Playwright Peter Souter on his debut show, Hello/Goodbye

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle - Credit: Archant

Hampstead screenwriter and adman Peter Souter tells Bridget Galton about his first play and why writing about relationships is a major theme

Peter Souter lives in Hampstead and is both an advertising guru responsible for the likes of the Guinness surfer and Adidas running ads, and a screenwriter who created TV relationship drama Married Single Other.

Hello Goodbye is his first stage play - running at Hampstead Theatre – about a couple who get together when they both mistakenly rent the same flat.

You also write for radio and screen, what made you think this particular story would work in the theatre?

I’m a fairly straightforward person and I like to know what I’m forking out for when I go to the theatre. If I was describing the play to a friend I’d just say “it’s the first hour and last hour of a relationship, with ten years passing while you are having your ice cream in the interval”. Our lives aren’t broken up into scenes and acts, so I thought a single, unbroken real time conversation would make neat, lively theatre. Hope I’m right!

It’s transferred to the main stage from the studio – how does it differ in the bigger space?

The downstairs space at Hampstead is an incredible place to learn. Hampstead theatre goers are a smart bunch. If they don’t laugh it isn’t funny enough. If they don’t cry, it isn’t sad enough. The lovely people who showed up to the trial run taught me a lot about how the play could be improved. They beat it into fantastic shape by making the right noises when I got the right lines. Thanks to all the Hampsteaders who came first time. It’s different in one respect... It’s a much better script now.

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Was were you trying to explore with this play?

Love is the only thing we all have in common. We’ve all been loved, if only by our families, and we’ve all loved, even if it hasn’t always been requited. People say that gritty stuff with guns and drug addiction is ‘real’. But I happen to think that love stories are the most real, the most relevant thing you can ask people to watch. I make no great claims for myself but Shaun Evans and Miranda Raison are doing an amazing job of exploring what love can be in all its glory and pain.

You’ve previously written a TV drama, also about modern relationships, is that a theme and if so why does it intrigue you?

Well, relationships are all that matter, aren’t they? If you don’t love other people and forget yourself you are basically a waste of food I think.

How (if at all) has your writing been influenced by your advertising work?

Ha. I am, as you say, the chairman of TBWA by day. I think it’s a rather honourable profession actually and Hampstead, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is simply packed with advertising people. When we do our jobs well we empty shelves. When we do it brilliantly we build factories and support thousands of families.

But when I write for fun I like it to be fun. Advertising makes me very respectful of the audience’s patience. Nobody turns on the TV to watch the ads. You have to earn people’s attention. When I write creatively I assume the same: That you might turn over or tune out or walk away at any moment. It’s important to entertain and enthral at every moment.

What makes a good piece of drama?

Good jokes, good insights, good timing.

How long have you lived in Hampstead?

Since 2003 and loved every minute. It’s the most beautiful part of London by a country mile.