Andrew comes from Sunderland. He took a degree in English then trained as an Actor at the prestigious Webber Douglas Academy. He spent some years touring then became more involved in writing. ‘In the event of Moone disaster’ is about the first Moon landings but it is about so much more.
AT: Yes, it is initially set around the first moon landing. One of Richard Nixon’s speech writers wrote text for the Astronauts, should something go wrong, and it included the phrase, ‘In the event of Moon disaster’. So that was my starting point. But out of this came a journey, literally, in ‘time and space’ of three women. These women hurtle between the past, present and the future. It’s certainly quite a challenge to stage.
I asked Andrew about the writing of, ‘In the Event of Moone disaster’.
AT: Oh I’m quite passionate about the process of writing. The biggest lesson for me is that you have to take your time. So this play probably took me two years to put everything together. (And I’m still working on it now!) The fact that I take the plot into the future only came to me very late in the whole process. I knew the play was taking me in that direction but I wasn’t sure. So I put it in a drawer and then I came back to it and I honed it again and again. But don’t feel sorry for me. Because that for me is the writer’s job.
Every writer wants to have a future life for his work, and I wanted to know what Andrew was hoping for with this play.
AT: I can’t give you an answer that doesn’t sound really obvious. But yes, I would love to see it being produced by other companies. That would be most gratifying. But let’s not run before we walk. I’m delighted that it is being produced by Theatre 503.
I can’t let that mention of Theatre 503 go by without pointing to the wonderful refurbishment that has gone on within the building. The result is simply stunning. For me the high point is the beautiful seats that have been put into the auditorium. I gather that is partly due to the Bush Theatre in Hammersmith. A real example of theatrical cross fertilization!
And yes, before you ask, there is a Ghost. (What proper theatre doesn’t have a Ghost?) The Theatre 503’s Ghost’s name is Bob. The operation’s manager avers it’s a disgruntled barman from years gone by. Lisa Spirling, the relatively new Artistic Director, tells me it’s rumoured that ‘Bob’ is to be found in the dressing rooms switching Kettles on and off.
How have you found going from the freelance life to being the head of a company in a building?
LS: Well it’s different. Theatre 503 is dedicated to championing new writing. I’m tremendously excited about that. I began here and so for me it is ‘coming home’. For me it’s all about facilitating new work being performed. My career was launched by 503 and I want others to be in the same fortunate position. So it’s wonderful to go and work elsewhere but it’s beyond belief to bring all that experience back to 503. I hope I can do 503 justice.
What about the rehearsal process for you Lisa? Has it been different for ‘In the event of Moone disaster’?
LS: I think that’s a really interesting question. With new writing, you have to go about it somewhat differently from the normal process of rehearsing. I spend the first week making sure everyone ‘is on the same page’. And then we’re up on our feet. This is followed by a lot of improvisation. With ‘Moone disaster’ there was also a lot of working out of relationships. Then with new writing there’s the interaction of an audience, and often my plays change on how they are received.
What are your future plans for 503 Lisa?
LS: I think we are at a tipping point in Theatre. There seems to be a shift in the ecology. Twenty years ago lots of new writers were being encouraged to write. To a certain extent their plays were being performed. Then this dropped off. Today there is simply a lot less performance venues. 503 is unique in that it is entirely committed to presenting new work. So it is world premiere after world premiere. I’d like 503 to work with companies to get new writers performed. I’m aware 503 is Fringe but everything is done to the highest of professional standards.
And where do you see yourself in the future Lisa?
LS: I want to continue my freelance work. So I’d like to work on bigger stages and internationally if possible. And I now have a home base at 503 and that is terribly exciting. So it’s really pushing myself further but also encouraging writers and directors who come after me. And also I have a secret desire to stage a Musical at 503. But don’t tell anyone.
During that first season at the SJT I was asked to go to the premiere of a new play. On the first night I sat between the adaptor and the director. There were five people in the audience plus the bar lady. (It was performed in the bar.) At the end I turned to the ‘creatives’ and told them it was, ‘jolly good, I hope it has a further life’. The play was ‘A Woman in Black’. It’s been in the West End now for some 27 years and is still going strong. Let us hope Andrew Thompson’s ‘In the Event of Moone Disaster’ has a similar longevity.
IN THE EVENT OF MOONE DISASTER by Andrew Thompson
Directed by Lisa Spirling
Theatre 503 4th Oct-28th Oct 2017
020 7978 7040
An appreciation by: Richard Braine
Nearly thirty years to the day I began work at the old Stephen Joseph Theatre in the round, in Scarborough. The theatre was led by that extraordinary titan that is Alan Ayckbourn. I was terribly nervous yet thrilled skinny I was going to be joining this company. I was expecting some huge and intimidating space. Yet SJT was warm, friendly, intimate. Everywhere you were given that enormously welcoming Yorkshire embrace. It felt like a sort of cosy, fuzzy, and inviting Sunday lunch. I was at home.
Theatre 503 in Battersea has that same vibe. It is charmingly, softly, all encompassing. Just like the SJT nothing intimidates, yet you are aware you are in the midst of a creative hotbed. I’m here to meet Lisa Spirling, the recently appointed Artistic Director of 503, and Andrew Thompson the winner of the International playwright award.
Andrew is one of those desperately handsome young men who is self-evidently simply a brilliant wordsmith. ‘In event of Moone Disaster’ marks Andrew’s feature length debut. Out of some 1,629 Scripts from 52 countries his play was chosen to be presented by 503. The judging panel included members of the great and the good, from the theatrical firmament, including Timberlake Wertenbaker, Roy Williams and David Grieg. I wondered how Andrew felt about that.
Andrew Thompson: I was so glad that I didn’t know who the judging panel was because I think I would have been totally over awed. I was told I was on a short list of five. At that point, I’m not sure if I breathed. Then I was told they wanted me and my play and it was exciting beyond measure.
The first thing to say about Lisa Spirling is that she’s tremendously charismatic. Her presence simply knocks your socks off. She is an award winning freelance director, much admired both in the UK and abroad. To begin with I asked her whether she was involved with the process of choosing Andrew’s play for 503.
Lisa Spirling: Oh yes. I got to join for the fun bit I suppose. There was a long list of fifty, and then it went down to five. All of these were simply fantastic plays. And then there was Andrew’s. I was simply blown away. The judging panel all had differing attitudes and stances. But one thing they all agreed on was Andrew’s play was deeply, deeply exciting. It had to be staged!