AAt the end of Lucy Kirkwoods Maryland, no one clapped. The silence was strong. Nobody knew what to do. The short, scathing play – a response to the murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman – was written in just two days. The Royal Court Theater staged it last year – so fast that it was performed by a rotating cast of actors who all read from scripts, with a set design so bare that chalk was used to mark the play’s locations. But then, as the spectators left, something started to happen. They quietly began picking up the pieces of chalk and writing messages on the stage. Things like, “Thank you.” Or, “I’m glad I was here tonight.” Or, “I needed that.” A moment of community had been forged from a shared, righteous anger. “We were showing respect and protesting at the same time just for being there,” Kirkwood tells me, speaking to Zoom from her Suffolk shed with the sun streaming through the open doors.
Applause, she adds, would not have been appropriate. “It’s not a play about, ‘Oh, bravo!’ It’s a piece about giving you a left hook.” Im MarylandTwo women – both named Mary – go to a police station to report a sexual assault experience. They are treated condescendingly and indifferently. A male police officer warns them not to talk to each other. An all-female chorus of furies acts like sentinels and describes private fears that have become banal in their ubiquity: “I googled how to kick a taillight out of the trunk of a car.” The focus is on two questions: why are women so deadly? And why aren’t we angrier about it?
now Maryland was filmed by the BBC. It stars Zawe Ashton, Hayley Squires and Daniel Mays and is self-directed by Kirkwood with documentary filmmaker Brian Hill. The Olivier Award-winning playwright by chimera and The children is deeply offended by misogyny; after the message from Deer vs Wade broke, she recalls telling her husband, “I can’t believe people hate women so much.” Maryland is Kirkwood at its most alive: the humor is biting, the politics uncompromising. It feels like the perfect alchemy of her distinctive powers.
There really is a place like Maryland: it’s an east London neighborhood, near where Kirkwood grew up – and, she adds, where 35-year-old Zara Aleena was recently murdered on her way home from a night out. But in the play, “it’s this psychic space that women live in, men don’t.” One of MarylandHis most notable speech comes from the male police officer played by Mays in the film. DC Moody describes his mother – also known as Mary – as “an anxious woman…she would be a million miles away with her worries on her mind.” My dad would say, ‘Oh don’t worry son, she’s gone back to Maryland’.”
The moment matters because Maryland is more interested in the normalization of violence against women than in the violence itself. “This speech is about parental failure – it is passed down from generation to generation. It’s his dad who says at a really young age, ‘I’m going to give you license to just not care. To look at a woman who is quite anxious and stressed about something and then leave, I will not ask. Kirkwood was struck by a conversation she had with a porn director while researching for her Channel 4 drama Material for adults, in which Squires plays a top British porn star. He told her that the actresses always showed up “pissed off or late”; Kirkwood wondered if he had ever asked why. “For me, if I’m working in an office and my co-worker is constantly pissed off or shows up late, I’d say… ‘They don’t want to be here, maybe there’s something going on at home… I’ll have to ask them about it!’ And he looked so shocked. Really shocked.” He had actually never asked her. She believes that’s not intentional, but because “we teach men that from a young age — just don’t push that door.”
As well as Chimera, In addition to her three-hour epic about geopolitical tensions between China and America, Kirkwood’s previous works include a comedy about particle physics (mosquitoes, with Olivia Colman in 2017) and an epic about an 18th-century comet and an all-female jury (The Welkin in 2020). Her ambition seems undaunted. Personally, however, she is warm and talkative; Ideas form quickly; Sentences tumble out. She always knew that she didn’t want to make money from it Maryland; She had a daughter in lockdown and maternity leave planned, so she could afford not to be paid. She also renounced the rights and made the screenplay freely playable for everyone, so that even small theater groups without a budget could produce it. “I just wanted it to be shared with everyone.”
There is an instant recognition Maryland‘s description of what women do to feel safe. Many seem small: minor frustrations or minor inconveniences, like going home at night with a key in hand. Or not wanting to take a drink from a stranger if it was spiked. “Not huge compared to what’s happening in Ukraine,” says Kirkwood. But, she asks, “isn’t one of the nice, happy things in life to be in a bar and some fit guy sends you a drink? And doesn’t it suck to live in a mental space where you say, “I’m not going to drink that”. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all say, ‘What will the night bring?’” She laughs at the thought. It all seems absurd. But those compromises are “very, very, very specifically gendered.” And overall they change a woman’s life and make it less free.
It comes back to a sense of agency that victims, once brutally denied, can permanently lose. Kirkwood describes himself as “very artistically and politically allergic to the over-dramatization of the victim role”. “I’ve had some experiences, and people I know in real life who have had experiences, [and] The way you go on is that you resist the idea of yourself as a victim,” she explains. “For me, and this is just my own personal policy, it is a second act of violence towards a woman, especially after she has been assaulted or harmed in any way. [if] this then subsumes their identity. So when I write about these things, it’s really important to me that we see women fight back.”
Having investigated abuses of power, particularly towards women, since the beginning of her career, Kirkwood is — overall — hopeful that things are getting better. The conversation goes on. We are more aware of each other’s experiences. “But we’ll talk two weeks later Deer vs Wadeand I think that, to me, is part of the backswing that’s happened against the advancement of feminism since Trump probably stepped in.”
This sense of genuine concern for the world was evident in her latest play, which has just finished its performance at the Royal Court. First announced as That’s not me by an unknown 38-year-old first-time playwright named Dave Davidson, it was actually a play called rapture by a much better-known 38-year-old playwright: Kirkwood. Audiences came only to learn that they saw no publicity for the play – Kirkwood, writing about the ambiguous deaths of two (fictional) eco-activists, had been forced to use a pseudonym for her personal safety. Some took offense at the pseudonym, not seeing that this was all part of the storytelling. Kirkwood describes their plan: “You encounter a strange title that was clearly written by someone with a false name. And that feels weird.” She loves conspiracy thrillers and quotes The Pelican letter as one of her favorite films; She wanted to “play with that paranoia, put you in a state where the minute you stumble upon the show, you’re put in a state.” She also really wanted to do some “punk”. “I wanted to feel, ‘What the hell did I just see? What’s happening? what is real Not like a West End, famous person in a nice costume, evening.” She makes a dainty little gossip to get her point across.
It showed a new level of confidence from Kirkwood. Surprisingly, his sense of daring came from a place of grief. your piece The Welkin ran at the National Theater as the world went into lockdown. Its run ended abruptly, less than halfway through, and it was never filmed as originally planned. “It was a tremendous game for me,” she says, quoting a line Far away of Caryl Churchill: “You make beauty and it disappears.” She’s used to that – after all, part of the power of theater lies in its transience – but this time “those things didn’t just go. They left without the audience really seeing them – what a playwright… it’s such a strange thing. Like Prufrock, you measure your life in pieces. I’m a slow writer — this piece is three or four years of my life and it just doesn’t have a meaningful existence anymore.” (She takes pains to qualify that it was “nothing” compared to what other colleagues were going through during the pandemic who lost their income overnight.) After mourning the play, she said fuck it. She wanted to do something exciting, as driving as a podcast. “It came out of anger — that the truth had been so sullied, particularly by our outgoing prime minister,” she says. There was a lot of fucking energy coming out of me.”
For now, she’s not sure if she has another protest game in her. She can’t imagine any reaction to that Deer vs Wade, for example, different from “complete dismay”. “There might be a heist brewing,” she says with a grin. After filming Maryland, she told Squires she wanted to write something for her “while she’s in Monte Carlo, in a backless evening dress, with a martini.” Lo and behold: Kirkwood’s “f*** it” era has begun.
Maryland airs on BBC Two on July 20 at 10pm