"If more people were sorry then maybe things would change" - In Conversation With Susie Sillett
Our first season of New & Nurtured performances comes to an end this week with (sorry) by Susie Sillett. We caught up with her to discuss her new work, growing up in the Midlands and how her writing reflects her personal experiences.
Your play is all about millennials – how has your age influenced your work?
I tend to write about subjects that relate to my own personal experience or knowledge; stories with which I have my own connection. As part of my process I do a lot of additional research to gain a broader perspective and discover new insights, but it's important for me to have that initial starting point, something that lets me be honest and open up. In this case, my age has significantly influenced the work, and my own identity definitely informs and feeds into the play. Funnily enough, my next project dives into the opposite end of the pool and will be looking at three women in their 70s.
Tell us about your play…
The play is about a young woman opening up; letting us see every secret part of her. Her worries, her wants. It's about how young people are often made to feel guilty for things often outside their control; guilty for not being further in their careers, for not having more time for their friends, for destroying the whole planet.
You take the audience on a journey in (sorry) – where are you from?
I grew up in a tiny hamlet near Stratford-upon-Avon, went to Warwick University and now live in Coventry, so I'm very much a Midlands girl. The character in the play talks a lot about London, which is where she thinks everyone is and there is a sense that she feels she's missing out on something even though ultimately she's glad to be where she grew up. I think there is a growing feeling that people would rather live closer to family and not end up dislocated somewhere less familiar. My parents moved hundreds of miles away from their family members, but my siblings all live in the Midlands.
You have worked closely with The REP before – why do you think The REP is a great space to showcase your own work as well as that of other strong women?
The REP is an absolutely brilliant place to work. It's friendly and supportive; providing opportunities and nurturing talent in the Midlands. I love to showcase my work here because The DOOR is such a versatile space and the programming is so varied and inclusive. I have always felt safe and happy in The REP. My voice is listened to and amplified, which is so important when many other prominent theatres prefer to ignore plays by women.
What do you think are some of the main challenges millennial women face and how does your play address these challenges?
The key challenges explored within the play are employment, friendship, and the environment, which I think are some of the biggest issues facing young people right now. Many are overworked and underpaid, while others can't get a foot on the ladder. As rent and house prices continue to rise, it becomes harder to find any kind of stability as a young adult, with a large proportion living back home with parents or left homeless. In the future, as public services face further cuts, I think these financial issues will have further, deeper effects in terms of health and other problems. As far as friendship goes, this is something that has gained greater complexity and significance in young people's lives. Loneliness is increasing across all generations and, to a certain extent, young people are finding ways to cope with this through social media and stronger online connections, though this comes with increased pressure to be available 24/7 and redefines what it means to be a 'good' friend. With regards to the environment, this feeds into a general awareness and worry that comes with being informed but relatively powerless. Parts of the world are already in crisis, with flooding in Kiribati and craters in Russia, we're starting to see the real symptoms caused by human impact. The character in the play is aware of her own complicity in the changing climate and destruction of the environment and wants to change, but knows that there is only so much she can do and the piece is about coming to terms with her own personal responsibility.
Your play is titled (sorry) – do you think young people, and women in particular, need to be less apologetic?
No. I think other people need to be more apologetic. If you're not sorry for what's going on then you don't fully grasp what's going on. If more people were sorry then maybe things would change.
Why do you think it is important to have strong women at the forefront of theatre?
I think it's important to have women at the forefront of theatre. All kinds of women. 50%, at least. From a range of backgrounds. Women have stories to tell and can tell them in a way that men can't. I am bored of theatre by men. I went to the Edinburgh Fringe for a week and saw 18 shows and only one of them was by a white, cis, hetero man and it was rubbish.
What message would you like women in particular to take from your work?
They're not alone.
What inspired you to choose the form of monologues and a single voice?
I didn't really. I wrote the first monologue as part of a commission from Women and Theatre along with four other writers. Phoebe Frances Brown who performed my piece then asked if I would be willing to expand it into a full show. I felt there was more material in writing three separate monologues and that's how it happened. I think there's something exciting about monologues and indulging in a single voice. It gives you an opportunity to completely ignore the concept of subtext and just splurge everything, every thought the character has, out onto a page.