CW: This interview includes brief mentions of eating disorders and childhood trauma.
Ursula White: Where does the title of the play I Will Delete This Story come from?
Joe: It comes from a drama exam. It was a BTEC so you do it on a computer, and they give you a ridiculous, stupid, amount of time so I was bored. So we were typing up notes for the exam, and I started writing. I titled it I WILL DELETE THIS STORY to make sure I would delete it before printing out my notes, because it would have been a travesty to walk into the exam with a story instead of my notes. In the end I quite liked it, so I didn’t delete it, but snuck it into a folder and kept it. Essentially then when Noah was going over my writing to make my book he gravitated towards the title. What’s pertinent about it here is that this is a story about stories, about writing. It brings the idea of the outsider-artist: it is art that was made just for art’s sake, and at the time I wouldn’t have cared at all if it had been destroyed and deleted.
Noah: We should probably explain that I edited Joe’s teenage writing into a book that we printed and sold to twenty-seven friends. I kept the original piece of writing at the back in a miscellaneous section because, to be honest, it wasn’t that good, but I liked the sentiment and I thought it worked for the title of the book. Originally this play wasn’t going to be called I Will Delete this Story, I came up with other titles but I stayed stuck with it when I couldn’t find one I preferred. The play is about the central character trying to work out the story of their own life, trying to form their life into a narrative, and constantly saying “aspects of my life don’t apply, it’s not a true part of my identity or who I am.” It is a play that has the figure of a writer central to it: people are always writing in it, and editing things, and ripping things up and destroying pieces of writing.
UW: What was the writing process like? Was it collaborative throughout?
Noah: No. I decided to write it, I then did a first draft and said “Joe, I’ve done this, what do you think?” The first draft was a musical and it was awful. But I just kept editing it and every now and then I sent Joe a draft of the script. We then read through it on a train journey to London which did influence some changes, but he hasn’t actually read the latest version of the script. It was in a way collaborative though, every now and then I would ask how some things were or get him to write other things, and I feel that my writing was collaborating with Joe’s writing, even if I’m not collaborating with Joe himself.
Joe: Also, we’re both close friends from high school and, at the end of the day, this play is about that. So, even though we haven’t been together writing every word, it has both our work in it, clashing, and it’s about a time when we were shaping each other’s lives. There is a collaborative sense to it because of how we have made our own story of high school together.
Noah: The play is structured as eight scenes which are newly-written, in between which are bits of consciousness and its twin, and bits of Joe’s other writing. It uses writing that both me and Joe have written over the last four years of our lives. The main character is me, but it is also a bit of Joe.
UW: So you both attended school together, and the play is about students in this stage of their lives. What is your favourite funny memory of each other from then?
Noah: I suppose we did a podcast together—that was quite funny, it was really bad. It was called The Stand and Deliver Podcast.
Joe: I think that’s quite key though because before that we did not collaborate, even in drama.
Noah: I would shout at Joe in drama lessons. He couldn’t hold a scrapbook at one point and I got really cross with him.
Joe: Because you made it a ‘thing’—I was physically shaking in the actual performance while trying to hold the book!
Noah: As the classes went on, he deliberately did things to annoy me–
Joe: Yeah I did! I deliberately made up lines.
UW: How has it been directing your own writing?
Noah: Really weird, I think because in the script are things that I wrote four years ago in very specific situations. The play uses writing that I wrote as therapy to work through my own feeling of life, the universe and everything. It’s been very weird to have these voiced in different contexts – at some points it’s been quite traumatic. It has also been really interesting, you learn lots about your own writing.
Joe: I probably hate most of my stuff that’s now in it, but the good thing is all the writing appears in another play. It’s sort of meta-writing.
UW: What has your favourite part of the process been so far?
Noah: I love working with a cast, they all bring something really different to the rehearsal room. Seeing it all come together and always worrying over whether it will come together, and working with a group of people is really fun and cool when you have spent years of your life working on something.
Noah: Saying the line “My penis is rotating like a snake in petrol” in Somerville chapel stands out as a favourite moment. I love how the cast responds to Joe’s writing with a sense of bewilderment and I have to justify it.
Joe: that’s from one of my notebooks, it was just on my mind in the morning when I woke up.
UW: How do you feel about your younger self’s writing being put on stage, and stuff you wrote previously being brought into the public sphere?
Joe: Thinking back to the days when this was going to be a musical, although I didn’t question it at the time, I am actually quite glad that the writing is appearing within other writing because actually I think art is really meaningful in its context. Also Noah has included things that have never seen the light of day, including notebooks. (…) When I turned my light on I would write the first thing that would come into my head. Most of the stuff in there was of no interest to me, it was more of a productivity method, so the fact that it is in [the play] is interesting.
Noah: It’s really interesting to have a play about sixth formers writing that uses writing that we wrote as teenagers. It’s really raw and says something about masculine emotion and the struggle to respond to that.
UW: What are you most excited or apprehensive about?
Joe: I trust Noah, so I am excited for all of it, but I am apprehensive for other people’s reactions. I keep telling people that Noah mixed himself and other things into it and that it’s not just me.
Noah: I always tell people that it’s not me, it’s Joe, that’s partly why I wrote a play that merged both of us together. It’s a sort of distancing effect, when people challenge me on stuff that happens in the play I can say, “That didn’t happen to me, that’s just Joe.”
UW: What else can the audience expect from the show? Why should they come and see it?
Noah: Every single person I have spoken to defines it in a different way, everybody says it’s about something different and they always put a bit of themselves into the play. Come to see a lot of teenage angst, and a lot of confusion. Come for a play that I think will challenge you in a way, give you a perspective on the experience of trauma, eating disorders particularly, that isn’t really written about. It’ll also be enjoyable to relive your sixth form experience…
I Will Delete This Story is showing at the Burton Taylor studio from 31st January 2023 – 4th February 2023.