Rachel ‘sits down’ with Maddie Craig, the writer and director behind Familiar Strangers, to talk about her new virtual play at the Nottingham New Theatre. Familiar Strangers will be premiering on Youtube at 7:30pm on Wednesday.
What was the inspiration behind the play? Why did you want to write this play specifically?
Due to COVID, online dating feels like the future for romance, so it was a topic I was eager to explore. I wanted to investigate some of the humour within online dating, such as autocorrect jeopardising smooth interactions, and awful pick-up lines failing to impress. But alongside comedy, the play investigates the darker themes associated with virtual reality, such as anonymity, misrepresentation, and deception. Anyone who has used online dating sites will know that virtual romance is never as glamorous or successful as it seems, with one’s imagination of a ‘match’ often being different from the reality…
It is extremely addictive, capable of harming mental health
The protagonist of the play, ‘Laura’, is named after Christina Rossetti’s Laura in her poem ‘Goblin Market’, in which she succumbs to temptation of the Goblins’ fruits. This plunges Laura into a frenzy of addiction, sexual downfall, and emotional instability. Today, social media can be equally threatening. It is extremely addictive, capable of harming mental health, and with the superficiality of online dating sites creating the sense that it is like a market for singles to shop for romance. So, there are several parallels to ‘Goblin Market’ that can be spotted in the play.
And then of course, nothing screams dark, technology drama like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, so inevitably, this was a huge influence when writing Familiar Strangers.
What genre is the play and what kind of audience would enjoy it most?
A comedy drama, with a slight dark twist….
As young people are the most common users of online dating sites, they will relate to the play the most, however it can be watched and enjoyed by anyone.
What do you hope people will take away from the play?
Hopefully a renewed perspective of virtual reality!
How have you guys managed to bond and come together as a cast with the barrier of no in-person meeting?
Writing a play about characters who have never met, while rehearsing a play with people who some of us have never met has seemed quite ironic… but we’ve been very lucky to have a great team of people, so we all got on like a house on fire.
What’s been the best part about the rehearsal process? Funniest moment?
Sharing stories about confused housemates overhearing actors shout extremely out-of-context lines… from Match One’s crude sexual advances (played by Nick Landon), to Jack’s threatening tone as he plays the intensely neurotic Jasper. Often housemates have been left baffled as they are unaware that this is all just for theatre…
Who in the cast is most / least like their character?
100% Jack. He is nothing like his character. It’s been very strange to watch him play Jasper. Jasper is not a nice man. That’s all I’m gonna say.
If you were to cast this play with celebrities, who would be perfect for each role?
When rehearsing Match One’s outrageously arrogant and shamelessly flirtatious scene, we became increasingly aware of the parallels with Mike Myers’ Austin Powers, so Myers would have been an iconic actor for the role.
For Match Two, a very socially awkward character, either David Mitchell or James Acaster would have been hilarious.
To be honest, the show’s felt more like a screen play than a stage play
How’s it been working with online methods of theatre?
To be honest, the show’s felt more like a screen play than a stage play. I had originally written the play for the stage, so I had to adapt a lot of it, but it’s been great to experiment with different directional suggestions, camera angles, effects and graphics. (It’s a long list!) Online theatre initially seemed restrictive, but it has proved to be very versatile and has created lots of new possibilities.
Do you think technology in theatre and online plays is something that will carry on after the pandemic?
I am awful at tech. Honestly awful, so this was something I was slightly anxious about when creating the play. But Sky and Shayla have been literal tech wizards! Their work has been incredible – I am so lucky to have worked with them. I would be really surprised if technology in theatre stopped after COVID.
As a new member of NNT, how have you found working with them for the first time?
The play went from a drunken idea I told to Jack one night (acting as Jasper), to procrastination from my course work, to actually proposing it as a serious piece of writing. When I proposed Familiar Strangers, I was a mixture of excitement and fear, but mainly fear…so I had no idea how things would go. To anyone that’s debating joining the NNT or proposing a play, do it! The NNT is such a supportive network of people who are ridiculously talented and creative. The whole experience of putting on a play has been invaluable to me, it’s given me so much more confidence in my writing and directing, and I’ve met some incredible people.
For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.