Interview: James Graham, ‘Tory Boyz’

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‘I am a politics and history geek,’ says James Graham, ‘That’s not a cool thing to be at 26!’

Well, perhaps it isn’t, but an award-winning play and screenwriter with a host of acclaimed productions and TV series under his belt certainly IS a cool thing to be at 26.

Graham’s work includes plays Eden’s Empire (2006) and Albert’s Boy (2005), which enjoyed rave reviews from theatre-goers. Last year brought another play, entitled Little Madam, about the life of Margaret Thatcher.

Little Madam was quite a warped, surreal play,’ says Graham, ‘she’s sitting in her bedroom and all her toys come to life and she has a tantrum and stuff.’

‘Maybe it’s an exploration for her future life!’

Graham has also been producing work for TV, and has two drama series in the pipeline; Caught in a Trap, starring Connie Fisher, Jim Carter and Geraldine James, due to air on ITV this winter; and Khao San Road, a project being developed for World Productions.

Graham’s new play, Tory Boyz, is described as ‘a bold and acerbic political comedy that shines a light on the hidden faces behind the Conservative Party.’

Tory Boyz begins at Soho theater this weekend, performed by the National Youth Theater.

In it, Graham explores the more surprising aspects of the Conservative Party, through the eyes of young gay political researcher Sam.

Graham also portrays Edward Heath (Tory prime minister 1970-74) in the play.

Heath’s sexuality has always provoked speculation, making him the perfect politician to feature in Tory Boyz.

‘When Paul Roseby (director of National Youth Theatre) approached me to write about Edward Heath, I was apprehensive as he didn’t seem that interesting,’ says Graham.

‘Actually, it is his ambiguity that makes him dramatically interesting.’

‘Essentially Sam (the main character) goes on a journey to try to understand the guy, and that is the same journey I went on with my research.’

So why all the politics?

‘All plays are related to politics. But not necessarily about politics.’ Graham says.

‘It’s like Caught in a Trap, which is based on a true story about a woman in Lincolnshire whose job it is to collect the money from parking metres.

‘She ends up embezzling the money and using it to build up the larges collection of Elvis memorabilia in the world.’

‘So that’s not really about politics; but of course, everything has a political aspect.’

The central character in Tory Boyz, Sam, is from a northern working-class background.

Sam’s family have no trouble accepting that he is gay, but considerably more accepting that he is a conservative.

‘When I did some research into the Conservatives, I was surprised to find a lot more than I expected were working class, northern and gay, so I wondered about the conflict there.’ Graham says.

‘The conflict Sam has with his family isn’t something I’ve experienced personally, but I think, certainly in the north, especially over the last ten years for some people it’s more unacceptable to be conservative than to be gay.

‘After all, gays are harmless compared to Margaret Thatcher!

Graham is exploring the Tories in more three-dimensional terms, and essentially the apparent paradox of a political party with such a poor gay rights record containing gays.

I asked him if he thought the Tories were unfairly judged as intolerant.

‘I don’t think you can judge people for their views.

‘The prevalent mood amongst liberals and young people is that Tories are not for them but I think that might change.

‘To an extent the view of the Tories as intolerant and backwards is justified, if you base it on voting records and the actions of previous Tory governments.

‘But that doesn’t represent the changes to the party in past couple of years.

‘Some people might call it window dressing, but I think it’s sincere; you’ve got members like Alan Duncan, Nick Herbert and so on.

‘The grassroots party may still have a way to go in terms of tolerance but, I think the Tories are becoming more gay friendly.’

Graham is firm that the play isn’t a ‘Tory play’ or promoting any political party over another, but that it simply seeks to explore right wing issues, and challenge what he sees to be the liberal view of politics as black and white, good and bad.

‘When I was commissioned to write the play, everyone assumed that it would be a satire.

‘I’m from an ex-mining town near Manchester. I saw my community dismantled in the early 1990s, but I still came to this play with an open mind.

‘Everyone assumed that I would draw the conclusion in the play that the part hasn’t changed since the 1970s.

‘Actually, it’s more interesting than that.

‘It’s boring to just bash the Tories, that’s been done. It’s far more interesting to challenge the liberal perception of conservatives.

‘The arts industry has to accept that things are changing instead of ignoring it and hoping it will go away.’

Tory Boyz will run at Soho Theatre from 15th August until 13th September at 7.30pm.