The Damask Room

With a new production, The Damask Room, shortly coming out, we caught up with Matthew Wignall, and talked about what this new play entails, his involvement in Off the Rock Productions and unexpectedly, his life being invaded by Nineteenth Century French lesbians. Sound interesting? Then you’re definitely going to love February when The Damask Room finally rolls around.

By Jane Howkins


You’re putting on a performance of The Damask Room in February, are you looking forward to it?

Very much so. There’s always a sense of disquietude when embarking on new theatrical projects, but this is usually soundly nullified by the sheer joy that comes from exploring and performing the plays. I’m also fortunate to be surrounded by a fantastic group of creatives. Their energy and enthusiasm is infectious. A joy to behold. I was looking for eccentrics. I found them.
Can you tell us a bit more about The Damask Room and what it entails?
The Damask Room is an evening of short plays inspired by the dark, macabre and absurdly comic side of nursery rhymes. It includes plays by Anna Rogers, Max Gee, Janice Sampson, Jo Wragg, Ann Rose James and myself (Anna and I also act and direct). We’ve used these rhymes and their characters, themes and backstories as a springboard to create new plays. Little Miss Muffett has become a study of obsesson, Jack and Jill a tale of sexual abuse and vengeance while Who Killed Cock Robin is a reflection on media-fueled mass hysteria and collective ypocrisy. It’s a heady brew. Alison Young (who is also a member of the cast), Tony Hipwell and David Richmond are our other directors and the rest of the cast is compromised of Natalie-Clare Brimicombe, Alexander King (who is also creating Sound Design), Clancy McMullan, Imogen Ruby Little, George Stagnell, Jane Allanach and Dan Hardy. damaska4.jpg

How does The Damask Room differ from any productions that people may have seen you involved with before?

This is undoubtedly the most diverse production I’ve been involved in. Having a wide variety of writers and directors on the project means that we have been working with a myriad of disparate styles and approaches and consequently The Damask Room has evolved into a heterogeneous realm of horror, comedy, anarchy, satire, slapstick, absurdism and country and western music.

The Damask Room is a new production. Do you prefer doing productions that you have devised yourselves, and do you ever do any that aren’t original performances?

Although I occasionally dabble in acting and directing I’ve very much an aspiring writer (‘aspiring’ being a delicious euphemism meaning ‘unpublished’). Putting on my work is invaluable as it offers me the opportunity to view my plays with at least a modicum of critical detachment. It’s a tremendous learning curve and I’m light years away from being anywhere near satisfied with my work, but I’m beginning to identify weaknesses and hopefully strengths within my writing which may help me evolve into the writer I want to be. Hopefully the other writers find the experience rewarding. Off the Rock will always focus on new writing.

How was Off the Rock Productions formed?

Two years ago I was chatting to a Dutch writer over a bottle of claret in a Parisian tavern and I asked him for some advice. He replied “Just do it yourself sunbeam”. Two hours later he was arrested for dancing naked on the Champs-Élysées. I’ve never looked back.

You’re based in York, which is often seen as quite an arty and cultured city. Do you agree, and do you think there is a lot for a theatre company to work with here?

Completely. I feel very fortunate to live in a city withsuch a vibrant arts scene, and its community of artists and creatives continues to grow. The last couple of General Election results have not been particlarly auspicious and we all knew the arts would suffer, so the fact that the arts scene in York seems to be still thriving is fantastic. In many ways it’s the perfect environent to do theatre. Its relatively small size means that you can meet great people quite easily while the arts community seems to cater for all modes of expression. If you wanted to meet a sculptor who specialised in sculpting Doctor Who characters out of the use parts from a Nissan Micra, you could probably find one in York.

You previously put on An Interview in the Afterlife, can you tell us a bit more about that?

An Interview in the Afterlife was a dark comedy I had written about suicide and was the first full-length play we had ever put on. It took place at the already much-missed Fleeting Arms last summer and was brilliantly supported. The cast were terrific and the sound design by Dan Sparrow was superb. The feedback was extremely positive and encouraging but I fet that the play itself was a little too long. I’m currently working on a new version and planning to stage it again sometimes in the future.


Who or what would you say are your biggest influences?

There are probably thousdands but you could put Collette and George Sand at the top of the list. My life has been pervaded by Nineteenth Century French lesbians and is all the better for it.

What was the last production you were involved in or saw that wasn’t your own?

Jonathan Kent’s production of Puccini’s Tosca. A magnificent production of one of my favourite operas but alas, not a Nineteenth Century French lesbian in sight.

How do you choose which performances to put on and what to include in them?

It’s a rather aleatory process on the whole. Our first production,

The Five Seasons, was simply a desire to put on some short plays in front of an audience and see what happened. There was no actual plan and in all honesty Off the Rock could have begun and ended there. After The Five Seasonswe thought the next natural step was to do a full-length play and our second production, An Interview in the Afterlife, was born. With The Damask Room we wanted to try something different again so I sent out a writer’s brief and opened a submissions window. I had actually written enough plays to comprise the whole production just in case we didn’t receive any submissions. However, to my delight several writers sent us some plays, and as many of them were far better than anything I had written – several of mine didn’t make the cut. I suppose we now have enough material for The Damask Room 2 but I have always felt that sequels are ultimately a mistake – unless your name is Fritz lang or Douglass Adams of course.

What can people expect when coming to see one of yor productions, in particular The Damask Room?

I am desperate not to repeat myself so I could say expect the unexpected. However, people have identified running themes in my work and since Off the Rock began I have been accused of Absurdism, Idealism (in both the philosophical and quixotic sense), Marxism, Feminism, Romanticism and Anarchism. It is with a glad heart to confess that I am probably guilty on all counts.

Any last words for the fans?

Hello Mam.

The Damask Room is being performed at Krumbs Kitchen on Monday 1 February 2016, 7.30pm