India Harrison Peppe, award-winning playwright and theatre company entrepreneur, is the first Peter Shaffer playwright-in-residence at Trinity 2022-2023.
Funded by the Peter Shaffer Foundation, the residency is in honour of the playwright who studied at Trinity, 1947-1950, and went on to write the acclaimed works The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Equus and Amadeus.
During the residency Ms Harrison Peppe plans to experiment with new dramatic modes and create a repertoire of work that could be toured, as well as staging a new play to be performed by Cambridge students.
As a new member of the Soho Theatre Writers’ Lab, an alumna of the Royal Court Writers’ Group and a Graduate of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, she has helped to amplify women writers’ voices through the Bomb Factory Theatre Company, which she co-founded in 2019.
Ms Harrison Peppe said:
I am passionate about feminist writing and anti-patriarchal ideologies and believe that writing can enact action and real, palpable change. How can we revolutionize women’s bodies in writing, imagine new modes of thinking, or envision societies that truly condemn violence against women? My plays ask these questions and more.
Building on the success of her debut play, Something of my O.W.N., which explores motherhood during an ecological crisis, Ms Harrison Peppe is working on a one-woman show, Branded, about rough sex, cancel culture and what it means in contemporary society to market yourself as a feminist.
While opportunities for women dramatists were increasing, Ms Harrison Peppe had found the UK theatre industry averse to taking creative risks, particularly post-COVID.
‘Theatre produces the same kind of play again and again. There is a hierarchy of stories being told. It’s too risky and people are scared to be putting on work that is challenging – post-COVID no-one is going to commission work that is not going to sell out. It’s really hard to get different work put on.’
She doesn’t only blame the (predominantly male) gatekeepers.
‘It’s the fault of us [too]. We have metabolized this desire to create the work that we are seeing on stage, and we are scared to put on bold and daring work because we are aware of the fact it is so hard.’
The space and time to experiment with new ways of working was a key attraction of the residency, Ms Harrison Peppe said.
I want to push myself into new mediums of work and experiment with immersive work, interactive and verbatim theatre.
The theatre industry for women writers is inherently risk averse and it’s a really rare opportunity to find an institution that will support you for a year when you can be building on your repertoire of work, trialling and testing stuff in a non-judgmental framework and not having to fit into commission deadlines.
I would really like to work on pieces that I have been interested in for a long time but have not had the space and resources for. The Peter Shaffer award allows you do that.
Creating a community is vital said Ms Harrison Peppe.
‘That is one of the main reasons I want to be in Cambridge, to build a network of people that will hopefully stand with me for the rest of my creative career. The most valuable thing that comes out of schemes like this is the people you meet and work you create with other people. I want my work to be fully collaborative.’
With its past and present history, Cambridge was also the perfect place to question, to challenge, and engage in debate, said Ms Harrison Peppe.
‘At Cambridge you have got lot of incredible thinkers and a lot of liberal thinking. I am now incredibly excited to have those debates and conversations and have them inform my work over the next year and beyond.’