The Monthly interviews writer and playwright Amanda Verlaque – Part 2 – Writing “Distortion”

Part one of this interview is here

Your play “Distortion” looks at, amongst other issues, the political situation in Northern Ireland. What were the reasons you wrote the play and what were the underlying issues you wanted to address?

We all have politicians we admire and those we love to lambast and NI has an unusually high proportion of the latter. I often feel impotent about how we let politicians off the hook when they don’t stick to their promises or act as if they’re just out for themselves. We voted them in, and so you’d think it would be easy enough to vote them out. Not quite. I decided to create fictional characters to see if they could do a better job. I also wanted to be contentious and provocative and to do that I created two brand new political parties, one which supported an extremely homophobic hypocrite and another fronted by savvy spouses who might be a breath of fresh air.

Photo – Gorgeous Photography

How did you develop the characters for this particular piece of work?

I was intrigued by the prospect of writing meaty female characters who hopefully are allowed to be human and flawed and not punished for it. I get fed up with male characters praised for being maverick rule breakers and who end up swanning off into their victorious sunset. I don’t see enough of this in female characterisation so I did a lot of overwriting and letting my imagination run riot, testing how far these women would go to achieve their ambitions. I then went off and worked on other projects before coming back and assessing what I’d written. There was a lot I edited out, a lot of rewriting to purge the outlandish stuff, and then standing back and sizing these guys up and down. Do I believe them? Are they real, credible? When they’re arguing in my head I know I’m in the zone so I write free hand. I’ll step back again for a while and then get to my laptop and edit as I go. There are lots of writers who say you don’t need backstories but I like to have them. I know what music my characters listen to; I know what they like to drink. You don’t need to know that unless it’s an important point. For example, Heather Quinn in Distortion swears like a trooper, which is deliberately remarked on during the play because it’s an important plot point.

Photo – Gorgeous Photography

Distortion is presented as a piece of filmed theatre. Was that always the intention or did the pandemic dictate what was possible with regards the presentation of the play?

It was written to be performed live on stage and that’s my ultimate ambition for Distortion. When I first met Rhiann and she was so enthusiastic about the play, it was a huge confidence booster for me because of her brilliant reputation. But of course I came down to earth with a bump because there was no funding. I’d met with Simon Magill at The MAC just before Covid hit and he really liked it but of course all our lives were knocked sideways. It was in the thick of lockdown, halfway through 2020 that I suggested to Rhiann that we approach The MAC again but with a different take on how we could make the play work, how we could Covid-proof it. That was the beginning of the journey that led to the hybrid production, where we rehearsed like a theatre piece but shot it scene by scene like a film. Working with Rhiann, watching how she directed the actors for stage and screen and then being a part of the filmed process was an amazing time not only for me but for so many talented creatives who were a part of a play that became a film of a play.

Photo – Gorgeous Photography

What are you working on now?

I’m in pre-production with Egg, a cinematic Virtual Reality short film I wrote that’s being produced by myself and VR experts RETìníZE, with R&D funding from Future Screens NI and ACNI. I’m also working with Rhiann again on This Sh*t Happens All The Time, a monologue play about toxic relationships, coercive control, misogyny and homophobia. It premieres at The Lyric this March as part of the Imagine!Belfast Festival. After that, I’m on the lookout for my next gig!

Amanda Verlaque’s play “Distortion” will be screened at The MAC in January –

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