Features Q&A and Interviews Published 7 April 2014

Mike Bartlett: A Double Act

Mike Bartlett's plays include Earthquakes in London, Love, Love, Love, 13 and the magnificent Cock. This month, he opens two new plays, which also ask big questions; An Intervention, co-produced by Paines Plough and Watford Palace Theatre, is a play about political protest, while King Charles III at the Almeida looks to what our future might look like under a new monarch.
Dan Hutton

What form does An Intervention take?

It’s a double act – two best friends with shared lives and jokes realise they might not be as close as they thought – for various personal and political reasons. And this causes huge upset. As a play it’s all about the two parts and the two actors. We’ve got a fantastic set and production, but there’s something I love about focussing on live performance – the complicity, division, drama and complexity between two people. It what an audience comes out to see ultimately. Something live.

After Earthquakes in London and 13, it seems like protest is something which especially interests you. Why is that?

My generation failed at protest really – in our early twenties, ten years ago, the country was comfortable and perhaps we took that for granted. But we’re living in time now that are more like the 70’s or 80’s. Powerful elites, both political and economic exploiting and ignoring huge swathes of the population. That’s happening (in very different ways) here, in the Middle East, in the Ukraine. And it results in uprising and protest, particularly from people who are in their early twenties now, and thinking about the future. I think the plays reflect that.

Should we, as citizens, ‘intervene’ in general society more regularly?

That’s one of the things the play asks. It’s got to be up to the individual to make a choice – and is related to how much responsibility you think you have for society in general.

Why is it important that theatre engages with these subjects?

Only because it’s part of the world we live in and theatre should be able to address everything and anything. The subject of this play is protest, and politician intervention, but it’s equally about love, betrayal and friendship. Our lives are full of all those things.

Do you start your plays with an idea or a story? Or is it not as simple as that?

It’s normally a moment when I think of a form and a content at about the same time. With this play it was the idea of a “double act” or friendship that needs each other to survive.

Why aren’t more playwrights writing plays which tackle large, complex ideas?

I think a lot of playwrights are doing exactly that now. Lucy Prebble, Lucy Kirkwood, James Graham, Simon Stephens, DC Moore, Duncan Macmillan, Ella Hickson and many others have all written astonishing work about some of the biggest subjects. I think it’s thrilling how ambitious some new plays are at the moment. Not to mention other ways of making theatre, like the TEAM, or Unlimited Theatre, both of whom are unafraid of a big and complex subject.

Regarding Charles III, why did you want to look at the reign of Charles before it’s even started?

It’s a future history play, and therefore a way of looking at the present by extrapolating out into the future. When the Queen dies it will be one of the biggest moments for the country since the Second World War. That seems a good moment to investigate, in order to look at that family, and the British constitution and system of power.

King Charles III is at Almeida Theatre, London, from 3rd April – 31st May; An Intervention is at Watford Palace Theatre from 16th April – 3rd May, and then touring. Tickets are available for £5 for those aged 16 – 25.


Dan Hutton

Dan is a freelance critic and theatre-maker. He won the Howard Hobson Award for Theatre Criticism at NSDF in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and in 2013 was the runner-up for the Edinburgh Fringe Allen Wright Award for Arts Journalism. Dan is also a director and co-runs Barrel Organ Theatre.



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