New Theatre Voices: Talking to Lorna Wells

‘Illusions of Liberty’  is a new  play on at ‘The King’s Head Theatre, by Lorna Wells running 15th-16th July 2019, a black comedy about a woman who has a fake identity, but not one of her choosing. Her constant battle to maintain the person that people  believe her to be is a matter of survival. Over the course of four days, after some traumatic news, she battles with the hard truth, and convincing lies. Alt A caught up with the writer/producer.

What made you start writing?

I have written and told stories from a young age, as a child to my brothers, as an adult to my children. I started to write plays to reclaim my creativity. I live with a number of invisible illnesses. Over the years these have slowly claimed my chosen careers, causing me to reinvent myself, over and over again. I started to write seriously, when writing was all I had left to express my creativity. I have found it extremely rewarding, and I’m very grateful for it.

Can you give some background as to how you ended up in theatre?

I wanted to have some training in writing. I looked up MA courses and found an MA in Black British Writing at Goldsmiths University, which I was going to apply for. On the same page I also saw an MA in Writing for Musical Theatre.  One of my previous careers was a singer-songwriter, and the other was running a business in partnership called ‘DanceSing Workshops’. (Both these careers were again lost to illness.) ‘DanceSing Workshops’ amongst other things, created and facilitated mini- musicals for children. I decided to combine all the facets of my learning and previous experience and apply for this course instead and was offered a place.

The outcome of the course was to write a musical. Unfortunately, due to illnesses again, I had to leave the course. I did, however, stay on as the writer, and wrote my first piece for theatre, ‘It Tastes Like Home’. It was a 45-minute musical, which premiered at The Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden. This show has had a further two reincarnations and is now a complete 90 mins musical. It had a successful two -week run at The Bread and Roses theatre last year.

Have you any formal training, if so what?

Previously to Goldsmiths, I didn’t have any formal training. I just had a fascination with books and people’s stories, this started from a young age. I was a very avid reader, and still am. The time I did spend at Goldsmiths, did give me an insight into script writing, structure, character development, and staging which has proved invaluable.

You have formed a theatre company what has that experience been like setting up in business?

As well as ‘DanceSing Workshops, I have had a music agency, ‘JazzBlues Music, and ‘KidSing Time, teaching singing to children. I found it challenging, frustrating and rewarding in equal measure. I had learned a lot of business skills from an advanced diploma in Popular Music Practice, I had done. This proved really helpful in doing anything related to business. I have transferred these skills to this current project. There isn’t a formal theatre company, it’s more a group of freelancers working together for this project, ‘Illusions of Liberty’.

What has been the biggest hurdles to jump?

As a Black, woman with invisible illnesses, there have been many hurdles. The biggest I think is to constantly find new and inventive ways to work within a system that’s not really built with you in mind.

What was the first produced piece you had and what did you learn from that experience?

My first produced piece was the 45 mins version of my musical ‘It Tastes Like Home’. I learned many things which weren’t writing related. I learned resilience, problem-solving, how to be a producer, how to market a play and the importance of humour. I learned about staging, working collaboratively and design. Most importantly I learned that writing, is re-writing.

Who is Liberty Jones?

Liberty is a sassy, funny, quirky, Black woman in her early thirties. She is passionate about all music and food. She is a professional Cellist who loves her Cello ‘Bob’, as much as her closest relatives, sometimes, just a little bit more. Liberty has dreams of composing a best-seller classical album, travelling the world, and eventually having a large family. Liberty has her life all mapped out. Until one day, she realises she hasn’t felt like herself, for a while. It’s been slowly creeping up on her, and she’s been living a fake life. When Liberty is diagnosed with an Invisible illness, it reveals harsh truths and hidden realities about herself, and the mother-daughter relationship.

What inspired that idea?

I thought about all the people who have invisible illnesses. I thought about all the people who never see themselves represented in theatre. I wanted to tell their stories.  I wanted to make the invisible, visible. I also wanted to place these stories in a universal context that everyone can understand, so the story is told through the dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship, and Liberty’s relationship with her boyfriend.

Women are getting more visible in the theatre are you optimistic what would you like to see change?

I am more optimistic. Some theatres are really making a conscience effort to have a 50:50 approach in terms of gender. The Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham where I had the full-length version of my musical last year is a great example of this, as is The King’s Head this year. I think generally, I would like theatres to be braver in programming plays by women, and in the types of material that these plays may be about.

For anyone coming to see ‘Illusions of Liberty’, what can they expect?

They can expect the full rollercoaster of emotions. They can expect to laugh out loud, and to ponder in the poignant moments. They can expect to love Liberty and the other characters she portrays.  They can expect a number of surprises.

The story: Liberty Jones is a Principal Cellist, for five years she has been plagued with an increasing number of bewildering symptoms. Five days ago, Liberty received a diagnosis of an invisible illness. ‘Illusions of Liberty’ follows her in the four days where we see her struggle with her diagnosis and the mother daughter relationship. As she struggles to maintain her equilibrium in her, new status and relationships. How does she feel when the dust settles? How does she deal with her new normal? And how many new ‘normals’ will she have to adjust to, in four days.

WHERE: Playmill- King’s Head Theatre

To book tickets click here. 

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