Katherine MacAlister interviews legendary screen writer, playwright and local,Mike Bartlett

After the unprecedented success of his latest TV series Doctor Foster, starring Suranne Jones, screen writer and playwright Mike Bartlett is unsurprisingly in enormous demand.

The finale alone of the domestic thriller’s much awaited second series was watched by almost 10 million viewers.

The BBC then commissioned him to make Press, about two fictional newspapers, before ITV announced that Bartlett would be returning to the channel for a new project, Trauma.

A busy man then at the top of his game, not to mention his endless plaudits and awards for plays such as Cock, King Charles III and Bull.

So when Jeremy Spafford, director of arts at the Old Fire Station, bumped into him at a party and humbly asked if Mike might consider penning something for the venue’s Christmas show, he wasn’t holding his breath.

It turned out that Mike, who lives in the county, already had his eye on the OFS Christmas slot, and had been waiting to be asked.

“Through a warm and slightly clumsy exchange, we discovered we both wanted the same thing – to offer Oxford high quality, thoughtful work for grown-ups at Christmas. To reflect the ethos of the Old Fire Station – warm, welcoming, fun and up for deep conversations about the world we live in,” Jeremy remembers.

The result is Snowflake, a typically Bartlett-esque double play on words, both a description of the festive symbol and its more modern

Continued on page 30

connotation of Generation Snowflake (over-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions).

It depicts a father waiting for his daughter to come for Christmas for the first time in three years, fully expecting her to move home for good, while she has other ideas.

While it is a comedy, Snowflake also deals with the hyper expectations and realities that so many of us face over the festive season.

Were there any guidelines when Mike sat down to script the piece? “No, except that as it was about Christmas it had to have some warmth and redemption and needed to take it’s subject matter seriously, especially where love and the different family connections were concerned.

“After all OFS does encompass homeless charity Crisis, so we needed to be realistic and confront some of the issues people face at Christmas. But more than anything it needed an enduring message of hope.”

So where did Mike start? “My mind went blank and I started panicking. But on the train travelling back to Oxford I was thinking about how many people would be returning at Christmas when I realised how loaded that concept was.

“So I played the Magdalen College Choir Christmas album to get in the mood all through June and July, and thought hard about what Christmas means to us and our families, and only then did the title come to me.

“Rituals are always good for a dramatist and Christmas has so much comedy potential. So it is funny but it’s a proper play,” Mike promises.

So where do the hard-hitting truths come in? “There’s a father-daughter rift, and a fight. She is 20, he’s 40, so it’s a generational thing. The question is can they reconcile for Christmas? My job is to put myself in their shoes,” Mike said. You just need to find the right story to tell.”

“So I’ve really enjoyed the concept and the challenge, something different, something seasonal.

“The more I write for stage and TV, the more different they become, so I love coming back to theatre, the intimacy of the space and the drama playing out in front of our eyes.

“That’s the joy of being a writer. Millions of people can sit down and watch your work but when you go to the shop no one has any idea who you are. That’s exactly how I like it! I have no desire to be famous.”

Born and bred in Oxford, Mike went to Abingdon School and still lives in East Oxfordshire with his wife (Olivier award winning theatre director Clare Lizzimore who is directing Snowflake), and their children: “Considering I started out scraping by as a part-time drama teacher and call centre worker to enable me to write in my own time, it’s all a bonus,” he laughs.

“I never needed to be a big success, just enough to make a living as a writer. So I have been very lucky, and offered some really great things. I love getting my teeth into something different with new form and context.

But perhaps Jeremy Spafford says it best: “This is a special moment for Oxford – a world premiere of a piece written for Oxford by one of the best writers of his generation. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think about how you behave in confusing times, you’ll be proud that you were there and you’ll leave wanting to hug whoever is nearest to you. It is not to be missed.”