Journalist Lucinda Borrell talks to WHW about her first full length show Us Two.
Within Her Words writer Leah Quinn chats to Journalist Lucinda Borrell, about her achievements and why she decided to take the plunge into play writing for the first time.
Lucinda, firstly congratulations on your play Us Two debuting at The Space next week. How are you feeling?
Ridiculously nervous to be honest. This is my debut full-length writing piece. Obviously ,the show is still in development, but I want people to enjoy it. I’m also really excited as well. I swing between the two.
While Us Two is your first full-length play, you have already achieved so much in your journalistic career. How did you find writing a play in comparison to your journalistic and investigative work? What made you want to write something different?
So I think for me there were a lot of differences but also a lot of similarities. As a journalist I work in both print and TV which is quite unusual, and for both mediums you need to know how to nail the structure of story telling. The investigations I’ve worked on as well, a lot of them have been around sensitive subject matter such as abuse, so I’m familiar with the topic and how to go about treating it in a way that is – hopefully – as respectful as can be.
There are of course also masses of differences. The main being that journalism is telling stories that are true. So you always have that point of reference in it where you can go back to a case study and say ‘is this how it happened’ or ‘is this description comfortable’. While I’ve included some real – albeit anonymous testimonies in the show – the two main characters and the story is entirely fictional. I guess in that sense I worry, because for the first time 100% of the story telling is on me and I really want it to be true to the female experience where possible. We have an amazing cast in Karina and Kara playing Beth and Lizzy as well as a phenomenal director in Therese, but if what I give them isn’t something the audience feels is ‘true’ then no matter how amazing they are, its not going to land.
Having said that, I do enjoy reading the script and the few people that have seen it so far outside the cast have loved it, so I’m trying not to get too paranoid. I’m a massive perfectionist so if I think about it too much I’m just going to drive myself crazy.
There is a Q and A on the Thursday. This terrifies me. I’m a particularly tough interviewer myself so I’m very nervous as to what people might ask. As a journalist I ask questions, as a playwright I’m now expected to answer them. That’s weird.
On your website, you say you entered journalism as a way to give under-represented people in society a voice. Can you elaborate on that and why you think it drives you?
I think for me it's two things. I come from the North and at the time, Newcastle specifically was an area that was only known for three things. Teenage pregnancy, binge drinking and Byker Grove. I think this has changed a lot now, but I never saw anything on the national news about a lot of the issues that affected the North, and regions outside of London. Although there is still a HUGE issue about media diversity, which you shouldn’t get me started on. I’ll go on for hours, but at least there has been some sort of shift.
I also grew up having had a really tough time at school and was quite badly bullied. I mean thank God that all happened before social media – at least I could kind of escape when I went home – but it was so horrible feeling powerless. I think in someways you never 100% recover from that sort of thing, it does shift your focus quite significantly. I never want anyone else to feel like that. I think to be honest that was what channeled me into working in my specific field mainly. It was a horrific time. Totally wouldn’t change it though. Not a single second.
Us Two looks at navigating complicated relationships in the #MeToo world. Why did you want to write about #MeToo? Do you (if so, how) believe art/theatre is a valuable medium for dissecting these complicated political discussions?
I think art is an interesting one, because theatre is more of a subtle medium. I think a lot of people don’t engage with current affairs shows as much which is a shame. So you have a documentary or a long feature and unless you are actively interested in that specific topic already, or it becomes a cultural thing then new audiences are unlikely to watch it. Although the likes of Stacey Dooley have come along and started to change this, as well as Professor Green. He’s fronted some really good stuff and hooked in viewers. With theatre or art, you’ll get people that come who are interested in the topic, some might really like the venue, others might be dragged along by friends or turn up because they just love theatre. So you get to reach new people and get them involved in discussions as as well. I also think with theatre, audiences don’t know the characters before going into a show. So for example with Weinstein, Philip Green and even the Buzzfeed Tony Robbins investigation – people have seen these men before over the years and are like ‘I know this person, it's all lies because they wouldn’t do that’ - whereas with theatre you don’t have that. Charlie, who is the male character that gets wound up in the scandal isn’t known by the audience in advance and actually never appears on stage. Despite being central to the plot he is only explored through the gaze of these two women who have massively opposing views.
So you kind of don’t have all of that background bias going on.
Us Two shows two friends who find themselves on opposite sides of a political movement. Whether it’s #MeToo or Brexit or any kind of political discussion, some people argue we should aim to transcend our political differences when it comes to our friends and family while others believe a person’s politics is a reflection of their morals. Where do you stand on this?
This is a difficult one. Personally I voted to remain in the election and I do struggle to understand the benefits people saw in wanting to leave. However I think it is so important that we have friends from all sides of the spectrum both socially and politically. I would never say “I can’t be your friend because you voted to remain” etc. Essentially if you ask the majority of people why they voted the way they did on both sides– a lot of them genuinely did it because they thought it was the best for our country and have good reasons for their decisions. So I don’t think we are all as different as we think. I think having conversations is important. And both sides are guilty of failing to do this. For example I think a lot of Remainers believe the reason we voted to leave as a country was because of racism. A lot of Brexiters think Remainers wanted to stay because they are part of the ‘Establishment’. But I don’t think it's that simple. Perhaps for some people it was racism, and crime figures do suggest racism has increase post-Brexit and that’s a problem, but there’s a lot of other socio-economic factors going on. I think in this day and age – and perhaps social media has posed a problem with this as we have complex discussions in only 200 characters – debate is whittled down to soundbites which is problematic on both sides of any political argument. So instead of taking time and then saying “I understand what you are getting at but I don’t agree with it” it just becomes really volatile and nasty.
One example, one that’s not Brexit, where this has happened is the impact of Trans Awareness on feminism . A lot of feminists are pro-trans rights and embrace trans women as part of the community whereas others consider that because a trans woman was not assigned female at birth, they haven’t experienced what it was like growing being treated as a female in a male dominated world. While I don’t agree with that way of thinking – I think trans women just bring another layer of experience to feminism, a different kind of gender discrimination– I can see where this concern stems from even if I don’t agree with it.
Even some of the incels and ‘meninists’ on twitter. I massively don’t agree with what they say, particularly as someone who has been trolled – but I can see how these opinions have been allowed to form.
Having said that, you do get the odd idiot that just blows your mind. I had a guy on twitter tell me the gender pay gap didn’t even exist because women were biologically programmed to have babies. I was like if you’d said the gap was there BECAUSE women had babies I would disagree but be able to understand SOME of your logic. But to deny it exists completely was just a bit of a joke.
Where would you like to see Us Two go in future? Would you consider touring it? You’re from Newcastle – would you want to take it back to your hometown?
Honestly ideally I’d love to take it to a bigger theatre in London and develop it more, and then take it on a tour. Newcastle would be my number one place to tour. Somewhere like Northern Stage or Live Theatre which has a lot of local talent. I also spent some time in Manchester working in Media City so would love to take it to the North-West at some point.
Any plans for future projects? Do you think you’ll stick with writing for theatre or perhaps go back to your more journalistic writing?
So throughout the whole play writing process I’ve been working as a journalist. I did the overnight election shift for the BBC in the run up to that as well as working on The State Opening of Parliament in the studio with Huw Edwards.
So it's not a case of going back to journalism it's more a case of juggling the two. Even this month while producing the show, I’m working on a Dispatches due to air in February and doing a data scrape for my own investigation that I’m looking to get commissioned.
It sounds super busy but I like switching between lots of different things. I also started doing some research for a podcast on bad employment experiences last year although this got delayed. So I’m hoping to get that off the ground in 2020 too.
Shout out her podcasts coming out in 2020!
Lucinda – thank you so much for talking to me and all the best for Us Two’s run at The Space!
Interview by Leah Quinn, Within Her Words Writer.
For readers of Within Her Words, there is a discount code running for the next week. If you type LIZZY in at the checkout there will be a third off the ticket price.
Us Two is playing at The Space Theatre from the 21st-25th January 2020.
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