Eltham Introduces …. Andrew Taylor, Deputy Head Pastoral Eltham College Juniors who is also a Playwright and Theatre Director

What did you study at school?

I went to a state Grammar School in South West London and I got involved in all opportunities that were given to me.  I loved sports and played rugby but from the beginning I always loved the written word in all its forms such as reading, writing, plays and poetry.

Did you have any inspirational teachers during your schooling?

It was in my teenage years that I discovered theatre and writing. I developed a passion for the drama and arts.

In terms of inspirational teachers, Frank Whately was a figure who stands out in my memory. He is the brother of Kevin Whately who was a leading actor in Inspector Morse, Lewis and Auf Weidersehen Pet.

Frank was a very passionate drama teacher and got not only me but many other children excited by theatre. He was one of the founders of the National Youth Musical Theatre (NYMT) and he would write and direct shows for them.

The NYMT took productions to the Edinburgh Festival, the West End and toured internationally with an entire cast of teenagers. The first NYMT show I took part in was October’s Children – a musical about dispossessed orphans of the 1917 Russian Bolshevik revolution.

Looking back now I had some amazing opportunities.  At the age of 17 and 18 I performed at the wonderful Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Sadler’s Wells in London, as well as the Edinburgh International Festival (which is related to, but not the same as, the Edinburgh Fringe.) I also took part in the normal school plays, and was involved with the annual house drama productions at my school. For one of the house drama productions, we had to direct a 30-minute play. Whilst all my fellow students performed the normal 30-minute excerpt from an existing show, I wrote my own piece called No Way Out about a prisoner on Death Row in America, and that was how I first started writing my own plays.

Where did you go to university?  

I went to Cambridge and read Education with Drama.  I had thought I would get into acting once at University, but I found I became more involved in writing and directing plays. The great thing about my time at Cambridge was that there were many proactive people and if you had a good idea and were passionate about something you could get the funding to make it happen. The University has a real culture of ‘letting you do things.’

Whilst at Cambridge I wrote all sorts of plays. My favourite genre of writing at the time was absurdism, where you take the real world and tweak the rules to make life a bit different and more interesting; you alter the reality and sit back to observe people’s reactions.  Some of my favourite writers during my student years were Ionesco, Pirandello, Simpson and Jarry.  My favourite play which I wrote and directed at Cambridge was Artistic Licence based on the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The premise of the play centred around Hitler’s failure to achieve entry into the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna when he was a young aspiring artist.  It was at this time that genocide was happening in the former Yugoslavia so for me writing Artistic Licence was a way to throw a spotlight on what was happening in the Balkans and look at it through a different lens.

What was your greatest moment at university?

I think getting my first class degree. I had spent so much time in the city’s various theatres writing and directing, doing what I enjoyed the most, that I wasn’t sure I had done enough to come out with a decent class of degree! The last year or so I really studied the hardest I ever have done and graduated with first class honours which is undoubtedly one of my proudest moments.

What were your other interests at the time of going to university?

I read all the time. This included classic literature, modern fiction, non-fiction and current affairs. It was the Brit Pop era and I listened to all the latest music and read the latest novels and short stories by writers such as Iain Banks and Irvine Welsh. I was very much focussed on making sure I was talking about and raising a light on the injustices that were going on around all of us.

What advice would you give to Eltham College students?

One piece of advice I would give is to listen carefully to your teachers and any careers guidance you are given – but also ensure you ultimately make decisions with which you are happy.  My teachers argued as to whether I should study History or English at university, but I wanted to pursue a slightly different course. In the end I decided to do what I knew would make me happy and this was the right choice.

What did you do after university?

After Cambridge I went into teaching for two years, and following that I went to Birmingham University and read for my MA in Playwriting Studies, where I was tutored by amazing writers such as Mark Ravenhill, April de Angelis and Steve Nallon (who was the voice of Margaret Thatcher in the original Spitting Image series!)  Since then I have been teaching and writing and I have continued penning plays for both adults and for children. The play of which I am proudest is Failed States, a musical about counter-terrorism legislation which I co-write with a composer I knew from my days at Cambridge University. Everybody said we couldn’t possibly create a successful musical about such a dry and political topic, but this just made me all the more determined to ensure it worked.  Failed States was performed at the Barons Court, Pleasance and St James’ Theatres in London, as well as at the Latitude and Edinburgh Festivals.  We received some brilliant reviews in the broadsheet press and garnered several writing awards.

What do you hope to achieve at Eltham College Junior School?

I am very much enjoying my new role at Eltham and getting to know all the students individually. I want to ensure our pastoral care is first class at the Junior School, and it would be great at some point to get involved with the Drama Departments and who knows, I might even find time to write a play for the students one day!

You can read about Andrew’s play Failed States below:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2007/aug/16/theatre.edinburghfestival2007

And here you can watch a BBC programme about Andy’s play Toxic Bankers; Andrew is interviewed at the very end of the clip:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-17385927

Details of the National Youth Musical Theatre:

https://nymt.org.uk/