Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall creates laughs at the New Wolsey
- Credit: PA
Broadchurch and Doctor Who writer Chris Chibnall knows a good story when he encounters one. Such a story can be found in his latest stage play, a full-bellied laugh-filled extravaganza entitled Worst Wedding Ever.
It’s a story every can identify with because even if you haven’t walked down the aisle yourself you will have attended a lavish, over-organised wedding at some point in your life and wondered how a day, which purports to celebrate the love between two people can become so complicated and full of social bear-traps.
Chris is very much man of the moment. His work on Doctor Who and the spin-off show Torchwood gave him his introduction to the world of television but it was the success of crime drama Broadchurch which turned him into a household name.
At his heart Chris Chibnall is a storyteller and matches the medium to the story he is trying to tell. Although television takes most of his time, and will take even more time when he becomes Doctor Who’s new showrunner in 2018, he still relishes creating work for a live audience in the theatre.
His roots lie in the theatre. His early training was spent with the experimental theatre company Complicite before working with the Royal National Theatre Studio in 1999, followed by a year-long attachment to Soho Theatre in 2000 which resulted in his first hit play Kiss Me Like You Mean It starring Catherine McCormack.
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His latest play The Worst-Wedding Ever was an attempt to get back to his theatrical roots after many years working in TV. “I knew I wanted to write a big raucous, mainhouse comedy with a big cast, something that would make a really good night out.
“I also knew I wanted to write a play with some really strong roles for women because not enough plays have those. There are lots of amazing actresses out there, people who I know, who are always saying: ‘When are you going to write something for me?’ So I was thinking about subject matter and I had been going through a period when I had been going to a lot of weddings and I began to realise that there was beginning to be a change in wedding culture.
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“By this I mean that the wedding day was being transformed into more of an event. It wasn’t just the vows and the church but people were going abroad or staging lavish holidays as part of the wedding celebrations. They were having themed days and it struck me that the act of getting married was becoming a status symbol.”
He says that at first he dismissed the idea of writing about weddings because he thought that because they are such a universal event the theatre must be stuffed full of plays about weddings but, a little research, proved that he was wrong and the way was clear for him to construct his tale about the modern wedding – a day of tears and laughter.
He wrote the play after gathering stories from a wide range of wedding professionals – everyone from vicars to florists, caterers to wedding bands – and they gleefully added to Chris’ collection of wedding horror stories which he then weaved into the fabric of his play.
“The thing that kept coming through in many of the stories was that the wedding wasn’t necessarily about the bride, it was about the mother of the bride, and this is what features in the play. At one point the mother says to the bride groom: ‘We are very glad to have you here but this day isn’t about you/’ And it’s the guy’s own wedding!”
But, Chris isn’t interested in writing a play which is merely a collection of one-dimensional sketches. As his TV work demonstrates Chris writes relationships very well. He loves creating a warm dynamic between his characters. Even though the characters in Broadchurch are surrounded by death, and mistrust steadily eats away at the community, his people remain essentially likeable, if flawed human beings. They are you and I, ordinary people caught in the middle of a terrifying experience, not of their making.
Chris says that writing about real people, multi-faceted characters is what his writing is all about. “I like writing about how people interact with one another. I like writing about the changing nature of relationships. In something like Broadchurch people’s perception of one another changes as the mistrust and suspicion grows and yet they are essentially the same people.
“I like the fact that none of us is 100% good or 100% bad. I have no time for the hero wearing a white hat and the villain dressed in black. We are all varying shades of grey.
“In the play I examine the fact that this is supposed to be the best and biggest day of your life which is part of a huge social event, then you throw family into the equation with all the dynamics that involves and you realise it’s a pressure cooker of a day that we all have to live through and that’s great material for a comedy.”
No discussion with Chris Chibnall would be complete without mentioning the casting discussions surrounding the departure of Peter Capaldi as the evergreen Time Lord. When I say: “Just a quick Dr Who question before you go?” He bursts into an explosive guffaw. “And you were doing so well,” he laughs. So what is his take on the whole ‘will the new Doctor be a woman’ debate?
His reply is succinct. “I can honestly say that nothing has yet been decided. I haven’t got my feet under the table yet. I have been working on the play and I am still finishing the latest series of Broadchurch. Nothing is ruled out but I don’t want the casting to be a gimmick and that’s all I can say.”
Worst Wedding Ever by Chris Chibnall is at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, from March 1 to 11. To read Stacia Briggs preview of the latest series of Broadchurch turn to page 32.