17Percent recently interviewed Florence ahead of seeing her new play Eggs performed at the London Vaults, as part of the Vault festival. This unsuspecting venue, which used to be the Old Vic tunnels tucked next to/below Waterloo station, has been transformed for a time into a wintry version of the Edinburgh Fringe. The feel of the place reverberates through the space of the Crescent, where is Eggs is being staged, and there’s a collective excitement in the audience that comes with a natural fringe setting. In fact this play had its first outing at Edinburgh last year, but has since been developed by Keith-Roach and her creative team.
A rudely honest piece that explores darker aspects of female friendship, the play presents us with a funny yet, at times, surprisingly outlook on the way young (Y generation) women relate by constantly competing with one another, sometimes to the point of self-destruction. In the space of an hour we watch episodes across two years of a friendship that has been defined in the wake of losing a mutual friend. Girl 1 and Girl 2, played by Keith-Roach and Amani Zardoe are both in their late twenties, but exist in completely difference spheres, but also just down the road from one another.
Even though they ruthlessly berate one another’s lifestyle choices, from work to relationships and confronting their identity as fertile (or not) women approaching 30, there remains a deep connection that saves them from the total alienation of finding your way in the world. Keith-Roach’s writing doesn’t shy away from any of this aggressive reality, but in the end Eggs celebrates the inherent sisterly bond that allows women to face these questions together, and laugh at them.
Joanna Lally spoke to Florence Keith-Roach for 17Percent.
JL: It seems that, even during this optimistic moment for feminism, many women are still confronted by the expectations of society as well as our own bodies. How did personal experience of these types of pressure drive you to bring such issues on to the stage?
FKR: As I wrote Eggs I was discovering just how many of my internal anxieties are born out of systemic external pressure. Most of these I am barely aware of, numb to the incessant and insidious adverts showing women in their 30s urging us to cover up grey hairs or find the perfect date online. We are constantly reminded how liberated we are in the media, beautiful women with ten Oscars and fifteen children are plastered on front covers of magazines. In this era of “choice feminism” the blame for failure is laid shamefully at our feet, rather than linked to the patent inequalities with which our culture is rife. We are sexualised in our youth and cast aside in our middle age, told we are equal and empowered yet shut up and vilified by anonymous misogynistic trolls. It is this turmoil that my characters are attempting to make sense of in Eggs. That I am still trying to make sense of in life.
JL: In this vane, Eggs seems like an incredibly exciting, and timely, piece of work explored through another topic: female friendship. In your view, are experiences of fertility and femininity inextricably linked?
FKR: Have you observed this shadow hanging over relationships with female friends? As I entered my late twenties, I suddenly started to be cast as a young mum. Of course this is not radical, I am of a “mothering” age, but the chasm between society’s view of me and my own feelings about motherhood (not planning it anytime soon) were striking. I was over 25 and therefore a young mum with someone else’s baby strapped to my chest. My female friends have an array of attitudes towards motherhood, fertility, womanhood and femininity. One can be extremely feminine and infertile, or overwhelming fecund and entirely un-feminine. It is a colourful spectrum and this is what makes writing about women so rich and complex. However, as we mature out of our 20s and into our 30s, we are having more and more conversations about motherhood, fatherhood and the indomitable force that is our fertility. Whether you chose to ignore it or to embrace it, I think women do have to address is at one point or another.
JL: The play also looks at the experience of fragmentation. Would you agree that a sisterly bond between women helps retain our sense of self in an alienating world?
FKR: Absolutely, yes. My female friendships have always been my source of strength and rationale, have brought me back from many a precipice. These connections are mysterious, mercurial, volatile and dynamic. They have been so formative for my self and my understanding of the world.
JL: Music, especially pop and disco, has been an important feature in your previous work, including critically acclaimed play Love to Love to Love you. Can you say more about the way music influences your writing, and perhaps the world of your characters?
FKR: My first play was a musical about sex, disco and loneliness. All the characters danced and lip-synched to iconic disco tracks in between scenes. It was a farce and a celebration of a music genre I love, but the music also provided much of the pathos of the piece, which was about the anticlimax of a modern, fragmented life. My short film, Frenching the Bully, is about two dweebs obsessed with the utterly brilliant and unique grunge singer Mia Zapata of the Gits. Her gritty authenticity provides a constant contrast to their flaky, quest for fame.
Eggs focuses on 90’s dance/pop music. This is the music from the characters’ youth. They are nostalgic for this past, a past before responsibility, before grief, a time of best friends, chokers, Romy and Michelle’s High school reunion and dance routines in nightclubs.
In short there has been a soundtrack to many of my most formative experiences in life. So when I write about these experiences, it is natural that music is always near at hand. I keep tabs of great music sequences in films and feel that, though its role is different, great music is too often ignored in theatre.
JL: Are there any specific challenges or rewards in writing (and performing in) a two- hander? How does that fraught nature of female friendship, which you choose to explore in Eggs, translate in performance?
FKR: A two hander allows one to really explore character and relationships. I had so much to say about female friendships that by choosing to focus on just one such connection, I could actually portray a far more intricate and multifaceted picture. The characters are witty, sharp and cutting at times, they have a highly nuanced relationship, and bringing out this unique flavour in performance has been one of the most exciting and enriching experiences of the whole process. Lucy Wray, the director, has brought insight and tenderness to this piece, she has made me realise things about these women that I did not know existed even as the writer. Performing a two hander is intense, we never leave the stage and the audience are offered no respite from these two women. As an actor this has been a steep learning curve. We have worked to expand our range, present all the different angles of these women, and to really build a deep, relationship with a lot of history on stage. Amani Zardoe’s performance is so thorough, dynamic and tender. I have learnt lot from working opposite her. Hopefully all our work in rehearsals means that the audience are presented with women who are both wholly recognisable and loveable, laughable and terrifying. It was these multiple, complex women that I was striving to portray in the writing, and naturally, it has only been in the performing of them that they are truly brought to life.
JL: Following on from the above, it is notable that the production team for this play is largely female driven. Was this a conscious choice? And has the experience of working together had an impact on the play’s content, and perhaps on perceptions of your own experience?
FKR: I began working with Lucie Massey, producer and co-founder of Orphee Productions, when I was looking to stage my first play. I knew no-one in theatre, especially no producers, and Lucie had been organising some really interesting events which I had been to. When we came to build the rest of our team, I just looked around my talented friends and they all happened to be female. For my next play, I had been engaging more and more with the shocking statistics about gender disparity in the arts, and inequality in general. When I started writing Eggs, I had made a conscious decision to focus solely on the female gaze. I felt it was important have a female director, but Lucy Wray was the stand out choice regardless of gender. She had been dong some very exciting work, so we were thrilled that she was interested. Orphee Productions is not exclusively female at all, but I feel that we need to work together to champion more diverse perspectives, and this will always remain our priority.
Eggs closed its VAULT festival run on 6 March, but it feels as though this play is really just beginning to hatch – we expect to see it enjoy life elsewhere in the near future. It has also been published in a collection by Nick Hern Books as one their 5 best plays from the festival.
For more information on Florence and Orphee Productions, see her website.