“I was immediately drawn in. There is intriguing word-play from the get-go and a sense that something intelligent and solid is underneath all the strangeness. I liked that it was hard to pin down, this kept me reading. It breaks form, eschews reality and feels ambitious and dangerous.” Out of Joint reader report
“When I first read Hunger I was struck by one simple fact: I had never read a play like this before. Not only is it pushing at the edges of what new writing can be, it is pushing at the edges of how a script operates within the theatre-making process. The piece clearly displays one of the most theatre-literate writers I have come across; whilst it engages with a depth of human experience it is also determined in its dramaturgy to communicate that experience through non-literal means – in particular an arresting combination of tone, rhythm, sound, shape, and lateral and associative language.” David Lane, dramaturg and playwright.
Hunger is a play for three characters: Sadie Jones, Danny (her lover), and Kim, her sister.
Hunger portrays the world of Sadie Jones, who wants to disappear. Speech is composed like music; layered words transport us into the chaos of Sadie’s imagination. Hunger crashes between the surrealism of the subconscious and the terrifying emptiness of reality.
Hunger asks what it is not to die, not to run away, but to become absent in your own life. Hunger comes from an urge to write about the invisible drama that happens behind our surface lives – about insomnia, depression, obsessions and all consuming love, about dreams that are more real than reality, and about loving someone intent on self-destruction. The impulse that drives Hunger is a need to use language and image to communicate an almost indescribable physical and emotional response to living.
Sadie Jones wants to negate her body. She has an image of something impaling her, right through her centre. This image takes the pain away. She’s stopped eating, her body is disappearing but she is hungry, for love, for communication…she doesn’t know what for…Because she is loved – and it is partly this intensity that she is trying to escape. Her sister and lover need her so much that she is losing herself.
The text slips between reality and the imagination, between linguistic experimentation, composed speech, poetry and naturalism. Language can be dangerous, not just the meaning, but the sound as well. Inside Sadie Jones is a chaos of words, and outside is silence. It’s a terrifying contrast. This linguistic and sound based approach drives narrative and reveals character in unusual ways.
The play can be performed by three women or by two women and one man. My general principle with writing is that I don’t specify what characters look like, I want the roles to be open to all actors (the only restriction with this piece is playing age). With the character of ‘Danny’ gender is also open. There is something both female and male within the core of the character.
I write similarly to how a composer scores music; speeches overlap, a soundtrack might interweave with the dialogue. At times the play requires specific performance and vocal techniques. I have developed these techniques through my performance practice and my background in contemporary music.
Through managing and directing the development part of this project myself I have the opportunity to explore approaches to staging the work with the actors, dramaturg and designer, and the chance to really explore the vocal techniques it requires, possible physicality of the roles, ways of working with image and subtext and the emotional journeys of characters. I already know that the play works great in performance – A-level students did an extract brilliantly a couple of years ago, but it has been rejected by every ‘new writing’ theatre I have sent it to (perhaps that’s not its USP!), so after a while I decided that I must see the work in performance…. I can’t just keep writing one play after another. So this is another way of submitting my ‘plays’ to theatres. Let’s see what happens.
Support from the Jerwood Charitable Foundation means that I can start the process of making this work happen myself. The initial development process will be with actors, a designer (Fiona Chivers) and a dramaturg (David Lane) – and I might get one of those ‘embedded critics’ involved too. Jerwood has already had a big impact on my career and my writing. As well as the incredible support with this play I have benefitted from the Arvon Jerwood mentoring scheme (as a playwright), the Aldeburgh Jerwood Opera Writing Foundation scheme, and currently, an Aldeburgh Jerwood Opera Writing Fellowship (to write an opera with composer Joanna Lee). So I’m a fan. The development schemes they support are brilliant, have impacted my practice and have led to professional writing work. – Next week I’ll be at the BBC for the recording of a radio play I co-wrote with my mentor from the Jerwood Arvon scheme Colin Teevan (it’ll be on Radio 3 in August). Thanks to the opera scheme, as well as having the opportunity to develop a long work together through a fellowship, Joanna Lee and I have collaborated on several short projects (for the Aldeburgh Music Club, and currently as part of Jo’s ‘Apprentice composer in residence’ position with BCMG) – and I’ve discovered that I love libretto writing and working with composers – something I want to keep doing and exploring…
Managing this project on my own comes with disadvantages – with this recent ‘call for actors’ I’m going to have to turn a lot of people down – and if applications keep coming in at this rate that’s going to be a lot of disappointed vibes heading my way. (It’s so hard!!) At some point I’ll have to put together contracts, I have to keep re-jigging the budget as it tightens (don’t worry, actors will be paid) – and I have to try and make this happen without the direct support of a theatre or a producer. – At this stage at least. And I’m still trying to find suitable rehearsal space for the work. Obviously part of the reasoning behind doing ‘showings’ at the end of the development process is to introduce venues and producers to my work and to generate interest and support for the tour and production of ‘Hunger’.
So there has already been the occasional tearful night (just one, actually), but I’m so excited about this project, excited to be receiving applications to work with me on it from amazing performers, excited to start getting feedback from actors on the script, incredibly excited about the prospect of transferring this creation I’ve been crafting in my imagination to the space. (calm down dear – no, wrong show)
Hunger’s development process is supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.