Laura through the looking glass
Laura Wade is one of the country’s leading young playwrights. Arts reporter Nick Ahad talked to her about her new play.
LAURA Wade laughs at the suggestion that she’s the hottest new playwright around.
“Isn’t that Polly Stenham?” says Wade, referring to the writer of That Face, a new production of which opens in Sheffield next month.
True, Stenham is a rare wunderkind who is praised as the sort of writer who comes around once in a generation. Wade perhaps ranks behind her in the league table of bright young things in theatreland, but there are not many others ahead of her.
Still only 32, Wade has an Olivier Award nomination and a Critics’ Circle award for most promising playwright.
London and the theatre elite became aware of Wade when her second and third plays ran simultaneously in the capital. The national coverage referred to Colder than Here and Breathing Corpses as her “first and second” plays, but here in Wade’s home county, we know better.
Wade’s first play was actually Limbo. Set in Sheffield, it debuted at the Studio, the theatre which sits next to the Crucible. Wade wrote it as a 17-year-old schoolgirl and she was just 18 when it was first performed.
Growing up in Ecclesall, in a “house full of books”, Wade describes herself as “mad about words”.
She attended Lady Manners School, in Bakewell, where Wade was academically strong, but also determined – even if her teachers were determined otherwise – to follow a career in the theatre.
Wade was clearly precocious. She first had the idea to become a playwright when she was on work experience at Sheffield Crucible – she wrote to the theatre asking to shadow a director for a fortnight and asked her school for two weeks off.
“The school was really good about encouraging me and allowing me to take the time off to do my work experience at the Crucible,” says Wade.
“I was in a rehearsal one day, I had the idea that I wanted to be a director, and a playwright asked me if I had ever thought about writing my own work. I decided to give it a go.”
The determined Wade set about writing her first play and once it was finished had no idea what to do.
“I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to, or even if I could, send it out. The only place I knew was the Crucible, so I sent it there,” she says.
Opening night held a shock for the young playwright.
“It was really quite terrifying and I remember being a bit surprised when the audience turned up on the first night,” she says.
“That first experience of people sitting in a room and listening to the words I had written was magical. I was hooked from then.”
After that first play, Wade studied drama at Bristol University and then went to London, working temp jobs and determined to make her name as a writer.
A writers group at the Royal Court helped to kick-start her career and she hasn’t looked back.
Wade returns to her home city this month with a new interpretation of Alice in Wonderland.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to have a play on at the Crucible,” says Wade. “Apart from the fact that I think it’s one of the most exciting theatre spaces in the country, it’s the first place I remember seeing any theatre. My first clear memory is of seeing The Railway Children there.
“It’s wonderful to think young people in Sheffield might get their first experience in the Crucible seeing my play.”
Review, page 16.
LAURA WADE: Back in Sheffield.