Callie O'Brien chats to the writer of Solomon and Atlanta
Open Theatre’s first show of the year, Solomon and Atlanta, explores how our identities are shaped by our memories, and how the passage of time grants new perspectives on life as memories begin to fade. I spoke with the show’s Riley Award-winning writer and director Harry Daisley, to understand a bit of what goes on behind the scenes of his creative process, and what inspired this nostalgic, melancholic new play.
So, what’s the show about?
The show takes the form of a remembered romance between the titular Solomon and Atlanta. Having met in the Summer of 1974, the two seventeen-year-olds explore a budding romance and their blossoming queer identities. Because of the social climate of the time, and the nature of the town they’re from, the two drift apart come the end of summer and end up taking very different roads through their adult life: one is far more accepting of their identity, the other is not. After 12 years, following an unassuming invitation to meet, the two collide again in a cafe where they relive this romance in all its bittersweet glory. Perhaps there is a further motive to this meeting, but we’ll just have to find out exactly what pans out between Solomon and Atlanta once we’re in the theatre.
Harry feels the show is an “exploration of authenticity, and how memories are a way of holding on to what has disappeared: to not let the things we hold dear be forgotten”. He mentions specifically preventing our histories from getting “airbrushed out” and how “events such as the AIDS crisis, which wasn’t particularly long ago really, are rarely talked about nowadays. The lessons learned from that aren’t raised enough, especially for young queer people. The play certainly attempts to continue these memories and continue this dialogue as well.”
Image: Cast of Solomon and Atlanta busy in rehearsals.
What was the writing process like? Any key inspirations?
Solomon and Atlanta is a story looking at two characters reminiscing on their past, and Harry tried to capture this headspace whilst he was writing the play. “My writing is always influenced by music - I make a huge playlist. I’m obviously not an 80s or 70s kid, so when I was writing I was listening to songs that reminded me of my adolescence and my youth. Songs like Cough Syrup (Young the Giant), Coldplay songs, noughties throwback songs really brought a melancholic pang of nostalgia into the writing process.” Harry says that he’s usually quite a slow writer, but this particular play actually came together remarkably quickly. He recalls things “very naturally and organically diffusing onto the paper, straight from [his] brain”, going on to say: “It was kind of strange actually, I normally struggle a lot with writer's block, constantly rewriting, editing and scrapping ideas… Solomon and Atlanta really just, in the space of about two weeks, came into fruition. Which, especially to me and my story telling, I think is really telling just how honest the narrative is.” The script was concocted during Harry’s time in Northern Italy over the Summer, which he feels has really influenced his writing. “Being up around Lake Garda, seeing all these cafés full of young couples sipping cappuccinos, really inspired the romantic side of the play.”
Image: The production team of Solomon and Atlanta directing a cast member out of frame.
What do you want the audience to take away from this show? Harry wants his audience walking out the theatre with a drive to “go out and do whatever they’ve been holding off on doing - call their crush and go out for a coffee, or call their parents if they haven’t spoken in a while”. He really feels the key message of the play is this: take a chance at life, don’t be complacent, and really enjoy everything to its fullest. Although the show does have some heavy moments, Harry wants Solomon and Atlanta to be at foremost a call to action - a call to wholly embrace your adolescence before it fades away. Harry’s first show this year comes off the back of winning Best Performance at the 2022 Riley Awards with the Velvet Veins, which are certainly some big boots to fill. Compared to his usual extravagant and light-hearted comedies; garish costumes; and larger-than-life characters; Harry sees Solomon and Atlanta as a more honest and stripped-back piece of theatre. He really feels his writing has matured following the confidence boost of his recent accolades and says that he has poured a bit more of himself into the play, hoping to create a work for audiences to really connect with. Encouraged to take more risks and be “a bit more experimental” coming into the new year, who can say where Harry Daisley will take his audiences next? Solomon and Atlanta is playing in Banham Theatre on the 25th, 26th, and 27th of October. Make sure you catch it whilst it's on! Ticket Link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/stageleeds-university-of-leeds/open-theatre-presents-solomon-and-atlanta/e-bamrkr You can follow Harry’s work @harrydaisley on Instagram and keep in the know about all of Open Theatre’s shows, as well as opportunities for stage writing and performance @opentheatresoc (also on Insta).
Words: Callie O’Brien
Photo credit: Saffy Wehren & Phoebe Sanders