The latest offering from Islington’s Old Red Lion Theatre Pub is “modern horror story” The Deep Space. It was produced by Sprocket Theatre, whose ambitious young founder, Lila Whelan, both wrote the play and performs in it.
Preston-born Lila graduated with a History degree from Newcastle University and spent five years in Manchester, working as a journalist and taking part in amateur dramatics, before deciding to make acting more than just a hobby. She tells Sarah Graham about writing, producing and starring in her first play.
What’s The Deep Space about, and what was the inspiration behind it?
It was an item of news that sparked the idea – this awful thing had happened and this woman had been, instead of sentenced to jail, sent to a psychiatric institute. The basic plot is that there’s been a fire and two young children have died. The play opens with my character, Caitlin, and a young girl called Sam in an interrogation cell. My character has come to talk to Sam about this tragedy, to find out how it happened and why, and things are revealed over the course of the play.
It touches on some quite dark themes then?
Yes, there’s rape, incest, murder, paedophilia, and there’s bulimia – everything that could go wrong does go wrong.
How do audiences react to that?
They need a stiff drink. The interval comes at a good moment. Because it’s such an intimate theatre – 60 to 70 seats – the audience is very close so there’s no escape. It’s heavy, but it’s compelling. You don’t want to go and slit your wrists after it, but you’ll probably go and have a bit of a think about it.
It must have been quite a big undertaking to write and perform in the play – have you ever done anything like this before?
No, I graduated from Central [School of Speech and Drama, London] last year, on the MA acting course, and I’d started writing the script a couple of months before we finished. I got a friend of mine from the course involved, and the director Claude Girardi, and the script got picked up by the Old Red Lion. It’s very much a learning on the job experience. It’s been very full-on, but I’ve really enjoyed it.
What have been the biggest challenges?
All of it. Time was a challenge because we were given three months, which is a very short period of time to go from a script and a vague cast to a full-on production. I don’t think I quite realised how much needs to be done before you even get to the rehearsal process. The hardest thing was the realisation that this was my little baby and I had to actually give it away to other people – first the director, then the cast, and now the audience. As it’s my first one, that was tough but it has worked out really well.
Do you have any plans to take The Deep Space elsewhere?
Yeah, that’s what we’re working on at the moment and we’ve got a couple of theatres who are interested. For the moment [it would be great] to stay in London, but it’s based in the North, so I would like to take it up North – I’d like to take it home to Manchester.
Would you do something like this again?
Definitely. I’m already thinking about the next project. I think I’d be too shell-shocked if I finished the play and didn’t have something else to go on to. I’ve got another script in development, called Itchy Arse, my favourite title ever, which is a post-apocalyptic black comedy. And then I’m also thinking about doing a Shakespeare, possibly Taming of the Shrew.
Lila’s play The Deep Space is on at the Old Red Lion Theatre Pub, St John Street, until Saturday 9 March. Tickets are available from www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk.