Few will forget last season’s smash hit, ‘The Wives of Others’, a black comedy that was best described as Reservoir Dogs meets Desperate Housewives. This season, writer Tom Stuchfield returns to the OSO with his new show from the 6th-10th June with ‘The Cavalry Behind You’, a blistering drama set during the Great War. We sat down with Tom to discuss the influences behind his new show.
The Wives of Others was a massive hit at the OSO last season. What prompted the transition from black comedy to serious drama?
I suppose Wives was more of an out-of-character production than Cavalry promises to be. I have always written on relatively serious topics, but try to bring a slight edge to my commentary on them. Wives tended towards irreverent comedy, but Cavalry tends more towards cynicism and a revisionist perspective on history. I also wanted to show the loyal and committed audience the Old Sorting Office relies on that neither myself, nor the team around me, are one-trick ponies.
What is it about WW1 that makes it the perfect setting for a stage drama?
WW1 is a time-honoured setting for plays, because it is one of few instances where large groups of people shared an intimate space for a long period of time, under immense pressure. Similar to the kitchen-sink convention, war plays are a great way to squeeze a mob of angry people (usually men) onto a small stage, and the overture of war excuses how quickly the drama escalates to catastrophic levels. Think trapped in a lift. Think dinner party gone wrong. For this show, however, the First World War offers us an opportunity to do the exact opposite. The play follows six separate story lines over six years. No fusty melodrama in a dugout, here.
How did you go about researching the play, and ensuring that it is historically accurate?
I’ve always been fascinated with history, and especially the history of warfare. I will begin a masters in the subject this year. However, the link was, as cliched as it now sounds, a family one. Through my general reading about the First World War, I began to do some family genealogy work (I didn’t even know my great-grandparents’ names), and by the time I had finished digging, some six months later, I had an incredible story on my hands. I suppose that’s the one thing I don’t want to spoil – this is a true story, about my relatives, and the people they encountered during the 1910s, but you’ll have to come along to find out what happened to them.
How do you plan to stage the play?
I should confess that this isn’t a play. Well, not by most of the markers with which we would judge a piece of theatre. It’s a piece of storytelling, a narrative of history, a play in sketches, and a monologue play without monologues. It’s six people, struggling for six years, and six actors, including myself, telling you a story. It defies most staging rules.
Tell us about the casting and rehearsal process.
First of all, I knew I had to play the part of Spencer – and you’ll no doubt work out why when you come to see the show. I couldn’t find any relatives of the other ‘characters’ who appear, and the lineage went cold. So, I used a mix of previous collaborators (including some from Wives) as well as new colleagues, who are bringing fantastic oratorical and acting finesse to what could be a long chronicle of a story. We’ve been very informal in our rehearsal process, because, for the most part, we aren’t acting on stage. We are a group of young creatives who have become fascinated with a family story, and they are helping me to tell it.
In one sentence, why should people come to see Cavalry?
You should come and see The Cavalry Behind You because there has never been a play like it, and every word of it is true.
Don’t miss the first ever performance of this thrilling new play. Book your tickets now.
The Cavalry Behind You runs from the 6th – 10th June at 8pm.