Lizzie Nunnery won the UK Theatre Award for best new play in 2017 for Narvik, set in the Second World War. Nunnery tells Giverny Masso about her latest work To Have to Shoot Irishmen, inspired by the true events of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin…
Tell me about your latest play, To Have to Shoot Irishmen.
I started looking into the Easter Rising in Dublin and the women involved. It’s a seminal event in Irish history, but it struck me as strange that no one in the UK talks about it. I am fascinated by the women who were there, and this play is about Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and her husband Francis. Francis was a feminist and pacifist. He was out calling for peace and was arrested, held without charge and executed. I fell in love with the characters and felt compelled to put the story on stage. I’m also a folk musician and it’s important to mention this is a play with folk songs.
How did you get into theatre?
I’ve been interested in theatre since I was young, but it took me a long time to work out I wanted to be a playwright. I used to do a lot of drama in school. There was a playwriting competition at university and it struck me I should do that. I was at Oxford studying English and I wrote a comedy about student life – for which I was runner-up. We took it to Edinburgh in 2004 and I met Suzanne Bell, literary manager at the Liverpool Everyman, who encouraged me to join the young writers scheme there. I wrote another play over the course of that year and I was part of a writing festival, which was the first time I was paid to write.
Last year you won a UK Theatre Award for Narvik – what was it about?
Narvik was a crucial project for me, working with Box of Tricks Theatre Company. It’s a play with songs that I co-wrote with my husband Vidar Norheim. It’s inspired by my grandfather’s Second World War stories. He was in the Arctic convoys, which seem to be an unexplored area of the Second World War.
What has been your biggest challenge in the industry?
I don’t look and sound like people’s idea of a playwright. I’ve met people after a show and they’ve said: “Gosh, I thought this was written by a man”, or “I thought you would be older”. I’ve always felt like I had to work extra hard to convince people I can do it – not on the page, but in person.
Do you feel there is an imbalance between the opportunities given to male and female playwrights?
The facts show there is an imbalance, and this is only the beginning of change, it takes more to change an entire culture. It’s mostly an issue of confidence. People who run buildings, and are in positions of power, need to have confidence in women. I’m working on another play with Box of Tricks Theatre Company,which has an all-female cast and is set in Syria.
Training: English Literature at Oxford University (2001-2004); Writer on attachment at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre (2005)
First professional role: Rehearsed reading of a play called Love at the Liverpool Everyman’s Everyword festival of new writing (2004)
Agent: Jessica Cooper at Curtis Brown
To Have to Shoot Irishmen is touring to the Liverpool Everyman, Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre, Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury, Mumford Theatre at Anglia Ruskin University and at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, until November 6