School of Thought

Playwright and actor Neil Edwards has had an eventful life, from playing Sherlock Holmes to running off with an obsessive Texan fan. Now he's home - and writing for Accidental Theatre

‘I worked in a Catholic girls school for four months,’ explains actor and playwright Neil Edwards. So when it came to re-writing a play entitled School of Thought, he had something of a head start. 

School of Thought is the next rehearsed reading on the Accidental Theatre schedule, to be performed at Blick Shared Studios on August 12. Edwards first came across the play at the Liverpool Playwrights, a writing group that he describes as 'a group of people that met weekly, sat around a table and slaughtered each other’s scripts. All for the sake of art'.

One of the participants was a teacher who had the first version of School of Thought already drafted. It was a play about all the horrible things that happen to teachers on a daily basis, whether they are at the hands of their pupils or their bureaucracy. As Edwards points out, ‘Everyone knows that the education system is the biggest comedy in the world. The play was all over the place, but there was the core of something I liked.’

Multiple rewrites later and the play is Edward’s own, although it’s far from his usual style, which he describes as elaborate, with ‘lots of pyrotechnics and gunshots’.

As an occasional teacher himself, School of Thought was something he had experience with. He still splutters at the memory of a rule that dictated that teachers could not mark papers in red pen because it was deemed too aggressive. It wasn’t until his stint at the aforementioned Catholic school that he realised ‘how desperately lost some children are. They just need a signpost: a teacher or a mentor. For me it was the theatre'.

Considering Edwards eventful life, it’s worrying to think what it might have been like without the theatre. He was five when he started work as an actor and at 13 he was cast as Friedrich in The Sound of Music. 'For once in my life I was the right height!' recalls the rather tall Edwards. In his late teens he got tired of other people’s writing and went to film school. Two of his classmates went on to become a Turner Prize and an Oscar winner.

After a year making corporate videos and working as an assistant director on various film projects, Edwards went to London. ‘It swallowed me up, like it does so many people. It’s too expensive, too noisy and too chaotic, but it cements character like nothing else in the world.’

It was in London that Edwards donned the trademark deerstalker hat at Baker Street, playing the iconic detective Sherlock Holmes. He stayed there for two years, before he met an American woman obsessed with Jack the Ripper and Victoriana in general. She asked him to go back to Texas with her - and he went. ‘That was the kind of life I lived back then,’ Edwards explains with some glee and no particular regret. ‘She was a psycho, though.'

These days Edwards' life seems slightly more sedate. He now works at the Lyric Theatre as a theatre administrator - one of the few people in the know about what the new Lyric is going to be like. Not that he'll tell, of course. ‘I’m sworn to secrecy,’ he says of the Lyric refurbishments, although he does mention that they are currently deciding what coffee will be sold in the café.

It was Hanne Slattne of Tinderbox who put Edwards in touch with Accidental Theatre, for whom he 'banged off two plays as a sort of calling card'. School of Thought was one of them. Richard Irvine of Accidental Theatre accepted it for the Rehearsed Reading series, and Emily DeDakis provided some feedback. ‘Seven pages of well-written notes. I remember when you’d have to pay somebody for that.’

With everyone from the Lyric coming to see his Rehearsed Reading at Blick Studios, Edwards has a cunning plan, should things go wrong. ‘I’m going to sit at the back,’ he says with mock-firmness. ‘Then I can sneak out if it goes badly.’

School of Thought by Neil Edwards on August 12 at 7pm. Blick Shared Studios, 51 Malone Road.