After phenomenal success with the world’s longest-running detective series, Taggart, Glenn Chandler has been writing, directing and producing for the stage with gusto. For his latest, KIDS PLAY, he wants you to go in knowing as little as possible about the plot… but we have lots to tell you about Glenn and his inspiration! Check out our interview below – and then get booking!
KIDS PLAY, written and directed by Taggart creator Glenn Chandler, runs at London’s Above The Stag Theatre from 18 September to 14 October 2018, with a press night on 21 September. This latest transfer follows Chandler’s hit 2017 production of Lord Dismiss Us at the theatre.
KIDS PLAY is about the things a lonely boy will do for love. Theo is a gay 17-year-old student in need of cash. Greg is a married businessman with an odd fetish. When the two meet up in a hotel room in Brighton during the conference season, a financial transaction takes place between them, but nothing turns out quite as either of them expected.
An emotional corkscrew of a play with surprises galore, KIDS PLAY takes us on an often hilarious and sometimes dark journey into the psycho-sexual needs of two lost souls on a hot summer night. In London, Joseph Clarke and David Mullen play Theo and Greg, taking over from Clement Charles and Gareth Watkins, who originated the roles in Edinburgh.
KIDS PLAY runs 18 September to 14 October 2018 at the Above the Stag Theatre, 72 Albert Embankment, Lambeth, London SE1 7TP. Performances are Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 6.30pm. Tickets are £20. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!
Talking to… Glenn Chandler
Born and educated in Edinburgh, Glenn Chandler moved to London where, in his early career, he wrote plays premiered at Soho Poly (which became Soho Theatre). He turned to screenwriting and became best known for Taggart, his Scottish detective series set in Glasgow, which he created and wrote. Taggart began as a Scottish Television (ITV) mini-series in 1983 and was subsequently commissioned as a full series, running from 1985 to 2010. It became the world’s long-running detective series, and one of the UK’s longest-running drama series ever, even continuing after the 1994 death of lead actor Mark McManus. Chandler has also written a series of books featuring a Brighton-based detective, DI Madden.
In more recent years, Chandler has focused on his first love, theatre. In 2008, he took two plays to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as a producer: Boys of the Empire and What’s Wrong With Angry?. After the success of these, he formed his own theatre company, Boys of the Empire Productions. Subsequent productions have included Scouts in Bondage, Cleveland Street: The Musical, The Custard Boys, The Lamplighters, Sandel, Killers and Lord Dismiss Us, which transferred last year from the Edinburgh Fringe to Above the Stag, where it was nominated for four Off West End Awards, including Best New Play and Best Production.
To what do you attribute Taggart‘s long-running appeal? Do you have a favourite episode?
In those heady days of the early 1980s, there really was no ‘whodunit’ detective drama on British TV screens, so Taggart caught on as something unique and different, not something modelled on a series that had come before. I also set out to make it as ‘grand guignol’ as possible, and lots of stories were inspired by real-life cases – the more bizarre the better. Add to that the city of Glasgow, the persona of Mark McManus, and the fact I was an Edinburgh public schoolboy looking in on the city with a different perspective, and we had a combination that caught on. I have a lot of favourite episodes, but one that stands out was Gingerbread, which featured a cottage in the woods, a homicidal witch and two lost children similar to Hansel and Gretel. Someone even ended up in an oven. We kept getting away with stories like that because nobody stopped us!
With such blockbuster success on screen, what brought you back to theatre?
I made the decision to come back to theatre ten years ago. TV was changing. I had a fabulous sixteen years working on Taggart, and not many writers get to enjoy so long a run. After that, I wrote a number of true-crime dramas for Yorkshire Television. Both STV and Yorkshire were like big happy families and we worked together. TV now is run more by accountants and marketing executives who make all the big decisions. I wanted to take risks – real risks with subject matter – and TV just wasn’t that medium any more.
Kids Play, like so many of your stage plays, started at the Edinburgh Fringe. As a Scotsman, how much of a source of pride is the festival to Scotland?
Believe it or not, when I lived in Edinburgh, I wasn’t even aware of the Fringe! Mind you, it was very small then. Now it’s the biggest arts festival in the world, and I feel proud to be a part of it. It’s a trade fair for drama and every art. The competition is fearsome, but taking part in it is like no other experience. Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time!
You’re also producing and directing Kids Play. How difficult is it to wear so many hats?
The first Edinburgh show I wrote and produced was Boys of the Empire, and I have a great affection for it because of that. I cut my teeth as a producer on that show, which was a comic book school satire on the occupation of Iraq, and I found myself having to look after the welfare of half a dozen young actors, sorting out every problem imaginable. I learned that, if you can keep your cast happy and contented and not ripped off, you’re halfway there. They even presented me with flowers on the last night!
I got the bug, and Boys of the Empire Productions came to be. Wearing different hats is a challenge – you just have to know when to take one off and put another one on. I learned to direct by watching and working with other directors. Every writer should have a go and not listen to those who say “theatre writers should never direct their own work”. Independent filmmakers routinely produce, direct and write their own movies, and never get told that. Looking back after ten years, it was the best decision I ever made.
This is your sixth show at Above the Stag. How important do you think it is for London to have a theatre dedicated to LGBT+ work? Would you like to see more in other parts of the country?
Above The Stag is a family, just like Scottish Television was in the old days, and that’s why the venue is so special for me. It’s a vital part now of the London theatre scene; if it didn’t exist, someone would have to create it. I’m not sure such a theatre could survive anywhere else but in a metropolis like London, though. It’s about getting the audiences. Besides, I don’t think gay drama has to be put in a ghetto.
What was your inspiration for Kids Play?
Ah, if I told you that I would give away the twists, and that is something we have been at pains not to do. After each performance in Edinburgh, we told audiences not to spoil it for the next person. The less you know about Kids Play when you go into the theatre, the better! All I will say is, it’s about a young student in need of cash who meets a married businessman online and goes to visit him in his hotel in Brighton during the conference season. We think we know pretty well what this is about. And there I will say no more.
I had the germ of an idea last festival when I met a wonderful young actor called Clement Charles who, while only a second-year student at Birmingham, was performing in a one-man show. I took him for lunch and told him my idea, he leapt at it, and we decided to work together. It turned into an amazing year for both of us.
How did the show go down in Edinburgh?
We had many members of the audience in tears after each performance. One came up to me so moved he could scarcely speak. To have that effect after a one-hour play in the rapid Edinburgh turnaround of drama is very fulfilling. Kids Play is a deeply affecting piece and works on all sorts of levels. On the third last night, we were presented with the Bobby Award, which Broadway Baby gives to what they consider the best plays on the Fringe. It came out of the blue and is a moment I will treasure forever.
In London, you have two new actors performing Kids Play. How does that change the piece?
In Edinburgh, Clement played the boy Theo, and Gareth Watkins the businessman, Greg. In London, Theo is played by Joseph Clarke and Greg by David Mullen. They have brought a totally different feel to the play and found things that weren’t in the Edinburgh version. So have I, through them. Similarly, they have been – and are – incredible to work with. And that’s the magic of theatre. An episode of Taggart looks exactly the same thirty-five years later. A play keeps evolving. Come and see, but PLEASE don’t give away the twists!
Anything else you’d like to add?
At the risk of it sounding like a shameless plug, The Boy Under The Christmas Tree is my next play and it will be performed at the King’s Head Theatre this coming festive season. So write your letters to Santa now…