Week 1: Lucy Kirkwood
Lucy Kirkwood is possibly one of the most talented and promising playwrights active in the UK. In fact, to describe her as ‘promising’ might even be selling her short when her new play Mosquitos has already sold-out for the entirety of its run at the National Theatre in London.
In 2013, Kirkwood’s Chimerica was awarded an Olivier award for Best New Play as well as an Evening Standard Award for Best Play. She has worked in TV, as a writer on Skins and has also created her own TV show The Smoke. It was only 12 years ago that Lucy Kirkwood wrote her first play, Grady Hot Potato, at Bedlam Theatre and she’s come a long way since then.
A few weeks ago, just before Mosquitoes was due to open, we caught up with Lucy and chatted to her about her time at Bedlam Theatre.
Hey Lucy, how are things?
Pretty hectic. We’re about to go into tech and I’m currently hiding out in the theatre.
So when did you first join Bedlam?
I joined during freshers week actually. I remember being intimidated, but also thinking “I should do this”. I was such a comedy geek back then. Me and my friends spent most of our teenage years quoting The Fast Show at each other. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Edinburgh in the first place.
You knew about Bedlam before you came to Edinburgh?
Oh of course. My cousin went to Edinburgh and he always talked about the theatre. I remember coming up to visit and peeking inside. I was completely attracted to it; it had such a strong force. Not least because it’s such a powerful looking building.
What was your best memory of Bedlam?
Production-wise, it’d have to be my friend Al Smith’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Edward Albee is one of my favourite writers but it was also such a brilliant play on a student-scale. We did some ridiculous productions back then. We had this really brilliant stage manager called Frank who could build anything. For one show he built a revolving stage but when one of the performers exited he ripped the door off and broke the valve that rotated the stage. Frank dove straight in and was rebuilding the set while the show was still going on.
What made you want to spend so much time there?
It was the feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. Being able to feel part of a group. We were all just geeks and we weren’t necessarily the most socially ascendent sort of people. At Bedlam we all just seemed to fit in.
Do you miss anything about student theatre?
More than anything else I miss performing. I don’t do that anymore and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost my methods. I miss the socialism of it as well. When something’s not about money, everyone’s in it for the love. I miss that feeling of being asked to tech for a show at the very last minute and being paid in a pint and a sandwich. It was really beautiful.
Do you miss Edinburgh at all?
I miss it a lot actually. I used to love going down to Leith, but, ultimately, my strongest memory is of the Meadows on a cold spring morning. Walking across the Meadows at 8am, hungover for a 9am lecture, with all the cherry blossom out. I felt so lucky to be in that place, especially for the Fringe.
You wrote your first play, Grady Hot Potato, for Bedlam. What got you into writing?
I think what’s really great about Bedlam is the possibility. It’s democratic in that you can write anything. There’s an astounding level of support and that’s so powerful because once you get out of student theatre there becomes so many reasons why you can’t do something. When we were in Bedlam, we just said, “Let’s do it” and there’s been so many generations of people just doing it. It made you feel like anything was possible.
You were a member of The Improverts while at Bedlam. What do you think it is about Imps that has meant so many members have gone on and done great things?
It must be something about improvisation itself. It’s a bravery. It takes a brave person to get up on stage and be an idiot and, after all, that’s basically what life is when you get on and do something creatively in the larger world. You spend so much time making things up as you go along. Just, basically, being a bit of an idiot. Being in The Improverts teaches you that’s okay, that’s great.
Your play Chimerica was over 3 hours long and had a pretty complex set. Do you think the style of the Fringe is limiting?
I think the Fringe is great for writers. There’s something about putting on a show with just a chair and a ladder that I think is amazing. Often it’s the boundaries that writers have to work within that sets them free.