Hayes turns to plays

PUBLISHED: 15:55 18 June 2008 | UPDATED: 17:13 16 August 2010

AS a successful songwriter musician Ben Hales is well-used to seeing his compositions performed on stage. He has written songs for acts such as Aqualung,

AS a successful songwriter musician Ben Hales is well-used to seeing his compositions performed on stage.

He has written songs for acts such as Aqualung, Duke Special and former All Saint Melanie Blatt but now the 34-year-old has exchanged lyrics and melodies for stage direction and dialogue as his debut play (In Parenthesis) opens this week.

Hales' play is one of two to win the Churchill Theatre's Metamorphosis 2008 playwriting competition and features former Grange Hill and Casualty star Adam Sopp in the lead role.

Hales wrote the play specifically for the competition after seeing it advertised and submitted the first draft after just four weeks work.

From the 80 plays submitted six finalists were selected to refine their plays under the guidance of professional writers in a series of workshops before Hales' (In Parenthesis) and 31-year-old Ali Taylor's Overspill were chosen as the winners.

The play follows a conversation between three mountain climbers who have been left hanging from a rock face after an accident.

"I'd never written a full length original play before," he explains, "I think I had about a month before the deadline and I thought I'd like to do it but I was trying to think of an idea that meant I could start writing immediately.

"I liked the idea that it was just a conversation essentially so I worked back from there to think: 'Well, why would people have to talk to each other for that long?' and it kind of grew out of the idea that they couldn't move and that developed into the fact that they were hanging and that's how it will be done, the actors will be hanging from a harness above the ground for the whole play."

Softly spoken and mild-mannered the musician is a far cry from the typical brash rock 'n' roller and while he says his experience as a songwriter may have had some impact on his choices of material Hales views the two forms of writing as very different.

"I think there's something about rhythm. It's not that it's anything like music but I think that there's a thing where if you are writing music you have a sense of how long things should go on for or when you need to change.

"In the sense of when you are writing a conversation that has a rhythm to it, so I think that's what attracted me to the conversation idea but songs are really short mostly and especially if you are writing the lyrics to a song it is very rigid you have only got this number of lines and it gives you quite a lot of limitation whereas if you have got a blank page and you can fill it up however you want that's a different discipline."

With such an unusual central concept the audience may be forgiven for detecting the influence of Samuel Beckett but while the songwriter says he is a big fan of the Irish dramatist he is quick to point out that his play has more in common with the current generation of TV comedy.

"I did study theatre a bit but I'm not a major theatre fan," he confesses, "Of all the playwrights I would have to say Samuel Beckett is someone I admire which might lead you to say that this set up is trying to be Becketty but it isn't. It's definitely a comedy.

You are not meant to come away with any insight or anything like that. Beckett tends to be this kind of extraordinary puzzle and it isn't that.

"I really like comedy writing from the Simpsons to The Day Today, quite a lot of TV comedy. That stuff I really enjoy."

Winning the competition has given Hayes the impetus to continue writing and he hopes that he will be able to write another play some time.

"More and more as it goes on I think this is an amazing experience to have had and I have learnt a great deal from it and even though I couldn't say: 'Yes, I'm definitely going to write a play' or what it is going to be or anything I think it would be strange if I didn't use what I have learnt.

"It might just be that when something does occur to me again I might think that feels a bit playey. I would certainly like it to continue, I'd like this to be the beginning of writing more."

n (In Parenthesis) is being performed alongside Overspill as part of Metamorphosis 2008 at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley from Wednesday to Sunday this week (June 18-22).

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