Why We Tell The Story: In Conversation With James Morton

‘Father’s Son’ is a new play debuting at the Vault Festival this month by emerging playwright James Morton. This piece takes a look at the effects of unresolved trauma and how toxic behaviours can be passed down through generations. In this interview, James and I discuss his motivations for writing this personal play, the need to improve working class representation in theatre and his hopes that people will love each other and help each other to be better after watching ‘Father’s Son’. Read on to find out more!

Name: James Morton

Role: Writer of Father’s Son

Favourite Show/Play: Ahhhh wow, that’s the hardest question ever… there’s so many people who are just incredible and I owe so much to as a writer in terms of how they’ve influenced me. In terms of show’s I’ve seen, I honestly think ‘Barbershop Chronicles’ by Inua Ellams was a game changer.

In terms of shows I’ve read, a play that combines influencing the way I write, influencing the way I see theatre, the world and what I want to make and is just a really great, moving, funny show it would probably be ‘The Flick’ by Annie Baker. It does everything I’ve ever tried to do with my writing better than I could ever imagine.

Favourite Part About the Theatre: In terms of making a play it would have to be a cross between two moments. One being the when you first see the play come to life in the mouth of actors in rehearsal. Two would be those moments you have when writing when you discover something that makes the play work and it all of a sudden makes sense finally and kind of writes itself.

As an audience member it’s always when an experience or feeling I have is just articulated in the most relatable and theatrical way.

Q: Congratulations ahead of making your professional debut at the Vault Festival with Father’s Son. How are you feeling?

A: Incredibly nervous. Incredibly excited. It’s odd because I started writing the play three years ago just as I’d been accepted onto Soho Theatre Writer’s Lab. It’s the first play I’ve ever written and at the time I didn’t think there was any chance of anyone ever seeing it so I wrote it really honestly and from an incredibly personal place emotionally. It ended up being shortlisted for the Tony Craze Award and it’s now on at the Vault. The journey of that feels so odd but really beautiful.

Q: Can you tell us what Father’s Son is all about?

A: Initially it was trying to tackle two big questions: How do you write a feminist play as a man? How to write a play about the fact that the biggest killer of men under 50 is suicide?

I’ve had my own experiences with poor mental health and started to think about why men specifically lack the ability and space to talk about their emotions and mental health. This lead me to think about toxic masculinity and why men make men the way they are so that they do the things they do about women. After multiple drafts, it crystallised into a story of fatherhood and how these dangerous patterns are passed on.

Q: The piece began when you took part in the National Theatre’s Toolkit Programme for new writers, what was that experience like and what journey has the piece gone on to become a full-length play?

A: That was an incredible experience. It was one of my first experiences of learning how to write after acting for a few years and not trying to take my writing anywhere. We were taught by the playwright Evan Placey who is just a fantastic writer, brilliant teacher and a really kind man.

The play then went on a massive journey when the ideas created on NT Toolkit were taken on a full three draft process as part of Soho Theatre Writers Lab. This was when it really became what it is now and where I really started to learn how to articulate my voice and write properly. My dramaturg on the course, Holly De Angelis, really helped me unlock the form so that I could find what the play was and the most simple, theatrical way to express what I needed to say.

After I’d finished the course I submitted the play to the Tony Craze Award and didn’t expect anything at all. I ended up being the youngest writer to ever be shortlisted for it (which was just insane). The play was then read at Soho Theatre with professional cast and was directed by Paines Plough’s Charlotte Bennett.

I did a couple more drafts after this and the play’s had a few little language changes here and there throughout the rehearsals for Vault and that’s where it is now.

 Q: Have there been any challenges with developing this piece that you hadn’t anticipated when you first started?

A: Of course! It’s my first proper play so looking back I think when I went into developing it to actually be performed I was pretty naive. I didn’t have the best experience with someone who was previously attached. The Vault slot was offered to us very late meaning the director I had at the time had already been offered a bigger job and had to step away so I was essentially left with no real infrastructure. In two months however we were then in rehearsal with some funding, space, two unbelievable actors, a director who has just been beyond fantastic and a team who are just so passionate about the play and making it work that I can’t help but be buzzing any time I think about them.

It was a really tricky journey production wise but also massively eye opening. A proper ‘throw you in the deep end – now go and learn’ experience. I’ve learnt so much and it’s been so rewarding.

Q: You’ve been described as an urgent and necessary new working class voice. What are your thoughts on working class representation in theatre at the moment?

I think working class representation in all of the arts at the moment is beyond terrible. Theatre specifically needs to try so much harder. It’s been my experience that most theatre is made for middle class audiences with little thought of the bigger picture of who is actually seeing this and why? Is it reaching normal working-class people and if not then what’s the point?

I feel like a lot of people that work in theatre are so wrapped up in the world of theatre and their love of it that they don’t realise they’re making something to purely entertain rich old white people before they have their cake and coffee.

The whole infrastructure of theatre need to change if theatre wants to be an artform that is relevant to average, normal working-class people. There needs to be free or very cheap drama school auditions, bursaries and support, more alternatives to Uni and traditional higher education to get into theatre. Ticket prices at nearly every theatre need to be so so much cheaper. Work needs to be made with people from working class backgrounds and it needs to be made with working class people in mind.

Q: There’s lots going on at the Vaults Festival this year, are there any other shows which you are planning to see?

I’ve been so busy with this show that I’ve been struggling to catch shows and there is just so so much to see but I’m really hoping to come and support:

Omelette by Anna Spearpoint, Dumbledore is so Gay by Robert Holtom & Tom Wright, Small Myth by Holly Robinson, Charlotte Fraser & Eve Allin, Second Home by Charlotte Chimuanya, This Queer House by OPIA Collective and Tiger Mum by Eva Edo.

There’s so much more but all of these shows sound so so exciting and involve people that I think are unbelievably talented.

Q: Lastly, what do you hope audiences will take away from Father’s Son?

I really hope audiences see elements of themselves or men that they know reflected. I hope they see the dangers of not talking. I hope they see how fragile masculinity is and how badly trauma can run through generations.

Most of all I think I want audiences to go away with a real desire and need to express empathy towards each other, to listen and talk to each other. To love each other and help each other to be better.

Thanks for reading! And a huge thank you to James for the interview. You can catch Father’s Son at the Vault Festival from 25 – 28 February 2020 @ 6.15pm 





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