Wiley, windy moors

7 April 2020

Sam Ross interviews playwright Flora Wilson Brown on her NSDF-selected show to the moors

What playwrights have really inspired the writing you’ve done?

Obviously everyone, a lot of young women especially, say Alice Birch. I went to see Anatomy of a Suicide with [my friends]. I remember all of us sitting outside the Royal Court for like ten minutes after it finished just completely staggered in silence, because we just couldn’t talk about the magnitude of what we’d seen. Also Nina Raine I really love – I love her characters. And Nina Segal as well – I love how it feels like her plays are really happening in the room, like they would happen differently if you weren’t there.

Both your plays which were selected for NSDF (Tanya last year, to the moors this year) are inspired by classic literary texts (Eugene Onegin and Wuthering Heights respectively). What draws you to working from these starting points?

It’s interesting – I’ve been thinking about this recently. The reason I wanted to do Tanya was because [Eugene Onegin] made me really angry. I really loved it and I really hated it at the same time, and I wanted to see what that story would be now. With to the moors, I really wanted to work with Lizzie Carpenter (the director) and I knew she really loves classic texts. I gave her three texts that I was working on. She chose Wuthering Heights, because she loved the Brontës.

But also I think it’s about making a canon – taking works that we all love and we all study as children because they are brilliant, and then making them more for us now. And also it’s definitely about centring a non-male perspective.

What themes interest you most when writing?

I think love is a big one: different kinds of love; the boundaries or limits of it; how it cracks and changes under different pressures. Capitalism is a big one for me, and the effect that it has on humans and on our relationships – how transactional our lives are. And the environment has become a bigger one in the last year. I think at NSDF last year someone said that if your play doesn’t talk about climate change at all then you’re talking about it by emitting it. I don’t know about you but it’s literally at the forefront or somewhere in my mind all the time. People our age, we’re always thinking about it. So I think it would be weird if it wasn’t in my work.

There are quite a lot of adaptations of Wuthering Heights this year, such as Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre’s recent production and Emma Rice’s upcoming staging with her company Wise Children. Why do you think there’s been a renewed interest in the story now?

I think part of it is probably that we are as a culture looking for more female voices. Not that they are necessarily getting commissioned in big spaces or getting the attention they deserve, but there’s definitely a lot more attention being paid. So I think all these classic texts by women are being revisited. But also it’s such a powerful story, and every generation is going to have their own attachment to it. It would be strange if it wasn’t get revived every ten years or so.

What should audiences familiar with Wuthering Heights (and those who are not!) expect from to the moors?

So there’s two stories in to the moors: there’s a modern-day story set on the moors, and there’s the story of Cathy and Heathcliff. There are no other characters from Wuthering Heights in it. It’s more about the cultural impact of [the book], and how it’s changed the way that we perceive love. It’s a lot about the landscape, and about loving someone so much that it becomes unhealthy – what that looks like now and what it looked like then. And it’s a bit about Emily Brontë. She is really cool! It’s quite lyrical. It’s quite visceral, quite intense, but I think it’s got a hopeful ending.

Favourite Kate Bush song?

I’m gonna have to say ‘Wuthering Heights’, just because we listened to it a lot when we were making to the moors, and now I have a lot of really nice memories associated with it!


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Photograph: Rachel Baker