Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Winsome Pinnock: One Under

By | Published on Friday 6 December 2019

Coming to the Arcola Theatre this week, following a tour of the UK, is a new production of Winsome Pinnock’s acclaimed 2005 play presented by the excellent Graeae Theatre.

This staging uses a slightly different version of the script, newly rewritten by Pinnock especially for the production. I was keen to find out more about the show, and about this esteemed playwright, so I arranged a quick chat.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the premise of ‘One Under’ and where the narrative takes us?
WP: A young man appears in a woman’s workplace and whisks her off on the date of her fantasy. In another timeline that runs parallel we move forward and realise that the young man took his own life at the end of that date and we see how those left behind try to understand the mystery of why he died.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
WP: The play explores the themes of grief and loss and of the toll that living in a city can have on the mind. It also shows that we don’t really know from outward appearance about the mental suffering experienced by the people we know.

CM: I believe this is an updated version of the play? How extensive are the changes you have made?
WP: I cut a couple of characters. I think it makes the play much tighter. When I first wrote it you couldn’t get away with a play that was less than two hours long. Now a lot of plays are 90 minutes without interval. It means the audience can hang around afterwards, have a drink and chat about the play before going home.

CM: What was your original inspiration? What prompted you to write this?
WP: It’s a London-set piece and what happens in the play – a ‘one under’ is when someone takes their life by jumping in front of a train – is a regular occurrence in the capital, a tragic event which draws you into a peculiar closeness with a stranger.

CM: What happened to make you revisit it?
WP: Graeae asked if they could produce it and I was of course thrilled to work with them

CM: Have you had any involvement with the production? Or did you hand over the script and step back?
WP: I had intended to be more involved than I was, but I had so much work on that I wasn’t in rehearsal as much as I would have liked. Rehearsals fascinate me and I would have liked to have been more involved. So, they were free to get on with it, which is probably the best way with a revival. After a first production people should be free to do what they want with a play – within reason!

CM: Can you tell us a bit about Graeae Theatre?
WP: Graeae is a theatre company that puts deaf/disabled performers centre stage. The company also ensures that its productions are fully accessible through use of audio description and creative captioning. In ‘One Under’ the captioning is an integral part of the set design.

CM: Can we talk a bit about the past, now? Did you always want to be a writer, and how did you make it happen?
WP:When I was a child I won a prize for a story I’d written and a highlight of my week at school was that I’d write a story for my teacher and she’d pin it on the noticeboard. I “made it happen” by writing and persisting through the awkward first attempts to write a play and sending them off to theatres. When I started you sort of had to teach yourself because there were no creative writing degrees. I was also part of various writing groups such as the Royal Court Young Writers’ Group where I started to think of myself as a writer.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
WP: I am lucky to have had a lot of highlights: The first time I had a play on at the Royal Court Theatre and National Theatre; I really loved the revival of ‘Leave Taking’ at the Bush Theatre last year which sold out its run. It was special to see the emotional way in which the audience responded to the production; and of course the Graeae production of ‘One Under’.

CM: Do you have any as-yet-unfulfilled aims or ambitions? What hopes do you have for the future?
WP: My main ambition is simply to continue writing.

CM: What’s coming up next for you, in the short-term?
WP: I have a new play ‘Rockets And Blue Lights’ – which won the 2018 Alfred Fagon Award – opening in the Manchester Royal Exchange main house in 2020. The Royal Exchange is such a beautiful theatre being a big but intimate space. I can’t wait to get started.

Graeae’s ‘One Under’ by Winsome Pinnock is on at The Arcola Theatre from 10 –21 Dec. See the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.

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