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Stephen Wyatt: ‘Older gay characters tend to be caricatured’

Stephen Wyatt Stephen Wyatt

Fresh from the broadcast of his BBC Radio 4 drama The Shadow of Dorian Gray, Stephen Wyatt is in London preparing for the opening of his new play Told Look Younger – a comedy about three gay men in their 60s

What inspired you to write the play?

All sorts of things. I’ve wanted to write something about this subject for quite a few years, because I feel it’s very, very under-covered in terms of what goes on in drama. Older gay men tend to be either caricatured or sidelined. There’s not necessarily a lot of autobiography in it, but there’s a lot of biography, in terms of things that happened to people, so it started accumulating.

But your experiences are also in there?

Oh I think quite a lot of them, generalised. In fact, my partner is 28 years younger than I am. I think I would also say what a lot of writers would say: all three characters, who are very different, all represent bits of me.

How rooted in their experiences do you think playwrights’ works should be?

I think it depends in what way. I don’t think anybody wants to go and hear a long confessional. But I think on the other hand, a play based on things you’ve experienced has a very strong basis for a play. I worked at one point on Casualty; certain stories there were generic stories and I could research them enough to make them work for 10 minutes in an episode. But I wouldn’t get to the interesting aspects of it, which someone who really knew the area would. I wrote a story about an Asian family once, and I did research it very diligently, and I think it was acceptable as a story in Casualty. But it didn’t have the context or the specificity that an Asian writer writing about the same subject would have done in a play. So that is the good side of it.

You’ve written a lot of work for radio. How does it compare to writing for theatre?

I think they’re very different forms. I actually think there is slightly too much radio drama that is just like stage plays. The two things that I really like about radio is that you can do subjects that in practically any other medium might be thought a bit esoteric or obscure. And the other thing I like is the freedom from any form of naturalism. You can create quite a heady, slightly disturbing atmosphere in which you never quite know what is real and what isn’t. And I think that’s something that radio can do really, really well.

cv stephen wyattConversely, what does theatre give you that radio doesn’t?

What I’m looking forward to, going back into theatre, is that very direct contact with an audience, that – sometimes for good, sometimes for ill – they’re in there with you. And even if there are only five of them, you know what they’re feeling. That is, of course, something that you don’t get from radio.

Told Look Younger runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre, London, from June 9 to July 4

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