When you set out to write Dinner, what questions or events inspired you?
I wouldn’t want to pin down any single political event, although the aftershocks of 9/11 were certainly in my blood. I felt myself asking questions about wealth, excess, waste, hubris. A meal gave me the ingredients.
Did you imagine it would end up being a comedy or a tragedy?
When I started the play, I knew there would be blood on the carpet. I was stirring things up from the word go. What surprised me is how funny it is.
Many years later, has the play’s relation to the world changed in your view?
The world has changed a great deal in the years since I wrote the play but, re-reading it, it feels more relevant than ever. The gap between rich and poor, which so appalled me at the time, has become even wider.
Looking back at Dinner’s premiere now, where do you feel it led you as a writer?
The three plays I wrote before Dinner were all set in the past. Dinner put me firmly in the contemporary world, although it still has a Jacobean feel. It’s the first play where I freed myself from punctuation. Only the question mark survives. I wrote it at speed, which was a departure for me as my work usually comes slowly. I found that very freeing. It began my long and fruitful relationship with the National Theatre.
You’ve previously expressed a wish to be part of ‘the canon’. What does that recognition mean to you?
Out of context, that sounds terribly conceited. My remarks were about female playwrights being part of the canon. Although we have flourished in recent years, in previous centuries, we were almost unheard of. I have cherished plays read by women who were writing when this was still an impossible career for them. I fight against the tag of ‘female’ playwright – yet I am proud to be a part of this still small group. Theatre is public and immediate. The audience is alive and present and can be audibly, brutally critical. It’s still an unusual way for a woman to express herself and we have written important and unique work in recent years. I think it’s very important that libraries and educational establishments keep an eye on this, so that it lasts beyond our time.
Screenwriting has become an increasing part of your work. How does writing for film differ from playwriting for you and what does each offer you as an artist?
In film, you let the eye lead and you write what you see. The poetry is in the image. In theatre, everything is about the word, the word coming out of the darkness. The poetry is in language. I find each form powerfully affecting in its own way. But there is a freedom to playwriting that the screenwriter – who is always serving a larger collaboration – doesn’t have.
This Q&A is part of the program for Dinner, which also features:
- notes from Artistic Director Kip Williams
- an interview with director Imara Savage designer Elizabeth Gadsby
- biographies and photos of the cast and crew
- photos from the rehearsal room
- articles and essays on the show
- and much more!
Pick one up at the theatre for only $10
Dinner, 11 Sep – 28 Oct 2017, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
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