Q&A | Janice Hallett | Playwright

To get you ready for our February Shorts we’ve been talking to all the writers about their plays and working as a playwright.

We talk to Janice Hallett about her play Loot; a farcical tale inspired by the London riots, about three looters who get away with far more than they bargained for.

What prompted you to write Loot?
I was fascinated by scenes of opportunistic looting during the London riots of 2011 especially, as it emerged later, by people who were otherwise ordinary, law-abiding citizens. I wondered whether, given the opportunity, I might behave the same way myself… then it occurred to me that, given my luck, I would loot something dreadful instead of expensive electronic equipment. Loot came from that sense of ‘what if?’ At the same time I love farce as a dramatic tradition, but it can seem old-fashioned to contemporary audiences. Loot felt like a good opportunity to update it, especially as the play shares a couple of parallels with Joe Orton’s 1965 farce of the same title.

What do you think the audience will like about it?
I hope people will find it funny! Laughing at something helps dispel fear of it, and that’s an important part of moving on from the sort of social unrest we saw that summer. I also hope the audience will recognise the characters, put themselves in the same situation and be swept away by the breakneck speed of the drama. But laughing is the main thing!

How do you hope the piece will develop through the rehearsal process and its performance in Descent?
I hope the rehearsal process will hone the pace and timing – two elements of farce that must be spot on for the narrative to work. I also hope to receive feedback from the actors, director and producers that will flag up anything an audience might not understand. Something can be crystal clear when you write and read the script, but simply won’t come across once the scene is staged. I will also want to know if a joke isn’t funny – if the cast and crew aren’t laughing, no one else will. I also hope to develop the script in line with the performance space at the Cockpit Theatre.

How did you get into writing?
I’ve always been writing, so never had a eureka moment, or enormous change of career. I took an English degree at UCL, then worked in commercial publishing as a journalist and editor, before taking an MA in screenwriting at Royal Holloway. I’ve been writing screenplays and play scripts ever since.

Which writers inspire you?
So many writers inspire me! Shakespeare of course. Alan Ayckbourn for the way he plays with dramatic structure. Mike Leigh for his use of performance to shape character and story. King of farce Ray Cooney. Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, Joe Orton…

What’s your favourite play?
This is a hard question. My favourite play of all time. Hmmm. I’m going to say Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. It’s funny, dark and gruesome… hopefully like Loot!

Loot will be performed as part of Descent Shorts on the 7th February at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone. More info

Look out on Friday for Janice’s Playella Vanishing Act.

About Janice
Janice Hallett’s most recent work includes co-writing the feature film Retreat, a psychological thriller starring Thandie Newton, Cillian Murphy and Jamie Bell. She continues to collaborate with its director Carl Tibbetts on various film projects. Meanwhile, she has written and directed two full-length stage plays: the macabre farce Bump in the Night and It’s My Manor, a satire about reality TV (co-written with Sharon Exelby). She is delighted to be a Descent writer with Loot.

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