Tristan Bates Theatre
Interview with Heather Simpkin
Heather Simpkin discusses her psychological drama Locked Up running at the Tristan Bates Theatre from 10th – 28th July. Locked Up marks Heather’s professional London début as a powerful, bold new playwright.
What first attracted you to working in the theatre?
I learned as a young girl that there is nothing quite like that moment just before the performance of a live show when the lights dim and the audience hushes. The excitement is palpable. There is no other medium where you get that sense of expectancy and I am quite addicted to it!
We hear the première of your new play ‘Locked Up’ runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre in July. What’s it about?
It’s tough enough in ordinary life to work out who you can trust and who you can’t, but when you are transported to unfamiliar and frightening surroundings, it is nearly impossible. Two men who are both at the mercy of the government and the shady powers of MI5, are thrown together in a confined space with very little information about what their fate might be. Both their stories are gradually revealed as they warily circle each other trying to discern lies from deceit whilst they can only guess at their chances of eventual freedom. This is a tight psychological thriller set in the present day and asks questions about how the western world might cope with terrorism and whistleblowing behind closed doors. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the audience guessing who to believe.
What most interested you to write this piece?
Like all writers, I have my favourite themes, and the issues of trust and betrayal fascinate me. How do compulsive liars fool you so completely? We think we know people and then we find out that everything they have said – with passion and sincerity and emotion – was fabricated all along. What a great theme for actors on a stage to portray – the ability to fool the people around you into believing everything that you say. There’s a wonderful irony to that.
What do you think audiences will take away with them?
I want them to be buzzing over the twists and turns; to be discussing who they believed and why at different points in the play. Did they get taken in or did they know who to really trust from the start? Then, in a wider sense to start questioning what they are told, read and hear in today’s manipulated society.
Have you seen any productions recently that influence your work?
I saw the brilliant Amadeus at the National Theatre a few weeks ago. Peter Shaffer is an extraordinary playwright with the ability to communicate emotions and feelings and really show what is going on in the minds of his characters. I am currently writing a play about Shakespeare and Francis Bacon and I was hoping a bit of his genius would rub off on me!
If you could pick any one person or theatre company to work with on your next project, who/which would it be?
That is an impossible question for me to answer as I get so enthusiastic about all the amazing theatre companies out there. I am passionate about encouraging new work and love the dedication and enthusiasm of all the small companies that find a way in this competitive world to get their work in front of an audience – of any size. So, anyone with a good attitude basically!
Are there any actors/actresses you would like to write a play for?
I would be pretty happy if Mark Rylance wanted to play Francis Bacon in my next play! Others I greatly admire include Lucian Msamati and Dame Helen Mirren. I do love to have an actor in mind before I start writing a piece as I find it really helps me visualise as I go.
What do you love most about Off West End productions and spaces like the Tristan Bates Theatre?
Off West End is exciting, vibrant, and daring. I love the variety and the imagination across the board. It is an utter privilege to have a play running at the Tristan Bates Theatre alongside so many other extraordinarily talented production companies and artists.
Can you tell our readers about the other projects you are working on?
I have two plays that I am currently working on – one is called ‘The Grumpy Prince’ which is a modern fairy tale for adults and children alike. The other is a yet to be named historical piece set in Elizabethan times about the scandal and, yes, my favourite theme – deceit – around the monarchy and theatre and political machinations of the time. We just can’t carry on believing everything we are told without question!
Thanks Heather for talking to Theatre South East today.
Tristan Bates Theatre
Tuesday 10th – Saturday 28th July
Evenings: 19.45pm, Saturday matinées: 14.30pm
Running Time: 1 hour 10 minutes (no interval).
Tickets: £15 (£12.50 concessions)
Online Bookings: https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/locked-up
Box office: 020 3841 6600
Address: Tristan Bates Theatre, 1a Tower Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9NP
The Tristan Bates Theatre is fully wheelchair accessible