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Playwright Chris Thompson Interview: “If you’re brave enough you can do anything.”

Chris Thompson is an award winning playwright based in London and New York. He is currently under commission by the National Theatre and The Royal Court Theatre. He was the Channel 4 Playwright in Residence at the Finborough Theatre in 2014, and currently has two television series in development with Euston Film and TV. Amazing.

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Playwright Chris Thompson

His plays capture and make sense of the outsider spirit, while being as unswerving and true in his writing as he is in conversation. There seems to be simultaneously more and less to him than meets the eye. What I most got out of my chat with Chris was that he has found a way to sidestep the egotistic pitfalls that snare most writers while also explaining personal accounts of love, identity, culture and gay life.

Many of Thompson’s contemporaries have succeeded via privileged upbringings. Not Thompson. After working as a social worker for twelve years, he quit to focus on writing. Is he fed up of being asked about his previous career, I ask. “I’m very proud of it. I think the further away that change gets from me now the clearer it becomes,” he says.

“I sometimes wonder if I’m making up the reasons retrospectively… You’re not really sure at the time. I’ve got my version of events. I knew I was doing good but I wasn’t sure if I was doing me good. I’m a very conscientious and care-giving individual – I felt very privileged to be doing that kind of work.”

Now though, Of Kith and Kin opens at the Sheffield Theatre and is directed by Robert Hastie. Hastie directed Thompson’s debut play Carthage in 2014 and that was a breakthrough for him. “Carthage got me a lot of meetings and was produced at the Finborough theatre. Suddenly my scripts rose to the top of the scripts submission pile. It was a gamble and it was very exposing thing to do; putting myself out there.”

In which case, what is Of Kith and Kin about? “Of Kith and Kin starts with a set of circumstances and becomes a play about who’s in charge, changing your mind and love is not enough,” he explains. “It is much more of a gay play than you might think.”

“Above all it ‘puts a pin in gay relationships now.’ He explains his relationship to the watershed of gay marriage and civil partnerships. “I was born in the year that Thatcher came into power and I lived in the shadow of shame; all the laws and legislation of that came from a position of disgust.”

Britain’s LGBT+ community has made positive shifts in recent years. We have an equal age of consent, employment rights and legal protections that we didn’t have a decade ago. Thompson hits the nail on the head when discussing the modern politics of gay culture. “There is now a constituency of gay men who find intimacy harmful and find it hard to not punish the person they love for making them have those feelings. I’m very interested in masculinity, how men are represented. I love peek through your fingers, gritted teeth kind of humour,” he says.

Is he a kind person? “I think my friends would describe me as kind. I think I have a lot of compassion. To write good characters you have to have to have a lot of humanity.”

I ask which life event he thinks is most responsible for the person that he is today. “I don’t think it’s possible that it could be one event for any person,” he says. “I know that my life has changed beyond recognition in the last 3 years… I’ve had some life events that have changed the path of my life; the most recent, in the most basic terms, was leaving my job. I left my relationship of a decade, I left my home. I had a nervous breakdown and ran off to New York to do it in style,” he laughs. 

Thompson speaks honestly and openly about the human condition. “I found myself in a position I did not expect to find myself in that time. I did make a promise to myself which is live bravely and speak without fear; change is good. We have one life. If you’re brave enough you can do anything,” he says, adamantly.

We chat about critics and reviews. Rather interestingly he has put all the reviews of his shows up  on his website– good and bad. He says that, on some occasions. “Even though it’s sometimes bruising to have negative reviews I don’t care if critics write negative things about my play as long as they stick to rigorous critical analysis.”

“Some critics aren’t able to resist the opportunity to showboat and the story then becomes about the review itself rather the work, (see: COMMON), and then when they’re called on it, they deny doing it. When I talk about it being a dialogue, I see reviews as a starting point of a conversation between critics and audiences, less so between the play and critics,” he says, freely admitting mixed feelings of his own.

“Ultimately, people remember the plays not the reviews…”

Of Kith and Kin is at Sheffield Theatres until 7 Oct. Box Office: 0114 249 6000.

Bush Theatre, London from 18 October until 25 November. Box Office: 020 8743 3584.