BAFTA-winning writer Abi Morgan's new play, Lovesong (pictured below), is a four-hander about a couple at the beginning and end of their relationship. Here, the creator of The Hour talks to Jo Caird about her return to theatre after 10 years writing mainly for film and TV, being reunited with physical theatre company Frantic Assembly and her love of ego-Googling…
You last worked with Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly 10 years on Tiny Dynamite. How does it feel to be reunited with them on Lovesong?
They were very instrumental in my formative years in terms of writing. They were part of a whole group of people we were working with at the same time, like Vicky Featherstone – who now runs the National Theatre of Scotland – Stephen Greenhorn, Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Kane. Scott and Steven feel very embedded in that period for me, so it’s been really interesting coming back and working with them again. They really inspired me in a very different way and I think because they’re a physical theatre company, they allow me to be quite poetic in a way that I don’t think I can be in quite the same way in film and television.
It’s been a long time since you last had a full-length play produced...
I have written a couple of plays during that time but I genuinely have found plays really hard to write. I think it’s partly focus and it’s partly that I really feel like the domain of the playwright is the voice that has something to say. I think that perhaps there was an urgency to the way I wrote in my twenties. I don’t know if you just get fatter and more complacent the older you get, but I definitely find that not just my motivation, but what I want to write about, feels very different and the energy in which I write feels very different.
Lovesong is quite abstract in terms of its form – is there a greater freedom in writing for theatre than for film or television?
I feel like writing for theatre uses a very different part of my imagination. Lovesong, more than anything else I’ve written, is a sort of tone poem. It certainly doesn’t have a four-act structure – it’s a series of scenes – but there is for me a simple kind of poetic concept, which is the ageing of two different couples in two different periods in their life, really, that you realise are one.
I like the fact that most of life is made up of taking out the rubbish bins, going to birthday parties and picking old socks up the floor. I love the great moments of tragedy and the great moments of happiness, but most of the time it’s mushed together with the metronome of domesticity and just the day-to-day grind of life. In a way, theatre allowed me to explore the simplicity of that idea, whereas if I’d presented that as a film, I wonder if an audience would have held on and kept watching or flicked over to another channel.
Do you read your reviews?
I really want to be cool, and say I don’t, but I read everything and hate myself for it. I’m the sort of person who Googles my own name. It’s a terrible form of narcissism and I’m going to stop it – it’s very bad for you! The thing is that the bad reviews are so painful. I don’t know why I do it, it’s like picking a scab. But you know what? You put yourself out there as a writer and you’ve got to take it on the chin. If people want to engage with you, good or bad, they have every right to do it.
It’s a great privilege, the fact that people want to tune in and listen to what I write; so if they don’t like it, it breaks my heart, but they’ve got every right to say they don’t like it, it wasn’t for them. You’ve just got to deal with it.
What excites you most about writing for theatre?
It’s that feeling of needing to put myself on my toes again. Most of the time when I write I don’t witness people’s response to it. There’s nothing crueller or more enjoyable than the barometer of an audience. When you’re sitting in an audience and you can see them yawning and looking at their watches, you can see when the play’s sagging; and when they’re feeling engaged and you can hear a pin drop, you know something has worked.
Lovesong is currently at the Drum Theatre, Plymouth until 15 October, before touring to the Warwick Arts Centre, the West Yorkshire Playhouse, the Chichester Festival Theatre, the Lyric Hammersmith, London and the Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow. Find out more.
Main image courtesy of Sarah Lee.