,

Interview with Playwright James Graham: “I’m a human who doesn’t like or know how to talk about himself.”

James Graham, photo by Steve Tanner

James Graham, photo by Steve Tanner

James Graham ‘mayhem’ (ie not mayhem at all)

So, I went along to a matinee of ‘This House’ at The Garrick Theatre. It’s pretty amazing. Later that day I met with the writer, James Graham, for a whiskey cocktail. Graham is a witty man, who is a curious mixture of mischief and innocence, and who has the youthful appearance of a Dorian Gray entity.

Fortunately, James is good at talking: about ‘This House’, about his place in the theatre universe, and about the physical demands of being a playwright in 2016.

Anyway, all playwrights are subject to the whims of fashion, going in and out of fashion according to fads for writing styles or categories of plays, or even the political climate. Politics aside, the vital element in the brilliance of This House’ is that the writing is of a phenomenally high standard: it is a prescient exploration of the mechanisms at play in government. Ultimately, there’s a clarity of vision that’s virtually unrivalled in the current theatre scene.

This House

This House. Click on the image to book your tickets.

This House premiered at the Cottesloe Theatre in September 2012, directed by Jeremy Herrin, and transferred to the Olivier in 2013 where it enjoyed sell-out runs with critical acclaim and admiration from current and former MP’s for his rendition of life in the Commons. It was broadcast internationally by NT Live and received nominations for the Evening Standard and Olivier Best Play awards. (‘FYI’ I’m calling it now, ‘This House’ is the greatest play written in the last five years.)

Studies of lying show that when telling a lie, most people are tempted to add a vast amount of detail to their stories; they believe that the more aspects they add, the more sound their stories will be. ‘This House’ does not feel dishonest, but you could argue that the suggested extent of this play’s familiarity is an illusion of sorts, or at least an example of sleight of hand.

Graham’s more recent work includes Privacy created with Josie Rourke for the Donmar Warehouse and receiving its New York premiere at the Public Theater this July, starring Daniel Radcliffe. His play Monster Raving Loony opened at the Theatre Royal Plymouth this year and transferred to Soho Theatre in May. The Vote at the Donmar Warehouse aired in real time on TV in the final 90 minutes of the 2015 polling day and was nominated for a BAFTA. His Channel 4 drama Coalition also aired during the election and won the Royal Television Society award for Best Single Drama. James has written the book for Finding Neverland with music by Gary Barlow. It opened on Broadway in April 2015. He remains a Writer in Residence at the Finborough Theatre. Bloody hell.

(There were lots of things covered; this is a definite cup-of-tea-and-a-biscuit job.)

What sort of human are you?
I’m a human who doesn’t like or know how to talk about himself. I’d say I am an inconsistent and uncertain person.

If they could invent a robot to replace you and do all the boring stuff political playwrights have to do, what would you get up to instead?
I’d love to write a novel; I have an idea for a fantasy adventure story set in New York and one is a time hopping piece.

So, let’s get political; is there anyone you’d like to pour boiling water over, he says
No… However, I would pour cold water over Boris Johnson; he needs some perspective and probably ought to have some discomfort.”

What’s your worst play? 
Hahahaha! Oh that’s a tough one. Only because it was the first play I ever wrote and I was still learning: ‘Coal not dole’ about the miners’ strike.

Amazing. What’s your best play? 
This House, I guess. I am relieved – that by accident or design – it’s proven itself able to survive the times.

If you don’t follow politics you’re uninformed, if you do follow politics you’re misinformed. What is the long-term effect of too much information? 
Democracy isn’t allowed to function, there is a conscious shift by some parties or media to use that as a tactic to distract or destroy any conversation.

Serious question: Baths or showers?
Oh, goodness. 100% showers. Baths are 100% evil, man. I mean, to sit their doing nothing for that period of time. No. Thank. You.

Is Nigel Farage a fictional character? 
In a way, yes; he’s a construct. I don’t believe he can possibly be a real person.

What are your three favourite apps? 
Right, The London Bus checker – I do use google maps but I think being lost sometimes can be a good thing. I love Pocket to save articles. SignEasy is amazing as I don’t have to post contracts and things!

Do you think some writers cheat when they’re working with people and go “oh I haven’t done any prep let’s just jam and let the vibes flow” or whatever it is people say in a creative scenario, when actually they’ve got a brilliant idea in their head that they’re going to pretend just suddenly appears as if by magic.
Yes, I do but it’s destructive – I remember the OVNV 24 hour plays you can always tell because the ones that are don’t normally feel as fresh or good.

Do you think drama schools should have diversity quotas? 
That’s a hard question and I understand arguments against and for them. The problem of lack of diversity, whether race or gender or class, is genuine and very serious. And if quotas can solve that problem then maybe that’s the way to go. The arts are a lot like politics – in that sense – it’s about representating a group of people you’ve failed.

What does Gary Barlow smell like? 
Oh, Heaven and the north.

Do you think people are too distracted by the internet these days?
Yes. Including me – I may switch off for a New Year’s resolution.

What were the last three things you Googled?
Okay, let me check, I’ll be totally honest:

  1. Reviews for The Missing
  2. Beyond the Waterfall A cocktail odyssey.
  3. Arts Education and Schools

 

what are your experiences of young writers programmes? 

I did the RC young writers programme – BBC writers room. Look at whatever your local theatre does get involved. NT Connections is astonishing if you’re a teacher or a writer.

Do you think it helps being friends with people in the industry because you can all sort of relate to what’s happening?
I don’t think it helps in terms of your own work. It’s psychologically and emotionally helpful yes.

Do you have anything special planned for 2017?
Well, I will finish ‘1984’. I want to stay in London more – cook and watch television and do London jobs based in this city. Just so I can be home for a while, which I miss.

*This House is currently gracing the West End in a limited run until 25 February 2017.*

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUT TICKETS FOR THIS HOUSE 

CHECK OUT OUR SPECIAL OFFER FOR PURCHASE OF TICKETS FROM OUR AFFILIATE LINKS