New play Birdland is set to open at London’s Royal Court Theatre next week (running form 3 April to 31 May). About a rock star (played by Andrew Scott, Sherlock’s Moriarty) losing his mind, playwright Simon Stephens (recent winner of an Olivier Award-winning for his adaptation of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time for the National Theatre) explains guest column the challenges of bringing rock’n’roll and theatre together, and why he’ll always be a failed rock star…
At the beginning of April my new play Birdland opens at the most important theatre for new writing in the world, The Royal Court. It will be my sixth play at that theatre. In many ways this is something I am immensely proud of. In some ways, though, opening a new play will always be a little bit of a disappointment. Because I never wanted to be a playwright. Not until I was about 21. I only ever wanted to be a rock star. I was just never quite good enough.
I grew up in Stockport, a suburb to the South of Manchester in the eighties. It was a drab town at a drab time in a country that was castrated by the iron grip of the Iron lady. A country that feared thought and creativity was coming to celebrate the dignity of buying things. It was in rock and roll music more than anything that my sense of self was crystallised. I came to understand myself by listening to Elvis Costello and The Smiths. I came to want to write because of Tom Waits and Nick Cave. I learnt about sex and loneliness and fear and anger through Prince and Sonic Youth and the Stone Roses and Public Enemy.
As I’ve grown older it is rock’n’roll music that has informed my work more than any other art form. I learnt more about dramatic structure from years of listening to Pixies than from anything else. I learnt more about theatricality from watching Mark E Smith on stage than from anything else. I learnt about the musicality of narrative from listening to album after album after album.
Birdland is a play about all those things.
It is a play about a rock star losing his mind. The central character is known only as Paul. He’ll be played by the astonishing Andrew Scott. We watch the last four gigs of a 15-month world tour as his sense of what is real and not real, sane and insane, right and wrong erodes completely. It’s a play about sex and money and living in hotels. It’s entirely fictional. Its based on nobody but in its very essence its about Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke and Jerry Lee Lewis and Lou Reed and Bo Diddley and KristinnHersh and Kim Gordon and PJ Harvey and everybody else who all my life has kind of made me feel a little bit less alone.
It’s an angry play and a dark play but, because I think all theatre is in its very form optimistic, it is ultimately an optimistic play. I sometimes think that it’s the play I’ve been waiting to write all my life.
Birdland runs between 3 April and 31 May, for more information and tickets head to www.royalcourttheatre.com.
Win a pair of tickets to the press night and after-show party of Birdland at the Royal Court Theatre
Q has teamed up with the Royal Court to giveaway a pair of tickets to the press night of Birdland, a new play by Simon Stephens set within the sane and insane world of a rock star during the final days of a world-wide tour. The winner will receive a pair of tickets to the press night on Wednesday 9 April (7pm) and access to the exclusive post show party in the Royal Court’s gorgeous bar. To enter email firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Birdland’ in the subject before midnight on Monday, 31 March. The winner will be drawn at random.