RICHARD BURTON COMPANY NEW WRITING FESTIVAL: JENNIFER LUNN | INTERVIEW
For the second of two interviews with people behind the Royal Welsh College’s annual showcase of new plays, Keiron Self speaks to Jennifer Lunn, whose play Terroir is one of four to debut in their online-only 2021 edition.
One of the writers involved in NEW 21, a new writing season in conjunction with the students of the Royal Welsh College Of Music & Drama and the Sherman Theatre, is Cardiff-based Jennifer Lunn. Her play Terroir – meaning the natural environment, soil, topography and climate in which wine is produced – has an interesting premise, especially as we emerge out of lockdown.
Set in a west Wales coastal pub over four different time spans, Lunn examines how this particular public place is the hub for community, family and connection across different timezones – embracing concerns about the climate, how and if people can change, and what enforced change can do to them, something we can all identify with after the last year or so. The play opens with the pub abandoned in a 2020 Covid scenario, yet the place comes alive as the narrative goes back and forth in time, chronicling the evolution of characters through that space.
“It has been a real privilege being able to work in the current situation, going into spaces and creating,” Lunn says, counter to the common experience of negotiating endless unsatisfying Zoom calls and working digitally. As a writer, she was able to sit in on face-to-face rehearsals with students and director Sara Lloyd, albeit under strict COVID conditions. The cast were always two metres apart and could never pick up the same prop: a bit of a headache when everyone is having a drink in a pub.
The set, a lovingly designed pub lounge, had inbuilt COVID solutions, the pattern on its carpet delineating two-metre spaces for the eight actors to work comfortably in. Commissioned back in September, Lunn tweaked the script throughout, taking away moments that could not be worked around in the current climate.
“The director and cast were so generous and patient with the changes and the situation,” she says; hopefully, when the filmed version of the stage play goes live on Fri 21 May, the distancing should not be evident. Filmed over two performances with a small audience, then edited, Lunn feels that the spirit of the live show has been captured.
Terroir is part of a season including Rob Evans’ The Ache and The Toll by RWCMD writer-in-residence Chinonyerem Odimba, and although Lunn had to keep separate from the other plays with their actor/writer/director bubbles, the theatrical camaraderie remains, the connection of theatre workers resiliently struggling through this period a unifying force.
Despite its plot opening in 2020, Terroir is not about the pandemic, although it is seen through that lens; as Lunn points out, “Even a comedy set on Mars written in the past year will have been influenced by lockdown.” The playwright is curious to see what happens to theatre – she has projects scheduled for 2022 – and what work is created as a result of lockdown, how plays will reflect the seismic events of the past year.
She is confident, however, that the artform will come back stronger than ever and will offer a wider choice, taking risks rather than just resting on West End musical revivals. “Plays have always reflected how we live our lives now and as ever, theatre will help us do something that has always connected us – tell stories.”
Terroir is part of the Richard Burton Company New Writing Festival, online, Fri 21 May-Sun 20 June. Tickets: £6.50 per performance. Info: here
words KEIRON SELF photos KIRSTEN MCTERNAN