Living Newspaper Clippings: Transcript of Lisa Hammond and Tom Wells in conversation

This is the transcript of the recorded conversation between actor Lisa Hammond and writer Tom Wells, recorded as part of the Royal Court Living Newspaper Clippings series. This conversation was recorded in February 2021. 

Lisa Hammond : Hi, I’m Lisa Hammond, and I was acting in Edition 2 of Living Newspaper.

Tom Wells: I’m Tom Wells and I wrote one of the little plays, the dating column, for Edition 2 of the Living Newspaper.

Lisa: And the piece was called ‘Ghosting’, wasn’t it?

Tom: It was, and Lisa was in it! Beautifully!

Lisa: It was so cool. The set up was a bit strange, wasn’t it? Because I was at home, and everyone else was at the Court. I mean, socially distancing, there… You were at home though too weren’t you?

Tom: Yeah, I think all the writers were but I guess we were at home for slightly different reasons. Because you were at home because you were shielding. So, whatever happened, we knew you were going to be at home. Whereas, we didn’t realise everyone was going to be at home when I was making it.

Lisa: And obviously your piece, you wrote the piece based on that – that you knew that I was going to be at home and Hammed, the other actor who I was acting alongside, was going to be at the Court. And it was going to be for a live audience so, that I was going to be on the screen and he was going to be live in the space. So you knew that, didn’t you, before you started to write?

Tom: Yeah, that was sort of the brief, as in, they said that as a setup that that was presented, and Jane, the Literary Manager, knew that I’d seen you in the show that you did called ‘Still No Idea’ and I really wanted to work with you. So, that seemed like a really natural fit. And I guess, I’ve been thinking a little bit about dating. So, a little while ago, I found out that I’ve got MS, and so I guess that made me think a little bit about dating and disability. I guess that working with an actor who was shielding…

Lisa: That was the brief, wasn’t it, for you to write for someone at home?

Tom: Yeah, for one person at home, and one person who was at the Court, I guess. And so it feels like, there was always going to be a screen, you were always going to be there, on screen, but what we hadn’t got our heads around quite was that it was gonna be two screens, I guess.

Lisa: Yeah, definitely. And what was your, because you were writing in the dating section, weren’t you, of the Living Newspaper? So, I guess you had to kind of really think about that?

Tom: Yeah, I think that what I wanted to do was, so there’s a really famous Guardian dating column, specifically between two women who just really hit it off. And then they ended up going to a house party that they’ve crashed, one of them loses their knickers…

Lisa: I don’t know about this!

Tom: Oh, it’s brilliant. Have a Google, it’s well worth it. And then they, sort of, I think they get kicked out because they didn’t know the hosts… but without the knickers. So, I sort of really wanted to create something that two people together, that would have that energy, but unfortunately I’m me, so I guess that stood in the way a little bit. But, I guess that also, in thinking about what shielding has been like, it has meant that, or it made that specific situation impossible. And like what would be the equivalent of that, I guess? Because I feel like if those two characters had met in real life, they would have hit it off, crashed a house party…

Lisa: And lost their knickers.

Tom: Yeah, maybe. As I was saying that, I was getting to the end and thinking…

Lisa: You were like, “how is this going to end?”

Tom: Yeah, but I suppose that’s how it would end.

Lisa: I would say so! I definitely would say about their sort of vibe on the date, even online, I would say if they were in a bar, the night would get quite messy. Definitely.

Tom: Yeah, hopefully. So I guess I was thinking about that. And thinking about, it felt like there was a really straightforward metaphor between the idea of “ghosting” as in just suddenly disappearing from someone’s life and the way that we, as a society have sort of ghosted people who are shielding. I feel like that is a terrible thing that has happened that, especially over the summer, you couldn’t understand that the only reason that a lot of people were experiencing freedoms was that other people were not experiencing them, had taken themselves out of that world, for their own safety. Nobody in the government seemed to be noticing that or was choosing not to notice that.

Lisa: Well, I feel like everyone got a bit, sort of bored with recognising that people were not able to go out. And, like at the beginning in lockdown one, it felt like, somehow, it was like, “oh, we’re all in it together”. You know, the sort of society felt like, “Oh, you know, definitely, you know, we’ll look after you, we’ll, we’ll get your prescription,” whatever, you know, it’s very, very sort of medical model, I guess. But, you know, at least you felt a bit more supported. But as it went on into the summer, you were like, “Okay, I’m now invisible.” Which is not a great feeling. And if you think about dating within that scenario, you can kind of think, well, how, how would that happen? You know, if I can just about get my shopping, how am I going to be flirting online? So that was, I thought that was really interesting what you wrote. And that it was really, like, nuanced and lovely, and had some real sort of vulnerability about it as well. But also funny as well.

Tom: Oh, cheers.

Lisa: Thank you for letting me be a part of it.

Tom: Well, I feel like it was a bit of a team effort, because the first draft was not that funny. But then we worked on it together, and then it worked better.

Lisa: Does it change? That’s one question I was going to ask you: does it change for you as a writer when you’re thinking about someone that’s already in mind that’s acting in the piece? Or, is that – do you see what I mean? Like, does that change how you write it?

Tom: I think, well, just in a really literal way, Jane said that you were working with a Living theatre company, and would I like to write something for you. And so, from the very start, it was, it was there as in, it was always going to be a piece for you. So that was really exciting because I wanted to work with you. And also, it meant that I didn’t write an awkward homosexual man from Hull, which tends to be what I’ve done otherwise.

Lisa: Is that your go-to Tom?

Tom: Yeah, I don’t know why, it just sort of happens?

Lisa: You just fall into it?

Tom: Yeah.

Lisa: Well, you do it very well.

Tom: Thanks, yeah, cheers. You’d hope wouldn’t you! I’ve had plenty of practice. But yeah, so they said, so with this play, it feels like that was the very, that was like the seed of it. And also the seed of just thinking about that brilliant dating column, which I just think is sort of magic. I sort of can’t wait for you to read it.

Lisa: Oh, I’m going to feedback as soon as I’ve seen it, I’m going to tell you.

Tom: Yeah, and also thinking about, I suppose, like, dating as a person who’s disabled because it’s just, I just think it is, like, in an ideal world, it’s just one conversation. But we don’t live in an ideal world, as I think the government have proved. Yeah, so that was the start of it. And so you were always at the start of it, I guess. Like it was always built around the actor for this one, and the column. Yeah.

Lisa: It was really nice to work alongside you and Lucy Morrison as well, because me and Lucy have known each other for years. I think you have known her for years as well, haven’t you?

Tom: Yeah, a really long time.

Lisa: It was the first time that she’s directed me.

Tom: Really?!

Lisa: So it was like a double – yeah – it was really cool. Really cool.

Tom: She’s just magic, isn’t she?

Lisa: Yeah, she’s great.

Tom: It’s really insightful and can bring out a really emotional truthfulness.

Lisa: Definitely. And she’s, you know, like you feel able to be quite sort of brutally honest.

Tom: Yeah, it feels like there’s something a bit searching about it and a bit restless about it. And then you hit on the thing, and then like, that’s it.

Lisa: It was really weird for me, I have to say, because before it went, because just to explain, it was going to be like a couple of rounds, wasn’t it? So it was going to be, before, performed, so the actor Hammed, he was going to be in the space and I was always going to be on the screen and there was going to be a live audience, wasn’t there?

Tom: Yeah.

Lisa: And we were going to do it like three times, four times, rolling on over like four days. And then just as that started to go up and running, the lockdown tightened, didn’t it. So everything sort of had to come online. So it then, instead of it being in front of a live audience, it was then filmed. But we did the dresser bit in front of the people that were in the Court. So we did have a kind of live audience, and that was so strange for me. Because I’m sitting in my living room on my own, like, I’ve got no one else around, and like, I’m getting a Beginners’, like a 15 minute call, like on the computer or a Beginners’ Call, and I’m like “no, I’m getting nervous, I can’t, I can’t breathe, I’ve got like water.” Because usually, when you’re doing a show or something, you’ve got others to hang on to, haven’t you, in like the building and the atmosphere. But I was like, on my own, I was like “ah!”

Tom: It feels like that is the thing that we’re all sort of, or I guess I am, really missing about theatre.

Lisa: Yeah definitely.

Tom: It’s just being in a gang. It feels like that is such a simple thing. But I suspect it’s the reason why we all love it. And so, not having other people to bounce off and sort of prop you up sometimes.

Lisa: Yeah.

Tom: Really tricky.

Lisa: And the audience connection I think. That night when we did that, once we started to get going, it was like, obviously, because Hammed was in the space, and I was on the screen, I couldn’t see – I could hear the audience, but I couldn’t see the audience – so he had the relationship with the audience that I didn’t have. And I was like trying to sort of adopt a relationship via him with the audience, and it really made me miss kind of that playful relationship, which is totally my taste anyway, you know, with with an audience. So yeah, it is a shame. And it was a very unique experience, I’ll give you that.

Tom: I hope so, because I feel like you did really well. But it would be so nice to be in front of an audience again.

Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. It was great. It was a great experiment. And I think we all did really well to kind of figure that out as well. You know, how it would work, with the team at the Court, and, you know, us with all the technology, we’re all trying to make it work, aren’t we, with everything? So I’m proud of us.

Tom: Yeah, well done us! Well done everyone. I feel like, if you had said this time last year that the Court would be doing a Living Newspaper and working with all those creative people and freelancers, I sort of wouldn’t have known what that would look like and they’ve just done it.

Lisa: And also, all the legwork that went into that. I mean, when Lucy originally contacted me and talked to me, because we were talking about design stuff and access and you know, did I have any thoughts to make the experience more creatively accessible and stuff. And I was like, “you’re gonna pull this off in how long?!” I mean, I could see they were quite tired.  Yeah, I was like, “OK?!”

Tom: Well, you designed the lifts, didn’t you?

Lisa: Well no, that was Still No Idea when I did the show at the Court. Because the Royal Court’s got the slowest lift, crip lift, down to the bar in the world. Well, actually, I found an even more slow lift, but in theatre definitely. And I was like, “well, let’s get playful with this, you know, let’s make sure we’ve put a bar, because by the time we’ve gone down to have your drink in, you know, if there’s an interval at the end, the bell’s being rung and you have to go back up. So I definitely was part of the team of designers who were all super cool, and really, really keen to hear my ideas, which yes, some of them made it in. So that was brilliant.

Tom: That’s amazing. Sort of a bit of ownership over a space that could have just been a lift, it’s wonderful.

Lisa: And it’s good for people that don’t have to do those access routes to be able to do those routes and kind of see it from a different direction, you know?

Tom: Find out how slow that lift really is.

Lisa: Yeah, exactly. I said to Lucy, when we were doing the show, I was like, get in that lift and make sure all the team at the Royal Court have that journey, please. Because you’ve got to know how long it is, how painfully long it is. She was like, “I will, I will.”

Tom: Maybe in future, it will also be a bar?

Lisa: I’m still massively committed to making that lift faster, or at least more creative in the long term, not just into pieces that are on there.

Tom: I mean, we’ve all got goals at the end of the day. Pretty straightforward one.

Lisa: I haven’t learned a language and I haven’t taken up painting. I’m just going to focus on the Royal Court lift.

Tom: Brilliant.

Lisa: Which is really, really, sounds really, really disabled and pedestrian but these things are important.

Tom: Yeah, definitely – it’s going to make a big difference.

Lisa: It’s quality of life.

Tom: Yeah. I just think, it’s sort of fine to have not learned a big language but it’s a positive difference in the world.

Lisa: Have you made sourdough, Tom?

Tom: No.

Lisa: I want to ask because every other person I know is obsessed with sourdough over lockdown.

Tom: I just don’t even really like eating it so it feels like a bit punishing to spend 47 days growing it, carefully cook it, and then it’s not nice to eat it.

Lisa: Not enjoy it at the end.

Tom: Yeah, I’ve just stuck to Hovis.

Lisa: Yeah, Warburton’s.

Tom: And I’m not sad about it.

Lisa: No, no I’m not.

Tom: I’ve slightly overdone lentils, but haven’t we all at one point or another?

Lisa: Yeah, definitely.

Tom: What’s been your lockdown treats?

Lisa: Alcohol. A lot of that.

Tom: Pretty straightforward.

Lisa: Just to get through the day, you know? I think a lot of people, there’ll be quite a lot of counsellors – alcoholic counsellors – on the other end of these lockdowns, I think.

Tom: Yeah, it feels like when those statistics happen it’s like, “oh, another drink”.

Lisa: Yeah, cooking I really enjoyed, and continue to enjoy. I love cooking. But yeah, I haven’t done massive amounts of learning at all. What about you, apart from lentils?

Tom: No, there is nothing apart from lentils, that’s it.

Lisa: It’s just lentils!

Tom: Yeah, just a lot of lentils. The odd chickpea, you know.

Lisa: Brilliant.

Tom: But that’s it really.

Lisa: Oh, it’s lovely to talk to you, Tom.

Tom: So nice to talk to you too.

Lisa: I hope we get to work together soon in the real world.

Tom: That would be so lovely, wouldn’t it. Closer than two meters.

Lisa: And on a bigger, fully-realised piece.

Tom: That would be magic.