By David Hennessy
Thrasher, the play written by acclaimed Manchester based Irish playwright Conor McKee and directed by MEN Award winning director Wyllie Longmore, comes to The Courtyard in London this weekend May 17 and 18. A beautifully sharp tale of betrayal and lost innocence, Thrasher sold out all dates in advances of its 2011 tour of The Royal Exchange, Manchester and Camden People’s Theatre, London. It comes to London this time after being well received in Sheffield, Leeds and a number of other UK venues.
Playwright Conor Mckee, originally from Omagh and now based in Manchester, told The Irish World how pleased he has been with the response to the play: “It’s been generally great. It’s always a bit difficult going out of your hometown because you don’t know the people, you don’t have the personal connections: Everyone can’t invite friends along. It’s always a bit difficult and a bit scary. In the run up to the show, you’re just sitting there going: ‘Nobody’s going to show up’. Generally all the tickets are bought in the last couple of days. It can be quite nerve racking but then on the night it’s great.”
The play documents a night in the lives of six characters with a fast paced storyline that has both genuine warmth and pitch dark humour. Conor reveals his writing process: “I have a line of dialogue going round in my head and I try to work out who is saying that line of dialogue, who are they were saying to and just follow the two characters on which gave me five minute, ten minute, twenty minute plays and then start weaving them together. That started the process. From having a great number of characters, I whittled it down to six and found the point at which their lives are intersecting and brought that all together over one night. It was just an exploration of a lot of things that were happening around me and ideas I was having and bringing it together into one play.
“I tend to like those sorts of things (multi-plot plays/films). You’ve got to invest in each character and give each character a storyline and from that, you end up following the six characters. I do like to follow groups of people and weave stories together.”
Conor was the 2009-10 Tinderbox writer on attachment and his previous play Burnt showcased at Contact, Manchester and toured nationally to warm reception. With Burnt set in a remote location and about a group of friends re-examining themselves and each other, was it the desire to do something different from his last project that fuelled the idea for Thrasher, which takes place all over Manchester? “Funny enough, Thrasher was mostly written before Burnt. We had done a lot of development on Thrasher where the next step was to put a play on. One of our actors was about halfway through a long contract with a TV company. It felt right to go and develop Burnt next and after that did well, sold out two weeks in Manchester, we took it on tour immediately after.”
The actor Conor refers to is Darren Langford who played Spencer Gray in Hollyoaks from 2008 to 2010: “He had been involved with the play for a while and it just made sense with the combination of factors to hold on a little bit, and it was only a little bit to hold on for Darren so it felt like we were being given a message from the forces of theatre.”
How would Conor feel about any people coming down due to Darren’s familiarity from his TV role? “I’ll be thankful to whatever gets them down to watch it. Hopefully we’ll put on an interesting enough show to make them take notice of the new character. All six of the actors are absolutely great in the show. If people want to come down for whatever reason, that’s fantastic and we’ll give them a good night out.”
Wyllie Longmore has been at the helm of both Burnt and Thrasher. An experienced actor and director, Longmore won a Manchester Evening News Award for Best Actor in 1995 for his work My Children! My Africa! Is this a working relationship Conor is keen to continue? “Yeah, absolutely. When I first did the 24-7 Theatre Festival years ago, I had a trilogy of short plays (After the Blood Rush) and the feedback was that the first play was weaker than the other two and I thought so as well. So I asked ‘who wrote that comment?’ and ‘Could I ask if they had any more advice?’ They put me in touch with Wyllie. We talked and we developed that first play until it was as strong as the other two. Then gradually, he assumed a mentor’s role for a while and then became a director that I work with and I would love to continue working with him for as long as I can.
“There’s another play we’re working on which has got the working title Home so we’re hoping to get that up and running soon. I think it’s got stuff in common with Thrasher and with Burnt. It’s about human relationships, it’s about togetherness versus loneliness and it’s about being pushed to the extremes of yourself and emotion by the situation you find yourself in.”
Thrasher can be seen at The Courtyard, London N1 6EU on May 17 and 18. For more information or to buy tickets, go to: http://www.thecourtyard.org.uk/. Tickets are £12, concessions £8. There is a group booking discount if buying more than eight tickets online, with tickets £6.
For more information about Conor, go to: http://www.conormckee.com/.