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Writer Ian Buckley unpicks the moral issues of human interest documentaries, speaking to Lauren Gauge for OWE about his next big play - Realife TV.

There is a thrill in the chase of a story. There is something intrinsically fascinating about the mystery of other peopleís lives. What happens when documentary filmmakers investigate people and the chase goes horribly, irreversibly wrong?

Ian Buckley has written Realife TV, a play based on the real life events of a man who, through the journey of a documentary, is reunited with his family with devastating unforeseen consequences. I couldnít resist probing to find out more about this delicate and desperately tragic story from Buckley, who continues to forge a career out of writing radical plays.

I have to ask you because youíve done so much in depth research into this for Realife TV, to what extent do you believe that the documentary makers were responsible for the unforeseen consequences portrayed in your play?

In the case of this real life event I would say that they are quite responsible. Not deliberately, not intentionally, but in a way in allowing themselves to be taken in; because they should have checked, double checked and treble checked this story and done nothing until they were absolutely sure that he was genuine and there was no problem. That raises the central issue of my play. I think that they wanted to do Ďgoodí and that they had good intentions, but I also think that they were drawn in by this fascinating story, because everybodyís fascinated by amnesia. Iím fascinated by amnesia. I hardly know a single person thatís not fascinated by amnesia. They allowed themselves to be drawn into this manís world and they discovered too late, if you like, too late for taking any responsibility, not too late for the event, because they left him before the really horrible events kicked off, but by then they had put some money into getting him where he wanted to be. They smelt a rat but by then it was too late to say (which in fact they did say) Ďitís not our responsibility, we followed all guidelinesí. Iím not saying they didnít, because I think they did follow guidelines. They just got it wrong. They didnít do it deliberately, but they got it wrong.

The media canít do right for doing wrong sometimes. Sometimes resources arenít available to carry out fully rounded background checks and research. Do you think documentary teams are wilfully exploited by the very people that they are trying to create the best possible documentary about?

Yes, in this case I do because the subject, the man who turned up with amnesia, he turned up with purportedly no knowledge of his past – he had run into a car, though he was not badly injured. But he wilfully exploited the resources of the very organisation that made him their documentary subject. Now, the big question is, ĎDid he do this knowingly from the beginning or was he mentally disturbed and it just gradually occurred to him?í. When the police picked him up they put his photograph in the local paper asking, ĎDoes anybody know this man?í. This was then picked up by the documentary crew because of their contacts around the country. Now, did he from the very beginning think, ĎRight, I am going to use this organisation to get what I want.í Or is he in a mentally disturbed state and the documentary filmmakers help him along a bit? My play tries to give the complexity of that situation. In other words, he didnít start out thinking, ĎIím going to run into a car and pretend Iíve got amnesia and that way people will pick me up and Iíll be able to trace my wife and children who I want to traceí. In my play itís not as simple as that. He is a disturbed person, though on the surface not very much and then gradually the idea comes to him that he can use this organisation to get to the person he wants to get to for whatever purpose he has.

Itís obviously a devastating starting point but nonetheless a very powerful one, what inspired you to write a play about this particular real-life story?

It crystallised in a powerful way for me, powerful and in the original case horrific way, how the media can be manipulated, how truth can be twisted. Maybe thatís simply through carelessness – nobody is doing it deliberately. You want to tell truth about somebody, you want to help somebody but the good intentions, maybe on both sides, can morph into something potentially destructive. Iíll give you an example of something that happened to me Ė about the way youíre portrayed by the media and all of a sudden very shocked by it. I live in a busy road in Watford. We have had two young children knocked down run over and killed. Itís horrific – we had a child permanently disabled because he was run down visiting our next door neighbour. I started a petition to get traffic calming measures. During this time I tried to influence Hertfordshire council and MPís and I wanted to use the press to put the case forward. And in the paper one day I suddenly saw, ĎFather agnoises over body of injured soní and when you looked at the photograph it had an inset of me and then an inset of the dangerous road and I was totally shocked. I looked at it and looked at it again, and I thought, Ďthat makes it sound as if itís my soní, and it was not a good feeling. Thereís the paradigm – I wanted to use media for the best possible purposes, but in that one instance, it was quite shocking and misleading. Once you open up to the media, and I am talking from the point of view of the subject in the play – Carl – it gets a momentum of its own, which you will find difficult to control. Carl, wants to get it moving his way, he is a character with another agenda. My agenda was good. In the end we did get certain traffic calming measures. My motives were good, whereas in the case of my character Carl in the play, his motives are much more mixed, but nevertheless he doesnít control everything. He can manipulate the media but they have some kind of input and that is the need for a good story, because they need audience and therefore they are driven by that.
People – you, me and everybody – you lose sight of how you can and are being manipulated by the media. I believe in their objectivity and yet I know itís not objective. I know that because of my own experiences of it. That is a point thatís in my play. There can and is a good side to the human interest documentary. They can do a lot to help people in those situations and spread knowledge, but I also think the director has to have principles of iron and be selfless in what they do.

Your previous play The Moment We Met, which you spoke to OWE about, was also based around a real life event. How do you find the process of changing the details of a real life event into a play? Do you have to make a conscious effort not over-dramatise them?

You mould those facts into a play that grips your audience with the truth of its portrayal. It has to have a beginning, a middle and end; people have to be involved in the plot. You then tailor the facts you use to go into that play. So that the audience is gripped. The plot and the characters have to entwine in a believable way. Specifically with not over-dramatising events, which is a demanding question and very interesting. In the Moment We Met I pushed the actions into an even more extreme area. What I did in my play was even worse than what could have happened in real life. In The Moment We Met, the protagonist, Liz, she unknowingly marries the man whoís raped and murdered her daughter. Whereas, in real life, where I took my idea for the play from, the woman just battles for seventeen years to find the murderer and rapist of her daughter and in the end she finds him Ė so you can see where Iíve exaggerated it. But with Realife TV, I soften the actually events. They are nothing like, in my opinion, as bad as the originals. Why? Because I am always writing a play. I have to go with the movement and progress of the play and what I think will move the audience.
With Realife TV, IĎm involved and interested with the character of Angela, how she deals with this situation and how she uses the situation and is used. In both cases itís the dramatic value in the play that governs what you choose of the facts. The moral issues raised.

There are a number of conflicting issues inherent in making human interest documentaries – what are the major issues that you tackle within Realife TV?

The central moral issue is the conflict between what the documentary filmmaker wants, what the documentary filmmaker's employer wants and what the subject of the documentary wants. In Angelaís case, she wants a documentary that is life enhancing, she wants to bring two people together who have separated. By meeting each of them separately, she feels thereís room to bring them back together. Thatís genuinely what she starts out to do. But, she is also aware that this is her first big break and her company also have to get x-thousand people watching this documentary each week. So then she is drawn two ways Ė her loyalty to her subject Ė and subjects of a human interest documentary are often (not always) people in difficulty Ė and then the company that wants to draw and enthral an audience, so thatís the problem. The company has to set their demands to the documentary crew to make something that is watched and liked by a lot of people. The subject, in the case of Realife TV, the subject is a willing participant and uses the situation. Thatís not always the case. A lot of people arenít worried by how theyíre portrayed – they donít realise they are also going to somewhat lose control, so thatís the subjectís moral issue. But in the case of Carl, they seek him Ė he doesnít seek them. They chase him, and so then heís in a situation where he sees, Ďthey are going to help me, they are going to help re-establish my relationship with my family, if they caní and then he sees the possibility. So they are the three demands and moral dilemmas. Itís a complex situation.

Southwark Playhouse also staged a play that was based on a human interest documentary Grey Gardens, earlier this year. Do you think audiences are becoming more interested in real life people than fictional characters?

Yes yes yes! Absolutely. Partly because of the fascination of studying real people as opposed to fictitious people, because real people are often stranger than fiction. You put things in a play and people say, ĎThat can never happení, but it has. As a playwright it doesnít enthral me, the more you go down the road of setting people up in situations, more and more deliberately, you do begin to turn their lives into a drama that kind of becomes a fictitious drama. You help things along and tweak things. What happens is it becomes less like real life and more like fiction. Like Made in Chelsea or The Only Way is Essex Ė the characters are set up to give it more interest. Thatís slightly weird. People want to see the real thing, real emotion and I suppose it does spill over into stuff like the Jeremy Kyle show. People tearing themselves apart for other peopleís gratification. The answer to your question is absolutely yes, but I regard it as voyeuristic and slightly unhealthy. I would much rather it be done by fiction and by real plays, where somebody is giving you his or her view and issues are raised in an artistically pleasing way. People do like all these aspects of human interest documentaries.

You had a staging of Realife TV in 2006. How do you think fully realising the production in 2016, when reality TV shows, like youíve just mentioned, and human interest documentaries are at an all-time high? What will the impact on the audience be?

Itís as if 2006 was the wellspring of all modern real life human interest documentaries. And even before that. It was born with seminal work called ĎThe Familyí. They filmed a very ordinary council estate family and itís still the trailblazer, ever since then itís just become massive, had a life of its own with so many possibilities like Big Brother Ė itís blossomed and taken many forms. Mostly, these shows came from original human interest documentaries of which mine is one. My feeling, today is that human interest documentaries are shallower than the earlier format Ė a bit lazy and more superficial than the original. Itís peopleís lives that arenít yours, and as such itís interesting to all of us, at any time. Back then it dealt with more serious issues, proper subjects, that are interesting and that open your eyes.

Is that what you wanted to do now, with Realife TV, bring something more serious into the ring?

Yes, I did. I wanted to push it in a more serious direction and try and focus on the moral issues without being too sanctimonious about that.

Youíve written for both TV and theatre, how do they differ?

Theatre is my first love. Although I have written for TV, I am by no means an experienced TV writer. I am a member of the Writers Guild and involved in discussions with writers who make their living writing for TV. I get the feeling that you just donít have the control or the power, or, to a certain extent the prestige – though Iím not too worried about that – than you do as a playwright. On soaps there is an actual committee who works out the plot line and then as a writer you can be involved, nevertheless you donít fully create your own storyline. Then you go away and write and itís very hard; itís very demanding and the rewards are great. But to a certain extent, youíre writing at someone elseís beck and call and you have to have the skill to write well and make characters believable, but youíre not necessarily following through storylines that you want to follow through; so in that sense, youíre more of a writer for hire. But with theatre to a certain extent, you write what you want to write. You obviously have to have your audience in mind, but you control that much more in the production Ė itís a co-operative venture absolutely – but in the writing youíre writing whatís important to you. Thatís the main difference. Apart from the fact that there are far fewer words in TV and even fewer words in film. TV writing you simply have less control and your writing is more a job, I suppose.

With programmes like Making a Murder and The People Vs OJ Simpson gripping audiences, how is theatre going to compete with the Netflix generation?

Goodness knows! Itís so tough. The money is in film. Iíve worked in film as a tutor. Iíve been in involved in Harry Potter and Life Begins and the money is immense, you cannot believe it. Oh my God, so much money, so money brings power. Iím not knocking film by the way, I love it, but theatre has a hard job competing with that. The one thing that theatre has that can never be replicated by TV or film, it is live. Thatís what itís got. Itís unique, itís more electric and I think that is its uniqueness but it does need financial help, it really does. And it needs to encourage a new generation, which a lot of theatres are doing, bringing in a younger audience, itís totally correct and right. The resources they have they are doing a very good job. I still think theyíre starved of cash and more could be done by government Ė they need to help. How can you compete against the publicity that for example Harry Potter gets? It brings in millions and marketing is therefore worth millions but its uniqueness is in the live event. If only people could experience it, the audiences would grow. It would no longer be a minority interest, you only need to see a play that you like and youíre hooked Ė I love TV and I love film, but itís not the same, youíre viewing through a screen.

Presumably working with real life events in mind, there is a naturalistic style you might adopt, will you work with the director to get a specific aesthetic and feel to the play?

Youíre right, there is an area of the play that is naturalistic. However, technically itís broken by the numerous asides directly that Angela makes to the audience and also sheís making a video blog of some of the things she does for herself. So talking to Anthony the director heís got ideas for presentation, which are non-naturalistic. They involve screens and there is an idea that certain evenings are going to be devoted to discussion after the play about media and people; the relationship between them. We are going to get actual documentary filmmakers along to talk to the audience after the play. Two ways, post play, using the screens and having Angela address the screen, you try and break down the tradition naturalistic element which is there and has to be there.

Are you looking forward to rehearsals?

Very much so, because I wonít be taking them! I will be in an observing role. Anthony Shrubsall is directing, so he will be in charge of those. I directed The Moment We Met and enjoyed it very much, partly because it was only a cast of two. Producing gives me more time to do what I am doing now and have fascinating conversations, doing the publicity! But I am very much looking forward to getting rehearsals started. And weíve just cast an amazing actress for the lead role of Angela – Roseanna Fascona, so thatís very exciting.

How many are in this cast?

Four. Angela; Jason, her boss; Carl, the subject; and Helen, his wife.

With such intimate subject matter and explosive events in the plot, how do you find working in a relatively small space of Baronís Court Theatre?

Great, absolutely great. It tends to exaggerate, to make elements more explosive and the intimacy is amazing. There is no doubt about that. The intimacy is incredible, you canít be far away from whatís happening on stage. Itís quite electric feeling. Fiona McEwan the designer will make good use of the space in order to enhance whatís going on. Really itís a great space, the play would be lost in a big space. You can lose quite a lot in a big play, not that the issues in my play arenít big. But for more intimate dramas, these small spaces are excellent, all of them are.

This will be your fourth RedNeedle Production, are you getting the hang of producing and writing plays now?

Yes, Ďishí. Certainly from where I started four years ago I know so much more and I am much more confident with a lot of what I did and what I do. Nevertheless the are still nail biting elements, which are always there and probably obvious to everybody Ė ĎWill the audience turn up?í, ĎWill I lose lots of money?í, ĎWill we get any coverage?í, but then tongue in cheek for me it beats spending my money on a round the world cruise, or buying a new car. I am much more confident but you have that tingle of a live event and how itís going to go. At the moment itís going very well.

REALIFE TV runs at Barons Court Theatre from the 17th Ė 29th May. Booking info: http://www.offwestend.com/index.php/plays/view/14378

For more information please visit: https://www.facebook.com/redneedleproductions/ and http://www.ianbuckley.info/






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BEN OCCHIPINTI talks to Tom Wicker about Mack & Mabel at Greenwich Theatre....

SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE needs your help NOW to lobby and tweet for their survival!

Amy Tez talks about FOUR DOGS AND A BONE with Tom Wicker

WILTON'S to remain open - hurrah!!

PATRICIA CAMPER to leave Talawa Theatre Company

BOY GEORGE at GREENWICH THEATRE!

WILTONS are turned down by the Heritage Lottery Fund!!

GIANT OLIVE THEATRE CO talks to Tom Wicker about celebrating women playwrights, performers, directors and designers as part of the Gaea Theatre Festival at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre.....

TOM WICKER talks to the creators of an uncompromising new play about the death of Baha Mousa...

RoAm Productions and Madison Theatre Company talk to Tom Wicker about RUMOURS.....

THRILL ME transfers to Charing Cross Theatre from 17 May to 11 June!

Tom Wicker talks to JAMES HADDRELL about the new Emerging Artists season, Greenwich's break with the past and the problem with pigeons....

CATRIONA MCLAUGHLIN tackles life and directing while staging IRISH BLOOD, ENGLISH HEART....

HOW NOT TO RUN A FRINGE THEATRE Part 5

How far would you go for love? THRILL ME tests you until 30th April at Tristan Bates

JOSIE ROURKE appointed new Artistic Director of The Donmar

Award-winning NEIL MCPHERSON talks candidly to Tom Wicker

HOMOS PROMOS: Peter Scott-Presland talks to Tom Wicker

THE BLOGGER BLAGS IT TO THE OFFIES! Part 4

OFFIE WINNERS GALORE!!!! READ ALL ABOUT IT!!

Sisters Cindy and Sheila Rhyme are updating Alice in Wonderland at The Courtyard....

MATTHEW CRITCHFIELD and JAZZ FLAHERTY talk about The Black Death, conspiracy and friendship...............

OFFIE SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED after a day of contention, controversy and too much coffee.....

ANTHONY ABUAH talks about putting his heart and soul into writing....

HOW NOT TO RUN A FRINGE THEATRE Part3

Interview with writer Philip Ridley

HOW NOT TO RUN A FRINGE THEATRE Part2

JAMES BURN introduces Legacy Burns

HOW NOT TO RUN A FRINGE THEATRE Part 1 in an endless new series.....

POLIS LOIZOU talks about life, art and CLOTHES TO FALL APART IN

Glenn Chandler and Scouts In Bondage

What is Paul Clarkson doing at The Union?

Bill Bankes-Jones talks about Salad Days and surfing

Carole Carpenter on tour with Jane Austen

Dan Barnard is SHOOTING RATS at an epic new venue

Zimbabwe-born David Dinnell talks about HOW TO COOK A COUNTRY

Director Sarah Norman talks to us from The Finborough

Amy Molloy Interviewed (appearing in Kitty & Damnation at the Lion & Unicorn from 11 Aug 2009 to 12 Sep 2009)

Charlotte Gwinner talks about ANGLE

Kenneth Emson talks about Whispering Happiness and what inspires him....

THE FRENCH ARE COMING to The King's Head!

Paolo Rotondo talks from New Zealand

Writer Stephen M Hunt wishes he had written Slueth

Writer Jeremy Green talks about THE SERIOUS BUSINESS OF CHOOSING A MATE

Andrew Olay talks about inspiration, character amd Tom Courtney

Ellie Turner performs with LOVE&MADNESS

Sondheim's Saturday Night with Helena Blackman

Alistair Green directs The Thingumywotsit at The Hen & Chickens

Racky Plews directs Into The Woods

Robert Lloyd Parry is at Baron's Court

Interview with The Umbilical Brothers at The Leicester Square Theatre

Interview with Iain Pears at The Riverside Studios

Interview with Tim Roseman directing Overspill

Interview with Melanie Wilson

Interview with Gillian Plowman, author of Yours Abundantly, From Zimbabwe

Interview with Alex Helfrecht

Interview with Michael Gieleta

Interview with director Rhys Thomas

Interview with writer James Graham

Theatre Student Patricia Low posts her Malaysia Blog

Sabina Arthur performs in Under The Veil

Fin Kennedy talks about UNSTATED

Interview with Andrew Keatley

Interview with Ben Hales

Interview with Ali Taylor

Interview with Matt Ball

Interview with Tim Fountain

Interview with Glyn Maxwell

Interview with writer Coda Quashie

Interview with Sarah Mann

Interview with Yolanda Mpele

Interview with Howard Barker

Interview with Brian Timoney

Interview with Laura Stevens

Interview with John Sandy

Interview with Philly Greenwood

Interview with Dean Stalham

Interview with Jack McNamara

Interview with Caroline Partridge

Meet People Show artist Gareth Brierley

Interview with George Mann

Meet Phillip Brook, star of Uncle Barry at the Blue Elephant

Interview with Fin Kennedy

Interview with James Graham

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown V

Interview with Cath Whitefield, now appearing at The Gate

Interview with Lavern Archer

Royal Court Announces Autumn Season

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown IV

Marketing Managers on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown III

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown II

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

Arcola to Create World's First Carbon Neutral Theatre

Interview with Nell Leyshon, Writer of Glass Eels at the Hampstead Theatre

A New Start for the Southwark Playhouse

The Mark Shenton Show

Theatre has moved on - whatever we critics think

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