There’s a temptation to think of Laura Wade as a newcomer – albeit one who’s had a particularly lucky stroke of luck with two plays premiering in major productions at major London theatres this month (See News, 14 Jan 2005). In fact, she has an impressive number of credits to her name.
These include: Young Emma (Finborough Theatre), 16 Winters (Bristol Old Vic), The Wild Swans, Twelve Machine and The Last Child (Playbox Theatre at the Dream Factory) and Limbo (Crucible Theatre).
Wade is currently Writer on Attachment at Soho Theatre and Writer in Residence at the Finborough Theatre (with the support of the Pearson Playwrights bursary scheme). She represented the Royal Court Young Writers' Programme at the 2004 Interplay Festival for Young Playwrights in Athens, Greece.
Wade’s Colder Than Here - with a cast featuring Michael Pennington and Margot Leicester - is currently running at Soho Theatre until 26 February 2005. Two days later, Breathing Corpses - featuring James McAvoy and Tamzin Outhwaite - opens at the Royal Court Upstairs.
Date & place of birth
Born 16 October 1977 in Bedford. But shortly after that my family moved to Sheffield. I moved to London two-and-a-half years ago.
Lives now in…
For the last six months or so, I’ve lived in Bloomsbury.
I did a degree in drama at Bristol University – it was half theatre and half film.
First big break
My first play, Limbo, was put on at the Crucible Studio in Sheffield when I was 18 - I was still at school at the time, and that’s what got me hooked. I’d been hanging out with a theatre company rehearsing a play there, and I was shadowing the director, thinking that’s what I wanted to become. I was encouraged to write something and I showed it to people at the theatre. Miraculously, they agreed to put it on. It was a short run, but immensely exciting.
Career highlights to date
Before the stuff I’m doing at the moment, I did a show called Young Emma at the Finborough Theatre in December 2003. It was an amazing time. It was my first London show, we got lovely reviews, and I got a real sense of achievement from it – it was an adaptation of a book by WH Davies, and it was the first time I’d adapted something like that. It was around that time that I got involved with Soho Theatre, and in the same month, I was awarded a bursary from the Pearson Playwrights’ Scheme. After that, I was able to become a full-time writer. It’s a very happy accident that two of my plays are being produced simultaneously now. I can’t quite fathom it or believe my luck, but it feels great, because they’re two such different plays. It shows I can do this, and I can also do that as well – it’s such a great opportunity. And they’re being done at two theatres that, from the time I started writing plays, I always wanted to write for. To have them both happen at the same time is incredible.
I have particularly warm feelings to the ones I’m working with now at Soho Theatre – Michael Pennington, Margot Leicester, Anna Madeley and Georgia MacKenzie. I love the work they’re doing on the play, and it’s exciting being in rehearsal and watching them to bring my play to life. Outside of my own work, I love Linda Bassett – she’s the kind of actress I would go and watch read the back of a cereal packet. I would love to work with her at some point. Lee Ross and Paul Ritter are also actors that I’d also choose to see a play on the basis that they were in it.
The two I am working with at the moment, Abigail Morris at Soho Theatre and Anna Mackmin at the Royal Court. I’ve already got a really good working relationship with both of them. Other than them, I’d have to say Tamara Harvey – she’s my best friend, so I’m biased, but I’ve worked with her twice and I think she’s brilliant! She directed Young Emma and a play I wrote called Sixteen Windows at Bristol Old Vic. She also recently directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in the West End.
I really like Martin Crimp. His use of language is amazing, and he writes the kind of plays I go back to and read over and over again. Caryl Churchill is another. Every play is new and different and she’s managed to do that for such a long time. To have that kind of length of career and write things that are challenging and to keep doing new things with structure is great. I like Anthony Neilson, I like the brutality of his work. And Simon Stephens is wonderful as well, his plays have such a big heart. My advice to aspiring playwrights would be: Go see as much as you can afford, and read plays and immerse yourself in them as much as possible. That’s how I think I’ve learnt a lot personally. But then you’ve actually got to put the time in writing, too.
What play (by someone else!) would you most like to have written?
Crave by Sarah Kane. It’s very beautiful. It’s a play for voices but it’s still theatrical, and it’s so emotionally right somehow.
What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman is the thing that most recently totally blew me away. I thought it was a brilliant idea, and I loved the idea of the power of storytelling and engaging with that. The staging of it was so bold and breathtaking, literally, and it surprised me because I don’t normally like long plays, but it really zipped by.
What makes you want to write for the stage versus other forms of writing? Why do you think theatre is important in modern Britain?
I love theatre. It’s my favourite thing. Theatre is magical and I like the “live-ness” of it. I like the collective feeling of an audience watching and experiencing something together. I still get really excited about going to the theatre. I like the immediacy of it, and I like the rules you have to set for yourself as writer. The structure has to be tight – you have to find the perfect form for your story to be told in. That’s the way my brain likes to work. Theatre is important because it makes us less insular – being with a group of people and doing something together at the same time. Storytelling is important to human beings.
What would you advise the government – or the industry - to secure the future of British theatre?
I’m never a very political person, so that’s quite difficult. But I think funding is a problem, and making theatre exciting for new, young audiences is important. You’ve got to try to find ways of getting young audiences into the theatre that aren’t patronising or trying to emulate cinema or video games. The answer isn’t necessarily to reflect absolutely those young people’s lives – I don’t want to go to the theatre to see my own life on stage! That would be incredibly boring. So the role of allegory is very important. But none of this is easy to solve.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
I think it would be a pop star, because I’d like to see what that was like, but I couldn’t bear it for longer than a day!
My favourite novel would be Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, because I love the gothic atmosphere it has, but also that the characters are very emotionally true. You can really relate to the fact that the characters are having real emotional reactions to things.
Favourite holiday destinations
I’m completely fascinated by America. I’ve been several times to different bits. It’s the sheer size of the country that gets me, the unfathomable enormity of it. That there can be so many different kinds of terrain in one country baffles me!
What was your inspiration for Colder Than Here & Breathing Corpses? Is it an accident that both seem pre-occupied with death?
I don’t think that it’s an accident. I’m fascinated by death and how to deal with it. But also I think, although there is death in both plays, in a sense they’re more about living people. They’re to do with people trying to live with what their lives have thrown at them, rather than about death itself. Colder Than Here is about the grieving that happens before a death, and Breathing Corpses is about people fighting for their happiness, with the idea that a living person can be dead if they’re not living their life in a way that they want to.
Colder Than Here deals with the subject of ‘natural death’ in particular. What do you want to happen to your body when you die?
I would like to be buried, and having done all the research for this play, I would like to be buried in either a cardboard coffin or a very simple wooden one. I would like my funeral to be as cheap as possible for my family. I find the idea of spending thousands of pounds on a coffin ridiculous. And I’d like to be buried somewhere like a wood – somewhere with big old trees. I’d like to be remembered as someone who didn’t do much harm.
How do you feel having two major premieres at two such illustrious theatres within a matter of weeks? How involved have you been in each production?
It feels amazing – I keep expecting to wake up! It’s quite nerve-wracking as well. In terms of involvement, we started rehearsing Colder Than Here first, so I was able to be there the whole time. It was great as I was able to change things and lines that didn’t work. It felt like an active process, which I like. I like the rehearsal room. I learn a lot watching a group of actors and a director trying to contend with a piece of my writing. Sometimes something that I’ve written may seem completely obvious to me, but seeing other people spending time trying to puzzle it out helps me to realise when I need to draw something more clearly. I’m trying to be involved in Breathing Corpses as much as I can, too, and now that one is running and the other rehearsing at the same time, dashing across London between the two.
Any anecdotes from the development or rehearsals for either production?
There was an interesting moment in the Colder Than Here rehearsal room when the cardboard coffin arrived. It suddenly made it quite real, and some people in the company hadn’t really seen one before. Everyone was a little taken aback at first. And then, at some point, someone had a go at sitting in it, and that demystified it; now it’s become part of the furniture. It felt at first like a harbinger of doom, but it has become something quite normal, and that’s also what happens in the play.
What are your favourite lines from each play?
If a line is my favourite, I don’t want to reveal it! They’re usually the ones that get the laughs so I don’t want to spoil them for the actors delivering them. I love to hear an audience laughing. It’s an ego boost – it’s like telling a joke in a pub and people laughing.
If a theatregoer were able to see only one of the plays, which would you recommend?
I’d like people to see both! That’s a bit like asking whether I prefer my mum or my dad. I think people should read the blurb for each and see which one appeals most! I’m equally excited about both of them!
What are your plans for the future? Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve just finished writing a commission for Soho Theatre, which I’m hoping they will produce, and I’m looking forward to doing more work on that one. And then I’ve got another adaptation to do of a novel, which is nice because it employs different skills to writing a play. I’m not good at taking a break and doing nothing.
- Laura Wade was speaking to Mark Shenton
Colder Than Here continues its limited season at Soho Theatre until 26 February 2005. Breathing Corpses opens at the Royal Court Upstairs on 28 February 2005 (previews from 24 February) and runs until 26 March.