Tag Archives: ageing

Wales Arts Review: Exploring taboos: the Genesis of ‘Cosy’

 

Ruth Lloyd and Bethan Rose Young in 'Cosy'. Image: FarrowsCreative

Ruth Lloyd and Bethan Rose Young in ‘Cosy’. Image: FarrowsCreative

The following is a feature I wrote for Wales Arts Review. The original article, including more images, can be accessed here

Even as a child, I was drawn to taboos. What was hidden, or not to be brought to everyone’s attention was – and remains – hugely attractive to me. I loved to expose the unmentionable, to revel in revealing the forbidden, not just out of mischief, but to see the reaction this provoked. I wanted to talk openly about what the grown-ups mentioned in lowered tones and coded messages, to question their absolutes, to view things from the other side. As I matured, this curiosity led me to theatre – the place to explore all that it is to be human – where nothing is verboten.

As a playwright, I’m tempered by the times I live in, influenced by the debates surrounding me. Two themes caught my attention and imagination several years ago when I started writing Cosy when on attachment at National Theatre Studio in London – the cult of youth in an increasingly ageing population, and exit strategies.

The invisibility of women ‘of a certain age’ in our media has been a hot topic of late. It’s an absurd situation, as in our maturity we’re more likely to be confident and vibrant, shedding the insecurities of a younger age – yet the faces of teenage models sell anti-wrinkle cream for the over 40s in magazines and actresses over thirty five are deemed ‘too old’ to be the love object of men several decades their senior – a Hollywood fact fabulously pastiched in Inside Amy Schumer – Last Fuckable Day.

Although the recent employment of eighty year old Sophia Loren as ‘the face’ of’ a beauty brand caught the headlines and suggested a turn in the tide, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. We live in a youth-loving society that seems to give little value to maturity and experience, especially of the womanly variety. Immediately I knew I wanted to explore this, in the company of six female characters ranging in age from sixteen years to seventy-six. Through a classical device of three generations of one family, I chose to explore complex emotions and perceptions from myriad perspectives, from one embarking on adult life, through those in the middle, to one nearing the end of it.

The second issue that demanded my attention as I started sketching in ideas for the new play is one of the most important in recent times: assisted death. The argument has raged for years, splitting political parties as well as the disabled community, carried into parliament with the Marris Assisted Suicide Bill in September 2015, with opposing groups campaigning on the Westminster streets outside. Dignity in Dying and Care Not Killing were engaged in a face-off, divided between ‘My Body, My Choice’ and ‘Better Living, Not Easier Dying’. By the time the Bill was defeated in the Commons by 330 votes to 118, my play was fully formed.

Cosy is not a drama about assisted suicide, or death. It is a dark comedy about living, and the realities and options that entails. We all have to die, but what makes a good death? Such questions often cause discomfort; I’ve actually seen people flinch when I describe the central themes of Cosy as ‘a gallows humour family drama about getting older, end of life and exit plans’. Poke, poke, prod, prod: there goes another taboo.

I don’t fully understand why we in this particular society seem so afraid of death. It is the one certainty we have, and yet we continue to ignore it, seldom thinking of our demise, and how we might want to manage our old age and what comes after. It’s considered to be morbid to want to shine a light into this dark and neglected corner. Many think it is gloomy. I think it a source for wry observations and, as we’ve discovered in rehearsals, raucous comedy.

There’s certainly been a lot of laughter in our rehearsals so far, and long, tender conversations. The Cosy company is a treasure trove of Welsh actresses – Sharon Morgan, Ri Richards, Ruth Lloyd, Llinos Daniel, Bethan Rose Young and Sara Beer, led by director Phillip Zarrilli. With an award-winning design team featuring Simon Banham, Ace McCarron and Holly McCarthy, I feel fantastically fortunate. We’re a solid team, many of us collaborating before – Simon and I on NTW’s Persians; Ace, Phillip and I on The Llanarth Group’s Told by the Wind, Simon and Holly on myriad productions. We’re a mature bunch willing to take on a grown-up subject with equal irreverence and sensitivity. Humour allows us to study the absurdity and poignancy of being mortal, while also acting as a buffer against more painful aspects.

I want to handle this often feared topic with wit, as well as sobriety and respect. I love human beings ability to live joyfully and in the moment, despite the knowledge our time is finite and we will all die one day. How these two opposing perspectives co-exist is fascinating to explore theatrically – and the deceptions, avoidances, contradictions and confrontations within a family with distinct and different ethical, religious, and political perspectives.

As someone who identifies as disabled, I have long been part of a vibrant community known for its joie de vivre and gallows humour – created, perhaps, from our knowledge of the fragility and resilience of the human body. I hope I have brought some of the quality of this insight and perspective to the script, in a production I hope will be funny, quirky, honest, daring, and fully engaging emotionally and intellectually.

Cosy is the sole Welsh Unlimited Commission – an initiative aiming to embed work by disabled artists within the UK sector, hoping to reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people. I hope we can help shift perceptions of that final curtain, too, and the means by which we shuffle off this mortal coil.

Cosy is at Wales Millennium Centre 8-12 March 2016. For more information, go HERE and Wales Millennium Centre box office here

“Rewriting isn’t just about dialogue” Cosy developments

Rewriting isn’t just about dialogue; it’s the order of the scenes, how you finish a scene, how you get into a scene.

Tom Stoppard

Writing is all about rewriting, and revising a script prior to it going into production is probably my favourite part of the solo process (writing is solitary; rehearsals are communal and social and collaborative).

‘Cosy’ has had a long gestation period – the initial ideas and research into end of life scenarios and exit strategies began when I was on attachment to the National Theatre Studio in London in 2010. I had completed the first draft when I applied to Unlimited for a commission and production grant.  I was ecstatic when I was successful in the bid, and immediately embarked on the r&d, with an initial reading of the revised script with our cast in June 2015. Informed by that experience, I began revisions on the script and the second part of the research and development process occurred in Cardiff in November, at Wales Millennium Centre, where the production will preview on 8th March 2016.

Sharon Morgan in 'Cosy'. Photograph by Toby Farrow

Sharon Morgan in ‘Cosy’. Photograph by Toby Farrow

It’s wonderful revising a script when you know who the actors will be. Throughout the rewriting process, I’ve been hearing the voice of Ri Richards, or Sara Beer, and the other four fabulous performers as I tackle revisions. It’s a delicate process; I’m not changing the dialogue to fit the actors, rather, my knowledge of the skills of Bethan Rose Young, Llinos Daniel, Sharon Morgan and Ruth lloyd are urging me on, inspiring me to write a more complex symphony as I can ‘hear’ the individual ‘instruments’ in my head.

I have been tracing through individual strands or plot points, ensuring the characters are consistent, balancing the beats, editing the unnecessary, checking the speed and pace (they’re not the same thing) throughout the text. I feel like a composer setting ideas off into motion. I re-read the work in progress continuously, checking the flow, the change in rhythm, the moments of pause and activity, taking the emotional and dramatic temperature of the piece throughout.

Back in the Summer, I invited partners, allies, directors, dramaturgs, and the interested to a reading of the second draft of the play, collating feedback and responses. These comments informed my revisions but didn’t dictate them…. the amount of contradictory feedback I received was quite wonderful and would have been perplexing, were I not a mature playwright, with a strong sense of the piece I am making!

When working in a room with the actors, our process has not been one of devising, but strengthening the existing script.

The r&d in November was small and private, involving the full cast, director Phillip Zarrilli and  Unlimited Impact trainee producer/playwright Tom Wentworth.The company sat around a table with me, working through the script line by line. We identified areas that needed clarifying, or extending, and had open discussions about the themes of ageing and end of life scenerios. I am now finalising what will be the rehearsal draft, the version which will be published in my forthcoming Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors with Oberon.

This gathering also gave Phillip and Llinos a chance to share with us some of the early explorations they’re making for what might be the ‘soundtrack’ of the production. Llinos is a talented singer and musician, known in Wales for playing the harp, but for ‘Cosy’ she and Phillip have been exploring the use of medieval instruments – the crwth and bowed psaltery.

Llinos Daniel with crwth and hammer psaltery. Cosy r&d day

Llinos Daniel with crwth and bowed psaltery. Cosy r&d day

Rehearsals begin in early February, which is putting wind in my rewriting sails. As I write, I’m just finishing off the last details – where god and the devil are reputed to be – knowing the text will change again once we are in the rehearsal room, trying it out on the floor. I can’t wait.