Since having her first full play produced at The Crucible when she was 18, playwright Laura Wade has won critical acclaim with Colder Than Here, Breathing Corpses and Alice. Last year she made headlines with her portrayal of a fictional elite Oxbridge club in Posh. Laura tells us why young writers need to think big…
Have you always wanted to write for theatre?
I’ve loved theatre from when I was tiny. I’d write plays and force my brother to perform them in the sitting room, which was thoroughly embarrassing for him and for my parents who were required to watch them.
How did the Royal Court Young Writers Programme help you?
It helped to equip my toolbox. Before, I’d had ideas but hadn’t known how to shape them properly – my plays were boring or I didn’t know how to go beyond my own brain or experience.
It’s thrilling to feel you’ve got a place that’s your professional home - we’re essentially nomadic as a profession. I love the Royal Court and feel excited when I go there, unless I’m watching the final tech of one of my plays and feel like I want to be sick.
How integral is research to your work?
You need to equip yourself with information to write from a position of knowledge. It can become a millstone around your neck if you do too much of it because you need enough room to create fiction – your play will have a metaphor that the facts need to bend around.
Are you a disciplined writer?
The ratio of actual writing to dicking around on the internet depends on where I am in the process. When I’m starting a play, there’s a tortuous period where nothing seems to be happening.
Once I know the structure and the scenes, then I’m bashing it out and it looks a lot more like work. I’m a planner. Part of the joy of writing a play is in the engineering of it, finding the right form for the story you want to tell.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Don’t spend all your time writing for 10-minute play nights. Get to grips with a full-length play that introduces your voice. As wonderful as short plays are, they’re one-trick ponies and hopefully you’re a pony with more than one trick. Think big.
It’s good to have things in your life that put you in contact with people because that’s what you’re writing about.
It crystallizes your desire to do something if you’re working nine till five, then doing something else in the evening because you love it. The number of times I’ve had a boss come up to me while I was writing at my desk in some temp job and had to hurriedly put some PowerPoint presentation on... I’m glad to have done different jobs, otherwise you might just end up writing plays about being a writer.
Posh was staged in the lead-up to the general election, which stirred controversy. What did you want an audience to take away from it?
It was the theatre’s decision to put it on when they did. It was great because we had a lot of attention but it did mean that people were trying to draw parallels with the Tory party – which one’s David Cameron?
None of them are. It simply isn’t the case that they’re based on actual people. I wanted people look at the behaviour of that group and consider the way we put our trust in people who’ve had privileged backgrounds.
IN FOCUS: Writer’s block…
I’ve never been so blocked that I can’t keep going on some level with planning but sometimes a play will just abort itself. You’ve got an idea that isn’t, when you get down to it, rich enough. Either that means that you’re not quite ready to write it yet and it needs to go back in the bottom drawer, or it’s not the right play for you to write or there’s not enough there for a play.
If it’s not working, put the pen down and go out for a walk. Do something different: do whatever you do to get your brain going again rather than being chained to a desk. Go to an art gallery or see a film – put some stuff back into your brain and your body. It’s not always about sitting there with a stopwatch beside you and making sure that you’ve spent seven hours at the desk.
The Royal Court offers mentoring schemes and writing competitions for young playwrights throughout the year. Find out how you can apply.
Writers can also apply to take part in this year’s Old Vic New Voices 24 Hour Plays.
Image courtesy of Philip Hollis.