Theatre Bubble contributor Paul Hegarty in conversation with writer and producer Maureen Bennett.
Maureen, I understand you live in the Cotswolds and have done lots of work at The Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, tell me about how that feeds into your writing?
Well, I have written and facilitated many workshops, sometimes wholly original pieces or with themes based on a Shakespeare play. In the theatre studio, the work has been varied with new plays, children’s shows, and topical events dramatised for young people. However, in these Covid times, that has all but stopped and I still wanted to carry on writing.Writing is so exciting as the character come to life before your very eyes. That’s why the INK new writers’ Festival in Suffolk was so timely for me as it gave my writing a new focus. I have always written but INK was the springboard for me to get not just busy with writing but prolific. It really was the catalyst for me because after I had submitted my work to INK and the subsequent broadcasting on BBC Suffolk I became further inspired and for once, due to Covid, I had plenty of time to finish it and pull it all together.
Maureen, tell me what you have been up to recently.
Well more recently I have been facilitating drama workshops with young people and with an inclusive theatre group, Twocan Theatre Company which was created as a result of the frustrations of Rebecca Andrews, Nicola Miles-Wilding and Louise Partridge when trying to produce a piece of theatre with performers who used wheelchairs.We intended to put on an abridged version of Romeo and Juliet but we had to forget that idea and do the workshop online instead. It is quite an odd experience doing digital drama, I can tell you.
Again, because of Covid the workshops have been cutback as pantomimes and Christmas stories in primary schools are on hold, which is a real shame as that really is the best fun. So I have turned my energies to writing more and producing a selection of themed monologues called LIVES
These monologues are not intended for the theatre, is that right?
As I read the monologues to my family,I realised they would have to be filmed because of current restrictions but of course I d I don’t see why they couldn’t be on stage too, especially as the actors have really brought the characters to life and I am sure theatre audiences would get every bit as involved with this range of quirky lives as I do. We just need to keep on creating and being inventive until such times as theatre fully revives.
Maureen, your son Jack is a filmmaker, is that correct?
Jack wrote and directed a film HERE COMES HELL I played a medium, Madam Bellrose, who opened up the portals of hell. We filmed it in an old crumbling, mansion in Lincolnshire. Actually, my other three sons worked on the film as well. I was more anxious about that film than any other film I have worked on. What if I forgot my lines?What if I was terrible, what would the children say!!
It was great working with Jack. He treated me as an actor and not as his mum – hopefully I repaid the compliment when I had him film my work.
Tell me a bit more about Jack, did he need persuading to work on something that in many ways is quite theatrical rather than cinematic.
No, he was very open to the idea. He could see how powerful a monologue to camera can be, as it reveals the complicated inner story of the individual. I also think he was very interested in the different approaches the actors took. Jack has been writing scripts since he was about 11 and he often turned them into short home movies, so he knows a bit about writing himself.
Later on he went to Central St. Martins and our house was often used as a location for all his films when he was training. Our kitchen changed into many different locations and our actor friends worked on the projects so he was well used to working with a range of actors. In the end I needed a director and Jack seemed the obvious choice,
Mother and son, that is a pretty unique relationship in the film world.
True, but it seems to work and work well for us. Having said that, as a film creative he was not exactly falling over himself to get involved in my projects but he agreed he would film these monologues for me as he knew my theatre work and was very taken with the idea. I think he was surprised to be asked but he is used to me coming up with novel ideas. He is working on his own screenplay at the moment, so I knew he was busy but then again it is hard to say no to your mum.
So how did you go about creating the themed monologues?
Well, I am always interested in the lives of people. So often people think they are not interesting, by saying they don’t do much but you only have to scratch the surface and you learn just how fascinating ordinary people really are. I have always written things; sometimes snippets of half imagined situations that trigger an idea or maybe I recall snatches of dialogue or an over heard comments or perhaps I remember some fascinating observations about how people dress or speak. Sometimes it all falls into a strong story line or sometimes the ideas just sit there in a drawer or in my little notebook or more often then not, at the back of mind.
The first lines always lead me onto the character. And that’s what I am really interested in. Some of the characters are loosely based on people I have known or met. Some characters come from a sentence I have heard on a train or in a shop. So when the INK Festival came along I just rummaged around in the memory bank. It was a real thrill that INK performed my scenes and it is great that even in lockdown they have managed to inspire so many writers, like myself, who have gone on to write and develop their ideas further.
And what about the actors in your film?
I began casting, by using my friends who are actors. It then grew, as friends recommended friends, I was thrilled that they wanted to get involved. We have actors from 25 to 94 years of age. I really wanted to include more monologues and actors but the Covid restrictions have made that difficult for the moment. My actors have been fantastic and have brought the characters more to life than I could have hoped for
Maybe LIVES lives on then?
I have many more characters in my head that I will now allow to escape – so I don’t see why not.
What’s the next step?
When Jack has edited the film, I will submit it to festivals. However, I would really love to see it on a stage.
I will try and work towards making it work as a theatre piece. Certainly I would love to carry on writing for theatre.
And finally, would you recommend working with family members?
Definitely. It has been great working with my son. However, these days he often won’t answer the phone, as he thinks it is just his mum wanting to nag him about something trivial and that can be frustrating because I want to shout……..
“I am not your mum, I am your writer”