Vicky Jones’s new play ‘Touch’ opens with a hilariously cringeworthy strip tease, but what else would you expect from the woman who co-created ‘Fleabag’?
The play is the latest offering from DryWrite - the theatre company Jones co-founded alongside actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge - and provides the same unashamed honesty that made the latter a household name.
Written and directed by Jones, ‘Touch’ centres on the topic of female sexuality and follows 33-year-old Dee as she navigates the London dating scene from her cluttered, shoebox flat.
“I wanted to talk about some aspects of what I believe to be a female perspective on sex and sexuality. I wanted to touch on female curiosity, self-censorship, how we can be controlled by shame, how our bodies and what we do with them can become other people’s business, how we can be extremely complex and even counterintuitive or self-sabotaging in terms of our desires and our behaviours,” Jones told HuffPost UK.
“Also about frustration - I think there is a gulf of understanding between men and women about the female orgasm and communication in that area is sometimes not good. I wanted to open out that discussion a bit, to try and address it and encourage people to talk about it more.”
We chatted to Jones as part of our Fierce series about ambition, regret and why women should never shy away from using the word “feminism”.
What was the last thing you did that made you proud?
“Finishing ‘Touch’ has made me most proud. My first play ‘The One’ came out so quickly, but this one was a stop-start marathon of three years. I kept losing confidence with it, convincing myself that it was an irrelevant or lightweight subject matter and that I’d be laughed out of town for trying to create a drama about a privileged, white, young woman and her “sexual escapades”. But, something kept me writing it anyway.
“What I came round to eventually is that actually, all narratives are valuable, particularly if they have integrity and tell a truth about an individual in her context. So I’m proud to be telling a female story with integrity and I’m proud of some of the things it talks about. And I’m just so relieved I managed to finish it.”
Who inspires you and why?
“It will be no surprise that the main person who inspires me is my best friend, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She is a beacon of fearlessness, subversion, wit and truth in life as well as work, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to know her so well. She has inspired me since I met her 11 years ago and she still explodes my imagination every time I talk to her.
“I’m also inspired by American showrunners who have broken down boundaries in drama of late: Jilly Solloway, Lena Dunham, Jenji Kohan, Louis CK, plus Margaret Attwood and Bruce Miller for ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. There’s some thrilling stuff happening in drama and comedy over there which is speaking in new, dynamic and more honest ways to its audience. I’m thrilled by that.”
How do you think society views ambitious and successful women?
“I think generally speaking, society is supportive and delighted for women to be successful. However, there will always be people who are suspicious or resentful of it - whether they think they are or not. And people can really surprise you by revealing latent negative attitudes towards women’s success. Like using gendered insults, or (snore) saying that women don’t make them laugh. Or that women and feminism is ‘in’ right now. Or that the narrative you’re telling about a woman has been ‘done’ already.”
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and keep pushing forward?
“The knowledge that the work I do is a huge privilege. The not-at-all distant memory of what it was like to be doing work I wasn’t invested in - the horrible days of temping, of being so poor and worse than that, feeling creatively impoverished. Any time I feel stressed out by the work I’m doing, I remind myself how lucky I am.”
Does success have a downside? If so, what is it?
“There is the pressure to keep making things that people like, but in the main, making a successful show gives you an enormous confidence boost that you can do it again and it opens new doors and provides exciting new opportunities.
“Even though it makes me feel a bit queasy, I’m determined to enjoy myself.”
If you had one piece of advice for other women, what would it be?
“Never let anyone intimidate you out of your own instincts. Know that you can be and say and make whatever the fuck you like, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. Don’t shy away from the word ‘feminism’, or let people chase you with that word. Be proud of it. Remind people and yourself that it’s just about equality and that anyone can be one...
“As a feminist, it can be difficult to separate out when to be relaxed and when you have to stand up and object. Many people I know are feminists, male and female, but many of the women are keen to come across as ‘totally chilled out about it’ at the same time, because we want to avoid the eye-rolling and don’t want to be told to ‘chill out’. For this reason, it can be really hard to call something sexism or misogyny, even though we believe it is.
“What we need to remind ourselves is that we are not just standing up for ourselves, but for all women - and for little girls who will grow into the same attitudes, unless we object. We have to respond to micro-aggressions through micro-objections, or nothing will change.”
How do you practise self-care?
“I am ashamed to admit that I now have a cleaner, because I am so messy and it was really affecting my life. It’s like a mental block. I know logically that I could just take half an hour and tidy up and that I would be so much happier, but my brain always goes to the other things I could do with that time instead, which every time seem more important to me.
“The other thing that has gone out of the window since I got really busy is exercise. I love yoga and running, but at the moment I don’t do it and as a result I feel bad about my body almost all the time. I suppose the answer is to either be regimental about exercise or to make peace with my body as it is, but I haven’t achieved either of those things yet.”
What’s your biggest regret? And what did you learn from it?
“I met my boyfriend three years before we got together and I let him go. That’s a big one. I have learned from it that sometimes your perception of the world is based on what satisfies your world view and to be aware of my own blind spots.
“I also regret getting into the habit of never opening my mail. Even once you start earning more, bad habits about money can die hard. I’m working hard to undo them now.”
What would you change or do in 2017 to push women forward?
“Addressing the pay gap in all industries would be a good start. I also believe passionately that we need to keep working towards a fully intersectional feminism and there are many ways we can achieve that.
“I think women of all cultures and ethnicities need to keep talking to each other and listening to each other, keep sharing our experiences and our creative work with each other and the world, keep standing up for each other and being inclusive in the ways we talk and think about our future. Keep supporting female opportunities afforded to all women, not just to white women.”
‘Touch’ by Vicky Jones is on at Soho Theatre until Saturday 26 Aug 2017. Book tickets online now.
Fierce is a regular feature on HuffPost UK, asking trailblazing women what drives them. We’ll be speaking to a range of women including those who’ve found success in male-dominated industries, created a service to help other women and those using their position to empower others.