We chat to playwright Becky Prestwich, writer of one half of our forthcoming double bill Freefall, about children’s moral responsibility, nature versus nurture, and the haunting power of the past. No big ideas, then…
Your play The Bear, The Owl and The Angel deals with the reunion of two brothers, Robbie and Steven, who share a dark childhood secret. What was the inspiration for the play?
I was working in a Sure Start and went to a training session on how the stories children tell reveal their fears and anxieties. I was interested in exploring an adult character who used stories in the same way, so I decided to write a play which began with a bedtime story. The fictionalised version of Steven and Robbie’s story was the first thing I wrote – I found the ‘truth’ from there. I also liked the idea of this quite macho, successful, show-off man who is unable to articulate the most significant event of his life except through a children’s story.
Your play The Boy in the Photograph also looks at the relationship between parents and children and the ways in which family history comes back to haunt us. What interests you about this theme?
Alongside writing, I work with children and young people and as a result, I am really interested in how our lives are shaped by our early experiences – in both good and bad and ways. I’m really interested in how a society looks after its children – but I’m generally better at writing about characters than theories and ideas. So, how those ideas about nature versus nurture and our responsibility to our children manifest themselves in my writing seems to be in a preoccupation with plays about family.
What are you working on currently?
I’m currently working my first radio play – an afternoon drama which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this spring. It’s another family play – it tells the story of three generations of Jewish mothers cooking together and is very much inspired by my own experiences as a new(ish) mum.
Which writers are you particularly influenced by and why?
Influences are difficult…. I read a lot, and watch a lot of drama, both on stage and on screen – and I think it all sinks in somewhere. The writers I like and admire include Bryony Lavery, Alan Bennett, Chloe Moss, Jack Thorne, Abi Morgan, Chekhov, Tennessee Williams, Simon Stephens, Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh – all in different ways and for different reasons.
The play centres around a childhood tragedy: both brothers’ lives are defined by one long-ago afternoon and one rash action with dreadful consequences. We’re encouraged to think about the issue of children’s moral responsibility and the extent to which children can be held legally accountable for their behaviour. Do you think this is an area that society struggles with generally?
I think society struggles with ideas to do with justice – and whether people who have done wrong should be punished or redeemed. I also think society struggles with how our children should be seen; children are often painted as either pure, innocent angels or feral demons. So, when these two things come together I think all kinds of difficult – and interesting – questions come up.
If these interviews have piqued your interest, you can book tickets for the double bill here: http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-wimbledon-studio/