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Diane Samuels Interview

Posted on 14 April 2004. © Copyright 2004-2023 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to multi-award-winning playwright Diane Samuels, whose Kindertransport remains one of the most moving plays the West End has seen. She is also a radio, novel and children's writer.

What’s your writing background? Give us a biog- please mention play titles, other writing, any awards etc

I was born in Liverpool in 1960, was educated at the Kind David High school and studied hisory at Sidney Sussex college, Cambridge. I worked as a drama teacher in inner London secondary schools and then as an education officer at the Unicorn Theatre for children before becoming a full time writer in 1992. My work for the theatre includes: "Frankie's Monster" (adapted from Vivien Alcock's novel, "The Monster Garden", Unicorn Theatre, 1991. Published by Heinemann.); "Chalk Circle" (Unicorn Theatre, 1991); "Salt of the Earth" (Theatre Centre, 1993); "The Bonekeeper" (Tricycle Youth Theatre, short-listed for the W. H. Smith Awards for plays for children, 1992); "Watch Out for Mister Stork" (one-act play, Soho Theatre Company's Writers' Festival, 1992, and Finborough Theatre, 1995; Regents Park Open Air Theatre, August 1995); "Kindertransport" (co-winner of the 1992 Verity Bargate Award, winner of 1993 Meyer Whitworth Award. Produced by Soho Theatre Company at the Cockpit, 1993; at the Palace Theatre, Watford transfering to the Vaudeville Theatre, West End, 1996. Also, Manhattan Theater Club, New York, 1994. Other productions throughout the USA, also Sweden, Japan, Germany, Austria, Canada and South Africa. Published in Britain by Nick Hern Books and in the USA by Plume/Penguin); "Turncoat" (Theatre Centre national tour, 1994); "How To Beat A Giant" (SNAP People's Theatre Trust, 1995); "One Hundred Million Footsteps", (Quicksilver Theatre Company national tours, spring and autumn 1997); "Forever and Ever" (SNAP People's Theatre Trust, 1998); "The True Life Legend of Mata Hari", Palace Theatre, Watford, 2002. My work for BBC radio includes: "Two Together?" (Radio 4, 1993); "Frankie's Monster" ( Radio 5, 1992); "Watch Out For Mister Stork" (Radio 4, 1994); "Kindertransport" (Radio 4, 1995); "Swine" (Radio 4, 1996). "Hardly Cinderella" (Radio 4, 1997); "Doctor Y" (Radio 4, 1997); "Hen Party" (Radio 4, 2001). A short story, "Rope" was chosen as one of the winners in Radio 4's 2001 DotDotDot online short story competition, broadcast 2002. I have recently written "Mrs Gorsky" about an American mother, housewife and communist spy for Birmingham Rep Theatre. I was awarded a Science on Stage and Screen Award by the Wellcome Trust in 2001 to undertake an experimental collaboration with 3 medical specialists, playwright Sarah Woods and visual artist Alexa Wright to make an innovative piece of documentary, visual theatre about the nature of pain. The resulting work, PUSH, was showcased at The People Show Studios in London in June 2003. I am currently writing a new play for the Unicorn Theatre, “Narcissus” (working title), have just completed my first novel, an exploration of myth and memoir, "Cinderella's Daughter", and am currently writing a novel for children inspired by the medieval children’s crusade. I tutor playwrighting for young people as part of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket's Masterclass scheme, has lectured part-time at Middlesex University, Oxford University, Goldsmiths’ College, London and Birmingham University on writing and drama. I have also worked as a writer-in-residence at Hugh Myddelton Primary school in Islington, north London, and now run a regular group for writers of all levels, one off workshops on a variety of themes, as well as writing children’s book reviews for The Guardian. I am currently a participator in Exiled Writers INK’s writing and dialogue group “Across the Divide” for Jewish, Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian writers.

How did you start writing?

When I was a child, I used to love telling stories and acting out scenarios. I have always had a very vivid imagination and am constantly creating dialogues and unravelling differnet narratives in my head. When I learned to read and write I found that I could give my made-up worlds and characters vivid actualisation on the page. I found this very exciting and would spend hours and hours writing long stories when we were given English homework in primary and in the first few years of secondary school. As academic study became more imtensive in school and then at university, I did less and less imaginative writing - the critical voice became too loud. So, from about the age of fifteen, I expressed my creative voice through collaborative theatre making to which I was introduced by a wonderful youth theatre group called the Shifrin Foundation which was based at the Jewish community centre in Liverpool where I grew up.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

My favourite writer is Stephen Sondheim, composer and lyricist. I love the way he deals with huge emotional and mythical themes whilst also being so astute in the detail of his characters. His play with words is inspirational, bitter-sweet, witty and true. His music is complex, demanding, discordant and so melodic at times that it makes me cry. Actually, songwriters are a big inspiration for me. I also love Elvis Costello and Joni Mitchell and return to their songs again and again. They also deal with huge themes from a deep emotional source and give insight into human feeling and behaviour and what it is to be alive through carefully observed detail. Other influences go beyond just writers – I love the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, the work of visual artists Bill Viola, Sarah Raphael, Catherine Yass and Cindy Sherman, the clothes of Vivienne Westwood. As for writers, I like Philip Pullman, William Blake, Marge Piercy, Margaret Attwood, Pat Barker, Edward Albee, Harold Pinter, Shakespeare. I could go on and on.. I’m very taken by distinctive original voices and the realisation of an artistic vision which brings the world of the imagination alive in the physical world.. My favourite thing is diverse influences, lots of different kinds of work.

How did you get your first agent/ commission?

When I was working as edcation officer at the Unicorn Theatre for children there was a book by Vivien Alcock called “The Monster Garden” floating around which the artistic director was considering for adaptation for the stage. I had just written a radio play which had won a prize in the Radio Times Awards and I showed that play to him and asked if I could adapt it. He did commission me at the same time that Radio 4 commissioned the radio play. I found my first agent to negotiate both those contracts.

What was your breakthrough moment?

I guess this must be the first production of “Kindertransport” directed by Abigail Morris for Soho Theatre Company at the Cockpit Theatre in 1993. The production was moving and true to the play. The reviews were very good and people queued around the block for every performance for returns. It was very exciting.

What's the worst thing about writing?

The loneliness sometimes, the lack of daily support by others and not having a regular paycheck..

And the best?

The solitariness, the autonomy and the opportunity to spend my days creating other worlds and whole characters.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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