Laurence Wilson is a new, up-and-coming Liverpool playwright. His first full work – ‘Urban Legend’ – was recently staged at the Everyman as part of its ‘Life Begins’ season of new locally-based talent. I talked to him about his life, work, and Liverpool.
Laurence first put pen to paper at the age of four and began writing short stories, poems and songs. Despite impressing his teachers, it took him a long time to gain enough belief in his writing ability. “I always wanted to be a writer but didn’t feel I’d be able to do it till I was in my forties or fifties”.
Wilson decided that acting was his best route into theatre, believing that “Acting requires only you being cast in a role and learning your lines whereas with writing you have to put a lot more of yourself in to it”. He signed up for a two year YTS acting course, and despite the bad publicity the schemes attracted, Laurence considered it as good as you could get in a university or drama school. He spent the next few years working in theatre and television, most famously as a copper in Brookside.
When the acting work dried-up, he returned to writing, and planned a showcase with his partner. After disagreeing with her choice of play, he offered to write something instead. The play he started to write became the first part of the ‘Surf’s Up’ trilogy of short plays that went on to win a Manchester Evening News award for theatre. One audience member was Jimmy McGovern who declared it the best work he had seen in ten years. Following that endorsement, the Everyman’s Literary Department soon contacted Wilson to join the theatre’s attachment scheme. It was here that he began working on Urban Legend.
Wilson’s gritty, darkly humorous writing is seemingly a world away from his earliest creative influences – horror and fantasy writers such as HG Wells, Stephen King, and Frank Herbert. When he was a child, Wilson would invent dungeons and dragons style fantasy games for him and his friends to play. However, his first love is music, which he says “has been a greater influence in my life than any writer”, hence the Beach Boys soundtrack to Surf’s Up and the Lennon/McCartney one for Urban Legend. Wilson is a songwriter himself and has one of his own songs performed in Urban Legend, which he says “has finally satisfied the frustrated rock star in me”. Nevertheless, he cites the main influence on his writing as his surroundings, like where he grew up in Crosby and Bootle, and the voices of the other people around him. “Once I’ve got the voice of a character in my head the writing just runs away”.
The tragedy that Wilson has experienced in his own life and seen in the life of others cuts through his writing. In particular, the loss of his daughter, brother and sister influenced the way his characters deal with their own grief in Urban Legend. As Laurence freely admits, “I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of life”. In Legend he examined the way people use humour to hide from their inner demons, and the emotional journeys people go on to come to terms with problems. One of the characters in Urban Legend is Wayne, who tries to escape from his grief by losing himself in drugs, something Wilson himself experienced. Far from enhancing his creativity, he believes this held him back, and has since found writing to be a much more positive way of dealing with his problem. “In the play a lot of things from my life, all the characters have elements of me in them”.
Another reason for Wilson’s return to writing was a desire to be part of Liverpool’s current creative resurgence. “Liverpool is now finally breaking with the legacy of the 1960s. There was always the talent here but it was lost, hidden, the theatres went dark and there was no-one putting plays on”.
Comparing the city to New York, Wilson describes his home city as a “mishmash of clashing cultures on the street”, that fosters a “creative energy”. He sees the Capital of Culture prize as a positive thing, which will give “food” for new talent in the city, whether in theatre, writing, music or art. In particular he praises the Everyman’s Gemma Bodintez and Deborah Aydon, the theatre’s Artistic and Executive Directors, for biting the bullet and “taking an incredible risk” in staging the new writing so missed at the Everyman.
Wilson hopes Urban Legend will have a life beyond this run at the Everyman, with talk of it going on tour. He is already working on his next play and looking for TV writing work “to pay the bills”, but he believes that he is a playwright at heart and that he has finally found his creative voice.
By Kenn Taylor