Alex Sorgo 24 February 2018

In the rehearsal room for STORMFACE, Tom Taplin performs a monologue where his character, R, is struggling to come out as queer on the phone to his mother. The team share coming out stories, laugh at awkward moments, and consider, with familiarity, how his mother might be reacting on the other side of the phone. I’m assured that despite the play’s difficult themes, Stormface is fundamentally about love, and people who care for each other. Fraught relationships are played out tenderly in every-day, inelegant settings, bringing a sense of self-acceptance and ease to the rehearsal process.

This is Kate Collins’ second full-length play on in Cambridge, after the success of Spiders at the Corpus Playroom in May last year. Director Alistair Henfrey fell in love with the piece, which looks at “the things people do to make themselves feel better, rather than addressing the fact they don’t feel good,” during a read-through in Edinburgh – and immediately wanted to pitch it.

I’m surprised to learn that Spiders was written just after Kate finished her GSCEs in 2015. Since then, she has written for comedy, short pieces and short films, but this is the first full-length play. Always trying to push herself, and keen to stress that she is “still learning” she tells me in writing STORMFACE she wanted to try something completely new, in order to learn and develop from the process. Inspired by how Carol Churchill and Sarah Kane “play with form in ways that are really exciting and theatrical” – Kate set out intentionally to produce something much more abstract that her previous work. She explains that she opened up her laptop and tried to do something of an automatic writing exercise, eventually producing a “vomit draft” after 3 days of continuous typing, with breaks only to go to the loo. Alistair says it’s credit to Kate that “people who saw Spiders will find STORMFACE remarkably different – I don’t think people would know it’s by the same playwright.”

For Kate, plays that are ‘About’ things with a capital ‘A’ tend to be boring. Plays are plays – not Guardian articles. So after she had finished her intuitive “splurge” of a draft, she went back and methodically plotted out story lines, noticing patterns and themes that she’d produced naturally, and finding ways to bring them to the fore. For example, Kate discovered she’d created lots of images about ‘cycles’ and ‘spinning,’ and made a conscious decision to highlight these when re-drafting. She even ended up with a direction for “a hurricane of butterflies.”

The resulting play follows 4 people ‘R, O, J and E’ –each of whom is struggling with the idea of ‘feminity’ in some way. Three disparate story arcs are intercut with truncated dialogue, and characters popping up in each other stories throughout. Alistair explains that the “verbal texture of the play tethers them all together” rather than any moralizing narrative, and Kate’s ‘poetic’ stage directions provide a ‘feeling’ to be interpreted rather than an order to be exactly followed through.

Stormface has consequently attracted a diverse creative team, all inspired to use their respective talents by Kate’s evocative language. Musical Director Ruari Paterson-Achenbach wanted to compose original music for the play when he heard the direction – “The thunder turns into the kind of music angels would make if they were really fucked off”- and knew exactly what this would sound like. Set Designer Gabriella Gormley, Lighting Designer Johnny King and Cinematographer Louis Norris have also been working to build onstage visuals that will incorporate shadow, LED lighting and video projections  – packing the limited forestage of the ADC lateshow full with metaphor and feeling.

The word that keeps cropping up in the team’s description of STORMFACE is ‘open.’ Kate has clearly been generous and unprecious with her work, remaining keenly aware of the limited role of the writer by being not just open to, but excited about interpretations, making few appearances in rehearsals, and in having sought to create characters that “actors want to act.” This, if anything, is surely what new student writing should be all ‘About’ with a capital ‘A’ – collaboration, generosity, intimacy, and trust, with egos left at the door.

STORMFACE is an ‘open’ challenge that has attracted a diverse and talented creative team, who have been trusted and encouraged to rise to it. With such a rich, warm foundation, the finished piece is certain to be beautiful.