What have Playdays, End of the Rainbow and Finsbury Park all got in common?

Last Updated on 16th January 2016

Peter Quilter
Playwright Peter Quilter

With the UK premier of 4000 days fast approaching, BritishTheatre.com catches up with West End and Broadway playwright Peter Quilter to get the low down on his play’s month-long run at the Park Theatre – as well as the forthcoming UK tour of his smash-hit show End of the Rainbow.

You started out as an actor and presenter – on Playdays no less! – What made you take the leap from acting to writing?

I got together with a small group of actor friends and we decided we needed a showcase to attract casting directors. So I wrote a play for the three of us about Oscar Wilde titled Mirror of the Moon. We presented it on the Fringe and, one night, a representative of the Royal Court turned up and told me I should be working full-time as a playwright. They invited me into their Young Writers Group to attend workshops, seminars and readings, etc. This was during the time when Stephen Daldry was running the building. It made me take my writing seriously, and everything took off from there. It was quite a switch from presenting children’s TV programmes on the BBC!

What inspired you to write 4000 days – the story of Michael and his memory loss?

Bizarrely, it was a dream I had. I dreamt I was in a hospital bed surrounded by piles of old newspapers. The doctor was telling me I had to read them all in order to catch up on the 11 years I’d missed. It was the weirdest thing. The next day, I got out of bed and started writing the play.

The tag line for the play is: What would you do if you forgot the last decade of your life…? What would YOU do?

Well, my career only took off 11 years ago, so that would be unhelpful… I think I’d want to just repeat it all. It’s been a great ride, beginning in 2005 when I had Glorious opening at the Duchess Theatre in the West End and, at the exact same time, End of the Rainbow having its world premiere at Sydney Opera House in Australia. I’ve done so much travelling in the last decade and had so many amazing and terrifying theatrical experiences. So yes, I’d get back on the rollercoaster and go round again.

4000 Days At Park Theatre
Maggie Ollerenshaw, Alistair McGowan and Daniel Weyman in 4000 Days. Photo: Rory Lindsay

The cast for 4000 days is a stella one, consisting of Alistair McGowan, Maggie Ollerenshaw and Daniel Weyman. What do you hope each of these actors will bring to your characters?

I’m genuinely thrilled about this cast. They are all very different as people and as actors so each brings their own very personal take on the characters. There’s a sensitivity to each of them, matched with intelligence and humour. They’re going to be terrific.

And why, of all the theatres in London, is the Park theatre in Finsbury Park the chosen venue for this play’s UK premier?

I think it’s the sexiest theatre in London. It’s young, funky, edgy and has that wonderful intimacy which throws the audience into the thick of the action. I can’t think of a more perfect place to launch a new play.

You’ve been nominated for Oliviers and Tony Awards in the past; do you think 4000 days could be the clincher? If so, why? And do you care?

I seem to always be the bridesmaid rather than the bride at these awards ceremonies. I’m not sure why I keep missing out. Though often I get the second largest vote, which I suppose is something to hang on to. You just have to write what you write and not worry about it. If you ever sat down with the decision to write an award-winner it would end up being a dreadful play. But I would, at some point, like a little trophy in the house. Playwriting is a tough business, and our confidence gets regularly shattered, so a little sculpture on the mantelpiece would be helpful for those writing days when you’re banging your head on the desk in despair.

Lisa Maxwell as Judy Garland in End Of The Rainbow UK Tour 2016Following sell-out seasons in the West End and on Broadway, End of the Rainbow – the show for which you’re arguably best known – is going out on tour in the UK from 12 February. The Judy Garland biopic seemed to explode in size and popularity; why do you think this is?

It’s got its own life now and I can hardly keep up with it. It’s played in about 27 countries and there’s now a movie in development too. I just think we all underestimated the appeal of the Judy Garland story. She was such a fascinating, compelling, ferocious, funny and charming character. Audiences fall completely in love with her, in spite of her behaviour on and off stage. Plus the music is timeless and beautiful. We have a great cast in the new six-month UK tour – Lisa Maxwell, Sam Attwater and Gary Wilmot. It’s going to be a wonderful night in the theatre with these guys.

Could you have imagined the show’s growth and success when you were writing it?

Everyone told me it was a bad idea. So no, not at all. I think everyone was expecting me to write a kind of tribute show. But I was more interested in the characters and emotions, the car crash of all the things that were going on backstage. The success was a huge surprise. The first performance was on a Thursday in Northampton, raining and cold outside, with only half an audience. But when it ended, they all stood up and cheered endlessly. We couldn’t believe it. From that moment on, it’s just kept on going and going.

Are you working on anything new?

I’ve just finished a play about the notorious opera star Mario Lanza, which I’m now offering out to producers. Plus I have another new play opening at the Park Theatre later this year. It’s a comedy titled Saving Jason that premieres at the Park in November.

And lastly, what’s your theatrical guilty pleasure?

I love musicals, particularly Sondheim. When I watch a play, I find myself analysing it – the structure, etc. But when I watch a musical, I forget all that and just sit back and enjoy.

4000 Days runs at the Park Theatre until 13 February 2016. Book Now.

End Of The Rainbow tours the UK in 2016. Book Now

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