Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Stuart Slade: Cans

By | Published on Friday 7 November 2014

‘Cans’, a co-production from Theatre 503, Kuleshov Theatre and Etch Theatre, certainly has an interesting premise, which sees the central characters, a woman and her uncle, drinking can after can of cider as they explore issues of grief, the generation gap, and the nature of family secrets.


Ahead of the show’s three week run at Theatre 503, I sent some questions over to Stuart Slade, co-artistic director of Kuleshov, and writer of the play.

CM: Without giving too much away, what is the show about? What themes does it address?
SS: The play sees Jen and her Uncle Len sitting in a garage, drinking cans of cider, trying to get over the death of Jen’s father.

Over the course of the show they get through about ten cans of Strongbow, which is a massive health and safety nightmare for the theatre, and a fairly daunting challenge for both the actors as well. I kind of worry that by the end of the run I’ll be responsible for turning two of the best actors I know into hopeless alcoholics – sorry, Graham and Jen.

The play is about grief, how families deal with dark secrets, and how Jen and Len try to bridge the chasm between generations.

CM: What gave you the idea for this play? What made you want to write it?
SS: The first scene of the play sees Jen and Len drowning mice in a bucket – much to Jen’s disgust. Last year our flat was chronically infested with rats (I know, right?), and every night for months I’d lie awake, listening to their deeply scary scratching inside the walls. The revolting insistence of the scraping and squeaking was a hideously fitting soundtrack to the guilt, terror and paranoia of my totally everyday insomnia. It was sort of cathartic.

CM: Apparently the play was written with the two performers specifically in mind – how did this collaboration come about? Why did you want to work with them?
SS: I kind of think that the whole purpose of writing a play is to write good roles for good actors.

So far I’ve written five plays, and Graham O’Mara’s been in all of them. I always write a part specifically for him, because he’s just the most incredible actor – spectacularly funny, crazily versatile, and brilliant to work with.

I met Jen Clement late last year – she’d been to drama school with the Director, Dan Pick, and he told me she was great. We did a short play together in December, and she absolutely stormed it. I remember watching her in it, and thinking, “In fifty years time Jen will totally be Dame Jennifer Clement, and I’ll be watching her get her tenth Oscar on telly and stuff, and I just wanna write something for her now while she’ll still consider working with the likes of me”.

CM: Did you sit just down and write it, or are there devised elements to it?
SS: I spend months and months planning plays in exquisite, forensic detail – with excel spreadsheets and utterly pretentious A1 charts in eight colours with character arcs and plotlines and stuff – and then when I start writing all of that goes totally out of the window and I just wing it.

CM: Once the writing work was done, did you hand over the script to the director and step back or stick around during the rehearsal process? How does your relationship with the director work?
SS: Dan’s a truly wonderful director to work with – inspiring with actors, incisive with the text, and clear and detailed with his notes. He’s directed all five of my plays now, and I adore working with him. We fight like children, and mercilessly wind each other up pretty much all the time – in fact, the level of repartee in the rehearsal room is a cross between an infant school playground and a dock-front bar.

As a writer you learn more about plays in the rehearsal studio than anywhere else, I think, so I try and hang around as much as I can to see what works, and what doesn’t – and I’ve got the really annoying habit of changing about a third of the text in the first week of rehearsals, just to screw Dan up a bit more.

CM: You are a founding member of producing company Kuleshov. Is this its first production? What aims do you have?
SS: Kuleshov has three artistic directors – Dan Pick, Graham O’Mara, and me. We’re all shambolically useless at arranging things, but luckily we’ve managed to pick up some wonderful producers in Lucy Hollis and Ruth Milne, and a super-awesome Head of Everything in Holly Hooper, who actually make things happen.

We’ve done 5 plays together in less than two years, which means we’ve been very, very busy.

I guess our aim is simple – write meaty parts for good actors, direct them clearly, and make theatre that’s enormously good fun for the people doing it, and hopefully, the people watching it.

CM: What’s next for this show? Do you see it being performed elsewhere?
Who knows? We love doing Cans, and we’d pretty much do it anywhere anybody asked us to do it.

CM: What’s next for Kuleshov? Do you have any new productions in the pipeline?
SS: Yep – our next play is going to be our best one yet, by miles, I reckon. It’s called BU 21, and it’s about a terrorist atrocity in London, but I’m not going to tell you any more about it at the moment – mostly because I’ve actually not finished writing it yet…

Cans is on at Theatre503 until 29 Nov. See the venue website here for more info and tickets.