Ich Bin Kentishtowner: Chuck Anderson, writer-producer

The US-born creator of Warehouse of Dreams on living in north London, the perils of writing – and ignoring his dad’s advice

Chuck Anderson, born in New York, has lived in north London for 45 years. He worked head-down in advertising until one day looked up to see he was the last man standing of his generation. His first book was penitential – The Big Lie: the Truth about Advertising. Two novels followed and now his first theatrical play premieres at Kentish Town’s Lion and Unicorn Theatre. Warehouse of Dreams explores the difficult moral decisions that aid workers who manage refugee camps have to make. It’s raising money for War Child, also based in Kentish Town.

When were you happiest?
About twenty minutes ago, at the last rehearsal. It’s amazing how these talented actors can conjure words on a page into living, vibrant personalities. They say that creating characters in a play is like giving birth. To me it was like watching the kids grow up in ways you never anticipated.

Where would you like to live?
In 1969 I moved into a flat in a bed-sit area of north London. I am now surrounded by billionaires vigorously excavating basements for houses they will never live in. I’m not moving. Where else would you find such thoughtful neighbours?

What is your favourite sound or smell?
It’s the sound of an audience laughing. In the right places. This play is on a grim subject, but laughter is a way people can tolerate the intolerable. I’ve put in some trench humour.

Leafy Gaisford Street's Lion & Unicorn pub theatre
Leafy Gaisford Street’s Lion & Unicorn pub theatre
What is your greatest life achievement?
Producing a fringe theatre play without having the foggiest notion how to go about it. Compared to that, writing the play was a doddle. Fortunately I’ve fallen into the company of some pros who know what they’re doing: my astonishingly able director, Dan Phillips, and George Sallis and Simon Collier of the Lion and Unicorn.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
It came from my dad. He only ever gave me three pieces of advice: “Don’t get married. Don’t get married again. And never start a restaurant.” I never started a restaurant.

What is your earliest memory?
Touching down on British soil for the first time in Prestwick after refuelling in Gander. Earlier recall of suburban life in America has been wiped by the CIA.

What makes you unhappy?
When I left the US, Kennedy was president and there was some hope. Since then it’s all been downhill.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Pathological nostalgia. Until recently I could never throw any memorabilia away. Now it’s all on a hard disc. Somewhere.

Where do you hang out?
For the next four weeks I’ve booked a table at the Lion and Unicorn pub.

Who or what do you hate and why?
The intermediaries in the creative process who intervene between the writer and the audience he’s writing for – gatekeeper flunkies such as readers, script editors, etc. who are usually appointed because they’re young and inexperienced, therefore cheap. They’re not without creative insights – along with rejection comes advice such as: do you have anything about talking animals or boy wizards?

Rehearsals for Warehouse: Luca Pusceddu in action. Photo: CA
Rehearsals for Warehouse: Luca Pusceddu in action. Photo: CA

What’s been your best experience? Worst?
Best was getting my first play on CBS television in the US, a comedy called How to Shoot Fish in a Barrel starring Larry Hagman, who later made television history when over 350 million fans in 57 countries were glued to their television sets to find out ‘Who Shot J.R.?’. Worst was my next TV exposure, a sitcom episode for MGM-TV Hollywood. Not because of what they cut out, but what they put in – every stale visual joke in the repertoire.

What’s the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
Are you expecting to get a degree at the end of this term, Anderson? You haven’t satisfied the religious requirement.

What has your career taught you?
Not to keep secrets.

What is your favourite dish and why?
Vitello tonnato. (My spell-check just tried to change that to tomato, but it means tuna-flavoured mayonnaise). Like revenge, it’s a dish best served cold.

What did you do today?
Went to rehearsals and tried to keep my mouth shut, picked up leaflets from War Child to distribute at the theatre, detoured through Kentish Town tube station to see if London Transport had put up the escalator panel advertising they were supposed to three days ago (of course not), wrote some more press releases, had a ding-dong with the theatre about ticket prices, arranged for the guys working on the billionaire’s basement next door to unload the pallet of programme books for me when it’s delivered because I’ll be back at rehearsal, shooting a video for posting on our website, tweeted, emailed, listened to ‘unavailable’ voice messages from people who had promised to call me back…

Describe yourself as an animal.
A cheetah. That’s a homonym. I don’t cheat people, but if you want to get anything done, many rules that people fabricate have to be subverted.

Who or what do you love?
My wife. Fortunately, I ignored my dad’s advice.

This is box title
Warehouse of Dreams opens tonight at Lion & Unicorn, 42-44 Gaisford Street NW5 2ED, and runs till Dec 6. Tickets £15-19. Tonight and tomorrow only, you can catch the previews for just £12 by entering a promo code ‘angel’ here

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