In June 2016 Tatty and I started work on a show about body image. That summer we spent a week in her flat with two amazing actresses, the four of us throwing ideas around about what it meant to be a young woman taking up space in a world that isn’t meant for you. At the end of that week Tatty went off to try and write the show and we made plans to do another development week at some point down the line. That point got pushed back further and further until, eventually, it was summer again, a year later. I asked Tatty if she wanted to do more work on the project, and she set about writing up some of the ideas we had developed the year before. Another month or so passed, and I asked her again. A week later I got an email that said:
So I know I’m meant to be writing a play about eating disorders but I may have gone and written another play before that…
I’m actually really excited and proud of it, I think it could be really great, it’s a one woman show, about a teenage girl called Rory who runs away to the Arctic Circle with her dad’s ashes. it’s an early draft but I think it has huge potential. if you had a moment to take a look, I would so love your thoughts!
To which, a week later, I responded:
You absolute bitch, you just made me cry at work.
I fucking love it.
Honestly, it’s gorgeous. You’re a genius.
What’s the next step?
And just like that, ‘A Hundred Words for Snow’ was born.
Right from those first few emails there was a plan in place to take the show to VAULT Festival, and we were already in conversation with Clive Judd, who was the then Artistic Director of The Old Red Lion. The play ended up going to both places. Clive picked it as part of the ORL Month of Readings, his last ‘hurrah’ as AD and a celebration of the theatre’s dedication to the best new writing. For the Old Red Lion reading two more women joined our team, Rebecca Gwyther, our incredible producer, and actress Rose Wardlaw, for whom the role of Rory had originally been created. Performing a rehearsed reading of the show that September allowed us to hear it in front of an audience for the first time, see what landed and what didn’t, and really tighten up the script.
That same month Tatty was awarded a Peggy Ramsay Grant and got to follow Rory’s footsteps, going to Tromso and to Svalbard, keeping a diary of everything she experienced, to be fed into the script. We knew we had a slot at VAULT Festival for the following year, so we were already in the depths of refining the piece into the best hour we possibly could.
It wasn’t long before the success started coming in for Tatty’s script, as shortly after the ORL reading, ‘A Hundred Words for Snow’ won the Heretic Voices monologue competition, meaning the play now had national attention. This was great news for us, but also meant that the show was going to go on in January, only three weeks before our run at VAULT, with a different director, actress and creative team. Despite a few tense months, particularly for Tatty who was having to juggle two directors working on two different conceptions of her baby, this success ended up working in our favour.
During this time, we also found out the wonderful Rose had been cast in a play what was transferring from Manchester to London, and was no longer available to perform in the play at VAULT. Obviously, we were thrilled for her, whilst also (rather selfishly) being upset she could no longer be our Rory. Luckily, in October I had directed the wonderful Gemma Barnett while working on a different show at The Bunker. We had her over to Tatty’s to read the most recent draft of the script (a sneaky audition/dramaturgy session all in one!). In less than an hour Tatty and Rebecca had fallen in love with her, just as I had, and Gemma immediately became Rory.
Soon enough January rolled around and VAULT Festival was upon us. Tatty was assistant directing ‘Fanny and Alexander’ at the Old Vic and I had stupidly decided to direct 3 shows at VAULT, as well as two short plays outside the festival, all in a 5-week span. Shit got intense. Gemma and I were rehearsing in my flat in the evenings, we had a lighting and sound designer on board, but neither of them could make it to any rehearsals, and we had no set or costume. But the show must go on! And it did! Thanks to the press from Heretic, plus Rebecca’s tireless hard work, and the stunning poster design by Madison Clare, we had some buzz behind the show when it opened. Our first show was almost completely sold out, and the audience feedback generally seemed positive. But with only one preview before press night, Tatty and I went into the dressing room after the performance, and ended up cutting about 5 full pages from the show that night.
Narrowly avoiding a nervous breakdown, Gemma and I rehearsed the cuts the next morning, and the show was a hundred times stronger as a result. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you rehearse, you just won’t know what works until you have an audience there to tell you.
The rest of the run at VAULT was a dream, we sold well, got great reviews and feedback, and ended up winning the Origins Award for Outstanding New Work. It might have been an alcohol-fuelled run (with some oats and bananas in there for Gemma) but it was a success.
While we had come to the end of the first chapter for the show, none of the team felt remotely finished with this story. Rory still had much further to go.
And further is exactly what Rory is doing…
Written by Lucy Jane Atkinson