Playwright Jimmy Osborne and long-time collaborator David Aula were the hit of The Vault Festival in 2014 with their adaptation of The Cement Garden. Now the pair return to the festival with their new show Maisie Says She Loves Me. Osborne sat down with Glen Pearce to talk about the show and the process of writing.
You’ve written Maisie Says She Loves Me, which is about to open at The Vault Festival. What can you tell us about it?
It is directed and performed by David Aula. David and I headlined the Vault Festival in 2014 with The Cement Garden, an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel. Vault asked if we had a show that we could bring this year.
Maisie’s been something that we’ve been developing over the last 18 months. It’s a one man show and revolves around how do you do love if you can’t let your feelings out, what if you’re used to keeping your emotions locked in and what happens when things start to break loose if you’ve been a very controlled person.? It’s predominantly about one man, Sheldon, whose girlfriend has just told him that she loves him and how he deals with that.
You’ve worked with David before and you are devising this together – what’s your involvement as a writer in the process?
David and I work very closely together and we always work together as a partnership. The piece was written by me,
then I took it to David and said ‘I’ve got this, I think it’s really good, can we see what we can do with it?’ David develops the performance of it, but we work very much in harmony together as a kind of two parts of the same brain.
Does that approach also have its challenges?
It’s all fairly open. I quite like the challenge of being in a room with a group of people and seeing how the script responds, because there’s one way of it being on the page and then another way of being alive, seeing how it responds in people and in people’s mouths. That can spark off new directions, it can also show you where maybe it flags any you need to kind of relook at it. And I really like that.
David is very good at knowing when I need to go away again and have another crack at it and then come back.
Some advice to writers suggests they shouldn’t think of the staging when writing a piece. What’s your view on that? Do you try and think of how it’s staged or do you leave all those challenges to the director?
If I think it depends on a piece. Maisie was just written in one go, I didn’t think about the staging, I just wanted to get down the thoughts that were in my head. It was a collection of ideas that I’d been thinking about around love and relationships and family and also around kind of the cycles of behaviour that we learn. It all kind of came together in one rush and was written really quickly. The staging in this came from just from developing it in a room and seeing how we make a one actor play really interesting, and how can we involve the audience.
What drew you to writing, what made you want to become a playwright?
Because I don’t really understand the world.
There’s a lot about the world I don’t understand, a lot about people I don’t understand and it’s my way of inching slowly, very slowly, towards hopefully more understanding of the world. If I can do that through telling stories then maybe other people will find that as well. It simply comes through asking what the hell’s going on and why are those things going on and trying to work and work through some of that.
So is there a lot of yourself in your work?
No. Tom Stoppard has a very famous quote about how going through customs, having nothing to declare and then finding the old bits about your life in the suitcase that you didn’t think were there. So there is always something that seeps in but, no, I don’t write autobiographically.
I’m often inspired by the people around me. I’m someone who spends a lot of time on public transport and that’s brilliant for writing and getting ideas. People can be very candid on public transport, particularly if you’ve got the white iPhone headphones in – you kind of don’t exist to them and they talk about all kinds of things.
I come from a family of huggers and when I finally realised that some of the families of my friends weren’t like that, and didn’t have that warmth, it was quite a surprise. Going into friends’ houses and seeing this sort of distance and coldness between the people in those homes fascinated me.
What is your process for writing a play? Do you have a set routine? Do you lock yourself away somewhere or is it more sporadic?
I write every day. I do believe in that, even if it’s just making notes and not necessarily writing a script. I usually write quite early in the morning and then again in the evening. I definitely work better in the morning when my brain is looser and you’re not overthinking everything.
It’s like being a musician – if you’re only playing the guitar once a month for half an hour you’re not going to get that good at it.
What would be your top piece of advice for a new writer?
Don’t wait for people to choose you, go out and make it, even if it’s in the back room of a pub and it’s only to 10 of your mates and it’s rubbish. Don’t wait years and years for people to choose you, just get on and do it. You’ll learn that way. Even if it’s wrong and it’s rubbish you’ll still learn.
Times are tough commercially at the moment for a lot of theatres. Do you think it makes it harder for new writing or is there an opportunity to be exploited for new writers?
It is definitely having an effect on people starting out but I suppose in a way it might inspire some of us to be a bit more resourceful and make our own stuff.
Maisie is a one man show, the director is the performer and there are two us that are doing it. There is an element of if I’d written a play with eight people in it then we probably wouldn’t be able to do this show. I don’t know, maybe it will inspire people to be a bit creative in how they do things, but at the same time, it still requires a bit of money even to do a one person show.
Not everybody has that, though. David and I both have ‘normal jobs’ for want of a better word, at the same time as doing this. So it’s tough and it’s not easy to balance family life with all that. It can it can be quite hard but ‘The show must go on!’
Maisie Says She Loves Me runs at The Vault Festival 1-5 March 2017
For more information visit www.vaultfestival.com