What makes a good story? In theatre, just as in television, cinema or publishing, we are constantly on the look-out for the story that will stop everyone in their tracks, the tale that will make the transition from a great script to a successful show. That might be a tale that shows audiences something they’ve never seen before, something that will transport them to another world, somewhere they have never been or maybe somewhere impossible to reach – a different time, a different world. Alternatively it might be something set very close to home which makes people think differently about something in their own lives. Either way, writers can spend months or years coming up with ideas, hoping their dramatic twists, their comic scenarios or their emotional scenes will resonate with audiences when they finally reach the stage.
Sometimes, however, the best stories are found in reality. There are some human experiences, some characters, some real-life events, that are more powerful than fiction, that have more dramatic excitement or more emotional impact than any imagined scenarios.
This Spring, a number of true stories are being staged around South East London. At the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley, the season launches with a pair of shows by Arrows And Traps Theatre Company, playing on alternate nights. Shooting With Light tells the story of the legendary photographer Robert Capa, the persona created in Paris in the 1930s by Gerta Pohorylle, a young German refugee, and Endre Friedmann, a young Hungarian in exile. Drawn to each other by a shared passion for photography, they created a persona in order to better sell their work – and so Robert Capa was born.
The companion piece to Shooting With Light is Gentleman Jack, set in Yorkshire in 1810 where Anne Lister, a landowner and secret diarist, defied convention. As Britain’s first modern lesbian, Anne embarked on her life’s mission – to fall in love and find someone to share her world with – but her pursuit of happiness was threatened by a scandalised society.
Meanwhile, at Greenwich Theatre we are preparing to bring Dougie Blaxland’s new play The Long Walk Back to London for a run in April in our studio theatre. The play tells the incredible story of an international sporting star’s catastrophic fall from grace. England cricketing all-rounder Chris Lewis enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame and fortune in the 1990s. Playing 85 Tests and One Day Internationals for England he seemed on the verge of greatness when he was named England’s International Cricketer of The Year in 1994. However, within months of his cricketing career ending, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for smuggling cocaine into the UK.
From international stardom to a failed suicide attempt, Lewis’ story is an astonishing one, and at Greenwich we are lucky enough to have Chris confirmed to participate in a live Q&A after every performance. We may be all set to enjoy his story as theatre, but for Lewis, this is the story of his life.
James Haddrell is the Artistic & Executive Director of Greenwich Theatre.