Katie Bonna | The playwright talks inequality, interrogating what we watch and the future of female writing

We need more female voices out there like Katie Bonna’s.

Katie Bonna | Dirty Great Love Story

Willing to take risks to get a realistic female perspective out there, Bonna is a feminist figure to look out for in 2017. An actress, teacher at the Guildford School Of Acting, and now a writer, Bonna is making her West End debut with ‘Dirty Great Love Story’, alongside co-writer Richard Marsh.

WeAreTheCity sat down with the brilliant Katie to discuss being one of the only new female writers in the west end.

Dirty Great Love Story is firmly grounded in reality.

The play first premiered in 2012 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival but both Bonna and her co-writer, Richard Marsh, didn’t ever comprehend that it would end up in the West End. “It’s crazy to think that what started as a fifteen minute piece about two hopeless romantics waking up in a Travelodge is now in the West End.” On what she believes has made it such a success, Katie considers: “It’s about real experiences. Every part of it is completely grounded in reality. The female characters are based off of my emotions, and the emotions and actions of women I know. Richard and I spent so much time in the creative process just talking through different scenarios and asking ‘How would we actually feel in this moment?’ Because of that, and the collaborative process, each audience member will get two different points of view, and hopefully will recognise themselves in both parts. It’s about love and joy and it’s rare these days to find a production that doesn’t have many dark edges. It’s a feel-good piece. “

Despite it’s plaudits, there were issues with sexism surrounding writing Dirty Great Love Story.

The award-winning production was co-written by Bonna, but male audience members sometimes undermined her role. “I came up against sexism on several occasions. Because originally I starred in the play as well as writing it, there were occasions when guys would come up to me and refer to the play as ‘Richard’s play’, assuming that I was only in it and hadn’t written it too. People had made that assumption because he’s the male.”

She feels that LGBT characters need further interrogation.

At the time of writing ‘Dirty Great Love Story’, Bonna was in a relationship with a man, and so wrote from that perspective. Now happily married to a woman, she highlights problems with LGBT representation in theatre, television and movies. “Theatre definitely pushes boundaries more than both television and film, and often feels very, very now. However, for every one positive expression of a LGBT person that changes the game, there are five others that undermine the positive one.“  On where the problem lies, she says: “Often it seems as though LGBT characters are just issue driven. It’s just the broadest possible versions out there. We don’t get to know these characters deeply, and that’s a problem. We have so much ground to make up, and we can only do so through interrogating the characters we see.“

Female playwrights need to be bolder, braver and bigger.

On Dame Harriet Walter’s claim that ‘Male playwrights on the whole are more interested in male characters’: “Simply put, women aren’t written in the same way that men are. So now it’s up to us to support and encourage each other to change that. Sarah Dickinson, my dramaturge, inspires me because she’s on a mission to encourage women to write big plays“. Do women not feel entitled to write big productions?  “It ultimately lies with entitlement. Feeling entitled to write the history of humanity is not encouraged for women,“ Bonna explains. “The history we learn at school is typically about male led stories, but we need to remember there are women making history every day. We need to overcome our archaic hangovers and utilise what theatre is. It allows you to be active immediately, react in the moment.“

There IS inequality surrounding the parts made available for women.

“As a teacher at Guildford School of Acting, I can see a huge imbalance between the sheer amount of young actresses, in comparison to men. And yet there are far more parts available for the men.“  Bonna discusses the responsibility theatre venues have for producing female work. “Certain Institutions do have a responsibility to address the female voice. We need to be asking questions to those who run these institutions. I’m confused by our misrepresentation. There’s no logical reasoning behind it.“

She believes women ‘self-consciously censor themselves’.

Bonna wants to question gender priming in her new writing. “How much of our gender stereotypes do we pander to on an unconscious level? I see women every day self censoring and conforming to certain stereotypes without even realising. Stereotyping subconsciously affects us because it’s embedded into our culture, imprinted on our minds and it’s incredibly difficult to break.“ She recalls seeing her female students stereotyping in their acting: “Recently, my female students were performing monologues, and every single one played these issue-driven women as quivering, sad, bottom-lip trembling, shells of women, and I just couldn’t believe it.“

“It’s difficult for young women today, because there’s a certain judgement that comes with openly being a feminist. Often I hear older women saying that there isn’t a battle generationally with feminism. They say we’re lucky, and perhaps we’re luckier than they were, but changes still need to be made.“

Her writing future contains important dialogue surrounding gender.

Bonna describes Kate Tempest as an inspiration. “I just love the rawness of her work. The simplistic power of spoken word and a microphone. And yet, the piece was engaging, vivid and colourful. She’s really influenced this work and my future writing too. I’ve just completed a first draft of a book, set in 1997 about a teenage girl growing up in a rural town. It’s the kind of book fifteen year old me would have needed to read but didn’t have available. And that’s the kind of voice I want to be.“

Dirty Great Love Story
Dirty Great Love Story



Dirty Great Love Story is  playing at the Arts Theatre from 18th January until 18th March. Tickets can be purchased here.

Follow the show on Twitter: @DirtyGreatLove

Instagram: dirtygreatlove

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