Interview: Henry Maddicott, ‘I fell in love with writing poetry which led to playwriting’

by Jim Keaveney

Pentabus recently announced two new writers in residence, Henry Maddicott and Lauren Waldren. In a two-part feature we hear from both writers on what it’s like to join Pentabus, the nation’s rural theatre company.

This week we talk to Maddicott, who won the Peggy Ramsay/Film4 Awards bursary with his new play fresh from Edinburgh Festival 2022, Land of Lost Content, an empowering autobiographical story about friendship, forgiveness, and life not going to plan.

The awards celebrate and support emerging British writing talent. The initiative awards six bursaries a year to new theatre writers. Four bursaries are supported by The Peggy Ramsay Foundation and two by Film4 with each bursary is worth £10,000. 

Maddicott now embarks upon one-year attachment with Pentabus as their Writer In Residence where he will write at least one new play as well as support the new cohort of Pentabus Young Writers in January 2023 to write their first short plays, which will be produced in July 2023. 

We caught up with Maddicott to find out more about how he got into playwriting and his plan for his year-long bursary. 


Q&A with Henry Maddicott

Hi Henry, thanks for talking with us. Tell us a little bit about your background – how did you get into writing?

Getting into writing was a bit of a weird one for me. After school, my plan in life was to travel Europe partying and working in bars which I did for a bit until this path led me to working in a bar in Greece. One week, a local writing residency resort couldn’t use its usual workshop venue so used our bar instead as it was generally empty in the afternoon. The workshop facilitator was the legend Crysse Morrison who sadly passed away last year. She invited me to join a poetry workshop as I obviously had little to do. I told her I didn’t really ‘get’ writing, I didn’t know what to write about and had never been very ‘good’ at it. Crysse was the first person to tell me that it didn’t have to be ‘good’ and you were allowed to write about whatever you wanted. This might seem obvious to most people but was a lightbulb moment for me and that week I fell in love with writing poetry which led to playwriting.

Your play Land of Lost Content won the Peggy Ramsay Foundation / Film4 2023 Playwright bursary. How did it feel to win?

Pretty spectacular I’m not going to lie. This career path is one full of self-doubt and rejection strung together with perseverance and luck. Kind of like Tarzan swinging through the jungle on vines, but some of the vines are snakes and there’s loads of trees in the way. This bursary felt like being handed a big old sturdy vine. It was a huge validation to have such a big organisation interested in promoting me to write more rural stories.

What can you tell us about the play?

Land of Lost Content is a frustrated love letter to my hometown exploring what it means to grow up in a rural and often neglected part of the country. It celebrates small town life whilst drawing attention to the very real hardships people face there. Touring later this year!

How important are these kinds of bursary programmes in supporting new writing?

Kind of like my convoluted Tarzan metaphor tried to say, these schemes are a life line for new writing. Land of Lost Content took about 4 years to bring to life because before my amazing director Nic Connaughton stepped in, I was floundering about by myself with no idea what to do while trying to earn rent. These bursaries give industry and financial support to fast track this process and allow writers to focus on the creativity.

You’re embarking on a one-year attachment with Pentabus as a writer in residence. What are you hoping to achieve over the next year?

The condition of the bursary is that I write a new full length play by the end of the year. So, no pressure or anything. Really, I’m looking forward to having the freedom and time to go down lots of rabbit holes exploring what it is I want to say next! I’m also really enjoying the opportunity to spend time and work back in Ludlow. My creative career so far has been very South East orientated, so it feels like everything’s coming full circle to be able to be back doing the thing that I love in the town that inspires me the most.