Interview with Martha Loader

Interview with Martha Loader

Posted on May 1st, 2024

Martha Loader is an Ipswich based playwright, who won the Judges Prize for Bindweed at the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2022. Together with The Mercury Theatre Colchester, New Wolsey Theatre, and Royal Exchange Theatre, we’re bringing her play to audiences for the first time this Summer. We sat down to ask Martha a little about her process, what writing means to her, and any tips she has for her fellow playwrights.

When did you first start writing Bindweed, and what has its journey been to get to the stage?

I started writing Bindweed in 2021 on the Mercury Playwrights scheme, under the brilliant dramaturgical eye of Kenny Emson. I wrote two drafts of it on the programme and then it had a reading at the Mercury Theatre in summer 2022, directed by Beth Pitts. At that reading, a few facilitators from real life perpetrator groups came to watch – Iceni in Ipswich, and Suffolk Police. It was a brilliant chance to get their feedback on the story, and made for a very lively discussion!

Then, about two weeks before I ran away to New Zealand for nine months, I got a call from Suz Bell at the Royal Exchange Theatre telling me that Bindweed had been shortlisted for the Bruntwood Prize. Unfortunately this meant that I missed the ceremony as I was in Auckland by that point, but the play won the Judge’s Award and it all sort of snowballed from there.

I feel so lucky to be working on this play with such a brilliant group of creatives and partners. Clare (HighTide Artistic director)  has been a wonderful Dramaturg, alongside the brilliant Jen Tang as Director and Dilek Latif (Senior Producer, Mercury Theatre) as lead Producer. Having the Mercury Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre, HighTide and Royal Exchange Theatre as producing partners has been a dream. Productions like this really do take a village, and it’s a joy to be working with so many fantastic people!

Bindweed tackles difficult subjects, but also has a good dash of humour. Is this something you often explore in your writing?

I definitely try to inject humour into everything I write, however difficult the subject matter. I think people inherently look for light in the dark, and even the most miserable experiences can have very funny elements to them. I think it helps to connect more with an audience if there is some comedy. Most people don’t want to watch things that are relentlessly miserable! The most poignant plays that I have seen often disarm you with humour before landing a real gut punch.

What do you hope the audience response will be when they watch Bindweed?

I hope audiences come to Bindweed with an open mind. It isn’t an easy subject matter, but it is one that affects all of us either directly or indirectly. The play doesn’t aim to point a finger nor exonerate anyone. It’s a play about humanity and the potential we all have to change and learn.

How do you like to work in rehearsals, will you be active in the room, or do you prefer to step back?

I think it completely depends on the production! Jen, Clare and I have been working closely together over the past year to wrestle with the script as much as possible so that it is in the best place it can be going into rehearsals. But there will still be things that come out of the rehearsal process that need development. So I’ll be there in the first week and then in and out as needed. I started out as an actor, and I know the importance of being able to complain about a play without a precious writer getting in the way!

When did you first start calling yourself a playwright, and what drove you to start writing?

That’s a hard one. I think it’s taken me a long time to call myself a playwright. Only in the last year have I really adopted it as a title. Partly because I have always had other jobs around writing until now. I think serious imposter syndrome hasn’t helped

I started writing partly because I wanted to write interesting parts for myself to act in (write the theme tune, sing the theme tune). I’d always loved writing as a child, but when I saw Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012 I knew that was the kind of play I wanted to write, and I’ve been trying to write a play as good as that ever since!

If you could jump in a time machine, what advice would you give to your younger self when writing your first play?

I would say that there’s no rush. We put too much value on youth in this industry, but the joy of writing is that there is no expiry date. The older you get, the better you become as a writer I think. So my advice would be to experiment with loads of
different forms, structures, ideas and work with as many different people as possible early on. Try not to limit yourself. Watch as much as you can. Read as much as you can. And try not to eat quite so many slices of toast while you write…

Are there particular playwrights or theatre artists that inspire you?

Oh countless! I’ve always been a huge fan of people like Ella Hickson, Lucy Kirkwood, Lucy Prebble, Duncan Macmillan and Caryl Churchill. They seem unafraid of big, meaty ideas and they attack them with playfulness and curiosity. And I’m constantly inspired by the work being made in my home region too. The East of England has so many brilliant artists and companies making new and exciting work all the time. I feel very lucky to be surrounded by so many great local creatives working across many different mediums.

In your experience, is the theatre industry kind to playwrights? Have you felt valued for your work?

On the whole I would say absolutely. Sometimes it depends on the scale of a project – how much time and money there is to invest in a production. This can sometimes mean that you hand over your work and turn up to the first night with little input in the in-between. And sometimes you are a much bigger part of the process. Early experiences of writing quickly, for little or no money, and simultaneously having to wear many other hats, has taught me to be less precious about certain parts of my
work (or at least to pick my battles, and learn when to trust other people to carry the work forward without you).

We believe in the talent of playwrights from the East of England. In your opinion what, if anything, needs to change to help their work be more widely recognised?

It would be great if more national reviewers came out into the regions and recognised the work being created outside of London. But it would also be great if local companies were able to create pathways for East-based writers to get their work into London and other major UK cities. It’s such a fantastic opportunity for me to be taking Bindweed to the Arcola with HighTide, as my work has only been shown outside East Anglia a handful of times. But it’s not all about London, and I think East Anglian audiences can help too by continuing to support local new writing as much as possible. When local audiences are willing to take risks, artists are supported to take risks too and from that great art is born!

Do you have any top tips for playwrights just starting out?

I think as much as possible to try and find other things in your life that are enjoyable and stimulating around your writing practice. Art should reflect the world around us,  and all of the experiences you have or observe will help to influence the work that you create.

Build a good network of people around you both inside and outside of the industry. Be kind to people and they will be kind to you. Write what interests you, or what scares you, or what you don’t yet understand. Don’t feel your plays need to answer a question, just pose a good one. And try to remember it’s fun (mostly). We’re not saving lives, but hopefully we’re enhancing them a bit.

You can watch Bindweed from 13th June until 13th July. For full show information, tour dates, and to book click here.