Interview: Melanie Wilson

Fuel Theatre and Melanie Wilson are currently collaborating to create Opera for the Unknown Women; a contemporary opera openly addressing issues of climate change and feminism. Currently in rehearsal, it will perform in Coventry, Cardiff, London and Huddersfield in May and June. (Dates below).

“300 years from now. World economies have failed. The human vestiges of earth are scattered and defenseless, pursued by flood and famine. Aphra, the last hope for life has two weeks to live. 

In 2016 a group of women from around the world are drawn together by an unearthly power, to forge a future for their planet. Can their mission alter Earth’s course and save Aphra?”

This week, FemaleArts’ Amie Taylor interviewed Melanie about her process, inspiration and reasons for creating this epic work.

AT: Hi Melanie, thanks for speaking with FemaleArts today, could you start by telling us a little bit about you, your training and how you came to the work you’re currently making?

MW: I‘ve been based and working in London for the past 16 years, since completing my masters at Central. My solo practice began to take shape about 8 years ago, before that I was working with a company that I’d set up with a couple of people, but then I started to create solo work, with sound as a strong focus and I developed from there. This piece is the next step for me, in terms of a much more ambitious project. I’ve made work previously that focuses on the female experience, I suppose because I was a solo performer and a woman. I’m also really interested in the psychological landscape of thought and experience, and using sound to encompass the audience and to unwrap narratives through that process. Working with a chorus of women who are both symbolic of the universal journey of women and can speak about the differences that women have and experience around the world, that’s been a long-held idea.

AT: It’s an important piece and covers a lot of ground in terms of climate change and feminism. What inspired you to make this particular piece and work with these themes?

MW: I wanted to make something that was brazen call to arms for women, and all humans. I wanted to make a piece that was a manifesto, and was trying to do nothing more than be explicitly open about passions and desires for change - for women and the planet, and to do that in a way which gave the audience the feeling of possibility and practicality. It’s a very poetic work, but ultimately it’s about women coming up with ideas and being explicit about what they are, what they want and where they want to go. As an artwork, I wanted to make something that was nakedly political, that could be inspiring on an emotional level; I wanted to ask lots of questions in front of an audience and hope they will feel encompassed and excited by that. We don’t have that much longer, maybe 50 years to make the changes we need to make regarding energy consumption, to reorder our consumptive lifestyles. And that’s scary, but such a unique time to be alive, and to be able to be a part of changing something.

AT: When your audiences leave, what action would you like to see them taking as a result of the piece?

MW: I hope that they feel a sense of personal responsibility and that they can do this. We learnt from travelling around the country and running salons, that people are feeling overwhelmed, and are asking ‘well what can I do?’ But there’s loads of stuff that you can personally do. It could be about voting green, it could be about changing the degrees on your central heating, or turning a light off. It’s about making people feel as though they can roll up their sleeves and get involved.

AT: In terms of audience, who have you had in mind when making the work?

MW: We’re calling it an opera, it’s very strongly straining the bounds of what an opera is. I hope people will come who have nothing to do with opera, and have never thought about going to the opera. I think the centric optimism and in some cases naivety about the subject matter is something I feel that young people can identify with. I think older politicians and the older generation are very jaded about where we’re going, I’m interested in firing up people who still have passion and aren't jaded by the experiences of life - as well as people of my parents generation and beyond, who feel passed by. But I especially want young people and young women to enjoy it, as well as everyone else. I was writing the programme notes yesterday and waned to be very clear that feminism is about men and women - this opera is about women, so I want young women to come and be inspired, but I want young men to come too and know that they can be feminists.

AT: Yes, completely, and I think it’s important they do, equality is better for everyone. I run workshops occasionally with young women that have just left or are soon to leave drama school, and I really want them to see this, because the outlook on being a woman and wanting an acting career can sometimes feel bleak - but I want them to feel reassured by this production that there are companies, such as Fuel and yourself, creating really incredible parts for and shows about women. It’s a really positive thing. How many women are in it?

MW: 11 women on stage. Then most of the people behind the scenes are too. I’d say it was about 95% women altogether across the cast and creatives.

AT: Which I know through my work with FemaleArts is a rare statistic. Thank you so much for speaking with us today Melanie, we’re really excited about ‘Opera for the Unknown Woman’ at FemaleArts and wish you all the very best with it.

25th / 26th May: Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (
8th - 12th June: Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff (
16th / 17th June The Platform Theatre, London
22nd/23rd/24th June Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield (

Opera for the Unknown Woman
Written and directed by Melanie Wilson
Co-composed by Melanie Wilson and Katarina Glowicka

For details and booking links:

Author's review: