Today on the podcast, I’m chatting to playwright Kieran Lynn and theatre director Dan Ayling, two of the creative team behind The Trap, a hilarious new comedy that’s receiving its European premiere at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham from 31st October to 19th November.
Kieran Lynn is an award-winning playwright. In 2012 he won the Nick Darke Award for his play Wild Fish.
His play, An Incident at the Border was performed at the Finborough Theatre; a critical and commercial success the production transferred to the West End.
Dan Ayling is a theatre director specialising in modern plays and contemporary opera, with a particular interest in text, space & gesture.
He’s also Equity Councillor for Director’s, Designers and Fight Directors.
The Trap, which we discuss in this interview, is a biting new comedy about the financial perils of a capitalist world.
Here’s my conversation with Dan Ayling and Kieran Lynn of The Trap, in episode 276 of Informed Choice Radio.
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Martin: Welcome back to Informed Choice Radio. This I think is a first for our podcast. Today on the podcast we’re talking to a theatre director and a playwright. I’m really excited about this, particularly because the subjects of the play that they’re involved with is just so relevant to this podcast, what we talk about here. It’s personal finance and what’s going on in society at the moment.
So Dan Ayling and Kieran Lynn, welcome to Informed Choice Radio.
Kieran: Thank you, nice to be here.
Martin: Can we start with some introductions then, so could you each tell us a bit about your backgrounds and about your current roles?
Kieran: Yeah so I’m Kieran Lynn, I’m the playwright on The Trap. I actually went to university to train as an actor, I went to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, but while I was there I realised quite quickly that actually I didn’t enjoy acting that much and writing was what I really wanted to pursue. So since then I’ve written several plays that have been on around London, and fortunately other countries around the world too.
Martin: Fantastic and Dan what about you?
Dan: So I trained at the Guildhall in London and I actually did a stage management degree, and then I worked in places like Perth Theatre, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, and the Almeida. And then I always wanted to be a director so I retrained, I went to Birkbeck and did their MFA and theatre directing, and then I’ve been working as a freelance director since then for about 10 years. I do a lot of assisting as well with Katie Mitchell, who’s quite a big name director. So this is a great little project because we’re doing our own work, which is really exciting. So that’s cool.
Martin: Fab, and you’ve come together for this project which is called The Trap. I’ve read the synopsis, it looks really exciting, so could you share with us a brief overview? What’s this play about?
Kieran: So the story is basically set in a payday lending company that is facing new government regulations, which basically means the business is gonna have to tighten up a little bit, and that puts a lot of pressure on its employees. Two of its employees hatch a plan to break into the office in the middle of the night, clean out the safe and steal a bunch of money from the company. Unfortunately they’re not the only ones who have that idea and quite quickly they find that increasingly higher tiers of management have also had the idea and also have the need to break into the company in the middle of the night and steal the money.
So we end up in sort of hopefully quite comic territory where everybody is there with the same intention, and they have to basically decide how to split the money up between them all.
Martin: Fantastic, and I could ask what inspired the creation of this play but you know pay day lenders facing new regulation, people increasingly desperate to have some money, I guess the inspiration was there wasn’t it? It was just everyday life.
Kieran: It was, and actually this is perhaps the easiest play I could think to research because every newspaper, every publication is just filled with stories about debt and how it impacts people and things like that, so I really didn’t have to struggle to find material while I was researching.
Martin: And any personal experience with this as well or was this simply from what you read in the papers and saw going on around you?
Kieran: Well I’ve been lucky enough never to have to take a payday loan, but obviously there are so many different forms of debt and I unfortunately think that although I haven’t had a payday loan, I think I’ve had some experience with most of the other forms.
Martin: Now you said it becomes comedic territory as a result of what happens in this play. How do you approach such a serious subject like debt, and debt is very serious for lots of people, it can result in some very serious outcomes. How do you approach that serious subject in a comedic fashion and why was it so important that you added that element of comedy to the subject?
Kieran: It’s a really good question and it’s something that I think I have struggled with throughout. I think basically the way you approach it is very carefully and I think very very respectfully. And I think exactly what you have said, even though for some reason when we watch things and people are desperate it can quite often look funny. I had to be very careful that I never made it so that we were laughing at the people or at their situations, and I think the only way I can explain to do that is that we very very quickly have to see a little bit of ourselves in them. So rather than feeling like we’re laughing at these people who have got themselves into this situation, I felt that if I could make the audience feel like they knew what this situation was and perhaps they had been in it before, that the humour would come from more a place of empathy.
And the second question, why I think it was important. I think that’s probably ultimately just because it can be a very difficult subject and we didn’t want people to come and leave feeling worse than when they arrived. So hopefully if we have done it correctly, the blending of a serious issue but done with quite a light touch might make it a little bit more digestible for an audience. That’s certainly the hope.
Martin: And Dan, I’m assuming your role as the director is to take this wonderful play that Kieran’s written and bring it to life, so what was it about the play that made you want to work with Kieran and bring that play to life in the first place?
Dan: Well Kieran came to me with the play about two and a half years ago I think, and we didn’t know each other, we hadn’t worked together before. But I read it and I instantly went, “This is really funny.” And Kieran has such a way with words and the way he phrases things and the language that I could just see the play really clearly and I went, “God we’ve got …” And also the themes of it, “We’ve got to tell this story.” So it really sparked my imagination and I just thought I think we can have a lot of fun with this and we can really shine a spotlight onto this, as Kieran said before, serious issue. And hopefully get people thinking about that and going, “Well actually this is wrong and we should maybe do something to change the way that this is.”
Martin: And thinking about some of the characters in the play, I understand it consists of four characters in total. What challenges did those individuals face? Did they all come at it from the same perspective or did they face their own individual demons as part of this process?
Dan: I think each character has their own individual demons, so they’re all … One of the things that’s in the play which gets mentioned is like Dante’s circle of hell, and they’re all at different levels, they’re all at different circles of debt hell I would say. So the younger characters are experiencing problems with high housing rent and not being able to afford that, and then student loans. I think Alan who’s the older male character in it, he has a problem with gambling which is exacerbated by him then taking more money and loans and this, that and the other. And then Meryl who is the sort of slightly older female character has bought a ridiculously expensive house and needs to pay her mortgage and things like that. So they all have their own I think financial challenges shall we say.
Martin: And I understand you took the play to Texas, to Fort Worth, earlier in the year. Did you have to adapt it at all for that American audience? I’m assuming you talked about dollars rather than pounds, that sort of thing.
Kieran: Yeah there were a few … The main themes of the play didn’t really change at all. I mean you know you have to change sort of pounds to dollars. There are a few sort of surface things. But America has a payday lending industry that is as bad if not worse than the lending industry we have over here. And I was really actually pleased by how well the audience seemed to care about the themes. It sort of showed me that this isn’t a national issue, this is something that is not only happening here, it’s happening around the world.
Dan: It’s an international problem.
Martin: And you’re showing The Trap at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham in the run up to Christmas, and that seems to me particularly relevant, because often people fall into that cycle of debt due to those pressures they face during the festive season. Was that timing intentional or did it just happen to fall in the approach to Christmas?
Dan: I think it had been something we were talking about, and we were very lucky in that Omnibus Theatre here had a slot that was available and so we were able to take that. And I think because it is in the run up to Christmas it just adds a particular poignancy to the piece, and I think that’s very helpful.
Martin: Now I’m interested too in how you’ve approached the funding for this project. I don’t know much about financing in the theatre industry so how are plays like this traditionally funded, and how have you approached this differently when you’re approaching funding for The Trap?
Dan: So we have done a number of things really, I mean making theatre on the Fringe in London is not easy, it’s not cheap, and one of the important things with this project that I was very much concerned about is that everyone got paid for it. A lot of Fringe work in London people get to do it for the love and they get slightly … It’s not good, they don’t get paid for it. So in other work that I do I’m also a counsellor for equity, which is the union for theatre professionals, and one of the campaigns that we’ve been pushing is that everyone should get paid fairly for what they do. So we have raised some money privately, from private individuals, and we also ran a crowdfunding campaign on a site called Fundme and we were really fortunate to raise more than money than we had initially asked for.
So it’s a number of different sources of fundraising that go into making a project.
Martin: And as you say you’ve been working with equity and you’re ensuring that the creative team receive a fair wage, so how does that work? How do people in the theatre business get paid by reference to equity rates and that sort of thing.
Dan: Yeah so equity for a long time set the sort of industry standards as it were, and in Fringe theatre the standards maybe weren’t so high. So one of the things that we’ve been looking at and working on is a Fringe theatre agreement, so that actors, stage managers and now members of the creative team, so directors, designers, lighting designers, sound designers, all get paid a fair wage. So we’ve calculated it on this production that everyone gets national minimum wage, and we’ve worked out the number of hours that we anticipate them doing, and now I’m really personally very pleased to say that we’ve been approved by equity as a producer that can use that contract and that works under those terms and conditions. So it protects those workers and ensures that they’re treated fairly and respectfully. And I think that’s really important.
Martin: Fantastic, Dan, Kieran, thank you so much for joining me on Informed Choice Radio today. Before you go, where can our listeners find out more about The Trap? I mentioned it was showing at the Omnibus Theatre so when’s it on? How can they get tickets?
Dan: Yeah absolutely so it’s on at Omnibus Theatre which is in Clapham. You can either go to the Omnibus website which is www.omnibus-clapham.org or you can go to www.thetrapplay.com.
It’s on from the 31st of October to the 19th of November. We do shows at 7:30 Tuesday to Saturday and then there’s a 4pm matinee on a Sunday. We have for our first week a special offer on so that in the first week if you book online with the code debtduck you get your tickets for 12 quid. They’re normally 15. And yeah we’re just really excited to be doing it and to be here at Omnibus because it’s a great little theatre.
Martin: Brilliant, and where can our listeners find out about each of you online as well? Are you on Twitter and things?
Dan: Are you on Twitter?
Kieran: I’m not on Twitter, it seems that trying to be a professional writer and having Twitter are two things that clash.
Dan: But you can find me on Twitter, @DanAyling1 and I have a website which is www.danayling.com. So you can find out more info about me there.