Tabitha Mortiboy’s The Amber Trap is the fifth female-led play from Damsel Productions, which is dedicated to presenting work written and staged by women. We talk to Mortiboy about why companies like Damsel are so necessary to redress gender imbalance and how her play considers power structures… and stalking. Time to get booking!
“Some bones are like ice. They’re weaker than you’d think.”
Katie and her girlfriend Hope work at their local corner shop, where the days pass in quiet, comfortable rhythms. For Katie, the little shop is a sanctuary. A place where she can hold onto Hope without anybody watching. But when new employee Michael arrives, the sands start to shift and the air begins to thicken.
In this chilling portrait of craving and control, Olivia Rose Smith is Katie, Fanta Barrie is Hope, Misha Butler is Michael and Jenny Bolt is Jo. The premiere production is directed by Hannah Hauer-King and designed by Jasmine Swan, with lighting by Lucy Adams and sound by Annie May Fletcher. It’s produced by Kitty Wordsworth for Damsel Productions.
Talking to… Tabitha Mortiboy
Playwright Tabitha Mortiboy began her writing career in Bristol, where she had several short plays staged and where her first full-length play Billy Through the Window premiered at the Wardrobe Theatre in 2015. Billy later transferred to Theatre503 and to Underbelly at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 2016 her second play Beacons was produced at London’s Park Theatre and was nominated for three Off West End Awards including Best New Play and Most Promising New Playwright, and is now being developed for radio. In 2017, she co-wrote Bare Skin on Briny Waters for the Edinburgh Fringe. As well as creating her own work, she writes alongside Bellow Theatre, a company she co-founded in 2013.
What was your initial inspiration for The Amber Trap?
I was originally intending to write a play about stalking. I wanted to explore the factors that feed into stalking behaviours, and how those factors might be linked to broader issues in the sexual politics between men and women. The story that transpired still engages with those questions, but the trajectory of its characters has moved away from a study of stalking, and towards a study of possessive obsession.
I wanted to look at the invisible matrix of power structures that affect how men and women behave and understand themselves, and at how embedded misogyny and a sense of entitlement to female bodies can escalate into violence. I was especially interested in how that violence might arise in an apparently ordinary working environment like a corner shop, where the staff have to face each other day after day, despite escalating tensions and discomfort.
What does the title mean?
The title is inspired by the amber prisms that insects and other creatures can become ensnared in. These are objects that we look at because we want to drink in their physical beauty. We objectify the bodies inside the amber, but the truth of the phenomenon is that the animal has been smothered and suffocated by its enclosure. It’s analogous to the way modern society treats images of women’s bodies. There’s also a character in the play who is fascinated by anatomy and dissection, so it’s a nod to those pursuits too.
This is your second play at Theatre 503. What do you think is special about this venue?
Theatre 503 is a real champion of new work and new writers, and a theatre that dedicates itself to launching stories and voices. It’s so important that we inject new life into the theatrical canon, and while revivals of classical plays have their place, for me, theatre is about responding to the here and now – telling stories about the times we live in, and the human politics of the world around us.
For a theatre to commit to those stories is a treasure and an asset to the theatrical ecosystem. It’s also particularly brilliant for this show because the space is tiny and intimate, so the sense of claustrophobia generated in the play becomes really palpable for the audience.
How big a problem do you think the under-representation of women in theatre is?
I think the problem is very real and very persistent, despite all of the brilliant steps that have been taken in the past couple of years to try to redress the entrenched imbalance and lack of gender parity in our theatre spaces. As a writer, the trend of programming male playwrights on main stages and in mainstream theatres is inescapable. It’s so disappointing to see flagship theatres in this country programming almost exclusively male seasons – so while there have been great strides made, there is still a lot of work to be done.
What do you think of what Damsel Productions is doing – besides producing your play!?
Damsel are brilliant beyond words. They are at the forefront of the movement to put stories about the female experience front and centre, to remedy centuries of the male gaze dominating our stages. They assemble incredible all-women creative teams to bring those stories to life, and that means that they create working environments that are full of positive energy and support and allegiance and magic.
I’ve been an admirer of their company for a long time and I’m so excited to be working with them on The Amber Trap because I know it’s a story that feels really vital and powerful to all of us.
The Amber Trap runs from 24 April to 18 May 2019 at Theatre503, 503 Battersea Park Road, London SW11 3BW, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, Saturday matinees at 3pm. Tickets are priced £10-£18. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!