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Behind the curtain: An interview with ROTTEN Writer and Co-Producer Josie White

Photo Credit: East Photography

ROTTEN is an all-new debut play, written by Josie White and directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair, is a bold and honest insight into the complex morals and malicious actions that desperate times push us towards.


ROTTEN does not shy away from the darkest sides of ourselves. With betrayal, double-crossings and romance interwoven amongst a group of anti-heroes who are struggling to make ends meet, this thriller will have audiences questioning their neighbours and themselves


I got to speak to Writer and Co-producer of the show Josie White to find out more!


Photo credit: Steph Pyne

What is ROTTEN about?

 

ROTTEN follows three young, regional actresses: Saoirse, Coco, and Sonia struggling to survive in the capital. Their shared dream dwindling away quicker than their bank balances. But who needs electricity? Or Netflix? Living in the posh block of flats opposite them is social media influencer ‘The Honourable’ Iris Montague-Willis, who they spy on every night, through their grotty living room window. One evening has them in an all-new position of power when they spy Iris in a compromising position, and are later persuaded by Sonia’s on-again-off-again, drug dealer boyfriend Ross to blackmail her. But their scheming soon spirals into complete anarchy and it’s every person for themselves!

 

What was the inspiration behind the show?

 

Hitchcock and Agatha Christie were huge influences on me growing up, with their works being equally loved by every member of my family. When shows like: Killing Eve and the works of Mike Flanagan started appearing on our screens and gripping the world, I began to see a new genre emerging: Dark Comedy-Thriller, work I feel almost crosses genres and shatters the formal framework for creating art. I was eager to do the same with ROTTEN but in a theatrical format to grip audiences with the pace of classic thriller, the entertainment factor of comedy and the emotional depth of a drama.

 

ROTTEN came about after working as an actor on Rikki Beadle-Blair’s masterpiece: ‘GUTTED’. The story is unapologetic, raw, and thrilling, it made me excited about new writing and untold stories. During the first lockdown, I told Rikki about my idea for ROTTEN and he began mentoring me. I definitely wouldn’t have had the confidence to write the first draft without Rikki’s guidance and encouragement.

 

What influenced you to tell this story on stage? And how important do you think it is in today’s society?

 

As a young actor trying to make ends meet in London, I became conscious of the huge gap between ‘the haves’ and ‘the have nots’. Council flats sit directly opposite multi-million-pound apartments and the lives of the rich and poor seem to coexist but never meet. In today’s society, thanks in part to social media and reality TV, young people can easily find themselves in a vicious cycle, where they never feel like they have enough. What we used to see as luxuries now seem like necessities. ROTTEN came out of these observations and although the play contains levels of comedy and farce, underneath the humour and chaos it discusses poignant socio-economic issues that young people are facing today.

 

I feel ROTTEN holds a mirror up to society and challenges the very make up of it, displaying characters that are frustrated and beaten down by their position in the world and desperate to change their circumstances.

 

The show is influenced by Hitchcock and Agatha Christie, with both writers being quite different, what would you say has been drawn from each of these writers in the play?

 

These writers are extremely different, both in style and mediums but they both incapsulate to me the great tropes of classic thriller, with interesting diverse characters and strong plots, with lots of twists and turns.

 

Hitchcock is the King of suspense, I feel that setting some of his works in one room, choosing to focus on the conflicts between his characters, really builds this element. I’ve definitely adopted this in ROTTEN and I feel it’s brought a level of heightened intensity to the play. Also my character are in their home, where people generally feel more comfortable and able to be their true selves. This gives the audience a fly on the wall type of experience and makes them feel a part of the action. It’s very ‘Rear Window-esk.

 

I think Agatha Christie’s works have readers and audience gasping in shock and surprise at times. She really is the Queen of the classic: ‘Whodunits’. You think you’ve worked out who the villain is and then the story will twist and turn in a direction you would never expect. There’s lots of betrayals, double-crossings and love triangles going on, which really grip audiences. I think I’ve definitely implemented lots of twists and turns into ROTTEN, that will hopefully engage, thrill, and entertain audiences, but it definitely isn’t a ‘whodunit.’

 

The subject matter of the show covers subjects people find hard to talk about. What are the major takeaways you want the audience to learn after seeing the show?

 

I really hope audiences walk away with a reignited love for thriller as well as feeling that they’ve had a good laugh and been entertained!

 

There are several themes in the play that are tough subject matters, some of which are openly discussed amongst the characters: Identity, morals, the cost-of-living crisis, and others that are not clear to them, but audiences will definitely pick up on and relate to. One of them is: Mental Health. As a young person who has struggled with my own mental health, it was important for me to address this very real issue that is significantly affecting the lives of young people, especially since the pandemic. Mental health and more specifically, falling into bad mental health is a common theme with every character in this play, which I think makes them relatable and encourages compassion from the audience. For the three lead females, drama school has been a big factor in their mental health deteriorating, leaving them racked with low self-esteem, anxiety, and self-doubt. One line Saoirse says really encapsulates this feeling: “Three years of emotional abuse at drama school, free-falling into a pit of debt and what do I have to show for it? A s***** nine to five in a boggin’ call centre!”

 

I think I tackle these hard subject matters in ROTTEN with sensitivity but also with elements of humour. Tackling hard subjects with humour is generally how people cope with harsh realities, and it is a tool I use in this play to get audiences comfortable talking about the uncomfortable.

 

We will also be hosting multiple Q&A’s after performances to discuss themes in the play with a panel made up of the creative team and cast members. I think Q&A’s, especially after shows with tough themes, is the way forward. It gives the audience a space to debrief and ask important questions, it’s also part of our teams initiative to take care of our audiences.


Photo credit: Steph Pyne

 

Who is your target audience?

 

16 to 30 years olds. Young people are very taken with true crime and modern thriller at the moment, which I feel, is why ROTTEN will engage them, as it has both of these elements, as well as being funny and entertaining. I think it’s a good night out!

 

What is it like to be part of an all-new debut show?

 

I do have to take a moment sometimes to digest how much we as a team have achieved in the last few years with this play. In the current economic climate it’s so hard to create new writing and even harder to put it on, so I’m really proud of us and incredibly thankful to our partners, some of whom have supported this project since the beginning, and I really hope audiences come out and support the play because you’re not only supporting ROTTEN in doing so, your supporting new writing in general.


The responses and excitement we’ve had surrounding this project has also made me really motivated to continue writing about subject matters I’m passionate about. I’m working on a new play at the moment called: Aftermath, which is centred the theme of grief, it also discusses mental health, social media, and pop-culture but in a polar opposite way to ROTTEN. It’s definitely a piece of work also aimed at young people and I’m excited to see what happens with it.

 

How are the rehearsals for the show going? What things have you discovered during rehearsals that you may not have known before, and what have you done to adapt or change to implement these?

 

We start rehearsals for ROTTEN on the 11th March, so it’s creeping up, which is very exciting but also nerve-racking. We were fortunate enough to have a research and development period last year, so we’re not going in cold, and the majority of the cast also worked on the R&D. That process was integral to developing the script and characters and really allowed me to look at the play more objectively. I also found, through the excellent portrayals our actors gave, how endearing the characters are. They don’t always do the “right thing”, but you still find yourself drawn to them and wanting them to succeed. In ROTTEN the notion of having to “like” a character to be able to route for them is contested and proven wrong. Saoirse, Coco, Sonia, and Ross continually challenge morality, making shocking, extreme and sometimes vile decisions in their pursuit of happiness and wealth but we still find them utterly relatable because they reflect the darkest sides of ourselves.

 

 What is your favourite part of the show?

 

There’s a monologue in the show that Saoirse does, it starts with: “I f****** loathe toffs.” It’s basically the first line of the play and really encapsulates this character’s resentments. It’s a very strong and extreme statement that reflects all of the characters frustrations about their position in the world and how they are desperate to change their circumstances, which is essentially what ROTTEN is about: ‘How far will you go to make your dreams come true?’ The monologue is almost the reverse of Laura Wades speech in the play: POSH, “I’m sick to death of poor people.”

 

 Can you describe the show in 3 words?

 

Entertainment that matters.


 

Director Rikki Beadle-Blair comments, It’s not often a writer comes up with a deliciously dark thriller, that is also a hilarious comedy and a socially astute satire. So, this play is particularly fun and challenging at the same time. It’s like conducting a concerto – the cast must be pitch perfect virtuosos to keep the tension while making the audience gasp and laugh in equal measure. We need to deliver onto levels of human observation and depth... and sheer entertainment. I’m loving every second.


Produced by Emerson & Ward Productions and Team Angelica, ROTTEN is also supported by Derby Theatre, Curve Theatre, In Good Company, Derbyshire LGBT+ and New Perspectives.


 

ROTTEN

UK Tour 22nd March to 23rd May 2024

Age Guidance - 16+

Running Time - 60 minutes

Content Warnings Contains violence, mental illness, substance abuse, strong language and brief mention of distressing topics, including but not limited to: discrimination/bigotry and death.


Tour Dates & Tickets are available at:


Friday 22nd – Saturday 23rd March

Curve Theatre, Leicester


Saturday 6th April

Derby Theatre, Derby


Saturday 20th April

Norwich Theatre Royal, Norwich


Tuesday 23rd April

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough


Thursday 9th May

Harrogate Theatre, 6 Harrogate


Wednesday 15th – Thursday 16th May

The Dukes, Lancaster


Thursday 23rd May

Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham



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