I didn’t train. I ran away to the circus. Well, to be precise my local TV station in Jersey, Channel TV. But it did have animals, a stuffed Puffin named Oscar, the station mascot.
Russell Labey brings his critically acclaimed play New Boy into the West End after a sell-out revival on the fringe last year. TDS meets him for a cup of tea to discuss this important milestone.
How has your training impacted on your professional life?
I didn't train. I ran away to the circus. Well, to be precise my local TV station in Jersey, Channel TV. But it did have animals, a stuffed Puffin called Oscar, the station mascot. My first job was reading birthday greetings with Oscar Puffin.
How do you get from that to writing and directing a West End play like New Boy?
The first thing you have to do is extract your hand from out of the puffin. Especially if it's the one you write with. Seriously, it's a long story but if we cut to near the end I was still working in television, this time at the BBC when I wrote New Boy, took out a bank loan and took it up to the Pleasance Theatre in Edinburgh. That was the scariest first night of my life until the first laugh from that first audience. They got it. I knew I was safe. We turned out to be more than safe; word spread quickly, we got the coveted five stars in ‘The Scotsman' newspaper and it was a sell out for the rest of the festival. The London Fringe followed, as did a UK Tour, an Off-Broadway transfer and now, best and most importantly of all, the Trafalgar Studios.
So you'd recommend doing the Edinburgh Fringe?
Not just Edinburgh, the fringe wherever you live; Birmingham, Brighton, Bogner. Better to be working in a fringe play for nothing than working in a pub for next to nothing. It's exercise, contacts, experience. If you're trying to get an agent they will always ask to see you in something, a fringe play provides them with that opportunity. Though it's tough enough getting them to the London Fringe let alone Bogner.
What is New Boy about?
It's about a boy and we've got Nicholas Hoult in it! Just thought of that, damn I should have used that on the poster. Okay, well that first review in the ‘The Scotsman' called it ‘a scintillating exploration of modern attitudes towards sex and gender', which is great but doesn't make the play sound very sexy or funny does it? So every time I find myself
having to intellectualise it, a voice in my head is saying, ‘look most of it is two lads in a locker room talking about shagging but not talking about shagging each other, which it has to be said, is very much on their minds.' But it is not a gay rite of passage. There are plenty of other plays that do that better, like Beautiful Thing which is the warmest and most beautiful play I've ever seen.
Read the full published inteview in The Drama Student Magazine where Russell talks more about New Boy, Nicholas Hoult and his work on the Oscar winning movie Milk – Subscribe now
New Boy plays at the Trafalgar Studios from 17th March until 11 April. Box office 0870 060 6632 / www.theambassadors.com
Photo Credit: Nicholas Hoult in New Boy by Christian Coulson.