ED2017 Chris Meets ED2017 Interviews ED2017 Theatre

Nicola Wren: Replay

By | Published on Thursday 15 June 2017

Nicola Wren

If you were up at the Fringe in 2015, you might have been fortunate enough to catch ‘501 Things I Do In My Bedroom’, a one woman show which met with a very warm response.
Its creator, Nicola Wren, is returning to Edinburgh this year with another one person play, this one supported by one of our favourite companies: DugOut Theatre.
I decided to find out more about ‘Replay’, and Nicola’s other projects, ahead of her Festival run.

CC: Let’s start at the start – tell us how you got into both acting and playwriting.
NW: I got into acting when I was very young because my family always took part in the village pantomime and I got the bug for it straight away. A fair few years later, I was fortunate enough to be accepted the Royal Central School Of Speech And Drama. There, I trained on the BA Acting with Collaborative and Devised Theatre course. It was a fantastic course for me, because there is a massive emphasis on creating your own work.

It wasn’t until leaving, though, that I got the guts to write and perform my own play. I’d always made silly videos for YouTube and done little sketches, but after seeing lots of brilliant one person plays like ‘Dark Vanilla Jungle’, ‘Spine’ and ‘Fleabag’, I thought I might as well give it a go and see what happened. I find writing such a wonderful, cathartic thing to do and am now very much committed to my career as a writer as well as an actress.

CC: This is the second project you have both written and performed. What are the pros and cons of both writing the play and performing it?
NW: Writing and performing my own plays is a paradoxical thing; on the one hand it’s extremely daunting and exposing but, for that reason, it’s also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.

It has been very important for me, with both of my shows, to have a dramaturg on-board from the early stages because I tend to get stuck in my head. I’ll think I have a character or a story figured out because all of the detail is in my head, but having someone to flag when something isn’t coming across on the page is invaluable. I love seeing a project develop from start to finish and the main struggle has been knowing when to trust that the play is good enough to let it go.

On a practical level, performing my own work makes it cheaper to put on and gives me control over when that happens. I started doing it because I didn’t want to rely on anyone to give me a chance to make something, I just wanted to go for it. I’m now taking what I learned from doing it last time and putting that into a new show that I’m really proud of.

CC: How does performing your own work compare to acting in other people’s projects, whether on stage or on screen?
NW: Performing other people’s work is so much fun, and I’ve been lucky to be involved in some cracking projects with very talented people. Performing something that I’ve written inevitably gives me more of a personal connection to the story, but both experiences are fulfilling in their own ways.

The major difference is that I’m a lot more judgmental of my own writing than other people’s, so when I’m given someone else’s script to read I find it easy to just get on with it but, when it’s my own script, I’ll spend about three hours stomping around the room whingeing about the phrasing of one sentence and shouting to the heavens about how terrible I am at everything. I think it’s probably healthy to have a balance of the two.

CC: Remind us about ‘501 Things I Do In My Bedroom’. What was that about? How did it come about?
NW: ‘501 Things I Do In My Bedroom’ is a play about a young woman who is grappling with what her purpose in the world is, but – instead of going out and doing something about it – she stays in her bedroom and obsesses over an inappropriate ex-boyfriend and how many likes her Dolly Parton impersonations are getting on Facebook.

It came about when I did an impromptu comedy sketch at the Canal Café Theatre. I had so much fun doing that, I thought it would be cool to try and make a full show. I asked my friend Arthur McBain, who was dabbling in directing, to work on it with me and I impulsively booked two nights at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden and got to work. Two nights then turned into six and I got involved with the Soho Theatre Comedy Lab who offered a lot of advice on how to put on a show in Edinburgh, so I thought I’d give it a crack.

CC: It got a really good reception at the Fringe in 2015. What was that like? What did you do with the show after that year’s Edinburgh Festival?
NW: I was really surprised by the reaction, to be honest. I had a pretty early slot in a tiny, very damp venue and no budget for PR or marketing so I had expected to fail miserably and learn a lot in the process. I do put a lot of the early ticket sale success down to my two ridiculously charismatic friends who kindly flyered for me in the first week.

I think something about the show must have resonated with a lot of the audience; it was funny and had heart and didn’t take itself too seriously, so word got round that it was worth checking out. After the Festival we took the play to the King’s Head Theatre for Festival46 and then I put it to bed because I wanted to focus on new projects.

CC: Yes, new projects! Tell us about ‘Replay’. What is the story you are telling here?
NW: ‘Replay’ is the story of a woman who, having lost her adored older brother to suicide when she was very young, is – years later – forced to come to terms with his death.

I wanted to tell the story of someone who is angry with a loved one for leaving and also deeply ashamed of that anger. As a child, my character wouldn’t have been able to comprehend what depression might be or understand why her brother would seemingly choose to leave her, so she’s gone years and years blocking the memory of him because she’s so angry.

This play is the moment in her life when she realises that she can’t move forward until she deals with the fact that she is very, very sad. She needs to realise that, though the relationship with her brother will never be the same, he can still very much be a part of her life.

CC: It deals with some serious topics. What made you want to explore these?
NW: I’ve tended, in the past, to shy away from writing about darker topics because I was scared to talk about them, but with ‘Replay’ I wanted to challenge myself to really go there and to use my imagination to create a play that deals with very powerful, uncomfortable human emotions and painful experiences.

That all sounds really bleak and the play certainly isn’t all misery and woe – in fact, on the contrary – but I wanted to write about someone having what could be considered an inappropriate and unfair response to a suicide.

It doesn’t sound great to say that you’re angry with someone for taking their own life but I think that it is the reality for a lot of people who experience the loss of a loved one, and I wanted to try to write about it in a sensitive and real way.

CC: Did you always intend to perform this piece yourself? 
NW: Not initially. When I decided that I wanted to write a new monologue, one of the main things that I had in my head was that I wanted to write something that could be performed by a woman or a man and that it should be a character much further away from myself.

Once I’d decided to perform it myself, one of the major challenges became finding the confidence to play a character that is so unlike me in so many ways. Having been auditioning for roles that require me to play characters who are very close to me, I had forgotten that I could actually play someone different.

Once I got over that, I found it incredibly freeing to play this character and oddly, although I didn’t write it for myself, it became a very personal story and one that I now feel is mine to tell.

CC: You have also trained in improv. Do you find with the self-penned pieces, you evolve the script as you perform it?
NW: I love coming up with new characters and improvising, but when it comes to making my shows I have found that I generally like to have a starting point on paper so that I can play around with the character from that and change the script as I find the character’s voice and tempo. That’s the wonderful thing about writing and performing a show: I can change the dialogue as I find more of the character in rehearsals.

CC: How did the hook-up with DugOut Theatre come about?
NW: I met the DugOut Theatre team at Edinburgh Fringe 2015 when I was up there for the first time with ‘501 Things I Do In My Bedroom’ and they were doing ‘The Sunset Five’ and ‘Goodbear’. We hit it off and they sort of took me under their wing for the month. Late last year, George Chilcott – their artistic director – and I decided that we wanted to work on something together.

CC: Are you excited about returning to the Fringe with a new piece?
NW: Very excited indeed – I can’t wait to give the show a good run and see how it develops. I also can’t wait to see so many other new shows. I’m a bit nervous because I won’t have my amazingly sassy flyering friends up there this year, but I’ve got a play that I’m proud of and a brilliant team in DugOut Theatre and George Chilcott so I think it’ll be a fun month.

CC: You also have a web series project in the pipeline. Tell us about that. How does it compare to the theatre pieces?
NW: My web series ‘Big Girls’ is a comedy-drama about a young woman and her mother who find themselves living together in a pokey London flat. The series is about their fractured relationship and how they come to, slowly, repair it.

It’s an idea I’ve been working on for a while and it seemed to suit the short form. It’s been interesting to go from writing big monologues to writing the shortest scripts ever, but I’m loving trying out a variety of forms at the beginning of what will hopefully be a long career.

‘Replay’ was performed at Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival 2017.