Live in the moment

Award winning playwright and novelist Lucy Caldwell talks to Richard Smirke about her latest production

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Lots of people dream of upping sticks and heading off in search of the hippy trail but for teenage siblings Sophie and Calliope the two lead characters in Lucy Caldwell’s new play, Notes To Future Self, an idyllic life of ashrams, communes and impromptu raves in a series of exotic locales is the only existence that they’ve ever known. That is until the younger of the two, Sophie, gets seriously ill, requiring her to accompany her mother and sister and return to the family home of Birmingham.

“I wanted to try and write something that was as moving as all the stories that I loved most when I was a child and teenager,” explains the award-winning playwright and novelist when asked what inspired her latest drama, which calls at Manchester Royal Exchange.

“I realised a lot of those stories tended to have a sibling or a friend of a parent that died and would often be about how the other characters would cope with that. I wanted to explore those issues of grief and bereavement because I think it’s especially powerful when you’re young and encountering that for the first time.”

Aided by first-hand insight from her younger sister, who trained in palliative care, Caldwell spent two years researching and writing the play, which is directed by Rachel Kavanaugh. Despite its heavy subject matter, the author says she was determined to entertain audiences as much as move them, citing works by Myra Bluebond-Langner and Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, two world renowned experts in care for the terminally ill, as invaluable research tools in shaping Notes To Future Self.
“You say to people it’s a drama about a girl with a terminal illness and their faces drop. But I wanted to make the play as much about living as possible,” she states.

“I wanted to explore the real emotions: the sadness, the rage and the despair and the unexpected comedy of a situation being so surreal. But at the same time I didn’t want to start getting sentimental and mawkish. It was a careful balancing act – conveying the depth of feeling for the situation, but also to pack the play full of life and jokes.”

Similar themes sit at the heart of Caldwell’s second novel, The Meeting Point, which was published earlier this year and concerns two young Christian missionaries who travel to Bahrain. Written at the same time as Notes To Future Self, the two works complement each other in exploring love, loss and emigration from two opposed perspectives.

“With the benefit of hindsight and objectively I can see them as companion pieces,” agrees the
30-year-old author, who moved from her native Belfast to London in 1999 to pursue her childhood dream of being a writer. In the years since then there’s been a succession of lavishly praised plays, including the award-winning Leaves and her debut novel When They Were Missed. Work is currently underway on her next theatre production, which will be a comedy, confesses Caldwell, who says that she approaches each project with the same end goal in mind.

“I spend most of my time alone in my studies just writing and the most important thing that you’re trying to do is connect with people,” explains the self-described “frazzled writer.”

“That’s always my main hope for my work – that somehow it touches people. With this play, I hope it makes people laugh. I hope it makes them cry and I hope that it makes them come away with a renewed sense of how wonderful and precious life is.”

Notes To Future Self, 7-9 April, Royal Exchange, Manchester.

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