Dan Lovatt, a graduate from the University of Salford is launching a play about men’s mental health at the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival this September. I caught up with the playwright about his time at Salford, his play ‘Toxic’ and the exciting times ahead…💬

Patrick Price (Andy) and Joe Gallogly (James) in Rehearsals

You’ve been a student with us for both your undergraduate and postgraduate degree, can you tell us a little more about your time at Salford?

I came to Salford in 2016 from Stoke-on-Trent to study BA English Language & Creative Writing, before moving onto studying MA Creative Writing: Innovation and Experimentation in 2019. Salford quickly became my new home, nurturing my creativity and massively influencing the person and writer I am today.

What inspired you to write ‘Toxic’ and what themes are explored?

Toxic was originally conceived in a writing workshop with Mike Heath, as part of the ‘Writing for Performance’ module in my BA. From there, I developed the initial scenes into a full script. Toxic explores men’s mental health, toxic aspects of masculinity and suicide, with LGBTQ+ themes.

What was the script writing process like? How did your studies inform this?

The process has been one of turmoil and excitement, a cocktail of feelings usually experienced when trying your hand in a new form. Dialogue-led narratives are fast-paced and action driven, so I was adapting to a different pace than the more expositional prose pieces I had written beforehand. Thanks to Mike’s guidance, I was able to grasp the underlying mechanics of script writing, and from there I went alone.

Patrick Price (Andy) and Joe Gallogly (James) in Rehearsals

What message do you want to spread?

Toxic aims to contribute to opening conversations on mental health, and to create a safe environment for men to confront uncomfortable feelings. I have partnered with Trafford Housing Trust and Andy’s Man Club Charity to ensure we effectively deliver their objectives of helping vulnerable men, through both the play and distributing mental health support resources in the kiosk. We want men to allow themselves to acknowledge and overcome mental health, not as a sign of weakness, but as an opportunity to heal and grow.

How has the pandemic affected ‘Toxic’?

The play was originally supposed to be held at last year’s GM Fringe Festival, but it was cancelled due to Coronavirus. Adapting to the play being postponed, I revisited the script and used case studies of my friends to inject more real experiences into the script. I believe that the postponement was a blessing in disguise, as Toxic is much stronger in this second iteration.

What has the process been like for you and your team?

The process has followed usual practice for performances (so I’m told, it’s all very new to me). Working with my director Connor Goodwin and creative staff, we cast our actors ourselves. We’re currently in rehearsals and marketing the play as we go along. I have been attending rehearsals virtually, so Connor and our stage manager have been carrying the torch for me whilst I carry on with more logistical things in the background. Toxic would not exist without them!

Would you say that your studies encouraged your passion for creating Toxic? Did studying at Salford and the location help you at all?

Not necessarily for Toxic, but certainly for writing in general. I believe that all creatives have an innate desire and ability to create, but often without the right environment, their creativity can not blossom. Studying Creative Writing at Salford not only provided me with an environment to consistently share work and get feedback, but provided me with practical skills and insights into honing my craft.

Patrick Price (Andy) and Joe Gallogly (James) in Rehearsals

Did you take part in any societies, clubs or extracurricular activity at Salford that helped you on your journey?

It seems silly to state, but I cannot emphasise it enough. If you are a writer, write! In whatever capacity it may be, whether it’s on your own or in a group, in the pursuit of pleasure or pain, write! So often the romanticisation of the writer’s image and practices cloud the necessary task of writing. Without getting those ugly ideas down on paper, you cannot make them beautiful. My extracurricular activity was writing, mostly to no success at all, but every time you begin to write, or type, you become a fraction of a better writer than you were, however you measure success.

Why did you choose The Lauriston Studio to showcase the play?

We are using The Lauriston Studio as it is an intimate, immersive space which will enhance the connection between the characters and audience. The Lauriston Studio is part of The Altrincham Garrick Playhouse, which is a fantastic theatre with formidable ties to the Altrincham and wider Trafford community.

What are your hopes for the future?

Myself and Connor want to take Toxic to other communities across the UK and are already beginning to plan for that eventuality. In my personal projects, I’m currently working on an autofiction campus novel about my time at, you guessed it, Salford! So whilst cracking on with that, I’m also looking to move into TV & Film with some script ideas I’ve been developing. Short answer, writing, hopefully with more commercial success. Oh, and me and my girlfriend are looking to travel around South East Asia this December, COVID permitting!

What advice would you give to students who want to follow in your footsteps?

My advice to writers besides what I’ve already mentioned is try to find a routine that allows you to write, or at least develop ideas, on a regular basis. Of course, routines differ from writer to writer, but I’ve found that ideas are always morphing and never realised in their entirety. So, the best chance we have to take them as far as they can possibly go is to work on them. Something that foils most budding writers is complacency, the belief that the idea at point of conception carries enough substance to see them through. Ideas are the focal point of story but do the work and flesh them out. In fact, don’t even see it as work, you’re supposed to love it! That’s what us writers signed up for. Squeeze every drop of pleasure out of the process.

Patrick Price (Andy) and Joe Gallogly (James) in Rehearsals

Toxic will be performed at The Lauriston Studio on the 6th, 7th and 9th September as part of GM Fringe Festival. The play starts at 7:30pm and Thursday has now sold out, so get those tickets fast! You can buy tickets for Monday and Tuesday here. Dan would love to see some fellow Salfordians there in the audience.

As early-career creatives starting out on their journey, any donation directly helps to fund the project. If you would like to make a donation you can do so here.