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Brief Encounter With ... Emma Adams

Red Ladder Theatre Company’s new play Ugly kicks off its national tour on 27 and 28 September at The Carriageworks, Leeds. Written by Bradford based playwright and lecturer Emma Adams, the play confronts global warming and social responsibility in an accessible way.

Your new play is called Ugly. Why did you choose this title?

I suppose because it sums up everything that happens in the play. There’s lots of different things that go on, but it’s about an ugly future. Also, it’s not just one particular character’s journey. I needed something that would get your mind going and get you interested but also wasn’t going to suggest “It will be So-and-so’s journey…” It was a vibe thing, really.

The play is about an ugly future as a result of climate change. Is this an issue that’s important to you personally or was it something that came about through working with Red Ladder?

This is something that’s really important to me and it’s also really important to the Assistant Director, Rod Dixon, at Red Ladder. I’d worked with him before on Forgotten Things. I became friends with Rod through that and whenever we got together we’d often end up talking about climate change and also citizen change. So it was something that I knew I was really passionate about but the challenge for me was: “How do you then write a drama?”

Climate change is not going to be the end of the world; the world is going to be fine. Climate change is about what’s going to happen to human beings and how we survive. What we don’t realise is that sooner or later climate change will catch up with us; we can’t just run away from it forever. But this doesn’t sound very sexy, does it?

To me, however difficult plays are, they must engage, must be dramatic, must have a reason and the journey must start on page one.

In a nutshell, what is the play about?

It’s a future world; it could be tomorrow, who knows. In that world we now have zones; zones for special people, zones for half special people, less than special people and zero special people - it’s very demarked. As the play goes along you realise that’s about who gets food and who doesn’t, who survives and who doesn’t.

In the play, what does ‘special’ mean?

In the end it means fucking nothing. It’s about the bizarre kind of rules that we create and organise our lives around but actually when you prod at them, they just fall down because it’s just bullshit. But to them, it’s about hierarchies and about who has power at any given time. So it’s really important that you’re “special”.

These two young people think they’re in control; they think they know what their life’s about. They go to the ghetto zone but they’ve got tags, so they come home – it’s just a night out. But then a lot of things, which I can’t tell you about, go wrong and they end up being stuck in the ghetto and not being able to get home. But then they meet their old teacher – Mrs Mason the Home Economics teacher – and through that all their logic starts to unravel and that affects whether they’re going to get home or not. Some people make it, some people don’t – I can’t tell you anymore than that!

What do you hope the audience will take away from seeing Ugly?

I really, really hope that people first and foremost are totally engaged in it as a piece of theatre. I hope that the story moves people and that they really care about the characters and about this world. I hope that it raises questions for people to take away. My greatest hope is that some of the audience become active in some way. There is nothing in this play that tells anybody what to think; it just throws up questions. It’s not a manifesto at all but people who’ve read the play so far have had really intense experiences with this and we’re expecting that audiences will too. I found it very hard to write in places; parts of it are very funny, but other parts are really dark. I would describe it as a black-as-night comedy. It’s got elements of the absurd, but there are also bits of it which I think are very tragic.

How did you get involved in working with Red Ladder?

I’d done an MA in Screenwriting, and I really wanted to start writing for theatre but felt under confident about that. I went on a week-long Red Ladder programme for emerging Yorkshire writers - a fantastic week away - and at the end of that they asked us to get in touch with the company with any new ideas. So I did!

What do you think Red Ladder stands for?

They’re trying to do radical things, whether that be radically entertaining theatre or trying to promote radical rethinking about where we are now: it’s about a company that’s trying to make entertaining, engaging, relevant, intelligent theatre that isn’t just going to give you a nice night out and kill off a couple of brain cells.

Will the production of Ugly overlap in any way with Red Ladder’s Global Advocacy workshops?

I went to a workshop that Grace Cunnington (Red Ladder’s Global Justice Advocate) did for the cast and company because I know that they are offering this workshop and going out to schools in the areas that the play will tour to. A lot of the questions that we hope will come up for audience members do feed into this issue of global justice. We’ve got beyond the question of “Is climate change happening or not?” Yes it fucking is, so let’s get on with dealing with it.

Is there going to be a Q&A after the show?

After every show Red Ladder does they always, always have a talkback session where they encourage the audience to stay behind - you don’t have to, you’re not locked in the room or anything but you’re encouraged to talk about what you’ve seen and ask questions and debate. We really hope that people with loads of different opinions will come to see Ugly. The cast will be the core of the discussions, but myself and Rod Dixon will get involved when and where possible.

What would you say to persuade a reluctant theatre-goer to see Ugly?

It will blow your mind. If you want to have an experience that feels like it matters; come to this play.

– Emma Adams was speaking to Ruth Kilner

For booking please contact The Carriageworks Box Office on 0113 224 3801. Ticket prices are £9 concessions, £11 standard.

For more information on Global Justice Workshops please contact Grace Cunnington on 0113 245 5311 or [email protected]


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