SOUTH London has provided Phoebe Eclair Powell with the inspiration for her second full length play. Kate Gould spoke to her to find out more.
IT must be a tough gig to have to come up with a second play that is at least as good as your first, especially when the first was so so successful, but that is what Phoebe Eclair Powell has had to face in the last 18 months.
When her debut play Wink was staged at Battersea’s Theatre503 early last year it was rightly praised by the critics.
But instead of basking in the glow she got back down to work pretty quickly to come up with her second play - Fury - and is about to see it have its premiere at the Soho Theatre.
“I fretted over Wink for so long,” she tells me. “It was my first and I still love it. I was at my most free writing it as it wasn’t done for anyone, just me. But with Fury it’s been really tough.
“I wanted to challenge myself and do something politically verbose, something that the audience would react to viscerally and intellectually - and I wanted to ruffle a few feathers too.”
And that she might as the play tackles the thorny issues of class, social culpability, gentrification, social injustice and the abuse of power.
Phoebe describes it as a modern day Greek tragedy, set against the backdrop of a Peckham council flat. It takes an unapologetic look at Sam, a young single mum that society has forgotten and whose life spirals out of control after a neighbour sets off a chain reaction of events.
And although as the daughter of award winning comedian Jenny Eclair, she doesn’t have direct experience of growing up in a council flat, she drew inspiration for the piece from her time living in Peckham with some friends in a flat above a young single mum.
“We were all really loud 20 somethings, always having a great time and to her we must have been complete brats,” she says. “Emotionally I never thought about this woman and what her story was.
"It was only when we got priced out of the area and had to move that I began to think about it more.
“I was born and bred in South London, I grew up in Camberwell and I’m now 27 and over the years I've seen the whole area change so much - some for the better and some for the worse.
"I want to be part of the community in Peckham but had to leave as I couldn’t afford it.
"I've also seen a lot of cruelty and selfishness around me and in myself that stems from being stressed about time and our own fragility.
“So it all got me thinking and I thought again about this young woman, how she lived and what her reality was.”
But it wasn’t until she went to Soho Theatre and was accepted on to their Young Writer’s programme that Phoebe began to write and develop the play.
“We were encouraged to write about something based on a family saying and one girl said ‘don’t mug yourself’ and that’s where Sam’s character came from,” she says.
“It sounds a cliche but I wanted to explore why we still have this thing about single mums and how do we treat them.
“It’s like a modern Medea - she has a lot thrown at her and through her we see how society fails those who need help the most and how we punish them when they need help. It’s about how we are not giving people the tools to make their lives easier.
"Sam doesn’t have a safety net like I do, or anyone to pick up the pieces. And although I have not experienced Sam’s life I was witness to it when I lived in Peckham.”
Phoebe acknowledges that her life has been very different to the Sams of this world but says she hopes audiences will go away with a different view and inspired to be “more sympathetic” to our fellow human beings.
“It’s been really exciting and I’ve loved creating this play,” she says warmly. “It’s darker and more satirical than Wink but I wanted to show I can write about different things.
“It will be really interesting to see what people think. These are real issues that are happening to people every day in South London so I hope it is a play that keeps up the argument in the bar afterwards and encourages people to have discussions and debates."
Fury is on at the Soho Theatre, Dean Street from Tuesday, July 5 until Saturday, July 30. Tickets from £10. Visit http://www.sohotheatre.com/ or call the box office on 020 7478 0100 for full listings.