From the Writers Eye: Strange Town Season

Strange Town – dubbed “Edinburgh’s startlingly gifted young company” by respected critic Joyce McMillan, enable young people to fulfil their creative potential, showcasing these talents at the Scottish Storytelling Centre twice a year. Their December programme of Christmas inspired shows are always imaginatively quirky with new twists on classic fables for the festive season. To explain more about writing for this impressive youth collection, the Centre spoke to two of Strange Town’s longest collaborating playwrights – Sam Siggs and Tim Primrose – whose shows are on opposite ends of the audience scale; from Sigg’s young adult themes staring the 16-18 year old group, through to Primrose’s all ages family show staring the 8-10 year old group.

Sam Siggs

Tell us about your latest play – All I Want for Christmas is the Head of Johnny Murdock – for Strange Town’s Christmas Season.
In a nutshell, it is the retelling (by a number of council estate kids) of how a young lady called Amy “Squeaker” Benson took out a hit on her Step-dad last Christmas.  However it might not have – i.e. probably didn’t – go down exactly the way they say it did. It all gets pretty far-fetched, but in a fun way. Expect one-liners, machine guns and inappropriate use of Faberge eggs!

How long have you been writing for Strange Town.
Ages. Well since 2010. My good friend Tim Primrosetook a punt and directed my first ever stage play – The Place Between Sleeping and Waking – which Steve Small of Strange Town funded. What utter gents. Since then I have been writing a Strange Town play every couple of months.

Do you like to be in the rehearsal room, seeing your writing take shape, or do you prefer to steer clear?
I usually come to the first read throughs to try and iron out any script troubles. But after that I try and leave them to it. Nobody likes a back-seat director.

What’s the first hook that gets a new play started for you? Is it an image, a theme, a character?
Hmmm. I usually have a vague sort of feeling of what I want to convey and the characters and plot sort of spring from that. In my recent scripts there’s been a big storytelling/ensemble element. This started out as a constraint as the casts were too big to give everyone fully formed characters, but it’s actually become quite freeing now. There’s something quite snappy about a big group of people telling the audience a story, and it lets you include some really wacky shenanigans which would be impossible if the whole thing was completely naturalistic.

Whose work would you recommend for emerging writers to study?
Anyone who really makes you care about the story they’re telling. Anyone who makes you feel like “Damn you! I wish I’d written that!” I think it’s inevitable as a new writer that you’ll end up copying/trying to emulate your favourite writer for a bit. That’s okay though. Nick the bits you like from a whole bunch of people and hopefully sooner or later you’ll find you’ve Frankensteined together your own style. That’s the way it works I think.

What play do you wish you had written and why?
Sam SiggsThe Pillowman by Martin McDonagh. It’s funny and tragic and sick and seems to have been written with an air of “I don’t give a shit what people might think of this. This is the story I want to tell.”

“My guilty pleasure is …”
Missing all deadlines.

Sam Siggs is an Edinburgh based Playwright currently being mentored by Playwright’s Studio Scotland. His first play, The Place Between Sleeping and Waking, was produced in 2010 whilst he was still studying Drama and Theatre Arts at Queen Margaret University. He has since written numerous plays for Strange Town, Ineffect and New Celts/No Idling Theatre. In 2013 Sam Siggs play Acorns was selected as part of the Traverse 50 project.

Tim Primrose

Tell us about your latest play – Jinglebell Jones: Elf Squad –for Strange Town’s Christmas Season.
Essentially it is a cop-movie for the stage. Think Bad Boys meets The Sweeney via a school nativity play. And all the characters are elves. Most of them, anyway. There are a few reindeer and some penguins in there too.

How long have you been writing for Strange Town and how did you get involved?
I have been with Strange Town from the very beginning, helping to set up the 18-25 year age group and working with them as both a director and a writer. I have been writing for the 8-10s and some of the older youth theatre groups for about 4 years now.

Do you like to be in the rehearsal room, seeing your writing take shape, or do you prefer to steer clear?
That depends entirely on the individual project. For youth theatre scripts such as this one, I tend to hand the script to the director and then don’t see it again until the final production; and it’s always fun seeing the final result. As a director, I love being in rehearsals; as a writer, I have to know when it’s best to let someone else get on with it.  

What’s the first hook that gets a new play started for you? Is it an image, a theme, a character?
I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to this question. But in the case of comedies like JJ:ES, it’s maybe a case of “wouldn’t it be funny if . . .” And in this case, it’s also the result of figuring out the practicalities of what can be done with a very young cast.

Whose work would you recommend for emerging writers to study?
Anyone who has ever written anything ever. You don’t have to like it, but if you want to write, you have to read; and if you want to write plays, you have to go and see plays.

What play do you wish you had written and why?
I don’t.

Tim Primrose“My guilty pleasure is …”
Pretending to know more stuff about stuff than I actually do know stuff about stuff.

Tim is an Edinburgh based writer who wrote his first full length script, this here now, for Lyceum Youth Theatre at the age of 18. Since then, he has written more than twenty scripts for youth theatres of all ages across the country. His 2002 play, Porcelain Dolls, was recently translated into Norwegian and performed at the Rogaland Teater, Stavanger, under the title #Sweet. His directing work includes the 2011 Fringe sell-out Hex, which he co-wrote with Sam Siggs for Strange Town Theatre Company. As a member of 2013’s Traverse 50 project, he is currently developing his comedy short Broth for further production. Tim has recently become a father with the birth of his first child, Ella, born on St Andrew’s Day!


View the Strange Town Season Here