My EQView feature this week is an interview with Jon Bradfield, one half of the successful writing partnership behind the sell out gay adult pantos at Above The Stag Theatre.
My EQView interview with Jon Bradfield is here:
Cut and pasted from the EQView website:
MEET THE WRITER – JON BRADFIELD
Jon Bradfield is one half of the successful writing partnership behind all six of the adult pantos at the Above The Stag theatre, now based in Vauxhall.
Outrageous, romantic and very silly, these adult pantos, combining the best of long standing panto conventions and contemporary references, gay romance, comedy, and lots of rude bits, have become a Christmas tradition. Having established a loyal following, they sell out early every year, attracting 4 and 5 star reviews.
I interviewed Jon to find out what he does in his day job, what is special about working at Above The Stag, and to quiz him about his very successful adult pantos.
EQView: Describe what you do in your day job?
Jon Bradfield: I do marketing and PR for Out of Joint, which is a touring theatre company with a focus on new plays.
We’re currently preparing for a play called Crouch Touch Pause Engage which is about the gay rugby player Gareth Thomas. It tours through Spring.
You are part of the Above The Stag team. What do you think is special about Above The Stag?
Two things. Tangibly, it’s the only British theatre producing gay work throughout the year, and quite “mainstream” work at that: shows that look at the gay experience but through traditional forms – comedies, musicals, solid dramas and pantomimes.
The other, less tangible thing is that there’s a family vibe. Actors often return, as do other creatives, and a lot of the audience members are regulars which makes it a very warm place. It’s probably the only theatre that lets the critics stay for the party on press nights too! That all comes from Peter Bull, the artistic director, who is a proper old-school fringe impresario who loves running a theatre.
What do you love about writing for the stage?
I suppose I’ve always loved theatre so it feels natural to write for it. I like the economy of it, of exploring big stories and feelings and ideas with limited resources. I like that it demands of its audience. I like that it’s communal.
Writing is normally a solitary profession. But you have co-written all six pantos, and a play A Hard Rain, with Martin Hooper. How do you work together and what do you enjoy about working together?
It’s still solitary: You’re still sat at your own computer trying not to be distracted by Twitter or porn; or having your own ideas spin in your head. You’re still, at some point, showing your words to someone for the first time and hoping they like it, “get it”.
Martin and I work together on the concept, the characters and the story until we have a scene-by-scene plot – we live at opposite ends of London so it’s generally over coffees or beers in Soho, and we’re also quite fond of the bar at the Russell Hotel. Perhaps one of us should join a members club just so we can say “I’ll meet you at the club, usual table”. Once we’ve broken the plot into scenes we divide it up and each write the first draft of a few scenes. I tend to write the final draft of everything; Martin’s a bit stronger on overall shape and plot; I’m more polished on the words.
Treasure Island is your sixth panto for Above The Stag. How did these adult pantos come about?
Martin and I were both members of a large gay running club, London Frontrunners. One year, someone suggested doing a pantomime for the Christmas party.
Now, there’s an arrogance to writing, and I remember when someone said “you work in theatre, you should be in it” my first thought was “I can’t think who would write it better than I would”(!). And I think Martin felt the same so we got together and wrote a take on the Cinderella story, but with a big running race instead of a ball, an athlete instead of a prince, and a running shoe instead of a glass slipper.
It was a lot of fun but we quickly realized that it’s a lot of work for just one performance. So we started sending the scripts out to producers to see if we could get a longer run produced. This year’s panto at Above The Stag has 49 performances. I don’t watch them all!
What do you most enjoy about writing pantos?
What I enjoy most is writing a really good gag. Especially a really good filthy gag. What’s special about pantomimes though is that they’re almost hyper-real. You’re constantly telling the audience “this is only a show” and yet somehow that makes the characters more real, not less. It’s nonsense, yet people still care about the story. Pantomimes are a testament to how much the brain likes a narrative.
What are the key ingredients for a good adult panto?
The same as for any pantomime. Don’t be cynical, honour the traditions, make the laughs as good as they possibly can be – and remember that it’s not just about the laughs.
Two hours in, you want the audience to go “ah” when the lovers get together, and cheer when the villain gets his come-uppance. To get that you need to invest in the story, the characters and the world it’s set in.
Our Treasure Island starts off in Cornwall; an ex of mine is Cornish and there are lots of Cornish details in the script that help ground the show in that reality. Similarly, last year we did Jack and the Beanstalk, and I’d spent the previous Christmas on a dairy farm which gave us all sorts of details: like the fact that if you play music in the milking parlour it helps the cows relax. Our pantomime cow was a lesbian and she was very keen on Kelly Clarkson.
Something our director Andrew Beckett is good at is understanding where we’ve written something that isn’t funny but provides colour or scene-setting. I’ll panic and say “let’s cut this bit” and he’ll remind me why I wrote it in the first place.
The draft script precedes the casting. But does casting a particular actor in a role influence character development? Do you ever write with a particular actor in mind?
We have written with a specific actor in mind before, but that doesn’t mean that part would then only work with that actor, and generally we don’t think about it. The actors bring a hell of a lot to their characters, but in our case not so much to the text itself. Because we’re control freaks.
How much does the panto change over the course of its run?
The script gets tighter as we make edits but the main change is that the show gains authority: there’s a magic point in the run when suddenly the cast are driving the show, not being driven by it. That’s the point when I think “it’s not mine any more, it’s theirs”. And that’s lovely.
What is the funniest thing that has happened during the run of this particular panto?
My two jokes about bum holes. Every night. (God, I’m 36 and I’m proud of anus jokes!). But I rather liked when our Prince asked the audience, “Can you guess where I’m Prince of, boys and girls?” and someone shouted out “my heart”. One of the least filthy but cutest heckles.
What kind of theatre experience are you aiming to deliver for the audience with your pantos?
Completely immersive. I don’t mean so they forget it’s a show, just that it should be so full of laughs and merriment and colour and references that it leaves people happily drained, and in a different place to where they were before the show.
What is next for Jon Bradfield?
I’m excited that A Hard Rain (set in the weeks before the Stonewall riots which was on at Above The Stag last year) has a 3 week run in New York this January, so Martin and I are both flying over for that.
And Above The Stag has asked us to write a traditional farce, which we’ve made about a closeted gay professional footballer: the next step for which will be to get some actors together and do a reading.
I want to write more for NewsRevue which is the long-running topical comedy show I’ve written a few sketches for; and I’m trying to hone in on a play I want to have a stab at writing by myself. That last one is a resolution for 2015.
Treasure Island: The Curse of the Pearl Necklace plays at Above The Stag until Saturday 10 January.
Above The Stag Website: