Louise Marwood on Rita Lynn at Turbine Theatre

After a three and a half year run on Emmerdale came to a close with a fictional car crash, actress Louise Marwood started to design a real-life car crash of her own – spiralling into addiction. Now, inspired by her experiences, she has written Rita Lynn – a comic cautionary tale of addiction, toxic relationships and pretending to be someone you are not.

Louise Marwood is best known for her years as Chrissie White in Emmerdale, but her television credits also include Coronation Street, The Bill, Hollyoaks: Let Loose, and Waking the Dead. She trained on a scholarship at the Oxford School of Drama, was a member of sketch show Comedy Bitch, as both a writer and performer, and has written a pilot for TV entitled Shovel.

Her play, in which she also stars, follows ex-dancer and addict Imogen as she stumbles into the life of a wealthy, depressed housewife and assumes the alter ego of Rita Lynn – a super confident life coach with unorthodox methods.

The production opens at London’s Turbine Theatre on 23 January and is directed by Nick Bagnall whose recent productions include Hansel and Gretel and Edward II at the The Globe and Sweeney Todd, Romeo & Juliet and A Clockwork Orange at the Liverpool Everyman.

Ahead of opening night, we caught up with Marwood to find out more about how she came to process her life experiences through theatre.

Q&A with Louise Marwood

What can you tell us about the inspiration for your play, Rita Lynn?

I started writing in rehab; it was a way of dealing with everything that had happened and was still happening to me. No one saw my addiction coming, certainly not me. Addiction is like a possession of sorts and I was trying to make sense of it all. The first thing I wrote was a pilot called ’Shovel’ about an actress that goes off the rails. It was obviously very close to my personal experience and we went into development with it. After a while, I realised that I wanted to dress up my addiction in a noisier concept and Rita Lynn was born. I very much split into two people over the course of my addiction (it is a gradual spiral) and she represents that addict voice in my brain.

Was it challenging to revisit those experiences, and work through what had happened?

It was challenging but also cathartic. I did a lot of grieving as I was writing, I grieved for all the things that had happened to me but also for the part of me that was lost. I hung on to her for a very long time! I had to go to several rehabs and letting go of the ‘old’ idea of who I was was the hardest thing for me. I figured it out as I was writing and it definitely helped me gain a different perspective.

How important was it to include comedy as part of the play?

Comedy is my life line! It is the only way I make sense of anything and without it there is only the tragedy of what happened. It is very important for me to play the line between, both back and forth, because that was my experience.

What has it been working alongside Nick to bring the play to Turbine Theatre?

Nick Bagnall is a dream. I knew him years ago- we both starred in a play together at West Yorkshire Playhouse. When I heard about his journey as a director, I knew I had to get him involved. His reaction to the script was extraordinary, as was his process of working. I feel very blessed to have him and all the creatives I have in my team. They have all added to and expanded the poetic world of Rita Lynn. Having watched the trajectory of some of the shows that have started life at The Turbine Theatre, I knew that I wanted to come here. The space is magnificent.

How different do you find acting on stage versus acting for television?

I am much happier on stage. I love going on a journey and taking an audience with me. You absolutely cannot do that in television, there is so much back and forth. I am pretty much my happiest in life on stage.

What do you hope audiences take away from Rita Lynn?

I hope to carry a story of strength and hope. If I can recover, literally anyone can. It wasn’t looking good for me for a long time and I am still traumatised by it. But I have poured all the trauma into this in the hope of helping people. It also works as a dark comedy for people who know nothing of addiction but want to see what it looks like when someone’s psyche turns in on itself. It holds up a mirror to the human condition I think. And the very idea of someone who is trying not to die telling other people how to live is comedy gold. I think! haha.

Rita Lynn comes is at the Turbine Theatre from 23 to 27 January 2024