The journey of a play

Each play I write takes me somewhere new. It takes me somewhere I hadn’t imagined I was going initially, and I usually end up with something that looks at the world in a way I hadn’t realised.

I remembered this just as I sat down to hear the read through of the new play I’ve been working on all year. I’d got as far as I could with the voices in my head. I needed to hear how the speeches hit the air before I could figure out the next steps in development. I was excited to discover where hearing it would take me. Like I was a child in the back of the car and my parents were taking me on a surprise trip somewhere.

Maybe if you write full time it’s different. Your capacity for creation is larger so you inhabit the world of the play more intensely and over a shorter period. Even if you’re more of a ‘see where this takes me’ kind of writer like I am rather than a ‘plan it and it will come’, you may have a better grasp of the whole as you’re moving through it at a quicker pace. I have a day job and between that and my life, writing is a humble third of my time these days. So each project is very stop start, and even if I write on the tube on my way to or from work, or carve time out after work, my main chunks of writing happen during holidays and weekends. As the gaps in my quality creative time are longer my plays in development can become the tension between my thoughts three months ago and where the world has moved to today.

You may think that having long gaps between writing sessions would bring more objectivity to the work. Not for me. I end up mulling over characters and possible stories for so long plots can get confused, as I get preoccupied with following characters through new puzzles their stories bring up.

My latest play is no different. In January I was on retreat at Cove Park writing a new draft of an idea tough to pin down the year before. In April a scene was read by the Actors’ Temple at their Playwright/Playread event which made me feel the topic had legs. I rewrote a little and then in May I had a session with David Lane (master dramaturg) to explore the idea further, and this November after I finished a new draft, the Actor’s Temple read the full script aloud for the first time.

After hearing the play read I now find myself at a crossroads. It feels that there are perhaps two plays warring for dominance within the one piece, and I’m not sure which road to take: do I follow the woman who needs to make peace with herself and let her secret out before she can live a full life? Or do I follow the girl searching for her father desperate to make sense of who she is? Both narratives are inside my play The Future is Mine at the moment but which one do I choose? 

One of my wise director friends suggested I think about what the core idea is that I’m trying to communicate to the audience with this piece, and figure out if the characters are explaining it clearly. 

This has really got me thinking and is becoming a great way to think about all the stories in the play and bring coherency to the story. I’m sure I did work on this when I was writing it initially, but hearing it, the core question of the play has definitely got lost. It may be that one of the stories is actually for a different play completely. 

So what is the core idea I’m trying to communicate? That’s my question to ponder over Christmas. It’s been a year of hard work and I can see another mountain looming before I get to the summit of this play. Hopefully I can find a helpful rope bridge or even a lift so I can see things more clearly and piece it all together.

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Out & About: Have you seen Ivy Davies?


As soon as she mentioned the glow-in-the-dark star stickers she had me. I was transported back to being about 12 and sticking my own glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of my bedroom because I was afraid of the dark. Ivy Davies’s show Play Ground however is about time travel: She shoots off into the universe to go back in time and see herself as she was years ago. She was so captivating I time travelled with her. It’s a really great show about love and who you were and who you are now and the tension between all three.

Ivy’s voice is beautiful and it just so happens that she instinctively writes in rhyme so the storytelling and song feel naturally entwined. I also appreciated the nod to a Smiths’ lyric in there too. Effortless, honest and beautifully lyrical it’s so lovely to see a woman hold her own, command her space and her body and the story she’s telling.  She also gives out this very positive vibe, so even though the sad bits are sad, and the reflective bits are forlorn, there’s a positivity about her presence that let’s you know however the story goes it’ll be alright in the end.

I rarely see one woman shows. It’s something I’d love to write, but if it’s not to your taste there’s just nowhere to hide as it’s just performer, text and audience. There’s no worry of that with this show. I think we all came our humming her last song ‘Gravity’. Watching Play Ground reminded me just how simple storytelling can be and has really inspired me to have a go at a one woman show myself I think…

The run has finished at Wilton’s Music Hall now but she’s at the Brighton Fringe in May. Catch her coming down to earth there if you can.

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The future is mine


The more and more I write the more it feels like creating collage rather than writing a story. When I was first writing plays I wrote them from beginning to end, but now, yes, I start working on the central thrust as a forward narrative but along the the way I may write an ending scene before I’ve got to that point in the plot and so I slowly amount a collection of scenes that reveal the story.


This is exactly how I approached my writing during my subsidised self-funded residency at Cove Park. It’s a beautiful freeing space where they just let you get on with whatever project you’re working on however you want to work on it. There’s a main house which has internet, but you’re left to follow your own working pattern undisturbed with only the flora and fauna to keep you company. (My accommodation and working space was the middle unit above).

Here are a couple pictures of my visitors during my 10 days:

Take a look at my Instagram profile for my photo diary from this retreat here.

Polly Stenham describes writing a play as creating ‘a backward explosion’, and once I had my fuse, my bomb and my debris, I was able to successfully create a full draft of the new play I was stuck on all last year!

I could say the future is mine now, but I’d be taking words out of my characters mouths. I haven’t looked at my draft since I got back but I can feel the fire of a new play bristling through me. Watch this space for updates on my progress.

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Getting a bit of fresh air to my brain…

I didn’t reach as many goals as I wanted to last year. As I mentioned in my last blog post I was stuck in the ice-lock for about 6 months unable to write anything. This year however I’m starting off with a bit of time out so I can get some fresh air to my brain and work on ideas I’ve got for a new piece.

I’ve been accepted on to one of the subsidised self-funded residencies that Cove Park are running where I’ll have 10 whole days to just write. I’m getting myself together to work on my new ideas at the moment. I’m finding inspiration from some articles I’ve been reading about how women are being portrayed in popular culture, and the complexity of the power struggles they find themselves in… I’m not putting pen to paper until I get up there so lets just see what I come back with!

I’ll be sharing pictures of my retreat on instagram so follow me there @LucyAveryWrites to see how it’s going. And of course I’ll be blogging next month when I’m back to let you know how I’ve got on.


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Escaping the ice-lock

Or how I’ve been panicking about not writing anything new…


I had so many goals this year: I was going to put the final touches to Godless MonstersI was going to finish the new play I’d started last year and I was also going to make a one act piece full length.

But like a lot of things this year, it just didn’t go to plan.

Godless Monsters is developing well: I’m working with a new director, went on a course to further develop it and had an excerpt shown in April. We’ve had a workshop since and I’ll be refining the play further, but when I went back to work on my new piece in May…


not even anything…



Despite my efforts my new story fell apart and I couldn’t see any way to get it together so I stopped writing it. I tried something new, something small, but even that wouldn’t come. So I just stopped writing. I didn’t even write in my diary (which I’ve had for over 10 years and when my writing projects falter that’s where I go instead).

Playwright Kate O’Reilly thinks of this moment as being similar to the moment captured by Frank Hurley’s photograph (above) of the ship The Endurance stuck in the ice on Ernest Shackleton’s expedition. She’s written a really great blog post on exactly the problem I was having and I realised

I’m a writer locked in the ice!

Her analogy felt a lot better than the term writers block as she talks about tiredness and lack of research as being fuel for this ice-lock rather than it being a total block. O’Reilly doesn’t actually believe in writers block, as she believes

‘the imagination is infinite and as such, can be endlessly resourceful.’

Reading her post ‘Take inspiration and above all, endure….’ really helped me not to panic that I wasn’t writing anything new, and let me allow myself to just sit with my feelings and encouraged me, when I was ready, to do more research into the topic my new play is looking at and find a way to thaw the ice around me.

I also came across a creativity blog by creative mentor Jani Franck.


Picture source:

If you sign up and download her playbook you can explore what point you’re on in what she calls the creativity spiral. It may feel like all your inspiration has gone and will never return, but she encourages you to think of creativity as cyclical and not a static thing. It really helped me to start to understand my own creativity and to do small things to feed my inspiration without looking for results.

And then all of a sudden I was back at my desk…


My writing desk

I’m pleased to say that last month, for the first time in what feels like forever (it’s been about 6 months), I actually had a new idea for my story. I sat down one Saturday morning and just wrote it out. I had a submissions deadline in mind that I just haven’t been able to meet, but that’s ok. The fact that I’m writing new things is reward enough! I’ve also been accepted on a residency (more news on that when it’s all confirmed) early next year so I can take some time out to work on this new angle for my story.

I’ve been frantic these last few months. I’m never working on nothing new. But through this process of taking time out and looking at the nature of my own creativity I realised I hadn’t dried up. I was going through my own process and even if it felt like the ideas I had were too big to make their way onto the page.

I find my best writing comes from the coal way down deep and maybe sometimes you need new earth to grow and pack down before you can mine again. I don’t know how successful my new ideas will be, but I do know that my boat has finally broken the ice, and now I just need to find that mysterious land where my story works.


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So what story are you writing? #allwritingisrewriting #writingtips


All writing is rewriting. It’s what they say but it’s also a truth about the writing process and I believe you can’t be a successful writer unless you enjoy the simple process of getting down words on the page and then amending them, and then amending them again and maybe again and maybe again…

Over the past couple of months I’ve been furiously rewriting my play Godless Monsters. I’ve been set the challenge to break out of the 1 hour Edinburgh friendly format that it took originally and write a deeper story where the audience can really get behind the characters and understand, rather than just observe, the struggle the characters face. I had to take a long hard look at my play and take it a part bit by bit really scrutinising each sequence, each dramatic choice and really open it up for the audience to be able to get inside it.

One of the questions I came to asking myself was: what story am I actually telling?

During my research I came across this great website which looks at the  7 basic plots as featured in the book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker and shows you the structure of each. I thought I was telling one story, and then I thought I was telling another, and then with the help of the articles below I realised I’m trying to tell 2 of these plots through a dual protagonist play!

Whether it works successfully in this context remains to be seen -and I’m sure the script will need a little more work before it makes opening night. But studying these 7 plots gave me some rules to follow and push against, because how can you know what play you’re writing if you don’t know what the blueprint of the story is?

Take a look at the links below for each of the plots. I hope they help you in your work as much as they’ve helped me.

The 7 basic plots
as featured in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker  and explored in articles on The Write

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Rebirth
  6. Tragedy
  7. Comedy
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Are all stories really the same? And does a female character have to be likeable? #NewYearNewPlay #WritingTips


Are you kick starting your year with a new creative project?

I’m starting 2016 with rewriting. I’m taking a shorter project and making it longer, with the help of a director to make sure I’m making sense (and with the hope it’ll be produced). At first the task felt daunting, I thought ‘I’ve said all I have to stay with the story as it is!’, but as I looked again, I could see holes in the story and my struggle (or avoidance) to write a good middle with proper development that the audience can then empathise with and really get behind. It’s actually becoming a really liberating opportunity to immerse myself in my story and characters and also think about what the play is saying.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my blog project last year #12newplaywrightsin12months where I looked at writers who’s work I hadn’t read or seen before, picking up tips that I could apply to my own work. One of my biggest findings and possibly one of the toughest things as a writer is learning to write well and experiment with your own style and voice. This is the real key to making an impact with your play. Finding it maybe easy, but understanding how you can use it to your advantage in a well crafted piece takes skill and opportunity. So as I have the opportunity now I’ve been trawling the web for a little guidance to get me started.

I found this great article by John Yorke, which is actually an excerpt from his book Into the Woods, which I haven’t read, yet, but in this article he looks at the possibility of how all stories are essentially the same as they all

‘journey into the woods to find the dark but life-giving secret within.’

It’s a great read if you’ve come to that point in the writing process where you’re reviewing what kind of story you’re telling to really maximise it’s impact and it has also made me think about how I’m telling it as well as what I’m telling.

Another great article I’ve found is this one. It asks whether all female characters have to be likeable (which they obviously don’t) and then looks at the trend in novels for unlikeable woman protagonists, from Gone Girl to Vanity Fair.

How can all stories be the same yet original?

If the female character is too unlikeable and transgressive, does the audience switch off?

I’m still thinking these things through and I know that my play isn’t going to answer these questions. However by looking at what kind of story I’m actually writing and what I want my audience to feel about my strong female character, I hope to get closer to writing a better play. And I maybe purchasing John Yorke’s book Into the Woods to help me get a little more insight. 🙂

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Use active dialogue, it’s ok to keep the audience in the dark and follow your own style, #topwritingtips #12newplaywrightsin12months


So what makes a good play?

This is the question I’ve been asking myself this year as I challenged myself to read or see 1 play by a playwright I haven’t looked at before each month to broaden my range of inspiration and writing technique. When I’m starting to work on a new project I always read other people’s plays to see what’s already been said on the topic and to inspire me to go further. It’s been a bit of a squeeze fitting this in between my full time day job, writing plays and having a life, but I’ve had a great year of discovery and analysis which is helping me with my own writing.

The playwrights I looked at

I let interest and my own taste dictate the writers I’ve featured on my blog and in alphabetical order they were:

Marina Carr, Danai Gurira, Jennifer Haley, David Harrower, Dawn King, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Martin McDonagh, Alistair McDowall, Duncan Macmillan, Stef Smith, Polly Stenham, Jack Thorne
(Click on a name above for that blog entry)

The writer that’s had the biggest impact on me is Alistair McDowall: I saw his play Pomona and read it and then reread it to figure out its structure. It’s a play that talks to a modern audience and entertains as well as comments on how we live now, which is exactly what I want to do with my work. If you haven’t seen it or read it, DO!

The writer I found most affinity with is Marina Carr: I read more than one of her plays actually, her mix of tragic drama and magic realism really struck a chord with me.

The writer who made me think most about my own style is Stef Smith: Her play Swallow is really beautiful and original and has really made me rethink how you can tell your story so it feels you’re both living the story with the character and you’re also watching them experience their story.

So what are the top 3 tips I picked up?


I’d encourage you to read all the plays I read this year, as each one is unique and you’ll get different tips from each, however, for me these boiled down to:

  • Use active dialogue all the time

Active dialogue can be different things, Duncan Macmillan uses it very differently than Stef Smith for example but actions revealing themselves through dialogue is the key to good drama.

This might sound simple but I’m guilty, as are other writers of putting in a good, beautiful reflective monologue that does nothing to move the action on and my biggest tip from my year is that all speech on stage needs to earn its place. If it’s not active take it out.

  • It’s ok to keep your audience in the dark

My second biggest tip is that you don’t need to tell the audience everything about the situation you’re writing in order for them to get it. Just because you’re introducing something new to them or something complex it doesn’t mean you have to over explain the world or the issue your play looks at. Good examples of this are Dawn King and Alistair McDowall, who actually goes a step further and positions the audience as detective, so it’s up to them to piece the story together as you get flashbacks and flash-forwards presented as forward narrative.

  • Follow your own style

This is the one that sounds so easy but actually, finding your own voice, understanding what that can do and taking it further to make a good, original play is tough. Something all these writers have in common is that they are doing something new with their work. A lot of writing competitions want something new told in a way they haven’t seen before and reading/seeing these plays this year has reminded me how confident and brave you need to be in doing something different with your work to really pull it off. Yes it may not always work but as a writer you need to keep innovating, keep forging your path until the world listens to your side of your story.

A funny thing happened when I was writing my first proper full length play Godless Monsters that was performed this year: I got scared. However brave I’d been with my shorts, e.g. The Birdcatcher, This is How I Lost My Memory, I Hope We Make It Through The Rain, when it came to a full length the task and my vision for it was so big, I didn’t go as far as perhaps I could have and although I’m pleased with how it went, somewhere I know that I was holding back as I was unsure of how far I could go. (And I’m currently working on developing this play into something longer and fuller).

Looking at these writers has really reminded me, and I hope its reminded you of just how good your plays can be if you really believe in the story you’re telling and try to write the best play you can.

It’s been a wonderful year of discovery, reflection and learning and I will definitely keep looking for plays by new writers I haven’t looked at before, to not only get inspiration, but also courage, that however lonely playwriting sometimes feels, a lot of people have gone through the same thing, and their lessons are plain to see in the plays they write.

Here’s to 2016 and all the amazing new plays out there to be discovered and to be written!

Lucy x

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‘A play is a backward explosion’, That Face by Polly Stenham, December’s playwright #12newplaywrightsin12months


“Polly” by Twobster7 – self-made Own work, copyleft, attribution required (Multi-license GFDL, all CC-BY-SA). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 voa Commons.

Part of the Royal Court Young Writers Group, Stenham was 18 when she wrote That Face, the play she submitted at the end of the course that went on to be produced at the Royal Court and the West End. She wanted to write a play about the possible lives of the people attending this famous Chelsea theatre, who live in some of the most expensive property in London and go to the Royal Court to be shocked by the latest theatre but rarely see people like themselves on stage. It also started her exploration of broken family relationships and That Face is now the first of a trilogy where she explores the ‘animalistic side of human nature,’ ‘what you’d really do when someone’s not looking’ and ‘places that aren’t policed’. (All 3 quotes are from this video interview

So what did I learn?


  • Sometimes the best stories are the simple ones

The story of That Face is simple. The 1st scene (which is more like a prologue) incites the action that involves the rest of the play: a school prank goes wrong, the daughter is sent home, her father is called and he comes back from Hong Kong and sends the mother (who’s supposed to be looking after both of their children but who’s been having a mental breakdown) to a mental institution. There are about 4 scenes that are placed outside the home, and the rest are set in the elder brother’s bedroom (he’s been trying to look after their mother after dropping out of school).  There’s no real subplot, the piece moves through the action well and it’s made me think that a play like this must really please its audience: it’s straight forward, not overly complex and you just don’t know how it’s going to be resolved.

Stenham says now that she thinks she was just in the right place at the right time for this play to be picked up. I wonder whether there’s a certain amount of truth in that as with all the talk these days about original work and telling a story not heard before, I’d certainly never think of just telling this kind of story. However, Stenham also says that she felt the audience at the Royal Court had not seen themselves on the stage in this way -a reminder to us all that if you get the right audience in front of a story that directly speaks to them, you’ve got the chance at a very successful play.

  • Make your play explosive

Stenham says someone described writing a play to her as a ‘backward explosion’: after you’ve had your explosion of ideas and creativity it all gets sucked into this play like a bomb ready to be set off by the action of the play (find the quote in this video interview), and that feels like a fitting analogy not only for writing plays but for the play she’s written, though That Face is definitely a forward explosion. When I’m writing I often start thinking about the end (though I don’t realise it). I start thinking about the tussle that’s at the heart of the play and the mass devastation that will occur and then work back from there. I’ve written about plays being a time bomb before (here) but thinking about the process of writing as a backward explosion and even perhaps structuring your process around the mass devastation that will occur later and working back to find out what creates this explosion, and then who serves the bomb up for the characters is a really useful way of thinking about your work in progress. There’s not only a time bomb in That Face -we need to sort things out before Daddy arrives- there’s also an expectation bomb as well which perhaps creates the biggest devastation: when the mother refuses the son’s help and she leaves because his father has told her to, the audience are left wondering if the character of the son will ever get over the shock of his mother (and the centre of his life for so long) leaving him and essentially choosing the father’s help over the son’s. The bomb Stenham plants explodes in the family’s face.

  • Give room for big performances where everything is at stake

Now I know Stenham wasn’t thinking about a West End transfer at all for this show -you can’t think about that kind of thing when you’re writing your first play- however I can absolutely see why it did transfer. At its heart, which has no mention in the action I described in my first bullet (which is an important point to make), is the strange intense relationship between the mother and the son, which becomes the main obstacle to a quick resolution of the story.

There are some lovely intense, challenging acting piece for both mother and son characters and I can imagine when you see the play these performances are thrilling to watch. When my play Godless Monsters was presented this year, I hadn’t quite realised what a great character Esther was for an actress to play until our actress Michal Keyamo was performing her. There are only 2 characters in my play but Esther has the largest emotional range as she goes from the highs of being saved from drowning by God to the depths of despair as she her lover ends their affair. Like Henry, the elder brother in The Face who wants to be the one to save his mother from her mental illness, you see Esther’s struggle against forces she cannot control and it’s this battle that gives actors a lot to play with so they can make the character their own. I remember sitting in the auditorium watching Mikki’s performance thinking how beautiful she’d made my words and how your script, with a good actor, is purely a map for their emotional journey, and it’s their performance that connects those words to the audience successfully. That may be an obvious point, but if you can make sure you give characters intense emotional moments and scenes where they’re fighting against something more extreme, this is not only thrilling for an audience and gets your point across in a way that can’t be ignored, but also, for That Face, means that it has the room to become a star vehicle for a West End run. Matt Smith and Lindsay Duncan played the son and the mother in Stenham’s play and I think another reason why it so swiftly transferred to the West End was because the play gave them a chance to show people what they can do.

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‘My first play, Foxfinder, was read, liked, but not produced by basically the theatres that accept scripts’ Dawn King, November’s playwright #12newplaywrightsin12months

‘My first play, Foxfinder, was read, liked, but not produced by basically the theatres that accept scripts – and not just in London. I’d had lots of meetings with people who said they liked it, but that it was a bit weird, or an unknown quantity. Even if they were interested, they didn’t know how to package it, until it won the Papatango Theatre Company writing competition.’
Dawn King interviewed by Ideas Tap here

Dawn King now writes for theatre, film and TV and is currently working on an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World which will be touring the UK. It hasn’t always been like this. No one wanted to produce her play but she won the Paptango writing award and suddenly her career blossomed. This month I looked at the play that started it.


So what did I learn?

  • Your play doesn’t need to be high drama to be chilling

When I trained as a director I attended some workshops with Katie Mitchell. She’d just opened Ivanov at the National Theatre and was very concerned with Stanislavski’s last phase: the method of physical action. Now I’m a writer I find this teaching haunts me. When I’m writing a scene my thoughts are ‘what is the intention behind this moment of action’, and I find myself thinking in ‘events’ (the way Mitchell taught us to breakdown the script where after you unit the scene, look for the little ‘events’ within that scene and this will give the scene shape: so you then focus on the pre event, event, and then post event in each unit which will help the scene to flow and also peak and trough).

I’m mentioning this because I’m always intrigued when I read plays that are not written in this way. Yes there are events in each of the scenes King writes, but she’s not concerned with a pre-event, event, post-event. There are a lot of small quiet scenes that build to the climactic event in the penultimate scene.

I don’t tend to write quiet scenes. I tend to write rather loud dramatic pieces where the characters are desperately trying to hold on to whatever it is they’re losing control of. Unless someone’s life is somehow in danger and the stakes are raised maybe by extreme behaviour it doesn’t feel dramatic enough for me…

So one of the biggest tips I’ve learnt from this award-winning play, is that slow, subtle scenes that build to a rather incredible event at the end are ok and actually hold your attention very well. The writing doesn’t meander either which, if this was written for television it may do.

  • Always make the personal political

Of course I’m aware of this already and as a writer I’m very interested in ways that the personal/smaller stories you tell resonate with wider politics.

In an interview about Foxfinder King has said she never wanted to

‘present a polemic, but to explore the themes of paranoia.’

‘In the play, we’re dealing with a world in which a person has the power to come into your house, and is dangerous, and you can’t shut the door on him. I find the power of belief interesting and scary.’

Both quotes are from this interview.

It’s a subtle piece that takes an unnerving look at a countryside you recognise, but at the same time you don’t. You don’t have to be loud, brash and dramatic to be chilling, or to make the events of your play resonate with wider politics… Lots for me to think about on this as I’m planning to redraft a piece I wrote a while ago -this may just be the key to re-visioning it.

  • Even if you use fantasy/sci-fi elements, you don’t need to give the audience too much info

This is also something that I found in the 2015 Papatango award-winning play that I saw: Tomcat, which is also set in a future similar to our own as Foxfinder is. With events such as foot and mouth and the B.S.E crisis we are used to seeing farms in difficult times, but King still didn’t explain much about the situation the farmers were in and how the society had got to the point of blaming the fox for their problems and possibly eradicating the species. There’s maybe only one or two lines about it but that’s all you need as an audience member/reader because we go with what we’re given if the story in front of us is engaging and speaks to us on a truthful level. It reminded me a bit of Caryl Churchill’s Far Away and how that piece also unnerves you by presenting this future reality through the actions of the play rather than describing the world with exposition (which is always the best way to present any drama).

So once again lots to think about for my own writing, and I hope yours too!

December’s playwright


Polly” by Twobster7 – self-made Own work, copyleft, attribution required (Multi-license GFDL, all CC-BY-SA). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.


For my last blog in this series I’ll be looking at Polly Stenham and her first play which premièred at the Royal Court before going to the West End, That Face.

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