Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Kathryn O’Reilly: Screwed

By | Published on Tuesday 28 June 2016


It’s possible you would recognise Kathryn O’Reilly from one of her many appearances on TV and on stage: she’s graced our screens in the likes of  ‘Call The Midwife’ and ‘Lewis’, and has most recently been treading the boards of the Arts Theatre in ‘The View From Islington North’.
However,  her debut script, ‘Screwed’ opens at Theatre503 this week, and that’s what I wanted to talk to her about. I put some questions to Kathryn, to find out more about the play, and her journey as a writer.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the story of the play? What’s the basic premise?
KO’R: It’s about two soul mates, Luce and Charlene, who are binge-drinking alcoholics who hold down a job, but party most nights. Very definitely products of the 90s ladette culture, and they haven’t moved on. They’re ladettes in 2016, living for the moment and on the edge. Paulo, a friend and fellow factory worker, has been recently promoted and has dreams to improve his circumstances and turn friendship with one of the women into something more. Doris, Luce’s parent, has struggles of her own and has an on-line sex advice vlog that she’s trying to get off the ground. All are caught up in the chaos of Luce and Charlene’s lifestyle… and you’ll have to come and watch the play to find out the rest…

CM: What themes does the show highlight?
KO’R: I would say the main themes in the play are friendship and ladette culture (binge drinking, promiscuity, violence in women). Plus gender roles, power, parenting, choices and consequences.

CM: What made you come up with the idea for this, and what made you want to tackle this particular topic?
KO’R: The play actually grew out of a poem that I’d written for Eloise Joseph and me about two women who were always out on the pull, and so when I started to write it into a play one of the locations remained a night club. As I developed the play it just grew darker and it became evident that alcohol played a big part in their lives and so I followed this thorough. Binge drinking is a very real and important issue that needs addressing, it claims too many lives and affects us all. Ladette Culture dates back to WW1, then boomed again with full force in 80s and 90s. It’s a subject that is never out of the press. So I began to think what is the extent of the effect today on those women and society itself?

“Well, fellow ladettes, you can’t say they didn’t warn us. Back in the 1990s, when we were all drinking ourselves into the gutter, experts said it was a ticking timebomb… twenty years on, we’re not challenging the powerful alcohol lobby, we’re not challenging lad culture, and we’re not challenging the idea that women are merely an immature version of men, requiring control and admonishment whenever they venture into adult space. I hate to say it, but such a trio of failures is enough to turn any person to drink.” Glosswitch (New Statesman July 2013)

CM: Alcohol dependency is a pretty tough subject – was it a difficult thing to address? How easy was it to inject humour into the piece? Did you do research into the issue?
KO’R: I agree. All I knew was that I wanted to present it in the most honest way that I could for the characters in the play, and as realistically as I could. Alcohol dependency can be brutal and have devastating consequences, it costs so much, on every level, in every way, but there is hope and there is a better way for people. I read lots of books, spoke with people and watched lots of documentaries. YouTube is flooded with them, some are quite heart breaking. Also I invited the wonderful and inspiring Jackie Malton, who has a MSc from London South Bank University in Addiction Psychology & Counselling, to come into a rehearsal and speak with me, the director, and cast on the subject of alcoholism.

In terms of the comedy, the poem that Screwed grew out of was comedy piece. Mainly as a result of the banter between the two characters, riffing off each other as they spoke crudely and saucily about the men they were after. So I guess that element of the characters personalities carried over with them when they developed within the play.

CM: Do you think that theatre can raise awareness of such problems?
KO’R: I think theatre is an invaluable tool for education. It’s also a safe place, certainly the majority of the time in this country in which to present particular stories, explore characters and subject matter, thereby raising awareness and facilitating thought and debate. As a consequence of witnessing a play or working on a play from the inside, it may contribute to changing or indeed deepening peoples thinking, awareness and understanding of particular topics and issues. And hopefully expanding peoples’ minds, views and opinions of others with differing views and circumstances to their own.

CM: You’re also a performer, and this is your debut play, isn’t it? What made you decide to make a foray into playwriting?
KO’R: Well, I’ve been writing for a while now; in terms of playwriting, I joined the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme many moons ago, and later attended playwriting courses at City Lit run by Jemma Kennedy. When I was at LAMDA drama school, the principle Peter James read my first play and gave me an opportunity to share the play with his students on the directing course, which I didn’t really pursue, possibly out of fear.

However, at LAMDA there used to be poetry competitions, which were absolutely brilliant, the whole academy filled the MacOwan Theatre and the buzz and warmth was amazing. In 2007 I’d written a poem for myself and actor Gary Carr, and we won, I was full of fear and excitement at the time, however it was a wonderful, unforgettable experience and I knew I wanted to make that poem into a play, which I later did. ‘Klink Klank Echoes’ was selected for a staged reading at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of Rikki Beadle-Blair’s Louder Than Words Festival in 2009, and I appeared in it with Gary Carr, Anthony Welsh and Eloise Joseph (who plays Luce in Screwed).

Next I wrote ‘Scarred’ which had a reading and went into development at Out of Joint directed by Blanche McIntyre, with a cast including Carey Mulligan, Celia Imrie, Jamie Foreman, Johnny Harris, Phil Davis, Emma Lowndes and Matthew Needham. It was also longlisted for the Bruntwood playwriting competition. ‘Severed’ was my next play that was selected for Rikki Beadle-Blair’s Angelic Tales Festival and had a staged reading at Stratford East Theatre Royal. My shortest play, ‘Caught’ is a five minute, two hander that I wrote for myself and actress Jacqui-Lee Pryce and we performed it at Boom! Festival at the Bush Theatre. I’ve also had development on ‘Poisoned Polluted’ with Patrick Morris at Cambridge Junction Theatre and ‘Klink Klank Echoes’ with Elizabeth Newman at Bolton Octagon Theatre.

So it’s been a real journey to get to my first full production, it feels amazing, and to be published by Nick Hern books is the icing on the cake.

CM: What are your hopes for the play in the future?
KO’R: I think we have to see what the response is like to determine if will have a future beyond this production and go from there. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if it had a further life and could be taken to more audiences in other areas?

CM: What else have you got planned?
KO’R: At the moment I am currently acting in ‘A View From Islington North’ directed by Max Stafford-Clark at the Arts Theatre which finishes at the start of July and then I have an episode on ‘Holby City’ coming out. As a writer I am making a third short film and am currently working on one of my plays which has an all female cast that I’d like to get into production next year. Fingers crossed!

‘Screwed’ is on at Theatre503 from 28 Jun-23 Jul, see the venue website here for all the info and to book.

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Photo: Hana Kovacs