An Interview with Katherine Chandler, writer of Before It Rains

Could you sum up Before It Rains for us?
Before It Rains is a play essentially about a mother and her son whose lives are challenged when a new family moves to their estate. The play touches on various themes concerning family relationships and friendships and is set in the allotments, lanes and woods that you find at the backs of so many estates. I wrote it in a realistic way but found the poem The Law of the Jungle by Rudyard Kipling a real inspiration for the world and themes in the play.

Was it hard to write?
I spent a long time thinking about the play and I really didn’t start writing it properly until I’d bashed out the entire story in my head. I started with Gloria and I sat her in a room looking out of her window watching all that was happening on the estate. I imagined her turning a blind eye to all sorts of goings on. I wondered what would make her react and I thought that something would have to happen to one of her own. Her son, Michael. And then I wondered how the stakes would change if that son were vulnerable. Once I’d got that I was able to write the first draft of the play in a few weeks. It really helps having people you enjoy and trust working with on those drafts. I’ve been fortunate to work with Roisin McBrinn, Sian Summers and Sharon Clark and initially Kate Budgen. They have all been absolutely respectful and nurturing, and we’ve also had a good laugh along the way. It’s important to laugh a lot, I think.

What drove you to write this play about these character?
My family is from a typical 1950s council estate and I remember a great community of working people who were proud of their estate and had strong community values. The estate I remembered was very open door, people on doorsteps chatting, kids out and playing and neighbours looking out for each other. I moved back to the same estate after having my daughter and it felt very different. I was intrigued as to why that was. At around the same time, BBC4 were running a series of documentaries about post-war council estates and there were lots of interesting stories about class and “troubled families” that seemed to jump out at me.

And the characters?
Unlike Gloria I’m fortunate enough to have a partner and a large family around me for support, but Gloria’s a single mother who struggles with life. I was caught by the idea of Gloria basking in the sunshine on her allotment lost to her vodka, with the beat of Michael’s digging in the background. We’ve all had those lazy, hazy sunny days when everything’s going our way but then along comes the rain. Whilst Carl’s family has been moved around a lot and he’s always has to fight for his place so he inevitably tries to dominate. His mother left him when he was a baby and I think that sense of loss and confusion has eaten away at Carl. In the research I did, there was very much a pattern of where characters like Carl live and hang out and the things he gets up to.

How did you feel when it was “picked up”?
I think a mixture of relief and disbelief. During the writing process all you can think about is getting the story told. When you send it out all you want is a positive response. When you get a positive response you are desperate to get it a production. This takes a long time. By the time you are told it will definitely be produced you’re exhausted! It’s so hard to get new plays into a full scale production and I feel incredibly privileged. That it’s found its home with Sherman Cymru and Bristol Old Vic is even more mind-blowing.

Do you think there’s a stigma attached to “new writing”? If so, what do we do about that?
I don’t know about there being a ‘stigma’ but I think quite often people get stuck in a theatrical rut. As an audience member it’s tough to trust new writing. They know what they like and are reluctant to try new work. I love the theatre and I will go and see anything. I can understand why people won’t pay good money to see something they have no idea about, but at the same time, there’s nothing quite like seeing a new piece of work that gets under your skin and takes you by surprise.

How do you feel about the reborn Sherman Cymru? You’ve had a long relationship with the place haven’t you?
Sherman Cymru is a very special place for me. I feel very emotional about having my work as part of their Autumn season. I first started working for them back in the late eighties as part of a government YTS scheme and have worked with them on and off in various guises over the last 25 years. I think it’s a great time in Wales at the moment, there is lots of energy and enthusiasm around and the theatre community is really strong.

And what about the co-production with Bristol Old Vic?
How hasn’t this happened before? It makes perfect sense. The two places have always been linked. When I first started working at the Sherman we used to do a minibus trip every so often to see a show at Bristol Old Vic. When I came over to meet Sharon Clark (Literary Producer) for the first time, the sun was shining and the cafes and bars around the theatre were buzzing. It’s a cool place and I know we’re all looking forward to coming over for the week to open the show at Bristol Old Vic.

What do you hope people will take away from the piece?
Although its themes are bold and challenging I think over all Before it Rains is a hopeful piece of work with some poignant moments.

Anything else to add?
Come and see it.

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