Interview: Florence Keith-Roach

Florence Keith-Roach (left)

Florence Keith-Roach (left) chats to us about her latest play EGGS which she wrote and is also starring in at the VAULT Festival from 24th February to 6th March. Florence is also the founder of Orphee Productions, a female-led collective dedicated to telling stories which challenge gender disparity.


Florence, your new play EGGS is on at The VAULT Festival this year. What is it about?
EGGS is a dark comedy about female friendship, fertility and freaking out. It’s an intimate two-hander looking at the struggle of growing up as a part of Generation Y.
It is structured as a series of dialogues between two women in their late twenties taking place intermittently over the course of a year. Both have been friends since university, but in the years since they have started to make very different life choices and as a result live utterly divergent, almost incommensurable lives. They also lost a friend a while ago, and in the time that has passed since this traumatic event, they realise that without the link of this “third leg of their tripod”, they actually have very little in common. It is this realisation that provides the tension of the play. EGGS presents two very complex, intelligent, witty, at times irrational, women, facing life’s obstacles and making bold, but tortured and sometimes quite reckless decisions about how they choose to live their lives. The piece focusses on their friendship, their journey. It also deals with broader questions about the link between the political and the personal, the visceral alienation that our laissez-faire, capitalist society engenders in people’s subjectivities. And it's about human beings coping with a mounting sense of alienation in an increasingly fragmented world.
How did you first get inspired to write EGGS? Is it inspired by a specific friendship or rather the general dynamics of female friendships?
I wrote EGGS to try to examine the volatility and unique calibre of the variety of female friendships I saw around me. These certainly included my own friendships. I grew up in a predominantly female environment and the relationships and dialogues of these women informed me greatly. I also have many close female friends, including a sister, and the complexity of these relationships, both nurturing and  at times destructive, was something I felt was under-explored in art.
And for you personally, what's the best thing about a female friendship and what's the worst?
I am lucky enough to be surrounded by many intelligent, forward thinking, generous, provocative and hilarious women. An evening spent with any one of them is enough to reinstate one's optimism for the world. This is female friendship at its best.
At its worst, female friendships can be competitive. Whether over work, image or other relationships, this idea that there is only a limited space for women at the top, and that we all have to look and behave a certain way to get there,  is a dangerous myth and should be dispelled.
Exactly! How did you get into theatre and what's been your artistic journey so far?
I have always acted and been involved in theatre. I acted at school and when I left, I studied acting for three months before going to university where I took part in student productions. I directed a play with a friend when I left, we put on This is Our Youth in an abandoned building in Farringdon. This was a really exciting experience and afterwards I decided to apply for drama school and got into the Drama Centre. After drama school I had a few small roles in TV and film and acted in a lot of fringe theatre, largely with my good friend, the writer and director Freddy Syborn. It was during one particularly draining Edinburgh Fringe, that we came up with the concept for a sitcom. Inspired by a lot of the writer/director/actors making indie films in America at the time, we were emboldened to make the pilot ourselves (with the help of a lot of very talented and supportive people).  The result was Frenching The Bully, a half-hour film, which we co- wrote, directed, and acted in. After a small screening it got picked up by a production company and we wrote the whole series for them. Though it sadly never got made, this was  an amazing experience and the hugely positive response we received was a huge boost to my confidence as a writer.
The more time I have spent in the professional world, the more I became engaged with the alarming reality of gender disparity. Both in film and theatre there are less female parts, less female directors and fewer plays written by women - though we make up 52 % of the population. As I began to write more of my own work I realised the importance of creating theatre and film that puts women at its centre, both in its subject matter and in the team that bring it to life. Thus I created Orphee Productions, a female-led collective dedicated to telling stories which challenge gender disparity. This mission has informed all my current work.
An early version of EGGS ran at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year. How was that and how have you developed the play further following its first outing?
Tough and terrific in equal measure. The piece was very much a work-in-progress at that point, so we were basically showing people unfinished work, which is a pretty sado-masochistic thing to do. However, I always write with performance in mind and there came a point, after many months of development that I realised I had to get the piece up on its feet. Speaking the text and gauging an audience’s reaction was a vital next step.  We went to the free fringe, firstly because we had a tiny budget and secondly so that people were not forced to pay to see something that was still in development. They could pay whatever they felt was fit. It was pretty scary, I had to stand with a bucket after every show  smiling through the pain. Some people gave nothing, scurrying past me in horror, others were incredibly generous. Both in their donations and their positive and constructive feedback.
After Edinburgh I made it my mission to contact all the industry members and colleagues who came to see us and to hear their criticisms. This was pretty painful at times as everybody had something to say. Though it wasn’t always positive, it was wholly useful for my development. I then went away and examined what it was I wanted to say with EGGS, what was it crucial essence. The result is an entirely more honed text, with a new focus and a bolder, more abstract structure. It is deliberately non-narrative and non-naturalistic, with a new perspective on real life, highlighting the absurd in the mundane.  On top of this I have been in development with a new team of designers and practitioners who have responded to the text and are creating a visual and aural world to frame the action on stage.
What was the biggest challenge in bringing EGGS from its early beginnings all the way to the VAULT Festival?
Writing the script. This is a very personal story, and it has taken a huge amount of confidence and self-criticism to put this perspective to paper. It has also taken a huge amount of support, feedback and help from many friends and trusted critics. Without these people and their support, I could never have written EGGS.
EGGS is also going to be published by Nick Hern Books. How exciting! How was it selected and when will it be available to buy?
Yes it is seriously exciting be a published author! The VAULT festival team came to see EGGS in Edinburgh and were hugely encouraging. After they offered us a run, they also got in contact to tell us about a competition that Nick Hern Books were running to find their five favourite plays showing at the 2016 VAULT festival. They asked me to submit EGGS, which I did, without holding too much hope. So it was a huge shock when we were told we had been selected. I think that a copy is available to pre-order, while hard copies should be ready in February or March.
Congratulations! And finally, what's next, for EGGS and/or any other projects?
EGGS is hopefully going on a small regional tour. Being originally from Dorset, I am very excited about the possibility of bringing this rather rude, provocative piece to my local arts centre. I’m also currently writing a feature film and a TV sitcom, both of which develop various themes from EGGS. I’m also about to play a role in a new web series directed by Emilia Reid.
Great stuff! Break a leg for EGGS and keep us posted about your future work!

EGGS by Florence Keith-Roach at the VAULT Festival in the Crescent  from 24th February to 6th March at 6.30pm, matinées on 27th February & 5th March at 2.45pm

© Florence Keith-Roach / Tessa Hart, 2016

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