Raw, poignant and unflinching new play FABRIC is here on Tuesday 5 July, brought to us by the Marlowe Theatre Canterbury and theatre company TREMers. The show questions the shifting roles and expectations of women in today’s society and asks how, if ever, they can be fulfilled. Playwright Abi Zakarian tells us a little more about it:
What is the story behind you writing FABRIC?
I was approached via my agent by Tom (O’Brien, the Director), who had recently worked with Nancy (Sullivan, playing Leah). They wanted to work together again, this time on a one-woman piece. Tom and I got together for a chat and discussed themes for the play; as we talked we found we were both very interested in trying to dissect the multiple roles of women in today’s society: the huge contradictions and sheer overload of expectations women have to deal with… so we met again, this time with Nancy, and decided to explore these ideas though a workshop week; just the three of us in a room chucking ideas about, doing lots of devised exercises, focusing on specific pressure points that kept coming up and talking, lots of talking.
How do you go about writing a brand new piece of work?
Well, this process has been slightly different as the commission by Robin (Rayner, Producer) came with a director and actor attached. But as I said, the workshop allowed us to get to know each other and explore ideas freely. By the end of the week I came up with a vague outline of a story and got some feedback from them both on it. Then I was given three months to write the first draft of FABRIC. As I wanted the piece to have a very strong sense of Leah’s family and relationships I spent nearly two and a half months preparing characters, narrative, plot and close detailing. I spent a lot of time talking to friends, family, listening to life on buses, transport, in shops when I was out and about just to try and get a true sense of the everyday life of Leah. As the narrative is mainly Leah’s memories with some jumps across chronology I had to makes sure the plot was watertight too. I actually wrote the first draft in about two weeks after getting all the ground work done.
What has been the most challenging element of creating the play so far?
Generally, I think because it’s the first full length one woman play I’ve written it’s been a bit of a learning curve. I was most concerned about making sure there was enough in the play to allow plenty of theatricality; I didn’t just want it to be an exercise in storytelling. And to make sure that Leah is a fully realised woman; flawed, contradictory, intelligent and able to connect with the audience and draw them into her world. I also wanted to make Leah utterly ‘normal’ for want of better word; I didn’t want there to be a grand flaw in her, or something that made her dramatically unique like the tired old ‘maverick character with a dark secret and hidden addiction’ tropes. I am most interested in everyday and regular because that is where the tiny stuff occurs that propels people though life. Leah is like so many friends, family, and people I know, myself included.
What are you most excited about with FABRIC?
The collaborative nature of it has always been to the fore from the very start of this play. Working with Tom and Nancy beforehand was great as it meant I could sound them out with ideas and also start to build the character of Leah early on. And when Alyson (Cummins, set designer) came on board very early in the process it was really exciting because I come from a visual background (I worked as a picture editor for many years before starting to write) and my work always has strong visual influences. I remember we did a read through of the first draft and Alyson sat in and just drew these beautiful, tiny sketches of various scenes and details as she listened to the text. The set she’s designed is quite like an installation piece, which is very exciting to see come together and Nancy interact with. And the other creatives on the project: Max Pappenheim (Sound), Zia Holly (Lighting) and Lee Crowley (Movement) are all doing really interesting, conceptual and layered work. The play will, I hope, be a really complete piece, full of sensory triggers.
How are rehearsals going?
Very well. I’m dropping in and out over the weeks as I’d rather leave Tom and Nancy to get to grips with the text without having to worry about me being hawkish over it! It’s so exciting to see the play slowly get up on its feet and seeing how deep and complete they’ve built the world of the play.
Because we accept so many tiny, mundane, everyday instances of sexism that many of us, of every sex, think this is the status quo. That it’s always been like this, that we should just get on with it, not make a fuss, keep quiet, it’s only a bit of fun…but these small things contribute to the bigger structure of society and the rise in social media, giving people the opportunity to pass judgement, offer opinions, instantly, and often brutally, only adds to the reinforcing of it as ‘normal’, as something we should accept, shrug off, deal with. Until you reach a point where a woman is somehow partly responsible for being raped because of the dress she was wearing, or how much she had drunk. And I think – and I’m talking on a societal scale here – we’re shrugging this off too. FABRIC is quite an angry play; it’s intention is to force people to look at how all this stuff can take a woman, just one woman, apart. That we can be destroyed by the very things we think define us.