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Laura Lindsay talks to Tom Wicker about secrets, lies and holding up a mirror to audiences with HIDDEN

Hidden delves into the lives of six young people living in the city sprawl. It reveals an intriguing puzzle of how their paths interweave and unravel in a modern urban world.

This darkly witty study of modern manners is the debut play from Laura Lindsay and Peter Carruthers, who are also performing in it. Following a critically acclaimed run at Underbelly at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Hidden is touring venues around the UK. It will be stopping at The Cockpit, London, from 8 to 12 April.

The play is produced by Black Toffee, a company Lindsay formed in 2011 with the aim of producing high quality theatre which reflects modern society. I spoke to her about evolving as a writer, making serious points through humour and the importance of professional support and encouragement.

How did Hidden come about?

Because I wanted a monologue for auditions. I always found it difficult to find a monologue I really connected with and which suited me, and I knew I wanted something vaguely comedic. So I started writing the monologue that is now Cara's in Hidden and entered it into a competition. I came second – gutted! – but it encouraged me that the piece had potential. I entered another monologue competition and won that one. Afterwards, someone came up to me and asked if I was considering turning it into a full length piece, which was a really nice surprise. It was great to have someone encourage me as a writer as well as an actor.

At what point did it become a multi-character play?

When I sat down and started to think about it, I realised that the single character I’d written couldn’t carry a full piece. So I started creating other characters, all around the theme of hiding something, something that they didn’t portray to the rest of the world, whether it be a fear, an anxiety or a fantasy. Then I hit a bit of a block – I felt the play was missing something by only being a one-person show.

Is that how Peter Carruthers came to be involved?

Yes. We went to the same drama school and discovered a mutual love of new writing and a shared dark sense of humour. We've been close friends ever since, and have always taken an active interest in each other's work. When I spoke to him about the block I'd come up against, he said, ‘Well, do you want to collaborate on it?’ He then started writing some characters for himself. We ended up with four or five each and kicked the script back and forth between us, editing or suggesting changes. We eventually pared it down to three characters each. Then we looked at trying to pair them up, which actually happened quite naturally because of their work situation, personality type and, ultimately, what was the most dramatically interesting juxtaposition of secrets. We first performed it in Preston, and later, when we were confident it worked, we braved our home crowd in Manchester!

Has it changed much since then?

When we did it in Manchester, an experienced writer – Martin Jameson – came to see it, really liked it and advised us in terms of the structure and drawing out some of the themes. It was really useful to have his dramaturgical advice on developing the script as we are both first-time writers. We strengthened the connections between the characters so they were all living in the same world.

Following Manchester, we were picked up for the Re:Play Festival at the Lowry, which was an excellent platform for the work to be seen by a wider audience. Kevin Jamieson of Harrogate Theatre came to see the show at The Lowry and was so impressed that he agreed to co-produce Hidden and has made Black Toffee (the company I set up to produce Hidden) an Associate Artist. The play has been on quite a significant journey from that initial monologue!

Why do you think it has so chimed with people?

Because of its accessibility, I think. It’s very much an everyman play and people will be able to associate with one or more of the characters. It taps into the extraordinary nature of everyday life. And because it’s a comedy it can draw in a wider audience. That’s what’s really pleased us – people who wouldn’t ordinarily go to the theatre have been coming to see it and then commenting: ‘I didn’t think I could enjoy theatre, but now I might come again.’

Humour as a good gateway through which to discuss serious issues?

Yes. I think that if you’re not within the realm of theatre, if you don’t go regularly, there’s sometimes a sense of, ‘Oh I won’t go, I won’t get it, it’ll all be very highbrow.’ And I don’t think theatre should be like that. There’s a place for the experimental and the avant-garde – theatre that needs a bit more knowledge to get – but, essentially, I think theatre should be for everybody. That’s what we’re trying to make with Hidden, something accessible where people can see themselves on stage and laugh, think and be moved. That’s what we wanted to achieve. The drama comes in under the radar, a bit – as a surprise once we've pulled the audience into the world of the characters. Sneaky!

Was your aim always that the characters should reflect the audience?

Yeah, absolutely. I think quite often the characters you see on stage are in a different world, whether in terms of the time period, or their class or their lifestyle. What we’ve written is very much about the things that make us interesting as normal, everyday people who go to work and have financial worries and emotional insecurities.

What present-day concerns does Hidden tap into?

In terms of the zeitgeist, it’s set against the backdrop of our technologically connected world. With social media and emails we can contact people at the drop of a hat but, on an emotional level, end up more disconnected than ever. And what we put out to the rest of the world on these sites is very much a constructed identity of how we want to be viewed. What goes on underneath is a lot more vulnerable and that’s what unite us – everybody has the same fears and anxieties.

Have you been to the Cockpit Theatre before?

I don’t know it particularly well, but I know from what other people have said that it takes a broad mix of shows. I really like the space, I think it’s a really nice theatre and I got a great sense that they were very welcoming of new work, which is why I’m looking forward to performing there.

Has touring been fulfilling?

So far, it’s been great. We’ve done Harrogate, Halifax and the Create Theatre in Mansfield – which was really good because it’s a new theatre. It’s a brilliant space and they’re just establishing their audience. They were incredible with the marketing support, the tech support – everything. They’ve commented that since we took Hidden there, somebody who came to see it has subsequently booked for four other shows. That’s what you dream of, really, to have that effect on someone. I think having had it on at Edinburgh, at a decent venue, where we were selling out, has helped to raise its profile as well.

How important has Harrogate Theatre’s support been?

It’s been brilliant because we’ve got a theatre behind us saying, ‘We are programming them for a week. Not only that, we’re putting our name on the work and we’re providing advice, financial support and a set designer.’ It’s given us that little boost as a new company and has meant that other theatres have then been willing to come on board and programme us.

Kevin Jamieson, who is Harrogate Theatre's Executive Producer, has been incredible. It’s so rare, in my experience, for someone to put faith in a company and enable it to grow without any real sense of them needing something out of it as well. And that’s vital in the current economic climate. It’s made me determined to help other people in the industry as well if I can – we've been doing workshops, lectures and Q&As for drama students and recent graduates as part of the tour and hopefully they'll benefit from our experience. So much of theatre, especially in the early days of setting up a company, relies on the generosity and good will of others and I am so grateful for the support we've received along the way. If Black Toffee can help others in the same way we will!

What’s up after Hidden in your role as associate artist at Harrogate?

The theatre has offered me a commission to be a writer-in-residence over the summer, when they’re ordinarily dark. I’m going to spend two weeks developing a script for an idea that I’ve not had the time to do anything with. It’s combining the accessibility of Hidden – being very much about ordinary people – with a political thrust. So I want to deal with unemployment and homelessness, the disenfranchisement of modern Britain.

So, a small, light subject then?

Yes, not so much! But I want to maintain the dark humour. This will be a big challenge, because I’ll be writing it on my own, without Pete. Hidden was my first piece and I want to prove that I can do more! Thankfully, because Harrogate are supporting me, there’s no pressure of, ‘By this point, it needs to be done.’ And I’ll be getting feedback from colleagues and peers along the way, which is the most valuable thing you can have.

Hidden is at The Cockpit from 8 to 12 April. For more information, other tour dates, to view the trailer and find out how to book tickets, see: http://www.hiddenplay.co.uk/






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