Through my work over the past few months, I have wanted to talk about in explicit and challenging ways on a range of fundamental social issues, particularly surrounding the female experience. My current shows, Mr Incredible (VAULT Festival 2016, winner: Origins Award for Outstanding New Work, Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh Fringe 2016) by Camilla Whitehill and Screwed by Kathryn O’Reilly are both set in contemporary social contexts, which has always felt important in my work in new writing.
I’m interested in responsive work and collaborating to research, analyse, visualise and present an audience with live experiences that have a direct link to their lives, politics, now, today and sharply and truthfully ask difficult questions.
I directed a devised immersive production at The Lowry Theatre in Manchester, 2012 called The Crypt Project which explored addiction. As a result, I co-wrote a chapter about the making of the show in the book Addiction and Performance (Cambridge Scholars Publishers).
Through this 12-month project and the research we undertook (I got quite obsessed with the physician Gabor Mate who specialises in the study and treatment of addiction), I understood how complex our Western culture of addiction is and how challenging personal recovery can be because of it.
Screwed is an important part of this continual conversation and has allowed me to re-visit this now, four years on. The heart of the work unapologetically presents us with the results of living in a toxic culture, a culture of addiction and pain relief, of instant gratification and distraction where we are not economically and psychologically supporting people to be with themselves and to be well. Currently, poverty and mental health issues are rapidly increasing side-by-side and it is destroying lives. If you have to live for today, it’s hard to think about tomorrow. When I build a show I like to work with a key idea in the text and work the aesthetic and dynamic of the production from there, i.e. addiction is cyclical, until something breaks it, for a moment or for a few days/weeks/months/years.
Time speeds up and slows down dramatically when in the addictive cycle.
The text is also heightened and the world they all live in is very physical, so we aim to make a dynamic and relentless world.
I met Kathryn O’Reilly, the writer of Screwed, through a new writing night I curated at the Park Theatre and from there I directed Kathryn in a new play called You by Mark Wilson, that wonderfully went on to win multiple awards at Brighton Fringe Festival last year and will be coming back later this year. You is a play about adoption and both the writer and myself are adopted, so the project felt personal. We worked closely with social services and Kathryn and I and the company worked collaboratively to create a challenging discourse in the work. Kathryn had been developing Screwed for a while and after this project asked me to look at it and here we are.
I have been focusing on collaborations that challenge what the majority of theatre still does – male protagonists, male writers, male problems.
Screwed tackles many ideas around gender expectations: It has two female protagonists and focuses on their friendship, it passes the Bechdel theatre test and it explores how society, often violently, polices gender.
Judge Alan Berg, on the issue of women and binge drinking, said: “It must be cured. They are like wild animals and I’m fed up with it.” The use of language suggests, firstly, that alcoholism is a disease, which has one ‘cure’ and refers to the women he is referencing as animals – inhuman. This kind of detachment, de-humanisation is exactly what Screwed is looking to address. All the characters in Screwed are trying to grow and push out of social and economic restrictions, whilst simultaneously, aggressively resisting the other characters’ growth. It’s a struggle and a fight but there’s humour and hope, there’s always hope and laughter.
Screwed runs at Theatre 503 from 28 June to 23 July 2016. Follow @MyTheatreMates on Twitter for details on our competition to win a pair of tickets to the show.