York Drama Society has been performing Our Writer at this year’s Fringe, an original absurdist work from young playwright Sam Essame. Sam and I sat down together for a quick chat about absurdist theatre, great playwrights, and Tarantino’s disposition towards violence.
Tell me a bit about yourself. How old are you, where are you from?
I’m twenty, born in London but grew up in Singapore. My parents got bored of England and thought “Let’s go a third of the way around the world to an island no one’s ever heard of.” And at I’ve been at York University for the past two years doing writing and performance.
How did you get started with writing, as a playwright?
I read Endgame by Samuel Beckett on the bus home after school one day when I was about seventeen, and I think started doing it then. Cause I’d been acting in school plays and outside of school plays from about twelve onwards. I think I decided I was gonna write when I was five and did it from then onwards, but playwriting started when I was about seventeen after reading Endgame. And I’m sure you can tell that, Endgame, very absurdist, a lot of it then influenced Our Writer.
Would you call Beckett one of your main influences?
With this play, yes.
Who are some of your broader influences as a writer?
Definitely Martin McDonagh, I think he’s an absolute genius. Certainly Peter Shaffer as well, they spring to mind.
This is a very absurdist, surrealist play. Would you consider that to be your style as a playwright? Do you have a style?
I don’t think I have a style as of yet, as I’ve only finished one play, which is ironically about unfinished plays. I think I’m a bit young and a bit inexperienced to have my own style. People have picked up on things that I do that are particular to me, people say I’m a bit of a dick as a writer, cause I tend to do things that are harsh to my characters and audiences. So if there were to be a style it’d be… not brutality, that sounds like it’s aggressive in-your-face theatre, which it isn’t. It’s more looking at things from a bleaker point of view.
What was the writing process of this play like, how did it come about?
It started when I was given a writing assignment for a script writing seminar. Write a page and a half of an idea in a week’s time, and I wrote the first few lines just with an idea that I plucked out of my arse because I had to hand something in the next day. After a few lines I hated it, I had a bit of a diva moment like “You can’t just demand writing from me like that,” but then, when I had to submit something for that module, I thought “Well no, I quite like this idea, let’s pursue this a little bit.” I think I was on a plane and I wrote about a third of it. It only took a couple of weeks to write, because once I’d started it I knew exactly what I wanted it to be. There wasn’t much indecision, there wasn’t much sitting around or procrastinating because I always knew what I wanted it to be. And since then it’s changed a fair bit, but I always knew it’s gonna be a comedy, it was gonna be the two of them, and I knew what style I was gonna do and what effect I wanted it to have.
How long has it been in development? From then to putting it up for the first time.
Probably about a year and three months. We first staged it in York in October, and that was just a couple of friends with scripts on stage in front of a couple other friends of ours, it wasn’t anything big. And then I rewrote it again for this, and after this I’ll probably rewrite it again to get it closer to what I want it to be.
As far as your writing influences go, do you find there are specific things you take from certain writers?
I certainly learn things. I think McDonagh for example, and Tarantino as well, have a habit of just killing people out of nowhere. Something abrupt and life-changing happens in a split second. You think of in Pulp Fiction where Vince accidentally shoots Marvin in the face. It changes everything and its completely out of nowhere, completely random. I’ve definitely started working that into things, because I think that’s just realistic. It’s also entertaining, it’s just fun to do. Partly because you can sit there and watch your audience, and you can know that you’re fucking them around.
What are you gonna dow with this play next?
It’ll definitely continue on. Whether it’ll be up at the Edinburgh Fringe in the future, I don’t know, but I wrote it to be used at Fringes. It’s so little set and can be adapted to pretty much any space whatsoever. So hopefully we’ll be at further Fringes, and if any company wants to take it and put it up it’d be fantastic. I definitely wanna make something of it.
Our Writer ran at C Venues C Nova until August 20th.