People think that my play Animals is about getting older and ageism, but its not. It’s actually about capitalism. These are some of the thoughts that led to me write the play.
Thought A) The stories of older women are not told and therefore the talents of older female performers are not seen, so I wanted to address these miserable facts… When I attended Sphinx Theatre’s ‘Vamps, Vixens and Feminists 2010’ I heard the writer Guy Hibbert throw down this gauntlet: ‘I think consciously writing… parts for women, particularly women over 40 is the key to change. The key is with the writers more than anybody else.’ Before this moment I hadn’t particularly thought about ageism in theatre or that writers’ are fundamentally job creators for the acting profession.
But by the end of the day these two thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone. There is a dearth of stories told about women. When you consider that women over 40 are a major group of theatre-goers, the lack of older women’s stories and representation on stage feels thoughtless or perhaps even cynical. But that’s not even taking into account what it must feel like to be an older female performer facing a future of few roles, that often only demand the ability to potter on stage to pat a grandchild or mumble ‘Sir Templeton Von Smythe is here to see you ma lord’ before fucking off again to sit in the green room to smoke tabs and check Facebook. That’s 1) Insulting. 2) A waste of talent. So I thought I would do something about it.
Thought B) The world will not be changed by those in power, it will be changed when those who don’t see themselves as powerful remember that we are, and then do something with it. I wanted to write a satire that equally targets those of us who believe ourselves to be broadly good and decent people and the neo-con capitalists who lead, bully and champion our broken way of life. Lets be frank. Chris Grayling is not looking at the listings right now and texting David Cameron going ‘Dave! Check out Animals! We have to go. It looks amazing?’ That’s fine. It was not written for them.
Even those of us who consider ourselves self consciously on the left often fail because when push comes to shove we chose sentimentality over empathy and look away from difficult things because it’s too exhausting. And even if we try to imagine another way beyond capitalism, we get bogged down, perhaps because those alternatives are themselves defined by capitalism. With Animals I wanted to start a conversation about this conundrum with an audience. That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope in the play, there is. It’s just that the characters often, just like us, go grasping for it in all the wrong places.
Thought C) I’d like to convert the audience’s laughter into thought: I suppose the bit of my brain that loves Orton wants to do this to you. In this way it’s my homage to him. Though, be assured, I don’t hate people and particularly women like he did. I do however love his ability to find the laughter that sits like a shadow with despair and anger.
If the 19th / 20th Centuries have been about a move to wrangle, untangle, classify, describe and so control; the 21st must be a period where we hold that learning but also consciously defy the impulse to retreat to our old habit of binaries and certainties. To live now, we have to learn to stop controlling and start coexisting and I mean, quick-sticks-quick-as-you-like. The tools we have evolved for the problems we now face are not fit for purpose. Animals exists because I wanted to find a way to talk about all of that.
Thought D) The delight and release to be found in pure stupid fun. I think it would be unreasonable for me to ask people to contemplate all of this unless there is the promise of some fun along the way. Personally I am rather done with going to shows because I feel I aught to. So I made a pact with myself. I said ‘OK Emma, you can be angry and earnest if you want but you better be playful and you better think about fun and a good story and some shocks and twists and turns and surprises.’ Because while reasons A, B and C feel hugely important to me, first and foremost I want the play to entertain you.
Main image: Animals in rehearsal – photo by Richard Davenport
Animals is published by Oberon Books. It opens 8th April and runs until 2nd May at Theatre 503, London.