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Michael Ross: ‘It’s wonderful to see actors breathe life into my work’

Michael Ross. Photo: Nicola Baird Michael Ross. Photo: Nicola Baird

Happy to Help, Ross’ professional debut, started off life as part of Park Theatre’s script accelerator programme. The writer tells Georgia Snow about the full-length work, now running at the Finsbury Park venue.

What are the ideas behind the play?

I worked in retail for a long time so I wanted to write about that. A few years ago, a memo was sent around to all the stores that said that we had to see the world through the company’s eyes, and it wasn’t just a day job – a really weird, sinister thing for a company to say, especially to the people on the shop floor. It got me thinking about how people in customer service jobs are expected to have this loyalty to the company. It’s almost like being in a totalitarian state or something. You have to obey, and be enthusiastic and love the company. That was the main driver, and I set it in a supermarket because they are so prevalent in our society.

Are you familiar with the development process of plays?

I’ve not really developed a play like this before. Quite a lot of work has gone into it, and quite a few things changed during rehearsal. In the past the script hasn’t changed much, but the scale of this project is bigger than anything I have done before. For a full-length play, the script needs a lot more work and you need to be able to sustain the characters in a story that can also sustain itself over a longer period of time, so it’s a big step up. Obviously there’s a lot more pressure on you to get it right. It’s been good to get it worked on like that, and I was there during rehearsals.

Do you enjoy being involved in the rehearsal process?

I ended up doing more work than I thought I would during the rehearsal period. I thought I would see a run-through and tweak a few things, but certain things just weren’t working, so I had to go away and rework some scenes. Just last weekend I was rewriting the ending, so it’s been very hard work. But it’s not really a play until you have seen it performed by actors and up on its feet, so it’s wonderful to see them really breathe life into it. I enjoy seeing that happen.

How long have you been writing?

About 10 years. My first stuff was staged in 2006. I have been doing lots of things on the fringe, short play festivals, rehearsed readings, stuff like that. This is my first full run of a play and I’ve had the script published as well. I have been working for a long time so it is a great moment for me. For so long it felt like I was getting nowhere. It took me years to get an agent, it took years for those sorts of things to happen, so it finally feels like it’s starting to come together.

CV: Michael Ross

Training: Royal Court Young Writers Programme
First professional job: Happy to Help, Park Theatre (2016)
Agent: Nick Quinn, The Agency

Happy to Help is running at London’s Park Theatre until July 9

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