The Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company co-produce the debut stage play from new writing talent Sian Carter. The play is directed by Talawa’s Artistic Director, Michael Buffong, who says,
“Sian Carter is a brilliant new writer; her story of an intergenerational family learning to overcome the challenges we all face today is, I think, life-affirming.”
ALT: A bit about you, did you always want to be a playwright?
Sian: I’ve always loved storytelling and over time I realised I really enjoy writing dialogue. I started my discovery of playwriting with programmes such as Soho Theatre Writers’ Lab (2016-2017) and the Introduction to Playwriting Group with the Royal Court Theatre (2018). I’m still exploring my writing process and it’s an exciting journey to be on.
ALT: What do you like about writing?
Sian: Writing is a way of expressing myself. I enjoy world building and working out the plot. I like exploring what characters do and do not say to create the atmosphere or drive the narrative. I love the redrafting process because you get closer and closer to the story you really want to tell each time.
ALT: What kind of stories do want to tell or excites you?
Sian: I’m drawn to stories which take the audience on a journey of emotions, stories that can resonate with you and adapt your mindset.
ALT: Where do you draw inspiration from?
Sian: At the moment, music is a huge inspiration for me and I often listen whilst I’m writing or coming up with ideas. I love to read plays to explore different writers’ styles. I think as a new writer, it’s important to acknowledge and learn from the legacy of stories which have already been written.
ALT: Without giving too much away, can you give us some context of what we can expect from this production, where does the story start and end?
Sian: Running with Lions is a co-production from the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company and is running from 10th February to 12th March at the Lyric. The play is about family, loss and love. Audiences who join us for the production can expect a journey of emotions, a nostalgic soundtrack and an incredibly thought-provoking set designed by Soutra Gilmour.
We begin outside on a park bench. A prologue set in the past: a joyful conversation between the play’s siblings, Gloria and Joshua. Fast forward 16 years for the first scene with Shirley, Maxwell and their Granddaughter Imani preparing to welcome Gloria home from a mental health hospital. The family try to navigate through their grief to find each other again. There’s joy and laughter along the way, and the last scene, one of my favourites to write, ends on a note of hope.
Velile Tshabalala as Gloria, Ruby Barker as Imani, and Nickcolia King-N’da as Joshua. (Photo: Lyric Hammersmith)
ALT: Is this written from experience?
Sian: Although the play is not wholly autobiographical, the play’s themes such as mental health and loss are drawn from my experiences. Writing the play was a way of processing those personal insights and it has been important to me to explore these real-life issues with sensitivity.
ALT: What does it feel like to have your writing come to life on stage, especially after the pandemic?
Sian: I feel very grateful for the opportunity to share this story with audiences. It’s exciting that this play is the first co-production to come from a partnership between the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company and hopefully not the last. After many lockdowns and a growing feeling of disconnect, I hope audiences will find a source of comfort within the play.
There’s a brilliant cast bringing the story to life, with Ruby Barker, Suzette Llewellyn, Wil Johnson, Velile Tshabalala and Nickolia King N’Da. I’ve also always admired Talawa Theatre Company and their work. I really loved A Place for We (written by Archie Maddocks) at Park Theatre, directed by Michael Buffong (Artistic Director of Talawa Theatre Company and Director of Running with Lions). It’s an incredible experience to be working with this team, it’s such a joy!
Michael Buffong (Director). Photo by The Masons
ALT: How do you feel about how the arts has been hit by the pandemic is the government offering enough support?
Sian: The Arts certainly deserves more recognition in terms of its importance in our lives. Not only a source of entertainment, the Arts allow us to express ourselves as individuals, encourage learning for all ages and also create space to listen to and strengthen communities.
ALT: How did you find yourself working with Talawa Theatre Company?
Sian: In 2020, I signed up to the virtual one-to-one meeting which Talawa Theatre Company were offering as part of their Writers’ Cafe. At that time, I had written the first few scenes of Running with Lions.
After a very encouraging meeting with the New Work Producer I went away and finished a first draft. I submitted this via Talawa Theatre Company’s script-reading service. In 2021, after a journey of re-writes, came the opportunity for Running with Lions to be part of Talawa Stories, a trio of 28-minute audio dramas, in partnership with BBC Radio 4 and Feral Inc.
It’s been such a joyful experience to connect with this incredible organisation and now, in 2022, we’ll be working together again for the stage production of Running with Lions.
ALT: Why is Talawa important to the industry
Sian: Talawa Theatre Company is dedicated to championing Black British artists, encouraging storytelling and providing an essential platform for creatives of African or Caribbean heritage to develop their crafts. Talawa has contributed to and influenced British theatre since 1986 and will continue to do so for many years to come.
ALT: What’s next for you?
Sian: I’m working on a first draft of a new play. I’m also very interested in screenwriting and I’m excited to discover more about writing for film and television.
Sian Carter’s Running with Lions is at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre from 10 February to 12 March. More info and tickets available here.
Sian Carter (Writer) trained as a playwright with Soho Theatre Writers’ Lab and the Royal Court Playwriting Group and is an Alumna of the Almasi League of Writers. Her work was shortlisted for the 2020 BBC Studios Writers‘ Academy. As an Assistant Director her credits include Human Animals (Royal Court), Fiddler on the Roof (Chichester Festival Theatre), King Lear (Chichester Festival Theatre), Quiz (Noel Coward Theatre, West End). In 2021 her audio drama Running with Lions, co-produced by Talawa Theatre Company and Feral Inc. aired on BBC Radio 4.