Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dramatic cause

Face 2 Face with Stephen Butchard, Tuesday 18th October, 7pm, Quay House, MediaCityUK

Words by Guy Garrud.

Rain lashes across a city in gridlock. Weary commuters trapped in their cars inch ever closer to their homes while some make their way by tram and foot and car inwards to the glimmering expanse of the BBC’s new Salford centre at the (coincidentally named) MediaCity.

I feel the warm air and embarrassment colour my cheeks as I try and explain to the man at reception what I’m there for and that, despite my name not being printed on one of the special badges, I am a blogger, and even dare to use the word "the". I’m handed a Visitor badge and escorted through an airlock and into the lift to the fifth floor where there’s a positive scrum at the bar while people wait eagerly for the main event. Beyond the windows the redeveloped Salford Quays spreads out in all directions, myriad lights rippling through the rain-spattered glass.

Eventually we’re ushered through to the seats facing a rather stylish purple and black stage complete with lectern, comfy grey chairs and a coffee table. Brimming with confidence I sit towards the middle of the front row. Behind me a woman sets herself up with a phonetic keyboard which clacks quietly throughout the event.

For the uninitiated, Stephen Butchard is a screenwriter who has penned a selection of hard-hitting, deep and sometimes positively grim dramas. Notable among these, and dwelt on this evening, are House Of Saddam, depicting the rise, reign and ruin of Saddam Hussein; Five Daughters, telling the story of the victims of the Ipswich serial murders, and Stolen, which follows three victims of human trafficking. All good hardy fair, and seemingly at odds with the casually dressed man who soon occupies one of the comfy chairs looking ready for a chat with Ross or Parkinson.

The evening begins with a video clip of some of his work followed by an interview by mistress of ceremonies Kate Roland. It starts off a little awkwardly and those at the back struggle to hear above the distant hubbub of Beeb towers, but the comfy chairs are soon replaced with tall stools and as Butchard talks about how he first got into stage productions, then the step to television, he grows more relaxed.

Nobody seems to have told Butchard that you can’t just go from being an engineer to writing plays; that you have to write what you’re asked to and make it fit the time slot you’re given. Most of all nobody seems to have told him that you can’t write stuff about dictators and serial killers and slavery yet still be so cheerful all the time. Not that any of this seems to have stopped him and his obvious enthusiasm finally drives him from his seat altogether as he wanders about the stage, moving closer to audience members as we move onto the Q&A part of the evening. The intensity of his gaze and the sheer energy seeping from every pore acts to fill the room with an inexplicable sense of fun and positivity, in spite of the subject matter.

At different points Butchard talks about cannabis-farming, the impact of News At Ten being moved, the similarities between tribalism and the Mafia, and transferring skills gained working on the Beijing underground to television production, yet all without thing seeming to lurch from topic to topic and, by the end of two hours, I’m struggling to see where the time has gone.

Afterwards I switch my phone back on. Ten missed calls and two angry voicemails... Worth it!

Guy Garrud is a Manchester-based writer, blogger and baker-about-town. His words and confections have made regular appearances at Bad Language’s open mic nights and he has had scribblings posted on Manchester Blog Awards winners Screen 150 and 330 Words.

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