From the Archive: BushGreen meets James Graham
What plays should we be reading, putting on and going to see?
This last Bush season, I think, is a great example of new writing that feels fresh and authentic and a very current look at where we are and what we’re doing while managing to be funny and moving and entertaining – Jack Thorne, Nick Payne. Also, take a look at Matt Hartley, Leo Richardson, Chloe Moss, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm … I could go on.
My first ‘in’ to theatre was the more classical or traditional stuff – Shakespeare, Bennett, Pinter. But the ‘London new writing scene’ when I first came here – like, what, six years ago? – often left me quite numb or cold (not always); it was the usual angry, violent, bleak, grim, extreme stuff. Obviously this reflects a lot of people’s life experience; obviously I don’t think the world is all sunshine and bursting into song. But I very rarely saw any hope. And I very, very rarely saw anything that could be described as entertaining – once considered a by-word for superficial. I’m so over the moon now to see work that is funny as well as uncompromising, with strong storytelling, music, great imagery, like Jerusalem, If There Is … , 2nd May 1997, and many more that capture the climate and have something important to say but which don’t forget that for most people theatre isn’t their world or their life and they don’t see a lot of shows and maybe, just maybe, they want to feel something as well as being intellectually or morally challenged or stimulated …
Please don’t go all ‘fashionable’ either – or try put on work that tries to second guess what is fashionable. Or is reacting to ‘last year’s fashion’. Or written to impress other writers or directors or literary managers instead of … well, normal people I guess.
What are your career highlights so far?
I loved working with the National Youth Theatre in Tory Boyz. The play was about gay people in politics and the possibility that we’ve already had a gay prime minister and also showing a Tory party in a not entirely negative light (given that we clearly going to have to deal with them at some point this year) and though some papers and theatre people and even some (quite vocal) MPs got huffy and thought it controversial, our company of young actors were untainted by any baggage and just so open to things, and so intrigued and excited by everything.
I was also pleased to get Sons of York off my chest, which was quite a personal play, and also quite a traditional, well-made one – a single room, happening in real time, nowhere to hide.
Getting plays published and seeing them in Waterstones is always nice, too.
Who is the greatest influence on your career?
Cue Oscar acceptance speech – teachers at school, family, friends, Simon Stephens, Mansfield, Hull, the Finborough Theatre.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever seen at the theatre?
One moment that sticks out right now was in Dominic Cooke’s production of The Crucible a couple of years ago. The moment was when wife Elizabeth is bought in by the judge to tell the court whether husband Proctor (also in the room, but facing away) is lying – and the silence and the stillness and the power and the performance of Helen Schlesinger as she tried to second guess what was expected of her before she got it wrong and death and chaos and tragedy ensued … I basically resembled a cliché of someone ‘captivated’; leaning forward, mouth open, unable to breathe. Having read the play ‘academically’ for years, it was the first time I got it …
As Writer in Residence at the Finborough Theatre, James’s plays include Albert’s Boy (2005); Eden’s Empire (Catherine Johnson Best Play Award, 2007) and Little Madam (2007). James had two Time Out Critics’ Choice shows playing simultaneously in London in summer 08; Tory Boyz at the Soho Theatre and Sons of York at the Finborough. A History of Falling Things premiered last spring at Clwyd Theatr Cymru, and he was a writer on suddenlossofdignity.com at the Bush. Forthcoming work includes Huck on national tour and at the Southwark in April, and Relish for the NYT this summer. For the screen, James’s original comedy-drama Caught in a Trap was ITV1’s Boxing Day drama in 2008. He is currently developing other TV drama projects and is under commission with the UK Film Council. Radio plays: How You Feeling, Alf? and Albert’s Boy (BBC Radio 4).