Another week, another great Tribute, and another great insight from the writer of the Tribute. This week is The Name on the Bench by David Hendon, and his answers are brilliant as is the monologue. Both left me with a lump in my throat and something in my eye.
1. I love the insecurity we all have regarding age, and how we compare ourselves to others based on age.The line where he realises he's a year away from being the same age as the deceased is surely something we all do, Was that aspect based on a specific example or just more general?
I wanted something to trigger the adventure he goes on. Turning 40 seems like a huge deal at the time, the build-up to it especially, but a couple of days after your birthday you don’t think about it again. It’s just an age. But for the protagonist it’s a wake-up call. He has these unresolved issues relating to his own life and has hidden behind alcohol or by just plodding on at work. He’s an understated character, the sort of person who doesn’t want to bother anyone with his problems. When he discovers the bench is dedicated to someone who had just turned 40 it triggers a kind of mid-life crisis which becomes about dealing with his own unresolved grief. He can’t let it go until he finds out who the name on the bench is.
2. That's the catalyst for what begins like a detective story. Did you use that genre as a template for this?
I wanted it to be a proper story. Monologues can really draw an audience in because it’s just one person telling a story, like they’re taking you into their confidence. I wanted a mystery element but also the reveal to be slightly underwhelming because the point of the story isn’t what he finds out, it’s how it affects his life. It triggers the way he finally comes to terms with his own feelings of grief.
3. I found your protagonist fascinating. What were the main elements you wanted to get across about him whilst creating him?
He’s not the life and soul of the party but he’s seen as dependable. Probably nobody he works with knows he has these issues in his life that he hasn’t resolved. He’s quite self-deprecating, an ‘ordinary’ man. Except, no one is ordinary. Peel back the layers and you’ll find something extraordinary about everyone. We’re alive – that’s extraordinary for a start.
4. 'Superceded by a spreadsheet.' Great line, but also a huge fear, our life less important than trivial day to day matters. I'm unsure whether the tributes say more about the dead or about the person delivering them. Is that line really about James Grant or more about himself?
I think by this point he does see himself and James as intrinsically linked. I suppose he wonders who, if anyone, would miss him if he was gone. It’s another trigger for continuing his adventure.
5. The redemption makes this a very life-affirming Tribute. Do you believe this is one of the important reasons we need to discuss death more?
To me, these tribute dramas are as much about life as they are death. If you’re fortunate when you’re young death doesn’t intrude too much on your life but, as you get older, it becomes more prominent. Death is like a sniper, randomly killing off your family and friends, and one day it will get you. So death is all around us and it’s the people left behind who have to cope and find a way of dealing with their loss.
6. What other projects are you working on, and do they share any similarities with The Name on the Bench?
Funnily enough, the first play I wrote was called ‘The Bench.’ The difference there was that the characters never moved from the bench.
I did a play last year at the Edinburgh fringe called The D-List which was an out-and-out comedy and then a monologue called Eyes to the Wind, which was much more serious and was runner-up in the Kenneth Branagh award for new drama writing. It’s been on in Windsor and London and is hopefully going to be made into a short film. Last week I had something on at Southwark Playhouse as part of a night of new comedy writing. I’m developing a couple of other plays too. I like to try different styles and subjects but I am drawn to stories that reveal secrets, so this monologue was another chance to do that.
7. In particular I really enjoyed the dry humour of your monologue, is that a staple of your writing or used to fit this character and story?
I like comedy but it’s hard to get right. My Edinburgh play went down really well some nights and less well on others. It can come down to a slight change in the performances, the demographic of the audience, the day of the week or even the audience being in a bad mood because of the weather. Comedy is the only measurable genre. If people don’t laugh, it hasn’t worked. In this monologue I tried to make it understated. It’s a serious story but the protagonist can recognise the tragicomic elements of what he is doing.
8. Have you listened to any of the other Tributes? If so, which ones have stood out for you?
I’ve listened to and enjoyed them all. The writing is top quality. I also want to mention the acting, which is incredibly good. Sam Hazeldine, who performed my piece, recorded it in his own studio in LA. I found out later that he had dedicated a bench to his own father, the late actor James Hazeldine, at the National Theatre. This was coincidence but must have informed his performance.
Clearly many of them are very personal and informed by family. You could hear the rawness in the one about Hillsborough (Milestone). I thought the way his quiet anger informed the character’s grief was well achieved.
What I liked, though, was the range of styles of writing and the range of voices. I think these tributes do shine a light on how death affects the living but they are also a celebration of life. The internet has given us countless ways to make other people, and ourselves, feel worthless but everyone has something to contribute. We should maybe focus more on that. Everyone has affected someone in some way. Everyone will be missed by somebody.