Jon Brittain’s bittersweet comedy about gender and sexuality, entitled Rotterdam took home the prize for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre at the 2017 Olivier Awards. After acclaimed runs at both Theatre503 and Trafalgar Studios, the play is set to transfer to the West End this summer and will be presented later this month in New York as part of Brits Off Broadway.
Jon also has a sequel to his infamous comedy show Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho called Margaret Thatcher Queen of Games Shows opening at the Underbelly Festival Southbank next week, but the busy playwright took some time off to complete our Sugar Rush Quiz.
What are you currently working on?
A bunch of things! Rotterdam is off to New York before coming back to the West End, so I’m popping in and out of rehearsals and changing replacing any references to ‘trousers’ with ‘pants’ for the American audience. My show Margaret Thatcher Queen of Game Shows which I made with Matt Tedford (who plays Maggie) is on at the Underbelly Festival on South Bank in May, June and July so we’re re-rehearsing that and waiting to see if we need to do any big rewrites because of the election. And then I’m also working on a new play for LAMDA, a musical with the composer Harry Blake, a couple of scripts for TV, and I’m directing John Kearns’s new Edinburgh show. It’s a busy time, but I’m very happy.
What is the one thing that has helped you to become successful?
I’ve just kept on going. I started writing plays properly in 2009 but nearly all the shows that went on in the first few years, I put on myself. Of course luck is a huge factor; I benefitted hugely from taking part in things like the National Student Drama Festival and the 24 Hour Plays at the Old Vic, I was incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by some very talented friends who I was able to collaborate with, and a couple of my ideas have turned out to be quite zeitgeisty. But genuinely, any success I’ve had has been because I just kept on going. I was sorely tempted to pack it all in around 2013, I wasn’t very happy with what I was doing, but something kept me going and that Summer I directed John Kearns’s first show and made Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho at Theatre503, which led to several other jobs and gave me the confidence to finish writing Rotterdam.
What is your favourite Book?
I don’t have a particular favourite as there are many I would happily revisit. But one that springs to mind that had a really big impact on me is What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe. I remember reading it for the first time in the Summer holidays when I was a teenager. It’s really informed my politics and I love how he experiments with form. The way he presents each chapter in a different style is something I’ve often wanted to replicate in my plays but have yet to find a satisfying way to do so. The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle are also great reads and I keep meaning to get around to reading Number 11. Aside from that, I’d also recommend DisneyWar to anyone who wants to read a 600 page book on Michael Eisner’s time as CEO of the Walt Disney Company.
What are you currently watching on TV?
I’ve just finished the fourth series of Line of Duty, which was hugely entertaining. Alongside her brilliant performance in West World, Thandie Newton is having a great year. I’m also watching The Circus: Inside the Greatest Show on Earth, a weekly documentary series on Donald Trump’s presidency, and This Week Tonight with John Oliver. Veep and Better Call Saul are back so I need to start them again. And I’ve also been making my way through Silicon Valley, which I watch whenever I just need to switch off from the world.
Would you choose the cinema, theatre or a restaurant for a night out?
It entirely depends on the play/film. I love a good trashy blockbuster but I also like checking out whatever is on at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. And I really like going to the theatre, but there’s a big difference between a fun, lively comedy and a hard-hitting drama about important social issues – you need to be in the right mood for either. However, I would probably combine one of those with dinner, as a restaurant on its own seems a little boring to be the whole evening’s entertainment (although obviously it depends on who it’s with).
What’s your favourite sweet?
Like, basically anything with chocolate in it. I know that’s boring. I wish I could be more specific. I just love chocolate. I love chocolate so much. It upsets me so much that it makes me fat. Why chocolate?! Why?!
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Actually, I always told my parents I wanted to be an author. However, I think I should qualify that by explaining that I did not really know what an author was. I thought the job would entail sitting in a church at a lectern writing in a large book with a feathered quill. In reality, it involves a lot more Red Bull and rejection.
What was the naughtiest thing you did when you were a child?
I used to bite my brother for changing the channel from shows I wanted to watch and I once picked my sister up by the neck. We all get on really well now though…
What is your proudest achievement to date?
That I’ve been able to make work with some of my best friends, and that we’re still best friends after making work together. That I think I’ve carved out a little niche for myself where I can write the sort of things I want to write, work on the sort of shows I’m interested in, and also do a bit of messing around in comedy on the side. And of course, even though awards are basically silly, and they don’t really reflect what is ‘best’, and even though trying to judge artistic things against each other is ultimately pretty pointless as taste is subjective… I am really proud that we won an Olivier for Rotterdam. I keep it above my toilet.