An Interview with Starched Theatre on their production of Laundry

HARD HITTING NEW WRITING FROM ALL FEMALE, RESEARCH-LED COMPANY STARCHED THEATRE

Established at East 15 Acting School in 2017, STARCHEDtheatre debut their first run of this devised piece at The Space

TICKETS: space.org.uk

The East End of London, 1952. A time when the rich had motorcars and the poor still washed their clothes with salt. Set amongst the communal washing lines, five intriguingly different women living in the soot of the Docklands desperately try to wash their shameful secrets out of stained laundry. Will it all come out in the wash?

Inspired by the stories of London women during the 1940s and 50s, Laundry is a moving story of shame, secrecy and community. An exploration of our basic human instinct to cover up heart ache and fear, as each woman suffocates her own sanity in a bid to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.

Currently showing at The Space.

1) Describe Laundry in three words

Heartfelt, Challenging, Resolute.

2) What first inspired you to make this show?

In terms of the story, we loved the idea of a communal washing line. It was as simple as that! We then needed to place it somewhere, and we were beginning to think about close-knit communities. Living in post war East End definitely had its difficulties, and our characters struggle through these. But throughout these difficulties comes a distinct image of community; the perfect setting to show stories in a time of austerity, conservatism and change.

3) For Laundry you interviewed women about their lives in 1950s East End London – what surprised you most about these interviews?

We were surprised that the typical 1950s expectation that women should get married was really true. One lady told us that her mother had picked out a potential husband for her, telling her she should marry him so he could ‘make a better woman of herself’. Her mother thought that by marrying this man her daughter would turn out better.

One of the things that also struck us was they said day-to-day life wasn’t much different once the war had ended. The only thing that changed was the lack of noise from the planes and bombs (during the Blitz). Everything else remained the same, like the rationing and general austerity. One woman kept her job from the war – she made ties for the Navy, and she continued to make men’s ties in a factory until she retired.

4) STARCHED theatre began life at East 15 Acting School – what’s the story there?

We all trained on the MA Acting course at East 15. The play actually started when we were required to make it for a module. We all share an interest in delving deep into characters and bringing them to life by exploring everything that makes them tick, the positives and the negatives of their character and how that influences others. This is a core concept in the training at East 15.

We loved the characters we had created so far and we didn’t want to let them go, just yet! We also liked the way we worked as a group and the dynamic we had. So we developed the story and became a company.

5) You describe yourself as “research led” – how does this inform your process?

In order to fully develop a character and believe that you are them, you must be able to understand the complete ins and outs of their life. As we are set in the 1950s, we must extensively research the time period and the people at that time, so that we can imagine and truly believe that we are there. This then translates to our audience, as research makes the work more truthful and believable.

This research also allows us to freely improvise scenes, and thus create a script. We gave ourselves characteristics, circumstances and lived in a caravan together for three days. We would do things like cook dinner in character, improvise and find the narratives and relationships. Without understanding where are characters are and what their environment is like, we wouldn’t be able to improvise with historical accuracy.

6) Laundry is your first show as a company – what advice would you give young actors thinking of doing the same?

Don’t be afraid, just do it! If you have an idea, or work well with a particular group of people – try to get things on their feet. It might stay the same or evolve into something else entirely. Meet other theatre companies and build up a network of people who can give you advice. We don’t have a director, so we have called upon friends and colleagues to come in and give us feedback. It has been invaluable having people we can call upon.

Funding is difficult, and it can be challenging scheduling rehearsal times around actors’ working schedules. It takes patience and hard work, but it will pay off in the end.

Making your own work is the best thing you can do to keep yourself in work and acting. Keep at it, and most of all, enjoy making whatever makes you excited.

7) Finally, how do you want audience to feel at the end of ‘Laundry’?

We want them to feel like they’ve made a connection with our characters in some way. Certain stories may challenge and affect them, and we want them to feel a part of this community we’ve created. It’s also possible to consider the comparison between then and now, and what still needs to change and progress. And of course, we just want them to enjoy a story, forget 2019 and jump into the 1950’s for an hour… and a bit!