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This Carr is running at full throttle

YOU always think you will feel a certain way, and then you will achieve those things ...

Alison Carr

YOU always think you will feel a certain way, and then you will achieve those things ... or you will be at a certain point, and then you will achieve those things. But these things are happening and I’m still just the same as I’ve always been.

She may not feel any different, or might not be in the abstract place she imagined she’d be. But at 28, Alison Carr is clocking up a list of achievements and experiences I’m going to loosely categorise under the heading of ‘Oh my God moments’.

In 2008, the young writer found herself working with Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic in London on the 24-Hour Play project, and having her work introduced by Jeff Goldblum. Check.

Earlier this year, a one-act play she premiered at the Prague Fringe Festival was picked up by new writing gurus Live Theatre in Newcastle and is being made into a full-length play. Check.

A week past Saturday, she started work on a 15-minute play which will see her work return to a stage at the Old Vic in December. Check.

And on November 11, her play, Can Cause Death, will premiere to a sell-out audience at the National Theatre in London. Check again … or as it turns out, Chekhov.

Alison’s companion to Chekhov’s one-act play On The Harmful Effects of Tobacco was chosen from a field of 20 invited writers, and will be performed by the acclaimed and instantly recognisable actor David Bradley.

“The whole National thing feels like it’s not really happening,” says Alison, talking over a frothy coffee in a Newcastle coffee shop.

“My name is on the website at the National – I know it’s there, I’ve looked – and that’s just craziness. But I think when those things stop having that effect, you stop doing it. Everything new that happens shocks me.”

Alison can’t afford to be startled though. She’s got too much to do.

As well as the National piece, she’s got the aforementioned full-lengther for Live Theatre and the Old Vic New Voices project on the go – the latter of which peppers November with deadlines before a December 3 performance.

She is also putting together her first stab at a radio play, thanks to being invited on a radio writing retreat in Kent, run by the BBC Sparks talent scheme.

Meanwhile, she’s writing one of four plays to mark the centenary of the People’s Theatre in Newcastle, where she still works part-time on the box office.

“This is quite new for me to have all this work on, so I’m feeling my way in terms of what works,” says Alison, who house-shares in Jesmond. “I used to write one play at a time and could spend months agonising over the smallest points.

“Now I haven’t got time, which is great, but simultaneously terrifying.

“I’m trying to focus on one thing at a time. But, of course, whenever you tell yourself to focus on X, Y suddenly becomes absolutely fascinating. As does the ironing ... or alphabetising my CD collection. I have to give myself rewards. Biscuits usually.”

There’s not much (except maybe a milk chocolate Hob Nob) which could be more rewarding than seeing your work performed on stage at the National by an Olivier-award-winning actor (who counts the Harry Potter films on his arm-length list of credits).

And that will be the first time Alison sees Can Cause Death in its finished form.

“After my play was picked, I went down to London and did a couple of days of workshopping with Charlotte (Bennett, the director) and David. We went through it line by line and word by word until everyone was happy with it.”

I wonder whether she finds it tough to give over her work and maintain a hands-off stance while it’s rehearsed and ultimately, performed. “It’s something that you get used to, the more you do it,” she says.

“Because we had that two-day workshop and I could work with Charlotte and get a sense of her as a director ... and David is such a brilliant actor. I was a bit nervous of him, because he was famous,” she adds with a smile.

“I’m sure it depends on who you’re working with, but you hopefully get to a point where you feel totally confident and that you’re all on the same page.”

For Can Cause Death, Alison has written a monologue for Popoval, the wife of Chekhov’s Nyukhin – a man who uses a lecture about tobacco’s bad points to profile the monstrous woman he is married to.

“My piece is her take on their life together,” explains Alison. “The premise is that the husband has died of a smoking-related illness, and she is delivering his eulogy. You kind of get what you expected, in as much as she is a bit of a monster.

“But you also see her dis- appointment, her motivation for behaving the way she has. I tend to write female characters. It’s not really a conscious thing, I just do.

“But when you’re writing for a woman who is going to be played by a man, you don’t go want to go down the drag route ... I’m looking forward to seeing how they’re tackling that in terms of staging.”

Although thrilled the play is going to be seen in London, Alison is equally thrilled it will getting an outing at home too. “There should be two dates at Northern Stage in February. It means lots of people from home can come and see it. My Mam and Dad are particularly pleased because it means they can invite friends and family along.”

An only child, Alison’s parents still live in Gateshead where she grew up.

“When I found out the National play was happening, we had to sit on the news for such a long time. For two months, there was only us who knew. It was killing us. We couldn’t tell a soul and then we announced it via the wonderful world of Facebook,” she laughs.

Having talked through all that is coming to fruition for Alison at the moment, it seems ridiculous to ask about ambitions ... but it’s in the interview text book.

“Well, obviously I want to be the new Lee Hall,” she laughs, before shaking her head incredulously.

“I never thought I’d be here talking about having a play on at the National. I just want things to keep going. I want to be able to keep writing plays, keep getting them on and hopefully have people coming to see them.”

IT has been nine years since Alison Carr’s play Breakfast Not Included was performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

She was about to go into her final year of studying English at Nottingham University.

Since then she has written more than 20 plays and has had her work shown all over the region, as well as the capitals north and south of the Scottish border.

She won the People’s Play Award in 2006 (given by New Writing North and the People’s Theatre in Heaton) for My Mam was an Ice Cream Blonde, and was nominated for the Best Newcomer Award at The Journal Culture Awards soon after.

The 24-Hour Play project at the Old Vic in 2008 cranked up her profile, as well as her blood pressure, one would imagine, given the time constraints and the fact that Kevin Spacey was watching. Alison had been chosen as one of seven from a group of 2,000 playwrights who would have their play produced.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wade? was the resulting comedy drama which saw two estranged sisters finding photos after their father’s death which seemed to point to a secret other family.

Her current involvement in the Old Vic New Voices Ignite project will see her working to a theme, Keeping Up Appearances, in tune with the main theatre’s current production of Noel Coward’s Design For Living.

A former editorial assistant on The Journal’s sister paper the Evening Chronicle, Alison left to concentrate on writing. She has continued to work part-time in the box office at the People’s where she sometimes also acts.

She says: “Writing is my passion, but I do enjoy acting and getting involved in other aspects of theatre. It’s sociable and gets me away from sitting at my computer and if you’re lucky there’s a nice dress and/or wig in it!”

The play she is writing to mark the theatre’s centenary is one of four productions, all based on the theme of Past Glories. They will be shown next April. Visit www.alisoncarr.co.uk for more information on Alison’s work.


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