Maureen Lawrence

Interview 3rd December 2018

 

How did you decide to write Tokens? 

I was working in a unit for violent adolescent girls and I was writing a book. Talking to the director, she urged me to write a play. I wasn’t a playwright. It was a bit of a departure for me, but she asked me to go to workshops. Because I wasn’t a theatre person, I didn’t quite know what she meant by ‘workshops’. So I wrote a play and took it on the first day of the workshops. That’s how it came about. Because they’d planned a workshop, they actually improvised, had a look at my play and mainly cut it because it was very long. Because I came from a novel writing background, it was very long. I had no idea about keeping it short. I didn’t even think in terms of people learning. If they’d played my play it would have taken about five hours because the original thing was like a novel, but a novel in dialogue.

 

How much would you say the play was fiction or reality? 

I would say it’s all reality.  

What was the name of the school where you worked? 

It was a unit called Melbourne House. It was in Bradford and it was a spin off from Bradford schools where girls had offered violence to teachers. It could only take twelve children, but in fact we never had more than nine. If you’d had more than nine, it would have been unworkable really. Because there were three teachers and three to one was about the most tolerable level. Mainly, when you began the year there were none and they were added within a few weeks of the beginning of the new academic year. For quite a few weeks after Christmas, I remember there were just a few girls, three, four, five girls and that was the ideal number – one to one.   

How long did they stay in school before moving on?  

They were all school leavers and they never went back to school. It was for leavers, so they stayed in the unit one year, maybe two  

Where would they go after this?  

They’d be of working age. They could do what they wanted to do afterwards, whatever could be found for them. I don't think that the organisation tried to place them in work necessarily, but they all had social workers, because they were all in care.       

Were the tokens also part of your experience? 

Yes, well, when they came on public transport to school, they had to pay their fare. They weren’t given money. They were given tokens for their fare. They didn’t get tokens if they weren’t good and then they had to walk. It was a means for rewarding them for good behaviour, but I meant it to be taken symbolically in the sense that the girls themselves were like tokens. They were like representative figures of the failure in our society and in our educational system. So they were being scapegoated for being failures.  

What appealed to you about writing a silent character, Andrea? 

It was based on a girl who wouldn’t participate. She came but she simply sat in a corner, not speaking. A real girl.   

Was she finally able to speak or did she never participate? 

No. She was a perfectly intelligent girl and she didn’t have a defect, but she probably had a raging sense of injustice and was not going to join in.    

Each of the girls have very different personalities. Are they all girls you met while working at the unit? 

Each of the girls I describe in the play was based on a real girl and they were all, of course, quite different. That’s how it came out in the play that they were different. They all had case histories and the teachers would give them the case histories to read. The silent girl was in trouble in her care because she’d hidden a knife in her mattress.  

There’s a huge parallel between that situation and the situation in London at the moment or in Sheffield too, where children are arming themselves with knives. If she’d been willing to talk, she would have said she’d taken the knife, stolen the knife, because she was afraid of being attacked so she’d taken it for self-protection. The police argued that once you have a knife, you’re bound eventually to find yourself in a situation where you use it and then you become the aggressor, but people who arm themselves with knives are children. They think they are being defensive or at least the girls did. Because she’d been found with a knife, the teachers were very frightened she might do something. In the play, I make her have a knife and stab the table and narrowly miss the teacher’s fingers, which I saw. I mean that happened. That was based on a real incident.  

Then the other two women that were working with me, the two teachers who were permanent  (I was not a permanent person) grabbed her and literally carried her to the door and threw her outside. Twice, I saw that happen, once with girls and once with boys. They literally took her feet and her shoulders and wrestled her to the door, shouted to me to open the door, and pushed her out of doors. In the mean time they’d phoned for the police because it was an emergency. Then, the police came and took over. The responsibility of the teachers to protect themselves and the children was over by then really.   

Did you receive any specific training before beginning your work in the unit? 

No, I wasn’t a teacher. I am a trained teacher, but I wasn’t teaching. I was writing my fiction. I was doing some work with the psychiatry wing at St James’ Hospital in Leeds, doing creative writing workshops. The creative writing workshops were done for an organisation called The Workers’ Educational Association. It provides education for adults and it was providing these workshops for adult patients in the psychiatry wing of the hospital. A colleague and friend of mine, who was a psychologist, asked me if I could do something similar with violent adolescent girls, if I would talk to the educational psychologists in Bradford and discuss the possibility of me doing creative writing workshops at the unit. I said, ‘I’m not very brave really. I’m not really sure if I could cope with violent people.’ and the psychologist said ‘but that’s what we want. We don’t want people who feel they can dominate. We want people who can approach them as if they were normal people. So, I went to talk to them and the only way that they could get me into the place, and pay for my services, was to pay me as a teacher. So that’s what I went to do. I went to do writing with these girls and to try to produce something like a magazine of their work.   

Were any of the teachers trained specifically to deal with these violent children? 

I presume some of them had taken courses. I don’t know a lot about the other teachers really, but I think some of them had taken courses. I was offered a course in anger management when I was there. I did go one weekend to a course. It was an interest, but I don’t think it was specifically geared towards children. I certainly was given no special training at all.  

In the play you mention the girls doing activities such as, sewing, cleaning and reading. Where these typical activities on any given day at the unit? 

Yes, that kind of thing is known educationally as ‘life skills’. They were school leavers, and the life skills they were being offered were home making skills: basic simple arithmetic and English was done every morning and activities like using a washing machine, an iron, sewing, knitting, relating to people, going out, being taken out shopping by teachers, if they were on good behaviour, trying to live normal lives and not fight with each other.  

Nancy, seems like to want save the girls. Do you think they can be saved or are they just stuck in this system they were put into? 

Well, if you’ve been watching any of the media accounts of what the current situation is with these violent children who can’t be contained within school. It’s hot stuff at the moment in the media. Almost every day we hear on BBC North News of children stabbing or dying or punching teachers. It’s appalling really, how bad it’s been this last year.  

I think the idea of the unit was to try to normalise them by giving them the kind of individual attention that would both absorb their anger and their anarchy and rescue the rest of the children who were left behind from their presence. Because it’s impossible to teach a class where even one disturbed child is disturbing everybody else. If you’ve got a class of 30 normal children and one of them stands on a desk and kicks out at anybody that goes near them or starts breaking things or dislocates a teachers jaw. One is enough to introduce chaos. The whole thing goes berserk. For the good of the rest, the minority who are disturbed need to be attended to.  

I would say the pressures that were on them were not caused by the school but by things outside the school and in themselves. There were girls there who had very bad experiences within the home, which I didn’t put into the play. I didn’t include the kind of sexual complications in the play. Partly because it was designed to be shown to schools and it would have been inappropriate at that time. It’s a long time ago since I wrote it. Also, because of the people I was working with would have been recognised. That would have been awkward.  

One of the girls for instance, I’m not sure whether I mention it in the play, disappeared. The girl called Debbie, who was played by Charlotte, disappeared for six weeks and teamed up with a local prostitute, a Madam who opened a bank account for her and gave her shelter and put her on the game.  

The vice squad used to come to the unit to check up on them when there had been some incident at a local brothel. One of the girls, the girl Kelly, her mother died in a brothel. White mother, she was half Asian. Her father was likely one of the men who had been arraigned in Rotherham, places like that. She was the product of that union. She was not called Kelly in real life. She was called Pavin.  

Kelly’s rape was recounted as in the play, over a meal? 

Oh, yes. They were very open about that. I don’t know whether this conversation as in, but on one occasion the girl Liane said to me ‘How old were you miss when you first had it?’ So I said, ‘oh I don’t really remember,’ and I said ‘how old were you?’ which was a mistake. I shouldn’t have said that, but she said she was eight and I said ‘weren’t you afraid?’ She said ‘yes,’ and I said ‘why were you afraid?’ because I was trying to find out whether she knew what was going on, exactly what her frame of mind had been. She said ‘of course I was afraid, it was so big.’ That was just a commonplace conversation, a matter of everyday. Nobody fussed. Nobody said ‘we must look into this’ or report it or anything really.    

Annette seems a bit unforgiving in certain ways, would you agree with this statement? 

Yes, She was. She was hard. I would say she just got on with the job really. I don’t think she was cruel. I don’t think she had bad intentions, but she was not a sympathetic person.   

I felt Nancy was at the other end of the spectrum. She seemed to invest a lot in the girls, would you also agree with this? 

Yes, she was a catholic. She came from a group of people in Bradford who were from a very strong catholic community and prospered there. I think the manager of one of the banks was a prominent catholic and one of the directors of education, a governor of one of the technical college. She belonged to that group, a rather élite group of Catholics whose role in Bradford was quite prominent either politically or materially. She was very popular with the girls because they took her goodwill for granted. They assumed she was kind and loving.   

Did they take advantage of that? 

No, they couldn’t because she was very strong. They didn’t take advantage of her. They confided in her and assumed that she’d be understanding, but I don’t think she was particularly. I think her concern was formal. It came from a sense of duty. I don’t think she was sympathetic. Whereas the Gillian figure, I think was more sympathetic, but had no strategy for dealing with it.   

Was Gillian a representation of yourself or was this another woman in the unit? 

No, there was no other woman there, but it wasn’t really a representation of myself. I think her assumption that if you were sympathetic and civilised with people they would be redeemed. That was my attitude then. I don’t really believe that anymore. I still believe you’ve got to try to be civilised but it’s not redemptive for them.  

I used to bring the girls home with me, to my home, to play with my children. I think it made me feel better because I was doing something nice for them, but I don’t really think it helped them in the long run. I think they needed helping within their own environment. What I could do was take them out of it for a day, for an outing.   

Do you feel like the unit helped them or was it just a place for them to be? 

I haven’t followed through on what happened to them later and how many of them settled down and lived tolerable lives. I don’t know. I can’t tell that. I would assume that the Debbie figure, who was played by Charlotte, was the most dynamic of the girls and the most assertive, probably the most intelligent would go on fighting people all her life really. I don’t know that. I once saw the silent girl in Bradford after I left, sitting on a doorstep outside a shop in Broadmarsh in Bradford, just sitting on the ground in the street. I went up to her and spoke to her. She said ‘hello Miss’ and smiled, but my bus came and I didn’t attempt to communicate with her or follow up on it. I couldn’t. There was nothing I could do really. I think it’s a situation that I present in the play as on-going rather than improving or getting worse.  

It does feel like this situation is on-going. I wondered if the reality was any different or was it this continuous stream of violent girls- 

If anything socially it’s worse because the political situation is worse. The divergence between rich and poor is greater and that’s why there are so many episodes and so it’s depressing to think how many lives are spoiled from the beginning and don’t look likely to improve much. On the other hand, you have to live as if things could be improved. You can’t despair. I haven’t thought about it for a long time really because it was the first play I wrote and it led on to my writing lots of other plays.   

Teachers were the only reliable, consistent adults in the girls’ lives but at the same time they also had to police the girls and be authority figures in their lives. Did this create a tension between the girls and the teachers? 

On the first day, I was offered a bunch of keys, keys for the cupboard, keys for the cupboard where the scissors were, and the writing utensils, and the paints, and the games, and keys to the building. I said I didn’t want keys. I said to the Annette figure ‘I’m forgetful and I’ll put them down and lose them.’ That was not true. I said that because I knew that the keys would be key issues. I knew that once I had the keys I would be pestered by the girls to open things, to issue things, to let them out and I may even be attacked if they were desperate to get out. So I pretended that I was very absent minded. I didn’t want to say this directly to the teachers. I was not open about it. I wasn’t going to risk my relationship with the teachers so I preferred them to think I was a little absent minded rather than I was actually opposed to having keys because I was strongly disapproving of the locked door idea.  

That’s one way in which I protected myself against outcomes and it eventually did come to that because there were moments where Debbie or one of the others were so angry – there were others that don’t feature in the play over the year, two years – that having the keys would have been quite dangerous.  

With the keys and locks everywhere, it feels like the house is imprisoning. Did you feel the house was particularly oppressive?  

The house was a very big Victorian house, double fronted house, with a central staircase, which was very handsome. In London it would be a house that would cost about two or three million maybe more, like a big Hampstead house, handsome and it was called Melbourne house. That had been its name. It was in a part of the town that had been owned by merchants, merchants in the day when the wool industry was thriving in Bradford and there was a lot of money coming into the city in the mid-nineteenth century.  

The appalling thing about the central staircase was that it was encased in something like tennis netting on iron struts because they were afraid the girls would throw themselves over it. So it added to the sense of it being a prison rather than a beautiful house. I can’t remember whether in the play I wrote about the walls having been stripped. It looked as though claws had been raking the walls. It was horrifying. There were plastic pelmets over the windows which had melted because they had been set on fire and the plastic had melted into dripplets, like icicles but black scorched plastic. It was horrid. It was supposed to be a beautiful house. The girls were supposed to be experiencing life skills and having comfy chairs and so on, but in fact it was like being in a slum really, because they turned it into a slum.   

The girls talk about killing and threaten each other. Were threats like this ever made seriously in your opinion?  

No, they didn’t talk about threats. One of the things that one of the girls did (again she’s not in the play). She used to go out with boys who used to bully other children by tying them to a chair in the care home where they lived. They’d then pricking them with pins. I once tried to teach this girl to use a sewing machine and if I was teacher her to thread the cotton into the sewing machine, she was behind me and she was pretending to stab me with pins we were using for the dress-making. Other girls at the front were goading her saying ‘go on’ and another one was saying ‘Miss, she’s trying to prick you. She’s trying to stab you.’ It was just pins not knives. It was kind of like a childish imitation of a more serious adult possibility, stabbing, persecuting, hurting, injuring and extorting things. The children in care did it to extort things like cigarettes. They’d say ‘I’ll untie you if you give me your spending money.’ They were cruel to each other.   

Were Debbie and Kelly actually friends or were they just stuck in this situation and forced together? 

They were just stuck in this situation. They were not friends. They weren’t in the same care home. Some of the girls were fostered. If they were not in care homes they were fostered. If they were in care homes they were keen to be fostered, but then when they were fostered they always fell out with the foster parents or the children of the foster parents. They were caught up in a cycle of hostility and reaction which was out of their control. I wouldn’t call them naughty. I would say they were damaged.   

Having spent time working in this unit, what kind of advice would you give the women who play Annette, Nancy, and Gillian? 

I would say that the women who worked there were very very edgy. Very conscious that they were under duress. Very guarded and very energetic. I think you have to be quite strong to endure. I used to come out at the end of the day and go to the Mark’s & Spencer’s on the way home and when the girl on the till, who might be the same age as these girls or roughly the same age, said ‘have a nice day.’ I’d feel mildly astonished that people were nice to each other. I would walk through streets near the unit and I would think ‘it’s a miracle that the streets are not dirty’ because everything the girls touched turned into mess. I think the teachers were very aware of that. They were imprisoned too really.   

And for the women playing Debbie, Kelly and Liane? 

I think the girls were more insouciant than the teachers. The girls lived in the moment. They were more spontaneous. I don’t think they were manipulative. The teachers would say the girls were manipulative and some were but quite a lot of them seemed to me always on the brink of being normal. They could have been normal if there was some form of therapy that could convince them that they were ok, but there was no therapy. I get the impression that the new units include the idea of therapy and counselling. I think that in the unit I worked in there was no attempt to have real communication with the girls.   

Do you feel like the play is mostly depicting the situation in the North or is it wider reaching throughout the country? 

I think it’s very widespread. I think it’s everywhere really now. They’re saying it’s about one in seven children that is disturbed in that way or failing to stay in school. I’m not sure. I don’t know enough about the current situation in terms of numbers. The reason why it’s bad in Yorkshire is because Yorkshire is poor. Yorkshire was supposed to be the place where the money was made. It was made in Yorkshire but was spent in the South, traditionally and now there’s more unemployment, there’s more TB, there’s more family disruption, there’s more failure in schools, there’s more everything nasty in the North, more stabbing. Except recently there’s been a particular eruption in London. Five young people very recently have been stabbed, I think, in London.  

You would then agree that the play still feels relevant today?

Tremendously so I think now. More, than in the intervening period. It had it’s stage and then for quite a long time I didn’t think about it anymore and then recently I’ve been recognising over and over again the same pattern of failure really in Leeds, Rotherham, Huddersfield, Bradford. They’re all afflicted really and it’s a social problem. The government has exacerbated by its austerity.   

Thinking about Kelly’s rape, how do you feel the play relates to ideas of consent that keep coming up in the media? 

I don’t think things have improved much in terms of what’s really happening. One only hears about the things that are reported and most things are not reported. Most of these things are taken as part of life by the people who are experiencing them. They know it goes on all the time and is everywhere and they have no respite from it. The way in which Kelly speaks about it in the play indicates that it’s just a question of reality. It’s not what you would have said having seen it or read it.  

It kind of feels like this play is dealing with the forgotten adolescents the ones that none cares for.  

That’s right. That’s absolutely right. You’ve got it in one.  

Are there any other comments you’d like to make? 

I’m very pleased that Charlie is doing it again. It’s very exciting that after all this time it’s being revived. I haven’t thought about it for ages and ages and at the time it did very well. It was done by The Young Vic in Sheffield and I think it ought to be seen again because I do think it is relevant. So I’m glad that it’s being done. 




 Who are you and what is your role in the production?

I’m Grace and I’m going to be playing the role of Debbie in Tokens of Affection. I’ve recently graduated from the London College of Music with first-class honours in Musical Theatre. I am so pleased to begin working with such a strong and talented group of women on this play. I think the play is fantastic – it’s full of raw, primal emotion and has such an important story to tell. I can’t wait to explore the relationships between the women and girls and how all of their lives are forcibly tied together.

 

What intrigued you about playing Debbie?

I’m most curious about the amount of anger Debbie has and where that stems from. We aren’t given too much background into her life, but I can’t wait to explore the source of her emotions. I’m fascinated by her ability to view and treat the adults and the other girls with the same level of respect – she does not see herself as being inferior to anyone. She never thinks about her words or actions and the effect they might have on other people. It’s also evident that she never regrets anything she does, except when she is threatened with the possibility of never having a family. This is the first moment we see her vulnerability, which is something she masks so well during the rest of the play.  

 

What do you think of Debbie’s relationship with the other girls? Why do you think she needs to assert so much dominance over them?

Debbie’s childhood seemed to lack the ordinary things other children are raised with – a stable, loving family, proper schooling etc. Events have probably always been out of her control – so I believe the dominance she exercises over the other girls is her way of taking back some form of power. She seems to be so full of anger, and takes most of this out on the youngest girl, Liane. She bullies and threatens her the most, because she can usually get away with it. Kelly is her best friend, however if they weren’t forced to spend time together at the unit, I don’t believe they would have bonded at all. All of the other girls, including the adults, seem to be unnerved and uncomfortable around the new girl, Andrea – apart from Debbie. She displays her usual confidence and even seems to quite like Andrea, despite the fact they never speak.

 

What do you feel Debbie’s mind-set is like in this special unit for violent girls?

I think she feels like she’s been dealt a really unfair hand in life and therefore lashes out at the world. This unit could be the best thing for her if she accepted the help that they offer, however her actions are so emotionally driven she never seems to improve. She is only mildly polite to Nancy, as it seems she only trusts her and not the others. I’m unsure of Debbie’s intentions for the future, but it is evident that she is desperate to have a family. I therefore believe she simply settles herself in the unit because she knows it’s her best chance to help find her a family.

 

What is the most interesting aspect of this play for you?

I’m really interested in the different relationships between the women and girls within the play. I’m intrigued that the only adult Debbie trusts is Nancy. She sings her praises throughout the play, which is very different from Debbie’s usual rude and volatile manner. I’m also interested to find out more about Annette’s position within the unit throughout the rehearsal process – to me it is unclear yet as to where her priorities lie and whether she actually has the girl’s best intentions at heart.



Who are you and what is your role in the production?

My name is Didi, I’m a Swedish born actress based in London and I will be playing the role of Andrea in Tokens of Affection.   

You are playing a silent character. How do you feel about not having any lines and how do you feel this will affect your performance?

To play a silent character is incredibly exciting but also challenging. In this process, not only is body language fundamental, but also the internal energy is very important. My ambition is to portray a complex character so that the audience can follow her journey although she never speaks. To create this journey my performance has to be very specific and I really have to find the nuances within her silence. I have always been interested in watching people in their silence, how they behave in different situations, on the tube, in an unfamiliar group, in a familiar group. The non-verbal communication is so powerful and the body language can often tell the truth when words sometimes don’t. I find it very liberating to explore Andrea’s silence and her actions within her silence. The fact that Andrea is based on a real girl makes it even more interesting. Last year I did a play called Love and Information at The Pleasance Theatre and I was actually playing a silent character there as well, so maybe I have found my “niche”.   

What do you think Andrea would say if she were to speak?

 If Andrea really trusted someone I think she would open up and talk about what she has been through.  

Why do you think she has chosen to not speak?

I think it’s very difficult for Andrea to trust people, especially people of authority. She has probably opened up before but has been let down over and over again. I would say that she is extremely self-disciplined because to not speak it’s such an active choice. I think Andrea’s silence is her way to challenge “the others” but it’s also a result of what she has been through. She is afraid to open up and interact and I believe that her violence is based on fear. In an interview with the writer, Maureen Lawrence, says that Andrea had taken the knife for self-protection because she was afraid of being attacked. For me as an actress, I think it’s interesting to explore the balance between Andrea’s violence and her fear. And perhaps both go very much hand in hand.   

What are the most interesting aspects of this play and your character for you?

This play is as relevant today as it was when it was written in the eighties and that’s what makes it so interesting. It highlights very important issues such as social care, mental health problems and especially how these girls are seen and treated in our society. I think this play is very important and it will hopefully open up the discussion further. How do we fix this? Can we fix it? Whose responsibility is it?

For me, the most interesting aspect of Andrea is her internal life. She has several layers and she’s very much multidimensional. It’s not very often you get the chance to play a silent character because most plays don’t have a silent character. It’s a challenge but more than that it’s a wonderful opportunity.


Who are you and what is your role in the production?

I am returning to the stage after a long spell away raising my children and, most recently, doing voice over work and teaching at universities. I am playing Annette, the Head teacher of a special unit for educating and supporting adolescent girls who have been excluded from school for being violent and/or not able to adjust. And no, the irony of actually being a teacher to playing a teacher has not been lost on me!

Sometimes Annette is a bit unforgiving. Do you think Annette is cold because it is the nature of her job or is she naturally unmoved by the condition of these girls?

As far as Annette is concerned, control must be maintained, no matter the cost. So, she is tough, implacable and seemingly dispassionate which can come across as unforgiving and cold. I think, at this stage of rehearsal and from little clues in the text, that Annette has hardened over the years out of necessity. Circumstances have dictated the need to be a ‘rock’ in a very stormy sea and that rock can sometimes appear as granite. But she is also rational, practical and pragmatic; qualities indispensable in a crisis!

How do you feel the time the play is set in, the 1980's, influences the circumstances Annette is working in?

The time totally influences the circumstances. Annette is, naturally, a product of her past; a teen in the 2nd World War, ‘make do and mend’, order etc - and her present; Punk recently emerged, anarchy, strike actions - and thus she behaves as best she knows how within the parameters, rules and regulations set for her. This was the era of  ‘The Yorkshire Ripper‘ which would have had a huge impact on the girls and the running of a school like ours in the play. It was ‘The Winter of Discontent’, industrial action and cutbacks. Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and I wonder: did Annette vote for her?

What do you think about Annette’s strategy of using tokens to subdue (or bribe) the girls?

I am still mulling this.

What are the most interesting aspects of this play and your character for you?

In regards to my interest in Annette, I am enjoying discovering the way she tries to navigate the monumental challenges before her. I like the complexity of her tough exterior married with moments of immaturity. She is full of contradictions and there are moments when she behaves, if in a slightly more sophisticated way, like the girls; defensive, chippy, provocative and sometimes childish.

 My interest in this project lies in the fact that the play is still relevant. Where 40 years ago a ‘difficult’ child may have been sent to a special unit like the one depicted in our play, today, the manner of student exclusion, or ‘off-rolling’ as it is termed, carries a disturbing legacy of its own.


Who are you and what is your role in the production?

My name is Eliza Glock. I trained at Mountivew Academy of Theatrical Arts and I'm playing the part of Kelly. 

What do you think of Kelly’s relationship with Debbie?

They are all each other have and I think that’s what binds them together but not always for the good. Debbie is a very dominant character and that influences Kelly because she’s known Debbie for a long time and is with Debbie more than anyone else. Neither of them have true guidance from anyone else which means they exist in a state of wrongdoing and bad behaviour. Because Kelly is so influenced by Debbie I don’t think she really knows who she is until Debbie is away from the unit for a while. However, she does care about Debbie and I would say she sees her as a sister and can trust her with anything. Although ultimately very different to Debbie, there is something endearing about Kelly’s relationship with Debbie which she doesn’t display with anyone else by any stretch of the imagination.

What do you think of the treatment of the girls in this special unit?

I think it’s questionable. It’s as if the unit has a 'one size that fits all' approach to the education of these girls and I don’t think it’s working. With the introduction of Mrs Levier we see a whole new, refined and personally tailored approach to each individual girl and it raises questions but not necessarily answers to how these girls should be treated to get results. In some senses it’s as if the unit isn’t about the girls but about it financially not going under for the sake of Annette's ego. However, Nancy, a very juxtaposing character to Annette, has a much more sensitive side that gives us hope for the girls’ futures.

  How did you feel reading the scene about Kelly’s rape and her casual description of the event?

I don’t think she fully understands what has happened to her. I think she’s more concerned with what the outside world thinks of her sleeping around rather than the traumatising act of being forced to have sex with someone. Her lack of socialisation and moral understanding means she can't define the act of being raped as necessarily something 'bad' but defends herself by saying she knew one of his mates. She doesn't want people thinking she's been stupid.

What are the most interesting aspects of this play and your character for you?

The unpredictable nature of Kelly. How she very quickly can go from being happy to angry and back again. She has a lot of problems and I think she holds a lot of punishment within herself that explodes out her when she can't take it anymore. She exists in a world where she has no family and has grown up in care. Her lack of stability and guidance manifests in her character, leading her to be influenced by Debbie and unsure of who she truly is.



Who are you and what is your role in the production?

I’m Anna Kirke, I've been acting for 30 years and I’m playing Nancy Mattieson, one of the few roles where I've played my actual age. 

Nancy is very kind to the girls. Do you think she’s investing too much into them and would serve them better being colder (a bit like Annette is) or do you think her warmth is beneficial to the girls?

Nancy is very kind to the girls because she is aware how wretched their lives have been and that none of them have ever had any unconditional love or kindness shown to them. This can only be beneficial and to some extent they all respond to that in varying degrees. However she is no fool and is aware that the girls need firm barriers so she can be authoritative when needed. She is the good cop to Annette’s bad cop. 

What do you think of Nancy’s faith and how do you feel it colours her relationships with the other characters?

Her faith guides her care not only of the girls but all her relationships. As she says ‘I believe we were put on this earth to help other people’. She isn’t obviously religious or tries to push her beliefs onto others, which clearly wouldn’t work with the girls anyway. I think it helps her get through some of the nightmare stories she hears and gives her comfort. There are two points where her religious belief becomes more obvious: she reprimands Debbie when she says she'd be better off dead with 'That's a sinful thing to say' and responds to Kelly's query 'What does it mean - psycho?' with 'A lost soul' which seems rather generous. 

How do you feel this play, which is set in the 1980s, is reflective of the current situation of young violent children?

We know that the number of children currently excluded, for all sorts of reasons, is huge. Poverty in the early 80s has been replaced by austerity cuts, food banks and homelessness. The situation simply escalates year on year because the causes are not being tackled. There is no investment in the welfare of the young brought up in the most impoverished areas which means they are ripe for manipulation and getting caught up in gang culture. 

What are the most interesting aspects of this play and your character for you?

The play evokes real situations that still exist 40 years later so it hasn’t dated. It is humbling to hear these girls' stories and what they have had to deal with. I am full of admiration for the teachers and staff in any of these units and how they try to give these child/adults a better life. 


Who are you and what is your role in the production?
I am Elise Carman a recent graduate from London College of Music with a passion for using theatre as a platform to educate and inspire. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to work on this play which sheds light on such an important subject matter, through the role of Liane.

How would you describe Liane and her relationship to the other girls in the play?
She comes across as younger than the other girls. This alongside her desperate need for attention is irritating for the others. She desperately wants a friend but does not understand how to develop a friendship. She separates herself from the others saying she’s never ‘nicked’ like them and highlights that she still has a mother knowing the other girls don’t, which understandably pushes them away and encourages their bullying. It is not a ‘healthy’ relationship. However, throughout the play Liane does begin to develop perhaps her first experience of friendship.

Liane is quite a sickly character who is picked on by the other girls. What do you think of playing a weaker character?
Playing a weak character does have its challenges, as it is quite a contrast to my natural personality. Liane is physically weak and sadly from what we know, has experienced various forms of abuse throughout her life at home and at school that she automatically assumes her role as ‘victim’. I feel tremendous empathy for Liane, although at moments (or perhaps the majority of the play) she could come across as needy and irritating. Which is surprisingly fun, to be so disinhibited and annoying. Yet, it is also a real challenge. Liane has experienced so much trauma throughout her life, more than I could imagine experiencing throughout my entire lifetime, it is these experiences which have shaped her into who she is at the time of the play, which make her an incredibly complex character.

Liane mentions her mother a lot. Why do you think that is? Is she proud to have a mother while the other girls don’t? Is it rather depicting her innocence (asking for mommy)? 

Liane is certainly proud to have a mother. And certainly, makes it known that she does have a mother, almost threatening the other girls that her mother will protect her by ‘fetching the police’. However, as we discover throughout the play, Liane is lacking the motherly figure she truly desires. Perhaps the mention and creation of such a mother is a coping strategy, if she views her mother in a certain light perhaps, she can convince herself it is a reality.

What are the most interesting aspects of this play and your character for you?
That the events and characters within this play are based on real events and people the playwright, Maureen, encountered throughout her work as a teacher at schools for violent and maladjusted adolescents. The events within the play have happened and continue to happen. To think that Liane is a real person, and there are many other vulnerable children experiencing such neglect and abuse, is quite an overwhelming concept to comprehend and is what I find most engaging about this play.

Who are you and what is your role in the production?

I am playing Gillian, a new teacher within the facility.  She's not a social worker and has never experienced a unit like this before.

 Do you think Gillian is handicapped by her inexperience or is this an advantage when she first starts working in the special unit?

Yes, I think Gillian is somewhat handicapped by her inexperience.  She has never experienced anything like this set up before. When she tells Nancy she isn't qualified for this kind of work, she certainly isn't exaggerating. She makes mistakes initially that come back to haunt her at the end of the play.

 Do you think this special unit is giving the girls a chance in the world or is it more of a holding station until they are old enough to be left to their own devises?

I think this unit is definitely a holding station. Gillian doesn't believe that it should be, and neither does Nancy and they work together to change this as the play progresses. But I think this piece touches on whether it is even possible to do anything more for them. It seems as though the girls have already been written off as it were, which is terribly sad, but unfortunately is the harsh reality of these units.

How do you feel Gillian evolves throughout the play? How does her view of the situation change?

When we first meet Gillian she is uncertain and nervous. She's just walked into complete chaos and as the new teacher she has no way of speaking up. She knows what needs to change from the get go and as the play progresses she gains confidence, with the help of Nancy, to eventually speak out. Unfortunately the events that follow prove that there is no right and wrong way to handle the girls and I think she ends the playing feeling just as uncertain as when she first walked in.

 What is the most interesting aspect of this play/character for you?

Gillian observes a lot. She's new so she takes the back seat and I think we don't know necessarily what she's thinking. The girls are outspoken, as is Annette and even Nancy at times so it's interesting to play someone who sits back and takes everything in until the end when she finally speaks out. I will really enjoy playing that.


Who are you and what is your role in the production?

Hello! I am Hugo Aguirre and I am the set and costume designer for Tokens of Affection. I am an English/French/Spanish performance designer and theatre maker based in London. After graduating from Queen Mary University of London, I have collaborated with companies such as the Gate Theatre, the Arcola Queer Collective, The Wardrobe Ensemble at The North Wall in Oxford, the Kiln Theatre and Punchdrunk Enrichment.

I have also co-created and designed Asking For A Raise (The Space Theatre), The Woman Who Gave Birth To A Goat (Camden People's Theatre) and WAGGO (Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017).

The atmosphere of the special unit is quite intense and uninviting. Would you agree that the set of Tokens is almost a character in itself?

The set can indeed be seen as a character in itself. However, it can also be seen rather as a physical expression of the characters’ emotional states. It is a space that has been neglected for a long time and isn’t being given the maintenance and care it needs, like all these young girls. It also still shows the remnants of a once perhaps charming house that had a different life. The space reflects the tiredness of Annette as she too perhaps was not so stern and cold in a previous life but circumstances have made it so, just like the house.

How does the design serve to colour the play and the relationships between the characters?

The set has been stripped from anything valuable or breakable, is has been stripped of its colour. Its almost blankness shows how little money is given towards this programme but also how the girls can be destructive and are treated as such. The girls bring the colour into the space, with more colourful fashion choices and bursts of energy in a space that is somewhat dead.

How is this production different from previous shows you’ve worked on?

This project has a deep personal approach from director Charlie Barker and it shows. She very much cares about the women in the story, how it should be told as well as everyone in the creative team. This makes this production unique. This almost all female creative team (sorry...) is the perfect surrounding to work in. In this process I definitely want to show an authentic portrayal of these women and their experiences and therefore the creative process has to be fully collaborative. I have strongly taken into account all the actors opinions on what they believe their character should be wearing and what their surrounding should be like.



Who are you and what is your role in the production?

I’m the assistant director of Tokens of Affection. I have worked on a number of shows in and around London as an assistant director and I’m very excited to be part of Persever Production’s first show.

 Did working on this project bring any surprises?

Yes, I was in charge of doing research for the context of this play and I was surprised to see how little the situation has changed in almost forty years! The play, which is set around 1980, depicts the situation of young girls excluded from mainstream school and sent to a specialized unit. Today, there are just as many school exclusions, if not more, and specialized units still exist and so too, do the methods, such as ‘tokens for good behaviour’, given to children to keep them behaving decently. I was surprised to find an article dating from 2015 that detailed almost exactly the same method of ‘treats’ handed out to children to subdue them into cooperating in a unit. I found this fairly disturbing as Gillian’s character states; the unit is more of a holding operation than therapeutic community.

How do you feel the play echoes the situation of young violent women in the 1980s and today?

When I was researching the play and the situation of children in specialised units, it was very difficult to find data specifically for girls either today or in the 1980s. The playwright, Maureen Lawrence, has previously stated that Tokens is entirely based on fact. The text is therefore giving us a rare glimpse into the world of girls who have been excluded from mainstream education. It is a sad reality that little attention is paid to women from disadvantaged educational, economic and social backgrounds and I think this play illustrates this reality well. One of the characters, Gillian, even states ‘nobody wants to be in their shoes’ and I think this is very true. I feel lucky to be able to work on this project and be a part of shinning a light on these disregarded women and their circumstances.

What can audience’s expect when seeing Tokens?

They can expect a lot of energy! The girls are very disinhibited and don’t care if their attitudes are inappropriate, violent, or disrespectful of any (and all) social conventions. This means that their responses to their tutors are rarely what you’d expect. I am constantly surprised by the actresses’s ability to follow their impulses and display the extreme volatility these characters have within them.

  What is the most interesting aspect of this play for you?

 I really enjoy the unpredictability of the girls. Yet, even though their disinhibited nature is very entertaining and funny, I find myself very moved, in each rehearsal, by the girls’ situations. I think the playwright was very cleaver writing scenes where the girls explain their circumstances. These moments could easily appear melodramatic but the way the girls state matter-of-factly ‘this is life’, and the reactions of the tutors who ‘get on with the work’, makes it very real.


Who are you and what is your role in the production?

I’m Pip Snow and I’m the stage manager for Tokens of Affection. I’m from a tiny village on the edge of Delamere Forest, in Cheshire, where I grew up participating in every school play and local am dram panto that they’d let me into. I hung up my acting shoes at the age of 14 and retreated into the shadows of backstage where I discovered I could still enjoy the thrill of being part of a show without having to subject other people to the sound of my singing! For a job I now dabble in design, wardrobe and technical as well as stage management, and then still spend most of my free time visiting the theatre. I’m just a big theatre-nerd at heart and feel incredibly lucky to do something I love so much as a job.

 In what ways do you feel this play is relevant today?

A lot of stories, in a play or a film or a book, only feature one token female character, or all the female characters will be defined by their relationship to someone else – mother, girlfriend, etc. These characters are often one-dimensional, with one or two defining traits and not a lot else going on. Tokens of Affection features seven complex and varied female characters, so as long as this continues to feel unusual, plays like this will continue to be relevant – regardless of when they were written. This play is also fundamentally about the relationships between the girls and the women who are trying to care for them. Although the setting may be 40 years in the past, as long as people continue to feel human emotions and relationships, they will find something to relate to in Tokens!

How is this production different from previous shows you’ve worked on?

I’ve mostly worked on musicals and children’s shows before, so there’s considerably less glitter and audience participation in this show than I’m used to! But even if I compare it to the least sparkly show I’ve done, Tokens is probably the most thematically challenging show I’ve been involved with, and definitely the darkest. But the joy of working on something that is so emotionally taxing is that it fosters a really close-knit working environment within the company and that is a really special thing to be a part of. Part of what I love about my job is the variety of things I get to do, so getting to spend a month working on a pantomime (which is about as glittery as shows get!) to spending a month with Tokens is what makes my job interesting and exciting.

In what ways do you feel the stage, props and costumes affect the overall performance?

The design of a show is what sets the world for the audience, so in the case of Tokens this is very important, as we are firmly set in the 70s and this has to communicated clearly through the set and costumes. Of course, the real strength of the show comes from the performances that the amazing actors are getting up there and putting on day after day, but I think that the right design can really help the actors out. Wearing the right costume can alter a person’s physicality and/or help them to feel like another person in a way that I don’t think you could achieve dressed your own clothes in an empty room. It’s a lot of fun to be channeling 70s vibes for Tokens, with all the hair and music that goes with it – even if I don’t actually get a costume, just know I’m wearing platforms in my heart!

What is the most interesting aspect of this play/character for you?

It’s exciting to be a part of a show making its London premier, especially when it has been so little known, and so hard to get hold of, for so long. Knowing about Tokens feels like being in on an amazing secret and we’re now getting to tell everyone! I also get a kick out of knowing that this is an all-female cast putting on a play by a female play-wright. I enjoy working with all kinds of people, and that of course includes men, but there’s something very special about producing something with all women – if only because it doesn’t happen very often.


Who are you and what is your role in the production?

My name is Charlie Barker and I’m the director and producer of Tokens. I started life as an actor and then ten years ago moved into teaching and directing at vocational drama schools. I worked at ALRA, Mountview and then took over as Head of Acting on the ArtsEd musical theatre course, before leaving to do a Masters degree in Text and Performance Birkbeck University. Since completing my masters, I have been working freelance at various vocational drama schools. I started Persever Productions last year to give opportunities to women at all stages of their acting careers; Tokens is Persever productions’ first show.

 You performed in Tokens of Affection during its first run in Derby Playhouse. Why did you want to revisit it now?

I always felt my journey with the play wasn’t over. It felt unfinished somehow as I loved the play and felt it was an important piece. I presumed at the time that one day I might play one of the older characters, but ten years ago I fell in love with teaching and directing and gave up acting, so when I was considering directing and producing a play with my new company it seemed the most logical choice.

 How do you feel the play echoes the current situation of young violent children today?

It seems that the problems with how to deal with young violent children have changed little in thirty years. The balance between containment and care is such a complicated one. You cannot allow them to roam the streets once excluded, but on the other hand the type of containment centre illustrated in the play is a holding pen rather than an education or care centre. It feels like that by the time the kids have got to 14 or 15 it’s almost too late to change their behaviour, and certainly it needs more resources than were being spent either then or now.

What are you hoping to discover or (re)discover with this production of Tokens of Affection?

I’d like to rediscover the juxtaposition of humour and darkness that is such a part of the play. The inescapable charm of the girls allows us to bond and empathise with them whilst at the same time despair at not only their behaviour but their treatment within the broken system.

Are there any elements from the 1990 production that you are using for inspiration in this version?

I’m trying my best to keep the 1990 production out of my mind - although some of the lines of text are very familiar to me! I’m hoping to re-create some of the humour and energy of that production whilst at the same time rediscovering the text and the relevance of the subject matter in the current economical and political climate.

  

You are working with a tricky balance of 4 violent girls, a seasoned tutor, a very religious one and a new teacher. How do you feel these energies work together on stage? Is it a difficult balance to maintain?

The playwright has beautifully mixed and melded these energies in her writing.  Our job is to remain true to the text and the vision of the writer and not to get in the way of the work but to reveal those complex energies through simple and clear story-telling.

What about the actors – you are working with some early career actors, some with a lot of experience and some in between. How does this affect your directing?

I have directed two of the younger actors in their final year of college, and taught one of the other actors at ArtsEd; I wondered whether it would be difficult to move from teacher to peer but the actors have been amazingly professional and are making my job very easy!

What do you hope the audience will feel or think seeing Tokens?

I hope the audiences will feel both engaged with and frustrated by the issues raised and to want to feel that the answers aren’t as easy as one might believe. I also hope they will be moved and entertained by the journey of these troubled girls

What moment of the play are you most excited about working on?

There are some beautiful moments in the play especially in act II, but I don’t want to give too much away.

You played Debby in the original production. What is it like directing your part now?

It was a long time ago and I was a very different person then. In a nostalgic way I remember some things about the rehearsal process and occasionally how I felt during rehearsal, but it feels like a lifetime away and the young actress playing the part in this production is such a different person and is bringing something individual and unique to the role.

How do you feel your background with this play affects you as the director of this version of the play?

My background with the play can do nothing but add to the process and hopefully the production. I know the play well and I love it and have a massive enthusiasm for the work and the writer, and I want the audience and the creative team to share that love and passion. 


February 5th - 24th 2019 at Waterloo East Theatre, London

Brad St. London SE1 8TN, UK

020 7928 0060

info@waterlooeast.co.uk

https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/tokens-of-affection

to book tickets go to:

https://waterlooeast.ticketsolve.com/shows/873595675