With less than a month until our Fringe debut, we grabbed the writer of "We Need to Talk about Bobby (off EastEnders)", George Attwell-Gerhards, to talk about why he’s excited about his latest play.
Hi George - first of all, what is "We Need to Talk about Bobby (off EastEnders)" actually about (and why do we need to talk about him)?
In terms of the story, it is about a thirteen-year-old girl, Annie, who is an actress for television. She gets cast in a TV show that contains quite explicit adult themes and that requires her to do some very adult things on camera. The play charts the effect that this has on her mental health and her emotional development. It is essentially a psychological thriller about a child actress.
In terms of the issues I’m trying to raise, the play is an attempt to explore society’s uneasy fascination with child violence. I’ve always felt there’s an uncomfortable conversation (or lack of) taking place about how child violence is depicted, be it in the news or, indeed, prime time soap operas. Over the course of writing the play, however, I have also found that it reflects upon our inability to speak to, relate to and understand children - particularly teenagers - and to explain the world to them in a sensible and frank way.
However, the play isn’t as preachy as I’m making it sound, predominantly because it isn’t a crystal-clear issue. One of the reasons I thought it’d make for a good play is because of how much of a grey area all this is.
How did you first come up with this idea?
I was watching TV when a trailer for that evening’s episode of EastEnders came on, and I was really disturbed by how the advert was edited to make me, the audience, feel excited even by the prospect that Bobby Beale, this 12 year old boy, might kill again. That was the jumping off point, when I realised that the producers of EastEnders had completely lost sight of the fact that at the centre of their main storyline was a scared and confused and angry young child.
What do you first think about when writing a play - theme, character, setting?
This is probably rather unusual, but the way that Paperback work is that we find something that we think is not-quite-right in the way that stories are told or ideas are formed and attitudes shaped, and we use that as our starting point, looking for the best way to explore those issues.
What do you think the particular impact is of having female character as the teen actor?
Obviously teenage boys and teenage girls have extremely different experiences of adolescence. The reason I chose a female lead is that I think the particular pressure of the public gaze, of ‘being difficult’, affects girls/women more than boys/men. There is a pressure on women and girls to smile and be happy and look pleasant that doesn’t exist so much for men, and when I was considering that I wanted Annie to be an angry child (rightly so), being a girl makes it even harder for her to articulate her anger without encountering adult scorn.
Finally, in a sentence, summarise why people should come and see this play at the Fringe
You’ll never watch EastEnders in the same way again.
"We Need to Talk About Bobby (off EastEnders)" runs at ZOO Southside Studio 12.40pm daily from 14 - 28 August
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