Northern Highlights are bringing a very current production to the Camden Fringe this year with Marathon for You. The show plays at the Hen and Chickens Theatre 18th – 20th August (tickets here) so I caught up with writer Laura England to find out about all things Marathon for You…
Marathon for You is proudly female-led – so much so that it’s the first declaration of the marketing material. What’s exactly does that fact mean to you as the writer and creator?
It matters to me immensely that Marathon is female- led! I trained in musical theatre and had been out of college for three years and got so sick of boring, badly written parts where women were either supporting characters like ‘Tom’s girlfriend’ (who was clearly nameless before she met Tom…) or were described as ‘slim and attractive’, with no personality traits or qualities mentioned at all in the casting breakdowns.
I found it all so disappointing and didn’t feel my voice or the voices of my peers were being reflected back, so writing this play was my chance to do something about it. It makes me enormously proud to see four women on stage with layers and flaws and emotional journeys at the forefront of this show. Things are changing and it feels like a feminist theatre revolution!
What was it that inspired you to put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys) for this play?
All I know is I just couldn’t sleep and it started flowing out and once I started I felt it ignited the creative spark in me again!
I’d been stuck in a rut so effectively I wrote my way out. The upturn in my career was astronomical as a result, I would advise anyone who feels stuck to write, produce or make their own work! It’s a learning curve but it’s so worth it even for your own mental health and drive.
The show centres on female friendships and is characterised as a ‘bubbly Northern play’ – what prompted you to celebrate northern women in this way?
Characters in MFY are fictional, but I’ve drawn inspiration from my incredible group of friends. We’ve been through thick and thin together and they always manage to find humour in dark situations- that’s a very northern thing to do! I find Northern women incredibly witty, strong and inspiring and I also feel that female friendship isn’t explored much in theatre. Marathon addresses all its complexities… and it’s not always pretty!
The marketing for the play paints a very modern picture: copious amounts of wine, references to the ‘lazy millennial’ type, Tinder and even eco-aware recycling bins. Did you consciously approach the piece as a reflection of our times for young people?
Absolutely. Our generation are constantly anxious and grappling with finding their place in the world, so it’s only natural I want to reflect that back and portray it accurately.
Marathon for You seems to promise comedy but also some grit in the form of betrayals – would you say the play is equally dark and light or does it lean in one direction more than the other?
I would say the play is equally funny and dark, there are betrayals and there is tragedy, but there is plenty of humour too. As one of the audience members said quite rightly at our last run, bring your tissues and prepare to wipe away tears when you laugh and when you cry! Ultimately, I want the audience to leave the theatre feeling uplifted as they’ve gone along on Jen’s journey, with all its highs and lows.
Do you consider your play to carry a message of some sort? Is it designed to be political or motivational for instance, or is this pure entertainment?
I wouldn’t say the piece is inherently political, but the representation within it is important to me. The fact that we are female- led, have a BAME actor in a part which doesn’t have to be BAME but is truly authentic, that there are characters in an LGBT relationship without it becoming an issue play. It’s a play about normal people, doing normal things. They could be your friends, your family, your relations, the lads and lasses you know. They’re relatable and they’ve got flaws, connections, lives you recognise! I want that sort of connection with the audience, I want to entertain them and move them.
If you could have audiences take just one thing away from seeing Marathon for You, what would you want that to be?
That ordinary people in life are often the most extraordinary!
What does playing the Camden Fringe mean to you as a theatre maker?
Having a London premiere means a whole new audience for us and I’m excited be part of such an established festival and see the shows everyone else has been cooking up!
Marathon for You has already played venues in Manchester and Leeds – has the production evolved at all since those first performances in 2017?
Yes, definitely! The part of Charlie has been changed from a male to a female actor, so I’m excited to see what new energy that brings to the production. There have of course been multiple rewrites in the past couple of years. I am rather grateful to Joseph Houston and The Hope Mill and Manchester ADP for giving me the opportunity to develop the piece and my confidence as a writer through Powerhouse Plays and Scripts Aloud!
And finally, in just one sentence, why should audiences come and see Marathon for You?
To see Northern women storm centre stage and come on an epic journey with us! (all 26 miles of it!)
Now for the quick-fire theatre-related questions!
Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?
My mum, who has worked on international and community projects in the arts for 25 years and does it for the absolute joy of helping children and young people find their way. Oh, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge for the phenomenon that is Fleabag!
Favourite theatre genre and why?
Musical Theatre. Those are my roots and I’m still partial to a jazz hand.
Etiquette debates – worthwhile or futile? Where do you draw the line? It’s a hot topic.
Just be respectful of other patrons as best you can and please don’t eat KFC… mainly cause I’ll be jealous.
Do you have a best ‘the show must go on’ tale?
I did bring my fiancé in when we had an unexpected extension due to popularity and a cast member left… and you know what, it was brilliant!
I’ve also lost my skirt during a number and let myself repeatedly be stung by mosquitos during my rock and roll set in Menorca last year. Cause I didn’t want to make a fuss in the moment and I’m professional like that. On a side note, I’m very allergic to mosquito bites. Would not recommend!
If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in Theatre right now, what would it be?
So much to say here! Better representation all round, including more diverse castings for roles in terms of gender and ethnicity. Equal representation of female writers, producers and directors in theatre spaces. And in terms of regional theatre, I’d like to see more encouraging amounts of experienced, local professional actors being auditioned for shows.
So there you have it! Remember: Northern Highlights’ Marathon for You plays at the Hen and Chickens Theatre from 18th to 20th August 2019 and you can find tickets here.