ED2014 Interviews ED2014 Theatre ED2014 Week2 Edition

Jason Hewitt: Cleverly crafting claustrophobia

By | Published on Monday 11 August 2014


2014 has been a big year for Jason Hewitt, with his debut novel just published, and now his first full-length play on the stage. The latter is ‘Claustrophobia’, a tightly staged drama focused on two strangers trapped in a lift, presented at the Fringe by To The Moon. Having enjoyed the show very much, we spoke to Hewitt about the play, his debuts on page and stage, and why sometimes a good playwright should leave some words out.

CC: Tell us the premise of ‘Claustrophobia’.
JH: ‘Claustrophobia’ is a psychological drama about a man and a woman trapped in a lift. On the surface the set-up is pretty simple, but it is also a drama about entrapment, self-imprisonment and control.

CC: Where did the basic idea of the play come from?
JH: It originally came from a short film script that To The Moon’s Artistic Director Sharon Burrell had written many years ago. The original idea was a very simple one about two strangers in a lift. But from there it’s been developed over many rewrites into something a lot more psychological and more challenging for the audience to watch.

CC: The two characters are very strong. How fully formed were they when you set about writing the piece, or did you have the premise and the characters emerged as you wrote?
JH: The characters emerged as the script was written and then further developed. I’ve written many different versions of the play and with each one the characters have developed more. Their lives are now a lot more complex, and they both bring into the lift their own emotional baggage. We only ever get to hear snippets of their stories though, and it is left to the audience to piece the puzzle together.

CC: You’ve written fiction as well as theatre. Though you started out working behind the scenes in publishing, how did you make the move to author?
JH: I actually started as a bookseller and then moved into publishing, so I’ve always been obsessed with books, and I’ve been writing stories since I was a child. Then, in my early thirties, I realised that I was getting stuck in a rut and made the rash decision to throw in my career in to complete an MA in Creative Writing. It took four years to write the novel I started on the course and I managed to get a literary agent for it but, in the end, we couldn’t sell it. My agent’s response to this was simply: ‘Well, write another then’. That’s what I did and another four years on ‘The Dynamite Room’ has just been published. If I’ve learnt one thing in life it that’s if you want something bad enough you have to be persistent.

CC: How does writing for the stage compare to writing for the page?
JH: Obviously when you’re writing a novel you have a lot more scope for more complex narratives and layers. There’s also the luxury of being able to write description, paint the locations and tell the reader exactly what your characters are thinking. You’ve also got more control. I can move them about the room exactly as I want. With a script all you are really providing is the dialogue and story. It’s down to the actors and the director as to how the characters move, what they think and how they show that. As a playwright, the biggest challenge I think is relinquishing control. You are much more aware when writing for the stage that you are working as part of a team and you have to trust that everyone else involved has the same vision as you.

CC: ‘Claustrophobia’ is your first full length play. How have you found that experience of seeing your work transformed on stage by the rest of your team?
JH: Both terrifying and exhilarating. We have two brilliant actors in ‘Claustrophobia’ and both have reduced me to tears during rehearsals with the power with which they have brought to life some of the words I have written. It’s a thrill to watch. There is also the natural fear, of course, as to how the play will be received, but at this stage in the game there’s nothing we can do about that. We just have to enjoy the ride and be proud of what we’ve achieved.

CC: How did you hook up with To The Moon? How has the collaboration worked?
JH: Sharon Burrell, the Artistic Director of To the Moon, was an assistant director on three plays I performed in as an actor. Then she came to see a short play I co-wrote a few years ago. The rest, as they say, is history.

CC: Do you think that having been an actor helps when writing a play?
JH: I think so. The script is very tight but within that I’ve left plenty of space where the actors can do their own thing. For example, there are sections in the script where I’ve simply stated that there is a passing of time. It’s been up to the actors, director and our movement director to improvise how they show this on stage. If I’d not been an actor as well I think I might have fallen into the trap of cramming in more words when you should trust that the actors don’t always need dialogue to tell a story.

CC: Have you been involved in a production at the Edinburgh Fringe before? How are you finding it?
JH: This is my first Edinburgh Fringe experience so to be here with a debut play and a debut novel is extremely exciting. I’m loving it. There’s so much amazing talent crammed in to the city and the atmosphere is electric. Twenty-five days simply isn’t going to be long enough to see everything I want to. Needless to say, I’ll be back for more next year!

‘Claustrophobia’ was performed at Zoo at Edinburgh Festival 2014.

Photo: Rich Dyson