Evolving as a writer, finding the Punchline

Brighton writer and artist Andrew Kay talks about his new show coming soon to Kemp Town

Final school report: “Andrew will either end up working in the arts or writing.”

When the headmaster wrote those words, I was already heading to art school in Chelsea. But maybe Mr Weeks knew something I didn’t. Four years later, I graduated and within days found my first job, designing book covers for the publishers, Weidenfeld and Nicolson. This started my career as an art director that took me to William Collins, Victor Gollancz and finally to Macmillan.

Fiction, non-fiction, academic, humour, kids, science fiction, autobiography, classics, romance… You name it, I had it covered. But 16 years and around 2,000 book covers later, I was made redundant.

Dipping my toe in the writing pond

It was not a good time. For the first time, I felt cut adrift. I put all my books into the loft. Despite support from my publishing friends, work was hard to come by. I had always worked in-house and never had to freelance.

In the years that followed, I had nothing to do with books, but I started to write. First, I wrote for a magazine, and then, to avoid chatting to an ex while still sharing a home, I write a novel. Pretty Boys All in A Row found a publisher and didn’t do too badly. And it stirred up my old publishing friends who thought I had strayed too far into their territory.

Some years later, I wrote my first play, I Will Survive, and entered it into a competition at WOW, Worthing’s annual literature and theatre festival. To my surprise, it won and was performed. I had the playwright bug, and before long, I wrote another script.

By now, I was writing theatre reviews for Brighton magazine, The Latest. In the line of duty, I went to see a play called Twinkle. It was performed by local drag artist Jason Sutton, AKA Miss Jason. The play was good, but Jason was better. That night, I started to write something with him in mind and a few months later, Morning Glory was finished.

What’s the story of Morning Glory?

Unsolicited, I sent the script to Jason. Within a matter of hours, he had read it and liked it. He asked if he could send it to his director friend Allan Cardew. Of course, I said yes.

Before I knew it, we were heading to London for the play’s debut, and then to the Edinburgh Fringe. It went well and I finally felt like I was a writer, not just a designer pretending to be one.

Jason Sutton in Morning Glory, Edinburgh Fringe

In September 2022, Allan and I revived Morning Glory at Brighton’s Theatre Royal for two sell-out performances. At the second performance, TV actor Brian Capron was in the back row. He was best known for playing the wicked Richard Hillman in Coronation Street. At the curtain, he came over to congratulate me. Not one to miss an opportunity, we exchanged details and said we should meet up. By the next month, we’d met for a coffee and a chat, and in December, I outlined my ideas over brunch.

Of our initial meeting, Brian recalls, “I saw Morning Glory at Theatre Royal Brighton and really enjoyed the play. Andrew’s way with words and with humour appealed to me and I was interested in finding out what else he had done, and whether he had anything that might work for me.”

Of course, I did! I told Brian that I wanted to write something for him and he was delighted. The resulting play is called Punchline and it is coming soon to Brighton.

Making the right connections

In January 2023, I started writing Punchline. By that point Steve Barrey, the entrepreneur known as The Liquorice Dragon, and a mutual friend had got wind of the project and came on board as producers.

By last October, I showed everyone what they thought was my first draft, but it was probably my sixteenth! In November, we had the first read-through. Steve brought in young director Rupert Charmak. His first short film, I am Super, had just been released, which went well. With Rupert on board, Steve and I secured a venue, The Lantern Theatre in Kemp Town.

And of course, I am hopeful the play will be a great project for Brian. It’s great to work with an actor I really admire. I think the feeling is mutual…

Brian describes Punchline as “very exciting”, which is humbling.

“I love what he has done and what we are doing with it,” says Brian. “It has humour, but it also has a darker tale to tell, and one that is seldom touched on, which is a challenge and it gives the piece importance.”

It’s nearly showtime…

Punchline rehearsals are in full swing, the theatre is booked, script revisions are being made, marketing has started and tickets are on sale.

The play is about an ageing performer who is still treading the boards. Once upon a time, he got top billing, but now he is reduced to introducing exotic dancers and cover bands. We see him as he prepares to go on stage, talking about his life and career and how things have changed. Gradually, he reveals the darker side of his home life, the breakdown of a career and the collapse of his marriage.

It took me almost 40 years to fulfil my headmaster’s prediction, but now, with Brian Capron, Rupert Charmak and, of course, that Liquorice Dragon on my side, I hope Mr Weeks would be proud.


Punchline is at The Lantern Theatre, 77 St James Street, Kemp Town, Brighton, 12-13 April 2024 at 7.30pm and 14 April 2024 at 2.30pm: http://lanterntheatrebrighton.co.uk/punchline-by-andrew-kay/

About Andrew Kay
Andew Kay is an artist, designer, writer and TV maker who trained at Chelsea School of Art and for 16 years designed books and book covers. Passionate about theatre and food, he now spends most of his time writing plays and cooking and is never far from a pen or a pan.