Boyz theatre critic Stephen Vowles has a chat with Paul Bradshaw about his new one act play Tell Me Straight running as part of the Queer Season at the Kings Head’s Theatre in Islington this August.
So tell me what inspired you to write Tell Me Straight, did you draw from any of your own life experiences?
I had the idea for Tell Me Straight in Jan ’20 but because I was working on another piece, I told myself I’d get back to it when I had the time/space… then Rona came a knockin’ and forced me to sit down and to get the jumbled experiences out of my head. It’s a semi-autobiographical piece and draws on lots of encounters I’ve had with straight/curious men. Interestingly the main three guys in the piece have become amalgamations of several men I have met along the way. I have fictionalised these events and put them into new scenarios to make it make sense dramatically.
Has the pandemic and the last year affected you?
Pre-pandemic I was juggling 6/7 jobs ranging from elocution lessons, teaching prisoners how to write plays to pulling pints at a theatre. When you’re a working-class creative you have to hustle and graft to make ends meet. What the lockdowns gave me was time, something I haven’t had since leaving drama school in ’14. Time to reflect on how I wanted to exist in the theatre industry and to create work that I felt reflected my experience. I wrote three plays, a feature film about my mum’s time living and working as a chambermaid in the early 80s (think Maid in Manhattan, but in Soho with a punk soundtrack) and it also meant I had the opportunity to connect with incredibly passionate creatives like Tell Me Straight producer Liam Gartland.
Do you prefer to write comedy based theatre than a more serious play?
My favourite types of theatre/TV is the work that perfectly walks the tightrope between comedy and drama. I love watching something that can have you belly laughing one minute and welling up the next. My creative idols are Michaela Coel, Ricky Gervais, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Dan Levy. They all produce work that puts you through the mill emotionally and I hope that Tell Me Straight can do the same.
It must be a great feeling to finally have your play being performed as part of the always very popular Queer Season at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington?
I went into this pandemic with several ideas that I knew I wanted to write and came out with two of them being produced. The Barn which was live- streamed from The Turbine Theatre and has been OnComm nominated for Best Play and now Tell Me Straight at The King’s Head! I can’t believe my luck to be honest. It’s such an iconic venue for both up and coming playwrights and established creatives and to be chosen to close their Queer Season is such an honour. We’re hoping we can come back with a bang and have packed houses celebrating new writing from fresh perspectives and I am so pleased we get to do that at The King’s Head.
What would you like to tell Boyz readers about the play?
I’d say that Tell Me Straight is an explosive, funny play with a lot of heart. It’s a coming-of-age story about sexuality, friendship and desire. I think most gay men have experiences with straight/curious men and Boyz readers will be able to see themselves reflected and will identify with how the characters cope with that. If I had to draw a comparison I’d say it’s a mixture between Fleabag, Schitt’s Creek and I May Destroy You – there are ridiculous tales of sordid sexual encounters, crushes on fit teachers and even a moment in an army barracks… with any luck, you’ll be laughing one minute and shocked the next.
A holiday! I haven’t really stopped since February so I think I need a week or two to chill out in the sun – if/when that’s allowed. I do have some plans in place for a couple of other plays I’ve been working on and some venues interested that I could have only dreamed of. But because a lot of venues have a backlog of work that was due to be programmed pre pandemic, my plays might not be able to be put on until Summer ’22. Saying that, I am so grateful that theatres are finally starting to reopen and we need all the support we can get from audience members, so if you can – get yourself to see a show… preferably Tell Me Straight.
Tell Me Straight is at the King’s Head Theatre from 17th – 21st August. Tickets from https://kingsheadtheatre.com/whats-on/queer-season-tell-me-straight