Interview: Molly Naylor, Writer and Director of ‘Lights!Planets!People!’

Lights! Planets! People!, written by Molly Naylor and performed by Karen Hill, begins its tour this weekend, commencing with a performance at the Exeter Phoenix. This one-woman play tells the story of gay, bipolar, space scientist Maggie Hill through the narratives of a lecture Maggie is giving young women about her career in science, her first therapy session, and her failed attempts to contact her ex-girlfriend.

I interviewed Molly Naylor prior to the show’s opening night and wanted to know how she’d describe a show which tackles such diverse themes. She explains that it’s “a story about everything. It’s a story about huge existential questions but also about small intimate details and relationships.” She feels that these themes are equally relevant, saying that Lights! Planets! People! “really taps into what people are thinking about at the moment, worrying about the way that we’re treating the planet, but also concerned with the way we’re communicating with the people around us and on this planet.”

Lights! Planets! People! Photo Dave Guttridge-082

She told me more about how the themes link, saying that “the similarities I found were around psychology and space science, so in terms of the academic exploration of both, a lot of it is still very theoretical so we think of space science as being more of a hard science with evidence but it’s still theoretical in the same way that psychology is… there are still so many things that we don’t know, both about space and our own minds.” Naylor has previously explored mental health in her work but her interest in space flourished alongside the development of this play and is something that she hopes to inspire in audiences too. She explains how her production introduces “people to some new ideas around space science but then centring it very much in a world that people understand and relate to.”

Much of the challenge of writing and performing Lights! Planets! People! is in the way that it shifts between three different narrative threads. Naylor admits its difficulty, saying that “when you’ve structured something in quite a fractured way, you could basically do anything with it, there are so many options of how you could mix things up and it does get a bit overwhelming…but there was a point where I just had to stop and go, ‘this is the structure now’ and it’s over to the audience to find their meaning in that.” I wondered whether the fact it’s a one-woman show was a challenge in itself. While Naylor says it is harder format for actors, she loves its intimacy; “the relationship you can create between the audience and the performer… you’re having a conversation essentially.”

lights-planets-people-photo-dave-guttridge-018.jpg

I wanted to find out why Maggie’s voice was one which she particularly wanted to show to audiences. “I just think it’s so rare to see an older, queer woman on stage for starters, but also a scientist as well,” Naylor explains, “I think Maggie is a very rare person and there are so few female scientist from that generation, so I wanted to get people to think about that and question why that’s so uncommon to see a person like that on stage.” Naylor hopes that Lights! Planets! People! will appeal to both Maggie’s generation and the younger women that Maggie addresses in her lecture. “Maggie’s trying to talk to them in the story and I guess I’m trying to talk to them as the writer as well… I’m interested in what their response is and what they think of Maggie, whether they think she’s a complete lunatic or they see her as inspiring.”

The inspiration of Lights! Planets! People! in part came from a desire to inspire and educate as it was conceived at the residency ‘This Is Tomorrow’ which brings together artists and academics to create work inspired by scientific concepts. I asked Naylor to tell me a bit more about what this residency involved. “They team up six theatre makers with a bunch of academics at Warwick University. We went for a week and we met academics across lots of different fields. They would each do a one-hour lecture for us about their specialist area, so we went to economics and physics and all of these different areas and the one that really spoke to me was the astronomy lecture because it was just so exciting.” The ideas behind Lights! Planets! People! developed from there, with Naylor having the opportunity to later go back and “spend a little bit more focused time with those specific academics that had inspired my early ideas.”

Naylor found collaboration useful throughout the process, working alongside Karen Hill to improve the script. “I would basically write a draft and…we’d work with it as if that was the play and then through her doing it, we would learn what wasn’t working, so things that felt wrong in her mouth, things that felt to her sort of cheesy or expeditionary. We developed this short hand where we’d look at each other and I’d know that she’s thinking ‘nah, that line is not good’…it turned into her leading it to an extent because she became Maggie and she was able to say, ‘I don’t think Maggie would say this’ about certain things. It was really useful because if you’re working on your own, you just fall in love with your own script and then you don’t really have anyone to tell you it’s rubbish until later.”

Lights! Planets! People! Photo Dave Guttridge-001

Naylor writes in a range of mediums including TV, radio, theatre and poetry. She reflects that theatre is particularly difficult to write because “there are less rules. There are really strict rules with TV, film and radio about what you can do… with theatre it’s much broader, you’re really allowed to do anything to an extent, as long as it’s good and dramatic and has action in it, but I find that really difficult because it means where do you start when you sit down to write… it’s exciting but that freedom, I find that quite overwhelming.”

While discussing the difficulty of a writing career generally, Naylor claims that perseverance is key, explaining that “with writing you have to keep going because there will be a point where other people drop out and stop because they realise they could have a nicer life if they did something else, so if you’re the one who just carries on and practices and practices then something will happen.” She suggests that aspiring writers should “make things yourself… you can make a magazine you can make a website, you can make a show, you can make a poetry book…DIY is the most exciting thing about writing because no one can stop you from doing that.” So, is all the effort and work behind writing worth it? “If you want to be a writer, you’re opening yourself up to a life of disappointment,” she admits, “but the rewards are arguably worth it because it’s a beautiful way to spend a day.”

Katrina Bennett 

Lights! Planets! People! starts its tour at the Exeter Phoenix Sunday 3rd Feb 

 

Photo Credits: Dave Guttridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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