For our third blog entry, Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Assistant Director Phil Bartlett caught up with Merit playwright Alexandra Wood. In 2007 Alexandra won the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright and she was the Big Room Playwright-in-Residence at Paines Plough in 2013:
Where do you write?
I need somewhere quiet, with as few distractions as possible. I tend to do a lot of my research at the British Library, which isn’t far from where I live, and then write at home, where I’m free to talk to myself, read the lines out loud, and drink as much coffee as I want.
What’s your favourite part of the process of having a new play staged, from having the initial idea to closing night?
I enjoy writing a first draft, at that stage the play can still be everything you hope it might be, it’s full of possibilities. And it usually involves research, so I’m full of facts for about a month, until I forget them all. I always learn something from hearing it read by actors for the first time. And I also weirdly enjoy auditions, even though it can be repetitive, hearing different actors respond to the play is again, always revealing.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just read, and totally recommend, A Woman in Berlin, which is a diary written by an anonymous woman living in Berlin in 1945, when the Russians conquered the city. She and her fellow citizens, especially the women, are subjected to unspeakable horrors, but the courage with which she gets on with things is astounding. I also recently read Kazuo Ishiguro’s harrowing Never Let Me Go, and Raymond Carver’s short story collection, Cathedral, which is stunning.
How long did Merit take to write? How does this compare to other plays you’ve written?
Merit came out of a short play I wrote as part of a festival at the Royal Court in the summer of 2013. Five writers were asked to respond to how the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain) had been affected by the finanical crisis, and I was ‘assigned’ Spain. I spent the second half of 2013 writing the rest of the play, using the short as my starting point. So I guess it took about six months, on and off. There’s no standard amount of time a play takes to write, but once I’ve done my research and know where I’m going (at least the general direction) I tend to write quite quickly.
Have you been to Plymouth before? If so, what are your memories of it? If not, what preconceptions do you have?
I ran a writing workshop at the theatre in 2008, but that’s the only time I’ve been. I just remember it being a long train journey back to London, and being far drunker than I’d intended when I arrived in Paddington! But I’m looking forward to spending a bit more time there with Merit, and discovering what the people of Plymouth and its surrounding areas make of it.