Q&A: Laura Stevens

In the second in our series of Q & As with rising writers and directors, musicOMH speaks to Laura Stevens about her first full length play, Thin Toes, an exploration of anorexia and the art world, currently being performed at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington.

Why did you decide to write your first full length play on the subject of anorexia?

I think it’s a subject people are afraid to really read and talk about we have this so called ‘size zero’ debate raging in the papers about the fact that it’s dangerous for models to be a size zero and have a BMI below 18 and the media and fashion industry need to be more responsible in how they are seen to encourage this. But yes, we all know that, and it’s a highly simplified view of eating disorders.

So I felt a real sense of rage that the real debate isn’t out there, that people are oversimplifying what is very, very complex. And so I decided to write the play based on my observations and my knowledge of the condition from people I know who have suffered and try to show what ‘thin’ really means and give an impression not a definitive view of what the experience is like.

And the idea of tackling something so intense and psychological and complex theatrically really appealed to me. I thought, why the hell not? As a writer I like to place characters in extreme situations and explore how they might think and feel, and go to the darkest areas of the human experience.

What research did you do for the piece?

Apart from having known people that have been through eating disorders, I did a lot of research as I felt a real responsibility to get my facts right and represent the experience truthfully. This involved not only a lot of talking to people both online and in the flesh and understanding their perspective, reading a lot of literature about the condition and the medical perception of how to treat it, watching the sudden wealth of documentaries on tv about it and using the internet. Of all the research I did, what I found on the internet was by far the most striking.

Why did you choose the art world as a backdrop for the play?

I had decided from the beginning that the characters would be artists, or at least aspiring artists, and the deeper I got into the play the more I realised that the art world reflects on the anorexia. The sense of creation and destruction there is about art and anorexia, of displaying yourself to the world I was very caught by the ways in which a lot of female artists actually use or display their own bodies in their art, and that perhaps this commented on body image and eating disorders as well. The art world also gave me a focus for exploring ideas of success and failure and finding the courage it takes to just be yourself.

As a writer, whose work do you currently admire? Who are your influences?

Visually I’m quite influenced by fine art and performance artists I studied at University but as a writer I really admire Anthony Neilson, Martin McDonagh, Jack Thorne, Abi Morgan, David Grieg, Martin Sherman, Mark Ravenhill, the list goes on…

Any future plans or projects you want to share with us?

I’m currently writing my second play, Coming Up for Air, which I’m very excited about, so we’ll see where that one goes. Plus I’m about to start work on a screenplay of Thin Toes which I’m looking forward to getting stuck into!

Thin Toes is at the Pleasance Theatre until 16 March 2008

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