Isley Lynn's play Skin a Cat was a huge success at Vault Fest this year, receiving 4 and 5 stars across the board. This October it returns to The Bunker (London), Female Arts' Amie Taylor caught up with Isley to find out more about this piece.
AT: Thanks for speaking to us today Isley, firstly, please could you tell us a little about your work and how you came to work in theatre...
IL: I've always written, in the way I think a lot of people always write - embarrassing teenage poetry and melodramatic diary entries - but I just never stopped. My dad is a prolific blogger and my mom was an opera singer (and now does important work with the Epilepsy Society) so the arts were always a viable career option for me and my brother (who is a sound artist). When I left university I became frustrated with the lack of diverse stories on our stages, so I've tried to dedicate myself to contributing new narratives and perspectives with my work. Skin a Cat was written to present a different side to the well-worn subject of sexual discovery.
AT: Skin a Cat comes to the Bunker Theatre this Autumn, following a hugely successful run at Vault Fest earlier this year. What was the inspiration behind this piece?
IL: My experience of sex was very different to what I was told would happen when I started having it and I didn't see any stories that represented me so I decided I better write one myself. Sure enough it turns out I wasn't alone, which is why we did so well at the festival I think. Beyond the specific challenges of the main character (who is unabashedly based on me) audiences responded to a story that was about difference and the pressures of fitting in, and how damaging that can be.
AT: What do you hope audiences will take away from watching?
IL: That everyone's experience is different but they all speak to our shared experiences. That liberation (sexual and otherwise) is as much about knowing what you don't want as knowing what you want. And that you should be very clear with your descriptions during phone sex.
AT: Female sexuality is still often treated as a taboo topic, how did you choose to approach this? What challenges did you meet along the way?
IL: My approach was very straightforward and the same with every play: basically just tell the truth. It's the hardest but also simplest thing to do and it's so important and impactful. One of the biggest challenges was just trying to get the play on. I had sent the script to everyone I could before Blythe swooped in – she knew exactly what to do and stuck her neck out to bring it to the Vaults Festival. I am forever in her debt for that. Until she took it on a lot of people were confused about how to stage it or gave feedback that tried to steer me towards making it more like other plays. I don't regret for a second holding out for a director who wasn't afraid of its weirdness.
AT: It's no secret that women's sexuality has been policed through the years, and still is. Do you think this is changing?
IL: Yes definitely, but not fast enough. I'm impatient. And while I think women bear the brunt of that policing I think the issue is wider and applies to anyone whose sexual practices deviate from the “norm”. Thankfully I only got one such response to Skin a Cat, but it was a reminder that amongst all the praise and support and recognition there were still people who felt comfortable criticising sex lives that don't mirror their own, and that's pretty sad and frightening.
AT: Describe the show in 6 words...
IL: Rude, funny, sexy, moving, surprising and ballsy...
AT: What are you working on next?
IL: I've always got a few things on the go at once, but the project at the front of my mind is a collaboration with one of my favourite actors about an English-Egyptian woman who takes up pole dancing when her husband joins the Arab Spring. I'm very excited about that one.