Up Close & Personal With Lisa Carroll

We had the pleasure of sitting down with acclaimed playwright Lisa Carroll, the mastermind behind the highly anticipated play “The Misandrist.”

Known for her captivating storytelling and sharp wit, Carroll takes audiences on a journey of self-discovery, sexual exploration, and the pursuit of true connection in a world filled with uncertainty.

In our exclusive interview, Carroll delves into the inspiration behind her latest work, sharing her insights on the themes of love, loneliness, and the unconventional path to finding solace. With her signature blend of humour and thoughtfulness, she offers a glimpse into the complex lives of Rachel and Nick, the two anxious and lonely souls at the heart of “The Misandrist.

Carroll’s ability to weave together societal commentary and personal introspection shines through in her writing. In “The Misandrist,” she tackles pressing issues such as Brexit and the ever-changing landscape of modern relationships, all while infusing the story with a distinct blend of charm and irreverence. Through the characters’ sexual odyssey and the mixed results it brings, Carroll invites audiences to question traditional notions of intimacy and consider the deeper connections that can emerge when we step outside our comfort zones.

Up Close & Personal With Lisa Carroll
Image: Ste Murray

Join us as we delve into the mind of Lisa Carroll, uncovering the creative process behind “The Misandrist” and exploring the universal human experiences that lie at its core. Discover how Carroll’s distinct voice and keen observations on contemporary society have made her a rising star in the world of theatre, and why “The Misandrist” promises to be a captivating and thought-provoking production that challenges conventions and embraces the messy, beautiful nature of human relationships.

First of all, congratulations on the success of ‘The Misandrist’! Could you please tell us a bit more about the play and what inspired you to write it?

Thank you! I’m very proud of the play and I’m so thrilled audiences are enjoying it. ‘The Misandrist’ is a comic two-hander which looks at gender roles, the nature of intimacy, and kink (specifically pegging!)

We follow protagonists, Rachel and Nick, from when they meet at their work Christmas party, to what was meant to be a one-night stand, to an odyssey of sexual and self-discovery.

This centres around role reversal, and how the pair of them negotiate pegging (where the woman wears a strap-on to penetrate the man) and all of the existential questions this throws up for Nick in terms of his ideas of masculinity.

Ultimately, the pair learn that while sex is one form of intimacy, there’s a fuller intimacy in revealing your whole self, and all your baggage, to your partner – and that can be truly terrifying.

What kind of challenges did you face while writing ‘The Misandrist’?

Putting sex on stage is a challenge, in terms of how you stage and perform it, and also helps an audience feel comfortable and safe. The last thing we wanted was for audiences to be cringing!

Our director, Beth Pitts, worked closely with an intimacy director, Louise Kempton, to find a fun and playful theatrical language. The text has a lot of offers and open suggestions to directors to find an inventive and playful way of staging these moments.

Could you tell us a bit more about Rachel and Nick, the protagonists of your play?

Rachel (played by comedian Elf Lyons) is a sharp, hilarious, and at times vicious woman in her early thirties; a true millennial who feels lost in a world where it can feel like everyone is out for themselves.

Nick (played by Nick Armfield), on appearance, is your typical ‘nice guy’. He’s one of those men who, on the face of it, would call themselves a feminist, and in many more superficial ways is, but he also leans into some problematic behaviours to get what he wants.

I love these two characters because both are smart and witty, and have a sparky chemistry, but are also deeply flawed. They both rush into sex and explore kink, without adequate communication skills or self-knowledge.

Are there any other themes that are explored in ‘The Misandrist’?

To my mind, the play is about intimacy and connection first and foremost. In today’s world, where the word ‘toxic’ is thrown around left and right, where connections are so easy to pick up and drop with apps like Tinder, and where we’re taught that anything ‘other’ is ‘bad’, the intention with the play is to ask the audience to see people in their fullness, warts and all. 

When did your passion for writing develop and what were some of your earliest works?

I was always passionate about theatre, thanks to being part of a close-knit youth theatre growing up. At university in Dublin, I was heavily involved in the drama society as an actor and director. All the while, I knew I wanted to write, but for a long time could never start. It was definitely fear.

I got incredibly lucky in my third year of college and took part in an exchange programme where I got to study for a year in California. I then auditioned and landed a place on the university’s improv team. I absolutely loved the buzz of making people laugh.

Up Close & Personal With Lisa Carroll
Image: Ste Murray

There were playwriting modules I could take, with amazing American playwrights, so I took the plunge. I wanted to see if I could make people laugh off the page as much as I could onstage. One of my teachers, Erin Cressida Wilson, sat me down one day, and told me I had a talent, and to take myself seriously. She is the reason I pursued writing.

My first play was a silly comedy about a young man who goes to California, points out all the cultural differences with the UK, and finds himself. It was fun but hardly Chekov. My next play, ‘Three Cities’, was three intertwining monologues by three women of different generations, and we took it to the Edinburgh Fringe, years ago now.

In 2013, I wrote ‘Cuckoo’, which first got me in the door with theatres, and is how I met my producers at Metal Rabbit, who backed the play for years until we got it to the stage at the Soho Theatre in 2018.

Could you explain the process of creating a play from start to finish?

The entire process of writing a play is quite a hard one to sum up, particularly as with every play it’s different, but I’ll do my best!

Usually, something will worm its way into my brain, usually something I’ve noticed or experienced and am chewing on. With ‘The Misandrist’, it was a conversation in a pub, where a friend said she wanted to try pegging a man “for revenge.” I found this fascinating and terrifying, and for months I couldn’t stop thinking about how reversing sexual roles unlocks so many questions about what we see as “normal” when it comes to sex, and the wonky power dynamics between men and women we take as given.

It takes me a huge number of drafts to get a play in any kind of decent shape. Sometimes it’s sitting down at the laptop and just generating pages. Other times I’ll have a crystal clear image in my mind of a scene or a moment. Sometimes it’s a word-vomiting stream of consciousness frantically on the tube.

At a certain point, when all the raw material feels like it’s out, I’ll try to take in what I’ve got from a bird’s-eye view. Then I’ll start to ask questions like, “What is this really about?” and “What are the character’s arcs?” and go back in and try to shape it.

Workshops and rehearsals are a crucial part of the new writing process because this is where you get specific perspectives on the work that can flesh out your thinking. Actors bring a great lens because they always want to fine-tune and flesh out their characters’ arc, which is a gift as a writer if you feel lost in the woods.

What advice would you give up-and-coming writers who want to write their own plays?

Something I’ve been mulling on lately is how (I feel) we’re in an era where theatre has become intellectualised. Writers are trying to be clever, focusing on ‘ideas’, rather than emotional content.

Up Close & Personal With Lisa Carroll
Image: Ste Murray

Plays are about what it means to be human. We’ve been going to the theatre for millennia to see how people behave when put under terrible pressure. We’re drawn to stories about troubled, ugly people, affecting each other for better or worse.

For me, writing plays is an emotional exercise, a sort of alchemy of all your thoughts, feelings, baggage and fears. In my experience, those big feelings like grief, anger, pain, betrayal, and love are what audiences most connect with.

This is all to say that I think writers should write from the gut and the heart, rather than to impress a theatre or capture the zeitgeist. The second key thing is to not try and write a “good” play when you start out: let yourself write utter rubbish, and only once you’ve emptied yourself of all your raw material, then start panning for gold.

What are some of the biggest lessons learned throughout your career as a writer so far?

The business of theatre, like programming and getting commissions, is not your business. Your business is to make the art.

There is no rhyme or reason to how theatre works: who will get a lucky break, or for whom it’ll take years? It’s like a bad boyfriend that never calls you back – and negs you from time to time, and it can have a corrosive effect on your mind and your creativity if you let it.

Focus on the art. Find your voice. Make your work heartfelt and distinctive. If you do that, not only can you sleep at night knowing your integrity is intact, but most likely the opportunities will find you.

Lastly, what message do you hope audience members take away after watching ‘The Misandrist’?

With ‘The Misandrist’, I hope audience members leave with something to chew on around their attitudes towards sex, towards women, and towards masculinity.

My biggest hope is that audiences have an absolute blast. I want people to come away delighted, having had a good, hearty belly laugh.

Lisa Carrol’s The Misandrist is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 10th June. To book, visit https://www.arcolatheatre.com/whats-on/the-misandrist/

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