Bryony Lavery: ‘I don’t know a woman who hasn’t got a Me Too story – myself included.’
The playwright Bryony Lavery, best known for her play Frozen, which originally premiered at the Birmingham Rep in 1998 and ran on Broadway in 2004 when it was nominated for a Tony Award for Best New Play is a cool customer. Frozen is currently on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket starring Suranne Jones.
We are having a coffee at the heart of London in a Caffe Concerto. “This is my first west end show!” she says. “I don’t think of myself as a west end playwright – so that’s really exciting – but really what’s exciting is the excellence of the whole team.”
At 71, she looks gorgeous, with sparkly blue eyes and a playful spirit. Despite being busier than ever and in the middle of a tech week. “A writer doesn’t have to be around in tech but I like going and hanging around. It’s when you suddenly realise the actors disappeared because they have dressing rooms. So, actually you sit in the auditorium with the technical crew and chew the fat,” says the Yorkshire born writer.
If a west end play wasn’t enough, Lavery co-wrote Brighton Rock, a new stage adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic 1930s novel. “My job is to transfer it from one medium to another and make it excitingly dramatic.”
“I really love adapting. I find it fascinating because it teaches you stuff that helps original writing and it spins my brain around because I don’t think I’m Graham Greene or David Walliam’s The Midnight Gang (Chichester) or Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons (Chester). Each has similarities that one has to address but I love it. If you are doing an original work you have to start choosing what you’re doing much earlier,” Lavery says.
Her commitment to international and regional work is remarkable. Does she enjoy writing for the regions? “I’m not a Londoner; I live in London but I came from the regions,” Lavery says.
“I don’t want theatre to be London-centric, I like doing work in the regions. I do think critics mostly judge work differently because it’s much easier to go one tube stop to the Donmar. Therefore that work gets esteemed more than the wonderful work going on in regional theatres.” She continues. “Because critics are snobs and lazy, bar a few honourable exceptions. Touring is tremendously hard work so anything that means people can walk to their theatre is great. I sound like Emily Pankhurst of regional theatre!” Lavery says, miming the act of gagging.
What does she think of Fake News? “I think I avoid the news… But it seeps into the work in sub-textual things. I don’t think it’s my strength to write about Fake News or the current climate. I couldn’t bear to write about Brexit – I just couldn’t bear it.”
Is she still a feminist? “Feminist forever!” Bryony booms. “I’ve been one since I was born. You’d be an idiot, in my view, not to be.”
She supports the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements fighting against sexual harassment, she says, telling me, “I don’t know a woman who hasn’t got a ‘Me Too’ story – myself included. Men can have an inkling but can never fully understand that we’ve lived with this reality for so long. It’s so engrained because it requires men to give up power and nobody wants to give up power. I am watching it all with interest and hope with a lot of caution…” She peters out, lost in thought.
What does she think about music and drama falling to the lowest level in a decade as a result of the EBacc and education cuts? “When I was growing up the only theatre I saw was at Dewsbury Variety,” she recalls. “I used to get on the bus and see stuff touring at Leeds Grand. When I see work coming through NT Connections what that practice does for young people: their skill, their social acumen or their confidence. It’s a no brainer – let children learn… I’m getting incoherent with rage about it. What do I think about it? I think it stinks,” says Lavery.
She has a phenomenal sense of humour, so I ask her who would play her in a film about her life? “Here’s a story,” she says, smiling. “Jonathan Mumby and I were on holiday in Greece and in the sea playing a game called: ‘Casting The Biopic’ and we cast David Essex for his part and for me he suggested Linda Gray from the American soap Dallas… It made me laugh so much because it’s so wrong it’s right – I laughed so hard that I burst an ear drum,” she recalls.
Lavery is off to another meeting. “Next year I am trying to get a bit of a slow year,” she says, as she departs. “I have said that for the last ten years. I work quite fast but sometimes I have to say no – I say no to things that don’t excite me and I need to practice saying no a bit more. I think I’ve gobbed on enough.”
Brighton Rock will open at York Theatre Royal from the 16 February to 3 March and then tours to Brighton, Colchester, Hull, Cheltenham, Winchester, Watford, Birmingham, Newcastle, Mold, Derby and Salford.
Frozen runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 21 February to 5 May.