Of Trilogies and Possibilities - An interview with scriptwriter Simon Baker
'Write What You Know' is perhaps the most well-known and well-used phrase in the world of creative writing, and for scriptwriter Simon Baker it was the catnip he needed to kick-start his journey into the limitless world of his comedy and science fiction influenced imagination.
He's sitting in the bar area, mug on the table, surrounded by old Highbury Theatre programmes on the walls that date back decades. At ease and with an extensive and methodical knowledge of the subject at hand, he slips into the role of interviewee very well. It's not long before he's expertly talking us through his journey from schoolboy to the locally renowned writer who co-created the Christmas comedy trilogy known as The Mince Pie of Doom!
Heard of it? We thought you might have. But if not, you'll know all about it soon enough...
Q: When did you first arrive at Highbury?
I've been a member of Highbury since 2012, and I've been in amateur dramatics for about 22 years now. I started in 1997 in Redditch. I came to Highbury Theatre in 2012 because my then partner (who is now my wife) and I moved into the area and, as luck would have it, I discovered there was a theatre within about 10 minutes' walk from the place we were now living. And so I came to Highbury, and the rest is history.
I've done quite a few shows at the Highbury and I'm also known as one of the co-writers of 'The Mince Pie of Doom' [let the 'Dun, dun, dunnnn!'s commence] - a series of Christmas shows which Highbury have very kindly been performing. We performed the first one at this theatre in 2017, and we've just done the sequel (Attack of the Christmas Puddings) and hopefully [as he raises both hands with fingers crossed] hopefully, in 2019, we will present the third chapter... which I'll tell you about some other time.
|Left to right: Rob Philips, Pip Oliver and Simon Baker|
Attack of the Christmas Puddings rehearsal 2018
Q: When did you first start writing?
Well, I'd always enjoyed English at school and also enjoyed listening to radio comedies, and it was actually an English teacher, I remember him, during one parent's evening and he said to my parents: "I think Simon could make it as a scriptwriter."
I hadn't really thought about it then, and I don't actually know what got me into writing. I think it was seeing Carry On Columbus. This was 1992, and I remember coming out of Carry On Columbus thinking it was possibly the worst film I had ever seen, and I just thought: 'I can do better than that.' And it was almost an epiphany. I thought: 'Right! I'm gonna give it a go!'
So I sat down and wrote my Carry On film with the same sort of 'Whoops! That's a big one you've got there, Madam' type joke. It was actually, I think, my version of The Mummy. I think it was called Carry On Up the Pyramids, and I threw in jokes like the Pharaoh wasn't called Tutankhamun it was something like Tootandwhistling. This style of humour hasn't really changed on from the sort of things I'm writing now, but nevertheless I did create a script.
They said I had a lot of inventive moments and some good lines, and so that kept me going
I started writing little sketches for various Christmas and Summer concerts at my high school. Then I went to University where I took writing as part of my Creative Writing degree. But I wanted to create sketches for people like Russ Abbot and The Two Ronnies, and of course this was the mid-90's so people didn't want that sort of humour. Humour was changing, and this was very much old-school but I felt there was still a place for silly humour. (This was before things like Little Britain came along and people realised that yes, they actually do want silly-humour-type-comedy).
At University I started writing what I thought I should be writing, but of course I realised that writing is really about writing what you know, what interests you, what gives you drive, and so I started writing what I hoped would be a radio series called 'The Strange Tales of Mr Blip.' I wrote two episodes which I was able to submit to BBC Radio. Thy turned it down but they did give me positive feedback. They said I had a lot of inventive moments and some good lines, and so that kept me going. This ultimately led me to meeting with Richard Walter which is what spurred us on to write The Mince Pie of Doom trilogy.
Q: So how did The Mince Pie of Doom come about?
Mince Pie of Doom actually has it's history starting in 2009. I wrote it with Richard (Walter) who now resides in America, and he approached me with the idea.
He said: "I've got this great idea for a play and it's called The Mince Pie of Doom!"
I was very excited and replied: "Great! What's it about?"
And he said: "Well, I don't actually know at the moment. It's just a title, but it's got a good title and we'll do a play to suit it."
So after many creative writing sessions - most of which took place in The Guild Pub in Bromsgrove - we concocted what became a comedy. It was very much drawing on whatever made us laugh, things like the Carry On films, The Goon Show, Monty Python... All of these clear influences can be found in The Mince Pie of Doom.
We performed it at Avoncroft Museum, Simon says, fondly reminiscing the event, in December 2009. It went down very. It was just for one night and, as the audience was leaving - I was in a very excited mood - and I just grabbed a microphone and said:
"COMING SOON! MINCE PIE 2! ATTACK OF THE CHRISTMAS PUDDINGS!"
And it was just a joke. Or so we thought.
|Simon as Fred the Bear|
Behind the Scenes of Attack of the Christmas Puddings 2018
Q: Where did it go from there?
Well, we were very, very happy with it (The Mince Pie of Doom) and the following year we re-staged it, and we had such a good time re-staging it we thought: "Well, why don't we actually do a sequel?" And so while we were performing it again in 2010 we started coming up with ideas for another one. I had this rather strange idea for time-travel, and so again we concocted the sequel drawing on the influences I've already mentioned, as well as elements of science fiction such as Doctor Who, Quartermass, Back to the Future etc.
Attack of the Christmas Puddings was unleashed at Christmastime 2011, and then the following year we did another one, and this one was called Sprout of Destiny - and that, we thought, was the end of the trilogy. However, as I mentioned earlier on, by 2012 I was here very happily at Highbury. I presented the script to Highbury for the first Mince Pie saying: 'Would you be interested in doing this?' and they were.
In 2013, The Mince Pie of Doom (the new version) was presented to audiences and then it just lay dormant for a year or so. Richard by then had moved to America and did Mince Pie there in 2015, which I was still in. (I didn't actually fly over to America. He prerecorded my role so I'm still able to say I have been in every version of the Mince Pie of Doom!) Then, in 2017, it came back. So now we are in this very nice position where Mince Pie will hopefully come back in 2019 for a completely new third chapter - 2019 of course marking 10 years of Mincepiedom. Watch this space!
Q: What's next for you?
I'm in the process - well, I've been saying this for the last seven years. I've been trying to write a book. I wrote one chapter, and I haven't actually done anything with it since. But I still have these ideas, and thanks to being a member of the Highbury Theatre I am able to present these ideas and experiment with them, and I feel fulfilled.
So thank you very much to Highbury for keeping my creative juices flowing, and I thank you, dear reader, for reading this little interview. Have a good day!
Highbury has several upcoming plays this year including The Coarse Acting Show and The Rules of Living. We also have reading and audition opportunities for our Players and any actors/aspiring actors wishing to have a go at theatre.
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