It wasn't my intention to follow up Oppenheimer with another play about physics, but hey, you can't really control how these things come about. And while both plays use the language of science to talk about human thought and emotion, they're not really setting out to do the same thing. The Earthworks is much more of a character study. It's got a much smaller focus, but it deals with something that is undeniably universal. Grief.
The play is set on the eve of the activation of the Large Hadron Collider - the supercollider that allowed scientists to prove the existence of the then theoretical Higgs' boson. The search for the Higgs' is all part of our trying to understand mass - what it is, why it exists, why some things have it and others don't. I use this as a backdrop to explore ideas around why we ascribe weight - ascribe importance - to some events in our our life and not to others. Why do we make what is important to us important to us?
The Earthworks started as a commission for a short-play. The original version was nine-pages and ten-minutes long. It was performed a handful of times at a couple of music festivals, was restaged for a short-play night known as The Miniaturists at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston and appeared at a night of my work at the Soho Theatre. This was back in 2012/2013. Most short-plays have fairly short life-expectancies. Theatre is an ephemeral art-form anyway, but short-plays are even more so. They get performed once or twice for maybe a couple of dozen people and then they're done. But sometimes a short-play doesn't want to go away.
There's a sweet-spot I'm always looking for when I'm writing, and I don't always find it, but it's when I stop writing the characters' lines and they just start talking of their own accord. The characters just lift off the page and every word becomes somehow inevitable because that's simply how those characters talk - that's how those characters respond to the given situation. That's when writing is just this joyous thing. And that was how it worked with Clare and Fritjof in The Earthworks. They liked to talk. And they liked to talk to each other. So I kept coming back to it, trying to find a way to spend more time with them and to go deeper into their lives. I wasn't planning to write this play. I wasn't pitching it in meetings with literary managers. It just bubbled to the surface. Because I enjoyed spending time with these two characters. And then a third character (Herta) turned up one day and muscled her way in. I don't mind. She's cool.
I didn't write this play with the intention of it appearing at the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was having a chat about it with Pippa, the literary manager, just in a: 'What are you writing at the moment?' kind of way, back when Oppenheimer was in rehearsal. She said she'd be interested in reading it. This was before The Other Place had reopened, so I wasn't really expecting the RSC to pick it up. But she went and snuck it to the RSC's deputy artistic director, Erica Whyman, without my knowing and now it's going on. Which is great. Because I love The Other Place. I love its ethos. Its got an incredibly welcoming feel and the theatre itself is nimble and responsive, which is so, so important.
The Earthworks plays as part of the RSC's Mischief Festival in a double-bill with Matt Hartley and Kirsty Housley's Myth. The Mischief Festival runs from May 24th to June 17th at The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon.