Interview: lydia luke & Lucy Foster Talk New Work as Part of “Behind Closed Doors”

“Behind Closed Doors”, an online showcase of new work exploring themes of sex, bodies and intimacy written by playwrights of underrepresented genders, is set to open tomorrow (Nov 16th). Lemon House Theatre Company are not only offering an evening of four new short plays, but they will follow up with a discussion panel to explore some of the ideas explored in the plays, with audiences contributing to discussion from the comfort of home. Here, two writers featured in the showcase, lydia luke and Lucy Foster, discuss their work from seedling to scratch night, their theatre highlights and their various influences…

lydia luke on “swallow”:

What was the catalyst for you to start work on this piece?

Honestly? I was doing the Royal Court’s Intro to Playwriting and I heard an idea for a play that was so good I wanted to steal it. I didn’t but I did write a very rough short play where the characters didn’t have any names and only said one word at a time. I built ‘swallow’ off that.

Through which lens(es) does your work explore sex, bodies and intimacy?

I’d say through a real life. ‘swallow’ is about situationship. The sex is so intense and the intimacy is precarious and can’t be fully enjoyed. I hope I’m answering the question properly.

When it comes to conversations around sex and relationships, what do you consider to be particularly refreshing, lacking or problematic?

I think honesty is refreshing.

In terms of lacking, I think theatre’s current representation of sex and/or relationships can feel a bit scholarly. It doesn’t seem to translate how fucking intense the whole ordeal can feel. I think music is the only art form that gets it right. Poetry too.

What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing your play?

I just hope they enjoy it. I hope they laugh and gasp and go “I’ve been there”. That’s all I want.

How would you describe your own theatrical or artistic influences?

Here’s a list: Toni Morrison, debbie tucker green, Yrsa Daley Ward, Joni Mitchell, Vybz Kartel, Warsan Shire, Phoenix Yemi, Caryl Churchill, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, SZA, Jenn Nkiru. There’s more.

What comes to mind if I ask you for the best experience you’ve had at a theatre?

I had a friend who went to Kings College and she was part of the gospel music society. They put on a church play, like a Tyler Perry type thing. The main character was in this emotionally abusive relationship and towards the end of the play, she silently grabs a suitcase and starts packing. The audience lost it. I have never had as much fun in a theatre as I did that day.

For you, why is theatre (live or online) such a powerful format for telling stories and exploring ideas?

It’s so tactile. Even digitally, you can feel the physicality. All the energy bouncing between the performances and with the audience. The potential is infinite, the chaos in the writer bubbles up to the surface. You can take risks and go mad.

And finally, if you could create real, meaningful change or progress in relation to the subject matter you explore in your work, what would you hope to achieve?

More clarity. More communication. More honesty. And healing from our past shit.

Lucy Foster on “16”:

What was the catalyst for you to start work on this piece?

Having had my left ovary removed when I was 17, a lot of this piece is drawn on my own experiences with my body, and how this has impacted me in the time since. It’s only in recent years that I’ve felt I have the distance to begin to explore this. In particular, I wanted to explore the gulf between reaching adulthood, where you start to feel like you have real control over yourself and your body, and this sudden lack of control or understanding about my own physiology that came with this medical experience.

Through which lens(es) does your work explore sex, bodies and intimacy?

The story is told through the perspective of a 16-year-old girl, who is trying to navigate sex, relationships, and intimacy whilst facing a gynaecological medical emergency. My work is looking at this through a very medical perspective, which I’m hoping resonates with wider audiences around medical misogyny as a whole, which is a topic that I’m incredibly passionate about.

When it comes to conversations around sex and relationships, what do you consider to be particularly refreshing, lacking or problematic?

For me, the most refreshing conversations around sex and relationships are ones that are honest. So much around these topics is wrapped up in self-worth, stigma, and expectation (both on a personal and societal level), which makes it difficult to have honest conversations. But that’s exactly why it’s so important, as we can only begin to remove some of these barriers by being open and honest, with ourselves and others. Going back to when I was a teenager, one of my favourite songs was Avril Lavigne’s COMPLICATED, and it still feels like we’re trapped a little in this world of “bravado” above anything else. We need to change that.

What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing your play?

I hope audiences will have fun watching, and be able to laugh with our narrator, but I also hope that they experience and understand the emotional journey that she goes on in trying to understand and have control over her body. Even for those who haven’t gone through specific medical circumstances like this, bodily autonomy is a journey that we will all have gone through coming into adulthood and beyond, and I hope others see a little of our narrator in themselves. I hope that, in some way, it enables them to feel more strength in supporting and standing up for themselves, as well as for others. It’s so important not just to be able to have strength in yourself, but find your “people” who can help support you through this. Within the piece, it’s our narrator’s mother and best friend who also often check in and stand up for her when she needs it. When I was a teenager and going through a similar experience, I was incredibly lucky to have these amazing women around me who were here to support and fight for me.

How would you describe your own theatrical or artistic influences?

I find inspiration from such a wide expanse of different places! I love to consume media, and so many of the stories that I end up exploring come off the back of a thought or idea from a TV show, book, podcast, film, or more. My debut play was inspired by a song, and I always create Spotify playlists when I’m exploring new work, as they’re a great way to ground me in the tone of the production, and help to pull me back in between writing sessions. Honestly, a lot of the people who inspire and influence me in my work now are fellow artists and creatives, and the community of emerging writers and artists that I’ve worked with over the years. This year, I’m switching into taking on more freelance work and reducing hours in my current job, and I never would have had the courage to do that without the support of the freelancers and creatives around me. Some immediate shout-outs here are writer & dramaturg Cressida Peever and the co-founder of my theatre company Julia Mućko – both absolute stars – as well as everyone who’s been involved in the BEHIND CLOSED DOORS event so far. This experience has been a dream!

What comes to mind if I ask you for the best experience you’ve had at a theatre?

Some of the greatest experiences I’ve had at a theatre are ones that feel inherently theatrical – where the intimacy of the space, the immediacy of the characters and action, and the shared heartbeat of the room all comes together. One of my favourite recent experiences was seeing FOR BLACK BOYS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE HUE GETS TOO HEAVY by Ryan Calais Cameron at the New Diorama. This was an incredibly honest and emotional production, with an engaged and animated audience and an incredibly strong cast who each hold their own. Being in that room really felt for me like the return of theatre post-lockdown – it was electric.

For you, why is theatre (live or online) such a powerful format for telling stories and exploring ideas?

Theatre has always felt so powerful in its liveness. It’s a living thing which can adapt and evolve based on the team, the set, the audience, the time. From the perspective of a creator – that collaboration is so enticing, as it’s amazing to see talented directors, actors, and designers take my words, and turn them into something I never could have imagined. Getting that insight and perspective on your work is incredible, and I love the way that a theatre production doesn’t belong to an individual, but to a company. What I love about watching a show is the way that the audience almost falls into a shared breath, a shared heartbeat. When those powerful moments hit – as a collective we laugh, cry, gasp at the same time. I recently saw TERRIFYING WOMEN, a night of short horror plays at the Golden Goose Theatre, and the way that the audience were drawn into the stories, caught on the edge waiting for the jump, and reacted together at the point of scare was absolutely amazing to be part of. Especially as you know, watching, that each night will be different. That really excites me.

And finally, if you could create real, meaningful change or progress in relation to the subject matter you explore in your work, what would you hope to achieve?

It’s a tough one, as there are a few strands that I’m hoping will speak to different audiences. For any young people watching, I hope that they can see that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to explore your sexuality. Your body, and the way you wish to be intimate with it (or have others be intimate with it), is an entirely individual journey. If other people have expectations on you about this, that’s shameful on them, not you. And on a more general note, medical misogyny is a huge issue that I’m incredibly passionate about, and anything that I could do to help more women feel enabled to get the medical access they need, and for medical professionals to be better able to provide this access, would be phenomenal. This is definitely a topic that I’m looking to explore further in the future – watch this space!

So there you have it! You can see both lydia luke’s “swallow” and Lucy Foster’s “16” as part of the “Behind Closed Doors” showcase from November 16th – December 7th 2021. You can find tickets here and you can find an interview about the showcase with Lemon House Co-Artistic Directors Jen Cerys and Samia Djilli here.

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