Writer Non Vaughan-O’Hagan on A Play on Words, a new play presented as part of the Bloomsbury Festival 2021.
Tell us about A Play Upon Words
How did you come to write the play? What inspired you?
I was commissioned by St George’s Bloomsbury to write a play about Peter Mark Roget since his wife, Mary is buried in the crypt. This follows my previous commission for St George’s ‘I, Dido’ about Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed race great niece of Lord Mansfield who was the Lord Chief Justice at the end of the 18th century. I set off therefore to discover about Roget and what led him to create the thesaurus. It became apparent that Roget’s life – unlike Dido’s – had far less drama and therefore I decided to explore some wider themes – to do with the power of words and how we can choose to use them. Lady Ottoline Morrell, patroness of the Bloomsbury set seemed to insist on being included. With such a colourful character I didn’t dare refuse!
Bloomsbury continues to attract creative people of all kinds. Within my own building I have an internationally renowned painter and a superb pianist whose keyboard skills enlivens my day. It’s hard to know why exactly the arts seem to flourish here but the presence of so many academic institutions as well as of course, the British Museum must contribute to palpable atmosphere of creativity.
What’s next for you?
The next project will actually happen in the USA in 2022. Following hard on the heels of A Play Upon Words, I have been commissioned to write a play to commemorate the bicentenary of Virginia Theological Seminary. It is a hugely challenging project to cover two hundred years of history in an entertaining way whilst at the same time depict some rather dark aspects of the Seminary’s history. To their credit the Seminary have wanted to acknowledge and address the fact that it was literally built by enslaved peoples. I look forward very much to seeing it on stage in Virginia at some point next year.