Features Q&A and Interviews Published 28 March 2011

Ella Hickson

On audience choice and writing away from herself.

Natasha Tripney

The necessity of stretching herself as a writer is something Hickson returns to. What she enjoyed about writing PMQ was “this idea of overcoming the impossible.” She’s just completed a play called Boys, which while still concerning the lives of twenty-somethings, seems bigger in ambition and broader in scope. She seems keen, at this stage in her career, to stop analysing her own generation in her writing and to “start writing about people who have very different lives from my own.”

There was evidence of this stretching – in tone if not content – in Hot Mess, written in 2010 and staged in the neon-stripped basement club of Edinburgh’s Hawke and Hunter. Hickson was completing an MA in Creative Writing at Edinburgh at the time of writing and had been reading a lot of magic realism. The resulting play was “quite rich in terms of imagery and metaphor”, a story of twins, one born with no heart and one with too much. Growing up Hickson spent weekends and holidays on Hayling Island with her father and by setting the play on the island – conveying something of the surreal beauty of the beach at night – she enhanced this sense of the mythical.

Hot Mess. Photo: Devon Walshe.

“British naturalism is a very wonderful thing but it can be a little restrictive.” A watershed moment for Hickson was her participation in a workshop in Barcelona run by Simon Stephens and the Traverse Theatre. She’s an admirer of Stephens’ writing (including Punk Rock, Pornography and the exquisite monologue,Sea Wall) which often walks a tightrope between naturalism and something slightly stranger and more opaque. The workshop in part laid the groundwork for her becoming Pearson Playwright for 2011 at the Lyric Hammersmith

There will be no new Hickson play at Edinburgh this year. She’s taking a year off – though Hot Mess is headed for Latitude (there are plans to rehearse with the cast on Hayling Island) – but there’s little evidence of slowing down as she strides off towards the rehearsals for Precious Little Talent with her re-writes under her arm.

Ella Hickson’s Precious Little Talent is at Trafalgar Studios, London, from 5th-30th April 2011.


Natasha Tripney

Natasha co-founded Exeunt in 2011 and was editor until 2016. She's now lead critic and reviews editor for The Stage, and has written about theatre and the arts for the Guardian, Time Out, the Independent, Lonely Planet and Tortoise.



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