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BWW Interview: Hayley Wareham Talks BOTTLED on BBC Radio 4

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Hayley Wareham's debut play 'bottled' has been turned into a radio drama.

BWW Interview: Hayley Wareham Talks BOTTLED on BBC Radio 4

After a stellar run at the VAULT Festival, Hayley Wareham's debut play bottled has been turned by the writer into a radio drama. We had a chat with Wareham about rewriting the piece for a different medium, the impact of domestic violence, and the role of art in society.

Bottled is your debut play - where did you get the inspiration?

Two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner in England and Wales. Since 2010, one in six refuges have closed. I read a report on the closure of a women's refuge and severe lack of funding back in 2016, and felt compelled to write something in response. I couldn't understand why there wasn't public outcry at these vital, life-saving services being stripped away. So I started researching and reading, and bottled grew out of that.

You've now turned it into a radio play - did you have to change anything in the original script? What was the process like, since you couldn't rely on any visual elements?

An awful lot of cutting! The stage play ran at just over an hour and a Radio 4 afternoon play is 44 minutes, including credits. Cutting the play was actually very liberating: you're forced to examine closely what is truly necessary to tell the story, and what story you are ultimately telling. The protagonist of the play, Katy, is naturally quite a visual narrator, so it didn't feel like a compromise to have her share her story and shape the world through audio.

I was lucky enough to be working with two amazing producers - Anne Isger and Mary Peate - who understand sound and storytelling far better than me, and gave me rigorous, insightful notes that helped me make the most of the possibilities of the form, but also be aware of the traps. Like GOFCOR - good on film, crap on radio!

The original staging was very clever with the way it portrayed the main character - was it a challenge to translate that aspect of the show to the New Medium?

I wrote the play as a monologue with Katy playing all the other characters. This was a deliberate choice so that Katy could stay in control of the story and maintain agency. It was also to avoid having to 'show' any violence on stage. I think depictions of violence against women on stage have to really earn their place (Sarah Kane achieves this in my opinion) and frankly I've seen far too much violence that is gratuitous and feels exploitative - to the actors and the audience - and I wasn't interested in doing that.

So by having Katy play Brian and Sharon, it removed the possibility of performing the abuse on stage. For the stage production, I worked with the inimitable director Chris White, who had the idea to share the role of Katy with three actors of varying ages and backgrounds. It was a bit of a revelation as it opened the play up to tell a universal story and look at the legacy of trauma, with Katy talking both presently and retrospectively.

You approached the subject from a different perspective and show the effect of the abuse on the victim's daughter instead - was that a conscious choice?

Yes! We are hearing more in the news about the impact of domestic violence, particularly in these current lockdown times, and that's a step in the right direction. But I wasn't hearing stories from the perspective of the children and teenagers forced to flee their homes, taking little with them and being relocated to a new town, new school and having to create a whole new life for themselves.

Your teenage years are so informative, and to navigate the usual highs and lows of teenage life - first loves, first serious exams, first tastes of freedom - alongside living in an abusive home environment is a hugely traumatic experience. As a teenager, you're naturally quite self-involved - you have to be, as you work out who you are and who you want to be - and your worldview is limited to your own experiences. So by placing the drama in the hands of a 15-year-old, we get a frank and unsanitised story: she tells it like it is.

During lockdown, sadly, the number of victims of domestic abuse has risen dramatically, so your play is even more poignant now. What would you like the audience to take from your piece?

That leaving an abusive relationship is very difficult - the most dangerous time for women is when they leave and shortly after - and if the support systems aren't there to enable women and children to leave safely and be supported in their recovery, then the number of women and children dying at the hands of perpetrators is only going to increase.

If the play leaves you feeling enraged and/or upset, then use that: lobby your MP on local issues, donate items to your local refuge (get in touch to find out what they need), donate to the charity Women's Aid, get involved in campaigns for making changes in the law and funding. And if anyone listens who is in an abusive relationship, seek help as and when it is safe to do so - there is support out there.

Rishi Sunk suggested that artists need to retrain, but your play is a prime example of why art is important and can make a change in society. Was that your goal from the get-go?

People working on the front line - the refuge workers and support workers - are carrying out incredible work in unimaginably difficult times. What art has is the power to reach people not already invested in such issues in a way that is relatable and accessible, without a clearly didactic agenda. Theatre and storytelling invites you into a world unknown; not many people have been inside of a refuge, or a hostel - "temporary accommodation".

The hope is that through bottled, Radio 4 listeners are given a glimpse into the life someone else is living. And where art is more powerful than statistics and facts ever can be, is that a story takes you on a journey with a character. A character you enjoy spending time with, who you relate to, who engages your heart. And when your heart is engaged in something, that's when you care, and when you care, that's when you want to do something.

Maxine Greene sums it up better than I can: "The arts, it has been said, cannot change the world, but they may change human beings who might change the world."

You obviously tackle a very sensitive topic, but if I remember correctly from your run at VAULT Festival, you do so in a very subtle and delicate way. Why did you choose this
approach rather than, say, a brasher one?

I hope that people feel the play handles the sensitive content in a way that is respectful and truthful. Art is not a mirror held up to reality; bottled is not a true story, Katy doesn't exist. But what is true is that sadly the experiences Katy has are the same as real people right now.

It was important to me that the play was a realistic portrayal of an experience in this system, and so for that reason I spent time talking to staff and residents at a women's refuge, did a lot of independent research and spoke to the charity Women's Aid. This is not one women's experience, but everything in the play has happened to someone. Being told to return to the home where the perpetrator lives because the council has no responsibility to house you, that has happened.

What would you say to someone who wants to tune in?

I would say you should listen to bottled because Katy is a really fun character to spend 44 minutes with, and there's no mention of Brexit and it's not set during the pandemic. So for those reasons alone it deserves your ears. And the cast are amazing.

Could you give me three adjectives to describe it?

I hope it is... Compelling, funny, honest.

Bottled is available to listen on demand here


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From This Author Cindy Marcolina