AN INTERVIEW WITH THEO CHESTER
Your new play, Stray Dogs, is coming to Theatre503, what can you tell us about it?
Stray Dogs is about an executioner called Jacob who would like to change jobs, becoming a healer instead. The problem for him is that being an executioner is hereditary, a punishment handed down generation to generation. Also his society is having an awful time. There is so much wrong with it and he simply can’t see how to heal it all. But he’s not alone in this. His wife and their friends also want things to change, which is where the story gets complicated, messy and slightly catastrophic. Fundamentally, Stray Dogs tells the story of a group of characters trying to “fix” their little world. Each of them have different solutions and all of these are, in their own ways, inadequate.
It’s an unusual subject for a play, what inspired you to write it?
I find stories where characters wrestle with terrible decisions extremely compelling. I think it has a lot to do with my own worries: feelings of guilt, a desire to do the right thing, a fear of taking action and upsetting people. I studied Theology at university and did a course on the philosophy of punishment, which is where I first read about executioners.
The image of someone doing such a terrible, public-facing thing and then having to live with the shame and stigma of that really stuck with me. I then spent a lot of time not writing about executioners, but about lots of other things, but the image of a man on the gallows stayed with me and eventually I put some ideas down on paper and, well, here we are.
This is also your debut play, how does it feel having it produced and what does it mean to you for it to be staged at Theatre503?
This is not the first play I have written, but the first that has made it through the minefield of development! That in itself is incredibly satisfying. However, this piece is also deeply personal and strange and I’m really proud that it will be my debut play.
I am completely thrilled to have this show on at Theatre503. I told them about the idea in 2019 and ever since then they have been incredibly supportive of what was at first a sketchy and slightly mad idea. The play really took shape during the Pandemic and regular check-ins with Steve, 503’s literary manager, to redraft and shape the play were a source of hope and sanity in that time.
To see it come out of those difficult years and be on the 503 stage is wonderful.
What do you hope audiences make of, or take away from the story?
I hope people respond to the world of this play. I want them to feel enveloped by it and find it as compelling as I do. I want people enjoy it.
It is (I hope) a good story that will stay with them. Finally, I want the audience to feel hopeful at the end, to feel that even though it is a story where terrible things happen, there is a clear sense that we, each of us, have agency and the capacity to shift things in our society. This is hard but exciting, although not something that will solve everything overnight…but it is hopeful. I want people to feel hopeful…after a watching a play about an executioner.
What’s it been like seeing the cast bring your story to life?
You spend so much time as a writer staring at a computer screen making small adjustments to a file that is it easy to forget what your play will look like. It has been so exciting to be in rehearsals and watch the cast play with the script, bringing their imagination, skill and thought, finding new resonances and ideas in the story. I feel so lucky to have such a talented cast portraying these characters and telling this story.
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking to see Stray Dogs?
Buy a ticket. This play creates and reshapes its own little word. It is sad. It is exciting. It is strange. I would love you to see it.