Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Andrew Thompson: In Event Of Moone Disaster

By | Published on Wednesday 27 September 2017

The latest winner of Theatre503’s international playwriting award gets its premiere this month, helmed by the venue’s artistic director Lisa Spirling. ‘In Event Of Moone Disaster’ is an intriguing-sounding piece with a space travel theme, which tells the stories of three generations of one family.
To find out more about the play, I spoke to the playwright behind it, Andrew Thompson.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the content of the play, and its structure? What’s the story, and how is it told?
AT: The story starts on the night of the moon landing, and ends as the first woman steps on Mars, telling the stories of three generations of the same family over an 80 year period. It cuts back and forward in time through past, present and future, with scenes of different eras juxtaposing and blurring into each other to both help demonstrate the lead character Sylvia’s mindset but also create a degree of tension and reveal throughout the play.

CM: What themes were you intending to explore when you wrote it?
AT: I was interested in the idea of memory, and fertility is a prominent element of the plot, but fundamentally it’s about ambition. The idea that we as a species seem to have lost our sense of striving for something, for betterment, and more specifically how ambition is somehow seen as a negative trait in women. Society is still set up to make life harder for women purely as a result of their gender, and I was interested to explore how far that has or hasn’t changed over the generations and what it could lead to if we don’t start addressing the issue properly.

CM: What was the inspiration for the piece? What made you want to write about this story, and these themes?
AT: The play was initially inspired by the real-life speech ‘In Event of Moon Disaster’, written by William Safire for President Nixon to read should the moon landings be a failure. I liked the idea of planning for the end in such dramatic circumstances. It developed further as a result of experiences and conversations my wife and I were having. We have recently become parents but when we first started thinking about it I was shocked by how much the prevailing assumption was that she would obviously surrender her work and personal ambitions once motherhood arrived, whereas the same was not expected of me. It was strange to see these ideas still existed in contemporary society.

CM: I’ve been told it’s a feminist play. Some people think men can’t/shouldn’t be feminist, let alone write feminist. What are your thoughts on it? Do you regard yourself as a feminist, or an ally?
AT: It’s less about trying to write a feminist play and more wanting to write challenging roles for women. There are too many great female actors out there being under-served by roles and opportunities. I also feel you have to write about the world as you experience it and gender inequality is unfortunately still undeniable. I would describe myself as a feminist, but if someone else thinks I shouldn’t be, I hope at least they accept me as an ally.

CM: It’s your debut play, and the winner of Theatre503’s playwriting award. How did you hear about the award, and what made you want to enter?
AT: I heard about the award as I’ve always paid attention to the happenings of Theatre503, it’s a venue and a company I have a lot of respect for. The first thing I ever had staged was at one of their Rapid Write Response nights and it was achieving that which gave me the confidence to really commit to writing and start thinking perhaps I could pursue it.

I wanted to enter as the reputation of the theatre is so good and the standard of work they produce so high I was excited to try and be a part of it. Every writer wants to see their work produced but it is incredibly difficult as a new writer to break through. Competitions and opportunities like this that offer such a fantastic prize are vital and it’s great that it is designed to promote writers and plays that may otherwise have been lost.

CM: How long have you been writing for? Is it something you have always wanted to do?
AT: It’s definitely something I have always wanted to do and I probably made ridiculous attempts ever since I was very young, making my own shows in the back garden, but I only felt confident enough to properly try in the last five years or so. I spent a lot of time reading scripts, dissecting them, and I think over time I started to understand the craft a little more. I started attending writing workshops and writing short pieces and gradually grew the confidence to think maybe I could do this.

CM: How did you feel when you discovered the play had been selected over all the other (1600!) entries?
AT: It’s absurd. I try not to think about it, as had I realised in advance how many applications there would be I might never have entered. It’s incredible to have been given this opportunity and really exciting to think there are so many writers out there passionate about theatre. I feel so lucky as I don’t doubt there were many incredible scripts in there so to have been selected is a genuine gift and a great chance to start a career.

CM: Have you been involved in the actual production of the play?
AT: Yes, I’ve worked with the theatre on drafts and edits and been part of the rehearsals and creative conversations etc. It’s more difficult as I live in Edinburgh and work part-time to supplement my income but Theatre503 have been really accommodating and worked hard to help me be as much a part of it as possible at every stage.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creative team involved in the staging of it?
AT: We have a fantastic team of actors that’s it’s been great to work with and watch. Without giving too much away we have movement directors, sound designers, audio visual artists etc. etc. and they’re all being marshalled beautifully by the artistic director Lisa Spirling. Lisa has really embraced the scale and possibilities of this script, she has an exciting vision for the project and it’s lovely to work with someone who is enthused by the ambition of it all.

CM: You’ve been an actor as well as now becoming a playwright. Do you plan to continue doing both in the future?
AT: I would never say no, but my passion really lies with the writing. As an actor performing was fun but it was the text, the rehearsal room I was most drawn to. As an actor you often have to wait to be given the chance to be creative but as a writer you can sit at your desk every day and just go, which is hugely satisfying.

CM: What’s coming up next for you?
I have a script that’s out there at the moment and am meeting theatres to talk about ideas I’m interested in, so there are lots of possibilities I can’t wait to explore. I also have a comedy under option with a TV company so we will have to see where that may lead.

‘In Event Of Moone Disaster’ is on at Theatre503 from 4-28 Oct. See the venue website here for details and to book tickets.