Interview with Henry Roberts

On the 13th, 14th, and 15th March, BoxedIn is proud to present ‘Lobes’, a play written by Henry Roberts. So as rehearsals have started again, what with the start of a new semester, we sat down with Henry to discuss the play, his experience with theatre, and what he thinks is unique about this art form.

So, let’s start with the basics I guess, what’s ‘Lobes’ about?

The short answer to that is: it’s about a relationship. If I were to expand on that I’d say it’s about mental health, specifically how we deal with it ourselves and how it shapes our interactions- or lack thereof- with other people. The even longer answer would be that it explores the way mental health is represented in art, and whether it can or indeed should be. Lobes also explores memory and imagination, and how these things which are so internal and often invented by us end up shaping so much of our actions and feelings. I tried to fit a lot into a reasonably short piece!   


Lobes Big Brian Mid Text

There’s evidently many overlapping themes in the piece, what actually inspired you to write ‘Lobes’?  

I’ve always wanted to write a play. I had written a couple of screenplays in high school, but I figured a theatrical piece had a greater chance of going beyond my laptop, especially in St Andrews which has such a vibrant theatre scene. But, of course, I wanted to write about something important to me, hence the attention to mental health. The cliché that you put all your effort and ideas and energy into your first piece was certainly true here. What started life as a short comedic scene about mind-reading evolved into this quite serious piece. So my love of creative writing prompted me to write a play, but it was my dissatisfaction with the way we as a society and as individuals (myself definitely included) actually talk about mental health that inspired me to write this play.    

And how did you go about writing this play?

So when I started ingeniously in the middle of term-time, writing happened whenever I had a spare minute! Once it got to the summer holiday, however, I was able to dedicate more time to the text, craft the scenes and structure it into something at least reasonably presentable.

As you said the subject matter is incredibly important to you, how do you feel about someone else directing what you’d written?

It’s tempting to say that it’s incredibly frustrating and nerve-wracking but truthfully I’m okay with it. Naturally, I have my preferences and my own ideas, but having worked with Oli before I know the piece is in safe and capable hands. Even from our initial discussion after I had asked him to read the first draft as a friend, he was bringing ideas and concepts that never would have occured to me. He’s better at managing people and executing plans than myself. Having someone else take over the piece keeps it from going stale and being only about my ideas. If that meant giving him complete control over the script then that would be problematic, but having someone else direct is probably the best way to do it. It makes for more interesting art. The piece means the world to me, but it’ll be interesting to see what other people can bring to it and how they interpret it. Plus, if there was something vital I wanted included in the final piece I would have put it in the text!    

Bailey Fear preparing for his performance in ‘Lobes’

In what ways can theatre explore ideas surrounding mental health in ways other art forms cannot?     

Well, what is the main difference between theatre generally and other forms of art? Theatre is about the present, the here and now. Films and literature represent distance, both in terms of time and space. Theatre is immediate. You’re forced to be in a confined space with actors, actually see the emotions on their faces as they occur, and even if they’ve performed a play one hundred times, you’re still seeing this unique performance being delivered for the first and only time. Hence why neurologists have said you feel greater empathy for characters onstage than for those on screen; they’re more ‘real’ to us. Theatre isn’t just about forcing us to empathise with characters (and certainly Lobes makes this clear), but when dealing with a topic as personal and sensitive as mental health it’s impossible not to do so somewhat. Seeing ‘real people’ in front of us discussing and suffering from mental health problems will hopefully create a more visceral audience reaction. You’re forced to feel before you think, which isn’t always the case with a film or a book.

And what do you want people to take away after watching the play?   

Obviously, I want them to have a good time, and I think they will. The play has no inherent ‘message’. Plays shouldn’t be didactic, and when they are they’re usually quite boring. But it raises a lot of issues, so if it gets people talking about some of them then I think that’s a good thing. Mental health obviously concerns all of us, but the play is about young people, which is probably more relevant to a largely student audience. Honestly, if people come out of the show talking about themselves and their experience of relationships and mental health then that would make the play worthwhile. (There are some lighter moments in the play I should add!)

So last year you went on tour with BoxedIn, what did you gain from the experience?  

Wood was so much fun. Other than making great friends and seeing some awesome places, it got me thinking about how we can bring theatre to new spaces, and to people who normally would avoid it. Partly that’s to do with putting on plays which are relevant to people’s lives, but it’s also about bringing theatre to smaller places without ‘real’ theatres, and putting them in places where people can come and go. Basically, I learnt that it’s important to take away the fear, pressure, and elitism which is so often associated with the theatre. I certainly learnt a lot and thought about what theatre could do and what it was for.

But also, to be perfectly honest, the tour was good for me emotionally. It sounds so clichéd, but I gained a lot of confidence. And spending eight weeks with friends, performing every night and seeing new places made me realise that this wasn’t a bad way to pass the time…  

group on castle mound
Henry with the BoxedIn team who went on tour last summer with ‘WOOD’

Now I’m sure it’s not all going to end at ‘Lobes’ – do you have plans to write anymore plays?

Ah, indeed. I’ve finished a draft of a new play about ecoterrorism, which explores power and political manipulation, as well as our relationship with nature. Lobes is very naturalistic in terms of its narrative, so I want to do some more weird stuff, and I’ve got a few ideas for future projects. They’re all based on contemporary issues, but I think it’s more interesting (and, at the end of the day, more fun) to explore them in less obvious and more innovative ways.   

Thank you to Henry for taking the time out to answer our questions. We are incredibly excited about having the chance to put on such a beautiful play. Don’t forget to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram to make sure you stay up-to-date with the rehearsal process and when you can get your tickets!

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