Robert Farquhar, playwright

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Posted by: Creative Times on March 18, 2011 11:27

Robert Farquhar is a comic playwright based in Liverpool. In 2002 he set up Big Wow Theatre. Dead Heavy Fantastic, a revival of raucous comedy set during one hedonistic night out in Liverpool, is currently on at Liverpool Everyman.

Why have you gone back to Dead Heavy Fantastic after 15 years?
Well, initially it only ran for four nights. People always talked about it fondly, but it was written when I was trying to find my feet as a playwright. I loved the title and I loved the premise – an innocent, vulnerable, loveable man in middle age who goes out into a wild night of madness – so when the Everyman asked me for a play Iast year I immediately thought about returning to it.

What’s changed since you wrote it?
Only the entire landscape of a city like Liverpool! Our drinking and drug culture has exponentially grown. When friends of mine come to Liverpool, we go into town just to look at the madness: you reach a certain age, step away from it, and it becomes a really strange experience. The play uses all the energy of a night out, but it has a quiet moralism, I think.

I love the rhythm and tension of comedy. There is a knack to it, but at the same time you’re not always sure whether something is funny or not.

Is it important that your work has a ‘message’, then?
I really dislike plays that tell you want to think! But I like satire, and Dead Heavy does comment on the way the world is consuming more and more, and how having a good time appears to be all about going out, getting pissed and waking up in a doorway. I’m very interested in religion – as a born again atheist – so perhaps I’m asking, now that we have no religion in our lives, what do we do now?

Is comedy a crucial tool of your trade?
Oh yes, that’s my voice. Maybe sometimes I want the laugh too much, actually, and I need to step away and let the drama do the business. I love the rhythm and tension of comedy, because there is a knack to it, but at the same time you’re not always sure whether something is funny or not. Hearing the audience laugh is great, though.

So do you have a typical way of working?
Well, I keep notebooks. One of which is full of things that have happened to me during the day, and the other packed with stuff I’ve read. And I come back to them when I begin writing. I’m not sure whether plays come out of those books, but lines and ideas definitely do.

Kissing Sid James has become very popular. How does it feel seeing your work take on a life of its own?
I love that people have their own takes on it. You can finally accept that the play’s good enough – which is always the worry when you’re a new, young playwright. When I first sent Sid James to North West Playwrights, just for a reading, it got rejected!

What’s next?
We’ve got a Big Wow production at the Liverpool Comedy Festival next month called The Friendship Experiment, and we’ve also got a Radio 4 project bubbling away too. I’m going to start work on a film, and I’m thinking about writing a play set in a squat in the early 1980s too. There’s a strong political undercurrent to that time, so it would be about idealism. Maybe a Gang Of Four-esque band in it too. I’d love that to come together.

Dead Heavy Fantastic is at Liverpool Everyman until April 2. everymanplayhouse.com

Image: Alan Stocks, David Caryle and Stephen Fletcher in Dead Heavy Fantastic. Picture by Helen Warner

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Robert Farquhar was talking to Ben East

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