Brief Encounter with… Playing with Grownups playwright Hannah Patterson

Playwright Hannah Patterson
Playwright Hannah Patterson
Hannah Patterson’s new play Playing with Grown-Ups is currently running at Theatre503. An exploration of relationships and what it means to be a woman, the play is set in an urbane, career-driven world, where the characters are questioning the choices they have made.

Patterson’s second play, it is directed by Hannah Eidinow and the cast includes Shane Attwooll, Ben Caplan, Daisy Hughes and Trudi Jackson. It runs at Theatre503 until 8 June 2013. Here she talks about

The story is about a successful
career woman in her late 30s who has a baby, are there any similarities with yourself?

not in that situation so the story doesn’t reflect my own experience
per se, although I was definitely interested in exploring the
frustrations of a woman trying to reconcile her sense of self with
society’s idea of who or what she should be. To that end, there are
obvious similarities with some of the issues explored in dramas such as
Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, say, or Hedda Gabler.

At the time I was writing it
there was certainly a lot in the press about the idea of women being
able to have it all, expecting themselves to be able to do it all, and
subsequently struggling to do anything as well as they felt they should.
Which is an issue I’ve also witnessed for women around me, often
regardless of their age. But in many ways, the play’s as much about the
position that men find themselves in today dealing with the fallout of
the women’s movement of the 70s, as they struggle to define or reconcile
their own sense of identity.

This play was written in London and Jersey – what’s working in the arts like in Jersey, and how does it compare to London?

What’s great about London is the constant stream of work available across all the arts, which is both enjoyable and stimulating, and also inspiring when it comes to generating new ideas. My relationship with Jersey and the arts there has rekindled in the last few years in great part because of the work of the director of the Jersey Arts Trust. Not only is he particularly interested in theatre, he understands that writers need development, encouragement and opportunity.

Particularly useful for me with this play was a residency programme which he organised on the island with Paines Plough, which afforded time away from other work in London to focus on writing and an invaluable chance to talk through the play’s development with co-director of the company, James Grieve.

Do you prefer the writing or the rehearsal process?

When it’s going well there’s nothing quite like the writing process; when you’re watching good drama you become completely caught up in the reality of a different world. Even better if you know it will then be performed because you’re writing with an end in sight and for an audience. When you’re stuck though, it’s just hard and frustrating.

What’s great about getting into the rehearsal room is the chance to put it on its feet and see what’s working or not; also to watch the actors as they discover the characters, and then make them their own. It’s particularly satisfying working with this cast: not only are they uniformly excellent as actors, they’re also adept at dealing with new work – really mining the detail and complexity of their characters’ relationships – which is a particular skill too of the director, Hannah Eidinow.

You’ve also produced documentaries. What are the similarities and differences between this project and your recent film work?

Documentary is great, but often you have very little control over it. People tend not to behave in the way you expect them to. The last documentary I worked on was about an African American community living next to the biggest refinery in Texas who claim that the oil companies and state authorities are guilty of ‘environmental racism’, so it couldn’t be further away from this in terms of topic.

Although real-life stories do, of course, provide great inspiration for fiction. I’m currently working on a script which is based on a true story set during World War II, so I’ve had to undertake the same kind of research you would with a documentary project. I’m also working on a film adaptation of my first play Much, and what’s refreshing about that is that the characters and scenario are already developed so you can spend much more time thinking about, and playing with, form.

You come from a literary and theatrical family. Any pressure there, or just inspiration?
A bit of both… a parent’s success comes with its own set of expectations which can be daunting but the determination and persistence is definitely inspiring.

-Playing With Grown-Ups runs at Theatre503 until 8 June 2013