Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Liv Warden: Anomaly

By | Published on Monday 14 January 2019

You may already be aware of ‘Anomaly’, a new play that opened at The Old Red Lion Theatre earlier this month, as it’s already attracted a positive critical response. If you haven’t, and if your interest is quite piqued – as mine was – by the idea of a play about the bad behaviour of a media mogul, and the impact on his family, then you’re in luck.

It certainly seemed to me like a play very definitely appropriate to the post #metoo world, and I was intrigued, so I spoke to playwright Liv Warden, to find out more.

CM: Can you begin by giving us an outline of what the play is about? What story does it tell?
LW: In ‘Anomaly’ we see the 24 hours following media mogul Phillip Preston’s arrest for assaulting his wife. His three daughters are left to pick up the pieces and we are taken with them as they fight to save the family dynasty and deal with the media frenzy as insidious details of their family come spilling out.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
LW: Sisterhood, reputation, loyalty, secrets, abuse of power, resentment and sensationalism.

CM: Given the focus of the recent #metoo wave on perpetrators and victims, this seems like quite an alternative angle to look at this kind of story from. What made you decide to approach the subject this way?
LW: It wasn’t a conscious decision to put a different spin on it. ‘Anomaly’ started off as a story about a daughter who has a difficult relationship with her father – Hollywood was never part of the plan. But when the Harvey Weinstein story broke and I heard that horrendous tape of the NYPD sting against him something clicked in me. As he tries to persuade a model to come into his hotel room, he swears on his children that he won’t do anything, and that sent a shiver down my spine. What would happen to them now? Would they ever be able to escape their last name? A huge sense of injustice hit me as I realised these stories are not just about the perpetrators and survivors, they are also about the people directly linked to these figures who have to deal with the direct consequences of someone else’s actions.

CM: Is this a reaction to #metoo, at all? Does the play reflect your opinions on that movement?
LW: I would say it is more a comment on the Time’s Up campaign, rather than the #metoo movement. Phillip Preston is a person who we all know and have probably met at some point – a man who abuses his power, manipulates the people around him and never seemingly faces up to his actions. I am not sitting back with the luxury of hindsight – writing a play like this gave me a sense of responsibility, I put my name on this piece and what it represents. This play is set in a ‘Post-Weinstein’ age when things that would have been ignored only a few years ago are held to a higher standard. There is a vibrating underbelly of a movement now thanks to these two movements. It’s hard not to feel optimistic that things are changing, even if it’s only one step at a time.

CM: Would you say the play is political?
LW: This is a tricky one. I would say yes. Abuse of power is a huge part of this play and that is relevant in the Houses of Parliament all the way to your local post office. You don’t have to be a well-known figure to manipulate the people around you to get what you want. Politicians use matters like these for leverage, it’s hard to differentiate between social and political issues I find. However, the MeToo and Time’s Up movements are so present in our everyday lives that’s hard to ignore the political undertone to stories like this.

CM: Have you been involved with the production? Or did you hand over the script and step back?
LW: I have been very lucky in that Adam, our director, has wanted me in the room for most of the process. Sometimes as a writer you go the read-through and it’s just ‘see you on opening night!’ But he could see how important this was to me. We are both at the beginning of our careers and there is this unwritten agreement between us that we are learning together and we are allowed to make mistakes. He is creating his version of my words. There have been quite a few rewrites during rehearsal but none that haven’t elevated this piece to a completely new level. It’s been a privilege working with him.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creative team behind the show?
LW: Well, the man at the helm is the mighty Adam Small, Artistic Director of WildChild Productions. This play is in his blood. I have never seen someone so connected to characters they didn’t write themselves. He is at the beginning of genius, even if I give him a fair share of death stares during rewrites! I have unwavering faith in him with this play. The actresses we cast as the Preston sisters – Natasha Cowley, Katherine Samuelson and Alice Handoll – have been incredibly focused and generous in the rehearsal process. There seems to be a sense of duty within our team, we all want to do these characters justice by telling their story properly.

CM: Did you always want to become a playwright/writer? What steps have you taken to get where you are?
LW: For me, acting was always the goal (apart from when I wanted to be a hotel manager for a week in Year 11). I wanted to go to drama school so badly but it was the wrong time for me. At the time I felt like a huge failure but now I see learning through rep with the legendary Mary Doherty at The Actors Class has made me ready for the industry in a way I could never have imagined. She once told me my journey would be a marathon not a sprint and I have always carried that with me. It wasn’t until I got into the Soho Theatre Writers’ Lab that I thought ‘I actually could be quite good at this.’ Writing gives you a lot more control than acting. You want to play your dream role? Write it then. ‘Anomaly’ has been my vindication to myself that I have a voice worth hearing.

CM: What dreams or ambitions do you have for the future?
LW: I think the ambition for any playwright is the big guns, the Royal Court Theatre or the National Theatre would be amazing. I would also like to create more immersive shows like Punchdrunk do – something that is out of this world. All I really want to do is tell important stories to the people who need to hear them most.

CM: What do you have coming up next? Anything in the pipeline?
LW: Nothing I can say at the moment but something completely different to ‘Anomaly’ – possibly a bit of light relief!

‘Anomaly’ is on at the Old Red Lion theatre until 2 Feb, see the venue website here for more.