The dramatist on Elena Ferrante, Maxine Peake in The Skriker, star-studded Netflix drama Bloodline and the magic of the Chelsea Flower Show. By Anna Behrmann
Article published on the Guardian website.
Dramatist Bryony Lavery has written prolifically since the 1970s, recently adapting Treasure Island for the National Theatre. Other works include Her Aching Heart and Frozen, which won the TMA best new play award in 1998 and received four Tony nominations when it was produced on Broadway. Her work for BBC radio includes an adaptation of Angela Carter’s Wise Children and the Sony Award-nominated No Joan of Arc. Lavery was artistic director of the Gay Sweatshop theatre company and founded feminist cabaret group Female Trouble. She is on the judging panel for the Bruntwood Prize for playwriting, which is open for entries until 5 June.
Book: The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante
This is about a woman with two children whose husband announces that he’s leaving her. She really goes wild, exacting revenge and damage on everybody. Then she retrieves her sanity and loses her love for him, and it’s brilliantly savage. Elena Ferrante is a wonderful Italian writer; I’m halfway through My Brilliant Friend, about a long-term friendship between two women in Naples.
Theatre: The Skriker, Manchester international festival
I saw this 1994 play by Caryl Churchill when it first came out with Kathryn Hunter as the Skriker, but I’m a big fan of Sarah Frankcom and Maxine Peake and so I think that it’s going to be rather wonderful. Manchester international festival – in July – always seems to fizz with exciting possibilities of collaborations. I really like what they do in Manchester; it’s a very different flavour from London theatre. The theatre is out there and adventurous – it doesn’t seem to care what people think of it.
I’m on episode 10 and I just think it’s fabulous and beautifully acted. It’s set in the Florida Keys and it’s about a family that’s even more complicated than my family, and much more dangerous. The returning son decides to inflict mayhem and damage on his family, and he succeeds. There’s everybody in it from Sam Shepardto Sissy Spacek, Linda Cardellini and Kyle Chandler.
Photography: Salt and Silver, Tate Britain, London
I was recently in Venice where I saw people taking photographs before they actually looked at the scene, whereas with early photography, you could only take one or two images. The people from the era that this show covers look almost like a different species, and you find yourself trying to find a connection with someone from a hundred years ago. Something about black and white makes that more possible. I’m at an age where the photographs of my own life are in black and white. I take very few photographs and I try to use my eyes, rather than my iPhone. I’m trying to live in the moment visually.
Event: RHS Chelsea Flower Show
My dad spent the last year of his life as a Chelsea pensioner so I’m very fond of the notion of visiting Chelsea and the Chelsea Flower Show. I just go for the garden envy. I have a small garden in Stratford and when I go, my garden expands in my mind and I get ideas, which I fail to carry out. I do about three hours of gardening a year which kind of keeps things in check. Really the plants run the garden, not me. Whatever plants decide they’re going to live there do, and anything that I think might live there I’m immediately disillusioned by.
Art: The Plains Indians, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
I’m currently doing a play about animal extinction and the land, so I need to go and see this exhibition in New York. I’m hoping there will be empty landscapes because my play is about the vanishing of species. I’ve been working in Canada and meeting various First Nations people and they continue to worry about the destruction of their natural habitat.