Stand Up is a new bittersweet black comedy written by Bernie Winston and directed by Kevin Foott. It tells the story of stand-up comic Mark, played by Mike Sanders, whose private life is no laughing matter. As he spirals ever downwards with gambling debts and loan sharks begin to bite, his ex-wife’s new lover, Fraser, played by Dan Pendleton, sneers on the sidelines.
I caught up with Bernie and Kevin to learn more about this dark comedy and the upcoming performances on 25 and 26 March 2020.
Stand up is a black comedy about a stand up comic who is struggling with gambling addiction. Can you tell me a little bit more about the story?
Bernie: The story is about a bottom of the bill, scouse stand-up comic, Mark, who has got himself into a spot of bother. His debts are running up, his wife has left him, taking his daughter with her, and she’s living in middle class surburbia with an obnoxious estate agent, Fraser. Sometimes, when Mark goes over to his wife’s to see his daughter, Fraser comes out and there’s an altercation on the doorstep. Then whenever Mark performs a gangster is waiting for him to take money to pay his debts. Mark hits rock bottom and the gangster offers him the chance to make some more money by transferring some “shopping” for him. Mark decides to skim a little bit off the top but of course they weigh it and find it’s a bit short so the gangster comes along to teach him a lesson. Can Mark come back up and recover?
What themes are important in the piece? Have you been influenced by the current stories about gambling and the struggles this can create in the news?
Bernie: Well I know about gambling, I do like a bet myself. Not as bad as Mark but I understand gambling. I used to have a friend who, twenty years ago, was a stand-up comic and I spent a lot of time down the Baby Blue with him so I’m familiar with how it works, and he was the same; a comic down the bottom of the bill. I used to go and watch when he performed.
Kevin: It’s very now, it’s very important for today. We’re looking at gambling issues. We’re looking at family breakdown caused by gambling. We’re looking at money lending involvement and organised crime as a result of gambling.
Bernie: We all know about the payday loan people. They’re all going bust now because of the laws, so I was thinking all these loan sharks are going to come back into play. And also with Mark, he doesn’t have regular pay, it’s cash in hand,. He can’t do a payday loan, he hasn’t got a payday as such, so the only people he can turn to is the loan sharks. The themes are dark. It’s about the relationship, the break-up of the relationship, the issues that gambling can cause on his family, on him. He’s not a bad fella. He’s just deluded and he’s got issues.
Kevin: There are big themes in such a small piece that are very relevant.
Kevin, why were you interested in directing the play?
Kevin: What drew me to the piece was the interaction of the players with regards to what was going on with the themes and getting them to portray it. That is relevant to today. What I also liked and what I’m trying to get across with the way I’m directing it, is the spiralling downwards of the Mark’s life really so it shows the evils of gambling. Personally I’m against it; I don’t gamble. I’m not against people who do gamble, it’s just the way it’s being pushed, the advertising etc.
You have said that you would like the audience to feel like they are in a comedy club. Is the play immersive and is it presented like a stand-up routine?
Kevin: Because of the space, there’s no daylight so it does very much look like a comedy club. I want that intensity. When Bernie first wrote it there were a few different scenes here and there and I got him to bring them into one arena. Even the interactions he has with his ex-wife are still going to be in the same space so it’s very immersive.
Is there anything particular you would like your audience to be thinking about after they have seen the show?
Bernie: The first thing I wrote it as is a piece of entertainment, because I think when you go to the theatre you want to be entertained. I don’t necessarily think that you have to have a message. What I want to do is take people on a journey, Mark’s journey, down to rock bottom and then his climb back up.
Kevin: I’m trying to get the intensity across. Even though it’s called Stand Up I’m not playing it for jokes. I’m not getting them to play it for laughs. Laughs will come when they come but if you don’t get a laugh it’s not important. It’s about what they see. I suppose it’s about identifying what they see of their own lives, what they’re watching. There might be elements that they can truly relate to because they know someone or they’ve lived it themselves.
Bernie, this is your first play, but you have been writing most of your life. Is there anywhere we can see other examples of your work?
Bernie: I haven’t got anything published. I’ve been writing all my life but in 2018 I started getting into stage plays. I wrote one at home without even knowing writing groups existed and then I found Make it Write, and brought it along and realised there was a lot of work needed on it. I actually do quite like the piece, it’s something I want to go back to I think but through finding the group I’ve gone to training, drop ins, got advice, and learned from the advice. I write every day.
Bernie: Just plays at the minute. I’ve written a few monologues. I had a monologue on at the Liverpool Arts Bar recently that a lot of people like which is very dark. I’m writing a lot of plays. I did a radio writing course and I’ve written a forty minute radio play that I do like which I’m converting into a stage play as well. I’m also on the Make it Write Theatre Makers showcase for new writing, with a fifteen minute play about a hold up in Domino’s. With Stand Up I found it very easy to write because the characters just came to life and they’re all different, which is one of the key things. It just sort of fell into place and the cast all love it. I came to the first read-through and it was brilliant. Mike Sanders, the first thing he said when he’d read it was “this is a cracking script”. How good is that when you get someone saying that?
Make it Write are producing the play. How are you involved with them?
Kevin: I’ve been involved in the drama scene in Liverpool for many years. Amateur acting, I used to work at the Everyman on stage door duty management, working with adults with learning difficulties, doing workshops. So I’ve got a lot of connections in Liverpool. I love drama and I’ve been involved in drama for many years. I saw Make it Write online and I like what they’re doing, I’m interested in seeing what happens. I expressed an interest in directing one of their Play with Your Play events and this play was one of the ones that I came across there. One of the writers in the audience, Helen Dooley, got hold of me on that night as well and I’m now directing her piece, The Tea Party for the Leverhulme Festival. That’s another cracking little piece.
Are you influenced by other Liverpool based companies? Do you think Liverpool is an interesting city to produce theatre?
Kevin: I was mainly involved with an organisation called Tell Tale. We did a lot of big dramas but we liked to put them in confined spaces. We put 1984 in Constellations for instance. We did pub crawl theatre, we took over a gallery just off Renshaw Street for a week, so we did interesting things like that. Liverpool is absolutely interesting, very much so.
Bernie: I came to the Everyman before the refurb and the first thing I saw in the mid-70s was Willy Russell, John, Paul, George, Ringo … and Bert, with Trevor Eve playing Paul and Bernard Hill playing John Lennon, Barbara Dickson on the piano and singing the songs. I used to go to all the plays at the Everyman. You could book your season ticket really cheap and I saw all the Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale, as well as lots of other stuff.
Kevin: There’s so much good writing coming out. I love what Make it Write’s doing, what they are trying to do, giving new people opportunities to write and direct and to act. I think there’s a vibrant amateur scene at the moment. We’re getting more and more venues. We’re very lucky to have The Everyman Bistro. It’s ever thriving.
Bernie: Liverpool writers, Jimmy McGovern I think is magnificent, but for the theatre I’ve always loved Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale. Liverpool is amazing. I think we’ve got the best fringe outside London. There’s so much going on and every day you seem to find out about something else going on.
Kevin: There’s more and more organised groups setting up. The YEP for instance have put forward a lot of good young directors and writers as well. I think there’s lots of scope for the future for lots of good drama coming from Liverpool.
What lies in the future for you? Do you have any projects coming up after this one?
Bernie: I’m working on stuff all the time. I’m not short of ideas, I’ve got a book full of ideas. If anything I’m trying to rein myself in and not do new stuff. So there’s nothing actually booked in but there’s lots of things I’ve written, lots of things I’m working on, lots of ideas for new things. I think the radio play is probably something I’ll send off.
Kevin: I’m either fully directing or co-directing, Ticket to Write for Make it Write.
What piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to write and direct a new play?
Kevin: Go and act. I think the biggest advice for a director is go and act. See what it’s like to be on the stage, see what it’s like to learn a piece, see what it’s like to do a drama and only then can you really inform your actors what you want them to do. My directing style is very informal. It’s about letting them use the script to show me what they’ve got and then I’ll hone in on what they’re doing rather than being prescriptive. Helping them to discover what they’ve got within themselves.
Bernie: Find a writers group, meet some good writers, exchange ideas, speak to someone who knows the game. Listen to them and don’t argue with people who know better than you. Listen to them and learn from people with more experience. Don’t think you know everything. It’s not as easy as it looks.
You can buy tickets for Stand Up here.
Please let me know if you see the show and what you think of it. I will be reviewing the show so you can read my thoughts on it soon. I will also be doing a series of interviews with the Ticket to Write playwrights, so look out for more about that soon too.
Break a leg to everyone involved in Stand Up!
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