Actor-turned-playwright Sarah Rutherford reveals the sources of inspiration behind her darkly comic works and how completing a PhD in English Literature has informed her creative process.
PhD, English Literature
|Year of Graduation
Your time at the University
I was born in Edinburgh, although I didn’t live there till my teens. While I was away in Oxford doing my first degree, I would make trips home with friends and that was when I finally appreciated for the first time what a unique and special city it is — so I was keen to return and spend time there as an adult. I have very fond memories of my walks to and from the National Library of Scotland and the University from my flat in Stockbridge, watching the seasons change; and of feeding my hunger for live theatre by going to the Traverse and the Lyceum, as well as appearing in a few university productions. Alongside my PhD (which was on 'Black Farce in Jacobean and 1960s Theatre'), I worked in journalism and did some broadcasting for BBC Radio Scotland, Radio 2 and Radio Forth — especially during the Festival. Highlights included a trip to Australia for the Scotsman’s travel pages, and editing the List’s Food and Drink Guide — which mostly involved taking everyone I knew out for dinner just before I moved south.
I also met my now-husband Danny Morrison at Edinburgh University, where he was doing an MD (he’s now a consultant eye surgeon here in London), which was an added bonus.
Your experiences since leaving the University
Afer the intellectual stretch of a PhD, I was in need of a different kind of challenge — so I went to drama school. Several years as an actor in theatre and TV followed, plus two children, until by chance I participated in an acting workshop which happened to involve some writing. Very fast the penny dropped that, without my knowledge, the years I had put in examining plays both academically and practically, as well as writing (though only as a student and journalist — never creatively) had combined to form a tailor-made training ground for me as a playwright.
Once I discovered dramatic writing, I quickly fell out of love with acting and soon had my first play under my belt, which led to my post as Writer in Residence of London’s Park Theatre. My debut there was 'Adult Supervision', a dark comedy inspired by my own experiences as the mother of dual-heritage children, which was well received and described by the Telegraph as “a cracking new play — outrageously funny.” More recently I wrote 'The Girl Who Fell', which is running at the West End’s Trafalgar Studios until 23 November 2019 — another darkly comic piece, this time about the afermath of a teenage suicide: “Surprising, stimulating and touching … unusual and gripping … a unique and resonant drama” (The Times). I’m now working on several TV and film projects, as well as theatre commissions.
The tone of my work is clearly influenced by the blackly farcical plays I immersed myself in for my PhD, and the discipline required to work hard under my own steam has stood me in good stead. At times I have to switch off the analytical side of my brain to allow my imagination free rein, but the habit of constantly interrogating, redrafing and refining my work, ingrained during my PhD, is an essential part of my creative process.
The tone of my work is clearly influenced by the blackly farcical plays I immersed myself in for my PhD, and the discipline required to work hard under my own steam has stood me in good stead.
Explore what Edinburgh has to offer beyond the university. It’s a magical city, full of unexpected opportunities that can feed and enhance your work rather than distract from it. And pause — breathe — look around — take in the splendour of the place. You’ll miss it when you leave.
Sarah Rutherford’s plays are published by Oberon. 'The Girl Who Fell' runs at Trafalgar Studios, London, until 23 November 2019.