Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Land of Our Fathers - preview

BY his own admission, a play about a group of miners who get trapped down a pit may not sound a "barrel of laughs" but for playwright Chris Urch it has proved to be a successful story.
Land Of Our Fathers is his first full length play and had its world premiere at Battersea’s Theatre503 in September last year. It proved to be such a hit, that a year later, it is transferring to the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall.
Set on the eve of Margaret Thatcher's 1979 election victory, the story is that of four men, trapped deep underground and their desperate attempts over a period of two weeks to escape.
For Chris the success of the play was the culmination of several years of hard work after leaving drama school.
"I'd written four shorts before but this was my debut full length play so it's pretty special to have it transferred to the West End," he says.
"I wasn't sure how it would be received because it doesn't sound that interesting as a subject but Paul [Robinson, artistic director at Theatre503] and the audiences really took to it which was great and so I'm over the moon."
The play itself came together after a long period of research.
"In 2012 I was chosen as one of five writers to be on Theatre503's 503 Five, an 18-month residency where we each had to write a play," says Chris.
"I'm orignally from a former Somerset mining town as I was thinking of ideas my parents told me about a harrowing incident in the town's mine in the 1890s.
"I read up on it and that set the seed. Then I went to a mining museum run by ex miners who talked about their experiences and it went from there.
"I was really lucky because they were incredibly helpful especially with all the characterisation and technical details."
But he says it was the faith and confidence of the Theatre503 team which has been instrumental in his subsequent success.
"Paul and the team were great because of the help and support they gave me throughout the process," he says. "They made it so much easier and less stressful!"
Indeed it is this support structure that is a key part of Theatre503's aims to encourage and promote new writers.
The Latchmere Road theatre has built a strong reputation for staging plays by first timers, launching the careers of playwrights such as Dennis Kelly, Phil Porter and current Bruntwood Prize winner Anna Jordan.
“We are known for taking risks on new writers and we have a loyal audience who are always up for seeing something new so we are very lucky," says artistic director Paul Robinson.
"Writing a play is difficult especially in terms of its structures and there are not enough opportunities for new writers to get their work on stage.
"That's why programmes such as 503 Five and Rapid Write Response - where we find, nurture and develop new writers - are important.
"It's how we found Chris and we've been able to build a relationship with him since then.
"To see his play debut here and then go to the West End is fantastic and we are thrilled."

Land Of Our Fathers is on at Trafalgar Studio 2, Whitehall from September 3 until October 4. Tickets cost from £15. Call the box office on 0844 871 7632.

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