Lizzie Nunnery. Photo by Phil Lewis / WENN.com
Interview with writer Lizzie Nunnery
What was your starting place for the play?
It was reading an article about Greta Thunberg and being really struck by the idea of a young person who could only cope with living in the current world by drastically trying to change it. That stark voice in our culture at the moment is in complete contrast to the internet, which can be a chaos of voices and stories, and of different possibilities and narratives.
I realised that a play that could follow a character who sees things very factually would be a good way to talk about the disorientation that social media and digital technology can cause and what that does to our understanding of the truth.
As you were doing your development on the play and were reading more and thinking more, were there other ideas that began to come into play?
Yes – I did a first draft that was very different. There was a scene in the first version when Mona is wondering what the protest will be like when she gets there and it was pointed out to me that any young person now would go online and find out what that protest looks like through other people’s phones and other people’s posts on social media. Having always resisted phones on stage I got excited about them as a different way of telling stories.
You’ve written an episodic play that focuses largely on one character – Mona – and other people move in and out of her trajectory. Why did you choose this as a structure?
It became clear that a good way to take on these really big themes about young people and their interaction with digital technology, was to use symbolism. Through the episodic structure Mona could meet different people who symbolise different parts of these themes and it was very freeing to condense so much into an hour-long play in that way. I thought about Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and other episodic stories that have a young woman at the centre of them, and different ways that that can free up the storytelling to allow you to engage with different themes; you could have a scene that may be very sad right next to a scene that’s satirical and absurd and that could be played for laughs.
This is a play about unreliable and fragmented stories and how young people have to pick their way through different versions of truth. It therefore also made sense that there wasn’t a tidy beginning, middle and end and that, in a way, Mona is falling down a rabbit hole and part of her coming of age is accepting that things aren’t always entirely black and white. Mona has to find her own version of the world that she is facing, despite all the noise and mess around her.
In the script you include lots of information about what an audience will hear – the sound and songs – and also the movement. Why were you so focused on this in addition to the dialogue?
It started with a character who, at the opening of the play, is very silent and has retreated from the world. Mona is refusing to go to school, hardly eating or drinking, hardly talking and she is really seized by anxiety to the point where she can’t act. And then there’s a key event that propels her out the door and I really like the idea that she can then go on this roller coaster, and sound and movement were really good theatrical ways to convey that. So she goes from the silence of her living room to a bus that’s crowded with people all talking at once and it sounds to her as if it’s a million decibels. The music and sound design can be used to convey the internal life of a character and a young company can have a lot of fun with that.
The lines of the ensemble also give us access to what Mona might be thinking or how people might see her at any moment, and their movement can show us her version of the world; possibly she’s just walking through the crowd, but for her, at certain points in the story, the world is a very threatening place.
You’ve been thinking about anxiety and a character who starts the play quite lost. Is there hope within the play do you think?
Yes, definitely. I think a big theme within the play is the transition to the adult world and the realisation of the young characters, specifically Mona and her sister Elin, that there is no line that you cross into the adult world; that actually adults are as unreliable as children or young people and that young people don’t have to wait around for adults to fix things. Young people can be empowered and move forward on their own terms and a lot of that hope is expressed through Mona’s relationship with her mother and sister.
I wanted to say something also about how young people can gain control of their mental health and anxiety. That’s obviously not easy but for Mona it’s about realising that her version of the world is valid. She doesn’t have to feel like she’s being tossed around on the wave of other people’s narratives. Although she has spent her whole life being told who she is and how she should and shouldn’t feel she actually breaks free of that through the events of the play and emerges as someone who’s going to carve out her own path. In the final moment she is able to turn off all those voices from social media as she realises that these people are dealing with their own anxieties and their own stories, not hers. So I hope that that’s a hopeful message for all young people performing the play.