As the writer of Don't Smoke in Bed, Harry McDonald's playwriting debut is currently playing at the Vault Festival. Said to be a gripping new show with some dramatic twists in the lives of the characters, the two hander explores the relationship between friendship and responsibility.
Giving a more in depth discussion about his creation, Harry has spoken about how it came to be.
What inspired you to write this piece, and what drew you to the concept of psychological drama?
I started writing this in the summer of 2020 when I, like everyone else, had been spending lots of time alone. I started to slightly regress back to how I was as a student, and I started to think about the late-night conversations I had with my flatmates. It really became about how people can help each other, and how far our responsibilities to other people go. The psychological intensity of the play came from trying to find a metaphor for that – and also knowing that with Vault [Festival], the audience is really close, and it’s far easier to put them in the characters’ heads.
How has your vision come to life through this show and what challenges have you had when translating the script to the stage?
There’s a couple of moments in the script that are deliberately provocative to the actors and the production team, and they require everyone in the rehearsal room to imagine something into existence. Getting to see the progression of those ideas over the last few weeks has been really exciting. Oh, and props. Thank God for stage managers.
How was the process of developing the characters and how did you, as the writer, become immersed into fine-tuning their personalities?
The characters arrived in my head with quite a lot in tow; I think because parts of their personalities are based on me and people I lived with, it was easy to get into writing their rapport. I just started with all the bitchy things I said as a student. I make playlists for everything I write too, not necessarily because I want those particular songs in the show but because they help me access a really specific tone and mood and I give characters particular songs. But then you get to give the characters to the actors, and Jacob [Seelochan] and Diya [Vencatasawmy] are both so brilliant, and they tell you if something doesn’t feel right.
What makes the narrative engaging?
I think I love watching actors jump off a cliff with a character as an audience member, and as a writer you try and give everyone challenges that they can wrestle with and that compel you as an audience. I think there’s an intensity to Don’t Smoke in Bed from the off that forces an audience to kind of jump on board before they miss the train. The play isn’t entirely naturalistic either, there’s a strangeness that creeps in that I hope the audience will lean into.
Why have you chosen a Pay More If You Can pricing scheme, and what benefit do you think this has in making theatre a more communal art form to enjoy?
PMIYC is a Vault [Festival] initiative, which is brilliant as it takes that particular pressure off the artists making the shows. It is true that every penny can count at Vault, and I think simply giving people the option to chuck the show another couple of quid increases the likelihood that those who can pay more, might choose to. But it’s not a perfect solution, and the demographics that make up a Vault audience remain very particular – and they include lots of artists seeing other shows, who are not able to Pay More.
What are you most proud of with this production?
I haven’t yet slapped the director, my friend Joseph Winer. (The serious answer is that I’m most proud of, and most pleased with watching everyone – including and especially Joseph – take it so seriously and be really rigorous with it. It’s fun, and difficult, and a privilege.)
Many thanks to Harry for sharing your answers and discussing your show- I hope you have a great run!
Grab your tickets here: