“This is such a great social space.., it has such character to it, it’s the perfect place” enthuses Liv Warden as she surveys the bar of The Old Red Lion pub, in Islington, little more than a mile from London’s West End. There to meet her is The Reviews Hub’s Stephen Bates to chat about the new play, her first to be produced professionally which will be premiering in the small fringe theatre upstairs early in 2019.
The play is called Anomaly and its highly topical theme is the scandals that have engulfed show business following allegations made against film producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017. However, Liv’s play is less concerned with abuse of power and the victims who have spurred the MeToo movement, than with the impact on the family of an accused man. So what is the significance of the play’s title? “The idea that it’s a one-off is brought up in the play” Liv explains, “the past experiences of the protagonist, the youngest daughter Polly…had with her father was referred to in her school report as like an anomaly, a one-off, when clearly as it transpires in the story, it’s not a one-off, it’s a pattern of behaviour that is played down rapidly by the people around the family.
“The family knows” she continues “but it’s always been brushed under the carpet and kind of healed and healed and healed until it comes to a blow”. The accused man is a film producer, “he is my version of not only Weinstein but also [others]”. This sounds like a typical casting couch scenario, which Liv confirms: “Well yes, Philip Preston, who’s the main character, he’s not in the play, but he’s the father and he’s a version of all these [true life] men who have been accused of things, he’s accused in the play, but it’s not about him. It’s a female three-hander, it’s the three daughters and the impact on them”.
Obviously real events have influenced the play, but that is not where it began: “well originally it was about a woman who had a complex relationship with her family, notably her father…it was never about Hollywood or fame or anything like that” Liv explains, “and I didn’t know what to do with it and then the Harvey Weinstein case came out and I thought that this could really be quite interesting if we looked at how fame and sensationalism in the media could play a huge part in family dynamics, and how it completely blows everything to a different level”.
The sisters are aged 28, 26 and 24. “the oldest is one of the board members of [her father’s] company, she’s his protégé I guess; the middle one is more of a socialite and she’s taken on the famous role I guess of the three sisters and she has, arguably, used her name…she is pushed into doing interviews in the aftermath of this, she’s pushed into saying things that maybe she regrets saying about the situation, but she’s definitely the most vulnerable of the three”. Completing the characters, Liv describes the youngest sister: “she’s been in an out of rehabilitation and therapy, but she’s definitely the most switched-on, she’s very, I find her very charismatic, she tells the truth and the others don’t necessarily do that; she is essentially not a narrator, but she pushes the story forward, addresses the audience directly and she kind of tells the truth about what it is being a Preston”.
Often Liv has begun with a one-woman show that she has written herself to perform herself, but things have taken a different route this time. “When Adam (Small), he’s the director, read it, he said these three woman are so well-rounded and have their own story to tell that it would be a shame not to explore them fully and I totally agree now”, she says with a smile of satisfaction; “I would say that these three women are different versions of myself…formidable…vulnerable…softer…the three never actually meet fully, all three are in separate places and they only ever talk to each other by phone or in a television interview and then, at the end, they come together in a theatrical way”.
So how did the play arrive at the Old Red Lion? “Through Adam” Liv replies, “he had a list of theatres that he would like to approach and the Old Red Lion was on top of the list; I met him through his girlfriend, I worked with [her] and she said…let’s give [the play] to him and he said that he was too busy to read it, but when he did he said that he would not let anyone else do this play; at the first meeting I had with him, he knew the play inside out…like he knew everything; being a newbie, I know that I’ll be in extremely good hands with him”. And at this venue? “Yes…what will be brilliant about the Old Red Lion is that it’s so intimate and a lot of this storyline is about tv – there are a lot of tv interviews and, on the tv, you see really like visceral reactions to things and, in a huge theatre, that would get lost”.
Liv started out training as an actor before turning to writing. She comments “it was almost like a therapy for me…getting down with a piece of paper, I didn’t expect it to be anything and then I sent something off to the Soho Writers’ Lab in 2015 and it was accepted immediately and I thought that maybe there’s something to this and maybe I should try a bit harder”. She did, “from there it kind of snowballed, I did a few more courses, I went to the National who helped me to write this one, I went to the Arcola as well and I really enjoyed writing it in theatres, it was more like a collaborative experience”.
Accepting that this play has only female character, Liv does not see herself as exclusively a writer about feminine issues; “looking back now, I wrote about men and men’s stories…maybe because I was a bit scared that I couldn’t write an actual well-rounded female character, because I’m a woman and I should be able to do that; this for me has completely put that to bed…I really am fond of each of these three characters, I feel so connected to them and, yesterday, when we were casting it, I really watched it come alive and I thought wow!”.
In the future, Liv plans more plays, “that’s definitely what I have a passion for… I’ve written short films before and I have really enjoyed it but I want to get to know London fringe theatres better…I find that these places are completely different from the West End, they have a sense of community that the West End doesn’t really have…It’s lovely that you can buy a ticket for around £17 and you can come and see a piece of theatre”. It is looking as if Liv is set to become a siginificant addition to the growing number of strong female voices in theatre.
Anomaly runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London from 8 January to 2 February 2019
Stephen Bates | Image: Contributed