When someone says they are a writer, most people might instantly assume that this person writes novels. Think for a bit longer, however, and you’d realise that there are an awful lot of other things that they could be a writer of! I know people who write for newspapers and magazines, people who’ve had academic books published, biographers and authors of children’s books. However, writing for performance rather than publication is not something I know much about so, when I discovered that comedian Jenny Eclair’s daughter Phoebe Eclair-Powell has a new play opening in London this month, I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to interview her and find out more. Not just because I’m a fan of her mum’s work – although I couldn’t resist asking one question about her! – but because I have no idea how someone with an idea for a play would go about actually making it happen. Thankfully Phoebe was happy to fill me in as part of my ongoing series on creative careers.
Lori: How did you first get interested in scriptwriting as a career?
Phoebe: When I left Uni I was working in a 1950s sweet shop, living back with my parents and generally in a post uni slump of hating life! I started writing a play based on my childminder’s experiences of running away to live in Peckham when she was in her early twenties and it kept me going. Writing turned out to be a huge release for me but I never thought it could be my career until I was on the Royal Court Young Writers group, and when I got my brilliant agent, Ikenna Obiekwe.
Lori: Can you tell me what inspired the story behind your new play, WINK?
Phoebe: Yes indeed – my theatrical soul mate Jamie Jackson who is directing the play wanted me to write a story for him – something to do with lost boys which was a topic that interested us both. I wanted to delve into the mind of a teenage boy who is swept up by technology and social media and I was inspired by, and horrified by, the Ask FM suicides which were bombarding the news. I think in a way it was a mix of remembering what it was like to be an awkward teenager in the early 2000s coupled with my fear of what being a teenager must feel like now.
Lori: How did you go about getting WINK from page to stage?
Phoebe: It’s been a long and tough process but also a really insightful one. Jamie managed to get a brilliant OVNV Lab – which is when Old Vic New Voices give you time and space to work on a new project with no pressure for a performance. We used the Lab to workshop the play with an actor called George Mackay who really helped hone the story of the play. Next we were made part of 503Futures which is a brilliant initiative of Theatre503’s which gives playwrights a chance to present 30 minutes of a work in progress – this allowed us to develop WINK further. Again the actors Tommy McDonnell and James Cooney helped us really get to grips with how theatrical the show was. After that we sent the script to many theatres with the help of our lovely producer Tara Finney who joined the team after she saw the sharing at Theatre503. Luckily 503 were so enamoured with the showing as well that they programmed WINK for a full run. It’s been almost two years but we made it! Now we are in rehearsals and the process is still tricky but really thrilling. We have two brilliant actors, Leon Williams and Sam Clemmett who are really knocking my socks off.
Lori: What are the best (or worst!) thing about having a famous mum?
Phoebe: Ha, well my mum is a massive inspiration to be fair – she pushes me to go further and do more and has constantly shown me just how hard you have to work to get ahead – she is at her desk non stop and never, ever has a day off! The best thing is when someone comes up to us in the street and is genuinely really grateful to my mum for something she has produced – often they say she’s the first female stand up they saw live and that means a huge amount to me as a feminist. I think the worst thing is when people come up to us both and say we look like Sue Pollard – especially when we are having an argument in Topshop.