Barney Norris: 'We want to wake people up to the richness of their lives'
Award-winning playwright Norris talks about his upcoming play Eventide
My new play Eventide is a story about lost loves and receding rural traditions. It tells the stories of John, a landlord forced to sell his pub; Liz, an organist who can't find a church to play in, and Mark, a young man scrabbling for work to pay his rent: three people struggling with private griefs, unmoored in the midst of life. We watch as their worlds disappear from beneath their feet – it's a kind of rural Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
I wrote the play because I wanted to tell the story of the world I‘m from. I grew up in the country, and because my parents are all church musicians I spent a lot of time around churches in my childhood. My world was the England of Elgar or Larkin, and I wanted to speak up for this culture through my work, because it seems increasingly exotic and strange to me in the internet age.
While I was bringing my last play, Visitors, to the stage, I worked in a pub in a village in the middle of nowhere. My friends there reminded me how much of the life I lived, often in London, slaving in the theatre, was unusual, was a choice I had made, rather than the natural way of things. It's easy to forget that among the busyness of life, and I was grateful for the reminder. Now, I want to share that lesson with a wider audience. The realisation that our lives are happening now, and for the only time, and that we could change them if we wanted to, and went about it deliberately enough, seems like a valuable thing to be talking about.
My theatre company Up In Arms, which I founded in my home town of Salisbury with the director Alice Hamilton, is an organsation entirely committed to fostering such everyday epiphanies among audiences. As young people, we fell in love with the theatre's unique power to remind us of the magnitude and richness of our ordinary lives, and the lives around us, so we built a company that could spread that message as far as possible, touring stories that seek to express the scale and beauty of the world in communities across the country, wherever we feel the story we're telling might find people who valued it.
We've been making one new play every eighteen months for the last five years now; Eventide is the fourth. In the next few years we're going to grow what we do, and start telling more stories in more places, and uniting as much of the country as we can in the common belief that the lives we're living are important, that the cultures which produced us are worthy of attention, that all of us should be looking hard at the way we live our lives. That seems to us to be the surest way of living them well.
Eventide runs at the Arcola until 17 October then on a national tour until 14 November.