We caught up with Mark Norfolk to discuss the world premiere of his latest production, Where the Flowers Grow which will be at the Warehouse Theatre this month
Words: Sophia A Jackson
Jeffery Kissoon and Mark Norfolk in rehearsals for Where the Flowers Grow
Written by author of Knock Down Ginger and Naked Soldiers Mark Norfolk's latest play Where the Flowers Grow tells the story of Vernon who has fulfilled his ambitions - he has a good job and a cosy lifestyle with his loving wife and teenage son.
But things change when his job comes under threat and a tragedy at work forces him to evaluate his priorities in all aspects of his life. The cast includes Roderick Burrows, Ashley Gerlach Jodyanne Richardson and is directed by Jeffery Kissoon, designed by Heike Scharrer with lighting by Sherry Coenen.
What does the title for your latest play mean – Where the Flowers Grow?
The title suggests a kind of Utopia, a place where there is peace and tranquility.
What was the inspiration for the play?
The inspiration started about four years ago when I began exploring why teenagers who supposedly had everything were becoming disenchanted with life. I discovered that there was a disconnect between the new brand of young people and the adult world. Teenagers had everything, had done everything, knew everything and were left with the question: "Is that it?" There appeared to be nothing more for them to experience that would eclipse what they had already experienced. I was fascinated by this and began looking at how this affects the family and the world we live in.
Suicide is a sensitive subject matter – how do you research that part of the play?
I may have already part answered this question but I began researching news media, past newspapers and spoke to people I know who have experienced this type of event. At the time of writing I was also working as a writer in residence in a prison which gave valuable insight. Prisons tend to have an extraordinary rate of suicide and suicide attempts and I spoke and taught a number of young men who had experienced this phenomenon for one reason or another.
The play also deals with the pressure of living with guilt; whether it's your fault or not. What event from your past has riddled you with guilt?
I'm not sure an event from my past has riddled me with guilt but I can certainly appreciate people who may have a traumatic event that they feel partly responsible for. For example, I worked with one guy who had been working in a shop on the day of the July bombings. He had gone out into the streets to help people, at one stage heroically helping a man who had had his legs blown off. He was Asian and received a lot of plaudits and commendations afterwards from the press, his colleagues and friends. But within a year things began to go wrong. He was turning up late and appeared distant to his work colleagues who hitherto had heralded him as a hero.
Mark Norfolk on the set of Ham and the PiperHe was eventually sacked form his job, couldn't get other work and ended up stealing food from a store. He was convicted and sent to prison. He was clearly suffering from a form of guilt and post traumatic stress which had gone totally untreated. In speaking to him I found he was struggling to deal with being seen as a hero on a Monday then being scrutinised as a possible terrorist suspect on a Wednesday. Resentment and mistrust eventually gave way to a surliness which ultimately led to him being behind bars.
Personally, how has the Internet changed the way you communicate?
The internet has changed everything about the way we communicate. People expect everything to be done by electronic mail. On the one hand it's a fantastic way to send information almost instantaneously. However, the problem I have with email and the internet is that it has removed all forms of scrutiny. People's written emails and much of internet data is uncorroborated and almost by habit these days, badly written.
What is your favorite method of communication?
My favourite method of communication is face to face. I want to look someone in the eye when they tell me that the world is going to end. Failing that, the telephone and then of course, letters.
How do you think the medium of theatre helps in terms of communicating messages to audiences as a vehicle for social change?
Theatre is, and always has been a fantastically effective way of communicating ideas to audiences. When people go to the theatre there is an unwritten, tacit agreement that primeval communication between humans will take place. The actors are live and are bringing the written word to life. Nothing beats it. Films and TV are great but the experience of live theatre is unforgettable as each and every show has its own dynamic.
Where the Flowers Grow is at The Warehouse Theatre from 3-26 June 2011You're working with Jeffery Kissoon again who is director of the play. How did you two start working together initially?
A play of mine called Knock Down Ginger was an official selection in the International Playwriting Festival at the Warehouse Theatre in 2002. An extract of the play was to be performed and Jeffery Kissoon was selected as director. We met and immediately hit it off. I'd seen Jeffery on stage as an actor while I was at drama school many years ago and I'd also seen him on TV as one of the main teachers on Grange Hill and various other shows. When I graduated from college I saw him in a Talawa play called The Gods Are Not To Blame at the Riverside Studios, I think this was 1991.
He gave a stunning performance in a fantastic play. I'd rushed to meet him backstage but he was mobbed by adoring fans and shuffled off into the night. So it was a great honour and probably fate that I was sent to meet him when my play was selected. Since then of course he's directed four of my plays. He has a wonderful eye for dramatic detail and is the most talented, yet underused actor in this country.
Knowledge is power: what advice would you give to someone who aspires to be a playwright?
The main thing I always say to prospective playwrights is to know your craft. You wouldn't expect a plumber to come and fix your washing machine if he or she didn't know what they were doing, so a writer too has to earn the moniker. Read as many plays as possible. Go to see as many plays as possible. Try to think about what makes one play stand out more than another. Ask yourself why a theatre might decide to produce one play over another. And above all keep writing.
What's your next project?
My next project has just been completed, a feature film I've been working on for over a year called Ham & The Piper. It stars Jeffery Kissoon and we have recently been previewing to great responses. Look out for it late 2011, early 2012 or check out the details on www.hamandthepiper.com. I am also involved in co-writing a couple of projects, a play about international governance and a feature film thriller.
Lime's Remarkable Men theme issue question:
What three men have had a remarkable impact on your life?
Muhammad Ali, a man who reached the top professionally and socially yet always remained true to himself and the people. Denzel Washington, a powerful and extremely talented movie star and actor who continually allows his work to do his talking.
My Granddad, who came to this country, leaving behind a better lifestyle all for want of expanding his knowledge of the world. Although bruised by the social upheaval, he never complained and always had a spring in his step.
Info: Where the Flowers Grow is at the Warehouse Theatre from 3-26 June | www.warehousetheatre.co.uk