Interview: Phoebe Eclair-Powell

Phoebe Eclair-Powell's play Fury was shortlisted for the Verity Bargate Award and was the winner of the Soho Theatre Young Writer’s Award. It comes to the Soho Theatre this July and is described as 'a chilling and powerful modern Medea about motherhood and class, taking an unapologetic look at the single young mum, the one already judged before she’s even opened her mouth.' It sounds like a must-see so I was excited to be able to catch up with Phoebe this week to find out a little more.

(Interview by @AmieAmieTay)

AT: Hi Phoebe, thanks for talking to FemaleArts today. Firstly, it would be great if you could tell us a bit about yourself, your training and how you came to work in theatre...

PE: Thank you for having me! Of course, I fell for the hottie that is theatre when I was in youth theatre at the Young Pleasance – we used to go up to Edinburgh festival and be those precocious teenagers on The Mile. Loved it. In my gap year I had a massive panic and my mum made me apply for a foundation in performance at Drama Centre – thank god she did as I realised I was a not very good actor, but I loved reading plays. I then detoured from acting to do an English degree at Oxford, which was overwhelming, weird and wonderful, in equal measure. Since graduating I literally tried my hand at everything related to theatre and telly.

It was working at the Battersea Arts Centre and the Royal Court however that really cemented that theatre was my true love and that deep down I really wanted to make my own work. I luckily got onto the RCYW under Leo Butler and wrote a short piece for an Ideastap (RIP) competition and came runner up, which is how I entered the world of short writing nights – I did every one I could get my hands on with the help of my theatrical soulmate Jamie Jackson, and slowly, but surely built up my confidence as a writer – something that finally feels right.
AT: Your new play Fury is on at the Soho Theatre in July - tell us briefly what it's about...

PE: Fury is a modern Medea about Sam, a single young mum living in an increasingly gentrified South East London. It’s about her relationship with her upstairs neighbour, student, Tom, whose flat she cleans, but most of all it’s about the lack of support the state gives those who need it most and how they then punish those same people when they can’t cope.
AT: And what inspired you to address these themes, issues and ideas?

PE: I am a born and bred Camberwellian, and lived in Peckham for two years before I got priced out, I now live in New Cross Gate and can barely afford it. The London I know and love has changed for better and for worse and I wanted to document that via the story of a character based on the single mum I lived above in my flat in Peckham. We entered a war of complaints about noise – even resulting in her putting drawing pins in my flat mates bike tyres! It was a complete eye opener to the way Londoners have begun to turn on each other, due to stress and selfishness - because everyone is struggling and no one wants to fall through the cracks.

I was also given a great line from a fellow writer – ‘Don’t mug yourself’ and I thought this is what people think of my main character, that she’s mugged herself over time and time again. I wanted to look at responsibility and blame – and how single young mums bear the brunt of that social judgement.
AT: What do you hope people will take away from watching?

PE: I really hope it moves people to rethink the way they treat others – to think about the characters they move to avoid on the bus – to have more empathy in their everyday.

However, I also want it to trigger arguments in the bar afterwards – the piece treads some very fine political lines and everyone in the play is morally dubious. I wanted the chorus in the play to constantly put the audience on their toes as to what to think and why – making it a really complex piece as to who we root for and who we want to see punished.
AT: Did you have a specific audience in mind when creating the piece?

PE: I can’t say I did to be honest. I get far too into the heads of my characters to think about what the audience might think of them, although as you begin re-writing and casting and making the show you definitely turn that introspection outwards. I want everyone to engage with it – though I do think after seeing people’s reactions to a rehearsed reading we did of the play in January, there was a clear visceral reaction from the female members of the audience, whilst it left quite a few men cold. I really had to review why that was and if it was something I needed to address or not.
AT: In what ways do you hope Fury might shift attitudes?

PE: If it makes someone help a woman get on and off the train with a pram, I’ve won, in my opinion.
AT: You're working with Damsel Productions on this show - a company that are dedicated to telling stories using women's voices. What changes would you personally like to see in theatres / the arts regarding the presence and representation of women?

PE: Working with Hannah Hauer-King and Kitty Wordsworth and the rest of the Damsel team has been amazing. They are a great and super smart gang to be involved with. I look around me and see amazing female playwrights and TV writers kicking it, and I have worked with, and met with, so many brilliant women in top positions at theatres and TV companies, so I definitely think there has been a shift. However, I do then see those same female playwrights drop away when it gets to the big stages – we are rocking the Fringe, but not necessarily getting the big gigs – that’s what’s next.

As for roles on stage, I also think we are getting there (I think of Caryl Chruchill’s Escaped Alone that was on at the Royal Court earlier this year, and My Mother Said currently on at the St.James) –but it’s tough – I wonder if people feel awkward watching all women on stage, or women taking the lead way in the same way that some people still seem to find the idea of a female stand up awkward – trust me, they do - weirdos. Personally I’m hoping to get more and more into blind casting for future productions – so I can’t really preach on this one as we can all improve, and I definitely need to try harder.
AT: Where can we follow you on social media? 
PE: @PhoebeEclair is my twitter – sometimes I’ve quite tweet savvy, sometimes I’m very lazy indeed…

Fury runs at the Soho Theatre from 5th - 30th July. Book tickets here:

Author's review: