With her new play, Sea Fret, opening at the Old Red Lion Theatre next week we caught up with Tallulah Brown to find out more about the show.
Your new play Sea Fret is opening at The Old Red Lion Theatre, what’s it about?
Sea Fret is about two girls Ruby and Lucy whose a friendship is tested when rising sea levels threaten the ground beneath their houses. The play takes place around a pillbox on the Suffolk coast.
What inspired you to write Sea Fret?
The girl friendships you have during your teenage years are your first infatuations, your first heartbreaks, they are your first experience of love. They are the most complicated relationships but are also the ones I continually come back to in my writing. What was fascinating to me was that during the audition process actors were coming in and immediately saying ‘I’m a Lucy’ or ‘I’m a Ruby’ it was as if every girl had been one or the other in one of those tight girl friendship love stories.
I grew up right by the sea in Suffolk where the coastline over the past twenty years has been rapidly changing. My town is heavily protected but to the North and South houses are getting closer and closer to the cliff edge. When I started researching the play and spoke to local officials I found that there was an absence of younger voices in the debate surrounding the erosion.
Growing up, the beach was a big garden for all the children that lived there. We would bolt around on constant adventures; preoccupied with who’d started their period, who was in love, who’d had sex. The friendships we made were fundamental to the people we became. We did not think about climate change or the future at all. My two protagonists are 18 year old girls – I like to think that this play will be a bit of an environmental call to arms for that generation because decisions being made right now will have a huge impact on their futures.
Your first play Phantasmagoria got rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe, did that add pressure for writing new works?
It got five stars and a one star – which I loved. The one star review was so short and aggressive that Edinburgh Fringe said we had grounds to complain! I still sometimes hear it ringing in my head, ‘depressing, lazy and naive.’ Anyway what I learnt is that it’s very random what people say about your work. Some people will love the exact same thing other people hate so you have to build some kind of protective layer around yourself in order to keep making the work. I got some brilliant advice from dramaturg wonder-woman Nina Steiger who told me about the Soho Young Writers course and just told me not to hurry. There’s this exposure on young female writers that gives you about 10 seconds to make your mark and if it doesn’t happen right there and then, the spotlight moves. The second I saw that happening I just thought fuck that, I’m hiding, reading, writing and I’ll come back when I’ve got my prep ready!
What did you learn from staging a show at the Edinburgh fringe?
It was the most exhausting, delirious experience. We’d just left University and we literally thought that every night out might be our last. That’s obviously not true, but there was a feeling that this probably would be the final party before we had to stop and become grown-ups. The excellent news I have for students who want to go into theatre is that you never have to grow up, you can actually make believe for a living! Our flyering technique on the mile was in an upright bed that various members of our cast pretended to lie in, naked. It was very popular for tourist photographs, people would take turns getting into the bed. We probably had more fun on the mile than we did putting on the play! Having the backing of Manchester University made all the difference – it is an extremely expensive risk and without that support we couldn’t have done it. Whenever I’ve considered it since the financial risk has been too great.
Sea Fret is being directed by Carla Kingham, have you worked with her before? How did she become involved in the project?
Carla directed my show After the Heat we Battle for the Heart which was at Vaults in 2016. When I told Carla I was writing a play based on a true story about a female bullfighter she was intrigued. I think we have very similar sensibilities, we both think very visually and we are both (unsurprisingly) interested and attracted to stories with strong female parts. When she read Sea Fret her initial notes and feedback on the script was crucial. I was writing full time at that point which is a very solitary process and I clung to those coffees with her! It was Carla that took the play to the Old Red Lion and it is thanks to her that this is finally happening.
How have the cast responded to the play?
The friendship is at the core of this play. It’s been glorious to watch actors Lucy Carless and Georgia Kerr fast track that friendship during this rehearsal period. I think they have both identified with that tug of an old friend, the comfort in the friendship but also the exposure – they know you so well, they know everything!
It was a bit like a geography lesson when I first met everyone, which is hilarious considering how bad I am at geography. I wanted the cast to understand why I’d written the play and why the play is more relevant now than ever before. In January my parents lost their house insurance and there was a tidal swell that led to a 5000 strong evacuation. The following day a man was killed walking on the beach by an overhanging rock. There are sandbags in place to protect the cliff but it’s falling away too rapidly for quick fix measures to have effect. For the cast to take on what is a work of fiction they had to understand the facts. They had to understand how delicate the subject matter is and how many times I’ve been told how many feathers I am going to ruffle!
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a couple of different TV projects. I sing in girlband TRILLS which means I’m always thinking up ways to write about the music industry in my work. One show I’m developing, Leafy is about a glamorous music producer who’s told she has to give up the music scene before moving back in with her parents. Another show I’m developing is about siblings who meet for the first time aged 30.
The next play I’d like to write will be about female empowerment – sure I’ll take it on! I’d like to write something about women constantly thinking they have to be seen as coping. The psychotherapist Suzie Orbach calls it the ‘privatisation of the female experience’ the theory that since feminism, we have put the shutters back up, we’ve become more secretive with our struggles, competitive with our friends. I find that alarming and I always like to start from a place of alarm.