James Graham grew up in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. After taking a drama degree at the University of Hull, he gained recognition as a writer in residence at London’s Finborough theatre. In 2006 he won the Pearson playwriting bursary and in 2007 won the Catherine Johnson award for best play for Eden’s Empire. After a sellout run at the National, his play This House was nominated for a 2013 Olivier award for best new play, and last year his plays Ink and Labour of Love premiered in London and Quiz in Chichester. Graham wrote the screenplay for the 2014 film x+y, and the 2015 Channel 4 film Coalition. His play The Culture – A Farce in Two Acts opens at Hull Truck on 26 January, and Quiz transfers to the West End in spring.
1 | Place
Humber Street, Hull
Hull’s year as City of Culture has been transformative for people’s confidence and pride in their city, and also in terms of economic benefits. Three years ago Humber Street was deserted; now it’s a thriving location day and night. You can have breakfast by the marina at a great cafe called Thieving Harry’s, go to an art gallery in an empty vegetable warehouse and visit Yorkshire’s first gin distillery bar – even though I hate gin they have a great selection of whiskies too. At the Fruit Market you can see live music or comedy, or dance to a club night. It’s a street full of variety, and it feels very welcoming and open to everyone.
2 | Theatre
2018 at the Bush theatre, London
The Bush is close to my heart – I had one of my early shows there – and it’s recently been refurbished. It now feels like a huge focal point for the community, precisely what a theatre should be. This year they’re featuring work from loads of writers I admire, including the incredible actress Monica Dolan, performing one of her own plays, The B*easts. Another play I’m excited about is An Adventure by Vinay Patel, whose contribution to The Good Immigrant book a couple of years ago really resonated with me. The season represents the great diversity of that community and the Bush feels like a go-to place for new writing.
Best of Enemies, directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, is about the rivalry between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr, two of the greatest political minds of the 20th century, and focuses on their TV debates during the 1968 Republican and Democrat conventions. That year was a watershed in US politics: TV news began to turn debate into theatre and that level of populist reporting of politics is something we’re living with to this day. There’s just something about the way these two people speak – their intelligence and means of expression are so seductive to listen to, whether you’re on the left or the right. I love having it on in the background. It’s on Netflix and sometimes I stick it on when I’m ironing or cleaning or doing my tax returns.
I was introduced to this podcast by one of the actors in the play I’m rehearsing. I can’t listen to music when I’m jogging because I hate it so much it began to kill my enjoyment of all my favourite songs – so I listen to podcasts. These are great: bite-sized broadcasts that look at the inventive ways people are trying to tackle serious problems. One is about a charity in London called Steel Warriors, where they melted down confiscated knives to build a community gym made out of steel. In a climate of totally depressing political discourse, occasionally I need to listen to something unapologetically uplifting while I’m running around south London wheezing.
5 | Book
Fall Out by Tim Shipman
I love writing that can dramatise recent events – it’s a great way to access the chaos and confusion that surrounds us. Fall Out follows Tim Shipman’s great book All Out War about the Brexit referendum. Here he chronicles the year from the referendum result to the surprise election result in June 2017. It reads like a gripping thriller, except it’s more frightening because it’s all true and it’s happening right now. The way he writes is very dramatic and he also humanises politicians in a way I aspire to do myself. You’re able to really understand the motivations of the people driving the narrative.
I saw this recently and adored it. I loved its delicacy in dramatising a relationship between a visiting student and the family’s teenage son, set against the backdrop of Italy in the 1980s. It was adapted by James Ivory from a book by André Aciman, and there’s very little dialogue – it’s all done through looks or expressions. I’m trying to learn the best way to adapt novels for the screen and I thought they handled this brilliantly. I’m hoping it gets the recognition it deserves in the many awards this year. It also made me want to ride a bike around Italy, but that’s for another time.
This is the overnight sleeper that travels from London to Fort William, Inverness, Aberdeen and other places. It’s been completely redesigned with refurbished beds and rooms: it has that classic wood-panelled European style but it’s also very clean, crisp and modern, with white bed linen and sleek booths to sit in. I’m obsessed by trains – maybe it’s the part of me that loved reading Murder on the Orient Express as a kid. I find the idea of sleeping and eating on a train so romantic. I’m determined to travel in style by sleeper next time I go up to the Edinburgh festival.