Tag Archives: Female parts

A playwright’s work: Meaty parts for female actors of all ages. In rehearsals for “cosy’

Mairin Prendergast and Pauline O’Driscoll playing Mother and daughter in Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘Cosy’ rehearsals. Gaitkrash for Cork Midsummer Festival. Firkin Crane 18-22. June 2019. Photo: Sara Beer

I describe my work as a playwright as creating dynamic. I’m fascinated with complex relationships, flawed but engaging characters representing different perspectives.  Writing ‘Cosy’, a play with three generations of women in one family, was an immense pleasure, although, like any writing, it had its challenges… However, one aspect that was not difficult was writing meaty parts for female performers of all ages. 

‘Cosy’ has a cast of six, with playing ages from 16 to 76 years. I think this is essential – and, at risk of sounding a little worthy, part of my duty as a dramatist – to represent women of all ages.

There was a time when female characters became somewhat invisible at a certain age… A well known Classical actress once mapped out the trajectory of a woman’s acting career to me: You start as the ingenue, then get stuck as a housewife/mother cooking in the background, and if you’re very lucky you get to be Lady M in the Scottish play. Then you hang around being the wallpaper while the male actors have all the action and lines until you’re old enough to play Lady Bracknell…and….well….that’s it…

But happily no longer. Those days are increasingly in the past, and I’m delighted to be part of the new wave creating roles across the range of ages for the massive amount of female talent out there.

One of my joys as a writer when working on a first draft is setting off intelligent, gobby, fascinating and diverse female characters in dialogue with one another, cutting them loose in my imagination and just following their impulses, often not knowing where we might end up. The skill when revising the script is keeping all the plates spinning, the voices separate and distinct, the individual perspectives clear and not blurring into one another. When I teach writing for performance, I always remind writers to be aware of each characters’ world view; it’s very easy when juggling multiple characters for their vocabulary, speech pattern and syntax to bleed into one another, so they all end up sounding the same. Ensuring  each character’s point of view  keeps the dialogue distinct and the dynamic thrumming, whether through harmony or counter-point.

Theatre enables us to explore issues from every conceivable angle. I don’t want the characters I write to just echo my perspective – I relish exploring different points of view, even politics or beliefs distant from my own. ‘Cosy’ tackles some of the last great taboos – ageing, illness and end of life scenarios. The experiences and perspectives of my six female characters, ranging in age across five decades, provides immensely rich and diverse material.

8.00pm

Firkin Crane, Cork

Book here

Supported by an Arts Council Project Award., CIT Arts Office, UCC Department of Theatre, CIT Cork School of Music, Civic Trust House, Suisha Inclusive Arts, and The Guesthouse. 

 

 

 

Art Scene in Wales: Cosy – Writing for Women

The following is a feature I wrote for Art Scene In Wales about ‘Cosy’. The original article can be accessed here

The 'Cosy' sisters: Ri Richards, Ruth Lloyd & Llinos Daniel. Photo: Farrows Creative

The ‘Cosy’ sisters: Ri Richards, Ruth Lloyd & Llinos Daniel. Photo: Farrows Creative

I was on attachment to the National Theatre Studio in London five years ago when I got the impulse to write a play for women covering the age range from sixteen years to seventy six. It’s quite unusual to have that spread across three generations, and a prospect I relished. When I was starting out in theatre as a performer, I often heard the lament from older women of the ‘thin’ roles available to female performers once we passed the easy-on-the-eye ingénue parts. ‘Once you’ve done Lady M in the Scottish play there isn’t really anything until septuagenarian Lady Bracknell’ I can remember being told by a veteran of the old rep’ system. Once I moved off-stage into writing full time, I swore I would create big, complex, juicy parts for women to compensate for the apparently watery gruel so many talented actresses believed they were fed.

Fast forward twenty years and a rehearsal room in Grangetown filled with Welsh national treasures: Sharon Morgan, Sara Beer, Ri Richards, Llinos Daniel, Ruth Lloyd and Bethan Rose Young: three generations of one seething, complex, love-you-to-death family, matriarchs and viragos, every one.

I love writing for women – and it has been a particular delight to be working with such fine actresses. Since our first R&D back in June 2015, their comic timing, emotional intelligence and ability to play the fine details rather than the broad strokes has urged me on to polish and refine the script. In the past heaven has been defined by theatre folk as being eternally in rehearsal, and I go with this – except I’m impatient to see the product, these six women taking to the Weston Studio stage.

‘Cosy’ is a dark comedy looking at the at times difficult things that make us human: Our relationship with siblings, mothers and daughters; our relationship to our ever-changing bodies. When we’re young we can’t wait to be older, adding years to our sum – the same years often dropped from the accounting when we’re older, approaching that ‘certain age’ when vibrant women in their prime often become invisible.

Getting older is an important subject for all, regardless of gender, in this youth-loving society where, if we believed the media, sixty is the new forty and forty the new twenty-five. How we navigate becoming mature, and the inevitable last curtain lends itself to serious, poignant and comic exploration. It’s wonderful to get my playwright hands on such multi-layered and emotionally rich material, creating parts that reveal the paradoxes and flaws at the heart of likeable characters. I believe humour allows us to embrace challenging subjects, and in our rehearsals our cast seem as adept at making me laugh as bringing a lump to the throat. I hope I am holding up my side of the bargain when I said, all those years ago, I wanted to write meaty parts for this nation’s outstanding female performers.

A great compliment came during our first read-through from our youngest member of cast, Bethan Rose Young. ‘I could act in this play right through my whole career,’ she said, ‘starting now with the granddaughter, growing into playing the sisters and mother, and in fifty years playing the grandmother.’

It’s quite something, and humbling, to think a play I’ve written could accompany an actress throughout her life.

Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. March 8 to 12.

Images: Farrows Creative