Martha Watson Allpress writes to expose the ache inside us all.
The actor and writer behind Edinburgh Fringe hit Patricia Gets Ready wants someone to commission her.
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This year’s Edinburgh Fringe was an odd affair – smaller, sparser, rainier – but one of the highlights was Martha Watson Allpress’ one-woman play Patricia Gets Ready (For a Date With the Man Who Used to Hit Her).
Produced by Nur Khairiyah, performed by Angelina Chudi, and directed by Kaleya Baxe, it was an honest and amusing account of domestic abuse that rejected stereotypes and refused to shy away from the complex, contradictory emotions associated with its subject. Remarkably, it was Allpress’ debut.
“I was in an abusive relationship for about a year when I was nineteen,” says Allpress, over the phone from her home in South London. “When I got out the other side of it, I was frustrated by the depictions of victims in the media. They were always very frail, very apologetic, very diminutive. Of course, those are valid things to be, but that wasn’t me. I was 20. I was partying. I was young. I was vibrant.”
As she grew old Allpress realised that society expects victims of domestic abuse to behave in a certain way. It encourages them to make their stories “palatable for people to understand” in a way that is “deeply fucked,” she says, when the truth is that instances of domestic abuse rarely look like they do in film and TV, and nor do victims, before, during, or after.
“I wrote Patricia almost for my own benefit,” Allpress says. “It was me getting my thoughts and my anger and my frustrations out on paper. I didn’t even really care if anyone else read it or not. Then I sent it into the White Bear Theatre in Kennington and they gave us a space to put it on. It was my first full-length play, Kaleya’s first time directing a full-length play, and Angelina’s first time performing a full-length play by herself. We just gave it a go.”
That was in 2019. In early 2020, Allpress, Baxe and Chudi took the show to Vault Festival, where it won Pleasance’s inaugural Charlie Harthill Fund for Artists of Colour, allowing them to afford a run at the Edinburgh Fringe, delayed from 2020 to earlier this year. “It has kind of snowballed,” says Allpress. “Everyone has been really nice about it.”
“I think we all have this beautiful, fragile ache inside us all. That’s what I reach for in my writing…”
Born in 1993, Allpress grew up in rural Lincolnshire, “a place of farms and horses, without much theatre”, where her biggest cultural influences were The Beano – her family hails from Dundee – and occasional trips to al-fresco Shakespeare productions at Lincoln Castle. She performed professionally as a teenager – “bits and bobs” on stage and screen that she found “baffling” – but by the time she turned 18, she was ready to try something new.
“I was that typical grumpy, got-to-get-out-of-here teenager,” Allpress says. “I moved to London and got a job as an assistant with an architecture firm. I loved it, but I was a crappy employee. On Fridays, my boss was out of the office, so I just sat and wrote stories on my laptop. I knew I really wanted to go to drama school, but I had no way of affording the auditions, let alone the tuition.”
Then, along came Open Door, David Mumeni’s organisation that supports aspiring theatremakers to apply to drama school with free auditions, free travel, and free tutoring. Allpress quit her job, earned a spot in Open Door’s first cohort, gained a place at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and spent three years training as an actor. She wrote Patricia Gets Ready while still a student.
“I’m an actor and a writer, but at the moment I am much more interested in writing,” she says. “I like the autonomy it gives me. Maybe one day I will write a part for myself, but I haven’t got around to it yet.”
“I try to write work that speaks to the tenderness inside everyone,” she continues. “I think we all have this beautiful, fragile ache inside us all, and spend our lives wrapping stuff around it so it doesn’t hurt. Every now and again, those layers fall away, and that ache is exposed. That’s what I reach for in my writing.”
What do you want to do?
The plan is for Patricia Gets Ready to tour at some point, maybe next year, but we are still trying to work out availability and stuff. Everybody attached to it is so incredible that they have inevitably been employed.
A few screen production companies have reached out my way with some work, which has been really incredible. I’ve written another full-length play that has a director attached, too. We are trying to find a home for that right now. It’s all very exciting.
What I would really love, though, is to be commissioned by a theatre, or a theatre company. I have two ideas I am cooking up, and I know I want them to be loud and ballsy and gobby like me, and I know I want them to be put on in a theatre.
What support do you need to get there?
I have always been very fortunate to have some brilliant mentors, and their support means the world to me. When someone simply offers you their support, it elevates you and gives you confidence and pushes you to get better.
If anyone – a building, a company, an individual, anyone – were to reach out, even if it was just to say they think I’m good at what I do and they are excited to see what I do next, that would be very, very cool.
How can people find out more about you?
Well, if it’s about acting, they can contact my agents at Curtis Brown. If they want to read Patricia Gets Ready, they can email my writing agents at United. I wrote a monologue for Papatango during lockdown, too. It’s called Wild Swim and it is available online, performed by the amazing Lizzy Watts.
I’m very informed by music, so if people just want to get an sense of me, they should listen to some of the stuff I like – cool, South London jazz like Moses Boyd, Ezra Collective, Oscar Jerome, Nubya Garcia, anyone connected to Tomorrow’s Warriors. That’s very much my vibe.
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