Carolyn trained as an actor at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts. Her first professional full length play ‘Silent on the Matter’ was performed at the Old Fire Station, Oxford, in 2015. In 2016 she was selected by the Oxford Playhouse to join their mentoring programme and since then has written four full length plays, two audio comedies, and two short screenplays. She was a Trustee of ALRA for seven years and is now on the Steering Group of Oxfordshire Theatre Makers. Two of her plays have been published by Aurora Metro Publications Ltd and available on Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/).
What first attracted you to the theatre?
As a child of five, I was mesmerised by the first show my mother took me to in London. The whole atmosphere was so exciting and I couldn’t believe how a story (I loved reading stories) could be brought to life in such an astonishing way. This feeling has never left me. Live theatre brings an immediacy to the experience as each performance will necessarily be different. Energy from the audience affects actors’ performances and vice versa so everyone has an experience unique to themselves. It’s exciting and risky every time!
If you could pick any one person or theatre company to work with on your next project, who would it be?
John Godber. He’s incredibly gifted and known for writing ‘observational comedy’. I’d learn so much from him. It’s difficult to write authentic comedy, avoiding the obvious clichés or second rate gags but humour adds a poignancy as well as light relief to a play. So much of life is really funny – you couldn’t make it up!
What is your opinion of Off West End theatre, in general?
I love it! I love the attitude that it’s ok to take risks with new writing, see what works, and learn from what doesn’t work, always with the intention of producing a high quality professional production. The Cockpit has a brilliant strap line: ‘Theatre of ideas and disruptive panache’. My plays are often disturbing, and with a particular focus on ethical dilemmas, facing us in contemporary Britain. New writers almost always start in local Fringe and Off West End. Certainly my experience in Oxford has been really positive with support and encouragement from both established and fringe theatres, like The Oxford Playhouse and The Old Fire Station.
What was the most inspiring performance you have ever seen? Why?
‘People, Places, and Things’ by Duncan MacMillan. The stage craft was superb, the writing crisp, painful and powerfully compelling. Especially the last scene. Heart wrenching but truthful. Yet, he also managed to weave in elements of humour and light relief. Brilliant!
What piece of work are you the most proud of?
Probably my very first produced play, ‘Silent on the Matter’, because that’s what made me realise I love writing for stage. It was also my submission to The Oxford Playhouse to apply for their ‘Playmaker’ scheme – a year’s tuition completely free! Meeting with five other new writers, once a month, free supper, free tickets to that evening’s show and inspirational guidance from John Retallack, who’s remained a mentor of mine ever since. A really astonishing opportunity for a new writer. I so nearly didn’t submit as I was sure I wouldn’t be accepted, until a friend said ‘you’ll definitely not be accepted if you don’t submit’! She was right!
What makes a really good character?
Unless your play demands a robot, each character has to be a real person with a whole range of personal characteristics and attitudes. For me, there is no such thing as a minor character. If they have no significant role to play in moving the plot along, why are they cluttering up the place? In my latest play ‘Can’t See For Looking’, Angel might have a smaller role than the lead protagonist Rosa, but Angel is fundamental to Rosa’s story. She represents hope over despair, freedom over captivity. I spend a lot of time of creating each of my characters, including their detailed back story. Until I really know them, I don’t know how they will speak, re-act, love, hate. There’s no such thing as a perfect person, given certain circumstances, we can all do terrible things. But unless you’re seriously psychotic, no-one wakes up thinking ‘how can I be evil today?’. Which is why I always try to write from the character’s viewpoint. Seemingly unpleasant people have their own story to tell.
Are there any actors/actresses you would like to write a play for?
In my dreams, Helen Mirren. We were at the same school and both acted on stage together. She is a fantastic actor, and I probably secretly still have a school girl crush on her!
What play do you wish you’d written?
‘Jumpers for Goalposts’ by Tom Wells. Hilarious, laugh out loud comedy, but his script is so observant of normal everyday characters with all their dreams and fears. So cleverly scripted. Or ‘The Watsons’ by Laura Wade, brilliantly scripted and such a creative idea. I love her work.
Can you tell our readers about what you’re doing now?
My new play ‘Can’t See For Looking’ opens at The Cockpit, on October 18th, and runs until November 4th. It’s a play inspired by my interviews with five women rescued from domestic slavery. Modern slavery exists in every city today but the most hidden form is domestic slavery as we can’t see or believe what’s going on in attics, basements and sheds. We’ve had fantastic reviews from the preview in Oxford, so I’m very excited about opening in London!
Can’t See For Looking is at The Cockpit, Marylebone, from 18 October (Anti-Slavery Day) until 4 November: https://www.thecockpit.org.uk/show/cant_see_for_looking