Ones to watch: stars on the rise

Excerpt from an article in the Belfast Telegraph. Original article here.

The arts in Ulster are flourishing; with festivals and venues springing up all over. It’s an exciting time for a new generation of film-makers, musicians and writers – although many of them still have to move away to establish their careers. 24/7 spoke to three promising, young self-starters who could be the big names of tomorrow

David Hall (24) is a playwright, originally from Belfast, now based in london

Former Methody pupil David Hall has caught the attention of the London theatre world with his dark, atmospheric play The Last Priest, based on 18th century French cleric and closet atheist, Jean Meslier.

The play has just finished a run at the well-known King’s Head in Islington, a small pub-cum-theatre that has nurtured talents like Kenneth Branagh, Steven Berkoff, Ben Kingsley and Joanna Lumley (who’s still a patron).

Hall is already in talks with an Ulster film production company with a view to expanding the drama into a screenplay.

Exciting times for Hall, who had barely graduated from Cambridge University when he got his first opening.

“I took a play to the Edinburgh Fringe the summer after I left university – purely for fun, not as a career move. But that play, Crossroad Blues, did extremely well, and a producer who saw it wanted to put on a large-scale production of it.

“Unfortunately, that same producer then went bankrupt, but by that stage I felt tied in to exploring a career in theatre.”

Hall studied philosophy at Cambridge, so when an opportunity came along for a commissioned play about Jean Meslier, the subject-matter drew him like a moth to a flame.

“I got very much into the story. The historical dimension really interested me, as I’ve never read a lot of history, but this was a great excuse to explore – I read biographies of Voltaire and other major figures to try and get a sense of society at that time.

“Obviously, as a philosophy graduate, all the ranting against religion and the absurdities of religious fundamentalism interested me hugely and had great resonance for today.

“There are obvious parallels between the behaviour of the Catholic Church in pre-revolutionary France, and aspects of political Islam today. But I didn’t want to overdo those parallels, either; I didn’t want the play, which already has a great story, to turn into an allegory.”

Hall is juggling a number of new projects, including trying to win the rights to adapt the novel The Master And Margarita into an opera. No less a figure than Andrew Lloyd Webber is rumoured to have considered the very same move, but was too busy with other projects.

The young Ulster writer is also putting the finishing touches to a “dark musical” called Voodoo Blues, which he was commissioned to write, and hopes to see at next year’s Edinburgh Festival.

Talented though he is, Hall is quick to point out he doesn’t compose the scores for his musical work. “You have to know your limitations, and when you need outside help.”

He credits the “fantastic” theatre department at his old grammar school, Methodist College, for getting him hooked on theatre in the first place.

“I was always involved in school plays. I was never a great actor, but I would take smaller parts.”

Of course, Cambridge University, with its Footlights society, and great investment in the arts generally, was another positive experience. It was during this time Hall abandoned acting for writing drama.

His first two plays, The Black Saint and Sinner Lady, reeled in five-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe, paving the way for later commissions.

Despite his successes and cautious optimism, Hall points out that disappointments go with the territory.

“If I counted all the projects I’ve been involved in over the last couple of years – probably around a dozen – only a couple have made it through. It is quite gutting when you have an idea and people seem interested, then six months down the line someone says, ‘No, sorry, we’re not interested any more’.”

Interview: Una Bradley
Read more: