Catching up with…..writer Rose Lewenstein

Rose Lewenstein is the writer of COUGAR (playing at the Orange Tree, Richmond, until March 2), an award-nominated intense two- hander about sex, climate change and consumption

Thanks for chatting with us, Rose. COUGAR is a really compelling piece of theatre. Where did the germ of the idea for the show come from?

It’s hard to pinpoint because the play didn’t start with a clear idea of what it was. It grew from thoughts and conversations around the way we consume stuff and each other. I actually started working on it about six years ago and I must have had a lot more time back then to just write and write until something revealed itself. And from that I became interested in the impossibility of this very intense relationship that seems completely cut off from the outside world.

When we chatted after the show, you said that you were still thinking about whether the play is intimate or epic. Have you had any more thoughts since then? (I, personally, think it succeeds as being both.)

I still don’t know. I guess the obvious answer is intimate, because it’s a two-hander set in one room (or many versions of one room) that focuses on a relationship. Nothing about that sounds epic. But to me it is, because it’s really about how we’re heading towards disaster and the question is what do people do in the face of disaster? 

One of the things that audiences love most about the Orange Tree is the intimacy of this in the round, 180-seater. You mentioned that each time you saw the play you have sat in a different part of the auditorium. What has that shown you?

That is one of my favourite things about the Orange Tree. You have a completely different perspective every time you see a play there. And the way Chelsea (the director) and Rosanna (the designer) have utilised the space with COUGAR is really amazing because you’re never missing out. When I was rewriting last year I had that space in mind and I think knowing it would be in the round really informed the writing of it. I was almost picturing a gladiator area or something like that, where we’re looking down on these characters who are tearing each other to pieces.

Have you had any unexpected reactions to the work?

My friend said that watching it was like being put in a washing machine…

The show is incredibly demanding in terms of movement and timing as well as technically. What impact, if any, did that have on the casting process?

It just meant we needed shit-hot actors. They literally don’t get a break. When I was writing it I was obviously more concerned with the rhythm and the arc and what it meant and I wasn’t ever thinking, Oh this will be really hard for the actors! Charlotte and Mike are brilliant, both technically and in the ways they inhabit the roles, but they also have this amazing chemistry and that’s something quite difficult to plan for during casting.

We are seeing a lot more plays run straight through without intervals. Why did you decide that was the best structure for COUGAR?

It’s a very intense play. I mean, two characters, eighty scenes! So one reason is that I can’t really see it being long enough for an interval because I’m not sure how much more of that an audience could take. And having watched it again and again now, in the hands of two incredible actors, it’s become clear that play is performed in one breath. And that sensory through-line feels important when its structure and form is quite disjointed.

The show is being co-produced with the renowned English Touring Theatre. Does this mean that we can expect a tour of the show soon?

I don’t know, you’ll have to ask ETT!

If our readers are thinking about seeing the show, what would you say to entice them along?

Erm… sex and climate change? But I also think Chelsea and the team have created a visually stunning piece of art. It’s visceral. You won’t be bored. And it’s quite short, so plenty of time for the pub afterwards.

Finally, what would you like audiences to take away from the show?

I’d like them to feel full

Thanks Rose! 

Readers will also be interested to know that COUGAR’s director Chelsea Walker has been OFFIE-nominated (Off West End Theatre Awards)

Rose Lewenstein is the writer of COUGAR (playing at the Orange Tree, Richmond, until March 2)

Dame Diana Rigg

March provides a chance to share An Evening with Dame Diana Rigg in London. Tickets and more information can be found here.

This event reminded me that whenever I travel by air I am most grateful to Dame Diana. Some years ago she compiled a book entitled No Turn Unstoned, subtitled ‘the worst ever theatrical reviews’. And she has found some real stingers, although I am glad to say that the contemporary theatre world’s high standards gives very few opportunities for this kind of criticism anymore.

Whenever I travel I always take it as a calmer (I am not a good flyer) and rather than well up with anxiety, this little book has given me many smiles and at time outright laughs just when I need them most. You can dip in and out of it very easily so it is the perfect travelling companion (alongside a husband/wife/significant other/ partner/ gigolo/gigolette/ farmyard animal (if that’s your bag)) As you can see, my copy is well-travelled and somewhat dog-eared.

Bought for me by a dear actor friend, it is still available- only in second-hand condition, I would imagine- on Amazon, abebooks and lots of other fine online booksellers.