It is unlikely that a new name is emerging as a West End playwright – and the number of new writers who find success in the commercial theatre, is small. Alba King has done with her play Foxfinder – and has been bagging of young stars to the main roles. But, as she explains, the journey of the small fringe venues in London in the theater of the center has been a hard.
Around a decade ago the King was staying in a quiet area writers ‘ retreat in rural areas of Devon. As all the houses run by the Arvon Foundation exists to give the writers time to think and work.
“It was the middle of winter,” King recalls, “and I started to have some strange ideas about the nature I see around me. So I wrote a journal and a monologue for the character that now William Bloor, the Foxfinder.
“William thinks that the nature is working against us and that the foxes are trying to overthrow humanity. But I realized that I could make him look crazy and delusional, that I am not interested in. So organically I have created a world in which everyone shares the same beliefs. And I went through the first draft of wonder what happens next.”
Newcomer to the West End, Foxfinder cast is led by Iceland, Heida Reed (known for playing Elizabeth Warleggan in Poldark) and Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones). The king, born in the county of Gloucestershire, south west England, deliberately leaves unclear whether the sometimes mysterious action that is taking place in the present or in the past.
The game was seen for the first time in 2011 in the 60-seat Finborough Theatre in west London. The king’s early career shows how much persistence to most of the young writers need to make any progress.
“I was delighted when I won the Papatango Prize for new writing) this year, which meant that I had the Finborough run. Before that I had rehearsed readings and a couple of short plays. But get something in a place that people really respect it was a big step: there was theatre of the people who liked the game, but do not want to produce. Suddenly they were more interested in what he was doing.”
After King worked with the BBC Writers Room and, five years ago, Foxfinder won the National Theatre Foundation Playwright Award. “It was important because it is a value of £10,000 – that kept me going. Another good thing was that the producer Bill Kenwright had optioned Foxfinder soon after the original production. It was not a huge amount of money every year, but I remember one year thinking that you really need to get on it because it was broken. I’ve thanked Bill for that.”
The king also had a game of espionage in the Bush Theatre called encryption systems. But for a decade kept herself afloat working in the Curzon Soho cinema in London. “I ripped tickets, worked behind the bar – everything.”
Another source of income has been productions from outside the uk. Foxfinder premiered abroad in Sweden and then in Australia, Italy, Iceland and Portland, Oregon.
“I’ve been fascinated by a couple of productions that I saw in Germany, which probably has more of a theater director here in the uk. It is wonderful as a writer feels that his game work with the public, even in the very different productions, and in a foreign language.”
But the King says that she had begun to assume the game would never get a large production in their native land. “And then, this spring, Bill Kenwright decided to take the option. But that depends on so many things alignment. To start with, you need a right place and the right director, Rachel O’riordan.
“It is, at least, two years since Iwan Rheon said he was interested in playing at William. Once you have a great building block as that, other things will start to click.
“And I was very interested we need to run the game, in the fall, because that is when it is established and needs to the sense that winter is coming. There are some factors at play that are probably less obvious to the public.”
Does King think that being a woman has been an obstacle to that in the demanding world of the commercial theatre?
“There has been some recent statistics on the number of productions in Britain of new the work of women playwrights. The figures are surprisingly low. I know that I have been very lucky, and I feel especially lucky to have worked with a large number of counselors, as that of Rachel. I’m not going to pretend that there is a more general problem for women, but it can also be a tough profession for anyone.”
“I would be delighted to have a commercial success in the West End. I would also be delighted to find this helps to open doors in subsidised theatres. But if I look back on this first part of my career, I would have to say that you don’t always have a lot of logic apparent. Sometimes something big happens, and then you can take a very long time for the waves to wave. You have nothing to fear of what is going on, but you just can’t give up.”
For now, the race King is coming to the big and small screens. She is busy on the script of Foxfinder and the virtual reality of the project. “But with the TV I always seem to come almost almost almost but not quite, but I hope Foxfinder could help me. I am also in search of my theater project for the next year. But mainly I’m just enjoying what is happening here and now.”
Foxfinder is playing at the Ambassadors Theatre in London.
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