Interviews with some of the best contemporary British Playwrights

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Playwright Brad Birch talks about dealing with rejection, Brexit, En Folkfiende, learning on the job and more.

Brad Birch

Have you read many Brad Birch interviews before? He’s good at interviews. The recipient of The Harold Pinter Commission 2016 has a chat with me about dealing with rejection, Brexit, En Folkefiende, learning on the job and more.

Brad Birch

Brad Birch

Hi Brad, what did you do yesterday?
Hello Carl. Yesterday I was in tech rehearsals for En Folkefiende. It’s a very technical show so everyone’s very busy; sound, lighting, video, stage management, everyone, I suppose, apart from me. My role in techs often seem to be as an extra eye and ear for the director (this show is directed by Andrew Whyment) and I also like to check in with the actors and crew and drink a lot of coffee. I’ve been in techs in the past where I’ve had to be more hands on, having a more active role in the room, but these instances tend to only come about if there’s text work still to be done. At this late stage in the process it’s obviously less ideal to still be working on the text. Now that’s not to say I’m 100% happy with the text, there’s some stuff that’s still up in the air, but this process is slightly unique in that the production is going up to Edinburgh in the summer too and we have time to rehearse and rewrite again in the coming month or so. I’m looking forward to rewriting in response to this run in Cardiff and the audience’s reaction to it.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in?
I think everyone has moments of feeling as though they don’t fit in and some have more moments than others. In a way school was where I felt I fit in the most, but I left at 15 while doing my GCSEs. School for me was a social thing and I’ve always learnt and thought better on my own. It has meant that life took a slightly circuitous route but I’ve my own reference points and process. For a long time I didn’t feel as though I fit in in theatre as I didn’t come to it through drama school or university. I developed through working with individual mentors rather than groups or institutions and it took a while to find my feet in the broader ecology.

What are your thoughts on Brexit?
I’m fearful of what the right wing will do to this country without certain safeguards provided by the EU. Just look at what they’re trying to do to the Human Rights Act, for example. There’s a left wing argument against TTIP and what have you, but can you imagine we’d end up with anything better under an isolated Conservative government? Just look at the food industry, for example, and the kinds of preservative crap that goes into food in the USA; it’s the EU that prevents that kind of stuff from going into our food. I worry about the general trend of isolationism and nationalism that’s currently festering in the right and left. I don’t buy the SNP, I don’t buy Plaid, I don’t buy a devolved north (George Osborne has a northern constituency so this idea that everyone in the north is crying out for a socialist utopia feels to me unlikely). I’ve never felt my identity particularly tethered to a nation, I don’t feel fundamentally more this side of the street rather than the other side of the street. I get more excited about the potential for international left wing answers to global capitalism rather than parochial left wing answers to global capitalism.

How has your writing developed over the past two years?
I think my writing has become more controlled and considered. I’m harder on myself. And I think that comes from going from production to production. You develop a muscle and a rigour and you learn what works and what doesn’t. As I say, I didn’t have a university drama society to practice on, so I’ve been learning on the job. There’s work I’ve not been proud of because of this but I can feel my writing maturing and I’m excited about the next couple of years of shows. I teach now as well and this certainly makes me a sharper writer.

You are the writer in residence at Undeb Theatre and on attachment at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Can you talk us through an average week in the life of Brad Birch?
An average week at the moment is a bit hectic, balancing a few projects at once. I enjoy writing but days whereby I’m having to look at more than one thing can sometimes be a struggle. I am quite strict on my routine and at the moment I have little time for anything else other than typing but usually I try to read about two books a week, go for a lot of walks and talk a lot in pubs. Meeting with people for an afternoon pint and a chat is one of the most joyous things I can think of doing. Zoe and I have also recently had a baby boy called Woody, so life is currently full of concentrated meaning.

How do you deal with rejection?
You just have to not care.

In March 2016, you were announced as the recipient of this year’s Harold Pinter Commission. Tell us something really exciting and top secret about the commission at the Royal Court that is ‘in development’.
This play feels like the culmination of a long relationship with one of the most important buildings of my life. I’ve been in and around the Court for about six years. However the play I’m writing is just like any other play currently on my slate – it’s about a question I can’t answer.

Let’s talk quickly about what put this current business in motion — how did you start out on your career path?
So as I mentioned above I left school early and for about three or four years I just bummed around doing terrible jobs and doing a lot of thinking and reading. When I started writing I wanted to write books. I didn’t grow up with theatre. I fell into it and a bit like a spider in a bath, now I’m in, I can’t get out. I’m fascinated by people and for me theatre is the best medium to explore what people do to each other.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Jeremy Herrin once told us in a group at the Court to always see yourself writing more than one play. And it’s that perspective that prevents you from throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the current draft of your current play. I’ve still got fragments and set pieces and lines that I wrote in 2009/2010 that will one day make it into something.

The Brink was quite good *well done* were you happy with it?
I was very happy with it, thank you. It was such a talented room. I want to make it a life maxim to only work with people who are better at their jobs than I am at my job.

Your next show is EN FOLKEFIENDE. Is it any good?
I really like it. The students we’re working with at Welsh College are, again, brilliant. I don’t know what it is about this school, there must be something in the water in Cardiff. In terms of the play, it’s been a delight to get under the bonnet of one of Ibsen’s most fascinating plays. People talk about the politics of An Enemy of the People but for me it’s a play about brothers.

Can you write a Haiku for our readers (plural)
I try not to write
In cafes or pubs or clubs
And yet here I am

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Andy Sheridan, Playwright interview: “Loyalty, hardwork, bloody mindedness – the three most important lessons I have learnt in my career as a writer.”

Interview of Playwright Andy Sheridan

Andy Sheridan

After perfecting the art of theatre writing, playwright and actor Sheridan won The Bruntwood Prize in 2008 for WINTERLONG, which went on to be produced in the studio at the Manchester Royal Exchange in 2011. Sometimes he is on TV.
But what does he think of the Daily Mail? And,
who dared him to write his first play? I guess you could read this as a Q&A chat or as quite simply as a lengthy pub crawl transcribed.
If you are still reading this then do continue below and you will find out more.

Andy Sheridan. What’s happening and where you are today? 
I’m sat in my office trying to finish my next play that’s going on in at The National Theatre of Sweden in Stockholm next year. Prior to this I’ve been out to buy my 19-month-old daughter Betsy a pair of summer shoes. Rock-n-Roll.

What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made?
To pick one is hard because there’s been so many. A couple spring to mind immediately.

  • My younger brother had spent a day in the summer holidays making me a table out of scraps of wood   he’s foraged from a skip. When he gave it to me later that day I systematically smashed it to pieces with the hammer he’d used to make it. It was fucking cruel and I still hate myself for it.
  • Instead of saying my final goodbye to my granddad before he died I selfishly decided to compete in a running race. I didn’t win and I never saw my granddad again.I was a bit of a cunt as a teenager. Who isn’t.

What most drives you to be brilliant – fear of failure or thirst for success?
I’m the middle child of three brothers. They are both brilliantly spectacular. My older brother is a consultant cardiologist and my younger brother civil engineer. I’ve never really felt I’ve lived up to their brilliance and in truth neither have my parents. Even now I suppose I just want to please my family and now my daughter.

You won the Bruntwood Prize in 2008 with your play WINTERLONG. What are your recollections of that period of your life? 
I was out of work as an actor and the playwright and my closest friend, Robert Holman, dared me to write a play. I still don’t really know how I did it. I remember winning the award and speaking to my partner who was visiting her grandmother in Hong Kong. For some reason I remember hearing the chickens in the background of that telephone conversation.

What does the Daily Mail mean to you?
It means fuck all to me because it’s just terrible bollocks. My dad used get it delivered when we were growing up and he’d batter me if I did the quick crossword before him.

How many pints can you drink before you fall over?
Don’t know. Never done it. 5 pints is my limit and then I go home.
What are the three most important things you’ve learned in your career as a writer?
Loyalty. Hard work. Bloody-mindedness.
What word do people correctly use to describe you?
Calm.
Mainstream in Theatre: What is going on with it?
I don’t know what that means.
What is your favourite Fruit? 
Pineapple. Though I do like raspberries.
Anything you’d like to add? 
I can’t wait for Van Gaal to get fired. He’s turning my football team into a turgid embarrassment

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David Eldridge, Playwright Interview: “If you don’t want to change people, even a tiny bit, through the experience of your writing then don’t write.”

 Playwright David Eldridge

David Eldridge ( Picture credit – Keith Pattison/Royal Court Theatre 2012)

START
Questions: Carl Woodward
Answers: David Eldridge (Obviously)
David Eldridge is a prolific playwright. His work has been seen on our country’s biggest stages (The National, Donmar Warehouse, Hampstead theatre and The Royal Court to name a few.
He was busy marking essays but agreed to talk to me for a few minutes.
Just don’t get him started on cooking…

Hello! Where are you and what are you up to? 
Right now it’s 8.30am and I’m at home in north London. I’ve just had a bowl of porridge and I’m catching up on a few emails before I head to my office to crack on for the day. Not a writing day today though. I’ve a pile of plays to grade as I teach part-time at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Your work has been commissioned by the National, The Royal Court, Bush, Hampstead, Almeida theatres and many more. Do you ever pinch yourself? 
All the time. I always remember vividly a time in my early twenties when I was living at my mum and dad’s after Uni and working in the evening in the hotchpotch old extension at home. As I was writing I could hear the sound of my dad outside in the garden shed tapping heels in to women’s shoes at 10p or 20p a pair a time to earn a bit more extra money for him and mum and by extension me. I always think about that when I’m struggling with what I’m writing. I never want to be that writer that signs a card to a friend “David Eldridge”. In a sense Dominic Dromgoole is right about me in his book. I’m incredibly serious about what I do and totally committed. But there’s another part of me that could not give a fuck. Having a play on at one of those theatres is great but it’s always the audience that makes the play, wherever it’s on and much of a writer’s life is quite lonely and boring. I’d be quite happy cooking full time (I write now on a laptop on the kitchen table) and the best days are days spent cooking and writing. Last May I spent a Sunday when my girlfriend was away making a Dal Makhani (which has to be cooked very slowly and with real care) and writing. It was perfect. Being a parent is the most important and fulfilling thing in my life. What’s making a play compared to raising a child and trying to be a good dad?

 I was chatting to a writer recently and she said that a lot of the writing process is about when the planets align, when that perfect moment comes along. Do you work to that principal or do you have a knack to force the planets into alignment?
I can see a bit of truth in that. Just this autumn I had an unexpected gap partly because a film company couldn’t get together a meeting for a few weeks to give notes on a draft of a screenplay I’ve written. My fingers were itchy and I couldn’t sit still and I wrote a play I’d been wanting to write for ten years, but never found the right moment until then. On the other hand I think when we talk about planets aligning it makes me cringe a bit. No disrespect to the other writer but I believe more in screenwriter William Goldman’s approach “Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before. And although you are physically by yourself, the haunting Demon never leaves you, that Demon being the knowledge of your own terrible limitations, your hopeless inadequacy, the impossibility of ever getting it right. No matter how diamond-bright your ideas are dancing in your brain, on paper they are earthbound.” Its work, writing. I think you get the first draft out. And then you rewrite until its ready to share. Managements never see anything less than my third draft. I think a lot of young and new writers are crazy to show managements their first drafts. Your third or fourth draft should be the managements first draft. It’s play-WRIGHT. Do the graft. That’s not to say you don’t collaborate and often you rewrite a lot more. But do your job first.

Which other writers would you recommend at the moment?
Oh God. There are so many brilliant playwrights, we’re very lucky in the UK. I think Penelope Skinner, debbie tucker green and Annie Baker are the bees knees. Anna Jordan and Chris Urch both wrote wonderful Bruntwood Award winning plays. Gary Owen has had a great year as has Jack Thorne, both of whom I admire hugely. How does Caryl Churchill still do it? I said to someone recently she’s “our Picasso, our Pankhurst, our Bowie, our Orbach” and I believe that. Robert Holman is a great playwright and fortunately not such a secret pleasure any more after the last few years. But my mind is full this morning of Leo Butler’s “Boy” which I saw last night. It’s fantastic and brave and true and unlike anything else. He’s not always had a great luck (his Royal Court downstairs debut premiered on 9/11) but this play is a reminder he’s one of our best and most thoughtful playwrights painting on a big canvass. Really Rufus Norris should commission him to write for one of the big spaces at the NT. While Rufus is at it he should try and persuade screenwriter Sarah Phelps to write for theatre again. She’s ace.

What would be the worst way to die?
My paternal great-grandmother was burned alive in a house fire. I don’t want to go that way and I don’t want any of my nearest and dearest to go that way.

Easy question: what’s the best play ever written?
Yeah, right do one mate. Seriously you’ve got to be kidding. I’m a play geek. You could get a dissertation length answer. For me, this morning it’s Shakespeare’s “King Lear”. I don’t think that can ever change for me because it’s the play that turned me on to theatre aged 17.
What word do people incorrectly use to describe your work?
Naturalistic.
It seems that you’re quite ambitious in terms of wanting your work to make an impression. 
If you don’t want to change people, even a tiny bit, through the experience of your writing then don’t write. If I was running a theatre I would not programme or commission writers that are merely wanking or getting the next play on the shelf.
If for some reason I had to ban you from making theatre is there something else you’d like to do?
Well I’d write for TV or film (as I am already) or write a novel which I want to write, or I might get to spend enough time on some of my poems so they’re good enough to actually show someone one day. But as I say I’d be happy cooking. I’d be happy being a full time dad.
Anything you’d like to add? 
Writing for performance is an odd endeavour as its all collaboration in the end. But you have to be independent (and absolutely not dependent on others) and do your job and know yourself and your work as much as possible to be the best you can be in that collaboration. A collaboration that often starts with you alone one morning, wasting time on social media in your PJ’s and ends several years later in a little theatre above a pub in W12 with an audience. You don’t make the best work if the writer gets lost along the way.
END

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Mark Ravenhill, Playwright: “There is really only one rule to learn before writing a play”.

Mark Ravenhill
Mark Ravenhill

Mark Ravenhill

Mark Ravenhill is a playwright. 20 years later ‘Shopping and Fucking‘ still looks like it’s from the future and Mark continues to look ahead. I thought it would be nice to catch up with Mark to see exactly what’s happening. And I was right – it was very nice indeed.
Despite not really doing interviews he agreed to a chat. Here’s what happened.

Hi Mark Ravenhill. If you were to draw a graph of the last ten years, how would it look?
Some leaps of imagination needed here.  First, that I could draw a graph. Which I can’t.  I’ve never been able to stick to the squares on graph paper. And second, that I have the kind of mind that imagines shapes that fit on graph paper.  Which I don’t have either.  So my graph of the last ten years would me trying to think in a way which I can’t, using a medium that I’m not suited to.  In other words, my graph of the last ten years would be one of messy failure. That is not a metaphor. Or a cry for help.

A view from Islington north

A view from Islington north

 

What can you tell us about A View From Islington North the ‘evening of political satire’ you are contributing to with Out of Joint? ‘A View From Islington North’ is a celebration of Max Stafford-Clark’s relationships with playwrights.  All the playwrights who’ve written the pieces have had work directed by Max over decades. He first directed work by Caryl Churchill and David Hare in the 1970s.  I’m one of the johnny-come-latelies, having only first worked with him twenty years ago.  Max is a brilliant, infuriating, insightful and relentless director

What’s your favourite emoji?
The winky one

Shopping and Fucking

Shopping and Fucking

Shopping and Fucking is often described as a period piece isn’t it.
I don’t know how other people describe it (if it all) but yes I would describe it as period piece. I wanted to write what it felt like to be in your twenties in that moment in time.  It doesn’t have any references to contemporary events outside the play but it’s whole mood and style belongs to the late 1990s. It’s a play that is sorted for Es and whizz.

With writers it feels like there’s a constant expectation, and that they need to keep proving themselves, throughout their career. Which perhaps isn’t quite the same for a director where you can just keep going until you fall over. Is that a fair analysis?
Do you think so?  I think directors suffer from constant expectation and many fall out of favour and fashion.  But it’s true that there is a high burn out with playwrights.  Some have one brilliant debut at somewhere like the Royal Court upstairs and then never write again. Plenty write three or four plays and then find they have no more plays to write.  Very few write plays over a lifetime. I’m fifty this year. To ensure that I too ‘can just keep going until you fall over’ I’ve mapped out a cycle of forty full length plays.  I’m committed to writing one a year, finishing each one on my birthday June 7th.  So that will take me until I’m 90, when I will fall over and die as I will have advanced osteoporosis.
If you were to write a playwriting rulebook, what would Rule One be?
There is really only one rule to learn before writing a play.  Never under any circumstances use the line ‘the door was open so I let myself in’. Everything else is allowed.
Let’s imagine we’re putting theatre as an art form in a capsule to sending it into space, which one play do you put forward?
One play to represent the whole of world theatre?  Wouldn’t it need to be a DVD of a performance? (the question is in danger of conflating a ‘play’ with ‘theatre’).  But let’s say it’s a play text.  I think it would have to be one of the Greeks. That’s drama in its purest and arguably most powerful form.  I would pick Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’, although it could just as well be Euripides ‘Medea’ or Aeschylus “Oresteia’.  How about I write a new English version and we ping that into space alongside the Ancient Greek text?
Do you endlessly analyse your creative decisions or are you impulsive?
I write first drafts almost entirely on impulse and then use analysis (often aided by the director and sometimes the actors) to work through further drafts.

Do you pay attention to critics?
I’ll listen to anyone who can help me understand what I’m doing and how I might get better at it.
To the people who are still reading, do you have a final message?
The door is still open. Let yourself out. Thank you.

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Barney Norris, Playwright Interview: “The new media we’ll be tiptoeing towards is about extending our reach to new audiences. That’s the heart of what we do – reaching people.”

Barney Norris is a very good playwright.

At the age of 28, he won the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright for “Visitors”, which both the Guardian and Evening Standard named as one of the best shows of 2014.

Things we wanted to discuss included his his career, Wittgenstein, Tractatus, clause 7 and his favourite service station.

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Here’s how the chat went.

Hello Barney! What are you doing at this exact moment in time.
Hello Carl! I’m in my flat drinking Aldi own-brand instant coffee, which I hate because of the taste but love because it’s a gleaning from touring to Scarborough and all links to the memory of touring adventures are precious, while my cat sits on my shoulder like a parrot.

VISITORS was a huge critical and commercial success. Presumably the pressure you put on yourself — and I get the impression you put a lot of pressure on yourself — would have been enough to be getting on with. How did you approach writing EVENTIDE?
EVENTIDE happened the same as VISITORS more or less, it started with wanting to make a play, and then it was grown by the same group of people using a very similar process of development (which I use for everything really). Having done a play people liked did make things scarier – but it also made a thousand things easier too. Not just money and production and so on, but it made things easier in terms of story. I felt suddenly that I knew who I was for, and what I wanted to do.

What do the next 12 months hold in store for Up in Arms?
Actually a lot of that’s still secret and can’t be announced: we’re just wrapping up the tour of GERMAN SKERRIES, our first play by another writer, Robert Holman (big step forwards for the company), which has been very successful and very fun. Then we’re in development on two new plays, one by me and one by the brilliant Bea Roberts, and planning a tour of a play I can’t yet name for spring 2017, and planning two ventures into media we’ve never visited before. Growing plays is a slow, loving, laborious business, so our fight is to let them take the time they take even if it means we only get to make so much work. The new media we’ll be tiptoeing towards is about extending our reach to new audiences. That’s the heart of what we do – reaching people. Not necessarily just reaching as many people as possible, quality and depth of engagement is crucial and that’s what we offer as a company over, say, a movie, we offer quality and depth, but we do always want to grow our audiences. So we’re in a period of development.

What’s your favourite service station on any United Kingdom motorway?
It’s all about Fleet. I suggest at least twice a year to my fiancée that we should do Christmas Day at Fleet one year, partly because it feels like we spend it there anyway, visiting everyone, but also because I love it. We got engaged last month and I outlined the possibility of having the ceremony in the overpass that links the two sides of the services. She hasn’t agreed to it yet, but we’ll see. I think it’s important to acknowledge the beautiful trees that surround Fleet. It’s an eery place at dawn. But these are the ravings of a service station amateur – you have to check out Henryiddon.com/forton-stories. That’s the goldmine.

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FLEET SERVICES

You’ve just published your first novel ‘Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain’ How do you choose what parts of your life you put forward in your writing?
I don’t think I do really! I think writing is probably a translation of experience into sense/meaning/something approximating those two. So it all goes in really, even if not all of it gets a mention. Because all the work is just an expression of what it feels like to be alive at the present moment. All the work I do of my own volition anyway. There are commissions I take for different reasons that are more targeted explorations, less about the self, but the novel, and VISITORS and EVENTIDE, they’re quite self-exploratory.

When will the world end and whose fault will it be?
The world ends for each of us at the end of our lives, and I don’t yet know who to blame for that. As for the planet – she’ll be around long after our filaments are all burned out. It’s us, not the planet, who are on the way out, I think.

You strike me as someone who doesn’t take the easy route. How will you feel when you decide you’ve done what you needed to do?
The Evening Standard said that about me last week, is that where it first struck you? I kind of decide that every evening when it’s time to relax and eat and sleep and so on, but in the larger sense, I see older generations facing up to the end of their careers and I don’t know whether that happens with creativity. I think people always still have something to say while they’re alive, but our sight, our hands, our minds fail us. My Grandad didn’t choose to stop his woodwork, his hands gave up on him, he got shaky. So I don’t know whether what you’re describing will happen.

If I locked you in a safe for twenty four hours with no phone, what would you do inside your head?
Panic. I like space. It would depend on whether or not I knew I was getting out at the end of the day.

Tell me this, though. You’re quite credible aren’t you. You’ve been written about in all the right places, your plays get seen by all the right people. Is it right, though, that actually you’re kind of not that cool?
The most important tv show I ever watched was a Mr Motivator episode where he tried to be cool. So he wore a baseball cap and went skateboarding and, in a telling insight into how far we’ve come, ate a hamburger, but he still wasn’t cool. He was still wearing head to toe Lycra. Then a kid told him that being cool was about being yourself, and being happy with yourself, that there was no such thing as absolute cool. But in general, I think your question has too many undefined terms (credible, right, cool) for an answer to be possible, so – Wittgenstein, Tractatus, clause 7.

Anything that you’d like to add?
I think I’ve done quite enough damage already.

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Mr Motivator

Cheers!:-)

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Amy Rosenthal, Playwright Interview: “I’d be surprised if any playwright felt a constant coasting satisfaction; in any freelance career there’s always an element of fear.”

The other day I had a bit of chinwag with Amy Rosenthal who just happens to have two new plays on the verge of coming out. Amy is a playwright who is a very obliging woman so she answered all the questions, and some other ones too.

Here’s what happened during the chat.
Greetings! What are you up to currently? 
Hello! I’m currently in rehearsal for my play Pelican Daughters, which is part of the Shakespeare In Shoreditch Festival 2016. I’m one of four playwrights commissioned to write one-act plays inspired by Shakespeare, Shoreditch and storms – to be performed in site-specific locations from 20th-30th April.
Mine’s a modern-day spin on King Lear about three Jewish sisters, focusing on the eldest, Gaby, who’s desperate to please her dad on his eightieth birthday. He’s a naughty old tyrant who once ruled his East London patch and is now prey to redevelopers who want to gentrify the area. It’s about family and roots, and I hope it’s funny. I have a great cast and a terrific director, Kay Michael. It’s lovely to be in a rehearsal room after a period of solitary writing time, and I’m lucky because I then go straight into rehearsal for Fear of Cherry Blossom at the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre.

What can we expect from your new play Fear of Cherry Blossom?
Funnily enough, it also focuses on a Jewish family. Dinah and Abby are unmarried sisters on either side of forty, and Abby, the youngest, has become a committed Buddhist. Dinah and their dad Ronnie are alarmed by Abby’s choices, and Dinah wants to pull her sister back to her values, and what she thinks life ought to be. The play touches on themes I’ve wanted to explore for a long time – it’s about Anti-Semitism, which feels pertinent and (on stage) rarely addressed – about inherited, inter-generational fear – and about faith, in all senses. Judaism, spirituality, and how to keep faith with oneself, especially in the middle patch of one’s life.

Amy rosenthal

Amy Rosenthal.

Will you tell us a secret about yourself?
I’m Jewish.

I didn’t see that coming, Amy… Can you describe your state of mind when you are writing a play?
Tortured? My close friends, especially playwright Phil Porter, get the brunt of it – the fat tears, the self-doubt. The beginning is the worst, it’s as though in order to find my voice, which is essentially light and comic, I have to go through some dark night of the soul that can last – well, considerably more than a night. Once I finally know what I’m doing and the play starts to take shape, I’m very happy. I love my own company, I’m rarely lonely, the play becomes more real than reality. I write from 5.30 a.m. in a joyful state – a bit like the feeling after a migraine. Everything feels light.

What cereal do you like to have in the morning?
I’m not a cereal girl. I like toast and I love eggs. Sometimes I have porridge oats baked in the oven into a flat pancake, buttered, with cucumber, because someone once told my mum it’s good for you.

Is this industry, are there a particular of personality type that rise to the top? 
I don’t know about a personality type, I’d say a lot of playwrights are quite shy, but what you need is staying power. “Rising to the top” can happen fast, or mid-career, or late; most writers rise and descend many times. I’d be surprised if any playwright felt a constant coasting satisfaction; in any freelance career there’s always an element of fear. It’s a solitary profession and there are long periods of writing before productions happen (especially in musical theatre, which can take years to come to fruition because its so collaborative) so you often feel forgotten or as though the world thinks you’re not working. You have to just keep working, keep faith, and take on other jobs too – teach, run workshops, interact with other humans. It’s taken me a stupidly long time to learn crucial lessons about all this and I’m still learning. But I’m very disciplined now, and very committed.

Can you tell us about your Russian Doll painting sideline? 
The great David Edgar, who taught me playwriting at Birmingham University, also inspired my mad sideline. David collects Russian (matryoshka) dolls – mostly political figures. He commissioned me some years ago to paint his family on a set of blank wooden dolls. I loved it and I’ve been doing it ever since – painting families from photographs. A commission often seems to come along at the right moment and it’s a great antidote to writing because you don’t have to think. It’s meditative. It’s not easy to paint an accurate portrait on a curved surface, and the tiniest dolls are a challenge, but if you get it right they can feel uncannily alive.

Russian Dolls ( Dynasty Dolls) by Amy Rosenthal

Dynasty Dolls.

Is your life an open book?
I wonder. I’m not at all secretive and I like making people laugh, but on the whole I’m the listener in a lot of my exchanges.

If I were to hand you a book from the future, and it was the autobiography you wrote when you were 80, would you read it?
I don’t know. I’d be scared. Is there an index?

Anything that you’d like to add?  
Not really, I think I’ve gone on at length.

That’s that then. 

Russian Dolls by Amy Rosenthal

Amazing.

‘Pelican Daughters’  to be performed as part of Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival 2016, 20-30 Apr, tickets available to purchase at  New Diorama Theatre