Caro Meets Theatre Interview

John Fitzpatrick: Reared

By | Published on Thursday 29 March 2018

The latest show to go up over at Theatre503 is ‘Reared’ by Bafta-nominated screenwriter and playwright John Fitzpatrick. It’s a serious yet funny sort of piece about a family who are struggling with their prospective future, which explores the relationships between different generations.

I spoke to John to find out more – about the play, his career, and what to expect from him in the future.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the narrative of ‘Reared’? What story does the play tell?
JP: ‘Reared’ is about a family struggling to cope with the weight of their past and the prospect of their future. At the centre of it is Eileen. She’s got a mother in-law with incipient dementia, a daughter with a lot of secrets and a husband who doesn’t want to acknowledge any of it. Added to that there’s a new baby expected. Eileen has had difficulties with her mother in-law in the past so she’s determined to get her moved out of the house before the new baby arrives. The play is really about her struggling to connect with the generation which came before her and the generation which follows her.

CM: How would you describe it in terms of genre? Is it a comedy?
JP: I think we have to call it a ‘Dark Comedy’. It’s a play that engages with quite serious issues but because it is true to the characters it also ends up being funny. I hope that the drama and the humour will crash up against each other so that the audience will have all the feels one moment and be in stitches the next.

CM: What themes did you want to explore when writing it?
JP: I started out wanting to look at the relationships between generations: what knowledge is passed down and what is obscured. I’m fascinated by the slow release of information from their elders which children receive as they grow into adults. It’s interesting how generations relate to each other even though the world they grew up in might differ vastly. There always seems to be some anchor which connects their experience.

CM: What made you want to write a piece with these themes?
JP: I don’t think I ever set out to write on a particular theme. There’s generally just an image or a scenario. If it keeps being interesting then I’ll keep following it. With this play it was all about the characters. I wanted to know how they would react to this situation. It was initially quite a serious and sincere play but I found the characters only became authentic once they were allowed to be funny and sarcastic.

CM: Are there any elements of your own experiences in this?
JP: Ha. I mean…Yes. There always is. It’s always useful to anchor a play with some of your own experience as it adds some weight to it. It keeps you coming back to the details. You know all the details of your personal experience so well that it shows up the lack of detail in the fictional elements. It forces you to develop a more detailed play.

CM: Who are the central characters, and who plays them?
JP: At the centre of the play is Eileen, played by Shelly Atkinson, an Irish woman in her forties who moved over to London when she was young and ended up marrying Stuart. Stuart, who is being played by Daniel Crossley, is sort of ‘Plastic Irish’ as his mother is from Ireland as well. They have a daughter Caitlin, played by Danielle Phillips, who is fifteen and has her heart set on becoming an actor. And Nora, played by Paddy Glynn, Stuart’s mother and the matriarch of the family – she’s trying to cling to her position of power but the fact that she depends so much on Eileen’s care is making that difficult. Then there’s Colin, played by Rohan Nedd, who is Caitlin’s best friend from Drama Club. Although I think Caitlin would prefer if they were more than just friends.

CM: As writer, to what extent have you been involved in the actual production of the play?
JP: As much as I can without interfering with the process. I think the script was fairly well developed by the time it got to rehearsals so there haven’t been huge changes. I’ve been dipping in and out, consulting on small changes here and there but mainly I just have a chat with Sarah Davey-Hull, the director, every so often and see how it’s going. It’s so important with this play that they develop their family dynamic so I let them get on with that and get out of the way.

CM: Did you always want to be a writer? How and when did you start?
JP: I’m not sure really. I started out writing things when I was younger but people were always asking me if I was an actor. Eventually I started acting but I ended up getting cast as writer types. I went back to writing and it just seemed like a natural fit.

It’s bloody tough work and anybody who says it isn’t is lying but it’s also hugely rewarding. On the first day of rehearsals our designer Sammy Dowson gave a talk about how she saw the play and I was so moved by how she had responded to it, the meaning she found in it. It’s sort of mind-blowing when a play has been just a figment of your imagination for so long and suddenly the characters are there in real life walking around this kitchen which belongs to them. It’s like entering
another dimension.

CM: As well as plays, you’ve also written for the screen. Is there much difference in the way you approach it?
JP: Yes. Absolutely. Although with both I tend to start with an image which keeps on being interesting to me. With ‘Reared’ there was this image of an elderly lady doing the dance from ‘Singing in the Rain’. That’s not quite where we ended up but that was the starting image that intrigued me.

In terms of the actual writing, with plays I tend to write a lot of dialogue and get a feel for who the characters are and how they move through the world. Then I restructure as I go. With film it tends to be a lot of thinking and making notes and writing down various actions and images and then when it feels like there’s something solid there I’ll write the script in one or two drafts. That said, I’m still learning and I certainly don’t have a set process, just an instinct for what’s right for each different story.

CM: What ambitions or plans do you have for the future?
JP: In the immediate future I want everyone to come and see ‘Reared’. Theatre503 has programmed an amazing season and we’re chuffed to be a part of something which feels so dynamic. And I think that with all the amazing creatives working on this play, we have a show which is beautiful, hilarious and not to be missed.

In the long term I want to continue to explore what making work for a live audience is and come up with some interesting plays. I also want to direct films. I’ve written something which I’m going to direct soon and if that goes well I’ll make more. I feel like I’m understanding more and more what the two different practices are and how they inform each other. I’m quite excited about exploring filmmaking a bit more and seeing where that leads.

CM: What’s coming up next?
JP: Right now I’m prepping a commission for a drama school which is very exciting as I’ve never written for a big ensemble before. Before writing it, I get to spend a week workshopping with the students which is not something I’ve done before so that should be interesting.


‘Reared’ is on at Theatre503 from 4-28 Apr, see this page here for all the details.

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