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In Conversation with Victoria Willing and Marie McCarthy about SAD

Image: Victoria Willing, writer of SAD

This month marks the return of collaborative duo playwright Victoria Willing and director Marie McCarthy, the Artistic Director of Omnibus Theatre with the staging of SAD, a new dark comedy about the messiness of life. The play follows on from Victoria’s 2017 hit Spring Offensive (for which she was nominated Best New Writer, for The Stage Debut Awards). Here she drops in on Marie during a break in rehearsals and the two shine a light on each other’s process.

Marie McCarthy: I’m just loving every moment of being back in the rehearsal room. It’s such a privilege to work on such a great script.

Victoria Willing: Yes, it’s so great to be finally getting this play on its feet. I’m so excited to see it come alive after so long.

MM: What I love about your writing is how scaled back it is. Every full stop and word has intent. There’s nothing spare and that’s what is so interesting for me in rehearsals - working with the actors and exploring the multiple options - why a character is saying what they are saying. You've always done that with your work. How has that evolved?

VW: *Pauses.
I guess when I'm writing a conversation between two people I think about what each of them is really wanting to get across and quite often it’s the opposite of what somebody is saying. It's certainly not spoken. So rather than saying what they mean, I like to show what they mean by not saying what they mean. If you know what I mean!

…I think I've always done that, and it’s helped by the way I'm hearing the language in my head as I'm writing. It is almost like music. There's a rhythm to it. A beat and that's why sometimes I repeat certain words.

MM: There’s a great logic to your work and great precision, which is what's so exciting about directing this play. I think once we open next week and as the run continues over the next three weeks, I think the cast will find so much stuff in there to bounce off each other and to respond to each other, there are layers and layers and layers.

VW: Yes. How do you work with a script that has so much ambiguity, where everything can be played in a certain way?

MM: Research and analysis is really important. Making sure everyone understands what they are saying and why they are saying it. We look at the timeline, the world and how and why it exists. The next stage is about looking at what is the emotional journey throughout. That’s where we are at right now.

MM: We are blessed with this incredible cast of actors that can adapt and flex in any way that you need them to. And it’s about having that kind of raw material to work with. We've got your rich words Vicki and the cast. It just feels like such a creative process of discovery.

Somethings go wrong and somethings go right but it just feels like you're mining material the whole time, which in my experience of working with new writing is quite rare.

VW: It's really heartening to see the actors getting it so easily Marie. They’ve absorbed it and understand the meaning behind what is being said.

MM: Music is a really important to you and you’ve chosen some brilliant tracks throughout this play. Do you listen to music as you are writing or do you do the writing first then you get the music?

VW: I usually find a track that becomes the ‘inspiration track’. Like with Spring Offensive which we did in 2017 it was ‘She’ by Charles Aznavour. *Sings… She Maybe the Face I Can’t Forget, da da da da da da’. I played that every day before I started writing because it kind of gave me the essence of the main character. And it made me sort of channel her.

With SAD it was Bowie’s Moonage Daydream because it punches right from the beginning. It's very assertive and a little bit scary. It’s a little bit about monsters and creatures and you don't quite know what's going on. And also because the lead character in SAD, Gloria is a Bowie fan, so I liked to listen to Bowie when I was writing.

It reminds me of when I used to write as a teenager and everything would have music with it. I’ve always listened to pop and rock music and it always felt like I had to have a song at the end of each scene. It complements the writing at certain times.

MM: Yes, it’s part of the narrative, isn’t it? That’s what it feels like. The story is interwoven with the music which is nice, it’s not just stuck on.

VW: Yes, exactly. And it adds to a mood that is hopefully created for the audience. So yes, I love to use music.

MM: The inspiration for the character in SAD, like Spring Offensive is a very strong, interesting and complex. What is it about these women you create?

VW: I think with any writer, there is something in there about themselves. I have put myself into these lead women. I'm not Gloria and the things Gloria does are not anything I've done. But there's something about the feeling that is being expressed, shown from her actions, which are like the feeling that many of us have at a certain age when we are turning 60. The surprise, the shock, the strangeness of it and the way that as you get older you feel more alienated from what's going on in the world. It seems that you're side-lined. Kind of invisible.

So, I think the inspiration just came initially from being someone who was turning 60 and wanting to write a good part for a woman of that age.

Image: Marie McCarthy, Artistic Director of Omnibus Theatre

MM: When I look at the theatre industry, most of the work and writing I'm seeing come through for Omnibus Theatre is from brilliant young people, which is fantastic. There is lots of choice which I really do love, but I don't receive much from over 40s or if I do it's a very traditional version of what it is to be 60.

I feel I'm 30! I'm 30 inside my head. I can't run as quickly as I could at 30 but I refuse to be defined by age. I just refuse. I did struggle with hitting big milestones, but I’ve just gone into denial!

*Both laughing*

VW: Yes, me too!

VW: I guess this play is an exploration of age and what is expected of someone at a certain age.

MM: I think there is just SO much pressure to be achieving, doing, being at a certain place in your career or in your life. Everyone does experience it, but it's just not talked about or explored and that's what's different about SAD. It's exploring those issues on stage. And specifically for women.

VW: Yes, this play isn’t about clichés with a 60-year-old in it who happens to walk in wearing an apron and just made a batch of scones or something.

*Both Laughs*

MM: No, this is a 60-year-old that's doing Pogo. That’s THIS 60-year-old. You feel that there is nothing that would stop her. I find Gloria inspirational. She’s complex, but I really love her spirit. I find her hopeful as well, which on first working with you on it, I didn't realise that, but I just think it's a tremendously hopeful piece of work and it gives us permission. Permission to be who we are because there's this lead character who is just doing her thing.

VW: Yes, it’s an entertaining piece but it’s also a story with so much heart. I hope audiences are going to laugh, cry, enjoy themselves and love the music and sharing the company of these four brilliant characters.

Gloria’s music taste spans Bowie to Daft Punk. She was an “actual punk”. Gloria’s playlist, compiled by writer Victoria Willing, can be found here.

SAD opens at Omnibus Theatre from the 5 -30 April. Previews on 5,6 April. For more information go to omnibus-clapham.org

Image: Poster for SAD

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