For a fortnight, the Arcola Theatre will welcome a range of collaborations, as four established international playwrights join forces with four esteemed UK directors. Award winning playwright Christopher Chen is accustomed to having his productions staged in the U.S., however the UK will witness his work for the very first time. Ahead of Chen’s play, Caught, debuting at VOLTA, Theatrefullstop were lucky enough to speak to him about working with Offstage Theatre’s Artistic Director, Cressida Brown, whether being an award winner adds pressure to his creation of future works and why he was drawn to take part in this year’s festival!
Hi Christopher! Your work, Caught will be showcased at this year’s VOLTA International Festival. How are you feeling ahead of the festival?
I’m very excited. I’ve never had anything produced in London before, and it’s always been a dream of mine.
Caught is a political drama placing an emphasis on the theme of truth vs reality, had you intended to draw on this theme before writing the piece?
No. I started writing a very straight play, but then my instinct to subvert kicked in, as it often does.
Caught also witnesses you working with the well respected Cressida Brown, Artistic Director of Offstage Theatre. How involved are you in the creation of the final product?
I’m leaving it entirely in her brilliant hands, aside from the occasional script question and tweak. But even in those brief conversations I could tell she was the perfect match for this piece.
What drew you take part in this year’s VOLTA International Festival?
It fell into my lap. My agent sent me an email about the request, and I responded back almost immediately with an emphatic “yes.”
As a playwright, you have enjoyed success having won multiple awards and having your works staged and produced at various theatres and festivals. Does this add pressure to emulate this success in future works?
No, because not all of my productions have been successes! At the root of it: I believe in the work and I believe in my collaborators, and at the end of the day that’s all there is to it.
What inspired you to write Caught?
Being mixed race, I’ve always been fascinated by the East/West encounter; specifically the American perception of China, and vice versa. I don’t want to say too much beyond this, because I don’t want to spoil any surprise.
Do you have a mission statement? Are you driven by a certain ethos with all of your plays?
A primary focus of my work is systems of power: how they are structured, and how they wend their way even into the most intimate psychological spaces. I like playing with complicated formal structures to mimic the complexities of these systems.
VOLTA witnesses the collaboration between both UK and international artists. How important are festivals like this to the new writing landscape?
I think festivals like these, that actually put on fully produced shows (as opposed to staged readings) are amazing. They give us a full realization of plays that might otherwise be deemed too risky for a more commercial run.
What advice would you give to aspiring playwrights?
Imagine, scene for scene, line for line, the play that would make you, as an audience member, lean forward in your seat with all senses turned on to the max… and write that. Write with honesty and passion and fear. Put yourself into your plays, and make yourself uncomfortable while doing so.
Interview by Lucy Basaba.
Caught will be showing at the Arcola Theatre as part of this year’s VOLTA International Festival from Thursday 3rd until Saturday 19th September. For more information on the production, visit here…