There are few people who know Soho like Laurence Lynch. Over the decades, the jobbing plumber has become well acquainted with the district's nooks, crannies and characters. His clients have ranged from the Rupert Street brothels to Norman Tebbit. He taught Colin Firth the offside rule and was a pallbearer for legendary resident Sebastian Horsley.
Don't mistake Lynch merely for some fancy faucet-fixer, though: in 2011, he saw his first play Burnt Oak staged at the Leicester Square Theatre. Through the eyes of the charming and ambitious Nobby and his new girlfriend, the story explores working class life in the capital based largely on Lynch's own childhood experiences in north London.
Four years later, Lynch is (by choice) still plugging leaks but his play has returned to the venue for a second outing. We checked out what was new with the effervescent and opinionated Mr Lynch.
What's the thinking behind the revival of Burnt Oak? Is it something you've been working toward or did an offer come up to put it back on?
I was working in the basement of the Huntsman in Saville Row, water was spurting out of a pipe and I was telling their anxious members of staff that this was perfectly normal. My phone was ringing by the downstairs entrance where I could get a signal so I left the spurting water and answered the phone dripping wet.
It was Martin Witts, the proprietor of the Leicester Square Theatre. He said, “I am thinking about putting Burnt Oak back on again in the theatre.” I said, “that’s fantastic news, Martin. It's not a great signal, I'll give you a bell back later on.” I punched the air and danced back toward the pools of water. I then texted Tony the rat catcher: "Do you fancy an early one?"
How different is this latest outing of Burnt Oak?
The play is something that talks to you as a writer and it's something you never really stop thinking about so I have been able to make minor tweaks that I hope are improvements. Working with actors and seeing your words come to life is something you cannot fail but to learn from.
What tips would you pass on to aspiring playwrights who want to see their creations on stage, especially those who are balancing day jobs with their writing?
Having a day job should be seen as a strength not a weakness. People are a constant inspiration — they say and do the most wonderful, unpredictable and bonkers things. Day jobs are tremendous research material. I am often seen apparently sending a text on my mobile phone but what I am really doing is capturing their dialogue unbeknown to them.
Life is interesting, it’s how us writers perceive it that counts. I would say never be afraid to revisit something that you've started and lost faith in, it can have another life. Dialogue is something we all do, we are all writing our own play all the time, so use it eloquently for your play.
From your perspective, how much is Soho changing? Is there really much difference in the character of Soho since we last spoke?
When I moved to Soho it was like a world all to itself, a unique, almost living thing. It was undoubtedly the most inclusive place in Britain. It certainly was not inhabited purely by wealthy people or I believe any chain stores — just independent business people. This has changed dramatically. The big fish eat the small fish and there are many big fish in our pond.
I spoke to an old actor friend of mine who came to Soho in the Sixties from Scotland. As the train was leaving the station, his mother said to him, “Promise me one thing, darling, don't go to Soho”. As soon as the train arrived in London he hailed a cab straight to Soho and has rarely left the parish 60 years later.
The opportunities for normal people to move to Soho are nil. I don't believe that wealth and creativity are good bed fellows. I believe it's the grit in the oyster that makes the pearl and there is little grit left in Soho today. Withstanding that there are some wonderful restaurants yet people seem to be more concerned about what goes in their mouths than comes out of it.
We, those who remain, will do all we can to keep Soho's traditions going, as although many independent businesses and characters have been severed from this living thing, for us the pulse is still strong.
You've known a fair number of Soho's most famous characters, not least Sebastian Horsley. Which of them would have been been the most vocal about the current state of affairs and what would they have said?
Sebastian was not a man to have anybody put words in his mouth as he was both physically and intellectually formidable. He would have hated the changes in Soho as he once said, “if the Colony Room closed I would kill myself”. Soho and everyone that knew him are diminished without him yet we, the living, march on and Soho still feels to us like we are living in a party; though we may crash out for a while, it won't be long before we're back in the saddle.
On a more positive note, what has improved in Soho over the last few years (if anything)?
The police have arrested many of the drug dealers who for years have plagued our streets. We have our own radio station, Soho Radio, on Great Windmill Street that chronicles and celebrates many Sohoites both past and present.
What's next for you?
I have completed another play set in Soho titled This Blessed Plot. I haven't asked or contacted anyone with respect to their view or opinion. I have been writing it periodically for a number of years and I do feel it's ready for the daylight.
Laurence Lynch's play Burnt Oak opens on 21 April. Ticket information can be found on the Leicester Square website.