Q&A | Joe White | 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.

This week we’re speaking to Joe White about Satellites, his blackly comic take on love, fate and boy meets girl. 

What prompted you to write Satellites?
Satellites started as a monologue, which I wrote for a friend’s drama school showcase – he was always very good at the whole charming English buffoon thing. But from there, I started to think about turning something quite nice and awkward and twee and romantic into something unexpectedly dark and subversive – so then the piece became about playing with expectations of love and lust and what it means to meet someone and really connect, and what happens if you can fake it. It’s about whether we can trust our instincts or whether people are just sometimes good at acting them. And then, I guess, after all that, it is about real love as well.

What do you think the audience will like about it?
Along with many writers at the moment, I am a tad obsessed with space, the universe and the terrifying vastness of everything, but I hope that Satellites grounds it all a bit, kind of like a huge zoom in from silent, soulless space onto this microscopic pub garden where two people are meeting. And I think there’s hope in that – in finding something to relate to and locating yourself in it all. So I hope people enjoy the couple.

How do you hope the piece will develop through the rehearsal process and its performance in Descent?
The play is very much in the air at the moment, and I can’t wait to see the two central actors play around with the sparks between these characters. Their chemistry is key to the piece, and I think that it is only until it gets in the rehearsal room that the play can revel in what is love at first sight, or sound, or whatever, and what is acted. I like to write concealed characters – actors playing characters acting – and I hope to see this coaxed out in performance.

How did you get into writing?
I’ve been writing plays since I was very young, bribing friends with Twix and cheese-strings to come round my house and put on these shoddy little pieces for their poor mums and dads when they came to pick them up. Needless to say, I got a reputation as a tyrant and I lost a lot of friends – not that I cared, they were completely unprofessional and their grasp of semiotics was somewhat laughable. After that, I did little bits at University, and, in one of the weirdest, hardest months of my life, I co-wrote a farce for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, after the rights to a production I was due to direct were suddenly denied. This was for a cast of thirteen actors, and it had to be funny, and it had to be put together in three weeks. After we got away with that one and the play went on to London and then America, I studied Playwriting for a year under Steve Waters, who has had a huge influence on me and my writing, before I moved to London and writing on courses at the Lyric and the Royal Court.

Which writers inspire you?
Many of the writers that I’ve met and spoken to have been incredibly encouraging and enthusiastic, so I have been mostly inspired  directly, through the supportive words of Steve Waters, Simon Stephens, Leo Butler, Duncan MacMillan and Ella Hickson. Those who have inspired me with words on the page are Tennessee Williams, Bryony Lavery, Brian Friel and, most of all, Martin McDonagh, who never ceases to excite. Obviously Shakespeare’s pretty good too, but saying that he inspires me is like a fan girl crush – the most popular unrequited love.

What’s your favourite play and why?
In production, I don’t know if I’ve seen anything more effective than Mark Rylance in Jerusalem, but I think my favourite play has to be Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. I directed both parts whilst at University, after working it all out for three years, and it’s wonderful, swirling clash of dreams and politics never ceased to amaze me. In my opinion, Roy Cohn is as good as any Shakespearean tyrant, as flawed and charismatic as any of the kings, and the scenes surrounding his death are some of the best ever committed to the stage. Kushner says that the writer has to respect every single word – that every word has to fight to deserve its place in the play – which I always thought sounded very tough, but Angels in America is living proof that it can and should be prescribed to. Every single line, every single word in the play is completely sublime, cleverly selected and irreplaceably perfect. I urge everyone to read it, if you haven’t already. Then watch Al Pacino huff and puff and snarl his way through the HBO version.

Satellites 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 Joe’s Playella Motorway.

About Joe
After studying Playwriting at the University of Birmingham, Joe was accepted onto the Royal Court Young Writer’s Programme in 2012 and, subsequently, the Court Studio Group in 2013. He has developed pieces at the Royal Court Studio, the Young Vic Theatre, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He is currently developing a play for BBC Radio 4, working with the Lyric Hammersmith on their Generation X productions and has recently been accepted on to the Birmingham REP Foundry 2013 as one of six new writers in residence. Satellites is one of his first ever shorts.

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