David Coverdale debuts a personal, heartfelt play about family and communication at the Camden Fringe with To Anyone Who Listens. The show plays at the Hen and Chickens 17th – 19th August, so I caught up with David to talk all things To Anyone Who Listens and theatre…
To Anyone Who Listens is your debut play – what prompted you to write it and what can you tell us about the story?
It is mostly a product of me being very stubborn – and seemingly unable to say no! The first incarnation of the play came about on day two of the 28 Plays Later Writing Challenge in 2017. I still don’t know what actually inspired me to take part considering I’d never written a word in my life… but after eighteen months, a ridiculous number of drafts, an appearance at the Stockwell Playhouse, a rehearsed read at the Wyndhams Theatre, and a lot of gin, here we are a week away from our opening night at the Hen and Chickens.
The story centres around a family who we meet at various points over the course of a five year period. We find them in times of crisis and complete breakdown as well as periods of renewed understanding and resolve.
Distinctive ‘northern humour’ is another promising selling point – how would you describe your writing style as a whole? Is this rough and ready realism with a northern twang or something else entirely?
I would definitely describe my writing as very real in its content, and very northern in its tone. Even though I’ve been in London for almost eight years now and my accent has faded, my northern roots are still very clear, particularly when it comes to my humour and the way I communicate. There is definitely a certain style of communication unique to northern families, and being able to play with that in my writing has been a real joy. I feel there is a sense of resolve in my characters which is a real product of the northern voice behind them.
To Anyone Who Listens depicts one family’s experience with poor mental health and sectioning – how do you ensure that such a subject matter is handled with accuracy and sensitivity?
The content of this play is heavily based upon and informed by my own family experience. The focus of the piece is on the family sat on the outside and how they cope – and I have been that person. I have had the conversations this family are having, and I remember them all too clearly.
The play actually began as therapy for me. I spent years brushing the memories of what we went through under the carpet but never actually facing them head on and attempting to understand them. Having the opportunity to write about a family different to my own in a similar situation gave me a surprising amount of closure. As the play grew, other storylines began to creep in which distanced the piece far enough from my own experience to not be painful, but still keep its authenticity.
Mental health is an enormous subject – I actually believe it is one of the biggest issues we could put on stage – and each person’s experience of it is different. Respect of that fact is the main key to creating an accurate portrait. I didn’t trouble myself with getting bogged down with avoiding stereotypes, as I’ve lived the situation myself. I felt I knew what I was writing.
Considering the sensitive and topical subject matter, would you say the play is political in any way – does it touch on the lack of funding in mental health services for instance or rather is this a play championing the work that the sector does?
I certainly wouldn’t describe the piece as political in any way, although I do think any play with mention of healthcare and the NHS in particular has to choose a side. Based on my own experiences, I would never do anything but champion the work done by the incredible people working in our hospitals. It is actually during the scenes in the hospital that we find the family communicating at their best. They find a safety within the hospital, both the family on the outside of the door, and the young man on the inside. Does your play carry a message or lesson at all?
At the risk of sounding like I’m harping on a cliche, this a play about communication. The most important thing a family can do, be it in a time of normality or in a time of crisis, is to speak and listen to each other.
This is your debut at the Camden Fringe after a run at Stockwell Playhouse in 2017 – what exactly does the Camden Fringe mean to you as a creator of new work?
To me, the Camden Fringe is the natural next step in my work. It is a safe space to perform, but also a real step up from the work I have done before.
The team organising the festival itself could not be more supportive, and the management at the Hen and Chickens seem to really thrive on lending a hand where they can. Whilst I am a rookie in most respects, I have never felt I haven’t had support. Between the Camden Fringe team, the Hen and Chickens and the remarkable production team I have working me, the experience has already been more than I ever imagined it could be – and we haven’t even opened the play yet.
What would you say your goal or vision is when it comes to the work you have produced and intend to produce in the future?
I am under no illusion that this production will be the finished article. I am certain there will be further tweaks to be made – I know the audience engaging and reacting will tell me everything I need to know about what works and what doesn’t.
The ULTIMATE goal for the piece is for it to play eventually at a venue like the West Yorkshire Playhouse (or the Leeds Playhouse, as it will soon be known). I fell in love with theatre at that venue, long before I moved to London, and as there is such a northern spirit and voice at the centre of the piece – it seems the perfect venue.
I am also incredibly interested in the fact the Trafalgar Studio have started programming short runs of new writing in Studio 2 – gosh, what a moment that would be for me if it was to happen.
If an audience takes just one thing away from seeing To Anyone Who Listens, what would you like that to be?
Talk to each other. There are few problems that cannot be made more manageable by talking.
Now for the Quick Fire Round!
Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?
My parents. They have done nothing but support every twist and turn my life has taken. I imagine I’m quite exhausting for them at times – but they always come along for the ride and either celebrate with me or pick up the pieces when its all gone wrong!
Favourite theatre genre and why?
Three years ago I’d have said Musical Theatre. Now? I really do see absolutely everything I can. I don’t think I have a favourite any more. That being said, I’m not really an absurdist kind of guy.
Etiquette debates – worthwhile or futile? Where do you draw the line?
VERY worthwhile… BUT… I would much sooner have to scoff at a phone ringing every now and then rather than lose audience diversity. I like good theatre etiquette, and I think it is a very important discussion but I will never be the militant type about it. Theatre is for all of us. Sometimes someone will just forget to turn their phone off. Should they be banned for life? Absolutely not.
If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in the Theatre Industry right now, what would it be? What does theatre need?
Huge steps forward have been made in terms of diversity in theatre, but there is still so far to go. I think it’s fair to say that white men still over-ride everyone else – and that is boring.
Finally, to close, sell your show to readers in just one sentence.
A family in their darkest hour, can still laugh.
So there you have it! Remember: To Anyone Who Listens plays the Camden Fringe 17th – 19th August 2018 and you can find tickets here.