I hope you all enjoyed Part 1, where I talked to Morgan about ‘Emilia’ – now running at the Vaudeville Theatre until 15th June. If you missed it, fear not, I’ve provided a handy link at the end of this, the final installment.
Here Morgan talks to me very candidly about her career, her passion for theatre and what needs to change. Let’s jump right in..
What I’d really love to know about next is your career and how you got here. How did you go from wanting to be a playwright, to being a playwright, to being paid to be a playwright? All those exciting landmark moments.
I wrote my first ever play at university because I met two girls, Verity Woolnough and Katie Lyons who wanted to make shows. We set up a little festival at the university and let people book a slot. I’d been tinkering with an idea, so I just booked a slot and thought I’d just write something and we’d put it on. That ended up being received quite well, so we went to Edinburgh with it the following Summer, because back in those days you could just go to Edinburgh, because it was cheap enough so you could just rock up. I don’t know how people do it these days. It went pretty well. We ended up working together. I was part of a double act with Katie, and then Verity directed, and we’d all three write. We team wrote the next four shows and every year we’d go back to Edinburgh. But it wasn’t taking off for us ,and we were all having to work day jobs, and we were also trying to gig around London on the comedy circuit, and I was finding that really hard. I didn’t enjoy the acting. So I quit the acting, and we stopped making shows for ourselves. We carried on writing together, and I also started writing on my own.
That was 2005, when the Old Vic, New Voices 24 hour plays kicked off. It was the very first year of that. I applied for that and got on. That was a big shift for me. What that gave me was a community. There were 50 of us of a similar type of level, and we were all going out there. I had people like Mike Bartlett, … the Paines Plough boys, George and James, all these people … and Charity Wakefield and Jenni Maitland who are in Emilia with me now, so we’re all kind of doing similar things.
And then we did a shorts night for a year after that, still working day jobs. The day job was there for quite a long time, and I was trying to work out what kind of playwright I was and I couldn’t quite do it. I was in lots of shorts, which was good in a way because it helped develop my taste…what I liked writing and that sort of thing. I realised I liked writing monologues. I realised I liked writing comedy.
That was 2005 and I didn’t write my first solo play until 2010. I’m trying to work out what I did in that 5 years, and I think there was a lot of temping, and there was a lot of bar work, and there was a lot of me trying to write plays. I did more shorts. I did some community shows with Old Vic, New Voice, I did a play called ‘Platform’ which I wrote with Duncan Macmillan, and then I did ‘Epidemic’ which I wrote on my own and the music was by Susie Davies, it was a musical. Both of those were designed by Jo Scotcher, who is designing ‘Emilia’. There are some really lovely links there.
What else did I do? We did some one-on-one shows, so ‘Look Left, Look Right’, I started doing those sorts of shows. I attempted to get into comedy writing with my two girls, Katie and Verity, so we did a comedy college thing at the BBC. Nothing was paying any money. Which is why I had to keep working. But basically by 2010-2011-ish I was down to about 3 days a week working, and I was trying to write. And then I got a six-week attachment at the National Theatre Studio, and that is where I wrote my first (full length) play ‘Belongings’. In that six-weeks I kind of researched for four weeks, and bashed out a first draft in two weeks. It wasn’t a National Theatre play, and that was fine, so what I did was send it around. The Hampstead picked it up, and they did that in 2011.
And that went on to the Trafalgar Studios I believe
Yes, that went on to the Trafalgar Studios. It is so hard piecing back what I did. I did a few other things, like for the Bush Theatre I did ‘SuddenLossofDignity.com’ and…
You don’t have to give every detail, it is OK, I don’t want to break you
I don’t know what I’ve done!
And then I got pregnant. By then I’d started doing the Lyric Hammersmith Pantos and they were quite nice, because they were quite good money, even though they were team written, they still gave me some money.
And then I got pregnant. The caveat to that is that I’d been able to go down to part time. I still wasn’t earning much. I did a bit of corporate stuff, back in the day when that sort of thing was around. It’s not really around anymore. Things like writing scripts for team building days, writing the script for internal films, that kind of thing and that paid pretty well. But also, my partner, who I’d been with since I was 23, he was a PhD student until 2008, so we literally lived off his PhD money, which was about a grand a month. We knew his money was coming in, so that would cover our rent and our bills.
I know, I know, how? Back in the day. Whatever I earned would cover everything else. So I was temping. And then he got a job, he got a proper job. He’s an engineer. I literally could not have done my career without that. I think I made this point on Twitter, I don’t know how I would. I would have had to be working a lot longer, when I went fully full-time writing, it was about 2010, 2011, and we could just about survive if I brought in nothing of a month, we knew that our bills would be covered by his wage. It’d be awful but it was not the end of the world. That is when I went to full time writing, and that is when I started doing more Christmas shows, and panto, and all that kind of thing. And then I got pregnant so… I don’t think there’s ever a good time to have a baby, to be honest. But I would not have been able to carry on writing ,and being a mum, without a partner in a normal job.
It is this whole thing about how we subsidise this industry… We’ve managed to get other jobs to cover the fact we’re not being paid very well by what we are doing within the industry. It’s interesting that that’s just an accepted part of our jobs, and I don’t think it’s right. Particularly when it comes to things like childcare and stuff, I don’t… my partner has basically subsidised my entire career. And that’s fine, because hopefully I’ll pay off, but you know, that’s how it seems to work. But how do single parents do it? How do people with no back up, no support do it? I don’t know how they do it, I think they’re amazing.
That is my biggest thing, that I always try to be honest about, that I don’t think I could have done it, the way that I’ve done it, without him. I’d probably still be working a day job, and trying to work in the evenings, and trying to be a mum. I don’t know how… I’d probably have stopped, I’d have stopped.
Well we’re glad you didn’t
Thank you. I kind of managed to keep things ticking over while I did two gigs basically. I wrote ‘The Wasp’ after my first kid
I love that play
It is very dark and violent, because I wasn’t getting very much sleep. I wrote it all in my head walking around SE London with him, because he wouldn’t sleep in the day unless he was being vigorously pushed in a buggy. You had to keep him moving at all times.
That must have been great for you in terms of getting fit
I was the fittest I’ve been in a long time. When I stopped moving, when he’d get into bed, all the weight went back on, but yeah, that was interesting because what that did was slightly change my working method. I realised in that moment that what I usually do is I get impetuous, I’d do a bit of research and thinking, and then I’d get impetuous and just start writing. Whereas I couldn’t write, so I had to really plan it out, so when I did write, it just flowed out. It was great, I really enjoyed that. So I try and be like that more nowadays.
So you’ve gone from being a pantser to being a planner?
Yeah, and it goes against everything, and it is really hard to do, but I recognise the worth of it. ‘Emilia’ I just researched, and researched, and researched, and researched, and then sat down and basically wrote the first draft in a week. And it was hard, but I think also I needed my brain to be able to deal with the fact that I was writing a play that had things in it that we needed to be sure we got right. I needed to make sure that I had all the right information before I sat down to write it. I mean, it’s a great procrastination device as well, to keep researching all the time. “Oh no, I need to read another book, I mustn’t do any more writing!”
Yeah, so having kids did seem to shift my approach, because you don’t get as much time to write. So if I am going to have some time to write, I’m going to make sure that’s what I’m doing. I’m not faffing around. So if I can do all my research, and all my thinking separately, then great.
How did you keep the faith and your passion for writing alive?
It’s so hard. Honestly, on any given week I’d be wanting to either quit or couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. Again, my husband has massively supported me, both financially and emotionally. He’s probably the one that has mostly kept faith, and I’ve kept the faith because he has. But I don’t actually know what I’d be able to do other than this. I’m not sure I’d be good at very many other things. I think that is mostly it. And the idea of quitting work altogether has never been in my head, I don’t think I could do it. I’m not naturally somebody who can just be at home. And I love my kids, to the end of the earth, but if that was all I had to do of a day, I think I’d go completely doolally. Hopefully they understand that, or will understand it when they’re older, that I’m a better mum because I get to work.
I don’t think there is anything else I could have done. You just have to go from project to project. That’s the whole thing isn’t it, you’re only as good as your last project, and you sort of look at that and think “how was that? How do I feel about that” and “right I’ll go do something else now that makes me feel better.”
Obviously you’re writing for theatre. What about other areas of writing that you’ve explored, or want to explore?
I’m writing three films at the moment. Which is kind of terrifying, because I’ve gone from writing no films, to three films. A film version of ‘The Wasp’, a film adaptation of a book, and then, I haven’t started on it yet, but the film of ‘Emilia’ – I’m starting to sort of think about that. So that’s nice, because I think actually films feel to me like a natural progression from theatre. Similar length to what I like writing. ‘Emilia’ is much longer than I’ve ever written a play before. I quite like 1hr 20, 1hr 30 you know, so that kind of length, I know how to find the flow of that. I’m trying with telly, I’m developing something at the BBC at the moment but it’s taking a long time.
Time seems to be a theme
Yes, and also I think I enjoy theatre so much because of the sense of community you get from it, and being able to be in the room and be with actors, and be with designers and everybody in the team and just be part of that. I don’t write to be on my own in a room, I’ve never been that kind of writer, where I write something and everything I’ve written must be adhered to. Here is the script and that’s it, kind of thing. I think because of my beginnings of working with two other people, in collaborating and devising, essentially we were devising in a room and we’d muck around, and if something worked we’d write it down. I think because those are my roots… that’s why I prefer being in a theatrical environment. I think I’m sort of a bit scared of telly, if I’m honest, because there is a lot of work upfront, and then you kind of disappear.
I think you have a lot less power in both TV and film, as a writer
Yeah, I don’t mind about that. Something is nice about handing something over, and going that is your problem now. There is something really nice about that idea. But I also love being part of the whole process, and even if I’m not being useful I just sit at the back and watch. Theatre, it’s like at the moment, being in the tech, I’m of no use now but it is so nice to be part of that community of people. I don’t think we put enough value on the experience of what our jobs are, and for me, what makes me happy, is being in a room full of people all working towards an end goal, and that just gives me so much joy. And that is why I do what I do. It’s not really about writing a play that will then be published, with my name in lights, it is genuinely about the process, and I love that. I’m worried I wouldn’t get as much of that from telly. I mean I’m trying, I’d love to write something for telly, because that’d be amazing, but I think I’m naturally suited to just being in a room with a bunch of creatives, working on something.
Nice. And my final questions, you’ve kind of answered them but I’m going to ask them anyway. They’re twofold. What do you love about theatre, and what do you want to change about theatre?
What I love about it, is the sense of community you can get in a good production, in a good room. I think that comes from who is in charge of that room, what their ethos is around it. We’re having a wonderful time working with Nicole because her ethos is democracy, and making sure everybody is valued and heard.
I think that maybe leads into what I think is wrong with theatre, which is that I don’t think it is accessible to all still. I don’t think everybody thinks that they belong there still. There are a lot of communities that feel quite shut out from theatre, and I think we really need to address that. And that’s both working in and seeing theatre. Once we’ve sorted out funding and where that goes, and who is actually making the work, and who is being given money to make work, then the audiences will follow that. You’ve got to keep producing work that audiences want to see, but when you look at the majority of the work that has been programmed it has been made for a certain section of society. They’ve been very well catered for, for a very long time, and I think that is because they’ve undervalued a whole swathe of other audiences who’d love to go to the bloody theatre, but they just don’t feel welcome there.
I think there is some incredible stuff happening at the moments. Things like ‘The Black Ticket Project’, theatre companies like ‘Eclipse’ and ‘Tamasha’. All these people who are doing incredible work. ‘Middle Child’ who are doing brilliant stuff with working class communities. All these amazing communities that make brilliant work.
And I think… it’s all class based. It is linked to our class issues, but also this idea of the pyramid structure, which is all linked to patriarchy … the sense that the writer is god, then you’ve got your director, then you’ve got your design team, then you’ve got your actors. This kind of sense that you’ve got your hierarchy. I think we need to smash that hierarchy, which is something that we’ve been experimenting with in the rehearsal room. Obviously we still have a director, and we still have a writer, but we are very much there to listen, and to include. Like I’ve said before, it doesn’t always work and sometimes you just need somebody to be telling people what to do, because we haven’t got the time to do it. But then that brings up, how much time do we need to ensure we can protect that space and protect that process? And then it comes down to, the reason we don’t have as much time … we have four rehearsal weeks, but it would have been great to have six or eight rehearsal weeks, but we couldn’t because the money wasn’t there.
Why isn’t the money there? Because this is a big show, in the West End and we’re considered a risk. Because it’s a new play, and we have no massive telly stars or anything in it, so it’s a risk. So in terms of the money that’s there, it is all linked into the structure of what usually does well in the West End, which is linked back to what audiences they are expecting, and therefore, it all goes back up to the top – decision-making that happens regarding what goes on to those stages. What we are bringing onto that stage is so different to what normally gets to go on that stage, and I think it’s pretty terrifying for a lot of the people who are producing it. I really hope that if we get it right, it will mean more shows like that, and more companies that don’t normally get to…
So many of the team had never done the West End. We’re all kind of wandering around that theatre going “They’ve let us in, they’ve let us in, it’s amazing.” It’s like a real treat to be there.
Do you have to fight imposter syndrome?
Yes, oh my god, so much imposter syndrome every day! I keep waiting for them to say, “arh you’re just a bit shit, it’s time to go now, we’re going to cancel it.”
It’s all one big wind up.
Exactly, it’s all a massive wind up. Oh god don’t!
It is that, and it’s like when you start following the lines back, there is this huge structure…it’s all about patriarchy, it’s all from capitalism, it’s all the big stuff. And we’re beholden to it in theatre still.
I do think we’re chipping away at stuff. I think, the very fact we’ve been allowed into the West End is an example of that. And it comes from the tenacity of those amazing producers that we have, and Nica Burns who owns the theatre, who is incredible. They’ve just gone “fuck it, this is exactly what we need on our West End stage, let’s just do it”. I think it is that kind of courage that will change things. What is wrong with theatre will hopefully start to change
Amazing, thank you so much!
And thus I reluctantly ended my chat with Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. I’m so grateful she made the time to meet with me, to not only talk about ‘Emilia’ but also to answer so many questions about her career and writing approach and passion for theatre. I’m hoping that many of my creative friends out there (be they writers, playwrights, artists, performers, mimes…) take inspiration from Morgan’s experiences. It is wonderful to have someone be so candid about their career (so far), and the obstacles they’ve had to overcome.
If you missed part one, where we focus on ‘Emilia’ you can link straight through to it here
And if you enjoyed this interview, watch this space, as I have more fabulous people lined up to speak to me about their current projects, and the creative journeys that got them there. Exciting times.