Lucy Light premieres at TheatreN16 tonight, a show about female identity in the face of adversity. Daniel Perks catches up with writer Sarah Milton:

Sarah Milton is having a great summer, with two new plays premiering in both London and Edinburgh. Tumble Tuck enjoyed a month-long run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 and now Lucy Light opens tonight for its first full professional production at TheatreN16. The theatre is currently enjoying its first full season programmed by new Artistic Director Scott Ellis, who is himself directing Lucy Light.

A story about the BRCA-mutation, Lucy Light looks at the decision to have a premature mastectomy as preventative surgery. The harmful, hereditary BRCA mutation can increase the risk of breast cancer by up to five times and is often treated by electing to remove the potentially affected breast tissue. As if this decision isn’t difficult enough, Sarah’s production examines the decision to undergo this surgery at just fifteen.

I caught up with Sarah Milton ahead of the opening of Lucy Light to discuss the summer, her latest production and the decision to write two shows that discuss identity in young women:

Sarah Milton

Your latest work, Lucy Light, opens tonight (19 September 2017) at TheatreN16. How are you feeling?

Sarah: Amazing, it’s been a really fluid process. The show is about the BRCA mutation and the decision that a young woman may have to make to mutilate your body; to remove those parts that you’ve just grown and begun to get comfortable with, the parts that have formed your identity as a human being. We’re raising money for The Eve Appeal (who are the UK’s Gynaecological Cancer Research Charity) and had a genetic specialist read the play so that all the terminology is correct and sensitively dealt with.

Tell me about how, as a writer and actor, whether you make a distinction between the two processes.

Sarah: As a writer, I don’t tend to be in rehearsals – I don’t think that’s my domain, it should be the director’s (in this case Scott Ellis). There should be an element of trust there, a writer should never feel like they have to be in the room. 

You can always tinker with a show because you always find new things. With Tumble Tuck, we made a cut straight after the first preview because I was doing something on stage that was saying the line for me. It was the same with  Lucy Light. That’s the joy of rehearsals, you find things along the way. I’m not precious about that – as the actors take more ownership of those characters, they’re going to fill in gaps that I might have filled with a line that doesn’t need to be there.

There was an opportunity to bring in new perspectives, new insights into what female identity is – we need more people in the room contributing to that conversation

It’s Scott’s first directed production too as Artistic Director of TheatreN16, in his inaugural season.

Sarah: I’m so flattered that he’s chosen my work to be the first point of call. It was a discussion we had several months ago. I found this play that I had written a couple of years previously, which I’d started writing as part of the High Tide Writer’s Academy in 2015. Scott loved it, but at that point it was only 20 minutes long – I had the foundation of what  Lucy Light was going to be and that was the perfect springboard.

You were both a writer and performer in Tumble Tuck – do you often take on multiple roles in productions?

Sarah: I was never meant to perform in Tumble Tuck. When director Tom Wright and myself started discussing the show, it wasn’t funded. We got together over a month to discover and workshop the idea, so it was me just playing around with the script. When the Old Vic New Voices decided to take it to Wilderness Festival, I stayed in the part – I never wrote it with the intention that I would play the role though.

With  Lucy Light, there was a conversation that I could be in it. But there was an opportunity with this play to bring in new perspectives, new insights into what female identity is – we need more people in the room contributing to that conversation. Georgia May Hughes and Bebe Sanders are brilliant actors. Georgia has just graduated from Italia Conti, so this is her first job. The plan spans over ten years, starting with the girls at 15 and ending up at 26 as women. So, between Georgia and Bebe, there is a difference in age that brings a nice dynamic to the stage. 

Lucy Light  and Tumble Tuck both draw inspiration from female issues, young people and body confidence. Are these areas that you get ideas from?

Sarah: Identity is currently where I sit as a writer. It’s a common theme for young people nowadays, especially from 17-23 – the pressure to decide what you’re going to be, what you are, what you do or how you identify, is immense. We live in a society where we choose what exams to take where we are 9 or 10 – I’m 26 now and I’m still discovering who I am, so how could I make those decisions about what to study, what to do and what to know about?

But we’re quite suppressive in how we assess and teach our children, which in turn puts pressure on those young people to know. If they don’t, there’s something wrong with them – that’s how we’re led to feel. Not to mention puberty and sexual identity thrown into the mix at that age. Society is overwhelmed at the moment – there is an overload of stats and figures; choices and decisions; things that are much bigger than you. We’re all realising how much we need to cope in a world like this. 

Coping is an amazing thing to do in this world

My writing particularly leads towards the female. With the BRCA mutation, it’s overwhelming to think about how young those decisions have to take place. With everything else to worry, imagine the gravity of adding this into a young adult’s life when they’re already pressured. But experts advise that if you’re diagnosed with that mutation, you should undergo the surgery before the age of 30.

We carry with us the shame of having genitalia, a societal mentality that comes from tradition – 44% of women can’t tell you about the female anatomy. I think it’s because we’re not prepared to have those conversations with each other. When I talk to my friends about whether we’ve had our smear test, it’s all very whispered. How do we make those topics as normal as talking about arms and legs? We need to make these conversations louder and more casual.

Sarah Milton in Tumble Tuck (image courtesy of Scott Rylander)

What are the ideal next steps for both Tumble Tuck and Lucy Light?

Sarah: We’re in conversations about Tumble Tuck transferring – watch this space, hopefully sometime next year!

We’re doing so much to raise awareness with The Eve Appeal through  Lucy Light, so it would be great to keep this story running and move to a bigger stage after this run. I’d love for this to get a longer run in association with both TheatreN16 and Eastlake Productions – they’ve been absolutely marvellous in supporting this project. 

What advice would you give as a writer or actor to someone that is just starting out in this industry?

Sarah: Don’t put all your weight on being represented – that’s what I would say to people coming out of stage school. There’s a pressure in your final year to get an agent with your showcase and then you’ll be fine. But it’s not about that, it’s about consistency in your art that’s going to keep you in work. I’ve worked unrepresented for nearly two years now and if anything, I’ve worked more because I’m working harder. That drive is going to teach you the craft – your agent will come later and you’ll develop that relationship to work with them, not on them working for you.

Make your own work; write to people; don’t stop knocking at doors

But don’t cold email; be intelligent with why you’re approaching people. Go and see theatre and read plays – envelop yourself in the world you want to work in and build those relationships.

To people who think that they can make theatre, I’d say make it

Don’t think about it in your bedroom, just go and do it. Get involved. There’s no money for the first time right now, but you make it work. I sold makeup for three years coming out of drama school; I worked in Topshop; I still pull pints. But I’m still working. 

Go and do writers courses, even if you don’t think you want to be a writer

You’ll just understand how plays work better. I had a conversation with Sade Banks-Brown when she was a young producer at the Lyric Hammersmith and she convinced me to give writing a go. I turned up to a course that Duncan Macmillan was running, I worked with him for 12 weeks and the first play I wrote got listed for the Adrian Pagan Award. That’s really been it. You just have to say yes, yes to every opportunity to know more. 

Discover. Know. I never call myself an actor or a writer – I’m an artist, I make theatre.

 

To read more about Lucy Light, which plays TheatreN16 from 19 September – 7 October 2017, follow the theatre on Twitter (@TheatreN16) or visit the website – www.theatren16.co.uk