If you’d told me a year ago I would write a play and it would be staged at thriving London fringe venue The Hope Theatre, in Islington, I would have laughed.
What a ridiculous idea. Not me, mate, you’ve got the wrong person. I write columns, the odd bit of journalism, books. My memoir Confessions Of A Fashionista was published in 2013, and my debut novel is due out later this year. That’s my territory.
That’s my comfort zone. So how did I get here to the eve of my debut play, The Legacy, being staged in London? Like all good stories it started with a glass of wine.
Back in 2013, through drunken Facebook posts, it became apparent I was at the same event as the actress partner of a Canary Wharf photographer. We shrieked our Prosecco pitched hellos and that was it. Or so I thought.
Fast forward to late 2014, and I was watching with interest the performance arts activist Emma Sulkowicz, who was carrying the mattress she was allegedly assaulted on to classes and lectures at Columbia University.
It’s such a strong visual metaphor, and it had struck a cord with a politically engaged, internet savvy audience who’d helped spread news of the protest across more than 30 countries.
But such an uncompromising protest was unknown, or alienating to more traditional and conservative members of society. I kept thinking what would happen if you smashed those two worlds together?
And then the actress I’d met when tipsy – Claira Watson Parr – and her colleague Lucinda Westcar asked if I fancied writing a play? And I realised theatre would be an amazing medium to explore these ideas in.
Due to existing work commitments I only had four days within which to learn how to write a play, and to write a play. I decided I wanted to set the play in a small commuter town, referencing the (mostly) women who move out to have families and go from being urban based, independent career women, to a suburban mums in a very short time.
My male lead character (Adam) took the shape of someone you’d see around Canary Wharf: he’s a management consultant at a top five firm. He’s very much from a corporate culture: driven, industrious, image conscious.
Adam works long hours, weekends; he makes a lot of sacrifices for his family. I wanted to expose the hardworking side of the average city worker: it’s not all fat cat bonuses and holiday homes.
I finished the play on the Friday morning, and by 2pm that day it was table-read by the cast and the director. It’s incredible to hear your words read by others: to hear the voices of your characters. It brings it to life.
We had a couple of weeks of prep, ahead of rehearsed readings (with the script) at the Tristan Bates Theatre in December 2014. Working with the actors and director during rehearsals was eye opening. I didn’t know you could play a scene one way, and then play it another. It changed, developed, and ultimately bought the best out of the words.
From there the director, Michael Beigel, who also works as a dramaturg, worked through feedback on the script with me. The redrafted play was sent out to London Fringe theatres, and I was thrilled when in May The Hope invited us to have a last minute one week run June 8-13.
Usually theatres and production companies plan their schedules five months in advance, but the opportunity was too good to miss. Producing a play in under four weeks is insane, and it’s been all hands on deck. It’s not been a steep learning curve, but a steep learning sheer cliff face and now have a greater comprehension of the huge amount of work it takes to get a play from page to stage.
It’s artwork, casting, rehearsals, set design, costume, lighting, liaising with press, and forests of paperwork. I’ve been lucky to work with an amazingly talented cast and crew, though admittedly my main contribution at this point has been fetching coffee and buying emergency duct tape. And they said working in theatre would be glamorous!
And so on the eve of the opening night of my debut play I can look back over the last few months of cramming, learning, reading, writing, redrafting, panicking and near nervous and physical exhaustion, and know I did the right thing. The show, as they say, will go on.
Angela Clarke’s debut play The Legacy is on at The Hope Theatre, Islington, June 8-13. Tickets can be purchased at thehopetheatre.com or on 0333 666 3366.