London Playwrights Festival 2021: Emma Dawson on writing Mum

Mum is the centre of Edie’s universe. They’ve stuck together through thick and thin, as other family members abandoned them one by one. But after a terrible accident, Edie has to learn to function as an independent adult in a world that she severely dislikes.

Mum will be featured in the London Playwrights Festival 2021 this December at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre. Here, writer Emma Dawson, shares her thoughts on writing the play…

“Mum is my first full-length play. It’s a one-woman show, presenting a 29-year-old woman, Edie, who has undiagnosed neurodiversity and who lives with her controlling Mum.  

While Edie is not me (it is sometimes assumed that the play is highly biographical), her character is informed by my experience of being dysgraphic, dyspraxic, and dyslexic. Mum imagines what would happen if you were almost thirty and you had never dealt with many features of adult life and then, suddenly, you are catapulted into finding a room in a shared house, going to the pub, and getting your first bank account. I want audience members who were given some sort of toolkit for adulting to imagine dealing with it with no framework, while also poking fun at the absurdity of the adult world. 

Mum has changed a lot since I started writing it in Summer 2019. I wrote the play with the idea of a highly dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship in my head and discovered what else I wanted to write about as I went along, as often my subconscious brain is working very hard when I’m writing, so I’m not aware of my intentions until later. I only realised who Edie was speaking to during her monologue several drafts in. I had lots of issues with timelines across drafts of Mum, as I wrote freely with no plan, which meant that I had to extensively rearrange the sections in the distant past, recent past, and present so that they were knitted smoothly together. The play also ballooned in size around draft 7 to 44 pages (far too long for a one-person show), so it has now been trimmed down to around the 70-minute mark. The best change that I made was not starting the play chronologically with Edie’s childhood and opening instead with a huge moment for her closer to the present: the work leaving do that she attends to have her moment with her Mr Bingley-esque crush, Vassy. 

I have, at times, encountered the problem that readers don’t find Edie “likeable”. I personally love her to bits, though I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way. Instead, I intend for Edie to challenge the idea of how sympathetic your heroine actually needs to be, especially as sympathy is less frequently extended to neurodiverse people who are not masking. I wanted Mum to challenge the audience’s accepted truths because the play often boils down to, who do you blame and what does that say about you? People who have read this play often find themselves citing some standard of normality when criticising a particular character and I want to nudge the audience to question these standards because they are in Edie’s universe now where many of these approaches to life are irrelevant. 

 Mum takes place on Friday 10th December at the Lion & Unicorn and will be followed by  The Kaki Bandit by Toby McShane (a short play written in response to Mum, selected as a winner from this year’s Play Club, find out more here.) Book here. 

Emma Dawson is a playwright and short story writer. Mum, her first full-length play, was shortlisted for Through the Mill Playwriting Prize, longlisted for Theatre503 International Playwriting Prize, longlisted for development with Traverse Theatre, and shortlisted for development with Middle Child Theatre. Her audio drama commission, Diltie Moss, aired in May 2021 with Eclectic Full Contact Theatre, a Chicago-based audio company. Her short plays have been performed at Theatre503, Battersea Arts Centre, Pleasance Theatre, White Bear Theatre, and Theatre Deli and her short stories have been published by Untitled, Dear Damsels, and Broccoli Arts.

Find out more about the festival line-up here.

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