Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Annie Jenkins: Karaoke Play

By | Published on Friday 20 September 2019

Opening at The Bunker at the tail end of this month is ‘Karaoke Play’, a collection of connected intertwining monologues set – as you might guess – in a Karaoke bar. They focus on a collection of highly individual characters, and explore themes of love, British identity, and the pursuit of recognition

It’s the work of up and coming playwright Annie Jenkins, whose previous, acclaimed plays you may well have seen staged at London venues in recent times: The Theatre503 Award shortlisted ‘In Lipstick’ at The Pleasance, ‘A Tinder Trilogy’ at Camden Fringe, and the co-written ‘VOID’ at the 2018 Vault Festival.

I arranged a quick chat to find out more about Annie, and the play.

CM: Let’s start by talking about what the play is about: what’s the basic premise?
AJ: The play is set a year ago, in September 2018, just after the summer of the sun and the world cup and Jack and Dani on ‘Love Island’. It’s Saturday night and while Darren and Perri work at Barry’s karaoke pub – known amongst the regulars as Barryoke – Kelly and Linford ready themselves to step onto the stage and into the rest of their lives.

CM: Can you tell us about the different characters involved in the story?
AJ: Each of the characters are named after British athletes and are as follows:

Kelly is 50 tomorrow. She works as a cashier in Tesco but knows that one day she’ll be famous.

Perri works at Barryoke, is best mates with Darren, and repeatedly re-enacts a scene from school sports day – in year two – in which she won a gold medal and sang the national anthem to an awestruck crowd. She uses rollerblades as transport.

Linford attends Barryoke extensively but never performs… until tonight. He’s married to Christie and they have a daughter together but he’s obsessed with Kelly and wants to impress her.

Darren is a drug dealer, but works at the pub a couple of times a week because he loves karaoke!

While I’d say Kelly, Perri and Linford are dissatisfied by and disillusioned with the present, it is quite jarring that Darren is quite happy in the world surrounding him – given the current social and political climate; he’s not just the smiley karaoke lover he presents to people at work.

I don’t think these characters are ones we necessarily see depicted very often. They don’t always sit within the confines of the liberal viewpoints we often see at the theatre. I want to depict uncomfortable, human stories, not just ones that left wing audiences agree with and then congratulate themselves on doing so.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
AJ: I think the play is about British identity, the pursuit of recognition, love – depicted as variously lost, lacking or muddled as well as the discrepancy between sex and love – intimacy and isolation. It’s also very much about the role of performance, which makes the karaoke pub setting very fitting. Also my favourite A-level English phrase appearance and reality. Also the impact of the internet, particularly anonymity and I suppose how we can access the lives of complete strangers in a couple of clicks/swipes.

CM: Can we talk about the structure now…? From what I understand it’s delivered as a set of monologues, is that correct…? What made you choose that kind of format?
AJ: The play is structured in three parts, the first of which is a naturalistic scene and the second two are made up of intertwined monologues. I think this form serves the story because while these four characters’ lives intersect, they’re all isolated and lonely. Similarly the use of direct address serves the content in that there’s the sense of immediacy and urgency; it is a response to what is happening now. Also I think it’s interesting and almost quite frustrating to present four characters in a shared space without seeing them interact. It’s a play of missed chances I think, in which things never quite go as the characters would like them to.

CM: It’s also played out in real time, isn’t it? Does that make things harder or easier? Is it difficult to get all the plot points across without it feeling rushed…?
AJ: It isn’t played out in real time, though the action of the play all happens over one evening in Barryoke! Actually the action of the play – in real time – would take under ten minutes. So really, time is slowed down, it takes us an hour to get to the point at which the play catches up with itself and ‘goes live’ if that makes sense.

I’m not sure monologues are so concerned with plot points as with character arcs though there is definitely a very deliberate structure. There’s a lot of repetition of language. I’d say it’s a story of images and the frequent repetition of images, particularly consumables, points towards how we all take in and regurgitate all the same stuff a lot of the time.

CM: What made you want to write a piece tackling this particular subject and themes? What was the inspiration?
AJ: It was a couple of years ago, in the wake of the terrorist attacks which happened over such a short space of time, when I noticed quite a bit of reproachful rhetoric on left-wing social media criticising Brits for being wrapped up in domestic tragedy while simultaneously detached from attacks abroad. I thought of Ian in Sarah Kane’s ‘Blasted’, a journalist that doesn’t cover foreign affairs. Ian says that people aren’t interested in far-off wars, “it has to be personal”. While tabloids objectively horrify many of us, we’re sucked in by click-bait headlines. I think that was my starting point. But before anything as thought-through as that, I always start with an image. For this play my starting image was of a woman in her twenties standing on a chair in childlike vest and knickers – like people used to wear for PE in primary school – in a plastic medal, singing the national anthem. Then I just made it up from there.

CM: Have you been involved with the production of the play, or is it a question of handing over the script and stepping back?
AJ: Yeah, me and Lucy Grace McCann, director, chatted loads about it and I’ve been in rehearsals!

CM: Can we talk a bit about you now? Did you always want to write? What steps did you take to begin your career?
AJ: I wrote a seminal novel called ‘The Tennis Ball Friends’ when I was about eight, and another called ‘Tristan Twelve Toes’ in year five and have known nothing but extreme success since then.

CM: You’ve primarily written for the stage, I think, but do you have plans to write for other media?
AJ: I’d like to try writing for telly as I think it’s a discipline you have to learn, rather than just make up as you go along.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
AJ: A long anticipated sequel to ‘The Tennis Ball Friends’ in which we move 100 years into the future but the tennis balls have only aged twenty years.

CM: Do you have any new writing projects in the planning stages?
AJ: Yes! It involves a paddling pool and I haven’t got much further than that.

CM: What’s coming up next for you, after this?
AJ: I’m one of Theatre503’s new 503Five so I’m going to be writing the play I pitched for that – the paddling pool one – over the next few months.

Karaoke Play is on at The Bunker Theatre from 29 Sep-14 Oct, see the venue website here for more information and to book.