Tom Nicholas on The Bike Shed and writing Happiness Ltd.

Happiness Ltd. is a new play from the writer Tom Nicholas. It is the latest project in a seven-year relationship with The Bike Shed Theatre. Here Tom talks about his development as a playwright and the small role.

My first production at the Bike Shed was a reading of a short play during the theatre’s first season. The back door was the front door, the bar was the theatre and skipping college meant I’d lose my EMA for the week. I learned two things that day. The first was that, sometimes, following a total stranger down a dark set of stairs at the end of an alley can have positive consequences. The second was that theatre is simple. That’s not to be confused with easy – the three years I’ve spent writing and rewriting the play that would eventually become Happiness Ltd. attest to that – but that moving lights, pyrotechnics and articulated lorry-loads of set rarely move an audience. Even in the absence of such luxuries, the artists who brought life to my little play and those whose work I saw subsequently were still able to articulate the cacophony of conflicts and contradictions that come with being human.

That first play was hardly a masterpiece but, like the faint scent of damp in the dressing rooms, I’ve been hard to get rid of ever since. In many ways, I can locate the milestones of my development as a playwright and theatre maker in performances at the Bike Shed. It’s often been sat at the back of the auditorium biting my nails and wincing as I watch something I’ve written which is slightly more ambitious and – hopefully – slightly better than the last, that I’ve had the opportunity to think back to that socially awkward sixteen year old and acknowledge how far I’ve come (in terms of theatre, still very prone to doing weird things in social situations).

Eighteen months ago, then, when after gigabytes of discarded drafts, the team at the Bike Shed offered to help take the play forward it was something of a relief to be working with old friends. While I’ll take some credit for getting better at writing for the stage, it’s a testament to the team’s patience and their commitment to nurturing emerging artists that they’ve so often been willing to allow the weird theatrical projects I’ve embarked on some time on that lovely cobbled stage. Either that or they’ve accidentally over-ordered on Shaky Bridge again in which case I’m happy to be of assistance.

Happiness Ltd. would not be going quite as far or with quite as much energy without the support of The Bike Shed Theatre and it’s an absolute pleasure to be back opening the tour in Exeter.

You can buy tickets for Happiness Ltd. here, for £12 (£10) or £10 (£8) for members.