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Fringe Benefits For Snooker Commentator Hendon

Eurosport snooker commentator and journalist David Hendon has written a comedy play, The D-List, which will be staged daily at the Edinburgh festival fringe from August 3-29. We spoke to him about the play and his interest in writing…

D-List11. So David, tell us about the play you’ve written…

I had the idea coming back on the train from the Edinburgh festival last year. I’d seen quite a few comedy plays while I was there which, frankly, I didn’t think were very funny. So emboldened by a few drinks I decided to write my own with a view to doing it in Edinburgh this year. Of course, when I sobered up I realised I actually had to write it.

It started with the idea of someone doing something inappropriate on TV and there being a fallout from it. I decided it would be someone who had just suddenly become famous having been on a talent show and from there it became about how the perfect storm of reality TV and social media creates modern celebrities, who are famous essentially for being famous. This is a relatively new thing. 30 years ago a member of the public could appear on the Generation Game in front of 20 million people and then simply return to their normal lives the following day. Now with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all the rest, plus the various online news outlets, it’s possible to carve out a career not really doing anything other than just being seen or being provocative. In the play, the main character gets seduced by this world and we show how it affects his ‘real’ life, in particular his relationship with his girlfriend. It’s a proper story punctuated by a lot of jokes.

Having written it I thought, right, how do I get it to Edinburgh? At this time The Apprentice had just returned to the BBC and there was someone on it, Samuel Curry, who as well as running a tutoring company he was looking for investment in work as a professional actor. I thought, hang on, here’s someone on reality TV who’s also an actor – and I’ve written a play about reality TV. It seemed like a nice irony. I contacted Sam and rather than taking out a restraining order against me he not only read the script but really liked it and agreed to do it, which then hugely helped in terms of getting producers interested and getting the whole production off the ground.

We auditioned for the other parts. It was a bit like X-Factor, with me in the Louis Walsh role: sitting with an inane look on my face and making the odd banal comment. Fortunately the director Phil Croft is brilliant and he’s assembled a first rate cast, with Helen Rose Thompson, Sylvie Briggs and Jonathan Mathews joining Sam.

We’re now all looking forward to going to Edinburgh. It’s not easy because you’re up against literally thousands of other shows but just to be doing it is very exciting.

2. Is this your first play or have you had others performed in the past?

I’ve done a few other things but not for a while because I was concentrating on my media career. Writing is hard, or rather writing something that’s good is hard. The minute it goes out into the world countless other people start having their say on it and it can be difficult to keep perspective on what worked to start with. But that’s the thing about collaborating: you have to accept that you don’t know everything and it’s important to listen to other points of view.

David Hendon

David Hendon (centre) with actors (left to right) Sylvie Briggs, Jonathan Mathews, Samuel Curry and Helen Rose Hampton

3. When did your interest in theatre and writing originate?

I suppose I’ve always liked words and communication, which is why I’ve ended up working in journalism and broadcasting. If you’re interested in the world at large then you often want to find ways to understand it, and storytelling is a traditional way of doing that. Theatre is a particularly immediate way of doing it because you get to see and hear how the audience responds. You also learn something about yourself, about what you think, and you get to work with some very interesting, creative people.

4. You were also recently nominated for an award for new writing, is that another play in the pipeline?

What happened was I was having such a positive experience developing The D-List that I entered something else I’d written into the Kenneth Branagh award for new drama writing, which is awarded every year in Windsor. It was recently named as one of the three winners so its gets staged in October and then they name an ‘overall’ winner. That’s obviously every exciting and I’m hoping the play will be picked up for future performances.

5. There can’t be many snooker commentators who double up as playwrights…are there any difficulties combining the two?

If you’re going to take writing seriously then you have to devote serious time to it. You can’t just do ten minutes here and there. So I had to stop doing Inside Snooker, the website I helped set up, because there wasn’t sufficient time.

In terms of commentating, when I’m doing that I’m totally immersed in it because it involves a fair degree of preparation. When there’s no snooker on I’m able to spend time getting writing done.

6. Are you looking forward to another season of commentary with Eurosport?

Absolutely, and it looks like being the busiest season ever. Eurosport recorded some remarkable audience figures during the World Championship and will be host broadcasters for the new Home series tournaments, so I’m particularly looking forward to those.

The sheer number of new snooker fans around Europe is staggering and what’s refreshing is that they don’t have the obsession with nostalgia and ‘the good old days’ that we often have in the UK. As far as they’re concerned, these are the good days.

7. Any predictions for the season? Do you think we’ll see the titles shared around again?

I’m sure we will, purely because there are so many of them. These days you could win seven ranking titles and it wouldn’t even be half the amount available to play in. I’m interested to see if the younger players can mount more of a challenge to some of the more established names but I’m sure we’ll see the usual suspects winning titles. Neil Robertson already has in Riga and you’d put money on Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan winning tournaments. But there’s also more opportunity now than there’s ever been for players down the rankings to make a breakthrough. It was good to see Anthony McGill win in India. Snooker, like the black pudding industry, needs a steady stream of fresh blood to flourish.

One player I’m very impressed by is Kyren Wilson. He has a rock solid game but also a fine temperament and a really excellent attitude. He shows the sport some gratitude rather than complaining about everything and is clearly determined to do as well as he can for himself. Most importantly, he believes he can do it and I’m sure he’ll be really successful.

I was also pleased to see John Astley return through the Q School after his spell starring in the play The Nap, which I saw at the Crucible in Sheffield. I think being part of that really helped John’s confidence. It suggests professional snooker and the theatre isn’t such a strange combination after all.

Tickets for The D-List are available by clicking here