In much younger, more pretentious days, I remember writing a short play as part of my A-Level coursework that was a conversation on a park bench.
Made Visible, which opens at the Yard this month, is by coincidence exactly that (although I’m sure similarities end there).
Based on a ‘real encounter’ Pearson had in Victoria Park with two women of Indian origin, it is a ‘meta play’ that aims to humorously explore issues of race and identity.
Playwright Deborah Pearson, 33, an East Londoner originally from Toronto, uses the conversation between the three women to take aim at white privilege, asking the white writer to take accountability for being white.
“At first it appears to be naturalistic, a conversation between three women of different ages and backgrounds, but it then starts to question itself and becomes more like a play about the attempt to make that play, or the ethics of making that play and whether or not one should,” she says.
Although one of the characters is a playwright called Deborah, Pearson says it is important to retain a degree of ambiguity over whether the character is actually her or not, or even whether the encounter actually happened.
“It’s clear it’s a composite of me,” she says, “but would it really be possible to really stage something that really happened anyway? There would always be something about the truth of that situation which is flawed by trying to funnel that experience through one person’s perspective.”
A former Royal Court young writer and co-director of experimental theatre outfit Forest Fringe, Pearson describes much of her work as ‘contemporary performance’, solo performances that are usually autobiographical, so writing a play for actors is a departure.
Her ambition is for the play to be part of a wider conversation about lack of diversity and a lack of representation in the theatre industry, an issue that has come to the fore in Hollywood recently with OscarsSoWhite.
“We’re all trying to see this play as an emperor’s new clothes moment of pointing out how come so many writers are white and what does it mean. Just because someone is white and in this dominant position it doesn’t make them objective.”
Pearson realises that making a play with a basis not far removed from academic discourse could be a challenge for audiences expecting an evening’s entertainment, and she has a solution – humour.
“The thing is whenever you want to talk about something that’s a sensitive topic politically, a good way of doing that is by being entertaining and funny,” Pearson says.
“I hope the play’s quite funny but I hope that the joke’s in the right place. There’s a great term about punching up rather than punching down so I really want the jokes if anything to point towards the discomfort these things bring about and then that these are things that need to be addressed.”
15 March–9 April
The Yard Theatre, Queens Yard, White Post Lane, E9 5EN