We first came across David Hendon at The Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 where his play, The D-List, was getting rave reviews. Later in the year, his play Eyes to The Wind was a finalist in The Kenneth Branagh New Drama Writing Award at Windsor Fringe. With new plays being produced in 2017 and another spot in the final three at Windsor, we thought it was time to catch up with the Birmingham based playwright, who is also a commentator on professional snooker, primarily for Eurosport.
You’re a playwright and a TV snooker commentator, which came first and how did the other come about?
I was a journalist covering the snooker circuit originally and one day an opportunity came up at Eurosport to stand in for someone else. That was in 2006 and I’ve been commentating ever since. The writing started about ten years ago. I did some theatre where I live in Birmingham but it sort of went on the back-burner because I was concentrating on my broadcasting career. I guess a couple of years ago I felt I had a creative itch which needed scratching and that’s when I got back to doing more writing.
After the successful run of The D-List at last years’ Edinburgh Fringe, you’re going back with new play Sign of The Times, what can you tell us about it?
What happened was that a theatre company, Rumble Theatre, were looking for someone to write a play in which the central character is deaf and after talking to them and submitting an idea and some sample scenes, I got the gig. The story centres round an articulate young man who struggles to communicate because of his deafness. He wants to be a football reporter but there are practical difficulties. It’s really about the power of language and how we can take it for granted. There will be signing in the play and it will have strong visual and audio elements.
What research did you have to do for the central character who is deaf?
I spoke to some people and read up on it but a lot of it will be informed by the actor, James Robertson, who will bring his own experiences to the role. It’s a collaborative process so it will change during rehearsals, as it should. There’s no sole author of a play. Everyone involved in it has a role in shaping it, including the audience.
Tell us about the plays you’ve had staged at Southwark Playhouse?
They were two short plays. The first – Red or Blue? – was part of an evening of new comedy plays last February. It’s a very simple idea: a couple come in apparently having a mild disagreement about the colour of something they saw at a party but then it escalates into full on violence.
The other play was called The Woman in the Restaurant which was staged as part of something called Nothing to Declare in June. That was an interesting brief. There was one central character, a woman who was travelling around Europe. Writers were invited to imagine other characters who had contact with her and then all 15 were put together for one show. Mine was set in Paris and I was very excited that it was chosen. It was an amazing evening, it all really worked well. Southwark Playhouse is a wonderful place to see your work.
Your Play Eyes to The Wind made it to the final three in the Kenneth Branagh New Writing Award at Windsor Fringe last year, and your new play Home Time has made it to the final three this year…how does that feel?
I won’t lie, I’m very proud. They have around 250 entries each year and I’ve got to the final three for two years running. You have to submit anonymously, so there are no names on scripts and it’s all about the writing. The best thing about it is that you have your play performed and they also record it and send you a DVD. Eyes to the Wind was well received last year so I’m looking forward to going back with Home Time.
What can you tell us about Home Time?
It’s a monologue featuring a mother waiting for her son to return home from school. It starts off quite light but it soon becomes clear that there’s something else going on that she hasn’t mentioned. So it’s kind of a mystery, which will hopefully keep the audience involved. I’m conscious that it has to be a play, not just someone telling a story, so there are physical elements too.
Both Eyes to The Wind and The D-List starred Sam Curry, why do you think he works so well with your writing?
I think Sam found things in both plays which personally resonated with him. It was kind of coincidence which brought us together. He had appeared on a TV show just after I’d written a play about someone on a TV show and I was looking to get a recognisable face in it to help get it on at Edinburgh fringe. He agreed to do The D-List and then I realised he would be perfect to play Daniel in Eyes to the Wind as well.
Sam is a very talented actor and incredibly nice and easy to work with. I think he brings his own humanity to his acting. The part of Daniel was maybe not that sympathetically written but Sam really engaged the audience with his performance and made them care. He worked hard with the director, Hannah Banister, on every aspect of the play.
I actually felt at times when I was watching it that it was real despite the fact that I’d made it up. As a person Sam is very confident but at the same time quite sensitive and I think he had a natural empathy for the characters in both plays. I was proud of the writing but I think he made the plays special, particularly Eyes to the Wind which was just him on stage for half an hour.
Eyes to The Wind is being made into a short film, did you ever expect that
No, not at all, not least because it very nearly wasn’t a play! After I originally wrote it I wasn’t sure about it and sort of put it in a draw and concentrated on writing The D-List. Because that was going into production I thought I should make more of my other work and that’s when I submitted Eyes to the Wind to the Branagh prize.
What happened was that we did it again in London last January and Gage Oxley, a film director who had worked with Sam previously, came to see it and really liked it. The planning for the film has just begun and I’m looking forward to seeing which direction they take it in. I think film is a more objective medium than theatre because the director chooses where to put the camera and what to show the audience. That opens up possibilities in terms of point of view and how you tell the story. I’m excited to be part of it.
What else are you working on?
I’m doing something called Play in a Day run by Emberfly Theatre on July 8. Basically they send you a brief for a short play and you have 12 hours to write it. The next day actors rehearse it and then there’s a performance at night.
I also currently have a play I’m developing with a producer and a different one I’ve just started working on with a director. And then there’s another one which had a rehearsed reading recently in London. This was in front of an audience and I had to go on stage for a Q&A afterwards. It confirmed my wish never to be an actor. It’s quite terrifying.
Where do you find the time to do all of this?
I think the thing about writing is that it’s actually very easy to do in as much as you don’t need any special materials, just a space in which to work. There isn’t a snooker tournament every week and even when there is there’s still time here and there. Also, some writers will tell you they haven’t had any time to write anything and then they list all the TV shows they’ve watched in the last week. You have to prioritise if you’re serious about it.
The great joy of writing is that nobody can stop you actually doing it. They may not be interested in putting it on or they might not come when it is put it on but they can’t physically stop you. The only thing really stopping you is yourself.
Sign of The Times is at The Edinburgh International Festival – Tickets Here
Home Time will be staged at Windsor Fringe – Information Here
Follow David on Twitter @davehendon