Jim Greenhalf talks to Jonathan Hall, Bradford teacher and acclaimed playwright, who has just completed his second stint with the National Theatre.

'Pity I didn't ring you earlier, when I saw Maureen Lipman eating chips," Jonathan Hall said, walking between a building site and London's Old Vic theatre.

He was on his way back to his room in the National Theatre's Studio. For the last eight weeks he has been working with actors and learning a lot about dramatic techniques, outlining the shape of his seventh or eighth play, and spending time with London-based writers.

"I was in the middle of an Ofsted inspection at school (Foxhill, Queensbury) when I got the call. It was Jack (the chap who deals with literature at the National Theatre) asking if I wanted to go back and work with them again," he said. Again? That's right, this is the 35-year-old Saltaire-based playwright's second stint in the place created by the late Sir Laurence Olivier. He spent eight weeks there last year.

"I wrote them a play, Mr Eliot, which didn't work. It was about a deputy head teacher in Keighley. The National didn't want to put it on - it's not often that somebody comes up with an idea and they put it on. I was under pressure myself and perhaps it was the wrong time to write about the job."

At the time he was a deputy head himself at a school in Holme Wood. He became a supply teacher in March this year, to give himself time to write. His plays, staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and our own Priestley Centre for the Arts, have been well received. His first, Nativity, was described as a masterpiece in The Scotsman newspaper.

His second Fringe presentation in 1993, Enthusiastic Men, a comedy about train-spotters, was joint-winner of the Joshua Tetley Drama Award. Both plays were performed by the Bradford Playhouse Touring Company, which subsequently adopted the nondescript name of Theatresomething.

The play he's been working on this summer at the NT also has a teaching theme; it's based on an event in 1975 at the William Tyndall School in London.

"The teachers were trying to teach in a progressive way and the parents didn't like this and called in the governors. There was a strike and the school closed down. Out of this a lot of the education reforms of the 1980s emerged. The event is just an idea; I am going to base the characters on people I know.

"I thought about setting it in Bradford. Ten years ago you were prescribed about how you taught. If you stood at the front of a class and taught a lesson you were in real trouble. Now things have gone the other way. I am going to use elements of London and Bradford in the piece. I can't not use Bradford because that's where I get all my experience," he added.

He finds London narrow-minded, insular. Bradford, with all its rumbustuous faults and the inroads made by the Politically Correct, has a better handle on reality. Evidently a lot of London-based neurotics who consider themselves writers sense this too, but for the wrong reason. They view the North as a kind of cess-pit of crimes and vices about which they long to write.

"If you do nothing but write you get so far into yourself that you do become introverted and unpleasant. They don't do anything else, so there's nothing you can talk to them about.

"At the end of the day being a successful human being is more important than being a writer. It's why I haven't given up teaching because it's something you know you do well and it keeps you connected. The good thing about teaching is it forces you to take your mind off your own problems. You are absolutely forced to think about other people and other things," he added.

Nevertheless Jonathan Hall believes he has learned a lot during the past two months, particularly from watching the National's actors at work.

"I am hoping to get actors from the Priestley centre to do these workshops, exploring different ideas. A lot of the actors at the Priestley are as talented as you'd find professionally, the only difference is they never went in for it," he said.

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