Q&A with writer Tom Mallaburn

You’ve written several plays about historical events, and were a founding member of the Fitzrovia Radio Hour – a highly successful homage to 1940s radio. What is it about the past that interests you so much as a writer?
Ha! In a way, the past never dates – it always reflects the present in some way, I think. And with shows set in the past, audiences like to “join the dots” and work out the parallels for themselves. It’s nice to have that duality going – the past, and what the past says about our present.

What is your process when writing historical fiction?
Read a few history books, but not too many! In the end, writing is a craft and although research is important, I’m a bit suspicious that it delays the moment where you sit down with a blank page and have to start writing!

Do you think this process is different because you mainly write comedy plays?
I don’t think so… I don’t think comedy or drama necessarily requires any more or less research of the period.

How do you get into the minds of the men and women that lived so long ago? 
Well, I don’t think people back then are that different from now. Ultimately they all want similar things, are afraid of similar things. There are just a few more electronic devices and fast moving vehicles nowadays!

How important do you think it is to stay true to historical fact when creating stories about the past?
In the end you need to write a story with a beginning, middle and end, populated by interesting/engaging characters that the audience can relate to. That’s the most important thing. I think it’s nice to start with the facts, and if/when they cease to become useful to the story then alter them!

Why did you decide to write a play about a William Davenant?
I was commissioned to write a family-friendly one hour play in 2017, that in some way involved the Second Globe Theatre (the one they built after the first one burnt down), so something set in the first half of the 17th Century. The Globe was a factor as the play was going to be performed in pretty much a scale replica of the Second Globe Theatre in Melbourne, Australia! I was also asked not to make William Shakespeare a major character in the show. So it became a process of elimination and identifying the most interesting/useful time period and central character. The Civil War and the closure of the theatres seemed a good crisis to fuel a play, and Davenant was one of the more colourful theatrical figures of the time so seemed a good option for the lead character.

In ’Shakespeare’s Son! (sort of)’ how much is true and how much is fabricated?
The background is true (ie closure of theatres), and 4 of the 5 characters are based on real people (with some of their personal circumstances and qualities mentioned in the play). Most of the rest is fabricated!

What are your top tips for writing about historical events?
Find a point of crisis, and some interesting characters who clearly wanted or needed something (or could have clearly wanted or needed something), do some reading, then forget the reading and have fun!

What do you think people will enjoy most about “Shakespeare’s Son! (sort of)” 
Well hopefully the predicament of the central character! And a bit of the history of the period, a bit of “oh, that’s like nowadays, isn’t it?” plus the general sense of fun and mischief about the whole thing

What is the key to writing a great comedy play?
Great characters in great predicaments, with no obvious way out of them!

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