After first meeting Jayne in Salisbury I was keen to do an interview with her to introduce more people to her work. The gritty writing from her last play Classified which was first performed in Salisbury and then transferred to the Lion and Unicorn in Kentish Town, where it earned some great reviews was well received with some very positive reviews published.
Jayne took time out of her busy schedule to answer in-depth questions that I put to her. Let me hand you over to her.
If you could start by introducing yourself and background briefly and I will write that up.
I’ve been a professional writer for a long time and am the author of many successful non-fiction books for children and curriculum resources for the school. I’ve also published a trilogy of novels for children and an eBook collection of short stories for adults. Four years ago I made a major career move to start writing for the stage. I’d always loved the theatre and was drawn towards the idea of working collaboratively, rather than spending any more time in the solitary confinement demanded by book writing. I was completely bowled over when my first short play was accepted for performance and everything has gone forward from there. I also teach creative writing to adults in my home town of Salisbury. It’s so gratifying to see people who’ve been on my courses discover the love of writing and achieve their own successes.
Why did you choose to be a children’s author?
Most writers need a second profession and mine has been as a primary school teacher and university lecturer. I had a very particular area of expertise: how to teach history to young children, and I began by being commissioned by publishers to write history books for 4 – 11-year-olds. I’d always wanted to write fiction, so I think it was a natural progression to write novels for the same age group. I really enjoy the challenge of writing for children: you have to deal with complex themes and characters in a way that doesn’t talk down to your readers but also uses the appropriate language and structure.
How did Calum and yourself meet?
This happens to be one of the most fortunate, entirely random, events that have ever happened to me! Actor Awareness had put on several of my short plays and the director, Tom Stocks, asked me to develop one of them, Speci-Man, into a full-length play for their first Festival of New Writing. He also told me he knew a director for the production, and that happened to be Calum. We first met through a Skype call, but what became immediately apparent was the way we shared such similar ideas and were able to trust each other’s judgement implicitly from the outset. I think it’s the ideal creative partnership, where we can support each other through our own strengths, but not be afraid to offer suggestions and critique where necessary. It does sometimes feel a bit spooky now, though, when Calum already has the answers before I’ve even asked the questions!
What inspired you both to start Loosely Based Theatre? How long has it run for now?
Calum and I both feel we have the same, shared vision of the sort of theatre we want to create and that forming LBTC would be our way of taking artistic control for the work we do. In the last 2 years since we began, we’ve put on three productions, all of which have had a great audience and critical success. At the heart of our work are hard-hitting themes reflecting important social issues of today, which also tell good stories, with a characteristic strand of dark humour. Calum’s direction takes my writing and presents it in a very stark, uncluttered way, which lets the strength of the acting (and hopefully, the dialogue) take centre stage.
Where do you see the company developing from here?
We both have our own individual projects to develop: Calum through his solo show Sonder and me through my own writing plans. Our aim is to bring what we learn through these processes to new work for Loosely Based so that we can be more ambitious in all aspects of what we do as a company.
How have audiences received your hard-hitting play, Classified?
We’ve had an amazing audience reaction from all three venues we’ve taken the show to. People have responded very positively to the issues of social control and inequality Classified portrays and so many of them have told me it’s given them much to think about and reflect on afterwards. That’s very important to me: not just entertaining people, but also stimulating conversations and perhaps getting people to see things in a new way. Several friends also commented they needed a strong drink at the bar afterwards, so I take that as a sign of the play’s success!
Do you have plans to take it to any other venues?
Not at the moment, because Calum and I are busy with other commitments, but this is something we might explore in future.
What are your next writing plans? Another play or something else?
I’ve been accepted onto the Criterion Theatre New Writing Programme 2020, with Greg Mosse, starting in the New Year. This is a highly prestigious programme, which aims to support writers who’ve had experience of working in fringe venues in making the transition to writing for the big stage. It’s such an honour to be part of this and I feel both thrilled and terrified in equal measure! I can’t wait to learn as much as I can and see what else I might be able to achieve.
What have you learned from this whole experience that you will continue to use in the future?
We will continue to be brave in terms of the subject matter we tackle and now have the confidence to believe that audiences will appreciate and respond appropriately. At first, it seemed a leap of faith to produce shows that had minimal sets /lighting/sound, but we have proved that theatre can be equally, if not more, effective when all the frills are stripped away — provided the writing and the acting are of top quality.
Where do you find your casts from?
Our first cast came from an informal pool of actors who work regularly with Actor Awareness and we’ve gone on to bring other actors, through auditions or knowing their work, on board. In Classified, three of the actors were LBTC ‘regulars’, so there’s a very special feel to creating what is, in effect, our own small repertory company.
For more details on Jayne’s past and future works follow her on the Twitter link below. From my own experience of seeing her recent play, you will not be disappointed.
My review for Classified is available on the link below.