The final two winning plays of Newport Playgoers’ One-Act Play competition, Drawing the Line by Ross Salvage and Windows by Alice Lynch will be performed at Newport’s Dolman Theatre from Wednesday 6th April until Saturday 9th April.
Award-winning playwright Alice Lynch’s play, Windows is set in an isolation hotel at the beginning of the pandemic. Four strangers must isolate in a hotel room where the walls are so thin, they hear everything their neighbour says. With nothing to do, they strike up a conversation and discover things about each other with unexpected consequences.
Alice, hails from Dublin and co-founded The Moogles Theatre Company in 2011 to produce and promote new writing by women. In 2017, Alice was awarded Best New Playwright at The All Ireland One Act Finals with Shooting Stars which she also directed.
Here, Alice discusses Windows with Andy Howells.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into writing?
I was probably late to writing. I’m from Dublin, but I married and moved to Cavan just South of the border. I’m quiet and shy as well as find it very hard to mix and fit in. I had always done drama, so I went back to college and one of the modules happened to be play writing. I never considered it before then, but as soon as I did it, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
You’ve also won a few awards?
Yes, I’ve been very lucky and its fantastic because I find it very difficult to get people to take me seriously. I’d write and scribble down a few bits and nobody would read them, so I had to put the plays on myself. I won a couple of awards and suddenly, people are ringing me going “Can I have a look at your plays?”
Windows is your latest work to be performed. Can you tell us about the play?
I wrote it during the pandemic. Like everybody else, I was stuck at home. Don’t tell anyone – I really enjoyed the first lockdown while everybody hated it! I didn’t have to go anywhere! I got my garden done, no school runs or anything!
I was shopping one day and saw this woman that I had always seen. She wouldn’t stop to talk to me as her husband was beside her. I just thought, “My gosh! I’m very lucky that I have a home to go to and a lovely family. Not everybody has that.”
Some people didn’t have a home to isolate in. With a lot of people, you don’t know what their relationships or their home family life is like. So, I suppose it just started to develop in my head, that’s where it came from.
Can you tell us about the four characters that feature in Windows?
Yes. Jean is straightforward. She is quite happy at home but is isolating in a hotel away from her family for their safety. She probably leads the story on in that she helps the other characters. She can see a problem and is very quick to help them. Jean’s quite content and feels guilty because she’s contentiously “Oh these people have so many problems and I’m quite happy!” I think we’re too quick as people to look for drama, when truly we don’t want drama. We want to be just happy.
Jean does not get along with Luke. Luke is a businessman, and you think he has no empathy for the other people, but actually it turns out that he might have the biggest heart of all four. You know, at times I do think we judge people very small at meetings and we don’t know what’s going on really.
Declan is homeless. He’s isolating because somebody in the homeless shelter got covid, so this is a gift to him. Homelessness is something that I would stay awake at night thinking of people outside with nowhere to go. I don’t know what it’s like in Wales, but in Ireland the rents are sky high, and I have known people where the Landlord would get on to them saying “Look I need an extra 400 next month” and they just don’t have it. It’s easy to presume people who are homeless are maybe alcoholics or addicted to something, but it’s not like that anymore. There are families here who live in hotels because they genuinely do not have the rent. Both parents could be working but there’s just a huge shortage of housing and the rent is sky high. Declan ended up homeless because he is separated. Many separated couples are living in the same house which is fine until his ex-wife took on a new partner, so he’s trying to best for his family, but can’t afford to contribute to his family and his mortgage and rent.
Then we have Joanne who is probably the quietest of the four. She doesn’t need to be there at all and feels quite bad because she’s taking up somebody’s place. By the end, we realise that maybe Joanne needed it more than the rest of them, because she does conclude that she’s in an abusive relationship. She’s a victim of coercive control, which can be hard to identify if you’re in it. A lot of women and men like to think that their partners are looking out for them, but there’s a line, it can very quickly escalate and suddenly you don’t have control of your finances anymore. You can say “That’s great, he’s paid all the bills” but if you don’t have access to money either that’s not a good thing or they start buying your clothes, maybe controlling where you go and it can be done in a lovely way like “Oh Gosh, That’s so dangerous don’t go there!” She realises that she’s not in a healthy relationship and it gives her time to think it through.
How do you go about researching the play?
I would listen to the news a lot and do a bit of research. I didn’t know whole lot about coercive control, obviously it’s been around forever, but it’s only the last couple years that we have probably put a name on it as far as I was aware. I did have to look it up and there are great websites that women and men can look at identifying signs of it. It’s hard to research because if they gave recognised it and they’ve gotten out – you can talk to them. I know people in that situation, and they don’t want to talk about it, because they haven’t worked it out yet. They must work it out by themselves. It can be hard, but those websites will have people telling their stories and I would put up in the local paper, that I’m looking to talk to somebody who has experienced whatever I’m looking for. Stories from people are what works best, because its real.
How long did it take to write Windows?
It’s hard to tell. I wrote the first draft in a couple of days because I’d being thinking about the characters for a long time. By the time I went to write them I kind of knew what was going to happen, but then you must put it away, go away and think about it, come back, take it out again and go again and rewrite it, so probably a couple of months on and off.
Probably because of the situation we were in as it was so immediate to what we were all experiencing. That’s probably one of the quickest plays I wrote.
Was Windows always intended to be a one-act play or could it have been a longer, broader piece?
it was going to be one act play because I just wanted the impact of a quick look into these people’s lives. To make the audience think “Oh I don’t know what’s going on with my next-door neighbour or the woman who doesn’t say hello to me anymore or the person who stopped texting. I don’t know what’s going on you.” I didn’t want to go to in depth I just wanted to give a glimpse into someone’s lives.
What’s it like for you as a writer to see your work come to life on stage?
It’s fantastic. It is such an honour because I know the work that goes into it, all those actors and directors on backstage lighting they all put so much time and effort into it. They are sitting at home learning lines, travelling to rehearsals, giving up their evenings. Then you see the magic of it on the stage – it’s just fantastic! I can’t wait to see it!
What do you hope audiences are going to take away from seeing Windows?
I would like them to take, like myself, the realisation of what the politicians on both sides of the water were using the same phrase “We’re all in this together.” We weren’t.
People lost their wages, politicians never took a pay cut, they kept their money. Many people lost their jobs, some industries never picked up again. The hospitality industry here is finding it very difficult to get workers because many were foreign and went home. They’re trying to recruit students now to fill in the gaps in the restaurants and hotels that were facing not possibly being able to open fully. We weren’t in the same boat.
- Drawing The Line and Windows runs at Newport’s Dolman Theatre from Wednesday 6th April until Friday 8th April at 7:15pm with a matinee on Saturday 9th April at 2pm.
- To book tickets visit www.dolmantheatre.co.uk or call 01633 263670.
- Photographs by Paul Johnson.