Preview: LILY

Pippa Smith 27 November 2016

I sat down with writer and director of LILY, Isla Cowen, to find out why we should still make time to head down to Corpus Playroom this week.

Tell us a bit about the creative ideas which led to the show and the writing process. Has this been an idea of yours for a long time?

I wrote the first draft during the Christmas Vacaction last year, and then redrafted it three times during the next few months, and finally, the rehearsal process has also played a key part in developing the script. I had wanted to write about the way in which individuals are affected by death, and how often the death of a friend or loved one can make people consider death more generally, reflecting on their own mortality. Sometimes the death of one person makes us consider how we’ve lived and makes us want to embrace life that bit more or it can make us dwell on the past and our own regrets.I also wanted to look at the idea of how people are remembered after death. How can one woman be kept alive through memories, when her friends all have very different memories and opinions of her? Lily becomes fractured in memories and, throughout the play, she is absent and present all at once.

The play focuses on grief and mourning – how difficult has it been to portray the emotions and thoughts of characters sympathetically in light of this – both through writing and directorial decisions?

I think that silences are really important in the play. Much more is said in the awkward pauses and tense moments than in the actual dialogue. More importantly, they never really say much about Lily, they end up just talking about themselves, and even when they do talk about Lily, there is always a subtext that relates to themselves or other characters in the room. When they do express mourning, it often feels like they’re doing it just to have something to say, to fill in the silence. Though I want the audience to sympathise with each characters’ individual struggle, the play is also a critique of the characters’ middle-class attitudes and prejudices. It highlights their hypocrisy and gradually scratches away at the characters’ surface veneers, their performative selves, to expose the real. It is the tension between our sympathy for their problems and our disgust at their actions which gives the play its impact.

How have you balanced the sometimes conflicting demands of writer and director? Or do the two go naturally hand in hand for you?

I think that the two naturally go hand in hand when you have a vivid idea for a play, and in general, the play has remained how I imagined it when I wrote it. However, once we were in the rehearsal room I told all the actors that I wanted them to question the script – I’ve never felt precious about it. We’ve scored out and re-written a lot of the stage directions, discovering more effective blocking, and the cast have also been able to suggest changes to lines. I wanted them to feel comfortable doing this, I just reserved the right to say ‘no’ sometimes. We’ve also done a lot of character work and explorative improvisation which has transformed the play. The beauty of new writing is that we’ve been able to add new details into the script that reflect what we’ve discovered about the characters. A lot of the characters are not exactly how I originally imagined them, but I think that’s a really good thing.

Also, I think what’s been really helpful is having an Assistant Director (Josh McClure) working with me on this play. It’s great to have new ideas in the room and it hopefully ensures I’m not being a tyrannical writer/director! We agree on a lot of things, but also disagree at times – which is perfect, you need someone who has a different view on the play, especially when you’ve written it yourself. He has been essential to both the creative and rehearsal processes.All in all, I would say its been a really collaborative process: it’s more than just a play filled in by puppets: the actors and production team have all been a vital part in making this play what it is.

How important is the original score written by Bret Cameron for the piece? What does it add?

When Tom Bevan (Producer) and I first discussed the play, it was really important for us to use the play as a launch pad for other creatives. This is a piece of new writing and we wanted to use the play as an opportunity to promote other original work in Cambridge. We’ve been releasing artwork (made in response to sections of the script) and Lily tracks (reflecting different characters) every week as part of our publicity campaign. It’s amazing that Lily has become more than just a play: it’s a creative initiative. We’ve also made extensive use of Bret Cameron’s music during rehearsals for warm-ups and character exercises. I’m really into using music to intensify emotions during the rehearsal process, music just does something to us as humans – arouses feelings which we sometimes can’t even name. We’re now working on using these tracks in the play, too, finding points at which the music will work alongside the action.

Are there any moments in the play which exemplify your directorial aims that we should look out for?

I think there’s a lot to be said by silences and eye contact: moments of nonverbal communication. That’s all I’ll say. Come along and see for yourselves!

LILY plays at the Corpus Playroom Tuesday 29th November – Saturday 3rd December at 9:30pm