Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

An interview with Tracy Harris

They say there are always two sides to every story, but what if there were more? And what if your version of events was completely different to someone else’s – would it simply be a case of the memory playing tricks on you? Welcome to the world of past away, a new play by exciting first-time playwright Tracy Harris which opens at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, on Wednesday, 11th September.

Produced by Sgript Cymru and boasting a cast that features Nia Roberts, Shane Attwooll, Oliver Ryan and Chris Lennard, past away is an exploration of a fragmented world of conflicting realities, which deals with the fragility of memory. In the aftermath of his dad’s death, Jo is haunted by the past, which everybody else seems to remember better than he does. Brian, his stockbroker brother, thinks that Jo was at his wedding, but his sister-in-law, Susan, insists he wasn’t. Is Eddie just the lodger? And why is Dave the bank manager threatening Brian over a measly 50 bet?

Still only twenty-two, Tracy’s writing shows a maturity beyond her years. Her play, looking at faith, love, history and family in the new millennium, focuses on the power struggles that are intrinsically linked to such emotions. An assured yet poignant study of familial complexities, it is very difficult to believe that this is her first full-length play for the theatre. Even harder to swallow is her declaration that she didn’t really start writing until she went to University.

Having always harboured ambitions of an acting career, following her ‘A’ Levels, Tracy embarked on a Theatre Studies Degree at Lancaster University. Asked what attracted her to Lancaster, she replies that she was torn between studying English and Drama, and that “Lancaster’s course was more academic than many of the others.” She goes on to add, “But more importantly, their audition was the most challenging. I turned up, and they gave us all these bizarre tasks to do, such as telling us ‘You’ve got to be a roller coaster’ and ‘Think about a politically correct fairy tale’. And I just found that incredibly refreshing.”

During our conversation, it becomes apparent that this desire to be challenged is one of the main things that drives Tracy. Apart from what she refers to as “a bit of poetry, which wasn’t very good”, Tracy had never done any writing until she came under the tuition of Manchester-based director Andy Farrell. He got his students to concentrate on black and white photographs, and then create their own story from the image in front of them. Tracy’s chosen photograph was of two elderly people at a bus stop, and according to Tracy, when she finished relaying her story, “everybody was looking at me really stupid, ’til Andy said ‘That’s it, you’ve got it’. I don’t know where it came from, but that’s how I knew that I could write”. So when the opportunity came up to do a Playwriting module, she leapt at the chance; “I just thought, right, I’ll do it, just to see if I can.” And she did, and she could, the result being past away.

Whilst still forging the idea for the play in her head, she used to take herself off on day trips, and gather as many bits of information as she could, taking photos, jotting down snippets of people’s lives, snatches of conversation. When I point out that this is quite a novel way of working, she replies, “Not really. When you think about it that’s what most people do every time they go on holiday.” The only difference being, I suggest, is that what most people regard as rubbish, Tracy, like a literary magpie, looks upon as priceless. She admits to being a natural hoarder, storing and collecting photos, postcards, posters, pamphlets, things that “kind of tell a story, but don’t, you know?”

It was during two of these trips that the pieces of the play started to come together. Tracy remarks, “The first scene I got was the one between Brian and Eddie. I was coming home from Lancaster to Swansea on the train this one time, when these two blokes came to sit down opposite me…Then this other time, I was on a night out in Preston with friends, when we saw this man and this woman arguing in the street about the size of her phone bill. This appeared in the play as Brian and Susan’s ‘You phoned him didn’t you?’ discussion.”

So what’s next for Tracy? Well quite a lot it would seem. As well as doing a Cyfle course, she is currently under commission to Sgript Cymru to write her second play, and is no doubt still looking, listening and gathering ideas for a third. And somehow, you get the feeling that, whatever this Swansea born writer decides to do next, she’s more than capable of rising to the challenge.

author:Caron Wyn Edwards

original source: Sgript Cymru
04 September 2002


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