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Interview with Matt Hartley writer of The Bee

18 January 2009


conducted by Carrie Klypchak Dramaturg / Literary Manager for Capital T

>Al has talked to us about his initial inspiration for the production.  Could you discuss what drew you to the project, the developmental process which you have undertaken, and a history of the play(s) in production?

When Al asked me to write something for his company Kandinsky I jumped at the chance. I’d never had a play on in Edinburgh and Al had a habit of being able to produce/write shows that Edinburgh audiences loved. In my head I was onto a winner before I’d even written the play. I think I told Al I wanted to write a play set online, as at the time I was really intrigued about writing a play that explored how the way interact and communicate has evolved over the last few years. Thankfully for me Al got excited about going back to Edinburgh and decided that producing wasn’t just enough for him, he wanted to write a play as well. So we struck upon the idea of The Bird and The Bee. The idea came from the tragic deaths that were occurring in Bridgend, a former industrial town in South Wales, where a high amount of young people had been committing suicide. Al and I wanted to explore why this might be taking place. Al and I are both very different writers so we knew that the plays by their very nature would be different but what was exciting is that we both had different angles that we wanted to be the core of our plays. I met with a journalist who had been covering the Bridgend stories and he provided more information about the way that the online community was reacting to these events. With this information I was able to feed into The Bee the ideas that I had originally been looking at. The process of writing the plays gave me the complete fear. Normally I would go away and write and hope that at some point in the future the play would get put on but in this instance a slot was already decided upon, a title and a tag line set, a cast decided upon and the opening of the festival was only two months away. Al had worked by this process before so gave the impression of being a lot calmer about the process and suggested that I write mine first and he would use mine as a reference point. After working out a few plot links between the two, which becomes clear when you see both plays, I went away and wrote a first draft in a week. I knew that the actress playing Chloe could handle whatever I threw at her so I went to town on her character and with the help of her and the director began to bang the play into shape. Al by now was writing The Bird. We then rehearsed for a couple of weeks, where I chopped and changed parts before previewing in London for a couple of nights. The previews were probably the most horrific moments of my writing career as I realised that instead of a play that resembled a speeding bullet I had created a sitting duck. It truly is amazing what sitting amongst an audience can do to your perception of your own play. Suddenly excess and indulgency became so clear and after a few frantic days of editing and re-rehearsing we opened The Bee in Edinburgh. Throughout the course of the festival I continued to make minor changes and the draft that you’re producing I completed after the festival so some of the material is completely new. We’re now looking to bring the revamped versions of the plays to London and beyond later this year.
>Al has mentioned that he believes that the tone of THE BEE feels more hopeful and the THE BIRD is less so.  Could you talk a little about your perspective regarding this viewpoint?  Do you see THE BEE as more hopeful?  If so, how?

I sincerely hope that The Bee comes across as an uplifting and hopeful journey for Chloe. Both Jacob and Chloe’s journeys throughout the play are driven by discovery, where as Jacob is continually disappointed and hurt by what he discovers Chloe is enlightened and embraced by those around her. The impetus behind The Bee was to go against the grain, traditionally any drama that revolves around suicide is treated as a tragedy. But when looking at what’s occurring in Bridgend it became apparent that a lot of the victims perceived suicide as a positive and attraction option. Online sites would suggest that people were in a better place and the affection that was lavished upon them is attractive for people who are confused, isolated and with very options a head of them. I also hope that The Bee hints at, by the end of the play, that whilst for Chloe this is an exciting moment, it is driven by being young and confused and will have tragic consequences for her family.

>Although the plays have been heavily marketed as being about “suicide,” THE BEE also seems to really highlight the tendency toward the commodity of grief in contemporary society.  Can you speak a bit about the impetus for including this aspect in the piece?

I have always felt a little embarrassed by the way people to try to claim ownership over tragedy. When I was in my first year at University a man on my course committed suicide and although we had only been at university for a few months and the person in question was a bit of recluse and barely known, the outporing of emotion in my department was huge. People who had only met him once or twice were on their phone to their friends in fits of hysteria. I felt that this was inappropriate and cheapened the person in questions death as people were determined to make it about how affected them personally. This incident and a few other tragic situations that followed compounded this idea in my mind that grief is a very valuable commodity within contemporary society.

>What have you found most challenging and most rewarding about collaborating with another playwright in putting together one theatrical viewing experience with THE BIRD and THE BEE?

It was a tough process. We both work in very different ways and you suddenly become aware of the knock on affect that decisions you make have on another piece of work. When we were in Edinburgh we didn’t have the luxury of playing the pieces together as a double bill. They were in different spaces at different times of the day. This meant that the pieces had to stand alone but intrigue an audience enough to bring them back for the other play. Because of this I don’t think we fully achieved a singular viewing experience. Obviously when we reproduce the plays we will play them to back front and because of this we will be able to rework the plays again to help create a more singular experience.

>What playwrights do you feel have been most influential in your playwriting style?  Why?

With The Bee I made a conscious decision to try and step away from the naturalistic style of plays that I traditionally write, so if I say that playwrights such as Simon Stephens, Martin Mcdonagh, Joe Penhall and Arthur Miller have been the most significant influences on my style it would seem at odds with what we see in The Bee. However, I hope that moments of McDonagh’s dark humour, Millers clarity in story telling and the investment in humanity that Penhall and Stephens are renowned for have creeped into the play.

I wanted The Bee to be more European in its style, by that I mean something that could be left open to interpretation by a director and wasn’t as dictated by choices that I had made. There’s a great tradition within British playwriting that the most important thing to happen is that the director obeys what’s on paper, my aim was for The Bee to be a skeleton that a director could impose their own ideas upon. The idea being that no production would ever be the same. A play that heavily influenced this vision was The Ugly One by Marius Von Mayyerburg which had a relentless pace and inventiveness of form which I thought would be perfect to help demonstrate the sense of confusion that is occurring in Chloe’s world . Enda Walsh’s brilliant play Chatroom was also a great marker for me in proving that staging of online conversations could be dramatic. Carly Churchill’s work was also great a source of influence on The Bee.