As a long term users and lovers of public transport, the ThreeWeeks editors were immediately drawn to Molly Taylor’s new play, ‘Love Letters To The Public Transport System’.
And if our reviewer’s opinion is anything to go by (hint: it is), the resulting piece of theatre is really something special. Molly spoke to ThreeWeeks about the inspiration for the show, and its journey to the Fringe.
CC: Tell us about the concept behind ‘Love Letters…’
MT: ‘Love Letters’ was born out of a pretty heady love affair, and a time in my life when lots of exciting things were happening. And I got a bit obssessed with the idea of timings, how I’d been in the right place at the right time, and how other people had played their part in that process. And that included the bus and train drivers who got me about every day. So I set myself a task, to see if I could find the public transport workers who were responsible, to find out more about them, and to thank them.
CC: Once you’d decided to create a piece around public transport, you started with some real life stories. Where did those come from, and how did they develop into the play we can now see?
MT: I was really lucky that a few brilliant stories from friends and colleagues sought me out. So I did a couple of interviews with folk who had had really significant and memorable experiences on public transport – journeys that had altered the course of their life in some way – and I transcribed the interviews and then re-wrote them in my own words, as short stories essentially, and then tried to weave them into the piece.
CC: The play had an acclaimed work-in-progress airing last year, how has the final piece developed from there?
MT: If anything, it’s simpler! It’s a very self-contained piece, and I had to accept that simplicity was the key – of course I wanted puppets and pyrotechnics and a massive set – but I think that was because I was worried the writing wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny! This time round I’ve worked with a director called Graeme Maley, who suggested staging ideas and helped finesse my performance. I was thrilled that the work-in-progress was so well received, but at that time I was just trying to get through the show and remember all the bloody lines, so this time I feel a bit more confident about how it should be performed.
CC: How did you begin working with the National Theatre Of Scotland?
MT: I first starting working with them in 2006. I ran the education and outreach project that went alongside ‘Wolves In The Walls’, so I developed a really good relationship with their Learn department. In 2008 I spent a year as an associate, and it’s then I first started flinging ideas around about making my own work.
CC: How has your writing style developed and advanced thanks to the NTS programme?
MT: They’ve got an amazing team in their Artistic Development department, and I was really lucky to work with a series of great literary managers who gave me enormous feedback on my writing, and Caroline Newall who produced the show last year. She’s an absolute legend, and has brilliant creative instincts.
CC: Does being a performer yourself have an impact on your playwriting?
MT: Yes! When I was re-reading the script before I went back into rehearsals I was thinking “who on earth wrote this, this is so bloody WORDY!” As a performer I reckon I’m quite hard on myself as the writer, because I’ve got an instinct about what’s play-able, or how I want a line to sound. Sometimes I will just stare and stare at the same sentence until it becomes a line I wouldn’t be embarrassed to perform! So you go through quite a severe filtering process, trying to needle out the rubbish text from the good stuff. And as the sole performer, if I wouldn’t be happy to perform it it doesn’t go in!
CC: Is the Edinburgh Fringe a great place to present work like ‘Love Letters…’?
MT: Yes, I think so. What’s lovely about the Fringe is that it supports work on all scales and stages, and story-telling is a massive part of that programme. Also there’s a huge transitory audience who come here from all over the world, so presenting a piece about public transport seems apt, without those networks very few of us would be able to get here in the first place!
CC: Are you a fan of public transport?
MT: I’m a non-driver, so it is a lifeline to me. I couldn’t do anything without it! I got a lovely letter from the Traffic Commissioner last year after she’d seen the show and she said “bus and train drivers are touchstones of reliability in a world with its chaotic moments”. I thought that was beautifully put. I know we all complain about public transport, but without it we’d all be scunnered.
CC: Do you have a favourite kind of public transport?
MT: I’m a bit of a fan of the train. I’m up and down the road a lot from Glasgow to London, so I’m probably more at home on a Virgin train than anywhere. And they are great for getting work done! I wrote large sections of the play whilst sitting on a train. Don’t get me wrong, they can be horrendous and over-crowded and delayed, and you can be sat next to a nightmare passenger, but I’ve got to say recently all my journeys have been grand. That could be good transport karma coming my way…
CC: Were there any stories you discovered in developing the piece that don’t appear in the play, but which interested or amused you?
MT: Yes, there were lots, but they’re probably not printable!? I did hear an amazing story from a woman who had stopped a bus one night when she was pished – she literally jumped out into the road and stopped it because it was her last bus and she’d have missed it. On the bus was a guy who’d been stabbed, and the driver was hurtling to the hospital, going through red lights, speeding all the way there, and this woman had to sit with the injured man and hold his hand through the whole thing. The guy survived. And she claimed that without that bus driver, then, well, who knows…? I’m sure there’s acts of heroism like this every day on public transport, but they are the stories we don’t always get to hear.
The National Theatre of Scotland’s ‘Love Letters To The Public Transport System’ was performed at The Assembly Rooms at Fringe 2012.
Photo: Colin Hattersley