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Interview: Stuart Laws, Gabby Best and Will Brown from 'The Journey'

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Break-ups on holiday are stressful. Break-ups on a spaceship would be astronomically more painful, with no way of leaving, hiding or escaping the conflict. ‘The Journey’, an upcoming play at Pleasance, presents a couple dealing with relationship issues while inconveniently trapped in space.

Stuart Laws, Gabby Best and Will Brown

Will Brown (photo credit Faye Thomas); Gabby Best ; Stuart Laws (photo credit Ed Moore)

Written and directed by stand-up comedian Stuart Laws, and starring Gabby Best and Will Brown, the play combines humour with a complex discussion of gender relations.

With an interest in sci-fi, Stuart says that setting the play on a spaceship “seemed like the obvious thing”.

“How much more stressful would it be, if you’ve broken up with somebody on holiday before, to take that to an extreme where there’s no way out?” he says. “You can’t even pop out and get a little jambon-beurre.”

While Will cracks up over Stuart’s comment (“a jambon-beurre?!”), Gabby replies: “I have tried to fix an argument with croquetas before on holiday, and you can’t do that on a spaceship… rocket-as, maybe.”

The three of them joke with warmth and quick wit throughout the interview, discussing ‘The Journey’ with infectious enthusiasm. Sitting down to chat with The National Student, they discuss their experiences of being part of a two-hander play.

Gabby starts by joking that it’s been “quite trying, quite taxing, grating, problematic…” But with a laugh, she adds “it’s been fun.”

Will agrees, “I’ve really enjoyed it; it’s very, very funny.”

“I’ve never done a two-hander before,” he says. “It’s definitely something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Gabby Best and Will Brown

Gabby Best and Will Brown, The Journey

Talking openly about their pre-show nerves and excitement, they all express similar feelings of mixed anticipation in the last few days leading up to the play.

“From a personal point of view,” Stuart says, “I’m more nervous.”

He describes the move from stand-up into theatre writing as a dramatic change: “You’re putting something out there that, by its very nature, is more serious; you’re making a bit more of a statement than when you do comedy.”

The play has been described as a romantic comedy, but Stuart says “it doesn’t exist for the jokes”. 

Combining his experiences in film and stand-up, he uses comedy as a tool to strengthen the plot. He approaches theatre with a background in comedy and around 10 years experience running a film production company. “I wanted to come with a stand-up sensibility and a filmic vision", he says.

Recognising a recent move in comedy toward more “theatrical” humour, Will agrees that the play’s comical elements contribute to its powerful expressions of ideas.

“I’ve got a bit of an issue with people going: ‘this play is a comedy’,” says Will. When considering the relationship between theatre and comedy, he argues “you’ve got to have lightness in every single play.”

Gabby says: “I feel like there’s a general move towards more introspective comedy that comes out of darker truths."

Gabby, Will and Stuart, The Journey

Gabby Best, Will Brown and Stuart Laws, rehearsing

Among the “darker truths” in the play is a commentary on the relationship between gender and power. Gabby recalls being drawn to the play as she was interested in its thought-provoking presentation of a “power balance between men and women”.

“It started as a short story that I started writing around 2010,” says Stuart. “I wanted to do something a little bit different.”

After asking a friend for advice, Stuart recognised that the story had the potential to be an interesting two-hander play, but it required a development of plot. When building on the themes and ideas in the play, he says “that’s where this development of the female/male power dynamic came about.”

Through the heightened tension in the play, where the male and female characters are alone in an intense, inescapable environment during a break-up, Gabby says that gender is “the issue” in ‘The Journey’.

Stuart describes the play as “very much delivered from the point of view of the male protagonist”; as Will’s character addresses the audience, he presents his biased side of the story.

“I do a lot of directing the lines to the audience, and interacting with them, and hopefully riffing off them,” says Will. “It’s going to be a very interesting experience.”

They describe the creation process of ‘The Journey’ as largely collaborative, with Stuart in conversation with Will and Gabby about ideas, themes, and sources of inspiration.

“I wanted to make sure I got everyone’s input so that it wasn’t just one mad boy’s theatre wank dream,” says Stuart. “Is that fair?”

Gabby nods and tells him, “I think that would be good for the poster.”

Will Brown and Gabby Best

Will Brown and Gabby Best, The Journey

When advising on the best ways to become involved in the arts, Stuart, Will and Gabby all emphasise the importance of drive and dedication.

“My biggest regret about uni is that I wish I couldn’t give a shit more,” Will says. “We’ve all written our own stuff, and in order to get better you have to. You can’t just expect every single thing you do to be perfect.”

While at university, Will made the most of the acting opportunities available to him; in particular, he says that going to the Edinburgh Fringe is "the best thing you could ever do".

“Passion is so much more valuable than actual technical ability or technical knowledge,” argues Stuart, for young people concerned they lack the experience to get involved in their goal industry. “All of that can come on the job.”

In addition to meeting new people and making connections in your desired industry, Gabby views it as essential to “never, ever, try and be trendy”.

While recognising that there are trends that come and go within comedy, she says “if you’re already trying to copy it, you’ve missed it.”

Agreeing, Will encourages young people to “go with your instinct in your own head, because you might be genius; you might be setting the next trend.”

The unique premise of ‘The Journey’, along with the interweaving themes of gender politics and the natural light-hearted humour bouncing between Stuart, Will and Gabby, combine to promise a dramatic rom-com with a vital message.

'The Journey' will be showing at Pleasance, London at 19:45 on Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 November, and performances will last 1 hour without intervals.

You can buy tickets here

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