INTERVIEW: Alison Carr | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Ian Forsyth 

Although Alison Carr is making her main stage debut with her new play Iris, she’s hardly a stranger to the Live Theatre stage. The Newcastle-based playwright’s already made a name for herself across the UK thanks to her witty and quirky plays, including The Soaking of Vera Shrimp (for which she won Live Theatre’s 40th anniversary bursary).

Iris is the first of Alison’s full-length plays to be produced for Live Theatre’s main stage, and it’s an ambition she’s held for many years. “I was born and raised in the region so Live Theatre is, for me, ‘the one’. It’s the nut to crack. When I first came back from Uni with some vague idea that I’d like to ‘work in theatre’, Live Theatre was the door I knocked on to get my first insight into a professional theatre. And I’ve kept knocking, and trying to nudge the door open! All of the opportunities I’ve had with the company have helped me find and develop my voice as a writer.”

Alison is an alumnus of the theatre’s playwriting course, which she believes helped to mould her skills. “It started me thinking about things like structure, formalising the process of writing a plot and characters, understanding the craft of it. And it’s always good to have a place where you can talk about your ideas and your work, and have other people read it.”

Iris follows the relationships of sisters Julie (played by Whitley Bay-born Coronation Street star Katy Cavanagh) and Ruby (played by Live Theatre regular Sam Neale) who are coming to terms with the death of their formidable mother, Iris. Attempting to numb the confusion of feelings at the funeral, Julie gets off with crime scene cleaner Gerry (played by another Live Theatre regular Joe Caffrey, who’s recently been seen in Wet House and The Pitmen Painters). The plot takes a decidedly unusual turn, when the girls learn of a curious bequest which unearths a troubling story.

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Family seems to be a central theme for much of Alison’s work, as she explains. “You can’t choose your family and that makes them irresistible to write about. There’s something about that unbreakable bond, no matter how much you might dislike each other or how badly you’ve behaved or been treated. The ties that bind, and all that. There’s so much potential for conflict and drama, secrets, disappointments, love, guilt. The character of Julie in Iris has tried her best to cut her losses and run from her family, but she still finds herself back in the house she grew up in.”

Alison’s love for the North East continues to inform her work. “My voice is a Northern one, the North East is a fundamental part of me.” She says. “I am proud to take my work, and that voice, to stages in the region and beyond.”

While she believes the North East’s theatrical landscape is generally positive, with grassroots companies and spaces like Alphabetti Theatre finding space to grow in an experimental market, she feels there’s still a need for development and support. “There is a lot of exciting stuff going on in the region right now. Obviously all the cuts are terrifying and damaging, but it feels like people are finding ways to grow through the cracks. There seems to be a lot more experimental, developmental work happening. That’s great, and it’s exciting to see new work being created and staged in new ways, but there still needs to be the funding and support for writers and theatre-makers to grow and develop.”

Iris is at Live Theatre, Newcastle from Wednesday 6th until Saturday 30th April.

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