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Russian Dolls: Interview with Kate Lock

10 April 2016 | Lydia Cooper

Kate Lock’s new play Russian Dolls won the 2015 Adrian Pagan award for playwriting, and is on this April at the King’s Head Theatre. We spoke to the actress and writer about generational gaps, funny bones and getting cross when your jokes are cut.

London Calling: Your new play Russian Dolls focuses on a blind lady in her seventies and a seventeen year old young offender, and the relationship between them.

Kate Lock: Yes, the young offender actually comes to rob her, and from that they develop a relationship, which is quite hard to imagine! The play explores the norm of neglect and the lack of motherly love from one generation to the next; the story opens up this generational gap, which comes from culture, from behaviour, from values... Everything’s disposable these days, whereas the older generation kept things and looked after them. The play is about their differences and what brings them together, and underneath all that and in spite of it, there’s a love that comes between these two opposites.

 

LC: Why is the title Russian Dolls?

KL: It’s got nothing to do with Russia, or dolls! I was thinking of those pretty wooden Russian dolls, which are identical and sit inside one another, until you get to the tiniest one. In a roundabout way, these make me think of mothers in one generation to the next, perpetuating the same cycle of neglect: the child becomes the mother and that mother becomes her mother and so on.

 

LC: What made you decide on a duologue form?

KL: Well, I wanted to write a play about two women! There’s actually a lot of monologue in the play as well. I very much believe there’s not enough work for women in the arts industry.

 

LC: What female writers and comedians do you admire?

KL: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who wrote Crashing [the recent Channel 4 series].

 

LC: What’s the best play you’ve seen recently?

KL: I saw People, Places and Things, which I thought was pretty astonishing. I actually tried to see Iphigenia in Splott [another play that was on at the National] in Edinburgh but couldn’t get tickets. I also saw Rabbit Hole at Hampstead Theatre and it was wonderful: David Lindsay-Abaire, the writer, is excellent at exploring themes of grief.

 

LC: I read that you’ve been commissioned to write a new sitcom for BBC Radio 4. Can you tell us a bit about it?

KL: It’s actually a drama, not a sitcom, although I’d love to write a sitcom! I did try my hand at comedy a while back when I did some stand-up, frustrated that my work wasn’t getting produced. I thought ‘I’ll just go and do it myself!’ and after about a year I realised I wasn’t funny enough. You have to have funny bones. I was mildly amusing for ten minutes max, and I had all the material, but I didn’t have the kind of personality to sustain that and keep it going! I think the reason I’m an actress is that I like to hide behind characters; I’m not a personality performer. But it was an interesting year and I learnt a lot.

As for the radio drama, I seem to write about old people quite a lot! I don’t know why. My next stage play is about an older woman too. I’m drawn to writing about old people and dying and dead people, there’s a dead woman in the radio play. It’s not that I’m attracted to the morbidity of it; I just like exploring people at the ends of their lives rather than the beginnings.

 

LC: Why do you think that’s sometimes overlooked?

KL: It isn’t sexy. Old people aren’t sexy, but they’re full of contradictions and they’re just like everybody else, with more wisdom and experience. I like writing for women as well. Men do feature in my work, but I like to explore things from a female perspective. In fact, there’s a campaign at the moment you may have heard of - equal pay for actresses - to get 50:50 pay equality by the year 2018.

 

LC: I feel like that’s an unrealistic goal, given the film industry...

KL: It’s unrealistic on stage, because the classics are so weighted in favour of men. But even just promoting women writers and their point of view... I luckily have a good agent, but I think it’s quite a female characteristic to have low self-confidence. I have terrible demons in terms of finishing things and thinking my writing is rubbish; I give up on it, put it in a drawer and return to it three years later. I have found it difficult to believe that my work has value. Until relatively recently I didn’t take my work very seriously. Years ago I wrote Casualty episodes, and I hated that experience - writing for television in that way is awful, as they cut all your jokes and they make you overwrite. It’s probably better now than it was then, but I just didn’t enjoy it. It’s nice feeling to have a play on now though, and another commissioned, as well as a radio play.

 

LC: What advice do you have for budding writers?

KL: Write every day and keep going until you finish it. It’s messy, it’s lonely, it’s uphill, but you have to stick with it. You usually start with great intentions, spurred on by a memory, a dream, or some idea that’s come to you, but you might end up with something completely different. Unless you’re working on a commission, it’s a journey. Always leave the work in the middle of a really good bit, so you don’t feel discouraged when you go back to it. You need to return to a bit of the story or dialogue that’s exciting to continue, so you want to press on with it. That’s the greatest advice I was given. I’ve read and seen a hell of a lot of plays, and I’ve analysed structures and things, but it mainly comes down to taste and what you think is the best way of telling your story. I’ve seen a fair few plays recently where there hasn’t been a story, just characters in a situation, which I’ve found disappointing. People like Pinter can do that very well, but he still has a story.

 

LC: You live in London. What do you do in your spare time in the city?

KL: I have an allotment, and I like to spend time with my husband and sons, who are both would-be actors. I run on Hampstead Heath about four times a week and I’ve done a couple of marathons. In the summer I swim in the ponds there. It’s a lovely place to spend time. I like wandering around Camden Market - I’ve become a bit of a north London girl really, having moved from the south!


Kate Lock's play Russian Dolls is at the King's Head Theatre 5 - 23 April 2016.

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