Interview with Dawn King

Stroud’s multi award-winning writer, Dawn King, discusses her latest challenging stage project, Brave New World, ahead of its run at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham in an exclusive interview with SoGlos.

With a catalogue of television, film, radio and theatre credits to her name, Stroud-born writer, Dawn King, boasts an impressive CV – with a string of awards and a BAFTA nomination under her belt too.

Her latest challenging project sees the playwright tackle Aldous Huxley’s classic science fiction novel, Brave New World, which is touring the UK, with a Gloucestershire debut at the Everyman Theatre on Tuesday 20 October 2015.

Dawn talks to SoGlos about ‘doing right’ by Aldous Huxley, her inspiration and battling writer’s block, as well as what audiences can expect from her compelling new stage adaptation.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a writer.

I was born and raised in Stroud, and went to Archway School. I had some very inspirational English teachers and had done a lot of plays at Archway and really enjoyed it.

When I went to university and moved to London I lost track of it a bit, so I went to a young writer’s workshop at Soho Theatre and joined its Young Writers programme. That was the beginning really, I realised I really wanted to write and that was what my life was going to be about.

Do you have an all-time favourite writer?

I think one of my most inspirational writers that I look to is Caryl Churchill. I first experienced her at school because we studied Top Girls. It's like a gateway play to the rest of her work, and once you've seen Top Girls and discover she has so much other work too, it’s amazing.

Is there anything that you are yet to see on stage that you’d like to?

There’s a lot of exciting new work going on at the moment and I’ve been particularly interested in seeing work that takes inspiration not just from theatre traditions but from the world of film, television, graphic novels and even gaming.

Obviously Brave New World is an adaptation of a classic science fiction novel, and I think it’s really exciting that we’re seeing more science fiction on stage.

Your previous short film, The Karman Line, was extremely successful. Tell us a little bit about that.

It was really surprising. It was the second screenplay I’d written. I wrote it with the director, who is actually a good friend of mine and it was sort of inspired by something that actually happened in his life, so it was a bit of a labour of love.

We did it because we thought it was an important story to tell and we hoped it would be successful. It went on to win 14 awards, included a BIFA Award for Best British Short and a BAFTA nomination too. We definitely weren’t expecting that. Being on the red carpet and everything… it was just so surreal.

Do you have any other career highlights?

I think the most recent thing you do will always seem to be the highlight. So for me, a recent highlight was watching the opening night of Brave New World in Northampton. I was so proud.

How did the opening night go, have you had any feedback yet?

It’s had some really good reviews, and it seems like the audience are really into it, and that’s what matters.

What made you pick Brave New World?

It was the Touring Consortium Theatre Company that came to me with it. My agent thought I might say no because I was so busy, but when I heard it was Brave New World I just had to do it, because what an opportunity and what an incredible challenge.

Have you always been a fan of Aldous Huxley?

I’d read Brave New World before when I was quite young, and since I’ve been working on this project I have tried to read as much of his work as I can and understand more about his world. I’ve read his novels and his biographies. He’s a really fascinating man, a real intellectual and philosopher, so I’m trying to do right by him.

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when adapting a book?

The thing I try to keep in mind is that there’s the world of the book, and then there’s the world of the play, and you have to make sure the play makes sense to people who haven’t read the book.

Huxley was writing in 1931, so I had to whittle out what bits were important and make sure the themes and issues were interesting and relevant to today.

How do you want people to feel once they’ve watched the play?

The first thing I’m trying to do is entertain audiences. If I can’t entertain them, I can’t make them feel anything else. If they are entertained, they will also feel a variety of other things. They might find it funny, it might make them ask questions, they might find it disgusting, and that’s fine too, as long as they are entertained.

Aldous Huxley once wrote: ‘I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself’. We took that as our motto while working on the play. If we do a show and it makes a person think about their life in any kind of way, then that’s a success.

So, Brave New World will take to Everyman Theatre on Tuesday 20 October 2015, will this be the first time you’ve been to the Everyman?

Nooo! I went to the Everyman Theatre loads of times when I was younger. I used to catch the bus from Stroud with my friends to watch the Saturday matinees, get some Jelly Belly from the shop across the road and see all types of shows!

And does it feel good to come home and put on your own plays?

It feels amazing to come home and have my play on the stage. I feel completely privileged. I don’t think at the age of 14 I would ever have imagined that I’d have a play on at the Everyman Theatre. It also means my parents, my brother and his wife, and my friends can go and see the play, which is amazing and a reason why touring theatre is so important.

How are the cast getting on with the play? Are they enjoying it as much as you?

They are working incredibly hard. There are about 10 cast members playing about 200 characters between them! Everyone has been brilliant.

Any other projects in the pipeline?

Quite a lot. I’m doing a film adaptation of Cipher, which was my previous play that was also at the Everyman Theatre last year. I’m also in the early stages of developing a show for the BBC, and I’ve just had a theatre commission for The Bush theatre too.

How do you balance it all?

I’ve been working on Brave New World about six or seven days a week, 14 hours a day, for the past couple of months, so sometimes it feels like you’re not really balancing it at all, you’re just kind of doing it!

You just have to accept that projects will be at different stages, and it’s quite good to have that because if you hit a wall on one project, you can just jump onto another one.

What about writer’s block?

I don’t want to say I haven’t had writer’s block yet, in case I curse it! With theatre, or with scripts of any kind, it’s never going to be finished by you alone. It’s like a recipe for a cake that other people are going to cook.

You have to get to draft one, two, three, and so on, and even after that you’re going into rehearsal or starting a workshop. Even now the show is open I might have a couple of things I want to change. Writing can be really scary, but if you just think, ‘I just have to get to the end of this draft’, it’s not too bad.

So, you work in theatre, film, television and radio… do you have a favourite medium to work on?

The form, style and way you do the writing is all so different. With theatre, you’re alone for a long, long time, and then suddenly there are all these people involved. Whereas with film or television, you work with people all the time, so it’s a bit more of a to-and-fro process.

For me, an idea is like a ball in a pinball machine that I’ve just released, and I’m not quite sure where it’s going to land. Sometimes it’s obvious where it should go, sometimes it’s not, and I always try and think why it landed in that medium.

Do you have any advice for budding writers or people trying to get into the theatre industry?

I think the best way to learn how to write is just to write. Writing is different to acting and directing, nobody is going to give you permission, but nobody is going to stop you. So just write, and write as much as you can, because you’ll need to write a lot before you have anything good. Then, when you have got something, you’ve got to let someone see it or read it. It can be scary to put your work out there, but you’ve got to make that first step, otherwise you’ll never know…

Brave New World will be at Everyman Theatre from Tuesday 20 to Saturday 24 October 2015. For more information see Brave New World at Everyman Theatre.

By Alice Lloyd

© SoGlos
Monday 21 September 2015

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