Jack West: Playwright in Rep

I met Jack West at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014. He had just completed his second year at the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts (LIPA) and with some fellow students was putting on his play MenSWEAR Collection: Three, Two, F*ck. I went along to review it and was excited by its intriguing storyline, the quality of his writing and level of performances. I said of those involved that they would ‘be names to look out for in the future’. Four years later they are forging their own careers and West has three plays in the current season at the Tristan Bates Theatre.

Returning to LIPA for his third year the opportunity to continue with writing presented itself in the next module of study. Placed into production groups with clearly defined roles for all members West created a new script that is now the play No Help Sent (NHS). It was performed in the Liverpool Playhouse in the summer of 2015. Following graduation four out of the six students involved in the project moved to London. They found accommodation together and various jobs. In the spring of 2016 they revived the play for performance at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden. Lacking a name for the company he had now co-founded with actor/producer Rob Hadden, Lago Theatre finally emerged. I thought perhaps there was something profound about it or that they had a stunning lake in mind, but the reality is far more mundane. Lago was the pub in Liverpool they lived above for around two years. It was the one thing they had in common and served as a reminder of where it all began. The next idea was to take NHS to Edinburgh that summer, but funding the venture proved to be impossible and the plan fell through.

With nothing else happening on the theatre front West wrote his next play, Wine. The team rented the upstairs of the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square and for the first time the three plays that now form the Lago Season were performed together, scheduled at lunchtime. The week’s run was used as showcase with invitations going out to any parties they believed might be interested in their work. Through a sequence of introductions they found themselves in discussions with the Actors Centre that is also responsible for the Tristan Bates Theatre. They had anticipated an opportunity to put on No Help Sent, as it had achieved its final form and was ready to go. Instead, the Centre wanted a new work and requested Wine, which although it had been performed, was still in its developmental stages. With the necessary work undertaken it hit the boards in January 2018 and its success resulted in a invitation to return later in the year with additional plays. NHS was ready but MenSWEAR Collection: Three, Two, F*ck had a running time of only forty five minutes, somewhat short of the theatre’s requirement. West expanded the text and reverted to its original pre-Edinburgh title of Revelation 1:18. The three texts were now complete and the Lago Season was established.

The plays form a trilogy only in the sense that they share the same set. Each is performed in the living room of a man in his early 20s. Part of the biblical verse to which Revelation 1:18 refers is clearly seen as a force within the play, even though the characters are unaware of its existence. “I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” Three friends in a band finally achieve their big break. They’ve been signed to a top label, have released their first single, the album is about to be released and the international tour is planned. They return to their old flat for one last night where doubts and misgivings set in about the nature of ambition, what life is all about and what their legacy might be. For West it highlights millennial obsessions and how far people are prepared to go in order to achieve their often misguided goals.

No Help Sent is set in contemporary Britain but with a privatised NHS; a movement towards which some might say has progressed since the play was written during the election period of 2015. Michael, one of a group of four friends, has just had surgery to remove testicular cancer. The operation was financed through crowdfunding, fundraisers and money chipped in by mates at university. At a welcome home party he breaks the news that in fact the cancer has spread. What will be the solution in the face of impossible costs and a ticking clock? Maybe it’s time to resort to the absurd, the bizarre, possibly the grotesque and morally suspect as a means of saving him. Then it’s a question of how to right and wrongs done in the process. It’s a play with a message in which West believes passionately and he has no misgivings about wanting people to see it as he does.

The opposite is true of Wine. He has his views about it but expects audiences to leave discussing its interpretation and coming to their own conclusions. The first two plays are in the style of dark comedy. Wine, I am assured, is a more straightforward two-handed drama. Mark is trying to transform the boys’ zone flat he shares with his brother in preparation for a second first date with Sam, but things lurk in their pasts. Will further revelations change everything and undermine any trust that might exist between them? There is only one way to find out!

At various times in the past West has directed each play himself. This year he has new directors for two of them and is looking forward to seeing their interpretations. He hopes that in the future other companies will take up these plays and is open to doing runs in other venues but once this one is over he’s looking forward to new openings for the company and the chance to write further scripts. Next, he has his sights on a full length play that can have an evening to itself.

Still only twenty five West’s impressive track record augurs well for further success. Many more works will undoubtedly appear in the years ahead and audiences will delight in the fascinating material he produces. He remains a name to look out for.

https://lagotheatre.com

https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on#this-season