A year on and Deborah Bruce’s The Distance takes to the stage again in a two venue production this October through till December. AYT sat down with Bruce to talk about her play’s return.

“It’s an unusual opportunity to return to something so soon and go into rehearsals with quite a solid understanding of how the play works”.

Its first run, last October, left Bruce with a nomination for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, a prize which is given annually to recognise women who have written works of outstanding quality. After being so well received it is no wonder that the show has been revived again this year. It is gracing the stage again first at the Sheffield Theatre (29 October – 14 November) and then moving on to the Orange Tree Theatre (26 November – 19 December).

“I wanted to write about a group of female friends that I could recognise, and imagine a circumstance where the unconditional support of a strongly bonded group of friends falls apart and instead of bringing them closer, one person’s decision starts to erode everyone else’s sense of self.”

The show explores the limits of friendship as well as the theme of parenthood, it is a show that pushes boundaries and goes against the conventional family etiquette. With The Distance we see the main female lead Bae decide at the age of 40 to just up and leave her family. Although the show has a heavy content it is sure to make you laugh as well as a middle class drama and comedy touching on taboo subjects.

“The audience response (from it’s original production) certainly feels as if they can relate, and they recognise the characters and the dynamic of the relationships. I am exploring how difficult it can be to be a parent, no one really says that, so maybe it’s a collective relief that it’s been brought up.”

Bruce goes on to talk about her creative process and if she writes from experience: “The Distance was only the second play I had written, it does feel very close to my experience in lots of ways. Although all of the events in the play are entirely fictional, the dynamic between the characters are inspired by experiences I have had, or witnessed and want to examine.”

Tackling a show for a second time means that you have the chance to rework elements, explore certain ideas more and working with a new cast you have a group of actors who all bring something different to the table. “As a writer you create these people on the page and then give them to actors to interpret and explore. It’s very rewarding to watch great actors navigate their way through the relationships in the play and make different choices to tell the character’s stories and motivations.”

Bruce is a great example of a working professional who has created a career that encompasses so many areas of the industry. Showing that by honing your skill set and not being afraid to try new things you can be very successful in a multiple avenues. “Most of my working life I have been a director, I didn’t start writing until five years ago. I studied drama at university (UEA), I then got onto the Regional Young Theatre Director’s Scheme and went to Theatr Clwyd as an Assistant Director and stayed on there as Resident Director for three years. I returned to my home town of London and worked as a freelance director until changing course a few years ago and started writing.”

Bruce leaves some words of wisdom to aspiring playwrights and the AYT’s audience: “Write your play, not the play that you think other people want you to write. Take the time to cook up the ingredients of the play; the characters, the back stories, the history of the relationships, think about them when you’re driving, or on the tube, or washing up. Cook them up until they start talking to each other and then write down what they say.”

The Distance is at Sheffield Theatres 29 October – 14 November, and at Orange Tree Theatre 26 November to 19 December. 

Image credit: Johan Persson