Award-winning writer Izzy Tennyson’s latest play, Grotty, explores the depths of the London lesbian scene. Directed by Hannah Hauer-King, and produced by Damsel Productions, Grotty centres around the flashbacks of young, self-destructive protagonist Rigby. Hate spoke to Izzy and Hannah, about the inspirations behind Grotty and the importance of promoting lesbian voices in theatre.
In regards to lesbian subculture in London, how is love expressed in Grotty?
Izzy Tennyson: Grotty follows the journey of Rigby in her largely unsuccessful search for love on the London lesbian scene. On the surface, Rigby seems to be looking for a good time, but there are some clear hints she desires something ‘deeper’. Grotty deals with the mixed-up gender roles lesbians take on when they date other women. Lesbian subculture has arguably taken on bad habits from other cultures. I’m not speaking for every lesbian here (because I’m sure it isn’t every lesbian’s experience), but the whole influence of how men date women and gay men date each other can ‘bleed’ into behaviours. One character is enjoying taking on the role of a complete ‘lad’, telling Rigby to ‘man up’ and ‘fuck them and leave them’. Another seems to be offering a mature, secure relationship, but has got used to the culture of picking up younger girls and dumping them, while another is into dark fetish experimentation. Rigby seems to come closest to falling for a girl who comes on to her who is straight but, if the lesbian scene is an imperfect way to find love, at least it is safer than making a mistake by coming on to the wrong ‘straight girl’. So, within all of this, there’s not a lot of room for love.
Can you explain some of your inspirations for writing Grotty?
I am one of those writers who writes from experience. A lot of writers seem to take sides on this, but I religiously believe in ‘write about what you know’. So a lot this play is influenced by real life. I like to focus on the grey areas in situations. It’s where I think more writing needs to go, as everything feels very black and white at the moment. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, American Psycho, Trainspotting are all influences. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is just a crazy ride through a sort of Alice in Wonderland of modern grotesques. And the writing is great. I like Trainspotting not because it is a book about heroin junkies, but because it is about a group of real people, who just happen to be heroin addicts. It doesn’t judge them. Satirical, graphic, drug-induced work I like very much. But, saying all of this, there needs to be depth in the story. The Sopranos could have easily been a stereotypical, standard Mafia series but instead it turned out to be the gospel for nuanced characters and writing. Any series that can take a bunch of mob killers and get you to engage with their everyday lives is doing something special. I aimed to do something similar with Grotty. My director Hannah Hauer-King is especially brilliant at getting nuanced performances out of actors, so I’m very, very excited about her getting her teeth into the characters.
How do the characters display love towards one another, and can you reveal a bit about their relationships?
Statistically there are fewer lesbians in the world than other sexual orientations. So there is a considerably smaller pool of people you can fall in love with. You only have one bar, while all your straight mates have hundreds. There’s a whole ocean of fish for straight people, and you are stuck in a little pond in a back garden. (My gran has one of these and she is always telling me how her fish are always chucking themselves out into the bushes as it’s quite depressing in there). All the characters are confined to one lesbian bar. And that is the place where they desperately look for love. But unfortunately they don’t find it, as there is so little choice. They often have to make do with what they’ve got and a lot of them are forced together. This makes for interesting relationships in the play, where love is being ‘played out’ for the sake of. And if you want to find out more, you'll have to come and see it!
Damsel is a female run production company (run by Hannah Hauer-King and Kitty Wordsworth) which is amazing, how important is it to represent women and especially lesbian women in theatre?
Hannah Hauer-King: Damsel is certainly a female focused and run production company, though it is only more recently we have started making a particularly concentrated effort to put on work about the lesbian/queer female experience and engage LGBTQ artists. It's a facet of the company we started to realise was so vital when Hannah spoke to Elle back in 2016, and after we had noticed the sheer dearth of stories about lesbian women in comparison to those of gay men on stage. The gay male community has a wonderful but much more thriving theatrical presence than that of gay women, not unlike the club and general gay culture in London. So we would say this makes it crucial to give space and voice to queer female artists and stories as much as possible.
Grotty will show at the Bunker Theatre, 53A Southwark Street, London from Tuesday 1st – Saturday 26th May.