Actor Mark Newsome has collaborated with writer Phil Pearson to create the moving, powerful and autobiographical new play Blackpool, What a Shit Place to Die, which relays his struggles with his sexuality, loneliness and mental health.
It recently enjoyed sell-out performances in London at the Ecetera Theatre and this week moves to Manchester, not far from its North West cousin, Blackpool, where the title takes its name.
The play centres around Billy Costello. He’s a young, gay, depressed, autistic actor with a drug problem. The play introduces him as ‘a man on the brink. It’s 5am. The sea is slowly rising up his body. The lights have just gone out on Blackpool Prom behind him. Billy looks back on his life and laughs at the tragedies and cries at the happy times. Is this it?’.
I caught up with Mark to find out how this powerful play is confronting major themes contained within this impressive and assured one man show, and how it feels to play a character based on yourself.
How did the show come about?
I’ve wanted to write a one man show for a while but didn’t know where to start really. Wonderful writer, Phil Pearson saw me in a show and got in contact to say he wanted to write for me funnily enough. I met him and we both clicked. I told him my ideas about doing a show based on my life and experiences and he instantly got it. We did the show in Manchester and it went down a storm with audiences and reviews and had standing ovations both nights, which was totally unexpected. It’s dark and twisted and hopefully a few laugh in there too.
What themes do you hope the audience will take away with them?
I hope that mental health will be talked about more and not be such a stigma. It’s okay not to be OK. Suicide is the biggest killer in young men. I hope it will make people understand more about loneliness. About being gay – it can be incredibly isolating.
Why is now the right time to see this work?
More and more, people are starting to talk about mental health but we still have a long way to go. People really connect with the play and I’ve had countless messages saying how it’s helped them. That’s amazing.
What’s it like having a play written with you in mind, and how does this affect your process as an actor?
It’s quite a humbling experience. Phil is a superb writer and has an intrinsic eye for detail. It’s still the same process although the character is very much based on my experiences; it’s a version of me. I call it the darker side of me… when I was in bad place. I approach Billy Costello in the same vain as any other character. What are his flaws, why he thinks and does the things he does. Make him as real as possible.
What is the most challenging thing about playing the role?
It’s a very emotional and physically demanding role. To revisit old memories can be hard.
If you could sum up the show in five words, what would they be?
Guts, Heart, Truth, Sadness & Hope.
Who would play you in a film about your life and why?
I’ve been described as Peter Cook and Rhys Ifans love child in the past. Rhys for sure.
Any plans for a tour of this play?
That’s the plan. Hopefully next year. Edinburgh Fringe 2019.
Could this work be developed into a film?
Had so many people saying ‘this needs to be made into a film!’ – It’s definitely on the cards. Watch this space!
Blackpool, What a Shit Place to Die is at 3 Minute Theatre, Manchester, Thursday 8th and Fri 9th November 2018 at 8pm. Tickets are £10.
Ticket link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/