Sadie Clark is the writer and performer of the award-winning Algorithms, a one woman play about being bisexual and looking for love and connection in the digital realm. We talk to her in advance of the show returning to the Soho theatre
Tell us a bit about Algorithms
It’s a bisexual Bridget Jones for the online generation that’s ‘moving, profound and hilarious’ (according to reviews)! The show follows Brooke, the algorithm writer for a start-up dating app. When she finds herself unexpectedly single, she decides to give the mathematics of love (online dating) a chance.
It’s a tragi-comedy about trying to cope when it feels like your life’s gone a little bit tits up and isn’t panning out the way you’d always imagined…
It’s full of observations about dating, bisexuality, and loneliness in a world where connecting with others is meant to be easier than ever. The play won the TV Foundation’s Netflix supported ‘Stage to Screen’ Award (2020) and sold out at Edinburgh Fringe as well as its last run at Soho Theatre. It’s very silly with a tender heart and I can’t wait to get it back on Soho’s stage next month!
What inspired you to make the show?
The main driving force behind creating the show was being an unemployed actor fed up with playing roles like ‘dead wife’ in tiny no budget short films. I’d seen people like Michaela Coel and Phoebe Waller-Bridge shoot to success off the back of solo shows, plus seen many of my peers making their own work at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and I decided to have a crack at it myself.
I got on to the Soho Theatre Writer’s Lab in 2017 and wrote the play there. When I was thinking about what story I wanted to tell I kept coming back to this very personal question, which was: ‘why do I feel so lonely when connecting with other people, through all this technology at our fingertips, is meant to be easier than ever?’. So that was really my starting point.
It also felt very important to me that the show put a bi protagonist centre stage. I felt like I’d rarely seen bisexuality depicted on stage or in pop culture, and wondered if I’d seen it more readily growing up, whether I’d have realised I was bi earlier in life? I was also adamant that my character’s sexuality wouldn’t be used to create the conflict that drives the narrative arc. So often we see a struggle with accepting someone in the LGBTQIA+ community as the way to create drama. I was interested in writing a character whose sexuality was a given, and it was fairly incidental to the story line.
Has it changed at all over the last couple of years?/What have you learned from the show?
You know the first few drafts of the show were so bleak… Ha! I think with that show, it being the first play I’d written, and maybe the emotional headspace I was in, all of my ‘dark truths’ came out first. Then as I developed it, I began layering in some of the hilarious and ridiculous stories from my (many) years of online dating and started to find a lot more of the ‘funny’. The first work in progress performance I did was ninety minutes (honestly, my poor friends), and I honed that down to a sweet sixty by the time I was doing it in Edinburgh. I think the biggest change came from doing it every day at the Fringe. I really found my confidence with it, and settled in to enjoying being on stage, sharing this story with new audiences each time.
The message of the show, the thing Brooke learns by the end, is the thing I really needed to learn about myself at the time of writing it. But even now, three years on, I still need to remind myself of it.
Aside from that cryptic musing – I don’t want to give away the end – I think this show has taught me to believe in myself more, to have fun, to set boundaries… I’ve also learnt so much about myself as a person, and the world has changed so much since I was last on stage with it in March 2020, that I’m excited to do it again and see how it sits in this ‘new normal’.
What do you hope audiences take away from the show?
At the very least, a good night out with a load of massive belly laughs – excellent for the ol’ mental health and I think a lot of us have been struggling over the past 18 months! On a deeper level, I hope there are audiences for whom this show makes them feel seen, makes them feel a little less alone, a little more sure of themselves. Or even audiences who feel they understand other people in their lives better because of the show! One of my favourite parts about performing it is actually people coming up to me afterwards to tell me how they connected with it – those are the best moments. I’ll never forget the time in Edinburgh where a couple bought me a pizza in Pleasance Courtyard because they’d seen the show and felt they had a whole new perspective on their relationship with their son as a result!
Who are the theatre artists you are finding most exciting at the moment?
This is terrible but I’ve been so busy writing on two new (and fairly intense) projects I feel like I’ve been living under a rock and totally out of it with the theatre world! Actually, I don’t know if that’s so terrible – I’m just thinking about Michaela Coel’s speech at the Emmy’s which was a bit of a penny drop moment for me. She said, ‘…do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence’ and I’ve been trying to find that silence to write in (which can be hard when you’re also promoting a live show!).
In lockdown I watched quite a lot of streamed and on demand theatre and comedy. A show that really stuck with me was Travis Alabanza’s ‘Overflow’ at the Bush. It was so powerfully performed by Reece Lyons and felt like such a crucial piece creatively tackling the heated ‘debate’ around public toilets (though I’d like to be clear there is no debate about it for me, people should have the right to use whichever public toilet they feel most comfortable in and be safe from abuse in the process). The set design was stunning too!
Oh you know what, I’m super excited about Frankie Thompson & Beth Sitek’s ‘The Wardrobe’ built by Em Tanner during the first lockdown. It’s a tiny portable West-End Theatre inside a wardrobe – how cool is that!? They’re a queer & neuro-divergent led company with the mission to bring arts to vulnerable and isolated communities rather than expecting communities to come to them – the ‘Deliveroo of Theatre’ with access at the heart of it. I’m most excited by companies and shows integrating access into the process and the work itself – it’s something I’m trying to do too, particularly with the BSL interpreted performances of Algorithms at Soho. Anna Kitson, my interpreter, has had some fab conversations with me about how we make it a seamless part of the show. I think ‘The Wardrobe’ sounds blooming brilliant and can’t wait to see more from them!
What are you up to next?
I’m writing my first two-hander at the moment on the Mercury Theatre Playwrights scheme. It’s a play about queer identity in rural farming communities and climate anxiety. Next year I’ll be going into research and development on my next solo show ‘GREEDY’ which, you guessed it, also features a bi protagonist, and explores that particular stereotype which gets thrown at us. I’m also working on an audio adaptation of Algorithms that was recently commissioned and a new pilot script for TV. If you want to keep up to date with what I’m up to follow me on Twitter @sadieleylaclark
Algorithms runs 6-11 December 2021 at the Soho Theatre, for tickets and information please see the website here: www.sohotheatre.com