SALFORD-born writer Reuben Johnson has returned to his native city with his new play Terminal, a black comedy from his award-winning production company Fiddy West. Quays News entertainment reporter Emily Murray caught up with him before the show…
Taking to the stage on Saturday night it brought laughter to the audience in the Lowry theatre before it moves to London during the week.
Johnson did not set out to write a black comedy though: “I just write what ideas come to me and on this occasion the ideas seemed to fit within this genre.” Terminal follows how three estranged siblings come together at times of crisis, whether it is a family death or illness. Johnson believes that “when people die it brings out the widest possible range of emotions in people. People act in completely different ways than they normally would and can often behave uncharacteristically ridiculous. Somewhere in my head I thought ‘there’s a comedy in that’, and so Terminal was born.”
The play is about family, and in particular siblings. In Terminal we meet Michael, Jenny and Bobby, three very different individuals whose personalities clash verbally and physically on stage. Johnson explains how he is ‘quite skilled in the department of arguing with brothers and sisters’ which helped him to develop his dialogue. However, his siblings are not where he draws most of his inspiration for his writing from.
“I’ve lived a pretty colourful and eventful life, meeting some of the most fascinating characters along the way. That’s what inspires me.
Salford, the city itself, is also is a big inspiration for Johnson, who loves bringing his work to the local Lowry theatre: “Growing up in Salford has inspired a lot of my written work. As a writer I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a place which is always buzzing and where there’s always a story to tell. Sometimes it’s exciting, sometimes it’s terrifying and sometimes it’s hilarious. But there’s always something happening in Salford.”
Johnson has always known that he wanted to tell stories, with Salford inspiring him creating many stories for him to tell. He never expected himself to be telling stories in the format of plays though.
“In fact I didn’t even watch plays growing up; we never went to the theatre. But as I got older I began to train as an actor which brought me into the theatre world. And theatre was the most accessible medium for me to express myself through writing.”
However, the world of playwriting was cut throat and hard to break into it. ‘The writing world is very competitive and you can’t second guess what theatres are looking for.’ Johnson therefore prefers to ‘produce his own work within my theatre company I co-run, Fiddy West. And there are certain theatre companies and directors who I respect and am more than willing to hand over my work to’.
Terminal represents a diversion from the style that Johnson is used to, although Johnson reassures us that if you enjoyed his previous work, most notably Meeting and Territory, you will also love his latest production.
“I guess the main difference in terms of style would be that the comedy element runs straight through the core of this play. Whereas you could say my other plays are serious dramas with a backdrop of comedy. But I think every writer carries a certain style throughout their work, even if you can’t quite put your finger on what that is. So if you were fond of my previous plays I’m really confident you’ll feel the same about Terminal.”
Johnson also recognises that attempting a black comedy threw up new challenges for him when it came to writing: “Keeping a high consistency of humour throughout was the biggest challenge. When I’ve written something funny on one page I don’t want to settle for something less funny on the next page. Terminal lives in a world where the stakes are extremely high and the characters emotions are off the charts. So the comedy had to match this by being pretty relentless.”
Although unsure of where he will be heading and what he will be creating next, Johnson has an aim to achieve and a goal that his heart is set to follow.
“I want to carry on creating exciting theatre with the goal of reaching a bigger audience each time I do so. I want to stay creative, stay passionate and create many more gems.”
A promising writer, I am sure we will be seeing more from him in the future.
By: Emily Murray