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The writers of Three Generations Of Women talk to OWE

Anna Jefferson and Alice Trueman writers of Three Generations Of Women, playing 1-5 March at Greenwich Theatre and then touring.​.. talk to OWE

Anna Jefferson is founder and co-director of Broken Leg Theatre. She is a playwright, director, columnist and fiction writer. She has written and directed five plays to date that have been performed at venues including Greenwich Theatre, Hackney Empire, Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds; The Nightingale Theatre, Brighton; and Jim Broadbent Theatre, Lincolnshire. Her short film, Rudie Can't Fail, has been screened at BFI Flare, GAZE Festival, Dublin; MIX Copenhagen and London Short Film Festival. Anna is adapting her acclaimed blog, You Can Take Her Home Now, as her first novel, represented by United Agents.

Alice Trueman is co-director of Broken Leg Theatre and an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. Her plays have been produced at Greenwich Theatre; Theatre503; the Lowry; the Old Market; Carriageworks Theatre; the Marlborough Theatre and the Nightingale Theatre, and short films have screened at BAFTA; Underwire Film Festival; London Short Film Festival; British Shorts Film Festival, Berlin; Cornwall Film Festival. Since graduating with an MA in Scriptwriting from Goldsmiths University of London in 2010, Alice has been working as a writer, consultant and editor on projects for both screen and stage, and is represented by Independent Talent.

What first attracted you to the theatre?
AJ: I grew up in a rural village in Lincolnshire; everything was a drive away so if we were going to go to the theatre, it was a military-style operation. I remember the first time my mum took me to Hull Truck to watch John Godber’s ‘Bouncers’ and just feeling so excited I could hardly keep still. The idea that lives could be portrayed with such humour and honesty on a stage, I was totally hooked. I love all kinds of theatre, but for me, the magic happens when you invite an audience to connect with your characters or to laugh at themselves through the people you’ve created.

AT: I was very lucky in that my mum took me from a young age, so young in fact that my first theatre memory was of stuffing my face with ice cream in the interval and being sick all over my Winnie The Poo top. But that was a couple of years back and I’ve grown up a bit since then. I love the whole idea of the live event – whether it be a gig, a play or any kind of performance –there’s something extremely powerful about that moment of shared experience. The energy, the immediacy, the sense that anything could happen and that you leave the space changed in some way.

If you could pick any one person or theatre company to work with on your next project, who/which would it be?
AJ: There are so many exciting companies and artists that would be inspiring to work with. We’ve been really lucky on our current production, ‘Three Generations of Women’ that we have got an amazing all-female team, working with director Ria Parry, and Complicite’s Kirsty Housley in a dramaturgical role. I would definitely like to work with all these incredible women again. Alice and I have now co-written two plays as Broken Leg Theatre. Co-writing with someone is an ongoing relationship, sometimes it can be more intense than the relationship you have with a boyfriend or girlfriend as you are living in each other’s heads while you create your characters. I can’t wait to see where our next idea takes us!
I’d love to collaborate with a company who work in a completely different way to the productions we have created. I saw 1927’s Golem the other week (I know it’s been touring for some time and I’m a bit late to the party!) and was totally blown away by the immersive way they used digital to make a completely filmic live performance. It would be hugely exciting to bring a whole other element to our live performance experience.

AT: I totally agree with Anna – not about the girlfriend/boyfriend stuff (wow, I had no idea…) – but I would love us to create something multi-disciplinary. I adore 1927’s work too – the meshing of animation and live action is awe-inspiring. I am also a big fan of a lot of physical theatre, and would be interested to see what might grow out of such a collaboration. As Anna says, it has been such a fantastic experience to grow together on our second co-writing venture, and with such inspiring collaborators; l I feel like we both want to keep challenging ourselves and writing in a way which feels exciting and fresh.

What is your opinion of Off West End theatre, in general?
AJ: It’s where the real magic happens, where theatre can be explored in all its glory without a huge price tag attached or the fear of making a massive loss. It’s where you can experiment, try out ideas, push the boundaries and make new, exciting work. It’s also where it’s OK for things not to go so well, where you can develop a show that isn’t well received but you go away, rework it, and come back fighting another day! Off West End theatre is where raw, new talent is nurtured, developed and toured. There is nothing more exciting than emerging from a brilliant performance above a pub to come for a drink downstairs and think, wow, did that just happen?

AT: Off West End theatre often starts out as such a labour of love, and the product of such amazingly hard work, that the work usually has something pretty compelling to say. Not always of course, it can obviously be very hit and miss – but when you hit a real gem, you just want to grab everyone you pass by and implore them to go and see it. Off West End theatre is vital. It is where voices of change rise up. I wish more theatres were enabled to support (with funding,) young companies and new artists. Greenwich Theatre, our co-Producer on this tour, has been extraordinarily supportive to us, and we literally wouldn’t be here without them.

What was the most inspiring performance you have ever seen? Why?
AJ: When I was a student I volunteered on Geraldine Pilgrim’s immersive, site-specific performance ‘Dreamwork 3’ at the then-derelict Midland Grand Hotel at Kings Cross, St Pancras. The audience were led into the building on the premise that they were going to be taken to their hotel room, and then were led by the ‘porter’ through a labyrinth of floors, weaving through rooms of dark fairytales, where Prince Charming was stood up by Sleeping Beauty in an Irish pub, to a floor celebrating the millennium, an aerialist hung from the ceiling in another room; there was literally so much going on, so much creation that it blew my mind. The most inspiring thing was to think, this all came out of one woman’s imagination. She came into this space, saw something magic, and transformed it from ramshackle disused hotel, to a place of wonder. That is what is so exciting about theatre. You tell a story, you start a journey, and you ask an audience to leave their normal life at the door for a couple of hours and come on your journey with you.

AT: I think maybe De La Guarda, because at the time when I saw their first show (as a teenager in the late 1990s) it completely reimagined what I thought theatre could be – just totally blew it out the water. People were flying overhead on zip wires, dancing up the walls, and confronting the audience in a way that made you feel truly alive, truly part of something unique and unrepeatable. They created a feeling of being here now – the sense that ‘now’ will never come again. It’s exhilarating when a performance or performer engages the audience in this idea. You feel you’re part of something for that moment in time – in this extraordinary, beautiful affront to the everyday. I had a similar experience years later in seeing The Masque of the Red Death (one of Punchdrunk’s early shows) because it took the classic writings of Edgar Allen Poe and mixed them with a sense of adventure and audience participation; you went on an epic quest, weaving down corridors and through the back of wardrobes, as actors came at you, engaging you in these mad scenes. It was genuinely enthralling. I really enjoy contemporary takes on old classics and can’t wait to see Robert Icke’s Uncle Vanya later this month.

What piece of work are you the most proud of?
AJ: When I formed my first theatre company in Leeds in 2004 I wrote a play called ‘Last Call for Barcelona’. It was about eight people who worked together in a call-centre whose lives all interconnected but they were all too self-centred to realise. The star of the show was Clive, 50, who was the oldest person to work at the call centre. Married for 20 years, his secret ambition was to dress head-to-toe in drag and sing ‘Rocket Man’ to a live audience, which he eventually did. I had no idea the amount of effort it would take to write and direct a play, or how ridiculous it was to have a cast of eight. But we did it, and it opened at a working men’s club in Leeds to the most diverse audience of theatre-goers and locals I have attracted to date. It was so much fun, there was something so brilliant about just getting a group of people together who felt passionate about the project and cracking on and doing it.

AT: This one, obviously! Anna and I have been working on Three Generations of Women for over 2 years now, through its research and development, as well as various funding endeavors. It is really a dream come true to now have our incredible (and by chance all-female!) team, bringing it to life on a scale that is a huge step up for our young theatre company, touring to some brilliant venues. The whole team has taken it somewhere very special indeed and I feel very proud of Anna and I, and our producer Beccy Smith – it has been quite the journey to get to this point.

What makes a really good character?
AJ: Intrigue, someone you want to know more about, someone who’s got a good secret and isn’t going to give it away easily. And honesty, characters need to feel real, truthful, otherwise if you don’t believe in them, then how can you expect an audience to? I also like characters that make you laugh, humour can often allow you to explore some of the darker sides of life without it being heavy.

AT: A flawed one. I am really interested in all the internal, and often conflicting processes directing a person’s outward actions. I love of those greys… the redemptive aspects of apparently unforgivable characters. The secrets that often drive us, our history constantly shaping our future. Yet our ever-present ability to change as people – as one of our characters says in ‘Three Generations of Women’, “We live many lives in a lifetime, you know. And you can’t judge someone without looking at them all together,” (What makes a good character? Watch our play!)

Are there any actors/actresses you would like to write a play for?
AJ: I saw Juliette Stevenson play Winnie in Happy Days at the Young Vic and she was stunning, I don’t think I even blinked until the interval. To keep an audience that engaged when you are, for the majority of the time, neck deep in rubble takes an exceptional actor. I would love to write a one-women play for her.

AT: Olivia Coleman is just phenomenal, I would love to write something for her and I would be fascinated to see how all that screen magnetism translates to stage. And Mark Rylance… (see below). Also, to do a bit of shameless promotion, I was recently lucky enough to write something and direct one of my very favourite TV comedy actors, Sally Phillips, in a short film of mine coming out later this year. It really was one of the most nerve-wracking things I have ever done, particularly since it was my first time directing! I’m not sure a single sentence came out of my mouth in the right order all day, but she was absolutely lovely and very patient! That was a wonderful moment.

What play do you wish you’d written?
AJ: I don’t know if I could pick just one: there are countless times when I have walked out of a theatre and felt so moved and thought, I wish I’d just created that feeling for someone. So maybe instead I shall choose a huge hit – I wish I’d written CATS and then I could lie in my hammock in the Caribbean and write all the things I’ve always wanted to write whist my royalties afford me the champagne lifestyle I will have become accustomed to!

AT: ‘Jerusalem’ by Jez Butterworth. That play blew my mind a little bit. An epic narrative in these small town lives. The layers of mythology drenched in beer spillages. Jonny ‘Rooster' Byron has to be one of the most dynamic and watchable protagonists ever created, and of course Mark Rylance’s portrayal of him added hugely to that. In general any play that reminds me of the power lurking in language – language that can be occupied and steels you against a struggle or a fight, that connects you with who you are – the language of self-possession. Pinter, Miller and Beckett plays are amongst my faves too for that reason.

Can you tell our readers about what you’re doing now/next?

AJ: Alice and I are keen to push on with Broken Leg Theatre’s next production – we have three different projects we want to pursue next and are trying to decide which is the best fit for us at the moment as a company. I am also currently writing a book I’m hoping to be published later in the year. The fictional story has turned a bit autobiographical by mistake, as I feel it is always far more convincing to write from a place of experience and truth, so, sorry old boyfriends and rubbish bosses from a lifetime ago, you may well crop up in it somewhere.

AT: I’m currently under commission to write a feature film, which is in early development. And I am keen to continue to flex my directing muscle on film – I have just completed a new short script and am looking for financing opportunities. And then Anna and I are in the midst of trying to narrow those three ideas down to one and get cracking on Broken Leg Theatre’s next venture. We just need to book in a few sessions over several bottles of red and really hammer it out. We are particularly good at that bit of the writing process.






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Interview with Ben Hales

Interview with Ali Taylor

Interview with Matt Ball

Interview with Tim Fountain

Interview with Glyn Maxwell

Interview with writer Coda Quashie

Interview with Sarah Mann

Interview with Yolanda Mpele

Interview with Howard Barker

Interview with Brian Timoney

Interview with Laura Stevens

Interview with John Sandy

Interview with Philly Greenwood

Interview with Dean Stalham

Interview with Jack McNamara

Interview with Caroline Partridge

Meet People Show artist Gareth Brierley

Interview with George Mann

Meet Phillip Brook, star of Uncle Barry at the Blue Elephant

Interview with Fin Kennedy

Interview with James Graham

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown V

Interview with Cath Whitefield, now appearing at The Gate

Interview with Lavern Archer

Royal Court Announces Autumn Season

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown IV

Marketing Managers on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown III

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown II

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

Arcola to Create World's First Carbon Neutral Theatre

Interview with Nell Leyshon, Writer of Glass Eels at the Hampstead Theatre

A New Start for the Southwark Playhouse

The Mark Shenton Show

Theatre has moved on - whatever we critics think

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