Working with Sheer Drop

Finally I ask how both writers have found the experience of working with Sheer Drop. They’re unanimous in their enthusiasm.

“It’s desperately important”, says Cooper, “that playwrights are given the opportunity to learn their craft—and you don’t get that unless you get to see an audience reaction to your show. My productions in the past have taught me a huge amount—sitting among an audience and listening to how they react to a joke or a line or a plot twist—this has taught me easily as much as sitting in a rehearsal room or in a writing workshop. And you don’t get that opportunity as a playwright very easily—particularly when you get over the age of 25, because most schemes can’t justify giving money to anyone over that age, they need to be more targeted. This is understandable; but it means that by and large the schemes to train playwrights over 25 aren’t there.”

Coates agrees—as she “didn’t even start writing plays till I was over 25”, an opportunity like this, to see her debut play given a full production, is vitally important for her. It occurs to us all that part of what makes Sheer Drop unique is their deliberate commitment to not trying to tick those specific boxes, that other companies sometimes do, in terms of what sort of writers they set out to produce. Their one firm commitment is that 50% of the work they stage will be by writers who have never been fully produced before—something which this double bill, pairing Coates’s debut play with the new work by the more established Cooper, very neatly embodies.

In a way Sheer Drop’s priorities run counter to those of many other companies—in committing to producing the work of previously unproduced writers, rather than needing writers to have a certain amount of track record before they’ll consider putting them on.

All of which is wonderful, of course. But it means that we haven’t half set ourselves a challenge—to make one stage a fit setting for two completely different stories, to have a set that can be adapted to represent the living room of a celebrity-obsessed older man, and a poetry-obsessed younger woman. The one world full of clutter, the other full of emptiness.

We have made work for ourselves, indeed. Still, if it wasn’t a challenge, it wouldn’t need to be done—which makes us all feel a little better.