Previews begin tomorrow night for the UK première of Stephen Karam’s play Speech & Debate, starring Douglas Booth, Patsy Ferran, Charlotte Lucas and Tony Revolori. It tells the story of three misfit teenagers at a high school in Salem who come together in the wake of a sex scandal at the school, putting on a play to try and expose it. The production will be running in the intimate surroundings of Trafalgar Studios 2, and sounds like it could be an entertaining (as well as thought-provoking) affair.
Last week, myself and several other lucky theatre bloggers were invited into the rehearsal space to take part in a Facebook Live Q&A session with two of the show’s stars, Douglas Booth and Tony Revolori.
They’ve been working on it for about four weeks now, and I really got the impression that they’re enjoying the process – Booth, in particular, is very enthusiastic as this will see him make his stage (and West End) debut after holding that ambition for some time.
You can see the broadcast in its entirety to hear everyone’s questions (embedded at the bottom of this post, or on Douglas Booth’s Facebook page), but I’d like to go further into the question that I put to the pair.
There are some highly pertinent themes running through the play, but one which interests me in particular is the role of social media. For all its virtues, it can lead to unpleasant experiences for users (as it opens up a new channel for bullying), as well as get exploited by people who are only interested in manipulating the facts for their own benefit.
With that in mind, I asked what their views are on social media and its place in society. The overwhelming conclusion was that, as with many things in life, it all depends on the person using it. The positive of it opening up communication is that it gives separated families a tool to reconnect (as noted by Revolori), but at the same time it allows hatred to be incited with absolute simplicity. It really is a double-edged sword. Booth made the excellent point that it is now a fairly credible and easily accessible source of news, which allows you to hear about everything – rather than just what a billionaire wants you to read. It can also make children grow up more quickly than they should, and occasionally open them up to potentially dangerous situations.
There are, of course, more lighthearted uses for social media (for example, Booth loves taking photos and so enjoys Instagram) which make it an asset in the right hands. It’s a medium that serves us well, as theatre bloggers, as it allows us a creative outlet and also a means to promote our work.
This will be the first time that any of Karam’s work will be performed in the UK; it may not be new writing as such, but it is at least new to us. It’s really exciting to have a fresh voice introduced to our theatre scene, bringing his acclaim with him across the Atlantic. I personally love getting to see as much new writing as possible, and being introduced to writers so that I can continue to follow their work – it’s actually rather inspiring to write about, and I hope it has the same effect on theatregoers (to start seeking out new work) and potential playwrights of the future.
There will also be some post-show events dotted across the duration of its run; these will be excellent opportunities to get involved and think more about what’s gone on in the play.
It really was a great privilege to be given an insight into preparations for this production. It’s in the hands of a wonderfully talented cast and director (Tom Attenborough), so that’s obviously a great start – I’m sure it will live up to high expectations. I can’t wait to see the finished article!
Speech & Debate runs at Trafalgar Studios 2 from 22 February until 1 April 2017. Tickets are available online and from the box office.