At the age of 26, Simon Longman seized his last chance to apply for the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme. He succeeded, and later sent a script to rural touring company Pentabus that became his debut play Milked: a black comedy about unemployment in the countryside.
Milked was first staged by Pentabus in 2013, and it’s still touring now – how do you feel about its continuing success?
I didn’t even think when I wrote it that it would be staged. I don’t really think that when I’m writing and, especially as its the first full-length play I wrote, I kind of wrote it for myself. It was in response to a lot of things that happened to me, and I just wanted to write it to try to work out what that meant and what those feelings were. So to have it keep going is really overwhelming.
How did it feel when the play was performed in your hometown, Ledbury?
I think it was quite cool for [the locals] to see something quite personal to me, because it’s directly influenced by my experiences growing up there. So that was amazing – as was seeing the town see a new play, which doesn’t happen much in places like this. Which is where Pentabus come in.
Do you think the play translates well when it’s performed in urban areas?
I hope it appeals to people living in cities as well as the countryside. The play is about unemployment and all the feelings that come with that in terms of what happens on a personal level – fairly familiar to a lot of people. So I hope people see something in it, not just because it’s set in the rural world, but they can pick up themes and links and responses to it that might be familiar if you’re from an urban area.
How involved have you been in the production side of things?
I really like handing the play over to a director. That’s a really fun bit. Because I think when you’re writing, it comes to point where you need somebody else to have a look at it and see other things in it, and see different ways of showing it. So in terms of my involvement with the rehearsal process, I went to a couple of rehearsal days for general chats about the play. But then I just left them to it, and let them have a play around with what it was and who the characters were.
What were your feelings when you first saw it performed?
Sheer terror. It was a really overwhelming experience. Pentabus called it a ‘black comedy’, and people were laughing, which was really lovely to hear. Something you’ve spent a long time writing, worrying and fretting about – to see it just be a play… I think sometimes when you’re writing you forget this could potentially be in front of people. This could be a story that is alive and breathes. And seeing that just reminded me that theatre is a completely live experience and people can respond to it in so many different ways.
You recently moved to London. Why was that an important step as a playwright?
I think you’re closer to new writing, which always helps, and you’re closer to a lot of theatres. That helps a huge amount for a writer. It’s a psychological thing. You feel slightly more involved if you go to a city. For me, it was useful just to meet people, talk about writing and work out what to write.
Did you worry you may lose some of your unique rural perspective?
The more time you spend away from a place, the more you can come back to it and see it with fresh eyes. And that totally happened when I moved back to Shropshire for most of last year [as writer in residence at Pentabus]. You can see the space that you’ve spent most of your life in a completely different way. There’s definitely something in movement, something in being away and coming back.
Following Milked, what’s next for you?
I’m under commission for the Royal Court at the moment, which is quite amazing, and [there’s also] something I was working on last summer at Pentabus. I was working with the Court on something, and now I’m fully commissioned to continue on that project to write a full-length play. So that was really great.
Training: Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme (2013)
First professional role: Playwright, Milked (2013)
Agent: Harriet Pennington Legh, Troika