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In Week 6 of this term, LUTG are putting on an original piece written by 3rd year student Jack Maidment, and starring Greg Walker. I caught up with them to find out more about the show.
Tell me the story of Callback.
Jack: Callback is the story of Charlie Hammond, an aging stand-up comedian. He’s going through a tough period in his life. He’s dealing with personal and professional pressure in his life, all the while dealing with losing his wife. At the same time, he’s battling these inner demons, where there’s a character which personifies his dark subconscious. It’s the more surreal element of the play.
How have you found it, Greg?
Greg: Really interesting actually. In a way I entered into it with a complete gamble. Normally with a play you can Google it, and see what it’s about. I just had these extracts that we’d done in auditions. It is a phenomenally well written script, and I’m not just saying that because Jack’s here, he knows that if I thought it was crap I would tell him. It’s been amazing. It’s very different to the other two plays I’ve done, because it has been written by Jack, and it’s his baby. But at the same time, it’s been a very collaborative process. There’s been a lot of “maybe we could do this”, a lot more chopping and changing than I’ve been used to.
Tell me more about the character you play
Greg: It’s strange because you see him at two points throughout his life in the play. One is post losing his wife to cancer, when he’s depressed and he’s on this downward slope and he’s kind of given up on life. And then before his wife dies, but he’s still very down to earth. He’s a comedian because he can be, not because he particularly especially wants to be, it’s not his big dream. He’s just happy to live, for Charlie his life is Susan, he’s got Susan and she’s his number one, he doesn’t care about anything else as long as she’s there. And you get to see how it completely destroys him when she dies.
It’s been really hard for me, because even though he’s a comedian, he’s possibly one of the least funny characters in the play. He’s a straight man to a lot of very big, very funny characters. I’ve only ever done comedy before, and supporting roles at that. So now suddenly to be doing this serious main role is a terrifying challenge.
So where did the idea come from?
Jack: Well initially it was a very different animal. It was a more farcical play, really satirical in the way it lampooned Hollywood. I’m fascinated by the perceptions of stand-up comedy in other media. So it started with Charlie Hammond, the protagonist, an aging stand-up comedian who’s past his best. But then he gets an anonymous call from someone threatening to kill him on stage. It wasn’t called Callback then, it was something rubbish like Knock ‘Em Dead, and maybe that’s something else I’ll go back to in the future. But then I started to think of the character more, and it felt more important for me to do something more down to Earth, and write more of a comedy-drama as I wanted to address a number of issues that are in the play.
How did you find the writing process?
Jack: I started writing it in the summer, and it was a slow process. At that point I wasn’t writing for a deadline or an assessment, I was just purely writing for me, which is so rewarding. I had a first draft together, which is what I proposed to Theatre Group last term, and showed it to Jess and Luke my producer and stage manager and got feedback. Then I went back to it with a hatchet, and a very cynical and critical attitude, and got together another draft which I sent to two former Theatre Group members who had written their own stuff, people who I knew would honest with me. They gave me notes and I worked on it from there, and now I’m at the point where I’m panicking because I can’t work on it anymore.
It covers two topics that are very personal to me. That of stand-up comedy and the issue of cancer which is a very heavy theme that’s played an important part in my life due to a family member’s battle with it. It seemed like in my life this was the right time to write it. I’d been thinking about it for a while, and I’ve wanted to propose to Theatre Group for a while. I’ve always wanted to direct, to challenge myself you know “you’ve done the acting, now see what you’re like as a director”. I had a couple of plays in mind to propose, but then this idea came along.
What would you say are the major themes of the play?
Greg: Loss is a big one, not just the cancer, but in terms of losing his game, losing his sense of humour. Loss is a big theme, which is reflected in some of the other characters as well.
Jack: It’s loss in a positive way. Especially for Pepper, who’s losing the shackles of being a fan girl, and becoming her own performer. I would say the themes of pop culture as well. There are references to real actors. But there’s the critic character (Miles) who loses a lot as well. I wouldn’t say he’s the villain of the story. He’s a very bitter character; he’s the asshole of the play.
Greg: He’s a massive arsehole. I get some great argument scenes with him. There’s an interview scenes with the critic, and when we did the read through we had to take a break because everyone was laughing so much.
Jack: That’s probably the one spit of Callback that is reminiscent of my original idea. It’s very satirical; it’s the sketch writer in me.
Obviously you’ve come in with your own conceptions of characters, and how certain scenes will play. How have you found working with the actors?
Jack: It’s a hard one to define because there are some scenes that are more straight forward, “this is how it is”, but for the more emotionally complex scenes, where the parts can be played one of different ways which I really like. I really enjoy working with one-to-one with an actor, and discussing with them about what makes different scenes work. I had a complete vision of the play, and certain people have performed parts that have made me rethink. You can’t be precious with it. I’ve got a brilliant assistant director, Abbie Jones, who’s a theatre group legend. You need someone who’s distanced from it, a lot of the time I feel too close to it, so it’s good to have someone to bounce ideas off.
Finally, what should people expect from the show?
Jack: To laugh, and to cry.
Greg: Expect to be surprised. Even if you know, Jack. He’s really pulled something out the bag.
For more information on the show go to the LUTG Presents: Callback Facebook page, and for tickets email firstname.lastname@example.org.