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Writer Izzy Tennyson: ‘We don’t give women enough chances to be bad on stage’

Izzy Tennyson Izzy Tennyson

Izzy Tennyson won the Ideastap/Underbelly award for her debut solo show Brute at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. She tells Giverny Masso about her latest show, Grotty, which explores the east London lesbian scene…

What’s Grotty about?

It’s a satirical piece about an anti-hero who enters the Dalston lesbian scene in London. It’s about the main character Rigby’s mad journey. She’s a very materialistic person and she meets two lesbians who are very established on the scene. Together, they form a triangle. There are five of us in the cast, and I’m playing the lead.

What are the characters like?

I’m not a moralist writer – I like to explore the grey areas. There are a lot of grotesque characters in the piece, which is really important. Women are often badly written. We don’t give them a chance to be bad. Instead they are there because they are serving a purpose. I think it is really important that women can be equally as bad as men. I feel really passionate about writing gritty characters.

Do you think lesbian stories are well-represented in theatre?

There is that confusion that we take stuff from gay male culture and straight culture. We can see it reflected in clubbing, where [in a gay club] there are three floors for men and a little lesbian basement which is tiny. That’s the same in theatre. But when lesbians are represented, it’s romanticised.

Izzy Tennyson (centre) with Rebekah Hinds (left) and Anita-Joy Uwajeh in rehearsals for Grotty. Photo: Sonia Archer
Izzy Tennyson (centre) with Rebekah Hinds (left) and Anita-Joy Uwajeh in rehearsals for Grotty. Photo: Sonia Archer

What inspired you to write Grotty?

It’s semi-autobiographical and was inspired by my experiences of going out on the scene. It’s really hard, because it’s a completely different set of rules and there is a lot of stress. I have friends, but I had to go out clubbing on my own.

How have you found working with the director and cast?

It’s important to have a good dialogue with your director, and be able to talk to each other. We are a good match, because I love the comedy in the script and she’s good at bringing out the flashes of vulnerability in it. As a cast, we’re getting on really well. It’s a hard job for the others, because they’ve got to multi-role.

How did you get into theatre?

I always wanted to be an actor. I did drama at the University of Exeter, but I didn’t get cast in anything there. When I left uni, I sent my scripts everywhere. I would write something so I could be in it, because I didn’t really fit any of the characters that were out there.

What do you want to do in the future?

I will definitely continue writing, and I enjoy performing in my own work. I have learned a lot about writing from performing. I’m working on a couple of other plays, and I want to write something about university lad culture, which is such an interesting topic. I lived in a flat at university with 10 boys, and sometimes it became a bit like Lord of the Flies.

CV: Izzy Tennyson

Training: BA in drama, University of Exeter (2010-13)
First professional role: Writer and performer of Brute at Edinburgh Festival Fringe (2015)
Agent: Tanya Tillett at the Agency

Grotty is showing as part of the Bunker Theatre’s spring 2018 season, which runs from May 1 to May 26

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