Interview: Elijah Young | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The Cold Buffet, is a delicious North-East family saga that is set to premiere at Live Theatre from Thursday 5th -28th October. Written by Elijah Young and directed by Jack McNamara, this very funny play is set at a wake, a wedding and a christening and focuses on the McCarthy family, in particular Ellis who can only muster the strength to visit home to attend these events. With awkward small talk with his cousin Max, underlying tension with dad David and the cutting comments from grandma Evelyn, Ellis thinks it may be time to finally cut family ties. 

Ahead of its launch, we talk to writer Elijah Young to find out more about himself and the production…

What are some of your favourite stage productions and what makes good theatre in your eyes?
Human Nurture by Ryan Calais Cameron visited Live Theatre on tour last year and it was one of the best two-handers I’ve ever seen. I forgot to breathe for so much of it, the writing and performances were sublime. Pride and Prejudice Sort Of was such a clever and innovative production and I liked it so much I saw it twice. Both of those plays flawlessly take you on such an emotional journey and never drop the ball. It sort of feels obvious but good theatre to me is where you fall into the world and it keeps your focus. I want it to grab me and not let me go. 

When did you realise you wanted to be a writer for theatre and how did you make that happen?
The first time I had any piece of writing performed was for a “10 minutes to…” scratch night at Live five years ago. I stood at the back of the theatre to watch and it was a surreal moment seeing people respond to it and resonate with it because it was a very personal piece. It sort of clicked something within me which made me think, ‘Oh I’ve got stories to tell and things I want to say and I think people will listen’. From that point onwards, I carried on writing and sending my work into different callouts. I was awarded the young writer residency for the Takeover Festival at the Customs House in 2019 for my first full-length play “Isolation” which later had a short run at Alphabetti Theatre. After that, people started to notice me more and luckily they wanted to read and see more of my work.

Briefly explain your writing process.
I take a lot of time to simply think. I like to let ideas really brew and allow time for them to come to me at the most unusual moments. I make notes on my phone or in notebooks. I research a lot and interview people with relevant experience. I then inevitably vomit a first draft and go from there. For this play, the process was slightly different. I had to create a family tree, log family history and plot a time for events that have occurred in their lives outside the scenes we see on stage. It was a lot of fun and so much of it didn’t make it into the play but was useful for me to know as the writer and helped make this family seem real.

What advice do you have for any aspiring storytellers in the region?
The advice I have also been given is that your voice is what makes your work interesting. Don’t write what you think an audience wants or try to emulate something else. 

How does it feel to be “the centrepiece of Live Theatre’s 50th anniversary season”?
It hasn’t fully sunk in. So many incredible writers have come out of Live Theatre, some of which have been major inspirations for my writing so it feels bizarre to be a part of that history of artists. I’m trying to teach myself to celebrate the wins a bit more so when it comes to the run, I plan on celebrating and doing my best to feel proud of myself.

What inspired the production? Is there anything autobiographical in there?
There’s a bit of me in everything I write and there’s references and elements to characters I think my own family would recognise but this family is very different to my family. My mother’s side of the family is Catholic and the older I got, the more fascinated I was by the family parties we would have. It would be at the same venues and the cold buffet was part of the tradition. There’s something about it that feels epic and ritualistic yet so mundane and I loved that. Obviously, with every family get-together, there’s always some form of drama and I wanted to write a play where we got to experience those aside conversations and personal digs accompanied with a piece of quiche. 

It’s set at a wake, a wedding and a christening. What is it about these types of gatherings that makes for good comedy and drama?
First of all religion is linked to all the events which felt important to me. It really demonstrates the cultural Catholicism in these types of families. I find it ironic that everyone has been sensible and subdued in church and then they all get drunk and talk about how much they hate each other. There’s messy social politics that’s involved with each of these gatherings and someone always takes something as a personal attack. 

How does Cold Buffet explore family dynamics?
It’s a play that shows different generations in a family and you get a sense of where everyone fits in the hierarchy pretty quickly. What I enjoyed about writing certain scenes is that everyone behaves a particular type of way when certain characters are present. The power dynamics shift all the time especially, for example, when it’s the wedding but there’s a guest there who has the power to ruin the special day. The family dynamics were a lot of fun to play and I loved exploring how that changed over a five year period.

Does the production look at social class and regional identity in any way?
I think it’s in there without being too on the nose. This is definitely very much a working class family from the North East and I hope that resonates with those who have that experience. 

Tell us a little about the cast. What were the things you were looking for when casting? Have you worked with any of the actors before?
I really wanted the roles to be cast authentically and I definitely feel we achieved that. Jack, the director, has collated a team of very talented players who all have such a clear understanding of their characters. Jane, who plays Evelyn, is the only cast member I’ve been lucky to work with so it’s been exciting for me to collaborate for the first time with so many brilliant actors. 

And lastly, what is your favourite food from a cold buffet?
I love a good dependable pasta dish. Ideally a pesto situation, if not a tomato-based pasta. Also houmous. I’m obsessed with houmous.

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