A drunken cycling accident inspired Tom Powell to become a playwright; an Easyjet flight to Bulgaria inspired his latest play Little Echoes, premiering this month at London’s Hope Theatre. He tells us more about other unlikely connections, observations and being wowed by others’ creative talent. Read our interview with him – and then get booking!
“He looked the same as anyone else. Any of the other ones who come in. White boys. So I didn’t clock anything different, cos there wasn’t anything different. How was I meant to know?”
Shajenthran’s brother has had acid thrown in his face and Shaj is out for revenge. Danielle’s teenage crush on a pop idol develops into an illicit relationship, ‘professional mentoring’ becoming something much darker. June has spent twenty years serving the private needs of the super-wealthy, but her new assignments confront her with the questions she’s spent a lifetime running from.
When their paths cross, it is not something any of them will forget. Filled with love, coercion, loneliness and obsession, Little Echoes takes you through the city as you’ve never seen it before. A city of deep shadows, darker intentions, and where anything can change in the night…
For Little Echoes, Pentire Productions has partnered with charity Beyond the Streets to put a spotlight on sexually exploited women, who have real-life experiences similar to the character of Danielle.
Little Echoes runs from 19 February to 9 March 2019 at the Hope Theatre, 207 Upper Street, London N1 1RL, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.45pm. Tickets are priced £14 (concessions £12). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!
Talking to… Tom Powell
Little Echoes author Tom Powell is the winner of the OTR National Radio Drama Award, Footlights’ Harry Porter Prize, and was shortlisted for the Soho Young Writers Award.
What’s your earliest theatre memory?
A friend’s parents took us to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Barbican when I was in primary school. I have this incredibly distinct memory of roses popping up from the floor, materialising from nothing. It was mesmerising – and I had no clue how they did it. That, and Puck being given a donkey’s head, were moments of transformation, especially for a slightly gormless kid. I still look for that in theatre – as a space of transformation and surprise.
When did realise you wanted to be a playwright?
In my first term at university, I cycled home drunk, fell off my bike and smashed my face. It was stupid – I was cycling around a friend who was walking – and the stitches meant that speaking was very difficult for a long period of time. That period of enforced silence and reflection was useful, not just for the blindlingly obvious realisation that alcohol and bikes are a terrible combination, but because I wrote a lot, and for the first time, wrote things for live performance. I don’t think any of those things have or will see the light of day – but the impulse and curiosity remained.
What inspired you to write Little Echoes?
I started hearing voices, character voices, on an EasyJet flight to Bulgaria. They were speaking to me really clearly, announcing themselves, and for the first time in my life, I started getting up early on holiday to write while the flat was quiet.
They’re three completely different characters – an idealistic teenager, a cynical fixer for the super wealthy, and someone who suffers a loss and becomes fixated on revenge – but it was clear their fates and struggles were completely linked. I think their journeys speak to some of the ideas that have been preoccupying me, too: how dreams are preyed upon, how compartmentalisation can be an act of complicity, and connection in an often-cruel world.
Is it correct that the play is written as three interwoven monologues?
Yes, though it’s slightly more than that: those monologues contain other voices and sometimes scenes, voiced by the other characters, and the form changes towards the end. I think this allows the wider world around each character to be presented in quite a rich and varied way.
The form appeals to me as an arresting way to see the inner and outer struggles of three very different characters as they go on vast and different journeys, and to see how their choices sometimes mirror each other. For example, both Shajenthran and Danielle tell a spontaneous lie early on in the play, which changes the direction of their lives, as they try to live up to it.
Also, monologues allow a character to narrate their personal experience of an event: there are a number of things that I think are fascinating to explore psychologically in this way, but I wouldn’t want to see depicted literally on stage.
How do you feel about teaming up with Beyond the Streets?
I’m very glad: Beyond the Streets works towards a world where people are free from sexual exploitation, and it does so by partnering with women and providing direct support, by developing the number and quality of projects that work with women in that context, and by changing attitudes around issues of sexual exploitation.
I think their work speaks for itself, and hopefully, we can help amplify their message. Challenging shame and stigma and creating understanding around the routes into sexual exploitation are things I hope resonates in the play, too. I’m proud we’ve partnered with them and will be fundraising for them throughout the run.
Tell us about Little Echoes’ cast & creative team.
Whenever I’m part of running auditions, I’m overwhelmed by how much talent there is in the industry. It’s a massive delight to be working with Mikhael DeVille, Ciara Pouncett and Maisie Preston, who blew us away in the audition room and keep surprising and delighting us in rehearsal.
The whole team is great and Stephen Bailey and Gwenan Bain (director and assistant director), Jessica Staton (designer), Chris McDonnell (lighting designer), and David Denyer (composer) are putting something together that evokes the city as you’ve never seen it before. I like quietly pootling away at the back of rehearsals: I’m increasingly aware of how light and sound can sculpt a show, and how silence can define a moment.
What have you seen recently that really grabbed you? Any other recommendations?
Late to it, but I loved Summer and Smoke – not just for Patsy Ferran’s electric performance. I loved the vividness with which you could feel those characters trapped in themselves, and trapped in the social expectations of them. Also The Hoes at Hampstead Theatre – Ifeyinwa Frederick’s writing was jaw-droppingly suave. Recommendations? I’m so glad that Sweat and Emilia are transferring because I am desperate to see them. I’ve read drafts of Wolfie that’s coming up at 503 and it’s going to be special.
In Little Echoes, Mikhail Deville stars as Shajenthran, Maisie Preston as Danielle and Ciara Pouncett as June. Laura Furner produces for Pentire Street Productions.