Fear, fame and fortune – Geoff Thompson discusses his new Enemy-inspired play, We’ll Live and Die in These Towns
After stunning Midlands audiences with his powerful one-man play Fragile in 2012, acclaimed Coventry playwright Geoff Thompson returns to the Belgrade Theatre this month with his gritty new musical drama, We’ll Live and Die in These Towns.
Featuring the songs from The Enemy’s number one debut album, the show sees the band’s former frontman, Tom Clarke, make his theatrical debut as musical director.
It tells the story of a young rock musician on the cusp of stardom, who suffers a crisis of confidence just hours before a major homecoming gig. Unable to persuade him to perform, his manager sends him off into the city to revisit his past and make decisions about his future.
In between rehearsals for the show and working on a forthcoming feature film, Romans (set to star Orlando Bloom), Geoff took some time out to tell us more about his inspirations for the production.
“I’m interested in the fact that most people go to their grave with their best song still in them, because they’re afraid to step over that line of fear,” he explains. “I also wanted to talk about the crisis a person goes through when he goes from working in a shop selling tellies or sweeping floors in a factory to suddenly being on Richard and Judy or in The NME, which is what happened to me as well as to Tom.”
“There’s this tremendous feeling of having broken out and doing great stuff, but at the same time there’s a sense of betrayal. ‘I’ve left my friends behind and I’m telling their stories – am I stealing their stories? Am I selling out? There’s a guy in the audience whose machine I was sweeping round last week and now he’s paying a ticket price to see me.’ It creates a real dissonance.
“I wanted to capture that dissonance and take the character on a journey to show that, actually, he’s not betraying anybody – he’s doing the work of many. He’s going out as a representative of the community that he loves and he’s telling their stories in the only way possible – from the heart.”
While the show itself may be set in the present day, the inspiration for the story dates back much further – around 5000 years ago, in fact, with the main character, Argy, taking his name from a figure in Hindu scripture.
“I knew that the lyrics and songs were very powerful so I needed a story that was equally powerful. I was very attracted to the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures, and particularly the story of Arjuna Pandava, who is just about to go into battle and win back his kingdom when he loses his courage.
“I first encountered the story after I was working in Edinburgh one day when a guy came up to me and handed me a leaflet. At the time I was in a very painful place – I suffered from depression when I was younger – and on the leaflet was an extract from the Bhagavad Gita, part of the Vedas, which was all about fear and self-sovereignty and overcoming perceptions.
“It sounded very interesting so I bought the book to read and I thought, even though this is a 5000-year-old story, it’s still current today. Most of my friends who aren’t achieving what they want to achieve aren’t doing it because they’re afraid. I’ve seen people kill themselves rather than challenge a cultural perception or belief.
“In the story, when Arjuna falls into fear, Lord Krishna delivers a discourse called the Gita to realign him back to his purpose. In this play, we have Argy’s manager who we call the Ambassador, who tries to tell him that his fears aren’t real, and sends him off on this journey to see if he can find a solution to his problems.”
By reimagining Arjuna’s journey in a contemporary setting, Geoff hopes that We’ll Live and Die in These Towns will work as an “intercessionary piece” that will resonate with the fears and concerns of audiences today.
“There’s a lot of fear and negativity in the world, but this is about joy and about love. It’s saying that fear only exists because there’s a belief that love is missing. My dream is that maybe it will give audiences a bit of balm or direct them to somewhere more positive.”