One of the highlights of 2012’s local theatre repertoire was undoubtedly the hard-hitting and intense ‘Human Interest Stories’, penned by Berwick’s own Robert Wilkinson. Well a man of many ideas, Robert is now ready to test the water with his latest creation.
Although it arrives just a few weeks after the annual romance-fest that is Valentine’s Day, make no mistake ‘Love or Money’ - which hits The Maltings Henry Travers Studio next Thursday, February 28 for a three night run- is certainly not all hearts and flowers.
The script, which Robert penned while he was still busy with ‘Human Interest Stories’, tells the tale of movie editor Spencer Goldwyn who has to edit the love of his life out of film and effectively ruin her career.
Taking the role of Spencer is Hugo Hughes who was a roving reporter in last year’s show and he is joined by a number of his fellow ‘Human Interest Stories’ alumni: Dan Cox in the role of ruthless agent Byron; Gary Robson playing a director addicted to prozac and Tamsin Davidson playing his ex-wife Karen.
But although a number of the faces are the same, Robert said that ‘Love or Money’ was a completely different kettle of fish to the show which won rave reviews last year.
“It’s a very different beast,” he told ‘The Guide’.
“Whereas ‘Human Interest Stories’ was billed as a comedy/drama this is an out and out comedy. If people don’t find it funny there’s no hiding!
“I was unbelievably surprised at the response we had to ‘Human Interest Stories’. I really didn’t know how people would take to it. Some people were shocked by what they saw whereas others really went with the comedy element.
“I would describe ‘Love or Money’ as ‘Woody Allen on steroids’ but even that doesn’t do it justice!”
While the majority of the play came from the depths of his imagination, Robert did confess that a segment of the script was derived from a real life experience.
“There’s a bit in the middle that is basically a blow by blow account of my attempt to chat up a fundamentalist Christian from Texas. Rather than being completely embarrassing it is a way of me exercising my guilt at how appalling it was!
“’Love or Money’ was a lot harder to do than ‘Human Interest Stories’ and after the first read through with the cast I did a re-write.
“There was one character that I wrote with a particular person in mind but she couldn’t commit to the play until January so I actually re-wrote it as a male part but then changed it back.
“The big difference between the two plays is the pressure. With the reaction I got to ‘Human Interest Stories’ I felt a level of expectation with ‘Love or Money’ but I think it’s just as good if not better.”
Unlike ‘Human Interest Stories’ where Robert wrote the script, acted in the play and sat in the director’s chair, for ‘Love or Money’ he won’t be treading the boards and has handed over directing duties to Mark Pentecost, who starred in its predecessor.
But the opposite of ‘Love or Money’s’ main protagonist Spencer, Mark said he didn’t need to be ruthless when it came to cutting.
“As a director your first thought is naturally ‘where I am going to cut or change something?’ but after reading through Robert’s script I didn’t want to do either.
“What I really wanted to do with the play is break down the barrier between the cast and the audience. The Henry Travers Studio is ideal for that.
“There will be parts where the audience will feel uncomfortable due to how the cast interact but it’s all about keeping them on their toes. Every character will surprise you.”
As well as keeping the audience guessing, Mark is keen for ‘Love or Money’ not to be theatre by numbers.
“We’ve trashed a number of conventions of theatre,” he explained.
“There definitely won’t be a curtain call. It’s something I’ve never done as a director.
“There are certain things that are done again and again in theatre because it’s tradition and that’s one of them.
“Not having one allows the final scene to have more of an impact on the audience.
“We’re also not having an interval as someone going away, getting a drink and then coming back 15 minutes later would ruin the moment.”
And how exactly does Robert feel about handing over his ‘baby’ to Mark to nurture?
“It actually feels great not being in it this time.
“I’ve tried to keep away from rehearsals; although out of the five there have been so far I’ve been to three!
“Mark has a really different approach on how to stage it but he’s got some great ideas.
“I’m not sure I’ll be able to completely take a back seat come show time; I’m considering helping with the lights or sound.”
Before the first line of ‘Love or Money’ has even been uttered in front of an audience, Robert has set the ball rolling on another production which is scheduled to hit the stage in the summer.
“I made a point of booking two shows at the same time so I had to get both finished.
“Looking further ahead I’ve been asked by Canon Alan Hughes to write a piece for the 100th anniversary of the Great War in 2014.
“When It comes to me writing things it’s really just a race to see what gets finished first.
“A few people have said I should do another ‘Human Interest Stories’ and although the first one finished without any definite ending I’m not overly keen to bathe in the same water twice, not yet anyway.
“I’ve given myself two years to try and make scriptwriting my full time job but at the moment I’m still writing ideas on the till rolls at work!”