James Fritz: Grief leads to hope in Lava

Monday 11th June 2018

Award-winning writer James Fritz tells us how his new play Lava started life ahead of its world premiere in our Neville Studio on Friday 15 June.


I was asked a few years ago by the wonderful new writing company Fifth Word to think about a play I might write for them. I’d wanted for a while to write something about grief and the way we sometimes struggle to talk to each other about the sadnesses in our lives. I’d also been interested in the concept of how our happiness or mental health relates to other people’s: is one person’s grief worth more than another’s, dependant on what they’ve been through? Do some people have more of a right to be unhappy? And is being able to express our unhappiness healthier than bottling it up inside?

Somehow this led me to write a play that takes place in the aftermath of a small asteroid hitting London, that is set in a town that is very much not in London. There was something appealing in having this ridiculous and highly improbable – if not impossible – turn of events happening miles away help bring the smaller scale sadness of the play’s characters into relief.

All of this played into the slow creation of a main character, Vin, a young man who has recently found himself unable to talk. Robbed of his voice, Vin is unable to express what is bothering him despite the best efforts of his mother, Vicky and friend Rach who, in their own ways, help him find his voice again. Is Vin’s silence linked to the asteroid disaster? Or something else terrible in his life?

Vin’s silence has, for obvious reasons, been really tricky to write. When one of the protagonists has no written dialogue, they have no verbal way of pushing back against other people. How to make Vin feel active, and how we as an audience get to know him, has been one of the biggest challenges in making this play. It’s something we’re only really learning in rehearsal, through the fantastic performance of Ted Reilly, who plays Vin. What is he doing? Are the other characters talking at him or with him? How might he communicate in other ways?

I first met Fifth Word – Angharad Jones and Laura Ford – almost three years ago, and we’ve been on a long old process full of many ideas, coffees and pints since then. I rewrite a lot, often only starting to find out what the play is towards the end of the process. The constant churn of my very inefficient writing process requires great trust and patience from my collaborators, and Laura and Angharad have given me that and more as they’ve pored over draft after draft after draft. As we approach the finish line I’ve been in rehearsals most days so far, tweaking and refining with the company as we get closer and closer to the meat of the play. It’s now time for me to step away and let the gang get on with it.

I’m so excited to take this last step with them and our wonderful company as we find out a bit more about Lava, and can’t wait to bring our strange little story to the Playhouse and the people of Nottingham.

There’s lots of big issues going on in Lava, but at its heart it’s also a play concerned with love and friendships that boasts some fabulous performances. My mates often make fun of my penchant for writing plays with an irrepressibly bleak outlook, but for once I don’t think that this is the case this time. Turns out it took me writing about grief, disaster and the death of thousands of people to make my most hopeful play.

meet james fritz – Friday 15 June

Award-winning writer James Fritz will be chatting to our Artist Development Co-ordinator, Beth Shouler, ahead of the world premiere of his new play LAVA. Find out how he got into writing, the inspiration behind LAVA and what advice he can give to aspiring playwrights. Click here for more information and to book for FREE.

Lava runs from Friday 15 – Saturday 30 June. Click here to book your tickets.