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Isley Lynn: ‘Audiences respond to the confessional nature of my work’

Isley Lynn. Photo: Matt Thomas

Following its premiere at London’s Vault Festival in January, Isley Lynn’s debut play Skin a Cat has now opened at the new underground London theatre the Bunker. Lynn speaks to David Hutchison about the play people warned her not to write…

How have preparations been for the show’s second airing?

The job is just so totally different, to remount a production. I think we feel a lot of responsibility to the people running the Bunker who’ve been so supportive and so cool. So we want to give them a great show and help them launch what I think is such an exciting new venue. Other than that pressure, to give the Bunker a gift, I’m really confident in the show, because it had such a good reception at Vault Festival. And I still get messages from people saying: “I wanted to tell you that Skin a Cat really spoke to me.”

For everyone who hasn’t seen the play: what’s it about?

The play is about my sex life. It’s about a character called Alana who’s trying desperately to be like other teenagers and have sex for the first time. But every time she gets close, something gets in the way. Let’s say it’s semi-autobiographical. These characters are versions of real people, so they’re exaggerated and obviously condensed into a short amount of time. But most of it happened, in one way or another.

There’s an ongoing debate about women’s work being branded ‘confessional’ more often than men’s – how do you feel about that?

Is Hamlet confessional? Is any character who directly addresses the audience, or gives intimate access to their life, confessional? When you take it away from a female framework, it becomes very easy to figure out whether you’re being sexist or not – by asking women particularly that question. I’m someone who’s come against that label – which I don’t think is a negative label in itself. But I’ve had people of all genders warn me about the confessional nature of this work. Some of them had my best interests at heart, some of them were saying I shouldn’t do it. And they were people who are very well-known in our industry. But as it turns out, the confessional nature of the play is what everyone is responding to. It’s a specific story, but it should speak to everyone.

How much control do you have as a writer over the play’s future life?

Writers have to be self-starters, and they have to have a lot of different hats as well as their writing hats. So I am always pursuing opportunities and pushing my work as far as it can go. I’ve not received a proper commission yet, and that hasn’t stopped me from having four plays on. With this production, everyone is pitching in to do work a bit beyond their official title. That means everyone is on the same page and genuinely invested in making this show great. It really is by the skin of our teeth, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, because it often gets the best results. But maybe I want to take that back, because I would also like to get paid [more] at some point.

CV: Isley Lynn

Training: Exeter University, BA (hons) drama
First professional play: Sleight of Hand, Theatre503 (2014)
Agent: Jonathan Kinnersley, the Agency

Skin a Cat runs at the Bunker in London until November 5

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