Why We Tell the Story: In Conversation with John Webber

John Webber’s fascinating new play, Spiderfly, opened at Theatre503 this month. In this interview, we discuss his experience of writing his debut play and more. Enjoy!

Name: John Webber

Role: Playwright and Actor

Favourite Show/Play: I loved both B’rer Cotton by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm and Wolfe by Ross Willis at Theatre503. Other favourites have been Dance Nation by Clare Barron, John by Annie Baker, Love by Alexander Zeldin, Katie Mitchell’s version of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed & Ned Bennett’s version of Equus by Peter Shaffer.

Favourite Part About the Theatre: Being taken on a journey to somewhere I didn’t expect and having my heart broken before being brought back.

Q: Can you tell us what ‘Spiderfly’ is all about and how it got its intriguing title?

Spiderfly is about how any of us can sometimes find ourselves suddenly in the middle of a toxic, tangled knot in life – what takes us there – and how hard but still possible it is to get out. The title is a compressed form of this – spiders and flies have an intimate and lethal connection.

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Spiderfly Rehearsal Photos

Q: What drew you from acting to writing this piece in particular? 

Being an actor can be frustrating if there’s not much work around or if the parts you get aren’t that inspiring. I had such an untapped creative urge, I turned to writing in an attempt to express that. Theatre503’s Rapid Write Response scheme is a godsend for anyone in a similar situation and I’d highly recommend it.

Q: Spiderfly began as a Rapid Write Response (RWR) piece at Theatre503, can you tell us about what that experience was like and the journey that the show has gone on to become a full-length play?

RWR is a brilliant way to hear how your words sound in front a live audience or feel how the world you created is received. Encouraged by director Eduard Lewis, I expanded the play after this and the Park Theatre selected it to be part of their Script Accelerator. This was another great chance to develop a play with director Lily McLeish and actors Ruth D’Silva and Tom Mothersdale, under the guidance of the Park’s Mellie Marie – we then showed a longer extract to a paying audience. It was after this that I realised it might be a decent premise for a show, due to the audience reaction.

Q: What’s your process as a writer been like and have there been any challenges that you’ve encountered that you may not have anticipated when you first started?

Being new to this, I can’t say really that I have a clearly identifiable process yet! It’s been helpful to listen Simon Stephens talk to writers on the Royal Court podcast as it’s clear that there are as many ways of going about creating a play as there are writers. The biggest challenge seems to be really crystallising what you think the play is actually about – at the start you might think it’s about one thing but later on it dawns on you that it’s about something else – honing what that ‘something else’ is can be hard.

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Spiderfly Rehearsal Photos

Q: Do you have any advice for writers who are starting out?

Write as much as possible. Watch as much as is affordable. Read everything (it’s so easy now to find a spot to read plays – Foyles or the National Theatre are great!). Invest in a copy of Playwriting by Stephen Jeffreys. And then write some more. And don’t be hard on yourself when reading back your first drafts – you can make it better – that’s your power.

Q: Once you finished writing the play, what has it been like handing it over to director Kirsty Patrick Ward and the two-person cast for this production? Have you been involved at all within the rehearsal process?

From the first read through it was clear the play was in safe hands and so it’s been an absolute pleasure. Working with actors and a director is such an essential way to develop a play, and that was true with Spiderfly – it grew as a play as the number of pages reduced! And when Lizzie, Peter and Dom came on board with their insight and creativity to add further dimensions to the text through their set and costume design, lighting design and sound respectively, well, it was great to see.

Q: Finally, what should audiences expect when they come to see Spiderfly?

Um – I think I’d rather they came without any expectations – so they can experience it openly and untarnished…

Thanks for reading! And thanks to John for the interview. Spiderfly is running at Theatre503 until 30 November at the time of writing. https://theatre503.com/whats-on/spiderfly/ 

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