No Bad Press: Interview with Writer and Director of Cuttings

Any publicity is good publicity, right? In an era where so much of the news cycle is determined by social media, opportunities abound for people to get noticed and, to use that most horrendous of modern phrases, ‘start a conversation’ online. But what happens when that conversation is not so positive, and the notice is for entirely the wrong reasons?

Cuttings is a new play that explores online fame (and infamy). When a YouTuber turned theatre actor delivers a drunken rant on stage at the Olivier Awards, his publicists will have to work around the clock to defuse the situation, from fielding calls to keeping the star off social media.  

I caught up with writer and director, Ollie George Clarke and Rob Ellis, to find out more about the play, and the nature of apologies in the digital age.

Hi guys! Cuttings addresses an increasingly common phenomenon – the celebrity controversy. What inspired the show?

Ollie: My inspiration for Cuttings came from a love of behind-the-scenes drama. What and how strings are manipulated, who’s doing the maneuvering – and why! ‘Why’ is always good. I’m particularly interested in those people slightly to the left of the spotlight.

The world of theatre is one which I know, and believed I could write about in a way that felt genuine but also brought with it an element of excitement.

Natasha Patel in rehearsal for Cuttings. Photo courtesy of Cam Harle (2019).

Natasha Patel in rehearsal for Cuttings. Photo courtesy of Cam Harle (2019).

Have you and Rob worked together before? How did the collaboration come about?

Rob: Hilariously, we met through social media on #OVConnect. Ollie dropped me a line wondering about another of his plays, but I really connected with the subject matter in Cuttings and asked to read it.

I was laughing by the third page which I took to be a good sign. Fortunately, we both had shows playing so we could go and see the other’s work, and seeing how well Ollie’s writing went down with an audience was what convinced me to look at Cuttings seriously. Theatre503 were looking for short runs in January, so we pitched them a rehearsed reading and went from there. 

Ollie: It’s our first collaboration, and I say first in the hope that there may be many in the future. I think Rob is an incredible director and trust his judgement completely. 

What are some of the challenges in writing and directing satire like this?

Rob: I mean look at the world, satire is harder to do than ever. Too outlandish and you’ll lose your audience, but too subtle and you’re overshadowed by real life. It’s a time when SNL sketches from ten years ago could now be documentaries. We’re aiming for The Thick Of It, where the characters aren’t surprised by the way their world is, but they are pretty pissed off about it. 

Ollie: I think from a writing point of view I have a constant eye on topicality and time frame, particularly given the contemporary setting.  Are these the most current references? Am I speaking about people still in the public eye? I imagine we’ll be updating these types of details before every performance, which is pretty exciting.

I also think, am I capturing an authentic style of voice in order for the satire to feel real? YouTube, and that specific, personal, direct address which many vloggers have is a big part of the play. I watched countless videos to try and find a way I could process all these different voices and create a new one which felt organic. 

Social media can be a great way of getting publicity, but not always for the right reasons. Do you think that social media is a blessing or a curse in this regard?

Rehearsals for Cuttings. Photo courtesy of Cam Harle (2019).

Rehearsals for Cuttings. Photo courtesy of Cam Harle (2019).

Rob: It has its ups and downs. It's hard to ignore how beneficial Twitter is as a platform for marketing. Twitter allows you to know a person’s true colours - it's not a platform for editorials. It's quick, unfiltered and to-the-point, and you can’t hide behind a well-managed thought process.

It’s an incredibly dangerous and outstanding tool simultaneously. As with anything, it's not the fault of the tool, but the responsibility of the user to use it properly. And obviously, I can’t escape the fact that social media brought this show into reality.

Ollie: There’s a moment from the play, when the old thought of ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ is raised and is responded to with ‘there’s actually no such thing as good publicity, there’s just planned and unplanned’ – and I imagine you could say the same of social media.  

What do you want audiences to take away from the show? 

Ollie: A slight cynicism, and a pinch of salt, towards public personas. And to have laughed. To have enjoyed their night at the theatre!

Rob: Their wine glasses. I work at The Hope and it would be great not to clear up after the show.

Cuttings is showing at the Hope Theatre from June 4 – 22.

Tickets are available from the website.