interview with writer Laura lindsay
Grab a brew and read about Laura's inspirations behind the play, her casting decisions and the dice roll.
1. Where did you get the initial idea for Parallel?
There were a few starting points for Parallel. They all came together over the course of a couple of years, until I felt compelled to write it.
It was loosely inspired by Waiting for Godot. I love the play but was frustrated it is seen as ‘high-brow’ and literary and therefore not accessed by a lot of people, despite its universal themes. I also found out that the Beckett estate does not allow women to perform it. So I decided to write a modern version, with women. In the end, Parallel’s resemblance to Godot is slight, but it was a starting point: the notion of waiting and discussion of big ideas in a humorous and sometimes absurd way.
I was in a site-specific play in a five star hotel in London a few years ago. Every day I walked from the tube station under some railway arches to the hotel and there were always at least three homeless people huddled in sleeping bags, asking for change. I felt the inequality like a sledgehammer. The decadence of a hotel who charged several thousand pounds a night for some of their rooms and the impoverishment of the individuals I walked past on my way to work. It had a lasting effect on me. I decided that I wanted to write something about homelessness. I wanted to tell the human stories behind the ubiquitous anonymous presence on the streets in the hope of raising awareness and empathy.
The start of the play is based on a personal experience. I had an unfortunate experience of being stuck late at night with no means of getting home as I had missed my last train. My phone had died and I couldn’t afford a taxi or a hotel. It was a curious experience of highly charged panic, followed by a strange calming acceptance and an enjoyment of the stillness. I thought this made an interesting starting point for one of the characters.
2. Why did you decide to write a play with an all-female cast?
I was slightly incensed and baffled by the Beckett estate forbidding women performing Godot. It is about humanity, not specifically male humans. Unfortunately, at present, in most drama – on theatre, television and TV, the default for any character is male. You have to justify why someone might be female. So writing Parallel, I wanted to redress some of this gender imbalance. I wanted to write a play which was wholly about women, but that wasn't specific to them being female. A play that I hope will speak to everyone, and that isn’t reductive of the female experience. The women are not defined by their gender or their relationship to a man. They just happen to be women.
Parallel passes the ‘Bechdel test’, where at least two women converse about something other than a man. In fact, no male is mentioned in the script, not even a male turn of phrase (and there are surprisingly many of these in everyday parlance). But I hasten to add it is not a gender-specific play. I hope that audiences will watch it, and enjoy it, be challenged by it, and not actually be aware of the absence of anything.
In some senses, writing an all-female play about homelessness is unrepresentative as only 26% of homeless people are female. However, this is a reflection of the number of women who try to remain invisible due to the danger of rough sleeping, for example; those who remain living in unsafe domestic-abuse situations; those who engage in prostitution to secure accommodation; and those who are in hidden or informal homeless situations. Only one character in Parallel is long-term homeless. The other two are recently or very temporarily without somewhere to stay. I hope that these two characters will emphasise how quickly someone, male or female, can fall off the grid.
3. Tell me about the dice roll. What gave you the idea?
In all honesty I can’t remember where the idea first came from. I suspect it was me as an actor being greedy and thinking I’d like to play all the parts! I think it may have stemmed from the renaming of the play to ‘Parallel’ – the idea of multiple possible outcomes. The dice roll reflects the impact on chance on the outcome of our lives. Parallel is an every(wo)man play, and arguably all of the characters could be aspects of the same person, just under different circumstances. The dice roll represents a simple metaphor that homelessness, or indeed any misfortune, can happen to any of us. I think sometimes, for people to understand and empathise with a situation they have to be able to relate it to their own circumstances. That’s what Parallel is about. Empathy.
When it first came to me to do the dice roll and I realised that there were in fact six possible outcomes, it just seemed perfect. It has made the rehearsal process a bit of a headache, but I think it is integral to the theme and message of the piece. We now can’t imagine the play without this device. In fact, if anyone goes on to produce the play after us, I will insist on it.
4. Why did you call the play Parallel?
It hasn’t always been called Parallel. The play was originally called Waiting for Light – reflecting the Godot influence. But I decided to drop the title. I realised that allusions to Godot were not helpful as they were likely to have one of two effects – one: people not want to come because they don’t know Beckett, or see it as inaccessible or, two: people compare it to Beckett and it comes up wanting.
Changing the title helped me elevate the play from the purely naturalistic drama it had become to the slightly more abstracted comic drama I wanted it to be. Parallel sat well with me because of the image of train tracks; people’s lives running alongside each other, but never meeting; the idea of there being a parallel universe where our lives turn out very differently; and the parallels of everyone’s lives, no matter what their circumstances.
5. What was your research process and how did it influence the script?
This is the first time I have planned to write a play. The first one, Hidden, was kind of an accident. I started writing a monologue and then joined forces with Peter Carruthers and gradually it became a play. But with Parallel, I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to achieve before I set out. I had an idea of story and themes, but the rest was to be discovered during the development phase. I was supported by Arts Council England to research and develop the script in collaboration with Crisis (the single person’s homeless charity) and Harrogate Homeless Project. This was a scary undertaking as this was only my second play and my first time doing research. I felt a huge responsibility to the subject matter and the people I was representing.
Parallel is in no way a real story, but it has aspects of real people’s lives in it. One of the characters, ‘C’ is largely based on one individual I met who was complex, witty, tragic, aggressive, loving, flippant and insightful. Some of her lines are direct quotes. The character of ‘C’ practically wrote herself. I had initially planned for it to be a two-hander, but ‘C’ forced her way in, as is her wont.
The interviews I conducted challenged any pre-conceptions of homelessness I had and gave me an insight into the full extent of the problem. It soon became apparent that the homeless people we see on the street are only the tip of the iceberg and so many people are ‘hidden homeless’, living in hostels, sofa surfing, or living in temporary accommodation. A feeling of home, of belonging, safety and settlement is so vital to our mental well-being, it’s shocking to know so many people do not have this.