Writing an engaging and emotive play

Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down tells the story of three women, whose lives are all affected by the actions of one man. Opening in 1990, the play has won a horde of theatre awards and continues to be performed up and down the country. The play is a poignant and moving portrayal of emotional resilience and solidarity. Producers Unholy Mess got together with writer Richard Cameron to talk about his influences and motivation for Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down

Unholy Mess: Did the fact that you are a male writer influence the way you wrote it?
Richard Cameron: I decided from the start that I didn’t want to show the man. He had to be seen through the eyes of three women – so I knew I’d set myself a tough one. Maybe there was a part of me wanting to say, ‘I understand. You’re not alone’, because for me it was all about how another person can shrivel your soul. It’s about that precious core of you that you protect with your life. It’s a place in you that the child you once were knew instinctively. It gets bruised, battered. And every time it happens to someone out there in the world, something in us recognises the fear, the thought of annihilation. From that point of view, I felt I had some degree of understanding, enough for me to feel confident about tackling the issue. I knew I’d be attacked for daring to presume what goes on in an abused woman’s mind but I also knew that if I stayed true to the notion of the shriveled soul, I could get some way there.

UM: What drew you to the subject matter?
RC: I suppose it was the realisation that the things we do to one another can have an ‘aftershock’ that goes on, sometimes to the next generation. This, and the fact that I was becoming aware of people who seemed to be able to sail through life completely unaware, unaffected by the consequences of their actions. The ripple effect of actions long forgotten by the perpetrator intrigued me. The mother, who followed her son over a cliff, eight years to the day, is not something I made up. The woman who walks around with her ‘mother in her shopping bag’ was a family friend. She would arrive with a bruised face, clutching the bag that contained her mother’s dressing table set – the only thing she had of her – because she thought her partner might smash it whilst she was out of the house. You don’t forget these things. I guess I was thinking if a man is capable of such damage to a woman, how many women might he damage in the course of his life? And how far down the years does that damage reach?

UM: Why has the play struck a chord with theatre makers?
RC: If I knew the answer, I’d have been replicating it for the past 20 odd years. I’ve been very fortunate to still be writing plays after all this time, but I’ve not written one that has had such an effect since. I know it was dredged up from a place in me that I find harder to access as I get older. When I look at it now, I think, ‘where DID that come from?’. Maybe its appeal is in the way it’s structured, almost like a thriller, so the three stories rack up the tension and you know something is going to happen. I spent some months thinking around the idea, but once I had Lynette’s first speech, it wrote itself in 3 weeks. A playwright – I forget who – once said, “writing is easy, you just sit in front of a typewriter and open a vein”. It felt a bit like that.

Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down is part of re:play 2013 and is being performed Mon 21 – Wed 23 Jan. More details and tickets can be bought here.