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Laura Wade

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Playing the Playwright: A First Night in the West End

Posted: 02/06/2012 00:00

It's an odd mix, the life of a playwright. You spend months (years, sometimes) crafting something at your desk at home, in a kind of fevered seclusion, watching a group of fictional characters circling each other inside your head. Then when a play goes into production you're suddenly out in the world for a few months, continually in company - and if your play's politically spicy, also blinking under a hot media spotlight.

It can be a bit of a body-shock.

Last Wednesday was the press night for my play, Posh, which presents a raucous evening with the Riot Club, an elite Oxford dining society. It's the first of my plays to make it to the West End, and therefore A Big Deal - though I find myself unsure whether to treat it like a birthday party, or just another day at the office. In the end I aim for a dignified place somewhere between the two.

Press night is the official opening of a show, when critics come to review it, so however proud you are of the production (and I'm very proud of everyone's work on this one), it's still a nerve-wracking day to wake up on.

This time my day starts early, when I'm driven to the Sky TV studios in Isleworth to be interviewed on Sunrise with Eamonn Holmes. It's my first ever live television appearance - talk about jumping in at the deep end - and I'm surprised by how relaxed the team is. Don't they know I'm going to be appalling on screen? In the end I'm on air for about three minutes, and thankfully Eamonn asks questions I know the answers to. I'm left wondering what I was so worried about.

Then I've got to occupy myself till the evening, so the nerves can't get the better of me. When my first few plays were on I'd get my hair done on the day of press night but I'd only sit in the chair fretting, so now I try to give myself something more altruistic to do. This time it's making good luck cards for the cast and crew. I say altruistic, it's basically occupational therapy.

There are a lot of cards, flowers and presents around when I get to the theatre at 6pm. There's also a performance to do, so it's important that everyone stays focused on the job. Some writers find it too stressful to watch the play on press night, preferring to hide out in a bar nearby until the play comes down. I can't help feeling that if the actors have to go through it, the least I can do is be in the theatre to support them. Tonight, they put in a cracking show and there's a hearty response from an audience containing lots of normal punters as well as friends, family and critics. And I admit it: there's a rather dirty thrill when 700 people laugh at a joke you've written.

There's a party afterwards in the clubbable setting of the Gladstone Library at One Whitehall Place. It's a gorgeous galleried room, reached by a sweeping marble staircase, and is just right for us, in being a little opulent but also bookish. My first drink of the night goes down like Calpol, and director Lyndsey Turner and I breathe a sigh of relief.

The cast are sharply turned out, and on deservedly ebullient form. Several of the actors have unwittingly dressed the same, in a grey suit with a white shirt and red tie, as if in playing members of a club onstage, their thoughts have also become synchronised. I experience a huge surge of affection for all of them. I also find I'm a little envious to think that while they'll continue to live in each others' pockets, in and out of Stage Door each day, I'm going back to my desk to work on my next play, looking up from the foothills at a new mountain.

But I discover a couple of days later that a dear friend went into labour on Wednesday evening, just as our press night went up, and delivered her son at lunchtime the following day. Which puts everything crashingly into perspective, my mountain suddenly a molehill.

While my friend and her baby were spending their first few hours together on Thursday, I was at home in the recovery position: on the sofa catching up on several episodes of The Apprentice, and getting to grips with another first - my first night not watching the play since we started previews a week and a half before. Apparently the show happens even if I'm not there. Who knew?

Posh is at the Duke of York's Theatre till 4 August

 
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