Interview: Adam Quayle, playwright and director of Chip Shop Chips
TSOTA was lucky enough to chat with director Adam Quayle and Manchester playwright Becky Prestwich about new play Chip Shop Chips, an immersive love story set in a chippy. Being staged by Manchester theatre company Box of Tricks, the play is set to be fantastic.
TSOTA: Chip Shop Chips is being performed in unusual spaces across the North of England. Was it difficult to direct the show to suit these spaces?
AQ: This is the first time I’ve directed something to be performed in non-theatre spaces, outside a traditional stage set-up, and the piece has thrown up a raft of challenges. The designer and I have had to come up with a set design that is adaptable to very different spaces: libraries, village halls, chip shops, community centres, museums. With the actors, we’ve really had to think about the staging and build in a degree of flexibility for the various spaces and ensure that we’re sharing it with a room full of diners sat around cabaret-style. I’ve relished those challenges, breaking down the fourth wall and connecting directly with an audience inhabiting the world of the play.
TSOTA: Have you always dreamed of being a director? And what advice would you give to someone just starting out?
AQ: My first experience of directing was at University, where I co-directed Snoo Wilson’s insanely mad and brilliant play Sabina, and I haven’t looked back. I love the creative collaboration of bringing a team together to take a play from page to stage. After university, I was lucky enough to get experience assistant directing at the Library Theatre in Manchester and I then trained on the postgraduate theatre directing course at Mountview. Since that point, I’ve worked exclusively on new writing and love the process of bringing a new play to life. I can’t remember who said it, but one piece of advice I’ve always tried to heed is that 90% of a director’s job is done if you have a good play and a strong cast; the rest will follow!
TSOTA: You have a fantastic cast. How has the rehearsal process been?
AQ: Rehearsals have been brilliant so far. The actors are great, thoroughly committed, throwing themselves into the whole experience of staging theatre in a chippy! They’re a talented bunch and there’s been a really lovely, playful mood in the room. It’s always nice to work on a play with a big heart; there’s been a lot of laughter and more than a few fish puns along the way! And, of course, we’ve had a trip to the local chippy, sampling some proper chip shop chips in the interests of thorough research!
TSOTA: The show is moving to a different venue almost every day during the tour. Is this a gruelling process or all part of the excitement?
AQ: We’re definitely excited! It’s going to be hard work for the company, without a doubt, but we’re massively looking forward to taking the show to different places and sharing it with new audiences every night. A piece like this needs the electricity of an audience and the appetite for the show has been phenomenal so far: we’ve already sold out a number of performances before we even hit the road. Clearly people can’t resist chips!
TSOTA: What’s coming up next for Box of Tricks?
AQ: We’re just about to celebrate our 10th anniversary and we’re planning a big birthday bash in our hometown of Manchester. After that, we’re exploring the possibility of remounting recent successful productions and commissioning some new plays from some seriously exciting playwrights. That’s the thing about being a new writing company: whilst in the midst of production, you always have to have an eye on the future and develop new plays from the next generation of playwrights.
TSOTA: Becky, you wrote Chip Shop Chips. How did the idea for the play first come about?
BP: When I was pregnant with my son, I had quite extreme chip cravings. For the first few months of the pregnancy, I could pretty much only stomach chips and the occasional cheese sandwich. So, I was spending a lot of time in chip shops. And one night – before a Box of Tricks production actually – my husband and I ate at the Olympus Fish and Chip Shop opposite Bolton Octagon. It was a brilliant place for people watching and it struck me that it could be evocative to tell a story in a room that smelt of chip fat and vinegar, using all the memories those smells conjure. And straight away, I knew it would be a story about family and falling in love.
TSOTA: What did you find most challenging when writing the play?
BP: The main challenge was finding a balance between the play feeling very real and natural but also having moments of heightened theatricality. We wanted to play with how far you can suspend disbelief within a very ordinary setting. The idea is for the audience to feel as though they have stumbled upon a love story which is both everyday and extraordinary. I hope we’ve pulled that off! Beyond that, this particular play was an absolute joy to write. Box of Tricks is incredibly supportive of its writers so I always felt there was somebody there to bounce ideas off, which made the process quite playful and I have a lot of love for all the characters in this one, so it was a pleasure spending time in their world.
TSOTA: The play seems to have a very Northern focus. Was this important to you?
BP: I guess so. I write a lot about family and home and for me that always has been the North. There’s a line in the play where one of the characters says, “I’m not the adventuring type. Not really. I want to be. I always want to live in my last holiday. I always come home saying, “I could live there” but I couldn’t, not really. It was always going to be here.” – and I guess that is me, to an extent. There are lots of other places I am happy to visit, but Manchester is definitely home.
TSOTA: Described as “dinner, dance and a show all rolled into one”, the show certainly seems to offer a unique theatrical experience. Was this always your vision for the play?
BP: Absolutely. I used to work in the participation team of a theatre and, with this play, I wanted to tell a story that anyone could come and see and enjoy, including people who might never normally dream of stepping inside a theatre. Making the show a complete night out was a part of that – I hope the audience will feel that they are part of a whole experience, not just passively watching a story unfold.
TSOTA: I hear you’re currently developing your third play, The Boy in the Photograph. Can you tell us anything about it?
BP: The play is about a young lad called Luis, who was photographed during the Angolan Civil War. The image became iconic and ten years later, living in England, Luis is still living in the shadow of the photo. It’s about photojounalism and voyeurism and the power of an image but it’s also a coming of age story. In many ways, it’s totally different to Chip Shop Chips but some of there are themes which run through both – in different ways, they are both plays about growing up and moving on and memory.
The show is touring from 17th February – 23rd March 2016. For more information and to book tickets, please visit: www.boxoftrickstheatre.co.uk/production/chip-shop-chips/