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24 September 2014

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Theatre & Dance: Features

Thomas Craig and Lucy Benjamin star in Framed!
Thomas Craig and Lucy Benjamin


An edge of the seat, psychological thriller - Framed! is the first major play by Norfolk writer and broadcaster Martin Sterling. The show can be seen at the Norwich Theatre Royal from Monday 18 July, 2005.

Synopsis of Framed!

When Judy meets Sam on an internet dating service, she believes she's met the perfect man. It's taken her a long time to trust anyone again after the betrayal of her husband Nick, who was an international drugs dealer.

Sam is everything Judy wants in a man, however, when they take a romantic weekend break in an isolated, haunted Norfolk cottage - Judy slowly has to accept that Sam may not the the man she thought he was.

Framed! is a psychological thriller, full of twists and turns, that promises to keep us on the edge of our seats.

Written by the Norfolk-based Martin Sterling, Framed! is his first major play and stars Thomas Craig, Lucy Benjamin and Vincenzo Pellegrino in a tale of double-crossing.

Martin Barber caught up with the show's writer ahead of the production's run at the Norwich Theatre Royal.

Where did you get the idea for Framed?

I was actually asked to write a modern thriller by Nick Brooke, the young producer who's previously brought productions like Arsenic and Old Lace, My Boy Jack and The Shell Seekers to the Theatre Royal.

Nick's a brilliant producer and I knew he'd do a good job on Framed!  From the outset, we knew that we wanted it to pay homage to plays like The Ghost Train and The Mousetrap, but to give it a very contemporary feel.  So I have managed to have some fun with the conventions of the genre, while, at the same time, ensuring that it's not a parody.

What is it you enjoy about the thriller genre?

To be honest, I not a huge fan of thrillers - no more than the next man, anyway.  So Framed! is my first attempt at writing one. But, as I say, I was commissioned to do it and, like all jobbing writers, if they're paying for thrillers then I'll try and give 'em thrillers!

Is this the first time you've written a stage play?

No. My first play - A Test of Compassion - was staged at the King's Lynn Arts Centre in 1990. Set during the plague years of the 1660s, it was a satire on the tabloid hysteria surrounding AIDS at that time.

We had the support of Sir Ian McKellen, and I was able to remind him of that when he was in Coronation Street a couple of months ago.

I've just completed a new play and have started work on another.  But working as a storyline writer on Coronation Street doesn't leave much time for anything else, so progress is inevitably going to be slow.

Do you have to change your writing style when creating a work for the stage, say from when writing a book or television drama?

They're all different disciplines, and books take much longer.

When you start out on a book, you might be writing it - and living with it - for over a year. Drama tends to be quicker and I think I prefer that. 

Coronation Street is voracious, it just eats up material and there's no time to be a dreamy writer on the show because the deadlines are so tight. What's common to all forms of writing, however, is the need to accept it's a collaborative effort. 

Novice writers often fail to understand that editors, producers, directors all have an opinion on your work and often demand changes. So you can't be precious about your work as a professional writer.

On Coronation Street, I have to satisfy the producer, series editor and story editor with every piece I deliver. And their standards are bloody high, which is why the show's winning so many awards.

Vincenzo Pellegrino in Framed!
Vincenzo Pellegrino in Framed!

Usually, it's not that they don't like what one has written - it's just different from what they want. Fortunately, having a long background in freelance journalism, I'm used to sub-editors hacking away at articles because it comes with the territory, so I don't mind being asked to change something.                

Was it important for you to give the play some Norfolk roots?

I don't think Norfolk's used enough! I may be biased but, having lived in the county since I was 13, I believe it's not only the most beautiful county in the country, but also the most fascinating.

But I have to admit that I set Framed! in Norfolk more for plotting reasons than any specific desire to promote the county.

They play required an isolated country cottage where there was no mobile phone signal. 

How did Norfolk help you to shape Framed!

My best friend has an Elizabethan cottage just outside Holt and I used that as the inspiration for the one in Framed! - even down to the fact that both are supposedly haunted.

One of the things I love about Norfolk is its enduring sense of mystery and otherworldliness and I knew that was something I wanted to reflect in Framed!

Having been brought up in a supposedly haunted house in Manchester, I've always been fascinated by ghosts - or, rather, the belief in ghosts - and funnily enough I took part in an edition of Living TV's cult series Most Haunted last week, which will be broadcast in November.

Framed! isn't a supernatural play, of course - it's a straight thriller. But the ghost story at the cottage plays on the mind of Lucy Benjamin's character, as do some of Norfolk's myths and legends, and it heightens her anxiety.               

How did it feel when you saw the play for the first time?

It was wonderful. Funnily enough, I couldn't attend any of the rehearsals because of working on Coronation Street, so I was seeing it for the first time on the opening night.

Roger Redfarn's direction is spot on and each member of the cast is brilliant.

Lucy Benjamin was a particular revelation to me. I'd only ever seen her TV work and had no idea what a superb stage actress she is. She's onstage the whole time and one reviewer wrote that she has to handle more lines than London Bridge station! 

But to hear an audience react in all the right places and then appreciate it so much at the end is very satisfying.

From the outset, Framed! was meant to be a couple of hours of entertainment and judging from the audiences I've seen it with so far, we seem to have pulled it off as a team.

Framed! by Martin Sterling can be seen at the Norwich Theatre Royal from Monday 18 - Saturday 23 July, 2005. Box office: 01603 630000.

last updated: 14/07/05
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