Tamar Saphra on reading and directing THE NOISES
The murmur of writers was regular background noise when I was growing up. There were books in every room. I always smiled politely at the…
Tom is a working-class playwright and theatre maker from Skipton, now based in London with an interest in formally bold, politically engaged work. Tom’s short plays have been performed at Theatre503, Sheffield Theatres and the Bunker Theatre, and has completed writer’s groups with Hightide Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre and Soho Theatre.
Tom’s play LIKE YOU HATE ME was longlisted in the 2017 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, and is currently on at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre, London.
Recently I was lucky enough to take part in a workshop with one of my favourite writers. They told the group that their first play – that is to say, the first play that appears on their Wikipedia page – was actually in truth closer to being their fifth, and that they’d actually been incredibly efficient in burying all record of the ‘true’ first play. It wasn’t out of any sense of embarrassment, they added, they were just trying to warn us that it might be unwise to expect too much of your first play. Well, that advice came about eighteen months too late, and almost exactly two years ago to the day today, I submitted Like You Hate Me, my ‘first play’ to the Bruntwood Prize. Although to be perfectly honest with you – and keep this between you and me – my real ‘first play’ ran for a limited engagement of two performances in the next door neighbour’s back yard when I was ten, and in spite of the formal daring that it possessed, I’d rather keep that play to myself.
Like You Hate Me has existed for a few years, and prior to the submission, the play had a very informal workshop under the supervision of my long-term collaborator, Matilda Reith, peopled by a group of wonderfully open and intelligent actors, who gave the play clarity and life. The provocations that came from Christi, Hebe, Lauren, Roly, Will, Matilda and Tim changed the shape of the play entirely, and informed the draft that I eventually submitted in 2017.
Scanning the long-list for the funniest pseudonym that November, I was shocked to find my own. Not to be too Richard E. Grant about it, but I was completely overwhelmed that someone else other than me had enjoyed this odd, sad little play. I managed to forget what my alter ego had chosen for their password to their email account, but when I did finally break through, I found that the feedback was clear, incisive and stimulating. It confirmed my suspicions about a few things I thought might not be working about the play, and shed light on areas I hadn’t yet examined. I took it on board and worked on a new draft, but still something wasn’t quite right.
Plays can take a long time to reveal themselves, especially to the person writing them. You’re often not totally aware of everything you’re putting into a piece of work, but a few drafts down the line, an idea that had previously only existed on a subliminal level within the play now proves to be central to the entire arc of the evening, or at least was in my case. Once the post-Bruntwood draft had been finished, the play was put in a drawer whilst I worked on other things. We were unsuccessful in trying to find a home for it, and I think it comes down to the fact that I still hadn’t clarified what was important within the play. I continued writing, yet each time experiencing that same feeling that I’d just stopped a little bit short of what it was that had initially excited me about that particular idea. The plays had gotten larger in scale, which was beneficial for my development, but not easy to have staged.
Tilly emails me with a link to Fight or Flight’s call out for two handers, and my reluctance to write an entirely new play in the days before the rapidly approaching deadline leads me to submit what is by now a fairly dusty draft of Like You Hate Me. Ross and Jess emailed in November 2018 to say they’d like to meet and I find myself walking through the Winter Gardens in Sheffield, killing time before my train home, thinking about the play. Did it reflect who I was a writer anymore? Was I still in agreement with what it was saying? Was it a load of old shit? I honestly didn’t know. Clearly Sheffield was creatively fertile soil, as in the time that it takes me to purchase a Henderson’s Relish enamel pin badge (currently affixed to my jacket as I type this), the play finally revealed itself to me, and the journey back to Hackney was spent redrafting the play into a shape with which I was finally happy.
It took me a long time to stop writing other people’s plays. An initial draft of the play I’m working on at the minute felt like a straight-to-DVD remake of Martin Crimp’s The Treatment, and the first draft of Like You Hate Me was no different. Full of Annie Baker imitation – weird pauses and quiet revelations – but without any of the flair which makes her work so extraordinary. It was only through sharing the play with collaborators, friends and readers that the play came into its own. I’m hugely grateful to everyone, but especially Aimee, Cush, Jess and Ross for their faith, generosity and rigour in bringing the play to the Lion and Unicorn, and hugely grateful to the Bruntwood Prize for making the play what it is today. I still don’t think I’ve cracked it, and it’s quite likely I might never crack it, but watch this space, I know exactly what I’ll do for the next one.
I will never pretend that Like You Hate Me wasn’t my first play, because although it has been a long process, I’ve had so much fun on the way. So if you’re considering submitting this year but erring on the side of no, I urge you to send in your play. It might not be doing a world tour this time next year, but you will learn so much over however long it takes for your play to be staged. To paraphrase Chris Rea in the best festive tune going (don’t even @ me), it may take some time, but you’ll get there.
This is not a play about love. It’s about loving/losing yourself/someone else.
It’s about how much you give to another person and how much you can’t ever get back.
Addressing the loss, development, and discovery of one’s identity through an ongoing and ever changing life-long relationship, ‘Like You Hate Me’ is a deeply honest reflection on life & love in all forms. Challenging our idea of ‘the one’ and questioning our feelings of inadequacy in the face of a rigorous self-imposed life ‘plan’: questioning our successes, our failures, comparing our lives to others, and striving to meet the expected milestones that society tells us we should achieve.
Like you Hate Me runs from Tuesday 23rd April to Saturday 4th May at The Lion & Unicorn Theatre: https://www.thelionandunicorntheatre.com/whats-on#/event/like-you-hate-me
For more about Fight or Flight please see: http://fightorflightproductions.co.uk/now/