Charley Miles: A fresh new voice

PREMIERE: Charlotte Bate as Her and Harry Egan as Him in Blackthorn.
PREMIERE: Charlotte Bate as Her and Harry Egan as Him in Blackthorn.
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Charley Miles always believed she could be a playwright and next week her debut play opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Nick Ahad reports.

A month closer to December and I’d be all over this story, decorating it to read like a Christmas miracle.

As it is, we’re not quite close enough just yet, so I’ll just share the facts. Christmas Eve, 2015, Charley Miles gets the phone call she’s been waiting a decade to receive. And given that she’s still only 25, that’s a not insignificant chunk of her life.

It was the call that told her she might yet fulfil her dream of being an actual playwright.

“I was in a garden centre with my mum and little sister and I got the phone call saying ‘will you come to the theatre in January and can we pay you to write your play?’ I just burst into tears,” says Miles.

The playwright, and that’s what she is now, will see her debut play, Blackthorn, on stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse next week.

Miles grew up in the village of Kilburn, near Thirsk. “Growing up somewhere like that means that I wasn’t exactly part of the theatre world or connected to any of that kind of thing,” she says.

“I put plays on in the village hall when I was 15 with my big sister and her uni friends. We’d get all the old people in the village to come and charge them to watch these plays then give the money to charity. They were terrible, but the people in the village were so nice, probably because I was pretty much the only kid in the village.”

Miles’s story, although it appears to be one of a wunderkind achieving huge success early on in her life, is actually the same one that we’ve read many times before – it’s a story of rejection and persistence in the face of massive odds.

When she was putting on those ‘terrible’ plays as a 15 year old, Miles was also clearly focussed. She entered a playwrighting competition run by Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, and won.

With a maturity that belies her age, she says: “There’s never been a point when I didn’t think I’d be a playwright. There have been points along the way when I didn’t think the world was going to let me be a playwright, but I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”

The problem was then as it remained – how does someone from a little North Yorkshire village become a playwright?

“There was a real naivete about me when I left home for university. It was like bang, and you’re suddenly in the real world. I didn’t even know how to send emails properly. I had no idea how the theatre world worked.” After university Miles found herself an English graduate with no real idea about what to do with the rest of her life. “I moved to Edinburgh, where my partner was living and studying and made lots of coffee and wrote lots. I realised eventually that my work was actually getting worse because I was spending all my time making coffee to pay the rent. I didn’t have a community to share my work with, I was in a rut.”

That was when Miles made the decision to move back to Kilburn and commit herself to writing.

It also unlocked something. Once back in Yorkshire she contacted the West Yorkshire Playhouse and York Theatre Royal. She worked on a production at York, staged as part of the annual Takeover Festival, she began working as a reader of scripts for the Playhouse and she applied to one of its new writing schemes. At the end of it she submitted a scene from a script. The Playhouse liked it and then the fateful Christmas Eve call came. In January this year Miles sat in a rehearsal room and started writing the play that would become Blackthorn. It follows the story of a couple over 30 years.

She says: “It’s about the question: what does belonging mean when neither the place nor the person you belong to remains the same?

“It’s about an exploration of coming from a really specific part of the world and feeling so tied to it. Coming from a small community gives you strong roots but what happens when you take yourself away from those roots, then come back and you still love it and the people there, but it and they are changing, growing apart.”

Blackthorn, West Yorkshire Playhouse, September 13 to 17. Tickets 0113 2137700.