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Brief Encounter With … Susi Wrenshaw

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Local playwright, Susi Wrenshaw has just written her first full length production, Be Rain For Me. The production has already received recognition from Arts Council England who have awarded funding for the project. Developed through the Royal Exchange Theatre Writers Group and Contact Theatre’s Scriptworks, the show was staged independently by Halden Theatre, Nottingham earlier this month and has since been selected by Contact Theatre's Scriptworks for their Shortworks production. The play has also been short-listed for Manchester Library Theatre's First Stage competition. Be Rain For Me runs at the Salford Arts Theatre later this month and we caught up with Susi to find out more.

Tell us a a little about the premise of the play
Be Rain For Me follows lifelong friends Leah and Willow as they strive to find their place in the world. Stuck working in a fish factory in deepest Salford with only Greasy Gary and each other for company, they embark on a life-changing journey of self discovery. While Leah perfects her 'Julia Roberts smile', the death of Willow’s Nan sees her estranged parents thrust back into her life. As her father's deeply buried deceit surfaces and a colossal truth unravels, Willow learns that her perception of the past is as fragile as her mother's existence. Be Rain For Me encapsulates all that is beautiful between true friends whilst boldly challenging preconceptions of domestic abuse.
What inspired you to write Be Rain For Me?
It started out 2 years ago as a very different play about a young orphan, Willow. I did an exercise to discover what Willow's parents would have been like. I became fascinated as those characters developed and took on lives of their own. I realised that they were at the core of her story. I explored memories of my own parents, who I am estranged from, and spoke to community groups, including Salford Women's Centre, and people involved on both sides of abusive relationships. I wanted to offer an insight into the secret side of domestic abuse, physical violence is usually visible but psychological and emotional control is just as damaging.
Where does the title come from? What does it mean?
Be Rain For Me is where the journey of the play ends. It was the last thing my Grandad ever said to me as he lay dying in his hospital bed, having just turned 80. It touches on the cyclical nature of life. Behaviour will be passed down from generation to generation unless we actively seek change.
Do you have a favourite line from the play and if so, why?
"Be rain for me." The character who says the line in the play bares no resemblance to my own Grandad but when I was writing the last scene the phrase returned to me again and again and it seemed to encapsulate how helpless, needy, almost childlike the 'abuser' becomes.
Regional Theatre in the North West challenges audiences far more than in the West End. Why do you think this is?
Audiences in the West End like to know what they're getting. It's so expensive to see shows there, especially with travel and hotel costs, that people don't want to take risks, understandably. It's different popping down to your local theatre every couple of months where you might see more low-key, thought-provoking plays. The West End is more about pure entertainment, spectacular theatre.
What are you working on next?
First I'll be taking a holiday, it's been a hectic year! I've been contacted by a company interested in co-producing Be Rain For Me for a tour after the run at Salford Arts Theatre. I'm also writing a pilot sitcom with my partner, Matthew Ganley, about our surreal and ridiculous experiences as teaching assistants. Singing 'Old MacDonald' over and over to entertain nursery children and running out of animals was the moment that sparked off the idea.
Can you sum up why audiences should see Be Rain For Me?
Be Rain For Me is a real emotional roller coaster with plenty of laughs alongside the darker themes. When I watch plays I like to do some of the work myself, which Be Rain For Me allows you to do. It's more satisfying than having everything handed to you on a plate, you become part of the process.

Susi Wrenshaw was speaking to Glenn Meads. Be Rain For Me runs at Salford Arts Theatre from 29 - 31 July.

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