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Interview: From Florida to the Yorkshire Dales, Lily Bevan explores the effects of climate change in Zoo

Photo Credit: Idil Sukan

It's only February and Lily Bevan is having an impressive year. Straight off the back of the Vault Festival's production of ten comedic character monologues, all penned by Bevan, comes her latest venture, Zoo. Set between a tropic storm in Miami and the windswept Yorkshire Dales, Zoo explores the lives of two women in all their funny, awkward complexities. Run Riot caught up with Lily Bevan to learn more about the inspiration behind it.

Kerenza Evans: How did you devise the plot for Zoo?
Lily Bevan: One night in September 2017 as fierce Hurricane Irma headed for Florida, I saw an American news report on TV featuring an enthusiastic zoo keeper being interviewed about procedure for preparing her zoo for lock down during the hurricane.
During this interview she held two twining scary black snakes in her arms. They reared and hissed and she stoically batted their fanged heads away as she got wet in the early hurricane rain and talked chirpily about her plan of action for the night.. Locking up the tigers in bunkers, the fish stay in the aquarium etc. I took notes - and some of her words form Bonnie’s first monologue.
Zoo is the story of the night I imagine that brave woman then faced. I have tried to find her again online but try as I might, and however many YouTube clips of zoo keepers in hurricanes I watch, I never have. The play is in part dedicated to her. I really hope she did ok.

Kerenza: Zoo is set in both Miami and the Yorkshire Dales. What were the design challenges in setting the play in two very disparate locations?
Lily: Erica Greenshields, our designer, came up with a clever simple set design which serves the outdoor spaces of both locations. Then our lighting designer Tom Clutterbuck transforms Yorkshire to be stormy and darker, whilst Miami stays sunny and bright - until the hurricane comes...

Kerenza: Is it challenging to derive humour from serious topics such as climate change?
Lily: I don't try to make everything funny. So much of life is painful, scary and disappointing and we live in scary times - the jokes need to drop in as and when they can. I'm not into making light of darkness.

Kerenza: What are the similarities and differences between your female protagonists?
Lily: In Zoo I gave Bonnie (my role) a best friend (as we all need those) - Carol. Carol is based in part on different teachers I’ve had who don’t seem to like children. Though we are not our characters Carol was written for my friend Lorna Beckett who grew up on a farm in Yorkshire, and is much more practical than I am. In real life I love and am balanced by Lorna - as Bonnie is by Carol. So that was easy to find. I am quite like Bonnie in ways - and I did grow up partly in the USA - but there’s a bit of me that is Carol too - yin and yang, open and closed. When I write I can introduce the two.
Both women are strong, ambitious, brave, wild and weird. And hopefully funny. Though neither would know it.

Kerenza: Like one of your protagonists, do you too prefer animals to people?
Lily: This is a nice question. I prefer some animals and some people. I like dogs, flamingos, owls, hedgehogs, boxfish, David Bowie, Dawn French, Michelle Obama etc. Less keen on cats, snakes, Donald Trump, Piers Morgan etc.

Kerenza: Throughout Zoo, have you chosen to focus on your characters' strengths or their flaws?
Lily: Strengths. But we find their strengths at the bottom of their flaws.

Kerenza: Do you think theatre is more valuable as a source of education or escapism?
Lily: I think it's valuable inspiration. And triangulation. Inspiration to follow your own dreams and ideas. Triangulation from issues. For example, if you and your friend could do with talking about something - politics, body image, death, love - and you see a play, and after in the bar you talk about that thing at last via reflecting on the story of the play, because the play has triangualated you. That.

Kerenza: Which subjects do you feel are currently under-represented in theatre?
Lily: Bullying from older men in power. There was a grim article in The Telegraph recently criticising the casting of various talented women in 'traditional' roles. Theatre is a good place to keep protesting that dangerous 'we know the right way' voice of instruction. It's very ingrained. But theatre is all about pulling the rug out - and there are surprising ways to pull rugs. Let's do it.

Zoo plays at the Vault Festival from February 25th - March 1st 2020. To buy tickets, please click here.

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