Of all the shows in this year’s 24:7 Theatre Festival, one promises to be the most subversive: Away From Home, co-written by veteran TV, radio and theatre writer, Martin Jameson and performer, Rob Ward. The pair talked to Lucia Cox about this fascinating and potentially controversial one-man show. Lucia has been lucky enough to work with both the writers in one capacity or another over the last 12 months; she caught up with them mid-rehearsals.
You worked together on the 24:7 show Loaded last year. How did this project come about and why this particular subject matter?
Martin Jameson: After Loaded, when we got on very well, Rob approached me talking about wanting to write about homophobia in football – something that as a lifelong Everton supporter grates with him increasingly: the lack of any ‘out’ players, the homophobia on the terraces, the sense of helplessness he feels when people are shouting out things like “get up you poof”.
He wanted to write directly about a footballer initially, but I was a tad wary as my experience of trying to fictionalise any celebrity or sportsman (I’ve had to do it in telly) is that it can be a bit naff and unconvincing. For my part, I’d heard a story some years ago about a male escort who had been hired by an extremely well known footballer. I won’t name them because it is technically hearsay, but the story was something I’d always wanted to write about. However, as I know diddly squit about footie, it has sat on my back burner for a very long time. But here was a possibility to bring Rob’s passion to this story and give it real authenticity.
It also felt interesting to use a sex worker as our narrative voice. The footballer wants sex he can control, so he hires someone to keep that distance. The escort for his part believes that he can control his life, and that transactional sex is what he wants (but do we believe him?). The problems really start when love enters the equation.
One-man show – daunting experience, Rob?
Rob Ward: No, because it’s all down to me. And, yes, because it’s all down to me.
Have you been in contact with football associations? What has been their reaction to the subject matter?
MJ: Kick It Out – who fight all kinds of discrimination in football – have been incredibly supportive and given us a written endorsement we can use in promoting the show.
How did you find the process of co-writing? Are you rewriting during the rehearsal process?
MJ: Rob is here and does agree that it has been a fantastic process. We worked on the story together, several long sessions pinning down the structure in fine detail. I suppose that’s more my department, from working in telly, but it’s not something either of us could have or would have wanted to do without the other. Then Rob went away and wrote the first draft. It was very long. And very passionate. I then redrafted that, cutting it down by about a third, and refining and tightening the language, and making some more structural tweaks. Rob then took it off me and groaned at my boneheaded ignorance of the beautiful game, doing some fine surgery to keep it authentic. We then threw it back and forth a few more times until we were happy.
During rehearsal the refining process continues every day. We constantly challenge every line, the syntax, and we cut, cut, cut, working to make the script as lean and efficient as possible. I suspect we will still be making trims and changes after it has opened. Having said that, I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that there are a few testosterone fuelled boy scraps over details, but being boys they get sorted pretty quick too. It really has been a lot of fun.
Why 24:7 to showcase this new piece of work?
MJ: It’s a well established new writing platform, possibly the best in the region in terms of audience awareness. There’s an established audience for it – thanks to the amazing dedication of David Slack and Kathryn Worthington over the years – plus plenty of industry interest. We also know the spaces, and the whole set up. But of course, acceptance wasn’t guaranteed. We had to go through the same anonymous submission process as everyone else. That was quite scary.
Any plans for a future tour after the festival?
MJ: We’d certainly like to tour it, to theatres and also to sports clubs if they’ll have us – it feels important to tell this story to people directly involved in sport of all kinds. 24:7 is vital in this as it’s the platform for getting potential funders and bookers to come and see what we have to offer.
What’s next for both of you? Any plans for other ventures together?
MJ: When I’ve done this I’m starting an episode of Holby City and waiting to hear about some projects I have in with Radio 4. Later in August you can hear a five part Woman’s Hour Serial I’ve written going out on Radio 4. It’s called The One About The Social Worker and it stars Clare Skinner (Outnumbered) and Lacey Turner (EastEnders) and should be a really good listen.
RW: There’s not much time to rest up as I will be appearing as George Harrison in the Ticket to Write festival at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool on July 30 which I am really looking forward to. After a quick holiday it’s back at it with Working Progress (Rob’s theatre company he runs with producer of Away From Home, Dolly-Rose Campbell) looking to finalise a tour and start planning other company projects for the year ahead. And I would also happily work with Martin again, despite his obscene lack of sporting knowledge.
Then, just as the interview was winding down…
RW: He’s a c*nt really and he made me say those nice things at gunpoint!
MJ: Put your gimp mask back on and get back in the cellar.
Oh, you boys!
Interview by Lucia Cox
Where: New Century House, Manchester
More info: www.247theatrefestival.co.uk/shows