Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Gillian Greer: MEAT

By | Published on Friday 14 February 2020

If you’re interested in theatre, then you may well already be aware of the work of playwright and dramaturg Gillian Greer, whose productions have graced the stages of The Abbey in Dublin and The Traverse in Edinburgh, and who was recently appointed Literary Manager of the capital’s Soho Theatre.

This week her latest play ‘MEAT’ opens at Theatre503. I spoke to Gillian to find out more.

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘MEAT’ is about? What story does it tell?
GG: ‘MEAT’ is the story of Max and Ronan, an ex-couple who reunite over dinner to discuss a night in their past where things went very, very wrong. Max is a writer with her first book coming out, and Ronan is a hotshot young chef with a lot to prove. As they reckon with their shared past, things become explosive.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
GG: The central theme of ‘MEAT’ is consent in relationships. This intersects with a couple of other things, particularly working class masculinity and the relationship between trauma and art. I really wanted to write a knotty, human play where all of these ideas crash into one another in a way that’s complex and thought provoking.

CM: What aims does it have? Is there an intention to provoke discussion or awareness?
GG: The primary aim of this play is to find the heart and humanity in each of the characters, even when that might feel uncomfortable. I hope that in doing so, we will be able to provoke meaningful, nuanced discussion.

CM: What inspired you to create a show dealing with these themes? Where did the idea for this narrative come from?
GG: I tend to see a lot of work that talks about sexual assault, and I have found that these stories are often framed by strangers in the shadows or out and out villains. This wasn’t true to my personal experience, and I really wanted to grapple with the idea that often the ones who hurt us most are the people who love us.

The play is set in a restaurant, and I was also really inspired by the world of professional kitchens. It’s an incredibly masculine, high pressure and often oppressive environment, but it’s also a world that attracts disenfranchised people and offers enormous creative and professional opportunities. I thought it would be a really combustible and potent setting to explore some of these ideas.

CM: Have you been much involved with the production of the play?
GG: Making work on the fringe means that, as a playwright, you are your play’s first champion, and that was very much the case with ‘MEAT’.

I spent quite a lot of time assembling the creative team through meetings with individual artists, with companies and with Theatre503. This is a difficult process, because you need to identify the creatives that are the right fit for the project, sometimes before any funding has been secured.

It was really important to me, particularly given the nature of the play, that this story was told in a safe and responsible way. I’ve been incredibly lucky in finding an amazingly supportive creative team who have been able to make this happen.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creative team?
GG: The play is produced by Emily Carewe and 45North, a new theatre company who specialise in female led work. They’ve been a cocoon of support and a fountain of wisdom, and without Emily and Jess McVay this show would absolutely not be possible.

It’s directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson, whose work I have admired for a while and who is the sharpest and most generous director I could hope to work with, and design is by the dream team of Rachel Stone, Annie May Fletcher and Zia Bergin-Holly, who consistently wow me with their talent.

Our cast – India Mullen, Sean Fox and Elinor Lawless – are all completely fearless and have brought themselves to the play in a big way. The show is also really technically complex, with a lot of food and props and mess, which is all being meticulously brought to life by our inimitable stage manager, Bryony Byrne.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about you, now? Did you always want to be a playwright? What steps did you take to become oneā€¦?
GG: I always wanted to be a writer, but I only really discovered plays when I went to university. I very quickly fell in love with playwriting and started to read plays voraciously, and sort of accidentally fell into script reading jobs as I honed my writing craft. I ended up becoming the Literary Manager of Soho Theatre before I had my first full length play staged in London, so it’s been a bit of a funny road to get here!

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
GG: As a playwright, being nominated for an Irish Times Theatre Award for Best New Play way back in 2015 was an enormous honour, and since then I’m particularly proud of my work as Senior Reader at the National Theatre and as Creative Associate at Clean Break Theatre Company, who are one of the most ambitious and brave companies in the UK.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
GG: I would love to see ‘MEAT’ staged in Dublin, my hometown and where the play is set. Beyond that, I’d love to keep writing and bring another story to the stage in the next few years.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
GG: First things first, I’ll need to write a new play! But in my day job at Soho Theatre, we’ll be announcing the winner of our playwriting competition, the Verity Bargate Award, which is a chance for me to give the gift of a production to another playwright. After bringing ‘MEAT’ to the stage, this feels particularly meaningful.

‘MEAT’ is on at Theatre503 from 19 Feb-14 Mar. For more information, and to book tickets, see the venue website here.