Start Square is a black-comedy thriller dealing with domestic violence, grief and loss. Written by Sharon Colpman, the creator and Executive Producer of Make it Write Productions CIC, the play delves into the lonely world of Arthur Watt who is haunted by the scattered pieces of his past and explores gender stereotypes around domestic violence.
I caught up with Sharon to learn more about this original show and the upcoming performance.
Start Square explores gender stereotypes in relation to domestic violence. Why do you think this is an important issue to explore?
I used to work for a Development Education Centre before I moved back to Cheshire where we would do pupil and teacher based workshops. One of our core messages was that stereotyping is the first step on the ladder to prejudice. We worked in a lot of primary schools and already the children were feeling the pressures of gender stereotyping. In one school a number of boys were being bullied and hit by a girl. They knew they shouldn’t hit girls but they also knew that if they told other people they would either not be believed or called a sissy. I imagined how this would effect a man who suffers a trauma and then abuse from his wife. Would he tell anyone? If he did, would people believe him?
The play has been described as a black-comedy thriller. Do you feel that comedy is an important tool to use when looking at serious issues?
We’ve all heard audiences laugh at violence on films at the cinema. It is a natural reaction to comfort ourselves. Most of the plays I’ve written have been tragedy mixed with comedy. It is good to give the audience chances to take the pressure off a bad situation. The comedy in Start Square is quite gentle.
Can you tell me a little bit about the story?
Not too much as it is the kind of play that leads you in one direction and then the other, a little like a game of snakes and ladders. Arthur uses the analogy of the game as the way he has been dealing with his grief. The snakes keep bringing him back to the very start of it all, the Start Square. Arthur tries to put his trust in a stranger to relieve his loneliness but will she help him climb the ladder or push him down the snake?
The play features an animatronic parrot. How has working with the bird affected the rehearsal process and the performance?
Paul Jamieson created the parrot. He was bringing it into the Make it Write office during rehearsals and when he heard our voice actor, Jade Cunningham, he nearly dropped the cage saying “Crikey she is good, I thought the parrot had come to life for a minute. We only really got him in the last two weeks and having him on the stage adds a new dimension to the performance. He represents innocence and someone who talks freely about what happened unlike Arthur.
Arthur, the lead character, is played by different actors in alternative timelines. What challenges has this created in terms of character development and creating a consistent performance?
When we auditioned the two Arthurs they came in one after the other. They were supporting the same quiff and had the same twinkle when they performed. They have had to work together on accent and speech patterns and the make-up artist, Melanie Halsall has spent hours staring at the two of them to make them look even more alike.
What research have you done to ensure that this play deals with the issues involved in a respectful and honest manner?
Obviously, I did a lot of training during my time at the DEC. I think a lot of research comes from Stonewall covering the LGBTQ community but also looking at gender stereotyping. For the play I looked at the work done by Mankind, a charity looking into male mental health and wellbeing. A good friend put me in touch with a local charity, the Paul Lavelle Foundation. Paul Gladwell told me that men don’t tend to reach out for help in these situations: it will be a mum, sister or daughter that is worried about them. Arthur Watt has no one to talk for him apart from his parrot.
As well as domestic violence and gender issues, the play also touches on grief, loss and vulnerability. Is it important for your audience to connect with these themes while watching the play? Is there anything you particular you would like them to be thinking about after they have seen it?
I think the message is that when you are vulnerable people around you will either help you up or push you down and it is hard for a person suffering grief and loss to distinguish between the two. I’m hoping people will go away and check on the person that lives alone, that is bereaved or whose partner has left them, and be kind.
Make it Write are dedicated to showcasing new writing. Are you influenced by other Liverpool based companies? Do you think Liverpool is an interesting city to participate in theatre?
I’d hate to name names because there are so many out there doing good work. I have tried to pass some of my writers on to other groups where I think they will flourish. Make it Write gives everyone that first step so pointing them at where next is important. I love Liverpool for its creativity. I wish there was more support for the grassroots theatre groups especially from the Council. Large showcase events are fine but investing in the talent in this city is most important.
You currently have a Beatles themed writing competition, Ticket to Write, open. What else lies in the future for you and Make it Write?
We intend to take on a new Business Director in the New Year who is full of fabulous ideas. We will also continue with our workshop for writers and directors, leading to performance. Our writers’ development programme has been tweaked and we are also adding skills lessons for actors and possibly some production workshops.
I’m going to be working with the Gladstone Theatre, rolling out the writers’ development programme there, and Start Square will get a second airing on 31 Jan at that theatre. I’m also hoping to take it to the 53two Theatre in Manchester, when it opens its doors next year, but that will be after a rewrite following my observations this time around.
We are currently looking for a Director to take a new piece of writing to the Leverhulme Festival and will be doing several showcases. Most exciting of all is Kevin Foott will be directing a full play by Bernie Winston called Stand Up.
What piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to write and produce a new play?
Firstly only do one of the above. Secondly get as much help and advice from people that have done it before. And never think your play is perfect, it can always be improved. Find a great Director and a team that pulls together not apart and you will be fine.
You can buy tickets for Start Square here.
Please let me know if you see the show and what you think of it. I will be reviewing the show over the weekend so you can read my thoughts on it soon.
Break a leg to everyone involved in Start Square!
Please sign up to my newsletter to receive the latest news and events.