Six plays by six experienced TV writers? What could go wrong. Nick Ahad on how he found himself in Slung Low Shorts.
About three months ago I sat down at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Mark Catley (writer of Casualty, EastEnders, Doctors) sat next to me. Chuckling gleefully, he said: “It’s the man who will from now on be known as ‘And Nick Ahad’.”
He wasn’t being rude, not really. That afternoon Catley had found something out that my new play will premiere in Leeds. alongside five others written by Peter Bowker (Occupation, Wuthering Heights, The A Word), Lindsay Williams (EastEnders, Emmerdale), Alison Hume (The Sparticle Mystery and Rocket Man), Lisa Holdsworth (Fat Friends, Midsomer Murders), Emma Ko (Hollyoaks, Dani’s House).
That’s right, there’s that collection of incredibly seasoned, award-winning television writers and then there’s...me. The reason is Slung Low Shorts, which is about the best value night at the theatre you could imagine.
In one single evening you get to see six entirely new plays by writers whose work is normally seen by millions on TV. And the absolute best bit? You only pay what you think the performance is worth.
It’s the first time the theatrical venture SL Shorts has been staged in Leeds, but it has proved successful elsewhere and is based on a model in Manchester called JB Shorts. The producers of the Leeds version, Mark Catley and Lisa Holdsworth, were determined it start with a big statement.
Getting the Bafta-winning writer Peter Bowker to write his first play for the stage is a pretty big coup. His most recent award came at the Baftas last year for the screenplay of Marvellous – he also won the Best Writer Bafta in 2011 for his screenplay Eric and Ernie.
The reason I’m on the list of SL Shorts writers’, by the way, is because of my time as a scriptwriter for Emmerdale and the whole notion of the project is that it’s a two-way opportunity: the audience get to see what happens when TV writers are given the blank canvas of the stage and TV writers get the blank canvas of the stage to play on.
I can see why writers of the calibre I’m joining at the inaugural SL Shorts were attracted to the prospect. When you write for TV the restrictions are...strict. Once your script is written, it then goes through several departments, several edits, with script editors, producers and executives galore.
When it comes to SL Shorts, the TV writers find themselves handling a very different beast.No-one has told us anything, short of the date of the deadline, given to us a lethal-to-a-writer two months before the plays were due.
We’ve been given no rules. Write what you want, Holdsworth and Catley told us. It’s a liberating, terrifying notion.
For my SL Shorts play I toyed with an idea I’ve had for a while about Shakespeare. Then I found out that Ben Elton’s new sitcom is about Shakespeare, so that went on the backburner. The play I eventually wrote for SL Shorts’ first outing is called My Mum The Racist.
It’s a comedy. Of sorts.
Writing a play with no rules, with no parameters other than a 15 minute time frame is really quite a scary notion.
Over in Manchester for JB Shorts last year I wrote a play set in a dystopian future where religion is outlawed. There was also a Western musical on the bill, a play set in the headquarters of Ukip and a play involving several magic tricks.
If you want to find out where the writers of some of your favourite TV shows have gone with their Slung Low Shorts, join us at the Holbeck Underground Ballroom (HUB) from July 13 to 17.
That’s the other thing about SL Shorts. Like its spiritual partner over the Pennines, it’s rough and ready. The writers will be on the door, arranging the furniture, serving behind the (very cheap) bar, it’s theatre that’s dirty and visceral. And, we hope, a brilliant evening of entertainment.
We’ll see you there.
Book tickets at www.eventbrite.com and search for Slung Low Shorts, or see the Facebook page.