The playwright chatted to us about The You Play Volume Two: The Haunted Woman, available to listen to now.
Hi Rafaella – could you tell us more about what The Haunted Woman is about? Hi! Without giving too much away, it’s a ghost story, as you might have guessed from the title. The play takes the form of a woman, played by Olivia Williams, making an urgent recording of a message addressed to you, the listener, in which she asks you to do some things for her. It’s a story about disappointment and relationships and losing opportunities, all of which seemed like prescient things to be talking about while our lives are on hold.
How did the idea for the play come about? In the summer, we released The You Play: small acts, in which the listener is placed in the role of the
protagonist and asked to complete tasks as part of the narrative. When I was asked if I’d like to do another, I started to think about ways that form could be pushed and the different types of stories it could be used to tell. I thought it might be very good at creating fear, because it’s so much about the body and registering your own minute reactions to things – your breathing, your temperature etc.
I also wanted to write a ghost story because we were releasing near Christmas, and it’s traditional to tell ghost stories at Christmas – plus everything I’ve written this year has had ghosts in it one way or another, which I didn’t set out to do, but I thought worth investigating further. I got the image of a modern haunted house – not a big creaky old mansion but just an ordinary terraced house that could be anywhere, and started to think about how the people living in it might be creating their ghosts –
all those repressed resentments and silences building up over time. The title is inspired by a Dickens short story called The Haunted Man – his other winter story about ghosts – and though the stories are very different, I think they’re speaking to each other. They’re both about shadows, in a way.
How does it feel for you to be a part of the Written on the Waves project? Before the pandemic started, I was working with Ellie Keel Productions and 45North on my debut stage play, Sap (which has now inevitably been postponed), so it was actually hugely reassuring and
a relief to continue working with people I trusted on something new. There was something very wise and steadying about them taking a pause to assess the situation and then deciding that audio was the format through which they could create some new art that would feel incisive and relevant. I’m
still thrilled that they understood what I wanted to do with The You Plays and decided they would be a good inclusion in the season.
This play is described as a ghost story – do you enjoy ghost stories? Yes and no. I’m a huge wuss with horror films – I tend to avoid them because I have an overactive imagination and images tend to linger with me after the lights go out. But I’ve never been able to resist reading ghost stories and there’s been a huge influx of horror influence into other genres I
enjoy in the last few years – horror has always been a good way of addressing political and social themes but post-Jordan Peele I think people have really started to cotton on to this in the mainstream. I’m also not the only person I know whose stomach for scary stories has gotten
stronger in the last few years – insert commentary about the world we live in being scarier than fiction here, I guess.
Would you say there were any real challenges in writing The Haunted Woman? Well mostly it was that I’ve never written a ghost story before! I was very aware of how much craft goes into creating this genre so I did my homework – I particularly loved listening to the audiobook of Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter. I think my most asked questions to the creative team were things like “Is this scary? What’s creepier, this or that?” So finding the sense of fear in it was extremely collaborative, we had a lot of conversations about what makes us afraid. And even besides that, the
instructions to the listener are a tough nut to crack, as they were with the first You Play – they have to be doable, given in a way that doesn’t interrupt the narrative too much, you have to roughly have a sense of how long they’ll take, and so on and so on.
What do you think makes presenting drama in this way special? The whole idea for The You Plays arose because I was thinking about what I missed most from livetheatre. I realised it was the sense of physiological reaction, the potential for touch, the raised heartbeat, the goosebumps, the thrill of occupying the same space, breathing the same air as the
performers. Since that wasn’t possible, I wanted to create something that approached the same end result in a different way, and for that I needed to be able to speak directly and intimately to the audience member – so it had to be audio. I think a season of audio drama is such a brilliant thing –
you get to engage on your own time, on your own terms, and it can take you anywhere.
By Emma Clarendon
The You Play Volume Two: The Haunted Woman is available to listen to now.