to be a writer I think; you just have to get your work out there as much as possible.
Hannah: I think the term ‘new writing’ is used to cover so many different kinds of work that it’s almost impossible to refer to it as just one category of theatre. That aside, I think there are so many exciting responses, collaborations and developments going on all across the UK it’s a very exciting time for making and going to see new writing at the moment.
What do you think about your plays being presented as a double bill in London?
Jake: It’s a real relief actually! I’d hate to be doing it alone. Matching it with Hannah’s play, which is so tonally different to mine, is a blessing as audiences get to see two completely different new pieces. It can feel a bit lonely being a writer sometimes, so it’s nice to share it with someone else. Hannah’s become a great friend too; as have Kirsty and Luke, who are top-notch young directors. I feel very privileged to be part of this.
Hannah: I’m really excited to be working with so many wonderful people on this double bill. We all have such a passion to create and share these pieces—hopefully it’s going to be a real treat for the audience to see two brand new plays in one night.
People Like Us and Happy Never After will open at the Pleasance Theatre, London.
Previews will commence from Wednesday 21 November.
To book tickets please visit www.pleasance.co.uk or contact the box office: 020 7609 1800.