There is a convent in Ecuador, one which my sisters long to visit. They stare out of their windows, they look out over a moody Derry, and they dream of warmer climates…
I based this scenario on something I’d been privy to a couple of years ago. There was a group of nuns who welcomed me into their home and kindly showed me a video of their far-flung missionaries. It was a much-prized VHS, and you could feel a collective sigh as we settled down with cups of tea to watch this homegrown documentary. There were tropical forests, impossible rainfalls, and countless nuns weaving between cloisters with prayers in their hearts and smiles on their faces. It was basically a spiritual Location Location Location. ‘I hope to visit one day,’ one of the sisters said, as she offered me a slice of her lemon drizzle cake.
We all have journeys we wish to take. Thanks to the Bruntwood Prize, I get to go on my own adventure: my play is undergoing development. If we picture the Judge’s Award for ELECTRIC ROSARY as a plane ticket, then I suppose I’ve spent the last few months shoving things in a redrafted suitcase and looking for dramaturgical sunscreen. I am a nervous traveller at the best of times. Luckily for me, there’s an awesome team who are along for the ride.
The first stage has been script work. I thought I had the map – after all, I spent the last couple of years plotting it, writing it, dreaming it. But the more I stared at what I’d written, the less it seemed like a map, and more like the overgrown mumblings of a path. I’d made some curious orientation choices, and there was a big squiggle in the middle of the countryside saying Here Be Robots. Was it a promise? Was it a warning? I am learning firsthand that it’s possible to get lost in a world one has written. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing – as long as I find my way eventually. Thanks to Suz Bell and the Royal Exchange, I’ve already had two intense days of script readings. We’ve started to sort things out. I’ve had the most marvellous actors striding out into the unknown and, with their voices and their questions and their excitement, I’m starting to see where I’m going.
We’re in a convent of the near future. This is science fiction, so worlds get to be limitless. But this is also very human, and people need limits to live. They limit the time they spend in the cold, they limit their amount of loneliness, they limit their consumption of lemon drizzle cake. I’m trying to catch that balance with this play. A convent trapped in its limitations, asking where the future ends. We’re reaching a point of history where so many concepts limited to fiction – robotics, virtual reality – are bursting into reality. What a fascinating time to live and write. The conversations I’ve had with our actors have bristled with both excitement and fear.
I am deep inside my rewrites, and the next stage of my journey begins shortly. I called my Bruntwood Prize a metaphorical plane ticket, but buried deep within its liturgy of prizes is a real one too. In June, I’m off to America – first to the Kenyon Review Playwrights Conference in Ohio, and then to workshop ELECTRIC ROSARY in New York with the Manhattan Theater Company. I’ll check in again if I don’t let lost in the undergrowth. Lemon drizzle cake at the ready.