Claire Leibovich interviews Alex Hartley and Laura Day about the play they wrote together, COLUMNS.
So, what is COLUMNS about?
LAURA COLUMNS is a play about the loss of people and things in our lives, and about our changing relationships with our parents. The two main characters have particularly fraught relationships with their parents: Joe’s have inexplicably vanished; Sophie has cut ties with her dad and her mum has literally run away to Russia.
ALEX Every character in the play has lost something and, perhaps without realising it, is looking for something. It all takes place in a funny sort of world with its own slightly different rules. Coincidences mount, everything becomes strangely interconnected. You begin to wonder if magic isn’t creeping in at the edges.
Why did you choose to write about the topic of parent-child relationships?
ALEX We wanted to write and perform a play that lots of people could relate to, that would feel familiar somehow. We’re aware that everyone has a different experience of family and parents, but with COLUMNS we’re opening our arms and asking audiences to take whatever they can from our story.
LAURA Open arms is definitely key! Our aim has always been to be honest with the audience, I think. We want them to see that what they’re watching is the result of trial and error, a lot of puzzling. We’re going to show our working, I guess – demystify the process.
What has the writing and devising process been like?
ALEX: We’ve been going back and forth with ideas since December, working out the world of the story and getting to know the main characters. It was quite slow at the start though because we were living in different countries, so all the work had to happen over Skype. It wasn’t that fun…
LAURA No… It wasn’t until around May that Alex started writing bits of scene and prose. These were useful in our early rehearsals as a springboard for developing the characters and the moments in the play. It can be exciting to improvise around a snippet of dialogue.
ALEX The script for COLUMNS has pretty much come out of those early rehearsals – we learnt a lot about the characters from just messing around! We still play a lot of games in rehearsals, using props and music. We also record our conversations and rehearsals so we don’t lose track of the process. They might come in useful later on.
What do you want the audience to get out of the play?
ALEX It’s at 10.55am so hopefully it’ll put them in a good mood for the rest of the day! Seriously though, it would be great if people left thinking afresh about the people in their own lives and those they encounter. We want them to feel like they’ve been on a kind of journey with us and our characters.
You’re running ‘Relaxed Performances’, what does that entail?
LAURA Yes, we’re doing them on the two Thursdays of our run! The main goal of Relaxed Performances is to provide a more comfortable and welcoming environment for people with autism, a learning disability or a sensory or communication disorder. The theatre can be an over-stimulating and unfriendly environment for many people.
ALEX The people we’ve contacted within the accessible theatre community have been incredibly encouraging and generous with their advice and support. It’s been quite moving actually.
LAURA When we told Paul Wady of Guerilla Aspies that we felt nervous about our Relaxed Performances, he said the most reassuring thing: ‘You won’t get it right for everyone. You’ll definitely fail someone in the audience. But the important thing is you’re trying.
COLUMNS will be at theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39) from 14th -19th and 21st – 26th August.