Tag Archives: Sharon Morgan

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

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

Cosy: Laughing in the face of age and death

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

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

It takes a very special kind of attitude to laugh at death, and this is one I’m happy to say is in rich supply in the Cosy company. My play focuses on some of our society’s last taboos: ageing and death – treating the subjects with respect and a healthy irreverence.

Two weeks into rehearsals, we are getting closer to understanding the dynamic between these brilliant, but flawed female characters at the heart of the play – sisters, mothers, daughters and grand-daughters, with opposing world views and belief systems…. All the ingredients for a satisfyingly complex drama, which we hope will provoke discussion.

Conversations have already started around these vibrant themes. I had a coffee and an excellent discussion with Dylan Moore at the IWA offices in old Butetown last week. Our talk about the cult of youth and how theatre allows us to look into the dark corners can be heard  here

I was also fortunate to be invited alongside cast member Sara Beer onto the BBC Radio Wales Arts Show with Nicola Heyward-Thomas. You can listen here (around 18 mins 40 seconds) to our talk of the production, Unlimited and the work of disabled artists entering the so-called ‘mainstream’.

Further images and news of the production can be followed on the Cosy blog: http://www.cosytheplay.co.uk/cosy-is-coming/

Cosy opens at Wales Millennium Centre 8-12 March, with matinees on 10th and 12th. Further details and to book tickets: https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2016-2017/WestonStudio/Cosy16/

 

 

“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.

A director’s perspective on research and development: Phillip Zarrilli on ‘Cosy’

I’m often asked about the research and development process attached to any project – What goes on? What purpose does it serve? The answer differs from project to project, depending on where in the process the r&d may take place. Sometimes it is to scratch the surface and begin exploring possibilities around a concept, perhaps collaborating with a team of actors/devisers/co-creators. For my work in progress ‘Cosy’, an Unlimited commission, the polished first draft was already in existence, written between productions over the past few years. I wanted to ‘hear’ the text in the air and outside my head, to try out some new sections, put it before an invited audience to get feedback, and to then reflect on possible future revisions.

A director’s purpose and focus for research & development hadn’t really occurred to me before (oops!). In my experience as a playwright, my own needs have always been paramount, so I’m grateful that Phillip Zarrilli, director of ‘Cosy’ let me reproduce his report on our two days research & development last month here:

'Cosy' r&d. Photo: Mike Salmon

‘Cosy’ r&d

Just as the initial two days of research and development on ‘Cosy’ have been of great benefit to Kaite O’Reilly as the playwright, our process has been immensely beneficial to me as the director. Very early in our process (1-2 May 2015) we auditioned a wealth of disabled and non-disabled actresses. We then spent one and one-half days (June 17-18, 2015) working on the script in the rehearsal room in Cardiff, and had a reading of the script-in-hand for an invited audience at Graeae Theatre Company’s Studio in London.

My first task as director of ‘Cosy’ is to assist Kaite in developing the best script she can within the context of what appears to be a ‘family drama’. Throughout our process, including our two days of research and development, I have provided dramaturgical feedback to Kaite as she has been refining and further developing the nuances of the script for the reading.

My second task is to actualize as best I can the potential of Kaite’s script through my work as we select the best cast we can for the six wonderful roles Kaite has written, and to guide the actors’ as they work on the nuances and complexities of Kaite’s script. ‘Cosy’ has a cast of six women including Rose (76 year old matriarch of the family); her three daughters—Ed (56), Camille (early 50s), and Gloria (late 40s); her granddaughter (Camille’s daughter, Isabella, 16); and Rose’s ‘friend’—Maureen. For the two day R & D period, we cast the core ‘family’ with five Welsh actresses: Rose [Sharon Morgan], Ed [Ri Richards], Camille [Ruth Lloyd], Gloria [Llinos Daniel], Isabella [Bethan Rose-Young]) who created a wonderfully dynamic and complex family at the reading. Finally, we cast Welsh actress, Sara Beer, as the quirky ‘companion/friend-to-Rose/outsider-to-the-family’.

Our first day of R & D began with a simple reading of the script so that Kaite could hear and respond to her first draft. After this initial reading we had an extensive discussion of the script, allowing actors to raise questions about their roles, and discussing some of the unique demands the script has for actors—the juxtaposition of the comedic element arising from the family dynamics once the female clan has gathered at the family home with the existential impact of how an aging woman faced the ‘facts’ of her aging and the loss of agency that confronts women as they age.

Having directed the premiere productions of two of Kaite’s other plays, ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ (Sherman Cymru, 2008), and ‘the 9 Fridas’ (Taipei Arts Festival with Mobius Strip and Hong Kong Rep, 2014), I know how difficult a task it is to guide actors toward the kind of nuanced playing of the types of characters that Kaite and the complexities of the situations in which she places her characters.

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

Our remaining session on the first day of development, and final session in London prior to the reading of ‘Cosy’ were devoted to (1) trying out new text Kaite was writing in response to the initial reading and our work on the script; (2) having ‘working’ rehearsals on each of the five scenes in order to begin to explore the nuances of each scene; and (3) providing directorial feedback to each actor on the playing of specific/key moments in each scene.

From my directorial perspective, it was a ‘luxury’ to have these days to work with this potential cast of six. In our day and a half of development work with the cast collectively provided our audience with a highly credible initial reading of Kaite O’Reilly’s second draft.

These two days together have allowed me to get to know each of these actresses as individual professionals, as well as how they might work together on Kaite O’Reilly’s dynamic and highly complex script.