Published On: Tue, Dec 18th, 2012

Guilty Pleasures


(David Greig: Picture by K. Ribbe)


By Kady Reilly

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a guilty pleasure for many of us and next spring, London’s West End will launch its own take of the classic, written by none other than Edinburgh born, David Greig.

David Greig was born in Edinburgh  in 1969 and brought up in Nigeria until the age of twelve, when he returned to Scotland.  He studied drama at Bristol University and is now one of Scotland’s most successful playwrights. He has been commissioned by the Royal Court, the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company and is currently Dramaturg of the National Theatre of Scotland.

I set out to meet David in the comfortable surroundings of Beanscene in Haymarket with some trepidation. He is such a high profile writer, I didn’t know what to expect but he immediately set me at ease with his calm, laidback demeanour and we sat down for a coffee and a relaxed chat.

I asked him when he decided he wanted to be a playwright and he explained he began considering it around the time he was at university studying drama. He originally wanted to be an actor but says, ‘I kind of realised I couldn’t really act. I was a bit too self conscious, but I really like actors, so I wanted to be around actors and theatre.’

With this in mind, David changed his focus to directing but quickly found it was very difficult due to a lack of funds. ‘I couldn’t get the rights to plays because they cost 2/3 hundred pounds. I simply could not pay, so I thought, well, I’ll write them myself. The point of writing the play was to demonstrate that I could direct a play, in order to demonstrate I could direct someone else’s play, but in fact, what happened was, I quite quickly got attention and interest from various theatres and then, a moment occurred when they started wanting to pay me for the writing and I thought, they’re not offering to pay me for directing but they’re offering to pay me for writing, maybe I’ll be a playwright then!’

David has the tremendous ability to create 3-dimensional characters that make people laugh, cry and then laugh some more. I asked him whether he achieves this simply by using his imagination or whether he draws on his own experiences.

‘Characters are like a hum or a chord of music that exists or a kind of set of feelings that exist in you,’ he says. ‘When I write, almost all my characters fall into certain energies. It’s something that’s intangible and what a character is, is just putting a body around that energy.’

I asked David how he managed to achieve the confidence to put his work out there for the world to see and criticize and he replied, ‘until it is actually performed in front of an audience of people that paid something for a ticket, you’re not going to know what that play is like, and believe me if it’s any good you’ll certainly find it out and if it’s bad you’ll find out!’

Often writers create characters that behave questionably in one way or another and this can lead to speculation on the writer’s character and cause critics to draw comparisons between his or her life and the lives of their characters.

I asked David if he worries people will judge him personally based on what he writes. He thought for a few seconds, then laughed and said, ‘if you stand up on stage and say I’m a transvestite, I like shagging goats, the audience will almost certainly think that your not a transvestite who shags goats.’

I asked him what advice he would give to young or experienced writers who do not see things from this point of view and may be limited by the feeling they will judged personally based on their work.

David replied, ‘I’ve often said to writers, that moment when you’re typing and you go, oh, I can’t! That is always gold dust. That is the best bit. Whatever it is when you’ve had that thought, I can guarantee that will be your winning moment with the audience because they pay to be in the safety of the dark while you pay to take your emotional clothes off and reveal the weird energies that you have. When we go to the theatre, we don’t want to see nice, normal people. We want to see raw. We want to see the freaky.’

David has written many popular plays and I was interested to know if he has a favourite piece of his own work. He told me. ‘It’s a common thing that writers talk about their work like children and it is very like that in the sense that I tend, if you ask me that, to choose the child who everybody else seems to not notice. I was reading a play I did called Mainstream, which was written when I was about twenty-eight and I was really liking it so that might be an example because it’s not been noticed. And then the other tendency is that one’s favourite is the one you’ve just done which in this instance is a play called The Stranger of Heart which was on in Glasgow in January and it’s all written and rhyme and it’s told in a pub, like a ballad. I could sit and watch that all day, I mean, I loved being in the audience for that.’

One of my personal favourites of David’s shows is The Monster in the Hall, a play that incorporates dialogue, music and movement to tell the story of Duck, a young girl who lives with her sick father and helps look after him. Hilarious, farcical comedy ensues when social services plan to visit the house to assess Duck’s care.

I asked David why he chose to write the play this way and he said, ‘It was a commission to write about young people with caring responsibilities and I spoke to a number of them. When I first approached it, I thought, these noble, heroic young people, I want to show the world what a difficult time they have, But as soon as I spoke to them I realised that that was a bit idiotic because actually, first of all, they were just normal and secondly, what they most wanted was, what they said was, please make it a comedy because they were so fed up of always being portrayed as victims.’

David achieved his goal with The Monster in The Hall, even with a small budget. I asked him what kind of show he would write if money was no object. He smiled and said, ‘The biggest project I’m working on is actually a big musical of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’ve been very privileged to write the book for that and that’s interesting because that is literally the case, money is no object and what’s difficult about that, is it makes it difficult to write. You can throw millions of dollars at a thing but if it’s shit, it’s shit.’

I’m sure David will have massive success with his new project and it will delight audiences around the world for many years to come but one thing is for certain, David Grieg will continue to be highly successful and now he has achieved such a prolific status, he is finally being offered his original dream, the chance to direct other peoples’ work.

Prebook tickets for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at: