Photograph: Dan Pick
Photograph: Dan Pick

An intriguing new play opening at the Yard this month has at its core the central question of what would life would look like “free from the everyday challenges of being a person.”

Brenda, which transfers this month from the HighTide Festival in Suffolk, was inspired by playwright E.V. Crowe’s instinctive feeling about the nature of the self.
“This feeling was so strong, I had to write about it,” Crowe says. “Once I had written a character who could say out loud ‘I’m not a person’ it felt like such a denial of everything we consider natural and true.”

From this radical starting point, the play has been developed alongside acclaimed director Caitlin McLeod through a process of experimentation. The play was built as the rehearsal process unfolded, with everyone in the room contributing to what the production will be.

“It’s a terrifying way to work in some respects,” Crowe admits. “But we think it will make the play more alive and real than other ways of working.”

Crowe honed her playwriting as a member of the Royal Court Young Writers Programme Super Group. Her classmates at the time reading like a who’s who of today’s hot young playwrights: Nick Payne, Anya Reiss, Penelope Skinner.

And although she had completed a MA in playwriting prior to her involvement at the Royal Court, she says it was her experience there that really showed her the possibility of becoming a playwright.

Brenda is clearly at home amongst the challenging and unorthodox work which has come to characterise The Yard theatre, and which has won it such a loyal following across London.

Previously Crowe’s work has been about very distinct subject matter but when talking about Brenda she can’t help but describe it in the abstract. “The play is about the unknown, the unknowable leaking out and disrupting all that we consider real,” she says.

Ultimately Crowe wants the audience to experience the play on a “guttural, instinctive level. So even if there were no words, or you didn’t speak English, you’d ‘feel’ the play anyway.”

Crowe is a big fan of East London and an advocate for young people breaking into the arts. Before becoming a full-time writer she worked for a youth project in Tower Hamlets. “There is so much talent in East London it’s crazy,” she says. “All young people ever need is an opportunity and then the confidence and support to take it.

“I haven’t worked at The Yard before but I love their work and their approach, and that they’re willing to take big risks on artists and ideas.”

Brenda is at The Yard, Unit 2A, Queen’s Yard, White Post Lane, E9 5EN from 22 September – 17 October
theyardtheatre.co.uk

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