Martha Loader

“Thursdays, curry night. Curry and a pint for a fiver. Go at five thirty, home by ten. Beat my mum up for a while. Bed by ten thirty.”

Each week, four men convicted of domestic abuse offences meet in a community centre to undergo a perpetrator programme. Jen, the new group facilitator, feels out of her depth. But as she starts to make progress with the men inside the room, life outside it begins to buckle. 

Based in Ipswich, Martha Loader is a writer, producer and actor, who won the ‘Award for Promising Young Playwright’ presented by Richard Curtis at INK Festival 2019. She is an alumni of the Mercury Playwrights, Soho Writers Lab and HighTide Writers programmes.

Previous credits include: SPLINTER (Play Nicely Theatre, Eastern Angles); CUCKOO (INK Festival, schools tour); PHENOMENON (Hotbed Festival, Cambridge Junction); BABA YAGA; A SORT OF REVOLUTION (tusk. theatre company, Ipswich Art Gallery, University of Suffolk); THE BINDING (The Owl and Cat Theatre, Melbourne).

Introducing playwright Martha Loader

What inspired you to write this play?

Bindweed was born out of my attempt to understand why so many women continue to be abused by men. The steep rise in domestic abuse during lockdown, the murders of Zara Aleena, Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, to name but a few, and the onslaught of gleeful online misogyny directed at Amber Heard, has been sobering. I wanted to shift the conversation away from domestic abuse being a ‘woman’s problem’ – women are more likely to lose their homes and their jobs, move away from friends and family, their children forced to move schools, as a result of domestic abuse. I wanted to ask what the men, because of course women abuse too but it is overwhelmingly still men that are the main perpetrators of DA, were doing to change.

Perpetrator groups do exist, and are crucial components in trying to break the cycle of abuse in this country. They are delivered in different formats, using different methodologies, and mine is only a fictionalised version of one of these groups. I have been fortunate enough to speak to some of the facilitators of these groups, who very generously provided me with their time and insight. I am interested in the messy bits of life, the bits that aren’t cut and dry. Plays can be a chance, as Nina Raine said, to ‘air issues, not tie them up neatly with a bow’. This is by no means an attempt to exonerate the men who abuse, but more to try to understand the why, and what we as a society can actively do to end this global endemic of violence against women and girls. Six women every hour are murdered by their partners or family members around the world. It cannot continue.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a playwright?

I wanted to be an author when I was really young – the Ted Goes on Holiday series that I penned as a 6 year old really didn’t get the airtime it deserved… Although very strangely I did once win a reindeer through a writing competition when I was about 10. The reindeer was called Belle and she lived at Colchester Zoo and I think the ‘prize’ meant that I sponsored her for a year.

I obviously peaked too soon, because I didn’t find my way back to writing really until my mid 20s. I had a post-graduation panic and moved to Melbourne for 9 months, where I plucked up the courage to show around a play I’d written the summer before at a few new writing nights there. After I’d left, one of the theatres put on a production of it which I never saw. I was lucky enough to do the Soho Writers Lab the year I came back, where I learnt the mechanics of playwriting and found lifelong friends in a subsequent writers group I now have with the amazing Emma and Theo. I then started self-producing my writing through a theatre company I set up with a friend; received small commissions from organisations in and around Ipswich; wrote for short play festivals; joined writing courses; and worked with a range of brilliant East Anglian creatives. I also work part time as a Producer and occasional actor.

What or who inspires you as a writer and why do you want to write for the stage?

There are studies showing that audiences’ hearts synchronise in the theatre. I don’t think there’s an experience quite like finding yourself sat in the dark, in a room full of strangers, all being told the same story. I measure out my love for a production in goosebumps – the types of shows that end and you realise you’ve been holding your breath for half of it. There are numerous writers that I am inspired by – writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Lucy Prebble, Ella Hickson, Caryl Churchill who tackle big, meaty subjects across science and technology and history in such captivating and original ways. And of course Tennessee Williams, who has broken my heart countless times.

What do you think about the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting and, more specifically, the anonymity at the heart of the Prize?

I think it’s great that we are striving to democratise opportunities for writers, and the anonymity of the Bruntwood Prize is really key in achieving that. It’s a great way of finding voices across the country, and the range of readers, each bringing their individual expertise and experience, is a fantastic part of the process. I’m hugely impressed by how it all operates.

How do you feel about being shortlisted?

Extremely honoured.