From hit Edinburgh Fringe Festival shows to an evil, screaming and beach ball brandishing Stromboli in Pinocchio Phil Porter has grappled with the art of theatre writing through many avenues. With his latest production Blink the award-winning writer has created a charming, delicate and darkly funny story and a world where the lives of two shy individuals collide. We managed to catch Phil Porter and quiz him on how Blink made its journey to the stage and what we can expect from this highly anticipated production.
What do you love most about writing for theatre?
It’s hard to pick just one thing, but I think I love the theatre itself more than I love the act of writing. Working with actors and directors and designers, going into rehearsals, solving problems – I love all that stuff. And I love the adrenalin rush of putting a play in front of people for the first time. I don’t think anyone would call me a ‘luvvie’ but I do find the whole idea of the theatre very romantic. No matter how many times you’ve done it, putting a new play in front of an audience is always a thrilling, scary, humiliating, delightful experience. It’s addictive.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
The first night of Blink at The Traverse in Edinburgh in 2012 was pretty memorable – the feeling of relief that the audience were responding so warmly to it. And the same thing with a play called The Cracks In My Skin that was produced in The Studio at Manchester Royal Exchange. But probably my most memorable moment happened at the Royal Opera House in 2005. I wrote the libretto for their children’s Christmas show – an opera/ballet version of Pinocchio. There was a moment in the second half when a load of beach balls flew out into the audience and the evil puppet master Stromboli came to the front of the stage to demand that the audience threw them back. On Press Night one member of the audience wouldn’t return the ball and Stromboli ran out of scripted lines and began to improvise. Misjudging the occasion somewhat, the performer came out with something spectacularly filthy. Luckily, the critics chose to pretend it never happened.
Can you tell us a bit about Blink and your journey from your idea to the stage?
Blink was commissioned by the Soho Theatre in 2011 while I was part of a group of six writers called The Soho Six. The idea was that we would come into the theatre every couple of weeks, chat about our work, maybe listen to a guest speaker, and at the end of it we would write a play for the theatre. I had the idea fairly early on in the process, and I felt it was write for the Soho. I wrote a first draft quite quickly and there was a rehearsed reading at the theatre. Then I wrote a more detailed second draft. The team at The Soho seemed really keen to do it. Joe Murphy came on board as a director and it became a co-production with his company nabokov and we opened in Edinburgh in 2012.
After having such a great run at the Edinburgh Festival how does it feel to have Blink touring around the country?
It’s great. I only wish I had more time to follow it round to all the great theatres it’s playing at. It’s especially good because it means my friends that don’t live in London or Edinburgh no longer have an excuse not to see it! I grew up in Worcester, so my friends from home are spoilt for choice – they can see it in Birmingham or in Bristol.
Has Blink changed at all since last summer? Is there anything different?
The script has changed a little bit since it first opened in 2012. After the first run I felt I could improve on the storytelling in one or two places. But the changes are quite subtle – a couple of new lines and a few tweaks and cuts. I’m always very impressed if anyone spots the difference. Probably the biggest change is that we have a new cast for this UK tour. New actors will always bring their own humour and energy to a piece, and that’s really fun to watch.
What’s next in the pipeline? What are you working on at the moment?
Things are pretty busy at the moment. I’m writing a play for the RSC called The Christmas Truce which will be on in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon this Christmas. I’m also working on a new play for Plymouth Theatre Royal about cycling, heroes and performance enhancing drugs. I’m adapting Blink for the radio – we’re recording in a few weeks and it’s going out later in the year. My new adaptation of Tove Jansson’s Moominsummer Madness is on at Northampton Theatre Royal and Polka Theatre this Christmas. And my opera for children, Skitterbang Island, is coming back this summer too. Should be a fun year!