The new piece that I am performing at the Perception Festival next week, was not meant to be about isolation. I wanted to write a comedy, with LOLs aplenty and some characters and scenes drawn from my time as a children’s entertainer. I also wanted to write a lesbian romcom. For some reason, I thought these two ideas would fit perfectly together. As I started writing, though, delving into my memories of that time in my life – the theme of isolation began not just to flavour the work, but to consume it.
When I was a teenager, I was convinced where I grew up was the most isolated place in the world. When you’re 16 and everything good is over an hour away on a train carving its way through hills and fields, you feel isolated. When you are forced to create club nights in a random bit of woodland, because Birmingham is a bit far and a bit pricey, you feel isolated. When you lose your virginity to the same bloke as your best mate, because there just aren’t that many fit blokes around, you feel isolated.
When I first moved to London I was terrified of everything. To this day I will not chance getting on the tube if the doors are even threatening to beep at me. As I grew in confidence, though, I began to belittle where I spent my teenage years, mocking my isolated little hometown. People were shocked by my stories about it. Yes, the only show performed at the local theatre was a panto. Yes, I have fallen asleep next to a lot of waterfalls and slid down a lot of silage piles. Yes, when your wife (a born and bred Londoner) wanders around your home town wide-eyed at just how how white and conservative it is, you feel isolated. ‘Thank god I am in London – where everything happens and everyone is! Now I can be part of the world!’ I thought.
But after a few bumps and bruises from my attempts to make work or get work, after a few years of working five or six jobs to make rent, after a heartbreak which left me in bits – I began to feel the deep, bleak isolation of living in a city. And that isolation was far darker and scarier than anything I ever felt in the Shropshire hills.
I guess I was isolated in that little market town, but at least I knew most people on my street. I knew their pets and their cars and what games they played on the lane behind our house. I knew the man who patrolled the army barracks with his German Shepherd and I knew all the best sneaky smoking spots within the horseshoe of the River Severn. In the city, I knew nothing except a small corner of South London, where I was harassed daily on the streets and ignored completely by customers in the restaurant I worked in. Rather than acting on stage I was pretending to be a dolphin in front of six year olds, which can be very fun, but when you reach the end of a week and realise the only grown-ups you’ve spoken to have referred to you as “the entertainment” it does not help your self-belief. To top it all, the heartbreak left me sobbing to ‘our’ music and sleeping with some terrible, terrible humans.
The city began to swallow me up. I found myself in the same house-share for five years, watching housemates come and go, as they fell in love, travelled the world and bought houses.
As I started writing this show – all this came flooding back to me – in grotesque, garish Technicolor. Luckily, a lot of it is very funny. At least, it is retrospectively. The Real Deal is a piece that leans heavily into this sense of isolation in the city and how that affects our belief in love and hope. But it is also a comedy set in the children’s entertainment industry. And a lesbian romcom.
Come. It’ll be a gay old time.
Katie Bonna is Off West End’s Most Promising Playwright, and she is bringing her newly devised piece THE REAL DEAL to Omnibus Theatre on Thurs 22 Nov for one night only, concluding 2018’s Perception Festival. Find out more by clicking HERE→