I was on attachment to the National Theatre Studio in London five years ago when I got the impulse to write a play for women covering the age range from sixteen years to seventy six. It’s quite unusual to have that spread across three generations, and a prospect I relished. When I was starting out in theatre as a performer, I often heard the lament from older women of the ‘thin’ roles available to female performers once we passed the easy-on-the-eye ingénue parts. ‘Once you’ve done Lady M in the Scottish play there isn’t really anything until septuagenarian Lady Bracknell’ I can remember being told by a veteran of the old rep’ system. Once I moved off-stage into writing full time, I swore I would create big, complex, juicy parts for women to compensate for the apparently watery gruel so many talented actresses believed they were fed.
Fast forward twenty years and a rehearsal room in Grangetown filled with Welsh national treasures: Sharon Morgan, Sara Beer, Ri Richards, Llinos Daniel, Ruth Lloyd and Bethan Rose Young: three generations of one seething, complex, love-you-to-death family, matriarchs and viragos, every one.
I love writing for women – and it has been a particular delight to be working with such fine actresses. Since our first R&D back in June 2015, their comic timing, emotional intelligence and ability to play the fine details rather than the broad strokes has urged me on to polish and refine the script. In the past heaven has been defined by theatre folk as being eternally in rehearsal, and I go with this – except I’m impatient to see the product, these six women taking to the Weston Studio stage.
‘Cosy’ is a dark comedy looking at the at times difficult things that make us human: Our relationship with siblings, mothers and daughters; our relationship to our ever-changing bodies. When we’re young we can’t wait to be older, adding years to our sum – the same years often dropped from the accounting when we’re older, approaching that ‘certain age’ when vibrant women in their prime often become invisible.
Getting older is an important subject for all, regardless of gender, in this youth-loving society where, if we believed the media, sixty is the new forty and forty the new twenty-five. How we navigate becoming mature, and the inevitable last curtain lends itself to serious, poignant and comic exploration. It’s wonderful to get my playwright hands on such multi-layered and emotionally rich material, creating parts that reveal the paradoxes and flaws at the heart of likeable characters. I believe humour allows us to embrace challenging subjects, and in our rehearsals our cast seem as adept at making me laugh as bringing a lump to the throat. I hope I am holding up my side of the bargain when I said, all those years ago, I wanted to write meaty parts for this nation’s outstanding female performers.
A great compliment came during our first read-through from our youngest member of cast, Bethan Rose Young. ‘I could act in this play right through my whole career,’ she said, ‘starting now with the granddaughter, growing into playing the sisters and mother, and in fifty years playing the grandmother.’
It’s quite something, and humbling, to think a play I’ve written could accompany an actress throughout her life.
Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. March 8 to 12.
Images: Farrows Creative