If one set of windows in an urban area is broken and ignored, it sets a precedent for an area and leads to an escalation of crime. This criminological theory forms the springboard for Caitlin Ince’s new verbatim play with songs, Broken Windows. It was sparked by reading Caitlin Moran’s comparison of the broken windows theory to the way we treat women and often ignore everyday sexism. Ince has explored this idea by interviewing five girls aged 15-19 from across the UK to find out what it is really like to be a young woman today.
The interviewees were selected by chance encounters and through friends of friends. Ince says she values the honesty of the girls she interviewed, and was struck by how “incredibly grounded” they all were. “The girls weren’t what I expected them to be. They all spoke about their future and where they saw themselves.” From work she has done in schools, Ince considers that “there’s perhaps more of a pressure on young people nowadays to achieve and get good grades.” She considers whether the grounded-ness she noticed in the girls is a consequence of that. “I wish I had been that together at that age.” Ince is glad she’s growing up and away from these difficult teenage years. “I think you’re probably a rarity if you get through your teenage years and you’ve had the best time of your life. It’s a brilliant time but it can also be incredibly awkward.” She laughs, “Yeah. I’m quite glad I’m not a teenager anymore.”
Ince performs the roles of all five interviewees alongside Owen Jenkins, who she met at the Oxford School of Drama. Jenkins plays both male and female roles. Ince notes that working with a male actor in a heavily female focused piece helps make it accessible for everyone. “It wasn’t making a particular statement. I just thought it was important to get both genders involved.” The composition and performance of the music is by Matthew White, who Stephen Fry has described as “nothing short of genius”. “We’ve been talking for years about collaborating on a musical”, Ince says. She saw Alecky Blythe’s London Road at the National Theatre and thought verbatim musicals were an interesting avenue to explore. “Broken Windows is less strict in terms of its verbatim aspect [the music in London Road follows the tone of the interviewee’s voices] and more melodic”. She explains it is much more like a traditional musical with the structure of a verse, chorus and bridge.
Ince has found being both playwright and performer an unusual process, “It happened by accident.” She was inspired by one-person shows she saw at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, particularly Chris Thorpe’s Confirmation. “I loved the autobiographical aspect of his work. I realised I know these girls’ personalities and their quirks so perhaps I might be the best person to represent them.” She notes that she understands how important objectivity is. The company did a work-in-progress at the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol last year which she says provided invaluable feedback. Much in the performance has changed since then, including one of the interviewees.
Exploring marginalised communities is something the company, Piu Theatre, which includes Ince and White, wants to do more of. “I’m really interested in popular media, TV and film and seeing how certain communities are represented.” I ask whether Ince considers Broken Windows to be a piece of political theatre. “To me political theatre means anything that aims to provoke a change or anything that deals with power, and Broken Windows is very much about power.”
Overall, Ince agrees with Moran’s translation of the broken window theory to women in the 21st century. “I think if one celebrity on a magazine is criticised by how much cellulite she has then everyone sees it as fair game.” But she is aware of the difficulties of balancing between a zero tolerance attitude and censorship. So Ince suggests that education is the way forward. “It’s our responsibility to educate people as well as teaching girls that you don’t need to aim for perfection or take everything that celebrities say on board as gospel truth.” Ince explains that while Broken Windows focuses on young women, the ideas the show contains are universal. She hopes the play encourages people to communicate more and talk about the problems everyone is forced to deal with in today’s society.
Broken Windows is at the Pleasance Courtyard Aug 10-17, 19-31. For tickets click here.