Rebecca Lenkiewicz - At the Crossroads
Philip Fisher meets the author of The Night Season.
Rebecca Lenkiewicz is a young lady at a crossroads in both her career and her personal life.
This pretty, unassuming lady with kaleidoscopic eyes has built up a reasonably successful career as an actress both on stage and screen but suddenly finds herself thrust into the limelight in a different role.
Charmingly, she has still not really come to terms with unexpected fame and even a month after the opening night of her new play, seems a little bewildered at all of the attention. There is a sense of "Is it really me they are looking at?" about her.
Miss Lenkiewicz's first full-length play, The Night Season has found favour with the vast majority of critics and is currently playing to packed houses on the National Theatre's Cottesloe stage. It is a moving but also very funny story about three generations of a rather odd Irish family.
This might seem rather strange and to some, offensive coming from somebody whose only connection with the country is a single grandparent. Indeed, some rather angry letter-writers have made just this point.
Miss Lenkiewicz started writing The Night Season after a rather depressing period working in Sir Peter Hall's production of The Bacchae, also at the National. "I was deeply frustrated by acting at the time, I was questioning the whole acting thing and I was very hungry to write".
She was particularly interested in the relationship between WB Yeats and Maud Gonne and wanted to write "an old fashioned play with parallels in modern times. How can a sexless relationship survive? - was it possible or just a fantasy?" This explains the Irish link and also the passing references to Yeats throughout the play. However by the time it was written, the modern element had almost completely taken over.
After completing the play early in 2002, she then had the problem of getting it produced. She and her agent both sent copies to everybody likely to be interested but she came up trumps when director, Howard Davies at the National showed real enthusiasm for the piece.
There was then an anxious wait for six months to find out whether it would be selected. "I couldn't believe that they'd put my play in the repertoire". But with Davies' influence and assistance, that is exactly where it has ended up.
The production process has not been a complete bed of roses for an actress cum writer who was reluctantly to hand her "baby" to the midwife. She describes her initial meeting with director, Lucy Bailey as like a blind date. She is clearly delighted with the outcome but "I found that the rehearsals were very frustrating because Lucy didn't want me in that much. I had to give the play away".
One big plus point has been the happy cast, which has contrasted with some of the joyless productions that she has been in herself.
While it is a team effort, Annette Crosbie, who plays the wonderful grandmother Lily, is inevitably to the fore. Miss Lenkiewicz is a big fan of the older actress and is particularly amused by her response to the criticism of the bad language in the play. "Annette loves the swearing! She's fantastic, one of the most honest actresses I've ever seen on and offstage. You really don't want to ask her where it comes from. This play could have been sentimental or comedic without her ".
Miss Lenkiewicz did have a three-day fantasy of acting in the play, probably playing the part of Judith. She is greatly relieved that this favourite part, which contains more than a little of herself, is now so well depicted on stage. "I think that Susan Lynch is a goddess," says the generous playwright.
She acknowledges that there is an element of autobiography in the play and strains drawn from her family. "My father (a writer with the Jamesian nom de plume, Peter Quint) isn't a million miles off Patrick. He is a vocal writer who loves words. He has the same attitude as Patrick of not giving a toss - he despises political correctness. He felt uncomfortable but it wasn't directly lifted from his life. There has to be some truth for any play to survive". By contrast, she is at pains to emphasise that that the unseen mother in the play is a complete polar reversal of her own. "My mum got paranoid when she came see it".
Miss Lenkiewicz hails from Plymouth and, while she has always loved acting, did not see herself making a career on the stage. After a degree in film studies at Kent, she spent five years travelling and doing odds and ends of jobs with no real pattern or destiny. It was during this time that she both gained experience pole dancing in Soho and also wrote a short play about it.
Soho - A Tale of Table Dancers was written by the then 23 year-old, not that she can recall anything about it. "I can't remember writing it. I had no thought of production at the time, it was a swift catharsis that lifted my depression".
She still has a fondness for the play that won a Fringe First in Edinburgh, toured Israel and if director, Susannah Elliott-Knight has her way, may well be revived at Chichester next year.
At that point in her life, Miss Lenkiewicz decided to take the plunge and signed up to do an acting course at Central. Since graduating, she has appeared on some of the finest stages in the land including appearances in four different productions at the National and a couple with the RSC. She also launched the Arcola with Soho and is a big fan of the North London Fringe venue.
At this stage in her career, she is very much focused on advancing her writing. She is sixty pages into a second full-length play, this time commissioned by Soho Theatre, where she is on attachment. That project has slowed down a little as she has put so much energy into her current hit and has been running on adrenaline for so long, that she is now desperately in need of a break.
Her ambition is to establish herself as a play or film writer. The latter would give her particular satisfaction, as she loves the medium and, when she is not to be found on stage, fills in with work at the National Film Theatre. These dreams are not so far-fetched as she is currently in informal discussions of a couple of different film companies about prospective projects.
This does not mean that she will never act again. The problem with that life is that she finds the unemployment and the endless frustration difficult, "I still want to act but the whole business can be too much". This is an experience that she shares with many actor friends but while writing has to take precedence at the moment, she would still like to act more but not feel an obligation to take every part offered in order to put bread on the table.
The good news is that Rebecca Lenkiewicz is still extremely happy and loves The Night Season and its impact. She has already seen the play a dozen or more times and hasn't got bored yet.
She is a little concerned that the hype about The Night Season may just be "a bit of the heat that will quickly die down". Even if that is the case, she now feels mature enough in her mid-thirties to be able to suffer outrageous Fortune's slings and arrows. In reality, it should just be a first step on the road to great success as a playwright.