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Phil Davies: ‘Writing can be like an out-of-body experience’

Phil Davies

While working as a barman at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, Phil Davies saw a show and was hooked on theatre. He talks to David Hutchison about his first full-length play, Firebird, which will transfer to Trafalgar Studios from Hampstead.

How involved are you in the transfer process?

There are a couple of little things that I want to tweak. It’s strange how you write something and redraft it and notice things you want to change, but it’s not until it gets up on its feet that some things really stand out. No matter how small they are, it can terrorise you. I noticed a couple of things in the run at the Hampstead, and I’m delighted I can change them a bit for the Trafalgar.

Can you ever step away from your writing and stop making edits, fully satisfied?

I bet you get it as well, right? You just think: “Fuck, why did I choose [to write] that?” You’re totally right, I’m never fully satisfied. I’m just learning my craft, I guess. Loads of times I just think: “I can’t believe I left that in.” I don’t know if you ever kept a diary, but sometimes you look at things not even from that many years gone by, and you can’t even remember writing it. It doesn’t feel like you wrote it. It’s like an out-of-body experience.

Firebird first played in Hampstead Theatre’s downstairs space, where critics aren’t invited in to review plays. Was that helpful to you as a writer?

I see why Hampstead do it. It’s a place with the spirit of experimentation and they’re good with social media. They tweet the hell out of plays, and get the audience to review them on their website. I suppose if a play sells out and gets good audience reviews, it means it has more of a chance of a further life. If it gets [professionally] reviewed early on in its run, when it’s not quite perhaps at its best… a few three-star reviews in good publications mean it probably has no chance of transferring. It makes really good sense: if it’s good enough to transfer then it will, and by the time it transfers it’ll be in decent shape, hopefully, to be reviewed.

How does it feel, anticipating your first reviews?

“Anticipating” is one way of putting it – “shitting it” is another. It’s quite a strange experience really, like slow motion towards a car crash. I’m always pessimistic about things. When it was on at Hampstead, I was looking in my diary, and I’d written in the date it was supposed to finish. I’d written “last night of Firebird – fingers crossed”, because I’d got it in my head that tickets might not sell and it might close early. So, yeah, I’m nervous.

CV: Phil Davies

Training: Young Writers Programme, Royal Court (2005)
First professional production: Up the Dale (short play), Royal Exchange, Manchester (2010)

Agent: Jenny Miller, Independent Talent

Firebird runs at Trafalgar Studios 2, London, from February 17 to March 19