WWhen Phoebe Waller-Bridge performed her screenplay Fleabag on the outskirts of Edinburgh in 2013, it landed like a bolt from the blue sky. But Waller-Bridge, who takes the piece for her final run in the role in the West End, had spent years improving her craft. Fleabag is the result of a long-term short game night that she created in 2007 with her writing partner Vicky Jones. It shared the name of the drama company DryWrite, which they still manage together. The couple have their teeth cut there without critics doing anything about it. The background story of their success has remained untold so far.
At that time London had some similar nights, all breeding grounds for emerging talents. But DryWriteThat was different – "the least formal, the roughest at the edges, and the most punk," recalled playwright Phil Porter. They were as much about socializing as they were about scriptwriting, and they certainly were not showcases. Without industry invitations, people have done work for their colleagues – especially for hell. "It felt like you were part of this great gang," says The Pass author John Donnelly. "They felt like the coolest nights in town."
DryWrite started at the George Tavern in Shadwell, a rundown old drunkard (since the renovation). The stairs were shaky, the ceiling threatened to collapse and on one occasion artists came to find a dead owl on the stage.
"It was like a Who's Who of the great and good British theater today," says playwright Tim Price. You may find shorts by James Graham, Ella Hickson, Lucy Kirkwood or Jack Thorne performed by Arthur Darvill, Michelle Terry or Daniel Rigby – and, of course, Waller-Bridge.
Not that you knew. The distinguishing feature of DryWrite was the anonymity that enabled Waller-Bridge to write undercover in part. "For a community of people, all desperately trying to make a name for themselves, that was an interesting provocation," says Price. It gave writers the freedom to take real risks, from the unspeakable to the play with form.
However, what truly distinguished DryWrite was that it began to define authoring tasks. There were no scratch evenings or quick answers to a topic or topic. The starting points were more active and more open: challenges in writing plays. For example, "Funny, Not Funny?" Writers daring to walk the tightrope between taste and tragedy. From when, she wondered, would the laughter die out? "What's in My Box?" Was an intrigue exercise in which characters were given containers that they could not open – safes, coffins, inboxes, black box. "Guilty?" Took terrible real-life crimes – stolen newborns, sex slavery – and made guilty parties try to justify their actions. Other challenges prompted the authors to write lyrics that were set to songs, and to invent extensive, extravagant combat sequences.
Most nights were associated with audience interactions. On a secret mission, writers tried to force an interjection and give birth to the first incarnation of Fleabag when Waller Bridge wrote about a woman delivering her boyfriend to someone who was simply much better in bed. Another divided the audience by sex. "The provocation was immediately dangerous," says Donnelly. "What do I do with it? Am I leaning in or am I going back? It gave you a real problem. "
Price recalls, "Vicky and Phoebe spent days and days developing incentives for their authors." How do you control the laughter of an audience? How do you hook them up or tear them open? DryWrite was more and more interested in the impact than expression, and encouraged playwrights to do something to their audience: shock, surprise, trigger a reaction.
"It was all about entertaining the people in the room," says Donnelly. "Most of the stuff was pretty boring, but occasionally something magical happened." Someone hit a rich kinon seam – and scratchy memories of the time seem to reflect that. People tend to remember images rather than entire scripts: Darvill, hand-clasping a vase and picking up a ringing phone, or Terry, who, as a mourning mother who has murdered another's child, wins a crowd. Fighting nuns. Employees scraping with shredders and staplers. A family argument, except that everyone is disguised as an animal. "It was special to see a penguin screaming at a donkey," Price smiles.
It inevitably became competitive, and dizziness was the norm. Jonjo O'Neill remembers a champagne feeling – more cava, I suppose. It was a very lively atmosphere. You always had the feeling that you were close to a corpse. "The point is, people wrote and played for each other, not to impress industrial types or to place an order. "It was all very un-Rada, the opposite of taking yourself seriously in a Chekhov. There was a real sense of community – like in a secret theater club. "
The focus was on Waller Bridge and Jones – infectious personalities who set the tone. When the duo defined the spirit of DryWrite, the club left its mark on them. Waller-Bridges writing still bears his signature – she wavers on the verge of taste and enjoys moral ambivalence. You could trace Fleabag's direct address or Killing Eve's enjoyment of crowded action sequences. Two protagonists who do irresponsible things while still keeping our compassion? This is pure DryWrite.