Roy Smiles is a comic playwright occasional actor. On 24th April 2018 we published Oberon Books’ first ever digital only collection, featuring ten of Roy Smiles’ never-before-seen plays. Following on from his blog piece last week, Roy continues to reveal the inspiration behind these fantastic pieces of work.
Roy Smiles: The inspiration for my play Working for Mammon came about whilst I was on a train with my son during the London Riots in 2012. The train had come to a halt as Hackney was involved in a riot below us. I was so afraid for my son I sent him home to his mother in Kent that very night. The shame of being afraid for my son in the city of my birth led me to write a very angry play on the subject. The teacher featured in the play is as close as I have ever come to writing autobiographically.
Reading Gaol allowed me to pay tribute to two of my play-writing heroes: Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. The plays on Wilde are legion but I don’t believe there is one set in Reading Prison or with Shaw. If I’ve got anywhere near their style I am most grateful to the writing gods. I found them both astonishing talents. Wilde went to jail because he did not believe he was guilty of any crime and British society punished him for it with hard labour that broke his health. He was a hero then and is a hero now.
The VIP takes me back to damaged genius. Richard Burton meant a lot to my family as a child; they were working class Geordies, and Burton was seen as one of their own, as, despite being Welsh, he’d come from the same background. His brothers, like my grandfather, went down the mines. His marriage to Elizabeth Taylor made him half of the most famous couple on the planet. But all the riches in the world could not temper his sense that he had betrayed his own talent. Nor could he forget the family he had left behind or the mother he never knew. The cameo from Peter O’Toole, by the by, is one of my most joyful pieces of writing in my career.
The Weight of Days is my tribute to Albert Camus. A man in conflict with himself over the Algerian Civil War. Camus was Algerian-French. His mother, brother and uncle still lived in Algiers as the war for Algeria raged. The play concerns his literary and political feud with Jean-Paul Sartre; A man who approved of the violence of the FLN terrorists in Algeria. ‘For anyone who is alone, without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful.’ Camus’s last days indeed weighed heavy on him. The conflict between love for his family and the love of freedom tearing him apart. He stands with Orwell as one of the two writing giants in my life. The play was a labour of love.
Waugh in Winter is a very different play for me. I was always used to writing plays about people I admired: George Orwell, Kurt Cobain, Spike Milligan, Bobby Kennedy etc. But Evelyn Waugh was an obnoxious snob and deeply appalling human being. I set myself the challenge of writing about someone I despised though I have always admired his literary talent. My way into sympathy for him was in his loneliness. Such was his contempt for the world he found himself in an ivory tower of his own making. Alone and looking down at a 1960’s world he loathed. Damned by his own contempt to be forever lonely. (Post-note: it’s funnier than it sounds…)
Well, that’s how my plays in the collection came to be. I am very proud of them. Most have only had readings, and so if they have a chance of further exposure that would be amazing. For, to paraphrase Arthur Miller, ‘they are all my sons…’
Roy Smiles: Ten Plays is out now. Click here to buy the collection.