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

Izzy Tennyson

Izzy Tennyson won the Ideastap/Underbelly award for her debut solo show Brute [1] 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 [2]
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 [3], which runs from May 1 to May 26