Playwright Alun Saunders writes about the journey of his first full length play, A Good Clean Heart, from genesis to début at The Other Room in Cardiff next week.
I’m thirty-five and my Mam still does some of my ironing. SOME. Don’t hate me.
When Kate Wasserberg said to me back in October/November: ‘…If we go ahead with this [production], then it’s going to be hard… Really hard…’, I can tell you now that, whilst up for the challenge, I absolutely underestimated how hard on a rather epic scale. Writing this play has been like climbing K2, with a Personal Trainer (actually, two) behind me shouting ‘You can do it!’ and a somewhat shadier character in front of me, glaring at me saying ‘No. You can’t…’
It’s been tough… But goshdarnit have we climbed.
I started dabbling in writing whilst temping in a quiet office, somewhat disgruntled with the lack of edgy, contemporary drama on TV for people my age. I got bored of whinging about it, and began tapping at the keyboard. It’s taken me a while, but I’m getting there – and that journey of grit and determination is something I’m not ashamed to say I’m proud of.
I believe in working hard, in representing oneself in the best way possible, and I don’t doubt that’s thanks to two amazing people who I call Mam and Dad (and some other brilliant people I have around me).
I was lucky enough, at seventeen, to join the National Youth Theatre of Wales (my eyes just filled up in a coffee shop thinking about this. Chill out, Saunders!). Spending a month with a confident, like-minded and diverse group of young people changed me, going back to school to face questions of ‘What’s happened to you?’. I think I grew up, found who I could be, and a year later, again on NYTW’s summer course, I met Mared Swain.
Seventeen years of friendship teaches you a lot, not least how to challenge one another (constructively and) creatively, so finding out in December that Mared would be directing my first full-length play excited me massively. I should say that another über-talented director friend was attached, who realised that being nine months pregnant by this time may not coincide ideally with a three-week rehearsal period… adjustments were made.
Mared has always pushed herself creatively, and has never been afraid to turn down projects or employments which may not excite or challenge her – I think that’s a rare thing (hey, we’ve all taken ‘that job’, eh?), and something which I admire greatly about her. When she said ‘yes’ to this play, it was quite the boost. Plus, she’s such a cool dude.
Having a close friend direct your play means that they will (ideally!) be sensitive to your work, to your passion for it, but also to what may be going on in life. My totally brilliant other half, Kris, and I have been going through the adoption process for the past three years. Life has been challenging during that time, but what better way for an artist to vent their feelings than through their art?
A Good Clean Heart, a play about adoption, but mostly about love, began as a way to explore the issues of identity that cared-for children (and subsequently, adults) may experience – whether heightened, confused, or more refined. As our process became more difficult, it was suggested that the play had become somehow more ‘at arm’s length’. Possibly I was protecting myself. That pointed out by dramaturg queen Kate Wasserberg, co-incidentally on a day where we had a life-changing decision to make, I threw myself into getting this play to a place which (hopefully!) justifies The Other Room taking a hearty leap of faith in including this emerging writer in their inaugural season, as their first piece of new writing.
Sharing a season with Sarah Kane and Howard Barker does, believe me, leave me standing there like an excited kid in between his (sometimes misunderstood) auntie and uncle. I will freely admit that I know I can’t kick a ball, I really can’t change a tyre, but I think I can put words together in a way which allows people to feel something, and hopefully chuckle.
Maybe I’m not naïve. I prefer starry-eyed.
A Good Clean Heart by Alun Saunders is on at The Other Room at Porter’s 28 April to 16 May. For the full performance schedule, more information and to buy tickets, please visit www.otherroomtheatre.com
(photo credit pending)