OffWestEnd talks to David Shopland – writer and director of Saving Britney, running at The Old Red Lion Theatre from 18 May – 5 June

What first attracted you to the theatre?
I’ve been in love with theatre for as long as I can remember. My grandfather was a jobbing actor his whole life (perhaps who’s biggest claim to fame was co-owning a motorbike with South Pacific castmate Sean Connery!) and my father worked for Methuen Publishing when I was younger; so I was always surrounded by the world of theatre and plays. I was also lucky enough to be inspired by more than one drama teacher growing up, which helped solidify my career path at a young age

If you could pick any one person or theatre company to work with on your next project, who/which would it be?

This is a tough one as there are so many theatre-makers I admire. One of the most exciting companies I’ve come across in recent years is California-based Theatre Movement Bazaar; who I’ve been lucky enough to catch at Edinburgh Fringe 4 or 5 times. Their playful, stylish aesthetic and witty and inventive staging is endlessly inspiring, so I’d love to collaborate with them on something in the future.

What is your opinion of Off West End theatre, in general?
To me, Off West End and Fringe Theatre is the lifeblood of our industry. I have always strived to make theatre for audiences not to sit back and relax, but to sit forward and engage – I think away from the commercial landscape of West End, the Fringe and Off West End venues in the capital are at the heart of producing this kind of thought provoking, daring work.

What was the most inspiring production you have ever seen? Why?
Headlong Theatre’s adaptation of Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search Of An Author in 2009. To this day it is the single most affecting piece of theatre I have ever seen. As a first year Drama School student I was still relatively sheltered to the world of possibilities theatre can afford. Seeing this production for the first time was like someone had suddenly turned the volume up on my own concept of theatre. The way the production broke form, content and narrative structure was masterfully done, and I’ve been a lifelong fan of Rupert Goold and Ben Power ever since.

What piece of work are you the most proud of?

I don’t think I could pick a single piece of work; as corny as it sounds each play I have written or show I have directed has its own special place in my heart. I am proud of co-founding a theatre company after leaving drama school and taking it from a small fringe group to creating Riverside Studios’ Christmas show in less than two years. I am proud of co-writing a musical that was livestreamed to over 250,000 people in China in 2018. I am proud of creating a festival for writers, performers and creatives under 30 in Bath that is still going strong nearly eight years later and I am probably most proud that after a decade since graduating Drama School, I am still here in the industry!

What makes a really good character?
Truth and Lies. David Mamet says, “Good drama is two or more people onstage, at least one of whom is lying.” I think dishonesty and mistrust are great devices upon which to hang a narrative arc, but at the same time a character has to be truthful to themselves, they have to appear as real as possibly otherwise an audience will smell something rotten pretty quickly.

Are there any actors/actresses you would like to write a play for?
If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have said our very own Saving Britney star Shereen Roushbaiani. I have followed her work for more than 10 years and I think she is one of the most incredible yet-to-be discovered performers in this country. I have been wanting to create a one woman show for Shereen since around 2008, so when the idea of Saving Britney came to me during the first lockdown in April of 2020, I knew instantly who needed to perform it. Shereen has been instrumental in the developing the play since I finished the script and now it is just as much her show as mine; so I’m really happy to say I no longer have an answer to this question!

What play do you wish you’d written?
I think in terms of striving to create a play that is perfectly crafted in structure, replete with nuanced characters and uses a microcosmic community to allegorise a philosophical or political concept; either Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet, A View From The Bridge by Arthur Miller or Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco. And for the money – Les Mis!

Can you tell our readers about what you’re doing now/next?
Well this is just the start of the Saving Britney journey. We have some provisional festival dates lined up in the summer before embarking on a proper regional tour between January – March 2022. I have also been working on several musical theatre projects with my longtime collaborator Callum Hughes, and we’re excited to be showcasing an evening of our new works in progress at The Phoenix Arts Club in the heart of theatreland on the 27th June at 2.30pm and 7.30pm; featuring some of the biggest names in the West End helping us out!

About David Shopland

David Shopland is an internationally recognised theatremaker; holding a First Class degree from Rose Bruford College  and currently undertaking a Masters in Writing For Performance and Dramaturgy and Goldsmiths. David has written and directed plays across three continents and seen productions reach over 250,000 people. Writing credits include THE LITTLE MERMAID (Riverside Studios), CINDERELLA: THE ANTI PANTO (Leicester Square Theatre) and LESSONS LEARNED (National Theatre of China). Directing credits include MACBETH (UK Tour), AN IDLE WORLD (Trafalgar Studios, West End), LOGIN ERROR (Southwark Playhouse) and A DREAM OF DYING (Edinburgh Fringe Festival)

David is Artistic Director of Fake Escape Theatre.