INTERVIEW: Alison Carr on her new play Iris, wanting to be Victoria Wood and cock gags

alison carr

As we can confirm after seeing it last week, the Live Theatre’s latest production, Iris, is quite something (read our review here) Written by Alison Carr and starring former Coronation Street actress Katy Cavanagh, the play looks at how loss and grief can just as easy bring a family together as it can tear it apart. And whats even better is that Alison is a Geordie lass. Amazing. We chatted to the writer about the play, wanting to be Victoria Wood and ‘cock gags’.

iris and gerry

We loved Iris. What inspired you to write it?

Well, even though we’re in to the final week I don’t want to give too much away. I think it’s nice for audiences to see it as spoiler-free as possible. But, it all started with the idea of Iris’s strange bequest to her daughters. From there it built up into thinking about the kind of family it would need to be for that to happen. Why? What are the resentments, the secrets? And what are the consequences of their inheritance? I was interested in exploring ideas about legacy, motherhood, sisterhood, guilt, grief, all that good stuff. With a few cock gags thrown in for good measure!

The three actors in the show are fantastic. Did you have any part in their casting?

Yes they are fantastic, and yes I did! Myself, Max Roberts the director and the casting directors spent a couple of days in London auditioning and we held auditions in Newcastle, too. We saw an awful lot of talented actors and at many points I wished it was a cast of thirty rather than three we were looking for. We got it right, though, and Katy, Sam and Joe (below with Alison) are all great in the roles and brought a lot to the rehearsal process, too.

iris cast

How did you get into writing?

I wrote my first play when I was a student for the Uni Theatre Society. It wasn’t great but we all have to start somewhere. I kept writing after I graduated and got a play picked up by a company called 5065Lift for their Edinburgh Festival Fringe line-up. That was my first professional work and gave me confidence to think ‘maybe I could do something with this’. I’ve kept going ever since, really. I did the Old Vic New Voices quite early on that led to me getting an agent, and I left my full-time job to go part-time to give me more time to write about ten years ago.

You won a bursary from the Live Theatre back in 2013. How did that come about and how did it help your career?

The bursary was for my one-woman play The Soaking of Vera Shrimp that I had been developing with director Rosie Kellagher. We’d been working on it in various forms for a while, and we were re-imagining it when we entered it for the award. We were delighted to win it, it gave us time and space to work on the play further with actor Tessa Parr and get it to a really good place. We were then able to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe, with some support from Live, where it did very well and was seen by a lot of people.

You wrote a touching piece on your website about Victoria Wood’s death. How did she inspire you and who else inspired you growing up?

It was my deep desire to be Victoria Wood that got me writing in the first place. I loved her from when I was a teenager and wanted to emulate her. Obviously as I wrote more I started to find my own voice and style, but that inspiration to start in the first place was largely down to her. She was also bloody funny and talented and amazing and worked damn hard. What better role model?

It’s always exciting to find new writers and inspirations – I remember reading Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and it blowing me away. I like Tennessee Williams and Martin McDonagh. I love classic films like Sunset Boulevard and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? programmes like Psychoville, The Mighty Boosh and Nighty Night. If it’s dark and funny and maybe a bit odd, chances are I’m a fan.

You had success with Soar in Salford and Vera Shrimp at the Edinburgh Fringe. Are there any plans for Iris to play elsewhere?

Watch this space…

And finally, do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

I’m working with Forward Theatre Project on their Clothes Swap Theatre Party at the Derby Theatre in July. There’s some other stuff pending, but subject to various factors so I can’t really confirm them at this point. I’m developing an idea for television, and am getting ready to start with a blank page on something brand new for the stage. Always exciting and terrifying in equal measure.

Iris is playing at the Live Theatre in Newcastle until Saturday April 30. For tickets and more information, click here

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