Jane Sunderland

Playwright

Jane Sunderland is a playwright from Scotland who has moved from academic writing to creative writing. She is particularly interested in writing plays about women (living or dead, actual or fictional), short plays, and stage adaptations of novels. She has written one play about Dorothy Wordsworth and another about Charlotte Bronte, and is working an a very loose adaptation (‘inspired by’ not ‘based on’) of E.M. Forster’s short story, ‘The Obelisk’. In terms of style/form, she is currently thinking through how to best blend naturalism with theatricality. What keep her moving forward?: critical feedback on her scripts from trusted others.


Do you often go to the theater?

 

Yes

 

What play would you never write?

 

One in which women were represented as sex objects in a completely

uncritical way.

 

Tell us about your first play. What motivated you to write it?

 

A one-woman play featuring Charlotte Bronte reflecting on her unlikely

(and, in the event) fatal marriage to Arthur Nicholls, because of its

obvious dramatic potential. I have long been fascinated by the life and

work of the Brontes, who grew up very near to where I grew up.

 

Did you learn to write plays?

 

Well, I was taught to write plays. How well I write them now, someone

else had better judge.

 

What are you working on now?

 

A re-working of my first play, but with Arthur Nicholls as protagonist.

 

Can you recall the brightest episode from your childhood?

 

Probably reading.

 

Can you suggest interesting in your opinion plays and playwrights?

 

Caryl Churchill (A Number, Escaped Alone)

Rob Drummond (Grain in the Blood)

David Harrower (Knives in Hens)

Edward Albee (Who is Sylvia?)

Right Now (Catherine-Anne Toupin)

 

What do you think of Shakespeare?

 

Two great pluses: a great poet and wordsmith, and master of different

levels of conflict

 

What problems do you face with the modern English playwright?

 

I don’t think I do. Especially when they use theatricality to the max.

 

Are there topics in the UK that are not taken up in drama?

 

I don’t think there are any taboos, or even any gaps, given the need to

be new and original.

 

What do you think about Russia?

 

I only know what I hear and read in the media. Not very

complimentary. But clearly great creativity comes out of Russia,

including this international collaboration.

 

Are there any social lifts for playwrights in the UK?

 

Social lifts? Do you mean prestige? Not unless you are very, very well-

known.

 

Tell us about your creative plans.

 

I plan to do more with short plays – 5 minutes to 30 minutes.

Interesting form. One of these will be a 30-minuter inspired by E.M.

Forster’s short story ‘The Obelisk’. I’m also in the middle of developing

a quest play – a bereaved woman’s search for a sense of independence

though a journey to scatter her husband’s ashes on the top of a

mountain.

 

How do you process the writing of the play?

 

I draft and tweak. I look for the characters’ angels and demons. I

remember that each scene is an event and each scene needs conflict. I

always get fellow playwrights to read it through and critique each

draft (or part of a draft). This (and this alone) propels me onwards to

the next draft.

 

Have you ever written a play to order?

 

No – would be happy to do so, though!

 

Have you ever worked on a play together with a director or a theater?

 

Yes, once (a director). A short play called ‘North to Muira’. The director was

very generous in allowing me to express my opinions; she helped me be part of

the process.

 

Is the contemporary play in demand in the UK?

 

Yes – new writing is everywhere (less in the large theatres, though).

 

Tell us about your daily life.

 

I live in Edinburgh which is a delight. I balance playwriting with

academic writing. I walk my dog. I try to cook (following an interesting

recipe rather than creating something new). I attend a class which

involves writing a short play every week; members of the group act

these out as rehearsed readings; the tutor then redirects them in a

more theatrical way. I regularly meet with a group of fellow

playwrights and we read and critique each other’s work. I go to the

theatre a lot and almost always enjoy it. (Not true of cinema.) My

partner and I travel in beautiful Scotland whenever we can.

 

Tell a few words about your play, which will be seen in Russia.

 

It looks at obsession and control-freakery, which is a bit like me,

although in the character with these characteristics, it extends to

control over his girlfriend. But it also looks at the girlfriend, who

shares but is trying to escape this sort of behaviour, and does so by

throwing her mobile phone into the river before she walks away from

the boyfriend. This is what I would like to do (throw my phone into the

river), even more than when I wrote the play. It’s a commonplace to

say we’re addicts – controlled by our phones - but it’s true.

 

How are you represented on the network? (links)

 

Just my Facebook page, and I’m a member of the Facebook Group

‘Playwrights UK’.