We made it, Mum

17 April 2019

Lucy Thompson talks to Jack Bradfield of Poltergeist Theatre

Case study: Lights Over Tesco Car Park was at the National Student Drama Festival in 2018. It’s now a licensed Samuel French play, has toured venues across the UK, and sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe 2018.

I talked to Jack Bradfield (the playwright of Lights...) about what it means to make it for young companies in today’s climate.


Making it: Lights Over Tesco Car Park

Lucy: Lights Over Tesco is part-scripted, part-devised theatre. How did you create it?

Jack: We entered the rehearsal room with nothing. It was a bit risky but we decided not to write anything down before we went in. All we had was, we knew we were gonna do a low-budget sci-fi, we’d seen lots of high-budget but nothing like what we wanted to do. And we had an alien mask.

Lucy: Of course.

Jack: So in the first two weeks of rehearsal in October 2017, we really got a sense of the story, of the games we wanted to play with an audience. We had this idea of verbatim theatre; we wanted to interrogate what was interesting about that form...Also in the political climate that became a brilliant way of marrying alien abduction stories (are they real, are they fake) with the concept of, let’s tell our own story and pretend it’s as real as it can be...

So after those two weeks, I went and wrote some attempts at some scenes and these monologues and stories. My writing process came out of the devising process.

You find all these brilliant visual, physical motifs, in play and experiment, that you wouldn’t get by sitting down and writing. For example the beginning is Rosa dancing in an alien mask, with the words ALL OF THIS IS TRUE on the screen.

A lot of people recently have asked if that’s how you devise, is that how you do it. But it’s different for every company.


Made it: publishing the play(ful) script

Lucy: From there you brought the play to NSDF as new writing. How did the licensing come about?

Jack: It was part of the Samuel French New Play Award. It’s actually simpler than it feels or sounds. I worked on a polished version of the script, and there are guesses at the improv...It’s evoking the feeling of watching the play by reading the script. So in the meetings we were quite insistent that the script felt as playful as the show.

So they typeset it and publish it, and – it’s out of your hands. It happened in about eight weeks.

Lucy: How did that feel?

Jack: I couldn’t believe it really at all. And I didn’t believe it until we were in Edinburgh and gigantic boxes arrived with our playscripts.

When you think about catching a show on paper...does it limit it? We’re doing as much as we can in that playscript to resist possible limitations. To evoke what you saw, what you felt.

Lucy: That’s an interesting tension with devised theatre – if it’s about the physical creation, is that made free for reinterpretation and restaging?

Jack: At the front of the text I wrote a mini-blurb saying you don’t have to do anything we did: “Here’s the blueprint for the show: You need con the audience into thinking you’ve met a man and an alien. Change the names, change the locations, make it your piece – otherwise the mystery of the piece doesn’t work.”

We’ve had one amateur production in Scotland, for one night, for a drama festival. And they changed the names, the locations, they re-recorded everything. For me and for all of us, it was about really giving the power to those making it.


‘Making it’: Can we ever?

Lucy: What does success mean as a young company? What does 'making it' mean?

Jack: I think we’re still growing and working out what we are. The difference after NSDF – which was an amazing platform – was that with our next show, through applying for grants and awards, we’ve puzzled out space and time where we can make our next show outside of university.

At uni you can make a show, you’ve got free rehearsal space, you’ve got places to put it on, you’ve got people who at that moment are managing their time in a way to make space for theatre. And that’s really hard when you leave.

Making it isn’t the question to ask ourselves I think – and I think it means different things to different people. I’d rather focus on putting in the structures to make work sustainably and safely. And in this climate that’s really hard to do, and is a problem that needs to be sorted out from higher up. There needs to be more opportunities to showcase work and develop work. More risks need to be taken on young artists.

I think we’re all still learning, basically. We’re making theatre. That’s what we’re trying hard to make.

@noffmag / [email protected]

Photo credit: Beatrice Debney