Eleanor Crosswell on Ember

Photo: Ori Jones

Eleanor Crosswell’s new play Ember, exploring female friendship, memory and how we deal with trauma, plays A Pinch of VAULT festival today and tomorrow. Earlier drafts of Ember have been longlisted for RSC’s 37 Plays, and made it to the top 10% of the Verity Bargate Award, BBC Writers Open Call, and the Bush Theatre open submissions.

The production is directed by Júlia Levai and is performed by Madison Clare, Danielle Phillips, Ian Davies and Sam Stafford. Ahead of performances we caught up with Crosswell to find out more about the play and its development process

Q&A with Eleanor Crosswell

What can you tell us about your play Ember?

Ember is play about a woman – Ember – who has blocked all memory of a previous abusive relationship. Over the course of the play she finds herself beginning to smoulder, and then burn – literally! – and so she and her best friend Jas go on a journey to try and confront her past. It’s a play about remembering and forgetting – how our brains and bodies can each hold memory, and what happens when there is a disjunction between the two.

What originally inspired the play?

The play started out as something quite different, in its very first idea. I had become both aware and frustrated that my female friends who date men all seemed to share a commonality of experience, in that most – if not all – had experienced unhealthy relationships at some point, and I felt pretty angry that was the case. So I started writing a monologue. However, I quickly became more interested in the anger itself, and in this idea of that being realised literally (the smouldering/burning) – I always find it really interesting putting real characters in bizarre or ‘unrealistic’ situations, and seeing how they will respond. And theatre is a wonderful medium to do this in!

What was the development process for the play like?

The play has been through quite a journey! As I mentioned, it started out as a monologue play, but after some feedback I was encouraged to find a new form for it. It was really exciting trying to discover a theatrical form that was right for the play – especially as the play takes place in Ember’s mind, and we all know that brains are not necessarily that reliable… I’ve been lucky to receive feedback from fantastic creative peers (including the kind and talented director Stephen Bailey), as well as most recently some dramaturgical feedback via the Reader’s Room scheme at the King’s Head Theatre.

Promotional image for Ember

What has it been like working with Júlia Levai and the cast to bring the production to life?

Absolutely brilliant. What a boon to get a talented and sensitive director like Júlia onboard, who is brilliant at handling both actors and writers, and creates a warm and open environment in which to grow a play. I’m also lucky to have an incredible cast (Madison Clare, Danielle Phillips, Ian Davies and Sam Stafford) on board, who from the first moment lifted the words off the page – and ran with them. I really do feel very lucky.

How does it feel to have the work performed as part of A Pinch of VAULT?

Incredible. I applied at the last minute, convinced that there was not a chance of my play being accepted. But it was, and it’s been a fantastic opportunity to develop relationships with other creatives – both on my play and outside of it – as well as introduce my work to theatres and producers. The theatrical industry is going through such a challenging time, and there are very few opportunities as a new writer to experiment and develop your work. I’m so grateful to Vault for providing that forum for emerging artists – it’s invaluable.

Ember is at The Spacement at The Glitch on 24 and 25 February