Playwright Matt Parvin tells us about Gentlemen, his new writing play making its world premiere at Arcola theatre this October.
Tell us what Gentlemen is about
I don’t want to spoil where this play goes – because it goes to some wild places – but it opens with a disagreement between two students at a prestigious UK university. A university college ‘Welfare Officer’ is attempting to mediate the students’ argument in his office, to prevent the issue spiralling. Unfortunately for everyone involved, he fails to prevent the spiralling …
The play explores the pressures of university today, but also takes in class, bi-erasure, masculinity. It asks how far one should go in the pursuit of justice.
Why did you want to write the play?
I wanted to explore some things that I found troubling about UK universities as institutions, and about the behaviour of laddish young men. I imagined an avenging angel figure, swooping in to punish the play’s wrongdoers. But, this being a drama, I had to ask tough questions of the avenging angel too. I realised that this was the perfect play in which to present some troubling moral quandaries – and that got me even more pumped about it.
Universities are battlegrounds – now more than ever. Gentlemen is set in an office but it’s a real thrill-ride. You might even call it a psychological thriller. It’s got a lot of twists and turns, and audiences will keep asking themselves: who the hell is in the right, here?
What was the journey to get to this run at the Arcola?
Gentlemen was inspired by the experiences of myself and my friends at university. Early on, I workshopped it with the legendary actors Will Merrick and Tom York – who it turns out are incredible dramaturgs too. The director Richard Speir, working at the Arcola at the time, loved the piece and became a real champion for it. He got the play programmed at the Arcola, came on board as director, and helped to refine the script. We were three days off opening night when the first lockdowns were announced. Gutting – but before we closed, we staged a dress rehearsal for family and friends. This created a lot of good memories and left us with a real fire in our bellies to get the play staged. Once the Arcola reopened, Richard and I worked to get the production ready again. The Arcola generously took another punt on us, and here we are.
What do you hope audiences take away from the play?
I hope they come away debating the characters’ actions. I hope they argue on the train home.
I hope they emerge with some troubling questions rolling round their heads about the issues depicted in the play.
I hope they leave entertained, but shocked, and maybe divided. I love it when a play divides the audience. My favourite moment in an auditorium is when one solitary person laughs at something.
What is next for you?
I’ll get back to work on a few film and TV projects I’ve got in development. And I’ve started speculatively writing a new play I’m really excited about – a two-hander, mostly about a strange island. It’s the most excited I’ve been about a script since I wrote Gentlemen.
Gentlemen is on at the Arcola Theatre, 4-28 October. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Tickets and info here