Playwright Hannah Khalil tackles 10 Questions for 10 Years with real thoughtfulness, though I might need to take her to see Wicked now…
Where were you 10 years ago?
In 2009 I was living in London and preparing for my first full production which was Plan D at the Tristan Bates. I had failed to get ACE funding but had raised money elsewhere. I was self producing, not getting paid and very very scared about the scrutiny, the financial risk and my mental health. It was tough but I’m so proud of that production. It started many of the collaborations I expect to be lifelong for me with actors and creative team.
Best show you’ve seen in the last 10 years?
That is a ridiculous question! The Great Tamer by Dmitris Papaioannou certainly had a profound effect on me when I saw it at the Avignon Festival two years ago. It’s billed as dance but it is pure theatre magic. I loved it so much I took my partner to see it in Paris and then went again when it came to Sadler’s Wells. Another highlight for me was Black Lives Black Words at the Bush theatre in 2017 in particular Mojisola Adebayo’s The Interrogation of Sandra Bland which was performed by a chorus of women of colour and was so moving and important. Another that comes to mind is Lally the Scutt, an incredible play by Abbie Spallen produced by Tinderbox at the Mac in Belfast. A towering, devastating work of satire and humour that failed to gain the recognition it deserved.
What has been your professional highlight of the last 10 years?
There have been many but the one that stays with me is watching a performance of my play Scenes from 68* Years at the Arcola in preview and realising that I wasn’t worried about what the reviewers would say – indeed anyone – because this was a production that I was so so happy with – that really got to the heart of what I was reaching for when I wrote it. That is a wonderful feeling for a writer.
Top flavour of interval ice-cream?
Nope – I don’t do ice cream at the theatre– it’s interval wine, always wine, and to be frank most London theatres could do with upping their game on that front. I’d very happy to be a consultant wine taster for any that feel they need one.
What show do you wish theatres would give a rest for a few years?
Oh crikey loads. I think there should be a rule that plays can’t be done more than once say every three years and that there should be a tax for any theatres who break that rule – that way we’d get more unusual plays and theatres would be forced to think harder about the plays they produce. I still like the idea of the dead writers levy too (that there should be a tax on plays that are produced by dead writers in the same way there is a royalty due to living ones). That would make producing old plays less appealing for theatres!
Name someone who you think is a really underappreciated talent (in the world of theatre)?
Too many to name – there are many unsung heroes – often those behind the scenes like dramaturgs and designers and producers and composers and stage managers. But I’d like to single out Chris White who directed my plays Plan D and Scenes from 68* Years. Full disclosure – he’s my husband but he is also my long term collaborator – he’s read everything I’ve ever written and helped me in so many practical ways with my writing. And not just me – many playwrights over the last decade have benefited from working with him. What’s so special is he’s able to get to the heart of what a writer wants to say – and also how they want to say it and enable that process very gently without ironing out a writer’s special idiosyncrasies. Any writer who gets the chance to work with him as a director or dramaturg is very lucky.
Elphaba or Glinda?
I had to google this so I shouldn’t really vote. I do love a musical but I’m more old school MGM like Lullaby of Broadway or Singin’ in the Rain.
What is one thing that you think would help theatre survive and/or thrive the next ten years?
More funding and a general recognition of the value of theatre. Also more trust in women writers and writers of colour.
Which is your favourite theatre?
That’s too hard! There’s a special place in my heart for The Royal Court where I started writing with the Young Writers Programme, The Bush – whose decision to include me in Project 2036 was a turning point in my career and the Swan at the RSC where my play A Museum in Baghdad opens this autumn. Also the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe and the Lyceum in Edinburgh, which are arguably two of the most beautiful theatres in the world.
Can you say anything about what’s to come for you, (in the next ten years or otherwise)?
I’m happily busy at the moment: I’m working on a new play for BBC Radio 4, I’m in pre-production for my play at the RSC this autumn and I’m working on a play for the Globe. There’s also plans for a Tunisian production (with British Council support) of Scenes from 71* Years in Tunis and the Nabeul region in the autumn which is very exciting. After that – who knows … perhaps back to the day job. Such is the writer’s life. But one day – in the distant future – I think I’d like to put my money where my mouth is and run a theatre… let’s see!