The world première of Gemma Lawrence’s new play Sunnymead Court will open at The Tristan Bates Theatre. The production continues the collaboration between Lawrence and Defibrillator’s James Hillier following the critically acclaimed Not Talking at the Arcola Theatre.

Sunnymead Court marks Gemma Lawrence’s writing debut, as an actress her theatre credits include Children of the Sun and As You Like It at National Theatre and Wasted at Orange Tree Theatre among others.

The production opens at the Tristan Bates Theatre at The Actors Centre on 24 September, with previews from 22 September, and runs until 3 October. Social distancing measures will be in operation at the Tristan Bates Theatre and throughout The Actors Centre, with a maximum capacity of 28 seats for each performance.  Tickets are on sale here.

Sunnymead Court is opening at The Tristan Bates Theatre, what can you tell us about the play?

Sunnymead Court is about two women, Marie and Stella, who live in flats on the same estate and whose balconies face each other. They are both lonely and struggling with lockdown in their own ways, and through small moments of connection, they strike up a relationship. It is a joyful queer romance, celebrating people and place.

This is your debut play, what inspired you to write it?

James Hillier, the director, approached me and the producer Jack Holden, and asked if we wanted to try and create a socially distanced theatrical experiment, to explore a safe way back to live performance. The constraints of social distancing were embedded in the piece from the beginning, so they always felt like an exciting challenge as opposed to holding us back. The themes that arose from those constraints – of isolation and connection – formed the basis of the play.

How much of lockdown and the current situation has found its way in to the script?

Lots! The play is a celebration of the way people and communities responded to lockdown, reaching out and supporting one another. It also explores the effects of living so much of our lives online now, and what we lose and gain through that. As a queer writer, I felt it was also very important to look at what lockdown has meant for the LGBTQ+ community, many of whom have been forced back into hostile family homes and homophobic environments.

James Hillier is directing, what are you looking forward to most about having him work on this project?

I’ve worked with him as an actor, when he directed Mike Bartlett’s Not Talking at the Arcola. He has a real precision and a deep understanding of theatre. It’s been such a while since we’ve all sat in an auditorium together to watch a live show, we absolutely want this to be a celebration of that experience, and I think James is the perfect guy for that. He’s also given me loads of dramaturgical notes, which has been so helpful in developing the script. I love notes!

How does it feel knowing that a play you have written will be one of the first to be performed live inside a theatre following lockdown?

Very exciting and very scary! Both as an actor and as a writer, I’m so excited to be sharing a play with a live audience again. Streaming shows was a brilliant thing to have come out of lockdown, making theatre accessible to a much wider audience, so I’m also really excited that we’re live-streaming some of our performances. Coming out of lockdown we have a chance to build theatre back in more equitable and inclusive way, and live-streaming feels like an important part of that.

What measures have been taken to make sure the team and audiences feel safe?

The Actors Centre have been amazing. We have a one-way system throughout the building, mandatory face masks, temperature tests, deep cleans, hand sanitising. The Tristan Bates Theatre audience capacity has been reduced to 24 so everyone is very distanced, and the stage is very clearly demarcated so the actors will never be close to the audience. It feels really safe and thorough.

What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Sunnymead Court?

It is an uplifting queer romance with some great tunes and a bit of dancing in it! It is a tonic for these times. Please join us, whether in person or online, to celebrate returning to live theatre. We’re very excited to share this with you.

Sunnymead Court, written by and starring Gemma Lawrence is at The Actors Centre from 22nd September 2020.

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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