For Books’ Sake Talks To: Dawn King

23rd Oct 2013

For Books' Sake Talks To: Dawn King
We caught up with playwright Dawn King to talk about women in the theatre, the paranoia of living in a technological age and her latest play to take to the stage, Ciphers.

Dawn King is an award-winning writer, working in theatre, film and radio. She has had radio plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 4 Extra and BBC Radio 3 and her theatre work includes Face Value at Alan Ayckborn’s Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, and Doghead Boy and Sharkmouth Go To Ikea for The Junction in Cambridge. King has an MA in Writing for Performance from Goldsmiths University in London.

In 2011, King had sell-out success with her play Foxfinder, which won the prestigious Papatango prize and was produced by The Finborough Theatre in London to critical acclaim. Foxfinder brought King further successes, including ‘Most Promising Playwright’ at the Off West End Awards and a shortlist position for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the James Tait Black Prize in 2012. The play then went on to receive productions in Sweden and Australia, with planned productions to come in Greece, America and Iceland.

“I’d been writing for about 12 years, but it was always a struggle. It can take a long time to get noticed because there is so little money in theatre; people don’t want to take a punt. But Foxfinder had a noticeable effect on my career and although people knew who I was before, it definitely made people more aware of me. Made them more interested in my work.”

“If you look at the top jobs in theatre, the decision-makers, the majority of those people are men. Writing-wise, the heavy-hitters tend to be men called David; they undoubtedly get more commissions.”Foxfinder is set in a dystopian parallel, where protagonist William Bloor is driven by his beliefs to destroy an animal that he considers a danger to civilisation. King says her intention was never to present a polemic, but to explore the themes of paranoia.

“I feel like we live in paranoid times; there is this sense of the government looking over us. I’m interested in the relationship between technology and paranoia. The idea that calls or online activity can be bugged, that really, we’re all traceable.”

King says she also wanted to write about the power of belief. “In the play, we’re dealing with a world in which a person has the power to come into your house, and is dangerous, and you can’t shut the door on him. I find the power of belief interesting and scary.”

King’s latest play, Ciphers, is being produced by Out of Joint, Exeter Northcott and The Bush. It opened on October 16th at The Exeter Northcott Theatre and will be touring South England in 2013/2014.

“I’m working with director Blanche McIntyre again,” King says. “She worked on Foxfinder too and it’s a collaboration that works so well for me. I have a lot of trust in her. She’s basically a genius and when she turns her mighty brain onto your work, it’s like having a search light turned on.”

Ciphers tells the story of two sisters. One is working for MI5 and when she dies under suspicious circumstances, the other sister tries to discover the truth surrounding the death.

“It’s a Spy Thriller,” King states. “It’s tense, dark. It’s about grief and identity.”

The play was written with the support of the BBC. “The West Yorkshire Playhouse put me in touch with the BBC and Ciphers began life as a seed commission from the BBC Writersroom.”

King was keen for the protagonist in Ciphers to be a woman, because although the Foxfinder cast was of even gender split, her protagonist was a man. She says she felt a responsibility to have a woman at the core of the story this time.

Of her contemporaries, King says: “If you look at the top jobs in theatre, the decision-makers, the majority of those people are men. Writing-wise, the heavy-hitters tend to be men called David; they undoubtedly get more commissions.”

She says she definitely feels a desire to go some way towards addressing the gender imbalance in theatre. “I want to keep writing good roles for women in my work,” she says. “Sometimes in theatre you feel like women don’t exist, or if they do, they are limited in portrayal – so often they’re arm-candy. This isn’t how the world is and we should reflect the world on our stages. I don’t need to write a play with a 70-30% gender split – that isn’t real life.”

Ciphers will be published by Nick Hern Books later this year. You can watch a trailer of the play and find all tour dates here. Foxfinder is published by Nick Hern Books and can be purchased from Foyles for £7.29.