Silk Road - A Word from the Writer, Alex Oates
In March 2002 I threw a proper tantrum when my Mam and Dad wouldn't let me go and see Peter Straughan’s Bones with them because I was only 14 and they thought a violent play set in a porn cinema might be a bit adult for me. I’d seen plenty at Live Theatre, as soon as I could get the metro by myself I’d bounce between Live Theatre, Northern Stage and the Theatre Royal, but it was Live Theatre that primarily gave me my first lit-hit and provided many high evenings in a buzzing space watching the northern greats Hadaway, Hall, Plater. Theatre was my drug of choice and while my parents could stop a 14 year old attending a play they couldn't stop him buying the play text and mainlining the musty pages! I still have a well worn collection of those Methuen editions stashed under my bed. So 16 years later to be bringing Silk Road to the same building, flogging my Methuen play text hopefully to the next spotty theatre junky is something I’m beyond excited about.
Fast forward to 2013 and I’m at a party in ‘that there London’ and somebody off their nut on something other than theatre is telling me enthusiastically and without pausing for breath, as those off their nut are want to do, about this new way of buying drugs - Silk Road. I’m still getting my highs from the Samuel French Bookshop so as an online shopping exercise this doesn't interest me whatsoever but as a story, as a change in world order, this piques my interest. I immediately began researching this on the dark web and discovered that the people who were buying and selling drugs were actually really smart, passionate people. Libertarians, naive maybe but fascinating creatures who were keen to build a new world where people can take what they want assured that what they were taking was safe and pure.
Growing up with a cop as a dad I had a lot of discussions about drugs and how the war on drugs actually costs money and lives. When I was a teenager I started glass collecting in The Whistling Oyster on South Parade in Whitley Bay before climbing the slippery pole to DJ at the best-worst bar in Whitley - Shaggy’s. This all gave me a massive insight into how drugs and gangs in the North East worked, it seemed a very outdated system. People buy bad drugs, cut to hell from local thugs and pay through the nose for it. What Silk Road was trying to do was circumvent the system. Seemed quite responsible to me!
So I wrote this play, about a kid who works in Shaggy’s, who discovers Silk Road and starts selling them through his unwitting nan. It’s about the North East, a love letter to Whitley Bay, it’s about falling in love on the beach, it’s about my nan’s love for Tynemouth Market, it’s about how much I loved my nan. It’s pretty personal. I did it initially as a monologue at a writers event in London and then sent it to my longterm collaborator and friend Dom Shaw who loved the idea and gave me a month to turn it into an hour long fringe show. That’s what we did!
Initially we crowd funded it to raise the money to get to Edinburgh and my family and friends were beyond generous. We also received 2 Bitcoin which at the time was worth £500 but I kept them and traded for other cryptocurrency over the last 3 years, I wont say how much they're worth now but anyone who follows the crypto market will understand why that donation made this the best paid writing gig I’ve ever had.
Edinburgh in 2014 was a total blast, James Baxter, another theatre addict spawned at Live Theatre and dear friend created the role and did it brilliantly. Reviews were super kind to us but due to James’s star rising with Still Open All Hours and my general lack of understanding of the theatre industry we didn't manage to get it home to Newcastle which was always my original intention.
Four years later and a lot has happened but Silk Road, Bitcoin and the Dark Web haven't gone away. The play seems more relevant than ever and thanks to our original shady Bitcoin donor we could afford to bring it home to Live Theatre. We did a big search for our next Bruce and had a lot of non-geordie actors audition with stunt casting names that a cynical producer might have jumped at but when we saw Josh we knew we’d found our man. He’s young, hungry, talented theatre nut from Blyth with a spark I can’t wait to see ignite a Geordie audience. I can’t wait to share this play with you.
I hope somewhere there’s a 14 year old asking his Mam and Dad if they can go see a play about buying drugs online and their Mam says she’ll think about it.
Silk Road plays at Live Theatre on Thursday 1 and Friday 2 February 2018. Alex Oates will take part in a Meet the Team Post Show Discussion after the show on Thursday 1 February, which is FREE for ticket holders that evening, and will also be broadcast online, and available to listen again on Live Theatre's website. Find out more and get tickets here