Lindsey Huebner talks to writer, Liv Warden about her debut play which focusses on the family of a man accused of sexual assault.
“Things women do lie about: what they ate for lunch. Things women don’t lie about: rape.”
- Lena Dunham, August 2017.
“Our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3% of assault cases that are misreported every year. We stand by Murray and this is all we will be saying about the issue.”
- Girls’ executive producer, Jenni Konner’s statement on behalf of Lena Dunham about her friend Murray Miller, accused of sexual assault, Nov 201
These are the words that preface Liv Warden’s debut script, Anomaly.
The stark harshness of these statements made in black and white give no space for nuance, no time for amendments. These statements do not fade with time. Diving into the script, a sneak-peak afforded in preparation for this interview, my mind was racing: assessing and reassessing my personal reaction to these quotations. Needless to say, I was excited to meet Warden.
We meet in a bustling South Bank Centre. Once a quiet (ish) corner has been found and coffee planted before us, we dive right in, covering sufficient feature-worthy ground before the recorder is even turned on. By the time I have scrambled to press record and start the interview in earnest, we are already buzzing with both the subject matter and caffeine.
High profile sexual assault cases are no stranger to the newsfeeds of the marginally tuned in. When the Weinstein story broke, it brought such acts into the spotlight. It sparked a movement, the shockwaves of which are still resonating in the collective awareness and opinions surrounding the movement are fiery and divergent. Recalling the week that all this was coming to light, Harvey Weinstein’s face was everywhere. One could not pick up a newspaper, scroll through a feed or turn on the news without a perplexed, gaping Weinstein staring back. Many faces, however, were notably absent from the coverage. As the shockwaves from such an act emanate, the lives of those close to victim and perpetrator alike are forever and irrevocably changed. It is these faceless individuals that Warden imbues with an erstwhile lacking voice.
Anomaly follows the lives of Piper, Polly and Penny, the three daughters of Weinstein-esque character, Philip Preston, in the wake of numerous sexual assault allegations made against their father. The three struggle to cope with the aftermath of their father’s actions while attempting to maintain their own lives in the unforgiving public eye. They are the only characters actually depicted in the piece, with everyone on the periphery portrayed through voiceover or reported dialogue. Liv describes this choice as a “fisheye lens”: putting these women front and centre in their own stories – stories they had no hand in crafting.
Anomaly went through numerous permutations as Warden workshopped ideas with the guidance of multiple high-profile writers’ labs in London. She tells me that she “didn’t go to university, I learned to write through theatres: the Soho Writers’ Lab, Arcola Writers’ Lab, and finally, The National: they were the ones who said I think you have something very special here.” This final iteration of the script came into existence in collaboration with director Adam Small. Warden says, “Adam has been instrumental to this play – he’s one of the biggest feminists I’ve ever met. When he got the script, he said, ‘I can’t let anyone else do this play.’ He was the script’s biggest fan, which is incredible for a first-time writer.”
Warden unabashedly acknowledges her position as a young female playwright as a joy and a privilege. She is not, however, ignorant to the responsibility that accompanies such a platform. She says, “even telling a woman’s story can be a political act in itself – I’ve got a responsibility to tell stories about women. Unfortunately, sometimes I think we are so desperate for strong female role models, when we finally get one, we hold her up to an impossible standard. Why can’t she be flawed? We are all flawed. These women [Polly, Piper and Penny] are nuanced. They are not saints; they are not victims. They are people who have been caught up in a mess. They inherited toxicity.”
Being a close friend or family member to a vilified person such as Weinstein or Preston provokes outrage by association. How could an intimate of such a monster not know? What does it mean if they knew and did nothing? Is it fair to hold a person responsible for the actions of another? Moreover, what does it mean if this person is a member of your family? Warden says, “we inherit things from our parents. You are in essence a mini version of these people. When that [person] is accused of something horrendous, where do you stand? If that’s in your genes, what does it make you?”
A particularly magnetic quality about Warden is the way in which she so eloquently poses questions without imposing answers. She unflinchingly acknowledges the grey in a way that provokes and encourages conversation. She is fully aware that such conversations have the potential to be rather uncomfortable and come with a real possibility of provoking a negative response. To this, she tells me, “I have to let it go. I can’t take everything on, but I want people to question it. My worst nightmare as a playwright is people heading to the bar afterwards and going, ‘that was okay.’ I want strong reactions.”
Despite being a new playwright, Liv has already cultivated a brave, eloquent voice. “I want to write things that people haven’t thought about yet. I want to take a story that you think you know and give it a twist. I’m interested in uncomfortable questions that should be asked and will be asked.”
With the interview concluded, we head back into the chaos and commotion of a South Bank Saturday, caffeine rush subsiding. Standing mere steps away from the National Theatre, a place so instrumental in nurturing the early stages of this piece, I can only be excited for all that is to come from this bright spark of a playwright.
Anomaly is playing at the Old Red Lion until 2 February, 2019. For more information and to book tickets, visit the venue’s website.