“You’ve just gotta throw yourself into stuff”
With the New Writers’ Festival drawing near, I sat down and spoke with Sebastião Marques Lopes about his play, You Didn’t Have To, his writing inspirations, and the pressures of putting on your own work.
- Let’s start with something basic. Summarise the play for us!
So it’s about two characters that were in a relationship which has broken up and they have to clear out their flat. The relationship – how do I say this? It just covers the rise and fall of the relationship and the compulsions and obsessions that stop us fully relating and committing to another person. These are portrayed by the presence of Greek Gods (Dionysus and Ananke) which symbolise ideas I think are key to the play: free will vs. determinism. This is something I’ve been obsessing about.
I often write very gimmick-y plays, in a sense, and I wanted to do a more personal, relationship-development play, and I knew I wanted it to start with a break-up and for there to be a strong philosophical element.
I wanted to try out comedy, and I don’t think I am that funny when I write, but I wanted to add a comedic character [played by Tom Spencer] so you have these three elements of the relationship, the Gods, and a hilarious character.
- Where did the idea for this play come from?
I wish I had a precise answer! I wrote the first eight pages about three years ago and after that I didn’t look at it at all, and I mean at ALL. All I had was a broken-up couple who needed to move out. Then this year I looked at the script again and wondered how to make it more interesting. That’s when I started thinking about free will and the Gods and that sort of stuff which I added to it.
- How would you describe your writing process?
I always try and do something different with both the style of a play and its process each time I write. Usually I have a basic idea or character or scenario and I just go with it and write in excess. But for this play, I did a lot of creative writing exercises, figuring out characters and where the story went before getting it down on paper.
During rehearsals I am always changing lines there and then – I have no sympathy for my actors. If it needs changing five days before the show then it will be changed; I’m precious about a lot of the meaning and how certain things should be said or how emotions should be conveyed. But I am the freest person in terms of dialogue and sentence formation. I often challenge the actors and ask them “how can we make this sentence engaging and meaningful?” and if anything sounds cliché I’ll eradicate that, unless it’s purposely written that way, of course. With English as my second language colloquialisms and phrases may get changed because what I’ve written doesn’t sound as natural coming from the actors.
I’m a sucker for the written word, I’m obsessed with text and where it goes. I’m obsessed with sentence length, rhythm, and flow, and natural repetition and colloquial phrases.
- What’s your rehearsal period like?
My process is very exhaustive and repetitive as we do things over and over again. I never want the actor to not know what they’re doing on stage- that’s a very scary thing. You need to be solid enough and know what you’re doing so that when the show comes around you can have those moments of unconscious inspiration. I always want input from the actors to make it better because we are doing it together and I want everyone to be having fun.
- You’ve written plays performed for QMTC before [‘Billy Bard’ and ‘Shelved’, both in 2016] which have been well-received. How does that impact you?
Hmm. All I want is for the actors involved, and myself, to be proud of our work. If you just focus on making the work as solid as possible and being happy with the thing overall then you’re much less scared – you’ve just gotta throw yourself into it.
- Which writers do you really enjoy or inspire you?
Tennessee Williams, in my opinion, is the greatest playwright of all time. It’s the magic of the written word and theatrical dialogue, it’s the coherence of characters and the way he composes sentences. Look at Streetcar, for example, there’s an evolution of character and coherence of speech and emotional intent. There’s a rhythm in his writing. Every time I see a Williams play I have to cry. Tennessee Williams encapsulates everything I want which is pure content and emotions portrayed through characters’ relationships and I try and put that in my work.
There are different authors I pick up from, like Berkoff’s use of language and playing around with words – Beckett in a sense as well. It’s about making language more engaging – not just naturalism or verse but maybe making up words or using sign language. I like being eclectic.
‘You Didn’t Have To’ is being performed Friday 3rd March at 8pm in the Pinter Studio.The cast consists of Aidan Parsons, Natalie Galdamez, Chrisanthi Liviadotis, Huw Landauer, and Tom Spencer. Tickets can be booked now at www.qmtc.co.uk